Monday, December 22, 2008

Suffering & Optimism

Well, this is the last in this mini-series of posts on Suffering. This last benefit is one that, quite frankly, doesn’t happen very often. The reality is that suffering produces optimism. It is hard to be optimistic when you’re getting pummeled! Optimism and suffering don’t seem like they go together, but they do.

At this point some of you may think, "What are you saying? How can suffering produce optimism? The way I see it is that suffering makes people weak and miserable and negative."

Well, often it does. That's because people "waste" their sorrows and do not let the Holy Spirit work in their lives when times are tough. They focus on their problems and continually ask "Why Me?" instead of using their problems to become stronger. However, if you approach suffering with the right attitude, you experience a complete transformation. “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance (produces) character; and character (produces) hope” (Romans 5:3-4, NIV).

Too often, we use the word “hope” as a synonym for "wishful thinking." For example, say we have scheduled a family picnic and the skies become cloudy and gray, we might say with resignation "I hope it doesn't rain." Unspoken is the thought, "But by all appearances it will, and there's nothing I can do about it." That's not hope, that's just helpless, wishful thinking.

The Bible uses the word differently. The Greek word in Romans 5:4 means "facing life with confidence, knowing God is in control." With this definition of hope, we would react to the rainy skies with the attitude, "It may be cloudy and gray, but not even the rain keep me from having a great time with my family this afternoon."

Suffering produces an attitude of confident optimism, because once you have suffered you realize that problems aren't all they're cracked up to be. They have limitations, and there are some things your problems cannot do. For example, they cannot separate you from God's love. They cannot destroy your happiness. They cannot keep you from living life to the fullest...unless, of course, you allow them to.

I read about a bull rider by the name of Gene. Every weekend he rides in a rodeo. Once in a small town in Oklahoma he had drawn a pretty mean bull, and he knew it would be a tough ride. Now a ride is supposed to last 8 seconds; his lasted about a second. When the gate opened up and the bull came out of the stall, before his back feet had hit the ground Gene was already in the dirt. Unfortunately for him, it wasn't over. His hand was caught in the rigging, and the bull drug him around the arena for a while. When he finally got loose, the bull speared him once or twice before the clowns came to the rescue. On the way home, Gene said, "The toughest part about getting throwed is having to wait a week before I get another chance to ride. I know what I did wrong, and I know I'll get it right next time, but I've got to wait a whole week to do it!"

After the beating Gene took, most people would have said "That's it for me. I'll find a new hobby." But Gene wasn't afraid of getting thrown. He had been thrown enough to know that it wouldn't kill him (most likely), and he left the rodeo that night convinced that next week he would do better!

That is hope. Some people would define it as crazy -- and do you know what? It does seem a little crazy to have a hopeful, confident, optimistic attitude in the face of suffering.

In the midst of his troubles, Job's wife gave him some rather cynical advice: she said, "Curse God and die!" (Job 2:9). In other words, "Give up! How long can you keep hanging on to this foolish belief that God is in control?" Well, eventually Job’s fortune, health, and family was restored to him and "the Lord blessed the latter part of Job's life more than the first" (Job 42:12, NIV).

When you suffer, and you stay with it, you become stronger and your problem becomes weaker.

What good is suffering? Well, when you suffer the right way ... when you rejoice in your sufferings ... when you approach hardship with the right attitude ... you discover that suffering doesn't beat you down, it builds you up. It makes you stronger. God has the ability to take any trial or hardship or crisis or negative situation you face--and cause it to work to your benefit (Romans 8:28). What may appear to be a curse in your life can actually become a blessing (Nehemiah 13:2).

Nobody likes to suffer, and nobody in their right mind would choose to suffer, but followers of Jesus Christ need not fear suffering. In fact, when it comes (and it will from time to time) you can rejoice in the midst of it, because the end result will be that you become stronger, and God is glorified in your life.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Suffering & Staying Power

Last time we found that our suffering produces inner-strength.

Have you ever been house hunting, and the agent said "I've got a great property for you to look at. It's an older home, but it has character." When a real estate agent says it has "character" it's about like saying a blind date has a "good personality." You know the house may not be beautiful, but most likely it will look like it has weathered some storms.

Romans 5:3
“Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance (produces) character ….”

The word translated “character” can also be translated “proof.” Another good term is “staying power.” When you weather storms you have a chance to prove to the world what you're made of, and prove to the world how God is faithful to protect you through trials.

Bible teacher Steve Brown says that, “Whenever a non-Christian gets cancer, God allows a Christian to get cancer so that the world can see the difference.” Now obviously Brown’s statement is made somewhat facetiously. The statement is intended simply to make a point: a believer endures difficulties differently than a non-believer. God's presence in the life of a believer gives him the power to endure, and the proof is in the end result. When you endure suffering, you develop character; you develop staying power.

All kinds of records have been set in major league sports. Most have them to do with a player's performance in a single-game, or a particular season. Cal Ripken Jr.'s record (he played 2,632 baseball games consecutively) is different. It is not a record that can be attributed to talent, but character. He has proven that he had the drive to hit the field every day, even when his body hurt, or his head ached, or his nose was runny, or he had personal problems, or he was in a slump, or he didn't feel playing that particular day. We don't have to wonder if Cal Ripken Jr. was a great player; his record is proof that he was.

When you endure suffering, you develop staying power. Staying power proves to yourself and to the world that God’s power really is “perfected in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:8).

Monday, December 15, 2008

Suffering & Inner Peace

What do rejoicing and suffering have in common? Nothing, if you asked someone walking down the street. But the Bible says that the two actually do go together for the believer.

Romans 5:3 “… we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance….”

Suffering, by itself, is no good. But God is able take something bad and turn it into something good, positive and beneficial. Romans 8:28 “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

The Greek word for perseverance in Romans 5:3 literally means "to handle pressure." Suffering puts us under a tremendous amount of stress and the Bible says that being under stress of suffering teaches you to handle pressure.

You cannot be successful in any field unless you learn how to handle pressure. When we see an NBA star sink a three pointer at the buzzer to win the game for their team, they make it look so easy that we forget that most of us would crack under that kind of heat. You make the shot and you're a hero; miss it and you're an overpaid bum. How do they do it? For them, it's all in a day's work. They have been in that situation countless times, and they have learned from success and failure how to handle the pressure of a close game.

In the story of David and Goliath, at first glance David seems to be an inexperienced kid who appears out nowhere to slay the giant, but that was not really the case. David could handle the pressure of facing Goliath in battle because he had endured similar pressure fighting lions and bears who threatened his sheep (1 Samuel 17:34-35). Enduring those pressure-filled situations gave him the strength to face the pressure of fighting Goliath.

You can rejoice in suffering because, at the very least, your problems will help you develop inner-strength. And inner-strength is one of the virtues suffering produces in our lives. It is the inner-strength that suffering produces that enables us to handle the uncommon circumstances that life throws our way.

We’ll look at another benefit of suffering in the next post.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Suffering: Friend or Foe?

It is interesting how some words look and sound like their meaning. Take the word "Joy." It is a great word that is fun to say. When I say the word, it makes me feel a little better. Happiness is another of those kinds of words. Or take the words "beautiful" and "ugly." See what I mean? Or how about this word: suffering. It just doesn't produce those warm, tingly feelings on the inside, does it?

And regardless how you feel about that word it is a reality that we each must face from time to time. It may be physical pain and suffering or it may be suffering of a broken heart. It may be the suffering of a prolonged season of bad circumstances that drive you to the edge.

There are some who believe that if you commit your life to Jesus Christ that he promises to take away your suffering and your problems. It is the sentiment of him being some kind of Giant Fixer. But the reality is that suffering is a part of our human and Christian experience. Jesus said, "In this world you will have trouble" (John 16:33, NIV). In fact, the prophet Isaiah said of the coming Messiah, "He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering" (Isaiah 63:3, NIV).

Unfortunately, many within the Christian community have this idea that when you live for Christ he will reward you by making your life trouble-free.

This simply is not the case. In fact, scripture promises just the opposite. Consider these passages:

Philippians 1:29, NIV
For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him....

1 Peer 4:12, NIV
Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.

Matthew 5:45, NIV
God causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

Everyone's life is filled with sunshine and rain. Sunshine isn't always evidence that God favors you--even the evil get some sunshine. Rain isn't evidence that God is punishing you--even the righteous have to face the rain. Suffering is a part of life that everyone must endure. However, when it comes to suffering, Christians have some advantages. The obvious one is that God will help you through hard times. A second advantage is that no matter what kind of problems you face, God has promised to use them for your benefit, and for his glory.

The Bible says, "We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28, NIV). So when you suffer, whether it is illness, mistreatment, job problems, relationship problems, money problems, or whatever it may be, it is crucial that you approach your suffering with the right attitude, so that you will ultimately benefit from the problems you face. What is the right attitude? The Bible says, "... but we also rejoice in our sufferings..." (Romans 5:3, NIV).

This is the attitude that we must have whenever we face hard times. An attitude of rejoicing. Now, don't misunderstand me. Our attitude doesn't have to be some kind of phony, Pollyanna way of thinking that says, "Hooray for me. I am suffering! I'm in pain and my life is coming apart at the seams. Aren't I lucky?" This is not what the Bible means. We don't rejoice because of our sufferings, or for our sufferings--we rejoice in spite of our sufferings. This would sound like crazy advice, except there are two factors that make rejoicing in suffering a reasonable idea: First, God will help you through the problems. Second, your problems themselves will help you too, and work to your advantage.

Think of it this way. Pretend that you are prisoner of war and you have an evil taskmaster who tries to make you weak and powerless by forcing you to carry a heavy boulder on your shoulders all day. Some of your fellow prisoners give in under the strain, and stop trying, and let the boulder crush them completely. But you keep carrying the weight. Soon you discover that carrying that boulder isn't making you weaker, it's making you stronger. Eventually you have the strength to cast the boulder aside and overpower your captor and earn your freedom.

This is exactly what your problems can do for you. You can give up and let your problems destroy you, or you can use them to become a stronger and better person. No one in their right mind would choose to suffer, but when it happens, we can rejoice in the fact that the suffering isn't going to beat us; we will eventually win the battle.

This is why we rejoice in suffering; because there are certain benefits that we can claim whenever we are faced with it.

In the next few posts, we're going to try and answer the question, "What good is suffering? There are three advantages to suffering that we'll look at and I hope you'll find them helpful. By the end I hope the "S" word won't look so ugly.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

"Why Believe in a god?" Ad Campaign

I just saw a new AP story about a new add campaign from the American Humanist Association which is intended to cause people to question their believe in a deity. The group's spokesman Fred Edwords says, "we are trying to plant a seed of rational thought and critical thinking and questioning in people's minds." Well, at least they are honest. Here is the story in its entirety.

You better watch out. There is a new combatant in the Christmas wars.

Ads proclaiming, "Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness' sake," will appear on Washington, D.C., buses starting next week and running through December. The American Humanist Association unveiled the provocative $40,000 holiday ad campaign Tuesday.

In lifting lyrics from "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," the Washington-based group is wading into what has become a perennial debate over commercialism, religion in the public square and the meaning of Christmas.

You better watch out. There is a new combatant in the Christmas wars.

Ads proclaiming, "Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness' sake," will appear on Washington, D.C., buses starting next week and running through December. The American Humanist Association unveiled the provocative $40,000 holiday ad campaign Tuesday.

In lifting lyrics from "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," the Washington-based group is wading into what has become a perennial debate over commercialism, religion in the public square and the meaning of Christmas.

"We are trying to reach our audience, and sometimes in order to reach an audience, everybody has to hear you," said Fred Edwords, spokesman for the humanist group. "Our reason for doing it during the holidays is there are an awful lot of agnostics, atheists and other types of non-theists who feel a little alone during the holidays because of its association with traditional religion."

To that end, the ads and posters will include a link to a Web site that will seek to connect and organize like-minded thinkers in the D.C. area, Edwords said.

Edwords said the purpose isn't to argue that God doesn't exist or change minds about a deity, although "we are trying to plant a seed of rational thought and critical thinking and questioning in people's minds."

The group defines humanism as "a progressive philosophy of life that, without theism, affirms our responsibility to lead ethical lives of value to self and humanity."

Last month, the British Humanist Association caused a ruckus announcing a similar campaign on London buses with the message: "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life."

In Washington, the humanists' campaign comes as conservative Christian groups gear up their efforts to keep Christ in Christmas. In the past five years, groups such as the American Family Association and the Catholic League have criticized or threatened boycotts of retailers who use generic "holiday" greetings.

In mid-October, the American Family Association started selling buttons that say "It's OK to say Merry Christmas." The humanists' entry into the marketplace of ideas did not impress AFA president Tim Wildmon.

"It's a stupid ad," he said. "How do we define 'good' if we don't believe in God? God in his word, the Bible, tells us what's good and bad and right and wrong. If we are each ourselves defining what's good, it's going to be a crazy world."

Also on Tuesday, the Orlando, Fla.-based Liberty Counsel, a conservative Christian legal group, launched its sixth annual "Friend or Foe Christmas Campaign." Liberty Counsel has intervened in disputes over nativity scenes and government bans on Christmas decorations, among other things.

"It's the ultimate grinch to say there is no God at a time when millions of people around the world celebrate the birth of Christ," said Mathew Staver, the group's chairman and dean of the Liberty University School of Law. "Certainly, they have the right to believe what they want but this is insulting."

Best-selling books by authors such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens have fueled interest in "the new atheism" — a more in-your-face argument against God's existence.

Yet few Americans describe themselves as atheist or agnostic; a Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life poll from earlier this year found 92 percent of Americans believe in God.

There was no debate at the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority over whether to take the ad. Spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein said the agency accepts ads that aren't obscene or pornographic.

I have a few thoughts on this matter that I'll save for another post. In the meantime, I'm interested in your honest and respectful thoughts about this.

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

My Thoughts on the Abortion Discussion

One of the issues I’ve been following in recent months is the discussion about abortion as it relates to our current political season. I have been surprised to learn that there is growing divergence of views among Christian people and leaders. There is growing emphasis among certain segments of the Christian community that has abandoned the traditional “pro-life” views and has adopted a “pro-reduced abortion” view. What I have been reading has motivated me to put my own thoughts out there. So for those who are interested, here they are.

As a pastor, I’ve talked with broken-hearted women who have had an abortion. One lady came and talked to me 25 years after the fact. Besides her doctor and her then husband, I was the only other person she had told. At the time of her abortion, she was in a difficult life situation and she made a choice she has regretted ever since. It is conversations like these that have made me have utmost compassion for women who have made similar decisions.

Unfortunately, the historically uncompassionate reaction to unwed pregnancy from the Christian community has fueled many young women to seek abortions so as not to be rejected or punished by their families, friends, and church. This is not to condone the actions that lead to unwed pregnancy; it is simply to say that those of us in the Christian community should respond with mercy and compassion and support for a young girl thrust into motherhood by poor choices.

When I was in high school a girl in my church became pregnant by her boyfriend. She decided to go away to a home for pregnant teenagers to avoid the embarrassment she thought she would receive. I was thankful that she changed her mind and stayed at home with her parents and remained an active part of our youth group. Because of her pregnancy she couldn’t get a date to prom. So I asked her to go with me. We had a lot of fun. I’m sure people “talked” about us going to prom together, but I really didn’t care. She was a friend. By the way, she had a beautiful baby boy and eventually married a pastor. She and her family now live in Indiana and we remain friends to this day.

With all of that said, I believe abortion should be ban with limited exceptions: one example is to save the life of the mother. I wish all Christians and pro-lifers could agree at least at this level. Unfortunately the current law and Court ruling on this is inclusive of the mother’s “health” and therefore is accepting of abortion on demand for basically any argued reason. Some in the “pro-reduced abortion” group have suggested that laws do not change hearts and that only Christ can change the heart. I suppose they are willing to give up on the overturn of Roe v Wade as a result. My question is: Since only Christ can change the heart does that mean we should strike all laws from our books and have a law-less society?

It seems to be trendy for those who support abortion to place a heavy emphasis upon “reducing the number of abortions.” If memory serves me correctly, it was Bill Clinton who, in the 90's, popularized this growing trend we see today. I simply don’t understand the logic behind the “fewer abortions” argument. If you really want fewer abortions, how is lifting ALL restrictions on abortion, as some elected officials want to do, going to reduce the number of abortions? How does the Freedom of Choice Act, which some elected officials would like to pass, reduce the number of abortions? How does letting the Hyde Amendment expire, as some elected officials would like to do, reduce the number of abortions (the Hyde Amendment has blocked nearly all federally funded abortions since 1976)? How would ending the federal funding of pregnancy crisis centers, as some elected officials would like to do, reduce the number of abortions? How can those who support Roe v Wade and Doe v Bolton legitimately claim that their pro-abortion policies are going to drastically reduce the number of abortions? Seriously, how would a fiercely pro-abortion executive branch teamed with a pro-abortion congress drastically reduce the number of abortions? I'm concerned that under our fiercely pro-abortion executive branch we will see a push toward the federal funding of abortions and we will have judicial appointments that would ignore the right to life of the unborn. How do these realities drastically reduce the number of abortions?

If you want to really reduce the number of abortions, then you must do the things that actually restrict and limit abortions. Is it really in doubt that the single greatest thing to “limit the number of abortions” is to over-turn Roe v Wade and Doe v Bolton? It is true that reversing these Court decisions is not the only thing that can and must be done to “reduce the number of abortions” but reversing these decisions would be the single most effective thing.

It should be noted that a president does not write the laws; that’s the job of congress. The only thing a president can do is to sign bills or veto them. The president can’t interpret laws or determine legal precedents; the judicial branch does that. Among the most important things a president can do to limit the number of abortions is appoint judges who value the right to life of the unborn. Sometimes I think people forget these realities and limitations of the presidency.

And let’s be honest about the so-called Litmus Test issue for judicial appointments. Every president has a litmus test for the appointment of judges; they just can't admit to it publicly. Pro-abortion people WANT their pro-abortion president having a pro-abortion litmus test for any potential judicial appointees. And pro-life people WANT the same kind of thing from a pro-life president.

Some have expressed concern that if we ban abortion as we know it now, that women would go to “back-alley clinics” and that the rate of botched abortions would severely increase the risk to the health and life of the woman. My question is: What about concern for the life of the unborn child? Are we saying we don’t mind taking the life of the unborn baby, but we wouldn’t dare want to harm the mother’s health or infringe on her “rights” as defined in Roe v Wade and Doe v Bolton? That’s a difficult argument for me to understand.

Others make a comparison between a ban on abortion and the prohibition against alcohol. In my opinion, this is not a very good argument. That comparison is between the life of the unborn and a non-essential drinking beverage. Are they really the same? In my opinion, they're not even close.

It is true that our educational system in America is doing poorly. Some argue that the reason it is doing poorly is largely because of a lack of funding from the terrible Republicans. This is untrue. We spend more money on education than ANY nation on earth! And the charge that pro-life Republicans, as some make, really don’t care about children after they're born (i.e. really aren’t pro-life) because they supposedly “underfund” education and do not mandate health care is an equally untrue and, dare I say, unfair charge. Lack of money is not the problem in our educational system. Our broken education system, in my humble opinion, is a parenting and family issue. To date, no federal politician (Republican or Democrat) has been able to make significant headway with policies and educational funding alone. Could targeted educational funding significantly improve our educational system? No, not significantly. Significant improvements in our educational system won't occur until we effectively address the breakdown of the family unit. It sounds compassionate to want to give unlimited amounts of money to the educational system but to date it hasn’t produced the positive, educational results we all desire.

It is troubling to me that some national religious leaders are trying to redefine “pro-life” by saying that the REAL pro-life people are those that 1) say they believe there should be fewer abortions, 2) desire taxpayer funded, government mandated universal health care for underprivileged children, 3) are anti-war, 4) support virtually unlimited funding of our broken educational system, 5) are concerned about global poverty and disease. This effort from some national figures threatens to dilute the definition of pro-life to include these other things and will have the unwitting result of muzzling those defending the silent voices of the unborn.

To me, pro-life is about defending the right to life of the unborn. Practically speaking, pro-choice is about silencing the right to life of the unborn in deference to the will of the mother. As a pro-lifer, I cannot separate the right to life of a baby in the womb and the right to life of a birthed child. Just because a baby is unborn should not give the mother the choice to end the life of the child pre-birth. The right to life of the unborn should be protected just like every other person’s right to life. Life is equally sacred in and outside of the womb.

Just for the record, there are 42,000,000 abortions worldwide each year. Think about that staggering number. There are 1,370,000 abortions in the U.S. each year. What other cause of death among children comes close to that in America? Let’s have a healthy discussion about war, education, poverty, and disease (by the way, who is for more wars, bad education, increasing poverty and disease?). But equating those issues with the issue of abortion weakens the traditional pro-life stance and undermines their efforts. Remember, we’re actually talking about 1,370,000 unborn children in the U.S. who could live if we protected their lives. They are, without a doubt, the most innocent and defenseless among us and as such deserve laws that protect their right to life.

Let’s find solutions to our educational woes, but let’s not mix those issues with the right to life of the unborn. Let’s find ways to assist the health-care issue of underprivileged children, but let’s not mix those issues with the right to life of the unborn. Let’s pray for peace and work toward peace, but let’s not mix those issues with the obligation of government to fight (when necessary) just wars and the right to life of the unborn. Let’s come together to fight global poverty and disease, but let’s not mix those causes with the right to life of the unborn.

Every year, there are 1,370,000 unborn children in the U.S. who are depending on us to defend their right to life. Let’s not lump them in with every other noble cause. If we do their voices will be silenced forever.

A Biblical Perspective on Voting

If you are like me, you have some interest in the political process. And, if you are like me, you get a little hopeful that your candidate do well in an election and win. I think it is important that Christian people are involved in the political process, and the most basic way we can be involved in the political process is to VOTE.

Perhaps your candidate is doing well this election cycle; perhaps your candidate is not. If you're happy about how your candidate is doing, well ... good for you. And if you're not happy about how your candidate is doing, well ... relax a little.

As Christians, we should keep a level-head in times like these and remember that we're citizens of the Kingdom of God first, and then citizens of our country second. With this in mind I'm going to share with you an edited version of a recent article by Pastor John Piper on voting as though you were not voting.

Voting is like marrying and crying and laughing and buying. We should do it, but only as if we were not doing it. That’s because “the present form of this world is passing away” and, in God’s eyes, “the time has grown very short.” Here’s the way Paul puts it:

The appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away. (1 Corinthians 7:29-31)

Let’s take these one at a time and compare them to voting.

1. “Let those who have wives live as though they had none.”

It means: If she is exquisitely desirable, beware of desiring her more than Christ. And if she is deeply disappointing, beware of being hurt too much. This is temporary—only a brief lifetime. Then comes the never-disappointing life which is life indeed.

So it is with voting. We should do it. But only as if we were not doing it. Its outcomes do not give us the greatest joy when they go our way, and they do not demoralize us when they don’t. Political life is for making much of Christ whether the world falls apart or holds together.

2. “Let those who mourn [do so] as though they were not mourning.”

So it is with voting. There are losses. We mourn. But not as those who have no hope. We vote and we lose, or we vote and we win. In either case, we win or lose as if we were not winning or losing. Our expectations and frustrations are modest. The best this world can offer is short and small. The worst it can offer has been predicted in the book of Revelation. And no vote will hold it back. In the short run, Christians lose (Revelation 13:7). In the long run, we win (Revelation 21:4).

3. “Let those who rejoice [do so] as though they were not rejoicing.”

So it is with voting. There are joys. The very act of voting is a joyful statement that we are not under a tyrant. And there may be happy victories. But the best government we get is a foreshadowing. Peace and justice are approximated now. They will be perfect when Christ comes. So our joy is modest. Our triumphs are short-lived—and shot through with imperfection. So we vote as though not voting.

4. “Let those who buy [do so] as though they had no goods.”

So it is with voting. We do not withdraw. We are involved—but as if not involved. Politics does not have ultimate weight for us. It is one more stage for acting out the truth that Christ, and not politics, is supreme.

5. “Let those who deal with the world [do so] as though they had no dealings with it.”

So it is with voting. We deal with the system. We deal with the news. We deal with the candidates. We deal with the issues. But we deal with it all as if not dealing with it. It does not have our fullest attention. It is not the great thing in our lives. Christ is. And Christ will be ruling over his people with perfect supremacy no matter who is elected and no matter what government stands or falls. So we vote as though not voting.

By all means vote. But remember: “The world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:17).

Voting with you, as though not voting,

Pastor John

So what do you think? I'm interested in your thoughts.

To read John Piper's unedited article copy the follwing into a new web browser:

Friday, October 31, 2008

What is the Freedom of Choice Act?

I've heard about the Freedom of Choice Act but had no idea what it was. I found the following blog by Justin Taylor informative.

As many know, Senator Obama told Planned Parenthood in 2007 that “the first thing I’d do as President is sign the Freedom of Choice Act.” But how many of us know what the "Freedom of Choice Act" (hereafter FOCA) entails? Here's an attempt to explain what this would mean. It's important to note at the outset that this congressional statute is often presented as codifying Roe v. Wade. Hence, if Roe was ever overturned, FOCA would prevent things from changing. While this is true, FOCA goes far beyond this. The 2007 version of FOCA (for the House bill, see H.R. 1964; for the Senate bill, see S. 1173) includes the following provision:
A government may not
(1) deny or interfere with a woman’s right to choose –
(A) to bear a child;
(B) to terminate a pregnancy prior to viability; or
(C) to terminate a pregnancy after viability where termination is necessary to protect the life or health of the woman; or
(2) discriminate against the exercise of the rights set forth in paragraph (1) in the regulation or provision of benefits, facilities, services, or information.
Section 6 adds:
This Act applies to every Federal, State, and local statute, ordinance, regulation, administrative order, decision, policy, practice, or other action enacted, adopted, or implemented before, on, or after the date of enactment of this Act.
The section highlighted above in bold italics means that FOCA, if passed, will accomplish two things:
  1. it would invalidate all current and future statutes, ordinances, regulations, administrative orders, decisions, policies, or practices--at any level of government--that regulate or restrict abortion in any way;
  2. it would mandate taxpayer funds to be used at the state and federal level for abortion services (not to do so would discriminate against the "rights" of abortion set forth in the bill).
The National Organization of Women says that FOCA "would sweep away hundreds of anti-abortion laws, policies." Planned Parenthood says FOCA "would invalidate existing and future laws that interfere with or discriminate against the exercise of the rights protected." What are some of these state laws? The Family Research Council has complied the following list:
  • All 50 states have abortion reporting requirements
  • 46 states have conscience-protection laws for individual health-care providers
  • 44 states have laws about parental notification
  • 40 states have laws restricting late-term abortions
  • 38 states have bans on partial-birth abortions
  • 33 states have laws requiring counseling before an abortion
  • 16 states have laws about having ultrasounds before an abortion
One of the states that has had FOCA-type acts on the books since 1991 is Maryland. The result of eliminating all restrictions and regulations, unsurprisingly, is that the Maryland rate of abortion has risen while the national rate of abortion has fallen. Some people reading the Freedom of Choice Act notice that is says a woman has a "right to choose" "to terminate a pregnancy after viability where termination is necessary to protect the life or health of the woman" (my emphasis). A surface-reading of FOCA (which is seeking to codify Roe v. Wade) might suggest that there is a meaningful, legitimate restriction on late-term, post-viable abortions, namely that abortions are allowed only in cases where a woman would die or be physically harmed. But this simply isn't true. Roe v. Wade was handed down on the same day as Doe v. Bolton, and Justice Blackmun said they were to be read together. Doe defines maternal health to include virtually any factor: "emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman's age." The effect is abortion on demand--abortion for any reason. So to summarize this act--which again, Barack Obama has promised to sign as his first order of business in the White House--abortion on demand will become codified, all regulations and restrictions will be stripped away, Christian hospitals and physicians will not have a choice regarding the performance of abortion (since their accrediting agencies are approved by the federal government), and teenagers will not have to tell their parents about an abortion.

Kingdom Growth

Over the past 30 years many churches have focused on building and developing programs as a means to grow the church. This approach has had a lot of success in bringing people into the church, and in many cases helping people enter into a relationship with Jesus Christ. The thinking has been, “The more effective programs you have the more people you will attract to your church.” There is nothing wrong with this approach and it has been blessed by God in thousands of churches across the country.

When I first came to Journey I said that it was not my primary intention to “grow the church.” I said that the reason I came to Journey was to extend the Kingdom of God in our community. In my mind there is a difference between the two.

In the New Testament, the "Kingdom of God" doesn't refer to a geographical boundary (John 18:36). When the New Testament speaks of the Kingdom of God it is referring to the reign of God in the hearts of people. Every time a person opens their heart to the Lordship of Jesus Christ the Kingdom of God expands to one more person. This is what God celebrates … when he reigns in the heart. Biblically speaking, this is Kingdom expansion.

So our question becomes, “How can a church facilitate this kind of Kingdom expansion?” There is a growing discussion among church leaders across the country about the shifting focus from developing programs to developing people. Personally, I believe we’ll be more effective at “extending the Kingdom” if we focus on people rather than church programs. When we focus on programs our focus is on …well, programs and not people. We can develop a great program but never really develop a person. The two aren't the same. Consider the difference in approach:

Program Development Vs. People Development*

Standardized approach ---------------------------Individually customized

Scripted pattern -------------------------------------- Shaped (life coaching)

Participation -------------------------------------------- Life transformation
(get more people in the programs)

Didactic ------------------------------------------Everyone discovers together
(someone stands up and lectures)

Delivery of information ----------------------- Debriefing life experiences

Curriculum guided ----------------------------------------- Life-centric

Plugged in (to existing church programs)------------------------- Pushed out
(to make a difference in the world)

Growing into service ----------------------------- Growing through service

Generationally "silo-ed" ---------------------------- Inter-generational

Compartmentalized (in life) ------------------------------ Integrated
(life and spirituality)

Artificial ----------------------------------------------------------- Organic

Build the organization ------------------------------------- Develop people

Do you see the difference? If you do, then you understand Journey Christian Church a little better. Although there is nothing wrong with it, our focus is not on having a lot of programs by which we try and attract people to our church. We try and simplify our approach in order to focus on people. We try to create and develop environments where people can grow. We focus on people serving people and we believe that our personal growth comes from serving, not from being served.

Ultimately we're less concerned about how many people show up and much more concerned about the state of a person's heart. Having lots of people in a room does not mean that Kingdom expansion is occurring. Kingdom expansion is a matter of the heart and since this is true we will focus on relationships. Our mission statement at Journey is to invite and lead people into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ. The better we are at accomplishing our mission, the more the Kingdom will grow.

So, how's your relationship with Jesus Christ?

*Source: Greg Nettle

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Abortion and Politics: One Man's Perspective

It is a risky thing to post something about abortion in a heated political season. However, I found the following blog by Randy Alcorn to be an interesting read. I felt like he was fair, respectful, and truthful about his own convictions.

Judge for yourself.
A year and a half ago, when I first heard about Barack Obama, I got excited. I really wanted to support him. An evangelical Christian told me Obama was prolife. I didn’t care that Obama was a Democrat. I wanted a pro-life, pro-environment, pro-racial equality president who took seriously our need to care for the poor and defend the needy.

Granted, I also wanted someone who wasn’t a New Age anti-industry activist with a “Meat is Murder” bumper sticker. I wanted someone who is committed to national defense, but knows when not to go on offense. I wanted someone who doesn’t hear every Douglas fir screaming when it’s cut down.

But, frankly, I relished the opportunity to show I wasn’t a lockstep Republican. I was, and still am, tired of the Pat Robertson sort of Republicanism that supported proabortion-Republican-who-publicly-cheated-on-his-wife Rudy Giuliani because he's the only guy who could beat Hillary. (This was a non-prophetic endorsement on too many levels to count.)

That Barack Obama is an African-American was a real plus to me, and not for superficial reasons. I believed it could help further the vision of Martin Luther King in my favorite speech of the modern era, in which he said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” I get tears in my eyes just hearing that speech in my head.

I knew from the first time I heard him speak that Obama was cool. And if the candidate I supported, for reasons of substance, also happened to be cool, that would be a nice plus. I coach high school tennis, and I like it when the kids like me. And hey, my generation invented the word cool! (Of course it also invented the word groovy, but....).

Then the sad day came. I checked out Obama's actual position on abortion and I was demoralized. I found that in every single vote related to the issue he's favored abortion, its legality and even the killing of children who survive abortion.

But Obama is savvy. He wants to attract young voters, including young evangelical Christians who are sort-of-prolife. He knows to say that he favors reducing or limiting abortions. Which is like limiting rather than criminalizing murder and rape and kidnapping and slavery. A candidate could say “I’m personally opposed to rape,” while he has a 100% voting record favoring the legality of rape. And he could say he favors limiting or reducing the number of rapes. But if he actually supports the legality of the hideous crime of rape, discerning people would see through his rhetoric of rape-reduction.

When I discovered Obama was an all-out defender of legalized child-killing, I was disappointed beyond words. And I knew that in the next election, I was not going to get to be cool.

Well, here we are, and I have been asked what I think about the evangelical brothers and sisters who support Obama despite his uncompromising pro-choice stance. I have specifically been asked about Don Miller, author of Blue Like Jazz, because Don prayed at the Democratic Convention and has been widely quoted as a supporter of Obama.

On a previous blog I wrote about Obama and McCain, Leanne left in her comment a link to an interview with Don Miller, concerning his support for Barack Obama. (I’m glad she did.) I recommend that you hear directly from Don, who is prolife. Perhaps you should read that interview now so you really hear what he's saying.

I have hesitated to say anything publicly, but there's so much conversation that has been generated by Don's endorsement of Obama, I think I need to. By the way, as soon as I post this, I'm going to send a link to this blog to Don to tell him if he wants to respond I'll publish anything he has to say in a follow-up blog. (This is the same morning I posted this blog, and I just got an email response from Don; I've just deleted a few things that he thought were unfair, though my overall thoughts remain the same.)

First, Don is a friend of mine, and a good brother. He is sharp, kind-hearted, interesting and genuinely funny. He is also sincere. I enjoy hanging out with him, though I don't get to as much as I'd like, four times I think in the last couple of years. By the way, I was one of the pastors at (and am still part of) the church in the suburbs he went to, which he says in Blue Like Jazz was like "going to church at The GAP." I got a good laugh out of that and many other things he said.

A while ago, Don and I had coffee (something we're one on) and talked about things mostly that we agreed about, and some on which we disagreed. You can disagree and still be friends and brothers and Christ-followers, you know.

Don and I agreed that day at Starbucks that many Republican Christians have been used by the Republican Party. We agree that there are other important issues besides abortion and homosexual marriage. (Again, I repeat, Don is not proabortion, he is prolife; he says he has stated his disagreement with Obama on this issue, and I believe him.) Among those common concerns we have are racial justice and concern for the poor, and stewarding the environment. Of course, not all with the same concerns agree on which programs and policies are, in the long run, most helpful in furthering these righteous causes.

Don and I agreed that day that Christians should be first and foremost followers of Jesus, not political parties.

I went on record long ago as being unwilling to vote for a Republican nominee if he was not willing to stand up for the right to life of innocent children. (Don tells me that he too doesn't always vote with his party.) The prolife statement in the Republican platform is probably the most God-honoring thing it says, and if there's a Republican politician who doesn't hold to it, as Senator Bob Packwood didn't here in Oregon, there is no way I'll ever vote for him. Packwood never got my vote even though some Christian Republicans told me I should support him because he was conservative, at least until he was exposed for his sexual conduct. (Click here to compare what the Republican and Democratic Party platforms have to say about abortion.)

John McCain wasn’t my first choice for president. But at least McCain's a hero, he suffered for his country and fellow soldiers. And at least he thinks innocent children shouldn’t be slaughtered, and has consistently voted that way. And he's chosen a running mate who not only professes to be prolife but lived it out by valuing a precious Down Syndrome child that 80% of people would have aborted. McCain and Palin are far from perfect. But I believe they would honestly stick up for the most oppressed and violated people group in this nation, unborn children.

Of course, these days it’s especially not cool to support a Republican, even if he would defend innocent children, because Republicans are part of the party of George Bush, someone who is hated by cool people. (Nobody mentions that the Republican Party was the party of Lincoln, that opposed slavery; they were hated for that too.)

I am deeply concerned about the one, two or possibly three Supreme Court justices to be appointed in the next presidential term. If you listen to the candidates, it's obvious that McCain/Palin would make a concerted effort to choose justices likely to reverse Roe v. Wade and it is equally obvious that Obama/Biden would choose justices most likely to uphold Roe v. Wade.

So, does God care about who his children vote for? In many cases, with not much difference between them, I doubt it. But here's what he says about the needy and afflicted who have no one to help them and are on the brink of death:

"For God will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help. He will take pity on the weak and the needy and save the needy from death. He will rescue them from oppression and violence, for precious is their blood in his sight." (Psalm 72:12-14)

The blood of weak and needy unborn children is precious in God’s sight. Please don't tell me abortion isn't the only issue. Of course it isn't. Treatment of the Jews wasn’t the only issue in 1940 Germany. Buying, selling and owning black people wasn’t the only issue in the United States of 1850. Nonetheless, both were the dominant moral issues of their day. Make no mistake about it. In our own day if we support a candidate who defends abortion, who is dedicated to that cause, we are supporting the killing of children. Yes, even if he’s the coolest candidate to come along in decades.

We will stand before the judgment seat of Christ for our decisions, and a vote is a decision in which we assume responsibility for the known beliefs and moral positions of the candidate.

This is not speculation, it is not a spin, it is demonstrable fact: Barack Obama IS committed to continuing the legalized killing of unborn children in this country.

Some Christians claim otherwise. But in his July 17, 2007 speech to the Planned Parenthood Action Fund Obama said,

"We know that a woman's right to make a decision about how many children she wants to have and when— without government interference—is one of the most fundamental freedoms we have in this country. . . . I have worked on this issue for decades now. I put Roe at the center of my lesson plan on reproductive freedom when I taught constitutional law. . . So, you know where I stand. . . The first thing I'd do as president is sign the Freedom of Choice Act. That's the first thing that I'd do."

If you don't know about the Freedom of Choice Act, it was written by the most radical proabortion activists because they saw informed consent and parental consent laws being passed at the state level. They wanted something powerful that would dismantle anything that could serve to reduce abortions through requiring that people be told the truth before an abortion or before their sixteen year old, who can't be given an aspirin without their permission, can have an abortion.

Planned Parenthood is the largest abortion provider in America. Obama standing in front of them and promising he's 100% on their side is the equivalent of a presidential candidate 160 years ago addressing an assembly of the owners of the slave ships, and saying, “If you elect me, the first thing I will do is sign an act that will insure slaves won’t be freed, and that nullifies any and all voter-approved state legislation that restricts slavery.” (And sadly, yes, even hearing this, some Christians would have campaigned for and voted for him.)

Now, “first thing” means first thing, right? So before helping the poor and protecting the environment and addressing the economy and national defense, what is President Obama going do? He's going to assure that abortion stays legal and that the numbers are NOT reduced, by signing an act that will devastate decades of work at the state level by the prolife movement. Requirements of parental notification and informed consent and bans on partial birth abortions? History, if Obama has his way.

When Obama made this promise, he was either lying or telling the truth. If he was lying, he has a serious character problem. If we can’t trust him to do this, why trust him to follow through on any other promise, including those for which evangelicals are supporting him?

Ironically, however, if Obama was not lying, then he has a far worse character problem. Why? Because he is committing himself to oppose the rights of unborn children to live. I would rather he be a liar than that he be the defender of the killing of weak and vulnerable children, the orphans and fatherless.

I think he is sincere and likable, but on this matter, a matter of enormous significance, it is no exaggeration to say he is standing in defiance of the Creator. (A Creator whose blessing we should not dare ask if we defend the legalized killing of the children He creates.)

It is certainly a bad thing to promise something good, then not carry out your promise, as some Republican politicians have done in the prolife arena. (But though I don't always agree with him, George Bush—dare I even bring up his name?—did appoint two Supreme Court judges who have shown a respect for prolife issues.)

But it is even worse to promise something bad, something that is in fact evil—the furthering of the shedding of innocent blood—and then keep your promise.

We may want to show the world that we Christians are cool enough to support the coolest political candidate who’s come along in decades. I really wanted to. But I just can’t get past child-killing. That's a price for coolness that's just too high.

If you want to hear directly from the candidates about their positions on the shedding of the innocent blood of the unborn, check out these interviews with Rick Warren at Saddleback Church. (Below the videos I close out with some Scripture that makes God's position on this issue pretty clear).

Obama on abortion: (if you are unable to view the video, go to

McCain on abortion: (if you are unable to view the video, to go

God on abortion (no video, just a transcript):

"Do not give any of your children to be sacrificed to Molech, for you must not profane the name of your God. I am the LORD." (Leviticus 18:21)

"Do this so that innocent blood will not be shed in your land, which the LORD your God is giving you as your inheritance, and so that you will not be guilty of bloodshed." (Deuteronomy 19:10)

"Therefore as surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I will give you over to bloodshed and it will pursue you. Since you did not hate bloodshed, bloodshed will pursue you." (Ezekiel 35:6)

Shedding innocent blood? Not cool.

Supporting and voting for those committed to the legalized shedding of innocent blood? You tell me.

Randy Alcorn

What do you think? I'd like to hear your thoughtful and respectful comments.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Is the Bible Trustworthy?

It is estimated that since it’s first printing over 17 billion (17,000,000,000) copies of the Bible have been distributed. Yet as history’s all time best-seller, perhaps no other book has sparked more controversy or been more debated. In reality the Bible has withstood the unrelenting attacks of critics, philosophers, humanists, skeptics, and every other brand of critic. But not only has it survived these attacks, it has triumphed over them.

The French atheist Voltaire confidently proclaimed that the Bible would be an extinct book within 100 years of his lifetime. Instead, within fifty years of his death, the Geneva Bible Society was using his house and his printing press to publish an avalanche of Bibles! His house later became the Paris headquarters for the British and Foreign Bible Society.

Thomas Pain, who wrote “Age of Reason” vowed to rid society of the Bible. He predicted that within a generation that the Bible would only be found in museums. After a lifetime of seeking to destroy the Bible, Paine’s dying words are a startling testimony of the Bible’s triumph: “
I would give words, if I had them, if the ‘Age of Reason’ had never been published. O Lord, help me! Christ, help me! Stay with me! It is hell to be left alone.

For a long period of time, critics of the Bible dismissed it as nothing more that the creative invention of a skilled novelist. While some of the Biblical citations of people, places, and events have not been substantiated, modern archaeology is giving credence to the historicity and legitimacy of the Biblical text.

For example, on August 9, 2005,
The Los Angeles Times reported that while repairing a sewage pipe in the old city of Jerusalem, workers had discovered the biblical Pool of Siloam. According to tradition it was a freshwater reservoir that was a major gathering place for ancient Jews making religious pilgrimages to the city. In the Gospel of John it was the site where Jesus cured a man blind from birth. The Biblical Pool was discovered less than 200 yards from one that had been created around 430 A.D. in an effort to reconstruct Biblical sites.

Princeton Theological Seminary New Testament scholar James Charlesworth admitted that many critics of the Bible said that the Gospel of John was not rooted in history but was purely theological. Therefore they denied the existence of the Pool of Siloam. Unfortunately for the critics and skeptics, the Pool of Siloam was found exactly where John said it was. Those questioning the historicity of John’s Gospel have now been silenced.

Jeffery Sheler, an award-winning journalist at
U.S. News & World Report, says that other discoveries like the Pool of Siloam discredit the theory that the Bible, and specifically the Old Testament, is the work of a good historical novelist. According to Sheler, it would be a huge leap of faith for skeptics to believe that a human novelist could have so accurately recorded “the arcane details of the economic and social milieu of distant times and places.”

What does all of this mean? Well for me it means that my trust in the Bible has a reliable foundation rooted in historical accuracy. I'll write more on this issue later, but for now I'll leave you with these words,
The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever” (Isaiah 40:8, NIV).

How has this blog been helpful to you? Your comments and thoughts are encouraged. Simply click on the "comments" link below.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Using God's Grace

"We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand" (Romans 5:1, NIV).

To encourage people to "use" God's grace may seem a bit alarming. So what do I mean by "using God's grace"? I mean, use the grace of God to build your life upon and to turn your life around.

In reality, God's grace is our strength for living from day-to-day. In many circumstances in life we literally stand by his grace. When our lives are filled with sorrow and pain, either through our own mistakes or circumstances beyond our control, God's grace has the power to get us through. In fact, God's grace has the power to use our sorrow and pain for his glory and for our good. "...we rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance produces character; and character, hope" (Romans 5:3, NIV).

Your sufferings, whatever their cause may be, can be used to strengthen you. The Bible says they give you 3 things: perseverance, character, and hope.
  1. Perseverance teaches you, "I can overcome anything--even my own sinful mistakes--through the power of God's grace."
  2. Character teaches you, "And through his grace, I can become the kind of person who doesn't make such foolish mistakes."
  3. Hope teaches you, "Because, through his grace, he's making me into a new person; he's making me like Christ."
Let God's grace be your source of strength, the foundation upon which you stand and build your life.

Chuck Colson understands the transforming power of God's grace. Back in the early 1970's he had made a mess of his life through his involvement with President Nixon and the Watergate scandal--a mess that landed Colson in prison. God used that mess not only to turn his life around, but to give him a platform for ministry that continues to this day. While in prison Colson converted to Christ and vowed that he would not forget his fellow inmates. As a result he founded Prison Fellowship, a world wide minstry to those who are incarcerated. Today Colson is a respected Christian leader with a world-wide impact for God's Kingdom.

So, use God's grace in your life. He can take the mistakes you have made and turn them into something amazing.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Accepting Daily Grace

By its very nature sin messes things up. Nothing good can ever come of sin, because sin is incapable of producing good (Romans 6:23). When we mess with it, it makes a mess of us. Therefore we need to experience God's amazing grace and become brand new people in him. There's a sense in which this happens at salvation: "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old is gone, the new has come!" (2 Corinthians 5:17)

But God's work of grace in our lives doesn't end at salvation, it begins at salvation. As we walk with him, his grace transforms us--changes us into brand new people. When you find yourself in a mess, you need God's grace. The good news is: even if it's a mess created by your own sin, God's grace is available. Romans 5:20 says, "Where sin increased, grace increased all the more."

That means as much grace--or as much help--as you need to get out of the mess you've created, God will give. As much mercy as you need to experience full and complete forgiveness, God will give. As much of his power that you need to turn your life around, he will give. As much peace as you need to overcome your fears, he will give. As much acceptance as you need to be free from guilt, he will give. You cannot out-sin God's grace in your life. You cannot make such a mess of things that he is no longer able to help you out. That's how powerful his grace is.

Forgiveness is a free gift. You don't earn it or deserve it. And his forgiveness is total and complete. Your wife may not be ready to forgive you--neither may your boss, or your children, or your parents, or your friends, or your enemies--but God has forgiven you completely. Romans 5:6 says, "You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly." The ungodly: you and I fall into that category. We're the ones he died for. Romans 5:8 says, "God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." God forgives us in spite of the fact that we don't deserve it. In fact, even before we had considered asking for forgiveness, before we felt even a hint of remorse, he had already died for our sins.

Someone once said, "Accepting God's forgiveness at salvation was easy, but when I have sinned in my Christian life, accepting God's forgiveness has been more difficult--because I'm constantly reminded of how little I deserve it."

Can you relate to that statement? I can. But you know what? This attitude reveals a lack of understanding of the scope of God's forgiveness. We tend to think that God can forgive small sins, but not big ones. Or old sins, but not new ones. But when Jesus Christ died on the cross, he died for all sins--the ugly ones, the wicked ones, the stupid ones--all sins.

Romans 5:9 states, "Since we have been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him!" The fear of God's wrath is a thing of the past for Christians, we have been saved from it. We don't have to live in dread of what God is going to do to get even with us, because the punishment that our sins deserved was paid for by Jesus Christ. If you make a mess of your life with sin, God will forgive you, but why in the world would you intentionally want to create that kind of pain for yourself? Anyone who views God's grace as a free ticket to go out and "have fun" with sin is in for a rude awakening. The wages of sin is death and it always leads to misery. Anyone who has made a mess of their lives with sin already knows this.

It's not fair, is it, that Jesus should have to die for our sins and we should get off scot-free? No, it's not fair at all. It's not what we deserve. But it's what we've been given. Accept it. Every day. Just like you accepted it on the day you were saved, accept God's forgiveness in your life ... and turn away from willful sins.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Why is Islam growing so rapidly?

Someone asked me,  "Why is Islam growing so fast in the world, given the comparison to Christianity?  I just don't understand the appeal when you compare/contrast the doctrines of the two religions and compare/contrast Jesus/Muhammad.  I am sure the Muslim religion must be presented differently to those inquiring or considering but I just am not seeing the appeal of the religion in modern times around the world."

Well, one reason may have to do with the different cultures around the world. The Middle East is a much different culture than our own. They have a completely different mindset than we do. That’s true of Europe also. People look at life and view the world differently. The Middle East has been dominated by a very intense religious mindset for centuries. 

Another reason may be the fact that to them commitment really means something. It is easy to be a Christian in America. There are a number of Christians who take their faith as an inclusion in some kind of a spiritual club; almost as kind of a luxury or amenity of sorts. Islam is a completely different mindset. When you make a commitment to Islam, you are making a life-altering commitment. It is a serious deal. A lot of American Christianity is void of that kind of serious commitment. I’m not at all talking about a “radical” kind of commitment with violence; I’m simply referring to an absolute commitment of one’s life. 

In reality, Jesus calls us to an absolute commitment to him (Luke 14:25-35). I'm not sure how so many of us in America have managed to avoid this kind of total commitment to following Christ. We tend to enjoy following Jesus as long as it takes to where we want to be. The version of Christianity so common in America is that God is here to serve us and our needs. While it is true that God is interested in meeting our needs (Philippians 4:19), it is a significant misunderstanding of the Creator and the creation. We exist to serve God and his purposes, not the other way around (Luke 4:8).  

Anyway, the call of total commitment seems to be appealing to the kind of mindset that is found in other parts of the world. In America it seems that we are reluctant to make a commitment to much of anything that doesn’t serve our own purposes. That’s not a slam on America, it is just an observation.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Does the Bible Forbid Interracial Marriage?

Many people think that the Old Testament forbids interracial marriages (i.e. Jews inter-marrying with another race). In one sense it is true that the Jewish people were forbidden to intermarry with other races. However, God's intention was that the Jews keep themselves from being influenced by other pagan cultures and religions. God, in his wisdom, knew that if they married outside of the Jewish faith, they would be led away from their singular commitment to God, as Deuteronomy 7:1-6 clearly states. Perhaps one of the clearest illustrations of this is found in 1 Kings 11. Although God warned his people over and over again they failed on many occasions, and in 1 Kings 11 we see that clearly illustrated in one person. By the way, Nehemiah 13:23-27 is an interesting commentary on 1 Kings 11

Please understand that the command God gave to his people was based on faith issues rather than race issues. It wasn't an issue of marrying outside of the Jewish race, it was a matter of marrying outside of the Jewish faith. There is a big difference. In the Old Testament, many converted to Judaism and married other Jewish people, and that was fine. God even condoned marriage with women who were taken captive in war and subsequently became Jewish (Deuteronomy 21:10-13).

You will not be surprised that the New Testament carries forward that same principle for Christians. Second Corinthians 6:14-7:1 clearly sets forth the teaching for the church: Christians must not join themselves with unbelievers in strategic alliances. This passage teaches a broad principle that would apply to such things as business partnerships, marriage, alliances with religious groups outside of the Christian faith, etc. The principle taught in Galatians 3:26-29 makes it clear that there is no race distinction in God's eyes. The teachings of these passages make it clear that when it comes to marriage it is an issue of faith, not race. 

As a Christian, can I marry someone of a different race? If they have committed their lives to Jesus Christ, absolutely. However, as I understand the Scripture, I must not marry someone who is not a Christian, as 1 Corinthians 7:39 clearly states. First Corinthians 7:10-39 is an excellent passage on marriage and I would encourage you to read it carefully. Please note that 1 Corinthians 7:17-24 is talking about someone who has become a Christian after they were married and so they find themselves in a situation where they are married to an unbeliever.

In summary, the scriptures teach at least three principles on this subject:
  1. There is nothing wrong with inter race marriages, as long as both husband and wife are believers in Christ (Galatians 3:26-29)
  2. There is nothing wrong with being married to an unbeliever so long as both were unbelievers at the time of their marriage (1 Corinthians 7:17-24; 1 Peter 3:1-4)
  3. Christians should not pursue an alliance, such as and including marriage, with a non-believer (1 Corinthians 7:39; 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1)