Friday, October 31, 2014

Jesus and Halloween

Well, today is Halloween, and even as I write this I'm waiting for all the junior witches, soldiers, and ninja turtles to show up at my front door for their annual candy bribes.

And as usual, the debate among Christians ensues:  Should we or should we not participate.


Or put another way, WJGOC (Would Jesus Give Out Candy?)

I don't know.  But here's what I think.

Jesus loved people, and that is beyond dispute. And some people consider children people, so I'm betting He loves children too.

Jesus created everything, and that includes fun.  Jesus created fun.

Jesus created humor.  Jesus created laughter.

Jesus created sugar, and that includes candy.

The Apostle Paul wrote that God provides us with everything to enjoy (1 Timothy 6:17).

So if He could make life more enjoyable for children by laughing with them and giving them candy, I'm betting He would.  I bet He would get a big kick out of some of the costumes.

I bet He would probably enjoy some aspects of Halloween, in spite of some of the less honorable ways that some people choose to celebrate it.

I can picture Him remarking about the cuter children, and yes, I can imagine Him taking a moment to provide a glimpse of the future that can be theirs through faith in Him.

And I can totally picture Him sneaking a Snickers now and then.

For a more entertaining and informational video on All Hallow's Eve, check out this video.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Amazing Grace

"Amazing grace! how sweet the sound,
that saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
was blind, but now I see."
John Newton, c. 1790

Who but a former slave ship captain could pen such words, words that endure and still live with us nearly 250 years after they were first writ? (sorry, had to use the verbiage of the era there).

Christian or non-Christian, it would be hard to find many people even today that don't know at least the first verse of this classic hymn.  It is perhaps the most well known and most beloved hymn of all time.  And thanks to Chris Tomlin's recording and rewrite, a whole new generation of believers now loves it.

But do we truly understand the concept of grace?  I confess, I don't.  At times I think I do.  At my best (or worst) I look at my life and wonder how a holy God could love someone like me.  I wonder how an all-knowing God who knows ALL I've ever done and thought would even give me the time of day, let alone send His Son to die be executed so that I might have a relationship with Him forever.  But at my worst (truly my worst) I sanctimoniously see myself as somehow deserving of this grace, or at least more deserving than this person is or that person is.  I see the faces of those with whom I disagree on any number of issues on TV and I feel the anger well up inside.

Grace. Amazing grace.

Charis: God's Scandalous Grace for Us by Preston Sprinkle (David C. Cook, 2014) thus far has been an amazing journey through Scripture, showing the vital thread of grace weaved throughout.  I find few books hard to put down, but with this one I find myself continually either reading it or considering it in light of my life or the life I witness around me.  (You know you're in for a "scandalous" adventure in grace when the first page begins with the story of Jeffery Dahmer!)

Yesterday I posted this quote of Sprinkle's on my Facebook page.  It hit me square between the eyes the moment I read it.
"Our word grace has been overused and abused. It has lost its luster, its richness, its … charis. Perhaps through overuse, grace has become another nice term dumped into our worn-out bag of Christian lingo. We say grace before meals, include grace in gospel presentations, and slap the word grace on the names of churches. But if we never hug a harlot, befriend a beggar, or forgive our enemy seventy times seven, then we confess grace with our lips but mock it with our lives. First Church of Grace or Grace Fellowship or Grace Community— or whatever— should be an otherworldly safe haven where enemies are loved and porn stars are forgiven. That’s charis."
NOTE: Charis is the English transliteration of the Greek word χάρις, which we translate as "grace."

Though no man or woman is 100% without something likeable, can any of us really say the harlot, beggar, enemy, or porn star has something "loveable" that makes them eligible to be called a son or daughter of God?  And yet some become so, as God's grace showers down on them, opening their eyes to faith, and radically destroying their old selves that they may become new creations.

Grace.  Amazing grace. It's by grace that we've saved through faith. God's Grace. Grace that is greater than all our sin.

Grace. Amazing grace!

"When we've been there, 10000 years
bright shining as the sun;
We've no less days to sing God's praise,
than when we've first begun!"

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Prophets and Potatoes

"You say tomato, I say tomatah
You eat potato and I eat potatah
Tomato, tomatah, potato, potatah
Let's call the whole thing off."
~ George Gershwin

If you read last week's musings, you saw that I rambled for so long that it needed to be a two-parter.  Part One focused on whether a religion, any religion, should be defined by it's core written teachings, or if it should be defined by the majority's actions and/or disobedience.  I hope I made my case that it is the holy writings of a faith that should define and characterize it, as only the writings remain unchanged over time and stand alone as an objective standard applicable to each adherent.

This week, I attempt to examine what in my mind is obvious, but that I continually hear misstated and misunderstood, frankly by those same religious "majority" people who don't actually practice the religion they claim.

Do the Qur'an and teach the same things (subtitled is Allah and God two names for the same deity)?

This thought has become very commonplace today, yet is so starkly untrue that it sickens me to even type the sentence.

Though I obviously cannot do an exhaustive comparison in this small space, let me choose just two examples with the hope that the evidence of two differences is sufficient to prove that the teachings of the two books is not the same.

Point 1- both are violent books that teach violence.  This is both true and untrue.  The bible is a book written in different genres.  Some "books" are actually letters that were written by the early apostles to churches or individuals who were alive in the first century.  Books like Psalms, Proverbs, and Job are examples of ancient Hebrew poetry, and even a quick glance shows the reader that they look and read very differently.  The bible includes prophecy and history, which is what is most applicable here.

To record and relate historical acts of violence is not to teach them, and even in those instances where people were commanded to commit violence, the commands were not meant to be universal and timeless. In other words, when God told the Israelites to go to war, He meant that group of Israelites were to fight a specific group of people.  These commands do not hold for us today.

Compare this to the Qur'an, whose commands for violence are universal and timeless.  Just as unbelievers were to be executed in Mohammed's day, even today they should die.  Remember last week's post, that just because (perhaps) the majority of Muslims would not do this, does not mean that it is not a tenet of their faith.  It just means that (thankfully) they are disobedient to this teaching.

Psst- for a great summary of the violence inherent in the Qur'an, see this video.

Furthermore to the fact that the bible's commands for violence are historical is the fact that Jesus came to save the world, and as Paul makes abundantly clear, He came to save the whole world, not just one ethnic group.  Even when arrested, while Jesus could have violently overthrown the authorities, instead He surrendered to them, even scolding His disciples for resisting through violence.  Instead He allowed Himself to be crucified for crimes and sins He did not commit.

Compare this to Mohammed, whose cause of death is still disputed, with some claiming he was murdered by a Jewish woman and others saying he died of illness at the age of 62, a very old age for the time.

Don't get me wrong.  The bible does warn of coming violent judgment.  But the warning consists of violence at the hand of God Himself, and not by Christian believers.  This is in stark contrast to Islam that commands the violent spread of its message.

But what about all those laws that command stoning and such?  Don't those command violence?

Yes they do, but praise be to God that Jesus came to fulfill the law!  He came, lived a perfectly righteous life, and died as the ultimate sacrifice to God so that by faith we could be seen as righteous before God.  Righteous so that we no longer deserved death by stoning or by any other judicial means.  Jesus died to render the law powerless, thus rendering such commands obsolete.

Compare this to Islam that teaches "abrogation."  For those unfamiliar with this word (like I was!), in this context it means that those more recent violent verses in the Qur'an overrule more peaceful verses that may have come earlier.

So let's see.  The bible- violent history that includes some violent commands that are no longer relevant in Christ, or the Qur'an- peaceful past now overruled by Mohammed's more recent writings.

These books, and thus the gods they embrace, are not the same!

I implore you to follow the God of all peace and His Son Jesus Christ, who died taking the penalty for your sin.  Put aside the foolishness of those who for political reasons or political correctness want to delude you.  Embrace the truth of the true God of the ages!

As Paul wrote, 
"Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called “knowledge,”  for by professing it some have swerved from the faith.
Grace be with you"  ( Timothy 6:20-21)

Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Word or the World

"But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,"
Jesus Christ, as written in Matthew 5:44 ESV

"And kill them wherever you find them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out. And Al-Fitnah [disbelief] is worse than killing...but if they desist, then lo! Allah is forgiving and merciful.   And fight them until there is no more Fitnah [disbelief and worshipping of others along with Allah] and worship is for Allah alone.  But if they cease, let there be no transgression except against Az-Zalimun (the polytheists, and wrong-doers, etc.) 

They say if you live long enough you'll see everything.  Suddenly I worry that I've now lived long enough.

What was this final thing to see?  On September 11 of this year, Bill Maher, noted atheist and comedian sat down for an interview with CBS' Charlie Rose.  During the interview Maher takes a defensive stance toward Christianity, rather than likening it to other faiths and toeing the liberal line of "Islam is a religion of peace" hogwash.  In his comments, which are bitterly fought against by Rose, Maher cites the Qur'an and other sources to show that Islamic orthodoxy, unlike Christian orthodoxy, not only accepts but commands violence in the name of Allah.

This past week, on Maher's HBO show, actor Ben Affleck turned red and called Maher and his guest (author Sam Harris) racists for citing those facts that are so inconvenient in a politically correct culture of acceptance.

Underlying all of this is are two main false ideas: One, that the truth of any religion is found in how the majority of its adherents practice that religion, and two, that the bible and the Qur'an teach similar things.

Today's blog post will focus on point one.  I'll tackle point two next week.

Those who claim Islam is a peaceful religion point at those Muslims who do not wage jihad.  Their thinking basically goes that if a billion self-identified followers of Islam just live their lives like you and me, than their religion must be a peaceful one.  Those who make this argument conveniently leave out Quranic and Hadithic verses like the one above, and generally (with no study) dismiss them as meaning something other than what they clearly say.  This same argument is made for Christianity.  As most who proclaim themselves as Christian do not know the bible or its teachings, do not understand them, and do not live by them, then those who attempt to live biblically centered lives must be fanatics and outliers.  

Just one problem, at least when it comes to Christianity.  This is not how Jesus sees it.

"And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily
and follow me."
Jesus, Luke 9:23 ESV

These are words of radical commitment, not allegory.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven."
Jesus, Matthew 7:21 ESV

These are not words of easy self-identification, and I would imagine the "rules" of Islam are similar, in that the religion is either based on the written words of the founder or the disobedience to those words of those who claim to follow it.

Might it be that the truest followers of a religion, any religion, are those who follow its teachings?  That seems so obvious, yet we continually try to define religious orthodoxy democratically.

That would work but for one small problem.

Majority doesn't rule; Christ rules!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

I Think He's Trying to Tell Us Something

To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
(Romans 1:7 ESV)

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
(1 Corinthians 1:3 ESV)

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
(2 Corinthians 1:2 ESV)

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,
(Galatians 1:3 ESV)

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
(Ephesians 1:2 ESV)

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
(Philippians 1:2 ESV)

To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father.
(Colossians 1:2 ESV)

Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace.
(1 Thessalonians 1:1 ESV)

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
(2 Thessalonians 1:2 ESV)

To Timothy, my true child in the faith: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
(1 Timothy 1:2 ESV)

To Timothy, my beloved child: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
(2 Timothy 1:2 ESV)

To Titus, my true child in a common faith: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.
(Titus 1:4 ESV)

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
(Philemon 1:3 ESV)

I think Paul's trying to tell us something.

That is, of course, unless we believe that it's just a coincidence that every one of his New Testament letters begins with a wish for grace and peace to be supplied to the recipients.  And by "coincidence," I mean that the Holy Spirit just happened, with no planning or forethought, to inspire him to write this greeting to all his recipients.

Ummmm, yeah.  Ummm, OK.

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,
(2 Timothy 3:16 ESV)

I find it interesting that of all the things Paul could put up front, he chooses grace and peace (except in his letters to poor Timothy, who I guess needed an extra helping of mercy too!).

Think about it.  Though he does get into these topics in the bodies of his letters, he could wish his readers get saved, be sanctified, think rightly, pray, or any number of things.

Heck, as much as Paul is about the gospel, you'd think that would be up front.

But no, it's grace and peace.  But it's not just the "grace and peace" thing that gets repeated.  It's the source of grace and peace.

God.  Always and only God.

How often do we hope for grace from our friends (or enemies)?  How frequently do we look for peace in a bottle?  How many among us waste their lives "looking for love in all the wrong places" as the old country lyricist wrote?

God.  Always and only God.

May God our Father and Christ Jesus our Lord bring you grace and peace today.