Archive for the ‘ The Christian Spirit ’ Category

In a Celebrity-Mad World . . .

As a people, we seek heroes. Sometimes, we manufacture them:

At times, we even go further:

Yet, in the midst of all this hype, there is one true “hero” and only one Messiah:

May this be a real Christmas for everyone who reads this.

Warren & the President-Elect

The latest political controversy that involves the Christian faith is one I’ve had to think about more than usual. Rick Warren, pastor of the Saddleback megachurch in California, has been tabbed by Obama to offer the invocation at the inauguration.

My first reaction was one of disbelief: how could Warren possibly join Obama on the platform and invoke God’s blessing on his administration?

My second reaction was to think more about the responsibility we all have as Christians to pray for our elected leaders, no matter how much we may disagree with them. Perhaps, I reasoned, this is God’s way of putting someone with His heart near the heart of this new administration. After all, didn’t Billy Graham counsel both Democrat and Republican presidents?

The prophet Daniel served at the court of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. His presence there was a way that God used to bring His message to that pagan monarch.

Christians do have a responsibility to pray for government officials. If we have the opportunity to influence them, we need to take it. So why should I not want Warren to pray at the inauguration?

I know all of this, yet I still have trouble with this latest development. If Obama wants to receive counsel from Warren or any other evangelical with a proper understanding of God’s righteousness on issues of public policy, that is one thing–and it would be a cause for rejoicing. But to pray at the inaugural itself is tantamount to a public profession of solidarity with the new president. Our role is to hold up God’s standard and lead officials closer to what He intends for government. I’m afraid that Warren’s presence on that platform will appear to be more of an endorsement.

Now, I know Warren does not endorse Obama’s views on abortion, and that his church took a decided stand against homosexual marriage. It’s possible that people will realize this, and in the eyes of those who are part of the great American “middle,” that confused mass of humanity that doesn’t know what it thinks, hearts and minds may be opened to rethink their views.

Already the main problem is that Obama is getting grief from his homosexual supporters, as they demand that Warren be removed from the agenda. Perhaps that reaction will accomplish the opposite of what the protesters desire; people may reject their protest.

I understand the various possibilities for how this could turn out, and some of it could be for the good. Yet I remain unconvinced. I ask myself, “Could I do what Warren is being asked to do?” Quite honestly, I could not.

I welcome the perspectives of my readers on this issue. As long as your comment is civil, I will publish it.

Teaching in Puerto Rico

My Lodgings at YWAM

My Lodgings at YWAM

I am in Puerto Rico this week, teaching church history at the Youth with a Mission (YWAM) base in Juncos. I have been coming here for the last six years, teaching primarily in the School of the Bible. Besides church history, I also offer a week-long series on Biblical worldview and another on American history.

Being here is always a highlight for me. The students are eager to learn and devoted to developing into what the Lord wants them to be. The base also has a passion for evangelism, primarily in China.

One of my goals the past few years has been to learn as much Spanish as possible. I seem to make advances, only to have my schedule reverse my achievements. Finding the time to learn another language when you are a fulltime professor, trying to write another book, and blogging in your spare time, is not easy. Someday . . .

Principle: Property–Christian Communism? (Part II)

Some Biblical interpreters note a particular incident in the early church that, they say, indicates God is in favor of communism. They refer to the Ananias and Sapphira story.

As believers were voluntarily selling property and giving the proceeds to the apostles to help the needy (see the previous post for a fuller explanation of this), one couple, Ananias and Sapphira, came up with a little scheme. They sold some property and brought part of the profit to the Apostle Peter, declaring that this was the entire profit, even though they had kept back a portion for themselves. The Biblical account tells us that God struck them dead for this deed.

Ananias Struck Down by the Lord for His Hypocrisy

Ananias Struck Down by the Lord for His Hypocrisy

“See,” we are told, “God judged them for continuing to hold private property. They were struck down because they kept some for themselves.” Not exactly.

If we look at the text, we are told precisely why they were judged, and it has nothing to do with owning property.

Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God.

It is obvious from this passage that Peter is not condemning Ananias for owning land. He makes it clear that it belonged to Ananias, and that he could have done whatever he wished with the profit–it was his to dispose of as he chose. Peter also points to the real sin here: lying/hypocrisy. Ananias and Sapphira were attempting to appear they were giving all the proceeds of the sale to the church, while secretly holding back. They wanted people to think they were doing a wonderful thing, when in fact they were not.

So, bottom line: they were judged for being liars and hypocrites. They could have used that money for anything they wished; instead, they deliberately decided to deceive. There is nothing in this passage that mandates communism for Christians.

Christian communism? An oxymoron.

Principle: Property–The Intangibles

Mention property, and nearly everyone will focus on material possessions. We naturally think in terms of money, land, homes, etc., as being the essence of property. Yet those are merely the external forms of property–the things we can see or touch. There are other properties that are more significant, and which form the basis for the external properties.

God has given us internal properties: a mind with which to think; emotions with which we can interact with the world and others; a will that determines our actions; a conscience that informs us of right and wrong; a spirit, which is the eternal part of us (although it will be joined to a resurrection body as well).

How we handle these properties–mind, emotions, will, conscience–will make all the difference as to where that eternal spirit will reside. Our thoughts need to be taken captive to the love of God; our emotions must be directed by our thoughts; our will must be submitted to God’s will; our conscience will let us know which path to follow, and when we have failed to follow the right one.

The conscience is delicate. The apostle Paul talks about a “seared conscience.” What does that mean?

Look at it this way. If you violate your conscience once (this can apply to any particular sin), you feel remorse for doing so. But if you resist that feeling, and never repent of the sin, the next time you do it, you won’t feel quite as bad as the first time. The more often you repeat the sin, the less your conscience is going to bother you. Finally, you can commit that sin without feeling any remorse or regret. It doesn’t make the sin any less sinful, but you no longer respond to the conscience God gave you.

Each of those internal properties are gifts from God. They need to be appreciated as gifts, and we must be good stewards of them. When we misuse them, we suffer what Paul calls a shipwrecked faith. When those who claim the name of Christ violate their consciences, we contribute to the spiritual devastation in the world.

This does not have to be the norm. We can obey God. We can be the examples He wants us to be. We can bring His principles to bear on the world. We can make a difference!

Still Thankful?

After this last election, is it possible to still be thankful? Do we really have blessings? Actually, we have more than we realize. Personally, I have:

  • A God who continues to work in my life and through it, who loves unconditionally even while He demands that I learn a deeper concept of obedience.
  • A wife who has stood by me for 36 years, and for whom I have a greater love now than at any time in our marriage–it has matured, even as I have.
  • A daughter and a son who are married and moving on in the life God has given them. This week, my daughter’s family is with us. What a joy to have three grandsons with whom I can spend time, get to know better, and hopefully have some impact on their lives as well.
  • A job that is not simply a job, but rather a ministry, where I have the liberty to teach history relying on Biblical principles for analysis.
  • Material blessings in a way that we have not had for most of our lives. Yes, such things can change, but I am learning, over time, that the Lord is our real security anyway.

As a nation, in spite of the problems and the philosophy of the incoming administration, we are not a spent force. The promise remains: if My people, who are called by My name, will seek My face, repent, etc. . . . Restoration can occur, and if not, He will never leave us or forsake us.

When the Pilgrims held their Thanksgiving celebration (not to give thanks to the Indians, by the way), they had suffered terribly along the way. Back in England they had been persecuted, in Holland they really didn’t fit into the culture and their children were being lured away from the faith, and in the New World half of them had died the first winter. Yet they had persevered and their faith remained strong. They continued to believe that God would honor their faithfulness.

That is still true. If we are faithful, God’s blessings will follow. We never have to wonder about His faithfulness; the real issue is ours. He wants to bless. Will we allow Him to do so?

An Appeal to My African-American Brothers & Sisters

I am of the opinion that, Biblically, there is only one race, and that it is called “human.” Man is the one who has invented the idea of different races. In fact, we are all beings made in the image of God. Externals such as skin color are not that important. Yet we make them important to our detriment.

If we are Christians, that is our primary identity. Everything else is secondary to that. The real division in the world is not racial; instead, it is between those who are part of the kingdom of God and those who are not. As the Apostle Paul noted:

You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal. 3:26-28)

For too long in America, white Christians were not following the truth of the Word in this respect. It has taken a long time to remedy this; unfortunately, it has also resulted in much bitterness. Now, there are black Christians who apparently, in reaction to past treatment, are making race into the determining factor in politics. To be black in America in 2008 almost reflexively meant voting for Barack Obama. My brothers and sisters, this should not be so.

If I vote for someone because he is white, I am elevating externals over the truth of the Gospel. If my African-American brothers and sisters do the same by voting for a black candidate primarily because he is black, how is that any different? In both cases, we would be wrong.

We must vote based on whether or not the candidate advances Biblical principles in our society. That is precisely why I could not vote for Obama. It had nothing to do with race.

Interestingly, in California, the proposition on the ballot that defined marriage as only between a man and a woman (and which narrowly passed) was supported by 70% of African-Americans. They helped lead it to victory. Yet, those same voters turned around and voted for Obama by over 90%. He is no friend to the Biblical definition of marriage. How can those two votes be reconciled?

We must be consistent.

God calls us to always vote based on His principles. Those principles tell us to treat everyone impartially, and to show no favoritism. By no means should we allow race to be the deciding factor in our vote. I urge all my brothers and sisters in the faith–whether white, black, Latino, Asian, or whatever–to recognize this truth and act accordingly. Let’s work together for the kingdom of God.