This page is mostly for personal and spiritual posts (a.k.a. non-fiction).
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Friday, October 28, 2011

An Alternative to the "Dating Game"

For the consideration of young people, their parents, and older singles, the following is a biblically wise alternative to the “Dating Game” that I've put together through years of study and discussion with church groups and Christian school classes. I hope you find it helpful, or at least challenging to your thinking. It's based on the basic idea that romance should wait until you're ready to get married, or in other words, "don't shop until you're ready to buy." (If you want to see more of a critique of the usual approach to dating, see Josh Harris’s book I Kissed Dating Goodbye, and for more about the parents’ role, see Doug Wilson’s book Her Hand in Marriage.)

If you are not ready to get married yet:

Relate to members of the opposite sex as brothers or sisters (1 Tim. 5:1-2), and guard your heart against other thoughts and feelings. Be open with your parents about all of your relationships, and ask them to fulfill their responsibility of providing counsel, protection, and accountability for you (Eph. 6:1-2, 1 Cor. 7:36-38).

Stay in groups, don’t spend much time alone with any individual of the other sex (Prov. 4:23, Matt. 6:21). And be friends; if you do spend time together, do it as friends not as a “couple” or “boyfriend/girlfriend.”

If you do get too far along (“too close too soon”), mutually agree to separate totally for awhile (principle of “radical amputation” from Matt. 5:29-30).

Commit yourself to serving Christ with the time and energy you have (1 Cor. 7:32-35), and find ways to fill your life with learning, work, and other ministry.

Stay away from media and other influences that will cause you to long for romance or will generate sexual desires (Rom. 13:14).

Use this time as a single young person to grow in Christ, and to learn and practice what the Bible says about good relationships, and to pray and prepare for the right kind of marriage based on biblical principles (Prov. 31, Eph. 5:22-33, 1 Timothy 3, Titus 2, etc.).

Evaluate carefully, and with godly counsel, the reasons why you think you are not ready to get married. Determine if they are really biblical, wise, and legitimate reasons, especially if you are good friends with someone who could be a good life partner for you (Prov. 31:10‑11).

When you are ready to “date/court” for the purpose of marriage:

Pray a lot about this and prepare your heart and life to be a godly partner for someone, and evaluate any possible partners according to biblical principles and godly counsel from others—not according to feelings, physical attraction, pressure to get married, etc.

Until you meet someone that you want to “date/court,” or if a relationship doesn’t work out, learn and practice being content with the situation of “singleness” you are in (1 Cor. 7:17-24, Phil 4:11).

If a man wants to pursue a relationship beyond friendship with a woman, he should seek permission/approval from her father (or her pastor/elders, if the father is not fulfilling his responsibility). They should continue to be accountable to the protection and guidance of her father, and should again seek His permission/approval for engagement, if things go well (1 Cor. 7:36-38).

Fill the dating/courtship stage with worship, Bible Study, prayer, and ministry together, rather than merely the world’s ways of “dinner and a movie,” etc. Communicate openly about your intentions and plans, focus on serving the other person, and stay away from sexual sin, so that if it doesn’t work out it will not result in a debilitating “heartbreak” for either party.

When you get engaged, make it a short engagement, and get married even earlier if sexual sin is an issue (1 Cor. 7:8-9). But practice self-control and purity even in the engagement period, because if you don’t the problem will carry over into your marriage.

Get some good biblical premarital counseling, don’t go into debt on the wedding, and live happily ever after (for the glory of God)!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Age of Accountability?

A friend sent me an email asking if I believed in an "age of accountability" for children, saying that it didn't seem to be in the Bible anywhere. Here is my response...

The first part of my answer is not pleasant to think about (even to me), but hang with me, because the second part gets a lot better and shows the "silver lining in the cloud."

I do not believe in an “age of accountability,” first because it's not in the Bible, as you pointed out, but also because I believe that all humans, except for the virgin-born Christ, became sinful and separated from God when Adam fell in the garden. “Just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12, also 1 Cor. 15:21-22).

This is called “covenantal headship” or “federal representation”… the word “Adam” in Hebrew is the same word for “man” or “mankind,” and he and Eve were mankind at the time, so their penalty of death (primarily spiritual, as explained above, but with physical death beginning as a result) passed down to all of us at conception, because we are “in Adam.” “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me” (Psa. 51:5, also 58:3).

We do not become sinners because we start sinning at some point in our childhood; we sin because we are already sinners by nature. “You were dead in your trespasses and sins…and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest” (Eph. 2:1-3)

That’s why we don’t have to teach children (cute as they are) to say “NO!” or “MINE!” Instead we must teach them to obey and share. They are born sinners, and therefore are eligible for the just punishment that sin deserves. God may choose to save young children who die, but it would not be based on their "innocence," but merely because of His grace and mercy in Christ. (The Bible doesn't speak clearly to that issue of young children who die, which is probably intentional because if it did, people throughout history would have killed their children to ensure them a place in heaven, or grieved hopelessly if they were known to be in hell. We must simply trust that "the Judge of the earth will do right" as Abraham said in Genesis 18:25, and leave the "secret things" to God as Moses said in Deuteronomy 29:29.)

But back to the principle of representation (or "original sin"): it is admittedly a tough pill to swallow. “I became sinful and separated from God because of what someone else did?! That seems unfair!!” But I have come to accept it because it’s clearly taught in the Bible, and even more because I’ve realized it’s the only way I can be saved from my sins and guaranteed a place in heaven forever. If God didn’t relate to us through this principle, then Jesus couldn’t have lived a perfect life and died on my behalf… but as it is, I can receive all His righteousness and be forgiven of all my sins because of what someone else did. So my destiny is not dependent upon my performance, but on His.

If I had to “stand on my own” before God, like Adam in the garden, I’m sure I would eventually fall like he did... if not right away! And that could happen even if I somehow managed to get to heaven. Who’s to say that after a week, a year, a hundred or a thousand years in, I would not blow it like Satan and Adam did and be cast out? I would never know if I was there for good! But because I am “in Christ” (arguably the two most important words in the Bible), I know that God relates to me through this representative and I am safe forever. How long will Jesus be perfect? Forever. How long will Jesus be loved by His father? Forever. How long will Jesus reign in the new heavens and new earth? Forever. So I will enjoy all those things just as long as He does, because by faith I am in union with Him!

This is the good news (or “gospel”) of grace, which unfortunately many people don’t grasp yet, even many Christians (I was one of those for a long time). It’s been put well this way: “In myself I am more sinful and undeserving than I ever feared to admit, but in Christ I am more loved and accepted than I ever dared to hope.” And that understanding of grace helps us to relate to others in the same way, loving them fully and continually even when they don’t deserve it.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Jesus Calms the Storm

When I think of Hurricane Irene now on the morning after, with my “cup half empty,” I am regretful that we canceled our church service today. That decision was really out of my hands, however, because the building where we meet was closed and a number of families said they would not be coming anyway, or at least didn’t want to. That is very understandable because of the possible flooding, blocked roads, and power outages that we were warned about. But now after the anticlimax of last night (our power didn’t even go off), it seems like this may have been another example of the media “manufacturing news.” I just finished watching Andersoon Cooper on CNN ask his weatherman “What happened to the hurricane?”—he seemed a bit embarrassed or even regretful that it turned out to be more of a speedbump for New York, the city where he was “on location” in his deluxe windbreaker. (But I won’t judge…)

On the other hand, when my “cup is half full,” I can look at it this way: Jesus calmed the storm! It could indeed have been much worse, but he spared us from that by His gracious providence. The weatherman’s answer to Cooper was that North Carolina “got in the way,” meaning that area took the brunt of the hurricane’s force and it diminished after that to a mere tropical storm. And that itself is an illustration of what Jesus did for us on the cross…we still have to face some troubles and trials in this life, but we never have to worry about the horrible hurricane of hell, because He bore that penalty in our place (2 Corinthians 5:21, Galatians 3:10-14, 1 Peter 2:24). So we have many reasons to worship the Lord today, by ourselves or together with our families, which would be especially good to do if your church didn’t have a service! Here are a few suggestions for how you could do that…

Even though the storm did not affect us as badly as was feared, we still had to face our fears of the storm, so you could start by listening to or watching a video for the song “Praise You in this Storm,” by Casting Crowns. You can simple google it to find the audio, or better yet check out one or more of the nice videos for the song on YouTube. Then you could read Luke 8:22-25 and other parallel passages about Jesus calming the storm, and listen to my friend Dyke Habegger’s message on those verses, appropriately called “Jesus Calms the Storm.” The message can be found under July 13 on this page: http://www.faithchurchpca.net/sermons_2008.html. Finally, spend some time in prayer, thanking God for His gracious providence that keeps us from disaster in this world, and His gracious provision of Christ that keeps us from ruin in the next. And ask God to give you the opportunity to be His “hands and feet” to provide help and hope for others, both physically and spiritually. Pray for those you know who have needs in one or both of those areas.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Problems with Christianity and Atheism

I came across a quote in Neal Stephenson's novel Snow Crash recently, which will be offensive to most Christians and also to most atheists (what fun!). It said, "Ninety-nine percent of everything that goes on in most Christian churches has nothing whatsoever to do with the actual religion. Intelligent people all notice this sooner or later, and they conclude that the entire one hundred percent is bull___, which is why atheism is connected with being intelligent in people's minds."

I think "ninety-nine percent" is hyperbole or overstatement, but the basic sentiment is true. As always, Christianity is in dire need of reformation, though many of its adherents don't seem to notice. Recently I've had a number of conversations with or about young people who are "disappointing" their very sincere parents by not following in the traditions of their faith. And it occurred to me that in these situations this difficulty only exists because the traditions they are rejecting are not even found in the Bible! If only the older generation would not invent or perpetuate "standards" that originate from man rather than the Holy Spirit, the consciences of the believing younger generation would not have to conflict with what they have been taught so often. On the other hand, parents who are careful to draw the line between what are scriptural convictions and what is mere wisdom and preference find that they share a sweet fellowship with their grown children, because the main thing is the main thing and that is what bonds them together. (I'm not saying it's easy, however...in my own case I have had to say, "I wouldn't do it that way, but he has freedom before God and I'm determined to not be legalistic about this.")

The quote above also waylays atheists, in case you didn't notice the subtle implication. The character in the novel says that intelligent people can see there is a lot wrong with "Christianity" as it is commonly practiced, so they reject the whole kitten caboodle, and thus atheism has become associated with intelligence (wrongly, because atheism only goes "halfway" toward a more thorough intellectual investigation that would reveal true biblical Christianity to be reasonable). A friend said to me recently that she discovered by reading the New Testament that Jesus was not nearly as concerned with "right-wing politics" as many of his followers are today, and so she was also questioning "the whole Son of God thing." But these are apples and oranges. The connection between Jesus and right-wing politics is not one that can be made by a careful exegesis of Scripture, but nothing is more clear on its pages than Jesus' own claim that He was the Son of God. Christians do misrepresent what the Bible says (because we are all sinners, as the Bible says), but that doesn't mean the Bible itself is wrong. That widespread leap of logic is understandable, but fallacious nonetheless.

Another example of atheism being "halfway intellectual" is Penn Jillette, who has a new book out called God, No! in which he says that atheists (shouldn't it be agnostics?) are humble and Christians are arrogant, because the latter claim to know the truth about God. "I don't know," he says, "so I'm an atheist." Well, I don't know either...so...I would need someone greater and more knowledgeable than myself to tell me what the truth is, like someone who made the universe and then condescended to communicate with us by inspiring human literature that could then be available for people of later generations to study as an objective source of truth. And therefore I am not being arrogant when I say I believe something to be true based on those books, I am actually being humble because I am admitting that I do not have the ability in myself to determine what is true. In fact, I not only am incapable of observing or comprehending enough to discover or discern truth on my own, I am very likely to misunderstand it because of my many biases. So I am utterly dependent on outside revelation and supernatural illumination. This is hardly self-aggrandizing, in fact it goes against my natural pride to admit that I am so pathetically helpless without God's grace.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Philip K. Dick, A Scanner Darkly, and The Meaning of the Universe

I've been going through some of Philip K. Dick's fiction catalog lately (I won't call it science fiction, because it defies categorization), and I read A Scanner Darkly completely for the first time (I guess my tastes have matured enough that I could finally get through it). I also watched the movie adaptation, which I found to be unique and interesting (I have an edited version that omits the completely unnecessary nudity).

If the term "God-haunted" fits anyone, it fits Dick. Even before he ended his career, and life, with a trilogy of "theological mysteries" (Valis, The Divine Invasion, The Transmigration of Timothy Archer), he invented the religion of Mercerism in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (the basis for the movie Blade Runner) and named this award-winning novel after the verse in the Bible that says, "We now see through a glass darkly" (I Cor. 13:12, KJV). A Scanner Darkly has too much rambling and seemingly random content for me to call it a favorite (my favorite Dickian titles are Androids, Ubik and the early Vulcan's Hammer). But there are some classic passages in it, like the one below, which captures well the truth about how the universe started out and what has happened to it since. It's toward the end of the novel, when Donna is bemoaning the fact that her employers in the narcotics division have manipulated her fellow undercover agent Bob Arctor not only to investigate and inform on himself (!) but also to become addicted to Substance D and fry his mind so he could be their mole in the New Path recovery program, which they suspect of producing the very drug that they are treating (!). (And, of course, because it's Philip K. Dick, neither Donna or Bob know that the other is a narc, even though they are "dating.")

"How can justice fall victim, ever, to what is right? How can this happen? She thought, Because there is a curse on this world, and all this proves it; this is the proof right here. Somewhere, at the deepest level possible, the mechanism, the construction of all things, fell apart, and up from what remained swam the need to do all the various sort of unclear wrongs the wisest choices has made us act out. It must have started thousands of years ago. By now it's infiltrated into the nature of everything. And, she thought, into every one of us. We can't turn around or open our mouth and speak, decide at all, without doing it. I don't even care how it got started, when or why. She thought, I just hope it'll end some time...I just hope one day the shower of brightly colored sparks will return, and this time we'll all see it. The narrow doorway where there's peace on the far side. A statue, the sea, and what looks like moonlight. And nothing stirring, nothing to break the calm.

"A long, long time ago, she thought. Before the curse, and everything, and everyone became this way. The Golden Age, she thought, when wisdom and justice were the same. Before it all shattered into cutting fragments. Into broken bits that don't fit, that can't be put back together, hard as we try."

As I've always said, people without a Christian worldview can see what's wrong, very astutely at times. Unfortunately Dick, like many such astute observers, did not seem to find the answer. Here are some passages from an even better Author, which contain both the problem and the solution:

"Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned....Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death....For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body....And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren; and whom He predestined, these He also called; and whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?" (excerpts from the book of Romans)

Now we do see through "a scanner darkly," but one day we will see "face to face" with the One who bore the curse for us (Gal. 3:13)! My prayer is that all who share Dick's observations about this fallen world will not only see what he saw about its disease, but will also learn about the only true cure.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Far Beyond (Song for Jaclyn's Baptism)

I wrote these words (from Psalm 127:3-5) for my daughter Jaclyn's baptism (five months old), and they were put to music by my son Nathan (college student). Yes, we have quite a variety of ages in the olive branches around our family table. The song and the psalm it's based on apply to all my seven children, of course, and to all other covenant children as well. It struck me as I was studying the passage one day that arrows enable the warrior to reach far beyond where he could without them...they increase his "range," if you will. And that is exactly what our children do in the spiritual battle, when they are raised according to God's Word. So here are the words for "Far Beyond," and if you want to hear the music, go to Nathan's Facebook page and you'll see a video of him singing it.

CHORUS:
I believe that you will go
Far beyond where I’ve been
I believe that you will see
Far beyond what I’ve seen
I believe that you will try
Things I’ve never tried
And I believe you will fly
So much higher than I

VERSE 1:
Like arrows in the hands of the warrior
Can make his reach so long
So the children of our youth
Will carry the battle on

Further up and further in
To well outside our range
And having many blessed weapons
Will bring a world of change

CHORUS

VERSE 2:
Like allies in the face of aggression
Will stand and defend your name
So the man with many children
Will not be put to shame

Further up and further in
And to the very end
The reward is that our children
Will end up as our friends

CHORUS

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Pray for the Prosperous

If we would learn to profit [spiritually] from our prosperity, we should not need so much adversity. If we would gather from a kiss all the good it might confer upon us, we should not so often smart under the rod... Charles Spurgeon

"The squeaky wheel always get the grease," they say, and all too often that is true in our relationships and ministries to others. But in my recent studies for teaching the book of Ephesians, I noticed again that the apostle Paul took time to pray for those who were spiritually prosperous, not just for those who were hurting. In Ephesians 1:15 he begins his prayer saying that he had heard "of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you, and your love for all the saints." Many members of the Ephesian church were walking by faith and showing sacrificial love to all Christians without discrimination (even those in other cultures). These are marks of spiritual maturity and stability, so some of us might think that Paul was wasting his time by praying for them when there were so many others trapped in sin and doctrinal error. Shouldn't we primarily pray for those who are especially "needy"? Not according to Paul; in fact, a study of his other prayers recorded in the New Testament reveals that he actually seems to have prayed more often for those Christians who were succeeding spiritually. He did pray for people with problems, but he certainly did not take them off his prayer list when they had "conquered their problems" and were living in a manner pleasing to God.

One reason for this is that Paul knew there is always room for growth in any believer's life. None of us reaches perfection while we are in this world. We trust Christ but we do not trust Christ as much as we should. We love the saints but we do not love the saints as much as we should. We serve Christ, but we do not serve Him as much as we should. We know some of the Word of God but none of us knows as much as we ought to know. No church is as spiritual as it could be, and no individual Christian will get to the point in this life where he or she does not need our prayers any longer. On the contrary, there is actually a serious danger in withholding or removing prayer support from people simply because they are "doing well." First Corinthians 10:12 says, "Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall."

How do you think the Notre Dame football team took a 24‑0 halftime lead over USC in 1972, only to lose 55‑24? And how do you think the Buffalo Bills accomplished the greatest comeback in National Football League history in 1993 when they beat the Houston Oilers 41‑38 after being behind 35‑3 in the third quarter? Part of the answer must be that the Notre Dame and Houston players became overconfident with their big leads and relaxed their efforts enough to allow such debacles to occur.

Unfortunately, that kind of defeat can happen in the spiritual dimension as well, in the lives of churches and their individual members. The history of the church at Ephesus itself is a testimony to that sad fact. Paul wrote in his letter that it exhibited great faith and a love for all the saints, but not many years later Jesus had to speak these words to the church: "I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen" (Rev. 2:4‑5). And not only can churches or individuals "lose their first love," but they can also fall hopelessly into a spiritual deadness or even an outright denial of Christ (Rev. 3:14‑18; cf. Demas in Philemon 24 and 2 Tim. 4:10).

That danger should motivate us to not only pray fervently for churches and individual members who are in the midst of crises, but also for those who are currently in a spiritually prosperous condition. They can lose their enthusiasm, their stability, and their commitment to Jesus Christ and His truth. But through our prayers God can deliver them from such a fate and grant them His continued blessing (cf. 1 Cor. 1:11).

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Passion of the Christ

Yesterday was Good Friday, and tonight we are planning to watch and discuss an edited version of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ (with the violence toned down some...see below), so I thought I would reproduce here a newspaper interview I did years ago, during the week that the movie was first released. I hope you find it interesting and edifying, and that it will help you to better understand the event that is truly the "crux" of history...

1) Are you planning special church programs on The Passion movie? Why or why not?

The only thing that our church might do is have a message around Easter time entitled "The Passion--Fact and Fiction," or something like that. The goal would be to instruct our congregation about the truth of Christ's sacrifice, but also to possibly attract some people that are interested in the movie and its topic. I am frankly surprised that so many church leaders are endorsing this movie, and viewing it as a form of evangelism, in many cases even before they have seen it! I have seen it, and find it to be a somewhat disconcerting--and potentially dangerous--mixture of truth and error.

2) Do you see this movie as bringing people to your church and/or Jesus? Why or why not?

Of course I do want people to be drawn to Jesus, and also to our church, if that is the best place for them. But if people are truly drawn to Jesus by the Holy Spirit, it will not be through the movie itself, or the emotional experience of viewing it. It will be through the Word of God (biblical truth) contained in the movie and expressed through it. The gospel itself is "the power of God unto salvation" (Rom. 1:16). The medium of film definitely has the power to move people emotionally, but the power to change people spiritually can only come through an understanding of the words about Christ, as Romans 10:17 says.

3) What role does Jesus' suffering play in your spirituality? Why?

Wow! I would need to write a whole book to answer that question! But in shorthand, the source of all my motivation for living as a Christian comes from the conviction that because Jesus died for me, I should live for Him (2 Cor. 5:14-15, 1 Peter 2:24). I love Him because of what He did for me, bearing the penalty for my sins and freeing me from any fear of the judgment of God. Also, Jesus' suffering is a model for me, since He said that I should take up my cross, and follow Him (Luke 9:23-25). I need to be willing to give myself up for the glory of God and the good of others.

4) What do you think of the way the movie treats the Virgin Mary? Why? What role does she play in your spirituality? Why?

This is one of my biggest misgivings about the movie. Knowing that Mel Gibson believes strongly that Mary is both a "co-redemptrix and co-mediatrix," as he told an interviewer recently, and merely having my eyes open while watching the film, it is obvious that he wants people to place their trust not only in Christ, but also in His mother. Mary is referred to as "Mother" by everyone, is portrayed as if she is offering up her Son, and at one point she matches steps with Satan on the other side of Jesus, implying that she is also a more-than-human character playing a significant spiritual role in the proceedings. But most significant is the fact that every time Jesus falls under the cross, he looks to Mary and receives from her the strength to go on. Mel Gibson himself said that he was surprised that evangelicals are so supportive of the film, "because it is so Marian."

I believe what the Bible says about Mary, and nothing more. She was a good model for us when she submitted to God's will and praised Him (Luke 1:38-55). But she was also a sinner like everyone else who needed to be saved like everyone else (Luke 1:47). The big problem with making her more than that is what I alluded to above: people direct their trust and worship toward Mary when the Bible is very clear that we should trust and worship God alone. So what we end up is a dangerous form of idolatry--or "maryolatry," as some have called it. And the Bible makes it abundantly clear that idolatry is displeasing to God and dangerous to those who practice it.

5) Do you consider the movie too violent? Why or why not?

Yes, that is the other biggest problem I have with the movie. I can't say it better than so many of the critics have ("the goriest story ever told," "a merciless excursion into motion-picture ultraviolence," etc.). But I can suggest a couple possible reasons for Gibson's enigmatic excesses. First, he is a product of Hollywood, where whole companies exist to create special effects for the purpose of depicting grisly realities. So if it can be done, they will do it, sometimes only because it can be done! Second, and more significantly, he is inordinately preoccupied with the physical suffering of Christ, which is actually consistent with his Roman Catholic beliefs. He believes that the mass (which the cast of the movie observed every morning on the set) is a re-sacrifice of Christ, in which the bread and wine are changed into the literal body and blood of Christ. The belief of Reformed Christians (and I would say the teaching of the Bible), on the other hand, focuses more on Christ's spiritual suffering, when the Father turned His face away and Jesus bore the pains of hell in a once-for-all, unrepeatable atonement.

For your information, by the way, Matthew and Mark and John only mention briefly that Pilate "had him scourged," without giving any further details. Luke does not even mention the scourging, and records a speech that Christ gave after He was scourged (Luke 23:28-31), which is long enough and cogent enough that it would have been unlikely he could have delivered it after the kind of beating that the movie depicts. The fact is, Gibson got the excessive scourging idea from a mystic and stigmatic 19-century nun who claimed to be receiving visions from God about the passion.

I think it is very unfortunate that what many will remember most about the movie is the overdone violence and gore. The Bible simply doesn't linger on it like the movie does, not even close. So it will be known as the movie Roger Ebert called, in a positive review, "the most violent film I have ever seen." The fact is, Jesus' physical death was not the most violent death ever, so the movie warps reality. On the other hand, His spiritual suffering--the Son being separated from the Father--was utterly unique. But that can't be captured on film, and Gibson makes little attempt to communicate it.

6) Would you take children to see the movie? Why or why not?

Not unless I thought they were old enough, and mature enough, to discern the truth from error and to realize that it is merely a movie, the gore is just special effects, etc. Rather than watching it in a theater where the screen is huge and we are at the mercy of what flows across it, I would rather view it on video where it can be fast-forwarded and discussed along the way. I also do not believe my children, or anyone for that matter, would be impoverished in any way if they do not see this movie. The written Word of God, read and taught, is sufficient to produce faith and godliness, and a wonderful relationship with God, as I alluded to above (see 1 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:3).

7) How does Mel Gibson's Catholicism affect your view of the movie? Why?

Well, I think you can figure that out from the comments above! I view the movie as a kind of "evangelistic tract" for Roman Catholicism. In fact, it has been reported that cast and crew members were converted to Catholicism during the filming. Mel Gibson is not just selling Christ--he is selling a particular perspective on the person and work of Christ. That being said, I am grateful for the scriptural truth that is included in the movie, and I believe and pray that God can use that truth to draw people to Himself.

8) How does your spirituality treat the suffering Jesus? Why? Do you focus more on the Resurrection? Why or why not?

Yes, you keep reminding me of problems I have with the movie! I don't want to be overly negative, because I think much of the source material (namely, the New Testament) is fantastic! But maybe my criticisms can serve as a helpful balance to those who are uncritically accepting the movie...

I understand that the movie was about the passion of Jesus Christ, and not His resurrection, and that one movie cannot cover everything about Christ, or even everything about His passion. But again, when it lingers so long on the gory details of his suffering, and adds the resurrection merely as the cinematic version of a footnote, it seems to say something about the perspective and priorities of the filmmaker. It also implies that the resurrection, and the details surrounding it, are not necessary to an understanding of the passion. I would say they are, and that in true biblical thinking about Christ, the resurrection is just as important as the passion. Narratives about the resurrection and post-resurrection appearances are given just as much space in the gospels, if not more. And the epistles almost always mention the resurrection, in one way or another, when they mention the death of Christ.

9) Do you think Christianity needs to focus more on Christ's suffering? Why or why not?

We are always in danger of forgetting the great price that our Lord paid for our sins, and we need to be reminded of it. However, I don't believe we need to meditate extensively on the details of His suffering, especially on the extra-biblical details that this movie fabricates and obsesses over.

10) Do you see Christ's sufferings merely as past history,or something still relevant today? Why or why not?

I do not believe Christ's suffering are continuing today, or being repeated today, as Romans Catholics do. But I certainly do believe they are relevant today, as I explained in my answer to number 3 above: The source of all my motivation for living as a Christian comes from the conviction that because Jesus died for me, I should live for Him (2 Cor. 5:14-15, 1 Peter 2:24). I love Him because of what He did for me, bearing the penalty for my sins and freeing me from any fear of the judgment of God. Also, Jesus' suffering is a model for me, since He said that I should take up my cross, and follow Him (Luke 9:23-25). I need to be willing to give myself up for the glory of God and the good of others.

11) What do you think of crucifixes? Why?

Crucifixes are problematic in several ways. First, many people venerate them or use them as an aid in worship (e.g. kissing them, praying to them), and that can be a form of idolatry--placing trust in the object, as if it had some kind of magical powers, rather than trusting in God, who alone has divine power. Also, I think the fact that Jesus is represented as "still on the cross" often reflects the Roman Catholic misunderstanding of the Lord's Supper and the nature of His sacrifice (which I discussed above under number 5). So if we choose to display a cross, in our churches or around our necks, I prefer an empty one, so we can remember that the Lord is risen and reigning in heaven at the right hand of the Father!

12) What is the role of suffering in your spirituality? Why?

I assume that you mean my own suffering, because you already asked about Christ's. My suffering plays a very important role in my spirituality. I do not go looking for it, nor do I enjoy it, but when God allows suffering in my life by His providence, He uses it to help me "become conformed to the image of His Son" (Rom. 8:29). Suffering turns my heart toward heaven and away from the things of this world; suffering strengthens my character; suffering gives me an opportunity to trust God more; suffering enables me to help others who are going through tough times; and suffering for the sake of Christ gives me assurance that I belong to Him.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

God's Eye Better Than Ours

Spurgeon's Morning and Evening devotional for today is about 1 Peter 1:19, "The precious blood of Christ." He says, "The blood of Christ is likewise 'precious' in its preserving power. We are safe from the destroying angel under the sprinkled blood. Remember it is God's seeing the blood which is the true reason for us being spared. Here is the comfort for us when the eye of faith is dim, for God's eye is still the same."

Saturday, April 9, 2011

A Gold Rush of Great Poetry, Part Deux

Quick to judge Quick to anger Slow to understand Ignorance and prejudice And fear walk hand in hand... ______ To you, is it movement or is it action? Is it contact or just reaction? And you...revolution or just resistance? Is it living, or just existence? Yeah, you! It takes a little more persistence To get up and go the distance...I'm not giving in to security under pressure I'm not missing out on the promise of adventure I'm not giving up on implausible dreams Experience to extremes Experience to extremes... ______ It slips between your hands like water This living in real time A dizzying lifetime Reeling by on celluloid Struck between the eyes By the big-time world Walking uneasy streets Hiding beneath the sheets Got to try and fill the void...You know how that rabbit feels Going under your speeding wheels Bright images flashing by Like windshields towards a fly Frozen in the fatal climb But the wheels of time Just pass you by Wheels can take you around Wheels can cut you down We can go from boom to bust From dreams to a bowl of dust We can fall from rockets' red glare Down to "Brother can you spare..." Another war Another wasteland And another lost generation ______ It's not how fast you can go The force goes into the flow If you pick up the beat You can forget about the heat More than just survival More than just a flash More than just a dotted line More than just a dash It's a test of ultimate will The heartbreak climb uphill Got to pick up the pace If you want to stay in the race More than just blind ambition More than just simple greed More than just a finish line Must feed this burning need In the long run... From first to last The peak is never passed Something always fires the light that gets in your eyes One moment's high, and glory rolls on by Like a streak of lightning That flashes and fades in the summer sky... Your meters may overload You can rest at the side of the road You can miss a stride But nobody gets a free ride More than high performance More than just a spark More than just the bottom line Or a lucky shot in the dark In the long run... You can do a lot in a lifetime If you don't burn out too fast You can make the most of the distance First you need endurance First you've got to last... ______ The office door closed early The hidden bottle came out The salesman turned to close the blinds A little slow now, a little stout But he's still heading down those tracks Any day now for sure Another day as drab as today Is more than a man can endure...Dreams flow across the heartland Feeding on the fires Dreams transport desires Drive you when you're down Dreams transport the ones who need to get out of town... The boy walks with his best friend Through the fields of early May They walk awhile in silence One close, one far away But he'd be climbing on that bus Just him and his guitar To blaze across the heavens Like a brilliant shooting star The middle aged Madonna Calls her neighbor on the phone Day by day the seasons pass And leave her life alone But she'll go walking out that door On some bright afternoon To go and paint big cities From a lonely attic room It's understood By every single person Who'd be elsewhere if they could So far so good And life's not unpleasant In their little neighborhood ______ So many things I think about When I look far away Things I know, things I wonder Things I'd like to say The more we think we know about The greater the unknown We suspend our disbelief And we are not alone...Mystic rhythms Capture my thoughts Carry them away Mysteries of night escape the light of day Mystic rhythms Under northern lights Or the African sun Primitive things stir the hearts of everyone We sometimes catch a window A glimpse of what's beyond Was it just imagination Stringing us along? More things than are dreamed about Unseen and unexplained We suspend our disbelief And we are entertained Mystic rhythms Capture my thoughts Carry them away Nature seems to spin A supernatural way Mystic rhythms Under city lights Or a canopy of stars We feel the powers and wonder what they are ______ How many times do you hear it? It goes on all day long Everyone knows everything And no one's ever wrong Until later...Who can you believe? It's hard to play it safe But apart from a few good friends We don't take anything on faith Until later...Show me, don't tell me...You can twist perceptions Reality won't budge You can raise objections I will be the judge And the jury I'll give it due reflection Watching from the fence Give the jury direction Based on the evidence...Show, don't tell ______ If we burn our wings Flying too close to the sun If the moment of glory Is over before it's begun If the dream is won Though everything is lost We will pay the price But we will not count the cost When the dust has cleared And victory denied A summit too lofty River a little too wide If we keep our pride Though paradise is lost We will pay the price But we will not count the cost And if the music stops There's only the sound of the rain All the hope and glory All the sacrifice in vain, And if love remains Though everything is lost We will pay the price But we will not count the cost ______ I'm old enough not to care too much About what you think of me But I'm young enough to remember the future And the way things ought to be ______ In the house where nobody laughs And nobody sleeps In the house where love lies dying And the shadows creep A little girl hides shaking With her hands on her ears Pushing back the tears 'Til the pain disappears Mama says some ugly words Daddy pounds the wall They can fight about their little girl later Right now they don't care at all... No matter what they say... Everyday people Everyday shame Everyday promise shot down in flames Everyday sunrise Another everyday story Rise from the ashes and blaze In everyday glory... In the city where nobody smiles And nobody dreams In the city where desperation Drives the bored to extremes Just one spark of decency Against a starless night One glow of hope and dignity A child can follow the light... No matter what they say... If the future's looking dark We're the ones who have to shine If there's no one in control We're the ones who draw the line Though we live in trying times We're the ones who have to try Though we know that time has wings We're the ones who have to fly ______ A certain measure of innocence Willing to appear naive A certain degree of imagination A measure of make-believe A certain degree of surrender To the forces of light and heat A shot of satisfaction In a willingness to risk defeat Celebrate the moment As it turns into one more Another chance at victory Another chance to score The measure of the moment In a difference of degree Just one little victory A spirit breaking free One little victory The greatest act can be One little victory A certain measure of righteousness A certain amount of force A certain degree of determination Daring on a different course A certain amount of resistance To the forces of the light and love A certain measure of tolerance A willingness to rise above ______ Driving away to the east, and into the past History receeds in my rear-view mirror Carried away on a wave of music down a desert road Memory humming at the heart of a factory town... All my life I've been workin' them angels overtime Riding and driving and living So close to the edge Workin' them angels overtime... Riding through the Range of Light to the wounded city Filling my spirit with the wildest wish to fly Taking the high road to the wounded city Memory strumming at the heart of a moving picture... Driving down the razor's edge 'tween the past and the future Turn up the music and smile Get carried away on the songs and stories of vanished times ______ Like the solitary pine On a bare wind blasted shore We can only grow the way the wind blows ______ Exit stage left

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A Gold Rush of Great Poetry

It's cold comfort to the ones without it To know how they struggled, how they suffered about it If their lives were exotic and strange, they would likely have gladly exchanged them for something a little more plain, maybe something a little more sane. ______ We are secrets to each other Each one's life a novel no one else has read Even joined in bonds of love We're linked to one another by such slender threads We are planets to each other Drifting in our orbits to a brief eclipse Each of us a world apart Alone and yet together, like two passing ships We are strangers to each other Full of sliding panels, an illusion show Acting well rehearsed routines or playing from the heart? It's hard for one to know We are islands to each other Building hopeful bridges on a troubled sea Some are burned or swept away, some we would not choose But we're not always free Just between us, I think it's time for us to recognize The differences we sometimes fear to show Just between us, I think it's time for us to realize The spaces in between leave room for you and I to grow ______ All the world's indeed a stage And we are merely players Performers and portrayers Each another's audience ______ Unstable condition, a symptom of life In mental and environmental change Atmospheric disturbance, the feverish flux Of human interface and interchange The impulse is pure, but sometimes our circuits get shorted By external interference Signals get crossed and the balance distorted By internal incoherence A tired mind becomes a shape-shifter Everybody needs a mood lifter Everybody needs reverse polarity Everybody's got mixed feelings About the function and the form Everybody's got to deviate from the norm An ounce of perception, a pound of obscure Process information at half speed Pause, rewind, replay, warm memory chip Random sample, hold the one you need Leave out the fiction; the fact is, this friction Will only be worn by persistence Leave out conditions; courageous convictions Will drag the dream into existence A tired mind becomes a shape-shifter Everybody needs a soft filter Everybody needs reverse polarity Everybody's got mixed feelings About the function and the form Everybody's got to elevate from the norm ______ Invisible airwaves crackle with life Bright antennae bristle with the energy Emotional feedback on timeless wavelength Bearing a gift beyond price, almost free All this machinery making modern music Can still be open hearted, not so coldly charted It's really just a question of your honesty One likes to believe in the freedom of music But glittering prizes and endless compromises Shatter the illusion of integrity For the words of the prophets were written on the studio wall, concert hall And echo with the sounds of salesmen ______ Sprawling on the fringes of the city In geometric order, an insulated border In between the bright lights and the far unlit unknown Growing up it all seems so one-sided Opinions all provided, the future pre-decided Detached and subdivided in the mass production zone Nowhere is the dreamer or the misfit so alone Subdivisions...in the high school halls, in the shopping malls Conform or be cast out Subdivisions...in the basement bars, in the backs of cars Be cool or be cast out Any escape might help to smooth the unattractive truth that the suburbs have no charms to soothe the restless dreams of youth Drawn like moths we drift into the city The timeless old attraction, cruising for the action Lit up like a firefly just to feel the living night Some will sell their dreams for small desires Or lose the race to rats, get caught in ticking traps And start to dream of somewhere to relax their restless flight Somewhere out of a memory of lighted streets on quiet nights... _______ His world is under observation We monitor his station Under faces and the places Where he traces points of view He picks up scraps of conversation Radio and radiation From the dancers and romancers With the answers but no clue He'd love to spend the night in Zion He's been a long while in Babylon He'd like a lover's wings to fly on To a tropic isle of Avalon His world is under anesthetic Subdivided and synthetic His reliance on the giants In the science of the day He picks up scraps of information He's adept at adaptationB ecause for strangers and arrangers Constant change is here to stay He's got a force field and a flexible plan He's got a date with fate in a black sedan He plays fast forward for as long as he can But he won't need a bed, he's a digital man ______ The dancer slows her frantic pace in pain and desperation Her aching limbs and downcast face aglow with perspiration Stiff as wire, her lungs on fire with just the briefest pause Flooding through her memory, the echoes of old applause She limps across the floor and closes her bedroom door... The writer stares with glassy eyes, defies the empty page His beard is white, his face is lined and streaked with tears of rage Thirty years ago, how the words would flow with passion and precision But now his mind is dark and dulled by sickness and indecision And he stares out the kitchen door, where the sun will rise no more... Some are born to move the world, to live their fantasies But most of us just dream about the things we'd like to be Sadder still to watch it die than never to have known it For you, the blind who once could see The bell tolls for thee... ______ And the men who hold high places must be the ones who start To mold a new reality, closer to the heart______ Changes aren't permanent, but change is

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Hardware, Day of the Barbarians, and Monstrum

Since my last few blog entries were about discernment in entertainment and the popular arts, I thought it would be good to give you some examples of good books I've read recently. I'd like to have a site just devoted to book reviews from a Christian perspective, because there is a real scarcity of such sites out there. (Are there any at all, in fact? Let me know if you are aware of any.) But I'm too busy to start a new site, and "Voracious" and "VoraciousReader" are both taken as site names (bummer!). So I'll just put some recommendations on my blog from time to time, for movies and music as well as books, and hope somebody benefits from them.

Hardware: The Man in the Machine, by McDuffie and Cowan
This is a really cool graphic novel, by African-American creators, collecting a comics series from years ago that only lasted about 10 issues. But it's got great art by Denys Cowan and beautiful coloring (a rather unique look), and the extra bonus that makes this book special is the theme of revenge vs. justice. The hero, who is more of an anti-hero at first, actually progresses in character development as the story goes, with the arc coming to a satisfying conclusion, especially for those who care about the truth.

The Day of the Barbarians, by Alessandro Barbero
I picked up this short book at a discount store, and I was fascinated by it. It describes the battle of Adrianople in 378 AD, which this Italian historian says was the beginning of the end for the Western Roman Empire. One of the more interesting themes was how the Romans assimilated the barbarians into their culture, only to regret it later. How that might relate to the immigration trends in Europe and America today, I'll leave that for you to decide.

Monstrum, by Donald James
This one I bought at a thrift store because I thought the cover looked good and it sounded like an interesting premise...a future Moscow ravaged by civil war and a serial killer who may be more than he seems (or she). The author is a historian who is an expert on Russia, so all that happens in the novel is probably possible. If you can stand the constant profanity (Russian style) from some of the characters and the anti-hero's often anti-heroic actions, an illustration of God's grace emerges eventually as He uses an unlikely and undeserving tool to save the country. Along the way, twists and turns keep you turning the pages.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Vast Wasteland

(Christianity Today publishes a devotional called "Men of Integrity," which recently adapted some material from one of my books for a week of readings. I thought you might enjoy seeing them...)

Key Bible Verse: So be careful how you live, not as fools but as those who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity for doing good in these evil days (Ephesians 5:15-16). Bonus Reading: Matthew 5:29-30

Movies, TV, and music so dominate the lives of many, including Christians, that they have no time to think about anything spiritual. Add net-surfing, computer games, sports, and other hobbies, and we have a society drowning in entertainment! Our souls are so constantly submerged in a sea of pleasure-seeking that we rarely break the surface to study the Scriptures, worship God, and serve others.

Satan wants you to waste your time. Too often our pursuit of pleasure preoccupies the mind, consumes the energies of the body, and drains the checkbook. So we fulfill Paul's forecast of the last days (2 Timothy 3:4), when people "love pleasure rather than God." That's why you must set strict limits on the amount of time and money you spend on entertainment.

The application of the surgical language in today's Bonus Reading to your entertainment choices is clear: If something you watch, read, or listen to influences you toward evil in your heart or actions, stay away from it. If you find yourself consumed with a particular hobby, get it out of your life until such a time that you can enjoy it in moderation and propriety.

—Dave Swavely in Who Are You to Judge? (adapted with permission)

My Response: To be a faithful disciple, I need to eliminate or cut back on …

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Joker and Monty Python

(Christianity Today publishes a devotional called "Men of Integrity," which recently adapted some material from one of my books for a week of readings. I thought you might enjoy seeing them...)

Key Bible Verse: But let the Lord Jesus Christ take control of you, and don't think of ways to indulge your evil desires (Romans 13:14). Bonus Reading: 1 John 2:15-16

In the movie Batman, Jack Nicholson's Joker has more fun by far than anyone else, leading audiences to appreciate and remember this psychotic murderer more than any of the good guys. Another surprising example of the glorification of evil is a Bibleman episode in which the Scripture-quoting hero is boring compared to the villain, who gets to star in his own MTV-like video. After watching this show, my children couldn't quote any of the Bible verses, but danced around singing over and over, "I am the prince of pride; I've got an ego ten miles wide!"

The concern of today's Bonus Reading is the heart. John doesn't say that we can't view or listen to anything that comes from worldly artists, but he does say we're not to love the lust and pride in them, and often presented by them. So I can split my sides with my friends and older children as we enjoy the unique, insightful humor in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, while skipping scenes like the "virgins in the castle" and the cartoons depicting God. I can expose those examples of inappropriate humor by explaining to my family and others why those parts are wrong, and in doing so we can enjoy a spiritual benefit as well as a good laugh.

—Dave Swavely in Who Are You to Judge? (adapted by permission)

My Response: I'll plan to lead an informal evaluation of the next movie or TV show we watch together.

Thought to Apply: Indifference to evil is complicity with evil.—SOURCE UNKNOWN

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Laugh Lines

(Christianity Today publishes a devotional called "Men of Integrity," which recently adapted some material from one of my books for a week of readings. I thought you might enjoy seeing them...)

Key Bible Verse: Obscene stories, foolish talk, and coarse jokes--these are not for you.… Don't be fooled by those who try to excuse these sins (Ephesians 5:4, 6). Bonus Reading: Ephesians 5:4-14

God hates sin. It is therefore wrong for us to enjoy it in any way. Unfortunately, much of modern entertainment is designed to make money by appealing to our sinful nature. This is obviously the purpose of most sexual content, and much of the violence motivated by ungodly revenge and uncontrolled rage. But the popular arts appeal to our sinful nature in more subtle ways, such as our covetousness (beautiful stars, rich characters, exotic locations) and pride (motivations of self-glory).

In today's popular art, God and religion are played for laughs, and jokes about sex have almost become synonymous with the concept of comedy. But the Bible is very clear that both of these matters are not to be played for laughs. The third commandment says, "Do not misuse the name of the Lord your God," and the hottest hell is reserved for those who mock God. [Today's Bonus Reading] uses similar language in regard to sexuality. It is a sin worthy of God's anger and condemnation to be amused by jokes about Him. It is equally wrong to laugh at coarse sexual humor.

—Dave Swavely in Who Are You to Judge? (adapted by permission)

My Response: Have I ever turned off a TV show part way through it or walked out of a movie or play? Should I have?

Thought to Apply: Television makes so much money at its worst that it can't afford to do its best.—FRED FRIENDLY (broadcast news producer)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Talk Back to Your TV (and other entertainment)

(Christianity Today publishes a devotional called "Men of Integrity," which recently adapted some material from one of my books for a week of readings. I thought you might enjoy seeing them...)

Key Bible Verse: Test everything that is said. Hold on to what is good. Keep away from every kind of evil (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22). Bonus Reading: Philippians 4:8

If you soak up the media with your brain in neutral, you'll be captured by the enemy's destructive ideas. To apply today's Key Bible Verses to the entertainment you enjoy, keep your brain in gear, know your Bible, and evaluate based on what it says. Talk back mentally to your TV, music, books, and the movie screen. When you see or hear something good, note the truth communicated or illustrated. If it's bad, note how and why it displeases God. That's conquering rebellious ideas and teaching them to obey Christ ( 2 Corinthians 10:5).

If I enjoy a certain kind of music, I can thank God for giving musicians the talent to produce it. But when the words aren't coming from hearts that love Christ, I'll often intentionally hear or sing them with an elevated meaning. Many songs on love and sex written about an unmarried couple can apply to my relationship with my wife. Single people can think of the lyrics as describing a future marriage relationship. This is applying today's Bonus Reading command by finding the good in the things we observe and disciplining our minds to dwell on that. Of course I don't sing or let my mind dwell on songs that can't possibly be reinterpreted like this.

—Dave Swavely in Who Are You to Judge? (adapted by permission)

My Response: Do I passively accept media messages or do I talk back to them?

Thought to Apply: All television is educational television. The only question is, what is it teaching?—NICHOLAS JOHNSON (former Federal Communications Comm. chairman)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Take Jesus to a Movie?

(Christianity Today publishes a devotional called "Men of Integrity," which recently adapted some material from one of my books for a week of readings. I thought you might enjoy seeing them...)

Key Bible Verse: And whatever you do or say, let it be as a representative of the Lord Jesus, all the while giving thanks through him to God the Father (Colossians 3:17).

When you view or listen to some form of the arts, your motive can't be merely to please yourself, and it certainly can't be to enjoy ungodly pleasures. Your motive must be to please God. Jesus said, "You must worship the Lord your God, and serve only him" (Matthew 4:10). First Corinthians 10:3o-11:1 says you should engage in only what you can thank God for, and what brings Him glory.

Many Christians haven't learned how to enjoy the popular arts in a way that brings glory to God. They've watched movies, for instance, only because they wanted to pass the time, or experience the thrill of action, romance, or a good laugh. Or the movies have been a time they were spending apart from God, because they were deriving enjoyment from things He wouldn't like.

So when a friend asks, "Would you watch that if Jesus were sitting next to you?" (a good question to ask, by the way), they could never honestly say yes, because they've never taken Jesus with them to see a movie! But I've watched many movies fully aware that Jesus is with me, and I've communed with Him during the entire movie. Next, we'll discuss how.

—Dave Swavely in Who Are You to Judge? (adapted by permission)

My Response: Would Jesus have accepted an invitation to the last movie I saw?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A Balanced View of Baptism

Imagine that you were sitting in an airplane, before it left the ground, and you suddenly realized that one of the wings was very big and the other wing was very small. What would you do? You would get off that plane very fast, wouldn’t you?!

A plane cannot fly unless both wings are balanced. Otherwise it will tip over to one side and end up crashing. I want to suggest to you that our understanding of baptism is the same way. Many people tip over on one side, and many people tip over on the other side. And the right understanding of Christian baptism is “right” in the middle…a biblical balance.

So I want to tell you about two errors that many people fall into, and why they are wrong according to the Bible. Then I will tell you the truth about baptism, according to God’s Word.

Error #1

First, one error is expecting too much from baptism. Some people believe that when they are baptized in a church, that baptism is like magic. It washes away all the sins they have committed so far, or washes away the “original sin” they have from being born into a race of sinners. Others believe that because they have been baptized, they do not need to be “born again,” because that happened in their baptism. And others believe that they do not need to study the Bible, or pray, or worship, or obey God’s commandments, because in some way their baptism guarantees that they have a right relationship with God.

But the Bible clearly says that no religious ritual can make us right with God:

Ephesians 2:8-9
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.

Titus 3:4-7
But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.

So you see that it is not the “washing” or “pouring out” of the water in baptism that saves us from our sins and enables us to go to heaven when we die, but the “rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit,” which happens because Jesus Christ died for us. It is not a physical washing that makes us right with God, but a spiritual washing that gives us a new heart. This is what Jesus meant when he told Nicodemus, who had observed all the required religious ceremonies, “You must be born again” (John 3:7). Nicodemus had been circumcised as a baby, which was the Old Testament precursor to baptism, like a seed is to the plant and the boy is to the man. But Jesus told him that all his religious activity meant nothing unless he turned away from his self-righteousness and turned to Jesus in personal faith. Nicodemus needed a new heart, and so do you and I, even if we have been baptized.

Error #2

Second, however, there is another error that people believe about baptism, on the other side. Some people think too little of baptism. They know that baptism does not ensure our salvation, because they know that we are saved by faith, but they think that baptism does basically nothing. They think of it more or less as an empty ritual with no real meaning in their lives. They do not realize that their baptism is a special means of grace that places a serious responsibility on them to live as a Christian, committed to God and His glory. They do not realize that baptism in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is a “sign and seal” of God’s covenant of love, which means they must love God in return, or be considered a traitor by Him.

Baptism is like a wedding ceremony, in a way. (In fact, the church is called “the bride of Christ” in the Bible.) When we become married, we make promises and give rings to each other. The rings do not cause us to be married, but they are a sign that we are married. And the fact that we are wearing that ring means that our life will change in many ways—our life must change in many ways. Would you say that your life changed after you were married? I know mine did, and one way was that if I am not faithful to my covenant of marriage, I wouldl be in a worse place than if I had never been married. The same is true of baptism: once that sign has been placed upon us, we have an increased obligation to be faithful to the covenant God has made with us:

Romans 6:1-5
What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning, so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.


The Truth About Baptism

The truth about baptism, according to the Bible, lies in between those two errors. Baptism does not guarantee the forgiveness of sins, but it is a sign that God has made a covenant with us.

So if you have been baptized, you still must repent of your sins and believe in Jesus. You will not be able to stand before God on the Day of Judgment and say, “I was baptized, so You should let me into heaven.” Only by trusting in Jesus Christ, and His death for our sins, can you escape the fires of hell. If you have never been born again by the Holy Spirit, ask God to give you a new heart. Tell him you are sorry for ignoring Him and disobeying His Word, and ask Him to forgive your sins because Jesus died for us on the cross. That is the only way God can forgive our sins.

If you have not been baptized, or if your children have not been baptized, you are missing a wonderful gift that God wants to give you. As I study and learn more about baptism, I have seen that my own baptism, which I received as a young boy, becomes more meaningful to me every year. How can I be unfaithful to a loving God who has given me this “wedding ring” as a token of His unending love? How could you refuse such a gift from the lover of your soul? And how could you not want to live your life for the Savior who died for you?

Acts 2:38
Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off — for all whom the Lord our God will call.

God is speaking to you through that passage, just as he was to the people at Pentecost 2000 years ago. Maybe you need to repent right now (turn away from your sins). Maybe you need to be baptized, or to bring your children to baptism. If God is calling you to commit your life to Jesus, or to receive this sign of His love, then talk to God right now about it and tell him you will do what He wants you to do.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Help! I Need Somebody...

One of the prayers sent up to God most frequently, if not the most, is just two words: "Help me!" Well, I have some good news for those of us who often cry out in this way (or mutter it under our breath)... God will help us! I was profoundly reminded of this recently in my daily reading from Charles Spurgeon's devotional Morning and Evening, which I have committed to go through this year with my son. (You can get a copy of it here: http://www.cvbbs.com/.)

I will reproduce Spurgeon's January 16 morning entry here with the language somewhat updated, so all the "thees" and "thous" don't get it anyone's way...

"I will help you, says the Lord."
Isaiah 41:14

Let us hear the Lord Jesus speak to each of us: "I will help you. It is but a small thing for Me, your God, to help you. Consider what I have done already. What! Not help you? Why, I bought you with My blood. What! Not help you? I have died for you; and if I have done the greater, will I not do the less? Help you! It is the least thing I will ever do for you; I have done more, and will do more. Before the world began I chose you. I made the covenant for you. I laid aside My glory and became a man for you; I gave my life for you; and if I did all this, I will surely help you now. In helping you, I am giving you what I have bought for you already. If you had need of a thousand times as much help, I would give it to you; you require little compared with what I am ready to give. 'Tis much for you to need, but it is nothing for me to bestow. 'Help you?' Fear not! If there were an ant at the door of your granary asking for help, it would not ruin you to give him a handful of your wheat; and you are nothing but a tiny insect at the door of my all sufficiency. 'I will help you.'"

O my soul, is not this enough? Do you need more strength than the omnipotence of the United Trinity? Do you want more wisdom than exists in the Father, more love than displays itself in the Son, or more power than is manifest in the influences of the Spirit? Bring hither your empty pitcher! Surely this well will fill it. Haste, gather up your wants, and bring them there--your emptiness, your woes, your needs. Behold, this river of God is full for your supply; what can you desire beside? Go forth, my soul, in this your might. The Eternal God is your helper!

"Fear not, I am with thee, oh be not dismayed!
For I am thy God and will still give thee aid.
I'll strengthen you, help you, and cause you to stand
Upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand."