Archives For Faith

Last week I read an article entitled, “Why I’m Raising my Kids without Religion,” written by a gentleman named Serge Bielanko.  The author raised several objections to organized religion and concluded with the strong recommendation that all children should be raised without religion or belief in God.   I was amazed at how shallow his “reasons” were that are being offered as the motivation for abandoning traditional religion.

At the same time, it’s worth noting that there are some legitimate criticisms in the article that Christians would be wise to pay attention to.  We’ll consider those as well.

To begin with his objections to organized religion:

1.  “I have a lot of resistance to the idea of a nice tidy paradise of a kingdom after death.”

“Something never really clicked for me when it came to religious faith.”

The first objection for Bielanko is that he, personally, just doesn’t see it and doesn’t accept the idea of an afterlife.  For him, it just doesn’t “click.”

It’s a juvenile delusion to think that a thing I don’t understand must not be so.  Further, it’s a reflection of the “arrogance of now” when someone like Bielanko concludes that there must be no God because he doesn’t believe and doesn’t feel it in his bones.  Never mind that the best minds of the last 2000 years have wrestled with the question of the existence of God and that many great thinkers, while not traditional Christians, have concluded that the evidence of the natural universe points strongly to a creator.  It doesn’t work for Bielanko and therefore his conclusion is that no child should be brought up to believe in God.  Quite a leap, isn’t it?

Just for a quick mental exercise, imagine the ridicule I would be exposed to if I were to say, “I just find a lot of resistance inside to the idea of the evolution of species and something never really clicked for me when it comes to evolution.”

When you change the terms, it’s easy to see that my feeling about it has nothing at all to do with whether evolution is true.  Likewise, the emotional response of Mr. Bielanko, or any other human being, to the idea of God has nothing at all to do with whether there is or isn’t a God.

Psalm 10:4 – In the pride of his face the wicked does not seek him; all his thoughts are; There is no God.

Psalm 14:1 – The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”  They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none who does good.”

Psalm 19:1-3 – The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.  Day to day pours out speech and night to night reveals knowledge.  There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard.

Romans 1:20 – For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.  So they are without excuse.

The believer in evolution and the believer in God point to the same evidence.  Each says, “Look at the world around you!”  The kind of evolution that changes one species to another is not observable in the present, but instead is offered as an explanation for how things came to be.  In the same way, the fact of a universe in existence powerfully points to a first cause – a Creator.

Of course, I believe that the evidence for God is more compelling, but my aim here is not to argue the merits of either assertion.  Rather, I am merely attempting to show that the truth or falsehood of either claim has no connection at all with my personal, emotional response to it.  So, Bielanko’s first argument is purely subjective and hardly a basis for suggesting that it would be better for all children to grow up without religion.

2.  “So much of it seemed so old, so outdated.”

This actually pops up several times in Bielanko’s short article.    He expresses his preference for an ultra-modern philosophy, calls traditional religion a crotchety, exhausted, violent brontosaurus, and asserts that religion is unscientific.

Again, his argument reflects the arrogance of the modern mind.  Religion is bad, he says, because it comes from antiquity and doesn’t conform to the modern zeitgeist.

The progressive mind seems to think that new is always better; that things have been developing throughout history to the acme of human existence that is the present.  And he lives with the confidence that tomorrow will always be better than today.

Just a quick look at history shows this is not the case.  Rather, good times and bad wax and wane.  There have been eras in the past where, culturally speaking, human beings enjoyed a great deal of liberty, enlightenment, and equality.  And there have been times where the light has been quenched, only to rise again in some other corner of the world.

Aside from that, every generation stands on the shoulders of the last one.  Our technology, our progress, and our understanding of the world didn’t begin in the last 50 years.  Rather, what is good about our time – if it is good – is more often the culmination and application of discoveries and understanding gained in the past.   We don’t mind using Edison’s energy or Einstein’s mathematics.   The system of government developed by the Greeks continues to be used today – mostly because, ancient as it is, we haven’t been able to come up with something better.  Euclid’s math still works even though his theories were first promulgated more than 2000 years ago.

So, “Old-fashioned” is an easy pejorative meant to excite a negative response, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that something is bad and useless just because it’s old.  Indeed, sometimes the old ways are actually better ways.  And some old things are foundational and it would be destructive to remove them.

Psalm 68:32-35 – “O kingdoms of earth, sing to God; sing praises to the Lord, to him who rides in the heavens, the ancient heavens; behold, he sends out his voice, his mighty voice.  Ascribe power to God, whose majesty is over Israel, and whose power is in the skies.  Awesome is God from his sanctuary; the God of Israel – he is the one who gives power and strength to his people.    Blessed be God!”

Proverbs 22:28 – Do not move the ancient landmark that your fathers have set.

Jeremiah 6:16 – Thus says the Lord:  Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.  But they said, We will not walk in it…

Micah 5:2 – But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.

Daniel 7:9 – As I looked, thrones were placed, and the Ancient of days took his seat…

Even in the Old Testament, God was regarded as ancient.  In the days of Jeremiah, the law of God was already the “old path.”   But, contrary to our modern adoration for the new, old in those days meant solid, firm, and right.

3.  Religion is the source of violence in the world and if they were freed from the idea of a deity looking over their shoulder, people would spread love, peace, and goodwill rather than hate, violence, and intolerance.

Bielanko says, “people ought to be living right and treating each other with love and respect, because they really feel that way and not because they are following the words of some deity or particular religion.”

He asks, “What if we are all, by our very nature, just as good or bad as we allow ourselves to be?  What if our lives are not lightly dictated or even casually observed by a higher power with an all-seeing eye?”

He suggests, “Wouldn’t it be kind of cool if we knew there was no afterlife and therefore made the very best of the only life that we will ever likely know?”

And here is where he charges that religion is the source of violence:

“These days, the closer I get to my own inevitable demise (it’s coming/it always has been) the more I find myself enchanted by the more scientific approach to all of this. And I hope that my kids sense that in me before long, and at least consider what lies in my heart and drives my soul as much as they consider the thunderous booms of religion always thumping away all over the landscape; often in the guise of a crotchety, and yes, violent brontosaurus stumbling yard to yard, porch to porch, eating the stale bread people habitually throw out for him, day after day, year after year, century after century, until he’s bloated and gassy and tired to the point of exhaustion.”

When he suggests that people ought to live right and treat each other with love and respect regardless of the words of some deity, he is already in trouble.  If there is no God, who is Bielanko to assert anything about “ought?”  What “ought” is there?  For that matter, who gets to define the “right” way to treat one another?

He then proceeds to the utopian ideal – stealing fairly liberally from John Lennon – Imagine there’s no heaven, no hell.  Just the sky above us, la la la…  Unfortunately, we don’t have to imagine.  We’ve seen what people do when they reject God – and it’s awful.  Consider the atrocities of the atheist Soviet Union and of Communist China, for starters.  Then think of the greed, selfishness, divorce, abortion, and cruelty to others that can be the result of thinking, “this is the only life I’ve got, so I’d better make it as good as possible – for ME.”

It takes a lot of nerve to trot out the worn-out suggestion that religion has the corner on violence and intolerance in the world.  That’s a trait of humanity and it belongs to the religious and the non-religious alike.

On the flip side, though, you would be hard pressed to find any lasting good that has been done in the world that wasn’t done by a believer, or group of believers, in some higher power.

“In arrogance the wicked hotly pursue the poor; let them be caught in the schemes they have devised.  For the wicked boasts of the desires of his soul, and the one greedy for gain curses and renounces the Lord.  In the pride of his face, the wicked does not seek him; all his thoughts are, “There is no God.”  His ways prosper at all times; your judgments are on high, out of his sight; as for all his foes, he puffs at them.  He says in his heart, “I shall not be moved; throughout all generations I shall not meet adversity.”  His mouth is filled with cursing and deceit and oppression; under his tongue are mischief and iniquity.  He sits in ambush in the villages; in hiding places he murders the innocent.  His eyes stealthily watch for the helpless; he lurks in ambush like a lion in his thicket; he lurks that he may seize the poor; he seizes the poor when he draws him into his net.  The helpless are crushed, sink down, and fall by his might.  He says in his heart, “God has forgotten, he has hidden his face, he will never see it.”  (Psalm 10:2-11).

Consider the evidence yourself and ask yourself whether the Old Book or whether Bielanko has more accurately described the nature of a world that rejects God.

The final irony here is that Bielanko wants to blame the ills of society on religion precisely at a time when religious influence on the nature of the world is at a low point.  The culture that exists is a secular and progressive one – and it has been for many years.  Its problems are far more rightly laid at the feet of those who have dismissed notions of biblical morality and justice.

Well, I said I would also consider Bielanko’s legitimate charges.  What are they?

1.  When he criticizes the members of the church where he grew up for never asking questions and just doing what they’ve always been told, he has a valid point.

-Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith.  Test yourselves.  II Cor. 13:5

-Do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God.  I John 4:1

-Test everything; hold fast what is good.  I Thessalonians 5:21

-work out your own salvation with fear and trembling – Philippians 2:12

2.  He describes a religious world that is filled with alienation, wars, infighting, and political posturing; one that’s defined by power-mongering and exclusion.  While his claim that this penetrates and defines every crevice of organized religion in our era is false, it is more true and more prevalent than it ought to be.

James 2:1-8 – show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Acts 10:34, Romans 2:11 – God shows no partiality.

However, even here, Bielanko is mistaken.  What he wants is a ‘religion’ that shows no partiality and that offers equality to all behaviors – some of which are sins.  But when it comes to sin, God is also impartial.

In Acts 10:34, when Peter says God shows no partiality, he follows that with – “in every nation whoever fears Him and does what is right is accepted by Him.”

In Romans 2, verses 5-10 talk about God’s consistent judgment – wrath for those who are self-seeking, disobedient to God, and workers of evil – without partiality. And for those who patiently do good and seek Him, there will be glory and honor and peace, without partiality.

For some, the gospel is a means to power and personal gain.  However, rather than recognizing this as an indictment of evil people, Bielanko uses it as an argument against religion.  However, there has never been and never will be a system involving human beings that doesn’t have this problem – including Bielanko’s ideal world.   It’s just a feature of this fallen world, and you can see it at work throughout all of human history.  But again, the problem is not Christianity, the problem is Christians, or some of those who call themselves Christians.   The gospel of Christ actually condemns such behavior.

Matthew 20:25-28 – But Jesus called them to him and said, “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.

John 13:3-16 – Jesus sets the example by washing the feet of his disciples and telling them to do the same for one another.

Philippians 2:1-7 – Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

I Timothy 6:1-11 – Those who imagine godliness is a means of gain are depraved in mind and deprived of truth, puffed up with conceit and understanding nothing…. But as for you, O man of God, flee these things.  Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.

3.  Bielanko is critical of religious people who are not sincere.  That’s what he is getting at when he says, “people ought to be living right and treating each other with love and respect, because they really feel that way and not because they are following the words of some deity or particular religion.”  And, “what if we taught our own children the idea of spreading love and goodwill and peace because that’s exactly what Mom and Dad believe in their hearts.  What if parents showed their kids, by example, how they walk the walk in their lives on a daily basis, their actions and words, their core values and beliefs…”

Romans 10:9 – because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

II Corinthians 1:12 – For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience, that we behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you.

II Corinthians 2:17 – For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.

Romans 12:9 – Let love be genuine.  Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.

I John 3:18 – Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

II Timothy 2:24-25 – And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness.

When Bielanko wishes for a world where people genuinely, truly, believed in and practice love and goodwill toward all – even toward those who are in opposition, he is describing pure Christianity!  The problem is, this unfortunately often does not describe “Christian” communities.

One final thing to consider.  Bielanko makes the common mistake of equating problems with religion and religious people with problems with believing in God.  In reality, though, there are actually four separate questions to answer when it comes to religious belief and practice.

First, is there a God?

Second, has God communicated with us and, if He has, how?

Third, has God told us how to live and worship?

Fourth, are there any groups of people who believe in God, who have heeded His word, and are living and worshiping according to that word?

Bielanko and many others hang everything on the fourth question.  The problem is that a positive or negative answer to question four has no bearing on the answers to the first questions.  In fact, the way I have laid these out, it is sequential.  There may be a God who has not communicated with us and told us how to live and worship.  In that case, there would of course be no group of people who are living and worshiping according to that nonexistent revelation.

Then again, there may be a God who has communicated with us, but who hasn’t told us anything about how to live and worship.  Therefore, the answers to questions one and two would be, “Yes,” while the answer to three and four would be, “No.”

There may be a God who has communicated with us and who has told us how to live and worship, but there may be no one who is keeping His word.  So, our answers to my four questions would be, “Yes, yes, yes, and no.”  It may very well be that every religious organization on earth is corrupt and unfit to be called the children of God.  It is certainly true that every religious organization is populated by imperfect people who are bound to make mistakes.  But that’s not necessarily an indictment of religion, and it is definitely not an indictment of the Lord.  Instead, it’s merely a reflection on us.

And, finally, it may be that it is possible to answer all four questions affirmatively.  There may actually be a group of people somewhere who are truly and sincerely trying to follow and obey the revelation of the eternal God of heaven.  I believe this to be true, and I hope to be one of those people.

Brad

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Magnificent Faith

March 30, 2014 — Leave a comment

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,” Hebrews 11:1 says. As opposed to belief, I tend to prefer the idea of trust when I think of faith. The emphasis here in Hebrews is certainly confidence in God – “assurance” and “conviction” being the operative words.

When we think of heroes of faith, we tend to think on a grand scale – Abraham leaving home to be a wanderer, Moses parting the Red Sea, Peter walking on water, etc. And there certainly are many examples in the Bible and day to day life to show that human beings are capable of extraordinary acts of faith. But it’s also true that great faith isn’t necessarily big faith. In the Bible we find the Lord praising and even marveling at seemingly inconsequential words and actions that are actually reflections of real and abiding trust.

In I Kings 19, when the Lord appeared to Elijah, it says, ‘And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper.”

The Great and Almighty God chooses often to reveal Himself to man in small ways. Is it no surprise that such a God would also appreciate faith that is expressed in small things?

In Luke 7, a centurion asked Jesus to come and heal a servant who was at the point of death. But when Jesus came near the house, the centurion sent friends telling the Lord not to trouble himself to come into the house for, he said, “I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed. For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

At this, the Bible says Jesus marveled at the man and pronounced that he had not seen such faith even in Israel – this Roman interloper outshone them all! And for what? Nothing more than a simple confidence that Jesus had the authority and power to speak a man well from afar.

Actually, perhaps it’s a little more than that. With his words, the centurion acknowledged that Jesus was more than a man with great ability. He is One with Authority – who commands angels and even nature. Like the commander of armies, Jesus doesn’t have to do it himself; he can simply order it done.

On another occasion, Jesus and his disciples were watching as people put their money in the offering box near the treasury of the temple. Several rich people gave large amounts of money – and we can easily imagine how ostentatiously they might have done so. All of those rich offerings were given without a word from the Lord.

But then a poor woman, a widow, came and donated two copper coins worth about a penny. At this, Jesus was moved enough to call his disciples and point out what she had done. “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on (Mark 12:41-44).”

No cathedrals could be built with the money this widow offered. She didn’t even give enough to have her name inscribed on a brick! But Jesus said that what she did was greater than the extravagance of the wealthy, who had actually sacrificed very little with their large offerings.

We can find in the Bible other small things, too, that reflect a big faith.

Prayer – If we return to the believing centurion in Acts 7, his confidence in the Lord is exactly what we’re expressing when we pray. When we bring our burdens before the Lord, we are declaring that we believe He doesn’t need to personally come down and deal with my every problem. Instead, we trust that He can and will manage it. He only has to speak a word, and it will be done. We are saying we believe that God can be at work in my life, and yours, and in someone’s life on the other side of the world – all at the same time and with no problem.

I Thessalonians 5:17 – pray without ceasing

Luke 18:1 – …always to pray and not lose heart

Philippians 4:6 – …do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

If we really fulfill these verses, sincerely praying and putting our trust in God, our faith is great indeed.

Doing your part in God’s kingdom – Think about the widow in Acts 7 again. Why did she bother to put those two mites in? What good did it do? What difference would it make? The work of the temple would have gone on with or without her paltry offering. But she was determined to do what she could.

There was another woman in Bethany in Israel just before the Jesus was crucified. While Jesus was there, at Simon’s house, she broke open a flask of expensive ointment and poured it over Jesus’ head. Some were indignant at such a waste and scolded her for doing it.

But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me… She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her (Mark 14:3-9).”

It is a beautiful thing in the eyes of the Lord when we do what we can for Him, whether it is a great thing or a small thing.

It may be that you are not all that impressed with your personal gifts. Maybe you are discouraged because others seem to be richer, smarter, more talented, more spiritual, or more gifted than you are. Perhaps you wonder what you could possibly contribute that would be of any value to the Lord. But the truth is that whatever you do, if it’s all you can do, is a beautiful thing in His eyes.

Baptism – In Acts 8, when the Ethiopian eunuch came up out of the waters of baptism, he went on his way rejoicing (v. 39). Again, after the baptism of the Philippian jailer in Acts 16, he and his family rejoiced that they had believed in God (v. 33-34).

Obviously, baptism is a big deal. It’s a hugely significant point, the very birth of a Christian. But the thing itself isn’t all that monumental. I’ve actually had people come up out of the baptistry with an expression on their face of, “Is that all there is to it?” For all that it means, baptism is a pretty small act. But it’s one of total submission to the will of God, and therefore a magnificent act of faith.

In celebration of Presidents’ Day, here is a prayer written by our first President:

“Increase my faith in the sweet promises of the gospel; give me repentance from dead works; pardon my wanderings, and direct my thought unto thyself, the God of my salvation; teach me how to live in thy fear, labor in thy service, and ever to run in the ways of thy commandments; make me always watchful over my heart, that neither the terrors of conscience, the loathing of holy duties, the love of sin, nor an unwillingness to depart this life, may cast me into a spiritual slumber, but daily frame me more and more into the likeness of thy son Jesus Christ, that living in thy fear, and dying in thy favor, I may in thy appointed time attain the resurrection of the just unto eternal life…”

–George Washington

You can find more about the spiritual life of President Washington here – George Washington the Christian.

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Notice the concern in this prayer about being “cast into a spiritual slumber -“ being inactive  and deadened toward the pursuit spiritual goals.  Consider the biblical support for the things Washington says can have this effect on us.

Terrors of conscience

What we’re talking about here is overwhelming feelings of guilt.  It’s one of the things that bring us to the cross, but too much dwelling on failure tends to destroy, not motivate.  It can actually lead us to spiritual lethargy.

Isaiah 6:5 – And I said: “Woe is me!  For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

Would you say Isaiah was ready to act in that moment?  As he confronted his own sinfulness compared to the matchless sovereign God, he stood immobilized by his own unworthiness.  It was only after he experienced forgiveness and the removal of guilt in verse 7 that he was able to say, “Here am I! Send me,” in verse 8.

Luke 5:8 – “But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”

Again with Peter, we see a man nearly undone as he realized that he was in the presence of the Lord.  His own sins and failures made him feel unworthy to be anywhere near Jesus, let alone work for him.

And again we see the comfort of the Lord as the catalyst – Luke 5:10 – “And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.”  And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.”

What woke them up, spiritually?  Not condemnation – but the forgiveness and acceptance of God.

II Corinthians 5:11-6:2 – “Therefore knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others.”

Knowing the fear of the Lord.   Knowing the terror and despondency of a broken conscience contemplating the day of judgment, the message is to believe in, accept, and receive the grace of God (6:2).

Conscience is a wonderful thing.  It is given to us by God in order to cause us to seek Him.  But a full recognition of how deeply my conscience condemns me before God will knock me out of the race without an equal recognition and remembrance of the grace of God continually poured out for me (Hebrews 9:14)

Hebrews 10:22 – “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.”

Loathing of holy duty

Malachi 1:13 – “But you say, “What a weariness this is, and you snort at it, says the Lord of hosts.  You bring what has been taken by violence or is lame or sick, and this you bring as your offering!  Shall I accept that from your hand? Says the Lord.”

I Corinthians 11:26-30 – “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.  Whoever, therefore, eats the brad or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord.  Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.  For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.  That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.”

Hebrews 10:23-25 – “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.  And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

Is it a chore to pray?  To read/study the Bible?  Do look for occasions to do good?  To practice patience, kindness, gentleness, charity?  Can we make a decision to love the works of our Lord and pray for his help in that?

Love of sin

Hebrews 12:1 – let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.

Matthew 13:22 – As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.

II Timothy 4:10 – Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica.

Romans 1:32 – Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

Ephesians 5:3-15

Fear of death

Luke 14:26 – If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.

Matthew 10:28 – Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.  Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

A Bit of Nobility

February 15, 2014 — Leave a comment

When I went through Army basic training my eyes were opened to how much of an idealist I am.   My view of people in general is that we all want the best and do our best and have the best intentions for ourselves and for others.  Throughout my life I have started with that assumption until given a reason to think otherwise about an individual.  I still think that, as a rule, it’s a good way to approach things.

But in the military, especially in a basic training environment, people are under a lot of stress and one’s true character becomes apparent very quickly.   I learned fast that many of my comrades were self-centered, uncooperative, and swift to run towards evil.  And I know that much of the world is in the same place.

Isaiah says, “The fool speaks folly, and his heart is busy with iniquity, to practice ungodliness, to utter error concerning the Lord, to leave the craving of the hungry unsatisfied, and to deprive the thirsty of drink.  As for the scoundrel – his devices are evil; he plans wicked schemes to ruin the poor with lying words, even when the plea of the needy is right.”  (Isaiah 32:6-7, ESV)

There have always been such people – only interested in themselves and willing to hurt and even destroy anyone else as long as they get what they want.

But Isaiah also says there is another kind of person:  “But he who is noble plans noble things, and on noble things he stands.”  (Isaiah 32:8, ESV)

Those who consider themselves sophisticated are often filled with cynicism.  They believe that virtually everyone is like the fool and the scoundrel and that a truly noble person is rare almost beyond imagining.  Is there really anyone whose heart is pure?  One who plans good things, noble things?  And who builds his life only on that which is good?

The Bible shows us several, I think.   King David in II Samuel 7 had a noble plan.  He wanted to build a house for the Lord to be worshipped in.  He thought it was unfitting that a mere human being should dwell in a mansion, “a house of cedar”, while the house of God was a mere tent.   And even though God assigned the task of building the temple to David’s son,  David spent years of his life planning for, designing, and setting aside the resources to build the temple.  The house Solomon built was very much the result of David’s noble plan.

I think, too, of Joseph in Genesis 39.  Although he was a young man with the normal passions and desires of a young man, we see him able to steadfastly resist the advances of Potiphar’s wife, even when refusing her cost him dearly.  How was he able to do that?  So many, young and old, today claim that sexual urges are so powerful and uncontrollable that they just can’t help but give in to temptation when the moment comes.  Again, how did Joseph do it?  Well, he had a noble plan and was standing on nobler things than momentary physical pleasure.   I wish more of us were like Joseph – I wish that more of us thought more of ourselves and of our purpose in this world than to yield ourselves up to immorality.

Paul says, “Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.  Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.  For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ…  … that I may know Him and the power of His resurrections, and may share His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection of the dead.”  (Philippians 3:7-11)   What a noble plan!  What a noble deed!   Can we say that, honestly, to ourselves and one another?  Can we say that we will pay any price, lose any physical benefit, and throw away the pleasures and profits of this world, if only we can really know Jesus and be like Him?   Can we say to ourselves that there is nothing worth more than that to us?  Is it true that we will do anything it takes to attain eternal life, the resurrection of the dead?   And how much different would your life be if that were true?

He who is noble plans noble things.  And on noble things he stands.

Brad

Joseph’s Brothers

February 15, 2014 — Leave a comment

I’ve been reading again the story of Joseph and his family in the book of Genesis.  Here are a few quick notes:

The Brothers of Joseph:

Had a brother who robbed them of their father’s devotion – Genesis 37:3

Were humiliated by their brother’s dreams – Genesis 37:5-11

Were moved by envy to murderous anger – Genesis 37:11, 18-2

…and betrayed their brother and father

Yet received grace. – Genesis 45:1-11

Raised in a self-centered, undirected family.

Jacob was busy getting over on Laban – Genesis 30:25-43, 31:7-20

Rachel and Leah were busy getting over on each other – Genesis 29:31-30:24

-the children, and the servants of each, were pawns for getting at the heart of Jacob

Aside from that, Laban, the children’s grandfather, is trying to cheat their father Jacob, Jacob has already cheated his brother Esau, and Jacob is getting ready for a wrestling match with the angel of God! (Genesis 32:22-30)

Jacob is a striver with God and man – Genesis 32:28

Is it any wonder that by the time the family gets to Canaan the sons of Jacob are conniving, deceitful, and small hearted?  Genesis 34:13     – even when they’re in the right they lie!

But, for all that, God is with Jacob and in the midst of all this He reiterates the promise made previously to Abraham and Isaac – Genesis 35:1-15.  God’s promise stands, not because of righteousness of man, but because of God promised it.   And Jacob lived by faith – Hebrews 11:21.  But that doesn’t mean no mistakes were made.  And those mistakes are at the heart of the problem we see in Genesis 37 and 39

Genesis 37:18-36

Genesis 39:1-6

God can take all the bad and make it good, but look at all the misery, uncertainty, fear, and threat that filled these years.  Wouldn’t God have found a way to preserve them even if they hadn’t acted corruptly?

It is the same with us.  We all stumble often, James says, and God can make all things work together for good anyway.  If we endure the chastening, it will afterward yield peaceable fruit – Hebrews 12:11

But let us not sin that good may come!  Romans 3:8:.  There is a better way.

A few applications:

What becomes of our children when moms and dads are so focused on their own schemes that they neglect the welfare of their children?

Or when the parents act corruptly to get their way, what do the children learn?

When adults are self-centered, and the kids are left to themselves, are they inclined to good things, or mischievous things?  Proverbs 22:5

At church, when the parents are focused merely on their own edification, do we pay attention to whether our kids are paying attention?  Or when we let the kids sit with their friends – it makes church more fun for them and it makes it easier for us to focus on the service, right?  But are the kids worshiping then?  Or are they passing notes, joking around, and spacing out?  Can we be guilty of neglecting them right here in this good place?

And then, after worship – as the adults enjoy good fellowship and conversation and the kids are turned loose, is it just clean honest fun the kids are having?  I know I sometimes come home to angry kids with bad attitudes after 45 minutes left to themselves after church with their friends.

Proverbs 29:15

It’s worth acknowledging that no matter how good your child is, and mine, the influence they have on one another is not always good.  They are children and we are parents for a reason.   We need to be wise and be aware of what’s going on.  Or better yet, include our children with us.  Let them be where we are after church or, let us go where they are.

The story of Joseph and his brothers is the story of a family run amuck.  I have no doubt that Jacob was a faithful man – a well-intentioned man.  But his weaknesses carried consequences for his family.  As do ours.  May we strive to recognize them and overcome them.

Sunday Sermon at the church of Christ on Elm Street in St. Charles, Missouri, December 1, 2013. A discussion of the statistics that reveal a lack of trust in every segment of American society and God’s solution to the problem.

Mapping Human Emotions

Finnish researchers have found a way to map the way feelings affect the human body.

35 Gifts Your Children Will Never Forget | Becoming Minimalist.

The ruins of Stonehenge lie north of Salisbury, England.  To this day, despite intensive research and discovery, the purpose of this 4000 year old monument remains a mystery.  No one knows for sure why or even how it was built.   The large stones are believed to have been transported from Marlborough downs, a distance of 20 miles while some of the smaller stones (still up to 4 tons in weight) may have been brought from Wales – nearly 160 miles away.

It is difficult to explain how, using primitive technology, such large pieces were moved such great distances.  The project continued for nearly 1000 years and required the labor of thousands of individuals.  The sheer scope of the effort suggests that Stonehenge was hugely important to the ancient people of Britain.  But we don’t know why.  The site fell into disuse and disrepair, and its significance has long been forgotten.

gloomy-stonehenge

(from LiveScience.com)

Today, in the former country of Yugoslavia, dozens of monuments commemorating World War II battles stand abandoned and forgotten.   Millions per year visited these sites 30 years ago, but 500 years from now, will anyone know why they are there?  Some of these sites are already beginning to look like ruins and even today they are virtually unknown outside of their own territory.

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In the Bible, speaking of the temple in Jerusalem, Jesus said, “there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down (Matthew 24:2).”  And within a generation, his words came true.  Indeed, the world and all its works continue to pass away (I John 2:17).  Even the great and noble things of this world do not last, nor do the memorials we create to honor them.

And yet we still look in awe at the mystery of Stonehenge and we admire the work of its nameless creators.  I suspect that, if they stand, the monuments in Yugoslavia will evoke a similar response many years hence.

More than the monument, though, the legacy of Stonehenge lives in the people – the descendants of the ancients who built it.  The culture that created Stonehenge is one of the building blocks of the English-speaking world that exists today.

In the same way, those neglected monuments to World War II represent a generation that sacrificed and suffered greatly and that, for good and for ill, shaped the world as we know it.

And for us, too, that is what will ultimately last.  Not the projects completed, houses built, or possessions obtained.  None of the physical creations will be remembered, but the ideas, the interactions, and the character that shapes our works will also shape our futures.

 

Quiet Aspirations

December 2, 2013 — Leave a comment

I Timothy 2:1-2 – “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”

I Thessalonians 4:9-12 – “Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing… But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.”

II Thessalonians 3:11-12 – “We hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies.  Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.”

Image

Nike advises us in their commercials to Find Your Greatness.   Television shows like The Voice and American Idol have become the aspiration of multitudes of bedroom musicians hoping to find their big break and attain stardom.  And Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and countless other social media allow us all to market ourselves and help us feel like we are bigger fish than we actually are.

When I talk to young people, and even to those who are older, most have a strong inner drive to “do something that matters.”  We like to think that we are engaged in something important; something that is going to help shape the world.

But the thing that matters is not reaching the top of the heap.  It’s not being in a position where you can control outcomes and have a great deal of influence in the lives of others.  It isn’t being “great,” or notorious, or a star.  The really important thing is living a life of personal integrity.

In the Bible, we are encouraged to “aspire to live quietly and to mind (our) own affairs.”  To seek to mind our own business, and to let others mind theirs.  It’s interesting that those words are found in the middle of a discussion on loving one another – and doing so more and more.

We tend to think of love in terms of what we do for others.  But love also consists in letting others alone – allowing them to make their own decisions, manage their own affairs, and to enjoy the fruits and consequences of so doing.

Further, our ability to do really big things is only enhanced when we focus first on finding peace, stability, and order at home.  Jesus said, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is a log in your own?  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3-5).

We grow weary of corrupt politicians who tell us how to live our lives while their own are scandal ridden.  And we rightly scoff at pastors and religious leaders who preach one thing and do another.  But the same principle applies to you and me.  First let us learn to manage ourselves and our own responsibilities.  Then we may, perhaps, have clear insight to help others.

Brad

1. When things get tough, just keep going.

When most people encounter a rough patch, they quit.  The truly successful people in the world keep going no matter what.  Never let your setbacks win.

2. Consistency creates habit.

To incorporate anything into your life, you have to make it a habit.  To make something a habit, you have to be consistent.  Whatever it is you’re aiming for, make it a part of your life.

3. You’ll have to get through hell before you get to heaven.

Like all things worth pursuing, you are going to get knocked down, stepped on, and rejected along the way.  Consider this to be part of the path to your goals.  Sometimes it’s more about the journey than the destination.

4. Reaching your goals will take a lot of work.

If it doesn’t, it’s either not a goal, not worth pursuing, or will not have any fulfillment.  Never expect to not put in work and get somewhere.

5. Every aspect of life is mental.

It’s not about what you do or what happens to you, it’s about how to respond to it.  It’s how you decide to carry on.  Your power comes from inside your head.

6.  You do have time– you just have to make it.

If something is important to you, you’ll make time for it.  If not, you’ll make excuses.

7. You define your own limits.

Your limits aren’t put unto you by your parents, other people, or the universe.  You are in total control of it.  You decide whether or not to shoot for the moon or stay right where you are.

8. If you wait for the right conditions, you’ll never get anything done.

Don’t wait for anything or anybody.  You know what you have to do to reach your goals and get things done. Just go do them!

9. Go beyond your limits every day and watch the magic happen.

You’ll be amazed at what you can achieve if you just push yourself a little further.

10. There is peace even in the most chaotic times.

No matter now grueling, stressful, sorrowful, or painful your situation is, there is always a silver lining and something positive to be found.  Seek it out, learn from it, and keep moving on.

via 10 Lessons Running Teaches You About Life | The Daily Runner.

This weekend represents one of the stranger conflations of virtue and vice on the national calendar.  On the one hand, throughout the history of the United States, we have celebrated the national holiday of Thanksgiving.   Although the dates have changed and it has only been formalized as the last Thursday in November since the 20th Century, we have nearly always set aside time to show gratitude and celebrate the good we have enjoyed.

On the other, since the 19th Century, Thanksgiving has also marked the beginning of the Christmas shopping season.  So that’s not new.  What is new, however, is the insane violence and disregard for other human beings that occurs the day after and now even on the same day that we give thanks.  While it has always been busy and stressful, only in the 2000s have reports of extreme violence become common.  Do your own Google search on “Black Friday Violence” to see what I’m talking about.

You’ll notice that the vast majority of the stories are from 2008 and later, and that they have intensified in the last couple of years – even as stores have opened earlier on Friday.  In 2011, many stores opened at midnight for the first time.  Just last year Walmart and other chains opened at 8pm on Thanksgiving Day.   Rather than reducing the stress by extending the shopping season by a few hours, opening earlier seems to have merely fueled the frenzy.

In the name of insane deals on merchandise, insane behavior ensues.  Would you be part of a mob that trampled someone to death for $50?  Would you pull a gun on someone for $25?  Or would you spray someone with pepper spray, get involved in a fist fight, or engage in a shootout for $100?  No?  All of these things and more have happened during the Thanksgiving shopping spree over similarly trivial amounts of money.

So, in the course of one day we express gratitude and indulge in greed.  Wouldn’t it be better to spend a little more time being thankful and a little less being avaricious?

It has been said that the travels of Abraham can be traced by the altars he built.  In Genesis 12, we read of the Lord calling him to leave his home and go to Canaan.  It says that he went to Shechem and built an altar where the Lord appeared to him in v. 6-7.  Then he moved to Bethel and “pitched his tent with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; there he built an altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord. v 8” In chapter 13, after he separated from Lot, he went to Hebron and again built an altar – 13:18.  Under the patriarchal system, the altar was the place of worship to God.  Every place that Abraham went, then, he prepared for himself a place and a way to worship his God.

There are a couple places where he lived but didn’t build altars:  Egypt (Genesis 12:11-20) and Gerar (Genesis 20:1-9).  It is more than interesting to note that those places are the places where he sinned.

Scripture teaches that we are merely sojourners and travelers on the earth – Hebrews 11:13-14.  As we travel through life we need, like Abraham, to be erecting “altars” everywhere we go – signs and reminders that, no matter where we find ourselves, we took time to remember God.

In our Families.  Raising godly children is not something that just happens.  However, having children does.  Many enter into fatherhood and motherhood without purpose and without a goal.  As a result, their training and discipline of their children, if it happens at all, is done haphazardly and without purpose.  Even Christians are sometimes no more specific in their plans for their children than, “I hope they grow up to be faithful.”  For the most part, if you’re just hoping, they probably won’t.

The Bible gives us several principles for raising children:

“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it” Proverbs 22:6.

“…do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord” Ephesians 6:4.

How can you bring your children up in the training and admonition of the Lord if you are not living yourself in the training and admonition of the Lord?  We need to be building altars to God in our families.  That is, we need to make home a place where God is remembered and respected and given a central place.  If we don’t, how can we hope for our children to grow up to serve God?  On one of the altars Abraham built, he offered up his only son, Isaac, at the command of God.  How do you think the unflinching obedience of his father affected the young boy? When Joshua exhorted Israel, he said, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord –  Josh. 24:15.”  He had built an altar – making it known that God was not an optional addition to his family.

Some altars we can build:

Does your family have a time they study the Bible together?

2 Tim 1:3-5

3          I thank God, whom I serve with a pure conscience, as my forefathers did, as without ceasing I remember you in my prayers night and day,

4          greatly desiring to see you, being mindful of your tears, that I may be filled with joy,

5          when I call to remembrance the genuine faith that is in you, which dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am persuaded is in you also.”

2 Tim 3:14-17

14         But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them,

15         and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.

16         All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,

17         that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

Do you have a time besides mealtime when you pray together?

1Thes 5:16-18

16         Rejoice always,

17         pray without ceasing,

18         in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Phil 4:6-7

6          Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God;

7          and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”

What place does gathering with other Christians have in your family?

Heb 10:23-25

23         Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.

24         And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works,

25         not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.”

What part does God play in your normal, everyday conversations?

Deut 6:5-9

5          “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.

6          “And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart.

7          “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.

8          “You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.

9          “You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

If the Lord has a constant place of honor and involvement in the fabric of our family life, then we won’t have to merely hope that our children will grow up to be faithful.  We will instead have the assurance that we are, indeed, bringing them up in the training and admonition of the Lord, and that, even when the children have left the home, He will be a permanent fixture in their lives and our own.

Brad

Genesis 31:49

I’ve seen these words, as you have, used as a sign of romance or friendship, with the two halves of a locket divided between two people.    As beautiful as that sentiment is, it is almost exactly the opposite of what prompted the statement in the Bible.

In this story, Jacob, Laban’s son in law, had just fled with his two wives, 11 children, and all of his herds and livestock to go back to his home in Canaan.  Jacob’s wealth represented the best of what had once belonged to Laban.

The two men had spent the previous twenty years trying to find ways to trick and take advantage of one another, with varying degrees of success.  Now Jacob is leaving while he has the upper hand.

Laban rightly accused Jacob of having stolen his household idols.  Actually, Rachel had stolen them without Jacob’s knowledge and now Laban failed to find them among Jacob’s things.

In righteous indignation(as he thought), Jacob said, “What is my offense?  What is my sin, that you have hotly pursued me?  For you have felt through all my goods; what have you found of all your household goods? Set it here before my kinsmen and your kinsmen, that they may decide between us two…  If the God of my father, the God of Abraham, and the Fear of Isaac, had not been on my side, surely now you would have sent me away empty-handed.  God saw my affliction and the labor of my hands and rebuked you last night.”

Mizpah

Admitting defeat, Laban said, “the daughters are my daughters, the children are my children, the flocks are my flocks, and all that you see is mine.  But what can I do this day for these my daughters or for the children whom they have borne?  Come now, let us make a covenant, you and I.  And let it be a witness between you and me.”

It is in that context that Laban says, ‘The Lord watch between you and me, when we are out of one another’s sight.”  It is not a benediction; rather, it is a threat.  Notice the next few verses:

“If you oppress my daughters, or if you take wives besides my daughters, although no one is with us, see, God is witness between you and me.  This heap is a witness, and the pillar is a witness, that I will not pass over this heap to you, and you will not pass over this heap and this pillar to me, to do harm.  The God of Abraham and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge between us.  So Jacob swore by the Fear of his father Isaac.”   (Genesis 31:50-53).

So, the next time you see someone wearing half a locket, remember that the saying means, “I don’t trust you and I am calling on God to keep you accountable for not cheating me!”

On a more serious level, though, when we consider the Bible we find that God does exactly that.

“Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay’, says the Lord (Romans 12:19)”

“Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring.  This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering —since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grand relief to you…(II Thessalonians 1:4-7).

Even today, the Lord is indeed watching between you and me, and between you and me and every person we interact with on a daily basis.  When we take advantage of the weak, He knows.  When we accuse someone wrongly or when we react with anger instead of kindness, He is keeping track.

Instead of the romantic sentimentality that is often associated with this verse, let’s take the warning seriously and do all things, every day and every time, as if we were doing it in the presence of God (Colossians 3:33-35).  For, actually, we are.

Brad