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

Conclusion

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 na├»ve 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

Introduction

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.”
NRSV

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.

Conclusion

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
. NRSV

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.

Conclusion

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.