Syrian Refugees and the Heart of American Christians

Women and children among Syrian refugees at the platform of Budapest Keleti railway station

I’m concerned, and frankly ashamed, by what the Syrian refugee crisis is revealing about the heart of American Christians.

Let me start by saying that I have a lot of Facebook friends with different political and religious affiliations, so I’m used to seeing disagreement on issues. When it comes to dealing with poverty, for example, my left leaning friends think the primary solution is for the government to provide food, money, and other benefits to people in need. My right leaning friends tend to prefer focusing on ensuring that there are economic opportunities so people can help themselves, and relying more on private charity than government support. When you ignore the silly memes, and cut through all the posturing and bloviating, both sides want to help. We just disagree on the best strategy. That kind of debate doesn’t bother me at all. In fact, I think it’s a good thing.
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Getting to the Root of Our Differences

Crowd at a protest

Our culture is divided. Very divided. Abortion, guns, drugs, sex, gay marriage, health care, minimum wage, the appropriate size and role of government, and much more. About the only thing we can agree on is the fact that we can’t agree. We argue endlessly on social media, but no minds are ever changed. We are totally shocked that those on the other side fail to grasp the obvious “rightness” of our position. So we commiserate with those on our side, mocking the irrationality of those with whom we disagree.
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What is Love?

Love

It’s mid February, so love is in the air. And on TV. And the radio. And the internet. And flower shops. And card shops. There’s no escaping it!

What exactly is love? Is it just a feeling? How does love look? I’m not sure our society really knows.

It is commonly said that God is love, and that’s certainly true. It is also commonly misunderstood. It is not that God is nothing but love. God posses a great many characteristics, love being one of them. The concept of God being all loving (or omnibenevolent, to put my seminary degree to use) simply means God demonstrates love in it’s greatest form and to its fullest extent. If we really want to understand real love, we need to get to know God.
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Why don’t we think for ourselves?

Robin feeding baby birds in nest

I know I’m a bit late on this one, but I’ve been busy prepping for and exhibiting at the Children’s Pastors Conference and haven’t had much free time. So, in the “better late than never” category, here are a few thoughts on an issue most have moved past by now. In case you haven’t heard, there was a big controversy about the book, The Boy who Came Back from Heaven. It’s the supposedly true story about a boy who died, and returned to tell the tale of what heaven is like. The only problem is the boy in the book, Alex Malarkey, recently admitted he made it all up.
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Magic is not Just for Children

Baby examining grassMany think of magic as being a kid’s thing. It’s not. Kids don’t need it. Adults do.

Don’t get me wrong, kids enjoy magic programs. Magic can be a great tool for clearly presenting a memorable lesson. However, kids, especially younger ones, don’t need it because they haven’t lost their sense of wonder. They can still see the wonders, large and small, that surround us every day.
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The Meaning of Scripture, Clear or Cloudy?

Page of Genesis 1

This weekend I watched a video of debate between some Christians with different views on creation. I’m not going to deal with specific views on creation in this post, even though it is an important topic. Instead, I want to share another thought I had after watching it. (Though, if you are wondering, I believe the Bible says what it means in Genesis, just like it does elsewhere. I feel no need to explain it away or keep quiet about it avoid controversy.)

When watching the debate, I tried to imagine how it would have been understood by an unbeliever with little or no grasp of Scripture, or a Christian who doesn’t know the Bible well. Unfortunately, I’m afraid viewers like this could have come out of the experience with a radical misunderstanding of the nature of the Bible. The problem began when one person started using what I would consider to be “debating tricks” to muddy the water when he was confronted with scripture that, if interpreted in a straightforward manner, was contrary to his viewpoint. Unfortunately, it is much simpler to raise doubts than it is to resolve them. Let me give a few examples.

Sometimes he would say that the Hebrew word used in a passage can have multiple meanings. Now, his statement is quite true, words do have multiple meanings. However, there are rules of grammar that identify the appropriate meaning in a given context. We can’t just swap in whatever meaning fits our desired interpretation. I’m no Hebrew scholar, but I know enough to tell his argument was without merit To my knowledge, there are no reputable Hebrew scholars who would agree with his interpretation. However,it seemed effective from a debating standpoint. If his opponents let it go, many will assume he is correct. If they try to argue by delving into the rules of Hebrew grammar, the audience will most likely get bored and not follow.

Other times, he would basically ignore one Scripture passage by trying to deflect attention to another. Again, it’s true that we need to look at Scripture as a whole, and not pull passages out of context. However, I know the Bible well enough to tell that he was the one pulling verses out of context. But what about viewers who don’t know the Bible as well?  The format of the debate simply did not provide the opportunity to go through the passages he was using in context to provide the audience enough information to see this for themselves.

I could give other examples, like when he made patently false statements about what was in a given Bible passage. To win the debate in the minds of the audience, he really did not need to convince them that the Bible supported his view. He merely needed them to lack confidence that the plain, obvious interpretation was correct. Unfortunately, it only takes a few words to sew doubt and raise questions in people minds. It takes much more time to resolve doubts and meaningfully answer questions.

I suspect that many people left the debate with the idea that either the Bible is malleable, and can mean whatever the reader wants it to, or that it is simply too complex for the average person to understand. Neither is true.

First, the Bible means exactly and only what God intended it to mean when he inspired its writing. We do not get to reinterpret it to support our perspective. We are probably all guilty of making the mistake of deciding what we believe first, and then trying to find Bible verses to back up our view. However, this is not the way it should be. We need to allow the Word of God to transform us, not the other way around. I am reminded of the line from the old Rich Mullins song, Creed, “I did not make it, no it is making me. It is the very truth of God and not the invention of any man.” We should use Scripture to find out what God has to say, not to reinforce what we want to believe.

Secondly, the Bible really can be understood by “ordinary believers.” You don’t need to be a seminary educated scholar to understand the Bible. Certainly there are difficult parts. The apostle Peter said as much in 2 Peter 3:15-16,

Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction. (NIV)

However, the Bible also contains a lot of “low hanging fruit” that is easy to understand. More importantly, we as believers are not left on our own to figure out what the Bible says. We have the Holy Spirit to teach us. In John 14:26, Jesus said, “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. (NIV).”

Don’t take my word for it. Dig into the Scriptures and see for yourself.

I Believe in Jesus

Picture of Jesus

This is my third entry in my I Believe… series, which goes into more detail about my core beliefs. This one will focus on the third point in my statement of faith on my website:

“I believe in the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ, His virgin birth, His sinless life, His miracles, His vicarious and atoning death, His bodily resurrection, His ascension to the right hand of the Father, and His personal return in power and glory.”

There’s a lot in that single run-on sentence, so I won’t be able to go through it point-by-point in this post. I have already covered my belief in the deity of Christ in my previous post on the trinity, so I won’t rehash that here.

Jesus virgin birth is important, for a couple of reasons. The first is simply because the Bible says it’s true. To deny it is to deny the plain teaching of Scripture. Second, it points us toward an important truth about the incarnation. This event is radically different from the previous times when God took on human appearance. There are many instances in the Old Testament when God appeared in human form. (For examples, see Genesis 17:1, Genesis 32:24-30, Joshua 5:13, and   Daniel 3:22-25.) In the incarnation, Jesus did not merely take on human appearance, he actually became human.

For the sake of space, I am going to gloss over the next few points, and simply say I believe Jesus did what the Bible says he did. This includes his miracles, his sinless life, and his death which paid the price for our sin. (I’ll be discussing the implications of this in my next post in this series.)

It is worth saying a few words about his resurrection. Jesus literally, physically rose from the dead. This was not some sort of allegory. It was not merely a spiritual resurrection. Jesus’ dead body actually returned to life. After spending time with the disciples and many other witnesses, he ascended to heaven. (Acts 1:3)

The final point is that Jesus is coming back. There is a lot of debate among believers as to exactly what this will look like and in what the order these future events will occur. What seems to me to be beyond debate for anyone who takes the Bible seriously is that Jesus is, in fact, returning. Acts 1:11 makes it clear that he will return the same way he left. He literally, physically ascended into heaven, so we can be confident that he will literally, physically return some day.

Making People Good

In my previous post, Don’t All Religions Teach Basically the Same Thing?, I briefly touched on the idea that people think that it is the moral teaching of religion that really matters, not the theological details. I wanted to expand on that a a little bit, but it didn’t really fit with that post. Let’s face it, my posts ramble enough without me chasing every rabbit that pops into my head.

(Given how easily distracted I am, you should be impressed when a post is even somewhat coherent. You know, I really need to vacuum after I finish this post. “Vacuum” is a funny word. Is that extra “U” really necessary? Those robot vacuums are cool, though. I should get a robot! With lasers! SQUIRREL!)

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, dealing with the question of whether it’s the moral teachings of religion  that really matters. For many religions, the answer might arguably be, yes. However, that is definitely not the case for Christianity.  Jesus did not come to make bad people good. He came to make dead people alive. In John 3, Jesus referred to this as being “born again.”

It is possible to follow the Golden Rule and other moral principles from Scripture all the way to hell. God is not the least bit impressed with our “goodness.” In fact no one measures up to his standard for what qualifies as good (Romans 3:10). Ultimately, what matters is being made righteous through God’s work in us (Romans 3:20-14).  Morality does matter, but it is more a side effect of the real work that God wants to do in us. As God changes our hearts, we become more and more like him, and our behavior gets more in line with his will.