Am I Intolerant?

intoleranceI believe that there is only one way to be right with God. Jesus. I don’t believe all paths lead to the same place. I don’t believe that as long as you are sincere in your beliefs that God will ultimately say you’re okay. I believe that if you don’t turn away from your sin and embrace the forgiveness of Jesus that you will be forever separated from God in a literal place of torture called Hell.

Does that make me narrow minded and intolerant?
Only if Jesus was narrow minded and intolerant because that’s exactly what he claimed for himself (Matthew 11:27; John 14:16). The thing is, however, when you read the stories of Jesus life you don’t encounter a narrow minded, intolerant person. The stories about Jesus describe a guy with a huge heart who loved people and lived with selfless compassion. You find a guy who didn’t mind being labeled for hanging out with the wrong crowd, a guy who gravitated toward the unlovable and unpopular.
So when someone says that no religion or philosophy or perspective can have the whole truth I have to wonder how they know that. In order to know that you’d have to know what the whole truth is. You’d also have to have thorough knowledge of every religion and world view. The more pressing issue is probably whether any of the central tenants of any of the world views are in fact true.
People who follow Jesus don’t claim to have the whole truth because only God could make that claim. Christians do, however, claim that the only way to God is through Jesus because Jesus himself is the most credible one who could make such a claim. Doesn’t history demonstrate that Jesus is probably more credible than any other person who ever lived? We have a tendency to want to separate the awesome and popular teachings of Jesus (love your neighbor, the perfect one should throw the first stone) from his more spectacular claims (like the resurrection). But we can’t do that. If the grander claims of Jesus are hyperbole, then the popular claims are invalid.
It’s important to be tolerant. I affirm your right to believe anything you want to believe. In fact I think Christians should be the most tolerant people on the planet (Titus 2:7). But tolerance doesn’t require me to change my beliefs to something you find more palatable. In fact, it’s dishonest, patronizing and unloving for me to water down the the very truth that I believe to be central to all creation. I have chosen to believe a claim made by someone else that I find abundantly credible. That’s not intolerance, its faith, and everybody ultimately lives by faith.
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It’s Hard to Believe The Resurrection

resurrectionBut I do believe and I believe by faith. But, it’s not blind faith. All faith is based on reason. Faith goes where reason points but can’t venture. A big part of the reason that I believe that Jesus actually rose from the dead is the wide ranging eyewitness accounts of people who saw, ate with and talked to Jesus only days after he was publicly executed. Hundreds of people saw him.

When I consider the broader story line; that the Old Testament pointed to the coming of Jesus for centuries, the independent accounts of his life doing exactly what the New Testament authors claim he did and the fact that raising His son from the dead is not really a big deal for God the resurrection becomes even more credible. For me, the alternative explanations that have been offered just don’t hold water. Does anyone really believe that a conspiracy could hold together that long, even as all the Apostles were systematically murdered for their faith? Is it really plausible that some Roman guards would keep a secret when their careers depended on them finding the body of Jesus to prove he didn’t rise from the dead? If the resurrection really were a conspiracy I don’t believe it’s authors would have chosen women to be the first to bear the news. Woman being the first to know in that culture would certainly not aid in making it more believable.  In that culture, women were not even allowed to testify in court.
In fact, no Roman or Jewish leader ever postulated that the tomb actually still contained the body of Jesus.
For these reasons and others I believe the resurrection that Christians celebrate this time of year actually, physically happened. But there is a bigger reason and that is that Jesus has changed and is changing my life. I’m a different man than I was last year and the year before that because Jesus is alive and he’s changing me.
So, don’t worry about the fact that it’s hard to believe the resurrection. The resurrection story is more than reasonable. Party hearty as you celebrate the new life that Jesus’ death and resurrection purchased for you. Happy Easter.
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How Can God Be Good?

sufferingOdds are much of your energy today has been consumed by combating suffering of some kind. A headache, tension in your relationships, worries about finances or health or whatever. Then you read the paper or visited your favorite news site and you ingested some of the large scale suffering that marks our world. Nations are fighting, children are starving and the weak are suffering at the hands of the strong in all kinds of staggering ways. I’ve sat with parents who had lost their children to disease far too soon. I’ve held moms and dads as they wailed in the emergency room after learning of brain damage suffered by their teenagers who’d been in accidents. I’ve been with husbands and wives when they’ve learned of affairs and I’ve seen the utter devastation on their faces as their bodies slumped unsure if they could, or wanted to, go on.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked by folks in the midst of tragedy and by cynics alike; “How can God be good and allow this?!” There are lots of variations of the question. I’ve talked about this before on several occasions and it would take a book to address it thoroughly.

If you’re in the midst of suffering that feels senseless there is no good response to this question. The only thing that works for you is time and perspective while God’s relentless faithfulness proves itself to you. The only thing you can do is hang in there and remind yourself of what you know to be true.

But if this issue has contributed to your cynical nature or if you’re just in a thinking mood. Ask yourself this question; Wouldn’t it take a God that is good in order for there to be some understanding of good and evil in the first place? If the world were meaningless or purposeless or if we are simply the byproduct of random energy expansion none of our experiences would have any special meaning and there would be no basis to call anything good or evil. There would just be stuff that happens and it would all be meaningless. The universe neither knows nor cares about what happens and it gives us no basis to call anything good or bad.

So, when you think about it, the existence of suffering affirms my faith in the existence of a God that is good. It is only by that basis that I can know what is evil. There is much more to be said, but for now, think about that.

And while you’re thinking about that, as the picture above indicates, consider that God has not excused himself from the same suffering that we endure.

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My Friend Died Last Weekend; That’s Great News

gilWhen I was twenty years old I introduced myself to the president of the college I was attending and asked him if he’d mentor me. He looked at me quizzically, chuckled, and then did something I didn’t expect. He said yes. We met the next morning at 6:30 in his office, I sorted his mail, organized his library, sat in on his meetings and accompanied him on trips to college donors. All the while he taught me. He taught me about leadership, he taught me about walking with God, he taught me about getting results and managing life. We’ve stayed in touch, sometimes more than others, for the next 29 years. When Bren and I got married he visited us in our little one bedroom apartment. We often took lunch to share with he and his incredible bride, Dolores. Thirteen years ago when Bren and I moved back to Pennsylvania from California he visited us and spent a weekend at our church so he could help us. He coached our leaders and critiqued my speaking when I was changing my preaching method. Dr. Gil Peterson shared his life with me. I’m a better man for it.

He died last weekend, and that’s great news.
One of the greatest weaknesses of my generation of Christ followers is our addiction to comfort at all costs here and now. But, C.S. Lewis was right, this is all just shadowlands. True reality doesn’t begin until the here and now is the forever, and we’re not there yet. Most Christ followers know that death is gain (Phil. 1:21) but we live like earth is all that matters.
Don’t get me wrong. Earth is to be enjoyed (1 Timothy 6:17-19) and there is much here to celebrate. But the enjoyment here is a mere shadow of what is to come. God loves us and because of that he doesn’t want us to sell ourselves short when it comes to joy. That’s why he tells us in Colossians 3 to anchor our hopes in heaven, not earth. Earth is great, but its only a moment. You weren’t created for the here and now.
I learned a lot from Gil. He authored several books. He was passionate about education. He consulted and taught internationally in leadership and management. I’m grateful for those lessons. But probably the biggest lesson I learned from Gil was taught when the stage lights were off and no one was around. The part of Gil that many never saw was him taking care of his bride, Dolores who suffered from Muscular Sclerosis and was confined to a wheelchair. Dolores is, perhaps, one of the strongest people I’ve ever met. She is brilliant and tough, she had to be. I watched Gill push her chair and meet her needs and enjoy her company and take care of her, for decades. Shadowlands. I watched him deal with the broken heart that often comes with leadership. Shadowlands. I watched from the sidelines as he retired and dealt with feeling like the world was moving on without him. Shadowlands. I watched him hold tightly to his robust faith as his own health failed. Shadowlands.
No more shadowlands for Gil. He sees clearly now. He feels fully now. He celebrates loudly now. He’s free, for the first time, to fully experience all he was created for.
My friend Gil died last weekend, and that’s great news.
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How Can You Say Your Truth is More Valid Than Mine?

truthIf you’ve ever talked to someone who doesn’t believe in Jesus as the son of God about your faith you’ve probably heard some variable of this question. Sometimes it comes more as an assertion which sounds a lot like “Don’t impose your narrow truth on me.” And, sometimes it comes from someone feeling defensive and it sounds more like “I can’t believe you could be so arrogant as to assume you have THE truth.”

It’s a fair claim and it deserves a careful response. It’s not helpful to simply say “The Bible says it and I believe it and that’s good enough for me!” It’s obviously not good enough for everyone and it’s a really poor defense of our faith. As with most objections there is some truth in this one. Everyone has their own perspective on truth. But that is very different than saying that all perspectives of truth are equally valid. I have a perspective on how my body works based on how it feels. When I have pain or some kind of symptom I have a perspective of what is causing the pain. I also have a close friend that happens to be a surgeon. He also has a perspective on what may be causing my symptoms and his perspective is more valid because he’s better informed that I am, even though it’s my body we’re dealing with. My feelings about my perspective might very strong, but that doesn’t make them more valid. If I’m going to have a procedure done to help my symptoms, or if I’m going to take some kind of medicine, I want the help of an expert to help me discern the most reasonable course of action. If all perspectives of truth are equally valid there could be no experts in anything.
Sometimes folks will hold that a truth claim can only be personal and that it is based on my social circumstances. It sounds something like; “If you were born and raised in Africa you’d have a very different perspective of what is true.” And again there is some truth in that (even though Christianity is growing fastest in Africa right now). But the claim itself is self – defeating because it is personal and comes from within a particular social world view.
As followers of Jesus our goal is not to impose our view of truth of any one. But there is a difference between trying to impose our views on others and explaining why we believe our faith is eminently reasonable. All faith is based on reason. There is no such thing as “blind faith.” There is reasonable faith and there is unreasonable faith. The line between the two must be determined by each individual because each individual is ultimately responsible for their own truth claims. If I truly believe that the only way to spend all of eternity in a forever party in a perfect place is through a relationship with Jesus where he forgives me of my sin based on his sacrifice on a cross two thousand years ago, it is utterly unloving of me to keep the reasons for that faith to myself. It’d be no different that if I were to call my surgeon friend and tell him about a problem I’m having and have him respond by saying that he has a perspective but he’s not going to share it because he doesn’t want to appear that he has a corner on truth. Dr. Ravi Zacharias does a great job with a similar question at the University of Illinois and you can check that out here. The clip is well worth the seven minutes it takes to see it.
Next week: How can you believe in a God who’d allow so much pain and suffering?
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Lent?

lentOdds are you or someone you know is observing Lent. Lent is the annual run up to Easter, usually lasting about 40 days, during which participants prepare their hearts to celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus. We don’t officially observe Lent at ebc, but that’s not the same thing as being against it. Lent can be a good thing, and it can be a bad thing. Let me explain.

There is no observance of Lent in the New Testament. Jesus didn’t teach about it, the Apostles didn’t observe it after the church was launched, in fact, Lent doesn’t show up in church history until about 325 AD. At that time Lent began as a three day fast. As the observance was stretched to 40 days in excluded Sundays and one meal per day was permitted, in the evening, so long as that meal didn’t include meat, fish, eggs or dairy (I’m not sure how they arrived at those rules or why those particular foods were not allowed). As the practice progressed through the centuries the permitted meal was allowed earlier in the day, then as time wore on, the practice morphed into finding something of value to give up and rarely included fasting at all. The purpose of self-denial as a lead up to Easter was intended to help focus our hearts on repentance of the sin that the celebration of Easter obliterates.

It doesn’t really trouble me that Lent (or Easter or Christmas for that matter) is not mentioned in the Bible and was not, in fact, a part of Christian experience for several hundred years. The Bible is both prescriptive and descriptive. The fact that some things are not mentioned or required by the Bible is not the same as prohibiting those things. The church is expected to find ways to effectively make more and better Christians in each particular time and culture and we have the freedom to find creative ways to do that. Lent is a strategy or method to help Christians worship Jesus. There is very little actual church practice that is mandated in the Bible.

Lent is helpful when it helps us focus our hearts on Jesus’ pursuit of us through his death and resurrection. If some kind of Lenten observance helps you drown out the noise of modern culture to magnify the glory of Jesus as he pursues us with outrageous love that’s a good thing. In fact, if you want to observe Lent in some way there are a few suggestions here.

Lent can be dangerous when it becomes a religious observance that has become a habit performed apart from the focus of your heart and mind on Jesus. Many of the observances we use become mindless activities devoid of real meaning. When that happens we focus on our observance rather than the reason for the observance. When that happens the observance does more harm than good because you’re just going through the religious motions. That’s how churches build hypocrites. Yuk.

So it may be very valuable for you to observe a run-up to Easter (whether you call it Lent or not) in a way that heightens your gratitude for the utterly incredible gift of new life in Jesus that the resurrection makes possible.  But, be careful. God is not impressed with our acts of religious duty. He’s looking through you to your heart.

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You Don’t Think About It; But It Messes You Up

sacred secular 2A good blog post is between 300 – 500 words and is written with clarity and an economy of words about something you actually care about. That’s a personal rule for me when writing my blog. I keep breaking my rule. Last week’s post was over 1500 words and I’m not going to be able to do justice to this week’s topic in a small space. That’s especially true because I just spent 73 words venting about word count (If you counted you should see a counselor). Further, most of you won’t care about this one, but it’s important so I’m writing about it.

Here’s the thing. You buy into a false dichotomy and it’s screwing you up. A false dichotomy is a philosophical term for two perspectives or descriptions that are presented as mutually exclusive when they really aren’t.
Most of us buy into a false dichotomy between the sacred and the secular. For example, do you ever expect better behavior from your kids (or yourself) when they’re (or you’re) in a church building than some other buildings?   Do you feel that your language should some how be cleaned up when you’re around a person that is employed as a pastor? Do you tend to believe that the world of hard science (that which is physically verifiable, not necessarily more difficult) is somehow fundamentally different than the world of theology?
If you answered yes to any of those you buy in to a false dichotomy between the sacred (that which is “religious”) and the secular (that which is physical and temporal).
As most of you know, I’m fundamentally not a religious person so I’m fairly sensitive to this. I can’t tell you how many “religious” people talk to me about their “secular” employment. I can’t tell you how many people have come in my office and looked perplexed when they hear the classic rock station to which I often listen. Some of them have asked why I don’t listen to “Christian” music.
There are a couple of problems with this false dichotomy.
First, we tend to believe that the two planes never intersect. That if something is somehow about God or eternity or in some way deals with faith it is one particular kind of truth (if its truth at all). Then, if something deals with observable science that can be physically observed and verified it is another kind of truth. The two truths are not allowed to intersect. Have you ever heard a politician grilled about whether or not his faith would impact his governance? It’s a preposterous question, but it reflects this false dichotomy.
The second problem is that Christ followers tend to think that their involvement in the “real” world is somehow different or less “Christian” than their work in the church. That their job is necessary because it pays the bills but they wish they could “work for God” all the time. Balderdash (I love that word.).
The reason the dichotomy is false is because all truth is God’s truth. Let me explain, and I’ll do so in an over simplistic way because of space. Science has become a much more limited discipline than it has historically been. Science has come to be understood as empirical investigation. But the word science actually means “knowledge.” It has historically be concerned not only with what can be observed and verified physically but with formal truth. Formal truths are those presuppositions that drive scientific investigation. Carl Sagan, an avowed and aggressive atheist alludes to these presuppositions in his book Cosmos. I quote; “Cosmos is a Greek word for the order of the universe. It is, in a way, the opposite of chaos. It implies the deep interconnectedness of all things.” This is the grand presupposition of all scientific inquiry. If the world is fundamentally chaotic (rather than ordered and deeply interconnected), all scientific investigation collapses.  It is the science of theology that provides the tool to study and understand the ultimate unity and interconnectedness that makes empirical investigation possible.  This is precisely the point that led prominent, formerly atheistic, philosopher Anthony Flew to convert to deism.
Now, why should you care about this and spend 20 valuable minutes of your weekend reading and thinking through it? In the same way that our universe is a cosmos (orderly and interconnected) rather than chaos, you are a singular human created in God’s image. You do not have a secular part of you and a sacred part of you. You can’t be a healthy person and think of yourself as divided between secular and sacred. You don’t spend your week growing your business as your secular self, and then do volunteer work and come to church as the exercise of your sacred self. There is nothing more sacred about your volunteering, or your generosity, or your worship life than your work life or sex life. God is the God of the non-church world in the same way that he is the God of the Christian world. That’s what Paul was getting at when he wrote to the Corinthians; “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31) The fact that you have chosen to be a follower of Jesus because you’ve come to the conclusion that Jesus presents the most credible option for answering the larger questions of life is not a choice for your religious or sacred life. It’s a choice for your whole life. That means that you’re not an engineer, or a teacher, or a businessperson during the week and spend your “religious time” as a Christian. That’s schizophrenic. If you’re a Christ follower, then you’re an engineer, or teacher, or whatever that follows Christ. Your identity as a Christian becomes the launching pad for the rest of your life, not a segment of it.
So be careful of the sloppy thinking of the false dichotomy between the sacred and secular. It will lead you to be a smaller person in all facets of your life.
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“Secular” Songs in Church?

sacred secularOne of the things that we occasionally do at ebc is use a “secular” song as a part of our worship experience. It’s fair to ask why we think that’s okay to do. I realize there are folks who believe it is just wrong and I accept that. Let me explain how we think about it.

ebc is a missional church. We exist to help people meet God. That means that we meet people where they are to point them to Jesus. That’s messy. There are those who would say culture has no place in the church whatsoever. To those folks I would say that the church is full of culture. It’s unavoidable. The way we dress, our educational system, our view of authority, the holidays we observe are all part of our culture. The church is immersed in culture and has no alternative but to think hard about how to deal with that.

More than two dozen times the book of John describes Jesus as being sent from God on a mission. He left his home and his culture to come to earth and immerse himself in earthly culture to redeem people that he loved. At the end of Jesus’ life he said “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” (John 20:21). The “religious” culture of Jesus’ day had four basic views of how to deal with culture: 1) the Pharisees rejected culture and tried to develop their own sub-culture based on being pure and acting holy. Jesus had a great deal of trouble with them and called them “white washed tombs” meaning they looked great on the outside but were full of decay inside. 2) The Sadducees of the day embraced the culture around them to the exclusion of the claims of Jesus and were therefore not productive for eternity. 3) The Essenes avoided the culture so they could have their own private religious experiences (much like some of the Pentecostal movements of today). 4) But, then the Apostles had a fourth alternative. The Apostles were culturally connected for the purpose of pointing people to the claims of Jesus. The Apostles modeled the tension between Jude 3 and 1 Corinthians 9:22-23. Jude writes to a group of Christ followers urging them to defend the faith because they had allowed all sorts of evil things to enter their fellowship. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 9, teaches us to become all things to all people so that by all means we can win some to Jesus. There is a tension to balance; the judgment necessary to skillfully balance the tension is not easy.

For example, the Puritans rejected the celebration of Christmas because it is rooted in a Pagan celebration called Saturnalia, which is true. But most of us have no trouble redeeming that Pagan practice for the cause of Christ. The Revivalists rejected the organ and hymns because they considered both of them tools of Satan used in burlesque houses, which they were. Yet, most of us have no problem using an organ and hymns in worship. More recently Mel Gibson produced an amazing film about the Passion of Jesus. Most of us freely embraced this incredible work of art as a tool to be used for Jesus. Yet Mel Gibson is a mixed bag of contradictory work some of which must be completely rejected as detrimental to our cause. We freely use examples from Christians in sports even though sports celebrates some of the most debase aspects of our lower nature. Preachers quote freely from “secular” authors in their sermons yet much of what those same authors write is detrimental to our cause. The Apostle Paul in Acts 17 has a golden opportunity to speak to the cultural and educational elite of his day and he chose to start by meeting them where they were. He talked first about their obvious commitment to religion and referenced the statues they had placed around the city, even quoting the plaque from one of them and he used that cultural starting point to lead them into a discussion about Jesus. In Matthew 2, God actually uses astrologers (!) to tell Herod about the coming of Jesus.

So when it comes to engaging and using the culture at large to connect with those that we’d like to introduce to Jesus I find that there are three options. There are things about culture at large that must just be rejected as unusable for our purposes. Then there are things in culture that we can freely receive and use with no concern whatsoever. And, then the third and more complex category is when we have opportunities to modify something in culture and redeem it for our purposes. I refer to movies fairly frequently in my speaking. That’s redeeming the culture for our purposes. But that’s not the same as endorsing every movie out there, or even every movie by those same people as the one to which I’m referring. I quote authors regularly, but that is different than endorsing everything that author writes or in some way endorsing the lifestyle of that author. There is no human to which I can give an unqualified endorsement, but that does not mean that they’ve never produced something that benefits our mission. The same is true of using television shows as illustrations.

So the question becomes not whether we will interact with culture in our effort to help people meet God for life, but how we will do that. We are very careful and very intentional about everything we do. Here is the process that we use:

Is this sin or does the Bible forbid it in some way? We say often that we’ll do anything short of sin to help people meet God. But we’ll not violate the Scripture, and we won’t knowingly sin.

Do the lyrics work for the point we’re trying to make? When we use a song that is not intended to be worship but to connect to our audience, the lyrics have to open the heart to the point we’re trying to make that day. Using some songs to open a discussion or a talk about particular things gives us instant credibility with part of our audience.

Can we do it well? Doing any song without excellence is a distraction. Using our incredible volunteers can we actually do the song well enough to make our point?

We understand that it isn’t worship. We have a rather strict approval process for our worship songs. When we use secular songs to introduce a concept we don’t try and make that worship, it isn’t. We see it as a part of the sermon for that day. It’s a connection point.

It’s always a beginning point, never the ending point. We end with Jesus. The point is to point to Jesus.

Will it help us gain credibility and build an audience? Yes, it’s important to build an audience and it’s important to have credibility with them. Jesus used miracles, Paul rented public halls (Acts 19:9-10), we use various cultural tools like music and video.

We will work with our artists to balance the tension between performing for personal glory and investing their gifts for the glory of God in our mission. Really, this is no different than trying to preach an excellent sermon to which people respond and doing it for the glory of God rather than for personal praise. It’s a tension every “up front” person has to deal with all the time.

As we think through these things it’s important to us to be an alternative to what other churches are doing in our area. We will do what others are not doing so we can reach people others are not reaching.

One of the things that sometimes bugs me about these kinds of discussions is that we’re willing to spend hours discussing how far is too far to go in reaching someone that is far from God. Yet we never get frustrated with those who comfortably hide in their ecclesiastical corner wondering why it has been literally years since anyone has met Jesus through them. Why is it that we’ll criticize those that we feel have gone too far, but we don’t criticize those that don’t go far enough? At ebc, we’re going to take some risks and we’re going to do anything short of sin to reach those who have yet to be rescued. We’re not going to get every judgment right, of that I’m very sure. But we’re going to err on the side of jumping into the fray to deal with real people struggling with real life. Proverbs says it so well, “Where there are no oxen the stable stays clean.” Missional ministry is messy. We embrace that mess for the glory of God and our joy.

At the end of the day we all understand why it is so important to spend a great deal of time and thought on the content of our presentations. The content of our message is really important. But, if we don’t spend as much time on effectively communicating the precious truth which has been entrusted to our care to those who need it most do we really love those to whom we’ve been sent? I don’t think so.

Next week we’ll address the false dichotomy between the sacred and the secular, which contributes to these discussions.

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The Two-Edged Sword of Valentine’s Day

saint valentineHappy Valentine’s Day. Valentine’s Day has become big business. It’s the second biggest card sending holiday of the year just behind Christmas. It wasn’t always so.

It’s a hard history to trace and it’s surrounded with a couple of legends. Some of them are probably true, but there are a couple of things that we know are true. There were a number of men named Valentine who were Christ followers in Rome around the third century. The third century was a very difficult time to be a Christian. Lots of followers of The Way were viciously persecuted, imprisoned and many were martyred. In 498 AD Pope Gelasius chose February 14 to Celebrate Valentines Day. He chose that day because at least one of the legends had Saint Valentine being martyred on that day a few hundred years earlier. The thing is, February 14 is one day before the Roman fertility feast of Lupercalia which was sort of like an ancient Mardi Gras. The timing of the holiday probably has a lot to do with the romantic nature of our contemporary celebration.
Valentine’s day reminds us of a lot of stuff. It’s an opportunity to be intentional about making your spouse feel very special and that’s really cool. But there is something bigger that Valentine’s day should point us toward. We have Valentine’s day because people are killed for following Jesus. Lots of them. We tend to think of the first few centuries after Christ as open season on Christians. The exploits of Nero and others in using torture of Christians as entertainment are well documented. But here’s the thing. It hasn’t gotten better, it’s gotten worse. Much worse. In fact, over the last one hundred years more Christians have been killed for their faith than in the previous two thousand years combined. All around the world Christ followers are in jail and suffering at the hands of oppressive regimes.
Our faith is not cute. It’s not just about having a better life. It’s about life and death and eternity. In our culture we don’t always think about it that way. So this Valentine’s Day enjoy your chocolates and romantic dinner. But let’s bear in mind that we’re not home yet, and the stakes are high, really high. Let’s help one another keep first things first.
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The Problem with “The Bible Says…”

This is going to be one of those blogs that risks misunderstanding because a blog length may be too short towhat the bible says address the topic. But I’m willing to risk it. I don’t know if you were able to watch any of the debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye. I didn’t get to see the whole thing but I hope to. You can watch it here. You can also see a brief synopsis here. It was cool to see two passionate guys offer differing perspectives in a cordial, respectful, yet unyielding way. I learned things I didn’t know from both men.
I have appreciated Ken Ham’s work over the years, however, I must say I was a bit disappointed in how he chose to argue his case at times. I thought the debate was going to be scientific. As it turned out, in some ways, it was more philosophical. There is much credible scientific evidence that supports a young earth intelligent design perspective of origins. There are well credentialed scientists who support the same and certainly Ken Ham is well qualified to present the scientific case. The problem is, he often chose not to. Rather than presenting well crafted scientific arguments Mr. Ham sometimes simply gave “The Bible says…” responses. Now please understand. I believe the Bible, every word of it. And, I appreciate the authority of the Bible and don’t question it at all. I’m a Bible guy and the more I learn about the Bible the deeper my trust in it goes. However, simply using “The Bible says…” as argument has a couple problems:
  • It doesn’t meet people where they are. Most people don’t believe the Bible and they don’t think at all about whether they should. People are most worried about other things. We have to meet them where they are with love and support first. Paul talks about this as he teaches the Corinthians how to be effective Christ followers. Paul says when he’s with Jews, he becomes like a Jew. To those who are not Jewish, he becomes like someone that’s not Jewish. To the weak, he becomes weak. In fact, he says he becomes all things to all men. Why would he do that? So that he can help them meet Jesus. Mr Ham could have met Mr. Nye with science and used science to point to Jesus. Instead he asked Mr. Nye to accept the Bible which is a whole different kind of argument, one that Mr. Nye did not come to debate.
  • The rest of what the Bible says. For most people who don’t know Jesus, the problem with the Bible is the rest of what the Bible says. There are some pretty horrific things in the Bible. God goes on the warpath in the Hebrew Bible and mercilessly extinguishes  his enemies, including women and children. He asks Abraham to sacrifice his only son by killing him on an altar. People who don’t understand the whole narrative of the Bible are freaked out by those kinds of stories. The reason we’re okay with those kinds of stories is that we understand the context in light of the story of God through time. Most people don’t have that information and are really put off by a God they misunderstand as being vengeful and murderous.
  • It makes the wrong thing the main thing. It’s natural to want to present our case about why the Bible is an inspired book worthy of our greatest trust. But that makes the wrong thing the main thing. Accepting the Bible is not the strategic event that saves people.  Accepting Jesus is. People are willing to talk about Jesus long before they’re willing to discuss the merits of the Scripture. One of the key reasons we accept the Bible is because Jesus did. As I understand that Jesus loves me, pursues me and wants to forgive me and make me new I’m open to hearing more. As I learn to trust Jesus I can trust what he trusted.
At ebc, we think like missionaries. That means we meet people where they are and help them meet Jesus. As they meet Jesus, and understand that Jesus took the Bible seriously they will do the same and God will use the Bible as a trans-formative tool in their lives. What matters most is what is most effective for the Gospel. Give it some thought.
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