Thursday, April 30, 2009

Following the One Year Bible reading plan

Last weekend, during a message on "Why should we trust the Bible?" we encouraged our people to make sure that Bible intake is a prominent part of their spiritual lives. The truth to take home was, "The Bible: read it through; pray it in; live it out."

This year, we have been encouraging our people to be reading together - to be using the One Year Bible reading plan.

These days, there are many different ways to follow the One Year Bible reading plan. The CVC website provides links for a few "high tech" ways of accessing the the plan:

You can purchase a One Year Bible and follow along with the daily readings.

You can download A Printable One Year Bible Reading Plan to keep with your Bible.

You can read the One Year Bible On Your Mobile Device.

You can listen online as The One Year Bible Is Read for you.

You can read The One Year Bible Blog.

You can download The One Year Bible As A Podcast onto your iPod.

You can add a One Year Bible Widget to your desktop, website or blog.

You can buy a Loving God Journal at CVC and use the reading plan outlined in the journal.

So, really there are no excuses. Our battle is with the world, the flesh, and the devil. This is a matter of fighting our fleshly spiritual inertia, of warring with the enemy who wants to keep us away from the Bible, of weaning ourselves from the world, and of developing the spiritual discipline of Regular Unhurried Time (RUT) in God's Word.

This is a good RUT to get in and stay in!

Let's be able to pray with Jeremiah, "Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name,O Lord, God of hosts" (Jeremiah 15:16, ESV).

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

CVC and Bible Versions

At Saturday night's Q&A after the message about the reliability of the Bible, the following question was handed in: "What is your take on using only the King James Version of the Bible only? Some people say that the NIV, the Living Bible, etc. are "New Age" Bibles. What is your take?"

The following is a position paper prepared by the Elders of Cuyahoga Valley Church. It answers the question above by likely giving the questioner more information than he or she really wanted to know.

But... here goes!

***

At CVC, we are solidly committed to the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible. We believe the Bible is the Word of God. Our statement of faith begins with these words: "The Bible is the inspired and infallible Word of God, without error in its original writings. "

Concerned Christians want to be sure that they and others are reading and studying accurate versions of the Bible. From time to time, the trustworthiness of some of the newer versions of the scriptures is questioned. Usually, those who raise such questions desire that churches only use the King James Version of the Bible, believing it to be the most reliable of all the translations.

We are familiar with the arguments raised against the modern versions of the Bible. Many of these arguments are simply saying that we should use only the manuscripts that were used to produce the King James Version and ought not use the thousands of ancient witnesses to the text of the Scriptures. Others of these arguments, we have found, arise from an incomplete understanding of the Hebrew and Greek language, grammar and vocabulary, and of the principles of Bible translations. Still other arguments that we have heard regrettably employ tactics of guilt by association or quoting material out of context.

The King James Version (KJV), first translated in 1611, is a good English translation of the Bible. However, its original text was based only on a few of the early Greek texts. Today's English translations like the New American Standard Bible (NASB), the New International Version (NIV), and the English Standard Version (ESV) are based on many more Greek manuscripts, and far earlier ones, that have been discovered more recently. We have complete copies dating from the fourth and fifth centuries, and papyrus fragments (with complete books) as early as AD 200. The translators of the KJV did not have the advantage of these more recent discoveries.

We do, however, now have access to many thousands of ancient copies of the Greek New Testament (in whole or in portions) so that by comparing the copies we can conclude with relative certainty what the original wording must have been. Because so many more manuscripts have come to light in the last century, and because the NASB, NIV, and ESV based their translations on an objective comparison of all known manuscripts, we are confident that we are indeed as close to the original as we can be.

Often the objections to the use of the NASB, NIV, or ESV boil down to the fact that it is translated from the Critical Greek Text. A Critical Greek Text is simply the editors' best scholarly opinion of what the wording of the original document must have been, in light of the variant readings that exist. Those who believe that churches should only use the KJV want to use the Textus Receptus, a Greek text used by a 16th century scholar. The fundamental question is, whether the best witness to the original Greek text is a handful of late manuscripts from a single text-type (the Textus Receptus), or the combined witness of several thousand manuscripts ~ including all the text-types and some very early parchments (the Critical Text).

There is not one single place in the entire New Testament where the acceptance or denial of any doctrine related to our salvation or security in Christ, stands or falls on a disputed phrase where the manuscripts differ. The concern of the Critical Text and of the NASB, NIV, and ESV is to present the best reconstruction of the original text, based on all available evidence. The Greek Text of 1522 (the Textus Receptus), which underlies the KJV, attempted to do nothing more nor less. Today, though, we have thousands of manuscript witnesses, where the KJV translators had but a few twelfth century manuscripts.

We do not find that the modern translations are the product of those who would deny our
Lord and the effectiveness of His work in saving us. Rather, the new translations are the result of careful scholarship. There are places where these new translations read differently from the familiar King James Version. In practically every instance, the difference is in the Greek copies used to translate the New Testament. The King James Version is ultimately based on a handful of late (12th century) manuscripts from a single geographical text family, while other translations, including the NASB, NIV, and ESV, have considered literally thousands of manuscripts, from every text family, including many from the fourth and fifth centuries and a good number of papyrus copies from as early as the middle of the second century .

Seeking an honest solution to the variants in known Greek texts does not make one a liberal or a heretic. Arguments that attempt to draw textual conclusions from a prejudicial selection of not immediately relevant data, or from a slanted use of terms, by a slurring appeal to guilt by association, or by repeated appeal to false evidence are not only misleading, but ought to be categorically rejected by Christians who, above all others, profess both to love truth and to love their brothers in Christ. Adoption of the Textus Receptus should not be made a criterion of orthodoxy.

CVC is not asking anyone to give up their KJV. Everyone is welcome to continue to use it for personal reading and study, to bring it to Bible studies and public worship. It is still a good translation, although we contend that there are better ones.

The Living Bible and the Today's English Version are not literal translations from the original Hebrew and Greek. They are not appropriate for serious study, and we do not use them as such. The NASB, NIV, ESV, and KJV are all generally literal translations. We can honestly recommend any of these three for private study. We must realize though, that no translation does a perfect job in communicating precisely from one language into another.

In conclusion, we reaffirm our belief in the inerrancy and authority of the Bible as God's Holy and inspired Word. To imply that the use of translations other than the KJV means that we are moving away from this commitment is false and divisive fellowship with one another.

We can trust our Bibles. If you prefer the NASB, NIV, or ESV use any or all of these versions. If you prefer the KJV, use that. But do not call another Christian's doctrine or orthodoxy into question on the basis of their choice of version.

We should not permit the usage of a particular version to become the basis of personal and ecclesiastical fellowship. God hates those who "sow discord among brethren" (Proverbs 6: 19). Rather, He instructs us " to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace " (Ephesians 4:3). If a person who uses only the KJV declares as heretical another believer who chooses to use the NASB, NIV or the ESV, then that first person is disrupting spiritual unity. Loyalty to Christ and the inspired Word of God should not be measured by the version which a believer chooses to read or to use in public ministry.

When bad things happen (3)

It's important to make sure that we are viewing God biblically.

In our consumer-oriented society, some of us have come to feel that God owes us something. We have become experts at focusing on our rights. We see God as Someone who is supposed to guarantee that we be healthy, wealthy, and wise.

But maybe it's time to remember that God is much more interested in our spiritual health than He is in our material wealth. He’s not a Santa in the sky. He’s not a heavenly grandfather. He’s not a super-duper vending machine that when you push all the right buttons and put in the right change, He gives you what you want.

Then, when bad things happen, you begin to lose your faith in this charicature of a god we have made for ourselves. You can begin to doubt God because you aren’t viewing Him biblically as He has revealed Himself.

Here are three facts about God that we must fight to believe “in spite of” difficult circumstances. It's easy to doubt these truths when life gets hard. If we can hang onto these things, we are on the right path in terms of viewing God biblically.

God is good...

"Surely God is good to Israel, To those who are pure in heart!" (Psalm 73:1, NASB).

God is wise...

"Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!" (Romans 11:33, NASB).

God is powerful...

"For nothing will be impossible with God" (Luke 1:37, NASB).

We must keep our theology straight, especially when we feel like we are being dealt a bad hand from God.

When I used to drop my son, Ryan, off at school, I would pray a prayer that I learned from my friend in FCA, Al Schierbaum. “God, I praise You for Your heart. I know You will act in perfect goodness to me and to Ryan today. I praise You for Your head. I know You are wise in what You allow to come our way. I praise You for Your help. I know You will show Yourself strong in our behalf today.”

No matter what happens - no matter how tough life gets - I'm hoping that we can see God, not as a Santa in the sky who gives me all my "gimmes," but as good, wise, and powerful for what He gives and for what He withholds.

When bad things happen to me, let's seek to get grace to view God biblically.

Can we trust the Bible? (4)

Why should I believe the Bible? Because of the witness of personal transformation.

The British pastor C.H. Spurgeon said that a Bible which is falling apart usually belongs to someone who isn’t.

The Spirit of God uses the Word of God to actually transform the lives of people. God has used the Bible to change the lives of murderers, drug addicts, government officials, business people, husbands, wives, and students.

I love the story one of our staff members, Gregg Jacobsen, tells about how God used the Bible to change his life.

As a guy who entered the business world in his 20s, Gregg worked hard and went the extra mile. He became an officer at a large Cleveland bank when he was 25. He then was hired away to Sherwin-Williams where he worked hard and rose up the ladder, eventually to VP position. He knew working hard would benefit the company and it would benefit him – both financially and in his career.

There was a problem that he was noticing, though. Every time he got a new position, raise or bonus the happiness was short lived. At first he just thought it was because he was in the wrong job or did not get a big enough raise. But he would get to the next step and the same empty feeling came over him.

So, he started asking himself a lot of questions. "Why the emptiness? What is life all about? What really matters? What happens when I die?"

He had a few friends that were Christians and that was fine for them. They needed that. He didn’t. He knew what he needed or wanted (and he was going to get it.). Or did he?

One day, as he was driving he came across a Christian radio station, something he never knew existed. He enjoyed the music. The lyrics were encouraging. He remembers one particular day there was not music, but there was a guy talking. It turned out to be Chuck Swindoll and he was talking about the wisest man and the richest man that ever lived – Solomon. He was teaching out of the Bible - the book of Ecclesiastes. The message series was "Living on the Ragged Edge".

Swindoll was teaching what the Bible says about a young man that worked hard his whole life. He was honest and tried to do the right thing. He got lots of promotions and money as he climbed the ladder. At the end of his life he was at the top of the ladder when he realized the ladder was leaning up against the wrong wall. His was a wasted life, searching only for temporary earthly rewards.

Gregg knew that the Bible was talking about him! Gregg had to pull the car over to the side of the road because he was crying my eyes out. He prayed, “Oh Lord don’t let this be me. I want to know you. I don’t want to live for myself. I want to live for you. I know I’m a sinner and have been living a life on my own. I need You. Come into my heart. Save me.” So on that fall day, God used His Word to call Gregg to Himself. And his life has never been the same. Now, he has meaning and purpose, hope and joy, peace and fulfillment.

See, the Bible is not merely a book that tells us how to live. It is literally packed with life-changing power. It is the Word of God with the power to transform lives.

"All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work" (II Timothy 3:16-17, ESV).

Dennis Prager once debated Jonathan Glover, an atheistic philosopher from Oxford. Glover didn’t believe the Bible.

So, Prager asked Glover, “If you, Professor Glover, were stranded at the midnight hour in a desolate Los Angeles street and if, as you stepped out of your car with fear and trembling, you were suddenly to hear the weight of pounding footsteps behind you, and you saw ten burly men who had just stepped out of a dwelling coming toward you, would it or would it not make a difference to you to know that they were coming from a bible study?”

Glover had to admit that it would make a difference. Even skeptics know that the Bible changes lives.

Maybe you’re wondering, “Can I change? Can I kick this habit? Can I become more patient? Can I live free from fear?” You need something that God can use to change your life. You need the God of the Bible. Read it through. Pray it in. Live it out. He said, “My Word will accomplish My purpose in your life” (Isaiah 55:11). Psalm 107:20 says, “He sent out His word and healed them” (Psalm 107:20, ESV). God can use th Bible to change your life.

Why should I believe the Bible? Because of the witness of personal transformation.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Reading the Bible and assurance of salvation

Someone left Sunday services shaken this past weekend.

The big idea this weekend was "The Bible: read it through; pray it in; and live it out." I challenged our people to be Bible readers.

I gave a strong response to a question on Saturday night. Someone asked "What if I think the Bible is boring?" I mentioned that if that if you really think that the Bible is boring, then you might need to question your salvation.

To be sure, there will be ups and downs in our hunger for God's Word as we go through life. But if we live month after month and year after year with a basic disinterest in the Bible, we might need to wonder if we are truly converted. In John 10, Jesus says, "My sheep hear My voice." One way we can hear His voice is through the Bible.

I mentioned the Saturday night exchange on Sunday. And one person left Sunday services wondering if I he was saved or not. He thought that he had come to know Jesus a few years ago and that he was saved. He said that he had made changes in his life but that he does not read the Bible every week. When he does read the Bible he often doesn't get the proper meaning from the reading. He just doesn't have the passion to read the Bible often.

He says that he seldom reads the bible on his own. So, he's questioning whether he is truly saved because he is not showing love for God by reading His word. He wishes he understood the Bible better and had more of a passion to drink in the truths and teachings in the Bible. So, he is praying to the Lord to give him the desire to read the Bible more and to love the Savior more.

***

Below is my response:

Let’s get together and talk about this.

By virtue of the fact that you have been attending church and a bible study class, you are demonstrating an interest in the Word of God. That is a good sign. It’s also a good sign that you wish you understood the bible better and had more of a passion to drink in the truths and teachings in the Bible. And God is pleased with your prayer that He would give you the desire to read the Bible more and to love our Savior more. These things are evidence of a hunger for God, which is one of the signs of salvation.

The signs that we are saved are not as much external, but internal. We look for things in our lives like 1) a love for God, 2) a love for God’s Word, 3) a love for God’s people, 4) a hatred of sin, and 5) changed goals in life (we now live for God’s glory – to please Him and not ourselves). Of course, we never will experience any of these things perfectly in this life. But these are the kinds of things that we ought to see at least to some degree in our hearts.

So, ask the Lord for insight into your own heart. Paul challenged the Corinthians, “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test” (II Corinthians 13:5).

I would recommend three things:

1) Make a decision – a commitment – to read something in the Bible every single day for the next 31 days. Before you read, ask God to illumine your understanding through the work of the Holy Spirit and ask Him for at least one verse that will be meaningful and that you can write down on a 3x5 card to carry with you to reflect on several times each day. Read one chapter a day.

Here is a suggested reading list to get you started: Matthew 5-7 (3 chapters), John 14-16 (3 chapters), I John (5 chapters), Ephesians (6 chapters), Philippians (4 chapters), James (5 chapters), and I Peter (5 chapters).

It would help you immensely if you had a great study Bible like the ESV Study Bible because the footnotes can shed much light on the passages that you are reading. After the end of the 31 days, you will have a stack of 3x5 cards that will be verses that the God of the universe picked out for you. How amazing is that?

2) Keep asking God to give you assurance of salvation. Ask Him for verses from His Word that will assure your heart.

3) Listen to the sermons and take some notes from the series at CVC called “Sure” from September, 2006. In this series, we tried to communicate the reasons we can have assurance of salvation. You can find the series here.

When bad things happen (2)

When bad things happen, the normal response is to want to know "why.” But the more spiritually mature we become, we will not demand to know "why."

I remember a few years ago when a girl at our church, Mackenzie Wilson, was bitten on her little face by a German Shepherd. Mackenzie asked her mommy, “Why’d this happen to me?”

It’s the universal question when bad things happen. It’s not a bad question. In fact, the Bible gives us some possible answers.

Let me just list some of them for you with some supporting scripture.

Possible reasons for suffering

To experience personal growth.

"Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing" (James 1:2-4, NASB).

To turn away from sin.

"All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness " (Hebrews 12:11, NASB).

To help others who hurt.

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God" (II Corinthians 1:3, 4; NASB).

To become more dependent.

"For You have been a defense for the helpless, A defense for the needy in his distress, A refuge from the storm…" (Isaiah 25:4, NASB).

To give glory to God!

"Without becoming weak in faith he [Abraham] contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah's womb; yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform" (Romans 4:19-21, NASB).

These are possible reasons “why.” It’s good to ask ourselves if any of these reasons might apply to us.

But often, we are simply left in the dark as to “why.”

Remember Job, the man who lost his money, his children, and his health? The Bible contains a book about his life. When all these things happened, Job demanded an audience with God. Finally, in chapter 38, God speaks to Job in 129 verses. Think about it. 129 verses of God talking directly to Job. In all those verse, He never told Job “why.” He never defended Himself or explained anything. Basically, He said, “I’m the Creator. I’m God.”

Job got the point. “Now I see who you are. You’re God and I’m not. I retract my whining accusations and questions. I repent.”

God has His own purposes behind Job’s pain. Job never knew what was going on. Sometimes that will be true for us, too. We stunt our growth and hurt our trust when we don’t just accept both good and bad form His hand.

One summer, I learned a song that has been very helpful to me.

Day by day and with each passing moment,
strength I find to meet each trial here.
Trusting in my Father’s wise bestowment,
I’ve no cause for worry or for fear.
He whose heart is kind beyond all measure,
gives unto each day what He deems best’
lovingly, its part of pain and pleasure,
mingling toil with peace and rest.

When bad things happen to us, it's best not demand to know why.

Vote for Three Strands

My son, Alan, and his wife, Joanna, (Three Strands) could use your votes to play at the Alive! festival: http://www.sonicbids.com/voting/default.asp?poll_id=247

Can we trust the Bible? (3)

More thoughts from this past weekend's message:

***

Why should I believe the Bible? Because of the witness of fulfilled prophecy.

There are dozens and dozens of prophecies made about Jesus in the Old Testament. Where He would be born. How He would be rejected. How He would die.

All these prophecies were made hundreds of years before Jesus ever came to earth. Because of the accuracy of the prophecies, skeptics believed that these passages in the Bible must have been written, not before, but after Jesus.

But in 1947, the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. These scrolls contained the book of Isaiah and other prophetic books. When dated, they were found to be copies that were made from 120 to 100 B.C., well before Jesus was born.

Some say these prophecies were fulfilled by chance, but the odds of that happening would be huge. It would take more faith to believe in that chance happening than in the fact that Jesus is God and these prophecies are divinely inspired.

Consider just 8 prophecies.

Event: 1. Betrayed by a friend
Prophecy: Psalm 41:9
Fulfillment: Matthew 10:4

Event: 2. Silent before accusers
Prophecy: Isaiah 53:7
Fulfillment: Matthew 27:12

Event: 3. Beaten and spit upon
Prophecy: Isaiah 50:6
Fulfillment: Matthew 26:67

Event: 4. Hands and feet pierced
Prophecy: Psalm 22:16
Fulfillment: Luke 23:33

Event: 5. Crucified with thieves
Prophecy: Isaiah 53:12
Fulfillment: Matthew 27:38

Event: 6. Gambled for his clothes
Prophecy: Psalm 22:18
Fulfillment: John 19:23, 24

Event: 7. Side pierced
Propehcy: Zechariah 12:10
Fulfillment: John 19:34

Event: 8. Buried – rich man’s tomb
Prophecy: Isaiah 53:9
Fulfillment: Matthew 28:57-60

Peter Stoner was chairman of the science division of Westmont College. He wrote a book called “Science Speaks.” Stoner said that by using the modern science of probability in reference to eight prophecies, "We find that the chance that any [one] man might have… fulfilled all eight prophecies is 1 in 1017."

That would be 1 chance out of 100 quadrillion.

Take 100 quadrillion silver dollars and lay them on the face of Texas. They would cover the state two feet deep. Now mark one of these silver dollars with a red dot. Stir them up. All over the state. Blindfold a man. Tell him he can go wherever he wants. But on one try, he has to find the one silver dollar with the red dot. He would have a 1 out of 100 quadrillion chance – the same chance that the prophets would have had of writing these eight prophecies and having them all come true in any one man. And that’s just 8 fulfilled prophecies.

There is a design, a purpose, and a guiding hand behind the Bible.

Why should I believe the Bible? Because of the witness of fulfilled prophecy.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Can we trust the Bible? (2)

Here's some more information from yesterday's message at CVC.

Why should we believe the Bible? Because of the witness of manuscript reliability.

The Bible is under attack. Its reliability is often challenged by critics.

But if you see the Bible as unreliable, then you also have to disregard other ancient writings by people like Plato, Aristotle, and Homer. Why? The Biblical documents are better preserved and more numerous than any other ancient writing.

Take Plato’s writings. The time span between the original and the earliest copies we have? 1,200 years. How many copies? 7.

Take Aristotle’s writings. The time span between the original and the earliest copies we have? 1,400 years. How many copies? 49.

Take Homer’s writings. The time span between the original and the earliest copies we have? 500 years. How many copies? 643.

Take the New Testament. The time span between the original and the earliest copies we have? About 70 years. How many copies? 5,600.

There are thousands more New Testament Greek manuscripts than any other ancient writing. And scholars tell us that the New Testament documents are about 99.5% textually pure.

Most biblical scholars agree that the NT documents were all written before the close of the first century. That means that the entire New Testament was completed in about 70 years.

So what? There were people around when the New Testament was being written who could have said, “That’s not true!” But we have no ancient documents written in the first century that contest the New Testament.

If you dismiss the New Testament as reliable, then you must also dismiss the reliability of the writings of Plato, Aristotle, and Homer.

We have more reason to trust the New Testament than to trust any other ancient writing.

Why should I believe the Bible? Because of the witness of manuscript reliability.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Can we trust the Bible? (1)

Here are some of my notes from the message this weekend. More coming later.

Why should I believe the Bible? Because of the witness of internal consistency.

The Bible was written over a period of about 1,500 years.

It was written by 40 people from many different walks of life. Peter, a fisherman. Solomon, a king. Luke, a doctor.

The Bible was written on 3 different continents: Asia, Africa, and Europe.

The Bible was written in 3 languages. Hebrew. Greek, Aramaic.

The Bible was written under many different circumstances. David wrote during a time of war. Solomon wrote in a time of peace. Mark wrote while Israel was under Roman domination.

The writers of the Bible had different reasons for writing. Isaiah wrote to warn about God's judgment. Matthew wrote to prove to the Jews that Jesus is the Messiah. Paul wrote addressing problems in different churches.

Put it all together. The Bible was written over a period of 1,500 years by 40 different authors on 3 continents in 3 languages under different circumstances for different reasons.

But with all that diversity, there is unity: The glory of God as He reconciles a fallen creation to Himself.

The internal consistency of the Bible is incredible.

Take 40 people today and ask them to write their views on a controversial topic. How about, “Who should be the Browns QB?” Quinn or Anderson or somebody else? Think you could get 40 NFL experts to agree about that?

All 40 authors, over 1,500 years, wrote on many controversial subjects, and they do not contradict one another.

How did it happen?

Someone guided these writers through the whole process: the Holy Spirit.

No prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.
II Peter 1:21

“But what about the discrepancies and the contradictions?” When I’m asked about that I often ask the skeptic: “OK. You say there are contradictions. What are they?” Often the answer is: “I don’t know; I just know there are some.” Most people are just repeating what some high school teacher, college prof, parent, or friend has said. They’ve never even bothered to read the Bible for themselves.

I’ve been studying the Bible seriously for over 30 years. The more I study, the more I find solutions for some of those apparent discrepancies. I’m not finding hidden flaws in the Bible, I’m finding hidden beauty.

Why should we believe the Bible? Because of the witness of internal consistency.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The topic for this weekend: Why should I believe the Bible?

I'm looking forward to preaching this weekend's message. To give you an idea about where we're headed, below are a few of my opening remarks. Who can you invite to the services this weekend?

By the way, we want to know what attenders at CVC think about the Bible today. Now, normally, we want attenders to make sure thier cell phone is off. But this weekend, we want to do something interactive. We want people who have a phone to turn on their phone so we can take a survey. There will be a question and text messaging for the answer. So, if you're coming to CVC, bring your phone and get ready to text.

***

I grew up in a small rural church in Tennessee. My dad was pastor. He and my Sunday School teachers taught from the Bible and just accepted it at face value. God said it; that settled it. The stories, the miracles… all true.

Then I went to college, Vanderbilt University in a big city, Nashville. They had a religious studies department. And I thought, “I’ll take a course to learn more about Jesus.” The course was called “Jesus in Modern Study.”

I found out that the professor, who was an ordained minister, didn’t really trust that the stories in the Bible were true. “Did Jesus really say this?” “Did Jesus really do that?” Did Jesus really go there?” Skepticism ruled the classroom.

The thought was that some Christians wrote the stories about Jesus long after Jesus lived. They had their own agendas. So, the stories about Jesus were made up to help these later Christians build their following.

The course was designed to help us try to figure out what Jesus really said, what Jesus really did. Some spots in the Bible were inspired. Some spots were not. And the course was designed to help us spot the spots.

Now, as an 18-19 year old student who grew up in a church where we just believed the Book, I was confused. I didn’t even know that there were ordained clergy out there who didn’t believe everything the Bible said. And my prof seemed like a great guy. So, I started to wonder, “Can I trust the Bible? Is God really speaking through this Book? Is Jesus really who this Book says He is?” My faith was shaken.

This kind of thing happens all the time. It happens not only in universities, but in high schools. It can happen in conversations in homes, at work, in the neighborhood.

See, a Gallop Poll says that even though most people in America believe that the Bible id holy, inspired, sacred only about one-third of Americans believe the Bible is absolutely accurate in all that it teaches. About 1 in 5 Americans believe the Bible is an ancient book of fables, legends, history and moral precepts recorded by man.

We have to “land the plane” on this issue: Is it true that the Bible was written by humans who were inspired by God? Is it true that the Bible is God's revelation of Himself to us? Is it true that the Bible has God for its author and salvation for its end? Is the Bible true, without any mixture of error? Is the Bible trustworthy? Does the Bible reveal the principles by which God judges us? Is the Bible the supreme standard should guide all human conduct, all creeds, and all religious opinions? Can I trust this Book?”

I had to answer those questions in college. Maybe you’ve wrestled with those questions before. Maybe you want to know how to help someone – a student, a friend, a colleague – who is wrestling with those questions. Or maybe you’re wrestling with those questions right now.

It’s vital. I want us to think together today about “Why should we trust the Bible?”

Friday, April 24, 2009

What about all that killing in Joshua?

As I've been reading through Joshua while doing the One Year Bible reading plan (and at the same time, reading Richard Dawkins’ "The God Delusion" for our WHY> series at CVC), I've been thinking about the slaughter of the Canaanites. Why would God command such a thing?

Yahweh tells Joshua to kill all the Canaanites - including women and children. The atheist Richard Dawkins criticizes the Bible and mocks the God of the Bible because of this very thing.

In preparation for this week's message about the trustworthiness of the Bible, I thought that I might need to find some articulate answers for the critics’ questions. And I came across what I think is the best approach that I have found so far on William Lane Craig's website: Reasonable Faith.

He first of all reminds us that these stories “offend our moral sensibilities because of how our moral sensibilities in the West have been largely, and for many people unconsciously, shaped by our Judaeo-Christian heritage, which has taught us the intrinsic value of human beings, the importance of dealing justly rather than capriciously, and the necessity of the punishment’s fitting the crime.” He reminds us that “the Bible itself inculcates the values which these stories seem to violate.”

Craig also reminds us that the God of the Hebrew Bible is a God of justice, long-suffering, and compassion. He writes, "You can’t read the Old Testament prophets without a sense of God’s profound care for the poor, the oppressed, the down-trodden, the orphaned, and so on. God demands just laws and just rulers. He literally pleads with people to repent of their unjust ways that He might not judge them. 'As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live' (Ez. 33.11)."

Craig then outlines God's sovereignty over all of life - including how long you and I will live. He writes, "Our moral duties are constituted by the commands of a holy and loving God. Since God doesn’t issue commands to Himself, He has no moral duties to fulfill. He is certainly not subject to the same moral obligations and prohibitions that we are. For example, I have no right to take an innocent life. For me to do so would be murder. But God has no such prohibition. He can give and take life as He chooses. We all recognize this when we accuse some authority who presumes to take life as 'playing God.' Human authorities arrogate to themselves rights which belong only to God. God is under no obligation whatsoever to extend my life for another second. If He wanted to strike me dead right now, that’s His prerogative. What that implies is that God has the right to take the lives of the Canaanites when He sees fit. How long they live and when they die is up to Him."

Craig points out that the Canaanites were not righteous people but had come under God’s judgment. He writes. "In fact, prior to Israel’s bondage in Egypt, God tells Abraham, 'Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. . . . And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites [one of the Canaanite clans] is not yet complete' (Gen. 15. 13, 16). Think of it! God stays His judgment of the Canaanite clans 400 years because their wickedness had not reached the point of intolerability! This is the long-suffering God we know in the Hebrew Scriptures. He even allows his own chosen people to languish in slavery for four centuries before determining that the Canaanite peoples are ripe for judgment and calling His people forth from Egypt."

He goes on, "By the time of their destruction, Canaanite culture was, in fact, debauched and cruel, embracing such practices as ritual prostitution and even child sacrifice. The Canaanites are to be destroyed 'that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices that they have done for their gods, and so you sin against the Lord your God' (Deut. 20.18). God had morally sufficient reasons for His judgment upon Canaan, and Israel was merely the instrument of His justice, just as centuries later God would use the pagan nations of Assyria and Babylon to judge Israel."

Craig doesn't skirt the issues. He addresses the question, "But why the children?" He writes, "God knew that if these Canaanite children were allowed to live, they would spell the undoing of Israel. The killing of the Canaanite children not only served to prevent assimilation to Canaanite identity but also served as a shattering, tangible illustration of Israel’s being set exclusively apart for God."

He points out that, in his view, the children went to be with the Lord. "Moreover, if we believe, as I do, that God’s grace is extended to those who die in infancy or as small children, the death of these children was actually their salvation. We are so wedded to an earthly, naturalistic perspective that we forget that those who die are happy to quit this earth for heaven’s incomparable joy. Therefore, God does these children no wrong in taking their lives. So whom does God wrong in commanding the destruction of the Canaanites? Not the Canaanite adults, for they were corrupt and deserving of judgment. Not the children, for they inherit eternal life. So who is wronged? Ironically, I think the most difficult part of this whole debate is the apparent wrong done to the Israeli soldiers themselves. Can you imagine what it would be like to have to break into some house and kill a terrified woman and her children? The brutalizing effect on these Israeli soldiers is disturbing."

Craig concludes his answer by pointing out the fact that God is an awesome God not to be trifled with. "Nothing could so illustrate to the Israelis the seriousness of their calling as a people set apart for God alone. Yahweh is not to be trifled with. He means business, and if Israel apostasizes the same could happen to her. As C. S. Lewis puts it, 'Aslan is not a tame lion.'"

May we be as holy as God was calling Israel to be.

To read the whole article, click here.

Thanks, William Lane Craig!

When bad things happen (1)

Bad things happen. Dogs bite. Tornados hit. Storms rage. Finances dwindle. Health diminishes. Marriages struggle. Kids rebel. Loved ones die.

You might be thinking, "Hey wait a minute! We’re the good guys! Why is all this bad stuff happening to us? Since we are the good guys, shouldn’t God be insulating us from the bad things in life?"

This is important to consider because I’ve seen people end up with a shipwrecked faith. Why? They didn’t know how to handle the bad things in a biblically healthy way. We need to grab hold of truth to help us face the troubles in life with a victorious outlook.

When bad things happen to you, don't be so surprised. Bad things happen to everybody. Knowing that won’t take away the pain, but it will help us endure our suffering better. Other people, who may be “better” than we are, have had bad things happen, too.

Some people think that God’s job is to somehow insulate us from life’s pain. Nothing could be further from the truth.

If you are trying to live the Christian life with the assumption that it means: “Just come to Christ and you’ll never have a worry in the world” then you are entertaining a terrible untruth! That’s a delusion. Our faith will be tried. Consider just a few verses:

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when [emphasis mine] you encounter various trials…
James 1:2 (NASB

For to you it has been granted for Christ's sake,
not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.
Philippians 1:29 (NASB)

These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace.
In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.
John 16:33 (NASB)

Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.
Acts 14:22b (NASB)

Bad things happen to everybody. Even the heroes of the Bible experienced bad things.

Joseph was sold by his brothers as a slave, falsely accused of trying to rape his master’s wife, and then thrown into jail. Moses faithfully led God’s people for 40 years but was not allowed to enter the Promised Land. Job lost all his money, his children, and, finally, his health. John the Baptist ended up with his head cut off.

And don’t forget Jesus. The Roman governor, Pilate, could find no fault in Him. The Bible is right when it says that he was sinless. He was sinless, but He died on a cross as a common criminal - beaten, whipped, a crown of thorns pounded into His scalp. And on the cross, Jesus asked, “Why…”

God permits storms, He permits difficulties, He permits the wind to blow. Sometimes everything seems to be going wrong. We find ourselves in deep waters. Just because we may be Christians doesn’t mean that God takes us into some sort of heaven-like, problem free existence. No. Christians are living in the same world as everyone else.

To be forewarned is to be forearmed in these things. If we have a “Magic Kingdom” view of the Christian life, we are certain to find ourselves in spiritual trouble. Just because we're in the boat with Jesus doesn’t mean that no storms will come our way. Check out Luke 8:22-25 and see that our Lord goes to sleep and allows the storms to come. The situation might seem desperate and we may appear to be in grave danger. Everything may seem to be against us. To make matters worse, it might even seem that the Lord doesn’t even care.

No one is immune to having bad things happen. So, don’t throw yourself a pity party when bad things happen. Look at this as a universal human experience. We live in a fallen world with fallen people. So, don't be so surprised when bad things happen to you.

We're not in heaven yet.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Conversation (6)

My agnostic friend has been making observations about predestination.

Here's his latest observation followed by my response:

***

I have been thinking about predestination and here is what I think. If there is a God and God has predestinated everyone to either become Christians or not, then there is nothing anyone can do about it. So, I have been predestinated to become what I am and I accept it.

I’m an agnostic at this point in my life and if I’ve been predestinated to be a Christian, then I will become a Christian before I die.

While I’m waiting to die, I hope to keep fishing, reading and spending time with my wife.

I have no worry of what I am because I have been predestined. I have no control over whether I become a Christian or not. It has already been pre-ordained.

It’s nice not to have to worry anymore. Now I can attempt to enjoy what life I have left.

Thanks.

***

Dear_____,

Regarding predestination, don’t forget that the Bible also teaches the doctrine of human responsibility.

I’ve been asked, “What came first, being chosen by God, or our ability to choose salvation? Does God decide who will eventually choose his Son? If so, how can you pray for salvation for yourself or others if our fates have already been decided?”These are tough questions.

The Bible clearly teaches that God elects persons to salvation. See Ephesians 1:3. But He does it in such a way as to do no violence to their personal responsibility to repent from sin and believe the Gospel. Is there a tension here? Yes. Is there divine mystery? Absolutely! God has chosen. But whosoever will may come. See Romans 10:11.

Here’s the way I think of it: If you are willing, then you are chosen. No one will be standing before God on judgment day saying, “I wanted to be saved, but You wouldn’t save me. I was willing, but You weren’t.”

One of the greatest preachers in the 19th Century was the British pastor Charles Spurgeon. He was a five-point Calvinist. He was also a passionate evangelist and soul winner. On August 1, 1858, he preached a sermon entitled, “Sovereign Grace and Man's Responsibility.” What came from his mouth on that day could only come from a theologian with a shepherd's heart and a love for the lost. I think he addresses the issue with great wisdom.

“That God predestines, and that man is responsible, are two things that few can see. They are believed to be inconsistent and contradictory; but they are not. It is just the fault of our weak judgment. Two truths cannot be contradictory to each other. If, then, I find taught in one place that everything is fore-ordained, that is true; and if I find in another place that man is responsible for all his actions, that is true; and it is my folly that leads me to imagine that two truths can ever contradict each other. These two truths, I do not believe, can ever be welded into one upon any human anvil, but one they shall be in eternity: they are two lines that are so nearly parallel, that the mind that shall pursue them farthest, will never discover that they converge; but they do converge, and they will meet somewhere in eternity, close to the throne of God, whence all truth doth spring.... You ask me to reconcile the two. I answer, they do not want any reconcilement; I never tried to reconcile them to myself, because I could never see a discrepancy.... Both are true; no two truths can be inconsistent with each other; and what you have to do is to believe them both.”

This teaching is an encouragement to me. I worship thankfully and with a full heart because I’ve been chosen for no good reason other than God’s pure grace. And I evangelize because I know that if I keep spreading the good news, some of the people that I share with will respond because they are elect. I believe that any theology that does not result in a "hot heart" for the souls of lost persons is a theology not worth having.

I want you to be standing next to me in heaven worshipping Jesus – the One who died for His sheep.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Conversions to atheism?

If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, you might one day run into some people who will try to convert you. “Convert me? I’m already converted!”

Convert you… to atheism.

There’s a new breed of evangelists in our world today. And the new evangelists are atheists. The people who have determined there is no God or who doubt His existence are adopting a more aggressive, intentional effort to discredit the notion that God exists and to critique people of faith.

Examples? Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion. It’s been a best seller. As I’ve read his book and heard him debate, I have to admit that he’s witty and kind of charming. I think I’d like him. But he’s on a mission to covert people to atheism. And he’s not alone. Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, and Christopher Hitchens are all writing to convince us that God Is Not Great.

I looked at a lot of atheistic websites this week. One atheist blogger wrote: “My hope is that this space will provide a critical but tolerant forum that will inform atheists and convert theists. Religious zealots should have every right to feel threatened by this blog because your supposed monopoly on morality is coming to an end. Imagine no religion ....... what a wonderful world it would be.”

There are people like this who may not be as blatant or as aggressive, but who are teaching our kids in high schools and colleges. And if our kids aren’t ready for the foundations of their faith to be attacked, then they might just jump this Christian ship.

One young man said, “I lost the last remnants of my faith in God during biology class in high school.” Another wrote, “I embraced skepticism at an early age when I first learned of Darwin’s theory of evolution in… grade school. It immediately occurred to me that either Darwin’s theory was true or the creation story in the Book of Genesis was true.” I have talked and prayed with parents right here at CVC who are devastated that they sent a believing son away to college only to find that the professors at the university he attends have converted him from Christianity to atheism.

Yes, atheists are a minority in America. About one out of every 11 Americans (9%) are atheists. But in a nation of more than 220 million adults, that makes roughly 20 million people who are either atheists or agnostics.

And it’s a growing trend. Accroding to the Barna Research Group, the proportion of atheists and agnostics increases from 6% of Elders (ages 61+) and 9% of Boomers (ages 42-60), to 14% of Busters (23-41) and 19% of adult Mosaics (18-22).

Our culture is moving rapidly away from Christianity. We have to understand the perspectives of people who don’t believe in God or who aren’t sure about God.

What will we do? One option is to fight. We can use sarcasm and ridicule and politics to try to silence the atheists and agnostics. I don’t think that’s very smart. It’s certainly not loving. Another option is to run. We can ignore or reject people who don’t think like us. That doesn’t sound Christ-like. Or, we can care. We can build loving relationships and have conversations with people who are skeptical, cynical, or even hostile to the faith.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Some clues for God…

Tim Keller in The Reason for God teaches us to say “clues” because it’s not really possible to “prove” God exists in a scientific sense. But you can’t “prove” Napoleon existed by a scientific method, either. And think about it: Have you ever seen three cubic feet of love or two pounds of kindness? No. But I think we’d all agree that they exist.

I think that rather than argue for the existence of God, we might be better off asking questions. Here are three.

1) What’s the cause for all the effects?

I strike a match. The effect is the fire. The cause is friction. But the cause of the friction is me. But what caused me?

No effect can be produced without a cause. Everything we know in this world is “contingent.” Something happened to make something happen. Every effect has a cause that precedes it. Nothing moves with a prior mover.

The whole universe is a vast collection contingent entities. Everything in the universe has to be dependent on some cause. What caused this effect? What caused that effect? What caused the effect before this? What caused the effect before that? And on and on we go back and back. What caused the original effect?

We come eventually to an Uncaused Cause. There must be a supernatural, non-contingent Being that existed before and beyond the very first effect. He is the Uncaused Cause. God.

2) What’s behind the design?

Look at a baby. Especially a baby asleep. Just look. And think. Think about that little body. What’s going on inside. The circulatory system. The nervous system. The digestive system.

Darwinians want us to believe that the intricate functioning of a human body all happened through the process of natural selection. I think we should fight for the right of an evolutionist to believe what he or she feels to be the truth. But for me, I think that the human body looks as though it’s been designed. What’s behind the design?

An astronomer named Fred Hoyle wrote a book called The Intelligent Universe. He wrote the following:

"A junkyard contains all the bits and pieces of a Boeing 747, dismembered and in disarray. A whirlwind happens to blow through the yard. What is the chance that after its passage a fully assembled 747, ready to fly, will be found standing there? So small as to be negligible, even if a tornado were to blow through enough junkyards to fill the whole Universe."

The order of the universe demands a Designer.

Some might say, “Well, that’s not a good analogy for evolution. Evolution isn’t about random chance, but about natural selection. And evolution isn’t about a single, complex assembly of an organism, but a cumulative ordering a various parts. And evolution doesn’t target a specific predictable organism ahead of time, but produces a non-specific, unpredictable functioning organism.

OK. Change the analogy. “A junkyard contains all the bits and pieces of a Boeing 747. A tornado races through a junkyard not just once, but hundreds of thousands of times. At each step it somehow preserves rather than tears apart functional parts. It ultimately produces some sort of working machine. Maybe it’s a 747. Maybe it’s a station wagon. Maybe it’s a personal computer. Maybe it’s something else.”

Some evolutionists would say that that is a better analogy. But even that analogy seems supremely implausible to me. It would take a greater leap of faith for me to believe in the process of evolutionary natural selection than for me to believe in a Designer.

Nothing that we know looks designed unless it is designed. Therefore, there must have been a designer. God.

Life as we know it cannot exist without liquid water. In our solar system, earth circles around the sun in the “Goldilocks zone” – not too hot, not too cold, but just right. Closer to the sun, we’d fry. Further away, we’d freeze. And if earth didn’t rotate on its axis, one side of the earth would fry and the other would freeze. The earth is situated in the solar system on the sun side of the massive planet, Jupiter. Why is that important? Jupiter with its huge gravitational pull acts like a giant vacuum cleaner that sucks up asteroids that might threaten us with a lethal collision. And our sun is a single star not a binary star in mutual orbit with another star. And planets have a hard time surviving in orbit around binary stars because the one star might destroy the life that another star might permit. For life to exist on this planet, it is as if there were a large number of dials that all had to be tuned to within extremely narrow limits. And they were.

How do you explain life on this planet? That there are billions and billions of stars so the likelihood of an earth existing is possible and that life evolved through natural selection? Or that God made the world, placed it in the Goldilocks zone, and deliberately set up all the details for our benefit.

Maybe people who believe that life emerged through natural selection have to have a great deal more faith than those of us who believe that that there’s an Intelligent Designer.

Look at the order and design in the universe, in your body. No one would think a computer could come into being without an intelligent designer. How much more incredible is it to believe that the universe, in its infinite complexity, could have happened through natural selection?

If a natural explanation doesn’t make as much sense to you, then it’s appropriate to look for a supernatural explanation.

3) What’s the source of right and wrong?

I think we’d all agree well-adjusted reasonably healthy people have a sense of what’s right and what’s wrong. If you see someone hit a pregnant woman in the stomach, you’d say, “That’s wrong.” Even non-believers have a sense of right and wrong. Things happen in the world and we’re morally outraged.

It’s not right that children starve. It’s not right that woman are abused. It’s not right for people to be discriminated against because of the color of their skin.

We just know that every human being has inherent dignity. We know that it is wrong to violate the equal dignity of other human beings. But why should we believe that? On what does this dignity depend? Where do human rights come from? in his book, Reason for God, Keller tells us that there are three possibilities. Human rights come from nature. Human rights are created by people. Human rights come from God. Let’s think about each possibility.

(A) Human rights come from nature.

But nature thrives on violence, on the survival of the fittest. But if we base human rights on nature, then those in power have the right to oppress those not in power. It’s survival of the fittest, right?

(B) Human rights are created by people.

In other words, whatever the culture says is right is right. But what if a majority decides it is not in their interest to grant human rights? We’ve seen in WWI Germany what happens when human rights are created by the majority. The murder of 6,000,000 Jews happened. The Nazis who exterminated Jews may have claimed that they didn’t feel it was immoral at all. We don’t care. We don’t care if they sincerely felt they were doing a serve to humanity. They ought not to have done it.

(C) Human rights come from God.

If the world was made by a God of justice and if we have been created in His image, then that is why we know that violence, oppression, and hate are wrong. The Russian writer, Dostoyevsky, wrote, "If God does not exist, everything is permissible."

We have to have some basis for why we find some things to be evil and other things good. Our moral intuitions can’t just free-float in midair

In The Reason for God, Tim Keller writes, “If there is no God, then there is no way to say any one action is ‘moral’ and another ‘immoral’ but only ‘I like this.’ If that is the case, who gets the right to put their subjective, arbitrary moral feelings into law? You may say ‘the majority has the right to make the law,’ but do you mean that then the majority has the right to vote to exterminate a minority? If you say, ‘No, that is wrong,’ then you are back to square one. ‘Who sez’ that the majority has a moral obligation not to kill the minority? Why should your moral convictions be obligatory for those in opposition? Why should your view prevail over the will of the majority? If there is no God, there can be no good reason to be kind, to be loving, or to work for peace.”

If you believe human rights are a reality, then it makes much more sense that God exists than that He does not.

***

Take any one of these reasons to believe in a God who created and the evidence might seem underwhelming. But add them together? That God created the heavens and the earth seems to me to be by far the most reasonable explanation of what we see. I think that, cumulatively, the clues for God have a lot of force to them.

Friday, April 17, 2009

A moving performance

It's really moving to see an amazingly surprising performance. If you haven't seen it already, check out Susan Boyle's performance in Britan's Got Talent. This performance really moves me. I'm glad that our assumptions aren't always right. I'm glad that God puts talent in what appears to us to be unlikely places. I'm glad that a "little person" can make it big. I'm glad that cynical people can be moved. Something about this made me grateful to God. How about you?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

A post-Christian America?

Jon Meacham of Newsweek wrote a provocative article entitled "The End of Christian America." In the article, he discusses that the percentage of self-identified Christians has fallen 10 points in the past two decades.

He writes, "While we remain a nation decisively shaped by religious faith, our politics and our culture are, in the main, less influenced by movements and arguments of an explicitly Christian character than they were even five years ago."

He goes on, "As crucial as religion has been and is to the life of the nation, America's unifying force has never been a specific faith, but a commitment to freedom—not least freedom of conscience. At our best, we single religion out for neither particular help nor particular harm; we have historically treated faith-based arguments as one element among many in the republican sphere of debate and decision. "

Toward the end of his article, Beacham talks about Cal Thomas. "The columnist Cal Thomas was an early figure in the Moral Majority who came to see the Christian American movement as fatally flawed in theological terms. 'No country can be truly "Christian",' Thomas says. 'Only people can. God is above all nations, and, in fact, Isaiah says that "All nations are to him a drop in the bucket and less than nothing".' Thinking back across the decades, Thomas recalls the hope—and the failure. 'We were going through organizing like-minded people to "return" America to a time of greater morality. Of course, this was to be done through politicians who had a difficult time imposing morality on themselves!'"

He draws our attention to the Psalmist "who said, 'Put not thy trust in princes,' and there is much New Testament evidence to support a vision of faith and politics in which the church is truest to its core mission when it is the farthest from the entanglements of power. The Jesus of the Gospels resolutely refuses to use the means of this world—either the clash of arms or the passions of politics—to further his ends. After the miracle of the loaves and fishes, the dazzled throng thought they had found their earthly messiah. 'When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take him by force, to make him a king, he departed again into a mountain himself alone.' When one of his followers slices off the ear of one of the arresting party in Gethsemane, Jesus says, 'Put up thy sword.' Later, before Pilate, he says, 'My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight.' The preponderance of lessons from the Gospels and from the rest of the New Testament suggests that earthly power is transitory and corrupting, and that the followers of Jesus should be more attentive to matters spiritual than political."

Beacham closes by quoting Al Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theolgical Seminary. "Being in the world and not of it remains our charge. The church is an eternal presence in a fallen, temporal world—but we are to have influence. The Sermon on the Mount is about what we are to do—but it does not come with a political handbook."

Check out the entire article here.

I am very concerned that the church in America is losing ground. In light of that, I think we need to focus on at least two things:

1) More prayer of a II Chronicles 7:14 kind.

2) More planting of new churches. Statiscially, new churches are far better at reaching unsaved unchurched people than existing churches.

I think we may have lost ground in part because we have tried to use political means to create a “Christian America” rather than trying to do what Jesus has called us to do - disciple people. Now, we have a perception on the part of outsiders that we are “too political” and for that reason (and others) they - the people we have been called to reach - are even more resistant to the gospel.

I think it’s time to disciple-ize rather than politicize.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Easter 2009 recap

Here's an email from our Administrative Pastor Gregg Jacobsen about what God did in, through, with, and for us on Good Friday and Easter.

***

Let’s all praise God!

· God entrusted a record number of souls to us on Easter and a very high number on Good Friday. On Good Friday we had 980 people which is up 83 people or 9% over 2008 (2007 was the highest at 1091). On Easter we had 2983 which is a record number of attendees on Easter; up 509 people or 21% over 2008. The previous high water mark was in 2006 which when there were 2711 people.
· On the Spiritual Survey 61 people checked "B" (believing in Christ today). 18 checked "C" (Still considering). 7 checked "D" (I still have some doubts).

Good Friday:
6:30pm 630
8:00pm 350
TOTAL 980 (up 83 people or 9% over 2008)

Easter:
8:00am 568
9:30am 910
11:00am 965
12:30pm 540
TOTAL 2983 (up 509 people or 21% over 2008)

(Our CVC “regulars” did a real nice job of going to either the early or the late services.)

Thanks to all who helped make this weekend happen.
· The Lord
· Facility Team that has been sprucing up everything inside and out.
· Parking Lot, Greeters, Ushers, Collectors, Counting, Information Desk, Hosts and Hostess Teams
· Reception Room Set-Up and Food Prep Teams
· Grounds Clean-Up Team
· Front and Back Yard Sign Set Up (and Take Down) Team
· Program/Bulletin Teams
· CafĂ© Team
· Stage Set Up Team
· The Lord’s Supper team
· Extra Chairs set up upstairs and downstairs Team
· The “pen in the back of the seat” team
· The Child Care Check –In Team
· Child Care Team.
· The Child Care Room and Snack Prep Team
· New restroom signing production and set up team
· The Prayer Warrior Team that was praying everyday for the services and for the people God would send our way.
· The “Invite Card” teams that were out placing invite cards in people’s hands and homes
· The folks that personally invited friends/guests to come
· The Creative Team
· Choir, Worship and Arts Teams
· Technical Support Teams (Sound, lights, cameras, lower level feeds, video)
· Visitor Follow Up Team
· The Building Clean-Up Team (after 3000 visited us)
· The whole CVC and 707 Team
· E.V. Hill and team
· The list goes on and on……

Thanks to all! And especially, thanks be to God. To God alone be the glory.

Now the follow up begins. Keep this in your prayers as we ask God to continue to move mightily.

Denominations

It's not a secret that the North American Mission Board (NAMB)of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) sent Maryanne and me to NE Ohio 22 years ago to start CVC. But obviously we didn't choose to put "Baptist" in the church name.

Why not? Well, we just didn't move 1,000 miles from our famlies to make Baptists out of people. We simply wanted people to become followers of Jesus. Plus as missionaries, we didn't want to alienate the very people we were sent to reach by using a name that had so many negative connotations to the culture we were sent to reach. So, leaving the Baptist name off the church name was a very missional decision for us.

At CVC, we are proud to partner with the SBC to do evangelism, missions, and church planting. We think we're more effective in kingdom building by teaming up with our local association and state convention.

But we think that the best way for us to do evangelism and missions in our local community at CVC is to be SBs - "Stealth Baptists."

I think it's a good thing that our church feels like a trans-denominational collection of Christians. We have people from many, many denominational backgrounds. I like that. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that Maryanne and I have fairly extensive para-church backgrounds with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Campus Crusade for Christ, the Navigators, and Baseball Chapel.

At any rate, all are welcome at CVC!

Now, Thom Rainer, President of the SBC's Lifeway Christian Resources group, has done a "Twitter" research project that verifes the negative perceptions that many people have about the term "Southern Baptists."

Sobering negative perceptions that people have when they hear the term "Southern Baptist":

Legalism, Controlling, Fights, Pharisees, Boycott, Bickering, Irrelevant, Old school, Not real, Behind the times, Extreme conservatism, More about what you’re against, Welcoming only to some, Talk but does not walk, Slavery, Easy believism, Gospel overshadowed by politics, Uptight, Stuffy, Holy rollers, Lost the next generation, Too limited, Closed minded, Self-righteous, Don’t let God move, More negative than positive, Biblical In-fighting, Inefficient, Name that needs changing

The news isn't all bad. Other terms that come to mind when people hear "Southern Baptist":

Jesus followers, Biblical, Socially relevant, Missional, Evangelism, Strength, Passionate about holiness, Unwavering, Relationship with Christ, Cooperation for missions, Baptisms, Love, Solid doctrine, Worldwide missions, Evangelistic, Family connections

So, what do you think of when you think of Southern Baptists?

Monday, April 13, 2009

Praying for preachers...

Yesterday I was given what I consider to be one of the greatest compliments that can be given to a preacher. Want to guess what it might be?

Before I tell you this compliment from yesterday, here are a just few of the things that I long to hear after preaching:

I trusted Jesus as my Savior and Lord today.

I drew closer to Jesus today.

By God's grace, I will be making significant changes in my life.

I was ready to walk out on life, my spouse, my kids, but now I won't because I have hope.

I learned something significant today about God, about the Kingdom, about me, about others...

Jesus is healing some significant hurts in my heart.

I have forgiven someone who has hurt me.

God is breaking down barriers in my relationships and I'm learning to love.

I am developing a compassion for the the hurting, the oppressed, the needy.

I heard from God today.

I am more equipped to honor, glorify, and serve God in my life.

I will take this and share it with someone at home, at school, at work.

I could go on. But you get the idea. You need to know that hearing things like this is what keeps a preacher preaching. (So, if any of this ever happens for you, please encourage your pastor!)

Now, here's the compliment from yesterday. It was actually posted as a comment on my blog from yesterday.

Today was amazing at CVC. There was a great energy flowing. The video you shot was fantastic. My favorite part however, is when you got to the "meat" of your message. What happened was remarkable. Rick Duncan disappears and the Holy Spirit appears. I hope others noticed too. I love when that happens!

Wow. Thanks, Margaret! I'm so blessed by this: "Rick Duncan disappears and the Holy Spirit appears." That's what I want to see happen more and more. So, I pray, "Lord, may this happen more and more as I stand to preach Your Word. May there be less of me and more of You. May people hear Your words, not mine. May I decrease and may Jesus increase (John 3:30)."

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Reasons to believe in the resurrection

I'm so proud of our staff and volunteers at CVC for praying and inviting and welcoming and singing and greeting today. Wow. We had 2,983 people in our services not counting kids. Amazing! Thanks CVCers. And to God alone be the glory! I can't wait to see how many people were guests and how many people prayed to receive Christ. We have a lot of following up to do!

We had lots of energy in all four services today. I loved all the songs we sung, especially Arise My Love and I Will Rise. Amazing. I talked from Luke 24. The question of the day: Why do we seek life in dead places? The challenge of the day: Find life in Christ.

Here are some reasons to believe in resurrection that I shared in the services at CVC today. Pay close attention. Read the list and see if you can repeat these reasons without looking.

***

Maybe you’re not sure that the resurrection really happened. Maybe you believe that the resurrection is just a myth. If that's you, you’re in good company. Lots of people ask, “Why should 21st century people believe in the resurrection of Jesus?”

Let’s just be careful of what Christian writer C.S. Lewis called “chronological snobbery.” It's easy for us to think we’re smarter than the people that lived in the ancient world. So, we’re skeptical about a bodily resurrection while believing that those ancient people were more likely to believe a fairy tale. They were gullible; we’re not!

But think about it: Not even one of the followers of Jesus was expecting the resurrection. The women went to the tomb with spices to anoint a dead body. And when the women came back and said He was alive, the men thought they were nuts. The idea of a person being resurrected was inconceivable to 1st century people, just like it is to us.

So, why are we celebrating here today?

1) There was an empty tomb. No one would have believed these stories for a minute if the tomb wasn’t empty. If the tomb wasn’t empty, the enemies of Christianity could have easily produced the rotting corpse of Jesus. That would have stopped the faith. But they didn’t produce the dead body because they couldn’t.

2) There were eyewitnesses. Only 15-20 years after the life of Jesus here on earth, one of His followers named Paul wrote these words: Christ died for our sins…He was buried… He was raised on the third day… He appeared to [Peter], then to the twelve. Then He appeared to more than five hundred… at one time, most of whom are still alive (I Corinthians 15:3-6, ESV).
This was in a public letter that was read out loud. And an invitation was clear. Anyone living at that time who doubted that Jesus had risen could go and check it out. Take a trip and stand face-to-face with not just one or two people, but with eyewitness after eyewitness after eyewitness. 500 of them. That’s about the number of people on the main level in this room. 1 0r 2 people? Maybe it’s a hallucination. 500? I don’t think so.

As Tim Keller write in The Reason for God, "If there had been only an empty tomb and no eyewitnesses, no one would have said there was a resurrection. People would have assumed that the body was stolen. If there had only been eyewitnesses and no empty tomb, no one would have said it was a resurrection. People would have assumed that the so-called eyewitnesses were hallucinating," doing the wishful-thinking-thing. But there were eyewitnesses and there was an empty tomb.

3) There were transformed lives. The followers of Jesus just kept telling others what they had seen. They were transformed. Before the resurrection, they hid out hoping that they wouldn’t suffer the same fate as Jesus. They didn’t want to die on a cross. But after the resurrection, they stopped mourning the loss of their dead leader; they stopped hiding; they started telling everybody about Somebody who rose from the dead.

4) There were disciples who were willing to die. Most of the followers of Jesus were persecuted and killed because of their faith. People don’t die for a lie. One man said, “I believe those witnesses that get their throats cut.” It’s really hard to believe that these people would sacrifice their lives for a hoax.

5) There was the birth of the church that was led by (are you ready for this?) Jews. A bunch of Jewish people who had always worshipped on the Sabbath, on Saturday, started worshipping on Sundays. Why? Jesus rose on the first day of the week. And a bunch of Jewish people who had always believed that there was only one God started worshipping Jesus. Why? Jesus rose from the dead and they began to understand that this one God they had been worshipping has revealed Himself as Father, Son, and Spirit.

Take any one of these reasons to believe in the resurrection and the evidence might seem underwhelming. But add them together? That Jesus rose from the dead seems to be by far the most reasonable explanation of the facts of history.

And again, as Keller writes, "Even if you don’t believe in the resurrection, you should want it to be true." Why? The resurrection gives meaning to our suffering and hope for our future.

***

Why not test yourself and your family on these truths? That way, if you ever get into a conversation with someone about the veracity of our faith, you'll have some ammunition to fulfill I Peter 3:15.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

N.T. Wright on the resurrection

If you have friends that doubt, check this out. It's N.T. Wright on the resurrection. And check out the related videos, too, while you're at it.

By His wounds…

Here's a meditation on the scourging of Jesus that I wrote a few years ago. Let it sink in. Think about what Christ went through to save you... and me.

***

Scourged. The word comes from Latin. Excoriare is a compound word meaning “to flay.” Ex means “off” and corium means “hide or skin.” So, scourging literally means “off with the skin.”

Jesus knew about scourging. Everyone did. It was one of those brutal punishments the Romans used to put fear into everyone in order to keep lawlessness under control. Just the thought of being scourged kept would-be criminals in check. It was a legal preliminary to every Roman execution and only women and Roman senators and soldiers were exempt. Jesus knew what was coming.

“This Jewish ‘rabble-rouser’ is going to pay,” said one of the coarse Roman soldiers as he stripped Jesus of His clothes and tied His hands to an upright post in the middle of the courtyard.

Two muscular soldiers took their places slightly behind and on each side of Jesus. In their hands, they carried what some have called a “cat-o’-nine” tails - a short whip - with nine strips of heavy leather stained with the blood of previous victims. Attached on each strip at various intervals were metal and stone pellets, little pieces of sharp bone and glass.

The first soldier cocked his arm and hit the Son of God. In unison, all nine strands of the whip whistled full force through the air and struck Jesus in the middle of His back. The shrapnel on the ends of the leather cords tore easily through Jesus’ flesh straight down to the base of His back. Little bits of flesh tore loose. The small balls of lead made large, deep bruises ready to be broken open later by other blows. Jesus jerked forward at the impact. At first it all seemed surreal. The pain seemed to wait a brief moment. Then He felt a wave of burning agony.

The second soldier’s lash sliced Jesus a little lower. More skin was torn off. The flesh opened up. It was a horizontal hit. This soldier hit hard and a metal ball came around the front of Christ and cracked a rib. Jesus gritted His teeth and sucked in His breath. But He couldn’t contain the groan of pain.

It was the first soldier’s turn again. He aimed his strike at Jesus’ kidneys. The leather and the shards of bone were once again embedded into the skin, while a few wrapped around toward the front of Jesus, this time slashing at His groin.

Jesus felt all His muscles tighten as this next swipe of the whip severed muscle tissue in the back of His thighs. These were the same strong legs that carried Jesus throughout Galilee healing the sick and proclaiming God’s power. Now, they were destined to be reduced to bloody masses of disfigured flesh.

The next blow was to the shoulders. One stray ball hit His cheek, cracking the bone. He wanted to touch it, to somehow comfort himself. But His hands were tied.

Now the soldier struck the same spot hit earlier, tearing deeper into the tissue leaving oozing slashes on Jesus’ body. The first hits produced bleeding that leaked from the capillaries and veins. But as the flogging continued, the whip tore into the underlying skeletal muscles to produce quivering ribbons of bleeding flesh.

The soldier on His left was hitting Him harder now that He was loosened up and sweating a little. Bone began to show.

On and on the beating went. The blood wasn’t oozing out now. Some arteries in the underlying muscles were damaged and the blood began to spurt with every heartbeat. The skin on the back is hanging in long ribbons and the entire area is an unrecognizable mass of torn tissue. The soldiers went about their business until death was almost about to knock at Jesus’ door. “We’d better stop. He’s got to carry the cross beam. I want to see Him hang with His back up against the raw wood.”

They cut Him loose and He fell to the ground, blood and dirt mixing into the wounds. One soldier spit. The other kicked. Jesus was beaten so severely that His body did not look human. In Isaiah we read these words about Jesus: "So marred from the form of man was His aspect, that His appearance was not as that of a son of a man." People were appalled to look at Him.

But we look. With sorrowful eyes, we look. We look at Him whose wounds heal us. And we say, “I’m sorry, Lord Jesus. Forgive me. Cleanse me. And by Your wounds, heal me.”

Friday, April 10, 2009

Fear not

That first Easter, the followers of Jesus were told over and over again, "Do not be afird."

Are you afraid? Want to be encouraged by the word of God and the voices of CVC's children?

Check this out.

A harmony of resurrection accounts

Reasons some skeptics give for rejecting the historicity of the resurrection are the apparent discrepancies in the resurrection stories told by Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Paul (in I Cornithians 15).

I wrote a research paper on this topic in seminary. While we must admit that there are apparent discrepancies, a close look at the resurrection accounts allows for some reasonable explanations for the apparent differences.

If you read the gospels with an open mind, you can see a very real harmony of the various stories. This is the kind of harmony you would rightly expect from independent, reliable witnesses who were not in collusion.

Why the apprarent discrepancies? Different people simply emphasized different things to make different points that were important to them. And think about this: The differences actually make the point that the accounts were not fabricated.

We should actually be more skeptical of multiple accounts that show a complete similarity. Stories that are the same in every detail would point to an invented story that witnesses conspired together to agree to tell in order to deliberately deceive.

So, the differing resurrection accounts are actually good evidence for the resurrection, not evidence against it.

Need more information? Look here and here and here.

And who are you inviting to Easter services at CVC this year?

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Twitter

I didn't think I would do it. But I'm twittering. My sons think it's hilarious. Can't decide if I like it or not. But I'll stick with it awhile.

But if you want to join me as a part of a "twitter community" test run, click here.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Why pray?

Here's a very good question from a very thoughtful person that I received recently.

***

Yesterday and this morning I was listening to Beth Moore talking on Ephesians 6. She was talking about prayer, and she pitched out one of those on a scale of one to ten questions. The question was how you would rate your confidence in prayer and more particularly: does prayer matter? My gut response (cuz I’m me!) was shocking even to me. Here’s the question I would ask… if it’s up to His will, what difference does it make if I pray? It’s like He wants me to ask, but He knows He’ll say no. And since I don’t know His will… I feel like I’m playing an endless guessing game. I have no confidence in that.

I get that His will is better for me than anything I could want for myself. I get that I don’t have a clue. What I don’t get is why we bother to pray. I still talk to Him… to be in relationship with Him, and I do ask Him for things, but not with any confidence that I might actually receive them. I realize this is a big problem. And that the solution may be to pray about it… but it’s kind of a catch 22. I have told Him how I feel about this. But I feel like I should be doing something with it, and I don’t know what to do to change the way I feel. Any suggestions?


***

How would you answer these questions? Below is a part of my reply:

Why pray if God’s will is going to be done anyway?

1. Prayer is the means by which God has ordained that His will be done on this earth (Matthew 6:10).

2. Prayer changes things – even the heart of God (Amos 7:4-6).

3. Prayer is a way we discern the will of God for our lives (Psalm 25:4).

4. When we see God answer prayer, we know to give Him glory (Psalm 50:15).

5. This is the way that because of His great love the all-wise, all-loving, all-holy, all-powerful Creator of the universe invites His creatures to join with Him in accomplishing His purposes. (A mommy lets her little boy make chocolate chip cookies with her. She doesn’t really need the help, but she longs for relationship with the boy so much and she enjoys the company with him so much and she wants to share in the work with him so much that she lets him help.)

6. We pray to have relationship/fellowship/communion with God (Psalm 73:25, 28a).

7. We pray to worship God, confess sin, and to thank God (Psalm 99:5, I John 1:9, I Thessalonians 5:16-18). How could we do any of this without prayer?

8. Prayer is a way we express our brokenness and dependency on God as we abide in Christ and seek to be filled with the Spirit (Psalm 51: 17, John 15:5, Ephesians 5:18).

9. Prayer is more about spending time with God than getting things from God. However, in saying this, I do not want to minimize the need to ask God for physical provision (Give us this day our daily bread), relational pardon For give us our trespasses…), and spiritual protection (lead us not into temptation) (James 4:2b).

10. Prayer is a sweet-smelling aroma – a sacrifice to God (Hebrews 13:15, Psalm 50:14).

Remember, when we ask for specific things, God can say various things: 1) No (It’s not good for you and it won't glorify Me). 2) Slow (I’m going to give it, but not now). 3) Grow (You have some growing to do before I answer this prayer with a "yes"). 4) Go (Here’s what you asked for; now, build My kingdom and glorify Me with it).

You asked me if I had any suggestions. Here's a biggie: I recommend that you begin to keep a prayer journal – that you be very specific in asking for what you want and need from God. Remember to seek first His kingdom (Matthew 6:33). Your prayers – even for yourself and those you love – should be about the advancement of His kingdom. He delights to answer our prayers about the building of His kingdom (Luke 12:32). Then, over time, you will develop lists of answered prayer. This will increase your faith greatly. I have several of these lists in various prayer journals over the years and they have become very, very precious to me.

You might want to check out the following links here, here, here, and here for some more information on this topic.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

A pro-life prayer

On Thursday night, Maryanne and I were privileged to be at a table with other CVCers at the fundraising banquet for the Cleveland Pregnancy Center.

The program was so encouraging. We heard stories about lives changed and lives saved. We met some of the babies whose lives have been saved by God through the work of CPC.

I'm praying that the budget of the CPC will be met. I encourage you to consider supporting their work financially. Maryanne and I were blessed to be able to make a contribution to the CPC.

I was asked to pray the closing prayer. I had prepared a written prayer, but on the way over to the banquet, Maryanne encouraged me to to be careful about praying a long prayer, especially at the end of a full evening or music, testimony, teaching, and fundraising. So, I listened to her and didn't use my written prayer at all.

But just in case you're interested, here it is below:

Father, thank You for this evening. You are the Creator of all life. We praise You for the care and compassion You give to all creation, and especially to us, people created in Your image.

You have given us the responsibility to care for one another. But we have sinned. Forgive us for our failure to love like we ought to love, especially for the failure to love the very least of these – those unborn babies who cannot defend themselves. Grant us the grace to repent. Forgive us. We trust in Jesus and His shed blood on the cross. Show us how to change. Show us what we are to do now.

Thank You that in this room there are heroic people who have for a long time been fighting the fight of faith in the defense of the unborn. Honor them. Encourage them. Meet their needs, especially spiritually and financially. Give permanence to the work of their hands. Let them bear fruit that remains. And multiply their numbers.

Since we live in a culture where many in positions of influence do not have a reverence for the beginning of human life, help us to know how to become Your change agents in our land. Give us an ability to influence for You those who are trapped and blinded by the enemy of life. Increase the numbers of leaders in our nation who have a reverence for the beginning of every human life. And decrease the numbers of leaders who say that good is evil and evil is good.

O Lord, hear from heaven; forgive our sins; heal our land.

Lord, please protect those little lives who are even now being threatened by abortion. Save them from destruction. Help the mothers going through crisis pregnancies to find grace, comfort, strength and the support of family, friends and churches. Help them to choose life so that their children may be born and brought up to love and serve Jesus.

And help those, who out of ignorance or desperation, have in the past aborted their children. Help them turn to You to receive the peace of Your forgiveness and the fellowship of Your church. Heal their hearts and give them wholeness, hope, and a ministry that is life-giving.

Thank You for the Cleveland Pregnancy Center. Bless every staff person and volunteer as they seek to meet the spiritual, emotional and physical needs of people who are pregnant, who are parents, or who are post-abortive. May the CPC be used greatly by You to remind all of NE Ohio that it is Your desire for all of us to uphold the sanctity of life that begins at the moment of conception.


Because of the work of CPC, may we in the future hear story after story after story about increasing numbers of woman here in NE Ohio who have decided to carry their babies to term. Keep using the CPC to save lives.

And we ask that You do all this (and even exceedingly more than we can ask or think) in a way that results in the growth of Your kingdom and in the advancement of Your glory. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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