Saturday, February 26, 2011

Recent events, are they Biblically significant?

I've had a couple of people ask me about my take on the recent events in the Middle East, New Zealand, and the Adam's killed on their yacht by Somali pirates.  Political unrest in the Middle East is at a stage never seen before, earthquakes in Haiti and New Zealand,  general persecution of Christians... does all this mean that the End Times are near?  It seems to me (and others) that every generation thinks they are living in the last days.  My short answer is, no, we are not yet there.  For the long answer, keep reading.

Whether you are a pre-tribulationist, mid-tribulationsit, or hold some other view, there are some signs that the end is near that all agree on.  The first of these is that the Gospel needs to have reached all peoples.  This can be found in Matthew 24:14, and Mark 13:10.  Even with our incredible technology today, this has not yet happened.  According to the Joshua Project there are still 2.8 billion people who have not been reached.  From a people group perspective 41% of the people groups have yet to be reached.  That's still a great deal of work to be done.

The "birth pangs" that the earth will go through is another sign.  This relates to natural disasters, earthquakes, tsunami, volcanoes, the earth itself reacting to the immanent coming of Christ.  Not to minimize the loss of life and destruction of resent events in Iceland, New Zealand, the 2004 tsunami, or any place else, but, there have been far greater natural disasters with greater loss of life and with greater global impact.  There was the eruption of Mt. St. Helens, many other eruptions,  the earthquakes in Armenia, Mexico City, and Haiti. While these are individually terrible losses of life and property, they do not stand out as a global event.

Then we have the Beast with 10 Horns(Daniel chapters 2/7, Revelation 12/13/17), which has been interpreted to mean 10 nations that will band together to solve the world's problems.  When I was younger the EU was supposed to be this.  However, the EU now has double that number of members.  There is the G10, the Group of Ten(now eleven) economic powers that set economic world policy    China and Russia are also involved with all G10 meetings, so that probably does not fit.

While things are not good today, they probably have more to do with Kondratiev waves than with end times. In the end there is only one thing that we, as Christians, have any control over.  That is the spread of the Gospel.  If you want to see Christ return, get busy spreading the word, the rest will work itself out.

Monday, February 21, 2011

We are all Missionaries

We are all missionaries

16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Mat. 28:16-20 (ESV)

While this command is given directly to the remaining 11 disciples, it is commonly understood to be of general application. That is, that the commands in verses 19 and 20 apply to all Christians. We all have a duty to advance the faith, to help spread the Word. In that sense we are all missionaries.

I know my concept of what a missionary looks like has changed over the years. It started out as a picture of people hacking through jungles to reach remote tribes. Then I found a friend of mine from High School, Steve Kaptain, is a missionary in Nepal with Operation Mobilisation and that really changed my view. Here was a guy I knew personally, went to church and school with, a missionary, and no jungle either. My girlfriend's brother, Jason Boyle is also a missionary, he's in Mexico with his wife doing church planting. Reading through the “Opportunities” section of OM's website also gave me some insight into the various roles a missionary can fill. Reading blogs has also opened my eyes to various people, places and work that can be done (Laura's blog, and Johnny and Kate's blog) Not everyone is out planting churches in the third world, there are lots of jobs all around the world that need to be done that are either directly evangelizing or supporting those who do.

There is also, unfortunately, the image of missionaries who have used force or coercion to bring about conversions. The missionaries who accompanied the colonizing forces of Europe into Africa and the New World come to mind as historical examples. There are also modern day examples of 'so called' missionaries who given aid (food, medical) to people in dire need but conditioned the aid on conversion, creating what are known as 'Rice Christians.' While I'm sure their numbers looked impressive when reporting, this is just wrong, and I would go so far as to say, anti-Christian (see Luke 6:30). Regardless of the fact that people have done things wrong in the name of spreading the faith, the commission still stands.

I often hear said, “Lord, use me as your servant... just don't send me to Africa”, or something to that effect. Personally, I have no problem going to Africa, or any place else for that matter. But not everyone feels that calling. If you don't feel called are you being a bad Christian? No, of course not. Spreading God's Word is not a 'one size fits all' mission. There is a whole spectrum of things we can do to spread His Word.

What can we do? Some ideas:

  1. Live our lives as a testimony to those we live and work with.
  2. Support those in active ministry through prayer, funding, or other material support.
    1. If you can't fund them yourself, you can help them help themselves raise funds... invite them to speak at your church, help publicize their mission...
  3. Share your faith with others publicly. (face to face, through outreach, volunteering, short term missions, on Facebook or Twitter, share a blog :) [took me years to share this], and many other ways)
  4. Get out of your comfort zone and give God the opportunity to show you what He can do through you.

There is nothing easy about any of these things. But then, the Bible never says it will be easy.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Horns of a Dilemma

The current situation throughout the Middle East(particularly Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain) has reminded me of of a topic that I usually only think about each July. Biblical justification for revolt or revolution or the lack thereof. I think being an American makes this a particularly difficult topic to look at objectively since our country is the direct result of revolution and, for the most part, the results have been good. I propose to look first at what the Bible says about our relationship to government, then at what our Founding Fathers said about the Bible and war/revolution, last at where that puts us today.

I'll start with the most applicable and direct quote on the topic of our relationship with the government in the Bible, Romans 13:1-3:

1 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval,4 for he is God's servant for your good. (ESV)
To set the stage of the writing, Paul wrote this around a.d. 57, probably from around Corinth. The Roman Emperor from a.d. 54 to a.d. 68 was Nero, who is known for his persecution of the Jews and Christians late in his reign and the execution of Peter and Paul around a.d. 67. Given this setting, go back and read verses 1 and 2 again. There are no “weasel words” in those verses (ie. Might, should, some, most), no equivocation at all as a matter of fact. Instead we see words like: every, have been, whoever, will. Paul tells us very clearly that we are to subject ourselves to the government that is over us regardless of whether we like it, and that resistance to the government is a sin.

Peter, writing around the same time has a very similar message. In 1 Peter, chapter 2 he has the following things to say about submission to authority:

13 Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme...”, “17 ... Fear God. Honor the emperor.”, and “18 Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust.
I don't see much room for interpretation of the words here. The plain meaning of what is written seems to unambiguous. So how does one interpret these passages to support resistance to the government or even the overthrow of the government?

We do have some examples of Biblical heroes who defied the government or overthrew a government. Daniel (in Daniel 6:8) prayed to God in defiance of a law passed by the ruler King Darius. Also in the Book of Daniel (chapter 1-3) we have Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who refused to worship the king in open defiance of his law. I don't think that these examples can be used to justify resistance or revolt except under similar circumstances. These examples distinguish themselves since these acts of resistance are only about the worship of God or the Law of God. They simply refused to obey the one offending law, they did not call for revolution, the breaking of any other law, or question the legitimacy of the ruler.

The stories that should be most applicable here would be stories that talk about overthrowing the government. We have two such stories. The story of Gideon (found in Judges 6-8) tells of the overthrow of the Midianite's who had ruled over Israel for many years. We also have the Story of Samson (found in Judges 13-16) where he overthrows the rule of the Philistines. At least in the case of Gideon it is clear that God specifically ordered him to take the actions necessary to overthrow the government. In Samson's story it is less clear.

Many of our Founding Fathers and most of the colonists were Christians and the justification of rebellion was a topic of concern for them. The reasoning of the colonists can be found here in more detail, but here is a synopsis: 1.) That Romans 13 referred to the institution of government and not a specific ruler. Basically that as long as you weren't trying to get rid of all government so you could live in anarchy you were justified. 2.) That King George was illegitimate as a ruler because he was a tyrant and not a “servant of God.” 3.) They saw the war as a defensive war, not offensive, and a such justified. 4.) If the government was unrighteous and passes unrighteous laws, then it would not be righteous to follow those laws, “for the Lords sake.” 5.) Hebrews 11 mentions several Biblical heroes who were involved in overthrowing tyrannical governments. The quote, variously attributed, “Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God” was made popular at this time.

These rationalizations just don't convince me of Biblical justification. The first argument is clearly a secular humanist argument that looks like it was written by a lawyer, not a reasonable reading of the passage. The next one fails because Nero was not a “swell guy” either, the later Emperor's of Rome were to be worshiped much like King Darius. Third, if you push a government into a corner where there only options are to fight or surrender, can you really claim innocence if violence ensues? Fourth, same as number three, the Roman Empire was never righteous to the best of my knowledge, yet both Peter and Paul tell us to respect that authority. The last argument has some validity, just not sure it's enough to carry the whole case.

So, where does that leave us? I think it's fair to say the the Founding Fathers, despite of rhetoric to the contrary, were far more influenced by John Locke, Thomas Hobbes and other Enlightenment philosophers than by Biblical direction.

That being said, I am a patriotic American who thinks that the Declaration of Independence and our Constitution are incredible documents. I also feel that people should have the right to chose their own form of government, that they should be free from tyranny and oppression. I applaud the people of Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, and other countries of the Middle East for their courage and determination to seek representative governments. I'm just not sure how to fit the two competing ideas into some harmonious concept. The sites I have read on this topic try to emphasis the religious and embellish the Christian credentials of the Founding Fathers. To me, it just comes off like putting lipstick on a pig.

I would love to hear from people on this topic.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

5 Essential Christian Doctrines or Beliefs

There are certain core beliefs that cannot be trimmed down, short-cut, or glossed over. They are non-negotiable.  I have been thinking about this since my last post and the responses I got to it. After doing some research and some thinking I think I've come up with a pretty good answer to what those core beliefs are. A quick Google search of the terms, “core Christian beliefs” will give you web sites listing 10, 12, 25 or more beliefs. Some are statements of belief like the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed, others are lists of individual doctrines and scriptural passages that support them. I would propose that there are five core beliefs that cannot be compromised; The inerrancy of the Bible, the deity of Christ, man's sinful nature and need of salvation, Christ's death for our sins and resurrection, and that salvation is by grace through faith.

If we don't believe that the Bible is the inspired, infallible, and inerrant Word of God then we have no basis for our faith. The book we have today was written over a period of approximately 1,600 years by around 40 different people, and yet it is internally consistent. The Old Testament is extremely accurate, and the New Testament is 99% accurate. Most of the differences that make up the remaining 1% are misspellings or word order changes. Beyond that we have the record of many of those who were eyewitnesses to the events written about in the New Testament who went to their deaths proclaiming it to be true.

The fact that so many were willing to die for what they knew to be true is very strong evidence that not only has the Bible been handed down accurately, but that what is contained in it is also true. Internally the Bible has its own proofs of divine inspiration. There are about (depending on how you count) 40 Old Testament Prophesies that were fulfilled by Jesus Christ as one example. The combined proof leaves little doubt as to the inspired nature of the Bible and the truth it contains. Implicit in this belief is that no other writing has the same authority as the Bible, and no person or organization has the unique ability to interpret the Bible.

The fact that Jesus was at once fully human and also fully God is another core belief that cannot be compromised if one is to call himself a Christian. To paraphrase C.S. Lewis; you cannot say that Jesus was just a wise and moral teacher. He was either a madman or He was what He claimed to be, God. In John 8:24 Jesus says, “...if you do not believe that I am, you will die in your sins.” John also writes In Philippians 2:5-8 that Christ was both God and man. Though there are many heresies that denied that Christ was God, questioned his humanity, or some combination of these two, it is a recognized precept of Christianity that he was both God and man at the same time. Intertwined with this is the doctrine of the Trinity, or the Triune nature of God (I wont try to explain this, the provided link has a good overview).

Man is sinful and in need of salvation. The Bible says that "All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23) I fail to see how this can be argued with or denied, perhaps due to a lack of imagination on my part. Even neglecting to doctrine of Original Sin there is no doubt that all of us fall short. If you are in doubt, a quick read through the Sermon on the Mount should clear that up for you. Yet, there is hope because the Bible also tells us, "[T]he wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 6:23) This leads nicely into the next core belief.

Jesus Christ was born of a virgin, lived for about 33 years, was crucified under Pontius Pilot, died and was buried, and rose bodily from the grave and ascended into Heaven where He is seated at the right hand of God, and he will return to Earth one day. This is attested to by all four Gospels and also, in whole or part, by near contemporary non-believers such as Flavius Josephus and many other sources. While none of these non-Biblical sources gives a complete history or understanding of the life of Christ this should not be a surprise. A small religious sect in a backwater of the Roman Empire would hardly rate much mention at the time. The fact that there is any mention in these remaining writings is significant.

Beyond the historicity of Christ and the factual events, the meaning of those events is also vital for Christians to believe. His death was the penultimate sacrifice to atone for our sins. He died the death that we all deserve for our sins, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:24) Christ’s death was payment for our sin, in advance.

Salvation is by grace through faith alone. Paul writes in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast." He also writes in Romans 10:9 that if someone will say, “Jesus is Lord”, and they believe that God raised Him from the dead they would be saved. Paul took this right from Jesus’ own words(see cross reference). We cannot be good enough nor do enough “right” things to save ourselves. (Romans 3:20, 28)

I think that I have covered the minimum set of beliefs that almost every Christian denomination would require a person to understand and agree with. I have no theological training whatsoever, so, as an amateur I welcome comments, complaints, and constructive criticism. 

* Edits in bold 

Monday, February 14, 2011

Hallelujah in the Subway

The gentleman singing is a friend of mine from high school, Woody Williamson.  On the accordion is his friend Michelle.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Mere Christian Movement?

Maybe it's just me, but I seem to be noticing what seems to be perhaps the beginning of a movement.  I just keep running across books, sermons, media of various types that all seem to have a common thread.  The thread is a non-denominational, Biblically based, Christianity without dogma and very little doctrine.  For example; I came across Martin Thielen's book, "What is the Least I can Believe and Still Be a Christian?"  I have not read the book, just a blog post by Mr. Thielen and I looked over the study guide provided.  Another example is the documentary, "Lord, save us from your followers."  The documentary examines non-believer's perception of Christians and shows examples of people actually living out Christian principles. The book is as it's title says, it's about stripping out all of the unnecessary dogma and doctrine and focusing on the core of belief that is necessary for one to be a Christian.

Now, obviously two examples do not a movement make.  Hearing Chris Tomlin songs being sung at a Catholic church service, books like The Shack, or Crazy Love are other examples.  Now, some of these are better than others, more substantive than others.  I've also seen various sermons online from different churches that have followed this direction as well.

I may be missing something, that wouldn't be unusual.  But, I really think this is a much more effective way of reaching people than insisting on one denominations idiosyncratic dogma being correct.  Why add extra doctrine that is not necessary for salvation into the mix up front?  It's not a zero sum game (ie. if the Methodists convert someone they win, and the Baptists lose).  It's a positive sum game (ie. if anyone is brought to salvation the Church wins).

Keep it simple.  We have the rest of our lives to disagree about 6 day/Day Age/Old Earth -Creation, Predestination/Free Will, Pre/Mid/Post-Tribulation, and a hundred other doctrines which don't effect our salvation.

Just my thoughts.  I'd like to hear your thoughts.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Salvation, a beginning not the end

If you've gone to an evangelical Church for any length of time, read any books by Bible believing Christians, or listened to/watched much current Christian radio or television you have heard people give their testimony. If you aren't quite sure what that term means, it's the person's salvation story. How they came to believe in Jesus as their personal savior. I have had the opportunity to hear quite a few and to give mine a few times. Most times they follow a similar pattern; either they were saved as a child or they spent years living a life of dissipation and then found God. The narrative ends shortly after their salvation event. This tends to give the wrong picture of what it means to be a Christian.

Telling about ones life prior to salvation can help to show, as yet, unbelievers that we Christians used to be just like them, lost. There is value in this, that's for certain. However, I think by not continuing the story we do a disservice to our audience. Finding your way to salvation is a very good thing, but it's only the first, very short, act of a very long play. I feel that where we have gone from that point and what we have learned is something that needs to be told as well. Without that part of the story it makes it sound like once you saved you are done, everything after that just comes naturally. Salvation is as much the beginning of a story as it is the end.

If it is the beginning of a journey, then there must be a goal at the end and trials along the way. Sometimes it becomes difficult to keep our focus on the direction we should be heading. There are just so many distractions in our lives.  Even in the "Church" part there are always programs, studies, sermon series that can distract us.  I know I find myself needing guidance, a roadmap so to speak sometimes. I would like to suggest reading The Sermon on the Mount at these times. It is three chapters of “red letter” instructions on how we should think and act as Christ followers.

I think more time spent applying this to our lives will go a long way to improving our walk with Christ, helping to guide us and giving us a way of measuring our progress. This cannot help but improve the testimony we give others by the example of our lives. It's application to our lives and our struggles/successes with the guidance laid down in The Sermon should be something we share with others as well.  We all need to be reminded that God's work in us began at our salvation and that we all have a long way to go.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A reminder of His forgiveness

I saw this video and thought it was worth sharing here.  It's a great reminder that we all fall short, and we can all be forgiven.