Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year!

It's Not That Complicated

We tend to make church too complicated. When I write "we," I'm referring to the entire church, myself included.

On the flip side, I've recently seen a number of church signs and websites say things such as, "Loving God. Loving People." I have to admit that they've got it right.

Living to honor Jesus Christ can be summed up in "Loving God. Loving People." This is not some cliche, but is purely scriptural. In a familiar passage we read this:

But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:34-40)

What, then, does this look like? We show our love for God by loving other people. This does not mean that loving others is a means to an end, but rather that it is evidence, or fruit, of our love for the Lord.

This leads to another question: what does it mean to love other people? This is where we must be careful to avoid modern cultural definitions for love. In today's USA, love tends to be defined as warm feelings toward another. These may be familial, romantic, or platonic, but they boil down to affection based on our personal preferences.

When we look at the life of Christ, we see something different. Jesus certainly cared for other people, but we don't primarily see this through his expressing his affections in word. Rather, we see Jesus serving others again, again, and again. We read of Jesus going out of his way to help those in need. He was constantly sacrificing his own comfort, walking around in desolate and dirty places, hanging around with the "sinners" of society, and essentially living a homeless existence in order to show the love of God through service to others.

Jesus' teachings for his followers are not particularly complicated. They are very profound and revolutionary, but not complex or difficult to comprehend. For example, the Sermon on the Mount is very understandable, even to new Christians. It's the living-it-out part that is tough.

In discussing the church we can at times get distracted from what is both most important and simplest. That's loving God and loving people. We show this through acts of loving, self-sacrificing service.

"Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth." I John 3:18

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Add to My Blogroll Please

I was looking through my blogroll today when I realized that I need to read a wider variety of Christian bloggers. Simply put, I agree with too many bloggers on my blogroll about almost everything. That's not healthy. I need to be challenged.

Therefore, today I added 15-20 new blogs to my blogroll. However, I'm certain that I am missing other good ones. This is where I need your assistance.

Please comment by telling me good Christian bloggers that you think I should be reading. It doesn't matter whether or not you think I'll agree with them on various issues. As long as they have some original thoughts and write well, I'll be happy.

Thanks for the help!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Looking to be Great in the Kingdom?

Jesus made it clear that greatness in his kingdom equals servanthood:

And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42-45)

This flies in the face of everything the world tells us. That shouldn't surprise us since our Lord's Kingdom is not of this world. The challenge to us as the church is to avoid the world's definition of greatness and instead to strive after that of Christ.

What does this look like in day-to-day living? I believe it means that we take opportunity to do for others and set examples for others. Instead of being concerned about status or authority, we simply try to help other people as they have need.

As I think back on my life, the greatest people I have known have been servants. Some of these folks have held positions of leadership in the church while others have not. Regardless, it was the service that I recall fondly. That's what made them great.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Reason for the Season?

He Gave His Only Son

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God." John 3:16-18

Monday, December 24, 2012

"O Holy Night"

Weirdness and the Gospel

Today our family was walking around the historic district here in Savannah. We were having a great time until we saw a man strolling around holding up a sign on a stick. I didn't get to read exactly what the sign said, but the gist of it was that Jesus is the abundant life and Satan is the abundant death. This, of course, is true. The problem was not the man's message per se, but rather his method of presenting it.

The man was walking around yelling "Jesus is Lord!" He may have said some other things, but I couldn't understand him. He didn't approach anybody but instead just wandered around with his sign yelling out about Jesus. It was just plain weird. The result was sadly predictable. Everyone who saw him moved away from him, laughing at his bizarre behavior.

I write about this because we must make sure that our presentations of the gospel are not socially weird. We want to ensure that if people reject Christ, they do it because of Christ's claims and not because we are social misfits. The gospel is full of radical truths. For example, Jesus demands each individual's full allegiance. He claims to have risen from the dead. He says that Hell is a real place. These claims fly in the face of modern thought. If people are going to reject these truths, there is nothing we can do about that. However, let's strive to present these truths in a manner in which being weird does not get in the way.

I don't doubt that this man had good intentions. However, the end result was that his efforts did more damage than good. What could he have done differently? Instead of holding up a sign, he might have done much better to simply try to engage folks in basic conversations. For example, Savannah has many tourists. If he is a local, which he probably is, he could have helped people with directions. This might have led to opportunities to share the gospel.

To sum up, if unbelievers are going to reject Jesus, let's be sure it is him they are rejecting and not our own weirdness.

"Feliz Navidad"

Sunday, December 23, 2012

From "The Gathering" to Simply "Gathering"

As we talk about church life, much of the focus often falls on what we refer to as "the gathering." I use this type of language as much as anybody else does. The problem I've come to see with this is that "the gathering" almost takes on a life of its own. It begins to draw much of our focus. We place much energy into it. It is where church life occurs.

There may be a better way. It can begin with simply how we think about getting together with Christian brothers and sisters. Instead of "the gathering," we may be much better off just thinking and speaking in terms of "gathering." When just gather, the focus is less upon what we do than upon who is there. We can shift our attention away from the types of events and activities (whatever they may be) toward the needs of the people present. The move is from action-driven to relationship-driven.

I'm not trying to split hairs. Rather, there is a significant issue at stake. That issue has to do with why we even get together with the body in the first place. When we think in terms of "the gathering," we can fall into a trap of thinking that certain activities are the reason we get together. However, when we simply gather, we can orient ourselves to what truly matters: the who we gather for. We ultimately gather for Christ. We live this out by gathering for the edification of both ourselves and others.

The language we use not only shows how we think but also shapes our thinking. I'm trying to move away from talking about "the gathering" toward just "gathering." My hope is that this moves me more toward thinking of others instead of activities.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Relationship Driven Church

It's fascinating to read how the New Testament authors describe church life. Almost everything they write has to do directly with interpersonal relationships. All of the "one another" exhortations are examples of this. If we studied the application passages of Paul's letters we'd see a comprehensive focus upon relationships between brothers and sisters in Christ.

What we don't see too much of is a focus on events. Although we read a few descriptions of church gatherings (for example Acts 20), these are not many. A significant passage such as Hebrews 10:24-25 focuses much more on the relationships involved than on the specifics of the meetings themselves.

In our culture the focus of the church seems to lean toward events. This can be true whether talking about more institutional churches or simpler ones. Although this is done with good intentions, it indicates priorities that are at least somewhat off target.

We'd all do well to ask whether or not we are more focused on relationships or events. I admit that there is almost always overlap between relationships with friends and events we are all involved in. However, they are not the same thing. Which of the two do we spend more time on? Do we put more work into events or relationships?

When we read the New Testament, we see Christians who had some great relationships and some that weren't so great. The writers dealt much with these issues. That was their concern. The church today (that's all of us Christ-followers) benefits when we take a look both at our relationships and at how much effort we place into those relationships.

Monday, December 17, 2012

A Minimalist Approach

I'm going back to a simpler, minimalist approach to this blog's format. It's better for commenting.

What the Priesthood Looks Like

Since we, as Christ's church, are a priesthood, we should know what this looks like. In general, there is a fairly simple answer. We find it in some familiar verses - Romans 12:1-2.

"I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." Romans 12:1-2

Although the answer is simple, it is also profound. Sacrifices by definition are completely given over to someone. They are dead to their own desires and wishes. They in every way exist for someone else. In our case that is Christ.

Basically, we exist to please God. On a daily basis, then, Paul admonishes us to make a practice of presenting ourselves as living sacrifices. This requires action on our part. There is absolutely nothing passive about it.

A significant part of the discipleship process is helping our brothers and sisters in Christ present themselves as sacrifices (as they in turn help us do the same). When we initially turn to Christ, he makes us priests. Our responsibility is to engage in mutual priesthood building as we assist one another in becoming daily what we already are.

What's all this look like day to day? As we relate to the church, we live out the one anothers. As we engage the world, we preach the truth and serve abundantly. To put it simply, priests live to glorify Christ by striving to do what he desires each minute of the day.

As with many other aspects of the Christian life, living as priests is not complicated. What it does require is devotion, obedience, and action.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

On Getting a Christmas Gift but Not Opening It

God has determined that his people are his priests. All his people are his priests.

"You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." I Peter 2:5

"But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light." I Peter 2:9

It's not that all believers might be priests. In fact, all are priests. It is not an option; God has decided it. Also, it is no chore, but rather a great privilege.

Despite this, the church is largely ignorant of the implications of the priesthood of all believers. Most local bodies function as if only a few are priests. The majority of the people are passive while the few do most of the work.

This reminds me of receiving a Christmas gift but then not opening it. Now, I've never done that and you probably haven't either. The church however both has and continues to do so. The priesthood of all believers is a stunning and unique gift that God has given to all his followers. God desires that we all live out the reality of what we are. Instead of ignoring this gift, let's vigorously embrace it and encourage our brothers and sisters to do so as well.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

A Key Difference

The church is a self-sacrificing. The institution is self-serving.

There can be no reconciliation of the two. The church thrives when it leaves the institution behind. When God's people follow God's plan for church life (instead of man's traditions) God is honored. God in turn honors this by doing amazing things.

I encourage you to depart the institution. Try to do so lovingly and charitably, but by all means do so. Although it may be painful in the short-term, the long terms rewards are worth it.

The institution cannot be reformed. It is bankrupt. Depart my friends. Move from the self-serving organization to the self-sacrificing organism. There will be no regrets.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

What's Important When Working 60-70 Hours Per Week

For a while now I've been working 60-70 hours each week. It can be a struggle, but I'm grateful to God for the job.

Working this many hours has placed very significant time constraints on both me and my family. We simply don't have time to do much more than what each day requires. This has forced me to prioritize what is most important.

Related to church life, all I really care about any more is getting together with friends. I don't get to do this too often; therefore, whenever it happens it is special. I don't care so much what happens specifically when we get together. I'm just happy to be together. It's a thrill to simply be with brothers and sisters in Christ.

Talking (and usually eating) with Christian friends is what's important in church life. That's, of course, not all that matters, but it does take priority when time is at minimum.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Dumb Ways to Die

I'm still on a blogging break, but wanted to share this silly video with you. Don't question. Just enjoy.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Blogging Break

I'm taking a break.

Ever since I wrote my first post about 5.5 years ago, I have been consistently blogging. That's a long time. Some rest is needed on this end.

I'm taking a little while off. I'll still read other blogs, but I won't be doing any writing. See you later.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Keep Reforming

October 31st is important to me for a couple of reasons.

First, October 31st, 1517 is the day Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany. This act is one of the key historical markers of the Protestant Reformation. Although the Reformation was not without its problems, I am deeply grateful to those involved who stood for gospel truth in the face of persecution.

Second, October 31st, 2010 was my final day as a professional pastor. Although I had announced my resignation about one month earlier, the church where I was employed asked me to stay on until the end of October. Because it marks my final day in the paid pastorate, October 31st is a sort of personal Reformation Day for me. I still believe exactly the same things I did two years ago that led to my departure.

The Christian life should be one of consistent reformation. As we walk daily with Christ, we have the privileges of getting to know Him better, becoming more like Him, and helping others do the same. This was Paul's goal. In this sense, reformation never ends.

Monday, October 29, 2012

When On My Deathbed

I'm thankful to say that I've never been anywhere near my own deathbed. Although I've crossed a Rubicon of sorts (age 40), I still feel pretty good.

That said, I recently pondered what I will care about on my deathbed. My guess is that it will be the same for all of us. Assuming we are right with God, we will care about two things. The first will be seeing Jesus soon. The second will be relationships we have here.

In light of that, it seems that church life should be the same. If there is an urgency to this life, then we ought to abandon distractions and secondary issues that come between us. If we won't care about it on our deathbeds, then let's not let it matter much now. As Christ's church, let's instead focus on our relationships with Christ and others.

This speaks directly to the issue of unity of the body. When on my deathbed, I'm not going to refuse to spend time with someone because he disagrees with me on baptism, the Lord's Supper, women's roles, tithing, etc., etc. Instead, my guess is that we will cherish relationships with everyone we care about. We'll want to spend time together.

We tend to go through life as if tomorrow is guaranteed. We allow things of lesser importance to come between us and other believers. Frankly, we are often distracted. We'd benefit from living as if we're on a deathbed. When we think in these terms, it helps us prioritize what matters.

Church life is about relationships. When we sense urgency, these are all we want. We grasp and hold onto unity when life is nearing the end. Instead of waiting for the deathbed, let's start living that way every day.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Interesting Translation of Hebrews 10:24-25

"Let us keep one another in mind, always ready with incitements to charity and to acts of piety, not abandoning, as some do, our common assembly, but encouraging one another; all the more, as you see the great day drawing nearer."

This is the translation of Hebrews 10:24-25 from the Knox Bible (the translator is not, as some might suppose, Alan Knox).

I'm not suggesting that this is the best translation, but I do think it has some strengths. The language is colorful, giving the verse a sense of action. The word "incitements" in particular is striking. I also enjoy the choice of "to charity and to acts of piety." These words bring a real-world feel to what is often translated as "to love and good works." Finally, the use of "common assembly" is more interesting then simply saying "meeting together."

This appears to be an example where the work of one translator is superior to the work of a translation committee. Although I generally prefer the work of a group, an individual may be able to occasionally employ more diverse and striking language that a committee would avoid.

What do you think of this particular translation of 10:24-25?

Friday, October 26, 2012

What I Will Tell My Kids About Finding a Church

God has blessed Alice and me with three great kids: Caroline, Mary, and Bobby. They are teens and all live at home. However, someday they will depart. If they stay in Savannah, they may want to be part of a different church family. If they move somewhere else, they'll be forced to find other Christians with whom to fellowship.

What do I tell my kids about finding a church family? I've been thinking about that lately. It's helped me boil down what is most important. I came to a simple conclusion. This is what I will tell them, "Ask God to lead you to a group of people who you can help grow closer to Jesus Christ and who will help you grow closer to Jesus Christ."

Growing closer to Jesus necessarily includes becoming more like Jesus. This includes living sacrificially for others, striving for personal holiness, being an active disciple-maker, etc. When we look at the exhortations in scripture for how Christ's followers should live, we see these almost always given in the context of the Christian community. Commands are for the large part plural as opposed to individual. Growing closer to Christ occurs most effectively in community as opposed to solo.

III John verse 4 says, "I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth." All truth is God's truth. Jesus stated directly that He is the way, the truth, and the life." My great hope for my children is that they grow increasingly closer to the One who is the source of all truth. This will happen best with other believers who they can help and who can help them.

What do/would you tell your kids or others about finding a church family?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

New Testament Missions Series

I've concluded my look at significant missions-related passages in each book of the New Testament. If you'd like to read any of the posts, simply click here. Our Lord Jesus has commissioned us as his disciple makers. I'm glad that he has provided us with so much information to help us do it.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Chain of Command in the Church

The church has a short chain of command:

First there's Jesus Christ as the unquestioned Head. Then there's everybody else.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Missions in Revelation

"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.'" Revelation 21:1-4

This is, quite clearly, the final post in this series on missions in the New Testament.

The book of Revelation has much to tell us about various aspects of life. One key is the great deal of information about Jesus' second coming.

It is interesting that the second coming is often left out of gospel presentations. So much time is spent on what Jesus did in the past that what Christ is doing today and will do in the future are frequently left out. We need to avoid this pitfall.

As we share with others about Jesus we need to make sure it doesn't sound like a history lesson. The past certainly is significant, but the present and future are, too. New believers must understand that Jesus is alive and well today, and will one day return to rule as unquestioned and unchallenged King. When we include this part of the good news, the one hearing can better comprehend the urgency of the message.

Additionally, when Jesus returns He will do away with all pain and suffering. This idea is extremely attractive to lost folks. It may attract them to Jesus Himself.

The second coming is part of the gospel. Let's not forget to share it.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Silence Does Not Equal Agreement

A while back I blogged that I'm done arguing. This does not mean that I'll not counter false teaching about the gospel. It does mean that I'm not going to argue with other Christians about secondary issues. I'll talk about them, but no more arguing.

I came to this decision because I realized (finally) that silence does not equal agreement. Just because I don't counter what I hear, it does not automatically mean that I agree with what I've heard. I don't know why it's taken me almost 42 years to come to this conclusion.

As Christians we know we must stand for the truth of the gospel. The problem is that we also tend to think that we must stand for the truth of whatever it is that we believe about church structure, leadership, creation, education, women's roles, the meaning of the Lord's Supper, the form of the Lord's Supper, baptism, etc., etc.

Everything does not have to be argued nor should it be. When we are silent, this does not mean we've lost, caved in, or surrendered. It simply indicates that we aren't going to discuss the topic anymore at that time with that person. Since it takes two to argue, that stops it cold.

My advice to you is to pick your arguments very carefully. They can often lead to unnecessary division within the church. Instead, try being quiet. I've enjoyed it so far.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Missions in Jude

"Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ." Jude 3-4

False teaching is not a topic that gets much attention in the church. However, we ought to be mentioning it as we share the gospel. Although it certainly will not be the first thing we will say, we also should not ignore it. Chances are good that whoever we talk to has already heard a decent amount of false teaching.

False teachers are prominent in this country. Their influence must be countered.

False teaching is written about by almost all authors of the New Testament. The letters of II Peter and Jude are almost completely about it. As we can see above, Jude's first desire was to write about their "common salvation." However, false teaching was such a danger that he had to write about that instead.

Jude's appeal is that believers contend for the faith. They were to speak the truth about Christ in the face of false teachings.

New believers must know that they may have to soon defend the truth of the gospel as well. Frankly, new believers are often well prepared to do this because they usually have a zeal for Christ. He has saved them, and they desire to defend the truth. Also, some folks in the new believers' lives will likely attack their new beliefs. They need to defend what they believe.

The gospel depends upon accurate teaching of God's truths. False teaching, therefore, is a direct assault upon the gospel. All believers, whether new or not so new, must be ready to stand for the truth.

To read any posts in this series about missions in the New Testament, click here.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

A Scary Example of Poor Biblical Interpretation

This week I ran into a scary example of poor biblical interpretation.

I was talking with another Christian when the topic turned to politics. In discussing Afghanistan, we agreed that we would like to see our troops get out of that country soon. Then he said something that I find downright frightening. His words (paraphrased), "I think we should pull out of Afghanistan and then bomb them. I know this would hurt women and children, but God told the Israelites to kill all the people they faced in the OT. We should do the same."

I was stunned. I managed to spit something out like, "I think we should pull out but not bomb them." At the time I was so flabbergasted that I couldn't think up anything else to say. His reasoning was bad enough that my brain temporarily turned to mush.

This Christian man's thinking is an example of the danger of looking to the Old Testament for specifics about how to live today. In an earlier post I wrote, "The Old Testament, then, should be understood as always pointing ahead to the incarnation of Christ. Its shadows offer clues to us of the Redeemer to come. The OT is not a guidebook for us to follow as much as it is a promise of a better future in the author of the New Covenant."

We must be careful in applying too many OT specifics to our lives as Christ's church. Much of the OT was designed to help the nation of Israel live. The church is not Israel. The USA certainly isn't Israel.

When we want to know how to live today, the New Testament tells us all we need. Jesus emphasized peace with other people. For example, in Matthew 5:38-39 he said, "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also." A few verses later (5:43-44) our Lord states, "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you."

I'm not addressing here whether or not the USA should ever go to war. Rather, I'm pointing to how followers of Christ ought to think about war. Biblical commands to Israel on warfare have no bearing on the USA today. It is dangerous to think that they do, for it will lead to much death.

We have to interpret all biblical passages in their context. Only then will we be able to accurately understand what the original authors meant. As Christ-followers, we should be people that emphasize the importance of peace. Peace is a hallmark of God's kingdom.

We must be careful. As this somewhat extreme example shows, lives can depend on it.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Missions in III John

"Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God." III John 11

Sometimes we make the Christian life seem too difficult. New believers may be overwhelmed trying to figure out how to live. The above verse provides us with a good summary of the walk of sanctification.

When we share the gospel, the information is primarily about who God is and what he has accomplished. It is only because of God's actions that we can be in a right relationship with him. We are saved only because he has saved us.

That said, believers bear fruit in keeping with righteousness. Since we are new creations, we are able through the power of the Holy Spirit to live lives that please God. But what do these lives look like?

The scriptures certainly provide us with much information about how to live out the specifics of our walks with Christ. For example, I Corinthians gives the church all sorts of information about unity, law suits, the Lord's Supper, marriage and divorce, etc.

All this information may seem a bit overwhelming at first to new followers of Jesus. That's where III John 11 is helpful. New Christians need to know that their lives should look different from that of the world. They must strive to imitate good because it is from God. All evil is not.

To read any of the posts in this NT missions series, click here.

Monday, October 15, 2012

On the Ceremonially Unclean Side of the River

As many of you know, our family had the privilege of serving the Lord in Varanasi, India in 2006-2007. Varanasi is one of the holiest cities in all of Hinduism. You've probably seen photos such as the one above. The Hindus are ceremonially bathing in the Ganges River in the hopes of washing their sins away. Large stone steps, referred to as ghats, line the city side of the river. Literally thousands of people pilgrimage to V-town every day to dip in the Ganges.

The far side of the river is barren. I don't have a photo of it because there isn't anything to see other than a mud bar and some small trees. The far side is considered ceremonially unclean by the Hindus. Somewhat ironically, and appropriately, the Indian Christians of the city hold their baptisms on the far side. What the Hindus consider impure, the Christians embrace.

The Christians often baptize of the far side because they face less persecution there. This is completely understandable; they will face enough persecution as it is. There's no reason to foolishly invite more by trying to baptize on the ghat side. As a bonus, the far side, while considered ceremonially impure by the Hindus, is actually much cleaner because there's nothing over there.

The baptisms on the far side of the Ganges remind me of Hebrews 13:11-13:

"For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured."

In many ways, the Indian Christians of Varanasi have run to Christ outside the gate. When they leave Hinduism for Christianity they often face all sorts of persecution (some worse than others). The far side of the river baptisms are a perfect illustration of living outside the gate with Christ. They have given up much for His great cause. They suffer with Him. They see that it's worth it.

It's odd living here in the USA. I often wonder what it truly is to go outside the gate to live with Christ. I've never suffered in any significant way for my Lord. I'm not complaining, but it certainly seems like an anomaly compared to what most believers face around the world today.

To some extent we all suffer a little when we reject the things of the world. However, in the United States this isn't really that big of a deal. We American Christians almost never face actual persecution for following Jesus.

I suppose the best thing to do is to be ready to suffer when the time comes. We'll all likely to be called to reside outside the gate sooner or later.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

I Myself Will Be the Shepherd of My Sheep

A wonderful promise from God to His people:

"For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land. And I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the country. I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land. There they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on rich pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice." Ezekiel 34:11-16

He truly is the Good Shepherd.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Missions in II John

Continuing in this series on NT missions, we turn to a very short book. The epistle of II John contains only thirteen verses. Despite this, we see something critical for an accurate sharing of the gospel.

In verses 4-5 we read, "I rejoiced greatly to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as we were commanded by the Father. And now I ask you, dear lady — not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but the one we have had from the beginning— that we love one another."

We see John mention both truth and love. Christianity is a belief-system based on truth. It is also a way of life based in love. God's truth and his love are supreme. He showed this most fully on the cross. As his followers, we are called to live lives of both truth and love. These two concepts do not exist separately; rather, the go hand-in-hand. We are not living in truth if we do not love. We cannot love if we do not abide in the truth. It is both or nothing.

John specifically mentions in these verses both walking in the truth and loving one another. Both truth and love describe God's expectations for us. Ephesians 4:15 says, "Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ."

The church is often tempted to either speak the truth apart from love, or express love by caving in on the truth. Neither can be forfeited.

Let's convey the importance of both truth and love as we share the good news of Christ.

He's Got My Vote:

Friday, October 12, 2012

Missions in I John

"That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life — the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us — that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete." I John 1:1-4

The letter of I John tells us something extremely significant as it relates to missions. In the opening to the epistle (1:1-4), John testifies to being an eyewitness to the person of Jesus Christ.

The gospel message is significant only if Jesus is a real person who actually did the things the bible describes. John announces in this letter that he, along with others, spent real time with Jesus Himself. John had not simply heard that Jesus existed. Rather, he saw, heard, and even touched Christ.

Eyewitness evidence is extremely important. When we present the gospel we have the advantage of saying that numerous people actually saw Him alive. The one hearing this must deal in some way with this evidence. It is impossible to ignore.

To read any or all posts in this NT missions series, click here.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Easy Reproducibility

When my wife Alice and I were in missions training with the IMB several years ago, we were taught much about church planting. What fascinated me about our instruction was that we were told to follow the biblical model in planting churches. For example, we learned that churches should gather in homes, should have a multiplicity of unpaid leaders, should multiply quickly, etc. We studied through the book of Acts together and modeled what we were going to do on what we saw there.

I'd like to say that our training was as it was simply because that's what scripture shows us. That's not completely the case. The main reason we were taught to plant this model of church is that it "works." It is much more effective in spreading the gospel than is the institutional model of big building and salaried clergy. Simply put, the biblical model for church has easy reproducibility. The institutional model does not.

I suppose it is no surprise that what we see in scripture is also the model that works. Of course God is going to give us the model that is most effective in reaching the nations. The irony in our training, of course, is that the IMB is the Southern Baptist mission board. Institutional churches that largely reject the biblical model for church life are nonetheless financially supporting a missions agency that teaches exactly that model.

It troubles me when I hear about short-term missions trips where the people are going somewhere to build church buildings. This does more harm than good. It keeps the folks stuck to a building. It would be much better to go somewhere short-term and help the local Christians spread the gospel in any way possible.

God has provided us with the model for church life that He desires. One of the benefits of this model is that it reproduces easily. This is critical in countries where financial resources are scarce. Meeting in homes with nobody receiving a salary is an easy model to replicate from place to place. It is this model we should follow.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Missions in II Peter

"His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire." II Peter 1:3-4 (emphasis mine)

A complete presentation of the gospel is much more than simply telling someone that Jesus died for sins. The apostle Peter writes something important in his second epistle that we should be sharing with lost people (to read the first post in this series, click here).

Peter says, " may become partakers of the divine nature." What in the world does this mean?

In light of multiple other places in the bible, it is clear that Peter does not mean that we take on divinity. Our partaking of the divine nature does not indicate that we somehow transform into the divine nature. God never changes who He is, and He does not share his divine essence. Upon salvation, we become new creations, but we don't turn into mini-gods of any kind.

To partake of something is to become directly and intimately involved with it. When we partake of the divine nature, it means we become intimately involved with God Himself. We share life with Him. He shares His glory with us for us to experience. Since we become new creations, our interests and desires become more and more like God's. We gradually become more like Him (not in divinity, but in holiness).

All of God's life is a divine life. As we abide in Him, we share in this divine life. This is a truth that we need to convey to lost folks. Much of life is pointless drudgery to those apart from Christ. Many are searching for something beyond the next fleeting worldly pleasure. We must tell them that God's plan is for His special people to share life with Him. The idea of partaking of the divine nature is attractive to at least some people.

I'm not suggesting that we stress this above other truths when we present the gospel. However, we should also not ignore it. It is an astounding thing that God allows us to partake of life with Him. Let's share this wondrous truth!

To read any post in this NT missions series, click here.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

This Applies to the Church, Too

Although the above Voltaire quote is most likely aimed at politics, it actually applies to all of life. When it comes to the church, this maxim certainly holds true.

Ironically, the only true Head of the church, and therefore ruler, is beyond criticism. You can't criticize someone who is perfect is every way.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Wow, God Must Have Been Really Tired!

"Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation." Genesis 2:1-3

The first few verses of Genesis chapter two tell us what God did on the seventh day of creation. He rested. I take this to mean that God rested for a 24 hour period (count me in with AIG on this one). While I do not know what it means for God to rest, I do know that He rested for a day.

There are many who do not believe that the word "day" in Genesis chapters one and two refers to a 24 hour period. Rather, they believe it instead points to much longer periods of time, usually millions of years. The folks at Biologos, for example, think this.

If "day" in Genesis chapter one speaks of thousands or millions of years, then "day" in Genesis chapter two must mean the same. That means, according to this view, that God must have rested for thousands or millions of years. My response to this is astonishment; God must have been really tired!

We quickly see the absurdity in this. God by definition is omnipotent, sovereign, and above physical limitation. He has no need to rest for millions of years. He doesn't get tired (Jesus got tired on earth, but that was His humanity).

The word "day" is used very consistently in Genesis one-two. When interpreting this passage, we cannot simply pick-and-choose how long we think a day is. It should be the same in each instance.

If God's rest was a short one, and it certainly appears it was, then each day would have been a short period of time. Twenty-four hours sounds about right.

If there is any further question about this, the Ten Commandments make it clear how long a day is.

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Smallest Church in America

Our family spent Saturday together on Jekyll Island, GA. On our way home we decided to stop off at what I'd heard was called The Smallest Church in America. I'd seen the name on a sign and figured it was referring to a really small building as opposed to a small group of some kind.

You can see the building in the photos above. It's a structure that seats about twelve people and is still used for weddings. When we arrived, no one was there but the door was unlocked. I couldn't resist getting behind the pulpit. Just like old times!

It turns out that this really isn't the smallest church in America. It's not a big disappointment; it's not as if we had anything emotionally invested in this short venture. We spent all of fifteen minutes there.

The building has morphed into what amounts to a shrine of some sort. Lots of Roman Catholic paraphernalia was spread about the inside. As a side note, it appears that Jesus in the stained glass window is blessing my efforts (sarcasm alert).

I post this as a reminder that buildings are just buildings. They matter not a bit in the Kingdom of God. The church is a wondrous thing created and sustained by God. It is His people.

A more accurate title for the above place would be The Nearly Smallest Church Building, Shrine, and Tourist Stop in America.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Not a Virgin?

I love it when God provides opportunities to testify about His truth.

This week a young man approached me at work to ask a question. I've talked with him previously, but never about matters of much substance. Out of the blue, he asked me what I thought about Jesus being born of a virgin. Another man in his specific work area had been saying that Jesus wasn't actually virgin-born because the word used in the OT just meant a young woman of marriageable age.

I was asked this question while on break, so we were able to talk for about ten minutes. I was able to explain several reasons for why I believe Mary was, in fact, a virgin. I'm thankful that this young man had already heard almost all of the arguments I made. Therefore, I wasn't really telling him anything new, but was rather helping cement what he already believed.

This was not a conversation I pursued in any way. God gave the opportunity, and I praise Him for it. Sometimes I go through the day wondering if I'll ever have chances to speak of Christ. Then I'm reminded by God that He provides the opportunities. We just have to be open to them.

I don't know what will come from this conversation I had. If I was able to help a brother a little bit then I'm pleased. Thank you Lord.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Missions in I Peter

The book of I Peter teaches us much about living as exiles in this world. Not surprisingly, the apostle deals with the theme of suffering several times in this epistle. What about missions? Does Peter write anything that will help us share the gospel more effectively? The answer is yes. Peter gives us valuable information to share about the church. Specifically, the church is a priesthood (to read the first post in this series, click here).

In order to fully share the good news of Jesus Christ, we must tell what the church is and does. Although this is secondary to what Christ has accomplished for us, it is still critical. The reason is that anyone who accepts Christ is also immediately ushered into the church. The new believer needs to know what this thing is that he is a part of.

Peter writes the following short but key passages:

"As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." I Peter 2:4-5

"But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light." I Peter 2:9

In these passages Peter says that the church is a "holy priesthood" and a "royal priesthood." We are told that we are able to "offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God" and "proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light."

Priests have direct access to God. Priests have a relationship with Him. Priests are active. Priests offer acceptable sacrifices. New believers need to know that God expects them to be active in their relationship with Him, in their relationships with other believers, and in their proclamation of the gospel to the world.

A problem with much missions and evangelism today is that it offers no biblical definition of what the church should be and do. Instead, new Christians quickly learn through observation that they are expected to attend Sunday School, attend worship services, listen to sermons, join a church, put money in the offering plate, attend Wednesday evening activities, etc., etc., etc. These expectations create passive new believers.

Thanks to Peter we have a biblical way of teaching new Jesus-followers what it is to actively live for Jesus. Let's make sure that they understand that they are priests with all the responsibilities and privileges that carries.

To read any or all posts in this series on missions, click here.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Missions in James

The book of James is a tough one. It's full of short sentences containing many commands. This epistle is sort of like taking an advanced class in sanctification. James shouts to his readers that true salvation in Christ shows evidence in godly living. In the midst of all this, what can we learn about missions? (For the first post in this series, click here).

The primary theme of James, that faith is accompanied by works, is extremely important for missions. The reason for this is simple: people generally believe what they see much more than what they simply hear. The gospel shared and lived is much more effective than just shared. The adage "I'll believe it when I see it holds true."

James tells us in 1:22, "But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves." Later in 2:14-17, "What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, be warmed and filled,' without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead."

The world takes notice when the church does things such as taking care of the physical needs of the poor.

In James 1:27 we read, "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world." In general the church makes an attempt, to varying degrees, to live holy lives. However, we for the most part fail in doing things like visiting widows and orphans.

James teaches us that good works matter. They matter because they honor God. They matter because they prove that our salvation is real. They matter because they usually relieve suffering on someone else's part. Finally, as it pertains to missions, good works show that there is substance to Jesus-followers. When the world sees this substance, it takes notice. This, in turn, leads to more people being willing to hear about Jesus.

Let's live out our faith by showing the world our works.

To read any or all posts in this series, click here.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Biblical Evidence for Beards

A few examples of beards in scripture:

Leviticus 19:27, "You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard."

Leviticus 21:5, "They shall not make bald patches on their heads, nor shave off the edges of their beards, nor make any cuts on their body."

II Samuel 10:4-5, "So Hanun took David's servants and shaved off half the beard of each and cut off their garments in the middle, at their hips, and sent them away. When it was told David, he sent to meet them, for the men were greatly ashamed. And the king said, 'Remain at Jericho until your beards have grown and then return.'"

Psalm 133:2, "It is like the precious oil on the head, running down on the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes!"

Of course, the above verses in no way stipulate that all men must have beards. However, if you want to look manly you will probably do so.

Interestingly, there is infinitely more evidence for having a beard than there is for church buildings, salaried clergy, and worship services. Just thought I would point that out.

Finally, this is too good  not to post:

Friday, September 7, 2012

Done Arguing

That's not me in the photo. I just like the tape effect.

Anyway, I'm done arguing. Specifically, I'm done arguing about theology in general and the church specifically. I've had enough. It's pointless, goes nowhere, and accomplishes nothing. Like the guy in the photo, I'm not arguing (of course, he can't talk at all, but that's his problem).

I've managed to avoid arguing about the church in person for quite a while now. If people want to know what I think, I tell them. If they object, I just leave it at that. No more arguing. I have a young Christian co-worker who believes many things about the church that I do not. Fine. I've avoided arguing with him. "It takes two to tango," so to speak. I'm not tangoing on this topic.

I've decided to avoid all arguing on other websites. It's all too easy to go to blogs by men such as Kevin DeYoung and Justin Taylor and stir the pot. They are firmly entrenched inside the institution as are most of their commenters. I have attempted to argue on these types of blogs for biblical church principles. It is to no avail. Defenders of the institution, who wrongly think they are defending the church, will not listen and only become angry. Nothing good comes of it. I'm done.

I will continue to blog about (what I think are) important issues related to the church. I hope for engaging, lively debate and discussion here on this blog. It may border from time to time on argumentation, but that's as far as I'll let it go. No more arguing.

This is somewhat of a revelation and relief for me. You may have already reached this point. I hope so for your sake.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

"We Ought to Support People Like These"

"Beloved, it is a faithful thing you do in all your efforts for these brothers, strangers as they are, who testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God. For they have gone out for the sake of the name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. Therefore we ought to support people like these, that we may be fellow workers for the truth." 3 John 5-8 (emphasis mine)

The letter of 3 John doesn't get much attention. However, we can learn a good deal about the importance of hospitality by reading through its fifteen verses. As our home fellowship recently was discussing this epistle, I noticed something I had not seen before. John makes a strong statement about Christians the church should support.

John specifically says, "we ought to support people like these." Who is the apostle talking about? The answer is those "who have gone out" and who are "on their journey." John is describing traveling Christian workers, probably apostles, prophets, and evangelists.

The recipients of this letter had already shown hospitality to these Christians. John is now calling upon them to support them. Since they receive no financial assistance from the Gentiles (non-Christians), John is exhorting those who received this epistle to help these folks.

Why did the traveling Christian workers, who we might call missionaries, need financial assistance? Since they traveled from place to place, they would have been unable to hold down a regular job. This would have made earning a regular income a difficult task.

We see the theme of financial support for traveling workers in a few other places in the NT. For example, in Philippians 4:10-20 we read Paul's commendation of the church in Philippi for the financial support they gave him. Paul was a traveling Christian worker.

Also, in I Corinthians 9:8-14 Paul writes, "In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel." The context is strictly that of traveling Christian workers (note: not elders or pastors). Although Paul did not accept any financial support from the church in Corinth, this seems to have been due to the numerous problems there. Based on what we see in both 3 John and Philippians, it was generally a good thing for churches to financially support those who traveled from place to place sharing the gospel.

One additional note: while these passages speak of financial support, they say nothing of salaries. Most likely, these churches sent love gifts from time to time. The workers probably all had some sort of skill to help provide for their own needs (such as tentmaking).

We Christ-followers should be giving people. We must also be wise. The scriptures provide us with models for who needs financial help. We read repeatedly of the importance of helping the poor. We see that widows are generally worthy of our assistance. And, as we see in 3 John, we have a responsibility to help those who travel about spreading the gospel.

I'll admit that it is not always easy to know specifically who we should help and exactly how we should do so. Despite this, we can be sure that God is pleased when we give to those who go.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The 10 Commandments Tell How Long a Day Is

A final short note on creation:

Much of the debate in the church about the world's beginnings centers on how long a day is. Genesis chapters 1-2 use the word "day" repeatedly. A straightforward reading indicates that the author meant a 24 hour period. Despite this, some Christians claim that the days in Genesis actually refer to periods of millions of years. Which is it?

God has told us in Exodus how long a day is. In fact, He did so right in the middle of the 10 Commandments so that there would be absolutely no confusion about the issue. Exodus 20:8-11 says the following:

"Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy."

The main focus of the above paragraph is obviously the Sabbath. However, look at what Moses writes in the next to last sentence. He says, "For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day." Right in the middle of the context of the Hebrew Sabbath, which was clearly a 24 hour period, Moses mentions the creation account. He describes the two as having a one-to-one correspondence. As God created in six days and rested the seventh, the Israelites were to do the same.

Interestingly, I never hear theistic evolutionists claim that the Sabbath language in Exodus 20 refers to millions of years. If that was the case, I suppose the Hebrews would still be resting somewhere in the desert in the Sinai Peninsula.

The same language for "day" is used in both Genesis 1-2 and Exodus 20. This, combined with the language of the Exodus 20 Sabbath paragraph, shows that God clearly meant a 24 hour period in Genesis 1-2.

No one is confused about the length of the OT Sabbath. As it was 24 hours in Exodus 20, it is also 24 hours in Genesis 1-2.  That's because a day is 24 hours.

Friday, August 31, 2012

But What About the Food Adam and Eve Ate?

A short post today to close out this creation series:

I made the claim yesterday that death comes from sin. No death existed in God's good creation until after Adam and Eve sinned.

One counter to this claim is to ask about the food that Adam and Eve ate. The question/reasoning goes something like this, "Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the tree. This is the killing of plant life. Therefore, death did come before sin. So why do you say that death only came after sin?"

At first this question seems to have some merit. However, a closer look shows that it simply does not. The question makes a claim itself: that eating fruit is killing. But is it?

I like apples. I eat one almost every day. In doing this, am I killing? I would be if I was killing the plant. However, the plant is just fine. That's because the plant is the tree. When we eat of the fruit of the tree or vine we are not killing because the plant itself remains as healthy as ever. In fact, it probably continues to produce more fruit.

Adam and Eve ate the fruit. They did not eat entire trees. We get no sense that they even had to prepare food of any kind. Instead, they just walked over to the plant, picked whatever fruit they desired, and partook (there was that unfortunate incident with one specific tree, but that's another topic).

No killing involved whatsoever.

For illustration purposes, do we consider ourselves to have killed when we get a haircut? Of course not. The reason is that even though the hair is trimmed, the roots remain. They probably even benefit from a little trim.

We can see, then, that Adam and Eve did not kill plants. Therefore, their eating habits did not in any way bring about death. Why is this? The reason is that in God's sovereign wisdom, death is a consequence of sin. This means that death has to come after sin.

Again pointing to Romans 5:12, "Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned..." (ESV).

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Death Before Sin?

This is a re-post, with some minor changes, from 2009. My thoughts have not changed on this topic in the past three years:

With this being the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin, there will undoubtedly be much discussion this year of his impact upon society. Since 2009 is also the 150th anniversary of the publication of The Origin of Species, Darwin will be difficult to ignore.

It does not surprise me that secularists in general and atheists in particular believe that the world came about through evolutionary processes. It makes sense that people who do not know Jesus Christ will also hold faulty views about the beginnings of the universe.

It does surprise and trouble me that some Christians believe that God used evolutionary methods to bring His creation into existence. I've heard this many times from people who I have no doubt are followers of Jesus Christ. I believe that these Christians mean well.

Despite their good intentions, Christians who believe in some sort of evolution (macroevolution, not microevolution) have a big theological problem on their hands. The big problem is this: in their view, death must come before sin. If plants and animals existed for millions of years prior to the first humans, then there must have been a great deal of death before any humans walked the earth.

However, the bible tells us that death is a consequence of sin. Death comes from sin and after sin. This is what we see when we give a literal reading to Genesis 1-2. Years later Paul writes, "Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned..." (Romans 5:12, ESV)

A related problem for Christians who hold to evolutionary beginnings is this: if death comes before sin in Genesis 1-2, then to be consistent death must still exist in Revelation 21-22. Is the Christian/evolutionist ready to say that death will exist after sin is done away with by Christ? We certainly can't believe that this will be the case. Revelation 20:14 even says, "Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire." Death will be done away with forever by Christ.

It saddens me that many Christians are willing to sacrifice theological truth on the altar of secular scientific theory. Christians must realize that evolution today is pushed and promoted by secularists. It is secular scientists who are trying to force their beliefs on our culture. On the other hand, many scientists who are also Christians believe that the objective scientific data corresponds closely with a literal reading of Genesis 1-2.

It is a great biblical truth that death only came after sin. We also know that after sin is gone, death will be gone as well.

I have never once heard a good answer from a Christian/evolutionist as to how death can come before sin.

I'm still waiting.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Evolution is a Slippery Word

(I include the above photo simply for fun.)

The word "evolution" is a slippery one. I'm referring to the fact that it is used in a variety of ways by various people. This often leads to lack of actual communication and accompanying consternation/frustration for everyone involved.

In general "evolution" means change. We've all seen change, both good and bad, occur in almost uncountable ways in our lives. For example, the technological evolution just during the past thirty years is immense. I can remember when we bought our first microwave oven. Nowadays we can't live without the internet. These are significant changes.

When it comes to the world's beginnings, we must be clear in what we are talking about. Darwinian evolutionists demand that macro evolution occurs through processes of natural selection, mutation, and random chance. They state unequivocally that no higher intelligence is behind it. No discussion/debate on the issue is tolerated (especially within secular universities).

This is fascinating because the positive changes we've experienced in this world occur through much planning and intelligence. The evolution we have seen in technology has come from many smart techno-folks logging long hours to create software, computers, cell phones, flat screens, etc. None of these types of changes have happened through people simply sitting around waiting for something to happen by chance.

Evolution, when simply meaning change, can be a positive thing only when intelligence is behind it. On the other hand, evolution apart from intelligence and planning leads only to a big mess or worse. A great example of this is the state of my kids' bedrooms. I've blogged about this before, so I'll simply say here that order does not stem from chance. Their bedrooms only become clean through much effort and planning.

This is not to say that God controlled evolutionary processes to bring this world into existence. That is simply not the case. Genesis 1-2 makes it clear that God crafted this world in a highly organized, step-by-step process.

Changes do, however, occur in this world. Evolution, meaning simply change, even happens within species over time. However, it never happens at the macro level. Species tend to remain the same, not change from one to another.

Let's be careful in our definitions. Statements such as "I don't believe in evolution" are not helpful because they are not precise enough. In order to have intelligent conversation on this issue, we must define what we are talking about.

There was no evolution in the creation process.

There is evolution (meaning simply change) in the world as we know it. Positive change only stems from intelligence and planning.

Changes that come from lack of order or planning are only negative ones. Order never comes as a result of disorder.

As followers of Jesus we must be clear in what we are talking about as we engage the world on these issues.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Scary Implications for Interpretation

The bible is a book of truth and facts. It is also literature. In light of these things, we must put forth effort to interpret and understand it correctly. Ultimately, our goal is to accurately comprehend what God means through the scriptures. No sane person reads the bible, or any other book for that matter, while hoping to misunderstand it.

One aspect to correct interpretation is consistency. This means that when we look at the same types of literature, we interpret them using the same methods. Since the bible has various types of literature within it, we must be thoughtful in our approach. However, when looking at the same types of writing, we must take meaning in the same way.

The bible is written for our understanding. Most of it was penned in a manner that is extremely straightforward. For example, when we read the gospels we see an account about the life of a real man in a real place doing real things. There is no reason to do anything but interpret this literally.

The same can be said of Genesis chapters 1-11. Specifically concerning Genesis chapter one, we see a real God speaking a real planet into a real existence. God does this in space and time. As with the gospel accounts, there is no reason to understand it in any way other than literally. We do not have the right to pick and choose how we interpret the bible. God has given it to us according to His standards.

When scripture is our ultimate authority, we never have to allow outside influences to affect how we understand it. It is to be interpreted on its own merits. This applies to all information in the bible, including the creation narrative.

However, if scripture is not the starting point for thinking about this world's beginnings and some type of theistic evolution is embraced, then a big issue immediately surfaces. That issue is how to interpret Genesis chapters 1-2.

A fair reading of Genesis 1-2 indicates six 24 hour days. This is what happens when the passage is treated as being literal.

Those who adhere to theistic evolution must, therefore, interpret it in some other way than literally. Many think of it as an allegory or fictional story of some type. The specifics are explained away by saying that it is only meant to give us the idea that God is in charge of creation. They claim chapters 1-2 are not intended to provide any actual scientific data.

The scary aspect of this is that it smacks of subjectivity and relativism. Who has given them the right to treat Genesis 1-2 as if it is not to be taken literally?

The only reason the theistic evolutionists do this is because it doesn't fit their worldview (which stems from secular scientific naturalism).

If they interpret Genesis 1-2 as being non-literal, then why do they interpret any passages in a literal fashion? What is their reasoning for thinking (as many do), for example, that Adam and Eve did not exist but that Jesus did?

More specifically, why do they believe in a literal gospel message? Why do they think God literally came to earth, lived, died, rose again, and ascended? Why think any of the miracles in scripture literally occurred?

Every true Christian by definition believes in a literal Jesus. However, those who hold to a non-literal rendering of Genesis 1-2 are in a scary position. Their choice for what is to be taken literally and what is not appears to be simply that: an utterly subjective choice.

There are two consistent positions when it comes to Genesis 1-2. The first is to take it literally and accept it. The second is to treat it as fanciful and reject it wholesale (as most secular scientists do). The untenable position is the one that tries to find the middle of the road. That's what we see with theistic evolution.

Their inconsistency and subjectivity is scary for what it says about their understanding of the rest of the biblical message.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Starting in the Right Place

I'm writing about creation this week because I'm concerned about the rising influence of Biologos within the church. Biologos is an organization that promotes theistic evolution.

I'm going to be relatively short and to the point in this post. Christians who hold to theistic evolution are starting in the wrong place. Specifically, their authority is wrong when it comes to creation.

When the bible is the place we begin, and we read Genesis 1-2 in a straightforward manner, we can see that God created this world in six 24 hour days. Interestingly, the facts of science support this.

When Christians begin with secular scientific findings, they end up with evolution. This puts them in a pickle. What can they do? Answer: they force Darwinian theory upon scripture and come up with theistic evolution. This theory basically says that God controlled evolution to bring about this world.

This is not a science versus bible issue. Rather, it is a secular atheism versus Christian theism issue. The problem with theistic evolutionists is that they have surrendered authority on the issue to the secular academy. They have bought into secular theories about the world's beginnings in the hope of being accepted by secular scientists.

Scripture makes it clear that as followers of Jesus we will be outcasts in society. Our view of how the world began is part of this. We reject Darwinian theory in favor of what God has done. In His grace, God has shown us what He did. He's given us plenty of details in Genesis 1-2, and, more broadly in Genesis 1-11.

This is not a core gospel issue (theistic evolutionists can be saved). However, it does have theological and interpretive consequences. As an example, scripture tells us that we all fell when Adam fell. Because of this, all can be redeemed through faith in Christ. If evolution is true, then all did not come from Adam. Various humans would have evolved from different sources. This being the case, how are those saved who did not come from Adam? Theistic evolution lends itself to all sorts of theological problems.

The worldview of scientific naturalism wages war against biblical Christianity. We must not accept it in any way. We have to have the correct starting point for our beliefs. The bible must be the place we start. If we begin in the right place, we have a great chance of drawing the right conclusions. A correct beginning leads to a correct ending.

All scripture has been breathed out by God. When Paul writes this in II Timothy he is talking about the Old Testament. This includes Genesis 1-2. While the bible is divinely inspired and free of error, science is imperfect at best. Even Christian scientists are imperfect people looking at imperfect data in an imperfect world. Science has flaws.

When we look to scripture as our authority, we will have an accurate understanding of this world and its beginnings. True scientific data will only support what we have already read in the bible. A great example of this is the fossil record. It corresponds perfectly to the global flood account.

Let's begin with the bible.

Proverbs 9:10, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is insight."