What is a Nazirite? Isn’t that something from the Old Testament? Why is that something we should care about today? Read on and find out.
Yes, a Nazirite is something that comes out of the Old Testament. It’s part of the law that God gave to the people of Israel as recorded in the book of Numbers, specifically Numbers 6:1-21. To summarize that passage for you, being a Nazirite was a vow that a person would take. This vow would involve 3 things:
by Katie Erickson
1. No wine or strong drink
2. No cutting your hair
3. No contact with anything dead The vow of being a Nazirite could last any amount of time, either a set period or for a person’s entire life. We see 3 people in Scripture who had the Nazirite vow for life: Samson (Judges 13:4-5), Samuel (1 Samuel 1:11), John the Baptist (Luke 1:15). If you look at the context of each of those passages, the instructions for the Nazirite vow were given to the mothers before their sons were even born. We also see the apostle Paul taking a Nazirite vow for a time during his ministry in Corinth (Acts 18:18), and another time later on (Acts 21:23-26). Generally, the vow would last anywhere from 30-100 days. When a Nazirite vow would be ended (for anyone taking it on a temporary basis), the former Nazirite would have to go to the temple to make some sacrifices - a male lamb less than a year old, a female lamb less than a year old, and a ram. These animals would be sacrificed by the priest, and the Nazirite would now be allowed to cut his hair and throw it into the fire. Why am I writing about the Nazirite vow? Next week we’ll be getting into the story of Samson, and this Nazirite vow plays a key role throughout Samson’s life. But why is this important for us today? One primary purpose of the Nazirite vow is to show worship of and complete allegiance to God. This is similar to how today people will refrain from certain activities (drinking, wild partying, dancing in some Christian denominations, etc). They don’t necessarily refrain from those things because they don’t like them; instead they refrain to honor God and as a way to worship Him with their lives. The Nazirite vow is just one way to deny the desires of our human nature to follow God more fully. This vow would also cause the Nazirite to stand out physically from the other people, since they wouldn’t cut their hair. I’m not saying that we all need to become Nazirites today, but what are you doing to honor God with your life? Do you deny yourself from things you desire, so that you can follow God better? Are there certain things about your appearance or the way you live your life that show people your life is fully devoted to God? Think about what you might do to honor God with your life more fully.
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Recently I found myself frustrated with a situation. I wanted to react without thinking and lash out. However, I caught myself and began to think about how I had wanted to react. As I thought about my reaction, I realized that it was a worldly response.
In John 15:19 we see that we are to be in the world but not of the world. This was confusing to me. How do we live in this world but not be of this world? As I contemplated this Scripture passage, I began to think of Jesus’ example. We often find in Scripture that he went and spent quiet time with God.
Think about how much time each day you spend at school, work, on your phone, computer, or watching your favorite TV shows. Now take a second to think about how much time you spend with God each day.
When I recognized how much time I was spending with the world and how much time I was spending with God, it was eye opening! It prompted me to make major changes to my schedule. When discussing this topic of quiet time with God I often hear “I don’t have time,” or “I’m too busy.” But we don’t miss a game when our favorite team is playing on TV. I am not saying you can’t watch TV or sports. What God showed me was that often this is out of balance in our lives.
How much time do we “set apart” from the world to spend time with God? We will act (or react) like whoever we are spend the most time with. Do you find yourself asking, “Where has my joy, peace, hope, contentment gone?” Are you consumed with the busyness of this world? Or are you taking time to quietly sit at God’s feet?
Take sometime this week to evaluate your schedule. Look at how much time you spend at work, on your computer, on the phone, watching TV, and then take a hard look at how much time you spend reading the Bible, in prayer, and in quiet time with God. Spend time in prayer assessing your schedule to see where you can devote more time to God this week.
by Ami Samuels
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We are NOT tolerant. Not even close. When someone shares what they believe or challenges someone who believes something else and the result is shouting, name calling, beating, rioting, etc., this is not tolerance.
We ARE afraid. We have been cultivated to live in fear by the media, by the government, by marketing and advertising for consumer goods, by terrorist groups, etc. Learning to live in fear reached another tipping point in the 90s and accelerated forward since 2001. Fear keeps us in a ‘fight or flight’ mindset, where our emotions and instincts drive our actions and thoughts toward survival. The side effect of this is that when we are concerned only with our own survival (or the survival of our current ideology), then everyone else is expendable. This is NOT tolerance. It is megalomania turned sideways.
Let me give you an example of what tolerance IS. Read Matthew 22:34-40.
When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment is, it was meant to be a trap. It was meant to expose where Jesus may not know the Word of God as well as the religious leaders, and maybe even meant to expose some hidden heresy that no one had heard yet. Instead, Jesus silences them all. And all he does is summarize the 10 commandments of God in two sentences: “Love the Lord your GOD with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. And the second is like it - love your neighbor as yourself.”
Jesus actually uses tolerance to reveal the intolerance the religious leaders of the day had toward God’s plans and God’s people. It is impossible to love God with all that you are and at the same time reject His commandments, principles, and morality. It is also impossible to be intolerant of others, if you love them the way God does and the way you would love yourself.
To love God first and with all that we are is only possible if we lay down every self-concern. And if we lay down every self-concern, then every fear we have becomes small or non-existent compared to God’s power, might, wisdom, and grace. No fear = no survival mechanisms = patience and grace to treat others with love and respect.
To paraphrase something Penn and Teller once said, “I find it insincere for Christians to not evangelize. I mean honestly, I don’t believe in God, but if you really believe that God sent His son to die for your sins, for forgiveness and life forever in Heaven, how much do you have to hate someone not to tell them? I respect Christians who evangelize, if that is what they believe is true, they should be telling everyone.”
So, why don’t we tell everyone? Fear. All of us, believer and non-believers alike, have been tricked into living by fear and keeping our own self-interest first. Some have fallen so hard into this that instead of leaving Christianity, they have tried to re-write the Bible to support their ideologies and validate their sin. Some have helped re-write the interpretations of the Bible, because they think they are doing good and being tolerant, when in reality they are enabling the sin of others and ignoring their own.
If you want to know if you are tolerant, take a look at your Facebook or Twitter feed. Does what you post demonstrate a love for God with no self-interest? Do your comments demonstrate a love for others, even political candidates you disagree with?
True tolerance comes from a position of self-sacrifice and grace, with the passionate commitment to share truth with others for THEIR good, and at the pace they can consider it. True tolerance loves someone deeply regardless of the disagreements; it doesn’t make love a reward for agreeing. True tolerance wants what God wants for another person, and at the proper time.
Ask God to show you your intolerance of others and to teach you His tolerance. Trust God’s power and grace in you and ask Him for the wisdom to know how to love others like He does.
Perfect Love drives out fear. (1 John 4:18)
by Nathan Buck
The perfect Love of God exemplifies tolerance. (Colossians 3:1-17)
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by Charlie Wolcott “What are the minimum requirements for salvation?” Perhaps you have heard the question asked this way: “Do I have to believe that particular doctrine in order to be saved?” Or “Is that doctrine required to be a Christian?” I have been asked these questions from both believers and unbelievers alike when addressing various doctrines and particularly when defending the faith. There are two primary doctrines where I have seen this in action the most. The first is regarding origins. Are you required to believe in a “young earth” model of origins in order to be considered a Christian? Nearly every person who has supported and defended this position has been asked this constantly, and the bulk of the time the answer is “No, it is not a salvation-determining issue.” However, when many YEC speak about the authority of Scripture, they do tend to give off that vibe that it is a requirement. The other doctrine that is often addressed is used by what used to be known as the “Emergent Church.” In his book Velvet Elvis, Rob Bell asks if belief in the virgin birth is a requirement to be a Christian. In a more recent article, Andy Stanley made a comment about how the resurrection is the most important thing about Christ, not how he got here. Both then proclaimed to believe in the virgin birth. Really, up until the last two months, I would answer these questions with, “No, salvation does not depend upon believing in those doctrines.” Even though I know any other position raises questions on parts of the Bible, therefore making the whole thing under question, I knew that one could hold an Old Earth view in ignorance or not know of the virgin birth and be a born-again believer. Now, I have to answer these questions differently. As God has been dealing with me regarding the difference between intellectual Christianity and actual Christianity, one thing he’s taught me is that all of these questions completely miss the point of Christianity. Where in the Bible does it ever say there are minimum doctrinal requirements for salvation? Where did that idea ever come from? Many people will cite Romans 10:9 where salvation is simply “believe in your heart and confess with your mouth and you will be saved.” Or they will reference the thief on the cross who simply proclaimed his own guilt, confessed Jesus’ innocence, and asked for him to remember him. Again, where in these passages does anything talk about minimum requirements? There are three issues I see in the “minimum requirements” approach to Christianity. 1. Salvation, and Christianity for that matter, is about intellectually held doctrines. This has been a problem for the last few decades in American Christianity. We speak about great theory but do we show any indication that we practice it? Truth was never meant to merely be known. It was meant to be lived. You can build your house on the rock and that’s great. But when the storms come, the house on the rock only helps you if you are in that house. Christianity is not meant to be artwork you put up on the wall and look at for pleasure. It is meant to be the very bedrock and reason for your existence. Everything of you is meant to be about Christ. Do the questions regarding origins or the virgin birth matter? Who or what gives any person any right to say which doctrines are important and which ones are not? By what standard can you say “How Jesus came here is not important, but his resurrection is”? If you get to decide which doctrines are important to Christianity and which ones are not, you are putting yourself in higher authority than God because you are saying that you get to tell God which of his statements are important or not. Augustine of Hippo said, “If you believe what you like in the Gospel, and reject what you don’t like, it is not the Gospel you believe but yourself.” If Christianity is just dependent upon a few doctrines to mentally acknowledge, then which ones are the necessary ones? Which ones are not important? What happened to “believe the whole book”? I better move on, or I’ll be here for 30 more pages. 2. What is the minimal effort I have to offer so I can get to heaven, while still living the way I want to live with everything else? As mentioned above, what is greatly missing about American Christianity today is repentance. Those in the churches are just as worldly and godless as the rest of the world. The statistics prove that. Many church stats indicate they would be happy if just 5% of those in American churches are actually saved. That means 95% of those in churches are goats, not sheep. As Adam initiated to the world the first lesson in attempting to justify ourselves with, “Lord, it was the woman!” we seek to find out what we can do to get okay with God while still doing what we want to do. Let me make this clear: you cannot call yourself a Christian and believe whatever you want. It does not work that way. You really want to know what the minimum requirements of salvation are? Here they are: complete and full surrender. You cannot call yourself a Christian if you do what you want to do. Jesus said you can’t. Jesus even asked why we even bother calling him “Lord” if we do not obey him (a post on that is coming in two weeks). If you are looking for a set of doctrines that you want to hold to so you can consider yourself a Christian and then seeking to believe what you want on anything else, I would greatly question if you are a Christian. With that mentality, you are not seeking to follow Christ, but you are seeking the benefits of Christ for your own purposes. Paul never asked the Corinthians if they adhered to the correct doctrines to determine if they were in the faith. He never asked if and when they said that “Sinner’s Prayer” and if they were sincere enough. No, he said “examine yourself” to see if your faith is indeed legit. If we are truly honest with ourselves, there are a number of us that would find ourselves questionable at best. 3. Christianity is only concerned with getting into heaven and nothing else matters. This is the one that grieves me the most when the questions at the top come from other believers. This is the mindset that we just need to worry about getting saved and nothing else matters. A.W. Tozer said, “The great deterrent to victorious Christian living is the idea that once we accept Jesus Christ as Savior… we can just sit back and enjoy the ride.” Christianity is not about salvation. We need to get that idea out of our heads. Let me say it again: Christianity is NOT about salvation. It is about a person: Jesus Christ. If you are going to call yourself a Christian, you need to be made more and more into the image of Christ. You want to know if you really are being made into the image of Christ? How do you see sin? How do you view sin? Do you consider it negligible and embrace your “imperfections”? Or does it grieve you more and more? I keep talking in this series about God giving me a new understanding of Christianity, one that is more than mere intellectualism. If I am to have a new and better understanding of God, I have to also have a new and better understanding of sin. I have to be more repulsed by sin. More and more of Christ and less and less of me. With this is an issue of holiness. If we are to be true Christians, we are to be made holy – more separated from the world and from self. We are to be dying to self. Dying to my desires. Dying to my dreams. Everything I have and everything I am is to be laid down at the cross and PUT TO DEATH. And too many of us don’t want to do that. The true Gospel is not about salvation, though that is a big part of it. The true Gospel is about taking wicked, evil, rebellious people and remaking them in a new image, a picture of Jesus Christ. Jesus did not die just to get you to heaven. He died so you can be as he is: holy and pure and his Bride. Does Jesus have anything to do with your desire to be in heaven? Too many people want to be in heaven, but they do not want God there. They want paradise and utopia but they do not want submission and continual worship of God. In heaven, God is the focal point and everything revolves around him. If you think the only thing that matters in Christianity is getting saved, you have completely missed the point. And for too many years, I was one of them. Stephen Manley said this: “My dad taught me well. ‘It doesn’t take much of a man to be a Christian. It just takes all there is of him.’….We aren’t talking about SUPER-Christian against lesser-Christians. We aren’t talking about SUPER-saints against lesser saints. We’re just talking about the bare minimum of getting in.” The minimum requirements of salvation is not a set of doctrines to believe. It is complete and total surrender to Christ. It is death to ALL of self and submission to the Lordship of Christ. Jesus does not want you to believe a certain set of doctrines. He wants your complete and total dependence upon him for everything in your life. Next week, I’ll address another doozy of a topic for this series: apologetics.
“With the end of the Cold War and the proliferation of the Internet, the authority of the Christian God is slipping at an accelerated rate, and yes, that has to be scary to those who have been browbeaten to believe in the deity without question.”
Statements such as this make me sad for a couple of reasons. The misconception is quite frequently that people of faith are forced into it or are brainwashed. They're “browbeaten” and are made to submit or face some sort of punishment. This sort of imagery is brought about by authors like Steven King or in movies. Sure, there are those crazy, off the wall “religious” folks that have a screw loose that force their beliefs on someone else. But this isn't the norm. In fact, this is extremely rare. One of the interesting things with this sort of story is that, quite frequently anyway, the person forced to submit to the whims of the belief system generally reject it whole heartedly. This is also often the case in Christian homes where the parents are either completely faking their faith or are over the top. They actually know very little about the faith they claim to live, or they are too lazy to actually live it out. Their kids either will see the fake lives their parents are living and reject it, or they will be told what to think with things like, “Don't ask about that!” or “That's just what we believe” or other similar statements. The parent doesn't know how or why, so they can't answer the tough questions their children may have. In this case, because there is no real foundation for their beliefs, the result is a weak faith that is easily toppled. I always encourage parents to help the children know HOW to think rather than just telling them WHAT they're supposed to think.
If people knew how to process information and were capable of making good decisions based on the information they're presented with, I feel the Christian Church as a whole would be in much better health today. It would likely also not have the reputation it has today as well. If Christians were theologians (which, by they way, every last one of us is called to be as a follower of Christ) and really knew the Word of God and really spent time with Him in prayer and really lived a life sacrificed to their Creator, Christianity would begin to look like the Bride of Christ rather than having the reputation of a bunch of curmudgeons who hate everything they don't like or don't agree with. As I wrote in my blog post from a few weeks ago, an excellent quote by a man who was not a Christian but understood more about it than most of us is, “Of all religions, the Christian is without doubt the one which should inspire tolerance most, although up to now the Christians have been the most intolerant of all men.” Christians boycott, we picket, we march, we get angry, and we do all these things I'm not sure Christ would participate in rather than loving people and showing them who Jesus is. I'm not saying all these things are always bad, but I'm saying I'm not sure they're always right either.
I feel that “religion” is something that feeds this “brainwashed” idea. God is not interested in religion so much as He's interested in you and me. He wants to relate with us—have a relationship with us. Your heart is in a relationship. It's not in ceremonies and rituals. It's not in the robotic refrain or the emotionless response of a congregation. Religion itself, I believe, has resulted in the loss of faith of more people than anything else. This goes along with the “fake faith” we talked about. I suppose a more accurate statement would be to say that the faith of many of us is in the wrong thing. Jesus Christ should be the sole object of our faith. It's not supposed to be in saying the right things at the right time. It's not about doing something to earn anything. It's not about rules and regulations and “Say this 100 times” sort of things. Your faith should be in nothing but Jesus Christ. Not institutions, practices, chants, or other persons. Jesus only. Anything else is a misplaced faith and will result in your heart not being involved. Again, our children will see this—the lack of love for God and a life of earning grace which is a contradiction in and of itself—and will turn from it. Humans, I think, are religion hungry. We want to do something in order to deserve reward. That's all wrong. This is man's attempt at filling the hole that is in the heart of every human being. This hole can only be filled with a genuine relationship with Jesus Christ, but we want to DO something. You can't do a single thing to gain salvation. The work has already been done. You just need to accept it. Seek Jesus more and more every day and learn all you can about Him. Allow Him to live His life through you. THAT, my friends, is the Christian life.
I think the impression given to the world when we are “religious” is that we've sort of bought into this Christian thing with our minds but not our hearts. This is really a fake faith, or at the very least a misplaced faith, and gives the appearance of being brainwashed. The funny thing is that these people who are doing this are actually the opposite of brainwashed. They don't accept everything without question but actually don't accept it to any real legitimate degree at all. I would go so far as to say they're living a lie. This lie is that God wants your rituals and ceremonies. He needs you to be part of a special group or say the right things at the right time. This is not what God wants according to Scripture. Jesus mentioned a different passage from the Old Testament and even stated the “righteous” were not who He was after. The righteous were the Jews that believed their rituals and merit gained them salvation.
I say all this to warn against the lure of religion. It has a tendency to turn us cold towards God. I cannot even estimate how many I've known during my life who were raised in a home filled with religion who are now atheists or at the very least agnostics. This is because they never met the God they or their parents made-believe they were following. Religion doesn't find the face of God. A relationship with Him can do that, however. I believe this “Catholic atheist” who has provided me with this great many statements is a prime example of religion turning a man into an unbeliever. “I looked at Christianity. Tried it for years. It's not real. There is no God.” This is sad to me and so very common.
The other thing this atheist says is that Christians, after being “browbeaten,” are taught not to question. That's nonsense. I encourage questions. I encourage seeking out answers to the tough things life throws at us. Skeptics ask questions. Atheists aren't really skeptics. They don't care what the truth is. They only want to not believe in God. It makes them feel safe living life as they want to rather than truly living with a life in Christ.
But the atheist believes without question. He believes there is no evidence for God. He believes this after being presented with that evidence. He will explain away anything that is an obvious contradiction to his claim. Quite often, the atheist will actually put forth his origins myth as though it actually were the evidence-based belief system. He'll say completely absurd things to support his religion of humanism—holding up the Big Bang and all its evolutionary subcategories (molecular evolution, stellar and planetary evolution, etc.) and Darwinism—trying to make it appear that his stance is based in logic and reason and supported with the facts. Essentially, he'll dance around with smoke and mirrors so as not to expose his religion as a religion. But his religion is actually contrary to the facts and is illogical and self-defeating.
The faith of the Christian is not blind. We can confidently say that our faith is supported by the facts. For some, it's because of the facts that they believe! Our faith is not contrary to any known factual data. It's not superstition - that's atheism. Atheism is in spite of the facts, while Christianity can confidently stand on the facts.
To touch on the first portion of his statement, see my writing from last week. He believes the “authority of the Christian God is slipping.” This is simply not true. Christianity is thriving all over the world and is actually alive and well right here in the West. Don't be fooled into thinking our little part of the planet is the entire planet. We represent a very tiny portion of it.
If you're unclear as to what any of this means, please feel free to ask a question in the comments. God bless and thanks for reading.
by Steve Risner
The first step in a comprehensive Christian social ethic is to reclaim the Bible as the basis of truth, accepting the consequences for meaning, value, and ethics. Not just any interpretation of the Bible will do either; let us return to Jesus Christ as the authoritative interpreter of the Bible. Jesus said, “I am the truth” (John 14:6). This is an even more lofty pronouncement than Louis IV’s famous “I am the state.” It claims so much more. But accepting Jesus Christ as the Truth is what makes our comprehensive social ethic a Christian one. Jesus Christ provides me with an interpretive lens through which I must view everything. Accepting His interpretive lens as the ONLY authoritative interpretation of the Bible is what makes me a Christian—a follower of His way. As my beloved Hebrew professor, Dr. Gary Staats, likes to say, “Jesus is my rabbi, so I have to follow him.”
It is hard for many to accept that truth is not found in an objective mathematical equation, but rather in a story of God’s dealings with His people since the dawn of creation. The Hebrew Scriptures are an account of how God has dealt with humanity since the beginning; they reveal what kind of being God is and a lot about what kind of beings humans are. God chose different men to record His own interpretation of the events that surrounded His people. Out of all of the vast number of possible explanations for why certain events happened, God spoke through the prophets how He saw things. This is what we call divine revelation, and accepting it is vital to any thinking titled Christian. If you do not believe that God spoke to these men, you will not be able to accept God’s interpretation of history. You will be adrift in the prevailing winds of contemporary philosophy.
Beyond accepting the Hebrew Scriptures, to be Christian we must also accept Jesus’ claim that everything in Scripture points to and centers upon Him. On the road to Emmaus after Jesus was risen from the dead, he appeared to some disciples and “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). Their eyes were opened and they recognized Jesus. This revelation of Jesus as central to Scripture became “the apostles’ teaching” and accepting it as true and authoritative is necessary to call oneself Christian. This Christ-centered interpretation became the New Testament.
Therefore, Christians are those who accept not only God’s interpretation of history in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament), but also God’s divine revelation in the person and work of Jesus Christ as documented in the New Testament. “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe” (Hebrews 1:1-2).
Any other basis for a social ethic cannot rightly be called Christian; it must take some other name if it is going to be honest. Coherency begins with honesty. If you disagree with these basic tenets that is understandable, but acceptance of these tenets is essential to naming your philosophy “Christian.” Please understand that the contributions that you make in to this comprehensive Christian social ethic will be accepted only on the basis that you conform to these primary tenets of divine revelation. “For no one can lay a foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:11). Jesus Christ cannot be added to some other framework of philosophical understanding as liberal Christians try to do. They try to add Christ to a framework of humanistic rationalism, which simply cannot work. Either Christ is the cornerstone or He is the stumbling block, but he is never a building block on some other foundation (1 Peter 2:7).
Where did the Christian left come from and why do they try to add Christ to a thoroughly non-Christian base? Where do they derive their inspiration and authority since they obviously reject the primary tenets of revelation? That is for next week, constant reader. Blessings! As always, I invite your questions and comments.
by David Odegard
This week I’m taking a brief break from the book of Judges to ask a question that’s very relevant in our world today: what is tolerance? Are we actually practicing tolerance - both society as a whole, and Christians specifically?
The definition of tolerance that applies here is: “the ability or willingness to tolerate something, in particular the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not necessarily agree with.” When I was in school I was always taught that you couldn’t define any word by using that same word. So what does it mean to tolerate something? The definition of tolerate is to “allow the existence, occurrence, or practice of (something that one does not necessarily like or agree with) without interference.” It also means to “accept or endure (someone or something unpleasant or disliked) with forbearance.” (Forbearance is similar to patience and self-control.)
So to put those together, tolerance should be defined as “the ability or willingness to allow the existence of something that one does not necessarily like or agree with, without interference.” That’s my definition, based on combining the dictionary ones above.
My favorite cartoonist is Adam 4d, and he has a cartoon (here) that defines tolerance like this: “We’ll just have to agree to disagree and that’s ok.” But then in the second panel, he shares what people really mean when they use the word tolerance: “We’ll just have to agree that you have to agree with me.” See the difference?
Another one of Adam’s cartoons that’s somewhat more lengthy (but even more applicable to this blog post) is here. Please take a moment to go read it. Now. (Here’s the link again.) He puts together a similar definition of tolerance to what I did above, but his example is especially important to our discussion.
People who practice tolerance should be tolerant of (allow to exist) all viewpoints, even those they don’t agree with. We don’t have to agree with everything, but we do have to allow people to believe what they want to believe. We can share our beliefs with them, and we should expect them to share theirs with us. But that doesn’t mean we all have to agree on everything. As the link above emphasizes, “Disagreement is not intolerance.” We all need to treat one another in love - the same love that we all receive from God - and that means sharing God’s truth with them, while respecting that people choose to not follow that truth.
A passage from the apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians sums this up well: “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:1-6).
What are you doing in your life to show true tolerance? Not the stuff we see in society where “tolerance” means only liking those who agree with you, but actual tolerance that means loving and showing respect to all people? Don’t be the tolerance police; instead, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”
by Katie Erickson
In the book of Revelation chapters 2-3 we see the phrase “To him who overcomes” 7 times. When I am reading the Bible and I see a repeated word or phrase, it gets my attention. I get out my highlighter and start highlighting, numbering, and underlining. My Bible looks like a well-worn study guide.
As I recently read these two chapters in Revelation, I started to think about the fact that in the last book of the Bible Jesus repeats 7 times “to him who overcomes.” Every one of us has had to overcome things in our lives. Maybe it is a difficult childhood, health issues, the loss of a loved one, divorce, or the loss of a job. Whatever you may have faced or are facing, remember we have two choices when difficulties come our way we can either be overcome by our circumstances, or we can be overcomers in Christ!
Jesus knew we would face trials of many kinds here on earth and his encouragement to us was to be overcomers. Often, we are so focused on the struggle that we neglect to see that we our survivors, we are overcomers in Christ. Be a victor, not a victim!
We will all face difficulties in life. To be overcomers we must walk out our situation with Jesus, spend time in Bible study and prayer, keep doing the right things, and take one day at a time.
Remember you can either be overcome by your circumstances, or you can be an overcomer in Christ! As James 1:4 says, “Let perseverance finish its work so that; you may be mature and complete not lacking anything.”
Be an overcomer!
by Ami Samuels
by Charlie Wolcott “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!” ~James 2:19 Do you believe in God? Do you believe he exists? Most do. If you were to go around your city, knock on every door, talk to everyone you pass by, by and large most will say they are Christian. I have engaged with numerous debates regarding origins on different forums and one very common statement I hear from the Old Earth crowd is: “I believe in God, therefore I am fine and don’t judge me.” At the same time, I have seen the same problem in my own life that I am seeing across the board. I would claim to believe in God and the Bible but did I REALLY believe it? Let us dig into what Biblical faith is and what it really means to believe. When we talk about faith, we usually address two types: Biblical faith and blind faith. Biblical faith is defined in Hebrews 11:1: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” It is a trust and dependence upon what we hear to be true. Blind faith is still a trust and dependence, but lacks validation without confirmation of its trustworthiness. We Christians are often accused of having blind faith by those who have never done any research and have only heard half of the tale by the secularists. However, these secularists are the only ones who truly practice blind faith because they have absolutely no way or means of validating any of the claims by the “experts” they love to hear from and who tell them what they want to hear. As Christians we have plenty of evidence for our faith. I give a lecture regarding ten reasons why the Bible is trustworthy. Here they are in a nutshell: 1. Construction: How the Bible was put together is supernatural.
2. Revelation: God had to reveal himself to us to put the Bible together.
3. Prophecies: Perfect fulfillment rate.
4. Opposition: How the enemies of the Bible have attacked the Bible validates it.
5. Preservation: How the Bible got to us is leagues above any other ancient document.
6. Relevance: Every part of the Bible is applicable and relevant even today.
7. Accuracy: In history, science, archaeology, and anthropology, where the Bible speaks it is right.
8. Honesty: It is too honest that no one would write it on their own will.
9. Uniqueness: The Bible and Christianity stand out among every other book or religion.
10. Testimonies of the Saints: Those who believed the Bible lived extraordinary lives.
Each of these ten topics could easily deserve their own sermon. However, it is one thing to see the truth in the Bible. It is something else to believe it. I love Josh McDowell’s testimony. He was an atheist and had good reason for it. His childhood was one no child should have to go through and by the time he turned 11, he turned his back on God. On a dare, he went out to go authentically disprove the Bible. He didn’t merely want to find any argument he could to not believe it; anyone could do that. He sought to prove the whole thing truly was false. Before he could finish, he found out it was true. Completely, 100% true. He knew the truth, but he did not believe it. He wanted to retain his reputation and his own lifestyle. God had to work through his pride before he finally broke down and yielded his life to Christ. When we claim we believe in God, do we believe it? There are two uses of “believe” regarding Christianity today and one of them will never be found in any dictionary. When many people who say they believe in God or they believe in Jesus Christ, it is nothing more than mental ascent. They believe that what the Bible says about Christ is true and that is it. The other use is actual belief, where they give their lives to Jesus Christ, trust upon him, and their lives depend upon the claims of the Bible being true. Do we actually believe what the Bible says? I use the origins debate because it does a fine job at revealing all the issues related to worldviews and who you actually trust. I support what is known as Young Earth Creation regarding origins, however, I believed that position long before I ever heard any arguments for or against simply from reading the Bible. Since then I have learned many arguments, both for or against, the different origins positions. I can go head to head with PhDs on the issue. I can easily get into an intellectual debate. But here is the question I am really asking: do I actually believe my position? What do I mean by that? Does my life depend upon what I believe to be true? If the natural, plain reading of the Bible could be authentically proven to be false, would that affect the rest of my life? If so, I actually believe it. If not, I don’t believe it. Phillp Skell wrote this regarding his research on anti-bacterial resistance. “I recently asked more than 70 eminent researchers if they would have done their work differently if they had thought Darwin’s theory was wrong. The responses were all the same: “No.” ~Philip S. Skell (prof emeritus Penn State and non-Darwinist member of the Nat Acad of Sciences), “Why Do We Invoke Darwin?” The Scientist, 8/29/05, p. 10. Skell revealed that all of the scientists he asked do not actually believe Evolution is true. They give it mental ascent, but it does nothing to affect their lives nor their jobs. They don’t actually believe in Evolution. There are many that do, and their hatred for anything related to Genesis being true shows. Giving mental ascent is not the same as belief, and too many have confused the two, myself included for too long. We claim God is a God of love. If we really believed that, we would respond to that love. We claim God is a God of justice. If we really believed that, we would not go seeking to get payback on those who wronged us. We claim that God knows everything that is going on, including our thoughts. If we really believed that, we would take extra caution on EVERY thought that enters our minds. If we really believed we were going to heaven to spend eternity with God, we would be preparing ourselves for that trip. If we believed that hell exists, we would do everything in our power to get the warning out to as many as we can. Have I convicted you yet? I convicted ME just in writing that paragraph. James 2:14-26 summarizes the message of this post. Do you believe the Gospel? Do you believe the Bible? Then prove that you believe it by what you do. Prove that what you believe is something much more than just something you mentally acknowledge. Prove that the Bible actually does have an effect on your life. I have been accused of needing God as a crutch to get by in life. I correct them by saying, “God is not a crutch in my life. He is life-support.” But do I truly depend upon God for everyday life, where I would die if I did not get connected with him? Many times, I haven’t. Rees Howells’ story fascinates me the most in this regard because he truly was on life-support. He could not spend a minute or a penny without getting approval from God first. He was THAT yielded to Christ. I am not there yet. I have a long way to go. Next week, I will deal with a very commonly asked question: What are the requirements for salvation?
Last week we began point #5 made by a friend of mine from high school who is an atheist. His statements were concerning his take on Christianity. Last week we covered a little about authority—Who has it, where does it come from and what's our response to it? We also talked about the difference between a pure democracy and a constitutional republic. This week we will wrap up his point by getting in to the state of the Church the world over as compared to the state of the Church in America. There's a lot to be said about the American Church and the sickness or sleep it's been ravaged by, but I plan on simply looking at the numbers today.
An interesting error I find is very common among many of us, myself included on occasion, is that this atheist seems to believe that how things seem to go here in the US is how it happens all over the world. This is a huge mistake. It's true, I believe, that the US is the greatest nation on the face of the earth. We are powerful but benevolent. We've done a great deal of good in the world and the world would be a much different place had it not been for America—and I mean likely a much worse place. We've made mistakes, please don't misunderstand. We've had our share of poor decisions. But the world is in its current state rather than filled with Nazis or communism because of the US. But there is 96% of the planet that is not found in America. We are a nation of just over 300 million in a world of nearly 7.5 billion. There's a lot going on that we are totally unaware of in places very different from us. The US is 2% of the entire world land mass. That means 98% of the world is not found in America. That's a lot of space and over 7 billion people NOT in America!
Here's some interesting information for you: Christianity is the fastest growing faith on earth adding over 175,000 new believers every day. The total number of Christians has quadrupled in the world in the last 100 years. Six new churches open in South Korea every day! For several years in a row, the best-selling book in Japan has been the Bible, and the #1 all-time best seller in the world is the Word of God! It's translated into more languages than any other book in the world. In fact, by 2020, it may be at least partially written in every currently used language on earth. Africa is on fire for Christ, with over 50% claiming to be believers (the only continent to do so). Every single day, 25,000 new believers are born again in Africa. There could be nearly 100 million Christians in China. This is amazing, considering the fact that Christianity is heavily “regulated” or even outlawed. You cannot gather as a Christian for religious purposes if more than 3 people will be attending unless you have government approval. You can be ostracized or beaten for being a Christian in China. It is believed more Christians are imprisoned in China for their faith than anywhere else. Yet, despite this opposition, there may be nearly 100 million believers there.
Teaching the Bible in school is mandatory in some countries. In the US, Christianity as a whole is in slight decline, but more Christians live in the US than any nation on earth still (granting we don't know how many Christians are in China). That's profound when we consider the statements made by this atheist. Atheism is also growing in the US—up to 3% currently. If we include agnostics, we're up to a dominating 7%. Two-thirds of these atheists are young males. That sounds more like they are just defiant and don't want to be accountable to anyone but themselves, but that's another topic we can get in to another time. Their numbers are heart breaking and you wonder how they can adhere to such an irrational worldview and belief system, but they do. The Word tells us man will do this in Romans 1:25—they will exchange the truth of God for a lie. They willingly deny what they know in their hearts is true.
Here are the facts then. Christianity is the largest religious affiliation claimed by people the world over. It is overwhelmingly the largest faith in America, although it has declined slightly in the US. Other religions have grown as well. Pantheism and paganism are on the rise. Wicca has a growth rate of nearly 150% annually in the US. The number is very small, but is growing rapidly. But no faith on the planet claims adherents nearly as large as Christianity. Between 1 in 4 and 1 in 3 claim Christ as their Savior. Studies indicate that this will still likely be true by 2050.
Perhaps my friend is concerned with the Church because he believes more and more churches are closing every year. But the fact is that over 4000 churches open every year in America which outpaces the number of churches that close. And around the world, there are nearly 40 million churches. That's one church for every 185 people. That's amazing! However, as we all know if we follow Jesus Christ, the Church is us—we are the Church. We are the temple of the living God. His home is not a house of wood or stone but of flesh and blood.
As I think we've seen many times now, atheists and facts don't get along well at all. My atheist friend has a very skewed understanding of Christianity that has forced him to reject it. That's very unfortunate and it makes me sad. If he could know Jesus Christ and know what living for the glory of God means, it would radically change his life. He's very angry and very bitter. My experience is these feelings are replaced by love and peace but also an urgency to let others know what they've found. When you find the greatest thing the entire universe has to offer, you kinda get excited about it!
I covered the points my friend made sorta in reverse order of how he stated them, but I hope that was okay. We've got a lot more to cover from this discussion I had. Stay tuned and thank you so much for taking time to read.
by Steve Risner
Ah, constant reader, I enjoy writing for you. The time you take to see life from a different perspective thrills me. Thank you for briefly allowing me to be your guide. I thought I would pull you aside this morning for a private conference about what it all means.
We live in a postmodern age, a pluralistic age where nothing means anything. I look around at the church in the West and I have to agree with the comments of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in his 1978 speech to Harvard University entitled “A World Split Apart.” He says, “Through deep suffering, people in our own country [communist Russia] have achieved a spiritual development of such intensity that the Western system in its present state of spiritual exhaustion does not look attractive.”
Western civilization is folding in upon itself, consumed by its own self-hatred. The age-old values, good or bad, have been derided by men like Howard Zinn who accentuates the negative and eliminates the positive in American history. Some of it we deserve, alas all our misdeeds are coming home to their ugly roost.
The secularists who want to begin on the foundation of atheistic independence from God blame Christianity for most of the problems and take credit for all of its gains. It is an easy target. Christianity is seen as a monolithic entity that has given authoritarian governments their stamp of approval for all of the institutional injustices in the world. But Hitler, Pol Pot, Stalin, and Mao were not Christians; they were statists first and atheists second.
Meanwhile, western Christianity is not monolithic. On one hand there were big fat southern baptists giving a sausagey thumbs up for slavery; but on the other, slavery came to end because of the dedicated opposition by Christians who wanted to hasten the Kingdom of God. Slavery could never be compatible with that kingdom. This was a gift to the world from believing Christians, not Muslims, not liberals.
Or perhaps think of the church’s endorsement of the acquisition of central American gold in conquistador fashion. Yet Christians lose credit somewhere along the line for the ministry of Bartolome de las Casas, who spent his life fighting the evils of his own countrymen and serving the native population. Or perhaps think of the way the Roman Church looked the other way while Hitler greedily stoked the ovens. Yet Dietrich Bonhoeffer surrendered his life in opposition to Hitler. Bonhoeffer did do this not because he was a social justice warrior, but because he believed in the kingdom Jesus Christ preached. This kingdom of God was incompatible with state worship. Bonhoeffer was a Christian pastor; he didn’t have much in common with contemporary social justice warriors who are over-willing to surrender all power to the state in return for an advancement of what they determine to be justice.
This story has been playing out ever since Christians crawled out of the catacombs and were invested with Roman political power. The dual identity of the spiritual church and the church of temporal power has been an internal battle among Christians ever since.
Modern social justice warriors (SJW’s) want to claim direct descent from those deep believers like De las Casas and Bonhoeffer, but their commonality is only surface deep. SJW’s begin with secularism and seek to harness state power to control others in pursuit of their own values. Casas and Bonhoeffer begin with deep confidence in God’s revealed Word and submit themselves to its desire. This motivates them to disempower state control. Furthermore, SJW’s do not derive their values from the Bible; they only care about the Bible when it happens to agree with them. They like Jesus when He talks against Pharisees or when He tells the story of the Good Samaritan. But they despise Jesus when He says that marriage is between one man and one woman, when He tells the Samaritan woman at the well to repent of her adulterous ways, or when He affirms the authority and absolute reliability of the Scriptures. For the SJW’s, Jesus and Che could almost be the same person. But neither Casas or Bonhoeffer could make that mistake. They rest in the hope that ultimate justice is only secured after the Great Judgement.
To be sure, modern evangelicalism is suffering from a deep identity crisis as it wanders in the wilderness of postmodernity. It retreated a hundred years ago into an ivory fortress to await the imminent return of Christ. After the establishment of the nation of Israel, the dispensationalists were animated by a maniacal assurance that Jesus must return before 1988, one generation after the rebirth of Israel.
That was almost thirty years ago, and Jesus has not returned. We don’t know when to expect Him. So we are like groggy somnambulists who have finally opened the curtains and realize that the world is on fire. How did this happen? How did we lose all our hospitals, our colleges and seminaries, our adoption agencies? How did the secularists get control of them all? How did the government take over all our alms-houses? We didn’t value these institutions because we thought our days on earth were numbered.
The SJW’s were only too happy to take them over. They knew that we had occupied the hearts of the populace because we truly cared and proved it when we founded all these institutions. The progressives took them over because we fell asleep. They took over and took credit for all the racial equality movement. They took over medicine and hospitals. They took over welfare and therapy. They took all things, but did not start any of them. They started planned parenthood. We started adoption agencies.
No longer is it socially credible for the pastor to point out the reality of sin; rather, a psychotherapist points to the underlying causes which justify one’s terrible actions. What does the pastor do in response? They seek clinical counseling degrees, too. And in so doing, they surrender the entire field to secularist concepts and secularist solutions. Christian pastors can no longer assert that our deepest problems necessitate theological, rather than chemical, remedies. That is not to say that chemistry does not play a role in healing the human person, but booze will never work like repentance.
Contemporary society’s biggest criticism of evangelicals is that we are self-righteous and self-absorbed, that we do not care for the poor or downtrodden. We deserve some but not all of that derision. It is time for evangelicals to reassert the ministry of Jesus for the healing and revival of the world.
Please, will you join me in developing a comprehensive social ethic that has its foundation in the Bible and in Christian theology? Can we begin on that foundation rather than the parasitic secular humanism?
by David Odegard
“The Constitution was inspired by Solon, not Moses—nor Jesus … Solon gave us elections, and trials by a jury of our peers, two concepts never found in the Bible, Old Testament or New.”
This emphatic claim by historian Richard Carrier is one that is often repeated by atheists and Christians alike. How many times have you heard someone say that the government promoted by the Bible was either a monarchy or a theocracy? Now compare that with how many times you’ve heard someone say that the Bible promotes a representative government in which the rulers are elected by the people. Have you ever heard anyone make this second claim?
Carrier claims that our Constitution was inspired by Solon, and I’ve previously written on my own blog about the falsity of that claim, but what about his claim that the concept of election is not found in Scripture?
According to the Bible, God delivered the first part of the Mosaic Covenant directly to the assembly of the people of Israel in an audible voice. This part of the covenant has become known as the Ten Commandments, and we read about God delivering them to the people in the twentieth chapter of Exodus and the fifth chapter of Deuteronomy. In the account from Deuteronomy 5:4-29 we read:
“The Lord spoke to you face to face out of the fire on the mountain…
by Bill Fortenberry
These are the commandments the Lord proclaimed in a loud voice to your whole assembly there on the mountain from out of the fire, the cloud and the deep darkness; and he added nothing more. Then he wrote them on two stone tablets and gave them to me.
When you heard the voice out of the darkness, while the mountain was ablaze with fire, all the leaders of your tribes and your elders came to me. And you said, … ‘Go near and listen to all that the Lord our God says. Then tell us whatever the Lord our God tells you. We will listen and obey.’
The Lord heard you when you spoke to me, and the Lord said to me, “I have heard what this people said to you. Everything they said was good. Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commands always, so that it might go well with them and their children forever!” In the above passage, we discover a remarkable series of events. When God established the Mosaic Covenant with the nation of Israel, He did not choose to speak to Moses alone. Rather, God descended upon the mountain in the sight of all the people, and began presenting the terms of the covenant directly to the body of the people. The people heard the Ten Commandments, which formed the foundation of the covenant, and then they became afraid. When God stopped speaking in order to record the Ten Commandments in writing, the people took advantage of the pause to approach Moses and ask him to be their representative before the Lord. According to the parallel passage in Exodus, Moses actually pleaded with the people that they not succumb to their fears (Exodus 20:20), but they refused his pleas. Then, the Bible records for us that God heard the decision of the people to elect Moses to be their representative. He not only approved of their decision but He also wished for them to always display such wisdom. Here we have a record of the God of the universe rejoicing because the nation of Israel decided on their own to elect a representative to stand before Him in their place. This is just one of many, many elections that are recorded in Scripture. The Bible also tells us in Deuteronomy 1 and in Numbers 11 that the Jews chose their elders by election. The elders comprised one of the two bodies of Israel’s bicameral legislature. They were equivalent to our House of Representatives. Many think that they are familiar with the account of Israel’s first monarch, King Saul, but did you know that they had to hold two separate elections before Saul could be crowned? The first election is recorded in 1 Samuel 10, and it ended with enough people being unwilling to accept Saul that Samuel just sent everyone home without any king being crowned. It was not until another election after a successful military campaign that the people agreed to have Saul as their king. David also went through two elections before he was crowned king over Israel. In 2 Samuel 2:4, David was elected to be king over just his own tribe Judah. Then, after the death of Ishbosheth, the rest of the tribes of Israel came to David and chose him as their king (2 Samuel 5:1-3). This practice of election was prevalent throughout all of Israel’s history and was even carried into the New Testament, where we read of the first deacons being chosen by a popular vote of the people (Acts 6:2-6). Atheists like Richard Carrier are quick to claim that the Bible never speaks of anything resembling the principles laid out in the Constitution, but they make this claim without ever putting forth the effort to system of government that God established for the nation of Israel. The founders of our nation, on the other hand, were very familiar with the fact that the Jews elected their own leaders. One of the leading influences on our founders can be found in the works of James Harrington. That’s not a name that we are familiar with today, but if you read the various listings that our founders gave of their study material, you will find the name of Harrington mentioned very frequently. John Adams, for example, once wrote that the principles of the American Revolution were “the principles of Aristotle and Plato, of Livy and Cicero, and Sidney, Harrington, and Locke.” You can even read a scan of Adams’ own copy of Harrington’s Oceana at the Internet Archive. In that book, Harrington wrote that: “Janotti, the most excellent describer of the Commonwealth of Venice, divides the whole series of government into two times or periods: the one ending with the liberty of Rome, which was the course or empire, as I may call it, of ancient prudence, first discovered to mankind by God himself in the fabric of the commonwealth of Israel, and afterward picked out of his footsteps in nature, and unanimously followed by the Greeks and Romans.” This idea that the republics of Greece and Rome were predated by the Republic of Israel was the prevalent teaching regarding the history of republican government during the founding of our nation. Our Constitution was not founded on the philosophies of Greece and Rome but rather on the doctrines of Scripture. If you would like to study this issue more, check out my comparison of 48 clauses in the Constitution with specific passages of Scripture.
“The Ephraimite forces were called out, and they crossed over to Zaphon. They said to Jephthah, 'Why did you go to fight the Ammonites without calling us to go with you? We’re going to burn down your house over your head.'
by Katie Erickson
Jephthah answered, 'I and my people were engaged in a great struggle with the Ammonites, and although I called, you didn’t save me out of their hands. When I saw that you wouldn’t help, I took my life in my hands and crossed over to fight the Ammonites, and the Lord gave me the victory over them. Now why have you come up today to fight me?'
Jephthah then called together the men of Gilead and fought against Ephraim. The Gileadites struck them down because the Ephraimites had said, 'You Gileadites are renegades from Ephraim and Manasseh.' The Gileadites captured the fords of the Jordan leading to Ephraim, and whenever a survivor of Ephraim said, 'Let me cross over,' the men of Gilead asked him, 'Are you an Ephraimite?' If he replied, 'No,' they said, 'All right, say ‘Shibboleth.’' If he said, 'Sibboleth,' because he could not pronounce the word correctly, they seized him and killed him at the fords of the Jordan. Forty-two thousand Ephraimites were killed at that time.
Jephthah led Israel six years. Then Jephthah the Gileadite died and was buried in a town in Gilead.” (Judges 12:1-7) Jephthah has gone to war with the Ammonites, God gave them victory, because of that Jephthah had to kill his daughter (see last week’s post), and now the bad stuff just keeps on coming for Jephthah. Now, the tribe of Ephraim is mad at him. Ephraim had been mad at Gideon previously for not being invited to participate in the battle against Midian. But then Gideon had gotten them involved, so all was well (Judges 8:1-3). Now, however this dispute with Ephraim ended up in a civil war between the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh. They’re both tribes of the same nation (Israel), and interestingly both of those tribes were descended from the sons of Joseph. The fact of the matter is that God granted Jephthah and victory over the Ammonites. Ephraim had no reason to be jealous for that; they worshiped the same God and were part of Israel as well. But the tribe of Ephraim was jealous anyway. These two tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh were close geographically, but they were separated by the Jordan River (one on the east and one on the west). Because of this separation, each tribe had a slightly different dialect. In the Hebrew language, there are two letters called sin and shin (say them like “seen” and “sheen”). The letters look identical, similar to a W, except for the placement of a dot. If the dot is on the left side of the W, then it’s a sin (pronounced like an “s”); if the dot is on the right, then it’s a shin (pronounced like an “sh”). It’s not a huge difference, but the using a sin instead of a shin can change the word entirely, as they are considered two distinct letters. So, to tell which side any given person was on (Ephraim vs Manasseh), they would be asked to pronounce the word ‘Sibboleth.’ Depending on whether a person pronounced it with a ‘S’ sound or a ‘Sh’ sound, they’d know if you were “us” or “them.” This could possibly be compared to the U.S. with northerners and southerners. Ask someone what they call a group of people, and if they say “y’all” then they’re more likely from the south. But back to the point. Two nations, under the same tribe and worshiping the same God, were having a civil war. Because of this division, 42,000 people in Ephraim lost their lives! Jephthah was clearly vindicated as their leader, but his actions cost the loss of much life - the Ammonites during the battle, Jephthah’s own daughter, and now thousands of Ephraimites as well. That’s a pretty big deal, and a lot of negative consequences for some actions. While the pronunciation difference may seem silly to us today (I’m from Michigan and I occasionally do say “y’all”), we have just as much division today as Israel had then, if not more. Instead of asking each other how to pronounce a word, what about these topics: who you voted for in the 2016 election, what’s your position on homosexual marriage, do you believe in creation or evolution, “Black Lives Matter,” etc. We have SO many dividing issues, yet we’re all called to be one nation, united under God. Fortunately in recent history our divisions haven’t killed 42,000 people like with the tribe of Ephraim (yet), but we humans have a way of letting things get out of hand. Can’t we all just get along? We’re all humans, created to love and serve the God of the universe. We’re all sinful, unfortunately, which causes divisions among us, but that choice is ours to make. Today, make the choice to be unified under God with your fellow humans.
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think on such things.” ~Philippians 4:8
True means in accordance with reality or fact; not false but real.
Noble is morally good, superior in character or nature.
Right is to be in accordance with or conformable to law, justice or morality.
Pure means to be free from anything that damages, weakens or contaminates; innocent or clean.
Lovely is defined as beautiful.
Admirable means worthy of being admired or praised; excellent.
When I find myself trekking down a negative path of thinking, I am reminded of this scripture verse and I use this as an avenue to check my thoughts and to keep worry at bay. If what is on my mind doesn’t fit within the boundaries of Scripture, I turn it over to God and stop dwelling on it.
One thing that I realized was stealing my thoughts and causing me worry and concern was my own sin. I would ask God for forgiveness for my sin, but I would cling to guilt and shame, not letting go of my sin. The odd thing was, the more I worried about my sin and agonized over what I had done, I was more apt to fall into the same sin again.
When I put my thoughts of sin up against Philippians 4:8 I realized that my sin was true, which did warrant me to repent. However, it wasn’t noble, right, pure, lovely, or admirable.
As I thought further about Philippians 4:8, I realized that some of the things that take my focus off of God and the characteristics listed in this verse are sin, situations or circumstances, unfairness, anger, bitterness, fear, worry, and doubt. This verse says nothing about focusing on being wronged, guilt, shame, jealousy, or envy.
What I love about Philippians 4:8 is that it reminds us to focus on positives in life. If there are situations that need addressed or action, pray about the proper response, look to the Bible for guidance, seek wise counsel, then deal with it!
by Ami Samuels
Have you ever wanted something so badly, that you would do “anything” for it? There used to be a commercial for Klondike ice cream bars that asked, “What would you do for a Klondike bar?” And there was always some silly or outrageous thing someone would be willing to do on camera to get one.
That’s funny for a commercial, but chasing desires with wild abandon or big promises doesn’t work so well in real life. Last week we took a look at the leader Jephthah, from the Bible, and how he bargained with God. Read last week’s blog post by clicking here. This week, we are going to see how his vow to God turned out. Read Judges 11:34-40.
So, in hot pursuit of the enemy, Jephthah promises to sacrifice whatever comes out of his tent when he gets home. Obviously, it would be a living thing that would be coming out of his tent. We are not certain if Jephthah had someone in mind, or if this was just a moment of irrational passion for victory at any price. What we do know is that it was his daughter that came out to meet him.
I don’t know about you, but as a father this would crush me. Anyone from my family coming out that door would be an agonizing reality check for my arrogant promise. Jephthah, being an honorable man of his word, would keep his vow to God. And why God didn’t stop him, we are not privileged to know. But we do know it was Jephthah who created the situation, and the consequence is soul wrenching.
Now, did he need to kill her? Was it a greater sin to keep his vow, or to break it? Well, it is a sin to break a vow to God, but also a sin to murder a person. Jephthah made a foolish vow and we do not see God correcting or intervening, He lets Jephthah own his vow and work out the consequences.
What I find interesting is Jephthah’s daughter’s response. She didn’t mourn for her life or accuse her father of being foolish. She honored her father and honored God so highly that she saw her life as a reasonable price for the tremendous victory. She only mourned that she would never marry. This is amazing to me, the faith this young woman had. It makes me uncomfortable because of what happens to her, and because it reveals the shallowness of my faith. I am not certain I could have respected my father or resisted questioning God - in fact just reading the story I wrestle with God’s inaction.
But what should we take away from this encounter? Even in a foolish vow, BOTH Jephthah and his daughter wanted to honor God more than anything else. Even though Jephthah’s vow seems foolish to us, and even though he should have just trusted God for the victory, he still fulfilled his vow because of His desire for God’s blessing more than anything else. Jephthah’s daughter likewise submitted herself to death to satisfy her father’s vow, so that both she and her father would be right with God.
I can wrestle with the morality of this situation all I want. I can even declare that Jephthah made an unwise vow that he shouldn’t have kept. But I am embarrassed by the faith and devotion he and his daughter have in the face of a shortsighted and perhaps even selfish promise.
It reminds me of a young man I knew when I worked at UPS. In hiring new employees, the manager had inserted occasional weekend delivery driving in as a requirement for new associates. Others who started before this young man did not have that requirement, and it was only briefly discussed in his interview. He was a great employee and worked extraordinarily hard. The center manager asked him one day if he could start training for weekend driving. Because of commitments he had on the weekends, he couldn’t. The center manager was upset and had one of his usual temper tantrums. The center manager said, “It was in the job requirements when you were hired, I am sick and tired of people starting here and telling me they can do this, and then not being willing to do it.” He stormed up to his office.
We all knew this would blow over, and we knew the center manager valued this employee. We also knew that management could not require union employees to work hours outside their officially scheduled duties, and some loophole made it impossible for the center manager to enforce Saturday driving. There was actually no real job requirement problem, just the center manager’s broken expectations.
This young man came in the following day and turned in his resignation. We were all in shock, including the center manager, who begged him to stay. But the young man said, “I prayed about this and considered what you said. If I agreed to drive on Saturdays when I was hired and I cannot fulfill that, then I need to resign. I am a man of my word, and I cannot in good conscience continue here if I am breaking a promise.”
There are many who questioned the sanity of this young man, but no one questioned his faith or his integrity.
If I can offer two pieces of advice from this blog post, it would be these:
by Nathan Buck
1. Be wise and trust God. Don’t make foolish promises, vows, or seek signs - whether for selfish things or noble ones.
2. Have the faith and integrity to stand by your word. If you make a promise, carry it out. Your integrity is direct reflection of God’s, and He keeps His promises. (He also doesn’t make them lightly).
by Charlie Wolcott We in Western Civilization love the intellect. We love to think; we love logic; we love science. I am an intellectual type. I am very fact-driven and I do not like misinformation put forth. One of the very common statements made about our current society is that “We stand upon the shoulders of giants.” This is a very true statement. Our knowledge is dependent upon those who came before us. However, one thing I am learning is that there is also a significant problem with this mentality. It is easily seen in the scientific setting, but what about the religious setting? In Jurassic Park, Ian Malcom gives a very powerful lecture about this issue. Here is a quote: “I’ll tell you the problem with the scientific power that you’re using here: It did not require any discipline to attain it. You know, you read what others had done and you took the next step. You didn’t earn the knowledge for yourselves, so you don’t take any of the responsibility.” In Jurassic Park, John Hammond stood upon the shoulders of the giants that did all the research before them, but he lacked the deep knowledge of the studies. And as a result, he misapplied a few concepts, missed a few things, and the central problem of the movie came out. Is not our current scientific community under the same issue? Evolution most certainly applies to this. They took what the Bible-believing scientific field founders studied and established and they ran with it, claiming science to only belong under their worldview, and completely disregarding the work of those who went before them. I will even be bold enough to proclaim that atheism must commit the ultimate academic crime to maintain their position: plagiarism; taking that which someone else did and claim it for their own. But there is a much more serious issue that follows the same train of thought. The vast majority of “Christianity” here in the US is guilty of the same thing. Leonard Ravenhill says it so poignantly and clearly: “Most preachers are only echoes, for if you listen hard, you will be able to tell what latest book they have read and how little of the Book they quote.” ~Leonard Ravenhill: Why Revival Tarries, pg 111 Tell me and tell you this right now: Guilty! I am guilty of this. If you look through my posts, and you know the different sources I have been reading, you can tell which ones are standing out to me. Paul Washer was the first to get my attention about this issue in this interview. He addresses the problem of living off the study, research, and prayer life of men like himself, John Piper, Eric Ludy, Ravenhill, Wilkerson, and others. We cannot be parasitic where they hear from God and we hear from them. WE must go to God ourselves. We must get directly fed from him. There is a time where this happened in the Bible. In Exodus 20, right after God gave the Ten Commandments, the people greatly feared God and demanded that Moses go speak to God directly and they would listen to him. Same problem - they did not want to hear from God directly. I believe God intended to give the full Law to the people directly. The timing of things indicate that God spoke the 10 Commandments not to Moses privately but to everyone publicly. So what happened? After 40 days while Moses was with God, the people grew impatient and they turned to worship a golden calf. Here is the lesson of this passage (among others): we cannot be dependent upon others to get our spiritual nourishment. We need to get it from God directly DAILY! Two months ago, I wrote about intercession in prayer. One of the things I warned you about is to let someone else delegate their prayer to you. You CANNOT delegate prayer. You CANNOT delegate studying the Word of God. You CANNOT delegate hearing from God. There is only one mediator between God and man and that is Jesus Christ. Your parents cannot do that. Your pastor cannot do that. Your best friend cannot do that. Your spouse cannot do that. Your favorite TV or internet speaker cannot do that. Your children cannot do that. Only Jesus Christ can do that. Too often, we depend upon the giants that go before us, as though they are doing the job only Jesus could do. Any of the truly great men of God: the Rees Howells, the George Whitefields, the Hudson Taylors, the William Booths, the David Wilkersons, and others, will always deflect any attention they get towards Christ. I am teaching my Monday night Bible study group through Eric Ludy’s “Wrestling Prayer” and before I started the study, I warned about this issue, mostly as a reminder for me. Ludy is my favorite preacher that I listen to. And I have to watch myself that I not become a parrot of him where I know he had done the research and the prayer life and he preaches a true message with pure passion. I can mimic the passion and I can mimic the truth. Paul Washer, in the interview I cited above, said he could tell in a heart-beat if there is any real truth in someone like me preaching the same message. The truth is there, but it’s not real. It is real to Ludy, to Piper, to Washer, to Ravenhill. They did the work. But is it real to me? Have I spent myself searching and digging and pursing God and discovered the truth for myself? Or am I just taking what they have said and running with it? The Seven Sons of Sceva did that. They stood upon the shoulders of giants like Jesus and Paul claiming the truth they proclaimed, but the demon knew they had no power of their own. They tried to ride the coattails of Paul. They may have been loyal followers, soaking up every word Paul spoke. They may have been able to quote every line and tenant that came from Paul’s mouth. They may have had the same passion. But they did not have the POWER! They had not gotten their hands dirty and earned the right to drive that demon out. They had not spent their night hours in the battles of prayer to get the instructions from God in what to do. They took what Paul was doing and they tried to take the next step and the result was a disaster. As I wrap up this post, please do not read what I am not saying. I am not saying throw out all your books. I am not saying never listen to another preacher again or attend another Bible study group. We do need to hear from others. We need others to hear from us. Paul even tells us to imitate him as he imitates Christ. The key to that? “As he imitates Christ.” No one is perfect. We have to get close to God ourselves so that we can know who is like Christ and who is not. We have to get close to God so that we can model Christ-likeness ourselves. And we cannot compare ourselves to another, nor can we depend upon someone else to carry us to that destination. We must get on our own two feet and walk ourselves. Others can walk with us, but they cannot walk for us. Get in the Word. Study the Bible. Spend time in prayer. Seek after God yourself. Learn from others, but do not base your entire existence upon them. Base it on God himself.
Al Gore once said, “Everything that ought to be down is up. Everything that should be up is down.
They've got it upside down and we're going to turn it right-side up.” How is this statement related to this blog post series? Well, atheists have it all wrong and I'm going to explain why.
I have been covering 5 statements made by a high school friend who is a “Catholic atheist,” in his words. I could be wrong, but I believe he says that so he can keep his job at the university he's employed at. I'm not sure. We've covered things in these statements from our Godly heritage as a nation, when the Gospels were written, how and why they were translated and by whom, and most recently, the Enlightenment. We've covered a bunch of things. This week we will take a look at this person's final point in his condensed version of what's wrong with Christianity.
His fifth statement is: “Humanity slowly but surely accepted that the authority of God and king should be marginalized in favor of popular rule.”
What do you think of that statement? I think it's intriguing and indicative of a few misconceptions that may exist out there. Let's take a few moments to see those.
First, this person is lumping the authority of God with the authority of government rulers. It's certainly true that as a believer in Christ, I believe those in authority over our nation and states are there because God placed them there. It's difficult sometimes to accept that and to respect that and I know I've failed often in regards to my attitude towards our president, Congress, and even our governor (John Kasich). I'm not perfect in this but I understand the idea and do my best. However, the authority those in power have over us is not to be unquestioned or blindly accepted. God's authority is of a level and superiority that is comparable to nothing and no one. His will for us is perfect and good. He loves each of us and wants the absolute best for us. How He defines “absolute best” and how we define it may differ, but again His knowledge and ideas on our lives are far superior to our own. He not only has the bigger picture in mind but He also has eternity in mind. I believe this is demonstrated very well in the book of Job and I have had plans to write on that for some time now. Hopefully, that will happen this year.
But the authority of presidents and kings and other government officials is granted by God. In some cases, that authority is for the benefit of the people to receive the blessings of God. In some cases, that authority is for the punishment of the people for turning from God or for some national sin. Either way, the authority is from God but is human in nature and imperfect at best. But God's authority is not and I don't believe His authority has been “marginalized” by anyone. Has anyone decided that government authorities are not to be taken seriously? I paid my taxes this year. I stop at stop lights. I haven't stolen my neighbor's car. When I see flashing lights in my rearview mirror, I pull over. Don't you? I guess you could say that recently, some have decided they can somehow protest the election of our president and have it accomplish something. But in reality, this is nothing more than a tantrum and essentially has no purpose at all (a demonstration of “tolerance” that we talked about last time). So, I'm not sure I even agree with him there. I do think our society (and this will be discussed later) has embraced more of a democratic form of government where the will of the people is at least supposed to govern the land to one degree or another.
We are, however, not living in a democracy here in America. This is quite often mistakenly claimed. We live in a constitutional democratic republic. This is not the same as a democracy, and “popular rule” actually is not how it works in these United States. We elect people to represent us. They work for us. They are supposed to speak for us, but we have found recently that our will is generally not their concern. That's another topic entirely and I have no intention of discussing it further. But we send men and women to Washington and to our state capitals to represent us and make decisions.
This idea has also recently been brought to light in our 2016 presidential election. A process known as the electoral college is used to elect the president. Some have said that this is unjust and we should do away with the electoral college in favor of the popular vote. In my opinion, this is a terrible idea and should be avoided completely. I agree with the Founders, who were brilliant and founded this nation on Christian principles found in God's Word. They were led to use this practice for the election of our president to avoid “tyranny by the majority.” It is the ‘tyranny of the majority’ that James Madison, a Founding Father, warned about. His reading of ancient history was that the direct democracy of Athens was erratic and short-lived, whereas republican Rome remained stable for much longer. He even worried about using the word “democracy” at all, lest citizens confuse its representative (i.e., republican) form with its direct one. “Democracy never lasts long,” wrote John Adams, another Founding Father. Asked what government the federal constitution of 1787 had established, Benjamin Franklin responded: “A republic, if you can keep it.”
Tyranny by the majority is what the republican form of government we have is designed to avoid. In a pure democracy, the majority can vote for anything and do anything. This could easily mean that a large group could dominate another because there are no checks. But, as we've explained in the past, this means morality is subject to opinion and consensus rules. This is a terrible place to be in. If everyone decides molesting children is okay, then it is. If all the men vote that there's no such thing as spousal abuse, then there isn't if the men outvote the women. If Christians vote that you have to go to church on Sunday or face jail time, if that's the majority of votes then it's the law. This is why a pure democracy doesn't work and why our Founders knew that pure democracies don't last long. They collapse quickly under the weight of the insanity that comes with the anonymity that accompanies the mob mentality. If you're not sure about the idea of “tyranny by majority,” just do some reading on it.
In short, in the US, if the law was determined strictly by a majority rule, the states of California, Texas, Florida and New York would dominate our nation. Does that seem right? These 4 states contain a third of the nation's people and have no idea what it's like to be in Ohio, Wisconsin, or Montana. They could make laws that make it difficult to exist for us simply because the majority rules or, as my atheist friend says, popular rule.
The American form of government, which is based on Biblical principles, emphasizes the role of the governed in the process, but we have elected officials that determine our laws and how they're enforced. They are subject to us via the electoral process but we are also subject to the decisions they make. I'm not actually certain how all this fits into this atheist's worldview, but he made the statement.
Next week we'll cover some very common mistakes we Westerners/Americans make concerning the world around us. I hope you find it informative. Thank you for reading and be blessed.
by Steve Risner