Thursday, October 17, 2019

WHITE LIES




There is a sin that is epidemic, since it is practiced by almost everyone. It is so contagious that it has become acceptable and even expected. Yet, it undermines trust and unglues relationships. It is the sin of lying, and yes, it is a sin:

·       Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. (Ephesians 4:25 ESV; Colossians 3:9; Leviticus 19:11)

It is so serious that when we lie, we are also lying to God (Leviticus 6:2; Psalm 51:4), the One whose laws we are violating. Ananias and Sapphira had lied to the Apostles by telling them that they had given them the entire proceeds from the sale of their property for the support of the fledging church. However, Peter charged that they had not only lied to them but also to the Holy Spirit:

·       “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.” (Acts 5:3-4)

Their sin was simply lying. The property was theirs, and they could have kept it for themselves. Instead, they had lied that they had given the entire proceeds to the Apostles.

However, today, we tend to regard this as an acceptable sin, especially since they had freely given a large portion of the proceeds. Who could blame them for this little white lie? God could, and He took their lives. Understandably, this created great fear among the brethren. However the next verses indicate that blessings followed:

·       Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles…And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women. (Acts 5:12,14)

When sin is decisively addressed, blessings occur. When it festers, it divides. A brother related what he had observed as a young Christian. He was waiting in the office of a highly respected pastor. As he emerged from his office, the secretary told him that a certain woman who wanted to speak with him was on the phone. However, the pastor told the secretary to tell her that he wasn’t in.

My friend was shocked. Not only had the pastor sinned, he also had coaxed his secretary into lying for him, causing one of God’s little ones to stumble. How many more had stumbled because of him? My guess was that those around the pastor must have concluded that lying was just a necessary part of ministry, as we now conclude the same thing about politicians.

However, to justify one sin is to justify many. If God is willing to blink at this one sin, why not also flattery! Eventually, we conclude, “Why not also adultery!” If we trust God to forgive the one, why not also the other!

It has become common for us to make half-hearted commitments. We say that we will call, but we never do. Nor do we apologize, concluding that it’s just a little white lie. However, those who love the lie bring destruction upon themselves and the Church:

·       “But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and ALL LIARS, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” (Revelation 21:8)

Therefore, liars must sincerely humble themselves to confess their sins (1 John 1:9).


Wednesday, October 16, 2019

FEAR AND ANXIETY SERVE A PURPOSE



We tend to be anxious about so many things - jobs, money, health, success, family, and the list goes on. Then we make matters worse by thinking, “Look how anxious I am. Being so anxious, I’m evidently not trusting God and shouldn’t expect to receive anything from Him.”

This certainly isn’t so. If our anxieties meant we weren’t trusting God, Joshua would have been left bereft of the Lord’s protection. However, experiencing anxiety and fear had not been the issue, but rather being led by anxieties rather than by the Lord. Therefore, the Lord instructed Joshua how to lean upon Him while struggling against his anxious temptations to run:

* “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go." ‭‭(Joshua‬ ‭1:8-9)

Being courageous was not a matter of Joshua ridding himself of fear, but of standing his ground in the Word. Notice that the Lord didn’t instruct Joshua to not experience the feelings of anxiety. Instead, He instructed Joshua what to do in the midst of his fears.
The Children of Israel feared as they heard the Egyptian chariots approaching. The Lord didn’t instruct them not to feel that way but instead simply to observe the Lord’s salvation:

* And Moses said to the people, "Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent." ‭‭(Exodus‬ ‭14:13-14)

Sometimes, we are so powerless that all we can do is to watch and wait. Years ago, my wife bribed me to get on the roller coaster with her. Even though I trusted in the Lord, I screamed in terror until we rolled to the end.

After a year of traveling, Joshua sent out 12 spies into the Promised Land. What they saw filled them with anxiety. However, 10 of them succumbed to their fears and reported back that the Canaanites were too powerful for them, and they created a rebellion. Joshua and Caleb might have also felt the same way, but they were willing to trust in the Word of the Lord. It was a matter of deciding for the Lord. Moses declared:

* “Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us. Their protection is removed from them, and the Lord is with us; do not fear them." (Numbers‬ ‭14:9‬)‭

It didn’t matter what they felt, but whether or not they would continue to trust in the Word of the Lord. Jesus understood how anxiety can take our focus away from the Lord, and He provided the remedy:

* “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” ‭‭(Matthew‬ ‭6:31-33‬)

Jesus didn’t instruct them how not to experience anxiety, but instead what to do about it. We have to proactively put the Lord first in our lives, and He will deal with the source of our anxiety and provide for our needs.

In fact, anxiety can be a good thing. It can direct us towards our only Source of hope. Therefore, the Psalmist, wrote, “when I fear, I will trust in the Lord” (Psalm 56:3).

HUMAN EQUALITY, HUMAN RIGHTS, AND WHERE WE ARE HEADING




We are often blind to the many implications of our choices. I had no idea that sitting for many hours at a computer with my knees tucked under me would damage them.

The same principle also pertains to the ideas and worldviews we adopt. The late German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, had argued that once the “civilized” world rejects the Christian God, it also inevitably reject Christian values, like equality, human exceptionalism, human rights, and an entire array of other values that go along with them. In Twilight of the Idols, Nietzsche wrote:

·       They are rid of the Christian God and now believe all the more firmly that they must cling to the Christian morality… When one gives up the Christian faith, one pulls the right to Christian morality out from under one’s feet.

However, we fail to see this. Recently, an atheistic philosopher acknowledged to me our indebtedness to Christianity for its teachings on human equality. However, she confidently stated that the secular West can successfully borrow this concept without its theistic foundation. However, according to Nietzsche, this was the very transaction that logic could never sustain:

·       Another Christian concept, no less crazy: the concept of equality of souls before God. This concept furnishes the prototype of all theories of equal rights.” (Will to Power)

Human equality is a “crazy” idea when viewed from an atheistic materialistic point of view. Why? When we look at our fellow humans, we only see differences, not equality. We see differences in sex, education, health, behavior, intelligence, strength. Some are good and some bad; some are friends, others are enemies. Consequently, Dinesh D’Souza had written:

·       When Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal,” he claimed that this was a self-evident truth. But it is not evident at all. Indeed, most cultures throughout history, and even today, reject the proposition. (What’s so Great about Christianity, 70)

D’Souza cited Aristotle as a prime example of the thinking of the classical world:

·       Aristotle, too, had a job for low men: slavery. Aristotle argued that with low men in servitude, superior men would have leisure to think and participate in governance of the community. Aristotle cherished the ‘great-souled man’ who was proud, honorable, aristocratic, rich.

The greatest thinkers of the ancient world assigned worth to their fellow human beings according to their culturally established norms and not according to human equality:


·       In ancient Rome and Greece, human life had very little value. The Spartans left weak children to die on the hillside. Infanticide was common, as it is even today in many parts of the world. Fathers who wanted sons had few qualms about drowning their newborn daughters. Human beings were routinely bludgeoned to death or mauled by wild animals in the Roman gladiatorial arena. The greatest of the classical thinkers from Seneca to Cicero, saw nothing wrong with these practices.” (D’Souza, 71)

Infanticide had also been an accepted practice, according to historian Alvin Schmidt:

·       In neither Greek nor Roman literature can one find any feeling of guilt related to abandoning children…Even Seneca [60 AD], whose moral philosophy was on a higher plain than that of his culture, said, “We drown children who at birth are weakly and abnormal.” (Under the Influence: How Christianity Transformed Civilization)

It had all been about the quality of a life and not the sanctity of life. Any government can pass laws granting equality, equal protection under the law, and human rights, but without the understanding that these concepts and rights come from God, they will quickly erode, lacking an adequate belief structure to sustain them.  Consequently, Thomas Jefferson had written:

·       And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with His wrath? (Notes on the State of Virginia)

Without the confident belief that human equality is “a gift of God,” the influence of materialistic belief wins minds to think exclusively pragmatically (in terms of immediate results). Inevitably, those individuals deemed as more worthy will receive better treatment, even under the law. We might talk glibly of the value of having human rights. However, without human equality, there is no logical foundation for human rights. If we are not equal in the most essential sense (before God), there is no basis for equal rights. Instead, such “rights” will be granted at the pleasure of the ruling class according to what benefits them.

As a result, our Congress has become a privileged caste. They have a tax-payer slush fund to secretly pay off victims of their sexual abuses. They have voted for themselves privileges above those of ordinary citizens. They can do insider trading, have been exempted themselves from other laws to which ordinary citizens must adhere. Even after only one term in office, they have entitled themselves to generous lifelong benefits.

In contrast to this, Jesus had taught:

·       “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28)

However, as the Christian influence has dimmed, so too will society. The secular world is only beginning to see the dimming of the light. They are still clinging to Christian principles to demonstrate that they can be good without God. However, this will gradually change. Historian Rodney Stark has observed that even the most advanced ancient societies had lapsed into cruelty and unashamed self-gratification. Schmidt wrote:

·       Juvenal apparently was not exaggerating when he said that a chaste wife was almost non-existent. Seneca, the Roman moralist, called unchastity the “greatest evil of our time.”

Interestingly, in the West, we no longer regard these as sins but as rights, while our children pick up the tab. Stark also commented:

·       Classical philosophy regarded mercy and pity as pathological emotions—defects of character to be avoided by all rational men. Since mercy involves providing unearned help or relief, it was contrary to justice.

As yet, we still don’t see such a lack of compassion, but I think that it is on the way. The German Jewish poet, Heinrich Heine, noted in 1832:

·       It is to the great merit of Christianity that it has somewhat attenuated the brutal German lust for battle. But it could not destroy it entirely. And should that taming talisman break – the Cross - then will come roaring back the wild madness of the ancient warriors.

This is exactly what we witnessed in the “idealism” of National Socialist Germany under the guise of creating a better world. Human equality was rejected and, along with it, so too were human rights.

Temporarily, humanity was horrified, but we continue to reject the roots which have sustained us. Meanwhile, some continue to point to the light. The late philosopher and atheist, Jurgen Habermas, pointed to the light, although it doesn’t seem that he ever embraced it:

·       Christianity and nothing else is the ultimate foundation of liberty, conscience, human rights and democracy, the benchmarks of Western civilization. We continue to nourish ourselves from this source.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

IS IT POSSIBLE THAT THE APOSTLES HAD FABRICATED THEIR GOSPEL ACCOUNTS?




Well, why would they have fabricated their accounts? To make them more marketable? If anything, they had made their Gospel accounts highly unmarketable. How?

  • Turning Jesus into a God. The idea that a man could also be God was highly unacceptable.

  • Making an utterly disgraced crucified man into God was doubly unacceptable.

  • Making Gentiles co-heirs with Jews was absolutely anathema and was guaranteed to alienate the Jews.

  • The consistent denigrating of Israel and her leadership was highly offensive and led to persecution.

  • The teachings never appealed to Jewish pride as the teachings of the rabbis would do.

  • The Gospels inevitably attacked the influential and elevated those who were scorned.

  • Their teachings of Jesus were both difficult to understand and impossible to perform. They were inevitably humbling and wouldn’t produce a gratifying success experience.

These teachings and accounts of the life of Jesus were utterly unmarketable. Why then did the Apostles record them? Evidently, they were convinced that they were accurate and notarized them in their blood of martyrdom.

Besides, if the Apostles had been trying to market a new religion with themselves as its Patriarchs, they would have portrayed themselves positively. Instead, we are left with the impression that they were clueless. For one thing, the Jesus of the Gospels never complemented them. He only praised the faith of two people, both Gentiles. He never told His Apostles, “You are growing spiritually” or “Good job” or “I chose the very best when I chose you.” Instead, it was one correction followed by the next. He even prophesied that they all would abandon Him during His crucifixion, and they did.

In the Gospels, they even described themselves as ignorant racists who consistently failed to believe Jesus and to understand His teachings. These are certainly not the descriptions of salesmen who want to promote their product. Instead, they seem to be the writings of people who had become convinced that they were writing about a truth far greater than their dignity and welfare.

They give every indication that they were people who had met the risen Christ. Subsequently, we see that they were changed men who now understood the Gospel and had been changed by it. They had become so changed that it no longer mattered to them if they bared their failings before the world. They had become convinced of the Gospel of their Savior that they never recanted of what they had written, even at the point of martyrdom.

The evidence for this is so strong that even skeptical scholars acknowledged:

·       “Even the atheist Ludemann conceded: ‘It may be taken as historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after Jesus’ death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ.’” (Lee Strobel)

·       Paula Fredriksen, Jewish NT scholar, confessed: “The Disciples’ conviction that they had seen the risen Christ…is historical bedrock, facts known past doubting.”

The Gospels and the lives of the Apostles give us no indication whatsoever that the Apostles had been motivated to distort or fabricate what they had seen and heard.

WHICH GOD?




Those who believe that there must be some sort of God understandably ask, “Which God?” Whoever this God is, He must be a great enough Cause to account for the various effects, the phenomena of this universe. Based upon this, we can deduce certain things about this God:

OMNIPOTENT: In order to account for the many evidences of design, God must be all-powerful, especially as we marvel at the wonders of our elegant, immutable, and universal laws of science, the fine-tuning of the universe, reason, consciousness, objective moral laws, life, and freewill.

OMNISCIENT: He must be all-knowing. There is no evidence of any mistakes, which He needs to reprogram. Our formulas regarding matter and energy remain unchanged. Besides, if He isn’t all-knowing, He would be unable to justly judge.

HOLY: If God is a malevolent sinner, we would rightly hate Him and be unwilling to follow His moral laws. However, He created a world which satisfies our needs. We thirst, and there is water to quench it. We hunger, and He has provided food. We tire, and He has provided sleep. We are lonely, but He has provided family. He has satisfied us with music, dance, and beauty, and has given us the faculties to enjoy these things.

RIGHTEOUS: He would also have to be a God of justice who rewards and punishes. If He is otherwise, society would also have little reason to reward and punish, and these are necessary for its survival.

KNOWABILITY: Since God is knowable, our disregard of Him is without excuse and culpable, which we must be. We cannot excuse our sin by claiming that there was a lack of evidence.

LOVE: Since He loves us to such a degree that He died for us, when we only deserved His condemnation. By this, He proved His love for us. He has, therefore, been able to win our hearts and devotion to follow His moral laws. He has also promised us an eternal life of bliss. Without this assurance, we would be inclined to live lives in pursuit of our own desires.

These are qualities that our God must have, and these are also qualities that the Bible claims that He has. In many ways, the Bible guarantees that if we seek the truth, we will find it. However, we often think that we are seeking the truth, while our search is confined to our own comforts. Consequently, we say, “My God feels right to me.” This usually means that He agrees with our lifestyles, goals, and ethnicity.