Friday, February 26, 2010

A Surprising Scripture on Suffering

Being a Christian doesn't mean you won't suffer in life. In fact, you probably will. The Bible doesn't tell us how to avoid suffering, but it does tell us how to respond to it.

And its message is sometimes surprising:

"'Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.' But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord" (1Pet 3:14b-15a).

"Set apart Christ as Lord." There's a lot packed into that simple statement. The most important thing for the one who's suffering is realize how much is meant by "Lord."

Jesus is my owner, my master, my teacher, my lawgiver. But more importantly, Jesus is God.

"For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together" (Col 1:16-17).

Our King not only made the world but rules it. It turns because He wills it. The sun shines by His command. Nothing happens without His permission.

And when we suffer, when we struggle, when we feel like life is using us as its punching bag, we can know that Jesus is Lord and is aware of our plight. He will use it "for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose" (Rom 8:28), which is that we should be like Him.

And He cares; He has promised, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you" (Heb 13:5). "And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age" (Matt 28:20).

All for Good
Can You Handle It?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Slavery Links

Last year I made it my goal to learn about modern slavery. This year I'm going to encourage you to do the same.

Not for Sale — the group, not the book
International Justice Mission

If This Isn’t Slavery, What Is? — NY Times
be very angry about slavery — Eugene Cho
Slave Labor & Bible Covers — Skyebox
Iowa Man Convicted of Human Trafficking, Sold Teens In Prostitution — Fox News

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Review: Not for Sale

Contrary to popular belief, slavery was not eradicated in 1865. It still exists today. It still exists in the United States.

In Not for Sale, David Batstone tells the stories of slavery today — sex slaves, forced laborers, and child soldiers — and what is being done to combat it.

In it you'll meet Srey Neang, a Cambodian girl who truly lived the saying that the light at the end of the tunnel is the headlamp of an oncoming train. For years, every time it seemed like her life might get a little better it got much worse. You'll walk with Charles, a Ugandan boy, as he is kidnapped and turned into a murderer in the name of Jesus.

Not for Sale will also introduce you to people like Lucy Borja, who rescues children from the streets of Peru, and Louis Etongwe, who rescues slaves in modern-day Virginia, and some of the organizations that are working to rescue people from their chains, both here and abroad.

Is this a good book? The question just doesn't fit. The book is well-written. It's a page-turner. It's horrible. You want to stop, but you can't.

And you shouldn't. Because in a time when freedom is supposed to be on the march, there are millions of people — many of them children — who are being treated like cattle. Right now.

And the Church needs to be on the forefront of the battle just as we were before.

Rating: Must Read

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Bible and Archeology

I recently came across an old and surprisingly even-handed Time article on the Bible and archeology. It's a quite readable piece and reminded me of some things I wanted to say about the topic here.

1) Lack of proof is not disproof.

Just because we haven't proven someone or something existed, that doesn't mean we know they didn't. I doubt we'll ever have proof Abraham existed. A few thousand years from now, there probably won't be proof Bill Gates existed. Archeology is limited to what we find, and what we can find is limited to what survived.

2) The experts are often proven wrong.

There are a number of things in the Bible every "expert" once knew to be fiction that has since been shown to be factual — e.g., the existence of the Hittites or King David. There is no point in getting worked up about archeologists saying something or someone didn't exist.

3) Archeology isn't an exact science.

Archeologists find bits and pieces that survived the ravages of time and try to reconstruct the world of thousands of years ago. Many of their conclusions are based on assumptions that may later be disproved — e.g., that this Egyptian king corresponds to this guy mentioned in an Assyrian record which is used to date the Exodus out of Egypt. It's not fair to say they're guessing, but there certainly are huge error bars on some of their assessments.

4) Use with caution.

As interesting as this stuff can be, and as illuminating as it occasionally is, we don't want to push it farther than warranted. I wouldn't put to much weight on any "proof" or "disproof" that comes out of this field.

That said, we have learned some very interesting things from study of the distant past, things that can shed some light on the OT. I hope to share some of that in the not-too-distant future.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


My wife's grandmother — the one whose sudden illness caused the unexpected trip to Missouri — passed on in the wee hours Friday morning. She lived a good, long life, and she was ready to go, so the family's as at peace with things as they can be. But we weren't sure how our six-year-old would take it. (The little one really doesn't know what's going on.)

When mommy sat down to tell her Grandma had died, my little girl's reaction caught us by surprise:

"You mean she's gone to be with Jesus? That's awesome!"

I do believe she gets it.

We grieve. It's natural to miss those we love and will not see for decades. But we expect to see them again. From the beginning Christians have described it as "falling asleep" because we know it's temporary.

So we grieve, but not like "the rest of men, who have no hope." We grieve with the knowledge that death has been conquered. We grieve with the assurance that one day creation will be what it was meant to be and that we will have renewed bodies in a world with no more crying, no more pain, and no more death. We grieve as people who know death is the step before being with the Lord forever.

"Therefore encourage each other with this words" (1Thes 4.18).

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Let's Change "The Doctrines of Grace"

I've made no secret of the fact that I don't believe Calvinism is correct. But I can generally get along with Calvinists — and anyone who takes the Christian faith seriously and desires to love God with heart and mind.

But Calvinists have this one thing that drives me bonkers. The precepts of Calvinism, the TULIP, is often called the "doctrines of grace."

The not-so-subtle implication of that name is that the rest of us don't believe in grace. Since grace is the heart of the Christian religion and the foundation of the reformation and all protestant faiths, I take that as a bit of a slap in the face.

Whatever it's origin, I don't think most modern Calvinists mean to be offensive when they use the term. But it is offensive to many people.

So let's suggest some other names for this school of thought. Maybe one will catch on.

I think it would be simplest just to call it "Calvinism," but Calvinists will object that they aren't following Calvin but the Bible (yeah, I know), so they don't want to use the term Calvinism. Of course, "doctrines of grace" is no more biblical than Calvinism. But anyway...

I think "the doctrine of election" would get us in the neighborhood, but in truth Arminians believe in a kind of election. And TULIP is about more than election (though that's the heart of the matter IMHO).

Let's go back to "grace." Whatever may seem to be implied by their term, it's not the existence of grace but the functioning of it that is the issue. They believe in a very sovereign grace, one that does not merely save but chooses the saved.

Maybe we can borrow from that (and from C.J. Mahaney) then and call it "the doctrine of sovereign grace." Perhaps that will allow them to transmit the message they want without the poke in the eye. Unless, of course, that is the message they want.

What do you think? Anyone got another idea?

Can’t We All Get Along? 1

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Links Again

I'd hoped to post something a little more meaty, but the wind got taken out of that by the emergency death-bed visit we're having to make to my wife's grandmother. Please pray for their family and for us as we drive through the snow.

Now for something lighter...

Do you know beans? Theologian Ben Witherington on ... coffee.

Newseum — the world's front pages

The Virtual Piano — play the piano online. Who needs a reason for these things?

Surviving Disaster — videos from Spike TV. Hopefully I won't need these this weekend.

Wish us luck. Texans don't know how to drive on snow.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Was Paul's Jesus Real?

Is this the next skeptic meme?

I've seen a couple of people claim Paul's Jesus wasn't a historical figure — that He was either pure fiction or perhaps a spiritual figure who died and rose all within another world.

Their evidence: He never talks about Jesus' life. If we had only the writings of Paul, we would know very little about Jesus' life and ministry. The Gospels, being later than Paul's letters (and probably all the other epistles), could then be fiction, stories created to give life to Paul's mystical savior.

Utter crap? Absolutely. Mostly this argument boils down to "I wouldn't have done it this way, so it's wrong." But that doesn't mean we don't have to address it.

It's true that Paul, as well as the other epistle authors, doesn't say much about Jesus' mortal life.

There are plausible explanations for this. Mostly, I'd say the New Testament epistles are an extended commentary on the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. His ministry and teachings aren't the focus of that part of the New Testament.

But is is possible that Paul was preaching a fictitious, or at least purely "spiritual," Jesus?


You can argue against this from a number of things Paul wrote. Most of it, though, is theological — specifically, things that would make no theological sense unless Jesus was real. But since skeptics don't think any of his teachings make sense, that's not a helpful line of thought.

But Paul said three things that place Jesus firmly in real history:

Jesus was descended from David (Rom 1.3).
Though there are skeptics today, it's ridiculous to think Paul thought David was not a real person. And Jesus, according to Paul, was really descended from that real person.

There are witnesses to His post-resurrection appearances (1Cor 15.6).
Paul claims there are witnesses to an event — witnesses who were still alive, that his readers could find. The event, and therefore Jesus, must have happened in history.

Jesus spoke to Pilate (1Tim 6.13).
If Jesus' death and resurrection were purely fiction or an event of the "spiritual world," He wouldn't have been tried in front of Pilate. Jesus made His "good confession" in front of a real, historical figure, so He must have been one too.

Of course this won't be good enough for anyone who's already made up his mind. But that doesn't mean we have to let them get to us. Whatever reason Paul may have had for not talking about Jesus' mortal life, he clearly knew He had one.