Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year’s Thoughts

Now, more than ever, the wish for a Happy New Year takes on significant meaning. The year 2008 may go down in history as one of the worst, similar to 1968. Unlike 1968, which was filled with bad news that generally didn’t affect most of us personally, the bad news of 2008 affected just about everyone personally. In addition to the economic hits that people were taking, we also had the usual life events: illnesses, deaths, and other personal tragedies. As Thomas Paine wrote during the American Revolution, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” (“The American Crisis”, Thomas Paine, 1776).

These are also the times when we lose faith in our institutions: the government, who was supposed to be protecting our interests; the financial markets, which we entrusted with our savings and our retirement funds; the real estate market; the economy; and Congress, which has a lower approval rating than the President. Hopefully we haven’t lost faith in God.

“When the going gets tough, the tough get going!” I believe we are tough enough to get through this for several reasons. First and most importantly, we have our faith, which upholds us in the worst of times. The strong faith of Corrie ten Boom, a Dutch Christian arrested by the Gestapo, sustained her through the unimaginable horrors of a Nazi concentration camp. She survived, although her father and sister Betsy didn’t, and she went on to serve the Lord mightily after the war.

Second, we’re tough because we have hope. We have hope – no only because of our faith – but we know that eventually this crisis will pass. We’ve had a “perfect storm” of economic calamities that have resulted in the current situation, but ultimately things will turn around. While our lives might not ever be quite the same, things will get better than they are now. They won’t get better because of a new year, or probably even because of a new president, but they will get better because things run in cycles. The question is, how long will it take for these particularly nasty cycles to run their course? It could be a while – we just don’t know.

My hope is that the economy and financial markets will improve in 2009, but I also hope that people will turn to God through all of this. I’m hoping we as individuals and this nation as a whole will realize that we can’t keep pushing God out of our lives, and then expect to be blessed. We have been traveling paths that aren’t good, and I’m hoping that this economic turmoil will wake us up to the reality we not only need God in our lives, but God needs to be number one in our lives.

I pray that in this New Year you will commit to drawing closer to God by regularly attending worship, participating in one of our studies, and serving the Lord in some capacity. Things may get worse before they get better, and you’ll need the insight, strength, and guidance that can come only from knowing, loving, and serving God. May God bless you and keep you in this New Year.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A Christmas Message

Below is my Christmas Eve sermon. I hope is helps you in some way. Merry Christmas!

I. Introduction

The Gospel accounts of Jesus’ birth are rather brief. The Gospel according to Luke has the most detailed birth account, and it includes the stories of the births of both John the Baptist and Jesus.

II. Luke’s Telling of the Nativity

Although Luke’s birth narrative is fairly brief, it was written to convey some important information about Jesus. Let’s take a look at Luke’s Gospel and see what he is telling us, and what it means for you and me today:

1. Angels Announce God’s Plan

First, we have a number of angelic visitations. In the first visit, an angel announced to Zechariah that he would have a son in his old age, and he was to name him “John.” About six months later the angel appeared to Mary, and told her that she was to miraculously have a Son, and she was to name him “Jesus.” The angel told her that this Son will be the Messiah (Luke 1:32-33, NRSV)

In the Gospel according to Matthew, we see still another angelic visitation, this time to Joseph in a dream. The angel told him to take Mary as his wife – that her pregnancy was the work of the Holy Spirit. Of course we also have the visit of angels to the shepherds. So we see that angels played a major role in the Nativity – and so are prominent in our Christmas carols as well. This is so we can clearly see God’s hand, since heavenly beings – angels –announced both John’s and Jesus’ birth.

2. Birth of John and Zechariah’s Prophecy

The angelic visitations tell us all of this was from God, and prophecy played a prominent role in the Nativity as well. We have, of course, the fulfillment of some Old Testament prophecies that I’ll outline in a minute. In addition, John’s father Zechariah prophesied at John’s bris on the 8th day after his birth. In the first part of his prophecy, Zechariah told of the imminent coming of the Messiah:

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old…” (Luke 1:68-70, NRSV)

In the second part of his prophecy, Zechariah spelled out his son John’s future role:

“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins.”
(Luke 1:76-77, NRSV)

By his prophetic word, Zechariah set the stage for both Jesus’ birth and the future ministry of his son, John the Baptist.

3. Year of Jesus’ Birth

Luke begins the actual birth narrative of Jesus by not giving us the date or the season, but he narrows the range of years. He relates Jesus’ birth to secular history by telling who was emperor, who was governor, and that a census was taking place at the time. By linking the birth with secular history, Luke is demonstrating that this birth was a real event, not something fabricated or mythological.

4. House of David

Next Luke gives us an important piece of information: that Jesus is of the house of King David. The proof of this is the fact that they had to go to Bethlehem, David’s town, and further proof is in a genealogy that Luke provides a little later on. This is critical because the Messiah was prophesied to be a descendant of King David.

4. Born in Bethlehem

The prophecies about the Messiah also say that he was to be born in Bethlehem, which is where King David was from. So Jesus fulfilled that prophecy, even though his parents were living in Nazareth. God arranged for circumstances that required them to travel to Bethlehem, something they otherwise wouldn’t have done.

5. Angels Announce to Humble Shepherds

Finally, once again angels appear, this time to the shepherds in the fields. There are three aspects to this angelic appearance to the shepherds that are relevant to us:

a. Angels from God

The first aspect we should keep in mind is that God sent angels to confirm that this was truly the Messiah. So there would be no doubt, the angel said to the shepherds (Luke 2:10-11):

“I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” NRSV

An angelic choir then appeared, singing God’s praises, so we can be confident about who was born that night – heaven confirmed it.

b. Appeared to Shepherds

The second aspect we should keep in mind is that these angels appeared to humble shepherds. Not to the priests, not to the rich and famous, not even to the king. Shepherds were on the lower echelons of society, yet they were the first to receive the Good News of Jesus. This demonstrates that God doesn’t care about your station in life – he loves you no matter who you are in this world. After all, Jesus came for everybody: Jew and Gentile, men and women, rich and poor.

c. Jesus Identified with the Humble

The third aspect of this angelic appearance is that by appearing to shepherds, Jesus was identifying with the humble, the oppressed, and the marginalized. Jesus was born in a barn and was raised in the home of a blue collar worker. He can identify with us because he humbled himself and emptied himself, taking the form of a servant as we read in our call to worship. Today he is in heaven interceding for us with the Father.

He is doing this because Jesus can appreciate what we’re going though – he lived the whole range of human experience himself. So during these difficult times, why not put your trust in Jesus? He understands, and he will help you get through whatever is going on in your life.

III. No Room for Jesus

What we often remember most about the nativity story is that there was no room at the inn. There are similar problems today.

1. Not in Our Nation

There seems to be no room for Jesus in this country – we are systematically eliminating him from our society. We are expected to say “Happy Holidays” and not “Merry Christmas” because Christmas has the name of “Christ” in it. So Jesus gets relegated to the barn – there’s just no room for him.

2. Not in Our Lives

There seems to be no room for Jesus in our lives, because our lives are crowded with so many other things. Out of the approximately 120 waking hours we have in a week, there still doesn’t seem to be enough time for even an hour or two with Jesus. So Jesus ends up in the barn – there’s just no room for him.

3. Not in Our Hearts

There seems to be no room for Jesus in people’s hearts – there are just too many other things that have our attention and our affection. So Jesus gets sent to the barn once more – there’s just no room for him.

IV. Conclusion

So what do we learn from all this?

1. Certain about Jesus

First of all, there should be no doubt about who Jesus is. We know Jesus fulfilled many Old Testament prophecies, starting with his lineage and his birth place. We know about his miracles, his teachings, and finally his Resurrection, so it should be clear to us that Jesus is the Son of God.

If we believe he is the promised Messiah, the Savior, and the Son of God, then we have to ask: “What are we going to do about it?” We can ignore Jesus – keep him out in the barn – but that doesn’t make much sense if Jesus is the Messiah, the Savior, and the Son of God. When we ignore Jesus, we end up filling our lives with stuff that isn’t nearly as important, and has no eternal value.

It reminds me of people who have a garage full of junk and then leave their $40,000 car out in the driveway exposed to the elements. Isn’t it better to clear out the junk and put the car where it belongs? The same is true with us: eliminate the clutter and make room for Jesus.

2. Eliminate Fear and Worry

By the way, sometimes this clutter consists of fear, worry, and anxiety. While we all hope the New Year brings better times, often what’s really needed is an attitude change on our part. Truly letting Christ into your life will give you a whole new outlook – one of hope, assurance, peace, and yes, even joy in the midst of turmoil. With God’s help, we can rise above our circumstances, having confidence that this too shall pass, and that God will take care of us.

Rather than feeling we’re victims, we will realize that in Christ we are victors. This can happen, not by psychological tricks nor by the “power of positive thinking,” but only by our faith in Jesus Christ. Even if you do have Jesus in your life, ask yourself: “How big a role does he really play?” Is Jesus high on your priority list, or is he down towards the bottom?

3. Make Room this Christmas

So starting this Christmas, why not make room – or make more room – for Jesus? After all, what have you got to lose (except maybe your fear and worry)? I pray that this will be your best Christmas ever! Not because of your circumstances, but because of your renewed commitment to Jesus Christ. Have you made room for him in your life and in your heart? If so, Hallelujah! The angels are celebrating tonight. Amen.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Example of Mary

Mary, the mother of Jesus, plays a prominent role in the Christmas story. She is also a tremendous example to the rest of us. The story of Mary begins with the angel visiting her. To link this visit with Elizabeth and John the Baptist, Luke mentions that it occurred in the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy. Since she wasn’t yet married, Mary wondered out loud how her pregnancy was to occur. The angel explained to her that it would be by the power of the Holy Spirit. As a recent example of the miraculous work of God, the angel referred to her cousin Elizabeth by saying (in Luke 1:36-37):

What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she’s now in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.” (NLT)

Mary responded those famous words of faith and obedience (Luke 1:38a): “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” (NLT)

That’s the attitude that we are supposed to have: faith in God’s word and obedience to God’s calling. We are all called in various ways, and God wants us to be obedient so that God is glorified and we are blessed. As Jesus said in Luke 11:28 (NRSV): “Blessed … are those who hear the word of God and obey it!”

Obedience Has a Cost

We have to realize that there is usually a cost to obedience, which shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. There can be a cost in time, money, inconvenience, hardship, or self-denial. I believe Jesus was referring to the cost of discipleship and obedience when he said in Matthew 16:24: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (NRSV)

1. Costs of Obedience

There were some pretty serious costs to Mary that we don’t often think about, but I suspect she probably considered before saying yes:

For example, there was the disgrace of becoming pregnant before marriage, which was a capital offense in Israel. Although they didn’t stone people for adultery much anymore, a woman’s reputation was ruined by a pregnancy before marriage.

There was a risk of losing her fiancé Joseph. When he found out that she was pregnant and he had nothing to do with it, Joseph was planning to break off the engagement and send her away. An angel had to appear to Joseph to assure him that Mary hadn’t been naughty, and this was God’s work. The angel spoke to him in a dream, saying (Matthew 1:20b-21):

“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (NLT)

When the angel said “you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins,” he was referring to the meaning of the name Jesus. Jesus in Hebrew is Y’shua, which means “Jehovah saves.”

Another cost was the stigma that she would carry in her village for the rest of her life, since the people didn’t know about the work of God in her. She would live with a cloud over her the rest of her life because of this “questionable” pregnancy.

Probably the most serious cost was the indescribable grief she bore 33 years after Jesus’ birth. She watched her Son being beaten by the Roman soldiers, being paraded through the streets carrying a cross, being mocked as a criminal by the people along the way, and then she watched as he died an agonizing death on that terrible cross.

(As a parenthetical statement, this suffering by Mary at the cross in no way makes her co-redemptrix along with Jesus, as some in the Roman Catholic Church claim. Only God can redeem the human race once for all, not any one mere mortal. Claiming her as co-redemptrix is heresy of the worst kind and detracts from the finished work of Christ on the cross. Moreover, there is nothing in the Bible that even hints at such a thing – quite the opposite.)

2. Benefits of Obedience

But the benefits of her obedience still outweighed the costs. She mentioned a number of those benefits in her song of praise. For example, she said in Luke 1:46-48a (NRSV): “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.” She had the joy and gratification of being in God’s will and bearing the Messiah, the dream of every Jewish girl.

She also said in Luke 1:48b-49 (NRSV): “Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.” She has been honored throughout the generations, because God did great things for her and thru her as a result of her obedience.

Application to You and Me

This is a season of giving, but we don’t often think of giving of ourselves. Yet out of love God gave of himself by coming to earth, and Mary gave of herself when she agreed to take on the job of being Jesus’ mother. The giving of ourselves can be the best love gift to people, and it is surely the best gift we can offer to God. British missionary William Carey’s famous quote is meaningful to those who have received a calling from God or who are facing a challenge. His quote is: “Expect great things from God, attempt great things for God.”

Like Mary and Joseph, we may be called by God to walk a path that we never expected, and may seem impossible to us. Sometimes those paths involve facing challenges that seem impossible or even unbearable, and we wonder how we will get through them. That’s when we have to remember what the angel said to Mary, “For nothing will be impossible with God.” (Luke 1:37, NRSV)

We are to listen for God, obey God, and then depend on God. All this involves trusting in God and his promises, expecting great things from God, and then attempting great things for God in the power of the Holy Spirit. Let the example of Mary help you to live a life of obedience and trust in God.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Banker’s Greed

It is generally understood that the financial crisis, which caused the economic crisis, resulted from bankers taking unwise risks and making loans to unqualified borrowers. Until the financial crash, these bankers were getting paid huge compensation packages based on earnings that were a house of cards and a disaster waiting to happen.

The government had to provide relief and pump money into a bankrupt system for the good of the country. Despite the purpose of this relief (or “bail out”) package the banks aren’t lending. There are reports that people who want to buy cars can’t because they can’t get a car loan. So it looks as if these greedy and incompetent bankers took the government money and are either sitting on it or using it to make acquisitions. So much for the welfare of the people.

This is a moral lesson. First, the greed and poor judgment of some can cause tremendous hardship on others. Secondly, such people aren’t trustworthy, so there must be stringent conditions, monitoring, regulations, and reporting when you give such people large sums of money. Their behavior is further proof of the depravity of people, who without God in their lives don’t know how to conduct themselves properly. All this happened fast, so I don’t blame the government as much as I blame the crooks on Wall Street. I believe they must be held accountable very quickly, or face severe punishment.

You don’t believe me when I talk about depravity? Look at the governor of Illinois, or Bernie Madoff. While they are rather spectacular examples, many people are engaged in much smaller but nevertheless dishonest dealings of some sort or another. We as a nation are trying to get rid of God, but when you do, you can see what happens. There is no moral compass, no Higher Authority. We are left to our own devices, and it isn’t a pretty picture.

Having said all this, I believe that the lending institutions must give loans only to qualified borrowers. While some people may be complaining to the media that they can’t get a car loan, what we don’t know is that they might have $10,000 in credit card debt and a huge mortgage. Some people have overextended themselves so much that they simply aren’t even remotely qualified for a loan.

We have to get rid of the notion of instant gratification, and accept delayed gratification. We buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t even like! Let’s get back to those old fashioned principles, which work the best. My prayer is that this country will turn back to God, not making it a theocracy, but that more people will go to church or synagogue, and learn about God and His ways, which are always the best.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Gay Reaction to Rick Warren

I was dismayed with the reaction of some gay activists at President-elect Obama’s choice of Rev. Rick Warren to do the invocation at his inauguration. I saw an interview on TV with one activist who said nothing by lies about Warren. Several points to consider on this:

1. The GLBT folks will have an ally in the White House. Why act up (if you’ll pardon the pun) over such a trivial matter? Let it go.

2. Warren is giving a prayer, not a lecture on homosexuality. This isn’t a cabinet appointment either, but a 30 second prayer.

3. Gays want rights, but are willing to suppress the rights of others. This is the height of intolerance, especially when you spread lies about a person. Practice what you preach.

4. While Rick Warren adheres to the clear teachings of both the Old Testament and the New regarding the practice of homosexuality, he isn’t some hate-filled zealot. He is tolerant (unlike some of the gay activists I’ve seen on TV), works on AIDS projects, and is somebody you can have dialog with.

5. Rick Warren is of the belief, as are many Christians, that all people, including GLBT, are people of worth and must be treated as such. While they may believe the practice of homosexuality is wrong according to the Holy Scriptures, that in no way diminishes a homosexual person as a creation of God. At the same time, there is a dichotomy. Because God instituted marriage as between a man and a woman, Christians can’t recognize same-sex “marriage” as a matter of conscience. Many Christians can, however, agree with a civil union, not as sanctifying a gay relationship, but purely for legal reasons. What gays and their supporters need to understand is the “people of worth vs. Scriptures” tension that Christians face. We didn’t write the Scriptures, but believe they were inspired by God. Therefore, we can’t abandon clear scriptural teachings to accommodate the gay agenda.

6. As Obama has said, we can agree to disagree without being disagreeable. If you claim “tolerance” as a cardinal virtue, how about practicing it yourself? Why not take the high road and gain people’s respect, rather than taking the low road and hurt your cause?

I hope that those with agendas will conduct themselves in a more civil fashion and allow people of faith to exercise their rights to practice their religion and have free speech.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Thoughts on Advent and the Second Coming

Advent is, of course, a time of preparation for Christmas, which is the celebration of God coming to earth in human form. It helps to be spiritually and emotionally prepared for the holiday. When we’re spiritually and emotionally prepared, we will have the right attitude and can truly appreciate the meaning of the season.

The purpose of the Advent season is to focus on Jesus’ First Coming on Christmas Day 2,000 years ago and what it means to us. But during Advent we should also consider a future event involving Jesus: his Second Coming to earth. None of us were around for the first coming, but it is possible that some of us could still be living when Jesus returns again – we just don’t know. So it is important for us to understand the Second Coming and why it is an important part of our faith.

Why Important

Some people find the End Times frightening, and there are some scary aspects to it. However, the Second Coming of Christ is good news to those who are Christians when he comes to bring his own to him. Mainly, the Second Coming gives people of faith hope. Hope about what?

Hope in that we know how it all will end – we know the ending of the story and the good guys win. It gives us hope in that the rest of the messianic prophecies will be fulfilled at Jesus’ Second Coming, proving that our faith has not been in vain. It gives us hope in that God’s justice will triumph. Finally, it gives us hope in that God’s plan will reach its complete fulfillment in the End Times As we say in our communion liturgy, we look forward to that day when we can feast at Christ’s heavenly banquet.

Why Talk about the Second Coming?

Some may ask, “Why talk about the Second Coming? Many think it will be far into the future, or there will be adequate warning for them to repent. We don’t know the timing, but we should always be prepared to meet Jesus in whatever way it will happen.

Jesus came the first time to accomplish some specific goals, mainly to set us free from the penalty of our sins. His work on the cross allows us to become children of God, adopted members of his household, if we so choose. When we make Jesus our Lord and Savior and accept what he did on the cross for us, we also receive the Holy Spirit to work within us. Then we truly become the clay and allow God to be the potter, molding us and making us into the kind of people we are supposed to be.

Regarding the First Coming of Jesus, the Apostle Paul writes in Galatians 4:4-5:

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. NRSV

At his Second Coming, Jesus will complete God’s plan by putting Satan where he belongs, and restoring the earth to the way it was supposed to be. At that time, the world will recognize Jesus for who he is, as the Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 2:10-11:

At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. NLT

What a great day that will be! We don’t know when the “fullness of time” will be for the Second Coming, so that’s why we should always be prepared and ready. Whether we view it from heaven or the earth, it will be a glorious time. God’s plan will be completely fulfilled, and we will be in the presence of Christ himself forever, as we read in Revelation 21:3-4:

“See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” NRSV

So let us not forget the joy of Jesus’ Second Coming even as we celebrate his first coming on Christmas. Let us also keep in mind what a tremendous gift God gave us on that first Christmas day. Let us also not get so caught up in the frenzy of the holiday that we forget why we are celebrating it. And if you are feeling down this holiday season, remember the hopeful words and prayer in the last two verses of the Bible, Revelation 22:20-21:

He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. NIV

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Keys to Success

Want to get some good hints on bringing up your children? See the following article:

Children have fewer problems at school and home when they live with their biological parents and frequently attend religious services, according to a study released today by the Family Research Council's Mapping America Project.

Among their findings: children in this group are five times less likely to repeat a grade, less likely to have behavior problems at home and school, and are more likely to be cooperative and understanding of others' feelings. Parents of these children report less stress, healthier parent-child relationships and fewer concerns about their children's achievement.
From, 12/16/08. © 2008, Focus on the Family Action.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Spend Less, Give More

The results of a new study show that, while most Americans plan to spend less on Christmas presents this year, almost half are now more likely to give to charitable organizations.

A World Vision survey, which was conducted by Harris Interactive, reveals that seven in ten adults (71%) will spend less on Christmas gifts this year, but almost half (49%) said they are now more likely to give to a charity. The study also shows that only 36 percent of U.S. adults say they really need anything as a Christmas gift, while 57 percent say that they still want something. Four in five adults (84%) say they would rather receive a gift that was helpful to others than a personal traditional gift, such as clothing or electronics.

A recent study by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University reports that total charitable giving has increased in 39 of the last 40 years — even during times of recession. Americans donate about $295 billion to charity each year, with about a third — $97 billion — going to religious organizations. On average, Christians give 2.5 percent of their income to churches. [,] from The Pastor’s Weekly Briefing, 11/20/08, © 2008 Focus on the Family

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Fighting the Wrong Battles – Part 2

Based on what I wrote in Part 1 of this two-part series, you may be wondering what will happen to society if we stop promoting our social causes. I’m not sure, but I suspect that no matter what Christians do, our multi-cultural, diverse, and largely secular society will do what it wants. If society at large views gay marriage a something desirable, then it will happen so matter how much Christians try to prevent it. If society feels civil unions are better, then that will happen. Why should Christians spend millions of dollars to fight gay marriage or civil unions when the money could be put to better use evangelizing, feeding the poor, and helping the needy?

On the other side of the coin, why should Christians promote certain social causes that are really more of a legal issue than anything else? Why should Christians be fighting for gay marriage, even if they view it as a fairness issue? There are many other “fairness” issues that are mostly ignored yet involve a much larger percent of the population and that more people could agree on. Why does this one issue take up a disproportionate amount of time, effort, and money? It is especially questionable when you read the prohibitions of homosexual behavior in the Bible. Aren’t those Christians promoting gay rights and abortion really buying into a secular worldview in which God’s prohibitions are ignored?

Christians, let’s get our priorities straight! Let’s stop fighting and start bringing more people to faith in Christ. As more people follow Christ, these social issues will take care of themselves. Let’s stop being politically correct and start obeying Christ’s command to go and make disciples. Let’s stop being so theologically correct and have more concern for people’s eternal destiny. Right now, thanks to this divisiveness, the Church is largely ineffective, seriously divided, and is regarded by many as irrelevant.

I’m sure my proposals have annoyed more than a few people, but I believe what we’re doing now isn’t working. The Church is divided, resources are being wasted, and society isn’t being transformed. We should be in the business of transforming lives and saving souls, not fighting for or against gay marriage and the like. Let’s get back on track and move forward as one, holy, catholic and apostolic church, doing God’s work of converting the world, one person at a time. Then I believe God will bless our work and the Church will once again be relevant, effective, and thriving.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Fighting the Wrong Battles – Part 1

I have come to the conclusion that most Christians, unless they are completely on the sidelines, are fighting the wrong battles. I know some will disagree with me, but hear me out.

Those on the left spend an enormous amount of time and energy fighting on behalf of social issues such as gay ordination, gay marriage, pro choice, anti capital punishment, and other favorite left wing causes. I ask, shouldn’t those battles be better left to secular folks? All you are doing is dividing the Church in the United States.

Those on the right spend an enormous amount of time and energy fighting against the pressures from the left to redefine marriage as something other than between a man and a woman, against gay ordination, against unrestrained abortion rights, and other favorite right wing causes. I ask, shouldn’t these battles, except as they impact the Church directly (such as gay ordination) or the free practice of religion, be better left to the secular folks?

Why shouldn’t Christians be engaged in these social struggles? After all, aren’t they really moral issues? Yes, they are moral issues, but I believe the Church is called to a higher calling.

The higher calling of the church is to go and make disciples. We haven’t been doing that. The mainline denominations have been losing members at an alarming rate. Why? Because we’ve taken our eyes off the ball. Instead of making disciples, we’ve been engaged in fighting among ourselves over these issues. We’ve demonized those on the other side of an issue, and have seriously split the Church. What did Jesus say about a house divided? He said in Mark 3:25: “And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.” We see that happening right now in the Church.

So what should the Church be doing? Evangelizing! Bringing people to Christ. Transforming lives one person at a time. If we change one person at a time through the power of the Holy Spirit, pretty soon the nation will change and will be more in keeping with God’s principles and not being guided by worldly principles. Look at the early church. The Apostles didn’t set out to reform the decadent Roman Empire, but its priority was to make disciples. We should be doing the same. Eventually a self-indulgent Roman Empire turned to Christ and was transformed. The same thing can happen here.

Christendom, such as it is, can either continue to slide into the post-Christian era as the Church bickers within itself and is distracted and weakened by these peripheral battles, or the Church can commit to making disciples and reverse the trend towards humanism and secularism. So let’s stop fighting the wrong battles, and work for transformation.

More on this topic in a future post.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

How Do We Know the Bible Is True? (Part 3)

This post is a continuation of my discussion on the truth of the Bible.

Differing Interpretations

The Bible is the most studied book in the history of the world, but has also been subject to differing interpretations, especially in the last 150 years or so. These differing interpretations have added to the confusion and the controversies surrounding the Bible. For millennia, the Bible has generally been understood in light of Church tradition, which has been handed down from the Apostles. Many of these traditional interpretations were written down by the early church fathers, who had received them orally from those who learned from the Apostles.

Today, we see the Bible being misinterpreted to fit various social or personal agendas. Clear teachings are distorted using a smokescreen of scholarly language, so as to make the Bible politically correct, but not theologically correct. Along those same lines, we see scholars deconstructing the Bible, creating doubts about its truth. In addition, verses have been taken out of context to fit doctrines which really aren’t biblical. So no wonder the Bible is so controversial and people can find it confusing. Yet the Bible is, for the most part, clearly written and easy to understand when you take time to study it and you have the Holy Spirit guiding you.

Why Should We Care?

Regardless of how we might define “true” regarding the Bible, why should we even care about whether or not it is true? We should care for the following reasons:

·Our faith is based on it.

·We understand God through it.

·We have guidelines for living in it.

·We have some idea of the future based on it.

·We learn about Jesus, our Savior, by the Gospels in it.

What, then, are the ramifications for not believing the Bible is true?

¨If we don’t believe the Bible is true, then we don’t have a code of morality that is higher than ourselves, and anything goes.

¨If we don’t believe the Bible is true, then we have no basis for understanding God, life, the world, and the spiritual realm.

¨If we don’t believe the Bible is true, then we are missing out on the way to salvation, placing our eternal destiny at risk.

¨If we don’t believe the Bible is true, then we have no foundation for a relationship with God through Jesus.

Those are the reasons why we should believe the Bible is true and then study it to deepen our faith.


There is much more in the study book about the Bible, and I encourage you to read it to strengthen your faith in what God tells us through the Scriptures. The message of the Bible will transform your life, and it will also:

·alter your view of the world;
·change your patterns of relating to God and other people;
·change your values and ethics;
·change your view of history and world events;
·and it will change your opinion of eternity.

With all this discussion about the Bible, let me end with a word of warning. I believe some people elevate the Bible too high, making their veneration of the Scriptures a form of idolatry. There’s even a word for making the Bible into some sort of idol: bibliolatry. The Bible is a vehicle for transmitting God’s truth to us, using human agents. Jesus was both divine and human, so he had both divine and human traits. Some raise the Bible above even Jesus, giving it all divine traits and little or no human attributes.

The Bible was inspired by God and written by humans. Let’s not forget both sides of that equation. Since the Bible tells the story of Jesus, reveals God to us, and gives us God’s guidance and standards for living, let’s commit to study it regularly. I encourage you to join a study group, and delve deeper into the Scriptures. It will be very rewarding, and you will be blessed.

Note: Some material in this post was based on the book The God Questions by Hal Seed and Dan Grider, published by Outreach Publishing, © 2007

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

How Do We Know the Bible Is True? (Part 2)

This post is a continuation of the earlier discussion about the truth of the Bible.

Various Views of the Bible

The Bible is probably the most controversial book ever written, and there is quite the range of opinions about it. Let’s look at a few of them.

1. Bible Is Mythology

At one end of the spectrum, some say the Old Testament is just one culture’s mythology and code of laws, nothing more. They claim the Bible is just like the stories other societies have about their gods and creation, such as the Greek, Roman, and Norse mythology. They say the Ten Commandments and other laws in the Bible are just one culture’s expression of their moral code, which doesn’t necessarily apply to us.

Regarding the New Testament, these doubters claim that the stories about Jesus have been grossly exaggerated. They say these stories of Jesus take on mythical properties similar to stories of King Arthur and Robin Hood. These skeptics would say Jesus is not the Savior of the world and the Son of God who performed many miracles, including rising from the dead.

2. Bible Is Literally God’s Word

At the other end of the spectrum you have those who believe the Bible should be taken literally, and is without any kind of error in its original manuscripts. They claim that through the years, some factual errors have crept in, but nothing that compromises the overall truth of God’s Word.

3. Bible Contains God’s Truth

In between there is a wide range of opinions concerning the Bible. As Christians, we don’t believe the Bible is mythology, but understand it to be God’s inspired Word, which reveals to us some important information:

·We see God’s interactions with his people thru the historical narrative;

·We see God’s revelation of himself using various literary forms;

·We see Prophecy, much of which has already been fulfilled;

·We learn God’s standards for our behavior and God’s expectations of us;

·We learn the story of Jesus and how he is the Savior of the world and God’s fullest revelation of himself.

While we may believe the Bible contains God’s truth, there is still the problem of interpreting the Bible to discern that truth.

More on the Bible in a future post.

Note: Some material in this post was based on the book The God Questions by Hal Seed and Dan Grider, published by Outreach Publishing, © 2007

Monday, November 10, 2008

Pandering to the Left

If you are a social conservative, there is one thing you must be prepared for, and that is something I mentioned in my earlier blogs about Obama. That is, Obama will pass some laws early in his presidency to pander to certain left-wing special interest groups. There are at least three areas where I suspect we will see immediate action:

Abortion: Obama said, “The first thing I’d do as president is sign the Freedom of Choice Act.” That bill could wipe out every abortion restriction in state and federal law and result in an increase in abortions each year in America. The number of abortions has declined during the last few years.

Same-Sex Marriage: Obama has pledged to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) signed by President Clinton in 1996. Overturning DOMA will force every state without a constitutional amendment or specific state law protecting traditional marriage to recognize same-sex marriages.

Hate Crimes: Freedom of religious expression may be hindered if the gay lobby’s two top bills, hate crimes and Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA), become law. A veto threat is all that has stopped them before, and Obama has said he will sign them.

With a Democrat-controlled Congress and a liberal Democrat as president, we will see significant changes with respect to these social issues. If you don’t want to see these laws enacted, then let your Senators and Congressman know. If they receive enough mail on the subject, they will be less inclined to vote for them or at least they may water them down somewhat.

As I mentioned in earlier blogs, pray for this country, and pray that the new administration will be guided by God.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Why Did Obama Win?

There has been a lot of discussion in the media as to why Obama won and not McCain. I think there is validity to much of what they have been saying, although I believe Obama’s victory can not be attributed to just one major factor or any particular group. Below is a list of those things contributing to his victory and the victory of many Democrats over Republicans in the House and Senate races.

Republicans Unpopular: the do-nothing Republican Congresses and a wildly unpopular and incompetent president were major factors. But we can’t blame Bush entirely.

People Want Change: Because Washington hasn’t accomplished much for many years and politicians are more interested in their own welfare and the good of the party over caring about the people who elected them, the people want “change.” The current office-holders had better understand what “change” means, or they will be voted out too.

Economic Problems: Although the current economic problems are the result of years of mismanagement and neglect, the current president was blamed by many for the problem. Since McCain is a Republican, it is guilt by association.

The Campaigns: Obama ran a brilliant campaign, while McCain’s campaign was lacking (where was Karl Rove when they needed him?) He was not the same McCain we knew from only a few years ago, and Gov. Palin’s handlers did a terrible job with her.

McCain’s Judgment Questioned: His selection of a relatively unknown, Gov. Palin, called into question his judgment.

Age vs. Race: McCain’s age was against him, while Obama’s race wasn’t a major factor for many whites (although he certainly lost some white votes, but that was made up by the African-Americans who voted for him primarily because he is black).

Charisma: Obama has Kennedy-esque charisma, while McCain wasn’t particularly inspiring. I remember the 1960 election, and JFK was an inspiring speaker whose rhetoric produced hope and optimism.

Republicans Perceived as Out of Touch: If the Republicans don’t cooperate with the Democrats and instead act as obstructionists in matters of grave importance to the future of this country, they will lose even more seats in the next election.

All of these produced the “perfect storm” for the Democrats. Let’s pray that the Democrats will be effective in solving this country’s problems, and will no longer pander to the special interests. The people must come first! If they continue with business as usual in Washington, then vote the bums out. Eventually our politicians will get the message.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

President of All?

Some people have worried that because Obama’s voting record leans far to the left, he would be a president for the Liberals more than president for all. Of course we don’t know how the Obama presidency will shape up, but from the way he talks, he will be a president for all. Let’s hope so.

Need Effective Solutions

As I mentioned in my earlier blog on the subject, I believe he will take care of the noisiest part of his base in his first 100 days. This will get them off his back for the time being, and he will then be able to concentrate on fixing many of the problems this country faces. Let’s hope his solutions to our problems are effective and consistent with American values. He will have to remember that we aren’t Europe, so European solutions won’t work here.

It’ll Take Time

Bear in mind two things. First, the president is limited in what he can accomplish. He needs a cooperative Congress, for one thing, and Congress can be notoriously ineffective. Secondly, these problems are the result of years of neglect and mismanagement. Some of these problems will take years to get resolved. Don’t expect all of our problems to go away overnight. A quick fix, even if possible, most likely won’t be a good long-term solution.

New Era

I’m also hoping that the Obama presidency will usher in a new era of racial harmony. When whites see an African-American president who goes against the ugly stereotypes we have built up over the years, then maybe opinions will change. When blacks see an African-American president elected by a significant majority of the population and admired by many whites, maybe their resentment and anger will diminish, and true healing can take place. The tears of joy in the eyes of my African-American friends testify that a new era may be dawning. Let’s hope so.


As I mentioned in my earlier blog, pray for this new administration, for this new congress, and for our country as a whole. Pray that relations between the races will improve, and that color will no longer be an issue. Pray that this country will return to the values that made it great, and that those with a Christian background will return to the faith of their fathers. Without God in the equation, success is doubtful. Pray without ceasing.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Historical Times, Historical Election

These are certainly historical times, and this has been an historical election. We have the first African-American as president-elect, something I didn’t think I would see in my lifetime.

The Obama Presidency

Obama is an intelligent man and I believe he is smart enough to surround himself with the best people. He has seen in George Bush what it looks like to fail miserably as president, and I don’t think he wants something like that as his legacy. I don’t think he is as ideologically-driven as some in Washington, although in his first 100 days he will take care of some of his special interest supporters such as gays, abortion rights people, environmentalists, and maybe labor. Nevertheless, I think he realizes he is the president of all the people, not just those on the left and the special interests. Once someone is in office, they often tend to drift towards the middle, where most of their constituents are.

I believe Obama will be starting his presidency with a lot of political capital on the international scene. If he uses it wisely, he can establish better relations throughout the world. We need to get back into right relationship with our European allies, and work effectively with Russia, moderate Islamic leaders, and other nations. He will have to build coalitions among interested nations to deal with hot spots such as Iran and North Korea, not to mention Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The People Have Spoken

In the 2006 election and again last night, the people spoke loudly. They threw out the do nothing Republicans, who squandered a great opportunity to actually accomplish something in Washington. Although they were hindered by certain Democrats, such as Tom Daschle, they still could have worked out compromises. Now a lot has to get done in a short time, and I think both Obama and Congress realize that they had better perform. If they don’t conduct the people’s business and address many of the problems facing this country, they will be voted out. No more business and usual. I think that’s what people meant when they talked about “change.” More power to the people!

In God We Trust

I urge you to pray for the president and the congress, that God will give them wisdom to make the right decisions, that they will put aside petty partisanship and ideological differences and fix what’s wrong with this country, and that they won’t be influenced by the special interests. Pray also that you and I don’t think our salvation rests with a new president, a better congress, more government programs, or anything else but God and God alone. Only God, working through human intermediaries, can move this country and the world in better directions.

Do Your Part

Let me also remind you that the responsibility does not rest only with our government officials, but with every citizen. We must participate in the political process by holding our officials accountable, and making sacrifices ourselves. Get involved in your kid’s school, don’t buy a gas-guzzling vehicle, begin to save some money, help a neighbor in need, contribute to charitable organizations, and pray for our country.

May God bless this country and its new administration.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

How Do We Know the Bible Is True? (Part 1)

Another question people have is, “Is the Bible true?” A related question could be, “How can we know the Bible is true?” A further question might be, “Why should we even care whether or not the Bible is true?”

Defining “True”

To answer the question, “Why should we care whether or not the Bible is true?” we should first define what we mean by the word “true.” Let’s look at three different possibilities.

1. True Means Without Factual Error

Some understand “true” to mean that the Bible is without any kind of error. This would mean all historical information is accurate and all facts and figures are correct.

2. True Means Take It Literally

Some understand “true” to mean the Bible is to be taken literally. This interpretation of “true” would mean, for example, that you must believe the world was created in six 24-hour days, not over eons.

3. True Means It Contains Absolute Truth

Still others understand “true” to mean that the Bible may not always be factually correct or literally true, but it does contain absolute truth from God. In other words, the various forms of literature contained in the Bible convey absolute truth about God, about the world, about God’s will, about morality. In my opinion, you can believe the Bible contains absolute truth without taking everything in it literally or claiming it is factually correct in every historical detail. Using the creation example, you can believe God created the world over eons, not six literal days, as long as you believe God created everything out of nothing.

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, avoided this whole debate about the Bible by saying simply, “The Bible contains all that is necessary for salvation.” And when you think about it, that’s the bottom line, the salvation of our souls.

More on the Bible in a future post.

Note: Some material in this post was based on the book The God Questions by Hal Seed and Dan Grider, published by Outreach Publishing, © 2007

Monday, November 3, 2008

Is God Real? (Part 2)

In this post I am continuing a discussion about how we can be sure of the existence of God. Three reasons were given in an earlier post.

4. Jesus

The fourth reason we can believe God is real is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Colossians 1:15a tells us that: [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God. NRSV

Hebrews 1:3 says something similar:

[Jesus] is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. NRSV

While we generally consider God to be invisible and distant, God actually made himself visible and close to us in the form of Jesus. We know that Jesus is God because of all the miracles he performed, including raising the dead and his own Resurrection. So the divinity of Jesus is proof that there is a God, because we have seen him.

5. Personal Experience of God

Another reason we can believe God exists is our personal experience of God. What has come to be called The Wesleyan Quadrilateral looks at ways we can know God. The four sides of the quadrilateral are the Bible, Tradition, Reason, and Experience. So we can know God exists by our own personal experiences, and the testimonies of others. Think about the stories you have read or heard about how God worked in people’s lives. Think about your own experiences and how God has worked in your life. Unless we are willing to write off just about everything in life as luck, coincidence, or fate, we have to believe that God is active in our lives. As I look back even to my days as an unbeliever, I can clearly see God’s hand in my life in many different ways.

6. Logic and Reason

Another one of the sides of the Quadrilateral is Reason, and that is another way we can know of God’s existence. God, of course, can’t be adequately explained or proved by science, reason or logic, because God isn’t natural – God is super-natural (above or beyond nature). Nevertheless, by using reason and logical thinking, we can deduce the existence of a Supreme Being. For example:

·A creation requires a creator.
·An intelligent design requires an intelligent designer.
·Our inborn morality indicates a giver of standards who is higher than ourselves.
·The evidence of Jesus’ deity is proof that there is a Deity.
·Personal experience tells me there is a God who loves me and is active in my life.

While the existence of God can’t be proven scientifically, we know that logic, reason, experience and the Bible show us that there is a God. This is a God, not of our own making, but one who is above us and can be difficult for us mere mortals to understand. As a matter of fact, if God were easy to understand, then he really wouldn’t be God, would he? That’s another proof, in a way.


In conclusion, just about every society and culture in the history of the world has believed in and worshipped some sort of Supreme Being. God has put into all human beings some knowledge of himself and his moral standards. We as Christians believe God’s fullest revelation of himself is in Jesus Christ. Yet while on the earth Jesus was rejected by many – especially by those who should have known better – and he continues to be rejected today. So we have to realize that these five arguments for the existence of God will not convince somebody who has a closed mind on the subject – as some do. As Psalm 14:1a tells us: Fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.” NRSV

Nevertheless, it is yours and my job to share the truth with people as God gives us the opportunities, because some may be genuinely searching for answers. Remember, we can’t judge who will be receptive and who won’t, so we should just go ahead and share our faith when we can. To do that, we have to be prepared. We also have to be prepared for rejection and closed minds, but remember, we aren’t responsible for success – that’s God’s business. People aren’t rejecting you – they are rejecting God. We are to be open to God’s leading, so when God presents us with an opportunity, we should respond to it in obedience. And to respond effectively, we have to be equipped.

Note: Some material in this post was based on the book The God Questions by Hal Seed and Dan Grider, published by Outreach Publishing, © 2007

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Trials and Tribulations – Part 4

This is the last in a series of posts on suffering and evil. It continues with some suggestions for coping with trials when they come our way. Note that some material in this post was based on the book The God Questions by Hal Seed and Dan Grider, published by Outreach Publishing, © 2007

3. God Helps Us

Third, remember God is with you and will help you through your trials. Jesus said he will give us peace, and he is more powerful than this world:

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NIV)

Jesus promised always to be with us in Matthew 28:20b: “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” NRSV

Jesus told us he is with us in the form of the Holy Spirit to help us get through life:

"And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.” (John 14:16-18, NRSV)

4. God Brings Good Out of Adversity

Fourth, remember that God can and does bring good out of any adversity, as we read in Romans 8:28:

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. NRSV

Joseph said to his brothers in Genesis 50:20:

"Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today." NRSV

5. Keep the Eternal Perspective

Finally, remember that we are on this earth for a very short time, and then we have all eternity to be in the presence of God, where there is no more sorrow. The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 8:18:

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.

He said something similar in 2 Corinthians 4:17-18:

For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal. NRSV

The Apostle Peter wrote in 1 Peter 1:3-6:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials… NRSV


In conclusion, suffering is never easy, and it usually tests our faith. Hopefully this series of posts has helped you in some way. One of the best ways to deal with difficult times is to be mentally, emotionally, and spiritually prepared for them. That’s what this series of posts was intended to do.

Some life events are truly devastating, and it is impossible to adequately prepare for them. But our faith in God and his provision, understanding the causes of evil, and remembering that God loves us can help us when those terrible times come. As additional words of encouragement, let me end by reading this passage from 1 Peter 5:9-11:

[Be] steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the power forever and ever. Amen. NRSV

Monday, October 20, 2008

Is God Real? (Part 1)

How do we know God is real? We’ll look at six ways we can see proof of God’s existence. Some material in this post was based on the book The God Questions by Hal Seed and Dan Grider, published by Outreach Publishing, © 2007

1. The Existence of the Universe

The first way we know God is real is by the existence of the universe. That’s because an orderly, diverse, and complex universe points clearly to an eternal and self-sufficient Creator. If something exists, then we have to ask, “How did it get here?” The obvious answer is, “Somebody made it.” Everything is dependent on something or someone else for its existence. Genesis 1:1-2 tells us that God created the heavens and the earth:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. NIV

Even if you believe in the Big Bang theory, all that matter had to come from somewhere. If you go back far enough, you still come to God.

2. Intelligent Designer

The second reason that we can say God is real is what we might call the evidence of an Intelligent Designer. Every design reflects its designer, and the universe is no different. The order of the universe, and the complexity and diversity of creation certainly reflect God. Psalm 19:1 says: The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. NRSV

In my opinion, it is incredibly naïve to believe all of this “just happened” and the complex human body is the result of random mutations. We may not know precisely how God did it, but we can agree with Psalm 102:25, which proclaims to God:

Long ago you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. NRSV

So the very nature of creation clearly points to the existence of God as the grand designer, as we read in Romans 1:19-20a (NRSV):

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made.

When you exclude the Creator from the creation, you have done yourself and God a terrible disservice.

3. Morality: The Creator’s Standard

The next reason why we can believe that God exists is the fact that there is such a thing as morality and conscience. A moral Creator put his standard for behavior in us, and that standard has been imbedded in every human being. It is called conscience, and it essentially reflects the Ten Commandments. In just about every culture, at least until they became decadent, people have followed the Ten Commandments even though they were unknown to them. We read in Romans 2:15a:

They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, to which their own conscience also bears witness… NRSV

God put this morality in us as a way for us to have peace, harmony, and security, and to live in an orderly society. Think what life would be like if everybody disregarded the Ten Commandments and lived violent, self-centered, immoral, and unethical lives. There would be fear, chaos, and anarchy, and nobody could be trusted. But God instilled in us these standards, and spelled them out in the Bible to insure that if we follow them, we will have a better life, as we read in Romans 8:5-6:

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. NRSV

More on this subject of the existence of God in a future post.

Note: Some material in this post was based on the book The God Questions by Hal Seed and Dan Grider, published by Outreach Publishing, © 2007

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Trials and Tribulations – Part 3

This is a continuation of a series of posts on suffering. After looking at the types of suffering and the causes of suffering, we’ll take a look at why there is suffering and evil at all. Note that some material in this post was based on the book The God Questions by Hal Seed and Dan Grider, published by Outreach Publishing, © 2007

Why Is There Suffering?

You may ask, why didn’t God create a world that didn’t have these kinds of problems – a perfect world.

1. The Garden of Eden

The answer is, God did create a perfect world without disease, sorrow, or death. But Adam and Eve failed the test, and all of creation became imperfect and subject to these kinds of evils as a result. To get back into a Garden of Eden-type of place called heaven, we have to first pass through this imperfect world and accept what Jesus offers us. What Jesus offers us is the opportunity to have a better life here and eternal life in heaven because he restores us back to our rightful position with God. The earth will still be imperfect, but followers of Jesus enjoy fellowship with God and God’s help and guidance in getting thru this life.

2. God Didn’t Create Evil

We have to realize that God didn’t create evil, but did create the potential for evil by giving us free will. As free agents, we have choices and we can make either good or bad decisions. Therefore, I don’t think we can blame God when bad things happen. Also, I don’t think that God has singled us out for severe punishment when we are going through a tough time (although it may feel that way). God isn’t saying, “I think I’ll squash so-and-so today and really make her life miserable. But God can use whatever bad things come our way for good, if we let him.

How Do We Cope?

How, then, do we cope with bad circumstances when they come? Everybody has different coping mechanisms, but let me give a few suggestions:

1. We are on Earth, Not in Heaven

First, remember that we are still on earth, not in heaven, and terrible things happen here, but God is with us through them as we read in John 16:33:

(Jesus said) “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” NLT

2. May Never Understand Why

Second, remember that we can’t always understand why these things are happening, often because there is no logical reason. Keep in mind the words of Proverbs 3:5-7:

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. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil. NIV

More on how to cope with suffering in a future post.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Trials and Tribulations – Part 2

This is a continuation of my discussion on suffering. This is especially topical because of the current financial crisis. I hope what I write here will help you in some way to deal with whatever you are going through right now, whether it is a financial problem, a terrible diagnosis, recent loss of a loved one, or some other tragedy. See the earlier post for the introduction to this series. Note that some material in this post was based on the book The God Questions by Hal Seed and Dan Grider, published by Outreach Publishing, © 2007

Causes of Suffering

In an earlier post we looked at the three kinds of suffering: physical, emotional, and spiritual. Now we’ll briefly look at the causes of suffering, and knowing these causes may help us to cope with trials when they come. In general we can say that suffering results from evil. There are two types of evil at work in the world: moral and natural.

1. Moral Evil: My Actions

There are two different causes of suffering within the category of moral evil. The first cause is what you and I do that can result in our own suffering. Generally there are consequences to our actions. If we do something that could be harmful, we will probably end up hurting ourselves in some way or paying some kind of penalty. Suffering the results of our sinful actions are natural consequences. That’s why God put rules in place – to protect us from those costs.

2. Moral Evil: Other’s Actions

The second cause within moral evil is what others do that affects us. For example, if a drunk driver plows into you, you have suffered as the result of someone else’s sinful actions. Some people make bad choices and unfortunately others may pay the price. With the current financial crisis, many are suffering because of the sinful actions of a few in the financial industry. The result is that those affected are angry, bitter, and resentful, and our sense of justice demands that those responsible must be punished.

3. Natural Evil: Nobody’s Fault

The third cause is what is called natural evil, and these are the things that happen because we live in an imperfect world. We are subject to the laws and forces of nature, so we have hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, and disease.

More on the topic of suffering and evil in a future post.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Trials and Tribulations – Part 1


With the current financial crisis, people are asking more than ever, why there is suffering in the world. Why do these bad things happen? Put another way, we often ask, how can a good God permit so much evil? That is a question everybody has in one form or another. It is certainly a topical issue, because the level of suffering in the world has increased significantly in the past few weeks because of the economic crisis.

The current economic crisis continues to get worse by the day. Very few people and very few countries have been left untouched. We’re hearing about stock market declines and bank failures in Brazil, England, Germany, France, Russia, China, Japan, Hong Kong, India, and even little Iceland. There isn’t a person reading this who hasn’t been affected in some way or another by this financial crisis.

Using this financial crisis as a backdrop, I’m going to discuss the issue of suffering. Before I get started, I want to say that no matter how much we to try to explain suffering, any explanation is small comfort to those who are going through a trial. Explanations may eventually help us to cope, especially as we begin to see God at work in the crisis. By looking analytically at why suffering occurs, I am in no way trivializing what anybody is going through or has endured. What we have are partial answers at best, and they fall far short when somebody is going through a painful period in his or her life.

Please note that some material in this post was based on the book The God Questions by Hal Seed and Dan Grider, published by Outreach Publishing, © 2007

Types of Suffering

It may help us to cope when we understand the different types of suffering. As I see it, there are three types of suffering, and they are all inter-related. Since we consist of body, mind, and spirit, there are three corresponding general types of suffering.

1. Physical Suffering

The first type of suffering is physical in nature. With physical suffering, we tend to think of physical pain. Anybody who has a chronic condition knows that pain can pretty much dominate your life. Other types of physical suffering are loss of mobility, loss of various functions or abilities, and deterioration due to age or disease.

2. Emotional Suffering

Physical pain can often cause the second type of suffering, which is emotional. Other types of emotional suffering are grief over a loss, clinical depression, worry, fear, anxiety, and other forms of emotional distress. When we think of loss, what comes to mind is the death of a loved one. However, there are many other kinds of losses resulting in grief: loss of a job, divorce, broken relationships, financial loss, and loss of independence.

The loss facing just about everybody today is financial loss. Even those who aren’t wealthy have experienced some sort of financial loss, and many are at risk of losing their job if the economy really slows down. Such a financial crisis can result in grief, worry, anxiety, fear, and even anger. It’s in such times when we must look to God for help, because man-made institutions will let us down.

3. Spiritual Suffering

The last type of suffering is spiritual in nature. Spiritual suffering can also cause emotional and even physical anguish. We see spiritual suffering in quite a few places in the Bible. Perhaps the clearest example of spiritual anguish is Our Lord’s agony in the garden, which we read about in Mark 14:32-36

They went to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated. And he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.”
And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. He said, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.”

We see another instance of spiritual torment when Jesus was on the cross:

From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:45-46, NRSV)

How often have you and I felt abandoned by God! You and I have also experienced spiritual suffering when we have carried around a load of guilt; or we haven’t forgiven someone; or we have been burning with hatred, bitterness, or resentment over something. Don’t carry that baggage any longer – turn your hurts over to Jesus.

More on the topic of suffering in a future post.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Can Good Come out of the Crisis?

Many people are facing personal tragedies as a result of the current financial crisis, and even more could be affected if the economy as a whole slows down more. People have lost their house. Plans to retire soon may have to be postponed. Some government programs will be cut back, affecting millions. Some people may be laid off from their job if the economy slows even more. Some people may be forced into bankruptcy. We may go into a multi-year world-wide depression.

Can anything good come out of this mess? God can work things for the good, and here’s some good that could possibly come out of the current economic disaster:

People may turn to God out of desperation, praying “foxhole prayers” for help and committing their lives to God.

The nation may turn around spiritually, looking to God once more as it had for most of its history.

2 Chronicles 7:14: [I]f my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land. NRSV

Revival may come as people become more receptive to the moving of God’s Spirit in their lives.

People may start placing their trust in God, and not in human institutions, materialism, or other worldly things that will let you down.

Psalm 20:7: Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. NIV

I encourage you to turn back to God if you have been distant from him. Now is a good time to recommit your life to God. God may not spare you from the bad effects of the economic situation, but will help you cope with them. God will help you, strengthen you, and give you peace.

Psalms 46:1-3: God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. NIV

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Choosing a President

As in every other presidential election, it is a difficult task to chose a president of the United States. Debates and interviews are artificial and superficial at best. Candidates are long on rhetoric and short on specifics. It’s also amazing what isn’t said, especially concerning the “hot button” issues that are important to those on both the left and the right (such as abortion, gay marriage, hate crimes, etc.) I was unimpressed by last night’s debate (Oct. 7).

Both candidates seem to be men of character. We know McCain is a man of principles and a war hero who has dedicated his life to public service, and votes his conscience. We know Obama is a family man who cares about his wife, kids, and country, and has also spent much of his life in some sort of public service. Therefore, we have to look at where each candidate is coming from in order to make an informed decision.

Obama is definitely “liberal” meaning he subscribes to all the policies and principles followed by the Left. He is pro-choice, against even parental notification, he is for gay marriage, for hate crimes legislation, for more government, and is an internationalist. Joe Biden is also a liberal, and we have both houses of Congress controlled by Democrats. Therefore, if you lean to the Left, Obama-Biden is your team, because between Obama and Congress, the liberal agenda will move forward like it never has before.

McCain isn’t quite as easy to label. He is generally viewed as being a moderate leaning to the Right. He is generally pro-life, against gay marriage, is for less government, and may be less of an internationalist than someone on the Left. Electing McCain might result in a good system of checks and balances, because his veto power would prevent a Congress dominated by Democrats from running amok (as we have seen for the past 10 years or so in California).

I mentioned Obama being an internationalist. What does that mean? It means that he has a broader view that goes beyond just the US. He would most likely be effective in mending fences with our allies, and he views the world more as a global village. Supreme Court justices who are internationalists look to foreign court decisions for precedents, which I believe is not a good thing. Obama would appoint liberal and internationalist justices to the Court, while McCain would most likely appoint more moderate justices who are less activist.

It’s a tough decision, so please pray for God’s guidance. Also pray about whom to vote for regarding other offices up for election, such as Congressmen and local officials. These are very tough times, and we need local, state and national officials who can get the job done.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Why a Commandment against Adultery? Part II

This is a continuation of my discussion on why God put in place the commandment against adultery. For more reasons, see part I.

3. To Preserve an Orderly Society

Despite what a certain book title says, it does not take a village to raise a child. It takes a mother and a father, and that so-called nuclear family is the basic building block of society. Think for a minute, What would society look like without the family? We can’t even imagine it, but I suspect it would either be chaos and anarchy, or a repressive dictatorship put in place to maintain order. If you saw “Dateline” a few years ago, you saw the results of abandoning the nuclear family for alternative lifestyles.

4. To Protect Emotions

God created us in such a way, that we are unable to have a sexual relationship outside of marriage without guilt and emotional tension. Adultery and young people having sex outside of marriage destroys us from the inside. When sex is practiced outside of the protection of the marriage covenant, there is inevitable hurt and the damaging of emotions. Dr. Irving Sands of the Neurological Institute of New York said, “The Ten Commandments are old indeed, yet they comprise the greatest mental hygiene code ever produced.” Dr. Sands went on to say, “Adultery leaves a blight on the emotional part of one’s personality. Moreover it is a source of emotional conflict.”

Sex without commitment leaves people feeling used…even dirty. It frequently results in feelings of worthlessness. So sex outside of marriage does enormous emotional, spiritual and psychological harm.

5. To Protect against Disease

Physical harm is also a prevalent consequence of sex outside of marriage. AIDS, venereal diseases and other problems result from sex outside of marriage. And unknown to many, adultery and promiscuous living increases one’s risk of certain types of cancer. Dr. Ralph Richart of Columbia University’s College of Surgeons says that, infidelity and promiscuous living drastically increase a woman’s risk of developing cervical cancer. So we can see from these common-sense reasons why God’s way is the best.


In conclusion, morality, sex, marriage and the family seem to be the main battleground in the culture wars that we are experiencing in this country. Make no mistake about it, others chose this battleground, not the so-called religious right, the Church, or Christians in general. It is the other side that wants to totally remake society according to its values, and its values generally contradict Scripture.

The Church and Christians are simply reacting to this attempt to radically redefine society as we know it and the way God established it. Somebody has to stand up against these radical forces, and it should be the Church. As a matter of fact, the other side will ridicule family TV programs of the 1950’s such as “Father Knows Best,” “Leave It to Beaver,” and “Ozzie and Harriet.” They will say such programs were not real, were idealized and untrue versions of life.

My response is, So what? What’s the harm in that? At least those programs gave both adults and kids a model of what families should be like, rather than the dysfunctional families of Homer Simpson and Al Bundy. The other side will also tell us that Scripture is merely one ancient society’s view of how life should be lived, and it is time to move on to more modern thinking. If that is true, then let’s never read Scripture again. We’re wasting our time.

Obviously that’s not true: we know that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, given to us to reveal God’s will for our lives. Therefore, we should pay attention to what the Bible says in all areas, even sex, because, as we know, “Father knows best.” God gave us the gift of co-creation, but it is to be used responsibly.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Why a Commandment against Adultery? Part I

God made us, and the Maker provides us with instructions on how his creation should live. Just as your car’s owner’s manual tells you how often to change the oil and how not to treat your car, so God gives us guidelines for proper living, because our Divine Designer knows best. Remember that TV program in the 50’s: “Father Knows Best”? Jim Anderson was this wise father who always knew what was best for his family. Well, in spiritual matters, Father really does know best (your heavenly Father, that is).

Why Not Free Sex

In the past 40 years, we have experienced what is commonly referred to as the “Sexual Revolution.” Is this a good thing? Some people certainly think so. They believe we have broken out of those repressive bonds left over from the days of Puritanism into a bright new day of sexual freedom. And what have been the results of this Brave New World of sexual freedom? A host of problems.

To truly understand the sexual prohibitions in the Bible, we let’s try to discern why God put them into place. Is God just trying to spoil our fun? God gave us sex. Why can’t we use it as we please? Why do there have to be strings attached? Let’s see if we can come up with a few reasons why God limits sexual relations to married couples.

1. To Protect Women

Sex without commitment usually hurts women, who many times are left with the results, with little or no support from the father. Women in such circumstances suffer economically, emotionally, and many other ways. With every “right” there is responsibility, especially when other people are involved. I believe God put commandment into place so that men would act responsibly regarding women.

2. To Protect Children

God designed the family, as we know from Genesis. Studies show that children typically do better if brought up in a family with both a mother and a father present. Therefore, another reason why this commandment was put in place by God is to preserve the family for the welfare of the children who result from the co-creative act.

More on this topic in a future post.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Worldview: Godly or Secular? Part II

This is the second part of a series on differing worldviews, looking at a biblically informed vs. a secular worldview.

2. Works of the Flesh vs. Works of the Spirit

Another way to look at this is the works of the flesh vs. works of the Spirit. The works of the flesh are manipulative, self-centered, pleasure-seeking, based on situational ethics, and believes the ends justify the means. The works of the Spirit can be summarized as do no harm, do all the good you can, and love God. The Apostle Paul goes into a little more detail in Galatians 5:16-17; 19-21a, 22-25:

Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want.

Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licen­tiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these.

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have cruci­fied the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit

Do you want to be guided by God’s Spirit or by the flesh?

Faith in Jesus

God, through the Apostle Paul, tells us in1 Corinthians 2:14-15a:

Those who are unspiritual do not receive the gifts of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to them, and they are unable to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. Those who are spiritual discern all things... NRSV

What Paul is telling us is that in order to receive this spiritual discernment from God, we have to put our faith in Jesus. When we are a sheep of Jesus’ flock, the Spirit works within us to give us spiritual discernment and wisdom. This spiritual wisdom is available to all, but only some accept it because they feel more comfortable with human wisdom. Why? Because human wisdom is something we can relate to more easily since it is of human origin. We have trouble with spiritual teachings because they are from God, and God’s ways are not our ways – they are foolishness to unbelievers, as Paul wrote. Yet as we get deeper and deeper into God’s Word, we feel more and more comfortable with it because of the Spirit’s work in us.


In conclusion, we are in the world, and we must be a part of it to survive. We can’t really separate ourselves from the world’s systems, flawed and unjust as they often are. We can work to improve them, of course, which is a noble endeavor. Nevertheless, when those systems and those values define us, then we have made them a priority over God. What we end up doing is substituting the world’s values, priorities, and wisdom, for God’s.

Jesus must not just be one priority out of many – he must be in everything we do. Jesus must define us, not our job, not our family, not our possessions, not our education, worthwhile though they are. Those things are good, but they must not be what our life is all about. When we have decided to follow Jesus, then we have true security and eternal life, as Jesus said in John 10:28-29:

I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. NRSV

The allure of worldly things pales in comparison to what God has to offer. Once we have decided to follow Jesus and we leave worldly things behind, then our main desire will be a closer walk with Jesus. We will then have a more fulfilled life, and life will take on a whole different meaning when we are informed by the Spirit rather than informed by the world.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Worldview: Godly or Secular? Part I

Everybody has a worldview, which is the lens through which we view world events, life, death, God, the spiritual realm, and personal experiences. Typically a person’s worldview will also guide a person’s actions, decision-making, and responses to problems. A person’s worldview is formed by their life experiences, their education, the media, the culture they come from, their religious beliefs, and their parents.

In this country, there are two general divisions: those who have a biblically informed worldview, and those who have a secular worldview. I want to explore this topic as it relates to us and to various events today.

Informed by the Spirit

The Apostle Paul writes about the work of the Holy Spirit in1 Corinthians 2:10:

These things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. NRSV

A significant work of the Spirit is to give us understanding of spiritual things. However, we will never get that understanding if we don’t devote time to studying the Bible – we don’t get it by osmosis. As we study the Bible, pray, and meditate, the Spirit works within us to give us understanding and the ability to apply biblical truths to our own lives. If we aren’t exposed to the biblical teachings, then we are left with whatever the world is telling us. That’s why I keep emphasizing small group studies and daily devotions. Listening to a sermon every Sunday is certainly helpful (and I encourage it), but a small group study really gets you deeper into God’s Word. When you are tuned in to the Spirit, you will respond differently to your own problems and current events.

Informed by the World

1. God’s Wisdom vs. Human Wisdom

We do that because we realize our true citizenship is in heaven, and we are here only temporarily. This life isn’t an end in itself, but is a preparation for the next life. Despite that, many people invest entirely too much in this life, and far too little in the next. What, you may ask, is wrong with worldly things? After all, God created the world and put us in it. rue, but the problem is that the world’s values and wisdom are often in conflict with what God tells us. The Apostle Paul addressed this in 1 Corinthians 2:6-8a:

Yet among the mature, we do speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to perish. But we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this... NRSV

What Paul is telling us is that even the worldly rulers and elites often don’t understand spiritual things because they are spiritually discerned. As a result, despite their wisdom, intelligence, and education, they are often lacking the wisdom and insight that comes only from God. That doesn’t mean they are evil, because many of them are good, well-intentioned and decent people. It does mean, however, that they are operating out of a worldview that generally isn’t consistent with God’s view. When you deviate from God’s view, you are relying faulty human wisdom, which isn’t based on God’s principles but on flawed human thinking. I would rather rely on the wisdom of Almighty God than to imperfect human thinking.

More on this topic in a future post.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Of the People, By the People, For the People?

Our illustrious Congress has one again demonstrated that they are not for the people, but for themselves and for their party. Both Republicans and Democrats voted against the bail out bill, and most of those who voted against it did not do so as a matter of principle, conviction, or ideology.

Political analysts saw a pattern: those facing a close reelection race voted against the bill, while those who weren’t facing a tough race voted for it. Talk about self-serving. Now you might say that those who voted “no” were listening to their constituents, and voting the way the electorate wanted. You know, the will of the people.

However, typically they vote, not on behalf of the people they represent, but on behalf of the special interests who lobby them and give them money. Although in this case they seemed to be listening to the people, I believe the people are wrong. Most people don’t understand this economic crisis, and most people view this “bail out” as rewarding bad behavior. They don’t understand it for what it is: a move to stabilize financial markets and reduce the risk of an all-out depression.

Of course the bill is flawed, but we have to do something. Otherwise, the stock market will continue its roller coaster ride. If the government doesn’t do anything, then the free market will make its own adjustments. The result will be a severe lack of credit availability, hindering companies for doing business and resulting in an economic slowdown even worse than what we are facing. Unemployment will increase, more will default on their mortgages and other debt, and there will be a further decline in the stock market, the credit markets, and in business activity. This downward spiral could continue for some time. Remember, the Great Depression lasted for 12 years, and only World War II brought us out of it.

The situation is different today – we are in worse economic shape than we were in 1929. We have a huge budget deficit, we have exported the best jobs overseas, we are forced to export billions of dollars to buy foreign oil and Chinese-made goods, and we have financial markets that turned out to be a house of cards. There is huge consumer debt in the form of credit cards, car financing, and mortgages. Any significant downturn in the economy will result in further defaults in those areas, destabilizing even more our fragile financial institutions. That’s why something must be done by the government now.