Thursday, May 26, 2011

From the Pastor . . . The end of the world and how you should live today

I got my fair share of laughs from the Harold camping end of the world predictions, but for the most part, I felt annoyance and sadness about the whole thing. For those of you that missed it (and I doubt many of you did), 89 year old radio preacher Harold Camping predicted the end of the world at 6 p.m. on the 21st, put up billboards all across the nation, and generally made him-self, and to a certain degree Christians in general, look like dopes.

But here’s the thing. While everyone who takes scripture seriously knew this guy is just a false teacher and kook with no credibility, the church has fallen prey to this kind of false teaching before. William Miller and his Adventist followers is the
most classic example. Miller created a nationwide stir when he predicted that Jesus would return and the world would end before March 21, 1844. In the 1970s, several popular preachers and writers predicted that Christ would return on various dates. This month we had Harold Camping; again (he tried his hand at this before, predicting the end of the world in 1994). 6 pm on the 21st passed peacefully.

Given the public controversy and the amount of media attention that this end of the world prediction generated, how should we react to these kinds of claims as Christians who do believe that the day will come when Christ will return?
First, we should remember (and remind others), that Christ specifically cautions his disciples not to claim that we know when He’ll return. In Acts 1:7, Jesus said, "It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority". In Matthew 24:36 He said "But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only". IF Jesus didn’t know when he was coming back, everyone else should just shut up, lest you make a fool of yourself and slander the name of your Lord. The bible makes clear that we have no basis to claim to know the time and date of His return.

Second, we should understand that the Bible does not contain hidden codes that we’re supposed to find and decipher. It doesn’t have a locked secret knowledge that only a few can figure out. The Bible has been given to us so that we might know the truth, and that truth is clearly revealed . Yes, it has a depth that can keep the brightest scholars busy all their life, but there’s a simplicity to it that even a child can understand. The message is plain. Understanding it does not require mathematical computations that are, "more complex than Google".

Third, we should be looking forward to his return with eagerness. Hebrews 9:28 teaches that Christ, "having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him". We should not be arrogantly setting dates, but we should be looking forward to that great and glorious day when Christ returns to "judge the living and the dead".

Finally, we should wrestle with the question, how then shall we live? Today. Right now. It’s a serious question. The day is coming when Christ will return "like a thief in the night". He will come when we’re absolutely not expecting it. My answer, the historic answer of the church, the answer of scripture is, we should be living like he will return tomorrow. Someone wisely said, "we should live each day as if Christ is coming back tomorrow and live each day as if he's not coming back for a thousand years". That’s what the parable of the lamps is about in Matthew 25. We should be seeking to be found faithful. We should be about the fathers business. We should be sharing the gospel, seeking first God’s kingdom and his righteousness, using what he’s given us to further his kingdom purposes. Today, now, not tomorrow, not down the road; because we don’t know what tomorrow holds. We should not be predicting the end, we should not be sitting around waiting for Christ to return; we should be busy doing what Christ has commanded us to do today.

In Christ
Pastor Jonathan

Worldview

Since I was in college, I have been hearing the word Worldview. When I was a freshman in college, we had a whole class on thinking through our worldview, examining it, thinking about it, pondering it. Worldview has been a popular word in many Christian circles, and as we went through Who Stole My Church, I was surprised to find out how few in the room where familiar with it.

So what is a worldview? A worldview is a framework through which we view reality and make sense of life and the world. It’s the glasses that you look at life through. For example (and this is not original to me), a 2-year-old believes he's the center of his world, a secular humanist believes that the material world is all that exists, and a Buddhist believes he can be liberated from suffering by self-purification.

Everyone has a worldview, whether we realize it or not. We all have certain presuppositions and biases that affect the way we view all of life and reality. Where does it come from? Where do we get our worldview? Everywhere. Our parents and family, our culture, our family class, our education, the music we listen to, the books we read, the things we watch, the websites we look at, and much, much more. Most people don’t think through their worldview. It’s something we have absorbed by osmosis from the surrounding cultural influences, and they haven’t thought strategically about what they believe, and may not even be able to give a rational defense of their beliefs to others.

Why is all this important? Because a persons worldview is their personal theology of life, it is the foundation for everything they think and do and say. A persons worldview serves as their decision-making filter, enabling them to make sense of the complex and huge amount of information, experiences, relationships and opportunities they face in life. By helping to clarify what they believe to be important, true and desirable, a worldview has a dramatic influence on a person’s choices in any given situation.

Here’s the problem (or the one I will mention). Most American Christians don’t have a biblical worldview (Only one percent of Mosaics have a biblical worldview and 9 percent of all Americans have a biblical worldview). Only 20 percent of those who call themselves born again have a biblical worldview. How is a biblical worldview defined? For a survey two years ago, the Barna group asked people to answer several questions, based on claims found in the Bible: Do absolute moral truths exist? Is absolute truth defined by the Bible? Did Jesus Christ live a sinless life? Is God the all-powerful and all-knowing Creator of the universe, and does He still rule it today? Is salvation a gift from God that cannot be earned? Is Satan real? Does a Christian have a responsibility to share his or her faith in Christ with other people? Is the Bible accurate in all of its teachings? (http://www.barna.org/barna-update/article/12-faithspirituality/252-barna-survey-examines-changes-in-worldview-among-christians-over-the-past-13-years).

What they found was that less than half of the born again adults (46%) believe in absolute moral truth, and while only one-quarter of adults (28%) believe that it is impossible for someone to earn their way into Heaven through good behavior, they also found that only 47% of born again Christians strongly reject the notion of earning salvation through their deeds  (i.e. -53 percent of all born again Christians think you can earn it – for a rebuttal to this position, please read Ephesians 2).

Worse, they found some troubling patterns as well. They found that although most Americans consider themselves to be Christian and say they know the content of the Bible, less than one out of ten Americans demonstrate such knowledge through their actions. There’s a story from the White Horse Inn (a Christian radio program), that when they  started to do a series examining Galatians last year, they went to a conservative, evangelical Bible college (a place you would expect high biblical knowledge) and asked, “What is the book of Galatians about?” The result was not good, wrote the blogger who told the story, He said, “It was almost jaw dropping to hear some of these responses and how completely wrong they were.” Here’s some of the other answers they got “Community in the church. I’m not familiar with it. Strengthening others in Christ. I haven’t read it all the way through. I don’t remember.” Let me help here. Galatians is about freedom in Christ (5:1)

In addition, they found that , the generational pattern suggests that parents are not focused on guiding their children to have a biblical worldview. One of the challenges for parents, though, is that you cannot give what you do not have, and most parents do not possess such a perspective on life” (ibid). This week, a Barna pole noted two more disturbing facts. Twenty-five percent of those who claim to be born-again Christians said that “all people are eventually saved or accepted by God”. A similar proportion, 26 percent, said a person’s religion does not matter because all faiths teach the same lessons. (http://www.christianpost.com/news/many-born-again-christians-hold-universalist-views-barna-finds-49883)

Why do we care that many American Christians don’t have a biblical worldview? Because if we don’t hold a biblical worldview,, it damages our ability to glorify God with our lives, and it destroys our witness. If we don't really believe the truth of God’s word, if it doesn’t shape our thinking and our actions, then our lives will not consistently honor and glorify God. It may sometimes, but not consistently. Furthermore, our witness will be confusing and misleading. We may want to have a good witness, but we will struggle with being influenced more by the philosophy and thinking of our post-Christian culture than by scripture. Colossians warns us, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ (Col 2:8 NIV). Many American Christians are completely taken by the philosophy of our culture, and while we say that we believe the Bible, our words, actions, tell us that our worldviews are often being shaped by other things.

So how do we develop a biblical worldview? First, and most importantly, we get in the word. We read, read, read. I can’t begin to tell you how important this is. Time and again, the Psalms tell us the value of scripture; Psalm 119 says that Gods word “is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path (Psalm 119:105 NIV). Psalm 1 tells us, “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night (Psalm 1:1-2 NIV).  “The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple”. Psalm19 tells us “The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes. The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever. The ordinances of the LORD are sure and altogether righteous. They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb. By them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.(Psalm 19:7-11). As you read scripture, it will change you, because it proclaims the message of God’s saving work, warns us, directs us, guides us, and does more than we can ask or imagine.

Second, Be Bereans. Acts tells us “Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true (Act 17:11) When you come across ideas, examine them, don’t just let them flow in and sit. This goes for everything I say too. Hold it to the light of Scripture, and see if it matches.

Third, really start to think through what you believe, and why you believe it. In Romans 12, Paul writes, “I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Rom 12:1-2 NIV) To not conform, you have to examine what you believe, and how that shapes your life.

 Fourth, read books that help you wrestle with big questions. Read like crazy. I would recommend four books to start with: Tim Keller’s “A Reason for God” (I highly recommend “A reason for God” if you are trying to engage postmoderns), John Stott’s “Basic Christianity”, Lee Strobel’s “A Case for Christ”, and C.S. Lewis’ “Mere Christianity”. Start with Keller, his book is worth it.

Finally and most importantly, constantly preach the gospel to yourself, remind yourself every day of all that God has done. Remind yourself that Christ died for you, He lost his life, so that you might have life in him. He died as a sinner, so that you might be righteous. He died, to make you God’s child in his image. He died a terrible death, so that you might know “the all surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord”(Phil.3:8). If you seek to build a biblical worldview and live a life that glorifies God without understanding this, you will fail, because the efforts will be either based on guilt, or emotions; and both eventually both power sources run dry. But if you remember the cross, if your remember that Christ became weak, so you might be strong, it will give you the right motivation, not on your actions earning Gods grace, but based on a joyful response to all that Christ has done for you.

In Christ,
Pastor Jonathan

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Osama Bin Laden

Yesterday, I was asked what I thought about Bin Laden's death.A member of the church wrote.

"I'd love to know your thoughts on Bin Laden's death.  I am struggling with it today - celebrating in my mind, but feeling guilty at the same time.  This was, after all, a man, whom God loved, and we (USA) have now taken away any possibility there might have been (slim possibility I know) that at some point in the future he might have felt remorse for his actions and turned to God.  Is there a point where the needs or interests of the many truly do outweigh the needs of the one?  Or is that just a myth?"

Wow, what a great, loaded question. Here is a short, imperfect answer.


Let me start by saying this. I think that celebrating is a natural reaction. But as I look at this, I wonder, are we celebrating his death per se, or all that is wrapped up with that? I think that from my perspective, what we are celebrating is that a major threat has been eliminated, and that justice has taken place. This is a just execution.

What makes it a just execution? Is there such a thing? I think so.

Genesis 9:3-6 teaches that if you take a life, your life is forfeit. Now the Law makes this principle more explicit, differentiating between manslaughter, and murder (Numbers 35 makes a distinctions between - malice aforethought and accidental death without hostility). The bible never condemns capital punishment. Christ never condemned capital punishment. He had ample opportunity to say something on the topic, and he didn’t. In fact, in Luke 23:41, we see that the dying thief says to the other, “we are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong”. Jesus does not say, “no, it doesn’t matter what you did, capital punishment is wrong”. He could have, but he doesn’t.

A passage that may be used by some to say that Jesus is against capital punishment is John 8:1-11. There, a woman caught in adultery is brought to Jesus, and while the Law said she should be stoned, Jesus says, let the person who is without guilt cast the first stone. This whole scene is a setup. The Pharisees are trying to Get Jesus to reject the law of God. He doesn’t do it. Instead, he invites anyone who is sinless to take the first crack. This is not a rejection of capital punishment; just trap avoidance.

When we look at Romans, we see that Human government is ordained by God (Romans 13:1-7). They have the power to tax (6-7), the power to enforce laws (2-3), and the power to punish evil. Romans 13:4 tells us that “If you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer”. In other words, the sword is placed in the hands of the state to administer Justice. Peter adds to this, when he says “Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.” (1Peter 2:13-14)

Now, let’s put all that in the context of killing of Bin Laden's death. Did he take part in murder? The case is pretty clear that he masterminded 9-11, which means he was involved in committing murder. Should we celebrate the death? I don’t think so. I don’t think we should ever celebrate when someone dies. Might he have repented? Might, might, might he have felt remorse for his actions and turned to God? Maybe. I’m not going to pretend that this is not the case. And, while I don’t know that I want to say that there a point where the needs or interests of the many truly do outweigh the needs of the one (although that may well be the case), I think that at a point, the interest of justice does need to be served.

With Bin Laden’s death, justice has been served, and a major threat has been eliminated. It is fair to celebrate that reality: and I think that allot of what is going on is a celebration of the fact that justice was served. It’s like a whole nation is finally getting to celebrate outside the courthouse of justice like a family who lost a son or daughter to murder might celebrate finally feeling the relief of relief knowing that the murderer of their child met justice ten years later. A wrong is not righted, but justice has finally been served.

That’s my thoughts after chewing on them for a bit. In the end, what I feel most of all is sadness. Sadness for the loss of life that’s been caused already. Sadness that we will most likely see more violence. Many Muslims are mouning Bin Laden’s death (ironic- given that somewhere around 90 percent of all Al-Qaeda fatalities have been Muslims (stat from- http://www.congress.org/news/2011/05/02/obama_no_war_against_islam). There is no good end. Just an end. But at least, for a day, we can celebrate justice.