Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Things that make sense from a Reformed Worldview Part #1

Every now and then I get reminded of things that I have always believed growing up in a Christian home but that did not really make sense to me until I came to see what the Bible says in regards to the doctrines of grace. The other morning, I let my fingers do the typing through cyberspace and headed over to I see that James White has posted a video of a lecture he did on the reliability of the New Testament Text (click the title to see his lecture). While watching the video I started to think of one of those things that clicked for me as a result of shifting over to a reformed worldview; that is the answer to why people insist there is no reason to believe the Bible is more than just the writings of men. I have always been impressed with the consistency of the Bible, and have always been amazed at the amount of people who do not -- cannot-- see the amazing cohesiveness of the Bible. People will often ask me how I can believe a book written by several different authors over thousands of years could be the word of God. My response is "exactly, thousands of years, several different authors, and yet it all clearly points to the man Christ Jesus." I always thought, and still think, that the fact that the Old Testament clearly looks forward to Christ and the New Testament clearly looks back to him is incontestable when the text is seriously looked at and considered. However, unbelievers find that notion ridiculous or as a person I work with put it "I think you are stretching it." What I saw as the refusal to see the obvious on the part of my co-worker (not out of ignorance either, for he spent 2 years in seminary) would have puzzled me five years ago, because I could not figure out why I and others saw what was clear and they did not. However, when I became reformed I understood that the reason unbelievers could not see this clear fact was because they were lovers of the dark rather than the light. I know to some of you it seems so obvious, as it does to me now, but it really is confusing coming from a non reformed perspective. I believed that everyone was on neutral ground and if people could somehow be given that one piece of information, or reason, or argument that they did not have before, then they would come to Jesus. A reformed worldview, however, makes complete sense of the fact that people refuse to believe and even go through great lengths to turn a blind eye to the miraculous consistency of the Bible. People are not neutral, they are either in Christ or in Adam, they are either lovers of God or enemies of God. The next thing that people will generally say to me after I express my belief that the Bible is miraculously consistent goes something like "but what about all the contradictions?" So then I would start to offer to examine any contradictions with them and see if they were truly contradictions. The last couple of days though I have been thinking about the claimed contradictions and the overall consistency of the Bible, and I do not think they are much of an argument against a deeper understanding of the Bible. In other words, I do not think that the perceived contradictions would completely destroy some connection of the Bible to a divine origin. Let me try to flesh this out a little. In the name of argument and reason I am willing to grant the unbeliever's contradictions. Supposing that all of these contradictions are indeed true, but then are compared to the remaining consistency of the Bible especially given the thousands of years time frame and the numerous different authors, the Bible would still present a more than formidable content that would need to be reckoned with. Sure, if there were truly contradictions the reformed view of inspiration could not be correct, but I think the evidence would still demand a more serious look at the source of the Bible. Still, there are no contradictions, and I have to go with Bahnsen that our very endeavors to reason and think consistently about reality would be fruitless if what the Bible reveals to us is incorrect -- so please no one accuse me of classical apologetics here :). I honestly pray for Bart Erdman, not because I believe his attacks on Christianity to be devastating, but because I really hope that he does not have to face Christ in the present state of his soul. I would hate to have to be the one to stand before Christ and hear: "Have you not read what God has said to you?"

I labeled this part 1 because, God willing, in my next posts I am going to have some Bible overviews that I think strongly show the consistency of the Bible, and -- as Dr. Baird used to say to his classes -- "the golden thread that runs from Genesis to Revelation."

Monday, November 24, 2008

Thanksgiving for the non-believer

Unless I totally misunderstand the English language, our upcoming Thanksgiving holiday - by definition - requires someone to thank. That's what the phrase "giving thanks" means, after all.

Gathered around the table on the fourth Thursday of November, believers may thank God for the provision of good gifts, including the family and friends gathered there. But if the non-believer participates in Thanksgiving, who are they thanking?

  • The standard response might be "Thanks for my family and friends" - but again, who are they thanking? Do they thank other people for being their family & friends?
  • If they thank someone for the bountiful provision, who do they thank? Their employers for providing the paycheck that enabled them to buy all the turkey and pumpkin pie?
I used to think it was pure hypocrisy.

But consider this: They don't even realize it, but they are giving glory to God. By acknowledging the good gifts, the bountiful provision, they are by default acknowledging the giver of those gifts. Do they recognize God as the One who has provided for their every need? Of course not. They assume that all earthly possessions come from the hands of men - their own or their employers'. But God has chosen to use sinful humans, including nonbelievers and their employers, to provide for the needs of mankind. God has chosen to funnel the giving of earthly goods through the hands of humans, whether they acknowledge Him as the ultimate source or not.

Can non-believers glorify God, perhaps even without knowing it? Consider these Scriptures:
1 Peter 2:11-12
Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions
of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the
Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may
see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.

Romans 15:8-9a
For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.

These verses don't speak directly to the idea of non-believers glorifying God without knowing it, but the thought may be there.

So if you have non-believing friends or family around your table this Thursday, say a special prayer of thanks for their (unwitting) praise and glory of God.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

When are we wrong?

Is what we do in life and ministry ultimately to be for the glory of God or for us? Should our service or ministry have God as the objective or should our focus exclude God? How do we practice our Christian life?

For an answer consider the following!

o “When we engage in any religious discipline or practice (personal devotions, family devotions, Sunday worship, etc.) is it with a passion for seeing God glorified or ourselves made happier, healthier, wiser, and richer?
o Are we really concerned with God’s heart for kindness and mercy toward one another? First in the church and then outside the church? How do you respond when you hear about lost homes, businesses, in hurricanes and tornadoes?
o Are we really enthralled by the Grace of God which has saved us?”

From the Sermon by The Reverend William Phillips (Fellowship of Grace , PCA) entitled Post Exilic Prophets – Part 10, Zechariah 7-8:8, “So What Went Wrong”, November 23, 2008

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

God's School

I've been working a lot with high school students in a special education resource classroom. Because these students receive Special Education services, they each have Individualized Education Plans, which require that all necessary aspects of the school curriculum are modified to the students' specific learning needs. I have spent hours helping some of these students with all kinds of assignments, from math and reading to triptychs and media displays. As, I suppose, with any group of students, the students I work with have... varying degrees of work ethic. Being an in-my-fourth-year-and-still-not-done college student, I can understand that "I really don't want to do this right now!" attitude. Having said that, this week I have been tempted to prematurely end my teaching career. Most of my students are great; they'll do their work-or at least try if I help them, but one of these kids will simply not do ANYTHING! I know what you're thinking- if you try this, or do that, or change this on and so forth. Trust me, we've done everything from giving out candy to issuing death threats. So far, nada. As I watched this student sleep-yes, sleep through the AIMS test (a standardized exam of nonsensical import), I thought about how the Lord must sometimes see me as I see this student.

Many times in my life God has blessed and tried me. Many times he has made his will abundantly clear, but more often than I care to think of, I have figuratively slept through God's test. He gives and gives, and He even takes, but time after time, I have acted as a resistant student who is unwilling to learn. Thank God that He is the ultimate teacher, and that His grace abounds, even through my failure.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Leaving for the house-church

Since 1981 I have been most interested in and have studied the topic of “church drop out” or church quitters. A recent book by Julia Duin, Quitting Church, (recommended by Albert Mohler) has provided more interesting insights for me and still leaves the questions, “Why do they drop out or quit?, Where do the drop outs go?, What do they do?, Was there follow-up by the churches as to why they dropped out?, and Was any attempt made to recover these drop outs?” (I do not use the terms “drop out or quitters” irreverently, these folks are brothers ands sisters in the Lord.)

We have heard of the “traditional, seeker friendly, emergent and missional churches”. Well, from these groups and others we have the drop outs or quitters called the “house-church”.

House-churches usually meet on Sunday or Wednesday and for at least two hours. What might happen in a house-church?
93 percent have spoken prayer during their meetings
90 percent read from the Bible
89 percent spend time serving people outside of their group.
87 percent devote time to sharing personal needs or experiences. 8
85 percent spend time eating and talking before or after the meeting. .
83 percent discuss the teaching provided
76 percent have a formal teaching time.
70 percent incorporate music or singing
58 percent have a prophecy or special word delivered.
52 percent take an offering from a participant that is given to ministries.
51 percent share communion.
41 percent watch a video presentation as part of the learning experience
The average size of these groups is twenty people; 64 percent include children and there is an average of seven children under the age of eighteen involved. (p.62)

Some observation:
These are folks that claim to be born-again Christians
Some of these folks are attending regular church as “spiritual compliant”.
These folks are opened to be noticed as ‘quitters’ by not hiding in another formalized congregation.
George Barna hosts a house-church and says, “We are loving it.”
64 percent of the participants are “completely satisfied “with the teaching, leadership, and community of their group, as compared to regular church. (pp. 58-62)

What brought these folks to this decision and this place? Have you ever asked a person who has left your church, why? I have and you really get some interesting responses. If you did ask them about the journey away, did you ask them to return?

As a whole, churches do not seek after the lost sheep. I think it is very painful for those staying to ask those leaving, why? Why bother to ask when someone will soon take their place and yes they could be quitters. Now, how about asking them why they left their former congregation. In many cases these new comers want to reinvest in a new church and they no longer want to be helpless or hopeless. How would you meet the challenge?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Doubt and the Refreshing Breath of Biblical Preaching

I was recently listening to a podcast from Ravi Zacharias entitled Faith Under Fire: Jesus Among Other Gods. during this podcast I heard Dr. Zacharias say that since he had become a Christian at the age of seventeen he had not once doubted who Jesus was. I have to be honest at this point, I wish I could say that since I became a Christian I never doubted who Jesus was, but as much as I would like I cannot say that. I find it odd that a lot of the Christians I know, including my wife, think that I never have doubts about Jesus or a myriad of other things. Partially I think their perception comes from the fact that I am very interested in apologetics and feel that I have very rational reasons for believing in the God of the Bible. Also, I believe this perception comes from my far too often unwillingness to be vulnerable with people. I have experienced doubt several times about who Jesus was, The nature of the Bible, the existence of God. Sure, most of those times my doubt was little more than an itching in the back of my head that kept saying "what if your wrong Baird, then your life will be a waste." Still, some of those times of doubting have been more serious than just those minor nagging fears. Doubt, though, is not really what I wanted to focus on, but rather the preaching of the Word of God. When I go through those times of doubting I especially look forward to joining the saints in the house of God. Why? Because I know that there I will find a glorious release from those doubts. I cannot explain it, I just know that every time I have entered a Bible preaching church with doubts in my heart, I leave with those doubts swept away like so much chaff. I know also what it is that sweeps those doubts away, the preaching of the Word. Truly I am encouraged by the worship through music, and I would never begin to try to lessen the music to something other than worship, but when I hear a preacher who loves the Word and exposits it from the pulpit, it is like a flood of clean water filling my soul and washing out the sewage. I also notice that I can listen to sermons on my Zune and love every minute, but there is just something about hearing the preaching amongst other believers in our Lord Jesus Christ. As I mentioned in my last blog, I try to regularly listen to some atheist podcast so that I can be current on what they talk about and what their arguments are, but I would never do this if I were not gathering with the local church of God on a weekly basis. Sometimes I get done listening to those podcasts and it literally feels like shaking off a physical pressure on my body. To conclude, I want to thank God that He has brought me to a church with elders that love and cherish the Word of God and make it a priority to bring the counsel of God before the members of the church. I know this is the means of Grace that keeps me rooted in Christ, and I shudder when I think where I would be if I was not involved in such a church.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

How Your Theology Shapes your Worldview

1. Your doctrine of God.
Does God have all power and authority over the universe? Or is history a battle between good and evil forces? Is this world rational and ordered? What is justice, good, truth, beauty? How are these reflections of God's character? What is the significance of the affirmation that "the Word became flesh" for our view of our humanness and the importance of this world?

2. Your doctrine of man
Is man a product of chance? What distinguishes humans from the rest of creation?
What is the "image of God"? Do people still possess that image even if they aren’t?
Christians? What does this mean for the arena of life we share in common with non-Christians (work and play, etc.)? Are humans basically good or evil? What does this mean for government and law? How do we balance liberty and justice? Can we expect to build an ideal society?

3. Your doctrine of salvation
Is salvation eternal or temporal? Do people really need saving? From what? Of what does the Christian doctrine of salvation consist? Is salvation the work of God entirely, or the work of God and man, or man alone?

4. Your doctrine of the church
Are we saved from the world, or saved in the world? Is the church a community that is separated from the world or to God in the world? Is the church a community of only those who are truly saved, or is it a mixed body of Christians and hypocrites who will only be sorted out on the last day? How important are the earthly sacraments of bread, wine and water in our Christian experience? What are my responsibilities to the church as well as to my calling?

5. Your doctrine of history and the future
Is God's history of salvation, from Genesis to Revelation, a story of escape from this world and normal human history, or a story of providence and redemption in real time and space history? Arc we wasting our time getting involved in this world when it is going to pass away at our Lord's return?
Modern Reformation March/April 1992

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Where Christians Go Wrong With Evil

I was recently required to write a paper on theodicy i.e. the problem of evil and the existence of God. I was somewhat excited because this is a subject that I spend a lot of time thinking about, but I was also a little intimidated because I think this subject has been amply written about by men whose intelligence, and theological acumen far exceed my own. The problem of evil is probably most simply stated by first defining God as an omnipotent, omniscient and all good being and then using modus tollens:

1.) If God exists, there can be no evil
2.) There is evil
3.) God does not exist

I already had a good idea about the direction that I wanted to go in the paper, but I found myself unable to think of a good place to start. It was in this time of paper angst that I remembered a line from I am Legend a recent movie staring Will Smith. There is a scene in the movie where Dr. Neville (Smith's character) [SPOILER WARNING] is talking to the first uninfected person he has seen in years and [SPOILER OVER] says "God did not do this to us Anna, we did." That particular part of the movie struck me as a very emotionally impacting way of stating the problem of evil; and I believe this is where many Christians go wrong. No, I do not believe that the problem of evil is in anyway a defeater for the Christian worldview. Yes, the argument is self refuting because in order to posit evil you must first assume the existence of God. Yes, evil is an internally consistent part of the Christian worldview. The problem I see is that many Christians meet the challenge head to head on a rational basis (which is needful and good) but then they leave a vacuum where the emotional aspect is concerned. I think that reformed Christians are possibly more guilty of it then others, but I think the typical non-reformed free will defense (which I am actually not completely against) has the same problem of only interacting with the rational aspect -- though in a weaker way. Again, let me emphasize that the rational aspect needs to be addressed, but I think that the force of the argument from evil is not just rational, but also equally emotional. I think some of us tend to forget (and I am preaching to myself here) that evil is not just some philosophical concept, but that it penetrates and affects us on very personal levels. We are not just talking about the compatibility of the act of rape with the existence of God, we are talking about someones aunt, daughter, sister, wife etc. We are not just talking murder, we are talking about husbands who did not come home, and would never come home again. I think the Christian mindset in this regard has too often been to pull the rug out from under the feet instead of directing the feet to solid ground. And here is where I shake my head in wonder (again pointing the finger at myself) because God's existence not only provides a rational answer, it also provides a very comforting soul appealing answer. Without God, the heinous acts of violence that we encounter are simply a product of chance. Rape for example is nothing more than being in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people around; there can be no purpose to it because a universe that is governed only by non-personal law cannot give purpose by definition of its basic premises. However, God has a purpose for the most heinous evil things that happen, and He can bring evil to face perfect justice. In the end, God's elect will look back at history and see how God took the most ugly acts and wove them into a tapestry of His glory. So Christians let us stop being talking heads only, and engage the hearts of those listening to us when we defend our glorious Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Side Note: The Non-Prophets (one of the atheist podcasts I listen to on a regular basis) on their last show (Sat 11/01/08) had a debate about justice that I thought was very revealing in regards to atheists needing to unknowingly revert to a theistic worldview in order to meaningfully talk about justice. I recommend everyone listen to it. The pertinent part I am talking about starts exactly 38.05 minutes into the show. If your interested go to this link then click on episode 7.21

Monday, November 3, 2008

And now, a word from the author - Part Three

Arizona Christian Worldview Institute's new division, ACW Publications, has released its first book, Just Enough Grace: Reflections on Ordinary Miracles by Heather Nations [learn more about it and read an excerpt here]. Here's Part Three of an interview I did with Heather via email. [Read Part One here and Part Two here].

Just Enough Grace is divided into three sections - sort of three phases of your life. The third section is "Just Enough Grace for Change." What's one of your favorite entries from this section?

I love the graduation letter that I wrote to my daughter (p. 202). In the past two years, I've seen her handle disappointments that would knock some adults flat. Despite her active hormones, she's handled things (for the most part) with tremendous grace and maturity. I think every "tween" should occasionally hear that life isn't always perfect or easy, but that God is always good. I also love knowing that, no matter what, there is a written record of how much I loved her.
What are a couple of things that God taught you during this phase of your life?

Doing things "right" or "by the book" doesn't protect you from hardship. It still amazes me that three short years ago we were debt-free (with the exception of our mortgage) and financially comfortable. We're not currently in that blessed position financially...not because we began living by different principles, but because our circumstances brought it about. Just because something is unlikely--I was a ridiculously healthy person before cancer, my husband had never experienced a period of unemployment in the entire scope of our marriage)--doesn't mean that we're immune. Hardship ISN'T punishment, although it is often discipline. There is NO such thing as normal. We're not called to "normal" any more than we're called to "excitement.” We ARE called to obedience and to contentment.
What advice would you offer to people - especially to women - who are struggling with changes in their lives?

Psalm 27:8 —”My heart says of you, ‘Seek his face!’ Your face, LORD, I will seek.” Over and over in Scripture, we are commanded to seek the Lord. Godly perspective on all of life's circumstances comes from shaping my worldview into His. Sometimes we have to look long and hard to find God's hand in our situation, but it is always there. I recently ran across this quote in the Community Bible Study materials on the book of Acts:
Miracles of healing, miracles of guidance, and miracles of deliverance take place every day; because they are part of the events of the day, we often don't notice or appreciate them. We should thank God for His gracious acts on our behalf every day of our lives. Unbelievers talk about luck, good fortune, or coincidence; instead we can recognize the hand of God.
Look for the "everyday miracles"...they're usually not too deeply hidden.
(There’s a reason we chose the subtitle “Reflections on Ordinary Miracles”! – KES ;~)

Why do you think change is so difficult for most of us? Why do we like to be so comfortable?

Sin nature. I think it's difficult for me because I'm still living in a body of flesh in a fallen world. My flesh LOVES to be cozy, well-fed, and most of all comfortable. Most of the time when I really want to be comfortable, it's because I'm not willing to put aside the "old" Heather and put on the new.
Paraphrasing Ugandan pastor Bobgad Kalyowa,

The best comfort zone I have is when I’m serving God in the place He assigns me.
Any comments?

Amen and amen. Thanks, Keith, and the whole crew at ACWI for the opportunity to share!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

It is too much with me!!

I will vote on Tuesday.

What shall I vote for and for whom shall I vote? Within my culture and subculture the issues rise and fall. Vote or don’t vote for the socialist, secularist, conservative, evangelical, pagan, right to life, abortionist, divorced, not divorced, tax activist, tax suppressor, male, female, black, white, native born, island born, Muslim, Christian, military strategist, prisoner of war, inexperienced military leader, maverick, mustang and the list moves on nauseam.

I am surrounded by voices of the righteousness that speak out of a materialist hell or a holy quest or personal panacea. Am I asked to vote for the person that sinned less than the other? When did they sin less, yesterday, today or tomorrow? What is the instrument that I should use to quantify my decision? How much sin is too much sin?
Why am I asked to make presumptions? What do my voices know that makes me ignorant? “The world is too much with us,” It is too much with me!!

What is true? The innuendos and the peccadilloes come to me daily from friends that believe I must be educated. Twenty six months of campaigning and in that period of time I grow less educated by friends and non-friends. I really hate the spam. Repeat, repeat and repeat.

I believe I cannot make a “silk purse out of a sow’s ear.” Can anyone? Change!! The standard for change has been raised in the corruption of politics for years It still remains a “sow’s ear”.

I will cast my ballot, my secret ballot. Please cast your ballot, your secret ballot. Then, let me rest from the materialist hells or holy quests or personal panaceas that are brought forth in all the spam. I might have voted for the same deceiver you voted for.

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
The Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.--Great God! I'd rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.
William Wordsworth