Sunday, December 8, 2013

Un-Apologetic, Part 4: My Story

I thought I would finish off this series by sharing a little about myself. It may seem a little off topic, but it will makes sense by the end.

I grew up in a strong Christian family. My parents raised me to believe, and we faithfully attended church every Sunday. I believed what I was taught, and followed a mostly straight-and-narrow path. While attending junior college, I met a special young woman. We began dating, and I fell in love with her. She was not a Christian when I met her, but began attending church with me, and after 7 months together, told me that she prayed and accepted Jesus as her Savior. Three years later, we got married. Things gradually unraveled, and our relationship grew distant. She walked away from the Church, and my relationship with God grew cold. In the summer of 2006, five years into our marriage, she decided to move out, and I decided to share my growing resentment of God with my dad and one of my brothers. I had come to see God as unjust and not worthy of my love. I couldn't make sense of His system of justice, and I wanted clear answers to all my questions. I doubted the truth of His Word. I still attended church, but more as a spectator than a participant. I wanted to give God a chance to prove me wrong.

It was a week before Christmas, and my mom decided she would take me shopping for my gifts, which in this case would be some decorative art for my living room. On the drive home, she confronted me about my unbelief. My mom laid out an emotional plea for me, saying she didn't want to go into the new year not knowing if I was saved. I kind of expected that, but what caught me off guard was one thing in particular that she said. In response to my quest for answers, she said, "You have to have faith. You can't be saved without faith!" That may seem like an obvious statement, but somehow I had never thought of it in the way that her statement implied. I was trying to figure God out first before I gave Him my trust. As we pulled up to my parents' house, she asked me if I would pray with her. Reluctantly, I agreed to give my life back to Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. A few days later, I remember coming to the realization that my perspective had changed. I was giving God the benefit of the doubt by no longer doubting. In the years since, I've had my ups and downs, but I believe that God has grown my initial step of "mustard seed" faith into something much greater.

What I've learned from my own experience is that God is asking each of us to not merely believe in Him, but more importantly, to believe Him. What I see in the growing liberalization of Christianity is an unwillingness to take God at His word. The foundational book of Genesis is the primary target, and consequently is leading to doubts about historical accuracy throughout Scripture. As I explained in the previous post, one cannot disbelieve one part of Scripture and believe the others without becoming arbitrary, and ultimately developing a worldview built on inconsistencies. Some will argue that belief in the Genesis account of creation destroys our credibility with unbelievers, and effectively creates a stumbling block for belief. To that I reply that God isn't looking for easy belief. God is looking for faith in what defies our own understanding. Let's remember what our risen Lord said to one of His disciples:

"Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said to him, 'We have seen the Lord.' So he said to them, 'Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.' And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, 'Peace to you!' Then He said to Thomas, 'Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.' And Thomas answered and said to Him, 'My Lord and my God!' Jesus said to him, 'Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.'" (John 20:24-29)

The account concludes in verses 30-31 with these highly applicable words: "And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name."

We ought to have faith in God like that of a child (see Luke 18:15-17). What does that look like? I believe it to mean that what God tells us, we believe to be true. As children, we believed whatever our parents told us because we believed them to be an authority on truth. In their imperfection, they may not have been deserving of that level of trust, but we believed. Why can't we trust our Creator who is deserving? He gave us His Word so we might know the Truth. This is why I have no apologies for believing that God created the universe in six literal days, or that a donkey could speak to a man, or that a man could live three days in the belly of a fish and live to tell about it, or that Jesus Christ could be a dead, rotting corpse, and on the third day rise again. It is not too much to trust in God's Word above man's. God is perfect and holy and true. If He weren't, would He be worthy of our worship?

What we as Christians believe is at the very core of who we are in Christ. We cannot afford to compromise with the world when it comes to the Truth of the Bible. God gave us His Word so we might know about Him, and by accepting Him in faith, He might reveal Himself to us personally by the guidance of the Holy Spirit. My pastor made a great point this morning about wisdom. In speaking about the wise men in Matthew 2:1-12, He said that wisdom does not come before faith, but faith comes before wisdom. Who are we to call ourselves wise, or to say that we know better than what God has revealed to us through His Word? Now I want to be clear that I don't claim that belief in six-day creationism is necessary for salvation, but I do think that those who disbelieve it should seriously consider why they don't. Are you open to the possibility that it just might be true? I write these things for those of you who still value the Bible as God's written Word. Remember what He has said, and don't take my word for it. I'll leave you with this familiar passage from the authoritative book on wisdom:

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths.
Do not be wise in your own eyes;
Fear the Lord and depart from evil.
It will be health to your flesh,
And strength to your bones."
(Proverbs 3:5-8)

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Un-Apologetic, Part 3: His Story

There are numerous arguments that can be made against evolution and in favor of young-earth creationism, but the one I'll be dealing with here is the most bulletproof. Up to this point, I've established a biblical basis for discrediting evolutionary theory by calling into question its source. I've also established the plausibility of the creation account by pointing to God's power over the laws of nature, as demonstrated in the various miracles found throughout the Bible. The following is far more straightforward.

 The Bible clearly teaches that the Genesis account is literal history.

How do we know that Genesis isn't meant to simply be symbolic? Well for starters, the account itself isn't written in a way to give that indication. I've heard some claim that it's poetry. If that's the case, then chapter 5 in particular is the worst piece of poetry ever written! But starting from the beginning, Genesis 1:3-5 says, "Then God said, 'Let there be light'; and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. So the evening and the morning were the first day." From this point forward the creation account describes each day, after the definition of a day is given as the full cycle of light in daytime and darkness in nighttime. If we follow this very simple logic, when the account proceeds to describe six creation days, we can only assume that they are literally six days.

So is there any good argument for these days being longer periods of time, possibly billions of years? You might be able to construct an argument if you throw out the literalness of the fall of man, as described in chapter 3. The big problem here is for the evolutionary account to be true, Adam and Eve would not be responsible for bringing the curse of death into the world. Countless animals, including the evolutionary chain of humans would have had to have already died. And what do you make of humans being created in the image of God? (see Genesis 1:26-27) Does that mean that "Adam and Eve's" parents were 99.9999% in the image of God? What would that say about us who, from the evolutionary viewpoint, most certainly have evolved even further? Are we now less than 100% the image of God and getting further away from that image with each passing generation? If we are merely evolved animals, how were we created in God's image? Are apes closer to the image of God than fish, who are closer than bacteria?

The problems within the creation account only scratch the surface in the greater context of the whole Bible. One of the best examples of this comes from Romans 5:12,14. "Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned— Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come." Here, human history is defined as beginning with Adam, and death being the consequence of Adam's sin. Perhaps even more explicitly historical is the genealogy of Jesus found in Luke 3:23-38. This account traces Jesus' family tree all the way back to Adam. If Adam wasn't a real person, why the genealogy? If he wasn't the first person, why not tell us who his parents were? I think we can recognize how ridiculous this exercise would be, because by evolutionary standards, there can be no clear marking point of the first humans unless you assign one arbitrarily. Likewise, there can be no clear beginning or end of the image of God unless the human race began fully formed and has not evolved away from it since.

What about Jesus' own words? In Matthew 19:4-6, He gives the following answer to a question about divorce: "Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate." I suppose you could argue that at this moment, Jesus was winking at the Pharisees as if to say, "You know that old wives tale…," but I think it's far more reasonable to conclude that He was treating it as literal history. He was applying 2 Timothy 3:16-17. "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work." Jesus also treats the worldwide flood of Genesis 6-8 as history. Matthew 24:37-39 says, "But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be."

(There are numerous other references to the creation account in the various books of the Bible, but for the sake of brevity…)

If we recognize that all Scripture, including Genesis, is the inspired Word of God, what does that imply. Conversely, what does it imply if the creation account is not true? Psalm 119:160 says, "The entirety of Your word is truth, and every one of Your righteous judgments endures forever." John 1:1-3 says, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made." Verse 14 continues, "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth." If the Bible is God's Word, can we not conclude that it is truth?

If the creation account is not truth, what does that say about God? To me, it leaves only two options: 1) The Bible is not the inerrant Word of God, or 2) It is the Word of God, but God is a liar. I don't see any way around either of these options from a theistic evolutionary viewpoint. What I see happening today is the adherents of such a view are taking option 1, whether they realize it or not. They are saying that one part of Scripture is not truth. What they don't realize is the foundations of their faith are crumbling, and they are forced to arbitrarily believe the parts of the Bible that remain when all the parts that refer back to the creation account are rejected or explained away through great feats of theological acrobatics. Think about it. Why believe that Jesus physically rose from the dead on the third day when we know from science that it is impossible? Dead bodies decompose, rigor mortis sets in, etc. You could scientifically discredit virtually everything in the Bible from the viewpoint of naturalism, so why accept its limitations in this case? Without the foundational elements of the creation account, belief in what is left of the Bible seems to me like wishful thinking. Why not embrace the truth of the whole story? When it comes right down to it, it's not ours to change. It's His story.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Un-Apologetic, Part 2: Miracles

Why did Jesus perform miracles? I know you may be thinking, "Wait a second, I thought we were talking about evolution? What do miracles have to do with anything?" Actually, it has a lot more than you may realize. Sure, God is interested in restoring things and providing for those in need, which explains why He healed so many people and made little bits of bread and fish go ridiculously long ways. But how do you explain such things as turning water into wine, or walking on water, or calming the raging sea with His voice? I suppose you could explain them merely as object lessons (which they were), but more than that, they say something about who Jesus was (and is).

Let's begin by looking at the latter example from Matthew 8:23-27:

"Now when He got into a boat, His disciples followed Him. And suddenly a great tempest arose on the sea, so that the boat was covered with the waves. But He was asleep. Then His disciples came to Him and awoke Him, saying, 'Lord, save us! We are perishing!'
But He said to them, 'Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?' Then He arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. So the men marveled, saying, 'Who can this be, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?'"

It's clearly understood from the text that what happened here was not a mere passing of a storm. No, this is something that defied the laws of nature. I've heard people describe miracles in broader terms, but for the sake of this here argument, that's what I'm talking about.

What did such signs accomplish? Well, for starters, it gave His followers a reason to believe. John 2:11, which follows the account of the wine from water miracle, says, "This beginning of signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory; and His disciples believed in Him." Even many among those who had not become followers couldn't deny the power implied by His miracles. In Acts 2:22 Peter appeals to them, "Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know—" There's a common knowledge among all mankind that miracles are from a higher power. Why is that? Well, because we understand deep down that God, by His very nature, is above the laws of nature that He established.

So what does this have to do with evolution? As I mentioned in the previous post, evolution is born from the viewpoint of naturalism, which by its very definition requires that all things natural be conformed to the laws of nature, and their coming into existence be subject to those laws. Theistic evolution assumes that where the theory of evolution ends, God steps in and fills the gaps. What I mean is, evolution explains how we came about through naturalistic processes, but God gave the initial spark, and from this point forward simply holds the universe together according to the laws of nature. That's not to say that He's not involved in our lives, or doesn't answer our prayers, or wasn't responsible for our souls being born. In fact, you'd be hard-pressed to find any Christians who view God in such a hands-off kind of way. The difference with young-earth creationists like myself is that we disagree that God was bound to the laws of nature when it came to the creation of the universe. We believe that the creation account in Genesis was an account of miraculous historical events.

Understanding that miracles are a sign that God holds power over the laws of nature, it seems hard to believe that He would have limited Himself in any way in the act of creating. God is not a slave to the laws He created. If He were, those laws would be god, and God would be no different than Bertrand Russell's floating teapot in space or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, whichever you prefer. This is why I have no problem with issues concerning such things as the distance of the stars in relation to the speed of light. From a purely naturalistic point-of-view, it would be impossible for their light to reach us in a young-earth scenario. But if God wanted the light to reach us so we could be reminded of His glory in the heavens, He could make it happen instantaneously, just as He instantaneously calmed the seas. Time is not a restraint for God. In fact, God transcends time. He is eternal, which is a concept that we as humans are simply incapable of grasping. We are limited in our understanding to the things of this universe that we are bound to because that's all we know. How can we possibly comprehend God without being God? In our modern thinking, we seek to put everything in a box, but God cannot be contained. Why not instead embrace the mystery of His greatness? 

My great concern for the adherents of theistic evolution moving forward is, "Where does it end?" When you give credence to the consensus opinion of the naturalistic science community in this area, will you also adopt their views as they develop consensus theories on how the stuff that became the universe (pre-"Big Bang"), time, and the first life began? This is why I began this study from the conspiracy angle. As long as you give respect to the views of those who greatly desire to define your existence apart from God, you will continue to see your understanding of God's power erode until all you're left with is a hope for God's existence with no grounding in reality: blind faith in the Incredible Shrinking God. Such a god is no God at all, because any god whose power is subject to the opinion of godless Man is inferior to him, thus making Man god. Where will you draw the line in the sand? How far will you follow them down the godless-shaped hole that is naturalism? The day is fast approaching when they will have all the "answers." Are you ready to defend your faith?

"Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men." (1 Corinthians 1:20-25)

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Un-Apologetic, Part 1: Conspiracy Theory

In the months ahead, my postings here are going to be aimed at convincing my fellow Christians that the Bible, and particularly the Book of Genesis, is historically accurate. You may be a firm believer that evolution and Christianity can coexist peacefully, but I will do my very best to prove otherwise. To do so, I'm going to be frequently referencing the Bible, assuming that the reader accepts the authority of the Bible as God's Word. If you already believe that God created the world in six days, as I do, I hope that this will help to confirm your faith, and maybe give you some tools to use in defending yourself from growing opposition within the Church.

I thought I'd start with a very basic biblical truth: This world is greatly deceived by the Devil and his demons. Revelation 12:9 says, "So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him." This verse is important because it not only tells us how influential the enemy is in our world, but it links us back to the very beginning in the Garden of Eden. In Genesis 3:1 the serpent asked Eve, "Has God indeed said, 'You shall not eat of every tree of the garden'?" The question is an attack on the truth of God's Word, an attack that continues to this day. When Adam and Eve disregarded what God said, not only they, but their children and all of humanity thereafter suffered the consequences.

We see much the same thing happening today when it comes to the teaching of evolution. The idea was born of the atheistic worldview of naturalism. Webster's Dictionary defines naturalism as "a theory denying that an event or object has a supernatural significance; specifically :  the doctrine that scientific laws are adequate to account for all phenomena." My Christian friends who believe in evolution must admit that this is a lie. The theory of evolution was born of the need to explain the universe without a creator. As naturalism is taught as reality in contrast to the "stories" of the Bible, children are growing up, moving out on their own, and promptly leaving the Church in droves. Many of those whose parents embraced theistic evolution just don't see the need to add God to the equation.

I know the objections. "But evolution is proven scientific fact!" I don't have time to deal with all the contradictory evidences. You can easily find such things at Answers in Genesis or the Institute for Creation Research. I'm more of a logical kind of guy. Nothing describes the world and the state of our existence so truthfully as the Bible. The way it describes me is so spot-on, I know there's a wisdom there that rises above anything that the world has to offer. That wisdom is the truth of God. The "truth" according to atheistic scientists is evolution, which remains pure speculation. If it were true, it would be quite easy to prove in the fossil record. Oh yeah, I wasn't going to get into those details… Long story short, I trust God's Word. I don't trust those who don't believe because they lack wisdom. Proverbs 1:7 says, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction." It's not because they're deliberately deceitful, but because they are deceived. 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12 says, "The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness."

"Now wait a second! This sounds like some kind of wacko conspiracy theory!" Well, yes. It is. The truth is, there is a giant conspiracy plotted by the Devil and his demons, involving many unwitting participants (including atheistic scientists, college professors, etc.), whose purpose is to spread lies that steal people away from eternity with God. You can see the fruit of their work with each passing generation as our western culture is becoming increasingly secular and atheistic. Those most devoted to the cause reflect the heart of their deceiver with their mockery of those of us who believe God's Word, especially the historical account of Genesis.

Here's a thought to ponder: If God used evolution, why does knowledge of this "truth" lead so many away from Him? How does this jive with the following?: "Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, 'If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.' They answered Him, 'We are Abraham's descendants, and have never been in bondage to anyone. How can You say, 'You will be made free'? Jesus answered them, 'Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed." (John 8:31-36) Is it not true that belief in evolution has resulted in countless young people forsaking their God-given purpose and chasing after the life of sin that enslaves them?

I'll conclude this chapter with the following encouragement:
"Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints…" (Ephesians 6:11-18)

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Why I Stopped "Liking" Facebook

Earlier this year, some of my Facebook friends may remember that I declared a "like-free February." The goal was to go the entire month without hitting the like button. Instead, I would post comments underneath those posts I would ordinarily "like," explaining what I liked about them. While I'm not sure anyone joined me in this effort, I have continued it to this day, and plan on abstaining from the like button until the day I die. Why? Well, I thought I'd take this opportunity to explain further.

First of all, it should be clearly stated that I happen to love Facebook! It has allowed me to get re-acquainted with many of my friends and school-mates of the past, and keep tabs on how they're doing these days. It has also allowed me to stay in-the-loop with the young adults group at my home church in Fresno, though I've been physically absent for much of the last four and a half years. It also gives me a voice to share the things that are important to me (like my favorite songs!), so that people who haven't had the opportunity to get to know me on a deeper level can get a better idea of who I am. The reason I'm boycotting the like button, in part, is because it diminishes these connections. It's a tool that encourages a most superficial form of human interaction.

The like button was created primarily for one purpose: to gather information about you for marketing purposes. That's not what bothers me, though. The like button has killed meaningful conversation. It's quick and easy to "like," but why don't we say what it is we like? Why can't we have a personal conversation? The most valuable gift you can give a person is your time. I often see people liking a post and wondering what it is they like about it. Someone may post something like, "Feeling depressed today. At least I'm still alive," and there will be likes for the post. While it may be that they like the positive conclusion, the writer could just as well conclude that those people like that they are depressed. How much better would it be to take the time to say something encouraging that does a better job of saying what you mean? The button is an easy, black or white response. Why not explore the gray areas by offering your own shade?

Another aspect of the like button that I hate is it promotes conformity. People dish out likes for those posts that confirm what they already know and agree with. If people want to get likes, they will post what they think will do the trick. People want to be liked, and the like button feeds the addiction to approval that makes us feel validated. We assume that when people like our posts, that means they like us. Being human, we look at those around us and measure our value against each other. When Joe Popular gets 50 likes for posting, "Mmmm... Cookies!," and we get only a couple for posting something personally meaningful to us, it tears us down. We want to be like Joe Popular. Therefore, FB becomes a competition to be "liked," and we create a new identity for ourselves as someone who is "like-worthy." In my opinion, this explains all the excessive sharing. I like the share button on its own, but in conjunction with the like button, it's like gasoline on a fire. There's just way too much sharing these days. I blame the like button.

Popularity competition existed to some degree on social media before the like button. Facebook encouraged it by listing your total number of friends. The consequence of this is that people (particularly younger folks), would "friend" anyone and everyone they came in contact with. How can someone have thousands of friends? They can't. Nonetheless, the implication is, the more friends you have on Facebook, the more valuable and loved you are. You don't want to be that "loser" with only 50 FB friends, right? All of this, of course, is bull…(cough)-loney! A person's self-worth is not defined by other people. We are each uniquely created by God with a unique purpose. He loves each and every one of us for who we are. Psalm 139 tells us how valuable we are to our Creator.

Verses 1-6 say:

"O Lord, You have searched me and known me.
You know my sitting down and my rising up;
You understand my thought afar off.
You comprehend my path and my lying down,
And are acquainted with all my ways.
For there is not a word on my tongue,
But behold, O Lord, You know it altogether.
You have hedged me behind and before,
And laid Your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
It is high, I cannot attain it."

Continuing in verses 13-16:

"For You formed my inward parts;
You covered me in my mother’s womb.
I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Marvelous are Your works,
And that my soul knows very well.
My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.
Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed.
And in Your book they all were written,
The days fashioned for me,
When as yet there were none of them."

We often quote these verses to affirm the value of human life, but do we personalize them? Why do we continually seek affirmation from our peers? We need to recognize the need to be liked for the lie that it is. I write this as someone who continually struggles with it. I want the world to validate me like anyone else. But I know it's a false hope. I've seen the effects it's had on many of my friends. In the case of the like button, I came to recognize the deception. Our value isn't found in some tally of people who find something to like about something we've shared. Our value is being a unique creation of our God, who created us with a unique purpose that He calls us to. Seeking validation from others around us is looking in the wrong place.

This is why I've decided not to contribute to the like addiction. It doesn't mean that I don't like you if I don't "like" your posts. It also doesn't mean that I will look down on you for continuing to use the button. It's my own conviction and not something I wish to impose on others. I simply want to encourage something more meaningful. Since I'm still on the receiving end of the like phenomenon, I have to continually check myself to see if I'm allowing those like notifications to influence my posts. I'm trying to recognize that it's not such a bad thing to not be liked in the first place. What's more important, and ultimately more respected, is being truthful and real. I'll leave you with a quote from an individual who is no stranger to not being liked. Whether you "like" him or not, hopefully it will ring true for you as it does for me.

"The pursuit of being liked can be the greatest prison you ever put yourself into, because you will be afraid to be who you really are. You will be trying to assess what everyone wants you to be, and you’ll end up thinking that who you are isn’t good enough. I know it is hard because we are all raised wanting to be loved. Many people compromise their core beliefs in pursuit of it. But once you know what you believe, once you have established your core, stick with it." - Rush Limbaugh

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Insufficient Love / Insufficient Hatred

A couple weeks back, Exodus International, a prominent ministry that offered hope for homosexuals who wished to be made straight, called it quits. Exodus president Alan Chambers offered an apology (posted at Christianity Today) that left many Christians scratching their heads, and others lauding him for his humility. The apology was primarily for the negative emotional consequences that many of the program's participants experienced as they tried to divorce themselves from the homosexual lifestyle. However, he went further in addressing the Church as a whole, apologizing for our attitudes towards the LGBT community, while proposing a new ministry to bridge the gap between the two.

Now, I could go on to present my own feelings about his apology, in what ways I thought were positive, and in what ways I felt he went too far, but what I really was struck the most by was the reactions in the comments below the CT news article. A vast majority fell in one of three categories:
1) Those who were offended by his apology, citing Scripture for God's view of homosexuality as sin,
2) Those who applauded him for his loving, accepting attitude towards the LGBT community, and
3) Unbelievers who simply found the argument to be justification for their unbelief.

What I took away from the conversation was how we as the Church find ourselves struggling to find the right balance between love of the sinner and hatred of sin. In our imperfect humanity, we are insufficient in both extremes. Even those of us who hate the sin of homosexuality do not hate it sufficiently, as our Lord does, because we don't hate it for the perfect reason. If we're honest with ourselves, we mostly hate homosexuality because we have no draw to it. We don't understand how anyone could be tempted in such a way. As a sin, it is very unappealing for us. On the other hand, heterosexual lust is something we can relate to. We hate that we struggle with it, but deep down, we really love to indulge that sin. This same love of sin that we hate to love applies to many other things that we give ourselves liberty, and a little grace, to accept in our lives. Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that we don't make any effort to abstain from these sins, but we're probably a whole lot more forgiving of ourselves when we give in than we are of the homosexual who won't let go of his/her sin.

So how do we hate sin as God hates it? We need to recognize sin for what it does to us. Every sin harms the sinner, and most likely others in the process. God hates all sin because it is damaging to his creation. We are all created in His image, and He hates to see His creation suffer. His hatred of our sin is out of His perfect love for each of us. That applies to those of us who call ourselves believers, just as it does to the practicing homosexual. This perfect love produces perfect hatred of sin. Though many of us who stand for biblical truth are speaking out on the sin of homosexuality, we are incapable of sufficiently hating the sin, because we are incapable of sufficiently loving the sinner. Those of us on the other extreme of the argument, though they base their arguments on love for the homosexual, likewise do not sufficiently love the sinner, because they don't sufficiently hate the damage the sin is incurring on the ones they say they love. God loves us, but that doesn't mean He desires to give us what we want. Our ways are not His, and vice versa.

The point of view that brings this all into focus is that which is shared by the unbelievers. Looking in, they see the hypocrisy of those of us pointing to the sin, pointing out our own sins that we're not sufficiently offended by. On the other hand, their embrace of the sin should be alarming to those within the Church who find themselves agreeing with their godless views. It's a reminder that we need to find the right balance. One of the most quoted passages in the Bible is found in 1 Corinthians 13. The first verse states, "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal." The comments below the article gave me, as a believer, an unpleasant sound. I fear they are fairly representative of the American Church. I know it doesn't help when the secular news media puts the spotlight on the absolute worst examples of our point-of-view, but there are ways we can improve. We need to be mindful of how we appear in the eyes of the sinner. We need to learn to speak, as Paul said in Ephesians 4:15, "the truth in love." It's a balance that may be impossible to achieve in this lifetime, but I know we can do better. I know we can learn to better love the lost. We need to see them as Jesus saw them. Matthew 9:36 says, "But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd." We need to learn to see the lost this way.

As for the unbeliever, (if you happen to be reading this), I'd ask you to learn to extend to believers the kind of grace you ask us to extend to you. I hope you recognize that being a Christian doesn't make us perfect. We are all sinners in need of forgiveness. As insufficient as our love for the sinner may be, our Lord's grace is sufficient for all of us who believe. Romans 5:12-21 speaks of our sin, and Jesus Christ's sacrificial atonement for it. Verse 17 says, "For if by the one man’s (Adam's) offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ." I pray that you will one day experience the perfect love of our perfect Lord, despite our imperfect attempts to convey it.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Did God Create Evil?

One of the most common objections to Christianity and the belief in a personal, loving God, is the question, "If God is good, and He created everything, where does evil come from?" It's important to have an answer, because as atheism/agnosticism grows in our world, believers are being confronted with these questions with increasing frequency. We should be prepared to give a good response. 1 Peter 3:14-16 says, "But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed. And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled. But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed."

So where does evil come from? First of all, it's important to understand that God created all things. That doesn't mean God created all actions and intents of the heart. For the English majors out there, He created all nouns, but not all verbs (at least of the voluntary sort). Evil is not a substance. Not even the devil himself is evil in substance. What God did create was free will and the ability to act on thoughts and desires. He created human beings with the ability to make choices on our own, whether good or bad, and a creativity that in a small way reflects His own. We are given a choice with what to do with our lives. We can choose to honor Him or live for ourselves.

Romans 1:18-21 says:
"For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened."

It's clear from the above passage that God's wrath is a result of our choice to reject Him. It goes on to describe how God "gave them up to" a variety of sinful desires and actions. It's important to distinguish between God's "letting them do what they want" and any kind of action that is initiated by God. I think of this all in light of many acts of evil that we've seen in our world, whether it be the bombings in Boston, the 9/11 attacks, or the many school shootings in recent years. God doesn't cause such horrible things to happen. That being said, He does allow us to do evil things, and sometimes those evil choices have tragic consequences for those undeserving.

Now I understand that free will is a foreign concept for many agnostic-types. They would generally reject the idea, arguing that all our choices are the result of random interactions in the universe causing a kind of domino effect. The result of this chain reaction is what you are and how your brain is wired, which determines how you act. For them, our entire existence is "random acts of meaninglessness." You are what you are and there is nothing you can do to change anything about yourself, including your actions. The thing is, if they're right, how can they be so certain? According to their own beliefs, they have no choice but to believe or disbelieve what they do, regardless if it's right or not. And likewise, they can't really blame me for believing what I do. And how can they make any moral judgments? Morality cannot exist without free will. They will likely agree, and say something about morality being some kind of construct of humans to make sense of the world we live in. But nonetheless, they will proceed with decrying the morality of Christianity, and consequently, God Himself. They will question His goodness in allowing evil to exist. For example, they might ask, "If God is good, why won't He stop me from going to hell?" Good question, if you're open to hearing the answer.

The important thing to understand, is that without the potential for evil, there can be no good. Likewise, without the potential for hate, there can be no love. God's plan for humanity is built on a desire for a loving relationship with each of us individually and collectively. Love is meaningless if there is no choice not to love. The very reason for this life is to separate those who truly love God from those who don't (Matthew 25:31-46). Some might believe that mankind ruined God's plans when Adam and Eve took of the fruit in the Garden of Eden, and sin entered the world. No, God had a greater plan in mind. God has a way of working our free will choices to do evil into a greater good. One of the finest illustrations of this point is the story of Joseph and his brothers. Out of hatred, they sold him to Egypt into slavery, but God used him to later save Egypt, and his family the Israelites, from famine. Genesis 50:20 records Joseph's reassuring words to his brothers, "But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive." Romans 8:28 says, "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose." In fact, the entire narrative of the Bible, from the Fall of Man to Jesus' sacrificial atonement of sin on the cross and subsequent victory over death (the wages of sin, see Romans 6:23) through His resurrection to the promised glory of eternal life with Him in the new world someday, demonstrates how God brings some pretty amazingly good things out of the bad, for those who love Him.

So how does this all work? In the case of Joseph and his brothers, it was very easy to see looking back how God had a plan for him and for all the people whose lives would be saved through his actions. But in most cases, it's not so clear cut. All of us have gone through or are going through various trials in our own lives, and we can't always make sense of the good that God has in mind. I know in my own life, I have my own burdens that I don't understand. The truth is, and this won't satisfy the skeptics, but much of who God is and how He works is a mystery. We, in our finite minds, cannot grasp the infinite complexity of God. Someday, God will reveal these things to us, and we will understand. But for now, there is much we don't. 1 Corinthians 13:12 says, "For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known."

For now, we are called to walk in faith. For that, we should be thankful. Ephesians 2:8 says, "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God." Without faith, there is no hope of salvation. We can't do enough good deeds to save ourselves. The only way is by placing our trust in Him, that the sacrifice of His son, Jesus Christ, is sufficient to save us from our sins. 1 Peter 3:9 says, "The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance." God's desire is for all of us to be with Him eternally, but His plan takes into account the fact that many will choose to reject Him. What will we do with Jesus Christ? This is the test of our lives. Revelation 3:20 says, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me." My prayer is that each of you, if you haven't already, will take the step of faith and open the door. Then you will live to see the amazing things He has planned for you.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Cultural Christianity

As I was preparing to take a test on basic electricity, I read up on reactive power. The material was quite heavy on my brain, but it began to make sense after reading through it a few times. Long story short, when electricity is produced through electromagnetism (how the vast amount of electricity is produced), there naturally arises a magnetic force that pushes in the opposite direction of the flow of electricity, resulting in wasted power. We call this force "induction," and where this force is greater than the forces put in place to counteract it, we say it is "inductive." Lost you yet?

Anyways, I began to look at this relationship as a good analogy for how our culture affects those of us who call ourselves Christians. I've noticed, as I'm sure many of you have, that the Church looks a lot different in different places, depending on the culture of the people in those places. In particular, I've noticed a great deal of difference between the culture of the Church in Fresno as compared to that of the Church in the bay area. Though only separated by roughly 200 miles, it would not be a far stretch to say that the culture of Fresno, by comparison, is a bit more conservative and traditional than the culture of the the bay area. In fact, the bay area is as secular as it gets in the USA. The point I'm making, and where the electricity parallel comes in, is that I see the same kind of force at work in the Church. That's not to say that there aren't exceptions (there are), but the vast majority of churches in the bay area reflect the liberal influence of their liberal culture. That "inductive force" is diluting the truth of God's Word, and diminishing its effective power. And to be honest, that force exists to some degree in the Fresno Church as well.

I think it would be safe to say that all churches around the world have some negative influences from the cultures they exist in. That's not to say that there is anything wrong with there being a reflection of the culture, but it is wrong when that cultural influence results in distortion of the truth, or reshaping the Word of God to fit the culture. I see the Church spreading the lie that the truth is somehow evolving to keep up with the modern world. You'll often hear people talk about certain unpopular passages of the Bible through the framework of "cultural context." This may make sense to understand certain events, or commands that God gave to His people for a finite period of time, but I often hear this being used to explain things that it shouldn't. When we do this, we are essentially saying that the truth is dependent on the culture. I would argue that if the truth is subject to the culture, then the culture is "god." We are also saying that the truth is not absolute. Our god is not the same yesterday, today, and forever. It's up to us, through the wisdom of our culture, to filter the truth out of an outdated document.

My point is that we have it backwards. Have we considered that maybe it's our own cultural context that's out-of-whack? As the Church, we should be set apart from the culture. That doesn't mean physically, or that we shouldn't interact and develop relationships within the culture, but that the world should look at us and see a clear difference. Today, I see the Church giving ground in a tug-of-war battle with the culture.

One of the big issues of the day is same-sex marriage. Along with that is the strong push from the world to be accepting of homosexual behavior. Pressure is on the Church to follow suit, and any church, or Christian for that matter, that calls it out as sin is singled out for public ridicule. The cultural pressure is great, and many churches have given in. In the bay area, it's not uncommon to see rainbow "Jesus fishes" or flags on churches, advertising their welcoming of all lifestyles. A couple years or so back, former CCM singer Jennifer Knapp "came out" in an interview with Christianity Today, and excused her choices by arguing that Bible passages condemning homosexuality were culturally contextual. Many churchgoers feel likewise, and appeal to love and understanding. It all sounds very nice, and besides, why should we care what other people choose to do with their lives? Besides, they're born that way, so there's nothing they can do about it. Why not encourage them to do what makes them happy? Sounds reasonable, right? That appeal to human emotions has been extremely effective because, by nature, we are empathetic. We don't like to be confrontational, or tell people they're wrong. We can't fully separate condemnation of behavior from condemnation of people, and the other side will always feel condemned as people as long as we condemn the behavior. Of course, it's a lie from the devil himself. He's convinced the sinner that the sin is what defines him as a person, and the culture as a whole has followed suit. Not only is sin something not to be ashamed of, but it is something to be proud of in today's America. The ones who are to be ashamed are the ones who don't approve, and most likely, those are the "religious nuts" who still believe that the Bible is the authority on morality.

The way I see it, many of the churches in the bay area are "inductive," giving in to the current of the culture that's pushing them away from the current that flows in the path of the Truth of God's Word. Some are still flowing in the right direction, but their power is diminished. Fearing ridicule, and perhaps struggling with their own culturally affected consciences, they simply avoid taking a stand on controversial subjects. They don't want to ruffle any feathers, and besides, we should be trying to draw the unsaved in to the church, right? If we start talking about sin, making them feel guilty and all, they'll leave and never come back! Or worse, they'll picket outside our doors! So what happens is we end up teaching a muted gospel, which basically says that none of us are perfect, but that's OK. We can trust in Jesus to extend grace for our sins. Never mind calling on anyone to repent of those sins, or pointing out that hell could be just a breath away for those who choose to continue in their own ways. We like to point out that God loves us, and we sing it in all of our worship songs, but we avoid the harsh truth of the consequences of sin. Everyone is glad to accept Jesus as Savior, but who will accept Him as Lord? Have we thought about what that means?

John 1:1-5 says:
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it."
Verses 10-14 continue:
"He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth."

This passage tells us many things. First of all, it tells us that Jesus Christ is the Word. It tells us that Jesus Christ was there in the beginning with God, and that all creation was made through Him. It also tells us that though this world was made through Jesus Christ, most people didn't comprehend Him. Those few who did were born of God, in contrast to the world at large, which was born of the flesh and the will of man. The Word became flesh to make the glory of God understandable to us. He came to us, "full of grace and truth."

We have no problem accepting that Jesus came full of grace, but are we as accepting that He came full of truth? Do we believe all that He said? Sadly, many in the Church today are denying the truth of Scripture. They are chalking up much of it as allegory, denying the historical truths made evident in it. Recently, I happened to catch the last few minutes of the popular Fox News program, The O'Reilly Factor. Host Bill O'Reilly was reading viewer mail in response to comments he had made about much of the Bible being allegorical. The viewer pointed to Jesus' own words relating to Noah and the flood, as well as other Old Testament accounts that are hard for many to accept as history. Mr. O'Reilly simply dismissed the viewer's objections by proudly saying, "it never happened," in reference to Jesus' words. Mr. O'Reilly's nebulous views on the Old Testament necessarily demand him to also have nebulous views on the New Testament where they intersect. He ends up with his own version of Christianity, subject to whatever his own brain can wrap around and accept as true. His "truth" is subject to his flesh. The passage in John 1 tells us that God's Word is true. Accepting Jesus Christ as Lord means that we place our trust in Him. How can you trust Him if you believe He's not truthful in what He said? If you doubt what He said about the past or the present, why should you believe what He says about the future? Why should you have any assurance of your own salvation? If the Truth changes with time, nothing is certain. In fact, God becomes a liar. 

I see the influence of the secular world creeping into the Church, as we give ground on Biblical authority to godless philosophies being passed off as truth. The Church is being lured by the lie that to meet them halfway will give us credibility with the culture. By becoming more like them, we will become more relevant to today's world. The truth is quite the opposite. The more we become like the godless culture, the less we have to offer them, and the less we stand apart as something intriguing and counter-cultural. Like the inductive force that pushes against the flow of power, our culture is pushing us in the wrong direction, and our power is being wasted. If we continue to give in, we will eventually flow with it, directly opposing the power of God in our world today. Many in our ranks are already there. Let us instead be the ones to declare the Truth, pushing the culture in the right direction. We can't do that by capitulating. We must lead the culture. We must tell them the Truth.