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).

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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)

Thursday, September 11, 2008

September 11

Some time back someone asked me my thoughts on the events of September 11, 2001 and what part God had in it, if any. Here is how I responded.

My personal views . . . from a spiritual standpoint I think it is has been some time that we could honestly say that we are a Christian nation. Sure we have a church on "every corner" but most of those churches are empty -- and what percentage of the people who do attend church are really "fully-devoted" followers of Christ? As I look at our nation, I do not see a lot of evidence that we are following God (2 Timothy 3:1-5). Let's be honest, there are many sins that grip our nation and an argument could be made that we are on a slippery slop morally and spiritually.

Does September 11 have a link to these realities? Perhaps. The Bible teaches that we live in a fallen, evil world (Ephesians 2:1-2; 6:10-18; 2 Corinthians 4:4). That is reason enough for something like September 11 to happen. Is God unleashing his Judgment on our nation? That is a question no one but God himself can answer. I suppose time will tell. 

However it seems that this event has been used of God to stir the hearts of countless people and cause them to seek Him -- and that is a positive thing in my book! People are re-evaluating their lives as never before. Will this last? I pray to God that it will! I do believe that the heart and soul of this nation is up for grabs and that the church has an unprecedented opportunity to communicate and demonstrate the love and grace of God. 

Scott, I think you would enjoy Chuck Colson's website: www.breakpoint.org. Colson is a brilliant Christian thinker and a compelling apologist for the Christian faith. His background in the Nixon Whitehouse gives him a uniquely qualified perspective on political and world issues. His most recent book is an excellent treatment of the subject of the Christian's world view (Title: How Now Shall We Live?).

Also, a study of the Old Testament prophetic books would also give you a unique view of our nation. Specifically the books of Amos, Hosea, Micah, and Zephaniah would shed some light on how God deals with a wayward nation. As you read through Amos and Hosea you may find some similarities between the Northern Kingdom of Israel and our own nation. The prophetic books I listed are fairly brief. If you are looking  for more, try Isaiah and Jeremiah.

I'm interested in your thoughts on the impact of 9-11 seven years later. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

What Can I Eat?

Several years ago someone sent me the following question:

Dear James,

I have a question to ask that has been a concern of mine for quite a long time. Deuteronomy 14:8 says,The pig is also unclean; although it has a split hoof, it does not chew the cud. You are not to eat their meat or touch their carcasses.” Leviticus 11:10 says, “But all creatures in the seas or streams that do not have fins and scales-whether among all the swarming things or among all the other living creatures in the water-you are to detest."

I have attempted to find later teachings that would change these dietary sins, but I must have missed it somewhere. So my question is, why are Christians allowed to eat pork, crab, shrimp, lobster etc.? Where does the church stand on this issue? 

Please let me know your thoughts on this subject. I have stopped eating all pork products already, but the seafood is going to be a bit difficult to give up (my family loves it!), but so be it if our Lord requires this of us!

Thank you in advance for this information.

Here is the response I gave:

Our church does not have an "official position" on the questions you have raised. We simply search out what the Scriptures have to say on any particular subject and live accordingly. With that understood, here are some personal thoughts on the issues you have raised.

The Old Covenant established with the nation of Israel was rendered null and void by the New Covenant established through and by Jesus Christ (Hebrews 8:13; 9:10, 15; 10:9). As Christians we are not bound to the Old Covenant and its rules and regulations, including its dietary system (Colossians 2:16-17, 20-22).

A study of the passages I have listed below will be very helpful to you in understanding the differences between the Old Covenant established with the nation of Israel, and the New Covenant established through Christ to every person who will receive Him (John 1:12; 3:16). Some of the passages are short; others are longer. The entire book of Hebrews is written to make clear that the Old Covenant was set aside and rendered null and void through the New Covenant which Jesus established through his life, death, and resurrection from the grave. I cited a few verses from Hebrews above, but I would encourage you to study the entire book as it is the best place in Bible to explain the differences between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. 

And by the way, the Old Covenant is referred to as "Old" because it is no longer binding on Christians (i.e. it is old and no longer useful). The word "testament" is synonymous with the word "covenant." The Bible is divided into two parts: the Old Testament and the New Testament. Or – if you will – the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. Another word that is used for "covenant" is "will." So as you read through the scriptures I have listed below, just keep an eye out for these three words and understand that they refer to the same thing.

Romans 14
1 Corinthians 9
2 Corinthians 3 & 4
Colossians 2:6-23

The bottom line is that in Christ you are free to eat whatever you like. However, you may want to take into consideration how some foods effect your health. It is generally accepted that eating meat is not always the most healthy diet. But spiritually speaking, there is nothing wrong with eating meat of any kind. The only sin we can commit through eating is what the Bible calls gluttony. And you can be a glutton with Jell-O!

I hope this helps.

Let me know your thoughts.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Do Animals Go to Heaven?

The Bible does not specifically speak to this subject. However, it does not say that there won't be animals in heaven. In fact, there is probably good reason to believe that there will be based upon the fact that when God created a perfect world in Genesis, a part of His creation included animals. So to reason that there will be animals when God re-creates the world (2 Peter 3:3-13) is not such a stretch.

However, that being a possibility, the Bible teaches that only human beings were created in God's image and have a soul that lives on after physical death. This is why the Bible places infinite value on human life and why God's law in the Old Testament demanded the death penalty for the murder of another human life. Animals were not created in God's image and do not, as such, have an eternal soul. Because human beings are created in God's image, we possess a sanctity of life unlike any other living thing in all creation. This is one reason why human sacrifice was strictly forbidden in the Old Testament. However, under the Old Covenant, animal sacrifice was God's prescribed way--for animals have no living soul.

Animals are a wonderful gift from God. They bring much joy into our lives, and that is part of God's design. I am thankful for the "pets" that I have had in my life and for the wonderful memories of them. My life has been enriched because of those experiences. However, I do not anticipate seeing those same pets again in heaven as I do friends and family members who have passed from this life to the next. As a personal opinion, I do believe that there will be animals in heaven and that we will enjoy pets who never grow old, never get sick, never go blind, never make a mess where they're not supposed to (!), and who never die. Our enjoyment of animals in heaven will be full, complete, and infinitely satisfying . . . as a part of God's design.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

God's Firstborn

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation” Colossians 1:15 (NIV).

This is one of the great verses in the Bible which teaches us about Jesus Christ. It is a part of a wonderful passage on Jesus, but this one verse often gets a lot of questions. The Greek word for “image” is the word from which we get our English word “icon.” It means, “copy” or “likeness.” Jesus Christ is the perfect image-the exact likeness—of God and is in the very form of God, and has been so from all eternity. By describing Jesus in this manner, Paul emphasizes that Jesus is both the representation and manifestation of God. Thus, Jesus is fully God in every way.

The Greek word for “firstborn” can refer to one who was born first chronologically, but most often refers to pre-eminence in position, or rank. In both Greek and Jewish culture, the firstborn was the ranking son who had received the right of inheritance from his father, whether he was born first or not. It is used of Israel who, not being the first nation, was however the preeminent nation (cf. Exodus 4:22; Jeremiah 31:9). Firstborn in this context clearly means highest in rank, not first created for several reasons: 1) Jesus cannot be both “first begotten” and “only begotten” (cf. John 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18; 1 John 4:9); 2) when the “firstborn” is one of a class, the class is in the plural form (cf. v. 18; Romans 8:29), but “creation,” the class here, is in a singular form; 3) if Paul was teaching that Jesus was a created being, he was agreeing with the heresy he was writing to refute; and 4) it is impossible for Jesus to be both created, and the Creator of everything (v. 16). Thus Jesus is the firstborn in the sense that he has the preeminence (v. 18) and possesses the right of inheritance “over all creation” (cf. Hebrews 1:2; Revelation 5:1-7, 13). He existed before the creation and is exalted in rank above it. As supreme over all creation, Jesus has all the priority and authority ... including over the spirit world (see Colossians 1:16).

Colossians 1:15 is a bedrock verse of Christianity. In fact the whole passage from verse 15 to verse 20 is perhaps the fullest description of Jesus' authority and divinity in the Bible. As a Christian, I find it encouraging to know that I'm not just following a prophet of old or a great moral teacher from ancient times. I'm following the God who wrapped himself in human flesh: Jesus Christ.

I'm curious, what implications do you think these things have on those of us who claim to follow Jesus Christ? I welcome your comments....

Credit: some of the above thoughts have been adapted from John MacArthur

Friday, September 5, 2008

The Unforgivable Sin

You’ve probably heard of “the unforgivable sin” before. Does such a sin exist? If so, what is it and how can you avoid it? You can find “the unforgivable sin” in three places: Luke 12:10, Mark 3:28-29, and in Matthew 12:31-32. In the latter Jesus says, And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.” Luke 12:10 classifies the sin as “an eternal sin.”

The religious leaders accused Jesus of blasphemy, but ironically they were the guilty ones when they looked Jesus in the face and accused him of being possessed by Satan. The unforgivable sin means attributing to Satan the work that the Holy Spirit accomplishes (see Matthew 12:22-30). Thus it is a deliberate and ongoing rejection of the Holy Spirit’s work and even of God himself. It indicates a deliberate and irreversible hardness of heart. The sin is unforgivable not because it is worse than any other, but because the person who is guilty of it will never ask for or seek forgiveness. Why? Because the person who rejects the prompting of the Holy Spirit removes himself/herself from the only force that can lead him or her to repentance and restoration to God. A person who fears having committed “the unforgivable sin” shows by their very concern that he/she has not sinned in this way.

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Thursday, September 4, 2008

A Prayer to Begin Your Day

I like reading books on leadership and church development and I like reading books that speak to the soul. One of my favorite authors for the latter is Richard Foster. He has written several books that speak to spiritual formation. He writes with both simplicity and a sense of the profound. His book entitled Prayer: Finding the Heart's True Home speaks to me deeply. Each chapter is on a different aspect or kind of prayer and each chapter ends with a sample prayer. Here's one you might find helpful as you begin your day tomorrow. It comes from the chapter entitled, "The Prayer of Relinquishment."
Today, O Lord, I yield myself to You. May Your will be my delight today. May You have perfect sway in me. May your love be the pattern of my living. I surrender to You my hopes, my dreams, my ambitions. Do with them what You will, when You will, as You will. I place into Your loving care my family, my friends, my future. Care for them with a care that I can never give. I release into Your hands my need to control, my craving for status, my fear of obscurity. Eradicate the evil, purify the good, and establish Your Kingdom on earth.

For Jesus’ sake, Amen.