Decision, decisions

Uber-apologist Wintery Knight linked to this last week so I thought I’d re-run it.

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Decision Making and the Will of God is one of my all-time favorite lessons to teach.  This is such a crucial topic, because we make big and small decisions all the time and are constantly living with the consequences of past decisions.

Does God speak to you about specific decisions when you are reading the Bible, such as whether you should pay off your mortgage, whom you should marry, what job you should take, etc.?  I think this is about how you apply the Bible to decision making and not about whether God sends individual messages through his word.

For example, if you want to know whether paying off your mortgage is the right thing to do, you have a couple options:

1. Ask God for a supernatural sign for the answer, whether it is a yes or a no (a la Gideon).  My guess is that He won’t decide for you that way, but it is always his option.  One thing we know about God is that if He wants to tell you something directly He isn’t very subtle.  There are zero examples of him trying to tell someone something in the Bible and not getting through.

2. Use the wisdom model of decision making.  You don’t have access to God’s sovereign knowledge (Will I lose my job?  Will interest rates go up or down?  Etc.).  You do have unrestricted access to his moral will via the Bible. Example: Is it immoral to pay off your mortgage early?  No, unless that means you won’t have enough money to feed your kids.  After moral considerations, look to the wisdom angle.  Ask God for wisdom, as He promises to deliver.  But as with Solomon, He doesn’t promise to decide everything for you.  Read the Proverbs (and more).  Seek the counsel of others.  Consider the pros and cons.  That’s how to make wise decisions.  Finally, provided the options are moral and wise, consider your personal preferences.  We have tremendous freedom in Christ to do many things with our time and money.  Will paying off your mortgage make you happy?  If so, then do it.

Here’s a picture of what is looks like:

Decision making and the will of God

Really short version: Aside from direct and clear personal revelation from God, you don’t have access to his sovereign will when making decisions.  Therefore you must look at other factors.  If it isn’t moral, don’t do it.  If it is moral but not wise, don’t do it.  If it is moral and wise, then use your personal preferences.

Using this model you can end up with a wise and biblical decision, but you have avoided the traps of the “God told me to ____” routine.  People who run around saying that God told them this and that convey a super-spirituality that can leave less mature believers wondering if they really have a relationship with God (i.e., “God doesn’t tell me every little thing to do, so maybe I don’t really know him.”).

The “God told me ___” routine can also be outright blasphemy, as when “Christians” claim that God is moving in a new direction counter to what He revealed in the Bible.  The United Church of Christ “God is still speaking;” theme is a good example of that.  They didn’t believe what He said the first time around, so why trust them on allegedly new revelations?

Saturating yourself in the word is a key success factor in making good decisions. If we focus on worldly wisdom things go badly:

Jeremiah 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?

But if we repent and do everything we can to see things from God’s point of view we will make better decisions.

Psalm 37:4 Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Romans 12:2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

This model will help you make good decisions in all areas of life.  You can also use it to help friends, children, etc. make good decisions.  I even use it at work as a “faith flag” at times.  If people ask career advice, for example, I pull out this diagram and share it with them (i.e., “At the risk of getting all religious on you, here’s the method I use to make decisions like that.”)

Click here to download a set of PowerPoint slides to read or to use yourself to teach others.

P.S. A kid came into my wife’s elementary school library yesterday and asked if she had any books on how to make good choices.  She thought of the diagram above and laughed.  Let’s just say I refer to this model now and then.  She thinks I should write a children’s book on decision making.  I think she is kidding.

Hat tip to Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason for much of this, including the diagram.

Beware of Christian bookstores

And that goes double for newer Christians.

Why?  Because the more popular the book, the more likely it has lousy theology and the more likely they will sell it.  Lifeway, etc. are businesses.  They are sort-of Christian in that they sell Bibles and some good books, but mostly they’ll see anything with a Jesus veneer.  People gobble up the “I went to Heaven” books and other fads, not noticing that they disagree with the Bible and with each other.

Another example: Jesus Calling by Sarah Young, which I’ve written about previously, is a wildly popular book.  Here is the type of content that book has (the author is claiming to quote Jesus here, putting her book on a par with scripture).  Via Book Review and Serious Warning: Sarah Young’s ‘Jesus Calling’

When you are with other people, you often lose sight of My Presence. . . When you realize this has happened, whisper My Name; this tiny act of trust brings Me to the forefront of your consciousness, where I belong. (May 2)

Let Me infuse My Presence into your thoughts. As your mind stops racing, your body relaxes and you regain awareness of Me. . . . There are actually more than four dimensions in this world where you live. In addition to the three dimensions of space and the one of time, there is the dimension of openness to My presence. (May 24)

For years you swam around in a sea of meaninglessness, searching for Love, hoping for hope. All that time I was pursuing you, aching to embrace you in My compassionate arms. . . I sang you a Love song, whose beginning and end are veiled in eternity. (June 14)

That sure doesn’t sound like Jesus.  If you read the Bible much at all you should recognize how made-up her claims are.

While she tries to deny that she is putting her words on a par with scripture, the accusation stands. The title itself claims that Jesus himself contacted her.  How can she then deny that she was claiming to quote him?  Does the King of the universe make contact and then not speak clearly?  And just look at the quotes above.  They are unusually specific, telling Young about the number of dimensions in the universe.  So Jesus either really told her those things, or she made them up (or a demon told them to her).

As the link explains, there is one entry after another with New Age nonsense like that.  Any resemblance to the Bible is coincidental, but there is a strong correlation to what Young writes and what New Age mystic Eckhart Tolle writes (Oprah loves Eckhart’s teachings, if that tells you anything).

This is why understanding Decision making and the will of God is so important.  Those who claim special revelation from God are making the same type of statements that Young does, namely that God spoke to them directly with a personalized message.  While He could do that, it isn’t normative, and the burden of proof is on those who claim to have received his messages.

Avoid that book, warn others, and pretty much avoid any best-sellers at Christian bookstores (if you must go there).  Try to read more older, established books than the trendy ones.

The Acts 29 Network

Our church is part of the Acts 29 Network, which, among other things, is keen on church planting.  Here is a good article about Sojourn* Community Church in Louisville, Kentucky — How to Start and Persevere with Inner-City Ministry.  As you may know, the Book of Acts is a history of the early church and has 28 chapters, so Acts 29 symbolizes where we are today.

My oldest daughter was a member when she lived there and we loved visiting it.  My youngest daughter attends an Acts 29 Network church as well.  I visited it last Fall and loved it.  When the first verse of the first song mentions the wrath of God you know you are in a place that doesn’t sugarcoat things!

While no church is perfect (at least not while I’m in it!), these are the best churches I’ve ever been in.  The balance of grace and truth, verse-by-verse preaching of sound doctrine, meaningful and scriptural lyrics, the right approach to the sacraments of baptism and communion, a passion for evangelism, a commitment to avoid trendiness, church-planting in all parts of town, the courage to tackle unpopular topics, the emphasis on small groups and living life together, meaningful study topics for men, women and combined groups, and more.  I feel so blessed that it not only aligns with my “have to haves” but with my preferences.  If you are looking for a church home I encourage you to search for one in your area.

* Not affiliated with false teacher Jim “the Gospel is all about wealth redistribution” Wallis and his Sojourners organization!

About that “Jesus Calling” book . . .

Jesus Calling is an extremely popular book by Sarah Young.  That is sad, because it is transparently un-biblical.  You should be very skeptical of anyone who claims they got special revelation from God.  Those are nearly certain to be mischievous at best.

As always, as Justin Peters says, if you want to hear from God, read the Bible. If you want to hear from God audibly, then read the Bible out loud.  Trust God that his word will be sufficient for you, just as He promised.

Here is part a worthwhile review of Jesus Calling by Tim Challies.

We cannot miss this. As I have spoken to others about the book, I’ve heard some people say that this book is written as if Jesus is speaking to the reader. But it’s important to know that Young makes a far more audacious claim—this is Jesus speaking, through her. The messages he has given her, she now passes on to us.

This is a very good time to pause and consider this claim. Sarah is claiming some kind of new revelation from God. She is saying that God speaks to her and that she then passes these messages to others. Immediately we need to ask what she believes about the Bible. Is she claiming that these messages are equal to Scripture? That they trump Scripture?

She makes no such claim; not directly, anyway. At one point she says, “I knew these writings were not inspired as Scripture is, but they were helping me grow closer to God.” Later she says “The Bible is, of course, the only inerrant [without error] Word of God; my writings must be consistent with that unchanging standard.” But this is all she says. While she clarifies that her writings must be subservient to the Bible, she does not actually tell us what they are or how we are to regard them. Are they authoritative? Are they in any way binding on her or on us? If they are not inspired and not inerrant, what exactly are they? There are no answers forthcoming because immediately Young begins to share those words of God as daily devotionals, saying “I have continued to receive personal messages from God as I meditate on Him. The more difficult my life circumstances, the more I need these encouraging directives from my Creator.”

Young teaches that though the Bible is inerrant and infallible, it is insufficient.

James Montgomery Boice once said that the real battle in our times would not be the inerrancy or infallibility of Scripture, but its sufficiency—are we going to rely on the Bible or will we continually long for other revelation? In Jesus Calling we see this so clearly. Young teaches that though the Bible is inerrant and infallible, it is insufficient. It was not enough for her and, implicitly, she teaches that it cannot be enough for us. After all, it was not reading Scripture that proved her most important spiritual discipline, but this listening, this receiving of messages from the Lord. It is not Scripture she brings to us, not primarily anyway, but these messages from Jesus.

On this basis alone this book is very suspect and needs to be treated with the utmost care. Young offers us words that she insists come straight from the Lord. But she gives no proof that we should expect the Lord to speak to us this way; all she offers is her own experience of it. At this point we are left with a few options. We can stop reading altogether, we can continue to read while rejecting her claims that these are words from the Lord, or we can read and take her at her word. Personally, unless reviewing the book, I would abandon it immediately. If she claims to be speaking Jesus’ words, I am no longer interested. However, for the sake of reviewing it, I continued to read.

WHAT SHE SAYS

Young offers a years’ worth of devotionals, all of which are written in the first person, as messages from Jesus. Each of them is followed with a few Scripture passages. Here is the first half of the devotional for January 8:

Softly I announce my Presence. Shimmering hues of radiance tap gently at your consciousness, seeking entrance. Though I have all Power in heaven and on earth, I am infinitely tender with you. The weaker you are, the more gently I approach you. Let your weakness by a door to My Presence. Whenever you feel inadequate, remember that I am your ever-present Help.

It is interesting that the majority of the devotionals are affirmations rather than commandments which means that the book tends to be more descriptive than prescriptive. It is less about Jesus telling how we are to live, but more about who he is, who we are, and how to enjoy his Presence. It is notable that these affirmations span only a very narrow range of the Christian experience. It is equally notable that many of Jesus’ words sound very little like what he says in the Bible. For example, “Let the Light of My Presence soak into you, as you focus your thoughts on Me.” And shortly after, “Learn to hide in the secret of My Presence, even as you carry out your duties in the world.” I do not even know what that means or how it might be applied. There is no clear command there for me to obey and no clear word about who Jesus is.

CONCLUSION

Jesus Calling is, in its own way, a very dangerous book. Though the theology is largely sound enough, my great concern is that it teaches that hearing words directly from Jesus and then sharing these words with others is the normal Christian experience. In fact, it elevates this experience over all others. And this is a dangerous precedent to set. I see no reason that I would ever recommend this book.

One of my all-time favorite lessons to teach is Decision Making and Will of God.  It also addresses these alleged revelations from God.

If you really want to hear from Jesus, read the Bible.  It is open 24×7.

Update:

Some quotes from the book that prove the points above.

“Smith writes, “When looking at these quotes of ‘Jesus’ from Jesus Calling, ask yourself–do these statements sound like things our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ would say?” [1]

According to the fake “jesus” in the Sarah Young book:

“When you trustingly whisper My Name, My aching ears are soothed.” [2]

“When you walk through a day in trusting dependence on Me, My aching heart is soothed.” [3]

This is creepy. Let’s go on to a couple more quotes from the fake “jesus.”

“Feel your face tingle as you bask in My Love-Light.” [4]

“Let My gold-tinged love wash over you and soak into the depths of your being.” [5]

“Unlike the ‘Jesus’ of Jesus Calling who does so excessively, Jesus Christ never flattered people,” writes Warren B. Smith. [6]

I am going to review Smith’s full book, but I probably will have short articles along the way. ‘Another Jesus’ Calling is an important book as the popular Jesus Calling seems a product of spirit dictation, like its predecessor of the 1930s, God Calling.

 

Endnotes:

1. Warren B. Smith, ‘Another Jesus’ Calling, pg. 64

2. Sarah Young, Jesus Calling, pg. 203

3. Ibid., pg. 182

4. Ibid., pg. 262

5. Ibid., pg. 310

6. Warren B. Smith, ‘Another Jesus’ Calling, pg. 65

Whom can you marry? An exhaustive list of Biblical rules.

wedding-rings2.jpgA favorite updated for your reading pleasure.

According to the Bible, a Christian should only marry a person who is:

  1. A Christian
  2. Able to be married (i.e., of legal age, not married already, etc.)
  3. Of the opposite sex

Item 3 used to be self-evident (and still is, for most of us), but we had to add it to the list a few years back.

That’s it. Despite the stereotype that the Bible is just a giant rule book, many things are very simple.

The key constraint is usually item 1: The future spouse must be a Christian.  Ignoring God’s clear direction on this is a bad idea.  Just because God might ultimately bless it doesn’t mean He is obligated to.  That’s why it is called grace.  (Full disclosure: It is possible that my wife violated guideline #1 in marrying me.  Fortunately, she lost the receipt so she can’t return me now.)

“Missionary dating” (that is, dating someone in hopes of converting them) is un-Biblical, as it is based on false pretenses.  God might bless your relationship and your spouse might become a Christian, but there are no guarantees of that in scripture.  You just don’t want to start your marriage in clear violation of one of God’s commands.

Marrying someone outside your faith is problematic.  You will have vastly different views on what should be the most important part of your life.  It will send a horrible message to your children, namely that you and your spouse thought it was important to agree on where to live, how many kids to have, where to vacation, what to eat, etc., but it wasn’t important for you to have even a general agreement on who God is and how that should impact your lives.

A good Christian friend realized the error of his ways and broke off a relationship with a non-Christian.  It was pretty painful, but certain things validated why he needed to make the break: She specifically tempted him to deny his God, “Just this once” - proof enough as to why such relationships are a bad idea.

Sadly, I know countless church-going parents who don’t teach their kids to only date Christians, and who think little or nothing of their kids marrying non-Christians.  And countless pastors officiate at these ceremonies without ever counseling people about what God says.

Of course, just because it is moral to marry someone doesn’t mean it it wise.  There is a lot of wisdom and advice about how and whether to marry in the book of Proverbs and in 1 Corinthians 7, among other places.  These passages were directed to Solomon’s son but they apply to both sexes.

Proverbs 12:4 A wife of noble character is her husband’s crown, but a disgraceful wife is like decay in his bones.

Proverbs 21:9 Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife.

Proverbs 21:19 Better to live in a desert than with a quarrelsome and ill-tempered wife.

Proverbs 27:15 A quarrelsome wife is like a constant dripping on a rainy day;

Proverbs 31:10 A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies.

Are questions better than answers?

question-mark.gifAre questions better than answers?  No.

Questions are important, but you need answers. The “questions are better than answers” theme of parts of the “Emergent church” is faulty.

Asking questions presupposes that answers are desired and that they exist.  I’m not saying the answers are always easy or what we want to hear.  But there are usually answers available.  If church leaders don’t have some of the answers or at least know where to find them then they are not well qualified. Can you imagine going to a business consultant that was proud of the fact that he didn’t have answers?

And it is fair to ask if they really want answers, or if they just want to wallow in their doubts or are avoiding politically incorrect conclusions.

Shouldn’t all these questioning “emergent Christians” be drawn to apologetics? (The defense of the Christian faith.) Think about it: There is a sizable community that loves to deal with the tough questions and defending the faith every day.  Yet they tend to be conservative, Bible-believing types.  The theological Liberals say they want the freedom to ask questions and are sad because people didn’t answer them.  Fair enough.  So why don’t they camp out at Apologetics 315, or read the Wintery Knight and watch all the debates he posts, or read Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels or access countless other books and websites?  If they really want answers, why aren’t they going to those who have studied hard and worked to provide them?  Hint: Many of them aren’t as questioning as they pretend to be.  They have a firm dogma and are using a disingenuous passive-aggressive method to defend it.

I have always encouraged my kids to ask all the tough questions they want. I think that has actually strengthened their faith, because they know there are good answers available (not always from me, but somewhere).  I’m always proud of them for using critical thinking skills and considering multiple sides to any issue – religious or otherwise.

If someone is told “just believe” it usually has the opposite effect. People need to be able to have the humility to say, “I don’t know, but I’ll find out,” because one bad answer can undo ten good ones.  But just because we don’t have all the answers at our fingertips doesn’t mean that good answers aren’t out there.  Christians are supposed to use reason and ask questions.

Acts 17:11 Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.

1 Thessalonians 5:21 Test everything. Hold on to the good.

Still, as we find in Job, Ecclesiastes, the Psalms and other parts of the Bible, there are some questions we don’t get to know the answer to.  Perhaps we couldn’t understand them - just as a parent can’t convey everything they know to a 3 year old. Or for his good reasons Jesus doesn’t think you need to know, such as in this passage in John 21:

And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.” Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!

Peter had just been reconciled to Jesus (the passage where He asks “Do you love me?” three times). Then Peter asked a question but Jesus didn’t bother to answer him.  Peter had to deal with it.  In the mean time, Jesus gave “follow me” commands as bookends.  That is a great reminder for us.

Some people think that if you hold a firm position on something then you haven’t considered alternatives and that you think you have “all the answers” — even though they are often less flexible than their ideological opponents.  While that is possible, it is often their own prejudices and dogma that keep them from considering that perhaps you weighed and studied other options carefully before arriving at your current position.

If you have questions, that’s great.  Pour over the Bible.  Seek out great apologists (see the links to the right for starters).  But don’t use them as an excuse not to follow Jesus.  Eternity is a mighty long time, and eternity matters.

I don’t know, but I’ll find out

question-mark.gifA favorite updated for your reading pleasure.

The title contains seven really important words for evangelism and apologetics (defending the Christian faith).

1 Peter 3:15-16 gives the following command to Christians:

But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.

So we must be ready to graciously explain why we believe in Christ. But there will always be questions we don’t have the answers to. Sometimes when we get stumped we resort to poorly made arguments such as “Because the Bible says so!”  Or worse yet, we avoid conversations completely because we are afraid of looking bad.

But when we don’t have well reasoned answers to share we should not make them up. This is a corollary to the advice about the first thing to do when you have dug yourself into a hole (Stop digging).

Consider the following benefits of being willing to say, “I don’t know, but I’ll find out.”

  • It is a humble response. You burst the stereotype that Christians are smug know-it-alls who aren’t willing to listen.
  • It takes pressure off of you, and most importantly, gives you the confidence to engage in conversations without thinking you must know everything.
  • It keeps you from giving bad answers. Remember that one bad argument can undermine ten good arguments. Skeptics will seize on it and use it to justify their position.
  • It gives you time to prepare better answers.
  • It lets you make an appointment to come back later to talk about God. This is invaluable, as you can approach the person later and say, “Remember when you had that question about ______”
  • You will build your own confidence when you research the issues and realize that we’ve been answering tough questions with intellectually satisfying answers for thousands of years.
  • By taking the objection off the table temporarily, you can shift back to the Gospel, as in “While I can’t answer that right now, here is what I do know . . .”

Of course, you may use different words to convey this. You might say, “That’s a good question. Let me think about it and get back with you. Thanks for giving me something to think about,” or something similar. The main thing is to humbly convey that you listened to what the other person said, that you don’t have a ready answer and that you care enough to do some research and get back to them.

Keep in mind that just because you don’t have an answer right then doesn’t mean that Christianity isn’t true. If the essentials of Christianity are true (e.g., Jesus is God, He is the only way to salvation, the Bible is authoritative and accurate, etc.), then they are true regardless of whether someone can explain them or not or whether someone wants them to be true. All you need to know is where to go find the answers to the tough questions. You can maintain your confidence in what you do know to be true. In fact, when we respond graciously to critics we come across more confident than if we get overly excited and emotional.

This works on other topics as well, such as pro-life reasoning.

Hat tip for parts of this: Stand to Reason

Who is a Christian? Who is a Muslim?

A favorite updated for your reading pleasure.

church.jpgIf I claimed to be a bacon-loving, Jew-loving, Koran-denying, Mohammad-denying Muslim, would you take me seriously?  I doubt it.

I have found that for many people the word “Christian” has lost or changed meaning.  It used to mean someone who was an authentic follower of Jesus.  Now it is often used as a synonym for “nice,” as in, “She’s a really Christian person,” or to describe someone who goes to church sometimes but rejects the essentials of the faith.

Theological liberals tend to get very wounded if you imply that they don’t hold Christian views.  They’ve been in theologically liberal churches so long and have such a low view of scripture that they think that is the way church is supposed to be.

Mind you, I don’t go around saying who is and isn’t an authentic Christian.  That’s God’s job.  I’m not qualified and wouldn’t want it even if I were.

Jesus did say that you will know them by their fruit, so it is fair to examine people’s lives to see if they have evidence for their faith.  But mistakes can be made during fruit inspection.  We would have probably thought that Judas was the real deal, and we probably would have thought that the criminal on the cross was not.

But it does seem fair to point out when self-described Christians don’t hold views that have historically applied to Christians, as evidenced in the Bible, countless creeds and denominational statements of faith.  That means that they are either “saved and confused” or not real Christians.

First, consider this conversation:

Me: I’m a Muslim.

Real Muslim: No, you’re not.

Me: Really, I am, and I’m offended that you say I’m not.

RM: Do you believe the Koran is the word of God?

Me: No, of course not.  It was written by a man, and has obvious historical errors like saying that Jesus didn’t die on the cross.  It was written hundreds of years after Christ, and even sources outside the Bible claim that Jesus himself died.  And don’t get me started about all the violence it encourages!  Why trust the Koran?

RM: Do you believe in Allah as the one true God?

Me: No.

RM: Do you like Jewish people?

Me: Yes.

RM: What do you think about pork?

Me: Mmmmmmm . . . bacon!

RM: You aren’t a Muslim.

Me: Yes I am!  How dare you question my faith!

Sounds ridiculous, right?  Now consider this:

Me: Are you a Christian?

Liberal theologian: Yes.

Me: Do you believe the Bible is the Word of God?

LT: No.  Even though it claims to speak for God roughly 3,000 times, I think those are all made up by people.

Me: Do you think Jesus is God?

LT: No.

Me: Do you believe any of the miracles as recorded in the Bible are true?

LT: No.  Miracles can’t happen.  Writers made those up.

Me: Do you think Jesus is the only way to salvation?

LT: No.
Me: But the Bible teaches that in over 100 passages!

LT: [Pause] Uh, so what?  The Bible was written by men . . . [trails off because he didn't know that]

Me: Do you believe that Jesus physically rose from the dead?

LT: No.

Me: Do you look for opportunities to share the Gospel as outlined in the Bible?

LT: Of course not.  All religions (or no religions) are valid paths to God.

Me: Do you realize how radically different your basic views are compared to Christians throughout the last 2,000 years, especially to the countless Christians who died rather than recant their faith?

LT: Sort of . . . but we’re smarter than they were.

Me: Indeed.  But you say you are Christian?

LT: Yes.  How dare you question my faith?!

Is the first conversation that much different than the second?

I haven’t had that precise conversation with any liberal Christians, but it is a highly accurate composite.  Try it yourself.  I’m virtually certain that any of the “Jesus Seminar” members would answer the questions that way.  For example, I read a book co-authored by Marcus Borg (a member of the Jesus Seminar) and he held all the heretical views noted above, plus more.  Most of the theologically Liberal people at the Sojourners’ blog are just like that.

These people may be terrific citizens and friendly neighbors, but calling themselves Christians distorts the traditional and real meaning of the word.  Again, if I claimed to be a bacon-loving, Jew-loving, Koran-denying, Mohammad-denying Muslim, would you take me seriously?  So why take seriously those who claim the name of Christ yet mock the essentials of the faith?

Time management

alarm-clock.jpgI am a mixed bag on time management.  Some things I do really well, which creates plenty of time to do a variety of things.  But then I’ll waste some of it because I’m not prioritizing well.  And by “waste” I don’t mean that it is bad to just do nothing sometimes and rest.  I mean that I end up doing things that aren’t that important, like TV or Internet surfing.

How is your time management?  Remember that if you aren’t doing what you say you want to do (Bible study, prayer, family time, reading, exercise, volunteering, etc.) it is because you consider that the least important thing you actually do is more important than the things you say you want to do.  You may not have those conscious thoughts, but it is an accurate assessment.

In other words, if you are not reading your Bible and praying daily it is because you have decided not to.

A couple of tactical things help me: The O-H-I-O (Only Handle It Once) approach to emails and tasks works well when I use it.  Instead of going over a message multiple times when I’m not sure how I want to handle it, I try to deal with it the first time (respond, file, etc.).

On the flip side, knowing when to carefully analyze a situation to anticipate consequences saves a lot of time at work.  As I like to say, I don’t like to overkill things but I do like to kill them.  By that I mean that I want to get it done right the first time and not have to waste time later because a “shortcut” left someone out of a communication loop.  Sometimes you have to “brake to go faster.”  The discernment to know when to do it is the key.

I also take a Zero-Based Budgeting approach and analyze all that I do.  I realized a while ago that watching sports took a lot of time and didn’t bring that much enjoyment anyway, so I’ve cut it out almost completely.  The Steelers won the game?  Release mild amount of endorphins.  The Steelers lost?  Great, I just wasted 3+ hours of my life.  That isn’t an indictment of sports watching.  If you aren’t consumed by the process and have a net enjoyment, or perhaps it is a family activity, then good for you.  But if watching your college team lose spoils your weekend then you have a problem.  (Friendly reminder: Those “student athletes” and pros some people worship probably don’t care about you at all and are likely to have vastly different worldviews.)

Consider these words then try this exercise by Randy Alcorn.

“Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that is the stuff which life is made of.”

Over three thousand years before Benjamin Franklin said those words, Moses said these:

Teach us to number our days aright,
That we may gain a heart of wisdom. (Psalm 90:12)

The New Testament speaks the same message: “Redeem the time,” or “Make the most of every opportunity” (Colossians 4:5b).

Do you accept God’s forgiveness?

I’ve enjoyed R.C. Sproul’s Does Prayer Change Things? that is available for free on the Kindle app (you don’t need to own a Kindle).  As always, Sproul makes profound points in brief and understandable ways.

Here he tackles a common issue, namely that of confessing to God and asking forgiveness but not forgiving ourselves (or not accepting forgiveness, however you want to look at it).  I’ve experienced this myself and seen it with others, especially when doing Kairos Prison Ministry.  We do a lot of forgiveness exercises — forgiving others and asking forgiveness — but as you can imagine these guys have a lot to feel badly about.

We have God’s promise that when we confess our sins to Him, He will forgive us. Unfortunately, we don’t always believe that promise. Confession requires humility on two levels. The first level is the actual admission of guilt; the second level is the humble acceptance of pardon.

A woman distraught about a guilt problem once came to me and said: “I’ve asked God to forgive me of this sin over and over, but I still feel guilty. What can I do?” The situation did not involve the multiple repetition of the same sin, but the multiple confession of a sin committed once.

“You must pray again and ask God to forgive you,” I replied.

A look of frustrated impatience came into her eyes. “But I’ve done that!” she exclaimed. “I’ve asked God over and over again to forgive me. What good will it do to ask Him again?” In my reply, I applied the proverbial firm force of the board to the head of the mule: “I’m not suggesting that you ask God to forgive you for that sin. I’m asking you to seek forgiveness for your arrogance.”

The woman was incredulous. “Arrogance? What arrogance?” She was assuming that her repeated entreaties for pardon were proof positive of her humility. She was so contrite over her sin that she felt she had to repent for it forever. She thought her sin was too great to be pardoned by one dose of repentance. Let others get by on grace; she was going to suffer for her sin no matter how gracious God was. Pride had fixed a barrier to this woman’s acceptance of forgiveness. When God promises us that He will forgive us, we insult His integrity when we refuse to accept it. To forgive ourselves after God has forgiven us is a duty as well as a privilege.

That is some serious good news, and a great reminder that God’s standards are infinitely higher than mine, and that I should immediately accept his forgiveness and move on.  Otherwise, among other things, I am ungratefully refusing his extravagant gift of grace.

On boycotts . . .

I love the free market and our ability to choose where to shop.  If we get bad service or don’t like the worldview of the seller, we don’t have to give them any money.  Or we can steer our spending to companies with great service and similar beliefs.

I’m not aggressively into boycotts, but when companies are in your face with their dogma and I can conveniently go somewhere else, I will.  But I have to concede that even though the pro-”same-sex marriage” people are hopelessly on the wrong side of the issue, part of their point here is valid:

It should be no surprise that many companies would succumb to political correctness for profit, just as many people will say the opposite of the truth to be more popular. I used to work for HP and they gave into to the “gaystapo” lobby and their boycott threats along with the pressures of some LGBT people in the company.

But you really will need to live in a cave if you think you can survive by only shopping where people completely agree with your worldview.  Feel free to go where you like, but most of the time you’ll just be going where someone hates your worldview and you just don’t know it (yet).

Obviously, their “wrong side of history” bit is wrong, especially considering that 99% of people with that view are also pro-abortion.

I just choose to remind people that if you are going to use an equal sign, then the things on each side need to actually be equal. In this case, they are not. The notion of “marriage equality” it is false because it implies that any union of two people is equal to real marriage. Or that the number of people in the marriage isn’t important.

But there are two very important things that same-sex unions can’t do.

1. By nature and design, 100% of children are produced by one man and one woman. That doesn’t mean marriages have to produce children, just that they are only produced by one male and one female, and that the government is interested in those relationships because of that possibility.

2. Only male/female relationships can provide a mother and father to a child — the intuitive ideal supported by countless studies.

Those are the reasons the government has traditionally been involved in marriages.  No one is preventing gays from associating with each other (the government won’t even shut down bath houses!).

The Sola Sisters make some good points as well in To Starbucks or Not to Starbucks, That Is The Question.

And yet, at the risk of inflaming many of my Christian friends who often exercise their American right to choose to boycott a company that makes this or that anti-Christian statement, here is just some food for thought:

Should we as Christians expect lost people to act in any other way than lost people generally do?

That is to say, should we expect lost people to not have animosity toward Christians? Can we look at history, perhaps, to help us get our bearings on this? The fact is that the world in which the very first Christians found themselves was a world that was incredibly hostile to biblical Christianity, and filled with wickedness and depravity, including rampant homosexuality. And yet, I feel certain that the Christians of that time interacted in the business world. And I do not see Scriptures exhorting Christians to not buy from this or that leather craftsman or olive purveyor, based on that person’s presumably anti-Christian views.

And also, lest we forget, the Bible makes it clear that the world will have animosity toward both us and God’s Word:

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing….” (1 Corinthians 1:18a)

“You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 10:22)

“Mars & Venus at the cross”

My youngest daughter mentioned this talk called Mars and Venus at the Cross: Toward a Crucified Vision of Manhood and Womanhood on Christian roles of men and women and I thought it was excellent.  Check it out if you want a clear and thorough overview of how these things should work.

He got a lot of great themes in. I loved his example of how women leading “just” women isn’t some lame second place thing and how it would be equally un-biblical for a guy to say he was “called” to mentor young ladies one-on-one.

He also emphasized how wives should submit to their husbands, but all women don’t need to submit to all men (except church leaders, to which all members submit as appropriate).

The only thing that might have rounded out the message would be how real wisdom and great leadership involves seeking the input of others (i.e., people like my wife). I’m responsible for the ultimate decision but it would be foolish not to get her perspective on some things. But that’s just a nitpick (you can’t cover everything in one lesson).

Contemplative prayer: Not contemplative and not biblical prayer

Contemplative prayer is a mystical practice that is making inroads in all sorts of churches. Don’t be taken in by it.  If you really contemplate on scripture and then pray to God, that’s great.  But that isn’t what is meant by contemplative prayer.  It involves repetition of phrases, in opposition to what Jesus taught (Matthew 6:7 “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words.”).  It implies that there is formula you can use to “experience” God.

Prayer is the primary way you talk to God, not the primary way He talks to you.  If you want to hear from God, read the Bible.  If you want to audibly hear from God, then read the Bible out loud.  If God communicates to you other ways then that is his prerogative, not his obligation.

Whoa — Pat Robertson gets one right!

wedding-rings2.jpgI do not care for Pat Robertson and his many false claims, but he is right on this one: Pat Robertson Tells Christian Viewer to Dump Muslim Girlfriend.

Even a non-religious person should see that couples should agree on the foundations of how they view the world. Do people think they can disagree on who God is, what happens when you die, how to be reconciled to God, etc., and that it won’t have a radical impact on them and their children? They plan to find agreement on where to live, how many kids to have, where to vacation, etc., but not on the key questions of life?

The message to their children will come through loud and clear: The concept of God is so unimportant to us and irrelevant to life that we didn’t find it necessary to agree on it before committing to spend our lives together.

More importantly, for Christians to marry non-Christians is forbidden in scripture.  2 Corinthians 6:14 is often cited (Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?) but you can also see all of 1 Corinthians 7.

And while God might ultimately bless the union in his radical grace, what makes anyone think He is obliged to bless a union entered into via disobedience?

Christians should not date non-Christians.  Satan has used this countless times to draw people away from God.  Heck, Muslims should not date non-Muslims, for that matter.  And so on.

Here’s an example offered by Dan:

I was speaking with a co-worker who was having problems in his marriage, and their future as a couple was not looking good at all.  It seems that him (a “Christian”) and his wife (a Jew) saw their religious “diversity” as a great positive going into marriage.  Why not?  It’s the craze of the age… right?   But then a child came into the picture and all of a sudden their diversity was an insurmountable mountain.  The religions that they had both subjected to the wisdom of a bunch of pointy-headed Utopians had suddenly risen from its bottom self status to supreme importance when it came to raising their son.  This fellow could see the writing on the wall.  He knew his choice was to raise their child a Jew, or be reduced to a weekend Dad by the courts.  A loving person could have told him this if he’d been curious or humble enough to seek council about it before hand.  Why does man insists on being so short sighted?

Context counts and early church leaders on abortion

quote.jpgI was thinking of this today and wanted to rerun it.

One of the most important rules for Bible study is to never read (just) a Bible verse.  Countless errors occur when people pick and choose verses they like while ignoring the real meaning of the passage.  An individual verse can’t mean something different than it does in the broader passage.  I have accidentally quoted things out of context many times and am always glad to learn the correct way to interpret a passage.

The same goes for quoting other writers.  A theological liberal seminary student (read: false teacher) started posting comments on “pacifist wisdom.”  His first quote was from Athenagoras of Athens, circa 180 A.D. from A Plea For The Christians, and it followed some anti-capital punishment posts.  Perhaps this guy was a flaming pacifist, and perhaps the quotes from other writers will make his point, but this one missed the mark.

The portion that he quoted:

We cannot endure even to see a man put to death, though justly.

What I found interesting is that this quote doesn’t even make a pacifistic anti-capital punishment point.  Athenagoras notes that the death was just!  It gets worse when you look at the broader context, with the previous portion italicized:

For when they know that we cannot endure even to see a man put to death, though justly, who of them can accuse us of murder or cannibalism?

So the context wasn’t necessarily pacifism and definitely wasn’t only pacifism.  Read the whole passage in the link under the heading of “The Christians condemn and detest all cruelty” and see for yourself.  The Christians were accused of being murderers and cannibals, and the quote is from the section defending themselves against that charge.  Perhaps he should have been turning the other cheek, but it is obvious that he wrote that section to defend Christians against false charges.

Also, keep in mind the kind of death he was referring to.  Was it crucifixion, the cruelest form of execution ever devised?  Was it being killed by wild animals in the arena?  (Note the reference to gladiators and wild beasts.)  He and other church fathers might have been against those types of capital punishments – though that still wasn’t the context of the passage - but perhaps they would feel differently about lethal injection.

That’s nice, but what does the Bible say?  Even if the passage had been in context, it would have been much more meaningful if it would have referred to the how the early church interpreted scripture (I know it was pre-Canon, but most of the books were widely circulated and authoritative).  After all, just because you quote a few guys doesn’t mean their views meshed with scripture.

What I found really interesting was Athenagoras’ section on abortion:

And when we say that those women who use drugs to bring on abortion commit murder, and will have to give an account to God for the abortion, on what principle should we commit murder? For it does not belong to the same person to regard the very foetus in the womb as a created being, and therefore an object of God’s care, and when it has passed into life, to kill it . . .

Again, he is trying to defend themselves against charges of murder and cannibalism by pointing out how they think abortion is murder.

It seems to me that true pacifists would quote the anti-abortion part because that was so clear.  99% of all murders are abortions, so wouldn’t pacifists want to start there?  That is, unless they are the typical pro-abortion pacifists or those who say they are anti-abortion but do and say nothing about it – including voting.

Here are a few more quotes from early church leaders on abortion.  I’m sure the pacifists quote these left and right in their pro-life efforts:

You shall love your neighbor more than your own life. You shall not slay a child by abortion. You shall not kill that which has already been generated. (Epistle of Barnabas 19.5; second century)

Do not murder a child by abortion or kill a new-born infant. (The Didache 2.2; second century catechism for young Christian converts)

It does not matter whether you take away a life that is born, or destroy one that is coming to the birth. In both instances, the destruction is murder. (Tertullian, Apology, 9.4; second century)

Those who give abortifacients for the destruction of a child conceived in the womb are murderers themselves, along with those receiving the poisons. (Basil the Great, Canons, 188.2; fourth century)

Jerome called abortion “the murder of an unborn child” (Letter to Eustochium, 22.13; fourth century).

Augustine used the same phrase, warning against the terrible crime of “the murder of an unborn child” (On Marriage, 1.17.15; fourth century).

The early church fathers Origen, Cyprian and Chrysostom likewise condemned abortion as the killing of a child.

Quoting the Bible or anything else out of context is unproductive.

Yet another reason to like Tim Tebow

He even does prison ministry, including talking one-on-one to literally hundreds of death row inmates.

A funny bit via Doctors Recommended that Tim Tebow Be Aborted – Blog – Eternal Perspective Ministries.

He started the season as the third-stringer, and everyone freaked out. Then he got a start and won, and everyone freaked out. Then in his second start, he played horribly and got crushed, and everyone freaked out. Then he went on a winning streak, and everyone freaked out. Then he went on a losing streak, and everyone freaked out. Then he won a playoff game, and everyone freaked out.

Victim count: football scouts, football media, Tebow haters, Tebow supporters, John Fox, John Elway, his teammates, me, you. At some point along the way, he’s made everyone look stupid…

Brett Favre used to be the go-to name for members of the sports media in need of a column or segment topic. But he went away, and the collective football media panicked. Fortunately, in stepped Tebow. This alone could turn thousands of grateful sports media members to religion. And I’m as guilty as anyone else. In the past two months, I’ve written approximately 127 Tebow columns. But I’ve also started tithing. Thanks Tim!

…Will a wholesome, handsome ex-football star who can draw the religious vote and appeal to the tens of millions of Oprah-loving pop psychologists win 51 percent of the vote in the 2024 presidential election? No, he will win 91 percent of the vote in the 2024 presidential election. The 9 percent who don’t vote for him will just be hard-core Raiders, Chargers, Chiefs, Alabama, LSU, Georgia and Ron Paul fans.

…He can’t be stopped. He can’t be killed. He just keeps coming for you. Coming for us all. He doesn’t want to kill you. He doesn’t want to eat your flesh. He just wants to win. He’s the world’s first wholesome, positive zombie. The only screams you’ll hear are his … celebrating another touchdown.

Pro-choicers tend to hate Tebow because of his faith and because his life shows one of the many errors of their philosophy.  His mother was encouraged to abort him because he might have medical problems — as if we would kill human beings outside the womb for those reasons!

Having said that, it is creepy when some Christians seem to worship him.  He’s a great guy and an amazing role model, but still not Jesus.  Yes, God is sovereign, but it isn’t like He is going to make sure that Tebow completes every pass he throws.  I’m glad that they are rooting for Tebow, but I hope they use his example to get out and impact the lives around them for Christ.

It is sadly ironic that pro-choice women would oppose him.  Why wouldn’t they want to hold him up as a role model?  He wouldn’t try to have sex with them outside of marriage and take their innocence and purity.  He wouldn’t use them for his pleasure and not commit to them.  He wouldn’t encourage them to have an abortion if they got pregnant.  And on and on.

I’ve been a Steelers fan for 40 years and rooted for them last Sunday, but I have to admit that I was by far the least disappointed I’ve ever been at one of their losses.