Sunday, March 27, 2011

Church & State

In Washington D.C. for the weekend for the National Epilepsy Foundation Walk.  While at the Lincoln Memorial I read his Second Innaugural Address.  Take a few minutes and Google it.  Pretty clear where he stood on the seperation of church and state.

Location : 5784 Westchester St, Alexandria, VA 22310,

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Study of the Book of Revelation

I have been working through a study of the Book of Revelation with my Wednesday night Middle School bible study group.  After spending a couple of weeks going over the letters to the churches in chapter 1-3 I covered Chapters 4-5 last week which set the stage for John's apocalyptic visions of the end of time.  Beginning with chapter 6 I plan on using the following timeline from this site.  All about Popular Issues has produced a pretty good timeline with citations that I'm going to use as a guideline for reading and teaching.  For tonight I'm going to cover:

  • The First Seal (Revelation 6:1-2), likely the coming of the antichrist.

  • The Beasts and Mark of the Beast (Revelation chapter 13), the antichrist enforces loyalty.

  • The 144,000 (Revelation chapter 7:1-8), evangelists sent out into the world.

  • The First Seal is opened, "1 Now I watched when the Lamb opened one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures say with a voice like thunder, "Come!"2 And I looked, and behold, a white horse! And its rider had a bow, and a crown was given to him, and he came out conquering, and to conquer." (Revelation 6:1-2)  The "Lamb" is Christ, as we learned in chapters 4-5.  At the opening of the Seal the command, "Come" is given and a rider on a white horse comes forward with a bow.  It is commonly thought that this is the antichrist who will conquer the world and reign over it.  This also most likely lines up with the last week of Daniel's 70 weeks and with the "Prince who is to come." (Daniel 9:27)

    The Beasts and the Mark of the Beast are introduced in chapter 13.  There are dozens, if not hundreds of possible interpretations for this chapter, so I will just give the most basic interpretations.  The first Beast that rises from the sea with 10 horns and 7 heads is commonly held to be the anticrist and the dragon who gives him authority is Satan.  The second Beast rises from the land and has two horns like a lamb, but speaks like a dragon.  This is generally thought to be the false prophet.  This false prophet will perform miracles and lead worship of the first Beast.  The mark of the Beast is given to us as 666, a human number, repeated three times, perhaps representing humanism/secular philosophy.

    In chapter 7 we have the 144,000 sealed with a mark on their foreheads.  This also can be interpreted many ways both literally and figuratively.  From my reading this group is generally considered to be the remainder of the Church on earth.  This seal is the antithesis of the mark of the Beast.

    That's a quick overview and a very surface level look at this section of the Book of Revelation.  I look forward to teaching this tonight.

    Monday, March 21, 2011

    Where to look in tough times?

    I have been going through some very tough times in my life in the past year or so.  I've been struggling to find permanent employment and dealing with the financial hardships that go along with irregular income.  It has been a trying time.  I have often just barely been able to pay my bills each month.  This near constant anxiety and stress has taken it's toll on me.  However, one part of my life has been better than ever before, and that continues to keep me going.  That would be my spiritual life.

    When things get really tough I try to look to the Bible for support and comfort.  I already know that I'm different from many others, and I'm sure my favorite readings for these difficult times are no different.  While there are many verses that can be found in different places throughout the Bible, I have found the Epistle of James to be one place where I have found messages that are useful in tough times densely packed.

    James (most likely the brother of Jesus) starts off this letter by getting right to the point, "2 Count it all joy, my brothers,t when you meet trials of various kinds,3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing." (James 1:2-4)  All of my self-doubt and low feelings are tests of my faith since we are told that God will provide for our needs in many places in the Gospels.  Here James frames these tests as trials by which we learn to strengthen our faith.  You may be thinking, "Count it all joy? Are you kidding?" Well, it is a joy (not happiness) to know that the trials we go through are only helping to increase our strength and faith for further use by God.  This helps me to look for the joy in the pain of circumstances.

    Just a few verses later we read, "Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him."(James 1:12) Not only can we look at the temporal profit we can receive from our trials, we can also look forward to eternal reward if we can remain steadfast.  That's a very comforting thought and one which I find uplifting as well.

    He also warns us of what to be aware of, "19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger;20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God."( James 1:19-20)  It is easy when under pressure to speak out of frustration and to act out of that frustration or even anger.  This advice is useful to all people at all times, listen more than we speak.

    James is also very clear about how we are to live, " You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God." (James 4:4)  This unambiguous admonition, to me, helps to put things in perspective.  It helps me to see that I need to be faithful to God's will and not worry about what the world has to say about it.  Helps me keep the ever present marketing of things at arms length.  Keeps my eyes up, thoughts on the Kingdom, and my spirit willing to do what needs to be done. 

    Thursday, March 17, 2011

    Fruit of the Spirit

    Inspired in part by a recent comment to the effect that we, as Christians, do not follow Christ's teachings, I thought I'd sit down and look at how we are to live as Christians. What attributes should we show through our example to the rest of the world, what makes us different or what should make us different? The most succinct statement of these attributes can be found in Galatians 5:22-23; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, and self-control. To some degree these should all be present  in any Christian's life.  While these are gifts from the Holy Spirit, we must not only be aware of them but we must also nurture and develop them in our lives.

    Love - "And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him" (1 John 4:16). The word translated here as love is from the Greek word agape and is very common in the New Testament. This is not romantic love, it is Christian love, unconditional love. The Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians that if he had all things, but had not love, he would have nothing. While this is unconditional love, it is not blind love. We are still to be there to help others see their mistakes and help them. Paul goes on to give the definition of what Christian love is: "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails" (1 Corinthians 13:4-8). We should constantly refer to this checklist of aspiring attributes and hold ourselves up to these traits as a way to check our life's progress. As a checklist of attributes to aspire to have in your life, we should constantly refer to and hold ourselves up to these traits to check our progress.

    Joy – Do not confuse this with happiness, the two things are very different. Happiness is situationally-dependent, joy is not. Again, Paul is a great example as through his years of incarceration he undoubtedly had some very unhappy times. However in his letter to the the Philippians, he still expresses his joy in the Lord and talks about the work he has yet to do for the Gospel. "The joy of the Lord is your strength" (Nehemiah 8:10). I have found that this joy is what can sustain me when nothing else can. It has been the one constant for much of the past few difficult years of my life. "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God" (Hebrews 12:2). To me, joy is also very closely related to the next attribute, peace. I don't know that you can have one without the other.

    Peace - "Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:1). This is inner peace that comes from knowing that no matter what happens in life, we have nothing to fear because we have heaven to look forward to. It comes when we can relinquish the hold that material things have on us and when we can understand that while we live in this world we are not to be caught up in it. "Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matthew 6:34) This for me is a constant struggle. It's one of those things that's very easy to know and understand yet very hard to practice.

    Longsuffering (patience) -- We are "strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness" (Colossians 1:11). As this passage shows, none of these fruits exists entirely on its own. They all work together and reinforce one another to make a picture of what we should look like. Patience for us humans is difficult. We don't like to wait for anything or anyone. I have found that when I can be patient with others they generally respond in a positive manner, particularly when dealing with government agencies or large corporations. Even if they don't respond any differently, I feel different for having treated them with patience and respect as opposed to blowing up at them in frustration. "I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called,with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love" (Ephesians 4:1-2).

    Gentleness (kindness) -- “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”(Ephesians 4:31, 32) Being kind to one another seems like such a simple thing. It is something most of us learned in kindergarten and then forgot at some point. It is far easier to give a sharp reply to someone and walk away than it is to take a moment to be kind and care about them. But it's in these small acts that we set ourselves apart from the rest of humanity. I know I have experienced in my life how a simple act of kindness that took only a moment longer or a step out of my way had a much greater impact on the recipient than on my day. This is one of the precepts of Christianity that is easy to brush off as being overly simplistic and naive, even childlike. Perhaps it is, but these simple childlike acts are the ones we should be doing on a regular basis and the ones that show others that we care for them particularly if we don't even know them.

    Goodness – What is goodness? What does it mean to be good? How do we measure what is good over what is not good? To answer these we have an encounter with Jesus to pull from. He was approached by a man who called Him “Good Teacher,” to which He replied, "Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” (Luke 18:19) So there we have it, God is good. Obviously we cannot be like God, but we can do our best to emulate Him and the example set by His Son while he was on earth. Unlike Google's motto, “Do no evil,” our motto is to; do good. Just doing no evil is not enough. "And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up." (Galatians 6:9).

    Faith (faithfulness) - "Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?"(Mark 4:40) These were Jesus' word to His disciples after He calmed the storm on the Sea of Galilee. Even these men who were selected by Jesus were at times uncertain in their faith, and they lived with Him for years. How much harder is it for us today to maintain our faith? I lost faith at 13 years old after my father died, and it took me 25 years to find my way back. It takes maintenance to keep your faith. By continuing to read the Bible and surrounding yourself with believers who can lift you up, support you, and who aren't afraid to call you out when you are stumbling. But this term also refers to faithfulness or trustworthiness. We are to be good stewards of things were are in charge of and we are to do our best to live our lives beyond reproach. Particularly, those of us who teach the Bible ( I teach adult and middle school Bible study) are to keep in mind the responsibility we have to our students to not only teach them the right things but also to live our lives as a testament to what we teach.

    Meekness - “Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.”(James 1:21) This attribute is not to be taken as weakness or as belittlement of ourselves. It refers to us never being too proud to do any job that needs to be done, no matter how humiliating or low it may seem. Christ gave us the best example of this when He washed the disciples feet (including Judas) at the Last Supper. He took on the role of a servant, not because He was weak, but because He was not above the lowliest task. "With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love" (Ephesians 4:2).

    Temperance (self-control) - "But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love" (2 Peter 1:5-7). To me this concept wraps around all of the other attributes listed here. Gaining salvation does not make us sin-free, nor does it make it so that we can live all of these attributes without work. The majority of that work involves self control because our base and worldly nature is to act in just the opposite way. We must crucify these innate impulses on the cross with the help of the Holy Spirit in order to grow beyond them and into the full maturity of living a life worthy of being called Christian.

    This short list of attributes is one which we must use to evaluate our walk with Christ on a regular basis. While the concepts are simple and easy to understand, it is apparent that we all can and should spend the rest of our lives working towards attaining them.

    Tuesday, March 15, 2011

    Against Heresies: Are you sure that you want to be a theologian?

    Against Heresies: Are you sure that you want to be a theologian?: "It is all too easy for our interest in theology to be little more than a love of intellectualism applied to the being of God. It is all to..."

    Saturday, March 12, 2011

    Paradoxes that aren't

    I'm reading G.K. Chesterton's, Orthodoxy at the moment and have been really impressed with his writing.  It was very surprising to me to read his thoughts on the criticisms of Christianity and on the seeming paradoxes within Christianity itself.  I have often wondered how critics could maintain that Christianity was at the same time an overly passive, meek, even week theology/philosophy and also claim that it was too warlike, aggressive and controlling.  Even within the Bible itself we have statements that seem to create paradoxes, "For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it." Luke 9:24(NIV) How can this be? It would seem either that Christianity makes no sense at all or that it is so obstruse and complicated that few actually understand it.  Chesterton does a very good job of showing that it is neither.

    The truth is that both views are correct, at least in part, and they are both held at the same time.  When called to battle we are called to devote everything to it no matter the odds.  When called to be passive we are not to be just somewhat passive, but fanatically passive.  In Chesterton's own words:

    No one doubts that an ordinary man can get on with this world; but we demand not strength enough to get on with it, but strength enough to get it on.  Can he hate it enough to change it, and yet love it enough to think it worth changing?  Can he look up at its colossal good without once feeling acquiescence?  Can he look up at its colossal evil without once feeling despair?  Can he, in short, be at once not only a pessimist and an optimist, but a fanatical pessimist and a fanatical optimist?  Is he enough of a pagan to die for this world, and enough of a Christian to die to it?  In this combination, I maintain, it is the rational optimist who fails, the irrational optimist who succeeds.  He is ready to smash the whole universe for the sake of itself.

    This fell together with something else I read recently.  I have been doing a study of the book of Revelation with my middle school youth group.  Christ's letter to the church at Laodicea captures this thought so clearly.  Christ rebukes this church for being lukewarm, neither hot not cold, "I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other!" Rev 3:15 (NIV)  There it is, we are called to be hot or cold, in or out, on or off.  Christianity is not Buddhism, there is no middle path in Christianity.  The middle path is compromise, conformity to the world, and death.

    So, are you radically sold out to Christ, or just going through the motions?

    Saturday, March 5, 2011


    A couple of different thoughts were running through my mind the other day while I was running. Actually, they've been running around in my head for a week or so.  I run fairly long distances and am working my way up to really long distances(you can keep up here).  This gives me lots of time to think things over.  I usually listen to music while I run, sometimes I pay attention to it, sometimes it is just background noise.  The other day the music just clicked with my thoughts and helped me to crystallize the two different thoughts into one coherent idea.  The first thought that I was working on was from Paul where he writes in Hebrews 12:1, "...let us run with endurance (perseverance) the race that is set before us."  Now, this may seem an obvious verse for a runner to think about, and I suppose it is.  But, I was really thinking about how my actual perseverance running applied to my metaphorical race.  What is our spiritual race that is laid out before us?  What is the nature of this race that requires endurance?
    video link

    We are not called as Christians to live comfortable safe lives.  We are called to a life of service, to be out in the world showing our faith by living it (Ye are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid.)  Putting yourself out there, sharing your faith is not easy.  Loving our enemies, sharing the Gospel, helping others in need, having proper relationships with family, government, business... all these things are difficult to do every day.  As I wrote here, we are all called to be missionaries. Paul says in is second letter to Timothy, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith." We are even called to be faithful unto death.  While all these things are difficult, I don't think most of us really ever deal with most of these things.

    I think the trouble most of us have is that we grow comfortable in our surroundings.  We surround ourselves with like minded people.  We don't leave our circle of friends and family.  By doing this we insulate ourselves from ever being put in a situation where we will be faced with people with different views, even (Gasp!) non-Christians. Even our churches are generally sanctuaries for saints, places full of like minded people with similar backgrounds, that come together every week to provide a safe place to have Bible lessons told to us.  To paraphrase and old saying, church has become a museum for saints instead of a school for sinners.  To me this means that many of us are not running, or even walking the race.  We are seated comfortably in the box seats observing the race.
    video link

    This is where the music I was listening to really struck me and things started to come together.  Running long distances is not easy, it takes dedication and determination, and it's hard on your body.  But, if you stop running for any length of time you start to lose your fitness level, it slowly fades. More difficult that if you had just kept running.  Remember when you were a new Christian? Not just the immediate feelings, but even weeks and months later.  You wanted to be involved, share your faith with everyone, you had a desire to bring other people to the fantastic place you found.  Over time this fades, we let people dampen our enthusiasm, we are shown by example that it's ok to sit on the sidelines and let worldly ideas slowly creep in.  We learn all the "church" answers to avoid stepping out of our comfort zone; "I don't feel called," "I'll have to pray about it," "I don't feel led to..." (while these can be valid reasons, I think they often become easy excuses for inaction)

    I think there is a good reason that Paul uses running as his example.  It is hard to keep going running long distances, it takes endurance of pain and exhaustion.  I think Paul had in mind the run that the modern marathon was based on, the run by Pheidippides(300 miles, not just 26).  More than that, if you stop, then try to start up again it is so much harder than if you had just stayed at it all along.  Paul also talks about "fighting the good fight," and "putting on the whole armor of God." Being a Christian is not about being a spiritual couch potato.  It's about fighting a long battle physically, mentally and spiritually.  It's about giving it our all every day and not saving anything for the end, it will be too late to use it by then. 

    A little motivational video with pictures and video from the Ironman Triathalon (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride 26.2 mile run).  My thought is... are we putting as much effort into being a Christian as these people are putting into this sporting event? Why not?