Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Crossing Heaven's Threshold

Christmas is a time of celebrating a simple fact: God crossed heaven's threshold to 'incarnate' himself to the world to rescue it. Have we learned from his example?

In the previous post I referenced Jesus' words to us that we, his church, are the light of the world. (Individuals are not that light!) But he said, does anyone put a light under a basket? Or do they put it out in the open for everyone to see and receive light?

It seems to me that in many ways, we have hidden our light under the basket of the church building. We have expected to reach people by attracting them to church programs. But how many unchurched people do you know who really care about church programs? They have other real and/or felt needs.

Shouldn't we, the church, get the light out of the building and out to the world? Shouldn't the church should be impacting all levels of society and culture as salt, and bringing light and life to all people in need?

As one person said, we should start fishing on the other side of the boat. And another, "Bait the hook with what the fish like, not what the fisherman likes."

Jesus crossed heaven's threshold to 'incarnate' himself to the world. His church, I believe, should cross the building's threshold to 'incarnate' herself to the world.

Please share your feedback by posting a comment below.

Monday, December 22, 2008

You are Not the Salt of the Earth

Last month I was struck with the realization that I am not the salt of the earth, and I am not the light of the world. Probably many of us who grew up in Sunday School had learned that we are the salt and we are the light. I have recently had to 'unlearn' this.

If we could read the Greek, we would realize that Jesus said "You (plural) are the salt, and you (plural) are the light." In fact, he followed up with, "A city set on a hill cannot be hidden." I've begun to wonder if so many of our attempts to bring hope and light to the world have been feeble because we have tried to do it on our own.

Yes, we have measured impact through individual effort. But our impact could be exponentially increased through synergism, two or more working together. Synergy comes from "syn" meaning "together", and "ergo" meaning "to work".

Jesus then said, "Let your (plural) light (singular) shine in such a way that men may see your (plural) good works ("ergov"), and give glory to your Father in heaven." Yep, it's an 'us' thing, and it looks like there is a considerable amount of work to be done.

We won't get much done working alone.

Please share your feedback by posting a comment below.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

For All You Bloggers Out There

Another great poster from Despair.com

Never before have so many people with so little to say said so much to so few.

Please share your feedback by posting a comment below.

God is Amazing

I am constantly amazed at God's creativity. You may have already seen some of these pictures that have hit the news in the past week of the new species discovered in the Mekong Valley, but here is a cool slide show some videos and photos.

If this video no longer works, try this link. (The flash will take a few minutes to load.)

Please share your feedback by posting a comment below.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Walking in Someone's Shadow

For most people, the idea of walking in someone else's shadow is not anything to be desired. Some people have walked in the shadow of an older sibling, and may seem to have never measured up to their achievements. Some walk in the shadow of others more skilled, talented, or qualified -- and they never seem to catch a break in life.

Psalm 91, however, suggests that it is an advantage to walk in the shadow of God. The first verse says that whoever "dwells in the secret place of the Most High, will abide in the shadow of the Almighty." The cool thing about walking in His shadow is there are all kinds of benefits: security, safety, health, etc. And when we walk in His shadow, then it really doesn't matter that people are noticing Him instead of us.

Please share your feedback by posting a comment below.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Average Life of a Super Hero

There was once a SUPER-Super Hero. He created millions of Super Heroes. Not just a few, but millions. He created Superman, Wonderwoman, Flash, Captain America, The Incredibles, Batman, Spiderman, the Invisible Woman, the Bionic Man, the Bionic Woman, the Hulk, Elastic Man, Ironman, Hancock, etc.

Why did this Super-super hero create all these millions of super heroes? Because he saw the human race needed help, needed saving. So he sent these super heroes to the earth to help mankind.

But, as time went by, these super heroes one by one got distracted...

They integrated with "normal" life and the challenges of daily living. They had new relationships to deal with, issues with their children, problems with their jobs and careers. Occasionally they would do something significant to help people out. But they learned to give scientific explanations for their supernatural actions.

Eventually, they forgot altogether their power and their purpose.

The idea for this allegory came from Jesus' words in John 14:12-14. What do you think it means?

Please post any comments you might have below.

Or click here to listen to the message about this allegory shared at Titusville Branch Fellowship on Sunday, November 23, 2008.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Ridiculous Judge?

There was once a judge, who after simply hearing the prosecution's side of a case would render his verdict.

Sound ridiculous?

This isn't as uncommon as you think. This is a metaphor. And the judge represents people like you and me.

Many times in my life, people have rendered a verdict against me, because of something they've heard from someone else... without getting the full story. Can you relate?

I'm beginning to wonder how many times I've done a very similar thing in my own mind - rendering an opinion about someone before I've even had a chance to hear their viewpoint.

Years ago when I led summer missions trips for youth, I remember being involved in a number of conflicts between participants. After initially hearing about a problem, it would seem so clear what had gone on, and what I needed to do about it... until I heard the other side of the story.

It's bad enough to form an opinion about someone based simply on the "prosecution". What's worse -- and more painful -- is when we broadcast that opinion to others. In this sense we are not the judge who renders a verdict prematurely.

Instead we are the reporter who hears one side of the case, and then goes to print with a story.

Please post a comment below with your thoughts.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Peace and Joy

The Christmas season is soon upon us. Soon there will be well-wishes of peace, joy and similar greetings.

Peace and Joy. A nice greeting, but what does it really mean? What does it really take to have peace and joy?

Many people think of 'world peace'. Who doesn't want that? But isn't world peace wishful thinking, especially when many of us can't even attain perpetual peace on a personal level? It seems there are always an abundance of relational conflicts. There are also those internal, nagging conflicts that are ever-present. Is it ever possible to arrive at peace (at least internally)?

Joy might seem like a far away, abstract idea, too. We're more familiar with desiring happiness than joy. And most of the things we pursue bring only short-lived happinesses. I wonder if a better description of joy is, not an excited feeling, but a state of constant contentment, regardless of the ups and downs of life.

Why do Peace and Joy Elude Us?
Perhaps something Paul wrote may give us some insight. He said the kingdom of God is "righteousness, peace and joy." Could it be that these are intricately related to one another? Maybe righteousness is a precursor to peace. And maybe peace is a precursor to joy. We often see these as separate qualities. Perhaps Paul is saying that they go hand-in-hand.

Righteousness simply means to be walking rightly with God and others (at least as it depends on us). Do we try to experience peace without being in proper relationship with God or others? Jesus promises peace, not as the world gives -- temporary, shallow -- but real peace that goes beyond understanding and circumstance. However, it doesn't come separate from living rightly with God and our fellow man.

Lasting happiness or joy, then, is a byproduct of peace, but it is indirectly connected back to being right before God and our neighbor.

Are you struggling with a lack of peace in your life? A lack of joy? Consider that any breach on your part in relationships could be a factor. Jesus wants you to live life to the full. Fullness of peace, fullness of joy. Righteousness is the doorway to a life of peace and joy.

Please post a comment below with your thoughts.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Excellent Free Bible Software

Probably ten years ago some friends of mine from the local university told me about E-Sword. Since then, I have been using this free study software that minimally comes with King James Version, and Strong's Greek and Hebrew definitions.

But more than that, one can add on all sorts of modules to enhance E-Sword. I have downloaded commentaries like Barnes, Clarke, Gill; additional versions like ASV, NASB (this cost $20 to activate), ESV, GNB, the Message, the Septuagint, the Bible in Spanish, YLT, etc. I have added Thayer's Lexicon, an in-depth Hebrew Lexicon, Webster's 1828 dictionary, different Bible encyclopedias, a cross-referencing module called Treasury of Scripture Knowledge. Additionally, I have added volumes like The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Schaff's History of the Church, Foxe's Book of Martyrs, Finney's Systematic Theology, Eddersheim's Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, and works from Josephus. Finally, there are different map modules you can add on as well.

Also, you can create your own study notes, do exhaustive and comprehensive word/phrase searches, and even search by Strong's numbers.

Let me know if you've tried this software, and if it is a help to you.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Paying too Much for an Office Suite?

If you are tired of paying for Microsoft Office updates (or even Corel Office) you need to check out this free, open source office suite: OpenOffice.org. It includes word processor, spreadsheet, presentations, database, and drawing.

I first heard about OpenOffice four years ago while the project still had some bugs. But since then the software has come a long way. Recently, I have preferred its presentation software to Corel's Presentations and I even use it when I teach. Open Office can save/load multiple file types such as Word, Word Perfect and their corresponding office software components.

Over the past year our family has experimented with it on our Mac, too. Yesterday I downloaded the OpenOffice.org 3.0 for Mac which now does not need to run X11. It appears to be a much better package than previous versions.

If you have tried this software, please leave a comment below sharing your experience.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Where is Your Faith?

Adapted from the message given at Titusville Branch on October 12, 2008.

In Luke 18:8, Jesus finishes his parable about the unjust judge with a seemingly disconnected question: "When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?" For some reason Jesus is so concerned about us having faith. Faith is needed for being made righteous before God (Romans 3). Faith is needed for pleasing God (Hebrews 11).

SnakeWhen Eve was being deceived by the serpent, his line of questioning was meant to cause doubt about God. To cause unbelief. "God is holding out on you, God is not good, he can’t be trusted, you’ve got to get what’s yours." Notice there wasn't really a change in the amount of faith that Eve had. Instead, the faith she had was redirected -- towards herself. She now believed that she was the only one able to obtain for herself what she thought she needed. This was a shifting of faith.

Also, when God's word speaks of justifying faith, it is talking of faith toward God (1 Thess. 1:8, Heb. 6:1). Jesus, in confronting the disciples during the storm says, "Where is your faith?" (Luke 8:25). We always have faith. And faith always has an object. Faith in God, faith in ourselves, faith in money, faith in doctors, etc. "God has given to each a measure of faith" (Romans 12).

Increase our Faith!
This sounds like a noble request that the disciples asked of Jesus in Luke 17. But Jesus' response may have been more a rebuke than a teaching. He said, "If you had faith like a mustard seed..." It seems that what Jesus was saying to them was, "You don't need an increase in faith, you need to redirect it. If your faith in me was the size of a mustard seed, there would be nothing impossible for you." Remember when he said, "Nothing shall be impossible for him who believes"? Again, the implied object of this belief is in Jesus and what he has said.

The True Nature of Unbelief
Recently I was struck with an unpleasant revelation about unbelief: "Unbelief assaults the character of God." In Eve's temptation, Satan was attacking the character of God. And unbelief in us does the same thing. It says to God, "You are not who you say you are." Some of us are so distracted by our failures, weaknesses, and inabilities that this unbelief in ourselves puts up a roadblock in the road of faith toward God. Our inabilities weigh more heavily in the scales than his ability. Whatever happened the the profession, "I can do all things through him who strengthens me"?

"Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God" (Heb. 3:12). Again, unbelief's cross-hairs are aimed at the character of God. Unbelief denies who he says he is, and what he says he will do. Unbelief causes distance between us and God, because our position with God is relational. Salvation isn’t merely a spiritual state, but a relational state. Faith is necessary in any healthy relationship. It seems like this is why faith would so please God; why Abraham would believe God, and God would reckon this simple faith as righteousness.

Is your belief in God greater than your belief in yourself? Is your belief in God greater than your unbelief in yourself?

Please leave your feedback by posting a comment below.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Steps Toward Deception

How do people become deceived?

I was a little surprised earlier this year, while listening to Winkie Pratney's 21CR (21st Century Reformation) podcast, when he said that deception doesn't begin with believing a lie. In fact, according to his teaching on the "I Wills" of Satan in Isaiah 14, he said that intellectual deception was the fourth phase of this process.

So what does Pratney say is the process toward deception? Here is a summary list (you can get the complete notes of the 21CR Seminar here):

  1. Independent Spirit
  2. Selfish Choices
  3. Searing Your Conscience
  4. Intellectual Deception

My dad used to ask this question: "Do you want something bad enough, you'll deceive yourself to get it?"

Please feel free to share your thoughts on deception by posting a comment below.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Free Photo & Imaging Software

I've been using a great free image and photo editing program for more than a year called Paint.Net. I like it better than my version of Corel Photo Paint. The downside is it only runs on Windows.

For Mac users wanting a quality free (open source) paint program, try Gimp. Gimp runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux. I only run it on my Mac, but on Windows I use Paint.Net simply because it has a more user-friendly interface. Both Paint.Net and Gimp offer more features than the editing software that typically come with digital cameras or printers.

So if you want to broaden your image/photo editing options without paying a hefty price, give one of these a try.

If you've used any free or open source paint programs, please share your feedback by posting a comment below.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Don't Beat Yourself Up

This post is a summary of the message shared at Titusville Branch on October 5, 2008.

Many Christians do not agree with a once common practice in the church: self-flagellation. Throughout Christian history there have been ascetics who promoted severe self-discipline and denial of many sensory pleasures. The term “mortification of the flesh” came from scriptures like, “...those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24, cf. Romans 8:13 and Colossians 3:5). This idea and these scriptures were used as a basis for things like self-whipping, extreme fasting, wearing hairshirts, etc.

From the Past to the Present
The following comes from Wikipedia’s article on “mortification of the flesh”:

  • Dominic Loricatus is said to have performed 'One Hundred Years Penance' by chanting 20 psalters accompanied by 300,000 lashes over six days.
  • Francis of Assisi, is said to have asked pardon to his body for the severe self-afflicted penances he has done: vigils, fasts, frequent flagellations and the use of a hairshirt.
  • Catherine of Siena wore sackcloth and scourged herself three times daily in imitation of Dominic.
  • At the latter half of the twentieth century, JosemarĂ­a Escrivá practiced self-flagellation and used the cilice, a modern-day version of the hairshirt.
  • Pio of Pietrelcina, wrote in one of his letters: “Let us now consider what we must do to ensure that the Holy Spirit may dwell in our souls. It can all be summed up in mortification of the flesh with its vices and concupiscences, and in guarding against a selfish spirit... The mortification must be constant and steady, not intermittent, and it must last for one's whole life. Moreover, the perfect Christian must not be satisfied with a kind of mortification which merely appears to be severe. He must make sure that it hurts.”
  • Pope John XXIII wrote: “But the faithful must also be encouraged to do outward acts of penance, both to keep their bodies under the strict control of reason and faith, and to make amends for their own and other people's sins... St. Augustine issued the same insistent warning: ‘It is not enough for a man to change his ways for the better and to give up the practice of evil, unless by painful penance, sorrowing humility, the sacrifice of a contrite heart and the giving of alms he makes amends to God for all that he has done wrong.’ ...But besides bearing in a Christian spirit the inescapable annoyances and sufferings of this life, the faithful ought also take the initiative in doing voluntary acts of penance and offering them to God.... Since, therefore, Christ has suffered in the flesh, ‘it is only fitting’ that we be ‘armed with the same intent.’ It is right, too, to seek example and inspiration from the great saints of the Church. Pure as they were, they inflicted such mortifications upon themselves as to leave us almost aghast with admiration. And as we contemplate their saintly heroism, shall not we be moved by God's grace to impose on ourselves some voluntary sufferings and deprivations, we whose consciences are perhaps weighed down by so heavy a burden of guilt?"
Back in 1990 my wife and I visited the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City. Leading up to this large church is a two-mile walkway called ‘Calzada de Guadalupe.’ Every year penitent people crawl on their knees the entire length to plead for mercy and miracles.

No Value Against the Flesh
It is true that Jesus said, “If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” However, Paul writes in Colossians 2:23 that these types of activities have “the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.” They only have the appearance, the facade, of wisdom. They come from self-made religion. And they have no value against fleshly indulgence.

True, we are not to live according to the flesh, we are to deny ourselves, and we are not to indulge fleshly desires. However, Romans 8:13 makes it clear one way we are to put to death the deeds of the body. Paul says here that “if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” Denying ourselves isn’t something we do for the purpose of “self-abasement and severe treatment of the body.” It is more a matter of obedience – obedience to the Spirit. The Holy Spirit may lead us to fast or to deny ourselves some pleasure. But asceticism only has the “appearance of wisdom in self-made religion” and has “no value against fleshly indulgence.”

Few People Practice this Today
I have never met any Christian that actually practices any type of strict asceticism or mortification of the flesh. Many baulk at such a thought. What I find interesting, however, is that there are many of us who practice a type of internal self-flagellation.

Sometimes we cannot get over ourselves when we fail, when we sin, when we make a mistake. We often have to brutally beat ourselves mentally before we can accept the Father’s forgiveness. We berate ourselves with verbal thoughts like: “You idiot. You’re such a loser. You’re such a failure.” And we can’t walk through the corridor of Christ’s mercy until a substantial time of self-flagellation has passed.

This, too, has no value against the flesh. This type of response doesn’t enable us to overcome.

Not only is this a type of false humility, this strips faith from us. Lack of faith hinders God’s work in our lives. Lack of faith displeases Him (Hebrews 10:38, 11:6). And lack of faith prohibits righteous living. Romans 3 says that faith is the very thing needed to be made right with God. Faith, not a self-whipping.

Do we place more confidence in beating ourselves, or in the atoning work of Jesus? Can he justify us without the help of our self-flagellation? I would submit that he cannot justify us when we beat ourselves up because we are placing our confidence in ourselves, in the flesh, rather than in his sacrifice for us.

How Long Does it Take to be Right with God?
How much time does it take to become right again with God when we’ve sinned? How long does it take to trust Jesus for his available mercy and forgiveness? Does it take hours or days of self-punishment? Or do we really have faith in Christ’s work? We can be right with God a split second after failing, if we only believe (see 1 John 1:9-2:2). Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. Paul says that he did not have “a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith” (Philippians 3:9). How long does it take to believe?

Faith to Overcome
It takes more faith to get up and go on, than to beat ourselves up for how we have failed. (It takes more humility, too.) And faith is the only thing that enables us to overcome.

“... my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him. But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.”
Hebrews 10:38-39

Please share your thoughts by posting a comment below.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Great Free Internet Filtering Software

Over the past six years my kids have been using the computers and the internet for a substantial part of their school work. As a result I've done a little research on internet filters. Last year I came across a great free internet filter for home use.

I have used K9 Web Protection from Blue Coat for months now. With it I can customize which categories and sites are or are not available for my home computers. I can block key words, set time restrictions for internet use, and log web site activity. The latest beta version can also block tunneling sites (sites that run underneath the radar of many internet filters).

Here are some helpful links:
K9 Web Protection Home Page
Get K9 Now Page

If you use any filtering software, please share your feedback by posting a comment below.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

A 'Tail' of Two Dogs

Have you ever heard any variation of the illustration below?

Imagine you have two dogs living inside you. The name of one is Flesh and the name of the other is Spirit. These dogs keep getting into fights with each other. Which dog is gonna win? The strongest one, of course: the one that’s been fed right, exercised, and taken care of. Well, then, which dog are you taking the best care of? Do you “feed” your spirit with Scripture, prayer, preaching, uplifting music? Or are you feeding your flesh with inappropriate TV shows, movies, foul language and jokes (saying them OR listening to them), music that has questionable lyrics?
Okay, this illustration may have some good points. But I see some inherent flaws. This story seems to leave the following impression: “so as long as I feed Spirit more, then it’s okay. I can still feed Flesh, but if I do more ‘Spirit’ things, it will be stronger than Flesh.”

Paul says, however, “the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God.” He also says “that those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh.” It sounds like we are supposed to kill one of the dogs.

Paul is a Hard One to Follow
Why is this story so popular? I believe it comes from a misunderstanding of something Paul wrote. In fact, Peter talks about how some of Paul’s writings are difficult to understand, which some people actually distort (see 2 Peter 3:16,17). This distortion may be unintentional. But it may exist because we have a tendency to interpret scripture through personal experience.

Many people have taught that Paul experienced the same ‘dog fight’ described above because of his words in Romans 7:14-25. He says things like:
For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. (v. 18)
Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. (v. 20)
For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. (vs. 22,23)
So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. (v.25)
Seems like that explains itself, right?

There's More to the Story
Well, actually, Paul didn’t stop there at the end of chapter 7. In fact Paul didn’t divide up his writings into chapters and verses. Chapter 8 continues his thought.

One other important distinction here is the change in tenses that Paul uses. The verses leading up to verse 14 are past tense. Then in Romans 8:2, he switches back to the past tense. Romans 7:14 to Romans 8:1 are an illustration that Paul is using to make his point which he brings to a crescendo in Romans 8:2-4.

If we stop at the end of chapter 7, we would be left with the impression that there are two laws, the law of sin and death and the law of God. We would be left with the impression that the Christian is to left serving the law of God with his mind, and the law of sin with his flesh or body. But Romans 8:2 says unequivocally that this is not the case.

Why is There No Condemnation?
The reason there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus is because God introduced a NEW law. Paul concludes that “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.” This law of the Spirit is the new law. Paul goes on to say that “the requirement of the law of God” can be “fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” We don’t hear Christians talk like that today.

If we are not fulfilling the requirement of the law of God, it’s not because of two dogs fighting inside us. It’s because we haven’t killed one of the dogs.

Jesus Agrees with Paul
Jesus actually affirmed that two dogs cannot live inside us when he said, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other” (Matthew 6:24a).

If we are having major struggles with the flesh, perhaps it because the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has NOT set us free from the law of sin and death. Remember these other words of Jesus, “So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).

With the weight of other scriptures against it, I am led to the conclusion that the story of two dogs (named Flesh and Spirit) is actually a tall tale.

Please share your thoughts by posting a comment below.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

A Modern Day Parable

The four CH-47 helicopters arrived through smoke and fire at the embassy in the capital of this foreign nation. Their mission? To rescue people trapped inside by insurgents’ gunfire and grenades. There were 87 people in the embassy, hanging on for dear life, hoping their own military would arrive before the nationals broke in.

The dissidents had already been pushed back by several AH-64 Apaches that flew by minutes earlier. Now troops were descending from the helicopters to the rooftop of the embassy. They entered the building, hurrying to the rooms where people were gathered.

Fifteen minutes later, the helicopters were lifting their quarry away to flight altitude. Twenty-five minutes later, the nationals broke into the embassy and torched it to the ground. Forty minutes after that, the helicopters landed at their military base nearby, celebrating what they considered a successful mission.

In the next hour, the nations around the globe grumbled at this superpower’s actions. In fact, the UN Secretary-General issued a statement denouncing the mission.

Nobody was condoning the terrorists who attacked the embassy, however. What the world found appalling was that the special forces had rescued less than half of the people in the building. Why, with four Chinooks, each with more than a 30 passenger capacity, did they only rescue 42 people? The nationals had been temporarily pushed back, so the soldiers had plenty of time to save all who were trapped inside.

This was no great rescue. The military had no right to celebrate. Forty-five people had died needlessly that day. And this superpower could have saved them without much effort. But for some strange reason it didn’t.

What is the purpose of this story?

For some, this parable could have begun with the words, “The kingdom of heaven is like...”

According to some traditions, God, the superpower of the universe, is said to demonstrate his glorious mercy by choosing a select group of people to be saved, while leaving countless billions to face the judgment of the lake of fire. Additionally, no one is able to respond favorably to God's grace without him giving them the gift of faith and repentance.

If this view is an accurate portrayal of scripture, then (to me, anyway) it begs a very important question. Why doesn't the infinitely powerful and the infinitely merciful God change everyone's heart and save everyone?

Finally, some theological views might add another element to this parable: that the superpower planned the assault on its own embassy, in order to show how great of a superpower it really was.

Hmmm... I just can't see how this view demonstrates a loving, merciful and just God as the Bible declares him to be.

"...but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight," declares the LORD (Jer 9:24).

Please share your feedback by posting a comment below.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Whose Word Matters?

Adapted from the message given Sunday, September 21, 2008 at Titusville Branch Fellowship.

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

Most would agree that Jesus' words here are telling us that our parents, spouses, siblings and children should not take first place in our hearts and lives. He alone should be first.

I would like to suggest another application of this verse: Sometimes what these people have said to us carries more weight than what Jesus says. Their view of us is more important to us than his view of us. What they think about us rises to a place of supremacy over what he thinks about us. And this usually happens subconsciously.

Walking Wounded
There are wounds in many of our hearts from the past, wounds caused by people most important to us. Real, serious, deep, and untouchable wounds. Intentionally or not, they have been inflicted through words or actions that have berated us. Worst of all, many of us have fallen in line and turned on ourselves, believing a lie that we are worthless.

We protect these hurts by building walls around them: sanctuaries to their existence. We instinctively create these defensive mechanisms to keep people from hurting us again. In the process, we distance Jesus from these untouchable areas. He wants to bring healing and life. But holding onto the pain of the past, we don’t allow him access to these remote places of the heart.

These hurts hinder us and hold us back. They cripple us and keep us from walking in the fullness of who Christ is in us. Instead we walk in insecurity, measuring our worth by what we think others think about us. And we don’t experience life to the full as Jesus wants to give it.

Distant Echoes of the Past
Jesus doesn’t want anyone to displace him in our hearts. But how about their words, their actions, or their views of us? Do they hold sway against Christ’s words, actions, and view? Does his word take second place to what has been spoken about us in the past? Does Christ’s death on the cross speak more to us about our worth than what others have done to us?

Of course, in theory, we would say yes. But what about when we are hard-pressed and caught off-guard? Again and again, we hear in our hearts the distant echoes of those who have betrayed our love and trust. We are boxed in and hindered because of insecurities rooted in past hurts.

A Difficult Cross
Jesus goes on to say that if we don’t carry our cross and follow him we cannot be his disciple. A disciple is one who imitates his master. Jesus was absolutely secure in the Father’s love. And he was unswayed when those closest to him abandoned him. His view of who he was in his Father’s eyes was unswerving. Are we secure in the Father’s love? Do we believe Jesus’ declaration of our worth?

Resting in his view of us can be a difficult cross to carry. Sure, we can deny ourselves in many areas. What about denying ourselves the right to believe we are worthless? We can easily see other people’s worth and yet be blind to our equality with them. When we deny our worth, what are we saying about Christ’s death on the cross for us? Are we putting other people’s words in supremacy over his?

Giving Place to Christ's Word
Can we allow Christ’s words to penetrate into these deep areas of hurt and insecurity? Can we love his words and hate all others’?

Can we grant Jesus access beyond the walls that enshrine the words and wounds of the past? After all, Jesus’ word about us and our worth is what really matters.

His isn’t just the final word, it is the only word.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Litany of Humility

This prayer was shared with some of us in Branch Ministries during a Pastor's Training Course. It really drives home how humility applies in more areas of life than one might expect.

by Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val (1865-1930)

O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, Hear me.
From the desire of being esteemed,
Deliver me, Jesus.

From the desire of being loved...
From the desire of being extolled ...
From the desire of being honored ...
From the desire of being praised ...
From the desire of being preferred to others...
From the desire of being consulted ...
From the desire of being approved ...
From the fear of being humiliated ...
From the fear of being despised...
From the fear of suffering rebukes ...
From the fear of being calumniated ...
From the fear of being forgotten ...
From the fear of being ridiculed ...
From the fear of being wronged ...
From the fear of being suspected ...

That others may be loved more than I,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

That others may be esteemed more than I ...
That, in the opinion of the world,
others may increase and I may decrease ...
That others may be chosen and I set aside ...
That others may be praised and I unnoticed ...
That others may be preferred to me in everything...
That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should…

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Church Growth: What Did Jesus Do?

Now That's a Crowd!
In Luke 14: 25 Jesus had huge crowds following him. Some of his crowds were between 4,000 and 20,000 total people. If only my ministry could generate such a following!

What would any of us pastors do in our day with such numbers? We would probably take up an offering. And we might even build larger buildings as monuments to the validity of our ministry.

Often, we evaluate our effectiveness in terms of numbers. A pastor recently asked me, “What do you run on a Sunday morning?” He wanted to know how many people attended our Sunday morning services. I believe I choked out a less than an agreeable response to his enquiry.

Not Your Crowd-Pleaser
Funny thing is, Jesus wasn’t impressed with numbers. When the large gathering followed him after he fed the thousands, Jesus said some pretty strange things.

This sure wasn’t a crowd-pleaser: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves” (John 6:53). In John 6:66 many of his followers stopped walking with him as a result.

I don’t get the impression that Jesus was concerned with the quantity of his followers, but the quality of his followers. He said things like, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me,” and “whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” (We rarely hear this message any more. It might offend some people.)

And finally, when great crowds followed him in Luke 14, he said something that was sure to send them home. “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”

Maybe Jesus could have used some help from some of our clever, twenty-first century evangelism and church-growth techniques.

Allow Me to Indulge Myself

Adapted from the message given on Sunday, September 14, 2008 at Titusville Branch Fellowship

A dictionary definition for self-indulgence begins with: "indulging one's own desires, passions, whims, etc." Obviously, many desires are not intrinsically harmful, but indulging in many desires can be damaging – physically, emotionally, socially and spiritually.

The definition adds this phrase at the end: “especially without restraint.” I would like to add the word “external” immediately before the word “restraint”. We can all exercise restraint; many times we do not want to. To the people who think they cannot control themselves, let’s just change one element of their situation. Let’s add another person. It is amazing how much control they have when another person is present.

Selfish Ambition
I was thinking about some words or phrases in Scripture that connect to self-indulgence. One of them is selfish ambition. James 3:16 says “For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing.” Selfish ambition can be self-promotion, or perhaps the desire for recognition above others. No one likes to listen to people who brag. But how many times does the word “I” or “me” show up in our conversations?

Fleshly Desires
Some other phrases in Scripture relating to self-indulgence come from 1 John 2:16: the “lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.” The lust of the flesh can mean many things, but simply it means fleshly desires. Do we master our fleshly desires, or do they master us? Romans 8 says the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God and cannot please him. Cain is told in Genesis 4:7 that “sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.” Here is a fallen man, without any power of a resurrected Christ in his being, being told by God that he could and must master sin. How much more can the believer, who has Christ’s resurrection power in him, overcome sin. The Bible does not afford us much excuse here for helplessness against the flesh. Unfortunately, though, much of our present day doctrine does not allow for this type of victory.

Desires of the Eyes
The lust of the eyes, too, carries many ideas. It can merely mean the desires of the eyes. Do we care how we appear to others? Our culture leaves few of us untainted by this stain. From what we wear to what we drive to what we live in, we are often so self-conscious of how people perceive us. James Dobson says that 80% of people’s self-esteem is based on what they think others think about them. So we parade around acting confident and secure, when secretly we are aiming to look good in others’ eyes, our confidence shattered at the slightest indication of disapproval. John writes that many religious people were not confessing Jesus, “because they loved the approval of man, rather than the approval of God.”

The Pride of Life
Many of us desire position and power. Sometimes we want to be esteemed because of our place or accomplishments. Sometimes we want to keep up with (or be ahead of) the Joneses. For some reason, there is an inflated sense of security and worth that come from having what society says is significant. This shifting sand plays into the hands of corporate merchandisers, and they exploit us because of it. Greed and covetousness is so often spoken against in Scripture. Coveting is breaking one of the ten commandments. It is called idolatry in Colossians 3:5. Jesus himself says, “...be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15).

Let Me First
We often get caught up with a more subtle type of self-indulgence. We think our time runs away from us, when in actuality we are being pulled, leash in hand, by the bulldog of our own busyness. Consequently, Christ’s kingdom comes in second place to our own kingdoms. Two would-be disciples tell Jesus in Luke 9, “let me first...” before they will follow him. Jesus says that such ones are not “fit for the kingdom of God.”

Be On Guard
Jesus warns us to be on guard against self-indulgence in Luke 21:34. Religion, however, does not provide the answer for dealing with self-indulgence. Read what Paul says in Colossians 2:20-23:

If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, "Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!" (which all refer to things destined to perish with the using)--in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.
So what are we to do? True life doesn’t consist of a bunch of rules religiously kept. True life comes from knowing God, knowing Jesus Christ (John 17:3). The real victory over self-indulgence comes through Jesus-indulgence. As we indulge in him, his kingdom, and the lost, self-indulgence is displaced in our lives.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Loneliness and Independence

A person with an independent spirit tends to gravitate toward others with the same independent mindset. Thus, by nature of their true selves, they can at best only experience artificial camaraderie.

If someone struggles with long-term loneliness, perhaps they should examine their lives and see if their is a deeper issue of an independent spirit.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Abandoning Age Old Arguments

For hundreds of years there have been many fruitless discussions and disagreements between Calvinist and Arminianist thinkers. You do not have to look far to find various defenses of these views. Try a quick search on Google. You can easily discover the five points of Arminianism and the corresponding five points of Calvinism. And then you can get bogged down in all the logical arguments defending either side.

In my discussions with Calvinists, it appears a fundamental goal is to defend the sovereignty and power of God. Calvinists exalt the idea that God is in control, God is sovereign and unchanging. Their doctrine of election comes from his sovereign choosing.

With Arminianists I’ve found a protectiveness over the foreknowledge of God. They exalt the idea that God foreknows all events in the future, all choices and actions of man. Their doctrine of election extends from this.

Does God’s Opinion Matter?
My recent mental meanderings have made me question: What does God exalt about himself?

I recently asked a group of young people what they thought God’s glory was. I believe their answers reflect many people’s opinions: “his power”, “his strength”, a “bright shining light like Bruce Almighty saw when he was introduced to God”, “his control”, “his knowledge”. But is this what God says his glory is? Another way to ask this question is, “What does God see as glorious about himself?” Perhaps this is what we should be defending above all other theological notions.

Show Me Your Glory
Moses prays, “Show me your glory” in Exodus 33. God’s response amazes me. He doesn’t show Moses his great power, strength, or the blinding light of his presence. God answers Moses, “I will make all my goodness pass before you”. It appears that God’s goodness is what he considers most glorious about himself.

God then says he will proclaim his name to Moses. In the Hebrew dictionary, “name” means also “reputation, fame, glory, and memorial.” At the beginning of the next chapter the Lord proclaims his name:

The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation.

The glory of God has more to do with his character than his might, power, sovereignty, and knowledge.

Glory in This
God also says in Jeremiah 9:23, “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, Let not the mighty man glory in his might, Nor let the rich man glory in his riches” (NKJV). Interestingly, God doesn’t appear to glory in these things either. He is infinitely knowledgeable, but he doesn’t glory in it. He is infinite in might, power, and ability. But he doesn’t glory in it. He is infinite in riches (“the earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it”), but he doesn’t glory in that either.

Instead, he continues, “let him who glories glory in this, That he understands and knows Me, That I am the LORD, exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth. For in these I delight,” says the LORD.” First and foremost, God obviously cares that we know and understand his lovingkindness, his judgment/justice, and his righteousness. He puts an exclamation point at the end by saying, “I delight in these things.”

A Calvinist Response to Suffering and Hell
Some theologians would have us believe that God planned and purposed evil and suffering (as well as for countless millions to be condemned to hell). When these ideas offend our understanding of love, justice and righteousness, the common Calvinistic response is: God’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts, his ways are higher than his ways; we cannot understand these things in our limited understanding. God, however, seems to have a different opinion. Minimally he believes that we can know and understand his lovingkindness, his justice and his righteousness.

What about Arminianists?
Arminianists run the risk of camping closer to the Calvinists than they admit when they affirm God foreknows the destiny of every human being. A fitting philosophical question would be, “If God foreknows my destiny, is it an actual possibility for me to choose something different than what he foreknows absolutely?” Thus they hold to a form of fatalism. Yet they will strongly defend his absolute foreknowledge while claiming man’s free will. Various unsatisfactory illustrations (to me, anyway!) are used to do this.

God isn’t Insecure
God doesn’t need us to defend his infinite power, knowledge, and sovereignty. He’s secure in who he is. In fact, God makes statements about himself that no Arminianist or Calvinist would dare make. In Jeremiah God says three times that the Israelites were burning their sons and daughters to false gods, a thing which had not entered his mind (see Jeremiah 7:31, 19:5, 32:35). God says to Abraham, “now I know that you fear God” (Gen. 22:12) and to the Israelites that he tested them 40 years “to know what was in their heart” (Deut. 8:2). There are also the instances of God changing his mind (a peculiar difficulty with many views of God’s foreknowledge): Ex. 32:12-14, Jer. 26:19, and Amos 7:3,6. (I can already hear different objections to these references.) Hmmm. I wonder if the foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of man.

God is Love
If there is one thing God wants to be known for, I believe it is summed up in John’s repeated phrase, “God is love”. This appears to be the most glorious thing about God. This is what God cares so much that his creation knows about him. (Perhaps we should care more about understanding this than predestination and free will.)

Certain attributes of love are included in 1 Corinthians 13. One of those is love “does not insist on its own way” (ESV). Yet Calvin, at least, would have us believe that God is love and God does insist on his own way by his sovereignty.

Our Theological Base
Theology means the study of God. Shouldn’t our starting and ending points be what God reveals as most important about himself?

God is more concerned about his goodness, his lovingkindness, his justice and his righteousness. When our logical conclusions lead us away from common sense understandings of his good character maybe we should stop. Maybe we should reexamine our theology rather than redefine who God claims to be. Should we sacrifice God’s love and goodness on the altar of his sovereignty, power and knowledge?

Shouldn’t our theology be based in the goodness of who God shows himself to be? He says we can understand and know these things. We don’t have to redefine God’s justice or grace or love to match a theological position. Instead our exegeses should stem from what God declares as the most glorious thing about him.

Let’s spend more time and energy defending and glorying in what God says he delights in. What he delights in should shape our theological interpretations of scripture.

And maybe, just maybe, the scriptures we use to defend our age old arguments have different, legitimate interpretations than what we’ve considered.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

We All Worship God in Our Own Way

Do you ever notice how we tend to "react" to something that challenges our beliefs or lifestyle? To defend ourselves, we often borrow from what others have said, without thinking it through completely. Many times we don't want to improve our lives toward nobler ends; instead we want to make excuses for the way we live.

This happened when I was speaking with a friend of mine, and I brought up God. He pulled the classic, "We all worship God in our own way."

Immediately, I asked the Holy Spirit for a response to this defensive notion, and then I posed the only question that came to my mind: "Oh, what way do you worship God?" He was taken aback, and I'm not sure even he was satisfied with his answer.

"We all worship God in our own way" has been used as a blanket excuse to cover the fact that one doesn't worship God at all.

If we are truly going to worship God, I think we need to worship Him according to the way He really is, not in the way we imagine or hope Him to be.

Monday, September 8, 2008

God, Suffering, and Theology

I've been reading a book by popular author/editor John Piper called Suffering and the Sovereignty of God. The book has various contributors who have suffered in their own ways (including Joni Eareckson Tada & Stephen Saint), and by all means have the "right to write" about suffering because of their personal experiences.

What troubles me in this book, however, is the theological base from which the rest of the book is written.

You may be surprised to find that the theology expressed here is that all suffering exists because God ordains it. And He does this to demonstrate His glory.

God's Foreordination is the Ultimate Reason
Mark Talbot contributes here that "God never does evil. Yet this is not to say that God does not create, send, permit, or even move others to do evil..." In explaining Hebrews 1:3 he goes on to say that "God the Son holds each and every aspect of creation, including all of its evil aspects, in his 'hands' ... where it accomplishes exactly what he wants it to do." His interpretation of Ephesians 1:11 where God "works all things according to the counsel of his will" implies that God is the one working all things -- all things -- by His sovereign will. He "brings about these evil aspects for his glory... This includes -- as incredible and as unacceptable as it may currently seem -- God's having brought about the Nazis' brutality at Birkenau and Auschwitz as well as the terrible killings of Dennis Rader and even the sexual abuse of a young child: 'The Lord has made everything for its own purpose, even the wicked for the day of evil' (Prov. 16:4 NASB)..." And finally, "Nothing that exists or occurs falls outside of God's ordaining will. Nothing, including no evil person or thing or event or deed. God's foreordination is the ultimate reason why everything comes about, including the existence of all evil persons and things and the occurrence of any evil acts or events." (Excerpted from pp. 41-44.)

The Slaughter of His Son
John Piper goes on to lay what he believes is the Biblical foundation for God's purpose in creating the world, planning its sin and suffering: so that He could show the greatness of the glory of His grace by the "slaughter" of His Son. I'll limit myself to two quotes here:

According to this divine plan, God permits sin to enter the world. God ordains that what he hates will come to pass. It is not sin in God to will that there be sin. We do not need to fathom this mystery (p. 85).
"...the aim of creation is the fullest, clearest, surest display of the greatness of the glory of the grace of God. And that display would be the slaughter of the best being in the universe for millions of undeserving sinners" (p. 83).

Thus, God's intention was to bring about a fallen, sinful, suffering world, so that He could save us from it by the slaughter of His Son. This would demonstrate the greatness of the glory of His grace.

'My Thoughts Exactly'
Exegesis. John Piper and Mark Talbot did a fine job of using many scriptures to lay a foundation for their (traditional) theological position. But at the expense of what other scriptural revelation about God? Obviously, there will always be different theological camps, each one nestled closely to the scriptures that seem to affirm their views. One can do better than this, however, by looking at the Bible (God's revelation of Himself) as a whole. I wonder why a God who planned every evil would say things like this:
"All the day long I have stretched out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people" Rom 10:21
"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling" Mat 23:37
"And they built the high places of Baal ... to cause their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire to Molech, which I had not commanded them nor had it entered My mind that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin" Jer 32:35 (cf. Jer 7:31, 19:5)
One more important question for Talbot and Piper is: are there any other legitimate interpretations for the references they use to support their theology? Quite so.

Philosophy. Does someone who is supremely good have to create evil contrasts to show how good they really are? I wonder if I should try that with my children.

Additionally, I wonder how the suffering of countless "undeserving sinners" in hell demonstrates "the greatness of the glory of the grace of God". After all, this theology affirms that God specifically did not choose to save them, but has a greater good in choosing to let them suffer the pain of Hell. Maybe "we do not need to fathom this mystery" either.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Purpose of Faith

For years different groups have touted the need for (increased) faith in order to live in the fullness of God's blessings for your life. Though this has an element of truth to it, there seems to come with it the idea that faith is for "receiving" from God. In reaction to this, coined phrases have surfaced to describe these views: "name it and claim it" or worse, "blab it and grab it".

A couple of years ago a friend of mine said that "faith is given by God for His sake, not for ours." Hmmm. More recently he commented that the purpose of faith is not so that we can "get more" but that we can "give more".

Sounds like something Jesus could have said. "Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap." It takes faith to give, especially when it costs us something (remember the widow's mite?). It seems like God is so pleased when we give in faith, that He is willing to back us up to the degree we express our faith in giving. "For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you."

Friday, August 29, 2008

Let's Talk 'Shack'

A friend of mine recently encouraged me to read 'The Shack' by William P. Young. Since then I've heard mixed reviews, a kind of a polarization. There are those who seem to want to create a Christian movement behind the book, and those (maybe) diametrically opposed to it because of certain theological implications.

Do we need another Christian bandwagon? Does it have to be all or nothing?

Is this book the next "Pilgrim's Progress" as Eugene Peterson purports?

So here I go with my take on the book, not that anyone cares or will read what I have to say, let alone agree with me.

There are three areas I want to comment on: the literary elements, the theological elements, and finally the thematic elements.

Writing. From a literary standpoint I am well-pleased with Young's writing style (though this particular genre of literature is not my preference). He does a fine job incorporating various poetic devices together to aid the reader's imagination to visualize his story. And his fictitious ghostwriting is not too dissimilar from Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. While reading the book, I was concerned that different parts would not be brought to closure, but at the end I was pleasantly satisfied that all the loose ends were tied up.

Theology. It is difficult in a work of fiction to portray accurately what God is like. One symbol meant to highlight one attribute, may fall short in describing other attributes. Thus we may want to reserve full judgment regarding symbols employed. And even though he uses some symbols I would not use (you'll have to read the book yourself to find out what I mean), I understand partially why he uses them, and don't disagree completely with his rationale.

However, there are some statements made unequivocally by "God" in the story that seem to force the issue of Young's theology. I can agree with some of his views. He makes statements regarding man's free will, and God's risk in divine-human relationships. Although he paints a beautiful portrait of the relationship within the trinity, and the relationship that God wants with people, he makes certain comments regarding authority (which I disagree on) and God's foreknowledge (which I find quite lacking). But then again, we wouldn't all agree on these issues anyway.

One final area that many Christians might struggle with is that Young's God is pretty much down on religion. (Can I hear a "hurrah"?)

Theme. Although one of the themes of the book addresses the God-man relationship, the primary current is "going on in life in the face of horrendous suffering". Thematically, he handles related issues of forgiveness, healing and loss. Apparently, Young has gone through deep suffering probably similar to that of his main character, though he hasn't disclosed those events of his life (at least in any material I've come across). One would need such experiences to have a valid voice for those who have suffered so much. His answers to suffering are solid and scripturally founded.

My Conclusion
Should you read this book? Sure, if you enjoy reading. Please don't read it because it is the current Christian craze. If you are dealing with some heartache in your life, this book may be helpful. If you are looking for a theological treatise, you might be disappointed.

Is it the next "Pilgrim's Progress"? I highly doubt it.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

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Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Power of the Cross

Paul says that the cross is "the power of God", in his first letter to the church at Corinth. Typically, the phrase "the power of God" does not invoke in me an image of Jesus on the cross, but something related to His almightiness, the amazing miracles He has done or can do, or His power in creating the world. What a strange concept that Paul would consider the crowning glory of God's power to be the cross.

Paul also states that he didn't preach to the Corinthians "with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power". So here we have God's most powerful initiative in human history, and the potential of us "emptying it of its power" through eloquence and man's wisdom.

Why is the cross of Christ considered THE power of God?

I envision the traditional response to this question being, "the cross is powerful because it brings salvation to the lost". True, the cross of Christ stands as the foundation of salvation, through which no one can come to God. However, I believe there is something more, and something more personal.

The Jews' Expectation of Messiah
It seems that the typical view for the Jews of Jesus' day was that the Messiah would come in glory and power. He would set up His kingdom on the earth, and rid the Jews of all political oppression for good. Then the world would know that they were God's chosen people.

Their understanding of Messiah included no concept of a Suffering Savior. Their king and leader would be accursed by being hanged on a tree, dying a scoundrel's death? This very idea was ridiculous to them. That's why Paul says that "Christ crucified" is a stumbling block to the Jews.

Foolishness to the Greeks
The cross of Christ was foolishness to the Greeks. They prided themselves on wisdom. Remember Aristotle, Plato, Socrates? The Greeks tried to arrive at an understanding of God through their reasoning and wisdom. But in their understanding, God could not suffer, God could not experience emotions, God could not be impacted by the choices of people, God could not change.

Their rationale went something like this: God is perfect. Any change in perfection would be a change from the perfect to the imperfect. Any impact of creatures on the Creator would be a change (such as people bringing joy or grief to God), and a change would be from perfect to imperfect. This perfect God is all-powerful and must be in ultimate control of everything that happens.

Thus the idea of God becoming human, interacting with mankind, and then suffering on a cross was quite ludicrous to the Greeks of Paul's day.

Paul's Words in Context

1Co 1:19-24 ESV For it is written, "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart." 20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

The Cross, The Power of God
God is almighty. Easily, God could demonstrate His power in the world by Force and Fatalism. He could use force to overthrow all kingdoms and people opposed to Him. He could use a type of fatalism and be in control of every single event that goes on in the earth.

But we consider people who have to be in control of everything as insecure. Managers who micro-manage are not secure in their job, nor in the people that work for them, and they can in no way inspire trust in their employees. God does not reveal Himself in His word as a controlling, micro-managing God. His authority is not the kind that has to rule and control everything that goes on in His creation. Sure the Bible shows that He sets certain parameters, but even within those parameters there is much latitude.

What if God created a world where true love could exist? What if God created a world where people could determine their own courses of action? What if God created a world where creatures could reject their creator?

True Love, Free Will and Rejection
If true love could exist, it could not be forced. If it is true love, it can be rejected. In other words, if God created a world where true love existed, then He must place Himself in certain respects as vulnerable to His creation. Imagine any meaningful relationship without vulnerability.

Isaiah records this: "All we like sheep have gone astray. Each of us has turned to his own way..." (Isa. 53:6). He also records God as saying, "I have spread out My hands all day long to a rebellious people, Who walk in the way which is not good, following their own thoughts...” (Isa. 65:2).

In Genesis, God "saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. The LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart" (Gen. 6:5,6).

How Does One Win Over Rejection?
God could have responded in different ways to the problem of man's rejection. He could have totally destroyed the human race. He certainly has the right over His creation to do with it what He wants.

God could have forced people into compliance with His will. After all, people have just been hurting themselves and others from the very beginning. But God wanted more than compliance.

God wanted to win people's love, and no one wins true love by brute force.

So what does God do? His creation rejected Him. And He has striven with people for thousands of years. His children have been rebellious and erred and sinned. He could simply allow them to go off into the consequences of their sin: death (Romans 6:23). But His heart doesn’t want to give up on them: “How can I give you up...?” (Hosea 11:8).

How does He change their heart? How does He win their heart?

Isaiah prophesied several things about the coming Messiah. In chapter 53 he writes, "Who has believed our message?" Jesus would be "despised and forsaken", just as God had been for the previous thousand years. He would bear "our griefs and our sorrows", be "wounded for our transgressions" and "crushed for our iniquities". Upon Him would be laid "the iniquity of us all". Finally in verse 11 it says, "As a result of the anguish of His soul, [God] will see it and be satisfied; By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, As He will bear their iniquities."

God's Initial Approach is Mercy
God’s "Plan A" is mercy, mercy, mercy. But then there comes a point where He can offer mercy no more. He ALWAYS offers mercy as long as it is wisely possible.

David wrote "Your gentleness makes me great" (Psalm 18:35) -- His meekness, His humility, His vulnerability. There is a power that comes with mercy, with meekness and vulnerability. There is power in forgiveness. Mercy implies giving up justice that was rightly due to you. Forgiveness entails giving up the claims you have against another person for the wrong(s) they have have done to you -- a willingness to forbear, to suffer.

Joseph did not hold the wrongs His brothers had committed against them. He did not pay them back for his 13 years of suffering. He had the right and the power to punish them all. He did, however, put one in jail to see if the brothers’ hearts had changed, but not out of vindictiveness. It was an elaborate plan to get his youngest brother Benjamin there to Egypt. When they were all there at once, he revealed his identity to them, extending forgiveness and mercy. What effect would this have had on them, after they had wanted to kill him, sold him as a slave, and stole 13 years away from his dad and closest brother?

The cross was God’s attempt at changing our hardened hearts. We are a people who deserve to perish because of rejecting God, rejecting the Life-Giver. But God was not willing that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9). His plan was to try to win us through vulnerability, through taking our place -- the power of voluntarily suffering in another person’s place.

This is the power of the Cross.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Son of Hamas Leader Renounces Islam for Christ

FOXNews.com - Son of Hamas Leader Turns Back on Islam and Embraces Christianity

Mosab Hassan Yousef is an extraordinary young man with an extraordinary story. He was born the son of one of the most influential leaders of the militant Hamas organization in the West Bank and grew up in a strict Islamic family.

Now, at 30 years old, he attends an evangelical Christian church, Barabbas Road in San Diego, Calif. He renounced his Muslim faith, left his family behind in Ramallah and is seeking asylum in the United States.

The story of how his life unfolded is truly amazing, whether you agree or disagree with his views. Below is a transcript on an exclusive FOX News interview with Hassan as he tells firsthand how a West Bank Muslim became a West Coast Christian.

JONATHAN HUNT: Why, after 25 years, did you change?

MOSAB HASSAN YOUSEF: I believe that all those walls that Islam built for the last 1,400 years are not existing (sic) anymore. They don't recognize this. They built those walls and made people ignorant because they're afraid. They didn't want people to discuss anything about the reality of Islam, about the big questions of Islam and they asked their followers, the Muslims, 'Don't ask about those certain questions.'

But now, people have media. If the father closes the door for his daughter not to leave the house, she's going to go behind her computer and travel the world. So people easily can get information, knowledge, searching (sic) engines, so it's very, very available for everybody to study about Islam, about other religions. Not from the Islam point of view, but from other points of view.

So for the next 25 years this is for sure going to make huge change in the Muslim and the Arab world.

JONATHAN HUNT: You speak from a unique perspective, a man who grew up not just in an Islamic family but as part of an organization seen by many people around the world as an extreme force in Islam: Hamas. What is the reality of Islam? You say people don't see the reality; What is the reality of Islam?

MOSAB HASSAN YOUSEF: There are two facts that Muslims don't understand ... I'd say about more than 95 percent of Muslims don't understand their own religion. It came with a much stronger language than the language that they speak so they don't understand it ... they rely only on religious people to get their knowledge about this religion.

Second, they don't understand anything about other religions. Christian communities live between Muslims and they're minority and they (would) rather not to go speak out and tell people about Jesus because it's dangerous for them.

So, all their ideas about other religions on earth are from Islamic perspectives. So those two realities, most people don't understand.

If people, if Muslims, start to understand their religion — first of all, their religion — and see how awful stuff is in there, they'll start to figure out, this can't (be) ... because most religious people focus on certain points of Islam. They have many points that they are very embarrassed to talk about.


MOSAB HASSAN YOUSEF: Such as Muhammad's wives. You will never go to a mosque and hear about anyone talking about Muhammad's wives, which is like more than 50 wives — and nobody knows (this), by the way. If you ask the majority of Muslims, they will not know this fact.

So they're embarrassed to talk about this, but they talk about the glory of Islam, they talk about the victory, the victories that Muhammad made. So, when people just like look at themselves and see they're defeated, they have ignorance, they're not educated, they're not leading the world as they're expected to do. They’re think they want to get back to that victory by doing the same, what Muhammad did, but disregarding (sic) the timing. They forget that this happened 1,400 years ago and it's not going to happen again.

JONATHAN HUNT: Do they want to destroy Christianity?

MOSAB HASSAN YOUSEF: Islam destroyed Christianity from the beginning and Muslims don't recognize that they stabbed Christianity (in) its heart when they said that Jesus wasn't killed on the cross. They think that they honor him in this way.

Basically, any Christians understand that this way, (but Muslims) tell Jesus, okay, we don't care, you didn't die for us. Someone sacrificed his life for you, (but) you tell him, okay, you didn't do it!

This is what Muslims are doing basically. But they don't understand that this is the most important part of Christianity: the cross!

So, they are ignorant, they don't know what they are doing and it explains what an evil idea it is behind this Islam.

JONATHAN HUNT: What specific event or events began to change your mind about Islam?

MOSAB HASSAN YOUSEF: Since I was a child I started to ask very difficult questions, even my family was telling me all the time, 'You're a very difficult person and we were having trouble answering your questions. Why are you asking so many questions?' This was from the beginning, to be honest with you.

But I felt that everybody — and my father was a good example for me because he was a very honest, humble person, very nice to my mother, to us, and raised us on the principle of forgiveness, okay? I thought that everybody in Islam was like this.

When I was 18 years old, and I was arrested by the Israelis and was in an Israeli jail under the Israeli administration, Hamas had control of its members inside the jail and I saw their torture; (they were) torturing people in a very, very bad way.

JONATHAN HUNT: Hamas members torturing other Hamas members?

MOSAB HASSAN YOUSEF: Hamas leaders! Hamas leaders that we see on TV now, and big leaders, responsible for torturing their own members. They didn't torture me, but that was a shock for me, to see them torturing people: putting needles under their nails, burning their bodies. And they killed lots of them.

JONATHAN HUNT: Why were they torturing people?

MOSAB HASSAN YOUSEF: Because they suspected that they had relations with the Israelis and (were) co-operating with the Israeli occupation against Hamas ... So hundreds of people were victims for this, and I was a witness for about a year for this torture. So that was a huge change in my life. I started to open my (eyes), but, the point (is) that I got that there are good Muslims and bad Muslims. Good Muslims, such as my father, and bad Muslims, like those Hamas members in the jail torturing people.

So that was the beginning of opening my eyes wide.

JONATHAN HUNT: You talk about the good Muslims, like your father, yet you still now renounce the faith of your father. Could you have not been a good Muslim?

MOSAB HASSAN YOUSEF: Now, here's the reality: after I studied Christianity — which I had a big misunderstanding about, because I studied about Christianity from Islam, which is, there is nothing true about Christianity when you study it from Islam, and that was the only source.

When I studied the Bible carefully verse by verse, I made sure that that was the book of God, the word of God for sure, so I started to see things in a different way, which was difficult for me, to say Islam is wrong.

Islam is my father. I grew up for (one) father — 22 years for that father — and another father came to me and told me, 'I'm sorry, I'm your father.' And I was like, 'What are you talking about? Like, I have my own father, and it's Islam!' And the father of Christianity told me, 'No, I'm your father. I was in jail, and this (Islam) is not your father.'

So basically this is what happened. It's not easy to believe this (Islam) is not your father anymore. So I had to study Islam again from a different point of view to figure out all the mistakes, the huge mistakes and its effects, not only on Muslims — (of) which I hated the values ... I didn't like all those traditions that make people's lives more difficult — but its effects also on humanity. On humanity! People killing each other (in) the name of God.

So definitely I started to figure out the problem is Islam, not the Muslims and those people — I can't hate them because God loved them from the beginning. And God doesn't create junk. God created good people that he loved, but they're sick, they have the wrong idea. I don't hate those people anymore but I feel very sorry for them and the only way for them to be changed (is) by knowing the word of God and the real way to him.

JONATHAN HUNT: Does it worry you that in saying these things — and given your background and your words carrying extra weight — there is a danger that you will increase the difficulties, the hatred between Christians and Muslims in the world right now?

MOSAB HASSAN YOUSEF: This could happen if a Christian person will go talk to them about the reality of Islam. They put Christians on the enemy list anyway, before you talk to them about Islam. So if you go to them and tell them, as a Christian, they will be offended immediately and they will hate you and this will definitely increase the vacuum between both religions — but what made someone like me change?

Years ago, years ago, when I was there, God opened my eyes, my mind also, and I became a completely different person. So now, I can do this duty, while you as Christians can help me do it, but maybe you wouldn't be able to. (Muslims) have no excuse now.

JONATHAN HUNT: How difficult a process has this been for you to effectively walk away from your family, leave your home behind? How difficult is that?

MOSAB HASSAN YOUSEF: Taking your skin off your bones, that's what happened. I love my family, they love me. And my little brothers, they’re like my sons. I raised them. Basically, it was the biggest decision in my life.

I left everything behind me, not only family. When you decide to convert to Christianity or any other religion from Islam, it's not (enough) to just say goodbye and leave, you know? It's not like that. You're saying goodbye to culture, civilization, traditions, society, family, religion, God — what you thought was God for so many years! So it's not easy. It's very complicated. People think it's that easy, like it doesn't matter. Now I'm here in the U.S. and I got my freedom and it's great, but at the same time, nothing is like family, you know. To lose your family —

JONATHAN HUNT: Have you lost your family?

MOSAB HASSAN YOUSEF: My family is educated and it was very difficult for them. They asked me many times, especially for the first two days, to keep my faith to myself and not go to the media and announce it.

But for me it was a duty from God to announce his name and praise him (around) the world because my reward is going to be that he's going to do the same for me. So I did it, basically, as a duty. I (wonder) how many people can do what I can do today? I didn't find any.

So, I had to be strong about that. That was very challenging. That was the most difficult decision in my life and I didn't do it for fun. I didn't do it for anything from this world. I did it only for one reason: I believed in it. People are suffering every day because of wrong ideas. I can help them get out of this endless circle ... the track the devil (laid) for them.

JONATHAN HUNT: Have you spoken to your father recently?

MOSAB HASSAN YOUSEF: There is no chance to communicate with my father because he's in jail now and there is (sic) no phones in the jail to communicate with him.

JONATHAN HUNT: Have other members of your family told you how he's reacted?

MOSAB HASSAN YOUSEF: They've visited him from time to time. Till this moment, I don't know his reaction exactly but I'm sure he's very sad (over) a decision like this. But at the same time, he's going to understand, because he knows me and he knows that I don't make any decisions without (believing strongly in them).

JONATHAN HUNT: Is it making his life more difficult among fellow Hamas members?

MOSAB HASSAN YOUSEF: Definitely. My family, including my father, had to carry this cross with me. It wasn't their choice. It was my choice, but they had to carry this cross with me and I ask God — I pray for (my father), all my brothers and my sisters here in this church, praying all the time for them — 'God, open their eyes, their minds, to come to Christ. And bless them because they had to carry this cross with me.'

JONATHAN HUNT: Tell me about Hamas and the way it works. Is Hamas a purely Islamic religious organization as you see it, and that's where, in your eyes, its faults lie, or are there other parts of it which are a problem for you? Or is Hamas a good organization? What is Hamas to you?

MOSAB HASSAN YOUSEF: If we talk about people, there are good people everywhere. Everywhere. I mean, good people that God created.

Do they do their own things? Yes, they do their own things. I know people who support Hamas but they never got involved in terrorist attacks, for example ... They follow Hamas because they love God and they think that Hamas represents God. They don’t have knowledge, they don't know the real God and they never studied Christianity. But Hamas, as representative for Islam, it's a big problem.

The problem is not Hamas, the problem is not people. The root of the problem is Islam itself as an idea, as an idea. And about Hamas as an organization, of course, the Hamas leadership, including my father, they're responsible; they're responsible for all the violence that happened from the organization. I know they describe it as reaction to Israeli aggression, but still, they are part of it and they had to make decisions in those operations against Israel, (for) which there was the killing of many civilians.

JONATHAN HUNT: Do you believe Israel blameless in the conflict?

MOSAB HASSAN YOUSEF: Occupation is bad. I can't say Israel — I'm not against any nation. We can't say Israelis, we can't say Palestinians, we're talking about ideas. Israel has the right to defend itself, nobody can (argue) against this. But sometimes they use (too much) aggression against civilians. Sometimes many civilians were killed because those soldiers weren't responsible enough, how they treat people at the checkpoints.

My message even to the Israeli soldiers: at least treat people in a good way at the checkpoints. You don't have to look really bad and it's not about nations, it's about just wrong ideas on both sides and the only way for two nations really to get out of the endless circle is to know the principles that Jesus brought to this earth: grace, love, forgiveness. Without this, they will never be able to move on, or break this endless circle.

JONATHAN HUNT: You've seen your father jailed, you've been in prison yourself. You've seen Hamas carry out acts of terror against Israelis, and yet you say everybody needs to rise above that?

MOSAB HASSAN YOUSEF: Definitely. This is the only choice. Nobody has magic power to do something for the Middle East. No one. You can ask any politician here in the U.S., you can ask any Palestinian politician or Arab politician, Israeli leaders; no one, no one can do anything. Even if they believe in peace now: they're part of the game.

They're part of the trick. They can't, even if you find a brave person, like Rabin, who was called by an Israeli to make peace with the Palestinians and give them a state, no one, even if you find a strong leader, they can't do this. You can't force an independent country to give another country independence. (Especially when) the other country wants to destroy it.

Everybody is hurt. Israeli soldiers, they lost their friends. Palestinians, they lost their children, their fathers. (There are) many people in prison still, and many people were killed. Thousands. So everybody will never forget this. If they want to keep looking to the past, they will never get out of this circle. The only way to start (is just by) moving on. They were born under the occupation as Palestinians.

The last two generations, it's not their choice. The new generations from Israel — if we say disregarding the existence of Israel is right or wrong, what's the guilt of those people who were born in Israel and they have no other country to go to? It's their country now, that's how they see it. And they are going to keep their resistance and defense against whomever. (They will) say, 'Get out of this land!' So the only way is for both nations to start to understand the grace, love and forgiveness of God, to be able to get out of this.

JONATHAN HUNT: Do you believe that Israel can ever strike a peace deal with Hamas?

MOSAB HASSAN YOUSEF: There is no chance. Is there any chance for fire to co-exist with the water? There is no chance. Hamas can play politics for 10 years, 15 years; but ask any one of Hamas' leaders, 'Okay, what's going to happen after that? Are you just going to live and co-exist with Israel forever?' The answer is going to be no ... unless they want to do something against the Koran. But it's their ideology and they can't just say 'We're not going to do it.' So there is no chance. It's not about Israel, it's not about Hamas: it's about both ideologies. There is no chance.

JONATHAN HUNT: Aren't you terrified that somebody is going to try to kill you for saying these things — which would be approved of according to parts of the Koran?

MOSAB HASSAN YOUSEF: They got to kill my ideas first, (and) that's it, they're already out. So how are they going to kill my idea? How are they going to kill the opinions that I have? ... They can kill my body, but they can't kill my soul.

JONATHAN HUNT: You're not afraid?

MOSAB HASSAN YOUSEF: As a human, you know, I can be very brave now, I'm not thinking about it at this moment and I feel that God is on my side. But if this will be the challenge, I ask God to give me enough strength.

JONATHAN HUNT: Have you been threatened?

MOSAB HASSAN YOUSEF: No, not really. Honestly, most Muslims and Muslim leaders here in the U.S. community, European communities, they are trying to get ahold of me. They are calling my famiily, my mother, and asking for my contacts. They are telling her, 'We want to help him.'

JONATHAN HUNT: They think you need help?

MOSAB HASSAN YOUSEF: Yeah, they think that Christians took advantage of me, and this is completely wrong. I've been a Christian for a long time before they knew, or anyone knew. I love Jesus, I followed him for many years now. It wasn't a secret for most of the time, and this time I just did it to glorify the name of God and praise him.

They're not dealing with a regular Muslim. They know that I'm educated, they know that I studied, they know that I studied Islam and Christianity. When I made my decision, I didn't make it because someone did magic on me or convinced me. It was completely my decision.

JONATHAN HUNT: Do you miss Ramallah?

MOSAB HASSAN YOUSEF: Definitely. You've been there and you know how a wonderful country (it is). Very, very beautiful. It's a very small spot and it has everything — this is why people are fighting for that piece of land. I definitely miss Ramallah. Jereusalem. The Old City.

JONATHAN HUNT: Do you believe you will ever be able to go back?

MOSAB HASSAN YOUSEF: I think I belong to that land, and sooner or later I'm going to go back, no matter what. If they want to kill me, they (will) do whatever they want to do. I have a family there, they love me, they completely support me now with my decisions. Maybe they don't want me to talk to the media but they believe that I made a decision that I completely believe in. So they support me, so I love my family. I'm going to go back there again one day. I love my town.

JONATHAN HUNT: Do you think you'll ever go back to a Middle East living in peace?

MOSAB HASSAN YOUSEF: There will be a 100-person peace when Jesus comes back, when he judges everybody. His kingdom's going to be 1,000 years and it's going to be completely peaceful and it's going to be the kingdom of God.

JONATHAN HUNT: What is your basic message to any Muslim listening to this right now?

MOSAB HASSAN YOUSEF: My message to them is, first of all, to open their minds. They were born to Muslim families — this is how they got Islam and this is just like ... any other religion, like growing up (in) a Christian family, or growing up (in) a Jewish family.

So my point is that I want those people to open their eyes, their minds, to start to understand and imagine that they weren't born for a Muslim famiily. And use their minds.

Why did God give them minds? Open their hearts. Read the Bible. Study their religion. I want to open the gate for them, I want them to be free. They will find a good life on earth just by following God — and they're also going to guarantee the other life.

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