Friday, February 25, 2011

Spirit and Truth

Jesus declared, "Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.  You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews.  Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.  God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth."  -John 4:21-24

Within an unusual conversation, Jesus tells us that we must worship in spirit and truth.  What a welcome word for this woman.  She is a Samaritan with a history of sleeping around.  Of all people she would be the last that makes it into the temple to worship.  She's just not qualified to worship God the way God must be worshiped.  Maybe this is the reason she asks the question.  She may have been hoping to hear that the mountain is a better place to worship.  But Jesus, being the Son of God, would not satisfy her expectation or anyone else.  Its not about the place, said Jesus.  Its not about the people, said Jesus.  And its not about the style of worship.  The Jews only advantage in having Jerusalem was that they inherited a long history of walking with the Lord.  In short, they knew God while everyone else was guessing who God is.  That is why salvation is from the Jews.  But it is not about Jerusalem or the Jews, it is about God's plan.

For us today, it is not about the church.  It is not about how we pray; some will be elegant, and some plain; some will be creative, and some use liturgy.  We may pray on our knees or looking up at heaven; we may pray shouting or without an utterance.  Our religion is not about doctrine, or having the right education.  Our religion is not based on dogma, or survive on hermeneutics.  Those things are only a means to the end.  Its all about God, and as this verse says, God is spirit.  Contrary to how so many view spirit, it is not a mystical thing but very real.  Its not that sentimental romanticism, also known as hogwash.  What we worship is very real (more real than we are), and worshiping in spirit and truth is the only way to worship.  These material things serve a purpose, but they are not a requirement in and of themselves, nor are they the point of worship.  Getting past the material things, in our thinking, is important to being a Christian.  Maybe when you first became a Christian you thought it was all about following the rules, and maybe you still do.  Then, after maturing, you have, or should, come to realize that living by faith and spirit is the only way to truly follow the rules; that the rules are not there for technical purposes.  The goal is to get to the point where righteousness is so natural that we never even think about it.  That would be when there are no rules, just as there was only one rule in Eden.

On this thanksgiving day there will be people eating all different kinds of food, or giving thanks in many different ways.  Then there are many around the world that do not have this as a holiday.  We must all give thanks from our heart no matter where we are, who we are, or what we're doing.  That is true appreciation.  To simply act thankful, while being ungrateful in heart, is a shallow pretension, which the sight of God pierces through like a bullet through clothing.  Just as we look for the jelly inside of a doughnut, so God looks for the spirit inside of our expressions.  The doughnut might be glazed or have sprinkles on top or just be plain, but that doesn't matter as long as the Spirit of God is the jelly that fills us.

Six Days and Then

Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.  By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work.  And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.  Genesis 2:1-3

So God made the heavens and the earth in six days and then he rested.  Why is that significant?  There is more here than just an account of creation; the days are symbolic of things.  For example: the sixth day is the day that man was made, and so six is the number that represents man (Rev 13:18).  Since God rested on the seventh day, and since there is no created thing which can be attributed to the seventh day, seven is considered the complete number.  You could think of it as God completing creation with himself.  The seventh day there is nothing but God.  Now as the days progress from the first to the seventh, you see that creation is progressively becoming more full.  It starts with just the heavens and the earth.  Then there was water, and then there was land.  God made vegetation and then animals.  And finally, the last thing God made was man.  He made man in his own image, which means that man is the most God-like of all creation.  So you see that creation becomes more full and progressively more like God.  And to complete it God rests.  I may be going out on a limb here, but I think this represents that God is the completion and finality of all things (except fallen things of course).

God says that he is "the Apha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End" (Rev 22:13).  We've seen how God is the last in the creation account, since he rested and sanctified the seventh day.  Now how is God the first?  In the beginning of John it says "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning."  John is speaking about Jesus here.  Now think about what day of the week Jesus rose from the grave.  It was Sunday, the first day of the week (Jhn 20:1).  So God the Father made the last day (Saturday) holy by resting, and God the Son made the first day (Sunday) holy by rising.  God is the First and the Last.  Its why the Jews consider Saturday to be the Sabbath, and why the Christians consider Sunday to be the Sabbath.  Both days were sanctified by God, and both days should be remembered as such.  Also consider what day of the week Jesus died on the cross for the sins of man.  It was Friday, the sixth day of the week, the day man was made.

God is eternal.  Eternal literally means 'no time'.  When you think about that it makes sense to think that God is the beginning and the end.  God cannot be bound by a timeline, but he is the one that makes the timeline.  So he was before creation, he is now, and he forever will be.  That's why God answered Moses with the name Jehovah (Exd 3:14), which means 'I am who I am', or for short, 'I am'.  God simply is, and there is nothing that has not been made by God (Jhn 1:3).  So just as God made creation progressively fuller and progressively better, going from being "good" to "very good", and completing it with his perfect self resting, we should become progressively more like God by becoming progressively more like Christ.  It is the doctrine of progressive sanctification, which is the result of faith in Jesus.  We are called to be holy as God is holy (Lev 11:44-45, 1Pet 1:15-16) and grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2Pet 3:18).  And by the work of the Holy Spirit we can do exactly that.  Basically, as the Spirit of God fills us, we become more and more like God.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Eve's False Doctrine

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made.  He said to the woman, "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?"  The woman said to the serpent, "We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, 'You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die'." "You will not surely die," the serpent said to the woman.  "For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."
Genesis 3:1-5

This is of course the moment when everything would no longer be the same.  Man sinned, and because of that all men are separated from God.  What Eve did here, and what Adam did, has an enormous impact on the world.  So what did Eve do?  She misquoted the Law.  If you were to translate it into modern speak, you could say she believed a false doctrine.  Look back to 2:16-17, where God gives Adam the Law; he said, "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die."  Notice that God did not say anything about Adam not being able to touch it.  So when Eve said, "and you must not touch it," she was adding to scripture, you could say.  Atleast that's how we would say it now; back then I suppose you would just call it adding to the Law.  But do you see the significance here?  This opened the door wide open for Satan to deceive her.  If she believed that she would die when she touched the fruit or the tree itself, then when she did touch it and not die, she would be inclined to believe Satan when he called God a liar.  You see, adding to scripture or the law pollutes the word of God, and makes us vulnerable to Satan's lies.

Its important for us today, when considering our doctrinal beliefs, to make sure we do not believe things that are not plainly revealed in the scriptures.  That's why there's the saying 'what's plain is main and what's main is plain'.  Its also why creeds and confessions are suppose to address just the fundamental beliefs of a group of adherents.  Going into too much detail almost always leads to false doctrines.  False doctrines then have the potential, sometimes a very severe potential, to lead people astray and lose faith in Christ.  However, it is also important for us not to subtract from scripture.  If you know the Bible, then the gospel message is obvious and easy to understand.  It will all make sense and you will see the truth, knowing everything you need to know.  God reveals everything that we need to know.  Therefore, we should know everything that he reveals, atleast everything that he plainly reveals.  The gospel message is simply this: Put your faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God who paid for your sins, and you will have life, even life eternal.  There is no need to add things to it.  There is more in the Bible about the truth of course, but everything that's revealed centers around this gospel.  It is faith in Christ that saves, nothing else.  So the point is basically this: Have an accurate knowledge of the scriptures; do not add anything to them, and do not subtract anything from them.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A Greater Wealth

Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, "Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?" "Why do you ask me about what is good?"  Jesus replied. "There is only One who is good.  If you want to enter life, obey the commandments."  "Which ones?" the man inquired.  Jesus replied, " 'Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,' and 'love your neighbor as yourself.' " "All these I have kept," the young man said. "What do I still lack?"  Jesus answered, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.  Then come, follow me."  When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.  Then Jesus said to his disciples, "I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.  Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."  When his disciples heard this they were greatly astonished and asked, "Who then can be saved?"  Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."  Matthew 19:16-26

This is one of my most favorite passages, because there is so much meaning within it.  I'll just go ahead and start at the beginning and work through it.  It may puzzle some people why Jesus asked the man "Why do you ask me about what is good?"  And then that there is no response from the young man.  I suppose Jesus did not wait for a response, which means it must have been a rhetorical question.  Instead Jesus kinda answers his own question when he says "There is only One who is good."  I think what Jesus is really saying here is this - 'Do you really believe that I know anything about good?  If so, then you must believe that I am of the Father, because only the Father is good and knows good.'  It is Jesus' way of alluding to the fact that he is Son of God, though as he so often does, he reveals himself slowly, rather than plainly and all at once.

When Jesus tells the man that he must obey the commandments the man wisely asks "Which ones?"  You may think its a dumb question, but given that the teachers of the law had added all sorts of rules to the Law, it makes sense to ask.  Its also endearing to me that this man is practical.  He wants to know exactly what to do and he's asking the right man about it.  All he can do is all he can do, and he wants to know what it is that he must do.  Jesus answers him.  Notice which laws Jesus mentions.  Other than the vertical laws, the first four commandments of the Ten, he leaves out 'Do not covet'.  This is the commandment, of the Ten, that this man probably struggled with.  You might be thinking 'why?'  This man is rich, why would he covet?  Precisely because he is rich.  Remember what Jesus said in Matthew 6:21 "where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."  Rich people are most often focused on riches, and there will always be someone richer than they are.  They covet everything they don't have, because of the fact that there is so much they do have.  With much people begin to think that everything can be, and should be, theirs.  That's why this man could not give up his wealth, and why he went away sad.  So Jesus gave him one moment of gratification before he hit him with the requirement that would pierce his heart.

So what does it mean?  Can a rich person enter life?  Jesus says that it is harder for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.  That's Jesus' satirical way of saying that its impossible.  Don't think about it too long, you will never get a camel to go through the eye of a needle.  And when the disciples heard it they were astonished.  They believed that the first people that would be able to enter heaven would be the rich.  They thought that a rich person's wealth was a sign that God was pleased with them, and that they were blessed.  Now, if the rich cannot enter heaven, who can?  No one.  No one without God's assistance, that is.  With man it is impossible, but with God all things are possible.

What this means for us today is that we must trust in the Lord to be our Savior.  We cannot do it but he can.  It also means that there are much greater things in heaven than what we could possibly attain on earth.  Just as Jesus says in Matthew 6:19-20 "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal."  We have the opportunity, just like that rich young ruler, to turn our earthly treasure into heavenly treasure.  Does it mean that we won't be saved if we don't?  I can't really answer that question, but I do think that a saved person would certainly want to.  Why waste your life working for money when you know that you'll die someday and you can't take it with you?  I mean, all we need each day is enough to live on and nothing more.  Those things that would be 'more' are nothing but distractions, and yes, I do think that being wealthy makes it much harder to be a Christian.  Your mind will be occupied with your wealth, and again like Jesus said, your heart will be too.  Instead we should focus on everything we can do for the Kingdom, everything for the glory of God.  If we do that we are not only pleasing to the Lord, but also making the wise decision to build up treasure in heaven, and that treasure will never be lost.

Significance of Psalm 22

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?  Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?  Psalm 22:1

About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" -which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"  -Matthew 27:46

Chapters and verses were added to the Bible around 1500ad.  Before then people would always identify a passage by saying the first line of it (making Bible memorization crucial).  Many have wondered why Jesus said the words "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"  Why would God forsake his only begotten Son?  Isn't Jesus always with the Father, and the Father always with Jesus?  The obvious answer is that Jesus became sin on the cross for our sakes (2Cor 5:21), and God cannot associate with sin.  The other answer, the answer you may not know of, is that Jesus was identifying a Psalm.  The Psalm he identified is Psalm 22.  You should take some time to read it and see if it reminds you of something.

Now that you're done reading Psalm 22, I suppose you can tell that it describes the crucifixion in rather good detail.  "scorned by men and despised by the people" -They yelled "crucify him."  "All who see me mock me" -Jesus was mocked several times.  "He trusts in the Lord; let the Lord rescue him" -just what the chief priests and teachers of the law said.  "all my bones are out of joint" -crucifixion stretches the body, pulling bones out of joint.  "My heart has turned to wax" -it's believed that Jesus died of cardiac arrest.  "my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth" -Jesus said "I am thirsty."  "Dogs have surrounded me" -dogs is a common word used for gentiles, and Jesus was surrounded by Romans.  "a band of evil men has encircled me" -Jesus was crucified between two criminals, and surrounded by the Romans doing the act.  "they have pierced my hands and feet" -nails driven into Jesus' hands and feet.  "I can count all my bones" -None of Jesus' bones were broken, unlike the two criminals whose legs were broken. "cast lots for my clothing" -Romans cast lots for Jesus' clothing.

The Atheists will call this postdiction.  Postdiction means that someone writes a story, either entirely fictional or partly fictional, with the intent of fulfilling some specific prophecies.  In other words, some people made up the crucifixion story to fit with this Psalm, as well as all the other prophecies (Isaiah 53 and others).  The first difficulty with this is that the entire list of details comes from a collection of all four gospel accounts.  In only Matthew and Mark does Jesus say "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"  And there's not one gospel account that has all these details in it.  So in order for postdiction to be true all the writers of the gospels would have had to conspire to achieve this.  The other thing that makes it difficult is the fact that this psalm was never perceived to be prophetic.  It was poetry not prophecy, so what would prompt a bunch of collusive story-tellers to adapt it in that way?  It only makes sense for it to be a genuine fulfillment of prophecy, but I won't stop there.

When was David's hands and feet pierced?  The writer of this psalm, David, says "they have pierced my hands and my feet."  However there is nothing that ever records David having his hands or feet pierced.  Was it an expression?  Maybe, but we do not hear that expression anywhere else in the Bible, nor do we know of that being an expression of that time.  The closest thing to an expression like that would be Job 30:17 - "Night pierces my bones."  So why did he say it?  The only reasonable answer is that he was inspired by the Holy Spirit to prophesy about the crucifixion of Jesus.  But even if it was just an expression, what a convenient coincidence for those collusive story-tellers.  Crucifixion was invented by the Persians around 500bc, long after David wrote this psalm.  Crucifixion was then perfected and widely used by the Romans starting in the first century BC.  Jesus was crucified, something that is confirmed even by secular historians and the Jewish Talmud.  And crucifixion is one of the rare reasons anyone would ever have their hands and feet pierced.  I can't think of any other reason in the first century, but maybe you can.  Add all of this together and it would be one great coincidence that an expression would accurately describe a form of execution that hadn't even been invented yet.  Again the only logical answer is that David was writing by the Holy Spirit, and was foretelling of the crucifixion of Christ.

So the Atheists are then required to believe that four or more people got together, devised or amended an elaborate story, fulfilled prophecies and poetry, benefited from atleast one greatly convenient coincidence, and were able to convince people of its truth, even their contemporaries.  I don't know about you, but I'm not an Atheist for alot of reasons.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

War and Peace

Then the Lord said to Joshua, "See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men. March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. Have seven priests blowing the trumpets. When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have all the people give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the people will go up, every man straight in." Joshua 6:2-5

"Put your sword back in its place," Jesus said to him, "for all who draw the sword will die by the sword." Matthew 26:52

Is it justified for a Christian to enter war and kill? Those that believe it is usually believe in the Just War Theory. Just War rest on four main conditions. 1)The damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain. 2)All other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective. 3)There must be serious prospects of success. 4)The use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.

I personally do not agree with the idea of a "just war". The first problem I see with this is that the four conditions can hardly ever be practically adhered to, and so are not. The second problem I have is that this is not a biblical idea. I'm sure some will say "but didn't God command Israel to completely destroy entire nations?" Yes, he did. But that does not mean that he commands us as Christians to go and kill. Actually he commands us the exact opposite, to love our enemies (Mt 5:44). So what's the difference between this and the Old Testament? God is the same in the OT and NT, but his intentions are not the same, atleast not exactly the same. You'll see the same God and same Spirit throughout the whole Bible, and you will see both grace and judgment in the OT and NT. The difference between the OT and NT is who the covenants are with. In the Old Testament God makes a covenant with his chosen nation, Israel. In the New Testament God makes a covenant with his chosen church, the Church of Christ. A nation and a church are not the same. A nation is a political entity, with political leaders, borders, citizens, and the ability to fight wars. The Church, on the other hand, is not political, does not have borders, it has spiritual citizens, and only fights spiritual wars. If a Christian in one nation were to fight a war, he might be required to kill another Christian in another nation. The Church is international, and therefore should not be involved in the wars of nations. That's why Jesus told Peter to put down his sword, and why he tells us to love our enemies. We are to fight our war, the spiritual war, with words and the Bible not with swords. And since our number one loyalty must be to Jesus, we should not waste our life and service by fighting in wars. If a nation, including the US, wants to go to war, they have that right. As Jesus said "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's" (Mt 22:21) and as Paul mentions in Romans 13, the government has a place and can bear the sword, but we must obey the Lord first. As Christians we should do all we can to avoid the wars of nations, they are not our wars to fight.


If you're reading this note I want you to find a Bible and turn to the book of Daniel.  There are some interesting things this book tells us, and I want to make light of something.

The most critical of Bible scholars have dated the original composition of Daniel sometime in the 2nd century BC.  They couldn't possibly date it any later than that since many fragments of that book, covering all of it except chapt 9 and 12, have been found with the Dead Sea Scrolls.  The reason they wish to date the book of Daniel as late as possible is because there are specific prophecies in it that deal with the Hellenistic period (chapt 8 and 11).  To learn more about the DSS and Daniel manuscript evidence check this link:  Critical scholars approach these books with a priori  belief that the supernatural does not exist, and these prophetic books therefore must have been written after the events they prophesy.  If the prophecies were vague, then it would be easy to dismiss them on that grounds.  Anyone can make a vague prophecy and get lucky.  However, if you read Daniel, and if you know some history, you see that the prophecies are rather detailed and extremely accurate.  Simple luck can not explain it.  But even the most critical of Bible scholars are forced to date the book in or before the 2nd century BC, or else lose all credibility.

So now that we have established that the book couldn't possibly have been written later than 100BC, turn to chapter two.  Read verses 31-45.  I'll go ahead and point out one portion of that

After you, another kingdom will rise, inferior to yours.  Next, a third kingdom, one of bronze, will rule over the whole earth.  Finally, there will be a fourth kingdom, strong as iron - for iron breaks and smashes everything - and as iron breaks things to pieces, so it will crush and break all the others.  Just as you saw that the feet and toes were partly of baked clay and partly of iron, so this will be a divided kingdom; yet it will have some of the strength of iron in it, even as you saw iron mixed with clay.  As the toes were partly iron and partly clay, so this kingdom will be partly strong and partly brittle.  And just as you saw the iron mixed with baked clay, so the people will be a mixture and will not remain united, any more than iron mixes with clay.
In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people.  It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever.  This is the meaning of the vision of the rock cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands - a rock that broke the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold to pieces.

This is the passage where Daniel is interpreting Nebuchadnezzar's dream of a man with a gold head, silver chest, bronze belly, iron legs, and partly iron and clay feet.  You can read that in verses 31-33.  The head of gold is Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylonian Empire.  From there down history progresses.  The silver represents the Persian Empire, which immediately followed the Babylonian Empire, but was inferior (it didn't last as long).  Then came Alexander the Great, who conquered the known world; he is represented by the bronze.  After him came the Romans, who conquered and ruled over everyone like iron.  The Romans were strict.  Notice that there are iron legs and then feet of iron and clay.  The Roman Empire began strong.  They crushed everyone, just as verse 40 says.  Following that, they became divided.  This division began in 293AD under Diocletian, and was completely divided into Eastern Rome and Western Rome in 395AD.  This is also when Rome became weak, atleast weaker than they were.  Like verse 42 says, they were partly strong and partly brittle.  Their weakness was that they were a mixed people and they were not united, just like verse 43 says.

So you can see that this passage describes the Roman Empire very well, along with the empires that preceded it.  The critical scholars can say that it was written after the Babylonians, the Persians, and even after Alexander, but they cannot possibly get by saying that these verses were written after the division of Rome.  That is simply far too late of a date for the book of Daniel.  As I've pointed out before, the book of Daniel was written by atleast 100BC, before Rome was even an empire.  So you decide.  How do these verses align with history so well?  I know the answer, but I'll leave you with your intuition.

I also want to point out, in case you were wondering, the rock is Jesus.  The eternal Kingdom (mountain) that the rock comes from, and the rock grows into, is the Kingdom of God, known presently as the Church of Christ.  You can see this mountain growing today in the spread of Christianity.  Verse 35, where he says that this mountain will fill the whole earth, also lines up real well with what Jesus said in Matthew 24:14.  Read it.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Fear Him and Don't Be Afraid

I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more.  But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell.  Yes, I tell you, fear him.  Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies?  Yet not one of them is forgotten by God.  Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  Don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.   - Jesus in Luke 12:4-7

This passage sums up the Christian view on fear.  In case you missed it, I will give the synopsis: We are to fear God and nothing else.  That's right, we are to fear, truly be afraid of, God.  Anyone that teaches you that we need not fear God is a blatant liar.  Its found throughout the Old Testament and the New.  God has all power.  God has all authority.  Not being afraid of God would be plain stupid.  "But what about God's love?" some will say.  Yeah, what about it?  Does the Lord love everyone?  Sure, he has extended salvation to all who would take it, by faith in Jesus, but not everyone will.  Did God not destroy many people with a flood and only save a few?  So we must conclude that God does not love everyone.  He loves those that put their faith in him, and consequently fear him.  Fear and love go together much moreso than people realize.  What about your earthly father?  If you feared him as a child, you probably grew up to love him.  Without fearing your father you would not respect him, and without that you would never learn to love your father.  Doesn't love begin with fear, especially in the case of a father-child relationship?  Our relationship with God is described as such a relationship.  So it is very reasonable to believe that fear is the more primal response to God, and out of that grows our love for God.

And what does this mean?  If we fear God, then we do not need to fear anything of this world.  That is what Jesus is saying.  The things of this world do not matter, do not have any ultimate power, and will someday be gone.  Why would we be afraid of them?  This is why the verse says "perfect love drives out fear".  It is not at all meant to say that we shouldn't fear God, but that we shouldn't fear the world.  Our Father in heaven takes care of us.  We put our faith in him, fear him, and love him, and that is all that is needed.  The world just disappears in our minds, except for what we might do to bring Christ to the world.  And what liberty there is in not being afraid of anything.  We can go dancing in the streets without a care.  What does it matter what people think of us?  They can think we are crazy all they want, but the fact is that we "crazies" are about to inherit eternal life.  I'll gladly be called crazy and anything else, so long as I'm a child of God.

Redefining Religion

Here's the way I see the scene today in regards to religion. This is my perspective, and if yours is a bit different, the comment function will work quite well.

I see two sides basically. There are those that are religious and those that are irreligious, even anti-religious. The ones that hate religion speak quite often about "the evils of religion". They tend to consider all religion the same and all of it bad. Now the religion that concerns me is Christianity of course. I couldn't care less what they say about Islam or any other. What they say about Christianity is, in a sense, right, but also wrong. Then there's the other side, which to me, looks like a religious establishment. In America its particularly the protestant establishment. These people, particularly the leaders, have responded to this growing anti-religion sentiment. To do this they have added to their religious dogma. They have not subtracted from their dogma, but atleast in most "evangelical" churches have added the dogma which says "its not a religion but a relationship". The reason I say its dogma is because, if you were to ask them what exactly that means, they wouldn't have much of an explanation. To me its rather ironic that the newest religious dogma is 'its not a religion'. Maybe you disagree.

Since I'm a Christian, here's the question I ask: Does this help seekers any? Is this a real authentic attempt to bring unbelievers into the Church (Bride of Christ)? Or is it just to bring unbelievers into the church (religious institution)? If its the latter, then why say 'its not religion', when clearly its about religion? If its the former, then why is there not a good explanation as to exactly what a relationship with God is? I understand the intent, and I think for most its an honest authentic attempt to bring people in the Church of Christ, but I believe this is the wrong approach.

Its a matter of words. My brothers and sisters, who use the relationship word, mean the same thing that I mean when I use the religion word. We mean the same thing, but what word is the best one to describe being a Christian? I say religion because that's a word that makes sense. People will understand what we mean if we say 'its a religion'. People will be confused if we say 'its a relationship'. Maybe its just me, but I think of things with a common sense view. When I think of relationship, I think of seeing, hearing, touching, etc. In a relationship there is physical contact, atleast that seems typical. But clearly there is no physical contact between any of us and God. Who has seen God? Who has heard the voice of God or touched God? None of us. There may be those Christian mystics that say they hear God all the time, but they are blatant liars. Spiritual contact (the Holy Spirit) is completely different and should not be confused with 'hearing' God. So what about those - quite a few - that have negative associations with the word 'religion'? They think of religion as a bunch of rules set by a priest or pastor. We could just run from the word, and try to use another word to describe Christianity, like 'relationship'. Or we could redefine religion, the Christian religion.

So let me attempt this. The first thing I must do is make the distinction between what is true religion and what is false religion. Christianity is the only true religion (I won't make the argument as to why just here, but these links may help, But not all religions that claim to be Christianity are true religions. True Christian religion is a set of beliefs that conforms to the Bible, with a thorough exegetical understanding (a proper understanding). The result of this religion is a new view on life, a love of God, a love of life (yours and others), and a steadfast purpose. Many very good things come from the true Christian religion, but you will better see and understand these things only when you experience it. I feel inclined to beg people to just try it, but I always want to make sure that what they are trying is the true version, and not the fake "Christian" versions.

Another important thing to understand is that not all Christians will agree on all things Christian/Bible. We have some disagreements and that's just fine, even good I believe. The things we do agree on, and must agree on, are the basics of the religion. These basics are the things that are clearly taught in the Bible, and are important to believe for a Christian life. There is a saying that goes 'what's plain is main and what's main is plain'. And another important thing is that there was never meant to be divisions in the Church. Denominationalism is not a biblical idea, and if you ask me, I call it evil. The reason of course is because Christians could not agree on doctrinal issues. What we should be doing, rather than dividing into differing groups, is coming together based on our agreements (those basic beliefs) and discussing our disagreements. If we separate, then we don't discuss, and if we don't discuss, then we don't learn. This is also why creeds are meant to be short and only include the basics. The Apostles' Creed is a good one, if you ask me.

My final appeal is to believers and nonbelievers.
For the nonbelievers I say this: Do not think of Christianity just as what you've seen "Christians" do and say. To get an accurate idea of what Christianity is you should either ask many different Christians, or read the Bible with some different Christian viewpoints to help you understand. You may have been raised in a certain kind of religious environment. Do not assume that what you were presented as Christianity is actually Christianity. Changes and perversions have happened over the years. From my experience I can say, being a real Christian is the best thing ever, and words can only begin to describe it. Falling into the real Church is very wonderful indeed.

For the believers I say this: Let us try to present the most pure and accurate description of Christianity to the outside world. We should fight the beliefs that are not Christian but call themselves Christian (like the health and wealth church), however we should not fight (to the extent of dividing) over doctrines that have no significant impact on our Christian life. Let us present a united front to the outside world. Let us also make every effort to present Christianity to the world in a way that makes sense. We do not want to confuse nonbelievers. Rather we should meet people where they are, and try to explain as much about Christianity as will make sense to them. This is why I do not think we should be calling it a relationship. How does that make sense? If you can explain it somehow that will make sense to a nonbeliever, then go ahead; but if not, then you might want to use a word that will give a basic understanding of what Christianity is - religion. Just make sure to emphasize the difference between true religion and false religion.

If you would like to learn more about this, I would suggest reading C.S. Lewis' 'Mere Christianity'.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


The Earth itself is the perfect picture of our limited perspective versus God's unlimited perspective. We live on Earth, and where we are right now, down is down and up is up. The ground is down and the sky is up. However there is someone reading this whose sky is down for me, and my sky is down for them. What's up is down and what's down is up. God made it that way but he did so with a purpose. The earth is not spherical simply because physics demands it. It is so to show us that. The way we are is dependent upon where we are and when we are. We are subject to time and space and matter. Why is north up and south down? Why not the other way around? I suspect its because Europeans drew our maps and wanted to be on top of the world rather than below.

God is different than us. Does God live in the north or the south? Is the sky up for God or down? You see, God is not affected by any of these things. God is timeless, spaceless, and spirit, not material. But how would we understand that? One way we could come to that realization is by the paradoxes of the earth itself. On earth, east is west and west is east. If you head north you will eventually start heading south, and if you head south you will eventually start heading north. The sky is up for me but down for you in China. By these paradoxes we should understand that there is so much more than just 'me'. Now where else do we see the employment of paradox to get a deep understanding across? Yeah, that's right, the Bible. You ever heard of the first being last and the last being first? Hmm... Do you think maybe the One that made earth also made the Bible? Check it out.

I call this creative apologetics. We are getting to the same result - knowing what is true and that God truly is. However this approach is not the typical prophecy-reading, site-digging, fact-knowing approach. All of that is good, and it is good for us to know. But this is just kinda a fun exercise for the mind. The fact of the matter is that there are so many ways to discover the truth of God. The Bible is the center for sure, but all of the universe has signs all over it, just screaming for you to take a second look.

Christianity, America, and Religious Freedom

Many in this nation, inside and outside the church, have taken positions on the relation of our religion and our nation.  There are some easy generalizations that can be made about some groups.  For example: there are those that say America is a Christian nation and there should be some kind of theocracy here (morality laws).  Then there are those that say no it is not and there must not be any established religion in politics (and for some, even vacant of religious people).  Some people may find it a bit surprising that I take neither one of these positions, but then again I don't know, maybe some people really do know me.  For those that do know me, it won't be a surprise when I say that I have the solution.  I do :) now let me share it.

Overwhelmingly our founders were Christians, or atleast were heavily influenced by Christianity.  To say that this nation is not atleast influenced by Christianity is just absurd, and I think those who say that should be barred from voting (based on their low intelligence level of course).  However it is just as clear that our founders wanted to avoid establishing an official religion (1st Amendment).  What does that mean?  Well, the first thing that must be noted is that this (1st Amendment) deals with Congress.  It does not restrict the states from establishing an official religion or religiously based laws.  The NC Constitution actually has a provision that prevents Atheists from holding public office.  Nevertheless the general opinion of our founders, and subsequent leaders, is that the People should not be restricted in any way by religiously based laws.  That's the real intent behind the establishment clause.

Does this mean that our political leaders cannot be religious?  Absolutely not.  Does it mean that their religion cannot affect their lawmaking votes?  Again, no way.  Religion will affect everything we do, but what they cannot do is force their religion on the public in a way that limits reasonable freedom.  What do I mean by reasonable freedom?  What I mean is that a person should be free to do whatever they want, so long as it does not have a direct impact on other people.  Obviously we do not have the legal freedom to go out and kill or steal, because those actions are detrimental to others.  On the other hand, we cannot take some action, which may have some minor impact on this, which then has another impact on that, and somehow use a chain of impacts to justify it being illegal.  That's why the word 'reasonable' is employed.

So what about symbolic gestures, the pledge of allegiance, or having prayer in public school?  This is where it becomes a gray area.  Obviously the actions of government on these types of issues is going to reflect the position of most Americans.  To say that the Constitution prohibits these things is very much a stretch, and as I've already mentioned, the states are free to administer some level of religion.  Nobody forces you to pledge allegiance, or to say 'under God' if you do pledge.  Nobody forces kids to partake in prayer, if a public school were to have a prayer.  There is nothing in these actions that establishes an official religion, atleast in the way our founders saw it.  They remembered quite well how the church and the government were married together.  If the Pope called you a heretic, you would get the ultimate punishment.  To them that was what an established religion-state was.  A far cry from simply having a prayer in school, I think we can all agree.  Anyways, I will leave that up to each person to decide, since its really not a big deal either way.

So what we should conclude is that our nation has a definite Christian influence, but is also definitely built in religious freedom.  And it really makes perfect sense.  One of the primary doctrines of the Christian faith is the doctrine of free will.  It may be in the Old Testament that God established his theocracy and gave a rather detailed law to Israel, his chosen people.  Jesus, however, did not do that for his Church.  A church is something that is trans-national, and therefore must be atleast somewhat detached from politics.  Its why Jesus said "love your enemies" and "give to Caesar what is Caesar's".  Jesus was not trying to establish a nation or kingdom, but rather his Church, which could be called a spiritual kingdom.  So for this reason, freedom of religion is a very Christian idea.  We Christians are to evangelize, which does not mean forcing or coercing, but simply telling people about the Truth.

Now I know that some may be thinking about how against Islam I have been.  I am against Islam in more ways than one.  I do not think we should allow them to build a mosque two blocks from Ground Zero, and I also believe we should put some restrictions on Muslim communities.  So how can I justify that if I believe in religious freedom?  How would that be constitutional?  The big thing about Islam is that it absolutely does NOT teach religious freedom in any way.  I know there are some idiots out there that will want to dispute me on that.  Go ahead and argue that I'm wrong about Islam if you want, but I will not hesitate to expose your ignorance.  But what it means is that Islam is hostile to our Constitution.  And as I've mentioned before about Islam, it is not so much a religion as it is a political ideology.  The Constitution does not give freedom for anyone to attack the Union or force their religion.  At the core, Islam seeks to do both.  So what we should be doing is prosecuting or kicking out anyone that threatens to do either of these things.  If someone wants to practice a corrupted version of Islam, what some have called moderate Islam, that would be just fine.  But if someone practices the fundamental version of Islam, where Islam is to dominate the world by any means, then I think we should be keeping a closer eye on them and possibly be restricting their actions.  I also believe that we have complete Constitutional authority to do so.  The freedom to exercise religion does not include "religion" that subverts the Constitution.

It isn't a simple answer one or the other way.  The relation between politics and religion is delicate.  But as a Christian and an American, I am in a fortunate position.  Of all religions, Christianity is the most compatible with the Constitution, and of all government types, the Constitution is the most compatible with Christianity.  Though in a way, Christians do so much better when we are under persecution.

Do Not Keep it Secret

If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. Luke 9:26

I don't know about you guys, but I don't want Jesus to be ashamed of me when he returns. When someone keeps their faith in Jesus a secret it is the most pitiful thing, the greatest sign of cowardice and that their faith is dead. Why would any Christian do that? If you have faith in Jesus, then you are saved from eternal damnation, and are gravitating towards heaven. That's something to be proud of! Just as Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians, and as it is written "but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight" (Jrh 9:24). There is nothing worthy of boasting except our boast in the Lord. So tell your neighbor! Scream it from the rooftops! Take every opportunity to let people know of the life in you. By gawly, do not keep it a secret! It is the power of the one true God, the creator of every supernova, pulsar, and black hole. It is the salvation of the born and unborn. It is the overwhelming joy of untold millions of people. If anything should not be kept secret, certainly this is it.

Maybe a certain person just isn't sure enough about their faith to tell others. I mean why lead others to believe something about you that you aren't even sure you believe? That person should do the necessary research in order to be sure. It's a front burner issue, or atleast should be. It's life and death we're talking about, the eternal resting place of your soul. Be absolutely 100% positive you know! For that unsure person I would recommend reading some books. Books by atheists like Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and Christopher Hitchens. And books by apologists like Lee Strobel, Josh McDowell, and Norman Geisler. Study other religions as well, but whatever you do, do not fall for the lie that you can never be sure if God exists, or you can't prove God you just have to believe. That's a load of hogwash. I've seen the proof, I can show the proof if given enough time (it's alot of evidence), and you can too. So make it the number one priority in your life to find the truth, and once you have, be proud of the fact that you know God. Tell others about it every chance you get, especially those chances that Facebook gives you.

Love God First, Then Love People

"The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these." (Mark 12:29-31)

This verse, as well as the parallel verses Matthew 22:37-40 and Luke 10:27, are the foundation for what a Christian is commanded to do. But there seems to be some confusion in the church about these verses. I've heard people say before that both commands are equal in value, and that all commands from God are equal. They dismiss the idea that some commands have higher value and supercede others in cases where they conflict. They would say that loving your neighbor is just as important as loving God. But what about when they conflict and you can't do both? Is there an answer for that? There is not if you believe that all commands from God have equal value. The fact is the Bible and Jesus himself have given us the answer. You see, even Jesus had to face situations where certain commands from God conflicted with other commands from God. Do you remember when the twelve year old Jesus was left behind in Jerusalem written in Luke 2? You might think the whole thing was nothing more than an accident but look at what is written. His mother said to him, "Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you." It was Jesus' responsibility to stay with the family (the whole extended family went), and by staying behind at the temple Jesus dishonored his parents. So what are we to think, that Jesus sinned? No way! Look at how Jesus responds to his mom: "Why were you searching for me?" he asked. "Didn't you know I had to be in my Father's house?" Honoring his Father in Heaven was more important than honoring his parents. But in order to emphasize that Jesus was not a disobedient child, Luke then writes "Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them."

If all you do is look at the verse you can see quite clearly that loving God is given priority, and it says loving your neighbor is second. And it says that we are to love God with our whole self and love others like ourself. It does not say that we are to love God like ourself, nor that we are to love others with all of our soul, mind, and strength. The wording of it is very purposeful. Of course that does not mean that loving your neighbor is not important, it just means that loving God is more important. So if ever there is a conflict between the two, you should choose to obey the greater command. These two commands sum up the Ten Commandments. If you take a look at the Ten Commandments you see that the first 4 deal exclusively with loving God. The 5th, honor your parents, is meant to symbolize both loving God, as God is called Father, and loving your neighbor, since your parents are human. Then the last 5 deal exclusively with loving other people. It was no accident that the commandments were put in that order. Loving God comes first and loving other people comes second. For all those people that disagree and want to believe that all commands are of equal value, I want to present a challenge. How do you make sense of Matthew 10:34-37 or Luke 14:25-27? Explain how you reconcile those passages with your belief. Or how about Abraham and Isaac? If God had not sent an angel to stop Abraham from sacrificing Isaac on the altar, Abraham certainly would have done it. If Abraham was not fully intent on obeying God's command "sacrifice your son" he would have committed a serious sin. But that would be murder wouldn't it? The command from God to sacrifice Isaac supercedes God's command not to murder. Of course God was not going to allow Abraham to do the final act, because that would have sent a message that child sacrifice is ok, and God is clearly against it! Nevertheless, Abraham would have done it if not for the angel, and it would have been the right thing to do.

It is not a sin to disobey an inferior command when a greater command requires it. And it is not the idea of doing the lesser evil, but it is doing the greater good. Also, this should not be confused with the idea of an ends justifying a means. It requires discernment to know what to do in tricky situations, but the Bible gives a tremendous amount of guidance for that. There are numerous stories and teachings that shine light on what is right and wrong when the commands clash. I'm sure some people will disagree with me, and I welcome that. The comments section exists for a reason, and I welcome comments. But I will say: if you can't argue with me using the Bible, then your argument means nothing. You can go by the authority of pastor Joe Blow or rev Somebody if you like, but what is his word against the word of God? Nothing! The basis for concluding any argument about God is whether it conforms to the Bible or not.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Freedom is Better

"If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."  -Jesus

I love studying history and about the world today.  There is so much you can learn from those subjects, about people, life, and God.  If you take an honest look at the parts of the world which Christianity has not had an influence vs the places it has, you can see a distinct difference.  Freedom follows the gospel of Christ Jesus wherever it goes.  That does not mean there is an immediate change, but certainly freedom is inherent in Christianity.  This is manifested in certain ways.  Look at the history of the Church in all the places the Church has lived.  You see that there is not a steady state to things.  It appears chaotic and everything is always in flux.  Conventional wisdom these days says that the church was controlled by the Vatican up until the reformation, and that Christianity didn't change much before then.  This idea is wrong and shows clear ignorance of church history.  Christianity was always changing, reviving, corrupting, restoring, etc etc, ever since Jesus began the Church, even before the reformation.  Change and revival are distinctly attributes of Christianity in a way that no other religion can claim. 

Why is that?  It is because of our freedom.  We tolerate evil around us because we know that God gives everyone a choice.  It is not for the Christian to force others around him to be Christians or even to act like a Christian.  That's why there are revivals, because so many people turn from God at some point in their life since they have the freedom to do that.  Look at Islam, it is completely different.  They never have revivals where Islam is predominate, because they are never allowed to turn from God.  It's like the prodigal child.  He never could have come back to the father unless he had left the father in the first place.  We would never have revivals if most people constantly stayed faithful to God, but we do simply because God has given us the freedom to be unfaithful.  Sadly, many people will use and abuse that freedom, but thank God we have revivals!  And each time there is one we always learn something new, and something has become different.  The basic tenets of Christianity always stay the same, but things like doctrine, church structure, and church character are changed during those revival periods.  This is how the church has changed over the years, and it's all because of the freedom that God has granted. 

It has even affected the way we look at politics and economics.  Over the years we have learned and developed systems that incorporate a great deal of personal freedom.  The result of this is constant change, and change that results in prosperity over time.  We have depressions and economic booms because our system is capitalism.  If our system were communism, in which there is little freedom, things would always be the same and always less than prosperous.  Every honest economist will tell you that economic/business cycles are good for the overall growth of an economy.  When things are bad it flushes out the bad things and renews.  Desperate times are when things are invented, because of the necessity of new inventions.  Flux and change are the characteristics of the western world that has made it prosperous and powerful.  And none of that would be if not for freedom, which has been given by God.  Welcome to the wild wild west where everything is chaotic, very little is predictable, and only God controls things. 

I just want to encourage people to understand the differences there are between the people and places influenced by God and those not.  Take a look at the world through a biblical lens and you will be amazed at what you see, even seeing the undeniable acts of Almighty God.  No joke.

Value of Deed

Before any one of us takes another step or makes another move we should be sure that what we do will matter. In other words, does our deeds have any value? For deeds to have value they must have meaning. For something to have meaning it must last, it cannot be temporary. The only thing that lasts forever is the Almighty God in heaven. The only things that matter are those that serve the Almighty. Everything else will vanish with time and make no difference in the end.

It makes me sick to see people who call themselves "Christian" when it's convenient, and I suppose they like the idea that they won't burn in hell for eternity. For them the take-it-off-the-shelf religion is like a fire insurance policy, as if they are doing business with the local church. They have no idea that Jesus requires much more. He requires a person's whole life, their entire self to be commited to Him. Read what he says in Luke 14:26-27. In fact, a Christian must be willing to die for Christ. Read Mark 8:34-38. Few there are that can do this, Matthew 7:13-14. And some mistakenly believe they're saved, Luke 13:24-30.

I think the biggest problem in America can be defined in the parable of the sower and the seed found in Luke 8 and Matthew 13. Most are willing to accept the gospel unlike the first soil. Most recieve and remain faithful to the gospel unlike the second soil. But there are few Americans today that are unlike the third soil. I used to be like this soil untill I focused on God's word and made the realization that everything I was worried about or chasing after was completely meaningless. Most Americans would make great fruitful Christians if they would just turn off the TV, or stop worrying about work, or chasing after wants. All of these things are weeds that keep us from knowing God and Christ. We are foolish to devote ourselves to anything but that which is eternal. That means putting God before family, certainly before career, and most of all, self. There is only one thing that ultimately matters and that is being with our Creator in heaven. Moreover, the Lord has given opportunity for us to "have treasure in heaven," and "he will reward each person according to what he has done" (Mat 16:27). What more meaningful thing to do than honor the Lord with righteous acts and build up treasure in heaven.


About Me

Unimpressive in person. But always praying that these letters I write will be weighty and forceful. I serve the Almighty as a servant of Christ. I strive to conquer hearts and minds with the word of God. I am nothing, but the Holy Spirit living inside me is omnipotent. By Him I can run and not grow weary, or walk and not be faint. All glory and honor be to God and to Jesus the Christ.