Well, as you read at the beginning of Katie's post on Monday, this topic was indeed something that I pushed for. So, if you are one of those who either gets nervous in talking about eternity or just otherwise doesn't like to do it because we don't have any proof, I am guilty as charged for bringing up this subject. To be honest, I personally feel that we don't talk about it enough in the Church. Isn't that a problem? The rest of the world doesn't shy away from it, so why should we? Talking about heaven and hell can be a great way to engage those who don't have much interest in coming to church or reading the Bible. While many people are turned off by Christianity or any type of organized religion, EVERYONE is concerned about the afterlife in some way. Because it is a great mystery, people are drawn to books, movies, and anything else that lends an opinion or perspective on what happens when we die. When I was in seminary, we learned that the question of what happens when we die was even one of the 7 main questions that help define every worldview. So it's a pretty big deal!
To try to present an understanding of hell, I'm going to take you to a passage of Scripture that seems to have nothing to do with it. Like many concepts that are discussed in Scripture, we have to look at the big picture rather than just one or two select passages. In the Book of Job, the title character is a man that we could all strive to emulate. "This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil" (Job 1:1b). Job was extremely wealthy, but he never allowed it to distract him from following God's commands. He went so far as to regularly sacrifice burnt offerings just to cover the possibility that one of his children had sinned (v. 5). But then the rest of Chapters 1 and 2 explain a conversation going on between God and Satan where Satan wants permission to make Job suffer a little bit to prove that he will renounce his faith in God. First of all, let me repeat that: Satan needs God's PERMISSION to cause us to suffer. The concept of why God allows suffering and our perseverance in the midst of trials is an entirely separate issue. Today, just take time to think about how God protects us from Satan's schemes. The next time you think your rough circumstances in life are the attacks of Satan, remember that Satan doesn't just want you to have a bad day. He wants to destroy your life. "Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour" (1 Peter 5:8b). If Satan could have his way and sin could do what it wants to us, there would never be hope and there would never be a bright day. Our lives would be constant turmoil and suffering. Remember that the reason why we always have hope in this lifetime is because God is in control of how much suffering we receive and how far Satan can take his schemes. We wake up every day as targets for Satan to devour, but God protects us and says, "This is your limit, Satan".
Now I bring all that up to challenge you to think about what life would be like without God. Some of you are living it right now and may even think it isn't so bad. But if that describes you, I would caution you that even if you haven't accepted God's presence in your life, He still loves you and is protecting you, desiring that you will not perish (2 Peter 3:9). As long as you are still breathing in this life, there is hope that you will not be without God forever even if you are currently opting to live without Him. Job lost his family, his wealth, and even his good health. And it was all approved by God, who in His sovereignty knew that Job could persevere. Many of us today would think it can't get much worse than it did for Job or maybe even has for some of you. But I can promise you that it can and will get much worse for anyone who chooses life without God.
Imagine going through what Job did without the hope that there is a loving God who watches over the affairs of His people. Friends, I can't think of a better way to describe hell. The Bible gives some very colorful descriptions of the conditions of hell, including "weeping and gnashing of teeth", "a lake of burning sulfur", and "torment forever and ever". Unfortunately, we are often drawn to such descriptions and try to imagine the physical nature of the place. But I believe that gets our focus off of what is important to know about it. The most important thing to know about hell is that God is not present there. Matthew 8:12 and Revelation 22:15 describe hell as a place that is "outside" the place that was just previously described, which was the kingdom of heaven in both passages. So in the Bible, there is a very clear separation between the place that God is and the place that God is not.
The physical descriptions of hell do not scare me even a fraction as much as the thought of being somewhere that has no hope. I have gone through trials in my life as I'm sure all of you have, and some had me wondering if I could recover. But the one thing that never changed was the fact that God's presence was still there. Even if I felt He was abandoning me, He never truly was. His mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:23), regardless of the trials brought on by the previous day. Again, that is not possible in a place where God does not exist! Look at all the pain and suffering in the world around you and you might even think to quip, "This world is going to hell in a hand basket". But even with everything that we see, God is still here and it's hard to even imagine how bad it would get if He wasn't. It would be all the pain and suffering we see now multiplied exponentially, plus no God to set a limit that evil cannot cross.
We as a human race are sometimes so ignorant of the reality of life without God. Ever since Adam and Eve were deceived in the garden, we have been tricked into thinking our lives would be better if we go our own way and don't have to submit to a God who loves us and knows what is best for us. Here's the thing about the afterlife, and I know I'm going to really irritate those of you who believe in predestination and unconditional election, but this is my opinion based on the way I understand God as loving: He will give us what we want. I believe God loves us so much that He is willing to let us be separate from Him for all of eternity if that is what we defiantly choose. One of my best friends once said that "hell is God's greatest act of love". If you live your life in such a way that invites God's presence into it, you can enjoy that for all of eternity. But if you choose to live this life in such a way that you are asking God to leave you alone, then He will grant that wish for all of eternity and you won't know what you've gotten yourself into until it is too late. And God doesn't grant that wish to spite us, He does it because He loves us enough to let us reject Him if we so desire. For this reason, I don't like to say that God sends people to hell. He has the power to do so, but 2 Peter 3:9 is clear that He doesn't want anyone to perish. Hell is something human beings can choose for the afterlife by the way they live in this lifetime. So, let me challenge and urge all of you. The next time you are thinking about whether you want to live this life God has given you in submission to Him or opposition to Him, understand that you can't have it one way and then choose the opposite for all eternity. Be very mindful of your choices today, because with them you choose what you want forever. So, what's it going to be for you - life and eternity with God, or life and eternity without Him? There's no bigger question.
At Logan’s request, this week’s blog posts are on hell. Sounds like a fun topic to write about, huh? It is important to address, because I believe hell is a real place.
Why do I think hell is real? Primarily because the Bible says it is, and the Bible is my source of authority. But, the Bible is not entirely clear about what hell is. We know it is a place without God, and a place of eternal torment where the unrighteous go (Matthew 25:46). But what is hell all about?
In Luke 16:19-31, Jesus told a parable (a story) about the rich man and Lazarus. In this story, Lazarus is a poor man who is a beggar at the gate of a rich man’s house. The rich man ignores Lazarus, and he is so poor that he longs to eat the scraps that fall from the table. Lazarus dies and goes to be with Abraham. The rich man also dies, but he goes to Hades (a.k.a. hell) where he is tormented. He looks up and sees Lazarus with Abraham, and he begs for even just a tiny bit of water to cool his tongue! Abraham reminds the rich man that in life on earth, he had a good life while Lazarus suffered, and now the tables have turned. And along with that, there is no way anyone can cross over the great chasm between them. Because of the agony the rich man is in, he wants his family to be spared from it. He begs that Lazarus return to warn his brothers, but he is reminded that they have the law and prophets to warn them, and if they don’t listen to that then there’s no point in sending any other warning.
From this story, we learn a few things about hell. First, it exists. Second, hell consists of torment and will be completely miserable. Third, no one can cross from heaven to hell. Once you’re there, you’re there and it’s a done deal. Fourth, we have the Bible to warn us about it, so consider yourself warned!
At the time this parable was told by Jesus, the people only had the Old Testament as the Scriptures. Now we have even more than that - we don’t just know that we need to follow God’s law to avoid hell, but we know God’s plan for how that all works out! We know from the Bible that we may be made righteous even when we mess up, because of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for us.
While many people are curious as to the specifics of hell, like where it’s located and what exactly it’s like, I don’t feel the need to dwell on it. I know that my salvation in Christ is secure because of my faith, and because of that hell is no worry to me personally. But at the same time, knowing that hell exists is motivation for those of us here on earth to tell others about Jesus so they too can be spared from the torment that could be in their future.
Posted by Worldview Warriors On Thursday, August 23, 2012 5 comments
Do you want to be well? Now, if you read Katie's blog from Monday, you may be wondering if you just accidentally clicked on it again. I assure you, this is not the same blog post, even though I chose to begin with the same question. While Katie was quoting Jesus from John 5, I am asking a legitimate question of you, our readers. What is it you really want? Do you want to be healed, or do you want a wellness that goes way beyond healing as we understand it? Normally, I try to get into some sort of story either from current events or from my life experience. But this week, there just happens to be a phenomenal story that is already in the Bible that just fits perfectly. I'd like to tell you about it.
In Luke 17:11-19, the story of Jesus' healing of ten lepers is recorded. There are many amazing things about this story and I encourage you to open your Bible right now and follow along. I'm sure I don't need to remind anyone how the Jewish people treated leprosy and those that possessed it. In this story, the lepers were hanging out TOGETHER "along the border between Samaria and Galilee". Guess what? Jews and Samaritans could not be seen near each other, according to Jewish custom. That means that it was only because of their common ailment that these 10 individuals who had been ostracized from their respective communities could actually have a community themselves. That could be another blog for another time. But for now, lets focus on the fact that Jesus intentionally traveled the road where he knew the outcasts of both societies would be gathered. While traveling down that road, the lepers stood at a distance (as they were required to do) and called out, "Jesus, Master, have pity on us!" This shows the faith the lepers had in Jesus' ability to heal them, though they didn't ask for it. They were well aware of their intense physical ailment and simply appealed to Jesus' compassion. So, they trusted in not only his ability to heal, but also his desire to appease suffering. When we cry out to Jesus, we must believe in both his desire and his ability to rescue us.
Next, Jesus demanded a physical demonstration of their faith. He told them to go and show themselves to the priests, which could have gotten them in big trouble had they done so and not been healed. Verse 14 tells us they were cleansed "as they went", not once they got there. In other words, once they showed faith through their actions, they were healed. But the healing wasn't permanent. The Greek word used in that sentence is "katharidzo", which is translated "to cleanse, make clean, purify, or declare ritually acceptable". What we are dealing with here is a physical healing of the disease of leprosy. As far as we know, those lepers all died at some point in the future. You may be wondering what my point is, and you'll see as we continue in the story.
After ten lepers receive this miraculous healing, something that absolutely saddens Jesus occurs. Only one of the ten lepers actually comes back to praise God and thank Jesus. He throws himself at Jesus' feet, in effect saying that his response to this gift of healing will be to serve. You can read about Jesus' disappointment that the other nine simply accepted their temporary physical healing and went on with THEIR plans, even while he is clearly pleased with the Samaritan who came back and showed his gratitude by action. The key for us is in what Jesus says to the one leper who did return and give God the glory. He says in verse 19, "Rise and go, your faith has made you well". At first glance, we would assume the "well" in that sentence would be synonymous with "cleansed" from verse 14. But there is actually one huge difference. The Greek word for "well" in verse 19 is "sodzo", which is translated "to save, rescue, deliver". That Greek word is where we get "soteriology", which is the study of salvation. Do you see the point of Luke's story? Ten lepers were miraculously "cleansed", which mattered for their lives only up to the point where their time in this world was up. But one of those ten was also "saved", which mattered for him long after his earthly life was over. The difference was in the faithful response through ACTION of the one who was so overcome by the reality of God's love for him that he abandoned whatever else had previously mattered and threw himself at Jesus' feet.
So where are you in this story? Are you constantly crying out to God for that temporary healing that only satisfies for a short time, just so you can go on living YOUR life the way YOU want to? Or are you so moved by what God has done for you that you are willing to forget about what once seemed important and worship and serve the Lord only? This Scripture seems to be clear that true faith is shown by action, specifically the way in which we respond to what Jesus has done for us. I can't make a theological statement about the salvation of others because judgment is God's domain, but you can decide for yourself from this Scripture what is required to be "saved". Do you want healing that is temporary or permanent? The choice is yours.
Posted by Worldview Warriors On Wednesday, August 22, 2012 1 comments
The most important verse in the entire Bible is this verse: In the Beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
It is an important verse on so many levels. First of all, a worldview is derived from an understanding of the nature of reality. Genesis 1:1 lays the foundation for a Judeo-Christian worldview. Our worldview, then, is built upon the idea that God created.
Second, Genesis 1:1 defines who God is. In the beginning, God created everything. The simplest definition for God, according to this verse, is that he is the Creator (bet you didn’t see that one coming). We will dig deeper into the word used for God in Hebrew in a later post, but for now, it suffices to say that God is the Creator. If God is the Creator that means that he has authority over his creation.
Third, This verse makes it known that there was nothing in existence before God. John 1:3 puts it this way: “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” It is impossible for us to imagine a self-existing God that is beyond time, beyond space, and beyond matter. Yet, that is exactly what the Bible tells us about God. If he created it all, then he must be beyond it all.
Imagine if verse 1:1 were removed. The Bible would then start with what we call verse 1:2, which states: “Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” This would provide a starting point, but what a terrible starting point this would be! Instead of God being beyond his creation, as a transcendent Creator, God would be a part of the natural universe because there was already something in existence before he started creating; namely the heaven and earth. How would this change our view of God?
1) It could imply that even God himself evolved from the natural elements. Many mythologies, if not all of them, imply that God, or the gods, came into being through the primordial abyss. The gods of other religions only enjoy higher status than mankind because they possess greater attributes than mortals. They are still a part of the natural universe.
2) God’s power would be limited because if he shaped the earth from what already existed, he does not necessarily have the power to defy the laws of nature. Instead of being transcendent and the Master over nature, he would be a subject to nature.
3) Under these assumptions, God would not necessarily be immortal. In fact, he may already be dead if that were the case.
In my opinion, Genesis 1:1 is the most important verse in the Bible. The reason I raised the issue of erasing or altering 1:1 is because certain scholars have attempted to do just that. After seeing the damage done by removing just that one verse, imagine what would happen if we altered or erased an entire chapter of Genesis! Some people have tried to do this and even more! Let’s cherish the Bible and defend its authority from the first verse as it inevitably leads us to Jesus.
“Do you want to be well?”
This seems like a silly question in today’s society. Of course everyone wants to be well; who would want to be sick? This is the question that Jesus asked a sick man in John 5:1-15. This man, along with many others, were hanging out at the pool called Bethesda. Many sick and disabled people hung out near this pool, because when the waters stirred, the first person into the pool would be healed. Jesus ended up healing this particular man he asked the question to, but this story is a good example of this week’s word - healing.
Healing is defined as restoration to health, and becoming whole in your life. It can be a physical healing from a disease or illness, or an emotional healing from hurt or heartache. In today’s modern society, we often look to doctors and medical professionals for healing, but it is important to look for spiritual healing as well.
When Jesus healed, he often took care of the person’s spiritual needs as well as their physical one. Another example of this is when he healed the paralyzed man in Mark 2:1-12. Jesus forgave the man’s sins as well as healing his body so he could walk again.
We see healing happen many times in the Bible. Jesus healed many people (Matthew 14:35-36 and Luke 6:17-19), and so did his disciples (Luke 9:1-2). The early church also performed healings, such as recorded in Acts 9:34 and 1 Corinthians 12:9.
Do miraculous healings such as these happen today? Definitely, though it may not be obvious. How many times have you heard of someone with an incurable disease suddenly be well? Medical professionals cannot explain it; it can only be explained as a miracle of God. A friend of mine had stage 4 breast cancer that had metastasized all over her body; after much prayer, she now has no signs of cancer anywhere! Healing still occurs today in very real ways, in the same way it occurred back in Biblical times - through the power of Jesus.
One of the most important times in my personal life involved a brand new understanding of one of the foggiest ideas of the Christian faith. I'm talking about the notion that there is a Holy Spirit who is not a "thing" or an "it", but rather a person who makes up the Holy Trinity along with God the Father and the Christ. The Christian faith teaches us that this Spirit exists and that he (or she if you even care to give it a gender) is God. He is not a servant of God or even "part" of God, because as Katie said in Monday's blog, God cannot be divided into parts. (By the way, I am only using "he" because God is our Father and Jesus is the Son in Scripture, not because I am trying to make a theological statement about the gender of the Holy Spirit). Outside of the things I have already mentioned, everything else that our faith and even Scripture teaches us about the Holy Spirit is somewhat gray. I believe personal experience is crucial in every person's faith journey and walk with Christ, so I also believe it is crucial in how we understand the Holy Spirit's work in our lives. I'd like to share with you my personal experience.
In April of 2008, just 5 months before I would eventually step out in faith and move my life from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to Findlay, Ohio just so I could enroll full-time at Winebrenner Theological Seminary, I had been caught up in some lifestyle choices that were certainly not God-honoring, even though I had been a Christian for 14 years at that point. I won't go into full details, but will just say that these choices involved one particular woman with whom I went to dance clubs, drank alcohol often even though we didn't get drunk, and occasionally spent the night. I would later reflect on just how depressing and unsatisfying that season in my life was, but at the time I was stuck in a rut of constantly chasing fulfillment without ever coming close to finding it. This went on for a few months and I remember that we had plans for me to drive to the town where she lived and spend the entire weekend with her and her friends doing the things that I knew were wrong. As that weekend approached, I began to feel very convicted. I didn't want to break the plans we had, because that of course would mean I'd be home alone all weekend with nothing "fun" to do. But at the same time, I just couldn't ignore the disappointment I felt due to my own choices, even the ones that hadn't happened yet! So, in a very poor effort to reconcile the two conflicting feelings I was having, I tried to talk to this woman on the phone and convince her that we shouldn't be doing the things we had been doing and were planning to continue to do that weekend. Here was the one and only problem with that idea: I was a Christian; she was not. And that, friends, is the first time I can ever remember thinking consciously about the work of the Holy Spirit in the moment.
Needless to say, my attempt to convince her of the sin of what we had been doing didn't go over very well. It was like mixing oil and water. Even though we were both guilty of the same sins, there was such a clear difference between the feelings of the one who has the Holy Spirit in him and the one who does not. And you certainly can't blame the one who doesn't know the error of her ways, especially when such a poor example has been set for her. She couldn't understand, and rightfully so, how a man who supported such activities with his lifestyle for several months was now speaking against them. I'm happy to say that I ended up resisting the temptation to go through with the plans and stayed home that weekend, and that season of gratifying the flesh was over. I never hung out with that woman again and God used that experience that weekend to set me on a straight path that culminated with my huge step of faith 5 months later. However, there were consequences even on that weekend, as I desperately tried to explain to her why I was doing what I was doing, hoping with everything in me that she would somehow see the truth through this one God-honoring action that contradicted everything else I had been doing up to that point. She certainly never came around to it that weekend in talking with me, and only God knows if she ever did. I had to deal with the pain of knowing I was a terrible example to someone else who was searching, but the conviction of that situation served to not only give me clarity on the work of the Holy Spirit, but also keep me focused on the way I represent my Savior.
Just in case I haven't been clear so far, one of the major works of the Spirit that I have experienced in my life is conviction. If you read in Acts 2 and the story of the day of Pentecost, you see that the Holy Spirit descended on the believers. In the Christian faith, we believe that every believer from that point forward is given the Holy Spirit. Jesus told his disciples in John 14:26 that the Holy Spirit would be a "Counselor", and that he would "teach them all things and remind them of everything Jesus had said to them". In John 16, Jesus is still talking to the disciples and tells them that the Spirit will "convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment" and also will "guide his disciples into all truth". These are the things that I experienced in the story I shared above, and I'd be willing to bet that you have probably had similar experiences, whether you recognized them as the work of the Spirit or not (please share your experience in the comment section if you have one). Make no mistake about it. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you have the Holy Spirit convicting, guiding, teaching, reminding, and leading you.
While much of what is studied, taught, and thought about the Holy Spirit in the Christian faith is foggy, there's one simple truth that actually makes perfect sense. The Holy Spirit is Christ in us. Think about it. The first disciples of Jesus didn't need the Holy Spirit to be in them because anytime they had a question about anything, they could just turn and say, "So what should we do here, Jesus?" But Jesus promised the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, to the disciples (which includes anyone who's a Christian even now) because he knew that he could not stay with them in the flesh forever. Jesus' time here on this earth was coming to a close and it was time for him to go be with his Father. But you know, God promises in the Old Testament that he would never leave nor forsake his people. So it's only fitting that Jesus, who was also God, accompanied his followers while on earth, and that he promised the Holy Spirit, who is also God, to accompany believers for all future generations. I'd say we serve a God that does not break his promises! Just remember, the next time you are in a pickle where you are just not sure what the right step is, you have just as much access to Christ as those who physically walked with him. And that access is granted through the work of the Holy Spirit!
Growing up, the Holy Spirit was commonly referred to as the Holy Ghost. Because of that, I’m sure you can imagine how a child could misinterpret that - picturing a cartoon-style ghost with a sheet over it! The Holy Spirit was one of those things that was never explained to me well (that I remember) in all of my religious education as a child. Looking back, I think the reason for that was that the Spirit was - and still is - very difficult to explain and understand!
The Holy Spirit is one of the persons of the Trinity. The Trinity is how we mere humans attempt to explain God - three persons in one God. The persons are the Father, Son (Jesus), and Holy Spirit. They are not three Gods; they are totally and completely one God, yet there are three distinct persons within that God. There is no earthly analogy that perfectly describes the Trinity or how the three persons relate with one another, though a few come close. For example, one popular analogy is that the Trinity can be compared to an egg. There are three parts to an egg (yolk, white, and shell) and together they make up an egg. However, that analogy falls short in that those parts can be separated, and God can never be separated.
But enough talk about that... the word for this week is Holy Spirit, not Trinity. Who or what is this Spirit that is so hard to comprehend?
In the Bible, the Spirit is expressed in terms of various images, including life-breath (Genesis 2:7), wind (Genesis 8:1, Acts 2:1-4), fire (Matthew 3:11-12), water (Isaiah 44:3), cloud (Exodus 24:15-18), dove (Matthew 3:16), and advocate (John 14:16). The Spirit can also be identified as the power of God. The Spirit is the power that is within all created life, as in Genesis 1. In the book of Acts, the Spirit is expressed as having power to facilitate salvation. In Luke 4:18-19, Jesus himself says the Spirit is on him. We also know that the Bible was inspired by the Spirit, as recorded in 2 Timothy 3:16. Throughout the Bible, the Holy Spirit is shown as playing a crucial role in salvation, providing spiritual gifts, and essential for spiritual transformation. The Spirit gives power and gifts to the people, such as leaders and warriors in the Old Testament and the apostles and others in the early church, especially leaders and missionaries.
As a former teacher of mine used to say, that’s clear as mud, right? We really cannot define the Holy Spirit in a nice, easy way. The Spirit has many roles in our lives. It is important that we recognize the Spirit’s presence in our lives as Christians, even if we don’t fully understand how that works. The Spirit is always present in our lives to help us further our own faith and to share that faith with others.
As human beings, we often have a problem putting the focus too much on ourselves. We love to get credit for anything positive that we do and hope that people will ignore or fail to recognize our mistakes. If we happen to reap the benefits of someone else's work, we don't make a big deal out of it. But if we work really hard and make sacrifices and notice someone else receiving our reward, we feel like an injustice has been done. This self-centered focus creates more than just a need for glory. It also gives us an improper perspective toward our own will power. When we desperately want to do good works and believe that we can will ourselves to do them, one of two things is bound to happen and both are unhealthy. Either we will swell with pride and arrogantly assume that we have the power to change ourselves after we've been successful, or we will simply give up the fight and collapse in shame after we've been unsuccessful. Regardless of the outcome, we get easily aggravated if the attention is not on us, because in our deception we believe it's all about us. I wonder if this is how God feels on the subject of holiness.
I certainly don't mean that God is deceived when He thinks it's all about Him, because it truly is! But I wonder how God feels when mere men take credit for something that belongs to Him. Katie wrote in Monday's blog that we should strive for holiness according to the definition she used. While I completely agree that we should strive to be more Christ-like, we must remember who it is that makes things holy. To understand what I am talking about, take a look at Genesis 2:3. This is the first time the word "holy" is used in the Bible, at least in my NIV translation. And it is used in reference to the seventh day, which later became known as the Sabbath. "And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done". So to be clear, God MADE this day holy. It did not exemplify the attribute of holiness on its own, so God chose to make it so by setting a standard of resting at least one day out of every seven. Fast forward to the part of the Bible where we are commanded to take a Sabbath - the Ten Commandments. "Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy" (Exodus 20:8). The Scripture then goes on to give the Israelites specific instructions on how to obey the commandment. But again, let's review. God MADE it holy, and we are charged with KEEPING it holy. Do you see the difference?
Holiness is not really our domain. We ought to really take the focus off of trying to will ourselves to be holy when we are not able to make ourselves holy in the first place. Trying to take ourselves from unholiness to holiness is impossible, and futile attempts to do so will do nothing but frustrate us even more. In the New Testament, Paul talks about the truth regarding holiness in verses that are some of my favorite in the whole Bible. "Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you HOLY in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation - if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel" (Colossians 1:21-23a [caps mine]). So, very clearly, our behaviors alienated us from God until he intervened through Christ's work on the cross to MAKE US HOLY.
So, how does this change our pursuit of holiness? Well, in the words of a well-known Mad TV skit with Bob Newhart, STOP IT! I urge you to stop pursuing holiness, because the truth is that you have already been made holy if you are a believer and follower of Jesus Christ. If you are not a follower of Christ, you also might as well stop trying to be holy, because it's impossible due to your evil behavior. So, what is our part in this process then? As Paul says, our responsibility is to "continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel" (v. 23a). We can't make ourselves any holier than God already sees us thanks to the work of Jesus Christ, but we can and must KEEP ourselves holy. Without Christ, this would have meant never sinning again because that's the only way we can measure up to God's standard of holiness. However, with Christ, it means standing firm in the hope and salvation that we find in the gospel no matter how many times we mess up, knowing that we have been set free and can continue to press on as disciples of Jesus.
Friends, this means you have no reason or right to beat yourself up over making mistakes. You see, the second you begin to live as if your failures change your standing with God, you are no longer "established and firm". You are beginning to undo the holiness which God has given you because you are living as if it was dependent on your actions in the first place! As you continue to strive to be more like Christ, I urge you to walk in freedom. Striving to be more like Christ isn't so that you can be holier in God's eyes, for that isn't possible once you've already chosen to put your faith in Jesus. Striving to be more like Christ is a response to what he has done for us, and recognizes that following him is the most abundant life we can have. So, next time you think about pursuing "a higher level of holiness", just STOP IT! And remember to thank God for having already made you holy in His sight!
Here's the video clip.
Posted by Worldview Warriors On Wednesday, August 8, 2012 6 comments
I have heard numerous people say that the Bible should not be taken literally and their justification for that claim is Jesus’ parable of the mustard seed. They say, “Jesus said that the mustard seed was the smallest of all seeds. We know that it isn’t the smallest seed, so was Jesus wrong? Therefore, we should know that Scripture shouldn’t be taken literally.” Okay, let’s back up a moment here.
Jesus did not say that the mustard seed was the smallest seed of all, but that it was the smallest seed that they planted in their fields. Certain translations mess this up, but the NIV does an excellent job at making this point clear and it is clear in the Greek as well (For instance, the Greek word in this case is gayse = earth or dirt; not cosmos = earth or world). Many similar arguments are made against YEC in regards to Genesis.
The most common one in scholarly circles revolves around the word “day.” What is a day, Biblically speaking? After all, the sun and moon were not created until day 4, so how did God define a day? Furthermore, and most importantly, the word yom (Hebrew for day) can mean an indefinite span of time.
It is an interesting argument, but flawed. The word yom needs a qualifier in order to change its meaning; for instance, in the day of the judges or in the day of Noah. There is no qualifier in the phrase yom ehad (day one). Ken Ham (of Answers in Genesis) says that out of the umpteen-trillion times that the word yom is used in the context of speaking about a day, without a qualifier, it always means a literal day. It does not mean a literal day only when there is a qualifying statement.
Another common argument is that 2 Peter 3 says that “a day is like a thousand years to God.” That’s true. But it also says that a thousand years is like a day. Contextually, this passage is saying that God is beyond time and is actually defending the reality of the global flood in the days of Noah. Indeed, God is timeless, but he placed us in a realm where we can comprehend time and he has established order by creating time.
Recently, I have come across bizarre arguments by Hugh Ross and an organization called Answers In Creation. They both claim that passages like Psalm 104 indicate that the earth is older than 6,000 years and that animal death occurred before sin, but not human death. There is no end to the absurdities created to preserve the idea of OEC and their claims are clearly absurd at a glance.
To close, I’m going to list reasons why a person should not be a young earth creationist. 1) If you are an atheist. 2) You have accepted the common teachings of the science classroom. 3) You want to appear intelligent but remain a Christian. 4) You have convinced yourself of a more sophisticated interpretation of Scripture. 5) You just like to argue with self-righteous young earth creationists (and yes, I know, there are a lot of us out there). Blessings and peace to all of you YEC’s, OEC’s, ABC’s, MIA’s, and MIB’s!
When I first saw the word for this week, holiness, I figured I’d discuss God’s holiness, because He is the only one who is truly holy. Holiness is an attribute of God that we can never achieve as humans, since we are sinful and we are not perfect; being holy is being without sin. But then I read some definitions on holiness, and it is something we should all strive for.
According to my theological dictionary, holiness is “the devotion and purity of life associated with Christian discipleship, in which ones lives according to God’s will and exhibits that commitment in all areas of behavior.” Isn’t that what we should all be doing as Christians? We need to be disciples (or learners/imitators) of Christ. We need to live according to God’s will, what He wants for our lives. And we need to be committed to God in everything that we do. Before today, I had never seen that sort of definition of holiness before. I have always had the mentality that holiness is simply defined as not sinning, and thus it’s completely unattainable. But the above definition seems a little more concrete and detailed.
How do we exhibit holiness? Do what Jesus Christ did. Live as Jesus Christ tells us to live, and be fully committed to that lifestyle. Even though that is still a somewhat unreachable goal in my life, since unfortunately I do often stray from living like Jesus, it feels like something I can at least try to do. I can’t wrap my mind around trying to be holy as God is holy; but I can understand these simple instructions for life, since they are what every Christian should strive for anyway.
This is elaborated on in 1 Peter 3:14-16, where Peter writes, “As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’” Peter is quoting this from any of three verses in the Old Testament - Leviticus 11:44, 11:45, and 19:2. In these verses, God is commanding the people of Israel to be holy because He is holy and because of what He has done for them. When Peter repeats these commands, it shows us that they apply to us too. We should strive to be holy because of who God is - He is holy.
Posted by Worldview Warriors On Thursday, August 2, 2012 0 comments
One of the things that I think is true about every human being and the flesh is its desire for glory in this world. If we are honest with ourselves, we want to be affirmed, recognized, noticed for our accomplishments. We hate it when we work hard and give of our time and energy only to see somebody else reap the reward. I'd say this is especially true for men. We feel we are nothing if we don't have the respect of our parents, women, other men, and society in general. When we really begin to understand how God works, however, we should see that all of our attempts at self-glorification are futile. We can never be satisfied enough, and as Paul says in Ephesians 4:19, we have "a continual lust for more". If you've ever gotten to that place where you feel respected and generally glorified by others, you know that satisfaction is the furthest thing from you. Instead, what you get is fear, insecurity, and added pressure.
The attempts at self-glorification are futile because, if we look back at the history of the Bible and at our nation's history, anyone who has ever done anything that made a significant positive impact in the world neither saw in advance completely how God would use them nor lived long enough to see the full results. I was struck by these thoughts one day last week when I was reading an article in the local newspaper about the group of guys who got together in an auto shop that was owned by one of them in the early 1920s in Ohio and laid the initial plans for the National Football League. Could they have ever imagined that it would be as popular as it is today, less than 100 years later? That got me thinking about other similar situations. Could Henry Ford or the Wright Brothers have ever imagined what their creations would mean for the transportation industry? Could Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and many others of the Civil Rights Movement have known where we would be today as a diverse and mostly tolerant nation? Could Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, who was portrayed by Jeff Daniels in the movie "Gettysburg", who voluntarily left his family and a job as a college professor with a PhD., and who led about 300 Union troops against 1,000 Confederate troops in the battle to defend Little Round Top, have known the true fruits of the sacrifices made by he and his men? The answer to all of these questions is simply "no". These people may have had visions of what the future "could" be like, but they had no guarantee of anything. They simply either followed God by faith or, even if they had no relationship with Him, used their God-given talents to do what He created them to do!
At this point, you're wondering what this has to do with our word of the week. Well, I don't know if there is anyone in all of history who more represents what I've been talking about so far than the Apostle Paul. In Acts 9, we read about his conversion (he was previously known as Saul) and the purpose for his life going forward. But interestingly, WE read about it, and Ananias was told about it in a vision, but we don't read anywhere that Paul himself was ever told about it! Ananias questions why he should be so crazy as to go to the home of the man who has been persecuting Christians, and God answers him with a little glimpse into His future plans for Paul. "Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name" (Acts 9:15-16). Wow! Those are 2 of my favorite verses in the Bible. Before Paul had even accepted the invitation to be a Christ-follower rather than a Christ-persecutor, God already knew how He was going to use him once he surrenders. Could we be foolish enough to think God doesn't care equally for us, and have plans that are just as big for us?
God calls Paul "my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel". So, simply put, Paul was going to be God's instrument to carry His name to EVERYONE. But I certainly find it interesting that "Gentiles and their kings" were mentioned first, mainly because I don't think anything in the Bible is coincidental. While Paul was a Jew himself and certainly preached Christ to his fellow Jews and Jewish authorities, taking Christ to the Gentile nations wound up being his passion and mission. One chapter later in Acts 10, we read the story of how God opens Peter's eyes to His love and salvation being equally available to Gentiles, and then the rest of the book of Acts, and some may even say the whole New Testament, are the story of Peter and Paul taking the gospel message to the Gentiles.
As Katie pointed out in Monday's blog, you and I (unless you are of Jewish descent) are Gentiles. Were it not for Paul and Peter being used by God and being faithfully obedient, I could not sit here and write this blog. We could not go to Christian churches in America. We probably wouldn't even have a Bible to read from. Many of the spiritual blessings we have grown up with and taken for granted would not have been available to us. In fact, had Paul and Peter not been willing to get out of their comfort zone and go preach to the "pagan" nations, it's probably safe to say Christianity would have died right there in Jerusalem and never even come close to being the world's most popular religion as it is today and has been for a long time. Paul's and Peter's message to the Gentiles is what has enabled Christianity to spread across the globe. And all they were doing was obeying God and doing what He had created and equipped them to do, with absolutely no clue about the extent of the impact their actions would have.
So, they must have been a couple of extraordinary dudes, right? Not a chance! The New Testament is filled with their screw-ups. God loves to restore order and create a masterpiece out of chaos and junk. When you think of the word "Gentile" from here on out, let it be a reminder of how God can take the obedience of mere men, even men who for the longest time resisted His presence in their lives, and use it to impact the whole world for generations and centuries to come. How might He be calling you to obey Him by faith? I encourage you to resist the temptation to worry about the results, because your mind simply cannot comprehend His plans. And besides, the results, and your ETERNAL reward, are best left up to Him anyway.
Posted by Worldview Warriors On Wednesday, August 1, 2012 3 comments
I have spent plenty of time bad-mouthing OEC, but now it’s time for me to put up or shut up. Why should a Christian believe in Young Earth Creationism? Some of the answers are obvious if you have been keeping up with my entries. It is derived from a simple reading of Scripture, it places death AFTER sin, and it is consistent with Jesus’ literal interpretation of Scripture. For most people, that is not good enough and frankly, I will probably never convince you if that is your perspective….but I’m going to try to anyway!
How is YEC more consistent with Scripture? Couldn’t a figurative interpretation be just as acceptable as a literal interpretation? And is OEC necessarily a figurative interpretation of Scripture? For instance, Hugh Ross believes that OEC is quite consistent with a “straightforward” reading of Scripture. It really depends on how far we take OEC. Most OEC’s would disagree with Dr. Ross and anybody who really thinks about his claims will consider them to be bogus.
YEC is more consistent with Scripture because it follows the entire redemptive story from the beginning of the Bible to its end. YEC comes from the literal interpretation of the Bible. It considers the genealogies of the Bible as historic opposed to metaphoric. This is very, very important. Allow me to bore you for a moment.
The genealogical records start in Genesis. In Genesis chapter 4, we observe the first genealogy which is the descendants of Cain. This one is not quite as important. In Genesis 5, the descendants of Adam through Seth are recorded…this one is important. Verse 5:4 states, “And the days of Adam after he had begotten Seth were eight hundred years: and he begat sons and daughters.” Do the math with me: If Adam was created on day six and he was 800 when Seth was born, how old was the earth? 800 years (and six days). Following that, 5:6 reads, “And Seth lived an hundred and five years and begat Enos.” So 800 + 105 = 905 years since the creation of the earth. The genealogies are extensive and that is how YECs deduce the age of the earth. Simple, right?
There are other genealogies throughout the Bible. One of the most boring and tedious ones is in 1 Chronicles and runs for over ten chapters! But the most interesting genealogy is found in the Gospel of Luke. Luke traces Jesus’ lineage and do you know who he traces Jesus’ ancestry to? Adam. Pretty cool huh? As a nerd I probably find this more exciting than you anyway, but this is the coolest part of it all: Read with me from Genesis 4:26 – “”And to Seth, to him also there was born a son; and he called his name Enos: then began men to call upon the name of the Lord.” This is the beginning of the “Messianic Bloodline” (the bloodline that Jesus descended from).The genealogy is not just about the age of the earth, it is about Jesus. Now, I know that people have pointed out problems with the genealogy(s), but there are also people who have debunked their complaints. Ultimately, I find myself in agreement with Ken Ham when he defended his belief in YEC by saying that “I am not a young earth creationist because I want to be a young earth creationist. I am a young earth creationist because I accept the authority of Scripture.” Amen.