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10 Jul 2009

True or False Test

Posted by Phil. No Comments

ch-true-false-testNearing the end of a High School semester, we were all in hyper-study mode.  It was time to learn everything we should have learned over the past four months.  We quickly became masters in six areas of education, at least, masters enough to take the final exam.  This effort was overkill for one class in particular, had we only known.  For that class, the final exam consisted of 100 true/false questions.  Every statement on the sheet of paper was true.  Not one was false.  Finishing the test, we looked around at each other as if to say, “I know this can’t be right”.  But it was, and we all passed with flying colors.

I imagine Judgement day will occur in much the same way.  Ecclesiastes 12:14 tells us that “God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.”  If God were to run through a list for each of our lives, the only way to make it to heaven would be to answer “True” to every statement.  Even one wrong answer dooms us to eternity apart from the presence of God.  Some statements we may be able to honestly answer “True” such as “I have never committed murder.”  After a few of those questions, we may begin feeling pretty good about our chances.  But when God gets to questions like “I have never misled another person”, we know we are in trouble.

It is for these questions that Jesus steps in and answers “True” for those of us who have put our faith in Him.  We would begin to protest (or maybe not) saying, “What about the time that I…” when Jesus says, “I’ve covered that mistake”.  And this continues, with Jesus answering most of the questions “True” for us.  At the end, we look at our test and every statement is marked “True”.  We will all look around at each other as if to say, “I know this can’t be right”.  But it will be right, and we will have all passed with flying colors not because we took the test ourselves and accomplished the resulting success alone, but because we had faith in Jesus, and He stepped in where we failed to give us the perfect score.

6 Jul 2009

Back To The Past

Posted by Phil. No Comments

back-to-the-futureFirst impressions matter because every impression matters. It can be discouraging when impressions we made on others are taken negatively and stick seemingly forever.  This phenomena is nothing new, with the pasts of many in the New Testament hindering their ability to teach.

Paul (Saul) is a prime example.  With Saul zealously persecuting the early church, it was no wonder many would be suspicious of his sudden change in heart.  Saul runs into roadblocks as he preaches to the public in Acts 9:21, and even when he goes to visit the apostles in Acts 9:26.  How did Paul react?  He had some help with Barnabas advancing his cause.  But, more importantly, Paul continued speaking out boldly in the name of the Lord.  He never ceased preaching the truth.  And, eventually, with that persistence and refusal of his past to get in the way, the apostles and many others were won over that Paul’s new belief in Jesus was authentic.

Jesus also faced this problem, though in a different manner.  In Matthew 13:54-58 Jesus revisits his hometown of Nazareth.  Because many people in this town saw Jesus grow up, remember him playing childhood games, learning to be a carpenter, and so on, they found it difficult to accept Him as the Christ.  They wondered where He received His wisdom and miraculous powers. Jesus the carpenter got in the way of his hometown citizens being able to see Jesus the Messiah.  How did Jesus react?  He left.  He only performed a few miracles, and then shook the dust off His feat leaving the opportunity to preach in Nazareth to others.

When our past gets in the way because we made mistakes and others are unable to move past them, even though we have authentically changed, we need to follow Paul’s example and not stop doing what we are doing. Eventually, our actions will prove our words.  However, when the past is getting in the way for some other reason out of our control like with Jesus, then we need to do what we can and move on realizing our efforts may produce better results elsewhere.

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3 Jul 2009

Some Objections

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mere-christianityMere Christianity by C.S. Lewis – Book 1 Chapter 2: Some Objections

The first objection often made to the Moral Law is that it may just be our herd instinct.  We may simply be reacting to the situation around us instinctually, which is certainly not the same as having a Moral Law.  Having an instinct to do something means to have a strong desire.  Feeling the desire to help someone is different from feeling that you ought to help them whether you want to or not.  This is a subtle, yet very important, distinction.  If it were just instincts guiding us, the stronger would always have to win.  We should prefer the self preservation instinct over the instinct to save someone in a dangerous situation, but this is often not the case.  Why?  Because there is some other force that guides us to make the choice we ought to make over our instinctual objections.  Plus, there is no one instinct that we can always call “good.”  There must be something else telling us when our natural response is good, and when it is bad.

The second objection is that the Moral Law is merely social convention.  Those who offer this explanation often do so under the false assumption that if we learn something from our parents and teachers, then it must be a human invention.  But we do not believe this is the case with multiplication.  A child in the United States would learn multiplication from his or her parents and teachers, and one in a third world country who has had no schooling would not.  But this does not make multiplication a human construct.  Three times four always has equaled twelve and always will, whether we have learned and understood it or not.

So we have human conventions and real truths, but how to determine which category the Moral Law belongs to?  C.S. Lewis points to two pieces of evidence that suggest the Moral Law should belong to the category of real truth.  The first was stated in the first chapter: the differences in morality across geography and time are really not so great, which puts it in the real truth category.  The differences in human convention (which side of the road to drive on, for example) do differ drastically.  The second piece of evidence to place the Moral Law in the realm of real truth is that we often believe one morality to be better than another.  Most would be willing to state that the Christian morality is much better than the morality adhered to by the Nazis.  If we can compare two moralities, and declare one better than the other, then we must be measuring against some standard.  That standard is the real, true Moral Law.

One cautionary note closes out the chapter.  There is a difference between moral principle and matter of fact.  We believe that burning witches was a terrible mistake made in the past, but it was not a mistake in morality.  Certainly, if we believed that there were people selling their soul to the Devil and using their powers to kill neighbors, those people would deserve the death penalty without question.  The mistake made was in fact, not morality.  We only believe the burning of witches to be a terrible mistake because we now know they do not exist.  You would not call a man humane if he decides to no longer set deadly mouse traps if he only ceases because he believes there are no more mice.

2 Jul 2009

Knowing is Half the Battle

Posted by Phil. No Comments

g-i-joe-logoRomans 5:7 famously states that, “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die.”  This begs the question: what is worth dying for?  What has enough value that someone would die for it, even though that means they will not be around to experience the benefit of their sacrifice?  A good man? Family?  Country?

This brings us to Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.  There are many arguments made for and against the historical facts that Jesus was alive, was crucified, actually died, then was physically raised from the dead.  Some of the best evidence in support of these facts deals with the actions of the apostles.

When Jesus died on the cross, his apostles must have felt defeated.  They expected the Messiah to come, overthrow the Roman government, and establish a new kingdom in its place.  The Messiah wasn’t supposed to be humiliated, mocked, spit on, and the Messiah was certainly not supposed to die.  Dead men don’t overthrow governments and establish their own rule.  One instance of Jesus appearing after His death has the apostles asking Him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”1  They still didn’t get it.

Why would these 11 men go from scared, secluded and grieving to bold, public and rejoicing unless they had seen Jesus alive?  In fact, 10 of the 11 original apostles alive at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion were so devoted to to the idea that Jesus was (is) the Christ that they would go on to become martyrs for His cause.2  But others have died for ideas that were wrong, or that Christians consider wrong, such as other religions or even cults that are way off the deep end.  How does that make the apostles actions any different? For this, I quote Lee Strobel:

People will die for their religious beliefs if they sincerely believe they’re true, but people won’t die for their religious beliefs if they know their beliefs are false.3

It makes sense that someone (cult follower, Muslim, etc.) would die for something they believe to be true, but that doesn’t make their belief true.  The apostles were in the unique situation to know without a doubt that what they would be called to die for is true.  They could check the tomb and know whether it was empty.  They could refer to their personal experiences with Christ after His death.  They ate meals with Him and took walks with Him.  If they looked in the tomb and Jesus’ body was still there and if they never saw Him after His death, then they would know their beliefs were false and would never have gone through the suffering they endured to spread the message of Jesus.  They simply had no incentive.

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  1. Acts 1:6 []
  2. http://www.reclaimingthemind.org/blog/2009/04/what-happened-to-the-twelve-apostles-how-their-deaths-evidence-easter/ []
  3. Strobel, Lee, The Case For Christ (Zondervan, 1998) 247. []

26 Jun 2009

The Law of Human Nature

Posted by Phil. No Comments

mere-christianityIntroduction

I find that after reading a good book I am unable to remember many of the details, especially after some time.  When I just need something to jog my memory, it is too much to re-read the book in its entirety when often just a few key points will bring everything back.  So I will break up the standard devotional posts with some that summarize whatever book I happen to be reading.  Hopefully this will become a great resource for those who have read the book, and an encouragement to pick it up for those that haven’t.

Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis – Book 1 Chapter 1: The Law of Human Nature

In this chapter C.S. Lewis sets the foundation for the remainder of Mere Christianity.  For the rest of his analysis to stand these two key points from Chapter 1 must stand:

[H]uman beings, all over the earth, have this curious idea that they ought to behave in a certain way… [and] they do not in fact behave in that way.

In quarrels, the argument is never just that one person’s behavior does not please the other, but that some kind of standard has been broken.  Each man expects the other to already know about this standard even though they may not have discussed it beforehand.  When confronted, the other person does not completely disregard this unspoken standard.  Rather, he tries to show how it does not apply in this situation or how there is a special exception to the rule in his case.

Every person is subjected to many laws, but there is only one law that can be broken.  A person does not have the liberty to decide when they will follow the physical laws of nature (gravity, biological laws, etc.).  They are always in effect.  However, the Law of Nature, the moral law appealed to in quarrels, can be disobeyed.

People can certainly be mistaken about what is right and wrong.  But, as with getting a math problem wrong, just because people can be mistaken does not make the moral law any more subjective than it makes the math problem subjective.  There is still only one correct answer, and there is still only one correct moral law (Law of Nature).

The second, and final, fundamental point is that none of us are really keeping the moral law.  It isn’t just that we can choose to always follow or to not always follow, and we choose to not always follow it.  It’s that none of us actually keep the moral law all the time, even if we choose (or try to) always keep it.

24 Jun 2009

When God Runs

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A local radio station recently discussed the song by Phillips, Craig & Dean titled “When God Ran”. Our reaction to the title is one of resistance; God never runs. We may run away from Him, but He is a constant.12

running-signHe certainly never runs in battle. As Gideon prepared to attack the Midianites, God took a losing battle of 30,000 Israeli troops vs. 135,000 Midianite troops3 and made it a massacre situation by reducing Israel’s forces down to 300 men.4 God used these low odds to show that He doesn’t run and that Israel could not have obtained victory without Him.

So when does God run? Moving past the title of the song, the lyrics go on to refer to the famous Prodigal Son parable. But in that parable, I thought it was the son that ran, and not the father. At the beginning, yes, but let’s take a look at what happens when the son returns home. We pick up at Luke 15:17-20:

“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ So he got up and went to his father.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

The father was so filled with compassion that he ran to greet his previously ungrateful, arrogant, greedy son and to welcome him home. God behaves the same way. When we go to Him dirty and disgusting there is no resentment in His eyes, no ambivalence in His tone, and no look of “I told you so” on His face. God loves us so much that when we are just a figure on the horizon He can’t wait to help us the rest of the way home.

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  1. Malachi 3:6 []
  2. James 1:17 []
  3. Judges 8:10 []
  4. Judges 7 []

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2 Sep 2007

Give Me Encouragement or Give Me Death

Posted by Phil. No Comments

encouragementWe meet as the family of God not only to worship Him, but also to encourage one another. We may say that we know this, but to realize how important encouragement is requires action. How disheartening it can be when encouragement is needed most, but not received.

In 2 Samuel, God’s prophet Joab is speaking to King David. He tells the king, “You love those who hate you and hate those who love you. You have made it clear today that the commanders and their men mean nothing to you.” (2 Samuel 19:6). Joab continues on to say, “Now go out and encourage your men. I swear by the Lord that if you don’t go out, not a man will be left with you by nightfall. This will be worse for you than all the calamities that have come upon you from your youth until now.” (2 Samuel 19:7).

This event displays the true power of encouragement. Without it, the beloved King David would lose the admiration, respect, and loyalty of his entire army. But with it, David was able to “w[i]n over the hearts of all the men of Judah as though they were one man.” (2 Samuel 19:14). As Christians, we should not merely know the power of encouragement, but we should utilize it at every beneficial moment. There are times when it takes much effort from many different people before a person will be spurred on to action. Other times, however, one thoughtful comment can send a person from being lost to being in the heart of God.

7 Jul 2007

Will Your Faith Blend?

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If you haven’t watched any short videos from “Will It Blend?”1 then you need to start. The website was started by a company to showcase the power of their blenders. To do this, they try to blend anything from the mundane EZ Cheese2 to the new $500 iPhone3 from Apple. Watching these videos brought a few things to my mind.

will-it-blendFirst, I wondered if my faith would blend. It isn’t the first chop of the blender that destroys its contents. Rather, it’s the constant chipping away over time, one hit after another, that causes the most damage. The same is true of our faith: one chop by Satan may only nick our surface, but if we let Satan continue to wear us down we eventually become nothing more than a pile of dust. We become useless for our original purpose, whether it’s to spread cheese, make phone calls, or save lives.

I also wondered if anyone would care if my faith was blended. I doubt that anyone was concerned when “Will It Blend?” messed up a can of EZ Cheese. But people notice when you take an item of great worth, like the iPhone, and you destroy it. How much more is our faith worth to us? Even if someone did notice that Satan was chipping away at me, would they worry enough about my faith in God to take me out of the blender? This is something we all should do for one another, but we don’t always. Either we just don’t notice, or we worry about upsetting the other person.

We should all ask ourselves these two questions: will my faith blend, and if my brother or sister is being chipped away would I help them out?

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  1. http://www.willitblend.com []
  2. http://www.willitblend.com/videos.aspx?type=unsafe&video=ezcheese []
  3. http://www.willitblend.com/videos.aspx?type=unsafe&video=iphone []

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2 Jul 2007

Like a Child: Mustard Seed Faith

Posted by Phil. No Comments

like-a-childWrapping up the theme Like a Child, it’s important that we look at the mustard seed faith of children and what it means to have the faith of a child. The command comes from Matthew 17:20, ” I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

Because the dependence of children has already been covered, this post will focus on the persistence aspect of mustard seed faith. The faith we are to have must grow, and the only way for it to grow is to remain persistent through life. There are many examples in the Bible of people who were persistent, and because of their persistence received what they needed. In Luke 11:8, Jesus tells a parable about a man who needs loaves of bread from his friend late at night. The friend initially tells him to go away, but eventually provides the food because the man in need continued knocking at his friend’s door. Luke 18:1-8 tells of a woman who desperately wants justice against her adversary, but is repeatedly denied. The judge eventually decided her case, even though he neither feared God nor cared about men. He simply wanted her to go away.

The last phrase of Luke 18:8 tells the whole story, “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” That’s the big question. When Jesus comes back, will we have been persistent enough to continue living as He did. As long as we start with mustard seed faith, it can grow into a large bush with the help of God and our continued persistence. And as long as we have faith, nothing is impossible but everything can be accomplished when God is with us, even if we feel weak and powerless in our own right.

17 Jun 2007

Mission Correction

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error-correctionLately, I’ve been thinking about the balance any church must strike between local ministries and long distance missionary efforts. As with any other balance, you can find churches at either extreme: some churches do not support any missionary efforts, while other churches are entirely devoted to them. As I continued to think about this balance, I thought about how things tend to correct themselves when too close to either extreme, and how this behavior resembles the stock market in similar situations. There are three, basic analogies that can be drawn between church ministry and stock market corrections.

  • The first analogy is that corrections happen when everything is going well, not when they are going poorly. The stock market can do well, but if it starts to do too well in too short a time a correction may occur to bring stock prices back down to a more reasonable level. The same is true for churches. Mission work can be going strong with good support behind it. But if it starts to grow too quickly, if there is too much money pouring in and there is an overwhelming level of interested volunteers to where it becomes unmanageable, it may see a correction.
  • The second analogy is that corrections hurt people in the short-run. Prices of stocks drop significantly when the stock market corrects itself, causing investors to lose money. The same is true for church mission work. The people in charge of the mission efforts and the people most dedicated to it our hurt to see a partial loss of interest and support. More importantly, the people being helped by the mission work are hurt because there is now less effort being expended than before. Because corrections occur when things are going well, and because they tend to hurt people in the short-run, they are often misconstrued to be undesirable.
  • But the third analogy is the bright light at the end of the tunnel: corrections help to maintain long-run stability and growth. Corrections in the stock market help to keep it from growing at unsustainable levels, preventing even harder, more difficult falls in the future. This is the same result for churches and their level of missionary efforts. Just like an engine, missionary work produces the best results when it is running at an optimal level. But when pushed too hard, it can seize up and then it becomes unable to fulfill its function. But kept at a reasonable and manageable level, mission work can continue to grow at a stable rate doing more and more good every year.

One last note: The same is also true for churches that support no missionary work. The correction could be a new member, or a new idea, that jumpstarts the congregation to begin supporting a long distance missionary effort at a level that is manageable and sustainable for that congregation. And what is “too fast” or “too slow” or “just right” is unique to every congregation.

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