Category: Christianity

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Neighbor

“And who is my neighbor?”

Jesus replied, “[An American Christian] was travelling [to Syria], when [he was put into holding by a Syrian airport security agent]…”

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A 2014 Revolution

This year, as many start their resolutions to become better people, I have some goals for Christians, including myself. My goal is not to improve the world or to better our persons in a physical sense, though those are good goals, but I want to set my eyes towards Heaven, towards eternity.

My goal is to stop preaching a gospel of morality, for a morality without Christ does no good. Only by the Gospel of Christ can we save people for eternity. Stopping gay marriage, or creating a law against abortion does not provide salvation. May we love others in their sin, so that we might show them true hope, a hope in Christ.

My goal is to learn about Christ on every page of the Bible. The Old Testament was not a series of stories that show us how to overcome, but a story pointed to Christ from the beginning, and a story that ends in victory already achieved in Revelation. Our hope is not in a God who might win for us in our battle for America, but a God who has already won, through the death of Christ.

Our victory is not in legislation for morality, and our victory is not in conquering Islam through American forces. Our hope lies in Christ, and in Christ alone. We don’t conquer by violence, we share in suffering (2 Tim 2:3).

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Nonviolence in a Violent World

The Vietnam War in picture 09I’ve been reading through a few books that talk about Christian living, and I’ve seen some recent articles popping up about Christians and the use of violence (I am using violence to refer to intentional injury or killing). It’s really made me consider some of my past views. My past perspective was for the death penalty (like any good Texan), for self-defense, and for the war on terrorism. I wrote an article on The Death of Bin Laden, which was a start of my train of thought towards violence, but I’ve recently been reconsidering nationalism, and our violent world.

I picked up a copy of Fight: A Christian Case for Non-Violence by Preston Sprinkle, and it has been a really good read on the topic of Violence. I recommend it to anyone wanting to dig further into the topic. Preston goes through many sections of the Bible and discusses violence in it’s various aspects. He goes through Israel’s history of war and killing. God tells them to drive out and fight against the Canaanites, but we see that when Israel tried to fight the war, they failed, but when they trusted God to fight, they won. When David tried to do a census of fighting men, God punishes David for relying on their national strength instead of God.

The book also covers the life and sayings of Christ. The greatest example is Christ and his life. When being arrested, He told Peter to put his sword up, and went willingly. When being spit upon and beaten before being crucified, He never resisted. Instead of calling down the angels to destroy those doing harm to Him, he was silent, and even prayed for forgiveness to those doing Him harm. In His teachings, he tells us to love our enemies (Matt 5:44). He tells us to turn the other cheek (Matt 5:39), and when asked to go one mile, to go two miles (Matt 5:41). He says if someone sues you for your tunic, give them your cloak as well (Matt 5:40).

Preston claims that he hasn’t arrived at a final answer, but goes into the topic of defense with violence, and military service. Defending yourself with violence, he claims, isn’t black and white. We know that there are no biblical examples of self-defense. It might be allowed while defending your family (who is your neighbor), because loving your neighbor may trump loving your enemy. Military service that involved killing was never allowed by the theological writings from before the time it was made the state religion in Rome. A position in the military that does not involve or support killing is one thing, but the early writers seemed to agree about military violence was something a Christian should not participate in.

Our allegiance is to Christ, and our kingdom is the Kingdom of God. We have no interest in furthering the kingdom of America. Romans 8:37, 39 says it well:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

Is our allegiance to America? Is our trust in national security, or police protection? Where is our Faith when those things don’t exist (such as third world countries)?

If someone breaks into my home, I don’t know if I can stand by and let the intruder do as he wishes, but I think with the words of Jesus, as Christians, we have alternatives to shooting the intruder. Is my faith strong enough to submit in hopes of making a difference in the intruders life? I honestly don’t know.

We have no fear in death, because our hope is in Heaven, not in things of this world. Our hope is not in America’s military. It’s not in the security our police provide, or in the security of the security systems of our homes. We trust in God, and in life and in death, we are more than conquerors.

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A Hedge Around the Law

hedgeRecently, I’ve been reading a book called Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus. I’d recommend this book to every Christian who wants to dig deeper.

Now, many years before Jesus, they had begun to pass down oral tradition, later recorded in the Talmud, which was a commentary or interpretation on the Tanakh, what we call the Old Testament. It was instructions on how to follow the commands in daily life. It set up a hedge around the law, so that people would not even get close to breaking God’s instruction in the Torah. A hedge in this sense is like a wall around a wall. For example, instead of not doing work for 24 hours on the Sabbath, they made it 25 hours to guard against breaking God’s law.

There were two different classes of Pharisees. Those that leaned toward a strict following of the Talmud, following Rabbi Shammai, and others who were lenient, following Rabbi Hillel.

Even though Jesus condemned the Pharisees for their hypocrisy, Jesus was most likely himself a Pharisee, or at least in line with their thinking. He came from inside the group, so he wasn’t standing outside calling them snakes and white-washed tombs, he was telling his own group to straighten their ways. In reality, Jesus was a Jew, as I am a Christian, but in practice, as I am Church of Christ, so Jesus was a Pharisee. As the Jews set up a hedge around the law to keep people from breaking the law, so we in the church of Christ have set up a hedge around our New Testament laws to keep from breaking the law.

The sermon on the mount was meant to tell us how we are to live beyond the law in our lives. When Jesus says “You may have heard…, but I say…”, he is going beyond the law in our own lives, and telling us to have hedges to keep us from sinning. Instead of swearing to let people know you will fulfill your promises, tell the truth always. Instead of letting your anger drive you to murder, don’t be angry with your brother in the first place. Don’t love those who love you, love everyone, for we can all receive salvation if we choose it. He gets to the heart of God, as only God himself can, and tells us how we can implement true Godliness in our lives. Going beyond what the law says is personal, it is our decision to make. If we want a life that is lived to it’s fullest, we have to leave those things behind, but others cannot make those decisions for us.

Some of you may disagree, but I believe that a Capella music is a hedge around our singing in our beliefs. It is not directly forbidden, but we do it to follow the traditions of the first century, and to follow the commandment, “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart,” (Eph 5:19), we make sure that all can sing without being distracted by playing an instrument. We want people to sing and not just listen. In the same way, we don’t bring a praise team to the front, because if people always listen and never sing, we are not following the command to sing to the Lord. I do not plan to worship with instrumental music, but as it is never condemned by Jesus or the apostles, neither will I condemn it. I am not for the addition of instruments, just against teaching it as God’s law when it is not. We can teach it based on example, and historical context, just not as law, but let our primary focus be on biblical understanding and the heart of living a Christian life. This is just one of the many hedges we have.

Jesus condemned the Pharisees that enforced their own traditions above the law. We read in Matthew 15:1-9, about a tradition that allowed people devote their things to God, and not give to their parents because they gave to God instead. He condemns them for upholding a man-made law above the law of God to “Honor your father and mother”. He quotes from Isaiah 29:13:

“‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”

It is not wrong to have hedges around the instructions in God’s word, but when we focus on the hedges that we have, the man-made laws, and we forget about the instructions in God’s Word, and the life we are to live in Christ, our religion is in vain, and we have become blind guides who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel (Matthew 23:24). When we stumble on the greater things of God’s word, but fulfill the hedges that we have set up, do you think it will mean anything on judgment day? Will we receive mercy based on the fact that we follow our own rules? I only hope you can live up to your own Judgment of others, because God will be as strict to you in the final judgment as you are to others (Luke 6:37-38).

Further Reading: Matthew 23, Luke 18:9-14

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Wait For Me

In our culture, we rush around, and we want immediate results. When we want an answer we immediately go to the Internet and do a search for our topic. We want that $300,000 home, and that $50,000 SUV right now, even though we can’t pay for it. Having things immediate is not always wrong, unless we have more debt than we can manage, but our sense of immediacy will not do us any good.

God wants us to wait for His timing. He wants us to seek him and to find him, but not to expect overnight results. When we receive Christ in baptism, we don’t have full understanding of all things Christians. We have to ask, seek, and knock (Matthew 7:7). And then we have to be patient.

When Abraham was seventy-five years old when God told him to go to Canaan (Genesis 12). He left his home on Faith, but he was childless. A few years later, we see that God promises Abraham a child of his own (Genesis 15). But Abraham and Sarah choose to intervene on God’s behalf, instead of waiting for him. Abraham has a child with Sarah’s servant, Hagar (Genesis 16). Because he did not wait for The LORD, Abraham had years of strife between Hagar and Sarah, and even had to send Hagar into the dessert with her son. God fulfills his promise through Isaac when Abraham was 100 years old. God told Abraham to “wait for me,” and God fulfilled his promise.

“The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him” (Lam 3:25). “But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31). “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him” (Psalm 37:7a).

For those who are unmarried, wait for God. I did not meet my wife until I was 26, which seemed like an eternity at the time, and waiting was not my choice, but he has blessed me so much in finding the perfect spouse. For those who are trying to have children, be patient with God. That’s not to say that adoption isn’t a good choice, but it just takes time.

Wherever you are in life, seek God, Be in the Word, Pray. Wait for God.

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Dragging Others to Hell May Cause Burns

3_in_the_fire.83182856_stdNebuchadnezzar was a very powerful, and very bad man. He captured many nations, and was responsible for the death of many as he conquered the people of the middle east. I would compare his acts to those of Hitler or Stalin to the people of his day.

However, Nebuchadnezzar was an instrument used by God, and God even call him, “my servant” (Jeremiah 27:6).

In Daniel 3, Nebuchadnezzar had a golden image set up, and all of the nations were commanded to bow down and worship the idol. This idea was against what the Jews were commanded, and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to bow down to this image. Nebuchadnezzar became so angry that he ordered the furnace to be heated to seven times it’s normal temperature, and he had them thrown in. The fire was so hot, that those that threw them in were killed due to the extreme heat. God saved Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

Today, we have those in the brotherhood who would choose to drag down and point out others, instead of focusing on our own shortcomings, improving our own walk, and on building up the body. When we are so caught up in dragging others to hell, whether it be individuals or as a group, we are only right outside the gates. Just like the Babylonian guards, we too will be burned up if we are not careful. It is not our place in the body of Christ to study about how others are doing it wrong. We can study the truth in God’s word, without pointing fingers that degrades others.

Jesus tells us, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3). We all have sin (Romans 3:23), so what gives us the right to put others down when we are imperfect ourselves?

Paul, Peter, and Christ all call out those who do wrong, but in all circumstances that I have researched, it is directly affecting that specific group that is being addressed. Sitting in our building and pointing out the theological problems of the Christians down the street neither builds up nor calls those people to repentance.

Paul states that God gave our leaders to “equip the saints for the work of ministry,” and “for building up the body of Christ” (Eph 4:11-12). Did he give us leaders to cut others down, or so that the community knows that we are the only ones going to Heaven? (This is how many view the church of Christ). God is the one true judge. Go and study the Bible with those people, but we should be just as willing to discover the Truth as we expect them to be.

Our attitude also should be in humility and love. Telling others bluntly that they are wrong will not bring others to the knowledge of the truth. Only with prayer (1 Tim 2:1-4), gentleness, patience (2 Tim 2:25), and love (Eph 4:15) can we reach the lost.

Our aim and goal in life is to strive to be like Christ (1 John 2:6, 1 Pet 2:21, Eph 5:1-2,
John 13:13-17). Let us strive to build up, and not cut down. Let us teach the truth from the Word of God.

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Death of Bin Laden

Bin Laden is dead. First of all, as Americans, we have won a victory, and we should be proud. We have made a big step against terrorism.

But, as Christians, when anyone dies without the hope of salvation, we should feel sorrow. God wishes for everyone to be saved:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:1-4. Emphasis added)

Some people want to compare us to the Israelites fighting against the enemies of the Lord. America claims to be a Christian country, and Bin Laden was an Islamic terrorist attacking us because we claimed to be a Christian country. However, there are some major differences we should look at when comparing the U.S.A. to the chosen people.

The Israelites were a people chosen by God. They were chosen because of the righteousness of Abraham. The U.S.A. is a country that may have been founded upon Christian principles, but we are not chosen by God, nor is our society godly in action. God commanded the Israelites to kill nations. We have no such commandments.

God’s chosen people are Christians all over the world, not because of a birthright, but because of obedience to Christ. We are not fighting a physical war, but rather a spiritual war.

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12)

Christian victory is not with the death of a persecutor, but with a person denying self and obeying Christ in order to have eternal life.

When Peter drew his sword to attack those coming to arrest Jesus, Jesus rebuked him. He was not fighting a physical war. Saul persecuted and killed many Christians as a Jew, but when he was converted to Christianity, it would be safe to assume that he never wished death on any of his persecutors. He preached to Roman rulers, sat in prison, and was stoned and beaten to the point of death. Many Christians were killed by Jewish leaders, but the Christians didn’t fight back.

God was always, and will always be in control. God will bring judgement on nations and peoples in His own time.

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Radical Holiness

What is “radical holiness?” To be holy means to be set apart. I take it as, to not be used up by sin, or, pure and blameless. Radical can mean extreme, or drastic. So radical holiness is taking drastic measures to be free from sin.

As Christians we’re called to be holy (1 Peter 5:13-16). That seems to suggest that it’s not ok just to live as though grace is going to fix it all no matter what I do. Some Christians seem to have the mindset that living a life that’s extremely good is too much to be expected. They justify sin because perfection cannot be reached, so why even try.

So how do we implement extreme holiness? I’ve been contemplating this for a while now, and it’s not easy to make decisions that proclaim radical holiness. Maybe it’s the shows on TV that we watch that show just enough to be legal, or music that uses cussing. I’d even suggest that maybe to achieve radical holiness, we shouldn’t even listen to music, TV, or radio that uses suggestive language. How about in our clothing, how much skin is too much skin to show? How far is too far to go with a boyfriend or girlfriend? How fast is too fast when I’m speeding?

It’s tough to cope with all the pressures in the culture we live in. High schools break their own school dress codes by giving cheerleaders skimpy outfits, and then they expect everyone else to follow the guidelines. A lot of people want to tag the name “hypocrite” to Christians, but anywhere there are humans, hypocrisy exists.

“Flee from sexual immorality,” Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:18. Colossians 3 tells us to “Set [our] minds on things above, not on earthly things,” (v. 1) and “Put to death… your earthly nature” (v. 5). “Rid yourselves of… anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language” (v. 8).

He follows up Colossians 3:12 by saying, “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” Watching Family Guy isn’t going to clothe us with kindness and compassion. Listening to System of a Down is not going to give us gentleness or patience. But will listening to the newest music that’s suggestive, or watching a show that’s a bit risqué send us to Hell? If that’s the case, we’ve got a lot of people in trouble. I don’t think that our motivation not to do these things should be because of Hell, but because we want to live a life that is worthy of the calling of Christ.

In Romans 6:1-2, Paul says that by no means should we continue to sin! Being baptized is not an insurance policy. We were baptized to “live a new life” (Romans 6:4). In verse 5, Paul states that “if we have been united with him in a death like his,” which means we can no longer continue to live in sin, we have to become radically holy, then “we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”

We have been promised a place in Heaven, but that doesn’t let us off the hook. Let us strive daily to be a people that are radically holy!

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Being of One Mind

Divisions have been a long running problem for Churches. Where you have people, problems will arise, and there’s no way to avoid that unless we have the mind of Christ.

In Phillipians 2:1-2, Paul tells the church in Phillipi to be “like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.” As Christians, we are called to live above bickering that plagues the world. In verse 3 he continues in saying “Do nothing out of vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. How many of us have taken 10 minutes out of a day to do something for someone else without expecting anything in return?

Paul again says in 1 Corinthians to “agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.” As Christians, our common ground is that we admit that we are sinners and we have accepted the gift of grace from Christ, our Lord. I see a lot of people picking out favorite people to be around, and when we pick favorites, cliques start to develop, and people are excluded. I’m personally not the best at making new people feel welcome, but we all need to work at making sure everyone feels like they are a part of the church.

Unity is very important. Jesus prayed that we might be one on the night of his arrest (John 17). We have a common goal to preach the word to the rest of the world, but unless we stop fighting, we’ll never achieve what we as a church are to be doing.

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Entertainment or Worship

So we had LCU’s Best Friends come and sing for our college group tonight. They all had good voices, and did a good job performing, but one thing I have a huge problem with is getting “worship” confused with “entertainment.”

First of all, I’m going to define worship. From what I’ve seen in the bible, worship can mean one of two things. One can live a life of worship. Also, a group of people can worship together in song, or in the old testament worship was through sacrifice. Worship can be displeasing as in the case of Cain, Nadab and Abihu, Saul, and the many other times. It’s easy for worship to become unacceptable to God as we see in these cases.

I used to sing a group, and at times I struggled with whether it was acceptable to God to do so. We were not a praise team, and we never said we were up there in order to “worship.”

I have come to the conclusion that any performances, by singing groups or choirs, are to be considered as entertainment. Entertainment is not worship, because worship is for God, not for man.

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