Monthly Archives: May 2007

A Life Felt Throughout Time

“I have never doubted that there was a historical Jesus, that he walked the earth 2,000 years ago. But the simple fact is that there has never been a shred of physical, archeological evidence to support that fact until right now.” 

“There will be those who will say that in some ways we are attempting to undermine Christianity. That’s really very far from the case. I think that what this find does and this film does is it celebrates the real life existence of these people and this man who 2,000 years ago had a vision and communicated it in a viral way. It spread around the world over the subsequent centuries and it resounds down to us now in the present day in a way that no other human being has ever has the same kind of impact. My feeling is that his method of compassion and humility, love and forgiveness is every bit as much needed now today in our divisive, materialistic and war-torn world.”

– James Cameron, Hollywood movie producer and executive producer of The Lost Tomb of Jesus

The above statements were made by James Cameron during a news conference held a few months ago. Cameron, an Oscar-winning director was promoting a documentary about the discovery of the alleged tomb of Jesus Christ that he produced. The film, The Last Tomb of Christ, caused a lot of controversy by both religious leaders and scientists. Regardless of what you thought about the film, Cameron’s above comments hit on a key of Jesus’ life. He has impacted history in a way that no one else has. His message caught on, and the world has never been the same.

 

Not that I need Hollywood to validate Jesus. But it sure is nice to see that the world recognizes what many Christians have forgotten – Jesus’ life makes all the difference.

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Yes, But…!

The following is from today’s online version of My Utmost for His Highest. This meditation hit me squarely in the gut. I struggle so often to completely trust and surrender to God. I find myself saying, “Yes, but…!”

May this encourage and prod you as it has me today. 
                       Lord, I will follow You, but . . . Luke 9:61

“Suppose God tells you to do something that is an enormous test of your common sense, totally going against it. What will you do? Will you hold back? If you get into the habit of doing something physically, you will do it every time you are tested until you break the habit through sheer determination. And the same is true spiritually. Again and again you will come right up to what Jesus wants, but every time you will turn back at the true point of testing, until you are determined to abandon yourself to God in total surrender. Yet we tend to say, ‘Yes, but— suppose I do obey God in this matter, what about . . . ?’ Or we say, ‘Yes, I will obey God if what He asks of me doesn’t go against my common sense, but don’t ask me to take a step in the dark.’

Jesus Christ demands the same unrestrained, adventurous spirit in those who have placed their trust in Him that the natural man exhibits. If a person is ever going to do anything worthwhile, there will be times when he must risk everything by his leap in the dark. In the spiritual realm, Jesus Christ demands that you risk everything you hold on to or believe through common sense, and leap by faith into what He says. Once you obey, you will immediately find that what He says is as solidly consistent as common sense.

By the test of common sense, Jesus Christ’s statements may seem mad, but when you test them by the trial of faith, your findings will fill your spirit with the awesome fact that they are the very words of God. Trust completely in God, and when He brings you to a new opportunity of adventure, offering it to you, see that you take it. We act like pagans in a crisis— only one out of an entire crowd is daring enough to invest his faith in the character of God.” – Oswald Chambers

Reclaiming the Beauty of Authority & Submission

The following is an essay that I wrote for my application to Union PSCE. It covers what I feel is a pressing issue with today’s Church.

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            The words “authority” and “submission” normally make people uneasy, especially when it comes to the local church. In many churches, the authorities either abuse their position or abdicate the responsibilities. These negative trends have affected every aspect of church life and have kept Christians from enacting change in their community. Honor and submission seem like dirty words in this culture where everyone seems to think they know what is best.

            As a youth worker, I see this attitude play out in how students relate to parents, teachers and others in authority. Today, everyone seems to celebrate the individual. The concept of setting your wishes aside for the needs of others is not a popular lifestyle.      Sin and rebellion is as old as mankind. But there does appear to be a shift in values as postmodernism has led everyone to become their own moral compass in a sea of various beliefs.

            The Church could have been a positive agent to bring life to the sad reality described above. Unfortunately, it has been more influenced by these trends than it has worked to reverse them. From scandals to church politics, many Christians don’t really trust their church leadership.

            Some might say this seems like an extreme statement. But it bears out everyday as people leave churches never to return.

            Leaders have moral failures, church splits happen, dedicated volunteers get burnt out. There are millions of Christians who are disillusioned with church as usual. And most of them fault pastors and other church leaders for much of their baggage. While this is probably not fair in some cases, it may very well be in others.  

            Statistics from Barna Research and Gallup show that most Christians don’t score much better on moral and family issues than a typical non-Christian. Pastors preach on issues and call the local fellowship to act. Many listen and go right out the door and do the exact opposite. Church leaders call people to join small groups, yet the vast majority remain isolated.

            I have seen churches go to extensive efforts to get people to back a particular mission or concept and still many members refuse to change or do what is asked.  Pastors call people to pray and only 1% of the congregation shows up for the prayer vigil. How many men in most churches are in an active discipleship relationship with a pastor, leader or older mentor?

            I am a member and lay leader at one of the top 20 largest churches in the
Richmond area. We are grappling with these issues and would honestly say that most men have few people who truly know their struggles and are helping them find victory in Christ. The same too can be said for many women although they tend to be better at discipleship than most men.   

            We live in a world where people are suspicious of authority. This seems to be true no matter who is in the White House or the pulpit. Failure to honor authorities causes a chain reaction that affects every member of a congregation. It trickles down to the families and eventually to the community. I am reminded of the time spoken about in the Hebrew Scriptures when every man did what was right in his own eyes and there was no king (Judges 21:25).

            There are no quick fixes for the issues that I have described. But there is a sure path to recovery. Any real problem can only be corrected by true repentance. This is a response that leads individuals to make a firm decision to live a different way. Churches must recognize people’s tendency to run from authority. Leaders must work to earn the trust of the congregation and help them see that submission can be a good thing.  

            The concept of Biblical authority should be taught and modeled out in churches. Avoiding the topic is no longer an option. Elders, bishops, boards, district presbyters and others who provide oversight for a fellowship should develop a systematic approach to ensure that pastors and other leaders are encouraged and held accountable at the same time.

            Christian leaders must first model out authority and submission well before the congregation will ever get the message. Men’s and women’s ministry should seek to encourage and empower older people to disciple and care for those who are younger.

            The only way to restore the beauty of submission is for each person to embrace their story and let God help them see that they can trust Him. All authority exists because God has allowed it to be there. When you get to the heart of the matter, failure to trust and submit to authority shows as much what we believe about God as the authorities that we reject.

Critical Mistake

Consider this quote from Screwtape Letters, a fictional correspondence between two demons about how to tempt a new Christian. Screwtape wrote, “If a man can’t be cured of churchgoing, the next best thing is to send him all over the neighborhood looking for the church that ‘suits’ him until he becomes a taster or connoisseur of churches…The search for a ‘suitable’ church makes the man a critic where the Enemy wants him to be a pupil.”

You  have to be very careful listening to demon chatter. But this fictional account hits on a truth that I came across tonight while talking with a godly, spiritual mentor. We were talking about all the problems in the modern church. This man said that we have to be careful because I guess we have to separate the truth from lies no matter where we are. At the same point, we must avoid developing a critical spirit, which can poison our lives.

It seems that Christians are called to walk a thin line between discernment and judging other Christians. Many times we may think we know the heart motives of others when we do not. I am remind of the question raised in the New Testament, “Who are you to judge some else’s servant?”

Criticizing churches or particular leaders seems to have become a professional hobby among many professed Christians. I know that I have participated in this ‘sport’ from time to time. Certainly, I am not dismissing the duty of a Christian to rightly divide the Word and to examine the teaching of various leaders. But it can be easy to cross over from this God-ordained responsibility to slander, a judgemental spirit and even hypocrisy.

A critical spirit makes it hard for us to receive from a leader even when they are right and teaching truth that we need to hear and follow. No matter what the person says, once we have tuned them out, we might as well not even be in the pew. As the demon pointed out, it is hard to be a pupil when we are preoccupied with being a critic. This makes it easy for Satan to divide and conquer as we all rally behind our favorite leaders. Then we throw theological grenades at the other camp to try to make our doctrine or ministry approach come out on top.

I believe the key is to take any of our concerns to Jesus first. Avoid discussing your concerns with others until the Holy Spirit released you to do so. Then, it is best to go directly to the person that you have the concern with. You may take a third party if absolutely necessary.

You may find that God wants to work on your heart first before moving in the life of person you like to criticize. The Holy Spirit may remove a veil or prejudice that has kept you from walking in fellowship. You may have to overcome a previous wrong or experience where you were hurt. Being overly critical can be easy to do. That’s why we have to be on our guard and always take our concerns to Christ in prayer. He will help us know how to walk the thin line and avoid any critical mistakes.

God’s Esteem vs. Self Esteem

The airwaves are full of people who give advice about the importance of self esteem. I had a profoundly different message that I delivered last week at my church’s youth group.

The gist of the message is that we all have innate desires to be loved and accepted. These are natural feelings. The big problem comes when we seek affirmation and love in wrong ways from the wrong source.

Since God is our Creator, only He can give an accurate estimation of our worth and value. Only He can ultimately answer our longings for acceptance and love. Christianity speaks in a unique way to our desire to be loved and affirmed. All the other major world religions focus on man trying to reach up to God. In contrast, the Christian Gospel reveals God coming down to love people and sacrifice to save mankind. God demonstrated our value by sending His Son to save us.

The Scriptures are clear that our real value cannot be measured by what is on the outside. But why do we struggle to believe this reality? It can be easy to focus too much on how we look or what other people think. All it takes are a few comments for us to develop a negative self image about something.

Research shows that people with a poor self image are slaves to the opinions of others. They are not free to be themselves. This can become a lens that impacts how you look at yourself and the world. A negative self image can cause a never ending spiral of introspection and depression.  People with a negative self image tend to filter out positive messages and only absorb the bad ones. Failures become big deals because they validate negative feelings.

What does the Bible say about our self image and value?

 

God loves you more than the best parent does a treasured child.  

1 John 3:1 (NIV)

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.

You were created in God’s image and bear the mark of a grand design. 

Genesis 1:26-27 (NIV)

            Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

            So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him;     male and female he created them.

           

Psalm 139:13-14 (NLT)

            You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb.

            Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.

 

One of the biggest problems with talking about this issue is that people tend to get distracted by self when God is the focus of life. Josh McDowell, a noted Christian author and teacher, came up with the following definition for a healthy self image. He wrote in His Image, My Image that it was “seeing yourself as God sees you – no more and no less.”

 

Notice that the source of his definition is not our own opinion or that of other people. God is the source. While there is nothing wrong with positive relationships and affirmations from other people, the opinions of man should never be the basis for judging one’s ultimate self worth. According to the New Testament, our identity, even our life, is found in Jesus not anything we do. 

                                   

Colossians 3:1-4 (NLT)

            Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory.

 

While all the self help stuff may sound good looking at earthly goodness, it cannot come close to holiness. You can never reach your ideal you on your own. It isn’t possible. But with God, all things are possible. With God’s power, we are perfected and transformed to be the people that we know we should be.

 

John 1:12-13 (NLT)

But to all who believed him (Jesus) and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.

 

Consider these quotes from leading Christian thinkers…

“The more we the more we get what we now call ‘ourselves’ out of the way and let Him take us over, the more truly ourselves we become.”

                                                  C.S. Lewis from Mere Christianity

 

“Having a healthy self image is not the ultimate goal. Knowing Jesus in all His fullness is.”                                               – Josh McDowell

 

A Biblical teacher wrote the following and placed it on the Web. I believe he hit on a good point. So I revealed to him that his problem was low self-esteem, and he, like all people with low self-esteem, readily agreed to that assessment. Then I chastised him for thinking that he needs a self-esteem! I told him that he should not be esteeming himself at all. That is Jesus’ job! I said it is none of your business to evaluate another man’s slaves, especially if that man is Jesus, and even if the slave is you! The fact that you have a self-esteem at all is proof that you are judging Jesus’ slave; in this case, yourself. Leave the esteeming to Jesus.”

 

The above message can so hard to accept because we want self esteem. In this culture, we want to prove ourselves. A solid track record can seem like encough security to help us feel good about ourselves. But there will always be a critic or something that we could do better. We get trapped when we try to find our ultimate validation in ourselves or others because we are looking in the wrong place.

 

The good news is that God can redeem any negative thought that you have believed about yourself. But you have to let go and let him reveal His truth to you. You must get real with God for Him to make the true you come through.

In God’s Hands

This post diverges from the seminary/scholarship thread. I will get back to that topic in the near future. I was struck by this thought from Sacred Space (www.sacredspace.ie).

You remember that Jesus once took a little child, whom the apostles were shooing away, and told them: Unless you become like little children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. The fact is, at the end, we do become like little children. We stop achieving, lose our driving license, and depend more and more on others to do things for us. Fr Pedro Arrupe, the last general of the Jesuits, at the end of his life was felled by a stroke, which crippled and silenced him. He could neither walk nor talk, though he could still write. He sent this message to the Jesuits who gathered to elect his successor: More than ever, I find myself in the hands of God. This is what I have wanted all my life, from my youth. And this is still the one thing I want. But now there is a difference:  the initiative is entirely with God. It is indeed a profound spiritual experience to know and feel myself so totally in his hands.”

 The above story led me to write the following praise poem.

In God’s Hands  

In Your Hands Lord, I am found.

In Your Hands Lord, I am free.

In Your Hands Lord, there is life.

I can be who You have called me to be.

 

In Your Hands Lord, I am safe.

In Your Hands Lord, You cover me.

In Your Hands Lord, there is rest.

I can be who You have called me to be.

 

In Your Hands Lord, I am loved.

In Your Hands Lord, Your Words comfort me.

In Your Hands Lord, I am Your child.

I can be who You have called me to be.

 

In Your Hands Lord, I am fashioned.

In Your Hands Lord, You perfect me.

In Your Hands Lord, I have hope.

That I can be who You have called me to be.

Can We Trust the Bible?

“I had a very high view of Scripture as the inerrant word of God, no mistakes of any kind – geographical or historical. No contradictions. Inviolate. My scholarship early on as a graduate student showed me that in fact these views about the Bible were wrong. I started finding contradictions and finding other discrepancies and started finding problems with the Bible.”

           – Bart Ehrman, a religion scholar said in Biblical Archaeology Review

None of the scholars in the Biblical Archaeology Reviewarticle believe in the inerrant quality of the Bible. This doesn’t surprise me. Scholars have argued against the authority of Scripture for much longer than I have been alive. They have a point when it comes to modern translations.

I believe that the Bible as originally written is God’s divine Word. While most of the modern translations are pretty good, they may not be 100% accurate. That’s where the Holy Spirit comes in. Jesus said that God’s Spirit would lead us in all truth.

When you consider how many manuscripts there are of the Hebrew Scriptures and all the corroborating evidence from history for stories in the Bible, it seems clear that we have plenty of evidence to support the veracity of Scripture. There will always be questions and room for doubt. That is why it requires faith to believe.

I believe the Bible was written at a real time in history, which may make it hard to understand some things today. Bits of truth can be lost in translation or clouded by false ideas of how things were thousands of years ago. Historians and researchers may understand many things about antiquity. But they don’t know everything. Scholarship is constantly evolving, and we all trust somebody when it comes to the past.

The editor made the point that faith is not just about what you can intellectually explain. The Bible explains faith as the evidence of that which is unseen. Faith extends beyond visible proof or human explanation.

Jim Strange, a leading Biblical archaeologist and Baptist minister, said, “My faith is not based upon anything like a propositional argument. When I indulge myself in all this scientific research and explication, I’m not doing anything about faith.

Strange makes some interesting points. But he almost gives the impression that the physical evidence he finds routinely contradicts Scripture. Based on what I have researched, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Sure, there are plenty of alleged discrepancies and doubts about certain aspects of Scripture. But there are countless things that can be considered strong support too.

In the end, it does all come down to faith. And that is something that by its very nature must extend beyond man-centered scholarship.