Friday, April 24, 2015

What it Means to Love God




Of the two great commandments, loving God comes first:

  • Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'” (Matthew 22:37-39) 
So how do we love God? We can’t clean His house or give Him a message. We can express our love for Him in only one way. That is, to keep His Word:

  • “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him… If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.” (John 14:21-24)
Scripture-centeredness has always been the way that God’s people have expressed their love to God:

  • So if you faithfully obey the commands I am giving you today--to love the LORD your God and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul-- then I will send rain… (Deuteronomy 11:13-14) 
Some claim that we can love God by experiencing God. However, such a concept is entirely alien to Scripture. Others claim that we can love God by conjuring up mental images of Him. However, such use of the imagination in worship is thoroughly rejected. Instead, Jesus taught that worship had to be in spirit and in truth - God’s truth (John 4:23-24). Therefore, ministry had to be Scripture – centered:

  • Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching… Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. (1 Timothy 4:13-16)
 Even Jesus was Scripture-centered. Instead, of speaking His own words, when challenged by the Devil, He resorted to Scripture:

  • Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'" (Matthew 4:4)
Jesus didn’t pick-and-choose the verses He preferred, because they all came from the Father. All were the words of God and were therefore essential.

When He encountered to the two broken disciples on the Emmaus road, He ministered to them through the Scriptures, not by imparting an ecstatic experience:

  • And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he [Jesus] explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. (Luke 24:27)
Nor did He enable the disciples, hiding behind closed doors, to “experience” Him or to have heavenly visions. Instead:

  • He opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, "This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day. (Luke 24:45-46)
Jesus loved them, so He gave them what was most valuable - a mind to understand Scripture. In His ministry to His disciples, imparting truth took precedence over all else.

  • I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them." (John 17:26)
Internal growth depended upon the understanding of God, a message echoed throughout Scripture:

  • Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. (2 Peter 1:2-3)
Scripture was all that was needed for spiritual maturity:

  • All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
Knowledge of the Gospel/God trumped everything else, even healing. Jesus’ disciples found Jesus after an arduous search and pleaded with Him to return to the village where many were waiting to be healed. However, He surprised them with His priorities:

  • Jesus replied, "Let us go somewhere else--to the nearby villages--so I can preach there also. That is why I have come." (Mark 1:38)
After teaching and crying with the Ephesian elders, Paul pointed them back to the supremacy of Scripture:

  • "Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” (Acts 20:32)
Any servant of God must do the same. This is how we love both God and His people. It is also how we demonstrate our faithfulness.

EQUALITY AND ETERNAL LIFE





Today, all forms of equality are “in” - even income equality. This pertains even to God. Westerners are even shopping for an equal-outcomes god - the more impersonal, the better. Why? Because an impersonal god, like nature, does not judge! However, from all indications, God does judge. He cares about love and justice and will treat violators accordingly. Here’s just one small example:

  •  But from everlasting to everlasting the LORD's love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children's children-- with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts. (Psalm 103:17-18)

What does it mean to “fear” God? Well, the Psalm actually gives us a portrait of “fear” -  “those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts.” Although God loves all His creation, these are the people He loves into heaven. Why? They want a relationship with Him and will not close their eyes in order to remake Him into a more user-friendly god – one who endorses everything about them. And the ones who refuse to accept God as He is? He will leave them to their own desires!

Does this mean that God judges? Yes! But what‘s the matter with that? Don’t we also judge! How then can we condemn God for judging without making ourselves into hypocrites? Would we instead want a god who winks at every rape, beheading, and kidnapping? I don’t think so!

TOLERANCE - SECULAR STYLE




At a secular discussion group on "spirituality," we were assured that spirituality took many different forms, and all were okay. Spirituality could be merely a matter of watching a program on astronomy or a enjoying a sunset.

Sounds tolerant and broad-minded, doesn't it? The group thought so until the subject of God came up. One male thought that others had a right to their faith, but that's all it is - naked faith! He insisted that no one could prove that there is a God.

I wanted to say that he couldn't prove such an outrageous claim, but I didn't get an opportunity.

One writer rose to proclaim that spirituality could only be found within ourselves and not in any external spiritual entity to many nods of agreement.

Another declared that she wished that religion would just disappear. Clearly, she didn't view “spirituality,” especially her spirituality, as religious. She continued that religion was the cause of hatred and warfare.

I could no longer hold back and interjected, "Do you regard your statements as a form of hatred?" She didn't seem to have a clue about what I was trying to point out. Nor did anyone else! (I later found out that at least one other did get it!)

I wasn’t shocked. I had seen it a thousand times before. Her words have become a mantra or a shibboleth for entry into refined society. Spirituality was respectable, but God-centered religion was held in contempt. While it was acceptable to lampoon God, “spirituality” was coddled with the greatest sensitivity and encouragement. No one seemed to see the hypocrisy. All were convinced that they were perfectly tolerant, even enlightened. It reminded me of Paul’s quotation from Isaiah:

·       "'Go to this people and say, "You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving." For this people's heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes.'” Acts 28:26-27)

But there is always hope! Before such discussions, my wife warns me to use grace and wit. However, I never seem to be able to rise to these standards, but I trust that God can still use my impassioned words.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Can you be an Atheist and a Moral Objectivist?





According to Frank Turek:

·       In his book The Moral Landscape , [atheist Sam] Harris takes the position that objective moral values really do exist, and they can be explained without invoking God. He claims that if we just use our reason, we’ll see that “human flourishing” is the standard by which we determine something is good or bad. Anything that helps humans flourish is good. Since reason and science can tell us what helps humans flourish, there is no need for God to ground objective moral values. If Harris is correct, it seems that he has successfully shot down the moral argument for God.

How does Harris obtain this principle of “human flourishing?” He claims that he derives it from reason. However, atheistic “reason” tells us that we are just another animal. If this is so, why do we assume that humans are special and it’s all about “human flourishing?” Why not “cat flourishing” or “cow flourishing?”

Reason or science alone cannot answer this question. Science can observe phenomena but not values. It can see what is but not what should be. Likewise, reason can only function once it has been given a value. It is like conducting science without the laws of science. It cannot say that murder is wrong until it is informed that life is good. By itself, reason cannot tell us, “be good to one another.” Why not instead, “look out for number 1?” Reason cannot mediate between these two.

I had thought that living authentically as a nihilist was the most rational way to live. Before Christ entered my life, it seemed to me that living rationally was a matter of living authentically, according to my feelings. I had been doing “good” because it made me feel good about myself. However, this made me feel like a hypocrite. I was acting altruistically, but I couldn’t find any reason to believe in altruism or other-centeredness. I was just doing it for me, and it didn’t feel right, so I ceased doing “good.”

Of course, Harris will invoke the concept of “human flourishing.” But why should humans flourish? There is absolutely no rational answer for this question. Instead, Harris has secretly imported a moral absolute that only God can support.

Well, isn’t this concept of “human flourishing” supported by the vast majority of humanity? Probably, but this is irrelevant! The mass of humanity had believed that the sun revolved around the earth. Did this make it true? Of course, not! Our opinions do not create physical laws or even moral laws or absolutes, even if everyone agrees.

Well, can’t pragmatism – that which gives the maximum benefit to the maximum number of people – suffice as a basis for moral absolutes? For the same reasons that reason and science cannot suffice, pragmatism also cannot suffice. All three first require a moral absolute. You can have the greatest recipe to bake bread, but it will do you no good with the constituent products.

After all, why should we seek to give maximum benefit to the maximum number of people? There are no scientific or logical reasons to support this idea. However, once we have a God-given, immutable, and transcendent basis for this idea, reason, science, and pragmatism can then begin to amass data to help us understand how to give maximum benefit.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Give no Rest to your Voice




What would a church service look like in Hitler’s Germany? As people disappeared, never to be heard from again, and as reports came back of mass exterminations, would the sermons address these horrors? Would they instead be content to continue to just preach salvation and sanctification? Would the leadership argue that the church has no business preaching politics? Would the pastor not mention Jews being herded onto cattle-cars? Would he not direct a public outcry?

However, we need not place ourselves in Hitler’s Germany to ask these questions. Today, we are surrounded by reports, photos, and even boastings of genocide, beheadings, and the kidnapping of thousands of wives and girls for sex slavery. For example, in Nigeria alone, many thousands of Christians have been slaughtered and kidnapped:

The horrors have reached proportions that have never before been seen. Entire communities of Christian have been utterly destroyed. Countries have been emptied of Christians, and the persecutors threaten to continue their rampages, aided by many nations. The church can no longer remain silent. We can no longer claim that we are called to preach the “Gospel” alone! Instead, the Gospel has profound implications.

Jesus certainly didn’t limit His teachings to matters of salvation and sanctification. For Him, the Gospel had to express itself in action:

  • "Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.' … The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.' Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.' They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?' He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'” (Matthew 25:34-45)
We can no longer shy away from these concerns, claiming that we might lose church members or politicize the Gospel. Instead, the Gospel requires us reach out to the broken:

  • This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. (1 John 3:16-18)
John restricted his concern to “material possessions.” However, millions of our brethren have experienced and are facing far worse today – the taking of their wives and daughters for sex slavery and the beheading of their sons through no fault of their own.

We have never conceived of such mass horrors, and yet we remain silent, and our silence makes a mockery of our religion. God cries out through the Prophet Isaiah:

  • "Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter-- when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? (Isaiah 58:6-7) 
However, the church is confronted with far worse today – the extermination of entire populations of Christians and other non-Muslims! Why then do we remain silent? Are we afraid of the results? Ironically, if we are really concerned about the results, we must act:

  • If you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. (Isaiah 58:10-11) 
We cannot model our lives after the priest who passed by the dying man. If we love our neighbor, we must instead model our lives after the Good Samaritan. What did his religion look like?

  • Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (James 1:27) 
If this is true, we have to cry out for the oppressed! We have to awaken the conscience of the church.

What if we fail to raise our voices? It is nothing short of sin:

  • Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins. (James 4:17) 
However, it is even worse. It is a betrayal and a rejection of the Gospel, which requires us to show the world our love for the brethren:

  • “I [Jesus] pray… that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:20-23)
Where is our unity? Where is our love for our brethren? Silence does not speak of love. Nor does it speak of our oneness in our Savior.

Brethren, please commit this to prayer. Have your churches pray. Start prayer chains and prayer groups. Bring these concerns into your churches, to your pastors, and to anyone who will listen. Cry out and be heard. Support those Christian groups that have been intervening. Do not give your voice any rest:

  • Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. (Ephesians 5:11)