Monday, May 31, 2010

CoExist: Bridges (5)

One of the artists at CVC is a carpenter named John Poelking. Every year, during Lent, we display one of the works of art that he and his son Nick gave CVC. In our foyer, we put up a cross they constructed.

John in particular wanted to give this church a great gift. He used his resources, his talent, his creativity, his passion to create this cross. While he was creating it, he put other jobs on hold. Then he hunted for the best wood he could get for this project. He took special care to make it as accurate as possible. The nails, the stains, the platform for the feet – all were painstakingly fashioned. While John was working on this cross, his health was not good. He sacrificed for us. Finally, the sawing, the staining, the fitting, the working was all done.

And then John came to the church with the cross. We welcomed him and looked at his priceless work of art. What was our response as a staff? Gratitude and awe.

But what if I told you that instead of gratitude and awe, our staff saw the cross—this precious, pure gift—and then ran to our garage to grab saws and sandpaper and drills and boards and glue and nails. We started to move toward the cross. We were just going to cut off some here, add some more there, rough it up a bit more, smooth it where it was rough, paint over the stains, etc.

Had this been the case, I hope John would have stopped us short to say, “Wait! It’s finished!”

It’s like this with salvation. But we can multiply the significance of this illustration by infinity. God paid a priceless amount in giving Jesus on the cross for us. He cried out, “It is finished!’ We can add nothing – not one thing! We only receive – undeserving as we are. To change anything about that gift of God is to refuse it.

Where then are good works? They are in the honoring of the giver.

Just as that cross is placed in the open for all to see, and just as all who see it can think about the skill and love of the man who made it, so we will by the nature of our acceptance lift up Jesus in our lives and proclaim what he has done for us. And this will be evidenced in all we say and do.

Bill and Jenn Malone attend CVC. A few weeks back, Ray, Bill’s dad died. One of our pastors, Andy Sikora, helped the family with the funeral.

Andy shared a story about Bill and Ray and Jenn that really impacted me. One of the questions Andy ask the family in preparation for the funeral was, “Did you have a sense of what was happening spiritually with Ray?”

In the last few weeks Jenn (his daughter-in-law) was sitting with Ray. He was obviously thinking about what he was facing. The weight of death was real to him. He said to Jenn, “I hope that I have enough points stored up to get into heaven.”

Ray grew up in the church and he and his wife, Linda, raised their sons in the church. That day he had a very real understanding that some sort of judgment awaited. Essentially one day we all will face the same judgment. Many of us live our lives trying to earn enough points to get in.

Jenn shared this story with her husband Bill, Ray’s son. He later had a chance to talk with his dad. This is what he said, “Dad, you have enough points to get in if you believe that Jesus died on the cross for your sins and that because of his death and resurrection all your sins can be forgiven and you will be saved.”

Ray wasn’t able to say much at this time but he made the “OK” sign. He got it.

One day we’ll all be in the place Ray was. The situation may be different. You may wonder if you have enough points. No matter how good you are or how much you try, you’ll never earn enough points.

Jesus is the way. The cross is enough. His grace is enough. He’s all we’ll ever need. If you have him you’ve got all the points you need.

Because Ray trusted Jesus, he’s OK today. How about you?

Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Holy Spirit and Jehovah's Witnesses

The Holy Spirit is seen by Jehovah's Witnesses as God's active force. The personality and deity of the Holy Spirit is denied. Holy Spirit is not capitalized in the New World Translation. "With this viewpoint, it is logical to conclude that the holy spirit is the active force of God. It is not a person but is a powerful force that God causes to emanate from himself to accomplish his holy will" (Reasoning, p. 381).

On the site 4truth.net, we see a biblical response to this false teaching: "The personality of the Holy Spirit is evidenced in numerous New Testament Scriptures (see Luke 12:12; John 15:26; Acts 5:3-10; 13:2-4; 1 Cor. 12:11; Eph. 4:30; Heb. 3:7). His deity is demonstrated by His divine attributes as revealed in Scripture. The Holy Spirit convicts the lost of sin and He indwells believers at conversion and empowers them to live the Christian life. (See Matt. 12:31-32; 28:19; Mark 3:29; John 14-16; Rom. 8:4,26-27; 1 Cor. 12; Eph. 2:18-19; 5:14-33.)"

The 144,000

Tonight, I spoke about the differences between the Jehovah's Witnesses and Biblical Christianity. And I was asked about what the Jehovah's Witnesses believe about the 144,000 saints sealed from the 12 tribes of Israel. I was asked to compare their beliefs with an evangelical approach.

I surely am not a prophecy expert. But I said I would blog about it. So, here goes a lot of cutting and pasting...

Tower Watch Ministries is a ministry designed to help Christians reach Jehovah's Witnesses with the gospel of Jesus. Their website says, "Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that only 144,000 people will go to heaven. God chooses these 144,000 individuals, the process began with the first century Christians and was completed in the year 1935. Of course from 1879 (the year the Watchtower started) till 1935 only faithful Jehovah’s Witnesses were chosen for this special role. All faithful Jehovah’s Witnesses not chosen to be among the 144,000 elite that go to heaven (those joining the Watchtower after 1935) will spend eternity on earth. All other people on the earth will be destroyed at war of Armageddon here on earth. This would also include any Jehovah's Witnesses who has been disfellowshipped or is otherwise unfaithful to the Watchtower and has not worked his or her way back into the good graces of the Watchtower by the time of Armageddon."

Evangelicals reject this Jehovah Witness teaching as false.

The 144,000 are mentioned in two places, in Revelation 7 and 14. I'll give you the ESV text and then some commentary from the ESV Study Bible.

"And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel: 12,000 from the tribe of Judah were sealed, 12,000 from the tribe of Reuben, 12,000 from the tribe of Gad, 12,000 from the tribe of Asher, 12,000 from the tribe of Naphtali, 12,000 from the tribe of Manasseh, 12,000 from the tribe of Simeon, 12,000 from the tribe of Levi, 12,000 from the tribe of Issachar, 12,000 from the tribe of Zebulun, 12,000 from the tribe of Joseph, 12,000 from the tribe of Benjamin were sealed" (Revelation 7:4-8, ESV).

The ESV Study Bible says, "Many understand this to be a reference to ethnic (or biological) Israel, and they would view the 144,000 as a symbolic or actual number of Jewish believers brought to faith immediately after Jesus returns and removes the church from the earth before (or during) a seven-year tribulation (this is a 'pretribulation rapture' view). However, another common approach understands 'Israel' as a reference to the church, the new covenant people of God, and in this view the visions of the 144,000 and of the international multitude are complementary perspectives on the church, believers from every nation including ethnic Israel. They are protected from the Lamb's wrath as his own flock (v. 17) but are exposed to persecution by evil enemies."

"Then I looked, and behold, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father's name written on their foreheads. And I heard a voice from heaven a like the roar of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder. The voice I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps, and they were singing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders. No one could learn that song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. It is these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins. It is these who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These have been redeemed from mankind as firstfruits for God and the Lamb, and in their mouth no lie was found, for they are blameless" (Revelation 14:1-5, ESV).

Again, the ESV Study notes state, "John's second vision of the 144,000 (cf. 7:1–8) interprets the seal they had received and the protection it provided. Fulfilling Ps. 2:6, the Lamb stands in glory on God's holy hill in heaven (cf. Heb. 12:22), accompanied by his army. The sound of their harps and voices descends from heaven like a waterfall's thundering cascades as they sing 'before the throne, the four living creatures,' and 'the elders' (Rev. 4:2–8; 7:9–12). The seal on their foreheads is the name of the Lamb and of his Father—a token of possession and protection by God, promised to every conqueror in the spiritual war (3:12). Most dispensationalists see these 144,000 as the same group mentioned in 7:4: Jewish believers who have trusted in Christ as their Messiah during the great tribulation. The singers with their harps will reappear beside the sea of glass (15:2–4; see 4:6); their song indicates that they are redeemed. The new song celebrates God's triumph over sin through the Lamb (5:9; 15:3), just as the Lord's prior victories were celebrated in new songs (Ps. 96:1; 98:1; 144:9). Their song belongs only to those who have experienced the Lamb's redemption (Ps. 107:1–3), into whose salvation angels “long to look” (1 Pet. 1:12). This is another indication that 144,000 should not be taken as a literal number; they represent those who have been redeemed (see notes on Rev. 7:1–17; 7:4–8). The spiritual purity of those who bear the Lamb's name is symbolized by the sexual self-denial that consecrated Israel for the wars that God commanded (cf. Deut. 23:9–11; 1 Sam. 21:5). Although portrayed as celibate males, the 144,000 (Rev. 14:3) signify believers of both sexes who, dying in faith, are gathered as firstfruits for God, foreshadowing a greater harvest. in their mouth no lie was found. They resemble Jesus, the blameless servant of the Lord (cf. Isa. 53:9)."

Other views are as follows: "The numbers 12,000 and 144,000 are variously interpreted in traditional Christianity. Some, taking the numbers in Revelation to be symbolic, believe it represents all of God's people throughout history in the heavenly Church. Others insist the numbers 12,000 and 144,000 are literal numbers and representing either descendants of Jacob (also called Israel in the Bible) or others to whom God has given a superior destiny with a distinct role at the time of the end of the world. One understanding is that the 144,000 are recently converted Jewish evangelists sent out to bring sinners to Jesus Christ during the seven year tribulation period. Another is that the 144,000 are a larger version of the ancient Israelite army, sent out at the end of the tribulation period to kill the ungodly. Preterists believe they are Jewish Christians, sealed for deliverance from the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Dispensationalist Tim LaHaye, in his commentary "Revelation: Illustrated and Made Plain" revised (Zondervan, 1975 {first printing 1973}) considers the 144,000 in Revelation 7 and the 144,000 in Revelation 14 to be two different groups of people, the former Jews, the latter Christians."

Ryan Duncan


The Bandit, originally uploaded by Evan.Duncan..

Ryan acted as the bandit in his own video project. Pretty scary.

Alan Duncan


DET. JONES, originally uploaded by Evan.Duncan..

Alan acted in a video that Ryan had to make for a college class. Alan was detective Jones. Pretty funny.

Evan Duncan


Typo Face, originally uploaded by Evan.Duncan..

A description of Evan by Evan. A great kid.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Responding to intentional hurt

How should a believer handle things when someone strategizes and comes up with fresh ways to hurt, to cause pain, or to get revenge? I have been active in ministry for over 31 years now. I have learned that there will be times when some people that you have sacrificed to help will seek to hurt.

Being hurt by people who were once close to you is not at all uncommon. In fact, David in the Bible had just such an experience. "It is not an enemy who taunts me — then I could bear it; it is not an adversary who deals insolently with me — then I could hide from him. But it is you, a man, my equal, my companion, my familiar friend. We used to take sweet counsel together; within God's house we walked in the throng" (Psalm 55:12-14).

So, how should a believer respond to intentional hurt?

First, do not react. Refuse to compete. Be the kind of person who will not stoop to playing the "one-up-man-ship game." Be the kind of person who is not good at playing the "one-up-man-ship" game. Playing that game is ungodly. Remember, life is not about you. It's about Jesus. Someone said, "A man wrapped up in himself is a very small package." In the Bible, David asks a question of God, "Who shall dwell on your holy hill?" His inspired answer? "He who walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks truth in his heart; who does not slander with his tongue and does no evil to his neighbor, nor takes up a reproach against his friend" (Psalm 15:2-3). Clearly, those who want to be close to God will not stoop to reactions related to competition and revenge.

Second, pray using the Lord's Prayer as a basis. Jesus taught us to pray, "Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed by Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done." Praying according to the spirit of these words means that you are more concerned about the Father's fame than your own, about the Father's kingdom than your own, and about the Father's will than your own. We all have mixed motives, to be sure. But seek to steer clear of "my name, my kingdom, my will" tactics.

Third, as much as is humanly possible in this world, seek true kingdom growth rather than seeking to guard your "turf." After all, we own nothing. Hold what someone might want to take from you with a loose grip. Followers of Jesus are people who are to carry crosses (Luke 14:27) and to give up owning anything (Luke 14:33), including our ministries. We are to live as if we have no rights.

Fourth, do not attack back. In a Peacemaker’s International brochure, we can learn about the slippery slope of peacemaking responses. An “Attack Response” is used “when people are more interested in controlling others and getting their way than in preserving a relationship.” One attack response is called “assault.” “Some people try to overcome an opponent by using various forms of force or intimidation such as verbal attacks (including gossip and slander), physical violence, or efforts to damage a person financially or professionally (See Acts 6:8-15).” We must not be guilty of falling down the slippery slope or using attack responses.

Fifth, let God defend you and your "turf." This makes you very much like Jesus. "For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly" (I Peter 2:21-23).

Sixth, trust God with justice issues. "Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.' To the contrary, 'if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.' Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:17-21).

Seventh, choose to somehow bless the one who is seeking to hurt you. This can often be best accomplished through praying for the other person. "All of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. For 'Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil'" (I Peter 3:8-12).

Eighth, rejoice even when someone is seeking to cause you pain. "Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of rivalry, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice" (Philippians 1:15-18).

Ninth, remember that the hurts that others unjustly seek to cause you will, in the end, come to nothing. "Like a sparrow in its flitting, like a swallow in its flying, a curse that is causeless does not alight" (Proverbs 26:2). And if the hurt you are facing is coming to you justly, then thank God for it because He is seeking to use the hurt to make you more like Jesus (Romans 8:28-30).

Tenth, be prepared for the day when all things will be exposed. The actions of those who are seeking to cause you pain unjustly will be brought to light. "Do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes [motives] of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God" (I Corinthians 4:5). It ought to be the business of everyday to prepare for that day. By God's grace and for God's glory, be the kind of person where the judgment on that day will work for you not against you.

CoExist: Bridges (4)

Five Solas of the Protestant Reformation...

The Five solas are five Latin phrases that emerged during the Protestant Reformation and summarize the Reformers' basic theological beliefs in contrast to the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church of the day. The Latin word sola means "alone" or "only" in English. The five solas articulated five fundamental beliefs of the Protestant Reformation, pillars which the Reformers believed to be essentials of the Christian life and practice.

Let's take a look:

sola scripturascripture alone (II Timothy 3:16-17, Isaiah 8:20)

The Bible alone is the inspired and authoritative word of God.

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)

We are to give our attention to the Bible. We find in it the very words of God. We believe the Bible and we obey the Bible just as God Himself is to be believed and obeyed.

But a change took place in the latter part of the Middle Ages. The Catholic Church allowed other sources to lay claim to the title of authoritative truth. The Bible plus church tradition plus the magisterium (the bishops of the church, particularly the Pope) all became sources of authoritative truth. This meant that Scripture alone was no longer seen as sufficient for salvation and becoming Christlike.

So, the Protestant’s motto sola Scriptura—Scripture alone!—was sounded. This is a decisive issue between Protestantism and Catholicism. We believe that Scripture alone is absolutely authoritative for doctrine, for practice. Sola scritpura.

sola fide faith alone (Galatians 2:16, Romans 3:28)

We know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.

Galatians 2:16 (ESV)

Justification is the act of God by which he declares a sinful person to be no longer under judgment for his or her guilt. Instead, we are seen as forgiven and righteous. Why? Because of the sin-bearing righteousness of Christ that is credited to us.

Being declared right with God is received by faith alone apart from our good works. Good deeds are the fruit – the result – of our salvation, not the root – the cause – of our salvation. Sola fide.

sola gratiagrace alone (Galatians 2:21, Ephesians 2:8-9)

Grace means we get what we don’t deserve. Our salvation comes by God’s grace or “unmerited favor” only. Salvation is an unearned gift. It was grace when Jesus took the wrath of God against our sin on Himself rather than see us suffer the wrath. It’s why the Bible says, “For by grace you are saved through faith. It’s not by works…”

We are made right with God – justified in His sight – because of grace, not our works. If we could be made right in God’s sight by being good, by keeping the rules and rituals of religion, then there really would have been no reason for the cross of Christ.

I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. Galatians 2:21 (ESV)

We get grace alone by faith alone not our works. We don’t get grace because we were baptized as babies. We don’t get grace because we keep the rules, the rituals, the regulations of a church. We don’t get grace because we believe in the cross of Christ plus we do good deeds. Sola gratia.

solus Christus Christ alone (Galatians 2:20, Acts 4:12, I Timothy 2:5-6)

Christ is the only mediator between God and man. Salvation comes no other way.

There is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom I Timothy 2:5-6 (ESV)

It’s not Jesus, plus; it’s Jesus period. Christ alone. Not the rules of any church. Not rituals and regulations and ceremonies. Just give me Jesus.

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.
Galatians 2:20a (ESV)

We are saved by faith alone through grace alone in Christ alone. Solus Christus.

soli Deo gloriaglory to God alone (Galatians 6:14, Romans 11:36)

All glory is due to God alone since our salvation is accomplished only because of His will and His work for us. If you want to brag, brag about the Lord Jesus Christ.

But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. Galatians 6:14 (ESV)

Soli Deo Gloria.


Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Ordination Interview Questions

Want to know the kinds of questions that pastors are asked when being questioned for ordination?

Ordination Interview Questions

The Bible

What do you believe about the Bible?

What is your position on and understanding of scriptural inerrancy?

How would you respond to the charge that the doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture is irrelevant since “all we possess are very faulty copies and translations of the original documents of biblical authors?”

The Nature of God

List several biblical passages, which give basis for the doctrine of the Trinity and indicate why you feel they are significant.

Why do we confess “there is one God?”

Name some of the attributes of God.

What is your belief concerning God, creationism and evolution?

What are some of the evidences and arguments for the existence of God?

The Person and Work of Christ

What is meant by the pre-existence of Christ? Is He eternal? Does He have beginning or end?

How would you teach from scripture that Jesus is God? That He is man?

Why are both natures essential to the person of Christ?

How would you define the work of Christ?

What qualified Christ to be an offering for sin?

Is there any limitation concerning who may benefit from the atonement of Christ?

What is the basis for your belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ?

The Person and Work of the Holy Spirit

How does the Bible teach us that the Holy Spirit is a person?

What is the work of the Holy Spirit?

What are the gifts of the Holy Spirit?

How are these gifts given to the Church?

Differentiate between the fruit and the gifts of the Spirit.

What is the relationship between the baptism with the Holy Spirit and the filling with the Holy Spirit? Give biblical support to your answer.

What are the lessons to be learned and the errors to be shunned by the evangelical church in light of the charismatic movement and its emphasis on the baptism and gifts of the Spirit?

What is your response to someone who says, “I believe the speaking in unknown tongues is the evidence that you have been filled with the Holy Spirit?”

Mankind

How would you biblically defend the idea that every human being has value and dignity?

What caused a separation from God?

How would you demonstrate from the Bible that we are sinners by nature and by choice?

Salvation

Sometimes, theologians talk about the “order of salvation.” What is your understanding of this concept?

Identify and discuss some Scripture passages, which teach about the new birth – being born again.

Identify and discuss some Scripture passages, which teach the concept of justification.

Can salvation in any way be effective in human lives where the gospel is unknown?

Where would you point someone in the Bible to show that God alone gets the glory for our salvation?

What must be evident in a person’s life as evidence of salvation? What are the changes that take place in the lives of truly saved people?

Is there any possibility of salvation after death?

Do you believe that a saved person can ever be lost?

How do good works fit into the doctrine of salvation?

Share with us from the Word of God how you would respond to a person who came to you and said, “Can you tell me how to become born again? (saved)

Sanctification

Give a definition of the term sanctification.

What is the relationship between justification and sanctification?

Why must holiness be a characteristic of God’s people?

Can a believer be demon possessed?

What is meant by positional sanctification?

What is meant by experiential sanctification?

What do you believe about the teaching called “entire sanctification”?

What passages would you use to teach people how to grow in sanctification?

The Church

What Is the Church?

According to the Bible, what are the purposes of the church?

What does it mean to “make followers of Christ” and what is the process to accomplish that purpose?

What does the Bible say about the church’s responsibility to 1) to “win” lost people to Christ? 2) to “build” believers up in their faith? 3) to “equip” people in your church to care for and share their faith with their peers? 4) to “multiply” and train leaders to oversee the disciple-making mission of the church and its ministries? 5) to “send” called ones to plant churches in a neighboring community or city and internationally?

What do you think the Bible says 1) about church growth? 2) about church multiplication?
What is the function of a lead pastor in church leadership?

According to the Bible, what are the offices of the church? What are the responsibilities of the officers?

According to the Bible, what are the ordinances of the NT Church?

Is the act of baptism part of the saving work of Christ?

How would you biblically defend your position on the mode and the meaning of baptism?

What is the significance of the Lord’s Supper?

Church practice

What procedure should be followed by church leaders if and when the sick request prayer for healing?

Is the “gift of healing” available for the church today?

How would you counsel a believer who has followed the instructions of James 5 and is still in need of a healing?

What are the qualifications and functions of elders?

Biblically, what are the roles of a lead pastor?

What does the Bible have to say about the importance of prayer to fulfill the mission of the church?

How do you plan to instill in your congregation the necessity intercession?

What specific actions should a church take to impact her Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and earth’s unreached people groups?

How should a leader handle possible tension between feeling led by the Spirit and being subject to recognized authority in the church?

In what sense is the pastor called to be a shepherd?

What is servant leadership as described in Scripture?

How should conflict be handled between a lead pastor and the elder team?

Describe the procedure you would follow if you had a conflict with a church member.

Do you believe in tithing? Do you practice tithing?

Last things

What biblical passages have been major factors in developing your convictions concerning the second coming of Christ and related events?

On what basis do you believe that the Lord Jesus Christ will personally and physically return to earth?

In what ways will Christ be manifest as judge to the believer and to the unbeliever?

What happens to the believer when he is resurrected? to the unbeliever?

What is the future destiny of those who die without ever hearing the gospel?

What does the Bible teach about hell? Is it literal?

What do you believe about heaven? Why?

CoExist: Bridges (3)

Take a look at some things that we can learn about Catholicism through the Sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church.

There are seven sacraments in the Catholic Church. These are religious practices that are “the signs and instruments by which the Holy Spirit spreads the grace of Christ" (CCC, no. 774). The Cathechism of the Catholic Church says that the sacraments of the Catholic Church "are necessary for salvation" (CCC, no. 1129).

Baptism

Catholics baptize their children shortly after birth. The Catechism says, "Baptism is necessary for salvation for those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed…” (CCC, no. 1257). "By Baptism all sins are forgiven, original sin and all personal sins, as well as all punishment for sin" (CCC, no. 1263).

Confirmation

These are classes and a ceremony for children about the 6th grade or so –what’s called “the age of discretion.” Confirmation completes baptismal grace by increasing the gifts and strengths of the Holy Spirit in the recipient (CCC, no. 1303).

Eucharist (Mass or communion)

The Catechism teaches transubstantiation – that there occurs "a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood" (CCC, no. 1376). By receiving the Eucharist, Catholics believe they are receiving Christ.

Penance (Confession)

In this sacrament, Catholics go and confess their sins to a priest. The priest requires acts of penance (like praying a prayer a certain number of times) and then offers forgiveness of sin. "Indeed bishops and priests, by virtue of the sacrament of Holy Orders, have the power to forgive all sins" (CCC, no. 1461). According to Catholics, this sacrament reconciles one with God (CCC, no. 1468).

Marriage

The Catholic Catechism teaches that the sacrament of matrimony "gives spouses the grace to love each other with the love with which Christ has loved his Church" (CCC, no. 1661).

Holy Orders

The Catechism teaches that this sacrament of ordination gives sacred authority to the bishops, priests, and deacons to serve the church (CCC, no. 1592). "Without the bishop, presbyters, and deacons, one cannot speak of the Church" (CCC, no. 1593).

Anointing of the Sick

This was formerly known as Extreme Unction. This sacrament may be given when a Catholic is in danger of death because of illness or old age (CCC, no. 1527).

Again, the Cathechism of the Catholic Church says that the sacraments of the Catholic Church "are necessary for salvation" (CCC, no. 1129).

Not all Protestants have the same views about Catholicism. But most would agree on a few basics.

First, there are genuine Christians in the Roman Catholic Church. If anyone truly trusts in Jesus Christ as their Savior, then the Bible says they will be saved. Salvation is not dependent on being a member of an "approved" denomination.

Second, though, there are unfortunately many people in the Catholic Church who are not trusting Christ as Savior and who need to hear the gospel. But this is true to some extent in all churches and denominations (including Cuyahoga Valley Church!).

Third, many Protestants see some serious issues in the Roman Catholic Church's doctrine and practice that undermine or interfere with the biblical truths about the gospel. Some Catholics might think they are saved when they may not be saved.

That is why we want to remind you about the gospel. We want you to make sure you are personally trusting in Christ and living in a relationship with Jesus as your Lord and Savior.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

CoExist: Bridges (2)

Previously, I mentioned Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit wrote a letter to the Galatian's to say, "The gospel - the good news is not Jesus, plus religion that saves you. It's Jesus period."

Take a look at a couple of verses from Galatians:

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel.
Galatians 1:6 (ESV)

A different gospel? Yes. The gospel is that we’re saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. It’s not Jesus plus, but Jesus period that saves us.

Sometimes people are tempted to add to the gospel. They say, “If you want to be justified in the sight of God, you have to follow the rules of our religion.” The problem is that trusting in rules, rituals, regulations, and ceremonies cut us off from Christ.

You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. Galatians 5:4 (ESV)

We don’t want to be severed from Christ! We don’t want to fall from grace. So, wrestling rightly with this is a big deal.

Jesus died, rose, and ascended into heaven and established His church. It was very organic and not institutionalized at all. In fact, the earliest believers were outsiders, persecuted by those in authority. But the church grew. There was really only one church – one kind of church.

Around the time of Constantine, in the 4th century, the church became favored. The government encouraged people to be Christians, and the process of institutionalizing the church began. Things started getting more and more formal. Some of the forms and practices of the Roman Catholic church were developed and the church began adopting practices that weren’t in the Bible.

Fast forward hundreds of years to the 16th century. The printing press was invented and the Bible was the first book printed. People started reading the Bible and comparing the practices of the church to the teachings of the Bible. A Roman Catholic priest named Martin Luther began to see that some of the things happening in the Roman Catholic Church were abusive.

The common people were being asked to pay money called “indulgences” to get out of judgment. Luther said, “That’s not right, not biblical.” So, he protested and nailed 95 theses – 95 statements, criticisms of the church – on the door of a church in Wittenburg, Germany to say, “The practice of indulgences is wrong.” He almost lost his life for this but he survived and ushered in what we call the Protestant Reformation.

Spiritual leaders all throughout Europe began protesting the practices of the Church of Rome. That’s why we call it the Protestant Reformation. They were protesting the practices of the church. And the walls have been up ever since.

Monday, May 24, 2010

CoExist: Bridges (1)

When Maryanne and I came to NE Ohio, we weren’t quite ready for some of the us/them issues here.

East side vs. west side. We moved almost 1,000 miles to come to NE Ohio to start this church. So, we were really confused when people here treated going from the west side to the east side or from the east side to the west side as such a big deal. For some people in NE Ohio, travelling across the river is like gearing up for a transcontinental adventure. People are going from Beachwood to Berea: "Oh, do you have enough food?” People going from Strongsville to Sagamore Hills, “Are you sure you have the number for AAA?”

Some say that east siders are more affluent and snobby. Some say that west siders are hard working “real” people. East Siders say that they have better restaurants. West siders get less snow. East siders say they have more cultural attractions. West Siders say they are friendlier, there is more space, less crime, and drivers are less crazed. East siders say that they are less worried about being trendy. Us vd. them issues: east side vs. west side.

We weren’t quite ready for another us vs. them issue: The protestan vs. catholic issues. We noticed that some of our protestant church friends were really, really ticked at the Catholic Church, “They never told us the truth!” And some of the Catholics we met were really, really wary of Protestants. We noticed two very distinct cultures. Walls have been built. I wonder, “Is there a better way?” I wonder how we might be able to build bridges?

Galatians is a letter written by a spiritual leader named Paul to a group of churches in a region of what is now the country of Turkey. Some false teachers had invaded the churches and they were teaching that people needed to trust in Jesus and His work on the cross to be saved plus follow the rules and regulations and rituals of the Jewish religion in order to be saved.

So, Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote this letter to say, “The gospel – the good news is not Jesus, plus religion that saves you. It’s Jesus, period.”

Saturday, May 22, 2010

CoExist: GODISNOWHERE (5)

So how do we live in a world with a growing population of atheists and agnostics? How do we coexist? Again, we could fight and argue. We could run and cave in. Our we could care.

The Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth.

II Timothy 2:24-25 (ESV)

We must grow to…

… know God.

Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me… Jeremiah 9:23-24a (ESV)

… fear God.

Let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.
II Corinthians 7:1 (ESV)

… love God.

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.
Mark 12:30 (ESV)

… serve God.

Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.
Romans 12:11 (ESV)

One of my friends who has a brother who is an atheist says, “I can’t imagine having a conversation with [my brother] where I’m going to change his mind.”

If Christians live as Christians should live, many atheists and agnostics would not have rejected the faith. Let’s live such compellingly beautiful lives people are asking to join – that they will say, “Will you let me in?”

22The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one,
23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.
John 17:22-23 (ESV)

Friday, May 21, 2010

Leadership insights

At the Grove City College commencement, an insightful comment was made by the guest speaker, Elizabeth Dole.

Jay Passavant, Pastor of North Way Christian Church, was there and made these observations on his blog.

Elizabeth Dole was commenting on the qualities her husband, Bob, had learned from his personal hero, Dwight D. Eisenhower.

It was in reference to the two speeches that he had prepared for V-Day, which was June 6, 1945. One speech was if the assault was a success. The other was if the assault was a failure.

In case of failure, his exact words were to be, "If the assault does not succeed, it was made with the best available intelligence, the most trustworthy consultation and is fully my responsibility."

It is rare these days for leaders to take responsibility for decisions that do not turn out well. It is so much more common to hear "fingerpointing" and "blameshifting" rather than people who will step up and say "I take responsibililty."

It's a very mature thing to accept responsibility when things don't go as planned.

"If God Existed, Why Is There So Much Pain and Suffering in the World?"

A friend recently sent me an email with a great analogy as an answer to the allegation that God does not exist because if He did there would not be so much pain and suffering in this world:

A man went to a barbershop to have his hair cut and his beard trimmed. As the barber began to work, they began to have a good conversation. They talked about so many things and various subjects.
When they eventually touched on the subject of God, the barber said: 'I don't believe that God exists.' 'Why do you say that?' asked the customer. 'Well, you just have to go out in the street to realize that God doesn't exist. Tell me, if God exists, would there be so many sick people? Would there be abandoned children? If God existed, there would be neither suffering nor pain. I can't imagine a loving God who would allow all of these things.'
The customer thought for a moment, but didn't respond because he didn't want to start an argument. The barber finished his job and the customer left the shop.
Just after he left the barbershop, he saw a man in the street with long, stringy, dirty hair and an untrimmed beard. He looked dirty and unkept.
The customer turned back and entered the barber shop again and he said to the barber: 'You know what? Barbers do not exist.' 'How can you say that?' asked the surprised barber. 'I am here, and I am a barber, and I just worked on you!'
'No!' the customer exclaimed. 'Barbers don't exist because if they did, there would be no people with dirty long hair and untrimmed beards, like that man outside.' 'Ah, but barbers DO exist! That's what happens when people do not come to me.'
'Exactly!' affirmed the customer. 'That's the point! God, too, DOES exist! That's what happens when people do not go to Him and don't look to Him for help. That's why there's so much pain and suffering in the world.'

Please pray this "Isaiah 43 prayer" for CVC to reach more people for God's glory

Please use the following in your prayer for CVC today. Today, God led me to Isaiah 43:1-7. Here's a prayer based on that passage:

You are our Lord, the One who created us as individuals and as a church. You formed our congregation. You made CVC. And we praise Your for that, Lord Jesus.

You have told us not to fear simply because You are with us. You have redeemed us, saved us, changed us. You have called us. And we are Yours. Help us not forget these facts. We praise You for your grace in redeeming, calling, and owning us, Lord Jesus.

As a church, we have gone through many waters of difficulty, trial, temptation, testing, and disunity over the last few years. We have not always responded according to Your will and in Your ways. But We praise You that, in spite of our sin, You have still been with us. We have passed through the rivers of adversity but, by Your grace, we have not been overwhelmed. We have walked through the fires of purification and, by Your grace, have not been consumed.

You are the Lord our God, the Holy one of Israel, our Savior.

Just as You ransomed Israel out of Egypt – out of slavery, so we trust You to ransom us out of our bondage to the world, the flesh, and the devil. Rescue us from our lukewarmness, from our complacency, from our worldliness, from our bitterness, from our resentments, from our gossip, from our disunity, from our selfishness.

Help us to see how precious we are in Your sight. Help us to see how honored we are to be who we are and where we are in NE Ohio. Help us to know, in spite of our sin, how loved we are by You.

Now, O Lord, as we give ourselves wholly and unreservedly to You, we beg You to give us lost men, women, boys and girls to win to You. We give You our lives. Give us souls in exchange, O Lord. We want to disciple people. We want to win the lost. Help us reach people for Your glory, O Jesus.

We take courage in You. We will not fear because of You. We claim Your presence, Lord Jesus. You are with us. You will never leave or forsake us. We know that.

So, bring our offspring from the east side of us. Gather people to the NE corner of Wallings and 77 from the west side, too. Please say to the lost communities to the north of us, “Give up My people.” Please say to the lost communities to the south of us, “Do not withhold My people.” Call people to Yourself from the North, the South, the East, and the West. Through the ministries and missions of CVC, bring Your sons and daughters to Yourself from even the very ends of the earth. Use us locally and globally, Lord.

All around us are those that You have called by Your name, O Lord. And many don’t know You yet. Help us to see them – the ones You are calling by Your name, the ones You have created for Your glory, the Ones You have formed and made to be Your very own. Use us to reach them, Jesus. Let us be Your lights, Your witnesses, Your missionaries. Help us tell the story of what You have done in our lives. Make us better inviters and includers. Help us reach people with the gospel for You, Lord.

And we will give you all the glory. Amen.

***

But now thus says the Lord, He who created you, O Jacob, He who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in exchange for you. Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you, I give men in return for you, peoples in exchange for your life. Fear not, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you. I will say to the north, Give up, and to the south, Do not withhold; bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”
Isaiah 43:1-7 (ESV)

CoExist: GODISNOWHERE (4)

So which is it for you? GOD IS NOWHERE or GOD IS NOW HERE?

Your answer is really impacts your approach to life – your conclusions about life.

Typical worldview questions…

Who am I?

What is wrong with the world?

Why am I here?

Where am I headed?

Who am I? An atheist might say, “I am a rational being in control of my own destiny. I am here through the process of natural selection. I am a part of the human race – a race that has evolved from the animal kingdom. I am not responsible to any god.” The follower of Christ can say, “I am created by God in His image. I have worth, value, dignity. I have a soul that will live forever. Christ gave His life for me. I am deeply loved.”

What’s wrong with the world? An atheist might say, “We have given in to irrational beliefs – to religion, to superstition – and we do not live according to rational decisions.” The follower of Christ can say, “We have rebelled against God, our Creator. We have violated His holiness and love. Now, we are living in a fallen world with sin, evil, and suffering as a result.”

Why am I here? An atheist might say, “Eat, drink, and be merry. Get as much joy out of life as you can. There is no real overriding reason why I’m here.” A follower of Christ can say, “I am here to know God, to love Him and all His creation. It’s our calling through Christ to work with God to redeem a broken world and humanity.”

Where am I headed? An atheist might say, “When it’s over, it’s over. There is no life after death. When you die, you die.” A follower of Christ can say, “Since I have trusted in Christ, I am headed to a perfect union with God where all the wrongs will be made right – a place of love, unity, service, hope, joy, and peace.”

Think about these answers. Don’t you just think that the follower of Jesus has more meaningful and fulfilling answers to these world-view questions?

Even if you don’t believe in God as Creator, you should want it to be true. If God created, then there are some inescapable implications: there’s an absolute foundation for right and wrong and there’s ultimate meaning for our lives.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A story of life change

God is alive and well and working to save people at CVC. Here's a story about how God has used CVC to transform a woman's life. Who do you know who might be helped by this story? Print it out and give it away to a friend or family member who might be helped by reading it.

By the way, have you written your 700 word story? Find here some directions about how to write your story.

***

Growing up, mom took us to church every Sunday where I heard about God; a God that was up in Heaven keeping track of what I did wrong and what I had to do in order to earn my way into Heaven. I attended church classes on Saturdays, but was never exposed to God’s word. As I entered my teen years, my mom was not able to “force” me into going to church, so I stopped going all together. I began a period of rebellious and ungodly behavior. Periodically, I’d find myself attending a “teen retreat” at some church that someone would invite me to. I would feel a sense of “spirituality” after one of those weekends that would only last a short time.

At the age of 19 I moved out on my own and at that point, my alcohol abuse really took off. I felt I was trying to fill voids in my life with alcohol and occasional drug use. In 1989 I moved to Los Angeles for my job and within six months, and by the grace of God, I found myself in my first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. I was grateful that God “saved me” (in the physical sense) from destruction, but was clueless that He was the only way to save me from something even worse…separation from Him for eternity. I had never heard about salvation through the blood of Christ. I eventually moved back to Cleveland, where my life continued status quo…clean and sober, but still feeling that “Christ-shaped vacuum” in my soul.

At age 37 I was comfortable living in my own house with my dog and two cats...but still, no relationship with the Lord. It had been many years since I stepped into a church. Shortly thereafter I met my future husband and began experiencing a “healthy” relationship that I never thought I could have, yet I was still so far from God and had no clue what true joy was. My husband and I had discussed going back to church and read about a church in our local paper. We talked about marriage and starting a family and felt church was important in raising children. We both felt something missing in our lives spiritually.

In December 2000, my husband and I attended a CVC service at the middle school. After listening to the pastor’s message, I felt as if a huge burden was lifted from me. All of my life I had felt I was not good enough, I had too many flaws, and I messed up way too much. Guilt weighed me down tremendously. To hear that God loved me so much to send his only, sinless, Holy Son to take my punishment so I could spend eternity with him and that all I had to do was accept this free gift, freed me from the horrible bondage I was in most of my life. Within a month, my husband and I received Christ together in our pastor’s office. I had realized that I was separated from God because of my sin (any sin, not just the major ones). I finally understood that Jesus was the only way for me to spend eternity with God because of what He did on the cross. It was nothing that I could do (as I had always believed). I needed to turn from my sin and ask Jesus to forgive me, to become Lord over my entire life and change me.

In January 2001 when I surrendered and gave it all to Him, my insecurities, doubts, and fears that I felt most of my life didn’t matter as much any more. I have come to love Matthew 11:30... "For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light" (NLT)... it confirms to me that “it has been done” by Jesus and nothing I do would save me like the blood of Jesus. When I am in His word, spending time alone with him, and I get out of the way, He continues to work in my life and reveals so much to me. I am astounded that God uses me in the way he does and allows me to serve Him. As hard as some days are to be obedient and to be still and listen to His voice, I know He has a plan for me and that it is all for His glory.

CoExist: GODISNOWHERE (3)

The Bible gives some clues for the existence of God, and in being able to point to those clues, we are being obedient to I Peter 3:13-16.

13 Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?
14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.
I Peter 3:15 (ESV)

So, here are ways you can “make a defense” for the existence of God.

Some clues for God…

I’m using the word “clues” because I really don’t think it’s possible to “prove” God exists in a scientific sense. We know love and kindness exist, but we can’t prove it scientifically.

Here are three clues for God…

1. The cosmological clue: 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 else happen. Every effect has a cause that precedes it. Nothing moves with a prior mover.

The whole universe is a vast collection of contingent stuff. 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. The teleological clue: 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.

Atheists believe that the intricate functioning of a human body all happened through the process of natural selection. We should fight for the right of an atheist 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?

The design demands a designer.

A friend of mine can’t believe that I’ve just not been into the TV show LOST. I’ve been "lost" from LOST. So, he’s trying to save me. He loaned me season one. Well, in the first episode a jet crashes onto a mysterious island. Parts of the plane are here and other parts are there. So, bits and pieces of the plane are there dismembered and in disarray. What if a typhoon happens to hit the island and the ocean surrounding the island? What is the chance that after its passage a fully assembled plane, ready to fly, will be found standing there?” No, planes are designed and put together by intelligent people.

The order of the universe demands a Designer. Nothing that we know looks designed unless it is designed. Therefore, there must have been a designer. God.

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. 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.

Do faith and science conflict? Not really. Modern science actually arose in the context of people believing in an all-powerful, personal God who created and sustains an orderly universe.

3. The morality clue: What’s the source of right and wrong?

I think we’d all agree that most well-adjusted reasonably healthy people have a pretty good 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. Unjust 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 dignity. We know that it’s wrong to violate the dignity of other human beings. But why should we believe that? Where do human rights come from?

If the world was made by a God of justice and if we have been created in His image, then that’s why we know that violence, oppression, and hate are wrong. God made us in His image and hard-wired in us a sense of His justice. And in spite of our fallenness and depravity, this sense of right and wrong is still in us. 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

The Russian writer, Dostoyevsky, wrote, "If God does not exist, everything is permissible."

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.”

Get into conversations with people. Don't be defensive. Take initiative and ask probing (and challenging) questions. "What’s the cause for all the effects? What’s behind the design? What’s the source of right and wrong?" Let the atheist see if he/she can give reasonable answers.

Take any one of these clues for God 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. Add up the evidence and the clues for God have a lot of force to them.

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to [us]. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So [we] are without excuse. Romans 1:19-20 (ESV)

The existence of God cannot be scientifically proved or disproved. The Bible says that we accept by faith the fact that God exists.

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.
Hebrews 11:6 (ESV)

So which is it for you? GOD IS NOWHERE or GOD IS NOW HERE?

Your answer really impacts your approach to life – your conclusions about life.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Is the "Many Worlds Hypothesis" right?

Here's a question from a young man from Saturday night's Q and A at the close of our UpClose service. I didn't have a chance to answer this question on Saturday night.

"Isn't it possible that the world [the earth] has such perfect conditions [for life] not because of God since the world [the universe] is infinitely big and that out of so many planets there must be one planet with perfect conditions for life to exist and thrive?"

This question was in response to my comments in the message that went like this:

"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."

William Lane Craig is a much, much, much smarter man than me and he answers this young man's question at his website Reasonable Faith. He writes:

Detractors of design have been forced to resort to the extraordinary Many Worlds Hypothesis in an effort to explain away fine-tuning. If there is a World Ensemble of universes which are infinite in number and varying randomly in their constants and initial conditions, then by chance alone a life-permitting universe will appear in the ensemble, indeed, it will appear an infinite number of times.

Now this recourse to the World Ensemble will be in vain if it turns out that the mechanism that generates the World Ensemble must itself be fine-tuned, for then one has only kicked the problem upstairs. And, indeed, that does seem to be the case. The most popular candidate for a World Ensemble today, the inflationary multiverse, does appear to require fine-tuning. For example, M-theory, the theory which supposedly governs the multiverse, works only if there are exactly eleven dimensions—but it does nothing to explain why precisely that number of dimensions should exist.

So when your teachers or classmates pull the multiverse out of the bag, just ask them, “Isn’t the multiverse itself describable by specific physical laws? Don’t those laws themselves include constants and boundary conditions which must be fine-tuned in order for the multiverse to exist?’” It will be interesting to hear their reply!


R. C. Metcalf wrote a book called "Colliding with Christ." Here is an excerpt where he also tackles this issue.

CoExist: GODISNOWHERE (2)

Questions and doubts are welcome here. Unfortunately some churches have a way of making us feel guilty if we have honest questions. But we don’t want that to be true at CVC. Doubters are welcome at CVC.

According to stats released by Alan Hirsch, 15% of the US population defines themselves as belonging to no religion. Based on stated beliefs, 12 percent of the people in the US are atheist (no God) or agnostic (unsure). The number of outright atheists has nearly doubled since 2001. Christianity is on the decline in the US while atheism, still a small percentage of the population, is on the rise.

And 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!” Yes, convert you… to atheism.

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 fight against the idea that God exists. In fact, they say that one of the biggest problems in the world today is religion – of all kinds. Religion causes division and division causes war. They say, “If we could only get rid of religion…”

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.

Why are people drawn to atheism?

There’s the science vs. religion reason.

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. Why are people drawn to atheism? The science vs. religion reason.

There’s the problem of pain reason.

David Hume, the Scottish philosopher and skeptic, along with Bertrand Russell who wrote a book entitled Why I Am not a Christian, argued that the presence of evil and suffering proves that God does not exist. Their argument goes like this, “If God wants to stop evil, but cannot do it, then he is impotent. If God can stop evil, but chooses not to do so, then he is malevolent. Since evil and suffering exist, the God must not exist.” Why are people drawn to atheism? The problem of pain reason.

There’s the “I’ve-seen-one-too-many-Christians-to-believe” reason.

See, one reason people reject the faith is because of us. They see just as many fights among us as they see in the world. They see just as much greed and selfishness and consumerism among us. The atheist brother of a friend of mine says, “I’ve been in so many churches and seen so much. Christians can’t get along with each other. People who claim to follow Christ are actually more dishonest than others but they pretend to be honest. They ask for money and time for things that don’t help anyone.” The tipping point for many atheists seems to be the behavior and lifestyles of Christians.

What will we do? There’s the “argue-with-the-atheist” option. This can happen when we view the irreligious/the doubters as the villains – the enemies. So, we 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.

And then there’s the “whatever-you-want-to-believe-or-disbelieve-is-no-big-deal” option. This can happen when we view the irreligious/the doubters as the victors – the ones whose ideas in the classroom or laboratories are probably right. This is, in essence, running. We can ignore or reject people who don’t think like us. We slink away thinking that our faith is probably superstition and myth after all.

But is there a third way? Is there an option where we neither condemn nor condone an atheistic or agnostic worldview? What might it look like to coexist with atheists and agnostics in caring ways? Another option is to care. We can build loving relationships and have conversations with people who are skeptical, cynical, or even hostile to the faith.

When criticism comes from a brother

Recently, a friend sent me an email critiquing an aspect of my approach to ministry. I love my brother. But the criticism hurts and is, frankly, discouraging.

Here's my reply and appeal to my friend.

***

Can we be friends who choose not to talk about things that we know are issues where we'll not ever agree?

I am not on a mission to remake you into someone who sees things like me.

I would like to celebrate Jesus alive and well in you and your ministry. I hope you can celebrate Jesus alive and well in me and my ministry.

Let's let Jesus change each of us and not try to play the Holy Spirit in each other's lives and ministries.

Life is too short to be constantly critiquing rather than constantly encouraging.

***

Does this approach to spiritual friendship make sense? Or am I forsaking an iron-sharpening-iron possibility?

Belief in a world filled with skeptics

One of the physicians who attends CVC has been struggling with faith issues. This past weekend's message about responding to atheists was used by God to bring encouragment. Earlier this week, he sent an email to thank us for the service.

***

Dear Pastor Rick,

Thanks for the wonderful message yesterday.

Being in the medical-scientific field, and circled by an army of atheists it is often difficult to defend one's faith. One of the reasons being there are very few contemporary scientists who are bold enough to confess their faith. Further, most younger folks in the scientific world have lost touch with the legacy of scientists from previous generations. Unfortunately, testimony from another scientist has a big impact due to nature of our work.

I have struggled with my own faith over the last few years. More recently there has been a wake-up call from God, and I have become more involved in the church, joined a bible study, read the bible regularly and growing in the faith.

A few weeks back I found a strong rebuke published in a high-profile journal medical against the current NIH director, Francis S. Collins, for publishing a book titled "Belief: Readings on the reason for faith." This book has been a great help to me, simple facts like this which no one in current generation knows are very encouraging: Newton - one of the greatest scientists of all time wrote more about theology than gravity.

The book edited as a collection of excepts from previous scientists was compiled by the current NIH director - who I did not know was a Christian believer (this is a great testimony as the NIH is one of the largest scientific organizations on this planet). Dr. Collins is credited with sequencing the entire human genome among other things.

This is a great book for you to refer to, as well as to recommend to a scientific doubter that comes to you. I wish I had sent this email to you before yesterday's sermon.

Look forward to participating in one of our medical missions soon.

***

I have not read Collins' book yet. So, I can't say that I fully recommend it. But I'm going to get it soon. You, too?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

CoExist: GODISNOWHERE (1)

Just two weeks ago, a friend who has been part of our church for over 20 years sat in my office and wondered. My friend has gone through lots and lots of pain and suffering with family and kids. Now, a potentially debilitating illness has hit. My friend asked, “What if it’s not real? What if God is really not there? What if it’s all just made up? What if there is no God?”

We talked and we prayed. I told a story and read some scripture. And then I said, “Remember: The presence of doubt is not the absence of faith.”

More and more people these days are giving up on the idea of God. And if you don’t think it could ever happen to you, think again.

Maybe you or someone you love suffered a serious illness and then you prayed that God would help and heal, but you see that God was not helping or healing at all.

Maybe you found yourself in the middle of a high school or college classroom discussion about science and you realized that if what your teacher or prof is saying is true, then what your Sunday School teacher said isn’t.

And now you’re pulled in two directions. GOD IS NOWHERE or GOD IS NOW HERE. Which is it for you? What if you are just not sure?

Sunday, May 09, 2010

CoExist: Jesus Among Other Gods - loving muslims (6)

Jesus died and rose for us to live and love through us. Some of you just needed to be reminded of that because you haven’t been used by God to reach a Muslim or anybody else for that matter. You’ve drifted away from God and He hasn’t been able to use you; not for a long time. Maybe not ever.

One day when we were in Ghana, the children of the Ghanaian missionary/pastor we support took me to the beach. And there on the African coast, I was able to engage a young man in a conversation. He wanted to know why I was in Africa. I explained that I was helping a local pastor start and grow churches.

I asked if he attended church. His face fell and he said, “No, but I used to go.” I asked, “What happened?” He said, “Well, I moved from the Volta Region (which is in the eastern part of Ghana) to Nzema on the southwest coast. I’m a fisherman on a boat. And I’ve been drinking and smoking – living far from God like most of the others on the boat.”

I said, “You know, this morning I was reading the Bible and I read a story about a man who, like you, fell away from God. It’s the story of Peter and how he denied Jesus. And Jesus said to him, ‘Peter, Peter, Satan has asked for you that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith should not fail. And when you have returned to Me, you will strengthen others’ (Luke 22:31-32, paraphrased).”

I said, “I think Jesus gave me that story early this morning because He knew that I would be talking with you later today. He has a message for you. What’s your name?” He said, “Hope.” I said, “Hope? Well, Hope, there’s hope for you because Jesus died and rose for you. He’s alive today and He’s saying, ‘Hope, Hope, Satan has asked for you that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith should not fail. And when you have returned to Me, you will strengthen others.’

I said, “Hope, what are the chances that a man from America would be on this beach today just when you walked by and that Jesus would give that man a message from the Bible on that day that was specifically designed for you? Jesus wants you back, Hope.”

I asked if I could pray for him. He said “Yes” and I did. I told Hope about Frank and the church there in that village. I told Frank about Hope and Frank is going to follow up. I told him that I’d put his name in my prayer journal. I can’t wait to hear what God does next.

And as I’ve prayed about what Jesus wants me to say to you; I feel like He knows there are people who need to hear the same thing. There’s hope for you.

Would you close your eyes for just a few seconds?

Put your name in the verse. “Phil, Phil…” Cindi, Cindi…” “Max, Max…” “Dawn, Dawn…” Satan has asked for you that he might sift you like wheat, but I have died and risen for you to live and love through you. And as the risen Christ, I have prayed for you that your faith should not fail. And when you have returned to Me, you will strengthen others.’

Now, just ask Jesus, “What are You saying to me today? What do You want me to be and do?” Listen. Now, ask Him for the grace to be it and do it.

Questions from Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health (1)

At CVC in February and March, we encouraged our members to read Donald Whitney's Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health. Here are a few questions I wrote in the margin of my book from chapter one, "Do you thirst for God?"

Do I really want to know Jesus more intimately and to obey Him more completely?

Am I still captivated by the sweetness of the quest to know Christ?

Is my heart finding its rest in Jesus?

Am I avoiding the fountains of the world so that I can drink from the river of God?

Am I thirsty for God because I have been and am satisfied with God and because the taste is so uniquely satisfying that I long for more?

Do I, in my thirsting, receive and, in my receiving, thirst for more?

Do I want to want God, to be filled with longing for Him?

Do I believe that I have been designed for an exceedingly great happiness?

Do I believe that will find fulfillment for my thirst for happiness only in God?

Do I meditate on scripture as I seek for God?

Do I use scripture - particularly the Psalms - as a guide for my praying?

Do I read writers of great bookswho wrote with "thirst-making" pens?

Saturday, May 08, 2010

CoExist: Jesus Among Other Gods - loving muslims (5)

Question: Is Islam an equally valid way to God as the Jesus way? Can both Islam and faith in Jesus be true?

Consider this analogy.

We have three apple trees in our yard, and deer love apple trees. So, I am on a mission to keep the deer away. So, I’ve purchased some animal repellant to spray on the trees.

This past Wednesday, when we came home from Africa, I took a look at the trees. The leaves have not been eaten, but some of those leaves are shriveled up. And some of the grass next to the trees is dying.

What’s wrong? In our garage on the shelf right next to where I keep the animal repellant, I also placed weed killer. Before we left for Africa, early one morning, I thought that’d better protect those apple trees from the deer. So, bleary-eyed, I grabbed a bottle of spray. The wrong one. And what I thought would protect the trees turned out to be something deadly. I was sincere. But I was wrong.

On the shelf called spirituality, sits some choices and at the surface, the faiths of those who follow Mohammed and those who follow Jesus might look similar. They both are monotheistic. They both have a sacred book. They both present a path to heaven.

But at the core, one is deadly and the other will protect, and the stakes are infinitely high. It’s not the life and death of a tree that’s at stake, but the eternal life and eternal death of billions of souls are at stake.

You better choose your bottle carefully.

This series of posts isn’t meant to be some kind of an attack. We’re not training you to attack. This series of posts is about love. This series of posts comes from a desire to connect as many people as possible to the Way, the Truth and the Life – to Jesus.

So, we want to live together in a pluralistic society in the third way – the way of love. One of the most loving things any of us can do it point the people who don’t know Him to Jesus.

If out of love we drill a water well in that Muslim village in Africa and if we out of love we help some of those Muslim villagers start businesses and if out of love we provide medical care to some of them but we never point them to Jesus, we haven’t loved them completely.

We do good deeds to create good will to share good news.

So, no matter whether your friends or family members or neighbors or co-workers or classmates or teammates are Muslim or Buddhist or Irreligious or Atheists or Agnostic, love them enough to do good to them and, then, say a good word about Jesus. Engage them in conversation about Jesus. Because He is the difference between something that will end up in eternal death or eternal life.

Friday, May 07, 2010

CoExist: Jesus Among Other Gods - loving muslims (4)

Yesterday, we looked at a few facts about Islam. Today, we’re going to look at two simple truths. But they profoundly point out the differences between the Christian faith and Islam.

A few facts for followers of Jesus…

Jesus died and rose for us.

33 When they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.
46 Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last.
Luke 23:33, 46 (ESV)

But all of the first century evidence indicates that Jesus died by crucifixion. Even the non-Christian scholars agree that agree that Jesus died on the cross. Believers and secular scholars alike consider Jesus’ crucifixion and death to be an indisputable fact.

[Jesus said,] “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:28 (ESV)

“For” in the Greek language is “anti” and it means “in place of.” It’s referring to the idea of the exchange and the substitution of Jesus' life on the cross for all those who receive His payment for their sins. See, you can try to be right with God by following the rules and regulations of religion. Or you can allow Jesus to be your Savior and to do for you what you cannot do for yourself.

Why was the cross necessary? God is a God of love but He is also a God of justice and we have sinned and fallen short of His glory. So, to display both His love and justice at the same time, God Himself provided a sacrifice for our sin. Jesus loved us enough to die in our place for our sin. He took the justice we deserved. So, He is the way for fallen, sinful people to be reconciled to a holy God. It’s why He says…

I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
John 14:6 (ESV)

Jesus is saying that our eternity hangs in the balance based on what we do with Him.

Jesus lives and loves through us.

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” Matthew 5.43-47 (ESV)

One of the things we hope to do in Ghana is help set up what’s called “micro-financing” or “micro-enterprise.” In this Nzema region of Ghana where we go, poverty and joblessness are huge problems. With micro-enterprise, very small loans are given to people and they are trained to start their own little businesses. We connected with a partner there who’s already done this in Ghana in another region. They loaned money to a Muslim – no strings attached – and he started a business. Now, he’s not only a successful businessman, he’s also trusted Jesus.

This is the kind of thing that happens when we let Jesus live and love through us.

One of our elders, Ron Cleveland, who runs the pathology lab at Metro Hospital, has been to Ghana 4 times and God has given him a vision to start a hospital there in Nzemaland. There are hospitals at the east and west ends of this region, but nothing in between. Just one full-time physician for hundreds of thousands of people. On Ron’s last visit, he found the ideal spot on the main highway near a fork in the road that leads to Cote D’Voire to the northwest and main village in the region to the southwest. We went this time to buy five acres from the local chiefs and ended up with seven acres and the potential to get three more. All will be welcome at this hospital, some who come will be Muslim, and the love of Christ will heal their bodies and their souls.

This is the kind of thing that happens when we let Jesus live and love through us.

We’ve drilled two water wells in Ghana so the people in the remote villages don’t have to drink out of dirty streams. And we have money for more wells. We were able to make connections with a Ghanaian company Water Healthcare Limited led by a fellow follower of Jesus and he’s going to help us finish our well-drilling projects. We’re going to see if that Muslim village needs one of these Jesus wells. We want to love them and reach them for Christ.

This is the kind of thing that happens when we let Jesus live and love through us.

The best way for us to share who Jesus is is through love. When we treat others in a God honoring way – in spite of how they treat us as individuals – they will see Jesus.

How is Jesus loving through you?

When Jesus was faced with Romans soldiers or Samaritan outcasts, He showed love. He redefined who our neighbors should be.

There is no room in a genuine believer’s heart or lifestyle for hatred toward anyone – especially someone of another religion. True love will act like Jesus. He spoke the truth – but always in love.

A Muslim will be impressed with our words only if he experiences a genuine friendship and sees a consistent moral life. It is better to win the Muslim as a friend and lose a discussion than to win an argument and lose his friendship. Love them and put in a good word for Jesus.

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