Posts Tagged ‘faith’

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.

The house is quiet. Not even the slow drip of the icemaker in the fridge interrupts the silence. There was a time when I longed for quiet, but not today. Today, I am alone with my thoughts and I do not feel as if I am among friends. My anxious glance evaluates the room and drops to the floor. I notice the carpet might benefit from a brief relationship with the vacuum cleaner. The crumbs will still be there tomorrow, convicting me of a wasted yesterday. I wonder sometimes if I have a purpose beyond the walls of this house. Today I wonder. I wonder if my life makes a difference at all.

Oh, sure, to my family and some friends I matter. But when the house is quiet and there is really nothing pressing to do, this suburban housewife does not seem to have purpose. Well, I should probably clarify. The cold hard truth is that beyond the temporal, purpose is fleeting for any human existence. I cannot create nor sustain my own existence. Every breath is predetermined by some elusive power of Whom even the most brilliant of beings cannot fathom. And, yet, I breathe . . . in and out . . . day after day.

These are not the ramblings of a depressed woman . . . maybe an introspective student . . .  or an invisible mother, perhaps.

It is Christmas. I imagine the day after Thanksgiving, there must be a grand director who announces from the ecumenical throne, “Lights, camera, action!” and myriads of trained players upon the world stage scramble to play their parts. I don’t feel like playing today. The house is decorated in fashion with the Biltmore with three full sized Christmas trees this year and three inflatable animatrons entertaining on the front lawn and competing with the neighbor’s. Yes, we’re doing Christmas Texas style this year . . . big and gaudy. Not that there is anything wrong with that, it’s just that there seems to be something missing . . . something important.

Twice in the gospel of Luke there is reference to a pondering mother of Jesus. However, Mary is not wondering about her own life, but of the life and purpose of her son.

Every mother has a colorful birth story to tell, but none involve visits from angels and shepherds as for this 15 year old new mom. Mary considers the grand entrance of God’s son into the world in Luke 2:13-20.

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14    “Glory to God in the highest,

and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Then again as Jesus grows and his passion for truth and his devotion to God is revealed, Mary considers the gradual revelation of his purpose in Luke 2:41-52.

41 Every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. 42 When he was twelve years old, they went up to the Feast, according to the custom. 43 After the Feast was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. 44 Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”

49 “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” 50 But they did not understand what he was saying to them.

51 Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.

I try to imagine myself as Mary, watching the Creator of life grow in wisdom and stature from human child to man. I imagine the heart wrenching cries of a mother witnessing the cruel crucifixion of her first born.

And then it hits me…

I know it is not the first time I acknowledged this truth, but I have renewed clarity…a purification of sorts. My purpose is tied to His. I have purpose because He gives me value. Every breath I breathe is for His glory, not mine. It is as if someone lifted a weighty burden from my heart and mind. I am free!

Do you know what it is to be free? Try this, imagine yourself at the foot of the cross at Calvary witnessing the death of the most significant person ever to walk this earth. All of the major traditions of man recognize His existence and significance. Imagine His blood falling in droplets on the hair upon your head. Imagine His loving glance and His voice above you pleading, “Father, forgive them.” Now, is it possible for you to walk away unchanged?

Even vacuuming the floor has value when it is done for the glory of God.

(I wrote this last year and for some reason never published it. I hope you enjoy my ramblings.)

Obedience is evidence of faith. God’s call to the Israelite nation to trust and obey permeates the book of Joshua. To receive the promise, they must trust and obey; they must exhibit evidence of faith. When Israel trusts Yahweh, she triumphs regardless of the circumstances or however formidable the foe. God established Israel as a testament to the nations of His power and faithfulness.

“For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan before you until you had crossed, just as the Lord your God had done to the Red Sea, which He dried up before us until we had crossed; that all of the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty, so that you may fear the Lord your God forever.” Joshua 4:23-24

Whether we war against physical enemies of life and well-being, or we war with sin in a spiritual battle; the battle belongs to God. The victory is His. It is in the area of spiritual warfare that the book of Joshua is applicable for the church today.

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Ephesians 6:12

Peter Kreeft wrote, “The life-or-death battles in the Old Testament, especially in this most warlike book, are apt symbols of the no less life-or-death spiritual warfare of the New.” While God gives us promises, He does not relinquish His people of responsibility. We are called to obey as evidence of our faith. God ties obedience to success in warfare. We learn much from this handbook of warfare:

1. The church has received a promise and a responsibility to partner with God in His Kingdom work to fight the good fight. Joshua 1:6 and 1 Timothy 6:12

2. Our enemies are defeated before us and God will cause Satan to flee as we resist him.. Joshua 1:5 and James 4:7

3. The Lord will be ever present for us and will never forsake us. Joshua 1:5 and Matthew 28:20

4. All who receive salvation are called to obedience. Joshua 1:8 and Hebrews 5:9

5. We receive blessings by grace through faith, including the blessing of salvation. Joshua 8:33 and Romans 4:16

Indeed, it was the call to trust and obey that were the last words of our savior before he ascended to the right hand of the Father.

“And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in Heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20

As believers we cross over from death (the Jordan) into life (the land of Promise). The Book of Joshua is a handbook of warfare to guide us as we continue to battle the enemy until we are called home. The book’s geographical and historical background show us how even as we live life, it is not our own. This is God’s story. Yahweh is salvation. As we imitate Joshua in his commitment to faithful obedience we too can experience victory in life as we are transformed into the likeness of the glory of Christ.

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.

It is no big secret that the kids of today are faced with a far more threatening society than a generation ago. Christian parents today are assigned the task of not only protecting their children, but also teaching them to navigate the challenges to their faith. Today in my women’s Bible study class, we questioned a panel of teens about their walk, challenges to their faith and how they cope. It was obvious early on that the small panel was populated by kids raised in Christian homes with both parents present and were protected within a Christian community. None of them seem to have tarried far from home spiritually.

The teens were transparent and honest as the mothers in the room questioned them about dating, cell phones and peer pressure. As I listened to their answers, I was encouraged by their tendency to return to the values and biblical training they had received in the home. I was struck by how confident they seemed that ultimately whether they stand or fall depends more on the health of their own personal relationship with Christ, and less on what their parents did or did not do. Although, they did recognize that their parents’ lifestyle shaped their own beliefs and the strength thereof.

What concerned me was something one of the teenage boys, Darrin, said (and the others agreed) in that what helped them to remain steadfast was that there was always a friend close by to say “no” with them if the occasion called for it. Given the “Christian bubble” (their words, not mine) in which they are being raised, there is no shortage of kids ready to do “the right thing.” If just one takes the first step, there is a healthy supply of teens wanting to be one of the “good kids” especially when it is cool to be Christian. Not so in the real world. How well will these kids survive in a culture that accuses them of being intolerant, uneducated, and hateful? Will they have the courage to be faithful when it will cost them community? How can we as parents prepare our kids to stand alone and to remain standing alone if it is required of them?

I think the answer lies in something else Darrin shared (and the others concurred.) Repeatedly as the kids answered the questions, they voiced how invaluable experience is to them in preparation for adulthood, whether it was practice driving a car or communicating with unbelievers at work. They recognized the value of testing their skills within the shelter of their parents’ guidance before their skills were tested by life. Sharron expressed quite honestly how ill-equipped she felt when confronted by a co-worker regarding her faith. Tamara shared how excited she was to be taking a class on apologetics next year at school to help prepare her to meet those challenges. Todd added that he felt blessed to have knowledgeable parents who could answer his questions. Darrin stressed how necessary it was for him to live his testimony, otherwise his words (arguments) were meaningless. I am sure their mothers sitting in the audience were proud of the young men and women of God that their children were becoming.

Everyone on the panel seemed solid in what they believed; however, it was obvious that the challenges to their belief systems were closely monitored and therefore minimal as compared to what they will face when they move away from home and enter college soon. At that time they will experience a full blown assault on their beliefs. Will they withstand the purposeful unraveling of their worldview having not experienced such assaults while in the home? Statistically only 2 of the five will remain faithful; the rest will embrace a relativistic view of truth and therefore reject the absolute claims of Christianity.

At the conclusion of the panel, I was encouraged to continue speaking the truth of scripture into my children’s lives while remaining steadfast myself as I demonstrate a lifestyle of faithfulness. But I also felt the urgency to allow my children opportunities to test their own walk. I think as parents we can err too far on the side of caution, fiercely protecting our children from evil and rob them of the opportunities to develop skills necessary to meet the very real challenges they are destined to face. Like Lot, we are raising our children in a cultural Sodom and we are challenged with raising morally and spiritually pure hearts and minds in a morally bankrupt society. A mature faith can withstand the temptations to compromise our beliefs. And maturity comes only through the testing of our faith. As the old adage says, “Practice makes perfect.”

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”  James 1:2–4

If God allows the testing of His children’s faith, perhaps there is wisdom in my getting out of Gods’ way and allowing my children the same. There seems to exist somewhere between protecting a child’s innocence and exposing him to the elements an elusive balance for which we must strive. Where that balance lies, depends on the child himself. How successfully we as parents prepare that child to navigate life ultimately lies not only in how well we know Christ and live a life without compromise, but also how well we know our child. Freedom without boundaries is bondage (consider the lawless societies of South Africa). As a child matures and begins to self-impose boundaries that honor God, we can begin to trust the investment we have made in them. We discover that fine balance and allow our teen to live freely as they persevere with Christ so that they will be complete and not lacking anything.

(Names have been changed because, frankly, I don’t remember them.)