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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Come Out from Them: The Biblical Case for Government Neutrality


Since coming to embrace non-violent resistance after years of wrestling with the issue, other doctrines I held were scrapped as I tried to take seriously what it means to believe in the Scripture alone, in general, and in Kingdom of God, specifically.
 
Whether it was a lack of Scriptural justification for a certain theology or that it was contradicted by an already established biblical principle, I knew I could no longer hold these beliefs in good conscience.


I want to share with you why.


Specifically, why I believe that I, as disciple of Christ, should remain neutral as to the governments of this world.


To understand why Christians should abstain from voting and other participatory functions of government (political office, war, lobbying, government reform, etc.), we first look at what the Bible says about the Kingdom of God.


The Kingdom of God is a real thing, not an abstract concept.


It has real workers (Matthew 9:35-38), real work (1 Cor. 4: 10; Romans 14:17), real laws (Matthew 7:21), real power (Matthew 4:23, Luke 10:9), and, of course, a real King, Jesus (John 18:36)


The Kingdom of God is also a spiritual kingdom, not of this world (John 18:36; Daniel 2:34, 44-45), nor seen with the naked eye (Luke 17:20-21), nor temporal in duration (2 Peter 1:10-11), unlike the kingdoms of this world.


The Kingdom of God is also synonymous with the Church. Scot McKnight writes this in his book “Kingdom Conspiracy":


It is reasonable to say that the kingdom is the church, and the church is the kingdom – that they are the same even if they are not identical. They are the same in that it is the same people under the same King Jesus even if each term – kingdom, church – gives off slightly different suggestions


I think the biblical evidence will evince this point.


To summarize, we are part of a real Kingdom with real workers, works, laws, powers, and Kingship held by Jesus Christ, yet spiritual, not of this world, and eternal. Furthermore, if you are a member of the Church you are member of the Kingdom and vice versa.


Secondly, we need to look at what the Bible says about the rulers of the world and human governments.


Like divorce, which was allowed due to the hardness of man's heart, civil government was established out of a rejection of God and His rule, as it was God's intention and desire to be the direct King of His people (1 Samuel 8).


Consequently, the State has no inherent claim to power (Romans 13: 1-7; Isaiah 40:15-17).


Furthermore the Bible teaches that Satan is exercising a temporal, but actual rule on the earth. Consider the following passages:


Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine. Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die. – John 12:30-33


“You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe. I will not say much more to you, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold over me, but he comes so that the world may learn that I love the Father and do exactly what my Father has commanded me. Come now; let us leave. – John 14:28-31


But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.John 16:7-11


And, as Paul says, “as for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient” (Eph. 2:1-2)


And “giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Col 1:12-14)


The definitive proof that Satan is the current master of the State, is his offering to Jesus all the kingdoms of the world while trying Jesus in the desert (Matthew 4:9).


Some might say he was lying about his power, but if he wasn't lying when he said Jesus could change stones to bread or jump off the temple without injuring himself, why assume he was lying when he claimed to have the very power ascribed him in the gospels and elsewhere?



No, Satan was telling the truth, though, as always, with a bent toward deceit (for example, we know that ultimately all things are under God and His Jesus Christ; Eph 1:18-23) .


As John says, “We know that we are of God, and that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.” (1 John 5:19)
 
Furthermore, Satan is described as the one who deceives the nations (Revelation 20:3, 8) and the kingdoms of this world are unqualifiedly juxtaposed with the Kingdom of God (Revelation 11:15).


As Greg Boyd writes:
   
This obviously doesn't mean that all leaders in earthly governments are under Satan's rule. Many leaders are God-loving people who are sincerely trying to serve their society and the world. But these passages suggest that the whole power-over system that constitutes human government is under Satan's oppressive influence. I see no way around this conclusion.


With this in mind, the very principle by which we must not be yoked together with unbelievers is the very principle which prevents us from colluding with worldly governments:


Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God...” – 2 Cor 6:14-16.


Again, that the State is under the control of Satan, at the moment, precludes us from being participants thereof.

 It would be akin to having dual citizenship in both North and South Korea: it's just not possible!


As James says, "you adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God."(James 4:4)


Despite this, many Evangelicals, Catholics, and Mormons claim voting and civic participation is our Christian duty.


But what does the Bible say?


We are told to pay taxes. (Matthew 20:20-22; Romans 13:1-7)
We are told to pray for our government officials. (1 Timothy 2:1-4)
We are told to be subject and obedient to government (Romans 13:1; Titus 3:1) (only insofar as it the laws of man do not contradict God's laws, of course). (Acts 5:29)


However, there is no support for the idea that to be good citizens Christian must involve themselves in government, rather we are described as “foreigners here” on earth (Hebrews 11:13), who are said to be “not of the world” (John 17:14-19), having “citizenship in heaven” (Philippians 3:20).


There is so much more that could be said about this issue, but I want to draw the threads of this post:


1. We are subjects of a real Kingdom with a real King.
2. The kingdoms of this world are under the control of Satan and thus cannot merit our participation.
3. Never are we commanded to be participate in government, but are called foreigners here on earth and citizens of heaven. The idea that is is our Christian duty to do so is without merit.


What say you?

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Do Your Pants Hang Low? The Question of Sagging.


WARNING: if discussions about underwear make you 
uncomfortable, STOP HERE!
 
I have long been opposed to pant sagging. Until a week ago.


I have a pair of pants I love. They're sort of like khakis, but they fit more like “skinny” pants and they ride relatively low.

And when said pants were combined with my much loved “I [Heart] Mexico” t-shirt, my black “Rico” briefs could be seen when I made certain body motions.


I was faced with a dilemma: I liked the shirt and I liked the pants, but neither could compensate for the longitudinal (a real word) deficiencies of the other.


While pondering my conundrum, I had an epiphany:

I'm a young black male, I can actually get away with showing a little bit of my ropa interior and I won't have to sacrifice either my chosen shirt or pants.


So I did, in fact, choose both and headed off to school. And I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel just the slightest bit liberated that day.


However, apart from personal satisfaction, was my fashion decision appropriate?


Some might cite the hygiene problems against me. In other words, I don't want to sit where you've sat if you sat there directly on your underwear.

Gross. Point taken.


However, this doesn't apply to me, because upon sitting, my pants assumed their proper function, carefully guarding my behind and calzones.


Another objection might focus on aesthetics or “I don't want to see your underwear!”


Again, point taken.


Then again, I may not want to see your particular shirt, headband, jacket, or hat but why should my optical preferences have veto power over what you wear?


Besides, this was not what I was doing:


It was much closer to this (but black on black), not even visible 100% of the time:

What about the “it sends the wrong message” objection.


This, I think, is dangerous territory.


As anyone who knows me knows (especially my sisters), I have plenty of opinions on how certain clothing choices can send certain messages, but I also understand it's not always clearly discernible where the line between acceptable and unacceptable is, especially when “lines” differ from person to person.


That's not to say there is no standard of modesty, rather when it comes to issues like seeing a couple inches of someone's unmentionables for a few brief (pardon the pun) moments, I'm inclined to put that in the “agree to disagree” style box.


In addition, some like to bring up the history of sagging pants, letting guys in prison know your, erm, “available”.


This doesn't bother me, however, because appropriation is a part of life and is a valuable for tool social and cultural advancement.

For example, some beloved Christian hymns were written to the tunes of bar songs and some pagan holidays were appropriated by Christians in order to make way for our own special days.


Sagging was once something, but now it's something different or, at least, something else entirely too.


Finally, one might ask why do it in the first place.


Well, initially, I did it for reasons of convenience and curiosity, which, upon further reflection, were pretty lame reasons, though there was another side to it.


When you see someone sagging their pants, you don't think wannabe preacher, four years doing competitive Bible memory, or, even, Christian at all.


But all of those things apply to me.


I enjoyed the prospect that just by letting a little underneath show, I might accomplish some small part in collapsing the stereotype of who sags and who doesn't.


Because even if you don't agree with sagging, you shouldn't form an opinion on someone based on how high or low they wear their pants.


So, will I sag again? Probably not (my mom was not to keen on it).


In spite of that, my one time sagging escapade had given me a fresh perspective on the issue.


What say you?

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Importance of Loving God: A Special Occasion Speech

[Alright–Wow, I am ecstatic] to speak you all tonight, but before I share with you a message the Lord has put on my heart for some time now, I just want to thank you all for coming to the North American Christian Convention's student convention. And not only for coming to the NACC, but for desiring to know how you can better and deeper serve the Lord out of love. And it is that subject of love I want to talk with you about tonight, specifically the importance of keeping our love for God central to everything we do as Christians and how we may rekindle love lost.
 
I want to illustrate this first point by way of a brief story: In working with kids this summer at a mission for children, I remember a particularly poignant conversation I had with a young man, not yet 16, who lived at the mission. Now you just gotta know this kid: ever the smart-Alec, loved to give me all kinds of grief, but with the biggest of hearts. And I remember there was this one night I found myself discussing with him about why he had walked away from his Christian faith. You see, I had been at his baptism just a couple years prior and upon learning that he had since left the faith, I just wanted to know what had happened. What he told me that night has stayed with me every day since then, truly, and is the inspiration for this message. He said he no longer saw the meaning in following Christ. “So we pray before meals”, he said, “we drag ourselves to Church on Sunday morning”, “we do all the stuff, but where's the meaning?" I was stunned. How my friend had gone from such an eager young believer, to so totally disaffected with God and His Church baffled me, but not for long.

In Matthew chapter 22, Jesus talks to us about love. Verses 34-40 record how the Pharisees tried to trip Jesus up by asking him to name the greatest commandment in all the law. Jesus responded with a quotation from the Hebrew Scriptures, saying that to love God with all your heart, mind, and soul—This is the first and greatest of all of God's commandments.
 
Now, at first blush, the Pharisees query doesn't seem like much of a stumper, nor Jesus' answer particularly novel, but if you had to answer this question without the benefit of knowing Jesus' response, what would you say? Well, some might answer an active prayer life. Others might point to regular Bible reading. Still others might argue for regular church attendance or a political battle; a social justice cause. Do you see the problem now? The Pharisees understood that a wrong answer to this question could tilt the axis of biblical theology so far one way or the other that it would all come crashing to the ground. However, Jesus knew this, as well, and he not only knew this, but in everything he did, he modeled for us the importance of keeping our love for God central to everything we do. Because if we miss that first part—loving God with all that we are—we can strip the meaning from everything that comes after and we'll end up just quitting altogether. That is how my friend could be so on fire for God and then not. It's how you can have senior Christians who have sat in the same pew, sung the same hymns, taken the same communion emblems for decades whose faith has atrophied and grown cold. And it's how you and I can fill our lives up with spiritual stuff that makes us feel good, or feel Christian—stuff that may very well honor God—but, in the end, be nothing more than whitewashed tombs full of dead bones. Jesus knew: if we don't love God, we excise the very heart from our faith. That's why this is so important.

So, what do we do? When our love for God has ebbed and our faith as a result, what do we do? The Bible has an answer for us: we remember where we came from, repent of anything between us and God, and then remain in Him. Remember, repent, and remain: three r's taken from the Parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15.
 
You know the story, after taking his Father's inheritance, going off to a far country, and blowing it all, the prodigal soon finds himself bumming slop off a team of hogs at a farm. “When he came to his senses" in Luke 15:17 "he said, "‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death!” That is, he first remembered from where he'd come from. Then in verses 18-20, “I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; take me back as one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father.” His repentance, the second R, was him apologizing to his Father and then returning to restore their relationship. The final R is remain. We don't know what happened to the Prodigal son after the story's end. We do know that his father, like God our Father, accepted him back, not as a servant, but as his beloved son, but whether the son choose to remain in that love for the duration of his life is only speculation. However, it is not enough to simply remember and repent, we must remain in God's love.

And, in closing, that's not a hard task, for when make a habit of reflecting on who God is, how great He is, we cannot love help but love Him. And when we love God, people cannot help but see .And, maybe, will come to love him too. To love God with all our hearts and minds and souls, I pray this for my friend and I pray this for us as Body of Christ, as well. Thank you very much.


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Even the Demons: Why Believing in God Isn't Enough.




Of the many traditions of men so deeply entrenched in the Church today, perhaps none is so prevalent today as the Protestant innovation of “salvation by faith alone”, unknown to the Church for 1500 years of its 2000 year existence.

The phrase “faith alone” is found once in Bible, James 2:44: “you see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone”.

So we see the one explicit verse in the Bible using the phrase “faith alone” is denying justification by faith alone.

Not exactly the strongest of starts.

Of course, none of this is new to those who believe in faith onlyism and they often use passages like John 3:16 (“who believes in him has eternal life”), Ephesians 2:8-9 (“for it is by grace you have been saved through faith...not of works”), and others that speak of the necessity of faith for salvation to prove salvation by faith alone.

This use of Scripture fails for several reasons:

Salvation by faith does not equal salvation by 

faith alone.

I believe wholeheartedly that we are saved by faith, as the Bible makes this point clear again and again.

However, nowhere does the Bible say that we are saved by faith alone.

To assume this is to make the critical error of thinking that because faith is the sole means by which we receive salvation, it is also the sole condition for being saved (an error more fully explained and critiqued by people like Dr. Jack Cottrell, Cincinnati Bible Seminary).

To use an imperfect example, faith is like a car you use to get to work (i.e., the means of your transportation to work), but it's not enough to simply have a car, there are other conditions for getting to work, such as getting in the car and driving to the destination.

In the same way, while God communicates saving grace to us by and through our faith in Him, that is not the only condition for receiving such grace.

For example, we must hear the gospel (John 5:24), repent of sin (Acts 17:30), confess Jesus as Lord (Romans 10:9), and be baptized (Acts 2:38).

The Bible points to all of the above as conditions for salvation alongside faith.

At this point, some of you may be asking how we can by saved by more than faith alone if we receive salvation at the moment we believe, which leads to my next point...

Salvation by faith does not equal salvation at 

the moment of faith.

Two common verses used to support the idea that we are saved at the moment we believe are Romans 10:10 and Acts 16:31:

that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved

They said, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.'

Ironically, if you believe in salvation by faith alone, you have a conflict between these two verses.

One verse just says believe, while the other says believe and confess, confession being logically subsequent faith.

So at which point is the person saved, at faith or at confession of Jesus as Lord?

The answer is neither.

For one, these passages are not intending to give a full picture of God's salvation plan (there's no mention of repentance, for example).

However, it's also of great importance that neither of these verses says when a person is saved (i.e., the occasion of salvation).

Saved by faith does mean I am saved at the time of my faith, contrary to popular Evangelical thinking.

Rather the proverbial period on God's plan of salvation is baptism, and it is at that point which we are saved by our faith:

and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. – Colossians 2:11-12.

Salvation by faith and not by works does not 

equal salvation by faith alone

This is the biggie.

By putting faith in a special category all of its own and everything else a Christian can do in the “works” category, salvation by faith alone is found by its supporters in every verse that affirms we are saved not by works, but by faith.

The problem here is that faith is not in category all on its own and the definition of “works” most Protestants use is woefully inadequate to do the biblical data justice.

It is true that we are not saved by works, rightly defined.

However, Jesus himself says that faith is a kind of work (John 6:29) and we are saved by faith.

This is because while works of law cannot save (Gal 2:26; Rom 3:20), there is no contradiction between acts that people can do, which are a kind of work (hearing the gospel, having faith, repenting, confessing Jesus as Lord, and be baptized) and salvation by grace through faith.

The other conditions for salvation listed above are, like faith, things we do, and in that general sense works, but they are not works of the law (but aspects of gospel obedience; Romans 10:16, 2 Thessalonians 1:8) and thus do not conflict with salvation by grace.

---------------

There are so many more things that could be said, thoughts that could developed, and arguments that could be addressed, but this should suffice for our purposes.

For us this side of the cross, the Bible nowhere teaches we are saved by faith alone or saved at the moment we have faith, but that we are saved by faith (which functions as the means which we receive salvation, among other things).

I hope you'll dig deeper into this issue and to see what the Bible is saying about this issue apart from what others might say certain passages "must" mean.

Listed below are some resources that may help (with a focus in baptism as the occasion of salvation).


Online Articles:

Dr. Cottrell's articles on baptism and faith alone:

Dr. Cottrell's website (search “baptism” for many helpful articles):

http://bebaptized.org/ (Looks at the meaning and purpose of baptism whilst rebutting faith alone obejctions).

http://lavistachurchofchrist.org/articles.htm#Baptism (The Lavista Church of Christ baptism articles)

http://www.bible.ca/H-baptism.htm (Early Church quotes on baptism)

Books:

Baptism: A Biblical Study by Dr. Jack Cottrell
Recovering the Evangelical Sacrament: Baptisma Semper Reformandum by Anthony R. Cross
Baptism in the New Testament by G. R. Beasley-Murray
Baptism in the Early Church: History, Theology, and Liturgy in the First Five Centuries by Everett Ferguson.
“What Baptism Meant to the Early Christians” in Will the Real Heretics Please Stand Up by David Bercot
“Baptism and the Lord's Supper” in Pagan Christianity? By Frank Viola and George Barna

Thursday, September 18, 2014

3 Signs You've Succumbed to the Idol of Nationalism.



Nationalism is defined as "a feeling that people have of being loyal to and proud of their countries", of which I have no beef.

However, nationalism or patriotism, for too many Christians, has morphed into something more than promoting citizenship, becoming for many idolatrous.

Having once held the following views, to some degree or another, I give you three signs I believe are indicative of a heart infected with the idol of extreme nationalism:     

 You Prioritize National Welfare Over Humanitarian Welfare.

While there may be times when the good of your country means the good of those in need, this is quite often not the case.

For example, the welfare of any given nation usually depends, in some way and at some point, on the nation's willingness to go to war to eliminate an enemy (or potential enemy), meaning that humans, innocent as well as guilty, will be killed.

In addition, while legalizing marijuana (or other harmful, addictive substances), prostitution, gay marriage, video gambling, porn shops, and the like may rake in loads of revenue from eager customers, making a country more financially “prosperous”, these vices still run counter to the betterment of humanity.

Furthermore, the United States government has a nasty habit of establishing (or helping to establish) and funding brutal dictators in the Middle East and Africa (think Egypt) that kill, imprison, and oppress Christians.

This happens because, despite how these wicked men treat disciples of Christ, their governance in some way benefits American international interests.

Finally, caring for the poor and needy, whether at home or abroad, may drain a country's resources while all the while benefiting the individual receiving the assistance.

These are just some of the ways national welfare and humanitarian welfare correlate negatively.

That being said, when the time comes for the Christian to make a choice between what's good for his country versus what's good for person or people group “x”, and that time will come, if he chooses his country, you can be sure it has become for him an idol.

Why do I say this?

Because while the Bible has much to say about how Christians are to help their neighbors (Mark 12:31; Luke 10:25-37), friend or foe (Gal. 6:10), not once are we commanded to work at propping up any earthly government with our service (remember giving taxes was about rendering dues, not national advancement).

This does not mean working for the edification of a nation is wrong, necessarily, rather that when the decision is between what God has commanded (i.e., help your neighbor) versus what He has not (i.e., serve your country), we must obey God's command (Acts 5:29), even if it runs counter to the welfare of the earthly kingdom we live in, trusting God to make up the difference.
 
 You Place Politics over People.
 
From the Facebook page "Christian Conservatives"
As an example of what happens when you put politics over people, I visited a Facebook page purporting to be for “conservative Christians” and took a screen capture of some comments posted under a post about the President's low approval ratings (*strong language warning*)

(As a side note I tried to find a similar example from the Christian Left, but was unable to do so.)

What you just read (and there were plenty more statements of the same un-Christian caliber) was written by people who love party politics so much that they hate their neighbor.

Every day, I read things online, hear on the news, or experience first-hand in conversation people who cannot see past political labels long enough to realize that the people they malign are human beings made in the image and likeness of God.

And I'm sure you have too.

Let it be stated, I am not talking here about criticism; I am talking about the wide-eyed hysteria that “they”, the other political side, are trying to “destroy our country” or “take away 'x' rights” or what have you, leading to the kind of hate-fulled invective we see above. 

Believers who let party politics come before Christian decency and charity have created an idol.
 
 You Support Warfare as a Means of Securing “Rights”.

Like the sacrifices and offerings the Israelites offered to the golden calf in the wilderness, war is the sacrifice made to the twin idols of life and liberty. 

When we decide that “life and liberty”, as prized concepts, are worth killing people for, despite the biblical command not to resist our enemies with violence; (Matt. 5:38-39; 2 Cor 10:3-4), Houston, we have a very big problem

When Christians support war....

Not shedding innocent blood (which God hates; Prov 6:17) is traded for talk of “collateral damage”, “necessary casualties of war”, and the “greater good”.

Love your enemies (Matt. 5:44) is abandoned in favor of killing our enemies.

Take up your cross (Matt 16:24) becomes take up your weapon.

He who wants to save His life will lose it (Matt 16:25) devolves into "He who takes a life saves his own”.

When we say "yes" to warring, we declare there is something more important than obedience to God: preserving life and liberty.

And like putting country and politics before people, disobeying God by going to war amounts to idolatry.

                       -------------------------------------------------------------------------

Did I miss something? Agree? Disagree? Leave a comment for me in the box below.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Ye of Little Faith: How the Christian Can Learn to Deal with Doubt.





                                   It is a universal experience.

Eyes closed in prayer, the all too familiar words rolling off her tongue, but in her heart she wonders if she's just talking to herself...

It's the middle of Sunday service, he listens as the preacher relates a popular story from the Bible and cannot help but ask if something like that really could have happened...

You've been a faithful Christian for years and, yet, your life is falling apart. Finally, you begin to question whether God is really there...

Doubt: “a feeling of uncertainty about the truth, reality, or nature of something”.

Doubts are a human experience. Everyone, from the youngest babe in Christ to the oldest saint, has experienced doubts.

Because of this, knowing how to handle doubts and unanswered questions about the Faith is necessary for keeping those doubts and questions from dissolving our faith altogether.

While it is also critical to know the reasons behind why we believe what we believe, if we don't know how to live with some measure of uncertainty, we will never been sure of our faith, left in a perpetual cycle of spiritual “crisis” until we get the cherished “answer” to our question, only to repeat the cycle again when another question surfaces.

Improper cycle: unanswered question –> doubt –> answer –> renewed faith –> unanswered question –> doubt –> answer –> renewed faith > unanswered question –>....

However, when we combine our knowledge of the Faith with our ability to deal with doubts honestly and adequately, our spiritual life will not be left in stasis until we receive an answer to our question.

So, what are some of the ways we can deal with doubts?

1. Be honest. One of the worst things you can do when experiencing doubt is to deny or mentally dissociate yourself from this normal, human experience. 

Firstly, doubt is nothing to be ashamed about. Great men and women of God like John the Baptist, Moses, Sarah, Abraham, and more had doubts.
In addition, contrary to what our minds may tell us, acknowledging doubt doesn't lend credence to whatever we're doubting. So, if I'm doubting that God hears my prayers, that does not, in fact, mean God does not hear my prayers, only that I am experiencing some degree of uncertainty about it at this moment

Finally, by being honest about your doubts, you are in a better place to address them and seek encouragement from those have had similar kinds of doubts.

2. Talk with God. This applies even if you are doubting something related to the existence of God. Talk to Him anyways. It is important that doubting does not halt the flow of communication between you and God or it may stop completely.  

Your doubts must not have veto power over your walk with Christ.  

Furthermore, when you talk to God, be specific about whatever you're questioning. For example: “God, I saw an Internet video today claiming to show the Bible is myth and right now I am really struggling with whether or not I can trust the Bible”. I also recommend saying your prayer out loud.  

By taking our questions to the Lord with boldness, we keep insecurity from festering and open ourselves up to His leading.

3. Don't not fear. Allowing doubts to send you into panic mode only inhibits your ability to critically examine the issue at hand. Keep a cool head and keep a proper perspective.

4. Continuing on, Christian philosopher and theologian Dr. William lane Craig gives these three great tips on how Christians can deal with doubts:

A. Understand that the primary way we as Christians know our faith to be true is the witness of God's Holy Spirit, which gives us a personal, “self-authenticating” basis for believing in Jesus. 

With this in mind, doubts are simply the absence of answer in certain instances of time that, given the time, resources, or understanding, could be given a proper answer.

Proper cycle: unanswered question –> faith through it all –> answer/no answer –> (increased) faith –> unanswered question –> faith through it all –> answer/no answer –> (increased) faith –>...

B. Understand that doubt is never simply an intellectual problem.  

We face a real enemy who hates us and wants to destroy our faith in God. We must, then, be on our guard, be honest about our questions, and go to God with them (as discussed above).

C. Understand that, if only for lack of time, we will never have all of our questions answered in this life. Therefore, “the key to victory in the Christian life is not having all of our questions answered, but learning to live with unanswered questions”. 

We do this, Dr. Craig says, by exercising a healthy spiritual life (spiritual disciplines, prayer, Christian music, Bible reading, sharing your faith, fellowshipping with other believers, being involved in Christian service, etc.) 

As God becomes more and more of a living reality in our lives, we prevent unanswered questions from becoming destructive doubts.

D. Finally, as you have the opportunity, take a specific question you have about the faith and “pursue it into the ground” until you come to intellectual satisfaction. This will surely help to increase your faith in Christ and help you to encourage the faith of others, as well.

So, do you have doubts? Don't sweat it. I have them, you have them, and they should never mean the end of our faith.

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If you have a nagging doubt about the Christian faith, a story of victory over doubt, or another tip for dealing with doubt, leave it in the comment box below!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Bless Those Who Curse: The Christian Call to Love Our Enemies, Lay Down the Sword, and Fight with the Weapons of God.






How are we to interact with our enemies?

  
    From the start of Jesus' earthly ministry, he had a knack at making enemies. And his disciples, by virtue of their association with him, weren't too bad at it themselves. As the Lord said, “if the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first” and “if they persecuted me, they will persecute you also”. We need not be surprised then that Jesus and New Testament writers like Peter, Paul, James, John, and the writer of Hebrews all have things to say about how Christians should deal with their enemies. Compare their words those of they who advocate for violence or war as an acceptable means of conflict resolution for Christians today.

Jesus in Matthew 5:

1. “do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also” (39)
2. “If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also”. (40)
3. “Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two”. (41)
4. “Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you” (42)
5. “ love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (44)

Why? “so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous”. (45)

6. “if you love those who love you, what reward do you have” (46)
7. “If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others(47)

Conclusion:

8. “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect”. (48)


(And a slightly different take of the same sermon from Luke...)

 
Jesus in Luke 6:


1. “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” (27)
2. “bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (28)
3. “Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either” (29)
4. “Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back” (30)
5. “Treat others the same way you want them to treat you” (31)
6. “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you” (32)
7. “If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you?” (33)
8. “If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you?” (34)
9. “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return” (35)

The result? “and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men”. (35)

Conclusion: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (36)



Paul in Romans 12:

1. “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse” (14)
2. “Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. (16)
3. “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone”.“Respect what is right in the sight of all men”. (17)
4. “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (18)
5. “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God” (19)
6. “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink” (20)

Why?

7. for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” (20)

Therefore...

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good”. (21)



Summary:

Taken together, we see that we are to model God our Father, who Himself is kind to the ungrateful and evil, by loving, praying for, feeding, giving water to, living at peace with (so far as it is up to us), blessing, doing good towards, and treating our enemies the way we would want to be treated.


How do we deal with persecution?

   Let's consider what the New Testament has to say about Christians and persecution.

 
Jesus in Matthew 5:

1. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (9)
2. “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (10)
3. “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me” (11)
4. “Rejoice and be glad” (12)

Why?

“for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (12)

 
Jesus in Luke 6:

1. “Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man” (22)
2. “Be glad in that day and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven”.

Why?

“For in the same way their fathers used to treat the prophets”. (23)


Paul in 1 Corinthians 4:

The situation? “To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless (11)

The response?

1. “When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure” (12)
2. “when we are slandered, we answer kindly” (13)



The Writer of Hebrews in Hebrews 12:


The example of Jesus is the basis for our response to persecution. “For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (2)

Therefore what?

1. “Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (3)

The Old Testament reminder.

“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
because the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.” (6)

Therefore what?

2. “Endure hardship as discipline” (7)


James in James 1:

1. Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters whenever you face trials of many kinds” (2)

Why?

“because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance” (3)

Therefore what?

“Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (4)

The result?

2. “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him” (12)


Paul in Romans 5:

1. “we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (3-4)



Peter in 1 Peter 2:

The example from slaves.

1. “Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh” (18)

Why?

“For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God”(19)

2. “if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God” (20)

The example from Christ.

“To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps” (21)

“He committed no sin,
and no deceit was found in his mouth” (22)

“When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly” (23)



The reign of King Jesus versus the 

kingdoms of men.


Notice how the Kingdom of God functions differently that then kingdoms of men in the following verses.

     It is only ever heathen governments that God uses to punish evildoers by the sword in the New Testament (Romans 13:1-4; 1 Peter 2:13-14). This is consistent with his use of sinful rulers in the Old Testament to punish His people, Israel, with their sins. It is never God's people who wield the sword, as this activity lies outside the perfection of Christ. In other words, God uses human governments in their rebellion to punish the rebellious, but calls Christians to an entirely different standard, as we've already seen some above.

See how the following verses on how Christians fight or don't fight in God's Kingdom.

Jesus in John 18:

1. "My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm” (36)


Paul in Ephesians 6:

1. “Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil” (11)
2. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (12)
3. “having shod your feet with the preparation of the Gospel of peace” (15)


Paul in 2 Corinthians 10:


1. “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does” (3)
2. “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds (4)

What is one way we fight?

“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (5)


Paul Romans 8:

1. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? (35)

2. As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” (36)

3. No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (37-39)

Notice that the reason we are conquerers in Christ: because nothing, including trouble, hardship, persecution, danger, the sword or death, can separate us from God's love.



Zechariah in Zechariah 9:

     Notice how the message Jesus preached on earth (i.e., the Gospel) entails non-violence. Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, Humble, and mounted on a donkey, Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey. (9)

I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim And the horse from Jerusalem; And the bow of war will be cut off. And He will speak peace to the nations; And His dominion will be from sea to sea, And from the River to the ends of the earth (10)

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    There are many more verses that could be amassed, but I think this is suitable to prove the thesis that Christians are not called to fight their enemies with the sword, but to love their enemies, endure persecution, and fight with the spiritual weapons of God. 

  Share your thoughts in the comments below!