Archive for November, 2012


But neither will I.

When it comes to God’s grace and mercy, you can’t earn it, I don’t deserve it.  That is the point.  If we could be good enough to earn God’s forgiveness and mercy, then I wouldn’t need Jesus.

I was having a conversation with the pastor at church and we were talking about the roles of grace and the law.  How do we explain Christian ethics and lifestyle and what it means to live a Christian life.  The conundrum is the balance and conflict between the two.  I can’t earn forgiveness, and Paul talks time and again how the law brings death.  Yet I know that the law is God’s standard.  So what do I do with that?

Obeying the law won’t save me, it won’t earn me salvation or forgiveness.  For if I could keep the law I would not need forgiveness.  Without a doubt there is the danger of falling into legalism.  It is way to easy to fall into looking at how I am keeping this law or that precept, and how you are not.  Then next thing you know I start looking down my nose and judging you, because although you may be great at keeping laws 1-2-3, they’re not the ones I think you should be focused on keeping.

At the same time how do you encourage people to keep the law, not for what it does for them but because of whose laws they are?  So I’m wondering if this makes sense?  We should strive to keep the law, knowing we are going to fail.  But still strive to keep the law because the law is God’s standard, shows the attributes of God, and pleases him.  Not because God wants to be a wet blanket, but rather than the law is how the universe works.

Would you want someone you love to suffer for you?

So if we love God, wouldn’t we want, try, even strive to keep the law?  1- because it is God’s standard. 2-because it pleases God. 3- Because of all He has done for us.  4- my sin Jesus took on himself on Calvary, suffering for my sin, why would I want to make Him suffer more?

After all God does not need us to “behave” to bring him joy, although our obedience and worship brings him joy.  We can’t earn God’s mercy, so why keep trying?  It’s not about trying to earn Mercy from God we already have mercy as much as we will ever need.

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I read an article last week from Sacred Struggler, titled “Apologetics: I hate it!” that really struck home.  Now I don’t consider myself an Apologist when compared with Ravi Zacharias or C. S. Lewis but I have a strong interest in the subject.  That said I certainly get where Sacred Struggler is coming from.  Apologetics sounds like such a big impressive word, and I am sure there are some who call themselves apologists who are really more like argumentative-ists.

But what is it really?

Apologetics has really gotten a bit of a bum-rap.  Having an interest in the subject I was recently asked to give a study on the subject to my church’s men’s group at our weekly prayer breakfast, we finish up on Thursday.  Apologetics is not to go around saying “I’m sorry” all the time.  Neither is it to have an argument, or act as some high-powered attorney in a Supreme Court case.
Acts 22:1 “Hear my defense(apologia)which I now offer.”  1 Peter 3:15 “be ready to give an answer(apologia) to every man that asketh you a reason for the hope that is within you.”
Apologetics is not about winning an argument but rather a way to show those we have contact with at home, work, with friends, family, or co-workers that we have thought about the big questions and as Christians have a different answer.  Michael Spencer at ccapologetics.wordpress.com  does a great job of using this approach.  You can find his podcast on iTunes under apologetics.
I see apologetics as really having three components:
1- To explain Christian ethics and thought.  It amazes me what some people think it means to be a Christian. For a sample see this survey from the UK of self-identified Christians and see what some people think makes them a Christian.
2- To give opposing thought and reason to the worlds philosophy.  Such things as the idea that man has intrinsic value because he is created vs. Darwinism which holds a boy, is a dog, is a pig, is a pollywog.
3-  To explain why we (Christians) are different.

Why do we act different then everyone else.

Sure part of apologetics is defending, but some of it is to show a different way to live.  All of it is to give hope.  Apologetics is not evangelism, but more a way to hopefully start a conversation that will lead to the opportunity to show someone Jesus.  We want to create a curiosity and a desire on the part of the person we are talking with to want to know more.
If you want to see my study on apologetics email me at cognitivefaith@hotmail.com and I will be happy to email you a copy of the study guide and notes.
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Or so I used to think.

Earlier this morning I was talking to God.  And in typical fashion when I was discussing my financial needs with Him, I was saying to God, just get me to “Here.”
This year has been, from a business stand point anyway, the roughest I have ever had.  I started in real estate 15 years ago, and I have never had a tougher year in this industry.  You know the kind, one step forward two back.  So I am praying about the things I need to cover expense wise, new tires, insurance, marketing costs and a handful of other things.  I had added up the dollar amount and was praying to God just get me to here.  When I realized, then what?  Am I really so bold as to think I could actually handle it from there?
How ridiculous it seems now just a few hours later.   To say to God “Just get me to the edge of the Promised Land and I will do the rest.”  Only to realize then what?  I can’t do it on my own.  Just look at my life and it becomes obvious.

Doing the right things may not be enough.

I can do all the “right” things, and usually do.  Plan, set goals, do the work (lots of it), but without God’s blessing, I am going to if not fail, at least struggle mightily.  Don’t get me wrong I’m not saying don’t try.  I am saying that realizing my utter and obsolete dependence on God is not just for today.  I am going to have to continue to rely on God.  Probably more so when things are going great, then during the struggle.
When work is not going well, or anything else for that matter, it’s easy to rely and trust in God, at least for me.  But when things are going well how easy it becomes to say “Look how great I am”, or “Look at what I’ve done” or to even say to God “I’ve got it from here.”
Oh the arrogance.  Guess that’s what I get for praying for a humble heart.  God pointing out where I am arrogant and powerless all at the same time.  Not at all the type of wisdom I was looking for, but I guess God doesn’t always give us what we want, but he does always supply our need.
Has God ever given you what you need, even if it wasn’t what you wanted?
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To be a Christian is to be a follower, a disciple of Christ.  

 

But let’s be blunt and completely honest.  To live a perfect life for me is impossible. Why?  Because God isn’t able to make me perfect?  Of course not, but because I am not able to let him.

Know perhaps you’re saying “What kind of faith is that?  You say you’re a follower of Christ and yet you don’t do what he says.”  True I don’t I fail to live up to the Christian Ethic.  With no excuse for my own short-comings let me give you a for instance.

Unintentional failure is still failure

A man joins the Air Force.  He’s patriotic, loves his country and wants to serve. One day while walking across the base or standing around talking with some of his buddies a superior officer walks by, but our airman doesn’t notice and doesn’t salute. Is he no longer a patriot?  Of course not, but I fail to salute my king, my commanding officer a lot more than on one occasion.

 

Now our Airman is given a set of guidelines to live by just as you or I am.  The difference being that the closer I get to God the more aware I become of how far from perfect I really am.  Don’t mis-understand,  I am someone who loves God, and is loved by God. But I find being a Christian an ever-evolving process.  The closer I move to God the more aware of my short comings I become.

 

What was obvious to me as sin in my life when I first swore allegiance to Jesus is now easy to avoid.  Now as those things have become non-issues, other deeper things have become noticeable to me as a problem, as a sin that blocks or at least hinders God’s impact and presence in my life.  And if the time comes where, with God’s help, I conquer these things my guess is God will say to me, “That’s great but what about X”

 

Now before you get all “aren’t you trusting in works, or Christ made us free from the law” on  me let me be clear.  Doing anything on my own will never save me or earn God’s mercy, otherwise it would not be mercy.  Likewise I don’t strive to live up to God’s standards as expressed in the Law, because I have to.  Rather I want to because this is what God says is the standard.  His standard is perfect because God is perfect.  I know I will fail, but that does not mean I shouldn’t try.

 

So if you define being a Christian as being Christ-like, then I am destined to fail.  But I am going to fail greatly.

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Do I focus too much on the knowing, the need to know.  Rather then believe, and let God be God, accepting that some of his workings are beyond my comprehension.  Or should I trust what I do not fully understand while seeking knowledge and wisdom.  Search for truth, and understanding, believing that God wants to be known, or else he would not have made himself known in even an infinitesimally small way.  Which comes first, believing God or knowing God?

Faith ain’t always easy

Any of you who know me, know that I do not see Christianity as being dependent on blind faith.  I see God as one who has shown himself over and over again to man, and yes to me personally, tho before you get the wrong idea, no I have never had a vision, a dream or even a burning bush.  Still I find myself focusing on trying to know the why and the what of God.  Why are things in my life the way they are?  What is God trying to show or teach me?  But what if it is not about me?
Max Lucado has a great book “It’s not about me“.  Sometimes this book is a bit hard to read, at least for me.  Not because it is too deep or theological but because of what it makes me face.  One of the things Mr. Lucado talks about is the story of Job, yes that Job.  He points out that after all that Job goes thru and endures, loss of family, wealth, health.  When God comes and speaks to Job, and restores everything and more to him, God never tells him the why.  God doesn’t ease Job’s mind about the why.  God doesn’t tell Job, “Look people will be studying your life, and using it for an example for 5,000 years”

No my trials and issues are NOTHING like Job’s

Would it have made a difference to Job?  I don’t know.  I do know that sometimes I don’t get to know the why.  Maybe that’s just as well.  I can’t speak for you but if God came and told me.  “I know this is tough but someone reading this 20 years from now half a world away is going to make it through a hard time because of this.”   My first thought would probably be really, you can’t find someone else to use as an example?
I’m not one for blind faith, and even tho this might seem like what I am talking about having, it is not.  I have faith because God has been faithful.  God has done things in my past that make it seem realistic that he knows what he is doing.  Even when I don’t.
What about you?  Do you find God wanting you to know him or trust him more?
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At least a little part of it..

This is not about some pie in the sky lets all hold hands a create some workers paradise.  Or heaven on earth or any of these completely unrealistic expectations.  After all, “You will always have the poor” Jesus of Nazareth

Let’s just get past that we are not going to get rid of poverty and its impact.  Can we reduce it? Of course and should we as individuals look for ways to ease the suffering around us.  But how do we do that?   Our ethics as Christians mandate that we love our neighbor as ourselves.  Our Christian ethics expect, I would say even demand that we be involved.

What are some, if not easy, at least not hugly painful steps?

I would suggest that the first step is to get our thinking right about what are the causes and then workable solutions, not just throwing money at the problem.
I believe that there are two beliefs that we, yes even those of us in the church have bought into that are not just false assertions, but counter productive to impacting the issue of poverty.  First that work is some sort of curse and that to care for the poor is to care for the need instead of providing a way for people to provide for their own needs.
Let’s look at the first, work is a curse.  If your mind set is that work is a curse, where did that come from.  In recent years finding ones purpose has become a bit af a mantra.  But what does that mean?  The purpose of man is to work, to create to provide, for himself his family and community.  Paul in his letter to the church at Thessalonica made it pretty clear “If a man will not work he shall not eat”. Each of us has abilities and skills.  Maybe the ability to program a computer, or fix a car, or maybe just to make change, count money, or load groceries.  If your skills don’t provide the opportunity that you want then perhaps using the skills you do have to finance the training to develop the skills you want is where you should be looking.  But Russ what about the unwed mother, the man born blind, the cripple or the mentally handicapped?  Are you really going to tell me you haven’t heard of Helen Keller, Chris Gardner, or any of the other thousands if not millions who have come to this country unable to speak the language, with no connection, little or no education, etc and have by working, turned into successes?  Are there those that cann not do for themselves?  Of course, and I am not for an instant suggesting we as the Church should ignore or despise those.  But there are far to many that either will not work in which case see above, or those that don’t for lack of opportunity.
So what about the way?  Should we as a society just give those without, a hand out?  I would say no.  Leviticus 19:10 speaks clearly to what those who have should do for those that are in need.  And it’s not a handout.  It’s giving them an opportunity to learn a skill, to make their own way.
This is not a zero sum game.  Look around you wealth and abundance are everywhere and they are there for the earning.  Will you become rich or wealthy?  Well I am a firm believer that in this country it’s still possible for anybody willing to do the work to become if not rich at least comfortable.
Economics and the spiritual must focus on both in order to help reduce poverty and to allow a path that provides a way for those who will to move out of poverty and then able to provide and show the path out.
To see some much deeper thoughts and ideas on this read some of Father Sirico of The Acton Institute .
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So I was thinking about Christianity, and how so many people think its all about the love, then how do you explain Christ’s statements about this ( Matthew 10:34-36 ) I came not to bring peace but a sword, to set brother against brother mother against daughter.  Is this a conflict?  It would seem on the surface that this runs in direct opposition to the direction to love our neighbors, bless those that curse you.

Maybe the first is simply a statement about what is happening in general, after all Christ did bring about a lot of division, and in fact his teachings are still causing quit an uproar.  I’m trying to make sense of these two opposing and yet related ideas.

Love your enemies

The idea of loving my enemy speaks to the Christian ethic, but do we ignore a key part of this teaching of Jesus?  Christ says “love your enemies, bless those that curse you”, but he doesn’t say make everyone your friend, or ally.  Are we doing the wrong thing trying to turn our enemies into our allies?  Now I’m no expert on the Bible, but I don’t recall a single instance of Jesus trying to woo his enemies.  Instead he called his enemies a brood of vipers, and a lot worse.  Did some of the religious elite become followers, even disciples of Christ?  A few but it doesn’t seem to be because Jesus went to them, but rather they searched him out.
Should we as disciples of Christ accept we are going to have enemies?  Should we stop trying to find an accommodation with everyone?  What would happen if we, you and I, stopped searching for common ground with others & just showed Jesus.
Don’t get me wrong I am not saying we should look to be confrontational for the sake of making a point.  We are told to be gentle, 2 Timothy 3:24, but gentle does not mean weak.
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Right now there is a flurry of debate regarding what makes a marriage.  One man one woman, two consenting adults, something else?  And I am not here to define one way or the other, although if you have read anything else on this blog you should have a pretty good idea where I stand, but we can get into that later.

Here is my question.  Marriage was created by God with a defined application.  But the church willfully and deliberately gave up its authority on who and what determines what a marriage is or is not.  Was it because it was easier to let someone else define what marriage is rather than church leadership be primary?  Or was it too hard to hold people to a standard that at times may not be easy?  Where was the church leadership taking the moral high ground holding husbands responsible to take care of their kids, even when they walked away from their commitments to their wives?

Christian ethics dictate we take responsibility.

I would suggest that if the church had done the heavy lifting way back when, the govt. would never have gotten their foot in the door.  Instead far too many leaders abdicated authority by shirking responsibility.
Far too concerned with their personal privilege and antagonistic about taking the responsibility, we(yes we) focus on our rights, our authority, to concerned with our little bailiwick we spend to much time on the wrong things.
If we really want to have the authority we need to start taking responsibility without worrying about offending people.  A perfect example is to look no further the Christopher Hitchens rant in “God is not great” about the Catholic Church’s position regarding divorce during the drafting of the  Irish constitution.  The Catholic Church was pushing to eliminate the option of divorce, to which Mr. Hitchins responded that the church was going to force a woman married to an abusive, alcoholic, adulterer to a life of pain, and abuse with no chance of escape. My question is where was the church saying that isn’t the point, our position is that we want to educate everyone even thinking about getting married to take responsibility to know who and what the person your thinking about marrying is all about.  If they had really wanted to get serious about the sanctity of marriage they would have pushed for marriage to only be available thru the church not the government.
Marriage is an institution, a structure set up by God for man, not by government for citizens.  Instead we have moved marriage from being a covenant established by God to a contract defined by the government.  It is not just marriage, but also the care of orphans, widows, the poor, that you and I have failed in our responsibility.  Did we start the collapse?  No but we can take back responsibility.
When the early church at Rome was feeding 1500 hungry on a daily basis it was the Government that was embarrassed and began to emulate the Church.  I suggest that the Church needs to return to that dynamic.  We have abdicated our authority by not taking responsibility.  We need to start taking responsibility.  Responsibility first for our poor, widows, orphans, marriages.  We can only lead from the front.  We have already been given authority from the one who established and created all of this.  Now is the time to start taking responsibility.
Just one resource for ideas of where the church needs to take back responsibility, this is a place to start.
Where else has the Church, Christians abdicated authority?  Where do we need to start taking responsibility to make society better?

Christian Living- Judge not

And yet we do it all the time.  Ok not we, I, I do it all the time and then I try and justify it.  After all didn’t Jesus say “You brood of vipers” or “..beware the leaven of the Pharisees”. To judge is to determine right from wrong, good from bad, holy from evil.  God knows this because it is the separation of what is his nature from what is not.  If it runs counter to the essence of God then it is evil, wrong, destructive.  So what if those statements by Christ were not a judgement but rather a simple statement of fact?

Discern or judge?

Basic Christian ethics tell us to discern, to rightly divide right from wrong, but I don’t think that’s judging, but more like being on a jury.  The only judge for us as Christians is God, for he is the only one with the authority to do so.
Now I am as guilty as anyone.  I look at Christ one minute saying “judge not”, and the next “you brood of vipers” and then I use this to justify my judging others.  And I never stop and remember that Jesus is God.  Maybe I should spend a little more time before making a judgement that when Jesus made a judgement he had the authority to do so because while he was a man, he was/is also fully God, so he gets to judge.
Have you ever fallen into the trap of judging someone else?  What about those times when you have found out later that you made your rush to judgement with less then all the facts?  Did it change your mind?  Yea me too.  I don’t have it right yet but maybe next time I will actually pause, even if its just for a minute before I go exalting myself to the position of judge.  Living a Christian life isn’t easy, none the less that is what you and I are called to do.
What have I been accepting without really looking at the truth behind it all?

Bored and also to avoid doing some writing I decided to to put on a movie.  So as I am watching this movie, which by the way I liked enough to purchase on DVD several years ago. While I was watching I became aware of several flaws in the philosophy of the story.  I won’t go into allow it here, otherwise this would turn into a 10,000 word post.  But here is the thing, just like blind faith,unexamined acceptance is not what we as Christians are instructed to do.
Before accepting a philosophy of life I should be looking deeper at what it really means, how does it line up with Christian ethics.  For example the idea of caring for the poor is a great, but it is not meant to be a blanket statement.  Now there are those that thru birth, disability, both mental and physical, can not and may never be able to care for themselves, but as to those who through bad choices are poor Leviticus speaks clearly on how to care for these, and Paul says “He who will not work, shall not eat”, and Jesus says “you will always have the poor”. Yet I have more than once bought into ideas that run counter to this.
That is just one and a very simple example of it.  I am becoming more and more sensitive to this.  I need to slow down and take the time to examine what I have bought into  and what it is  I am really accepting when I accept these philosophy.  After all Colossians 2:8 makes it pretty clear: “Beware lest any man spoil you thru philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.”
This is just one example, what other areas have you found a flaw in your thought?