"Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see".
What wonderful words written centuries ago by an English slave-trader who came to know the error of his ways towards the end of his life! If you haven't already seen the movie "Amazing Grace", I highly recommend it.
In that first verse of possibly the most well-known hymn of all time is the first key to understanding our word of this week - GRACE. You cannot understand grace if you think YOU don't need it. This was the problem of the Pharisees (the self-righteous, holier-than-thou religious people of Jesus' day) the entire time of Christ's earthly ministry. There are many examples of their attitude in the gospels, but one in particular comes to my mind. In Matthew 9, Jesus converts Matthew (aka Levi) by simply inviting him to follow him. This is a huge deal because Matthew was a tax collector, which means he was hated, despised, and rejected by literally everyone. So Jesus' simple and kind invitation moves Matthew's heart. After the conversion, they go together and eat at Matthew's house (because that's what is supposed to happen after a conversion - PARTY TIME). While Jesus was there, the Word tells us that "many tax collectors and 'sinners' came and ate with him and his disciples" (Matthew 9:10 [NIV]). Verse 11 then tells us that the Pharisees saw this and questioned the disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and 'sinners'"? I love how Matthew wrote this. It's almost like by putting quotations around the word "sinners", he is making the point that these foolish hypocrites didn't realize that there really is no difference between them! They didn't understand grace because they saw it as something that is for "other people" who are "less than" them. We must understand that we are indeed wretches, lost, and blind without it.
The second key to understanding grace is to believe that it is transformational. While the biggest act of grace may be that God allows those of us who believe into heaven to spend eternity in His holy presence, that's not all there is. It changes us from the inside out. It affects every area of our lives. I think of the second verse of the hymn: "Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved. How precious did that grace appear, the hour I first believed". Grace, or undeserved favor, not only relieves any fear of condemnation for our faults, it also teaches us to appropriately fear God (Proverbs 1:7) by reminding us that we are doomed without this free gift. That reminder transforms our desires from either of the two extremes of living to please ourselves or living to earn God's love through works to striving to obey Him with the FREEDOM of knowing that falling short will not equal condemnation. By grace, we enter into relationship with God. Just like with any other committed, loving relationship we have as humans, God does not kick us to the curb because of our failures. He loves us through them. And our knowledge that He loves us anyway ought to spur us on to do better. Think of a marriage. If you're married, you know that when your spouse loves you even through your faults, that makes you want to correct your faults. If your spouse condemns you for your mistakes, you tend to want to give up more easily because you feel unworthy. It's the same thing with God and His grace. If you think that His grace simply gives you more opportunities to "get away" with all the sins you cherish anyway, then you don't really understand grace (Romans 6:1-2).
Finally, the third key to understand grace is that it is FOR EVERYONE. It is not apportioned out according to our works. No matter what you have or have not done in your life, God's grace is available all the same. This should change not only how you view your own worth, but also how you view the worth of others even when they disgust you, anger you, or drive you nuts! This makes me think of one of my favorite points of the Apostle Paul. "Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners - of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life" (1 Timothy 1:15-16 [NIV]). I'd encourage you to read from verse 12 on. Even though Paul was once a Pharisee (Philippians 3:5), he learned that he needed grace, allowed it to transform him, and now viewed it as something available to anyone who would choose to believe in Christ Jesus - no exceptions. Those of us who know we have received grace must look at every human being as one who Christ desperately wants to pour out his grace upon. That starts with our own humility. Paul was not literally "the worst of sinners" of his day. Sure, he was pretty bad, but there were worse sinners, much worse. The point was that in his own view of self, he was the worst of sinners. He didn't look for ways to compare himself favorably to others as many of us do today. He took the attitude that enabled him to view everyone as recipients of grace if they believe. If we TRULY understand grace, our view of self and our view of others should be no different than Paul's.
We humans are all about getting what we deserve. That may entail giving someone else what we feel they deserve as an act of revenge, or it may be feeling entitled to get something that we feel we deserve because of what we’ve done. For me especially with my engineering brain, it’s so easy to see things in such a logical way; this action merits that consequence, and that action merits this consequence.
But that’s not how God sees it. When we follow Him, all of that logic driven by our human nature flies out the window! And this, my friends, is a very good thing.
Because of when the first humans sinned so many centuries ago, we are not perfect - not a single one of us! “There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:22b-23, NIV) We can never measure up to God. Period. We all mess up and do things (many things!) that disobey His commands and honor ourselves instead of honoring God.
But that’s where grace comes in. Romans 3 continues with verse 24: “And all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” In Ephesians 2:8-9, we read, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.” There is nothing that we do, no way we can work in our lives, that can merit God’s favor toward us. Yes, we can try our best to live in obedience to Him, but no one of us will ever achieve perfection. Jesus was the only person to walk this earth who did live a perfect live, and it is because of His sacrifice that we can receive the gift of grace from God, simply by having faith.
Grace is getting what we do not deserve from God. We deserve death, and he gives us life! Praise God that His logic is far beyond that of us humans.
"As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. These promote controversies rather than God's work - which is by faith" (1 Timothy 1:3-4 [NIV]).
These words were the FIRST words written after the greeting in the FIRST letter from Paul to his faithful apprentice, Timothy. I'd say that makes them pretty important for Timothy and for the church. I find it interesting that Paul writes about both myths and endless genealogies. A myth is a story that is false, so it obviously should be avoided. But genealogies have to do with fact-checking and the tracing of actual history. Yet, Paul tells Timothy and the church not to be devoted to these things. Why is Paul so firm about this so early in his letter to Timothy? The answer is given right away - because he knows that such pursuits lead to controversies which ultimately cannot be resolved when God's work is a matter of faith.
The phrase for this week is "circular reasoning". For those of you who love to evaluate things using logic, circular reasoning can either trick you or drive you completely insane! The basic meaning of this phrase has to do with attempting to prove a theory to be true and even claiming you have proof when the reality is that your proof is dependent upon a piece of evidence that only exists if your theory is true. That may be difficult to wrap our brains around, so let me share two examples that typically oppose each other. Science often uses circular reasoning to claim they have figured out the dates of a rock and a fossil (for example) that were found near each other. Their reasoning is circular because they use their own determined date of the fossil to calculate the date of the rock; and the date of the rock to calculate the date of the fossil. In the end, nothing is really proved; but their theories can't be disproven either. They simply convince people that they have proof when in fact they have nothing. It's like the classic question: "Which came first, the chicken or the egg?"
On the other hand, many opponents of the Bible claim that Christians use circular reasoning to defend the position that Scripture is inerrant (a fancy word for "without error). When asked how we know this, most Christians would probably respond, "Because it says so in the Bible!" We cannot prove our position to be true, but it can't be disproven either. Thus, people with opposing views find themselves wrapped in controversies and disagreements that have no end. In my opinion, this is exactly what Paul was getting at with our opening Scripture. There's no point in using circular reasoning for matters of faith because we wind up pretending we have proven something which we cannot prove.
This is not an excuse to be lazy in our pursuit of understanding. Because we cannot get caught up in trying to prove a matter of belief, we should be all the more devoted to growing and strengthening the faith. You might ask how this is even possible. Well, the beginning of the Gospel of John gives us our answer. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God...the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us" (John 1:1,14a [NIV]). The Creator of the whole universe came to this earth and dwelt among us so that we could have a personal and intimate relationship with him. Our faith is strengthened not by circular reasoning, but by personal experience and relationship with a LIVING God. That relationship is not possible in science. You cannot have an experiential relationship with a rock or fossil. While science would never admit this, its theories require just as much faith (and maybe more) as Christian theories do. I don't know about you, but I'm very thankful that my beliefs about God and His Word, which cannot be proven beyond all doubt to all skeptics, are proven to me through my experience and relationship with him. I can assure you, if you're still waiting and looking for proof, you WILL NOT FIND IT until you enter the relationship based on faith and experience the proof for yourself.
For some reason, as soon as I heard the phrase "straw man", I thought about a scene from a movie. No, I'm not talking about the Scarecrow from "The Wizard of Oz", which is probably what most people would think of. The scene that immediately came to my mind is a rather comical one from the war drama "The Patriot". Mel Gibson's character is in the office of one of the British generals negotiating the release of colonial prisoners. His main bargaining chip is that his men have taken British soldiers, many of them highly-ranked, captive and are holding them at gunpoint on top of a ridge quite a distance from the office. The British leader looks from afar to receive apparent confirmation of their capture and subsequently agrees to release his prisoners. However, we learn within mere moments what the British leader did not know - the colonials had created straw men and dressed them up in British uniforms! The plan of the colonials worked as the Brits had been deceived!
And that, friends, is the main goal of the "straw man" tactic - to deceive. As you might guess, the name of this tactic comes from the use of actual straw men. They are easier to fight and defeat because they obviously cannot retaliate. In the same way, turning someone's argument into a "straw man" makes it easier for you to shoot it down because it is NOT the real argument the person was making. It doesn't necessarily mean you are completely misrepresenting them, lying, or changing their argument altogether. What is more likely and more deceptive is exaggerating someone's argument to a point they were not making.
Biblically speaking, this tactic brought to my mind the book of Acts. It seems that in the early church and even before that, followers of God were subject to ridiculous and exaggerated accusations because their accusers could not find fault in them otherwise. One specific example is in Acts 16:16-40. Paul, Silas, and some of their fellow believers were traveling throughout Syria, which was almost entirely pagan at that point. A slave girl who made money by fortune-telling was following them. While this sort of thing would've been very common in a pagan society, it was completely deplorable to the believers. So Paul commanded the evil spirit to leave her and it did. Her owners were enraged because she could no longer make them money, so they brought Paul and Silas into the marketplace to face the authorities in front of crowds of people. It was at this point that they used a "straw man" tactic. Since they couldn't find any realistic charges to bring against these men, they simply declared, "These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar" (v. 20b). Since Paul and Silas were in fact Jews in an anti-Semitic region, all the owners of the slave girl had to do was play to the emotions of the crowds and magistrates. Paul and Silas' goal was to simply command an evil spirit to leave one girl, but her owners exaggerated the situation by calling them troublemakers who are affecting the whole city.
Because they were Jews and it was assumed they were not Roman citizens (even though we later find out that they were), Paul and Silas had no defense. As a result of the accusations, they were stripped (humiliated), severely flogged, and thrown in jail. Should we expect that the world will do the same to us the more we speak out against evil and for Jesus Christ? You better believe it. Fortunately, very few if any of us have suffered such consequences to this point. But we should not assume that we never will. Even if we never face it to this extent, those who oppose the Christian faith will most certainly use any tactics they can, including straw man arguments, to try to defeat us. The important thing for us to remember and the challenging thing for us to live out is that we need not defend ourselves. We must check our motives by the Holy Spirit, and if He approves of us, then the accusations of others are irrelevant. I once heard megachurch pastor Matt Chandler at a conference and he labeled Paul as "the most free man ever". The authorities could do what they wanted to Paul, but they still couldn't get to him. He lived in freedom as a workman approved by God.
You and I can live this way too. In the Acts story, it ends with the authorities being "astonished" to find they are Roman citizens and were treated unfairly. They then escort Paul and Silas from the prison and out of the city. If you resist the temptation to defend yourself against straw man arguments or anything else that misrepresents you, God will be your Defender.
Warning: This post contains math! I know not everyone loves math like I do, so consider yourself warned. But, you ask, this post is titled “Straw Man,” right? What does that have to do with math? Bear with me and you’ll see.
In 1 Kings 7, the furnishings King Solomon’s temple are being described. In verses 23, there is a detailed description of an item called the Sea. The Sea is a large basin used as a bath to purify the priests. This verse states: “He made the Sea of cast metal, circular in shape, measuring ten cubits from rim to rim and five cubits high. It took a line of thirty cubits to measure around it.” A cubit is the length of the forearm, from the elbow to the wrist. Here’s where the math comes in.
The formula for the circumference of a circle (the distance around the outside) is the constant pi times the diameter (how far straight across), so c=(pi)x(d). If we put the numbers given in the passage in for the circumference (30 cubits) and the diameter (10 cubits), we would find out that pi is 3. What’s the problem here? Well, the constant pi has been mathematically determined to be about 3.14. That may not seem like a huge discrepancy, but it is in the world of mathematics.
Some people could take this discrepancy and say that because the math doesn’t work out exactly right, the Bible cannot be true or cannot be inspired by God. That is an example of a straw man argument - misrepresenting your opponent’s position.
I do believe the Bible is Truth and is fully inspired by God, so I would account for the discrepancy with rounding, and the fact that a cubit is not an exact unit of measure, like an inch or a centimeter, since it depends on the person’s forearm who is doing the measuring. They didn’t exactly have tape measures or laser measurement tools back in 587 B.C.!
The reason this is a straw man argument is because when discussing the legitimacy of the Bible, this is not a valid point and it misrepresents that position. Saying that the entire Bible is not true because this one verse calculates pi as 3 instead of 3.14 is a distorted argument. This discrepancy is not one of the main points that the Bible is making, thus using this misrepresents the Bible as an entire book and it’s message.
Be aware of straw man arguments that can come up, because they have a tendency to blow a minute detail out of proportion, or distort the facts in some way. Especially when discussing the Bible, remember to look at the big picture of the message of the Scriptures and don’t get hung up on the value of pi.
I have to admit that my initial thought when I heard the term “red herring” for the first time was the Dr. Seuss book “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.” After all, a red herring is a red fish, right?
Well, not exactly. In the literary or discussion sense, it refers to diverting attention away from what is significant. To use this in practice, I could be writing a blog to describe various discussion tactics, and then suddenly say, “Squirrel!” That would divert your attention away from learning about the concept of a red herring - and be a red herring itself at the same time.
The process of using a red herring tactic is to create a diversion or distraction away from the topic at hand. While this is commonly used among human discussions, I find this to be most prevalent in my spiritual life. The devil is constantly seeking to distract me from focusing on God by distracting me with all sorts of things. The devil’s red herring could be my mind wandering when I’m trying to pray, or wanting the “shiny” things of this world, or any number of other things.
We as humans are easily distracted, especially in this age of the Internet where a million distractions are at our fingertips, whether it be videos on YouTube or Farmville on Facebook. Even just checking constantly for our friends’ Twitter and Facebook updates can be a huge distraction. All of these things serve as red herrings in our life - they distract us from what is most important, which is living our lives for Jesus Christ and working to bring glory to God.
Posted by Worldview Warriors On Wednesday, December 7, 2011 0 comments
I was hanging out with my friend Dwight Allen of the radio program, "A Second Look At Sports" on Friday night at a high school basketball game and he asked me if I pray for Tim Tebow. I said, "Yes" but that really got me thinking. Do I really?
If you are a follower of Christ or not and you are a fan of Tim Tebow or not you have to admit one thing. He is a sold out follower of Jesus Christ. He knows what he believes and why he believes it. Think about it. He's asked about the football game he just played in and he's pointing people to Christ or talking about the hospital that's being built in the Philippines. He is all about Christ all the time. I will admit that I wasn't sure if he would continue being outspoken about his faith in Jesus Christ when he hit the NFL but he has stayed true to the Lord.
I am still amazed that even though he keeps winning a good amount of the "experts" say he is no good and not an NFL quarterback. Yet, all he is doing right now is winning. If you compare the careers of the great Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway and Tim Tebow up to this point in both of their careers you could easily win the argument that Tebow is better than Elway was at the same point in his career. Here's one link of their stats through 8 games. It's pretty wild. So, what is the point of this entry??
Let's all pray for Tim Tebow. Win or lose pray for him to continue to be the light for Christ that he is called to be to the world. Also, let's not forget to pray for other Christian atheltes too. Athletes like Colt McCoy, Sam Bradford and even Matt Hasselbeck and others the Lord brings to your mind. Then do a check on yourself. Are you doing all you can for the Kingdom of God with excellence and to the best of your God-given ability or are you just skatin' by?
Read James 1 and let it sink in what James is writing about here. Then live it.
I know that many of you are old enough to remember the famous O.J. Simpson murder trial. (By the way, I realize that I must be officially included in that "old enough" crowd when I'm using the phrase to refer to something that occurred when I was a freshman in high school). O.J. was on trial for two counts of first-degree murder for the slayings of his wife, Nicole, and another man, Ronald Goldman. You might recall that what made the trial such a huge national story that dominated the headlines (other than the fact that O.J. was a star football player) was the ability of the defense team to make racial issues a point of focus. Regardless of where you stand on the outcome of the case, it is inarguable that Johnny Cochran and the other members of O.J.'s defense team succeeded in this tactic. It started in the jury selection process. Out of 12 jurors, 8 were black, 1 was white, 1 was Hispanic, and 2 were mixed race. Then, during witness testimony, Detective Mark Fuhrman, a white man, was questioned about his PAST uses of racist language. Excerpts of tape recordings with his voice were played and Cochran used them to try to convince the jury that Fuhrman was racist, thus making his investigation of the crimes biased. When the trial concluded in 1995, Simpson was found not guilty in criminal court despite the evidence against him. Many believe that Cochran and the rest of the defense team were successful in making the trial more about Fuhrman's apparent racism than O.J.'s involvement in the crimes.
This tactic is known by the phrase "red herring". A herring is a type of fish and it is "red" when it is smoked. The phrase is used more in a tactical sense to refer to something that is introduced into an argument or setting to draw attention away from the central issue. In the old days in Great Britain, the fish was used to train hunting dogs to follow the faint odor of a fox or other animal. The trainer would drag a red herring, which has a much stronger odor, perpendicularly across the trail of the hunted animal to distract the dog. Eventually, the dog would learn that it was a mere distraction and would learn to follow the correct scent rather than the strongest one. You can also think of a mystery fiction movie or even TV shows such as Law & Order or CSI. Often, the writers of the plot will intentionally mislead the viewer by making an individual who is truly innocent appear to be guilty, only to later reveal the one truly responsible for the crime.
When I think of distractions, I think of temptation. And when I think of temptation, I think of Matthew 4 when Jesus was tempted by the devil in the desert after fasting for forty days and forty nights. In the devil's first attempt, his argument was relevant. Jesus was incredibly hungry and Satan told him to turn the stones into bread (v. 3). Once that didn't work, his next attempt was completely irrelevant! He told Jesus to throw himself down from the highest point of the temple to prove he is the Son of God (v. 6). The devil even introduced Scripture, something we know is inspired by God himself (2 Timothy 3:16), to try to distract Jesus! It's not that the Scripture he used is invalid; it's that it was completely irrelevant to Jesus' present goal of submitting to his Father during the trying times. Just as Johnny Cochran was able to steer the jury's focus away from O.J.'s involvement in the murders and toward Mark Fuhrman's apparent racism, Satan tries to distract us (as he did Jesus) with things that seem good and noble but are in actuality irrelevant and not what God wants for us.
Are you going through trying times right now in your life? Do you know how God wants you to respond even while you sense the distractions (which are likely "good" things) that the enemy is putting in your way? Heed the instructions of the Apostle Paul: "See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ" (Colossians 2:8 [NIV]).
Have you ever felt like someone just didn't like you for reasons completely unknown to you? You never had any problems with them, yet they seemed to work hard to point out your faults and celebrate your failures. Maybe they even sought ways to trip you up. On the flip side of this equation, have you ever disliked someone so much that you rooted for them to fail even though they really hadn't done anything to make you feel that way? This could be caused by envy, jealousy, or an inferiority complex.
Both of the hypothetical scenarios mentioned above are driven much more by emotion than by logic or clear thinking. Both are examples of the "ad hominem" way of relating to others. The Word of the Week for this week is the Latin phrase "ad hominem". Webster defines the phrase as "appealing to people's emotions and prejudices rather than their ability to think". When translated into English, the phrase literally means "to the person". The phrase is often referred to as the type of argument where one party attacks the other on a basis that is completely irrelevant to the actual argument. All you have to do today is turn on any political talk show and you will likely see some candidate attempting to discount the other's leadership ability by bringing up any negative information he can find even if it is not directly related to his opponent's ability to lead.
In the Bible, a good example of this very thing is the story of Daniel in the Old Testament. In Daniel 6:3, it says, "Now Daniel so distinguished himself among the administrators and the satraps by his exceptional qualities that the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom". This obviously didn't make the other administrators too happy, so they "tried to find grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs, but they were unable to do so" (v. 4). As the story goes on, we see that they resorted to an "ad hominem" plan since they couldn't find fault in him regarding anything relevant to his ability to govern. They appealed to his commitment to pray to God alone while also appealing to King Darius' desire to be the only one that men are allowed to pray to over a thirty-day period. These administrators tricked King Darius, who thought highly of Daniel, into putting a decree in writing that would likely lead to Daniel's end. You know the story from your childhood as "Daniel in the Den of Lions", because that was the penalty spelled out in the decree for praying to any god or man aside from King Darius. Daniel kept his commitment to prayer because it was a matter of faith, not human logic. King Darius allowed himself to be manipulated because his desire for authority and decision to write the decree was about his emotions, not sound thinking. Daniel had clearly proven himself worthy of the authority he was about to receive, but he and the king were had by the administrators' "ad hominem" method.
I believe there are two takeaways for us from this story as we consider how we are affected by "ad hominem" plans. First, many of you know the end of the story of Daniel in the Den of Lions. The latter part of Daniel 6 tells us that King Darius was greatly distressed after realizing what he had to do according to his decree. It also tells us that God sent an angel to shut the mouths of the lions. So Daniel basically hung out with them (I like to think he played with their manes the same way we pet dogs) all night long! To prove to us that it was indeed God's divine protection and not "faulty" lions, the men who used the "ad hominem" argument against Daniel are thrown into the den and immediately destroyed. From this, we see that we have no reason to fret when others attack our character, faith, or feelings in ways that are totally irrelevant to the actual argument. What really matters is that we check our own motives, attitudes, and actions. If we are innocent in God's sight, He will handle it. Daniel did nothing except trust in his God. As 1 Peter 5:6 reminds us, "Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time". People will attack us as the spiritual battle over souls rages on and some of those attacks will be completely unfair, but we need only to remain humble and let God be our Defender.
The second and less obvious takeaway for us is that we are all susceptible to being had the way King Darius was. Frankly, every time we give into the temptation by Satan to make sinful choices even though we CLEARLY KNOW that such choices are inconsistent with our relationship with Christ, we fall victim to his "ad hominem" scheme. For us as Christians, sin appeals to our feelings and emotions, but rarely to our clear logic. Count me as one who believes there isn't much we can do to change our feelings. However, what we CAN and MUST do is recognize that sometimes our feelings lead us astray and pray that the Holy Spirit be the only guide for our emotions.
As you reflect on the story of Daniel and this phrase, understand that you have no control over how others attack you or appeal to your feelings. You do have control over how you respond to it. Putting your faith in God and letting His Spirit lead you makes all the difference in the world!
“What can you know about preaching? You’re a woman!”
“What can you know about engineering? You’re a woman!”
Unfortunately I have heard both of these statements in my life, as I am both an electrical engineer and a preacher. There are many people who have the idea that those two professions, and probably others, are best left to men. But when you really think about it, what effect does a person’s gender have on their ability to design something, or to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ? None, in my opinion.
When I hear statements like those above, it is a type of argument called “ad hominem.” The basic idea of an ad hominem argument is that it is a personal attack, usually on a quality of the person which has nothing to do with the topic at hand. In the two examples I mentioned, the attack is on my gender, not my skills or abilities or my gifting from God in those areas.
When people have a discussion about something, because we are humans we have a tendency to try and “win.” We may employ many tactics to do so, and ad hominem is one of them. (We’ll be looking at a few more in the coming weeks.)
So, even though I feel that ad hominem is wrong and unfair, what does Scripture say about this? In 2 Timothy 2:23, Paul writes, “Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels.” Also, in Titus 3:1-2, it says,”Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone.”
In light of these passages, what should we do? We should “make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification” as we’re instructed in Romans 14:19. It is commendable to get into discussion to learn more about what the other person is saying, and to test each other as iron sharpens iron (Proverbs 27:17). Have an open mind, and look at the facts of the situation rather than at characteristics that have no bearing on how they serve God and work for His Kingdom.
Hitting rock bottom. At the end of your rope. Less than nothing left. What do all these things have in common? They will happen to someone who is a prodigal.
What is a prodigal? A prodigal is someone who spends wastefully and recklessly. It is a person who has no regard for responsibility, especially financially. A prodigal lives a wild and reckless lifestyle, and will eventually run out of money and hit rock bottom with nothing left.
We see a story about this in Luke 15:11-31. A man had two sons, and the younger son got his inheritance money early and became a prodigal, living the good life and spending all his money on frivolous things. While the word “prodigal” is not written in the text of this story, the idea of being a prodigal is exactly what the younger son does. He finally realizes how wrong he was when he gets a job feeding pigs and is so hungry he’d love to eat their slop!
The idea of being a prodigal goes against what God wants for us and our lives. Jesus warns us that we cannot love money while also claiming to love God. In Matthew 6:24 He says, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” If a person has the attitude of a reckless prodigal, he or she is serving money and not God.
In Proverbs 21:5 we read, “The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty.” Being diligent is the opposite of being a prodigal. Diligence leads to being profitable, whereas being a prodigal and being hasty with money leads to poverty and having nothing left.
The idea of being a prodigal does not have to only involve money. A person can be a prodigal with anything that they recklessly waste. Think about your life. What are you doing with the gifts and material things that God has given you? Are you being a prodigal and recklessly wasting them, only to find yourself in a moment where you feel like you have hit rock bottom? Or are you embracing what God has given and using those gifts wisely?
Fortunately for the son in the story of Luke 15, his father was watching and waiting for him to return. There is forgiveness for having prodigal actions! This prodigal son was not only allowed to come back in the house, but he was given a party and the royal treatment so to speak.
Think about where you stand as a prodigal or not this week as we celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday here in America. Thankfully, when we do have prodigal tendencies, we can always be thankful that God is there to welcome us back home, with open arms!
Every once in awhile, you come across one of those words that has a meaning that no one can actually define but everyone seems to know what it is. This is mainly due to the context in which the word is used. The word for this week is a perfect example. Most of you are familiar with the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:11-32. As soon as you hear "Prodigal Son", you immediately know what I'm talking about because of the story (context). However, when we separate the word "prodigal" from the story, most of us wouldn't be able to define it. I gave a group of guys who take part in a Bible study I lead that very task a few weeks ago. When asked to define "prodigal", their answers were along the lines of "disobedient, lost, and rebellious". While a prodigal individual may be described by those very adjectives, an important part of the meaning of the word is often left out.
Initially, I thought that I would just look it up in the Bible using my Greek New Testament. Surely, the word is in the story for which it is often used as a title, right? Well, a funny thing happened on the way to figuring out the Biblical meaning of this word. I found out it's not even in the Bible! Super! So, that means that its usage in the Luke 15 parable is simply a matter of tradition (is anyone else singing the song from Fiddler on the Roof in their head when they see that word?). That doesn't mean we should cease using "prodigal" in this Biblical context. We live and speak by traditions in all areas of life. It does mean that we must look elsewhere if we want to find its meaning.
The word "prodigal" comes from the Latin prodigere, which means "to squander". Webster defines it as "extravagantly wasteful". This meaning goes a step further than simply being lost or disobedient. Obviously, one cannot be considered wasteful unless he has something valuable to waste in the first place. In the Luke 15 parable, the younger son receives his share of his father's estate and "squanders his wealth in wild living". His wastefulness, or prodigal activity, drives him from a point of wealth to a situation of extreme poverty in which he feeds pigs for small wages and finds himself desiring to eat their food.. We can conclude that he was a Jew for two reasons: 1) it was Jewish custom for fathers to divide their estate into certain portions and this would have been known by the sons all their lives, and 2) Jesus was telling this parable to the Pharisees and teachers of the law, so he would've appealed to their cultural customs (which were also his). I bring up the fact that the prodigal son was a Jew because Jews consider pigs to be unclean animals according to their law. He had been so wasteful with his gift that it drove him to a point of compromising not only the morals he wanted to ignore, but also the ones he would've wanted to hold onto. What a lesson for us! We are foolish when we think we can live wastefully and still manage the damage. Almost every time, we find ourselves compromising a lot more than we had planned.
Fortunately for us, the point of the parable in the second half of it is that we have a loving Father who allows us to be wasteful, grieves as He watches us experience the natural consequences of our choices, and then welcomes us back to Him with no strings attached when we finally let go of our pride and return to Him in humility. That does not give us a license to be prodigals! I mean, we can certainly choose to be wasteful and He will give us that freedom and won't love us any less. But we must heed the warning of this parable. If we choose to live wastefully regarding our inheritance, we WILL lose it. It's not something we can squander and get back whenever we need without true humility and repentance.
I think it's important here to be clear about what I mean by "our inheritance". Too often, Christians and non-Christians alike focus solely on heaven and hell. In my humble opinion, this parable is not directly about eternity. Eternity only comes into play for the prodigal who never returns, and even on that point there is much disagreement within the Church universal about whether he would still receive his eternal inheritance or not. Friends, I'm not going to focus on that right now because to me, the parable and the very word "prodigal" is about life right now! If inheritance for believers is strictly about heaven, then just kill me now and get it over with. I know we're here to glorify God and all that, but I just want my inheritance. Hopefully, you get my sarcasm. Our inheritance is right now! When you come to faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord of your life, he gives you a new nature, a fresh perspective and direction for your life. You can find no greater joy than following him and walking in relationship with him. All other things in this world that appear to bring you greater joy initially are just temptations of the flesh. They may work temporarily, just as the prodigal son enjoyed the fleeting pleasures that his wealth bought him. But as soon as those pleasures were gone, so was his joy.
If you have a personal relationship with Christ and you view him as Savior and Lord of your life, your gift/inheritance is a joy-filled life where you no longer have to chase worldly pleasures. "For my yoke is easy and my burden is light" (Matthew 11:30). That doesn't mean circumstances will always feel easy or joyous, but it does mean that nothing and no one can replace your true joy (inheritance) no matter what happens. To live as if anything else can replace it is to live as a prodigal, wasting the inheritance. If you do not view Christ as your Savior and Lord, you are not a prodigal. You are simply lost and have not found that true joy yet. Either way, God has offered this inheritance to every single one of us. It is divided equally to all, but it never runs out from His end. The only ways we can ever be without it is to never take it in the first place, or to take it and waste it. Whatever category you find yourself in today, know that the Father grieves for you, and He lovingly waits until you will let go of your pride and humbly come to Him.
For further study read James 1:19 – 25
If you claim to be a follower of Jesus Christ are you allowing anything into your life that is hindering your relationship with Christ?
Are you a person that says you’re a Christ-follower but in reality you are no different than a non-believer in the way you live your life?
If the Holy Spirit revealing anything to you right now that you need to change in your life? If the Spirit is then make the choice to do what the Spirit is telling you.
Hear God’s Voice and Obey. Don’t be like the Prodigal Son.
One of my favorite board games is Monopoly. My dad, brother, and I played it so much growing up that we have nearly all of the rents memorized, so when we play it together we just hand money around without ever telling each other how much is owed! One of my favorite parts about the game Monopoly is the “get out of jail free” card. Whenever I get one, I feel like I have an extra measure of security. If I do get sent to jail, I can get out right away without having the pay the fee!
This week the word we’re looking at is antinomian (pronounced anti-NO-me-in), and it reminds me of the “Get Out of Jail Free” card in Monopoly. Antinomians believe that because they have salvation in Jesus Christ, they no longer have to abide by the law! The word itself states this, because it is from anti (again) and nomos (“law” in Greek).
The belief of antinomianism started in the early chruch but it has continued throughout the ages. It definitely appeals to our human nature - who wouldn’t want to be able to do whatever you want in life? Need money - go rob a bank! Want something that someone else has - go steal it! Who cares? You’re saved through Jesus!
But that is NOT what the Bible teaches us. Romans 3:8 says, “Why not say—as some slanderously claim that we say—’Let us do evil that good may result’? Their condemnation is just!” Paul is telling us that doing evil is never the right answer, even for those who are covered by God’s grace and faithfulness.
Paul also addresses the antinomian idea very thoroughly in Romans 6. In verse 15, he write, “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means!” I looked up the Greek text of this verse to more fully understand what Paul is writing, and the idea of the words used is that you have not become that way! When you committed your life to Jesus Christ, you were made a new creation and the person you have become is not one who disobeys the law, even if you have the “get out of jail free” card of God’s grace. When you strive to live in the nature of Christ, you cannot act in such a manner.
As Christians, we should want to obey the law even more than before we were Christians. Obedience to God’s law honors Him. While God promises that Jesus’ blood will cover all of our wrongdoings when we have faith in Him, we must sill strive for obedience. When we study the Scriptures, it is clear that the antinomian belief is purely a human creation and is not of God.
Our “get out of jail free” card is not to be antinomians and have no regard for the law. Instead, having faith in Jesus and his sacrifice for us on the cross gives the best “get out of jail free” card - the grace of God.
“I’ve got a secret, and I’m not telling!!”
I’m sure you can picture this phrase being said in an “I’m better than you” voice by kids on an elementary school playground - and perhaps you’ve even said it!We feel special when we know something that somebody else doesn’t - whether it’s as mudane as what gift Mommy is getting for her birthday from Daddy, or as seemingly exciting as guess who so-and-so has a crush on!
Gnosticism (pronounced NOS-ti-cism) is like the child with a secret. The word gnosticism is from the Greek word gnosis, which means knowledge. Gnosticism first came on the scene in the 1st and 2nd centuries A.D., so very shortly after the time Jesus walked the earth. It has come to be known as one of the first significant challenges to the Christian faith.
Early gnostics believed that they had secret knowledge from God, and that knowledge was only given to those who were “enlightened.” This secret spiritual knowledge was very important to the gnostics, and it made them believe they were better than others because God revealed it to them, and not to the average Joe on the street. Those who followed the gnostic faith were on a quest to obtain that secretly revealed knowledge.
The gnostics believed that this special knowledge would free them (known as “the elect”) from the trappings of this world. They believed that a person’s spirit is completely separate from matter (the physical stuff of the world), and that matter is evil. With their special knowledge, they thought they could free their spirit from matter.
Because of this belief that matter is evil, they believed that Jesus was not human. Their logic goes like this: God is good, and matter is evil; therefore, if Jesus is God then He is good and He could not be matter (human) because then he would have evil in Him. They believed that Jesus was fully God, but not at all human. This goes against the Biblical belief that Jesus is fully God and fully human.
There is lots of proof in the Bible that Jesus was truly human. First of all, Jesus was born to a human woman (Luke 1:35, 2:6-7)! In John 1:14, we read that “The Word [Jesus] became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” Jesus was circumcised and grew up from a boy into a man (Luke 2:21, 52). Jesus experienced sadness (John 11:35, Luke 19:41), hunger (Matthew 4:2, 21:18), thirst (John 4:7, 19:28), and tiredness (Matthew 8:24). He also died, which is definitely a very human thing to do (John 19:30).
The gnosticism movement began when the Scriptures were still being written, so they did not have the evidence written in the Bible like we have today. However, they had something even better - Jesus himself! Even though the first gnostics were probably not alive when Jesus walked the earth, their parents’ or grandparents’ generation would have known of Jesus. It’s hard to say what happened that caused them to stop believing the truth of Jesus’ humanity.
However, gnosticism didn’t go away in those early centuries; it is still around today, though those who believe it may not call themselves by that name. This is why it is so important to be familiar with your Bible, because if the gnostics simply read any of those passages mentioned above (and many others), then they would know the Truth - the whole Truth that is available to and for everyone, not a secret to be kept!
Have you ever had a turning point moment in your life? One of those moments where it seems like everything hangs in the balance, and your life could go in two very different directions depending on what happens?
Just over 500 years ago, a guy named Martin had one of those very moments. Depending on what he said on one moment, his life could have taken two very different directions. You see, Martin was a very big part of the Roman Catholic church. He was a monk in fact, and had devoted his life to the church. But under the direction of his mentor, Martin did a radical thing that very few people did then - he read the Bible.
Back in that time, most people couldn’t read and didn’t even own a Bible; and, the church encouraged people to *not* read the Bible, but instead only listen to their teaching. The problem with this is that the church wasn’t teaching the Bible accurately. The church was telling people that they needed to earn their way into heaven by giving money to the church. I’m sure you can see how this was very selfish of the church - they were getting rich off of people’s ignorance!
So when Martin read his Bible and discovered that God’s grace and salvation is really free, that was an earth-shattering event in his life! He discovered in Romans 1:17 that, “For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’” We cannot earn righteousness by paying money to the church, but instead it is a free gift of God that we “earn” only by having faith in Him! This was a complete game-changer for Martin.
In response to this new-found truth, Martin started writing. A lot! One of the things he wrote was a list of 95 things he believed the church was doing wrong, and he posted them publicly on October 31, 1517. Unfortunately, the church didn’t like the idea of a guy like Martin taking away their income. So they got mad at him and called him in front of the emperor to recant (or deny) all of the stuff he had written.
In April of 1521, Martin Luther stood in front of the emperor Charles V (who ruled basically all of Europe) and he was asked to publicly deny all of what he had written, saying it was all a mistake. Fortunately for us, Martin did not deny any of it! Instead, he told the emperor that he cannot go against what the Scriptures say and against God. The emperor called him a mad man.
Because of Martin’s conviction, we today need to believe what the Bible says. We can look at God’s Word for ourselves, and we don’t have to rely on just what the church says - since the church can make mistakes too, just as Martin found out. In response to Martin’s step of faith, we believe the Bible before all other authorities. If not for Martin’s (and others’) work in the Protestant Reformation of the 1500’s, we can know the Truth of God’s Word for ourselves. We can all have the free gift of grace and salvation from God, without having to earn it in any way.
This turning point that happened in Martin Luther’s life gives us the freedom to believe the Bible and have faith in God to receive His grace and salvation. If you have not had a turning point in your life where you have devoted your life to God, now is the time to have your own personal reformation! You too can experience the same freedom that Martin, and countless other Christians because of him, experience every day.
What happens when you mix flour, sugar, eggs, butter, chocolate chips, (and some other ingredients) together and bake them? You get chocolate chip cookies! When you’re eating your fresh-baked cookies, you can pick out some of the ingredients, like the chocolate chips. But most of the other ingredients are indistinguishable - can you tell what part of the egg you ate? Or how much flour was in that particular bite? I sure can’t tell those things, and I think the cookies are better because of it!
Syncretism is applying that chocolate chip cookie example to the church. Simply put, syncretism is a blending together various aspects of multiple religions into one, or simply adapting ideas of other religions into your own. The word itself is made up of two parts in the Greek. “Syn” means together or with, and “krasis” means blending or mixing.
In chocolate chip cookies, all of the ingredients blend together well to make a delicious finished product. In syncretism, however, that isn’t always the case. Sometimes the views that are blending together are contradictory. For example, as Roman Catholicism spread into Africa, many of the tribes’ indigenous practices were assimilated into the religious practices.
A modern day, and more local, example of syncretism is when churches embrace elements of the culture to become more relevant to the people they are trying to reach. One way some churches do this is by bringing in the technology of the culture. There are churches that encourage the people to tweet on Twitter during the worship service; this is an example of syncretism, because it is combining an element of the culture with practices that are traditionally religious.
A more serious example of syncretism is when idol worship, in the form of idolizing money, or famous people, or anything of that sort, is brought into the church. We know from Exodus 20:3 and Matthew 6:24 that God must be our only God; we cannot serve both God and money. Unfortunately, this emphasis on money (or other idols) is all too common in our churches today. Sometimes, like the eggs and flour in a chocolate chip cookie, the elements that have been borrowed from the culture are so well mixed in that we don’t even notice them anymore.
Syncretism itself is not inherently good or bad; its goodness (or lack thereof) is determined by the effect that the new element has on the religious body and whether or not it draws away from the Truth of the Bible. A person posting on Twitter during a worship service does not go against the Truth as making money the main point of the church does. While it is important that the church not stay locked in ancient traditions that will push people away from hearing the Gospel message, we must be careful to not embrace the sinful aspects of the culture. The idea of syncretism can serve as a warning for the church and all who follow Jesus - be sure that what you are doing lines up with the Truth of the Bible.
Scripture: 2 Timothy 3:16 & 17
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the person of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
This is the “fancy theological word” for perhaps the most perplexing concept, both for Christians and non-Christians alike - why is there evil in the world, if God is so loving? If God is good and He created the world, how can we reconcile the presence of evil and suffering in the world? That is definitely a paradox!
Many theologians (people who study God for a living) have studied and wrestled with this very question. Irenaeus, who lived in the 2nd century A.D., said that the reason for evil in the world is that humans have free will. Free will means that God does not control us as humans; we can make our own choices, whether for good or bad. Suffering is the result of human actions, not God’s actions. Irenaeus believed that God could stop evil, but He doesn’t because that would take away our free will.
Alvin Plantinga is a modern-day 20th century theologian who has also wrestled with theodicy. Plantinga asserts that free will is important, because if we were forced to do good, God could not be gracious to us. The freedom to choose goodness (or evil) allows us to experience the wonder and love of grace and forgiveness. If everything in the world was forced to be good, we could not truly experience God’s grace.
Think of it this way. Imagine that you were given every luxury you could imagine, from a gorgeous house to the nicest sports car to the latest electronic device to a million dollars in your bank account, and then someone gave you a $20 bill. How special would that $20 bill be? If I had a million dollars, another $20 wouldn’t be very special to me. But, if you lived in a cardboard box in a back alley and were struggling each day just to survive on meager food and someone gave you a $20 bill, how special would that be? It’s definitely a matter of perspective.
Similarly, if the world was perfect and we were all forced to do good all of the time, how special would it be that we are forgiven and loved by God? Not at all, because there would be no need for forgiveness! Things like a random act of kindness from a stranger would have no meaning because it would be the way everyone is. But, because we do live with evil in the world, it is like receiving a $20 bill when you are struggling to live - that’s how God’s grace is to us in this evil world, though of course God’s grace is a much bigger gift than a $20 bill!
Evil is in the world because God has given humans the great gift of free will. We can choose how we live our lives, and because of that one choice we can make is to accept God’s gift of grace, which is so much more special to us because of the evil world we live in.
Power. The world seems to revolve around it, doesn’t it? There’s political power, power in relationships, the power of physical strength, and even electrical power that all make the world go around. I can think of so many cartoons I watched as a kid that were all about power - usually super powers, and the powers of good versus the powers of evil. What makes us humans so fascinated with power?
It is part of our human nature to be hungry for power. The first humans on earth, Adam and Eve, were hungry for the power of knowing good and evil as only God did. They were so hungry for that power, in fact, that their sinful act thrust all of humanity into a downward spiral of sin that we’re all still stuck in. It is our human nature to want to have power, whatever kind of power that may be.
As much as we humans may always want to have more power, we will never be all powerful. Only God is all powerful, and that is our word this week - omnipotence. Omnipotence means that God is able to do all things, as long as it does not conflict with His divine will - more on that later. God’s power is limited only by His own nature, and not by anything outside of Him.
A guy named Job in the Old Testament of the Bible discovered God’s power the hard way. God allowed Satan to ruin Job’s life in disastrous ways, but yet Job held onto his faith in God. Toward the end of this situation in Job’s life, he tells God: “I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted.” (Job 42:2) Even when Job was powerless to make his earthly life better, he recognized God as omnipotent.
Jesus confirmed this omnipotence in Matthew 19:26 when he said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
However, throughout history, even the great minds who study theology (the study of God) have wrestled with God’s omnipotence. Thomas Aquinas, a theologian who lived in the 13th century, pondered the potential limitations of God’s power as this question: “Can God create a square triangle?” If God really can do anything, he could create a square triangle. But, God’s power is limited by the laws of the universe that He created; a triangle simply can’t be square. Aquinas said, “If it is said that God is omnipotent because he can do everything possible to his power, the understanding of omnipotence is circular, doing nothing more than saying that God is omnipotent because he can do everything that he can do.”
Even if we can’t fully wrap our minds around what great theologians like Thomas Aquinas wrestled with, we can be confident that God has way more power than any human being and that can give us comfort knowing that He is in control of everything.
As humans, we desire power. God is and has all the power in the entire universe and beyond. Therefore, doesn’t it logically follow that we should desire God?
Because of our sinful nature as humans, we desire to be omnipotent as God is. This is evidenced today by the fact that basically every cartoon, movie, novel, etc is about a some character desiring or achieving more power, and the consequences that causes. In a perfect world, we would desire God and his omnipotence with all our might.
It is our challenge as those who follow Christ to not desire power for ourselves, but rather to be content with God’s omnipotence and to worship Him because He is almighty and all powerful.
Who is the smartest person you know? I’m sure everyone has one of those people in their lives who just seems to know everything - and I mean everything, from the latest sports scores, to random trivia, maybe even to math and science. I know a few such people, and their knowledge always seems to amaze me.
Even if that person seems so infinitely smart, guess what - there’s always someone smarter! And no, I’m not talking about Albert Einstein or any other certified genius like him. I’m talking about God.
The word of the week this week is omniscience. Omniscience is a characteristic of God that means that God knows everything! He knows all things, all events, and all circumstances in a perfect way. A few weeks ago we studied the word omnipresence, which means that God is in all places at all times. Omniscience goes hand in hand with omnipresence. Because God is present in all places and at all times, He also knows everything from all times!
How do we know that God is omniscient? Hebrews 4:13 (NIV) tells us,
"Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes to him whom we must give account."
In the original Greek of that passage, it actually says that everything is laid bare and is naked to God’s eyes!
How does it make you feel when you realize that everything you have ever said, done, or even thought is as plain as nakedness in God’s eyes? At first, that makes me a little uncomfortable and squirmy! There are definitely things in my life that I’m ashamed of and don’t want other people to know, much less the God of the universe!
On the other hand, it can be very comforting that God is omniscient and knows every detail about each one of us. When I have a problem in life and I take it to God, I don’t need to reiterate every detail of it to Him as I would if I were telling a friend who is unfamiliar with it. I still tell God about it, but I can have confidence that He truly understands and knows what is going on.
Along with that, God knows everything in all times - which means He also knows what will happen to me in the future! He has plans for my life that He knows will prosper me and will not harm me, and He is able to give me hope and a future (see Jeremiah 29:11-12). Because He knows what will happen - though He does not control it the outcome of events - we can have confidence that all things will work together for the good of those who love Him.
As we saw with omnipresence recently, the fact that God is omniscient causes us some concern, but it is also a comfort. God is a God of paradoxes to our human mind, but we can be thankful that He is still a perfect God who has our best interest at heart if we choose to follow Him with our lives.
"Will I go to heaven?"
That is probably the most common question people ask regarding what’s after this world. And on the heels of that question, the next is, "How do I know for sure?"
Imagine a world where everyone will go to heaven, guaranteed and that there is absolutely no question all people everywhere and in all times will live in heaven with Jesus forever. Wouldn’t that be great?
Well, yes and no. Yes, assurance of salvation is a wonderful, priceless gift! But is a gift truly a gift if everyone receives it? What if it’s your birthday and you get the present you’ve always dreamed of - but so does everyone else who decided to show up at your party? Wouldn’t you feel less special if everyone received the same gift regardless?
God wants to give us the gift salvation. He truly does - to each and every person on earth! But He can’t give us that gift unless we believe that it is Him, and Him alone, who saves us.
Universalism is like everyone at your birthday party receiving your prized present.
Universalists, who may or may not claim that title, believe that everyone will go to heaven. Period. No questions asked. No particular belief necessary. Are you a good person? You’re going to heaven! Are you a bad person? You can go too!
The Bible is very clear that although God desires that all will be saved, it will not happen that way. 1 Timothy 2:1-4 states:
I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.
God desires that every single person come to know Him and have a relationship with Him. But, there is only one way to receive this gift: through Jesus. In John 14:6, Jesus says,
I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
Paul elaborates on that in Romans 1:16:
I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.
Universalism is the belief that all people will be saved. However, the Bible clearly gives us the truth - all people who believe will be saved! You can’t just show up at the party; it needs to be your birthday, and it’s your birthday every day when you believe in the precious gift of salvation through Jesus.
Have you ever run into something that is both awesome and annoying at the same time? Omnipresence is one of those things. It’s a word that we humans try and use to describe an indescribable God. It is both awesome and annoying that we cannot fully describe God. It is awesome because God is way bigger and more complex than we could ever possibly comprehend or imagine, and therefore we know He is more powerful than us. But at the same time, it is annoying to those of us (like me) who want to understand how everything works! My analytical brain wrestles with the fact that I will never be able to understand God. Yet that is precisely why I am able to worship Him.
So, what is omnipresence specifically? The “in a nutshell” definition is “to be present everywhere at the same time.” Because God is not limited to a human body like we are, He is infinite and can be in all places at all times. He is a spirit being, not a human being. He is present not only everywhere on this earth, but also everywhere in the universe - all right now, at this very second!
This is a very difficult concept for us to understand. I am where I am, and I am nowhere else. Right now as I type this I am sitting at my computer. I am not in my kitchen, I am not at the park, I am not in a restaurant. I am only in one place. My finite human brain can only comprehend being in one place at a time. I joke that a couple times I have been in two places at once: twice I have pre-recorded episodes of Do Not Keep Silent with Jason, so I joke that while I was on the air on a Sunday evening, I was also at home at the same time!
Since we cannot comprehend being in multiple places at once, let alone everywhere in the cosmos, how do we know that God is omnipresent? To quote my favorite Sunday School teacher (who also happens to be my mom): Because the Bible tells me so! Psalm 139:7-10 (NIV) says:
Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
In case that’s not enough for you, check out Jeremiah 23:23-24 (NIV):
“Am I only a God nearby,” declares the LORD, “and not a God far away? Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them?” declares the LORD. “Do not I fill heaven and earth?” declares the LORD.
The Lord God Himself tells us that He is everywhere at all times. We can never flee from His presence; He fills up heaven and earth! This is both comforting and frightening to us as mere human beings. We are comforted by the fact that God is always with us, yet we are frightened that God sees every thing we do - whether we want Him to or not!
God’s omnipresence is something that we humans can never understand, but we do not need to; if we fully understood God, then we could not worship Him as God.
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. Galatians 6:9 - 10
In my opinion, my father is a great man. He is someone who taught me so much and helped me to see what it means to not only be a family man, but a godly man. Not to be out done, my mother is someone who understands her biblical role of being a partner and helpmate in their marriage. She knows when to speak up and when to keep quiet. Sometimes she is quiet just because she knows my dad has made up his mind and all she can do is just support his decision even if she disagrees with him.
We, as Christians, are called to a higher standard. I am hoping to encourage you as a follower of Jesus to learn from your elders and godly men and women around you. Who are your mentors or disciplers? I share this with you because I still learn a lot from both of my parents. I love them. They are sold out to Jesus Christ and continue to serve Him through their faith and actions. Recently, my father sent me this poem that I would now like to share with you. It has impacted me greatly:
The Guy in the Glass - by Dale Wimbrow
When you get what you want in your struggle for pelf[sic],
And the world makes you King for a day,
Then go to the mirror and look at yourself,
And see what that guy has to say.
For it isn't your Father, or Mother, or Wife,
Who judgement upon you must pass.
The feller whose verdict counts most in your life
Is the guy staring back from the glass.
He's the feller to please, never mind all the rest,
For he's with you clear up to the end,
And you've passed your most dangerous, difficult test
If the guy in the glass is your friend.
You may be like Jack Horner and "chisel" a plum,
And think you're a wonderful guy,
But the man in the glass says you're only a bum
If you can't look him straight in the eye.
You can fool the whole world down the pathway of years,
And get pats on the back as you pass,
But your final reward will be heartaches and tears
If you've cheated the guy in the glass.
As Christians we are called to integrity and to be honest in all that we do, even through adversity. Seeking after worldly wealth and treasures will end up leaving you emotionally and spiritually empty. We must be willing to give up our own wants and desires to serve our King, Jesus Christ. So, when you look in the mirror can you look yourself in the eye and honestly say,
“I did everything to serve my King Jesus today.”
How are you doing with this?
"Leadership means setting an example."- Lee Iacocca
Galatians 6:1 – 10; James 1:2 - 8
Posted by Worldview Warriors On Monday, June 13, 2011 0 comments
Recently, my oldest son (Who is 12 years old) and I returned from his “Rite of Passage” into manhood trip. We did many things up in northern Minnesota at Wilderness North.
One thing I was hoping to do with him and hopefully teach him while we were there was how to maneuver a canoe. When we went canoeing it was incredibly windy. The lake that is a part of the campground is not only very large but it also has a river basically running through it. I knew we were possibly in for a difficult time. If you’ve ever paddled in to the wind or paddled against the current of a river you know what I’m writing about.
I decided we should not only paddle against the current but against the wind so we wouldn’t be tired paddling back to where the canoes are kept. I also, let my son know that this would be very difficult but hopefully we could get up the river and go fishing near where the river enters the lake. I also let him know that we would try to canoe close to the shore. Yes, this would make our journey much longer but I figured this would be much easier than getting far from shore with the wind blowing us all over the lake.
Well, the trip was still very difficult. In order to not go back to where we came from we needed to put the canoe almost on shore. So we would rest while we held onto branches and even weeds to keep from going back to where we came from. We had to figure out where to paddle and when to take breaks. One area was really nice because the shore completely blocked the wind and it was so nice paddling with ease.
We knew the rest would only last a short time before we would get back into the wind and current. We made a plan of attack on how to get to the actual river. My son made the decisions of where to go and how we would get there. It was pretty great seeing my son make a plan and take this adversity we were facing in stride.
We finally got to the river opening only to find it blocked by a small dam. We couldn’t get to where we were so desperately trying to get to in order to fish. That was a little disappointing but we were blessed to not only see an amazing beaver house but also a perfect paw print made by one of the beavers in the mud of their house. It was very cool. We didn’t catch any fish to write home about that day but we both learned some valuable lessons.
I was able to see that my son really is becoming a man. He didn’t whine once about paddling or say it was too cold to be out there. It was also exciting for me to see him start to take initiative and think and plan and lead.
My son got to see how rewarding it was to do something difficult and be rewarded even though it wasn’t what either of us was hoping for. He was also rewarded two days later with some nice northern pike at the end of his fishing line. They are great fighters and just reeling one in is exhilarating.
Have you ever done something that was difficult but the reward was worth it?
Have you ever had to face adversity and there was no immediate pay off?
How did those things help you not only mature as a person but to mature in Christ?
We must be willing to be men and women of integrity in all that we do. When trials come, and they will come, is when all that “training” you were doing to prepare for the difficulties in life make it all worth it. Focus in on what Christ has in store for you and stop making excuses!
Philippians 3:7 – 14 ~ “But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
My oldest son, Ezra turned 12 years old last year.
When my son was about 3 years old my wife and I decided that after each of our children turned 12 years old that I would take them on a trip that year for a “rite of passage” into adulthood. We weren’t sure what this would all entail but we trusted God to lead us in the direction He would want these trips to take. Of course I would have “the talk” about the gift of sex and how as a responsible person we need to use that gift in God’s perfect plan.
I would also make sure to teach my children how to start a fire, how to tie a knot for fishing, how to shoot a gun as well as other skills needed in life.
For my oldest son’s trip we went to northern Minnesota in early May. (A beautiful place called Wilderness North. I highly recommend it).
We were the first campers of the year. In fact, the cook took me aside so my son couldn’t hear what she had to say and told me to make sure my son didn’t go outside alone at night because, as she put it, “The wolves and bears still think they run the place.” I was nervous but also realized we definitely came to the right place.
One thing I was excited for my oldest son to experience was solitude time with God. This was such an amazing thing to see how he went from fear of being alone to embracing the time of peace and quiet and just listening.
Before we began this time I told him in the morning that he would be spending 2 hours in solitude with God that afternoon. He said with a puzzled look, “What do you mean?” I told him he would be in his own place for two hours just listening and speaking to God and waiting for His direction. My son said, “Where will you be?” I told him just up the hill in the place he and I had stayed for two nights together.
Then he said, “You mean I’ll be by myself?”
I said, “No, I’ll be just up the hill if you need anything but more importantly God will still be with you and just seek Him out.”
I could tell he was nervous.
We finished breakfast and then spent a few hours together just talking about gifts and talents he has that God has given to him while we went fishing. Back at our cabin I told him how much I loved him and how exciting it was for me to see him growing up to become the man he is becoming but how hard it was too for me. To be honest, I cried quite a bit and so did my son. We realized that our relationship was about to change. Yes, it was good but still difficult.
After we got back to our camp we moved all his stuff to his new cabin and I told him this is where he would be sleeping for the night. Again, he asked, “What do you mean?”
I told him that he was becoming a man and that he would not only be spending 2 hours of solitude here but he would also be sleeping there for the night by himself. I could tell this made him very uncomfortable. So, we got him settled in and then he chopped his own wood for the fire, started his own fire and continued his solitude time. It was such a blessing to see how he handled 2 hours of silence and being alone with God. He seemed to have no problems what-so-ever. In fact, he read quite a bit of scripture, wrote a lot in his journal and even took time to just be quiet and still in the presence of God.
Lastly, as we left our “rite of passage” trip I challenged him to read a Proverb out of the Bible everyday. (If you didn’t know there are 31 Proverbs.) I challenged him to read the Proverb with the same number as the date for the month. Not only is he reading it now but his younger brother is reading this as well as my oldest sons leading. Praise the Lord!
So, why is something like this important? Read and meditate on Hebrews 5:11 – 6:3
Are you seeking our God’s plan for your life?
Are you willing to mature spiritually or just stay comfortable where you are at in your relationship with God?
Who is your discipler? If you don’t have one, who do you need to ask?
Who are you discipling?
Whether you are a parent or not do you think a “rite of passage” trip into manhood is a good thing? Why or Why not?
If so, what are something’s you would want to do on your trip?
Early on in ministering to youth and their families, I had a decision to make. When a conflict would arise with a parent and their child about how or what I was teaching, how would I respond?
Those of us who are in youth ministry, teaching, or other occupations that involve the children of others have to make the same decision. I know every case can be different. Of course, if we are dealing with a parent/child relationship that is outside the bounds of a biblically-based parent/child relationship, such as physical or sexual abuse, obviously we need to take measures to protect the child. However, I’m not referring to that type of situation.
As both a Christ-follower and as fifteen-year veteran of working with students and their parents, I would contend that we need to let the parents be the parents of their child and realize that we are only there to enhance the instruction that the parents are already teaching their child.
No matter how much we as leaders think we love and care about these children, their parents love and care for them more. If you don’t think that’s the case in certain situations, try to equip the parents to love their child more than you do. Of course with so many divided families in our world today, this is quite a challenge. If they don’t want your help, step aside and let them raise their child. We cannot force anyone to be taught. If people are not open to correct teaching, let the Holy Spirit do His work. Only a willing person with an open heart will accept the truth.
Case in point: Early on in ministering to students, I was blessed to be part of a ministry with people who understood what it means to reach out to the masses, to the wavering believers and unbelievers. During one school year in particular, we saw growth almost every single week and new students were always coming through the door.
(I would like to thank the people of Trinity Evangelical UMC in Upper Sandusky, OH for the opportunity to be their youth minister for almost ten years. I learned so much from them and was challenged and encouraged weekly to try new things and to bring the ministry to people rather than stay in our meeting place. Thinking outside-of-the-box is a much-needed, amazing practice. Two pastors that changed my life are Derik Hines and Marc Quinter. I love those guys!)
I was confronted with the dilemma mentioned above with one student in particular along with his father. This student had an odd last name and got picked on a bit for it. He also had a nickname that ended up sticking, so we all called him that. He was in eighth grade when he first showed up in our small town. Having come from a larger city, this guy needed some friends. As we built up our friendship, we realized we had a lot in common. I also realized that he was hungry to learn and was confused about what truth really was. His world had been turned upside down not only by the divorce of his parents but also by the fact that his mother had remarried and brought him to our little community. He needed truth and stability.
We quickly became friends, and I gave him a ride home after every youth group meeting. Almost every week in his driveway, we would sit in my vehicle literally for hours on end, talking about anything—especially spiritual things and questions he had about life. He became one of my disciples, but I also learned a lot from him. I was honored that he would want me to sink into his life.
I try to live my life in obedience to the Bible and believe that all of Genesis 1–11 is literal history. (Yes, I can back it up with solid information from the science world as well as biblical evidence, but that is not the point here. Just ask me if you’d like to discuss it further. I love discussing the issue.) I teach these truths as much as I can.
After a few weeks of teaching about a literal Genesis in youth group, this young man asked me my advice. He was learning what I was teaching and was beginning to see its truth and logic. He told his father, whom I had never met since he lived elsewhere, about what I was teaching him. He was not a Christ-follower and this student and I had talked about their relationship quite a bit. Needless to say, his father was furious about my teaching!
This young man told me that his father had called me many nasty names and forbid him to continue going to our youth group. However, the boy’s mother, with whom he lived, was ecstatic about the growth she was seeing in her son—not only in Christ but also as a human being.
What to do?
I had a decision to make. This son wanted to tell his father to leave him alone, for he believed that his father was wrong and I was right.
However, I knew this was an unwise response. Even though his father and I did disagree so blatantly on many things, I knew that he should not undermine and dishonor his father.
So I told this young man, “Your father and I disagree, and I don’t think he is right. But he is your father. God gave you to him as his son. No one loves you more than Jesus Christ and your mom and dad. Not even me. This might be hard to hear, but it’s true. Long after you graduate, your dad will still be here, but I probably won’t be. You need to honor your mother and father. I believe this is what God would want you to do.”
After some discussion, the young man agreed to honor and obey his father and try harder with their relationship.
Two years later we brought in a scientist who is a Christian and believes in the biblical account of Genesis as history, to speak at the church. Guess who showed up to listen to the talk? This young man’s father! The one who totally believes that evolution is correct and my teachings about Genesis were crazy.
Afterward, he came up to me and said, “We don’t agree on this subject at all, but thank you for loving my son and respecting me as his father. You can hang out with him whenever you want to.”
We finished talking, shook hands, and went our separate ways. I went down to my small office, shut the door, and began to weep with joy. Until that evening, I honestly didn’t know if I had made the right decision! I praised the Lord for His Word, His love for us, and for the Holy Spirit.
That night I discovered that, no matter what, I needed to teach children and youth to honor and obey their parents—even if we disagree. God is big enough to handle it.
For further reading, check out Ephesians 6:1–4 and Exodus 20:12.
“You stole our land, and I hate white people! Leave us alone!”
These words were quite a rude awakening to hear as the leader of our mission trip to minister to the homeless in Toronto, Canada. I can only imagine what the high school students thought who were with me.
The man who spoke those harsh words was a Native American in a wheelchair with a cast on his leg. He was a very large man who didn’t look, talk, or smell like the five students I had with me from a small town in Ohio. I pretty much had nothing in common with this man either. He was accompanied by a Native American woman who must have been his wife, girlfriend, or sister but I am unsure.
Before he told us to leave, we tried talking to them about life or whatever they wanted to discuss, but he was pretty angry at the world and put most of the blame on society and everyone else. He wouldn’t let us touch him and neither would his companion. I’ll just say this: witnessing to them about the love of Jesus Christ wasn’t going well, for they wanted to hear nothing about it. We did our best just to be civil and loving toward them but soon moved on.
After our amazing day at an intersection with a bunch of street kids (you can read about this in a previous blog), we needed to head back to meet up with our group. We only had about 10 minutes to make a 15 minute walk, so I knew we had to hoof it.
On our way, one of the youth in our group heard someone say, “Help, help us please.”
I heard it too and almost kept going, but the student stopped and looked so we all stopped. It was the Native American lady from earlier in the day. She said, “Ronnie’s hurt. He fell out of his wheelchair and I can’t get him back in it. He’s behind that wall and I think he’s hurt pretty bad. Please help.”
We all knew our group was waiting for us but it didn’t matter. Why else had we gone up to Canada in the first place but to show people the love of Christ? Our group would have to wait. We hoped they would understand.
Not only were we able to help this man into his wheelchair, but also they both were willing to have an enjoyable conversation with us. They were even receptive to hearing the Good News about Jesus Christ and His love for them.
We were able to pray with them and pray for the healing of Ronnie’s leg. We even were able to share some food with them as well. By both our actions and our words, we had the privilege of being witnesses.
Acts 1:7-8: Jesus said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Were lives changed on that trip? Yes! And I’m not just talking about the two people from Toronto. I’m sure that our interactions on that mission trip left a lasting impression on the hearts of the students just as they did on mine.
Posted by Worldview Warriors On Monday, April 11, 2011 0 comments
Due to the current state of the economy in the United States, in which funding seems to be drying up all over the country, many churches and ministries are trying to find places to cut spending. One area that churches seem to cut are youth group mission trips.
But I want to stress the importance of sending our youth out into the world on mission trips. A wise friend once told me that short-term mission trips are not only for the people you are going to see to tell them about Jesus, but also for the students and adult leaders that go on the trip. That intrigued me because I really didn’t understand what they meant until I saw it in action myself.
On a mission trip I led to Toronto, Canada, our whole group was pretty nervous. I think it was partly because I was leading my first mission trip, and many of the adult leaders didn’t know if I’d be a good leader or not. Honestly, I wasn’t too sure about it either. Would I be a good delegator and not micro-manage this trip, or would I need to have everything go through me? Did I train everyone enough for the trip? Were we really ready for this ten-day trip?
The answer to this last question was yes and no.
You see, we were trained and ready but then we needed to act! We needed to have the courage to do what we had been trained to do. We actually went onto the streets and not only found the homeless, street kids, and outcasts of society, but also sat down with them and listened. We touched them, gave them hugs, and shook their hands.
The small group of students that I had with me was a shy bunch that had major potential for leadership but needed to be challenged into action. As we walked the streets of Toronto, we came upon some street kids at a very busy intersection of the city. I think there were about five of us and about fifteen street kids. They didn’t look too rough, but it was obvious that we weren’t the type of people with whom they would associate.
After awhile, we struck up a conversation about what they were doing. When the light turned red, several of them would run out into the street and wash the windshields of the cars waiting at the red light. I asked them, “Why are you doing this?”
One of them answered, “We are working and this is how we make money. Want to try?” He shoved the squeegee (which was obviously stolen from a gas station) toward me. I looked at the students that were with me and saw that they were as freaked as I was. I grabbed the squeegee and said, “Sure.” I must admit I was thinking, “What am I doing? Am I being a good example right now?”
I was 28 years old and, I admit, was a little scared to run out into the intersection and wash a stranger’s windshield. But when I was done, the driver cracked his window open and gave me $2 Canadian. Then the street kids started yelling at me. I thought they were cheering me on, saying good job, but they were actually yelling at me to get my butt off the street because the light was about to change green. From what I had learned that day, most of the drivers looked at these kids as a nuisance. Thankfully, I made it off the street in time, and we continued to hang out with the kids for a few hours.
After the first hour, these street kids asked us what we were doing in Canada hanging out with them. I looked at them and said, “We came up here to spend time with people on the street and tell them about the love Jesus has for them.”
One of the street kids said, “You want to show us love, huh? Then go get us some bottled water because we are almost out and won’t be able to make any more money today.”
The students with me were all for that! In fact, they even pooled their meal money together to help these street kids. I don’t know how much money was made that day or if any of those kids ever turned to Christ, but two things I do know: 1) people learned of God’s love that day in and through us and 2) the group of students I was with, from a small town in Ohio, were changed forever.
James 1:27: Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
I Corinthians 9:19-23: Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.