Sunday, September 30, 2007
Why was it heart-breaking? Because ten-year-old boys don’t belong on a baseball field on Sunday morning; they belong in church.
I have never believed that it is a sin to miss church on a given Sunday. My parents used to try to find a church if we were on vacation over a weekend; this can be awkward and unpredictable to say the least. I don’t think that’s necessary.
But I don’t think it’s the same thing to be home and not go because you’ve got something else to do. Even if it isn’t technically a sin (and I may be wrong about that one), think about the message that it sends to tell your kids, “We’re going to be in church every Sunday – unless there’s a [insert sport] game.”
It could be that this boy’s family is not Christian, but I’ve known Christians who did let their kids play on Sunday. I’ve even known church league teams that played on Sunday.
If we want to raise our kids to think that church is optional and that religion is just one part of our lives, we should continue. If we want our kids to grow up thinking that our lives revolve around Christ and our decisions should be made in line with His character and mission, we need to put our foot down (each family and as a community) and say that our children (and adults, for that matter) will not be skipping church for sports and let the chips fall where they may.
My kids aren’t in little league yet, but that decision has already been made.
Thursday, September 27, 2007
Something else that jumped out at me is that this sacrifice to be given “when anyone sins unintentionally” (v1). Accidental sins are still sins. We’re no less dirty because we "didn’t mean to.” We are all responsible for our actions, and we have to own up to the fact that we offend God through the little things we do every day, sometimes without realizing it.
Next, it’s interesting that different instructions are given for the sins of different people. The first in the list is also the most elaborate – the sin of the priest requires that the curtain of the sanctuary be cleansed as well as the most choice part of the animal be burned. Then there is this – the rest of the valuable animal must be discarded like trash. The sin of the religious leader dirtied the very sanctuary and even the carcass of the sin offering.
Every believer sins, but history has shown that the sin of the religious leader is more dangerous than that of those in the pews. Rarely have churches been damaged by sin among the congregation like they have by the sin of the pastor and leaders. Those with the most power and influence, as well as the privilege to stand in the name of God, have a heavy burden to bear – both leading the church in the kingdom work and in guarding their hearts.
Those of us in the pews have a dual burden as well – to hold them responsible and to support them in their struggles.
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
"To be a Christian means believing that you are part of a vast historical project. And it’s not our project. It’s God’s. We believe that since the beginning of time God has been working out his own hidden purposes in the history of nations and in the biography of every person."
"We all very easily agree that the Church needs to be renewed and revitalized. But we need to understand what Jesus Christ wants from us. What I suggest to you is this: The renewal of the Church begins inside each one of us. If the Church isn’t what we want her to be, it’s because you and I aren’t yet the men that Jesus Christ has called us to be."
"Christian love is not weak or anesthetic. It’s an act of the will. It takes guts. It’s a deliberate submission of our selfishness to the needs of others. There’s nothing “unmanly” about it, and there’s nothing—and I mean nothing—more demanding and rewarding in the world."
We don't have to be Catholic to learn a lot from this man.
Read about Ayn Rand's redeeming quality at Parableman.
Christian Carnival #191 is at Pseudo-Polymath.
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
"Christians [can] never genuinely value and utilize logic and critical thinking because their faith prohibits them from basing their beliefs on rational considerations. Therefore, logic and critical thinking are at odds with the Christian conception of faith (particularly the believer’s acceptance of the Bible as a divine revelation)."1
This would be true if the popular conception of faith was consistent with biblical faith. Fortunately it's not.
Faith: two viewsThe average man on the street (and, unfortunately, Christian in the pew) would define faith as belief in the absence of evidence or even in the face of contrary evidence. If you think of this as faith, you can't blame the skeptic for picturing the believer as a child with his fingers in his ears chanting "I can't hear you I can't hear you" as the skeptic patiently tries to educate him about the flaws and fallacies of the Christian faith.
The biblical model of faith, however, is quite different. Christian faith is trust based on evidence. Specifically, faith is saying, "I will trust God for the future because of what He has done in the past."
Abraham saw God's faithfulness (Gen 12:17, 14:19-20) before he received God's promise (Gen 15:4-6) and he saw more signs of God's faithfulness (Gen 15:12-21, 21:1-5) before he received God's greatest test (Gen 22).
The generation of the exodus saw the signs before being asked to believe God. The following generations heard the evidence of that generation before being asked to believe God. The apostles saw Christ's miracles before they were sent out, and they saw the resurrected Christ before they were commissioned. The subsequent generations received the evidence of their testimony, and it is on that evidence that we base our trust.
The obvious objectionSome will no doubt say that believing their testimony (which is the New Testament) doesn't count as believing evidence but as blind faith. Malarky! While some are more accepting than others, there exists a mountain of works from throughout the generations that endevours to show that the testimony of the apostles is sound and reliably transmitted. If Christian faith was a blind faith, there would be no such body of literature. You may not accept our arguments that the NT is believable, but that does not change the fact that we try to build our faith on the facts of the past.
An example of evidence-based faithIf my lovely wife says she's going out for a night with the girls, I have to trust that she's actually going to meet the girls and not some muscular guy named Biff. If she tends to be flirtatious, if she talks about other guys all the time, and if she's dressed like she's going on a date, trusting her fidelity might be considered blind faith.
If she rebuffs other guys, if she seems to have eyes only for me, and if she's wearing clothes that hide her figure, I would be silly and paranoid to doubt her.
Christianity is built on the testimony of people who had no reason to claim Jesus was the risen Christ and every reason to say He wasn't.2 Their testimony includes the kind of details that lend credibility to their accounts. These accounts were passed down imperfectly but prolifically so that we can be confident that we have a reasonably reliable record. Trusting in this is not blind faith; it's making a decision based on the best evidence available.
(1) You may want to check out the original post on the life of the mind.
(2) For more info see my piece the Resurrection: a story no one would make up.
Sunday, September 23, 2007
The importance of clear thinkingIt’s ok to disbelieve theistic evolution2, or any old-earth or young-earth position, but you need to be able to give a reasonable answer as to why. The reason I’m so concerned is that nonbelievers will judge us based on the quality of our reasoning – even when they’re not so picky about their own!
If you give a nonbeliever a poor reason for not believing in something, you reinforce various unfortunate notions about Christians and thinking including:
- Christians can’t/don’t think.
- Christianity requires blind faith.
- Christians don’t care to know what the other side really believes.
These stereotypes harm Christians in academia, hinder bringing people to Christ, and make it more difficult to take Christianity into the public square. On top of that, if Christians look dumb, it makes Christ look dumb. We cannot permit that.
Strobel and theistic evolutionWhen asked about theistic evolution, Lee Strobel described macro-evolution as a random, undirected, and purposeless process. Therefore, he thinks that theistic evolution is implicitly contradictory because it does not leave room for a creator. I would argue that this is true of Darwinian evolution, but this doesn’t necessarily apply to theistic evolution.
Macro-evolution may be summed up as “descent with modification.” The idea is that a change will occur in a creature’s genetic code. It will get passed on to its progeny. If this change makes the progeny superior to their competitors, those with the change will be more likely to reproduce than those without it – thus preserving the change. Such changes slowly accumulate over time until a creature is born that is fundamentally different than its ancestors – a new species.
The above may be an undirected process (aka Darwinism), or it may be divinely (or otherwise) directed. If one believes that there are stages in a naturalistic system that require intelligent guidance or supernatural assistance (e.g., abiogenesis, the origin of information, chirality, certain special physical features, or consciousness), the system could be described as theistic evolution. (Incidentally, adherents can believe that most species were created by the somewhat automatic evolutionary system and still believe that humans are a special creation.) To put it bluntly, theistic evolution is defined as macro-evolution that required divine assistance.
Again, I have no problem with Strobel not believing in theistic evolution. But by mischaracterizing that position to the BAM audience he made it more likely that those Christians will later mischaracterize it to others who will recognize that they don’t understand the position; this will make them, and by extension Christ, look bad.
We owe it to our Lord and to our unbelieving neighbors to think carefully about everything we believe and everything we do not believe. Anything less is not loving our God with all our minds.
(1) For the record, I respect Lee Strobel's work and have many of his books. His connection to apologetics is part of what causes my concern.
(2) I'm certainly not convinced.
You may also be interested in You are what you eat...and hear, see, and read
Thursday, September 20, 2007
Leviticus 1 describes the procedures for the burnt offering to the Lord. What immediately catches my eye is that while the worshipper was involved, the real sacrifice was performed by the priest. The Israelite could make his offering, but someone else carried out the atonement – sprinkling the blood and burning the sacrifice. He could take his gift only so far; he needed someone else to carry it to God.
The next thing that I see is that the sacrifice was to be perfect. God was not interested in that which was sickly or weak or blind. If you were going to bring an offering to God, it was going to be the last animal you wanted to part with. You worshipped God with something valuable or not at all.
Finally, I see a careful procedure. You don’t approach God in any old way. He is holy, and you will do things in a careful way that acknowledges His holiness – and by extension your sinfulness. As the NIV Archaeology Study Bible put it, “they were to approach God only on His terms.”
It is not difficult to see how the Law of Moses was to prepare the Israelites for Christ: God is so holy I cannot even approach the altar, and He is interested only in what is perfect – and that’s not me.
It's hard for you to approach God – Chapter 1: the burnt offering and the holiness of God
Accidentally filthy – Chapter 4: offering for unintentional sins
Doing nothing wrong – Chapter 5: the sin of inaction
More holy – Chapter 10: responding to God's holiness
Redeemed for holiness – Chapter 11: holiness – our part of the bargain
Shadows of the Cross in the Day of Atonement – Chapter 16: the rules for the Day of Atonement point us to the Cross of Christ
Hedges – Chapter 17: the double-edged sword of rules guarding rules
Different in All the Right Ways – Chapter 19: our calling to be a community of the better way
One Among Many – Chapters 18 & 20: discussing homosexuality without pushing people away from the gospel
Priestly Slaves – Chapter 22: the wonderful things we are part of because we are slaves of God
Party With Purpose – Chapter 23: adding days of reflection to our busy calendars
How Valuable is Human Life? – Chapter 24: sometimes human life is more important than the law, sometimes not
Wrath and Repentance – Chapter 26: God punishes for a purpose
The first post in the series summarizes the authors 12 claims that "prove" that Jesus is a myth, and he is answering the claims one at a time. It looks like it will be well worth following.
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
At the ESV blog they address whether Matthew 27:9-10 is quoting Jeremiah or Zechariah?
If you missed this edition of Renewing Your Mind, you should listen to RC Sproul defending the existence of God based on a shoe. (Warning, I think Ligonier only keeps these links around for a few weeks.)
Also, the Christian Carnival #190 is up at the Minor Prophet.
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
This verse is often quoted to prove that godly people can have pretty much anything they want. The purveyors of the health and wealth gospel use it often – and they’re often not as concerned about that “godly” part. This is a gross misuse of that verse. It ignores both its scriptural context and its theological context.
That this doesn’t promise wealth is demonstrated by its neighboring verses. “Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun” (37:5-6). Does this sound like a promise of material gain? I don’t think so. But the best is this:
“Better the little that the righteous have than the wealth of many wicked” (v16).
Clearly, this passage is not teaching that believers, or even those who “delight” in God, will get whatever they want.
This use of the passage does not just ignore the neighboring verses; it also ignores the effect of delighting yourself in God. Here is a survey of my electronic commentary collection regarding this verse.
“What is the desire of the heart of a good man? It is this, to know, and love, and live to God, to please him and to be pleased in him.” – M. Henry
“When the righteous have desires that spring from the Lord, the Lord will surely fulfill those desires.” – Nelson commentary
“I am not sure that He is going to bless your business, but He has already blessed you with spiritual blessings, and He will shower on you all of the spiritual blessings you can contain.” – J. Vernon McGee
“When believers delight in the Lord, his desires become their desires.” – Tyndale Bible Commentary
“Distinguish the ‘desires of thine heart’ from the desires of thy flesh; distinguish as much as thou canst. It is not without a meaning that it is said in a certain Psalm, ‘God is’ (the strength) ‘of mine heart.’ For there it says in what follows: ‘And God is my portion for ever.’” – St. Augustine
“The desires of God, and the desires of the righteous, agree in one; they are of one mind in their desires.” – John Bunyan
“Men who delight in God desire or ask for nothing but what will please God; hence it is safe to give them carte blanche. Their will is subdued to God's will, and now they may have what they will. Our innermost desires are here meant, not our casual wishes;” – C. H. Spurgeon
The point is this: If you delight yourself in the Lord, the desires of your heart will be different.
I don’t want anyone to think that I’m saying material possessions, or even a moderated desire for them, are bad. But the Bible does not promise Christians material plenty – in fact the best among us often do with the least. No one should teach that we deserve whatever we want, and they especially should not abuse this verse to do it.
Monday, September 17, 2007
(HT: Jesus Creed)
Sunday, September 16, 2007
2. The devil is not God’s “opposite.” (Click for detailed discussion.)
3. The devil doesn’t want people to be “bad.” He wants them to think they don’t need Jesus. (Click for detailed discussion.)
4. Satan won’t torment people in hell. He will be tormented. (Rev 20:10)
5. The devil can’t possess Christians. (c.f., 1 Cor 6:19)
6. Satan doesn’t know everything. (c.f., 1 Peter 1:12)
7. Christ is more powerful than the devil. (Col 2:13-15, Luke 8:26-31, Rev 19:11-20:10)
There is a common misconception among Christians and non-Christians alike that the devil wants people to be bad. This makes sense given the popular notion that God will weigh our good deeds and bad deeds and assign our place in the afterlife based on which side is "heavier." Under that system, you would expect the devil to want people to be bad.
But that system does not exist. (Demonstrating that would be the topic of a new post.) Under the Christian system, people who have surrendered themselves to Christ and repented of their sins, trusting in His death and resurrection for forgiveness, will go to heaven. Everyone else, no matter how "good" they are, won't.
Under this system, what Satan would want is for people to not realize that they need Christ. A great tool to accomplish this is the belief that "bad" people go to hell and you just need to be "good." As the apostle put it:
"The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God." (2 Cor 4:4)
So if Christianity is correct, Satan wants, for example, Buddhists to be the best Buddhists they can be because a good Buddhist is much less likely to think he needs Christ than is a scoundrel. Atheists? The devil would want them to be kind and generous and loving so they can see that they can be just as good as anyone else without God. In this way people can be proud and self-assured all the way to hell.
Well, what about Christians? Does Satan want them to be bad? Maybe.
What Satan wants is for Christians to be ineffective. If they are bad and so compromise their witness and bring shame to the gospel, he's happy. But if they're lazy or too inwardly focused or tricked into believing that everyone will end up in heaven, he's happy with that too.
Dualism is the belief that there are equal and opposite forces that push against each other. In some ways it can be like the yin and yang of the Eastern religions, but the idea is more like the pagan concept of a good god and an evil god in constant war against each other.
This pretty accurately describes the way most Americans, even Christians, think of the devil.
Look at popular culture (from Southpark to Spawn) and you'll get a picture of two kingdoms locked in pitched battle each hoping that they'll be able to turn the tide and defeat the other side. The technical term for this is "horse hockey."
The biblical picture is far more one-sided. Yes, we see that the fighting is fierce, and the angels must occasionally go toe-to-toe (see Dan 10:12-14), but there is One whom the demons fear (see Luke 8:26-31) and His victory is certain (Rev 19:11-20:10).
Contrary to popular culture, the spiritual war is not two equally matched sides. It is one all-powerful side patiently exchanging a few spit balls with the enemy until the time comes to drop the nuclear bomb.
Thursday, September 13, 2007
I have been known to ... encourage the other drivers to proceed quickly through that intersection. My youngest has picked up that trait. Now whenever she sees a green light (at any intersection), she yells, "Go!"
It's so easy to teach a twenty-month-old road rage. Will it be that easy to teach her about Jesus? She picked up my attitude toward traffic just by watching me. What will she pick up regarding caring for the poor or the lost or the life of faith?
I've heard before that kids do what you do, not what you say. I have to say, that's become crystal, and frighteningly, clear to me.
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
Go deeper into the glories of Calvary at the Shepherd's Scrapbook.
A quote: "It’s here, between a deepening understanding of personal sin – that I am the worst sinner I know – and a growing understanding of God’s holiness, that we grow deeper into the glories of Calvary."
The graphic explains it very well. Check it out.
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
When I started thinking about this verse, I didn’t realize I’d be writing about it for Sept. 11, but few verses could be more appropriate.
In many ways, life has gotten pretty much back to normal for the average American, but I don’t think September 11 will be ever just another day for anyone who lived through that day. It will long be a day to reflect on the kinds of things that can happen on a sunny Tuesday morning. We all know intellectually that we and those we love can die any day, but most days we live our lives as if that isn't so.
The truth is, we're not promised a single day. What we are promised is that many of the days we are graciously given will be filled with struggle, pain, sweat, and tears. Despite what some charlatans preach, Christians are not immune to this. In fact, Jesus promises that our lives will be very hard. And then He reminds us that He has overcome this world.
This world is fallen and infested by evil forces. Life is hard because we live in a world of entropy and disease, and it's hard because we live in a world under the influence of Satan. Both of these conditions will be reversed. Christ has won the war; the final chapter has been written. We only await the final consummation.
Until then, we're going to struggle with this world. But we know in the end we will win because He has won.
Monday, September 10, 2007
Sunday, September 9, 2007
And yet there are so many passages that make you go “huh?” Over the years I’ve found 5 questions that can help make any passage “devotional.” These aren’t necessarily quick and easy to apply, but with a little time and thought they can help you get to some of the juicy goodness in a passage.
1) What does this tell me about God?
The nature and character of God is the bedrock on which the scriptures are built. Sometimes you have to look past the details of the text and ask what they tell you about God. Find out what the passage is telling you about God and worship Him anew.
Example: Leviticus 10 (Don’t take the easy option and think about God’s “temper.”)
2) What does this tell me about me? (or humans)
The Bible has lots to say about God. It also has a lot to say about human nature (especially my nature). Reflect on what it teaches you about you.
Example: Deuteronomy 13
3) What if it were me?
I often read the Bible as if it were on a higher plane, but those events took place in our world. Get down into the details: feel those people’s pain; cry with them; laugh with them. Read the Bible narratives like you would any other story.
Example: Isaiah 6 (At some point you should say, “Ouch!” Reflect on what that teaches you.)
4) How does this fit into the grand narrative?
The Bible is one story, from Genesis to Revelation. Each event is part of that over-arching story. Find where the passage you’re reading fits into the grand narrative and you will better understand the passage; you may also see God’s plan in a new light.
Example: Joshua 8
5) Is there anything here I need to know, stop, change, or do?
This comes straight out of 2 Tim 3:16. Every passage should tell you at least one of these things. (Be careful not to stop at “know” too often; that’s an easy cop-out.) The epistles are obvious, but the narratives are God-breathed too. Look for the insight, for the example, or for the warning in historical and prophetic passages.
Example: Amos 2:6-16
Ask these questions one at a time until one of them reveals a truth upon which you can meditate or worship or which you can apply to change your life. And don’t be afraid of weird or “obscure” passages. All scripture is God-breathed, so even Leviticus can lead us to the throne of God.
Wondering what I had in mind on any of these?
1) Lev 10 taught me about the holiness of God and how I should react to it.
2) Deut 13 taught me about the infectious nature of sin and the corruptibility of humans.
3) I reflect on how painful it must be to atone for sin.
4) The whole OT is a drive to Matthew 27. There needed to be a holy people. Compare Judges 2.
5) There’s a lot here, but I would probably focus mostly on the treatment of the poor.
You may also be interested in: How to be a Self-Feeder, Never read a Bible verse, How to drown your sorrows, and my review of Living by the Book.
Wednesday, September 5, 2007
Some other examples include the destruction of Sodom (a volcanic eruption), the parting of the Red Sea (tsunami from a volcanic eruption), the quail in the desert (wind blew 'em in, they were tired), and parting the Jordan (earthquake).
Now, I can't say that's totally wrong. I can't say subatomic particles don't explain the resurrection or that the quail weren't just tired. And God clearly does work through natural agents to accomplish His goals on many occasions – see, for example, most of the books of Joshua and Judges.
And we do want to be careful not to claim too much. Not every act of God in the Bible has to be “supernatural.” Some might be providential natural occurrences or psychosomatic healings, and we shouldn't insist on things that the Bible doesn't insist on.
But we often seem to be trying to take the mystery out of the miracles. Perhaps it is because we've allowed the skeptics to make us leery of supernatural acts. Maybe it's because we're trying to bring God down to a manageable size. And it might just be that we simply want to be able to understand everything. Maybe it's something else entirely. Whatever the cause, we need to stop trying to explain away every miracle of the Bible.
A miracle is, by definition, something that cannot happen naturally. This is an ax head floating, a donkey talking, and a three-day dead man rising from the grave. If it weren't impossible, it wouldn't be special. If God can create the universe – indeed, the entire space-time continuum – from scratch, He can do anything – parting the Red Sea would be a piece of cake.
So when the Bible claims a miracle, we shouldn't be afraid of the supernatural. Let’s stop trying to explain everything and embrace the mystery.
Tuesday, September 4, 2007
But what would you say if part way through the project something changed and he no longer had the money to finish the project. Which would be worse – to be ridiculed for not finishing or to kill yourself on an impossible task?
Of course we don’t want to quit, but sometimes it would be far worse to continue.
This was the case for me. Though not a pastor, I wanted to learn more – lots more – about the Faith, so I embarked on a graduate program, though a somewhat less rigorous one. It probably wasn’t the best idea when I started – time was short, and my daughter was small. As she got bigger, she made it clear that she wanted more of my time. Then my second daughter was born, and she, her sister, and her mother required still more of my time. Then I realized that what I was giving was still not enough. Things had changed to the point that the graduate program that would have been difficult to complete in a reasonable amount of time was now going to be impossible. So should I continue to pour time and money into it or accept that it was no longer viable?
If I was going to be a fool, I was going to be a fool with an intact family and daughters who knew their father.
No one wants to be a quitter, but sometimes needs or priorities change. Sometimes you just realize you were wrong. We’re all human, and we’re going to make mistakes. But, as the saying goes, when you realize you’re in a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging.
Just some food for thought: Don’t be the person who never finishes anything. Also, don’t be the person who refuses to accept that success is not possible. Sometimes you really do need to just quit.