“Now his father went down to see the woman. And there Samson held a feast, as was customary for young men. When the people saw him, they chose thirty men to be his companions.
by Katie Erickson
'Let me tell you a riddle,' Samson said to them. 'If you can give me the answer within the seven days of the feast, I will give you thirty linen garments and thirty sets of clothes. If you can’t tell me the answer, you must give me thirty linen garments and thirty sets of clothes.'
'Tell us your riddle,' they said. 'Let’s hear it.'
He replied, 'Out of the eater, something to eat; out of the strong, something sweet.'
For three days they could not give the answer.
On the fourth day, they said to Samson’s wife, 'Coax your husband into explaining the riddle for us, or we will burn you and your father’s household to death. Did you invite us here to steal our property?'
Then Samson’s wife threw herself on him, sobbing, 'You hate me! You don’t really love me. You’ve given my people a riddle, but you haven’t told me the answer.'
'I haven’t even explained it to my father or mother,' he replied, 'so why should I explain it to you?' She cried the whole seven days of the feast. So on the seventh day he finally told her, because she continued to press him. She in turn explained the riddle to her people.
Before sunset on the seventh day the men of the town said to him,
'What is sweeter than honey? What is stronger than a lion?'
Samson said to them, 'If you had not plowed with my heifer, you would not have solved my riddle.'
Then the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon him. He went down to Ashkelon, struck down thirty of their men, stripped them of everything and gave their clothes to those who had explained the riddle. Burning with anger, he returned to his father’s home. And Samson’s wife was given to one of his companions who had attended him at the feast.” (Judges 14:10-20) Samson married the Philistine woman from Timnah, and as was the custom, their wedding feast was going on and lasting 7 days. The 30 companions that Samson had were sort of like groomsmen that we have in weddings today. The riddle that Samson gives them was mostly for entertainment purposes, but it was also a competition of wits between Samson the Israelite and the Philistines. Clothing was highly valued then, so the 30 sets of clothing that was wagered was a really big deal. After 3 days, the Philistine men were getting nervous that they couldn’t figure it out, and they were worried that they may have to pay the high price. So what do they do? They threaten Samson’s wife to try and get the answer from him. After much nagging, Samson finally gives in and gives her the answer, which she immediately passes on to the men. Samson accuses them (accurately) of not playing fair. In order to pay his debt, he travels 20 miles away to the key Philistine city of Ashkelon where he robs 30 men of their clothing. At this point, the marriage between Samson and his wife had not yet been consummated, so it was not yet considered a legal marriage. His wife’s father decided that Samson was not the man for her daughter, so he gives her to one of the groomsmen in marriage, so she wouldn’t be disgraced by Samson’s actions. Samson tried to be witty and get some extra goods from this riddle challenge, but in the end it cost him dearly - his wife, his dignity, and now he has robbed 30 men too! All of our actions have consequences. Samson chose to give the riddle challenge with its steep price and he chose to give in to his wife’s nagging, and now he’s paying for it by coming away unmarried and disgraced. What choices are you making in life that could have negative consequences? Samson surely didn’t expect it to end this way, but life has a way of doing that to us - we think we have a sure thing and then it falls through. This week, pray for God to show you choices that will not lead to negative consequences. But if you do make a wrong choice, pray that God shows you the lesson you need to learn from it so you don’t repeat the same mistake again.
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One day as I was scrolling through my Facebook feed, I clicked on a post titled “Relaxed in God’s Grace.” I briefly scanned the article but I was struck by the title. “Relaxed in God’s Grace.” This reminded me of a time when I wasn’t relaxed at all.
I have gotten my nails done for several years. My first nail salon was in a mall in Kentucky. The young girls there almost always made my nail beds bleed. This is a very painful experience to say the least, so much so that I decided that this process wasn’t worth the pain and quit going back. A few months later I had a special occasion and I wanted my nails to look nice. A friend told me about another salon and I decided to give it a try.
My new nail tech’s name was Jimmy. What I remember about Jimmy was that he would always gently slap my hand and say to “Relax.” Because of my previous experience I had a hard time relaxing.
As I thought about Jimmy, it made me wonder if God often wants to gently tap my hand and say “Relax, dear one, I’ve got this.” I have often pictured myself climbing into Jesus’ lap and being cradled like a baby, but when I think of myself I realized instead of resting swaddled in his arms, often I am restless. I am more like a caterpillar fighting to get out of a cocoon - worrying, planning, praying, studying, and constantly trying to figure out God’s plan. That is NOT trust, rest, or peace!
Matthew 11:28 says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”
Today, mentally crawl up into Jesus’ lap and let him hold you in his arms. And relax, he’s got things under control.
by Ami Samuels
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As uncomfortable as an honest look in the mirror is, doing so is good for us. Recently, under pressure from several deadlines, when everything seemed to be going well, I was dealt setbacks: special orders for pottery that looked beautiful and then cracked while drying, a roofing nail in my front tire, technology that stopped working, an air compressor that stopped working, managers at work that were not responding, and on top of this (and other random setbacks) the normal chaos of family and three children. It’s on days like this when I am confronted with the cracks in my resolve to trust God in all things.
Winston Churchill is portrayed in the drama “The Crown” as having hated the portrait painting of him commissioned by the government just before his retirement. He hated it because it made him look weak, weary, and decayed. And as he argued with the artist, the artist replied, “There is no vanity in this art, no pride, no bias; it is impartial. If you see age, it’s because there is age, if tiredness it’s because there is tiredness, if decay it’s because there’s is decay. You can hide these things from yourself, but they are still there.” And as Winston slumped into the chair with the painting behind him and the artist left, the camera centered on Winston with the portrait just over his shoulder. The likeness of the painting was spectacularly identical and revealing.
Perhaps for many of us, the moments when we are least in control and least able to solve issues are when we are most exposed for the broken creatures that we are. No matter how much I thrive on challenges, if I pile up too many, I slip, then fall, then make a mess. I’m sure I am not the only one who struggles with this. Maybe your triggers are different, maybe they are the same. The truth of the matter is that when we are pushed beyond our sense of control, who or what we trust in comes to the surface. And if we trust our own ability or some ideology that has no power to influence the situation, the frustration boils out. It doesn’t matter what image we try to maintain; the truth of our character is seen.
Take a moment and read the book of Job (pronounced ‘jobe’) chapters 1-2. Focus on the conversations around when he loses everything, and then loses his health. I cannot pretend that I have ever experienced loss in the way that Job did. He had no control over it, and could have chosen to be angry with God. He could have chosen to listen to his wife, who doesn’t seem like the compassionate sort, based on her comments, but maybe she thought she was next. Instead, I am amazed at Job’s first reaction. His VERY FIRST reaction to the loss of his wealth, his livelihood, and his children is to bless God (Job 1:21).
When his health is taken and his wife tells him to “curse God, and die,” his response is to correct his wife and remind her that God is in control. In fact, he says to her, “You speak as a foolish woman would speak. What? Should we receive good at the hand of God and not receive evil?” (Job 1:9-10) Let that sink in for a moment.
I make a mess of my life and my relationships every time I take things into my own hands and persist in a direction that God has not established for me. I make a mess when I face circumstances bigger than my influence and then act as if God owes me a good outcome. I make a mess when I take my predispositions and overlay them on God and insist that He and His Word conform to my understanding. I sin when I cling to any desire, “right,” expectation, or predisposition, instead of having everything surrendered to Him.
Job did not sin. Even in shock, in loss, in anger, in fear, and in his reality being turned upside down, he did not sin. He remained right before God, because he did not demand from or believe he was owed anything from anyone - especially God. In my week of setbacks, I sinned because I expected I had to fix it all and control it all. I forgot the perspective Job kept in Job 1:21.
What if we were able to keep Job’s perspective and take an honest look at ourselves? Would we be so willing to excuse our sin? Would we be so willing to ignore or reinterpret God’s commands toward our circumstances?
We can approach God’s Word with the assumption that we are basically ok and that God’s commands have to somehow “fit” into the framework of our personality, predispositions, or preferences. Or we can approach His Word assuming He is right, and our response is to surrender everything and trust Him to shape us toward his commands.
“Fitting” God into our framework actually makes us ‘god.’ Because we know intellectually that we are not God, we then have to layer all kinds of extra explanations over the places where we go against the Bible. These explanations are often seen when people express a belief in relative or changing moral standards over time, belief that certain commands of God are irrelevant, or just the rejection of any belief system where their way of living would have to adjust to a central moral standard.
If we assume God is right and good, then we can live trusting that God is God. This is difficult for EVERYONE to live by, because it demands everyone’s predispositions be aligned to God’s ways, which often requires sacrificing deeply felt or deeply experienced desires to let God be first. This is a HUMAN difficulty, and no human feels it any less than any other. No group is more or less able or excused from facing this plain and simple reality. If God is God, then we must allow ourselves to look in the mirror at our own portrait and see what is there. We cannot allow ourselves to try and change God in order to save ourselves and cover our brokenness. Rather, we must allow ourselves to be His, in our brokenness, so that He can bring the fullness of life He intended for us.
There are plenty who have taken the opportunity to redefine the Bible and make everyone feel ok. And there are plenty who have used the Bible as a weapon against others to make themselves feel ok. BOTH are wrong. We must come to the Bible with a willingness to let God’s Word expose where we are broken, abnormal, rebellious, ugly, ashamed, scorned, fearful, drunken, adulterous, lustful, dysphoric, jealous, angry, hateful, judgmental, abusive, etc. When we see how far we are from Him and we feel the chasm is insurmountable, we must fix our eyes on Him and lay down our expectations and ‘rights.’ We cannot allow ourselves to fear it is too hard for US to get to him. We should not demand fairness and argue for our ’rights’ before Him. If He is God, we have no measure of control, no ‘rights’ by which to twist His arm to get what we want.
We only have His grace. His mercy and compassion for us caused Him to reach all the way to us, so He could bring us all the way to Him. Wherever we are far from Him, He will bring His healing, His transformation, His restoration, His love, His peace, His joy, His patience, His kindness, His goodness, His faithfulness, and His self-control to fill those spaces and redefine them in His image.
Are you blaming God for all the things you don’t or may never have? Are you tempted to believe popular reinterpretations of God’s Word that seem to fit your way of living? Are you willing to let the Bible show you who you really are? You may not like it any more than Winston Churchill liked his portrait. But it will be honest, unbiased, and trustworthy. Once you can face yourself and see the love God has for you, you’ll be able to have a more honest and transformative relationship with God.
I invite you to the most painful, challenging, and yet rewarding HUMAN journey we all face together - letting God be God and trusting Him with everything.
by Nathan Buck
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by Charlie Wolcott Last week, I addressed three characteristics of David that a servant of Saul observed in him when considering him to serve the king. Read 1 Samuel 16:14-23 to review the context. Look at verse 18 in particular. Let me list the six characteristics again. David was: 1) skilled with a harp, 2) man of valor, 3) a man of war, 4) prudent in speech, 5) good-looking, and 6) the Spirit of the Lord was upon him. Today, we will look at the last three. 4) David was prudent in speech. When was the last time you saw someone with this characteristic? Someone who knows what to say, when to say it, and how to say it. I am gifted at explaining things. I can make them clear and articulate pretty well, however, I also have a tendency of simply speaking my mind no matter what is on it. I am always honest about what I say, but it is not always appropriate to say it then or to that particular person. As a result, I can be without tact and rather blunt, but worse is that at times I may say something that may be something confidential or I may be saying something that particular audience simply does not need to know. David, however, showed wisdom in how he spoke. His mouth never got him into trouble. He never talked back to his authorities (to his father or to Saul, even when Saul tried to kill him). He never sassed anyone. He never used foul language. He always spoke to try to diffuse the situation. He was humble and when offered positions of recognition by Saul, he would take the lowest seat. He never spoke to boost his own position. He never spoke with flattery. Also interesting is that David did not boast before the army that he could slay Goliath. He just kept asking what the reward would be. James said the tongue is perhaps the hardest thing for a man to tame, yet David seemed to have his under control. There is one area in modern life that the tongue is the loosest: social media. It is quite amazing the things people say on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, etc. And I’ve not always been the wisest in what to say either. That is part of why I wrote my post a few weeks ago on how and why we defend the Bible. There is too much focus on simply being right, rather than being concerned about the soul of the person we are talking with. God has exposed that to me as an issue in my life, but it hasn’t been worked out of my system yet. Are we prudent in our speech? If we do not learn to address this issue, we have no business in leadership. 5) David was good-looking. I know what many of you may be thinking: that rules me out of leadership. I don’t have a camera-pretty face. But let us keep the context in mind. This is from the eyes of a servant of Saul. Just a few verses earlier, when Samuel was anointing David, God told him not to look at physical appearance. The Bible rarely gives a physical description of its heroes. Joseph, David, Daniel are among the very few I can think of: handsome, ruddy, good-looking. That is about as much physical description it gives its heroes. The villains on the other hand, Goliath, Saul, Absalom, and others tends to get more physical descriptions. Absalom was interesting enough that the Bible describes the weight of his hair after cutting it every year. We need to remember here that God is not interested in how you appear physically. He is interested in how you appear spiritually. Are we good looking, spiritually? The only way we can be is if we are born again, with a new, clean heart by the grace of God through faith. The one that looks good usually cannot get the job done properly because the attitude and the heart is not there. Often as well, the one with the correct attitude and heart will not look the part, but they can get the job done far better. 6) The Spirit of the Lord was upon David. This is the secret to it all. The moment David was anointed, the Spirit of the Lord came upon David. This is how David’s music worked to relieve Saul. This is how David had the courage to face both lion and bear. This is how David was wise in battle. This is how David was prudent in speech. David did not just have the Spirit upon him, but David walked in that anointing. Saul had the Spirit too for a while, but then it left when Saul refused to obey God. Old Testament times are interesting because the Spirit of God would come and go. It would rarely stay upon a person. We, as New Testament believers, have the Holy Spirit for good. This is something the OT saints longed for. However, how many of us walk in that Spirit? Many of us would love to, but we are not willing to give up our own means to get there. To live God’s way, dependence upon our own skills, abilities, and intellect must be put away, and it must be upon God alone. Rees Howells had this moment. He was a believer, and he worked during a time of revival in Wales. But during that revival, God gave Howells an ultimatum: to completely surrender his life to Christ (in a way far deeper than we really understand today) and have a difficult yet extraordinary life, or to live a simple Christian life. And God even game him a deadline: by 6:00pm that evening. Rees Howells had a hard time making that decision, but by 5:59pm he went for it. The Spirit of God fell upon him and bit by bit, God removed more and more things of self from him. In the process, Howells became a greater and greater spiritual warrior. He was able to declare that no one on his mission in Africa would perish from the plague and his prayers were part of what altered the course of World War II. This is not a task anyone can just declare, but someone who has truly walked a hard life of surrender of self. The secret to being a leader as David was is the yield and follow the Holy Spirit. David had one major blemish on his record: the incident of Bathsheba and Uriah. But besides that, he lived a life of victory and success as a whole. There were other things David did wrong, but that was the only time David failed to seek and heed the voice of the Lord until he was confronted. When it comes to leadership, David gives us a spectacular template of what kind of character is needed. He is not the only example, but he is a good one. Let us learn how God prepared David for leadership and let us not merely esteem these characteristics, but pursue them.
Last week we touched on how the US government does not favor Christians over non-Christians in the election of officials. The official stance of the US government was declared by the Supreme Court of the United States in 1961. No religious test or declaration was necessary to run for any office. This week, we're going to touch on morality—its source and merit. My friend, the atheist I've been writing about, wants to complain about laws in the US that are based, in his mind, on the Christian idea of morality. Let's take a look at his statements:
“Blue Laws are on the books. They ban certain behaviors due to upholding “morality,” but strangely, things like alcohol restrictions are on the Christian Sabbath of Sunday, not the Muslim Sabbath of Friday or the Jewish Sabbath of Saturday. As an atheist, I was forced to follow Indiana’s restrictive liquor laws, even though I am not subject to moral reasons not to buy beer on Sundays. Seriously, buying cold beer in that state is a [expletive]!”
If you've never heard of “Blue Laws,” according to Wikipedia they are “laws designed to restrict or ban some or all Sunday activities for religious reasons, particularly to promote the observance of a day of worship or rest. Blue laws may also restrict shopping or ban sale of certain items on specific days, most often on Sundays in the western world. Blue laws are enforced in parts of the United States and Canada as well as some European countries, particularly in Austria, Germany, Switzerland, and Norway, keeping most stores closed on Sundays.”
Wikipedia also tells us that such laws have been deemed constitutional by the US Supreme Court on numerous occasions even though they appear to have religious origins. These laws are classified as laws that are wrong because the law says so rather than a law against something that is inherently evil. That's the difference here, and that's why my friend's argument is actually incorrect. To be more clear, his example is incorrect. The laws that we enjoy in these United States that are based on morality—declaring something illegal because it is something wrong in and of itself—are obviously based on the Christian moral code. Most of the “Blue Laws” in the US have been repealed. These are laws against something that that the law says shouldn't be done. It's not a moral law, meaning it's evil in and of itself. See the difference? Let's delve into the source of morality for a moment.
Some will argue (and by “some” I mean evolutionists primarily) that morality evolved as mankind evolved. The reasoning for this is because atheists believe that the fact that we exist is proof that we evolved from simple ancestors through the long process of evolution (we all share a common ancestor). Likewise, the fact that humans have a sense of moral judgment and standards of moral behavior is taken as evidence that such morality is also a product of evolution. The illogical nature of such claims, I hope, is obvious. This is a great example of how atheists first believe in evolution from a single common ancestor and then view all the evidence they see through that lens without question. So their argument is, “We exist, therefore, we evolved. Morality exists, therefore, it evolved.” That's the whole of it. There have recently been attempts to use “science” (in quotes because it's philosophy based on the presupposition that evolution is true) to explain the matter, but they fail to recognize that science only describes what “is,” not what “ought” to be. They cannot describe why morality exists using humanistic philosophy or materialism. In fact, morality is subjective in the atheist view and, therefore, not really morality in my mind.
As we talked about in my last couple of blog posts, the hope of atheism is insignificance wrapped in hopelessness and despair. From the atheist's point of view, humans are nothing more than insignificant products of random natural processes. We have no intrinsic value, demand no moral consideration, and have no moral obligations. The atheist understands there are objectively determined matters of right and wrong. They cannot figure out how to explain this but will attempt to in order to support their belief that God is not real and that they are rational. But even atheist Sam Harris declares that genuine morality must be objective: “valid and binding independent of human opinion.” He recognizes that real morality must be objective. I'll add to that and say that without God as the source of morality, there can be no objective morality, only popular opinions. For the atheist, this is a large problem. If morality is just popular opinion determined by society, anything can be determined to be “good.” That means, had the Nazis won the war and murdered all the Jews because they believed it was good, it was the moral thing. This is obviously not true. Regardless of who thinks it's wrong or right, exterminating large numbers of people simply because you've decided they are “inferior” is always immoral. Regardless of popular opinion, rape, incest, child abuse, and molesting children or animals is always wrong. This is because morality has a source higher than society—higher than man. That source is God. He told us His standard in the Bible expressed in the Ten Commandments and written on every human heart.
It would only make sense that the Christian idea of morality is written in the laws of our great nation. Our nation was founded by Christian men on Christian principles to govern a predominantly Christian people. Since my friend wanted to make this an issue of the law and government, let's see what the Founders had to say on morality. John Adams, our second president, said “It is religion and morality alone which can establish the principles upon which freedom can securely stand. The only foundation of a free constitution is pure virtue.” He further said, “Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” That's interesting, I think. John Adams is saying that a nation can only be governed rightly if its basis is Christian. That means a nation can only be free if its foundation is the Bible. This atheist is complaining about and criticizing the only reason he lives in a free society and enjoys the liberty the US has to offer.
Our first president, George Washington, noted, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of man and citizens.” It almost sounds like he's suggesting it's un-American and unpatriotic to not have faith in “religion” (which most assuredly is the Christian faith he's talking about). Washington felt strongly about it and went further saying, “And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.” This great man in our history is saying that regardless of your wisdom and education (which atheists believe their position is one of higher reason and learning), you cannot separate religion (again, most likely Christianity) from morality. It's what our nation was founded on and why the Declaration of Independence was written.
Robert Winthrop, speaker of the house in the 1850's, said, “Men, in a word, must necessarily be controlled either by a power within them or by a power without them; either by the Word of God or by the strong arm of man; either by the Bible or by the bayonet.” This is just a sample of the statements made by our Founders that claim that morality hangs on faith in God alone and no other source can be found.
My friend believes it's unfair that he, an atheist, would need to be subjected to the laws of man that are based on the Christian faith. Of these laws, we would include murder, theft, and lying since these are found in the Bible. The entire framework of our nation's system of government is found in the Word of God. It's because of this that this atheist is even free to be an atheist here. The tolerance of the Christian faith is unrivaled. If only this atheist would spend a little time in a Muslim state where his views are not just the minority but are forbidden.
My belief is that if he is not happy with the local “Blue Laws” he's forced to deal with, he can either work around them—living his life such that he tolerates these laws (like buying his beer on Saturday) or he can move. We are free in these United States to live in whatever area we choose. Isn't that wonderful? That's another great freedom we have here that others may not so readily enjoy. The fact is, if it weren't for Christianity founding this nation, it would be a very different place and not for the better. If it weren't for the morality instilled in man by God, anarchy would rule. Is that what this atheist wants? Why is morality important?
Morality is about doing what's right, regardless of the consequence. It has a great deal to do with relationships and how we treat others. It encourages “good” behavior and respect towards others, enhancing our relationships with others. Making good moral decisions improves society and builds stronger relationships, not to mention it makes you a good contributor to society. It has NOTHING to do with earning something from God. It's the byproduct of having Christ in your heart.
by Steve Risner
Either there is a self-revealing God or there is not. This is the primary question.
Whoever builds on the foundation that there is no self-revealing God will necessarily come to the conclusion that all religions are centered in man’s pursuit of meaning or his attempt to understand the universe. The origin and meaning of the universe can only ever be guessed at using current knowledge of physics and the other sciences, while at the same time recognizing that there are major pieces of cosmic history missing or otherwise unexaminable.
Whoever builds on the foundation that there is a self-revealing God will not be surprised if this God speaks and establishes a way for humanity to understand Him. Perhaps this knowledge will not be exhaustive, but it will be adequate to know what is expected of the creation. Questions of origins and meaning do not remain a mystery because the self-revealing God was there and He claims to be the originator of all of it. This is not a leap of faith for one who accepts the possibility of a self-revealing God; it is a logical conclusion that such a God would speak.
So these two foundations are completely different ways of looking at the universe and they cannot by synthesized. Either there is a self-revealing God or there is not. However one answers the “God question” automatically places that person in one of these two separate categories.
There has been much energy expended to synthesize these two conceptions of ultimate reality, but it has produced heat and friction and never any light. Each position tries to impose the rules of their concept on the other. The person who rules out the possibility of a self-revealing God cannot accept any evidence that suggests there is one, because that possibility has been ruled out before the evidence is examined. As Jesus said, “They will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:31).
I will refer to those who do not accept the possibility of a self-revealing God as the disbelievers, which may sound a little condescending, but it is accurate. The other side I will call believers.
I want to examine the case of John Hick because his experience is exemplary of a wide swath of religious liberalism. “I began my Christian life as a fundamentalist,” Hick says of himself (“A Pluralist View” in Four Views of Salvation in a Pluralistic World). Many atheists, agnostics, and disbelievers began as fundamentalists, and John Hick was no exception. His fundamentalism was typical in that it relied heavily on dogma. It built absolute theological structures with unyielding and non-scholastic certitude.
Because of its anti-intellectual nature, fundamentalism cannot seem to deal with real questions of the modern mind. Fundamentalists receive real truth, but in a dogmatic manner that does not allow for personal examination or critical thinking.
Imagine a nine-year-old listening to a sermon in which the pastor slaps the pulpit and declares that either the Bible is absolutely true and without the slightest imperfection or it is an utter lie; there is no middle ground whatsoever. The child looks up at his parents and sees them nodding their approval. Ten years later, the child encounters a new dogma in his freshman year from his college professor. This professor dogmatically asserts the same thing except he points out the scribal imperfections in the transmission of the Biblical text. (By the way, minor scribal imperfections have not reduced the reliability of the Scripture. We do not have the original autographs, but we have so many manuscripts that the variations do not change anything substantially.)
Next, the professor leverages his 30 years of experience over the child while his pastor and parents are miles away. Now he becomes the authority, after all he is the one who dispenses the grades. Because the child was never taught to think critically himself, he transfers loyalty from belief to disbelief. This is the inherent weakness of fundamentalism.
Hick admits this is the case for him. He began to question whether the concept of hell was justified philosophically. A period of “cognitive dissonance” occurred for Hick wherein his fundamentalist mind underwent a conversion to the absolutism of philosophical naturalism. Still, his new disbelief was also an absolutist, unexamined dogma. There will always be a gap between the implications of philosophical naturalism and Christian morality and justice. This seems to be overlooked by Hick and others.
The concept of hell might be hard to deal with, but without hell, all those persons who have suffered injustice in this life have no final vindication; justice is never served. The law of the jungle would be without an appellate court if there is no one watching and granting justice. Without a hell, Adolf Hitler and Mother Theresa have the same reward, except Hitler conquered Europe and Theresa conquered only herself.
Hick says that a large portion of his fellow disbelievers experienced an “intellectual conversion” from Christian fundamentalism to disbelief in a self-revealing God. Hick hopes that all Christians will be able “sort out the intellectually acceptable and unacceptable [and be able] eventually to discard the latter.” Hick desires every Christian to commit apostasy as a way of selecting that which is intellectually acceptable as he defines acceptability. Sadly, many intellectual people (even one of my own professors in graduate school) do cease to worship God with their minds. Then they surrender to the disbelievers’ assertions and agree to play by the rules of their game. Once they accept a foundation that there is no self-revealing God, the game is over. Anything built on the foundation of disbelief in a self-revealing God can never accept the Bible, Christianity, or the reality that God exists or that there is a day of accountability coming.
by David Odegard
“Samson went down to Timnah together with his father and mother. As they approached the vineyards of Timnah, suddenly a young lion came roaring toward him. The Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon him so that he tore the lion apart with his bare hands as he might have torn a young goat. But he told neither his father nor his mother what he had done. Then he went down and talked with the woman, and he liked her.
by Katie Erickson
Some time later, when he went back to marry her, he turned aside to look at the lion’s carcass, and in it he saw a swarm of bees and some honey. He scooped out the honey with his hands and ate as he went along. When he rejoined his parents, he gave them some, and they too ate it. But he did not tell them that he had taken the honey from the lion’s carcass.” (Judges 14:5-9) Last week, we saw that Samson was determined to marry a Philistine woman from the city of Timnah in Israel. On this particular day, he and his parents were on their way to Timnah to discuss the marriage plans. On the way there, a young lion comes toward Samson and he rips it apart with his bare hands! While this sounds pretty impressive, it’s actually not a good thing because of the Nazarite vow that was put on his life before he was born. Remember that the Nazarite vow requires that he not have contact with anything dead, and if he killed a lion then he must have had to touch it while it was dead. He also violated Jewish cleanliness laws by coming into contact with the lion’s bodily fluids. Note that we see in the text how Samson’s parents didn’t see this encounter with the lion, and he didn’t tell them what he had done. More on that in a bit. While in Timnah, Samson reaffirmed his desire to marry the Philistine woman. But on the way back home, he comes into contact with the dead lion again! He obviously had to touch the dead body in order to eat the honey from the swarm of bees in the lion’s carcass. This was still not allowed under his Nazarite vow, and his parents still didn’t know that he broke that vow in this way. At this point we don’t see any immediate negative consequences for Samson’s disobedience and the breaking of his Nazarite vows, but he still should have known better. Samson thought he could get away with the sin when no one saw him do it. What sins do you have in your life that are like that? If nobody sees me steal this item from the store, it’s ok, right? What if nobody hears that swear word you utter? Or what if no one else knows how you lusted over that cute other person while married to your spouse? Truth is, God knows. God knows every thought you think, every word you say, and every action you do (or don’t do). The requirement for something being a sin is not whether it’s observed by another person or not; the standard for determining sin is God’s law. Do you think you can get away with sin when no one sees you do it? Pray for God to help you overcome temptation when it comes upon you, whether you’re with others or by yourself, so that you can maintain a life pleasing to God.
When we spend quiet, uninterrupted time with God in Bible study and prayer, we are renewing our minds and becoming God-focused. We are filling ourselves with God’s Word and taking time to immerse ourselves in his presence. The more we build our relationship with him, the more we will start to reflect Christ in our everyday lives.
Recently, God showed me that our quiet time with God is between Him and us. What I mean by that is this time with him isn’t Joyce Meyer, God, and us, or Charles Stanley, God, and us, or Beth Moore, God, and us. This time is between God and us as individuals.
These studies and authors are GREAT, as a matter of fact I read them myself. But when we are studying their work we are learning from what God has taught them. Our relationship with God is between Him and us.
He has ideas and insights that he wants to share with us as individuals. He could have Bible studies, books, or songs to write, concerts to be played, or leaders to develop. He is waiting to teach, shape, and mold us. We’ve been learning from others what he has in store for them, but by developing our own personal relationship and walking daily in the Word of God, spending time in prayer, and listening for God’s leading we can fully realize who we are in Christ and have a better understanding of how to serve God and others.
I would like to reiterate that reading other people’s Bible studies and Christian books is fine; what I am saying is it shouldn’t be a substitute for your quiet time with the Lord. Join me as we develop a deeper, more intimate relationship with Jesus.
by Ami Samuels
Imagine if 150 years before you were born, there was a plan already in place for who you would be and what you would accomplish. Would that be refreshing to you? Would it feel constricting? What would you do - go with the plan, or fight against it? How would you feel toward to one who made the plan?
King Cyrus, or Cyrus the Great, is recorded in history as one of the greatest kings in the Middle East. His life and rule have been used as a model for teaching leadership in Greece, Iran, and many other nations. Cyrus is known for furthering human rights, being a military strategist, and for bringing together Eastern and Western cultures. He is also known for rescuing Israel from Babylon after 70 years of captivity, paving the way for the Temple to be rebuilt in Jerusalem, and helping Jews return to their homeland. All of these events were promised by God 150 years before Cyrus was even born, and Cyrus was named specifically. Take a few moments and read Isaiah 45.
Look at how God speaks of Cyrus, and look at the attitudes and beliefs that God challenges, even as He states His plan. Cyrus was a pagan king, raised in a pagan culture, and had no reason to honor or even listen to God. Israel was becoming influenced by the Babylonian culture and still struggled with worshipping other gods. And it's in this setting, where the culture has drifted far from God, that God speaks. People had even begun to redefine who God is and what His intentions were, and God gives them a promise to open their eyes again to the Truth.
God names the ruler that He will raise up and then reminds everyone that His ways are best. It's as if God is saying, “I know you are going to ask me why I raised up a pagan to do this job, why not a Jew?” And the way God gives perspective in the rest of the passage should make us stop and think about where we are in our culture.
There is a great word picture in verses 9-13 where God exposes the willfulness of humanity. Does a piece of clay say to the one who shaped it into something, “Why did you make me this way? You didn't make me, you have no hands!” Let that sink in for a moment.
In how many different ways are we as Americans making that very statement every day? In how many ways are we declaring that WE know better than God? Or that God made a mistake? Or that God changes His mind? (Or should change His mind?)
Verse 11 says, “You ask me about things to come... and then command me concerning the work of my hands?” How often do we want to know our purpose, or an answer to a deep life question, and when God answers it we try to argue with Him about what it should be? Or worse yet, we reject Him because it's not the answer we wanted, and we put words in His mouth that express what we believe, but not what He has said.
Even as God makes a promise about Cyrus so that Israel will see clearly the plan God has for them, He also makes a promise to the rest of us in verses 18-25. All who look to other gods and other ideologies will not find a god who can deliver on these promises; they will be frustrated. And those who try to teach or make promises beyond what God has said will be reminded that there is only one God, who is just, who is all powerful, and who knows what is best.
Take time to reflect on verse 23, especially if you have believed what the culture and some teachers say about the Bible. God's Word is never revoked, it is never out of date, and His plans are never wrong.
Cyrus is just one example of many times God promised something and then made it happen exactly as He said. A God who predicts a king, by name and 150 years prior to his birth, declares that He will use that king to restore His people to their homeland, and then actually does it exactly as He said, should get our attention. A God who has done that countless times, and is the only God who can create, destroy, and set the boundaries of life and existence in His promises, is a God who should have our full attention.
Will you set aside your assumptions about God, and about the Bible, and take God at His Word? Will you tune out the chatter of our culture and the world long enough to hear what God said, examine His promises, and let Him show you who He is and what He meant? Will you allow yourself to be small enough to see how big God really is?
by Nathan Buck
by Charlie Wolcott A few weeks ago in my daily Bible reading, I came across something very interesting that I wanted to explore. Many of us know about David, the shepherd boy who slew a giant and became one of the greatest figures in the Old Testament. In 1 Samuel 16:14-23 the ruling king, Saul, had disobeyed God twice, been rejected by God to be a rightful king, and was being plagued by a distressing spirit. Saul’s servants discussed what to do about it and one of them knew about David. Most of us when hearing this passage tend to think of David’s skill with a harp, however, this servant pointed out six unique aspects about him. I would like to explore these six aspects as seen in 1 Samuel 16:18. The servant described David as: 1) a man who plays the harp well, 2) a man of valor, 3) a man of war, 4) one who speaks wisely, 5) is good looking, and 6) the Spirit of the Lord is upon him. I plan to break this up into two posts hitting three each. Let’s dig in. 1) David was a gifted musician. David had an extraordinary talent as a musician. Playing the harp and singing was something David constantly carried throughout his life. He wrote 73 of the 150 Psalms and he was so passionate that when the Ark of the Covenant was brought to Jerusalem, David danced and sang with such fervor he ended up stripping off his clothes and humiliating his wife. David’s harp and worship was the only thing that could give Saul peace, but even then Saul tried to kill him at least twice while playing. It was David’s musical skills that are often cited at the key reason why David was initially brought in to serve Saul and was part of what helped put David into position to take the throne when Saul died. Now since this post is about characteristic of a leader, what if I don’t have any musical talent? I completely understand that notion because I myself have NO musical talent. People learned long ago to keep any microphones away from me when I sing because not only am I completely tone deaf but I project, which means if I am behind a microphone, my bad voice is ALL you will hear. Does that disqualify me as a leader because I don’t have musical talent? Actually no. Here is the principle. David had a gift and he used it. He did not do it for show or to look for attention. He just used it. He played and sang while watching sheep. All David did was do his duty and let his gifts be put on display with no one watching but God himself. What talents do you have? What skills has God given you to put into practice? In the Parable of the Talents, Jesus made an interesting comment. Each servant was given according to his ability. One got five, one got two, and one got one. God will not give us a talent without also giving us the root skills and abilities to use them properly. That being said, many of us abuse the gifts we have been given by using them on ourselves or allowing the world to use it for their ends. I keep thinking of the musicians, artists, and athletes out there that do have some sufficient talent, but they use it to make themselves famous or they have allowed the influence of the world to direct and dictate their skills. The greater the talent, the more responsible we are for how we use it. The other issue with the talents is if we use them at all. The third servant got only one talent and never used it. The master cast him out for letting the talent go to waste. There are many reasons why we don’t use our talents but I want to highlight one: many of our young leaders are scared to death of their talents. They know what that kind of gift could mean and they are scared of misusing it. Those of you in the older generation reading this: we need to strengthen and encourage the next generation to use their gifts properly. Do not give them leadership positions until they show they are ready; it is unwise to give those jobs to novices. But give them an environment to grow and learn and develop those skills. 2) David was a man of valor. Now, this one and the next one I am very curious how the servant would know this about David. We know in David’s defense of not being a novice to slay Goliath, he had defeated both a lion and a bear, however, we know nothing in Scripture of anyone knowing that up to this point. Whether the servant knew this about David or not, David was a man of courage. Challenges did not bother him. He embraced them and sprinted after them. He ran after the lion and the bear. By all means he should have run away. Pit a lion or a bear against a teenager, most would put their money on the lion or the bear. Most adults would run away from these. But not David. David was not just a mere fearless boy. Had a confidence in the Lord his God to get him where he needed to be. He knew and understood that no one could touch him as long as he was obedient to God. He had some king of swagger that was not arrogance, but rather total confidence of God’s protection. As leaders, we will be buffeted from all angles to test us if we are worthy of the title. To be a leader, we must be men and women of valor with the reckless courage and confidence that will send us to slay lions and bears who mess with our sheep. 3) David was a man of war. This, too, is interesting to how the servant would know this about David. When David prepared to face Goliath, he tried walking in Saul’s armor (which was too big for him anyway because Saul was head and shoulders above everyone else) and could not use them because he had not tested them. He had not put that armor to use or to practice. But somehow, David knew something about battles and battle tactics. His three oldest brothers were soldiers in Saul’s army. David had to understand how to engage in war to be the king of Israel. Exactly what David knew and how he knew it is unclear in Scripture. But we do know that right after slaying Goliath, David was sent to numerous other battles and kept winning. This was before his time of hiding in caves while running from Saul. Do we know how to engage our spiritual enemies in battle? Are we in position where we could just be sent to go do that task and we would know what to do? These are three of the six characteristics of David that one of Saul’s servants noticed about him. Next week, we will look at the other three.
I asked an atheist friend in the middle of a conversation this question: “What freedoms do Christians have that others don't?” He responded with 2 things. We'll take a look at the first one today:
“It is [expletive] hard to run for public office if you do not profess your love for Jesus Christ, and God help you, pun intended, if you are a person of no faith (the a- in atheism means NO or a LACK OF faith).”
What do you think of that? I believe that, from a fundamental or foundational stand point, this is not true. What I mean is there is no law (which is what this conversation was about originally) that states you are only able to hold office if you're a Christian. However, upon review, I do find there are some states with laws on the books that are contrary to my original belief. I don't find it surprising, actually, that some states would require their officials to acknowledge the existence of the Almighty (not be necessarily Christian but believe in God). We're a nation founded by Christian people on Christian principles that are meant to govern a predominantly Christian people. It would make sense that people would not be excited about an atheist leading them.
However, in 1961 the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in Tarcoso vs. Watkins that no government entity can force someone or require someone to profess a particular religion. So this is the official standing of the federal government of the United States. This means that my original contention is true: Christians do not get special treatment in the US based on their faith. However, I've found that 7 states do, in fact, have such laws still written in their books. I don't believe any of these states would enforce such a law and since the Supreme Court has ruled on this subject already, there is no way these states can enforce such laws. But, to my atheist friend's credit, these laws are still there nonetheless.
It seems like possibly the complaint here is that Americans, predominantly Christian, like electing Christians more than not. This seems rather an obvious point. For most authentic believers—followers of Christ—the part Christianity plays in their lives is of utmost importance. In other words, being a Christian means you hold a Biblical worldview and there's nothing more important. Having a Biblical worldview means a Christian puts a great deal of importance on their faith. There is nothing more important than Jesus Christ and knowing Him. Christ is life and defines life. So it only makes sense that a believer would want someone who shared this, the most important of influences. If there was an election where two people were going against each other and I shared a great deal of core values with one and at their core the other was the antithesis of those values, the choice I'd make seems rather obvious.
It's true that every single president ever elected in the United States claimed a faith in Jesus Christ. But we also know that for many of them that faith was simply for show—likely to sway Christian voters. I believe it would be very difficult for a man or woman to represent a group of people if they didn't share some basic beliefs. But, again, there is no law (enforceable law that is) that allows for this. The Supreme Court has thrown down any “religious test” as a requirement for office. Atheists make up a very small percentage of our population, so they just won't be able to have a great deal of support.
The tail end of his above statement is of interest. He wants to define “atheism” as “without belief.” From a very literal standpoint, this is impossible and is not what atheism means. I say it's impossible because no one doesn't believe anything. We all have beliefs. The theist believes in God. The atheist believes there is no God. It's not as much a negative statement—I don't believe in God—but it's a positive statement—I do believe there is no God. It's a religious statement. It's a worldview statement and will determine how the atheist sees the world.
To be sure, the atheist does have faith and faith in a great many things; God is just not one of them. He has faith in himself. He has faith in science so much so that he's elevated it to nearly the status of a god. He has faith in materialism and likely, but not necessarily, in humanism. He has faith in evolutionism and some sort of cosmogony (origin of the universe) myth like the Big Bang. He holds his faith in these things so deeply that he will completely ignore all the evidence that is contrary. This friend of mine will still say there is no evidence for the existence of God even after I've provided a great deal of it to him. He rejects all evidence that is contrary to his faith. This is because atheism is irrational and very inconsistent in my opinion.
Next week, we'll get into laws in places around the United States that seem to favor morality. The atheist has no basis for morality whatsoever. My friend believes many of these laws that favor morality are because of Christianity's influence. We'll talk a little about what morality is and why it's important, and we'll also look at where it comes from. I'm excited to get into that with you.
by Steve Risner
by David Odegard
When all of the suppositions of German higher criticism washed up on the American shore, it was received by many who were trying to honestly deal with the naturalistic conclusions of science and philosophy as it related to ancient Christianity. There were many who accepted Kant’s view of reality that there was no self-revealing God and that miracles could not occur. Understandably this had great effects on theology. Liberal Christianity had come to America with all of its relativism and Biblical criticism. Some received it with great joy, others were revolted by its rejection of God.
One of the reactions among faithful Christians was the creation of the Fundamentals, a series of essays published by Biola University in 1910-15. These essays were originally intended to interact with contemporary issues and philosophy along Biblical lines. It featured some of the greatest Christian thinkers and writers: B. B. Warfield, G. Campbell Morgan, and R. A. Torrey. They took on the most controversial topics and tried to give an answer that was faithful to the Bible and the Christian faith. It was a great thing to begin with, but as time went on the Fundamentals gave rise to the fundamentalists.
The fundamentalists closed themselves to discussions with “worldly philosophies” and intellectual interaction with most of the world. They erected an anti-intellectual fortress around their beliefs, unintentionally justifying the assertion from the leftists that Christianity was at odds with science. Fundamentalists became increasingly dogmatic even where the Bible was silent or vague. For example, they began to insist on a dispensationalist view of eschatology (the study of the end of the world) as the only right way to believe. They insisted on the King James Version of the Bible being the only correct version. It wasn’t enough to prefer it to other translations; they said all other translations were a compromise with Satan himself. To my mind, they seemed to be in competition for who would be the most dogmatic and unyielding on what they had accepted as truth. They were determined to make the way even narrower than had God.
They accepted the Fundamentals as finished theology and did not see a need to engage in any further discussion. They embraced anti-intellectualism, which was foreign to Christianity. For them, the truth had been chiseled in stone and no further reflection was necessary. If a person did not put the biblical emphasis exactly where they did, that person was dismissed as a liberal compromiser. Bob Jones University criticized anyone who supported Billy Graham for instance, because he was willing to work with mainline churches to advance the gospel.
This was very damaging to the Christian Right. Because of their unwillingness to interact intellectually with society, their influence became small and their anti-intellectualism only justified the proponents of higher criticism that held scholasticism in the highest regard. Not that the fundamentalists cared; as far as they were concerned, they were short-timers on earth because Jesus was going to come any second. The rest of the world could and would go to hell. The world had been warned and now they were going to be judged! The tone of their message left the impression that they were glad to see people going to hell. A review of a few Chick Tracts will confirm for anyone the flavor of fundamentalism.
Many Christians had had enough and decided to remove themselves from the fundamentalists. These came to be called evangelicals because they felt called to be salt and light to the world, to interact with the world socially and intellectually and to exert a Christian influence in the world. They believed emphatically in the Bible as the word of God and felt that it was the only thing that could rescue the world. In this way the original intent for publishing the Fundamentals was recovered in an invigorated evangelicalism.
Since evangelical theology is committed to faithfulness to Scripture and contemporary issues, you can see influence from just about every source upon it. Evangelicalism is becoming more polarized today by the dividing influences of the social gospel and progressivism versus fundamentalism and nationalism. Each side of the debate reacts against the abuses of the other side and further alienation occurs.
Many fundamentalists remain today in formerly evangelical churches. I would issue a challenge to them to open their minds to listen to other Christian voices, to see other perspectives than the one mandated by your local pastor. Think through the Biblical text and the contemporary issues at hand. If you remain an ardent fundamentalist, chances are your children will abandon the faith altogether when you cannot provide them any satisfactory answers that do not rely on authoritarianism. Please join me next week when I explore The Curious Case of John Hick.
“Samson went down to Timnah and saw there a young Philistine woman. When he returned, he said to his father and mother, ‘I have seen a Philistine woman in Timnah; now get her for me as my wife.’
His father and mother replied, ‘Isn’t there an acceptable woman among your relatives or among all our people? Must you go to the uncircumcised Philistines to get a wife?’
But Samson said to his father, ‘Get her for me. She’s the right one for me.’ (His parents did not know that this was from the Lord, who was seeking an occasion to confront the Philistines; for at that time they were ruling over Israel.)” (Judges 14:1-4)
Last week we heard about the special circumstances surrounding Samson’s conception and birth. His childhood was evidently uneventful, as we now pick up his story when he’s a young man getting ready to marry.
During this time, Israel was occupied by the Philistines. The city of Timnah was about 4 miles away from where Samson lived, and it was still very much Israelite territory even though there were many Philistines living there. The Philistine occupation of Israel was much more peaceful than previous oppressions, and the people were able to intermingle freely.
In that culture, marriages were almost always arranged by the parents. Samson choosing his own bride was a very unusual thing, but then he was an unusual person, having been set apart as a Nazarite even before his birth. Samson allowed his parents to make the actual arrangements for the wedding, but he wanted to choose his bride for himself.
At first, Samson’s parents objected because of God’s commands to not intermarry with non-Israelites, as in Deuteronomy 7:1-3, even though that passage does not specifically list Philistines. The Philistines were foreigners who did not worship the one true God whom Israel worshipped. When his parents suggest marrying a “relative,” they don’t mean his first cousin or something like that; they simply mean a woman from their tribe of Israelites.
Samson was determined to have the woman from Timnah as his bride, so eventually his parents reluctantly gave in. They were certain Samson would be ruining his life with that choice. But what they didn’t know was that God was already at work through this situation to redeem Israel from the Philistines.
While Samson wouldn’t normally have the opportunity to choose his own bride in that culture, here his parents reluctantly allowed him that opportunity, even if they thought it meant his life would be ruined. We are all given free will by God, so that we can make whatever choice we choose, in all areas of life. We can choose to follow Him, or we can choose to disobey Him; it’s our choice, but we need to be prepared to face the consequences of whatever choice we make according to God’s natural law.
Fortunately, just like Samson’s decision to marry the woman from Timnah, God can and will use any choice we make for His purposes. Even if it looks like we’re making a mess of our lives, God can redeem those bad choices for His purposes, especially if we turn to obeying Him later on, once we realize how much we’ve messed up. Want a real-life example of this? I would encourage you to check out a book called No Reason to Live, written by my friend Scott Mason. Scott made a lot of bad choices in his life, but when he finally turned his life over to God, God has used him in many ways to spread the Gospel message and help people making similar bad choices.
How are the choices you make affecting your life? Are you allowing God to use your choices for His purposes in your life?
by Katie Erickson
“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or proud or rude. It does not demand it’s own way.
It is not irritable, and keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always helpful, and endures through every circumstance.” ~1 Corinthians 13:4-7
Love is patient, kind, always helpful, and endures every circumstance.
by Ami Samuels
Love is not jealous, proud, rude, or irritable.
Love does not demand its own way or keep a record of being wronged.
Love never gives up and never loses faith. Wow, what a list! So many things spoke to me when I read this scripture passage today, but one truly stood out to me: love keeps no record of being wronged. I have always heard it said that women have long memories. In the heat of an argument, it is said that a woman can quote word for word what you said 20 years ago. Not only does she remember what you said but how you said it, and what you were wearing when you said it. Well ok, that may be a bit of an exaggeration. However, I feel this applies to everyone, not just women. It certainly hits home with me. Love keeps no record of being wronged! Let’s challenge ourselves the next time we start to say, “Remember when…” or “You said…” or “You did…” to forgive and STOP keeping a record of being wronged.
We recently were at Disney World, and as I walked through the Land/Sea area of Epcot, I noticed a young boy out of the corner of my eye. His gait and cadence seemed just a slight bit off. When I turned my head to see why, I could see that he had two prosthetic legs. He was about 6-8 years old, and he was moving along quite well on his artificial legs and feet. In fact, I did a double take because the legs were the cool new ones that move almost as well as biological lower legs.
Then I noticed something else as he waved his arms. This young boy had no hands, and his arms stopped just below the elbows. I was gripped with concern for him as it dawned on me - this boy was born with no hands or feet, and no lower legs. But as soon as the thought of pity entered my mind, I saw his face. His face was beaming with the biggest smile! His eyes gleamed with delight as he marched after his parents, waving his arms, laughing, and his short curly dark hair bouncing with each step. He was full of energy and joy, as well as focused intent to get to the next part of the park.
As I continued on with my family, I realized that boy is a profound challenge to every message we are bombarded with in our culture today. I realized he is the counterpoint to our “just be you “ bumper sticker ideologies. He is the reverser to Lady Gaga's Super Bowl statement of “I was made this way.”
Why? Because this boy didn't take what was handed him as a limitation. He didn't take his physical predisposition of disability as an excuse to remain disabled. He didn't cling to the “Why did God make me this way” self-absorption and blame God for why he could never be a “normal” kid. And he didn't go out and force the world to call him “normal” to enable his lack of ability as a way of life. This kid faced his predisposition as disabled, and made a choice to walk, and run, and laugh, and be an able kid.
Each of us has a predisposition to something. Whether it comes through genetic flaws in our DNA, environmental influences on our cellular development, or the chemistry of our brains, we have predispositions toward and away from things. Some people are more inclined toward sports, others toward art, some toward optimism, some toward depression, some toward opposite sex attraction, some toward same sex attraction, some toward alcoholism, and some toward being health conscious. This is not immoral in and of itself, it is a “likelihood” or a “leaning” toward certain default behaviors, patterns, preferences, or vices. We ALL have them, and we do not have a choice about which ones we get. Whether given by God as a part of our design or created from the flawed nature of our genetic material, we have them.
While we do not have a choice about which ones we get, we DO have a choice in regard to how we respond to them. Our current culture says, “Be whatever you are, true to how you were born/made/created, and do what you feel is best for you.” And if we follow this logic, the young man from Epcot could have easily heard that message as a license to be disabled and live as a bed-bound child, dependant on everyone else. He may have even been able to justify that the world owed him anything he wants, because he can't do it himself.
His experience as a disabled child is not his identity. He is someone greater than the limitations of his body. His ability to walk, run, and enjoy Disney demonstrate that he is not captive to his predisposed limitations. He exceeded them, because they are just his experience, not his identity or purpose.
If I look at it from my experience, my predisposition to find women attractive is a powerful part of my experience. But as a married man, I made a vow to no longer act on those attractions and to be faithful to my wife. My attraction is my experience as a heterosexual; it is not my identity. My vow of marriage is part of my experience; it is not my identity. What enables me to resist my predisposition and keep my vow is my identity. When I fail morally, it is usually because my desire for experience has been allowed to overshadow my identity.
Who I am must override and guide my predispositions, so that I make wise moral decisions. My identity is greater than my experience as a heterosexual male. What comes first before all predisposition is my identity as a person made in God's image - a person meant to reflect His moral character, justice, and love. (For an alternate perspective, click here.)
Read Romans 1:20-32. Just by reading these verses, it's very clear that people's predispositions toward certain desires or experiences is not a new thing. Experience and desire have always competed against our God-given identity. And humanity has always struggled with justifying why it's ok to ignore God and live how we “feel” like living. (Its interesting that we are willing to put limitations on others living how they “feel” to protect ourselves, but we reject God's limitations on how we live so we can justify indulging ourselves.)
If you focus on verse 25 and verse 32 in this passage, there are two things we are uncomfortable admitting and even less comfortable challenging in our current time culture. “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie” is a powerful statement we fight very hard to ignore. Believers and non-belivers are included in this. We re-write or re-frame laws, moral norms, and the Bible in order to give ourselves or others permission to do what we want - what we “feel” based on our predispositions.
In verse 32, there is the phrase, “they not only continue to do these very things, but give approval to others to do the same.” That word “do” in the original Greek language of the Bible comes from the root word “poema,” which means ‘poetry.’ This word expresses the idea that what we do should come from our design, our identity, in the same way that a poem expresses the heart or meaning the poet meant to express when he/she wrote it. In this part of Romans 1, the word “poema” is used to make the point that people who are in rebellion against God are doing the opposite of their design. They are expressing the opposite of their identity and are just doing whatever feels good to them. This passage in the Bible makes it clear that this type of activity is sin, rebellion, and moral failure. It also portrays that people who live this way will encourage others to do the same. It's not a surprise, because we all feel better when we know we have others who agree with and support our actions. What's sad is that when we live this way, we reject a God-given identity for a good feeling experience and sell ourselves short at the altar of desire. It's even more sad that we encourage and celebrate others who do the same.
We may not have a choice in what experiences or desires we are predisposed to, but we DO have a choice in how we respond to them. If we embrace them and use them as excuses to reject the Bible or redefine God’s teachings, then we have chosen to sin. If we resist our predispositions or leverage them toward God’s way of living, then we have chosen life, obedience to God’s moral way of living, and our true identity over our default experience.
Like the young boy at Epcot, our predispositions may be pretty severe and disabling. But we DO have a choice in how we respond.
My intention with this post is encouragement for all of us to reach our fullest potential in God's design. May we resist settling for our predispositions and our default behaviors or desires. May we see through the messages of our culture and come alive in the life intended for us. May God bless us with clarity, wisdom, courage to surrender our faults to Him, and His strength to choose the narrow path. And as we do, may we run it with the joy, intensity, and abandon that the young boy in Epcot had.
by Nathan Buck
by Charlie Wolcott “The church is the height of apostasy when it calls obedience ‘legalism.’” ~David Wilkerson, sermon “Bearing Fruit” I do not fully agree with this statement, simply because there could be worse signs of apostasy, but I do agree with the sentiment. The church has a wonderful tendency of acting as a pendulum. When we see a problem in the church, we tend to swing so far to the other side that we end up with an equal and opposite heresy. My pastor would describe the roads in the panhandle of Texas where there is a ditch on one side of the road for irrigation of the farms and another ditch on the other side of the road. There is a danger when we strive to stay so far away from one ditch that we fall into the ditch on the other side of the road. Then like a pendulum, when we seek to avoid that ditch, we end up back in the other one. Instead, we need to drive straight down the middle. In this topic we have two extremes: absolute freedom where you can do whatever you want, and legalism where even what you wear has to be examined before you go out in it. There are many legitimate arguments for one side or the other. 1 Corinthians 10 addresses this issue using what kind of meat you eat as an example. Jewish Christians were still rooted in the Law and would not eat any meat that had been sacrificed to idols. Gentile Christians knew the idols were dead and gave no regard to the idols and simply wanted cheaper meat. The Jews were under a more legalistic approach, while the Gentiles were under a more liberal approach. Who was right? Paul addressed it simply by putting yourself in a position where you are not offending the other person. But the issue of legalism vs freedom has taken on a new front that has nothing to do with “side issues.” In this final post on my series on intellectual Christianity versus actual Christianity, the debate about how to handle side issues has been misapplied to doctrine and Christian living. Do we have the freedom to believe whatever doctrines we want? Do we have the authority to enforce certain doctrines but not others? We speak against homosexuality, but do we speak against gluttony or slothfulness? And what happened to simple obedience to Jesus Christ? In this whole series, I have spoken about the areas where God has been showing me the problems with intellectual Christianity, but in all that, we must not dismiss intellectual Christianity. Following Jesus Christ is not a free-for-all. There is order. There is structure. And it is logical, reasonable, and defendable. There is this talk of how we have been freed from the Law and are now under grace, therefore we have freedom to do what we want to do. As a result, we are allowed to drink as we want. We are allowed to be homosexual and a Christian at the same time. We can cuss, chew, spit, smoke, watch any show/movie we want, eat whatever and how much we want, talk however we want, and we do not have to worry about any consequences from that because we are saved and are going to heaven anyway. Let me tell you that this mindset is a lie from the pit of hell. Jesus DID give us commands. He not only enforced the Law of Moses, he actually raised the bar. Under the Law, you just had to not commit murder to be safe from that command. You just had to not commit adultery. But Jesus stepped it up. He said just hating your brother is the equivalent of murder. He said looking at another with lust is the same as actually doing the act. “But… but… that’s legalism.” This is where I agree with Wilkerson above. When you call obedience to Jesus Christ ‘legalism,’ that is not Christianity. That is apostasy. It is sin. It is looking for an excuse to disobey God. How dare we call ourselves a follower and a disciple of Jesus, a Christian, if we have no desire to do as he says. You are making a mockery of the name of Jesus if you claim to carry his name and you live a life that is a lie. Jesus asked, “Why do you call me, Lord, Lord, and not do the things which I say?” John said, “If you claim to have fellowship [with Christ] and yet walk in darkness, you are a liar.” I did not say it. The Bible does. Take your argument with God. “But… but… that’s legalism. No one can live perfectly.” Yes, that is right. No one can live perfectly except for Jesus Christ. He is the only one that ever did and ever could live perfectly. That is WHY we need a Savior. You are NOT alright with God. You are NOT on good terms with him. There is nothing in you or of you that is good. There is none who are good. No not one. Only Jesus Christ. The only way we are able to even stand a remote hope’s chance in heaven is by being under the covering of the blood of Jesus Christ. That means submission to him. Romans 10:9 is also one of the most misquoted verses. It is often cited with Jesus as Savior, but few mention the fact that Jesus is LORD. To a Jew, Lord meant ruler, but to a Roman, ‘Lord’ actually is the same term for God. If you actually follow Romans 10:9 to the meaning of the intended audience, you would have to declare that Jesus is God. After all Jesus himself said he was. Do you believe him or not? If you do, that means he is the rightful ruler over your life. If not, you are calling him a liar and you better be right. Jesus gave a very stern warning to us in Matthew 7:21-23. Many people think they are Christians because they do good deeds. They cast out demons in Jesus’ name, they serve the poor, they follow the Commandments, they help the people. They call Jesus not merely “Lord” but “Lord, Lord.” They call themselves by the name of Jesus. They truly consider themselves under the banner of Christ. They are sincere. But with many, Jesus will say, “Depart from me you workers of iniquity, I never knew you.” Most people focus on the “I never knew you” part. But there is another part. “You workers of iniquity” actually has another meaning. Other versions use, “You who practice lawlessness,” which translates to: “You who live as though I gave you no law to follow.” If we are going to cite Jesus’ commands as “legalism” as an excuse not to do them, take a thorough examination of yourself to find out if your faith is truly legit. It is not just a sin to commit an action that directly violates God’s commands. It is also a sin when we fail to do that which we ought to do. If on Sunday and God tells you to give a certain amount of money into the offering plate and you do not do that, that is sin. If you pass by a homeless person on the street and God tells you to stop by and visit that person, and you do not, that is sin. If you give a partial truth, instead of the whole truth, that is sin. This next one is a challenge for me. If you are not purposing to share your faith (easy for me to do online, but not so easy in person), are you really walking with Christ who seeks that none be lost to hell? As I wrap up this series, understand that head-knowledge is fine, but it is completely useless until we start obeying it. Having the truth in your head does not save you. Mentally agreeing to the facts does nothing. Actually doing something about it does. Our faith as Christians is not meant to be an intellectual discourse. It is meant to be something real that those totally blind to the truth cannot refute it. They may hate us and fight us, but they cannot refute it. Too many want to throw away Christianity because too many of us talk the talk, but there is nothing real behind the words. If the lost see people who claim to be Christian that are virtually no different than they are, why invoke Christ? To them, Jesus does not mean anything, because he does not mean anything to us. When are we going to put into practice true Christianity? I recommend you return to my series on prayer, combine that with what I have shared in this series and spend time with the Lord. Ask him to reveal your weaknesses and areas that need him (hint: all of them do). Christianity is a process of getting closer and closer to Christ. Let us live that faith so the world could testify that we truly do belong to Christ.
Last week we looked at how atheism can easily be defined as a religion. We also touched on why the atheist is generally not interested in “evidence” for the existence of God and will frequently claim such evidence doesn't exist. We also mentioned the bleak and miserable outlook of atheism. This leads us to our next statement. This week we'll take a look at a doozy of a statement made by a friend of mine who is an atheist. He says:
by Steve Risner
“Once you accept your insignificance, you can still make the most out of the one existence you have, rather than squander it, waiting to die for an eternal afterlife that likely is not there.” Let's break this down: Atheism says we're all insignificant. None of us actually matter because we're just space dust that accumulated here. We're just a collection of chemical reactions and you don't matter beyond that. Atheists, likely because there is no value on life and we are insignificant in this cold uncaring universe, are more likely to commit suicide. This is the result of the hopelessness of atheism. This is where the rubber meets the road, friends. The Word of God does tell us that our lives are but a mist—a vapor that disappears. But this is not to say we are insignificant. It simply means that compared to eternity, our little stint here on the earth is not even a drop in the bucket. The Bible clearly tells us that human beings are very important—not just the group of us but each of us individually. We are created in the image of God. This is one of the things that sets us apart from all of God's other creations, and according to Jesus, we are much more valuable to the Lord than His other creations. The parable of the Prodigal Son and the parable of the 100 sheep both confirm that we, as individuals, are very important to God. John 3:16 also tells that “...whosoever...” and not just “...the world.” Human beings are collectively and individually the focus of the creation. Not only are we extremely important to our Creator, but we are also deeply and powerfully loved by Him as well. His love, which is far beyond the understanding of man, drove Him to not only create us in His image but to provide the sacrifice for our sins so that we can be with Him. The enormity of that sacrifice is unknowable for us. Our minds cannot comprehend it. This, I feel, is a major contrast between the religion of atheism and Christianity. We have hope; they have none. We are on the mind of God; they are insignificant. We will live forever in paradise; they will be eaten by worms, according to this atheist. If you have struggled with feeling insignificant or with being without value, please know these are lies from the enemy. What value is there in accepting your insignificance when you hold great value and are loved deeply by Almighty God? The part about having one existence? This is true. We have one existence. This atheist feels that the portion of our existence spent on this rotating rock in space is it. But there is so much more. As I reference above, our life here on the earth is just a vapor. But we have eternity to spend with our Father in heaven. Unfortunately, for my atheist friend, if he chooses to reject Jesus Christ, he will also spend eternity somewhere. It will not be in paradise. This makes me sad. Regardless of your religious affiliation, we are eternal beings created in the image of God. What is interesting is he goes on to say “...rather than squander it.” This is interesting to me, anyway, because I firmly believe that the very large majority of people who squander their existence are atheists. What else do they have to live for other than self? Why would they live for anything other than self? You have a few that get behind those bigger ideas and turn them into a cause—global warming is a great example. But my friend is insinuating that Christians squander their lives away while atheists must truly live. This is amazing! Christians have been living amazing lives for 2000 years. Christians have been investing in people and serving people since Christianity's birth some 2000 years ago. Let's take a look. As recorded in the Bible, Christians were serving people all over and all the time. They were joining together, carrying each other’s burdens, and doing what we call fellowship all the time. Paul took up a collection wherever he went for those living in Jerusalem because of a great famine. This could be the famine that happened in Judea about 46-47 AD. Christ called us to do good works for people so that God may be glorified. It's not for our benefit, but for His glory. This was demonstrated for us in the life of Jesus Christ. He did not use His power to honor Himself or to gain. He used it to serve others—for provision, healing, and impacting lives for the Kingdom. He was truly living as He did these awesome works. As we discussed last week, the good works come from a changed heart and not to gain salvation. That's important enough to state again. The impact of Christ as His servants truly live in this place is something to note. When our nation, founded on Christian principles, was young, the Christian people got to work. Of the first 108 colleges founded in this nation early on, 106 were founded by Christians. These included Harvard, Yale, and Princeton as well as many other well-known schools. By 1860, of the 246 colleges in America, 17 were state-sponsored while the rest were Christian institutions. Christians, truly living life, can be credited with establishing the modern hospital. The attitude in the Greco-Roman world towards the sick was not what it is today. Christians changed the way we looked at the sick or injured by showing compassion and lending a hand rather than despising the sick and just tolerating them—if they were tolerated at all. Notable men like Grosseteste, Bacon, and Boyle (who must have been a heavy metal fan from these images) encouraged physicians to abandon long held traditions that seemed to have little impact on an illness and instead pushed for experiments that would demonstrate the efficacy of a treatment. The Catholic Church claims to oversee 26% of all healthcare in the world. That's remarkable! It has around 18,000 clinics, 16,000 homes for the elderly and those with special needs, and 5,500 hospitals, according to Wikipedia. Jesus Christ cared for the sick, so it only makes sense that His followers would do the same. Christianity is the single largest provider of healthcare in the world and especially in many underdeveloped nations where there is no other care available. The Church started “social work” and has provided relief for many financially as well as in terms of health care, counseling, and even protection with things like women's crisis intervention and aid for children victimized by child abuse. The Red Cross was founded by a believer. There are orphanages all over the world started and run by Christian organizations. Habitat for Humanity, one of the largest charities in the U.S., was founded by a Christian. The Salvation Army is worth noting; they take care of a variety of needs for the poor and downtrodden. There are many organizations that are dedicated to educating women, especially in places where women are considered second class citizens. This is because wherever the Gospel is taken, women are elevated to equal standing with men. There are countless organizations that feed, clothe, educate, and provide shelter for the poor around the world. The largest portion of them are founded by Christians and funded by Christians. Everyone knows that the Church as a whole has loved and cared for the needs of countless people. Take a look at this statement by atheist Jurgen Habermas's that "the individual morality of conscience, human rights and democracy, is the direct legacy of the Judaic ethic of justice and the Christian ethic of love." Who is squandering their lives here? Have atheists done such things? Sure, but very little in comparison. And likely not for the same reasons. Studies show that 40% of “religious” people volunteer to help the poor while 15% of atheists do. Church goers will donate, on average, about $1,500 to charity, while non-church goers are more in the $200 range. According to ABC News “Religious people are more likely to give to charity, and when they give, they give more money: four times as much. And... that giving goes beyond their own religious organization: Actually, the truth is that they're giving to more than their churches. The religious Americans are more likely to give to every kind of cause and charity, including explicitly non-religious charities.” Impacting our world in a powerful way—truly living and making a difference rather than squandering our lives. So while it seems that atheists are much more likely to squander their lives and have very little impact on the world around them, living a life filled with Jesus Christ and His work is real living, hands down.