Social-Issue Sucker-Punches

With “tolerance” becoming the new litmus test for public legitimacy, perhaps you’re feeling a little intimidated these days. If so, a few quick thoughts on the matter may help when the next verbal “sucker-punch” comes along at the workplace or family reunion.

Punch #1A question designed to invoke a negative response. This is where you’re immediately on the defense and sounding like an “anti-whatever” person. For example, “Are you for same-sex marriage?” Of course, saying “no” means you’re a bigot, right? The better way is staying focused on what you’re for, not what you’re against. With the example of same-sex marriage, God’s design for marriage is the best. It doesn’t matter if the challenge is regarding same-sex marriage, open-marriage, polygamy, living-together, or something we haven’t even heard of yet, God’s design is best; one man, one woman, faithfully committed to love each other for life. Regarding social issues such as marriage, race, immigration, etc. what are you FOR?

Punch #2“Love” as a Christian standard you’re violating by speaking up. This one is very effective in silencing many Christians. The premise is that if you hold a conviction regarding morality (and speak about it), then you’re not showing Christian love and being judgmental. Of course, most of us don’t want to be viewed as judgmental and uncaring, so it creates a fear of being misunderstood. Don’t fall for it. Love is not God’s only attribute. Yes, thankfully it’s a wonderful, amazing part of who He is, but at the same time, He’s also holy, sovereign, and righteous. To communicate only one dimension of His nature would be theological infidelity and a missed opportunity to accurately frame the high price Jesus paid in order to offer the incredible gift of salvation.

Punch # 3Morality verses in the Bible are mostly Old Testament, so they don’t apply to New Testament times. This one is a typical half-truth (which is a whole-lie). Yes, the Old Testament contains the Law given to the Hebrews regarding their way of life; personal, public, worship, family, etc. And yes, we live under the New Covenant, however, that didn’t negate moral principles. For example, murder is still wrong, stealing is still wrong, lying is still wrong, coveting is still wrong, sexual sins are still wrong, and so on. Jesus not only affirmed the Old Testament moral code, he expanded on it to include the heart and not just a superficial appearance of it (such as adultery in Matt. 5:27-28).

As a final thought, it’s good to remember that it’s not about “winning a debate”, but being “ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you…” (1 Peter 3:15). Our job isn’t the outcome; it’s to be prayerfully obedient (and hopefully somewhat ready for the occasional sucker-punch).

Pop Culture is in the Toilet, Now What?

Build a commune and string up barbed wire? Hmmm, I admit there are days when it sounds tempting, but of course is the wrong answer. With atheism, homosexuality, and other agendas on the advance, what’s a Christian to do? Simply put…live in the moments given to us, because good or bad, this is our time. The iconic leaders of the older generation will soon be gone and as the mantle is passed, we must move forward.

I sometimes think about the early Church and what they talked about with such depravity around them. I’m sure there was discouragement and worry. Of course Paul, John, and Peter wrote them encouraging letters and are often my “go-to” place, but there is also another diamond placed at the front of the Psalms that gives great clarity looking ahead. Take a look:

1 Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; 2But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night. 3 He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper. 4 The ungodly are not so, but are like the chaff which the wind drives away. 5 Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous. 6 For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the ungodly shall perish.” –Psalms 1:1-6 NKJV

It should be the same for us too, drawing strength and confidence in the fact that God knows us. Through Jesus, we’ve been made one of the righteous. Here are three ways this Psalm helps me: 

  • To Find Joy in His Word – Our delight should be in His Word (v.2). To the Believer, “the Law” represents Christ’s work on the cross satisfying God’s requirements and the grace He’s shown. Prayerfully pondering the depths of His Word should be part of my life each day. Christian authors, podcasters, etc. can be great, but only the scripture is the actual revealed truth of God. Don’t sacrifice time “in the Word” for someone talking “about the Word”.
  • To Stay Healthy – The image of a tree growing and producing fruit is used many times in scripture to describe the person following God’s instructions. Paul described the workings of the Holy Spirit in us as “fruit” in Galatians 4:22-23. The most important part of a tree is the hidden root system below the surface. Our roots must sink deep and be connected to the source of living water-Christ. Conversely, if roots are shallow, then there can be stunted growth, disease, or easy destruction by a strong wind.
  • To Keep Wins/Loses in Perspective – If we’re not careful, the cultural battle can drift into terms of wins and losses. This Psalm helps me remember that God will ultimately “put things right”. There will be a day when God’s sovereignty will be on full powerful display, but it should motivate me to share, not be a reason for smugness. Yes, we should always speak truth, but in a prayerful way (Colossians 4:2-6). Bible passages aren’t bullets for a holy six-gun, but life giving seeds for new trees. 

Remember, the race is set before us (Heb. 12:1-2), run it with confidence!

Series: Psalms-Lesson 1

What if the Bible is true?

Many dismiss the Bible’s authority, even suppressing its use in public, but here’s an open invitation for all to consider a simple question; “What if the Bible is true?” If so, then: 

  1. All non-biblical belief systems are false (John 14:6).
  2. God really does love us (John 3:16).
  3. God desires all people to turn to Him (II Peter 3:9).
  4. Jesus is the only path to heaven (Acts 4:12).
  5. Jesus freely offers peace and hope (Romans 5:1-2).
  6. Jesus changes lives forever (II Corinthians 5:17).
  7. God personally spoke the world into existence (Genesis 1).
  8. God is totally sovereign to make unilateral decisions (Psalm 86:10).
  9. God is just in all His dealings with man (Psalm 89:14).
  10.  God is still in charge of nature (Genesis 8:22).
  11.  Christians are expected to behave like Christ (Ephesians 4:32)
  12.  God’s standards never change with culture (Job 23:13).
  13.  Christians are to be disciple-makers (Matthew 28:16-20)
  14.  People not trusting in Jesus will suffer forever (Rev. 20:15).
  15.  Heaven can’t be earned (Ephesians 2:8-9).
  16.  Jesus physically rose from the dead (Acts 1:3).
  17.  God will ultimately judge all mankind (Revelation 20:12).
  18.  God’s plan will ultimately be accomplished (Revelation 21:6).
  19.  Jesus is serious about His bride, the Church (II Corinthians 11:2).
  20.  Jesus will return in awesome power and glory (Revelation 19:11-16). 

Of course some will respond with “What if it’s not?” In that case, then there’s nothing to worry about, but what if it is…

5 Points Concerning Gay Marriage

With the national dialogue heating up over gay marriage, here are 5 quick thoughts to consider:

  • The premise is flawed. The term “Gay Marriage” is an oxymoron…like trying to discuss “dry water”. We don’t have the privilege to define marriage, God does. He made us “male and female” (Genesis 2:27), and pronounced; “a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24).
  • God’s way is best. Biblical marriage is far superior to any counterfeit models. God formed Eve specifically to complete Adam. A man and woman fit together in every way. Physically, emotionally, and psychologically, God designed us to compliment each other. It doesn’t take much observation to see how boys and girls are wired different. We augment each other’s weaknesses, and keep one another’s extremes in check. It’s an amazing process of two lives merging together into something greater than the sum of two parts.
  • Understand the motive. The attempt to destroy what God designed is rebellion. Our core problem as humans is struggling against God’s authority. Throughout history, we’ve chosen to worship idols built with hands, deny His existence, and refuse His directives. Seeking human peer validation for something unnatural reveals the same motivation.
  • The home is vital. Our society depends on the home to build and shape character. Life experiences growing up have tremendous effects on adult life. We’re already seeing the implications of broken homes, and same-sex households will only continue the downward trend. 
  • Remember to love. There are no special categories of sin or sinners. Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Some sins have greater consequences, but we all need God’s grace and forgiveness equally. The truth of scripture should be spoken in authentic love. There is forgiveness and acceptance to any who trust Christ as Lord (Romans 5:8 & 8:1, II Corinthians 5:17).

Jesus According to Polls

Asking the question, “Who is Jesus?” on the street in most cities would rarely produce a clear consensus. No other name in history equals His influence, but there are still various opinions of Christ. It’s interesting how little that’s changed in 2,000 years. The crowds following Jesus didn’t have a clear answer either. Asking them the same question would probably have gone something like this: 

“Excuse me Jedidiah, who do you think this teacher named Jesus is?”

“Well, I’m not really sure, but they say He’s some kind of new Prophet.” 

As a matter of fact, the scripture demonstrates it:

13When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” 14So they said, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.”Matthew 16:13-17 NKJV

So yeah, confusion about Christ isn’t exactly breaking news, but understanding it helps us see spiritual conversations in a broader context. Consider three thoughts regarding Jesus’ questions: 

I. Opinions Change

Public Opinion on anything lasts about as long as a 5th grade crush. Everyone aroundPalestine was forming opinions. From political savior to a back-from-the-dead prophet; He was labeled many ways…even theGallup folks would’ve struggled to figure it out. Remember how the crowd went from shouting “Hosanna!” to “Crucify Him!” within a week’s time…wow!

Regardless of method (personal, corporate worship, written word) the gospel has to be received individually, not as a group. Yes, groups of people have heard, and responded, but life-change happens at the personal level. Naturally Jesus knew what people were saying. He wasn’t attempting to be “relevant”…He was setting up a significant teaching moment. 

II. The Question of Questions

Who do YOU say that I am? It really comes down to that…our response in the most personal place of our being? The Bible tells us Jesus not only accepted Peter’s confession, but also explained that God revealed the truth to him. The fact of it not being the result of Peter’s intellectual pursuit helps us know how to pray: 

  • When studying God’s Word, understanding comes by His revealing.
  • Praying for others involves asking the Holy Spirit to reveal truth to them.
  • Sharing Christ includes staying in step with the Holy Spirit, not my own timeline, agenda or motives. 

III. Who does my life say Jesus is? 

Do my spoken words and life match? I’ll be honest, that’s a tough one. Speaking about Christ is one thing, but asking folks around me to describe the Jesus my life communicates is another. What if my co-workers wrote down the characteristics of Jesus based on the language of my life? Worse yet, what if they asked my family? I can’t sing and call him Lord on Sunday, then ignore Him on Monday without it being noticed. 

Thankfully, my relationship with Christ isn’t based on effort, but my effort should be based on my relationship. It’s not about perfection, but authentically living out the truth He’s revealed to me. Jesus by the polls gives mixed results, but a changed life declares the truth of a Savior who we know is the Christ, the Son of the living God!

For a brief overview of the uniqueness of Christ, this post may help:

Series: “The Questions of Jesus” Lesson VII

Jehovah’s Witnesses – “The Working Religion”

Scenario: You’re busy cleaning out the garage on a Saturday morning and notice two well-dressed people going door-to-door on your street. Your neighbor seems interested and takes their material. Later, the neighbor asks your thoughts on their publication called “The Watchtower”. What do you say?

 Most of us have had contact with Jehovah’s Witnesses at least once. Years ago, I worked with several and they were good friends. So what do they teach, and what motivates them to give up time going door-to-door? Let’s take a look…  

I. The History

  • The Watchtower Bible & Tract Society was founded around 1872 by Charles T. Russell. Russell had been a follower of the Adventist movement, but left to form a new group called the International Bible Students Associations. They were first referred to as “Russellites”. In 1931, the name was changed to the WBTS under Russell’s successor “Judge” Joseph Franklin Rutherford.
  • Historically, the focus has always been on the world’s end, and the establishment of Jehovah’s kingdom on Earth. Setting dates for the end has even been part of the belief over the years, with the last one being 1975.

II. The Structure

  • They are headquartered in Brooklyn, NY under the direction of the “Governing Body”.
  • The meeting place is called the “Kingdom Hall” due to the belief that the Church Age is already over.
  • The primary method for making new converts is door-to-door visitation with materials and invites to Bible studies.

III. The Text

  • Charles Russell’s writings, such as a seven volume series called Studies in the Scriptures and published sermons laid the doctrinal foundation.
  • Their own proprietary Bible translation called the New World Translation (NWT) is used by Witnesses for study and proselytizing. Key passages are slightly altered to reflect WBTS doctrine.
  • Publications such as The Watchtower, Awake and others are used for Sunday sermons, and giving away to potential converts.

IV. The Beliefs

  • They believe in Jehovah (God the Father), but deny the deity of Christ.
  • Jesus is believed to be created by God first. His name was “Michael the Archangel” before the time on Earth.
  • The hope is to be of the truest 144,000 Witnesses, therefore being part of the “Anointed Class” ruling with Christ.
  • The other Witnesses not part of the 144,000 hope to be part of the future Earthly Kingdom.
  • Non-believers will simply cease to exist after death (Annihilation).
  • There is no belief in eternal punishment such as Hell.
  • The era of human political structures are said to be past, so loyalty to a flag, pledge, military service, and participating in voting are forbidden.
  • To avoid misplaced recognition and worship, holidays, birthdays, and other celebrations are completely avoided.
  • Witnessing and attendance (Sunday meetings and Bible Studies) are required components of being a part of WBTS.

V. The Response

Witnesses are usually nice, polite folks, but are trained to maintain strict discipline in conversation about spiritual matters. Specifically, the use of publications and certain scripture passages (NWT translation) is primary, but here are 5 key areas of response: 

  • The Trinity – Although the word “Trinity” is not specifically used in scripture it is described throughout the Bible. Matthew 28:19 clearly references each Person of the Trinity. I Peter 1:2 and John 15:26 illustrate separate roles.
  • Jesus – Colossians 2:9 says that Jesus embodied the very fullness of God. He wasn’t a product of God’s work, but is God Himself in the flesh. Jesus on several occasions taught that He is God, John 8:58 and 10:30 are examples.
  • Good Works – The Witnesses teach right works to be the key to eternal destination, but the scripture teaches different. Paul said in Ephesians 2:8-9 we’re saved by God’s grace, not works. All through the book of Romans, the Bible teaches we can never earn salvation. We have all fell far short of God’s standard (Romans 3:23). We need a savior, not better habits. Romans 10:9 states that if we confess Jesus with our mouth and believe in our heart that God raised Him from the dead we WILL be saved.
  • Hell – Matthew 25 and Luke 16 both teach of a literal Hell. Revelation 20 says those whose names are not written in the Lamb’s Book of Life will be cast into theLake ofFire.
  • 144, 000 – the description in Revelation chapter 7 of 144,000 people saved in the end is very specific. It speaks of Jewish people who embrace Christ during the Great Tribulation, not Gentiles living now. The tribes of origin are even listed.

VI. Conclusion

Even though there are points of response and doctrinal flaws to discuss, Christ’s love in us should rule the day. As a Christian, there is nothing more powerful than sharing what God has done and continues to do in your personal life. Our story of God’s grace and forgiveness is exactly what those around us need to hear. NEVER underestimate the simple sharing of what Christ means to you!

Series: Consider this… “A Conversational Defense of our Faith” – Lesson 11

Are Mormons Christians?

When having a spiritual conversation with a Mormon, the definition of Christianity can become a divisive point. So, what exactly are their beliefs? Let’s look at the history and major doctrines of their system to see how it lines up with scripture.

 I. The History

  • Church – The Church of Jesus Christ of Ladder-day Saints (LDS or Mormon Church) was founded in 1830 by founder Joseph Smith in Fayette,New York.
  • Visits – Smith claimed to have been visited by God the Father and Jesus Christ. He said during the visit that Jesus told him all churches were corrupt, and had been since the death of the original Apostles. Smith also claimed later that an angel named Moroni visited him, and revealed the location of special gold plates.
  • Marriage – In 1843 Smith said he had received a revelation sanctioning plural marriage (polygamy), but later it was officially banned by the LDS in 1890. The leader Wilford Woodruff claimed to receive a revelation ending the practice.
  • Location – Pressured to leave several areas, Smith settled in Commerce,Illinois. After a critical article toward Smith, a newspaper was destroyed and Smith was arrested. While in jail, he and several other leaders were murdered by a mob.
  • Leadership – Most Mormons decided to follow Brigham Young (one of Smith’s twelve apostles). He led them on a long difficult pilgrimage to Utah (Salt Lake City).

II. The Writings

  • Book of Mormon – Joseph Smith wrote the entire book of Mormon, and published it in 1830. He said he had translated the golden plates into a book, and that the angel Moroni had already carried the plates back to heaven.
  • OthersDoctrines & Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price were also written by Smith. Some of thePearl book he claimed to have translated from an ancient Egyptian document he’d purchased from a traveling show.

 III. The Beliefs

The doctrines of the LDS church may surprise you if you’ve not read about them. At the same time, it’s important to know that these points are not clearly specified by a team at your doorstep. The goal of this post is to familiarize and display how terms may sound the same, but mean something different. For example:

  • God – God the “Heavenly Father” is married to “Heavenly Mother” and had millions of “spirit children” in a preexistent time. The origin of “Heavenly Father” is best described in a famous Mormon quote, “As man is, God once was; as God is, man may become.” Basically the teaching is that God was once human, but achieved “godhood” through a process of eternal progression.
  • Jesus – Their teaching is that Jesus was one of two sons who wanted to redeem the world. The other son was Lucifer. Jesus was chosen and Lucifer was rejected. He rebelled, became Satan, and took 1/3 of the spirit children with him (becoming demons). The other 2/3 came to earth as babies.
  • Salvation – The core belief is called the “Law of Eternal Progression” and is what they refer to as the “Restored Gospel”. The term “Gospel” is the whole idea of progression, not the good news of Jesus dying on our behalf.
  • Lifestyle – Mormons are known for their moral lifestyle. There are certain things a Mormon in “good standing” will be participating in, such as good conduct, regular church involvement, up-to-date on their tithe (full 10%). Also, being a Mormon means you’re part of “eternal marriage”, where you and your spouse hope to someday get your own cosmic domain to populate.
  • Eternity – The idea for eternity is also one of progression. It starts at death with faithful Mormons going to paradise, and all others going to “spirit prison”. However, in the afterlife all people eventually make their way to paradise, through various methods. Here’s how it all shakes out:
  • Telestial Kingdom – For sinners, criminals, and others
  • Terrestrial Kingdom – Non-LDS practicing religious people
  • Celestial Kingdom – Obedient and worthy Mormons, eventually achieving “godhood”

IV. Response

Basically the pivot point of the whole conversation is hinged on the person, and nature of Jesus. The Bible is clear concerning Him. He came as Savior, because we could not, and cannot save ourselves. As much as we would like to, we can’t even live up to the 10 Commandments, much less a broader set of rules. Think about these basics truths of scripture, compared to our list above:

  • God is Trinity – Genesis 1 and John 1 we see each of the three persons distinctly
  • God is Spirit – not bodily, having children – John 4:24
  • God has no beginning – He is “everlasting to everlasting” – Psalm 90:2
  • Jesus was not created – He was always with God – John 1
  • We cannot earn salvation – Romans 3:23, 5:8, 6:23, 10:9

In Galations 1:6-10 Paul warns the readers of those that would preach a “different gospel”, and not to follow anyone teaching something different. Also too, the Revelation given to John ends with a strong warning to those who would add to or take away from the truth of God’s Word. The subtitle of the Book of Mormon is “Another Testament of Jesus Christ”, which I think is self explanatory.

Conclusion – It’s true that Mormons have a strong moral code, and use the term “gospel”, however it’s an inferior “gospel”. The true Gospel of Jesus Christ is grace, mercy, and faith, not something earned by works – Ephesians 2:8-9. It’s a far Superior Gospel to any other imitator, and available to anyone who chooses to place their faith in Him. I pray that everyone who reads this post has already, or will consider doing so today.

Series: Consider This…

Lesson: 10

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