Sunday, September 17, 2017

Three Tough Questions to Ask Yourself as a Christian

I often wonder where my fellow believers stand, especially those who I stand along side of in the church. We live in a day and age where there is much compromise and strife within the church. The church as a body of believers is struggling to understand how to deal with culture. Some seek to embrace culture, and others seek to protest culture. There is an important balance to strike here. And it's clear that we need to be in this world, while at the same time we are not truly of this world. 

As Jesus said in John the 17th chapter, in His prayer to the Father for his disciples: "I have given them your word and the world has hated them,for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world." -John 17:14-18

The whole Bible, cover to cover is the word of God, all of it.  How can I know if my brothers and sisters believe this?  There is a fairly simple litmus test to administer.  I'll preface by saying that you probably won't like it.  I don't like it.  No one enjoys "controversial" topics like these.  But it is a good way of knowing where someone stands; If someone stands more so with the Bible, or if someone stands more so with the cultural views of the world.  Its a pertinent concern of our day and age.  

Love, mercy, and gentleness are important in this process.  Anything good done in the wrong spirit can be become an evil.  If I have all the right views of scripture and have no love, I'm a useless pharisee and a spawn of hell.  Plain and simple.  But if I have only love and all the wrong views of scripture, and I reject God's word for my own opinions, I've become just as much a spawn of hell, if not more so.  Love and truth is in perfect balance in Christianity.  Though I would say that love is truth, and truth is love.  The Christian concept of love is a love baked together with truth, in essence a 'true love.'  The worldly love of the world then, is not love at all, but in fact harmful, veiled in nicety, inclusion, acceptance, and a totalitarian "no one must ever be offended" concept, which is of course not love at all, but something else entirely.  

Yet biblical love is essential, biblical love, mercy, and a pouring out of excessive, scandalous grace.  We have to be so careful to strike that balance.  It's so easy to become a mean spirited dogged judgmental pharisee when we fight for truth and speak truth on important issues of our day.  We have to be so careful that we speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).  Let me say that again, it's the biblical Pauline epistle formula for speaking truth, we are called to speak the truth in love.  And as Peter wrote, we are called to provide an answer, but to do this with gentleness and patience (1st Peter 3:15). 

To be truth speakers in a fallen culture, we must make sure, though in the right hand our sword is truth, in the left hand we carry the love that comes with a gentle spirit.  That is our goal and formula.

So we seek to help our brothers and sisters who have been misled by the viewpoints of the world, to hold biblical positions on key issues. This is a simple litmus test to see where our brothers and sisters are at.  

Question 1: What is your view on the authority of scripture?

Does the believer consider the scriptures as the guide of their opinions, and viewpoints, or do they hold their own viewpoints above the scriptures, and dictate their own views into the scriptures?  Are they willing to change what the Bible says to suit their own viewpoints?  This is the most crucial question, and obviously guides what their answers will be on the next two.

Question 2: Do you consider human life to be sacred, God given, including unborn life in the womb?  

Millions upon millions of unborn child have been slaughtered in our time.  It is a modern day genocide, a modern day child sacrifice, something like 57 million unborn children have died, and gone to Jesus, precious souls, who never had a chance to live, because they were removed for the purpose of convenience, or to prevent "emotional problems."  What a terrible thing!  It is the very inversion of the cross of Jesus Christ, Jesus died for us, abortion says, you die for me, for my convenience.  

But obviously, if the believer does not hold a high view of the scriptures, then the issue of abortion isn't really a biblical issue to them, it's a cultural issue, and the propaganda of the world may have influenced them to think of child sacrifice as women's health.  It's a good question to know where they stand regarding the scriptures.

Question 3: What is your position on marriage and homosexuality?

This is probably the most revealing of all three questions.  The cultural views on this issue are so dominant, so powerful, that only the most firm Christian, holding the highest view of the scriptures, built up within the deepest convictions regarding our faith is willing to stand up and firmly say that marriage as God designed it is between man and woman, and that the practice of homosexuality is sinful (Genesis 19:1-13; Leviticus 18:22; 20:13; Romans 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 6:91st Timothy 1:10).

Yet we must always include the fact that homosexuality is not a special sin, and a person who practices homosexuality can repent of that sin, turn to Jesus Christ, and be born again, and made new.  Jesus forgives all. Let me repeat that: Jesus forgives all.  He transforms us into new people, though we may struggle with temptations in the world, He grants us the victory.  Repent and believe the good news is what Jesus said (Mark 1:15).  

I think people who struggle with homosexuality, with gender confusion and other issues should be treated with dignity, respect, and compassion.  I believe they should be invited to our churches, invited to receive the gospel of Jesus Christ, and invited to have a change of mind, and embrace God's design for living.  They shouldn't be bombarded with marriage stuff I don't think, but they should know where we stand as the church on this issue.  

I recall early in my Christian walk I participated with a church in a storefront in downtown Wausau where I grew up.  The store front outreach was stationed right next to a gay bar.  And on Saturday nights the church, downtown mission church would be open on Saturday night, with coffee and conversations.  And several people caught in homosexuality would come over, be treated with love and dignity, and would be treated as friends.  They weren't judged, or condemned.  But they did know that the church's view on marriage and homosexuality was biblical.  Many of them began attending the church, and got saved.  Thank the Lord that this church didn't say "come and don't be changed, come and remain homosexual. Jesus wants you to be homosexual."  Instead they said, "Come on in, we love you, and we invite you to be transformed by the work of Jesus Christ."  I became friends with several of these wonderful men, and I know today they would say that they were so thankful that the church encouraged them to be changed by the love of Christ.  So I really worry when Christian leaders change their view on homosexuality, and change what the Bible says about homosexuality.  Because it's destructive to people who are caught in that sin.  I bet those Christian leaders feel really inclusive, tolerant, and "loving" by doing that.  I'm sure it made them popular with the culture.  But it's hurting people caught in very real snares of the world.  It's a tragedy when churches flip on gay marriage, because it hurts those they're trying to help.  

It's a constant issue of our day and age.  It's a constant conversation in our culture. Which is exactly why we should talk about it.  If we ignore such important issues we render ourselves irrelevant.  It's odd when Christians get mad at other Christians for talking about this issue.  It's not about causing controversy.  It's not.  It's about reaching out to the culture and sharing a counter-cultural message that will help people see that the church is a different way of life. We always complain about how much the church looks just like the world.  Well, then we need to engage on difficult issues and show that we offer a different, Jesus-centered way of life.  

So in conclusion, the three key questions of our day and age relate to the authority of the Bible in the life of a believer, the sacredness of human life, and God's design for marriage and family.  Those are the key issues of our day.  

I would just appeal to those who are struggling with these questions: Please friends, we are not trying to be mean or judgmental when raising these questions.  We're trying to rally people to the word of God, and what it truly says.  There is nothing wrong with picking up the Bible, checking out some key verses, and then adjusting our viewpoint on something.  There is no shame in that.  It's a biblical thing to do, that we test everything against the word of God and what it says in our wonderful book. I'd encourage you to take that journey if your struggling with these words.  Thank you.  I could always be wrong, the Bible is right, I could always be off base, test everything by the word of God.  It's above me, it describes things better than I ever could. Thanks, and God bless you today.  

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Thursday, September 14, 2017

Quotations on Atheism: How Should We Answer Atheism?

Atheism is an interesting worldview.  It's absolutely unheard of in the history humanity until the last few hundred years.  But increasingly modern man is identifying as non-religious.  Though most would not consider themselves militant atheists, most would probably fain a lack of interest in religion and/or spirituality while affirming an atheistic material view of reality.  

As Christians, how do we counter atheism?  How do we counter materialism?  Let's look at a few quotations by influential Christian leaders from the past and present. 

"I believe it takes far more faith to be an atheist than to believe in God. Atheists believe that everything that exists (the entire universe with its billions of stars and planets) came from nothing and by nothing. Nobody x Nothing = Everything. That takes a lot of faith!" –Charlie H. Campbell

"Someone once said that if you sat a million monkeys at a million typewriters for a million years, one of them would eventually type out all of Hamlet by chance. But when we find the text of Hamlet, we don't wonder whether it came from chance and monkeys. Why then does the atheist use that incredibly improbable explanation for the universe? Clearly, because it is his only chance of remaining an atheist. At this point we need a psychological explanation of the atheist rather than a logical explanation of the universe." -Peter Kreeft 

"If God were small enough to be understood, He would not be big enough to be worshiped." -Evelyn Underhill

"Atheism is a crutch for those who cannot bear the reality of God." -Tom Stoppard

“I am persuaded that men think there is no God because they wish there were none. They find it hard to believe in God, and to go on in sin, so they try to get an easy conscience by denying his existence.” –Charles Spurgeon

“I can see how it might be possible for a man to look down upon earth and be an atheist, but I cannot conceive how he could look up into the heavens and say that there is no God.”
–Abraham Lincoln

“Everyone worships–even an atheist. He worships himself. When men reject God they worship false gods. That, of course, is what God forbids in the first commandment.” –John MacArthur

“Supposing there was no intelligence behind the universe, no creative mind. In that case, nobody designed my brain for the purpose of thinking. It is merely that when the atoms inside my skull happen, for physical or chemical reasons, to arrange themselves in a certain way, this gives me, as a by-product, the sensation I call thought. But, if so, how can I trust my own thinking to be true? It's like upsetting a milk jug and hoping that the way it splashes itself will give you a map of London. But if I can't trust my own thinking, of course I can't trust the arguments leading to Atheism, and therefore have no reason to be an Atheist, or anything else. Unless I believe in God, I cannot believe in thought: so I can never use thought to disbelieve in God.” –C. S. Lewis

"Still, even the most admirable of atheists is nothing more than a moral parasite, living his life based on borrowed ethics. This is why, when pressed, the atheist will often attempt to hide his lack of conviction in his own beliefs behind some poorly formulated utilitarianism, or argue that he acts out of altruistic self-interest. But this is only post-facto rationalization, not reason or rational behavior." -Vox Day

"Nobody talks so constantly about God as those who insist that there is no God." -Heywood Broun

Much of atheism in western civilization stems from naturalism, naturalism stems from darwinism.  Evolution of course is taught as undisputed fact, yet the theory is full of holes.  We would be wise to reexamine the reliability of this theory.  Yet maybe there is something greater in the backdrop. Perhaps we now live a society that thinks God is no longer necessary.  Or perhaps society thinks that Christianity has been tried, and was found judgmental and wanting.  

Yet I think western man is near a time in history when we may once again realize our need for God.  When the sheer empty meaninglessness of secular atheism has played itself out in the empty bottle, the Rx hangover, the morning breakfast after the one night stand of scientism, and the caving gaping hole in the chest that selfish self seeking living provides, there may yet be a shadow emanating off the wall of the broken trainspotting apartment complex, where a dazed half stupified post-modern man may look through the glass dimly and see... God.  

My Top Ten Favorite Christian Speakers to Listen to on YouTube

1. Ravi Zacharias - I've heard most of his messages, he generally gives pretty much the same message, but he's deep, he talks philosophy and apologetics with a central gospel focus. 

2. Frank Turek - straight forward jersey talk on Christian apologetics and cultural/political issues

3. Timothy Keller - His apologetics are excellent, but Tim Keller's description of complex overarching themes of scripture is really quite exceptional.

4. William Lane Craig - Intellectual, deep apologetics based on a solid framework of logic laced with cosmology, history, and scriptural references.

5. Ray Comfort - the evangelist never fails to urge us to reach people with the living gospel, true deliverance from sin. 

6. Voddie Baucham Jr - Voddie's focus on family, marriage, and scriptural authority are thought provoking and quite grounding for the mind. 

7. John Piper - always meaningful sermons focusing on the glory of God and how we are made to glorify Him and enjoy fellowship with God.

8. Greg Koukl - apologetics, science, and the reality of Christian worldview. 

9. Michael Ramsden - RZIM Christian apologist

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Messengers of Compassion: How does the concept of compassion play out in the Scriptures?

Let me preface this brief post by saying I of course can't speak for the messengers of compassion or the Salvation Army overall.  These are simply my viewpoints, and my opinions and they do not necessarily represent the views or positions of the Salvation Army.  

I'm part of a session at the college for officer's training in the Salvation Army called "The Messengers of Compassion."  Each session of "cadets" in the Salvation Army seminaries worldwide are given an official title, and flag.  I'm part of this group.  

At first I felt somewhat troubled by the title of my session, not exceedingly so, but I feel such a strong call toward truth, grace, and the gospels.  But what about compassion?  Compassion is in fact, a powerful concept in the holy scriptures.  Perhaps I hadn't fully understood the significance of compassion in Christ, the gospel, and my own life.

The gospels are full of verses where Jesus was moved to compassion for the people he served.  If compassion moved Jesus in His life so many times, if this fundamental emotion was to prime to God himself, shouldn't it be exceedingly prime to his servants?

It's an incredible honor I don't deserve.  And a massive, massive responsibility.  In fact, if it's true that God is real, and that heaven and hell are both real, and the souls of all humanity on Earth hang in the balance, then the responsibility of a pastor to carry the word is definitively the most important job ever.  Literally.

In the gospel of Mark it is recorded: "When Jesus went ashore, He saw a large crowd, and He felt compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and He began to teach them many things." -Mark 6:34

The needs of the people near Jesus caused an emotional reaction in his soul, he felt the emotion of compassion and this spurred him to teach the people. Compassion triggered action.

Again in the gospel of Luke, chapter 7 Jesus was approached by a woman.  She had lost her husband, he died at some point in the past.  And she was carrying her first born and only son in her arms.  He was dead. And Jesus saw her.

It says: "When the Lord saw her, He felt compassion for her, and said to her, "Do not weep." -Luke 7:13

Jesus was moved with compassion, and his compassion moved him to take action.  That's what being a Christ-follower is all about.  Our hearts are turned from stone cold darkness to soft warm flesh.  And when we see suffering instead of apathy, we're moved by compassion, to action.

If you combine the OT and NT there are 93 instances of the usage of various words for compassion in ancient Hebrew and Greek (Racham in Hebrew, 45 times, and Eleos in Greek, 26 instances.)

In the epistles, the letters to the early churches and church leaders we see instructions, specifically from the apostle Paul indicating that we must make use of compassion as a primary character trait in our new lives: "So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience..." -Colossians 3:12

Out of the heart can come great evil, but for the regenerate believer out of the heart should come compassion amongst other key character assets. 

This compassion is evidenced in an outpouring of love for those in need.  It's such a cliche' thing to say, but it is true that actions speak louder than words.

The primary scripture verse linked with my session is Ephesians 4:32 which states: "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you."  

Amen to that.  Compassion is the emotional response we as Christians have to the suffering and despair of the world, that moves us to carry the gospel and meet human needs in the name of Jesus, without discrimination.

So I'm a messenger of compassion, and rightly so.  I'm not a messenger of law, judgment, or harshness.  That's what I looked for in Christians when I was an atheist.  I looked for hatred, because that's what I thought Christians were, haters.  But it was the love of people like Marion, the priest who visited me at my bedside when I was near death in the hospital.  And it was pastors like my pastor at New Day church who presented a gospel of total forgiveness, of total grace, that won me over.  

I realized that God didn't want to punish me.  God wanted to offer me forgiveness if I would receive His son Jesus Christ, and allow Jesus to transform my life into something better.  That's the essence of the gospel message, radical compassion to people who have lived in a dark, dank underworld of sin and human selfishness so long that they've gotten used to being treated like a hunk of meat, like something to be used and abused, they've become so cynical in darkness, that when selfless love wells up in the Christian, it's like a river that shatters the rocky surface of their soul and fills them with something as radical and transformative as hope. Hope, flowing out from pure compassion, compassion unmixed with anger or cruelty, a radical, excessive compassion laced with abundant grace, scandalous grace, grace that covers over terrible sin, washing it away completely in the power of the blood of Jesus Christ who has paid the debt for all our sin.  It's that gift, that passion of Christ Jesus on the cross, which in fact is the ultimate expression of the compassion of Jesus Christ, his willingness to go to the cross, because he was moved to compassion, to come on a rescue mission to save people who rebelled against him, to save them.  To save you and me.  Amazing.  

I'm honored to be a messenger of compassion, because ultimately it was the compassion of the messengers who came to me, that won me over to the love of Jesus. To do that with my life is the dream I could hardly dare to dream. I can't deserve it, but I will receive it, and God willing I will be found faithful in this journey of service to our living savior.  Amen. 

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