Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Why I Believe that the Bible is Actually God Speaking

Today, I responded to an atheist:

  • While I admit that there are difficult and even troubling portions of the Bible, the reasons that I believe it far outweigh the problems. Perhaps someday I'll be able to share some stories with you over a cup of coffee.

He had challenged me about the “contradictions” and morally questionable Bible teachings. Sometimes, I respond aggressively. I might challenge the atheist this way:

  • “Demonstrate how this is a contradiction and prove to me that there is no way to resolve it,” or… “If God is just and righteous and He created this world, He has every right and duty to judge!”

Instead, this is what I plan to share with him:

Often, I feel like the Psalmist: “My soul is downcast within me” (Psalm 42:6). Today, my soul was very downcast within me. I was too down to focus on any of my work. There was only one thing I could do – crawl into bed with my Bible.

Thirty years ago, my depression and panic attacks were so severe that I didn’t know if I could continue until the next day. I tried to read the Bible, but it was hard for me to concentrate on it or to even believe in it. Sometimes, I was only able to rest it on my stomach as I prayed for sleep. At other times, I was able to read little bits of it, but there were times when something extraordinary took place. An elementary phrase – like “Gods heard him” - would explode into my consciousness for a mere second, like a lightning bolt. The event was so stunning that it would utterly drive away any vestige of depression. For the balance of the day, I was left awed – stunned - by the power that I had experienced.

This stopped happening as my depression and panic ebbed. No more explosions. However, God’s Word is still able to edify me and to drag me out of my downcast-ness like nothing else – like none of my five highly-recommended psychologists. Even though they confidently advised me that I was a good person and had the necessary resources, none of their words were able to even dent the hard shell of my depression – only God’s Word!

The Psalmist wrote:

  • I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame. This poor man called, and the Lord heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles. The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them. (Psalm 34:4-7)

I know that there will be more troubles, fears and tears, but when I have found myself broken by life, I have also found the Lord very present through His Word.

I am temperamentally a skeptic. I still don’t understand these phenomena. I sometimes wonder, “Is this really happening? Is it God who has really delivered me?” I cannot deny what I have experienced on so many occasions. And this has only happened through the Bible. Admittedly, I am perplexed by some things I encounter in His Word, but I am also convinced that I have encountered my Savior in these same words.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Christian Love, Progressive Style

While Progressive “Christian” churches boast that they include all, Evangelicals – those who are Bible-centered – are consistently bashed. While they talk about their brotherhood with Muslims, Jews, and Buddhists, they have nothing but disdain for Evangelicals. Sometimes, this yuck-word is left unspoken, but the message is clearly and consistently an Evangelical head-hunting orgy. One Episcopal rector disguised his attack like this:

  • Christian faith is not about submission to dogma [doctrine, teachings]… We walk by faith and not by doctrinal certainty.
This is an unmistakable portrait of Evangelicalism, which has always been Scripture and doctrine-centered. As such, we try to live as Jesus instructed:

  • “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.” (John 14:21)

Oddly, for someone who declared that the Christian faith is not about doctrine, the rector’s sermon was all about doctrine. He insisted that Jesus was “ultimate love” – a love that receives everyone without any qualifications regarding their beliefs or lifestyles (not like those pharisaical Evangelicals).

The Progressives have cast us into the role of the judgmental, narrow-minded Pharisees. They excluded people, especially the marginalized, just as those Evangelicals do. Meanwhile, the Progressives liken themselves to Jesus Himself who included everyone, or did He?

If Jesus is “ultimate love,” was He all-inclusive as the Progressives insist? Did He receive everyone without concern for their doctrine and lifestyle? Certainly not! He set the bar high for His followers:

  • But Jesus said to him, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62)

They not only had to grab hold of His plow; they had to keep their hand on it:

  • Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Mat. 16:24-26)

Was Jesus all-inclusive? Was He against the use of all power and coercion? No! In fact, He spoke the first word on excommunication:

  • “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.  But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector” [and separate from them]. (Mat. 18:15-17)

While Jesus did receive everyone who was willing to truly follow Him, there were also qualifications. They had to repent of their sins:

  • And Jesus answered and said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:2-5)

For Jesus, repentance wasn’t merely a quality-of-life issue. It was salvation itself, as He taught in His commission to His Apostles:

  • Then He said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. (Luke 24:46-47)

What then is love? Is it merely a matter of receiving everyone – (as long as they are not Evangelicals) - regardless of their sins? Instead, if we care, we will warn and point to the only Source of hope. Meanwhile, in the minds of the Progressive “Christians,” the Evangelical is a Pharisee, because, faithful to Scripture, he insists on repentance.

Also, in their zeal to demonstrate that they are truly the ones who love as Jesus did, the Progressives eliminate any doctrinal requirements. Doesn’t removing these artificial barriers between people prove that they love as Jesus did? It depends on what Jesus taught. Did He teach, “It doesn’t matter what your believe as long as you are following me.” Certainly not! He taught that His disciples had to abide in Him by abiding in His teachings:

  • “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will[b] ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you… If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love… You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.” (John 15:5-14)

Keeping Jesus’ commandments aren’t optional, and to keep them, we first need to believe and understand them. Nor is it optional what we think about Him. He warned the Pharisees:

  • “I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am he, you will indeed die in your sins.” (John 8:24)

This again raises that contentious question, “What is love.” Is love a superficial “making nice,” or is love a matter of being devoted to the ultimate welfare of the other? And isn’t this welfare a matter of eternal salvation! Is it therefore pharisaical to point to salvation through Jesus alone? Certainly not!

At this point, you find that the Progressive “Christian” jumps ship. It is here that you will discover that what is most holy for the progressive is not Jesus’ teachings or Scripture. Instead, it is they! Instead of Scripture judging them, they are sitting in judgment over Scripture. They are the ultimate authority. Sometimes, they will admit that they pick-and-choose those verses that support their own worldview. However, Jesus would never approve of such a thing. Quoting Deuteronomy 8 against the Devil, He stated:

  • Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Mat. 4:4)

According to Jesus, we are not free to stand in judgment over the Word but must submit to “every word” as He did. It is therefore a gross charade, when the Progressive churches will read Scripture and then claim that this is “The Word of God.”

Progressive ministers also use Scripture in their sermons. Of course, they expect you to regard their selected verses as authoritative – as the final word and proof to settle any question. However, these hypocrites discard everything else in Scripture that they find unappealing. They choose to maintain a fa├žade of Christian love as they conform their modernized religion to the values of the day. Meanwhile, they disparage those who take the Bible seriously, falsely claiming that doctrinal confidence has never been the focus of Christianity.

Is it unloving to call these deceivers, “hypocrites,” or is this something they need to hear? If Jesus is our model of “ultimate love,” then we have to observe how He talked to others:

  • “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.” (Mat. 23:13-15)

We are all undeserving sinners. Without the Lord’s light, we’d all be hypocrites and worse. However, this is not the question. Instead, the question remains, “What is love?” Clearly, sometimes love requires shaking. Jesus loved the Pharisees, so He shook them so that some light would enter through the newly formed cracks.

Progressivism is a modern form of liberalism and skepticism – a gross perversion of the Christian faith. Shouldn’t we shake it until the ugliness of its hypocrisy is exposed!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

World Vision, Same-Sex Marriage and the Weightiness of what we Believe

How should we vote and judge our leaders? Richard Stearns, the president of the mega-Christian-charity, World Vision (WV), doesn’t believe that our biblical views are relevant. According to the Religion News Service, he protested:

  • I’m not telling people where I stand on the same-sex marriage issue because I don’t think it’s relevant.

Meanwhile, he announced on March 24, 2014 that WV:

  • Would allow its U.S. branch to hire employees in same-sex marriages. [However] Stearns announced on March 26 that the World Vision board had made a mistake and would reverse the controversial decision. (World, April 19, 2014, 42)

So any connection? This hasty reversal doesn’t seem to have been a matter of the board conducting an exploratory Bible study. Rather, it was because “protests followed” their initial announcement. These came from contributors. Therefore, if the opinions of these protestors change, WV will most likely revert once again to their original proclamation.

Does what a leader believes matter? Perhaps this is a better question – “Is there anything more important than what we believe?” Clearly, what we believe is foundational to how we live. What the WV board believes has directly impacted their decisions. Here’s another small example:

  • A former director for international relations at World Vision estimated as many as 20 percent of staff overseas were Muslims. (45)

Without knowing more, it’s hard to quibble about this. Perhaps these employees were mainly security guards and had little influence of the provision of WV’s supposedly Christian services. However, there have been some unquestionably shady activities: “It awarded $300,000 to Sojourners,” a “Christian” organization which has a low view of Scripture and supports same-sex marriage. WV also “granted $242,786 to Save the Children in 2010.” However, this group says:

  • “Adolescents should be provided with information and access to safe abortion services when legal.” (45)

In whatever we do, we must glorify our Lord (1 Peter 4:11). We do not glorify Him if we enable what is an abomination to Him, whether it’s a matter of promoting sin or false worship. Besides, if we compromise our Christian witness, we ultimately will hurt and confuse those we seek to help.

WV was also understandably criticized for “producing Easter cards for sponsored children that don’t mention the resurrection.” What better time to proclaim the fact that Jesus rose for us! We are left to wonder that since WV would not mention the resurrection in Easter cards, whether they would mention it at any other time.

What then does it mean to be Christian if not to offer Christ to the world? Are we not to be ambassadors for Christ by conveying the Gospel message (2 Cor. 5:21)? If we provide material benefit without providing Christ, we are giving a false message – that Christ isn’t so relevant!

And what should we think of our Christian leaders who have “compared the issue of same-sex marriage to disagreements over baptism or women in church leadership,” thereby demeaning the weightiness of sexual sin (1 Cor. 6:19)?

What our leaders believe will determine everything else about them. We have a right to know and they have a duty to disclose.

The Passover: It’s Teachings on Justice, Equality and Mercy

The Passover is an expression of the “equality” of all of us before God. We are all sinners who require His mercy, if we hope to avoid condemnation and death. Israel’s Savior made this clear by requiring Israel to make a blood sacrifice so that death wouldn’t strike them as it would the Egyptians:

  • “When the Lord goes through the land to strike down the Egyptians, he will see the blood on the top and sides of the doorframe and will pass over that doorway, and he will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses and strike you down.” (Exodus 12:23)

Moses explained that without the blood of this substitutionary sacrifice, the “destroyer,” the angel of death, would also inflict upon Israel what Israel deserved – death. They too deserved to die for their sins. Moses then added an interpretative note:

  • “When you enter the land that the Lord will give you as he promised, observe this ceremony.  And when your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’ then tell them, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when he struck down the Egyptians.’” (12:25-27)

Moses explained that He “spared” Israel – that He had mercy on Israel and “passed over” them. Without the substitutionary blood on the doorposts, Israel would not have been spared. To reinforce the fact that Israel too deserved judgment, God required His people to understand they too deserved to die. Therefore, they were required to make a regular substitutionary offering in place of their own lives:

  • “In days to come, when your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ say to him, ‘With a mighty hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.  When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the Lord killed the firstborn of both people and animals in Egypt. This is why I sacrifice to the Lord the first male offspring of every womb and redeem each of my firstborn sons.’” (13:14-15)

Israel was required to buy back from God’s judgment their firstborn with an animal sacrifice. Instead, of them, the animal would pay the price for sin.

The Passover is an expression of equality in another way. Redemption was also open to the Egyptians. Those Egyptians who took God’s Word seriously were either able to avoid the effects of some of the plagues or even to join themselves to Israel (12:48-49).

However, today’s secularism wants to apply equality even further by eliminating any distinctions among humanity. Brian McLaren, a key writer of the Emergent Church movement, charges that:

  • Christians have been taught to see in "us vs. them" terms for centuries, and it will take time to reorient faithful people in a new direction -- "us with them," working for the common good (Huffington Post Religion Blog, 2/19/03)

However, Scripture has always maintained a sharp distinction between the people of God and those who aren’t. The Passover also reflects this absolute distinction:

  • There will be loud wailing throughout Egypt—worse than there has ever been or ever will be again. But among the Israelites not a dog will bark at any person or animal.’ Then you will know that the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel. (11:6-7)

Is this kind of favoritism a violation of God’s just nature? No! For one thing, God has always stated or demonstrated that it is legitimate for Him to be merciful to those He chooses (Rom. 9:14-19). For another thing, we all live in a way that reflects such discriminate mercy. When we throw a party, we have no qualms about inviting only those we want to invite. If someone from the next town complains, “That isn’t fair. You should also have invited me,” you would simply point out that this has nothing to do with fairness but everything to do with our freedom to be kind to only those who we choose.

However, if we are a judge, we must apply the same principles of justice to all indiscriminately. But under this standard of justice, none of us deserve anything from God except condemnation (Rom. 6:23). Therefore, our only hope is in the mercy of God, not in the justice of God.

This might violate our current values, but there is nothing unjust about only being merciful to a select group of people. Nevertheless, God had made His mercy available to all. Any who sought to join His people could. In fact, when Israel left Egypt, they were joined by a “mixed multitude” (12:38) of people, presumably including Egyptians. Besides, there is no scriptural instance where someone who seriously wanted to join Israel was refused.

Instead, we must be free to extend discriminate mercy. If instead I am required to be merciful to all, I can be merciful to none. Instead, true mercy must begin at home with individuals, with those we favor. It is because I favor my children and wife that I can be compassionate and merciful to others who have wives and children. This is because I understand and value of discriminate mercy. If instead, I must be equally merciful to all, mercy will be consumed in a sea of sameness and sterility.

A lack of evidence was never the problem. Egypt had all the evidence. They experienced the 10 plagues of Israel’s God. This caused them to tremble before God and to have a great respect for Moses. However, this was not enough to incline them to accept Israel’s God.

The same was true of the vast number of the Canaanites. They had heard all about the miracles that God had performed for Israel (Joshua 2:10), but they remained unresponsive to this God with the exception of one prostitute.

The Gibeonites’ behavior reflected the deep darkness and rebellion in the heart of humanity. They too had been convinced by the evidence that God was with Israel (Joshua 9:9). However, they oddly decided to deceive the Israelites and to become their slaves rather than to receive their God and to become their brothers.

Does this make God unjust? The Egyptians had all the evidence in the world but instead chose to harden their hearts against God. Should God be required to be merciful to them? To the Canaanites? Many would say “yes.” However, they can only maintain such a position by denying that we are morally responsible agents. Instead, the Passover declares otherwise.