The Measure of a Healthy Church

Church Life, Love is ..., Thoughts
One of the significant measures of a healthy church in the New Testament is love for one another.  Many times the apostle Paul commends churches for their love.  To the church at Thessalonica, he writes, "We give thanks to God always for you, making mention of you in our prayers; constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ" (I Thess 1:2-3) and, "We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brethren, as is only fitting, because your faith is greatly enlarged, and the love of each one of you toward one another grows even greater" (II Thess 1:3). To the church at Ephesus, Paul wrote, "For this reason I too, having heard of the faith…
Read More

Where is the Love?

Church Life, Love is ..., Thoughts
In her book, Walking Away from Faith, professor Ruth Tucker identifies five broad categories of reasons for people losing faith.  They are: Scientific and philosophical issues, particularly evolution and naturalism. Biblical perplexities and higher criticism. Disappointment with God regarding personal and wide-scale suffering. Hypocrisy and lack of caring among leaders in the church. Lifestyle and perspective, including homosexuality, feminism, secularism, and pluralism. We have slowly been working our way through this list looking at biblical answers to these faith challenges.  On point one, we emphasized the unnecessary box we place our students in regarding the creation/evolution debate.  God is the author of all science and is not surprised or taken out of the picture by new discoveries, even in the field of old earth geology.  Does that mean God has…
Read More

Humility and Thanksgiving

Holidays, Thoughts
Happy Thanksgiving! I have previously written about the importance of the labels we give ourselves - and just as critical, the labels we give our brothers and sisters in Christ.  We like to think it is a sign of humility when we refer to ourselves as "sinners saved by grace who have not made much progress since."  But this is a false humility at best.  At worst, it is an outright rejection of God's gift of a new identity for those in Christ Jesus. We become what we label ourselves.  When we label ourselves as sinners, first and foremost, we are turning our backs on God's gift of a new identity, a new heart, a new nature, a new power, a new Spirit, a new purity, a new disposition, a…
Read More

Joining the Fight

Evil and Suffering, Thoughts
"The Son of God appeared for this purpose, that He might destroy the works of the devil" (I Jn 3:8).  And I believe Jesus calls us to join Him in this work.  So rather than throwing our hands up with insufficient or pat answers to the problem of "disappointment with God regarding personal and widespread suffering," let's lay a solid biblical foundation for our young people and then enlist them in the fight against Satan; against his works of evil, violence, disease, and corruption in this world.  What might this effort look like in our everyday lives? Encouraging and assisting our friends who are experiencing marriage challenges to work through their problems and keep a household together that Satan would like to tear apart. Helping a friend find answers for…
Read More

Destroying the Works of the Devil

Evil and Suffering, Thoughts
One of the crucial distinctions to make in our understanding of suffering and evil is the difference between the error of calling God the author of evil and the truth that God is in the business of turning evil into good.  The difference between these two concepts may seem subtle, but the implications are tremendous.  We do our young people a great service when we help them understand this distinction.  As the late Ralph Winter wrote, "God is not 'behind' the evil in the world, He is 'in front' working good out of evil." The story of Joseph in the book of Genesis is an example of this.  In their jealousy and dislike of Joseph, his brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt.  After many twists and turns, the story…
Read More

The Author of Evil

Evil and Suffering, Thoughts
Consider these passages from the New Testament: "And behold, there was a woman who for eighteen years had had a sickness caused by a spirit; and she was bent double, and could not straighten up at all" (Lk 13:11).  After healing the woman on the Sabbath, Jesus said, "And this woman, a daughter of Abraham as she is, whom Satan has bound for eighteen long years, should she not have been released from this bond on the Sabbath day?" (Lk 13:16).  Jesus ascribes this woman's illness to Satan himself. "And they came to the other side of the sea, into the country of the Gerasenes.  And when Jesus had come out of the boat, immediately a man from the tombs with an evil spirit met Him, and he had his dwelling…
Read More

The Dark Power

Evil and Suffering, Thoughts
C. S. Lewis writes in Mere Christianity, "One of the things that surprised me when I first read the New Testament seriously was that it talked about a Dark Power in the universe - a mighty evil spirit who was held to be the Power behind death and disease and sin."  Where did Mr. Lewis get this impression, and does it fit the message of the New Testament?  I believe it does, but it does involve some piecing the puzzle together. Most passages in the New Testament that reference Satan describe his evil moral character or his powerful influence in the world.  Regarding Satan's nature, Jesus simply called him "the evil one" (Mt 13:19).  Evil is Satan's most basic attribute.  Jesus amplifies this description of Satan's nature in John 8:44,…
Read More

The Problem of Evil

Evil and Suffering, Thoughts
Point three in Dr. Ruth Tucker's categories related to walking away from faith is "disappointment with God regarding personal and widespread suffering."  This is not surprising as the problem of suffering and evil has challenged our view of God and His revelation for a long time.  The prevalence of evil in our world from "why do bad things happen to good people" to the devastation wrought by natural disaster is an oft-mentioned stumbling block to belief. At the risk of sounding trite or thinking that I have a novel, five-second answer to this age-old question, I do believe the biblical answer to this dilemma is straightforward.  Let's start with what the answer is not. Evil is not part of God's plan for us personally or for the world in general. …
Read More

Biblical Perplexities and the New Covenant

Apologetics, Thoughts
Another challenge in the area of biblical perplexities is how we handle the time gap, the language gap, and the culture gap between the New Testament and our present experience.  This is where our theological humility comes into the picture.  Our western and modern mindset wants to put everything about God and His communication with man into neat, logical pigeonholes.  Insisting on a specific theological bent forces us into apparent contradictions and complicated efforts to explain them away rather than just accepting and celebrating the mystery.  There will always be a certain amount of mystery in Scripture.  That is just the way God is. So while the Bible includes plenty of chronological detail, it is not a western-style history book.  And in our efforts to understand it as one, we are frustrated…
Read More

The Distorted Message

Apologetics, Thoughts
Comedian Ricky Gervais, a professed atheist, famously wrote in a Wall Street Journal editorial that he is a better Christian than many Christians because he does a better job of keeping the Ten Commandments.  My first response to Mr. Gervais would be, "Wrong religion!"  He is talking about Judaism, not Christianity.  But I am inclined to give the British comic a pass because it is a common mistake made by religious and irreligious alike.  And it gets to the root of our young people's problem with biblical perplexities and higher criticism. The message of the Bible that our young people think is fraught with contradictions, overseen by an angry God, and disconnected from reality is NOT the true message of Scripture, but a caricature of the Bible that we have…
Read More

Biblical Perplexities

Apologetics, Thoughts
Another of the challenges identified by Dr. Ruth Tucker in her book Walking Away from Faith is biblical perplexities and higher criticism.  For those of us who have grown secure in the reliability of the Scriptures, it can be easy to dismiss other's doubts with a quick wave of the hand across the standard arguments that convinced us.  But as in the case of our previous topic - the interaction between faith and science - a proper mix of confidence and humility is in order. On the confidence side, we have the Bible rooted in secular history more securely than any other religious text.  For example, here is a New Testament passage you probably did not memorize in Sunday School that sets the tone for accepting and embracing the authenticity…
Read More