Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Correct but Stupid

Maybe you've heard this or something like it.  It usually is a Christian talking to a non-Christian (usually an atheist), and the Christian will say something like:
"Suppose you're right.  Suppose there is no god.  We go through life, and that's it.  There's no heaven, no afterlife, nothing.  So, you were right and I was wrong--it doesn't even matter.  But suppose I'm right.  Suppose Jesus is the Son of God.  We go through life, and then we face judgment.  I was right, and you were wrong--and it makes all the difference!"

I suppose the logic is sound, but that doesn't stop it from being one of the dumbest arguments ever made for Christianity.

First, why would you say, even for the sake of argument, that there is no god?  If you are a Christian and you have a personal experience with God, why would you even entertain the idea that there isn't?  Think about it.  You wouldn't say, "Suppose there's no such thing as snow..."  I know there is snow.  I keep having to shovel it off the sidewalk and brush it off my car.  People who live in warmer climates may not have ever seen snow, and they might find the idea difficult to wrap their brains around it, but that doesn't change the fact that snow is real and undeniable.  You can't make a valid point based on a completely asinine premise. 

Second, you're making the wrong argument altogether.  Christianity isn't about--or it shouldn't be about--escaping the eternal flames of hell.  There's plenty to look forward to in the afterlife, but this life is pretty good, too.  The angel announcing Jesus' birth says, "I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people."  It's kind of a big deal!  Having Jesus in your life gives you joy that you can't get anywhere else.  To the atheist, your joy should be obvious and completely unreasonable.

If you don't know for a fact that God exists, you're missing out on the life that God has planned for you.  You're missing out on completely ridiculous joy that should be yours.  And if you aren't missing out, you should be making better arguments.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Sign, Signs, Everywhere a Sign

I read about a shopping center in England where there were stairs adjacent to the escalators.  Researchers posted colorful signs that stated, "Taking the stairs protects your heart."  The result was that the number of people who chose the stairs doubled.

I don't think it takes a rocket scientist to realize that taking the stairs is the better option for your health.  I also think it doesn't take a brain surgeon to understand that the increase in the use of the stairs had everything to do with the presence of those signs.  So I doubt it takes a rocket surgeon, then, to understand what this verse is all about:

"These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates."
Deuteronomy 6:6-8

God's word is kind of like those signs at the shopping mall.  The truth in God's word is available for our own benefit.  God gave it to us because He loves us and wants the best for us.  Like those signs, we might know (at least on some level) the truth behind those words, but it's easy to not even think about them on our own if we never read them.  That's why God tells us to keep his words in front of us every day and throughout our day.

Notre Dame football players, when they exit the locker room and head down the tunnel towards the playing field, see a sign that says, "Play like a champion today."  There's a reason that statement is on a sign hanging in the staircase to be seen by every player at every home game rather than simply mentioned at freshman orientation.  The Notre Dame football program wants to immerse its athletes in a culture of excellence.

What do you immerse yourself in?  What do you spend more time looking at: Facebook, the television, the inside of the fridge, Sports Illustrated, or your Bible?  Are you surprised by the results?

Friday, January 8, 2010

Random (In)Justice

Ten of Joseph's brothers played a role in him being sold into slavery.  Years later, they have to go to Egypt to buy grain--and even though they don't know it, they are buying grain from Joseph.  Of course, Joseph knows who they are, and he messes around with them a little bit.  When the brothers visit the first time, without Benjamin, Joseph tells them they must return with their other brother.  To make sure they come back, he keeps one brother in prison until they return.
"He had Simeon taken from them and bound before their eyes."
Genesis 42:24
Why Simeon?  Or, from Simeon's perspective, "Why me!?"  Sure, Simeon was guilty for what they had done to Joseph, but he wasn't any more guilty than the other nine (except maybe Reuben, I suppose).  Regardless of what he had done before, this was hardly fair.  The other nine were able to return with grain to their wives and children.  Why Simeon?

The worst part is that when the brothers returned home and told what had happened to them, Jacob doesn't want them to return!  He completely gives up on Simeon, and considers him as good as dead.  Instead of having the brothers return immediately to Egypt so that they can prove their innocence and have Simeon released from prison, they wait.  They wait until they have run out of food, and the only other choice is to accept starving to death.  Only then do they return to Egypt.

Meanwhile, Simeon is rotting in prison.  I don't know what conditions Simeon may have been subjected to.  The Bible doesn't address the topic.  If I had to guess, I would think that Joseph would see to it that his brother was not mistreated in any way, but it still must have been miserable.  And Simeon must have asked why he of all ten had to be the one to be imprisoned in Egypt.

What did Simeon do to deserve this?  Well, he'd done some nasty things in his life.  He deserved prison and more.  Of course, he didn't do anything (as far as I know) that Levi didn't do. 

We all deserve everything we get and a whole lot worse.  The Bible says that Jesus bore the weight of our sins on the cross.  He died because of our sins.  Your sins.  My sins.  In short, I killed Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  You did, too.  Whatever bad happens to us, it doesn't even approach that which we deserve.  Except for the grace of God, what we all deserve is furious wrath from heaven.  Life isn't fair--and that's a good thing.

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be made mature and complete, not lacking in anything."
James 1:2-4

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Thirty Years

If you know who Donny Osmond is, you know the story of Joseph.  As a young man with a lot of potential, he ran his mouth a bit too much and irritated the snot out of his brothers.  They wanted to kill him--and life just went downhill from there.  They sold him into slavery.  He went to work for Potiphar and things were looking good until Potiphar's wife got mad at him and lied, which led to Joseph being sent to prison.  In prison, Joseph works for the warden and interprets dreams for a couple of Pharaoh's servants, but he is still in prison without having done a single thing to deserve it for at least two years after interpreting those dreams.  Joseph has held firm to his faith in God, and his life still sucks.

You know what comes next.  In one day, Joseph goes from prison to being second in power in all of Egypt to only Pharaoh himself.   

"Joseph was thirty years old when he entered the service of Pharaoh king of Egypt" (Genesis 41:46). 

The text indicates that Joseph was seventeen when the strife between him and his brothers really began to heat up.  I suspect that Joseph being sold into slavery came at that age or soon thereafter.  That means that on his thirtieth birthday Joseph had spent his entire adult life--more than a decade--as a slave and/or prisoner.  It would have been pretty easy for him to develop a rotten attitude about life, but the story is clear: Joseph's faith remained in tact, despite the adversity he faced.

If Joseph had been wrapped up in his circumstances, even when called into Pharaoh's palace to interpret Pharaoh's dreams, what would have happened?  First, God probably would not have given him the wisdom to interpret them, and back into the dungeon he would have gone.  Second, if God had granted him the wisdom to interpret them, he may have been unwise with his gift.  Instead of telling Pharaoh the meaning of the dream, and then telling him what to do about it, what if Joseph had simply said, "Sounds like you're screwed"?  His displeasure at how life went the first thirty years of his life would have robbed him of all God's blessings that he ended up receiving over the next ninety.

We must take the long view on life.  It's easy to get overwhelmed by the circumstances of the moment.  God takes the long view, and therefore we should, too.  We have to keep our eyes on the Father and trust him to deal with the rest.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

I Don't Care If You Care

"The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these."
- Mark 12:29-31

Love your neighbor as yourself.
 - Leviticus 19:18

Pullin' out my big black book
Cause when I need a word defined that's where I look
So I move to the L's quick, fast, in a hurry
Threw on my specs, thought my vision was blurry
I looked again but to my dismay
It was black and white with no room for grey
Ya see, a big V stood beyond my word
And yo that's when it hit me, that luv is a verb 

 - "Luv is a Verb" by DC Talk

Sometimes, it seems like we feel satisfied by a warm fuzzy feeling in our heart.  Simply caring about something makes us feel like better people.  We're concerned about poverty, and that makes us better people than the people that do not.  We hope for world peace, and that makes us more pure in heart than the war-mongers.  We have clever ways to articulate our views--such as calling people "war-mongers."  All of that makes us feel good about ourselves.  Look at me.  I'm such a good person.

None of that matters a bit.  It doesn't matter if you care.  It doesn't matter if you voice concern.  If you do voice your concern, it doesn't matter how effectively, articulately, or loudly you express that concern.  It's worthless.

You see, we have been commanded to love.  Love, as DC Talk nicely points out for us, is a verb.  You know--an action word.  That is to say, we have been commanded to act.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Calming the Storm

Alright, so here we go...my attempt at sermon notes without having actually taken any notes.
That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, "Let us go over to the other side." Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, "Teacher, don't you care if we drown?" 
Mark 4:35-38

Possible causes of storms in our lives:
  •  Bad decisions
  • The enemy
  • Living in a broken world

Things to remember when you are in a storm:
  • You are in the storm by God's appointment.
    It was Jesus' idea for the disciples to get in the boat that day.  He know the storm would come.  He had them there for a reason. 

  • You are in the storm with His presence.
    During the storm, the disciples feared for their lives, but Jesus was there with them the entire time.  Being in the stern, He may not have been visible, but he was present.

    "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you."  Hebrews 13:5

  • You are in the storm for His purpose.
    Remember, it was Jesus' idea for the disciples to be in that boat.  It was his idea for them to go through the storm.  But, there was something to be gained from it.  When we face storms in our lives, perhaps God will intervene on our behalf, or maybe He won't, but he has our best interests at heart.

    "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be made mature and complete, not lacking in anything."  James 1:2-4

"He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, 'Quiet!  Be still.'  Then the wind died down and it was completely calm."  Mark 4:39

Sometimes Jesus will calm the storm in our lives.  Sometimes, He calms us instead.  Either way, He says "Quiet!  Be still." 

"He said to his disciples, 'Why are you so afraid?  Do you still have no faith?'"  Mark 4:40

Monday, January 4, 2010

Your Will

I'm an NIV guy. I don't really know why. I suspect that I just like it because it is the version I am most familiar with and so I am comfortable with it. However, even twelve or thirteen years ago I recognized that I could increase my understanding of the scriptures by studying multiple versions. Here is a great example of that.

Philippians 2:12-13 says, "Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed-—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—-continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose" (NIV). I like the way the Contemporary English Version says it, as I think it more clearly communicates the meaning of the verse. In the CEV, verse 13 says, "God is working in you to make you willing and able to obey him."

Do you realize what that means?  When you allow God to work in your life, He doesn't ask you to do a bunch of stuff that you don't want to do.  That doesn't mean that you wouldn't make other choices for yourself, but it does mean that you will want to do as He says.  Part of that is because God changes your heart to want the things that He wants for you.  However, I also think that it is because the deep-seated desires of your heart are part your design--the design God made you with.

Most of us struggle with the idea of giving God our lives.  I think we get this idea in our heads that Christianity is all about giving up everything that we want in this life for the sake of a better after life.  I only think that's half true--there is a better after life.  However, true Christian living is a pretty good life in and of itself.  Even if there were no after life, living in the will of God is a better existence here on earth than we could ever experience otherwise.

Sunday, January 3, 2010


In a completely unrelated expedition across the vast Internet, I came across a sign from a club that boldly stated, "MEMBERS ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR THEIR GUESTS."  I believe we are responsible for our neighbors.

As Christians, I believe we too often only want to be responsible for ourselves.  Some of us don't even want to "push" our religion onto our own children.  That's ridiculous.  Even the devoted atheist Penn Jillette will tell you that if you believe people are going to hell, you have a responsibility to try to prevent that.  He asked in a YouTube video, how much would you have to hate someone to believe that another person is going to spend eternity in hell and not bother to at least try to prevent it?

Jesus said, "if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea" (Matthew 18:6). 

Do you hate your neighbor?

It has become popular for legislatures to introduce laws that require people to act.  In these cases, failure to act becomes a criminal offense.  The reasoning is clear: if you see someone in need, it is wrong to refuse to help them.  If you see someone that needs medical attention, and won't even dial your cell phone to get help for them, that's obviously wrong.  If you see a criminal act occurring, and you have the ability to simply step in and stop the offender from doing it, and you choose not to, you are equally guilty because of your negligence. 

Jesus also said, "whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me" (Matthew 25:40). 
 Today you will have the opportunity to do something for Jesus through someone around you.  Will you extend love?

Saturday, January 2, 2010

God's Love

I seriously doubt that anyone can grasp God's love.  I thought I understood love before my daughter was born.  From the first moment I saw her, though, I understood love in a completely new way.  It was as if I had never loved anything or anyone before, my love for her was so much greater than any other love I knew.  I know in my head that God's love is vastly greater than any love any person could have, even for their own precious child, but it's hard to imagine.

I recently read a story about a young Franklin Graham.  Franklin, the son of Billy Graham, was apparently quite rebellious in his youth.  According to the story, one day Franklin burst into an executive board meeting to ask his father for money.  Franklin had come in off his motorcycle.  Unshaven, dirty, and dressed in his leathers, Franklin was not exactly what I would call Billy-Graham-material.  However, Billy Graham, without hesitations, proudly introduced Franklin to each member of the board.  Whereas many of us would have been embarrassed, Billy Graham's love for his son outweighed any other emotion he could have had.

God's love is like that.  He loves us so deeply and so completely, that even though He knows everything about us--all our secrets, our mistakes, and even our very thoughts--He still loves us enough to die for us.  "While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."

Even on your worst day, you are still God's child, and He loves you more than you can imagine.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Faith or Deeds?

What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds."

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.

James 2:14-18

Where does character lie?  Is it in our faith, or is it in what we do?  Are we considered righteous if we have faith without deeds?  Of course not--James makes that obvious: "faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead." 

What if we have deeds without faith? 

Some would argue that is simply never going to happen.  I think it happens all the time.  A person does the "right" thing, but for the wrong reasons.  Perhaps that is just what he was raised to do.  Maybe she is trying to do good to eventually reach "Nirvana."  People of all different beliefs (some of them--not all) do "good deeds" from the conclusions of their own world view--regardless of whether that world view holds any truth whatsoever. 

It is not enough to have good deeds.  Jesus was disgusted by the Pharisees.  These men were religious scholars, who went by the book and never broke any of God's laws.  They disgusted Christ, though, because their hearts were not right.  They didn't love people.  They didn't love God.  They were self-righteous.  Nobody likes the self-righteous.

So what's the answer?  Both.  Remember what James says: faith, without action, is dead. 

Imagine if Moses had obeyed God and performed all the signs and wonders in Egypt, led the Israelites out of Egypt, and to the banks of the Red Sea.  Then, imagine that as Pharaoh's army approached, God had told Moses to stick his staff into the sand and Moses had just said, "What!?  That doesn't make any sense."   Pharaoh's army surrounds the Israelites and takes them back to Egypt as slaves once again.  Moses and all the people would have been left asking God, "What was that all about?  Why did you perform all those signs and wonders in Egypt, only to bring us back as slaves once more?"  It wouldn't be long before those miracles were forgotten and all faith was lost.  The plagues in Egypt would have fallen in the cracks of history, lucky if they were remembered even as a footnote in history, and no one today would know who Moses was.

We must have faith.  We must act.  God will enable us to do whatever He asks of us.  We must follow his leading in accordance with our faith.  When we act, we will see God using us, and our faith will increase.  As our faith increases, we will better be able to follow God's will for our lives.  It builds upon itself.  Alternatively, we can just do nothing, see nothing, and receive nothing.

What would God have you do today?  Will you do it?