Friday, December 30, 2011

Read Through the Bible in a Year!

Psalm 119:130- "The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple."

By the time you return to work on Monday, it will be 2012. Typically a time for New Year's Resolutions, and every Christian's time to attempt re-attempt reading through the Bible in a whole year. It goes without saying that resolutions like this are rather empty without, well, resolve. So here's to hoping that you and I make it through God's Word this year.

HERE is a great summary of various reading programs. All certainly have their strengths, so simply choose one and dive into God's Word. This year, I'll be attempting Professor Grant Horner's intense program, wherein I'll read 10 chapters from various genres a day.

Hope this helps, and let me know what you choose!

Friday, November 18, 2011

The thing about Bible Apps...

When I was in high school, I took my Bible to class. Not only did it serve as a witness to my classmates, but I was able to read and study during downtime (which was very frequent during senior year at a public school). Carrying my Bible around really meant something to me; no one forced me to do so, and the inconvenience of the heavy MacArthur Study Bible was outweighed by the joy of having God's Word with me.

Nowadays, I still carry the joy of God's word with me at all times, but I'm much more efficient and tech-savvy. Instead of the bulky leatherbound, I've got the iPad, and I even purchased the ESV Study Bible App for deep study on the go. If I'm to be honest, I read the Bible more often from pixels than I do from pages. Heck, I make our pastor email me his sermon notes beforehand, so I can view those in 1024x768 too. Honestly, I enjoy it. Bible apps are easy to navigate, my underlining is always precise, my bindings don't get worn out, and I no longer carry 472 half-sheet sermon handouts, tucked in the pages of my Bible.

I'm reading a great book on theology and technology, and it's really causing me to question how technology influences my worldview, and most importantly, my view of God. And I'm not going to sit here and say that using Bible apps is wrong, or that it's more holy to read from a page than a screen. But you know the thing about Bible Apps? Your Bible App is one of many apps on your device. You've got apps on productivity, money, sports, bird-flinging, and navigating. And I wonder, does that setup ever influence the way I view Christ himself? Do I view my life as a device, with several functions and components, and do I view Jesus as only one of those components? Jesus isn't one element of my life; he is my life, and he himself dictates how everything else should be used.

I'm not on a soapbox here, decrying modern uses of technology. I actually think techie stuff can be used for great Kingdom good (printing press, anyone?). But I want to make sure that, amidst the glitz and glamour of the latest slick device, we don't view Jesus as just another app, widget, or update to our life. No, my friend, Christ is your life.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Fear for your Life

"The fear of the LORD leads to life, and whoever has it rests satisfied; he will not be visited by harm." 
Proverbs 19:23

Many of us fear for our lives. What I mean by this is that we are afraid to lose our lives. We fear death, tragedy, sickness, and harm. We hear a noise in the middle of the night, or have a tough time shaking a tricky illness, and fear naturally creeps up into our hearts to some degree. In this instance, we are using fear as a mechanism to protect that which we cherish most, life. Fear in this sense is exclusively a negative term.

In another sense, the Bible tells us that fear is a path to life. A means to an end. The proverb above tells us that fear (not of airplane flights or spiders or tornadoes) "leads to life." The fear of God is the only path to true living. Rather than fearing for the loss of life, proper fear leads to life.

Moreover, those who possess this fear "rest satisfied." What? I remember camping as a child and being terrified that a slithery reptile (the type that happens to be referenced in Genesis 3) would somehow end up in the foot of my sleeping bag as I slept. My fear did not lead to rest; no, no, it led to the lack of rest. However, fear of God, Proverbs teaches, brings us rest. In fact, those who fear the Lord "will not be visited by harm."

Fear is mainly seen as a dark term, an unpleasant emotion. Generally, it takes and does not give. However, we must reprogram our minds when thinking of the fear of God. We see here that the fear of God gives life, rest, and protection.

Friday, September 30, 2011

The Heart: Where it all starts

Romans 1 gets a lot of bad press, perhaps because it explicitly condemns homosexuality and labels it as "unnatural." However, only 2 verses in Romans 1 explicitly mention this sin (1:26-27). It would seem that the church is missing the big picture by only referencing this chapter in discussions on homosexuality.  So what's the rest of the chapter about?

In Romans 1, Paul begins to develop a lengthy presentation on the gospel of Jesus Christ (1:16-17). As you have probably heard, "gospel" means "good news." But there is not much actual good news in Romans 1, as Paul seeks to establish the guiltiness of all mankind (1:18-32). It makes sense, right? We don't really care about good news of a Savior if we don't think we're in danger and in need of saving!

In order to show that all men our guilty, Paul tracks the downward spiral of our sin.
- We knew God, but didn't honor him (1:21).
- We exchanged his glory for the glory of other things (1:22-23).
- God gave us up to bodily impurity (1:24-25).
- God gave us up to rank impurity, specifically, homosexuality (1:26-27).
- God gave us up to an entirely debased mind, leading to loads of sins (1:28-32).

A book could be written on the above. (In fact, many probably already have.) But I wanted to point out where sin's downward spiral begins- in the heart. In this sequence, Paul does not write "Mankind is evil, look at all the bad things they did." No, he writes, "This whole process starts with a decision in the heart to not glorify God."

Romans 1 is not about homosexuality (though it certainly has something to say about it). Romans 1 is really about where sin starts, and where it goes when unchecked and "un-graced." Sin, however "big or "small", start in the heart, when we choose the glory of something very finite over the infinite Glory of God.

Monday, September 26, 2011

"Where I Belong" ... Switchfoot

'Where I Belong', the closing track from the new Switchfoot album, Vice Verses. It's not exactly a worship song as we know it, but there are very few songs more worshipful. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Feeling like a refugee, like it don't belong to me. The colors flash across the sky
This air feels strange to me, Feeling like a tragedy, take a deep breath and close my eyes
One last time

Storms on the wasteland, Dark clouds on the plains again. We were born into the fight
But I'm not sentimental, This skin and bones is a rental and no one makes it out alive

Until I die I'll sing these songs on the shores of Babylon
Still looking for a home in a world where I belong
Where the weak are finally strong, where the righteous right the wrongs
Still looking for a home in a world where I belong

Feels like we're just waiting, waiting while our hearts are just breaking, breaking
Feels like we're fighting against the tide
I wanna see the earth shaking, I wanna see a generation finally waking up inside

Until I die I'll sing these songs on the shores of Babylon
Still looking for a home in a world where I belong
Where the weak are finally strong, where the righteous right the wrongs
Still looking for a home in a world where I belong

This body's not my own, this world is not my own
But I can still hear the sound of my heart beating out
So let's go boys, play it loud

On the final day I die I want to hold my head up high
I want to tell you that I tried to live it like a song
And when I reach the other side I want to look you in the eye
And know that I've arrived in a world where I belong

I still believe we can live forever. You and I we begin forever now
I still believe in us together, You and I we're here together now
Together now, Together now, Forever now, Forever now

Why aren't you a Christian?

People claim many reasons for rejecting Christianity. Usually, these reasons fall into 1 of 3 camps.

First, let me note that a decision on Christianity is very unlike choosing one's favorite ice cream. Christianity deals in the realm of true or false, and not in the realm of preference or opinion. Either Jesus is God, or he is not. Both cannot be true at the same time. So one cannot claim that Christianity may be "true for you, but not for me." That doesn't make sense. That's like saying "Gravity is true for you, but not for me." So, when it comes to the question of Christianity, we shouldn't ask, 'Do I like it?', but rather, 'Is it true?' Kapish?

So...why aren't you a Christian? (Or if you are a Christian, use the below to determine why those you are speaking with aren't Christians...)

1. Intellectual- In this camp, you don't believe that Christianity has been proven to be true. You may be open to the evidence for or against it, but you think the evidence is stacked against it. At least, in this camp, you are asking the right question- Is Christianity true? I believe that the evidence convincingly shows it to be so. But at least those in this camp are asking the right questions.
2. Volitional- This camp is for those who don't want Christianity to be true. Regardless of the evidence, there are those who wouldn't believe, because they really don't want someone telling them what to do. If Christianity is true, that means they have to answer to God for how they live and the choices they make. ("Volition" means "the power to make a decision.")
3. Emotional- A third camp rejects Christianity for emotional reasons. They may not like the Bible's teaching on hell, or homosexuality, or gender roles, or predestination. Something doesn't sit well with them, so they refuse to accept it.

Keep in mind that camps #2 & #3 above do not affect the truth of Christianity. I might not like gravity. I might not like the Civil War. My negative emotional feelings, however, do not affect whether these are true or not.

So skeptic and saved alike, keep in mind that in discussions on Christianity in specific (and "religion", "truth", and "morality in general"), the question is not one of opinion or preference. The question is, "Is this true or not? And what does the evidence say?"

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Adam & Eve, Fables, and Genealogies

I interrogate my Bible when I read it. I think it's the best way to learn. Someone really, really smart once said that "the unexamined life isn't worth living." I think the unquestioned faith isn't worth believing. Therefore, I firmly believe that we must question what we believe. Not to be an annoying skeptical guy, but to deepen our faith, to arrive at tough answers for tough questions, and ultimately to know God better. My, is it scary sometimes. But your faith will be better for it.

So I asked myself the question, "Doesn't the story of Adam & Eve seem kind of like a fable? Doesn't it seem made up, possibly a cute and childish Jewish anecdote for how we all got here, and why everything's jacked up? Kinda like Greek mythology a little bit?" (P.S.- I ask myself weird questions like this all the time. Then I usually ask them and ramble about them to my wife. Poor gal.)

On the surface, how do we know that Adam & Eve is no more historical than say, the notable "Tortoise and the Hare"? Besides the typical (yet true) answer that the Bible is God's word, and is therefore true, how do we know?

I'm sure there are several answers better than the one I'm about to give. But the weird thing about Adam & Eve is that the story doesn't just get told in a vacuum. If skeptics kept on reading, they'd realize that Adam had children. And they had children. And this is all recorded. There are in fact 3-4 genealogies in the next few chapters (4:17-22Gen. 5Gen. 10 & Gen 11:10-32). These genealogies are retraced in the New Testament as well, linking Adam & Eve and their descendants to real, historical humans that, guess what, actually existed! (See. Matt. 1Luke 3:23-38)

Some claim that the biblical accounts of creation are nice, but are ultimately fictional. They would essentially equate the creation & fall of man in Genesis 3 to Aesop's Fables. However, a real reading of the text indicates that the author and his audience entirely took this account to be historical. There's no way around it.

Often times, genealogies are the sections I skip over in my Bible (except to look for funny names). But tonight, they really encouraged me and strengthened my faith in God's Word. Let 'em strengthen yours.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Living in Fear

It is often taken as a sign of weakness to "live in fear." We claim that we don't want to be afraid, and we don't want our lives to be dictated by something outside ourselves. To fear something or someone is essentially to allow our actions, decisions, and behavior to be shaped by them. We give the ones we fear reverence or respect by considering them in all elements of our lives. 

Understandably, we don't want to live in fear of things: people, of illness, or tragedy, or hardship. Heck, one of the most comforting commands in Scripture is "Fear not" (Is. 41:10; Lk. 2:10). However, there is a healthy type of fear...and Jesus commands that we live in it.

Let's set the scene. Jesus has walked with his disciples for several months. They have aided in his ministry and learned from his actions and his teaching. But they have not yet gone out alone and ministered; they have always been physically alongside their Rabbi. In Matthew 10, Jesus is about to send them out...alone. He will not physically go with them, and they will teach, preach, heal, pray, and minister on their own. I imagine they felt a host of emotions: excitement, anxiety, anticipation, humility, and, maybe above all, fear.

Understanding this, Jesus exhorts them (and, by extension, exhorts us as well): "So have no fear of them [those who persecute you], for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul" (Matt. 10:26-28)

Jesus' words enter to free them of certain fear. But he doesn't stop there. He frees us from certain fear, but he also subjects us to another type of fear.

"Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell."

Jesus is saying that we all "fear" something or someone. As we live our lives, something is enthroned with power and authority, and we bow the knee each day. Sometimes, we hesitate to speak God's Word, as we fear co-workers, classmates, or our own status. Sometimes, we hesitate to pray for our world, as we fear inconvenience, sacrifice, and time. 

The disciples in Matthew 10, on the verge of their first "mission trip" were in the same boat that we find ourselves in. And Jesus' message remains the same. We must live in fear. Not of people, or personal reputation, or pleasure, or status. We must live in fear of the Sovereign One, who gave us life, gave us forgiveness, and who will someday judge us.

"In God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me?" (Psalm 56:11)

Monday, July 25, 2011

Christian Funda-terrorist?

I came across this well-written column on the recent terrorist attack and tragic shooting in Norway. It is certainly unfortunate that this criminal has referred to himself as "Christian." The article explores how "Christian" this sick individual really is. A great excerpt below, and the whole thing HERE. Emphasis below is mine.

Given initial suspicions that Friday's bombing and mass shooting in Norway were carried out by Islamic militants linked to al Qaeda, the way police ended up describing the suspect behind the attacks came as a big surprise even to many security experts: The alleged attacker was called a "Christian fundamentalist."
But experts on European politics and religion say that the Christian fundamentalist label could overstate the extent to which the suspect, Anders Behring Breivik - who has told authorities that he carried out the attacks - was motivated by religion, and the extent to which he is tied to a broader religious movement.

"It is true that he sees himself as a crusader and some sort of Templar knight," said Marcus Buck, a political science professor at Norway's University of Tromso, referring to an online manifesto that Breivik appears to have authored and which draws inspiration from medieval Christian crusaders.

"But he doesn't seem to have any insight into Christian theology or any ideas of how the Christian faith should play any role in Norwegian or European society," Buck wrote in an email message. "His links to Christianity are much more based on being against Islam and what he perceives of as 'cultural Marxism.'"

From what the 1,500-page manifesto says, Breivik appears to have been motivated more by an extreme loathing of European multiculturalism that has accompanied rapid immigration from the developing world, and of the European Union's growing powers, than by Christianity.

"My impression is that Christianity is used more as a vehicle to unjustly assign some religious moral weight," to his political views, said Anders Romarheim, a fellow at the Norwegian Institute for Defence Studies. "It is a signifier of Western culture and values, which is what they pretend to defend."

"I would say they are more anti-Islam than pro-Christian," Romarheim said in reference to what appear to be Breivik's views.

Friday, July 22, 2011

On the balance of Ministry and Marriage...

At times, I've heard others (and wondered myself) about the balance and tension between loving my spouse/family vs. serving in ministry. The below story, taken from Gary Thomas' Sacred Marriage, helped paint a very insightful picture for me. Enjoy.

"A campus pastor named Brady Bobbink decided to take Scripture’s admonitions about love seriously. Brady married relatively late in life. He had become well known as a speaker on discipleship and single living, and he was in high demand, with plenty of opportunities to “serve God” through his gift of teaching.

When Brady asked Shirley to become his wife, life changed dramatically. Shirley had two children from a previous marriage, and it wasn’t long before Shirley and Brady began to pray about having a child of their own.

“What would it mean for me to love my wife in this situation?” Brady asked himself. In prayer, Brady made a pledge. If Shirley had another baby, for the first year he wouldn’t accept any outside speaking engagements other than the ones his current position required him to take. Shirley subsequently became pregnant and gave birth to their first boy, Micah. 

Months later, Brady received a lucrative opportunity to speak in Singapore. Brady is a student of history and loves to travel. The chance to go to the Far East was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, plus it would give him the chance to teach Christians from another culture.

He excitedly told Shirley about this great opportunity, then remembered his pledge midway through his conversation, and said out loud, “I can’t go.” 

Shirley tried to release Brady from his pledge. “Honey, I’ll be fine,” she said.

It would have been easy for Brady to play religious games here. “I certainly could have justified it on a noble idea,” he admitted, “preaching to another culture, but if that had really been my passion, I would have moved there and taken my wife and kids with me.” 

Some might think Brady was passing up an opportunity to please God by taking his gospel message to another nation, but Brady realized he could please God by loving his wife in a season in which she needed extra help and attention. To stay home and care for his wife in her need was every bit as much “Christian service” as leaving his hometown to go preach the gospel when he was single. 

“To fail to love my wife and kids rightly in the name of loving other people rightly is a sham,” Brady insists.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Sanctifying Silence

“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” Psalm 46:10

One thing that we tend to lack today is silence. I had a great conversation over the weekend with a friend (who is also a high school teacher), and we were observing how today's teenagers are never just silent (This is true of adults as well). We, as I've written before, always have something to entertain us, always have somewhere to be, something to do, someone to see. This leaves very little silence in our lives, even though silence can be very productive. It allows us to think about deep issues, to pray through things that are troubling or exciting, and to connect with our God. I would go as far to say that a lack of silence in our lives inhibits us from knowing God deeply.

In the above, frequently-quoted verse, two things really stand out to me.

1. We often think of this verse as a "warm-fuzzy" verse. To "be still and know that I am God" conjures emotions mainly of warmth and safety. When we look at the rest of the Psalm, however, we see that we are called to know the God who "has brought desolations on the earth," "makes wars cease," "breaks the bow and shatters the spear," and "burns the chariots with fire." This same God is also "is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble," and "is our fortress" as well. So we see that we are to "know" God in his holy fullness.

2. Notice the order of the commands. "Be still and know..." God commands us to FIRST be still and silent, and then come to know him. I think that order is very critical in our pursuit of knowing Jesus. If we do not obey the first command- "be still"- we will have a hard time obeying the second command- "know that I am God."

Remember, Paul said that the most worthy goal in life is to know Christ (Phil. 3:7-10). And Psalm 46:10 seems to indicate that to know him properly, we must be still and silent. Let's make time in our lives this week for sanctifying silence.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Church Life

Your life in the church...
People over programs
Lives over locations
Relationships over ritual
Fellowship over formalism...

Content Consumption

If your life looks anything like mine (and most of America's), you are constantly being presented content to consume. We have genius-phones and iPads and walkmans and apps and a billion ways to read, view, discuss, and consume content. The most popular websites are dedicated to this task as well (think facebook, Google, YouTube). For example, one morning this week, I grabbed my phone (while still in bed), shot off a few witty facebook comments, viewed what my friends were up to, scanned through some headlines via twitter, turned on the British Open and watched a few holes of golf, and texted a few friends with weekend plans. All from the bathroom. We are constantly consuming content.

It has been said "You are what you eat." And I believe that we can tie that principle to the content that we consume as well. You are the data you consume. What you consume is what you worship.

If what we consume is of utmost importance, I need to ask myself is where God's word falls on my list of content that I consume. Is it at the top of the list, constantly receiving my first time, my most dedicated time? Is it in the middle, something I casually tune into when convenient for me? Or does it not even make the list?

You've likely been interacting with content, data, news, blogs, stories, video clips, highlights, messages, music, and "+1's" since you rolled out of bed this morning. Let's make sure that above all else, before all else, more urgently than all else, and more frequently than all else, we consume God's word.

"Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good." 1 Peter 2:2-3.

Monday, May 16, 2011

A Monday Thought

"...all solid relationships are built on quid pro quo: doing something for someone who, in turn, does something for you."

In reading a business article this morning, I came across the above sentence. It indicates that relationships are give & take; that, you serve someone because you know they will serve you back. This view indicates that love and service to others is motivated by their love or service back to you.

While the above has some practical value in business relationships, it is not the principle of Christian relationships. Love takes joy solely in loving others; not for some favor that may be returned. To modify the above sentence...

"...all solid relationships are built on love: rejoicing in doing something for someone who, in turn, may or may not do something for you."

Ultimately, God is the perfect lover, and true love follows his example. "In this is love, not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (1 John 4:10). God's love was initiated not based on our love or service to him. Neither should our love for others be.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Japan, Jesus, and Judgment

The title of this post will likely remind you of comments made by Pat Robertson (American televangelist) after the Haiti earthquake. He posited that God allowed the Haiti earthquake as judgment over a "pact with the devil" made by Haiti's founders. He also attempted to explain reasons for God allowing tragedies such as Hurricane Katrina and 9/11. He is certainly not the only one to make assertions like this, but he is one of the most prominent (You may read of a few of his infamous blunders here).

When tragedies happen, God-believing humans want to know why such things have occurred. We feel better if there is a specific & known reason for cataclysmic events. The recent earthquake and tsunami is Japan is one such event. We'd, frankly, like to know what God was thinking in allowing such a tragedy to occur.

It is a common thought that if a tragic event occurs, it must be a judgment of God. But that thought process is The Jews of Jesus' time also struggled with such questions, and they also wanted answers. 

Luke 13:1-6 recounts, "There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; 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 offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

There were two tragic events that these Jews were wrestling with. 1) Pilate apparently had some Galileans unjustly killed while they were offering sacrifices. 2) A tower in Siloam collapsed, killing 18 people.

While these 2 events were not immediately viewable on YouTube minutes after they occurred, the theological questions that Jesus deals with are the same ones that we deal with in light of Japan. Did this happen because they were being specifically judged? And, what should my response be?

Jesus' response was simple. Tragedies like this do not mean that they were worse sinners than you. You were not spared because of greater intrinsic holiness, since you are all sinners. God will not give humanity specific reasons for why most events like this occur, so don't bother speculating too much. Tragedies like this are meant to remind you, here and now, that the judgment of God is coming to everyone someday. We shouldn't spend time speculating why this happened; rather, we should spend time thinking of God's judgment. Therefore, repent and make yourself right with God.

We have many thoughts and emotions over tragedies like Japan, 9/11, Katrina, Haiti, etc. In addition to our thoughts, prayers, aid, and missions to the suffering, let us also soberly think of the judgment of God, a tsunami coming to all humanity not bound by geography. And also think of the lone way to escape this judgment: the grace and forgiveness of Jesus, bought for you on the cross.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Quick Thought- Truth & Emotions

Good afternoon.

I just had a quick thought on TRUTH and emotions. In various discussions with friends, sometimes we talk about tough issues- those things we may disagree on. (This conversation could be Christians talking about theology or a conversation with an unbeliever.) What I want to stress is that the way we feel about a topic is not a good test case for the truth of that topic. For example, I may not like the topic of death. However, death is a reality and my negative feelings about death don't change the reality of death.

Same with Jesus. You may not feel great about his claim over your life. You may not feel great about God's standard of holiness. You may react adversely to God's 100% true Word. But those feelings do not change God's truth OR your responsibility to submit to God's truth. 


Monday, January 3, 2011

Spurgeon Quotes on the Church

Below are 2 great quotes from Spurgeon on the church. I hope they edify you. I came across them in Josh Harris' book Stop Dating the Church.

On the necessity of being involved in a local church for Christians...

"I know there are some who say, 'Well, I have given myself to the Lord, but I do not intend to give myself to the church.'
Now why not?
'Because I can be a Christian without it.'
Are you quite clear about that? You can be as good a Christian by disobedience to your Lord's commands as by being obedient?
What is a brick made for? To help build a house. It is of no use for that brick to tell you that it is just as good a brick while it is kicking about on the ground as it would be in the house. It is a good-for-nothing brick.
So you rolling-stone Christians, I do not believe that you are answering your purpose. You are living contrary to the life which Christ would have you live, and you are much to blame for the injury you do."

On the priority of the gospel in the local church...

"Do not go where it is all fine music and grand talk and beautiful architecture; those things will neither fill anybody's stomach, nor feed his soul. Go where the gospel is preached, the gospel that really feeds your soul, and go often."