If I were the President…

As I was listening to the news this morning three topics were covered by NPR while I was driving in my car: (1) the retirement of the Pope and issues of immorality by Catholic priests; (2) the sequester and the potential of hundreds of thousands of government employees going on forced furlough; and (3) President Obama speaking against Proposition 8 with the potential of writing a friend-of-the-court brief urging the justices to overturn California’s voted in gay marriage ban.

I started thinking about the problems in our society and the proposed solutions to the problem.  In general, as the narrative goes in the West, the solution our media and government present is wrapped up in money, education, equal opportunity, individualism, and freedom in the pursuit of happiness.

But what happens in a society when money and education don’t solve society’s problems?

What happens when welfare programs are taken advantage of by the drug addicted mom with seven children? Or what happens when the obese disabled man spends his unemployment check on alcohol and then complains he doesn’t have enough money for food? Or what happens when two people’s pursuit of happiness collides resulting in threats of violence or worse?

Our government has only so much money it can spend to try to help these people and there is limited man-power employed by the government to run such social programs or to work in law enforcement, and there is only so much space in jails, prisons, and mental health institutions to keep dangerous people off the streets.

What our nation is doing is not working.  So what is the solution?

If I were the President I would have weekly FDR “fireside chats” and speak to the issues of our day.  I would use these chats to try to influence and persuade the average man.  I would use these chats as a polemic for those who adamantly disagree.   I would use these chats as an apologetic explanation of my policies.  I would try to help people realize the majority of our problems in society would be solved (not by money or education or even the pursuit of individual happiness) if only people did right within the home under the structure of natural marriage.

Natural marriage and family is based on traditional Judeo-Christian values (which acknowledges everything begins with agape love [see 1 Corinthians 13:3-7] as defined by God who created everything and cares for His creation and that there is a moral law that God authored about how humans should interact to bring about the best possible solution for everyone to keep order and peace) and is the foundational bedrock of a healthy society.

Think about it, before the age of five a child has learned from his or her care-giver: (a) what love looks like (i.e., if he is being taught unconditional love or selfish love); (b) if she needs to fend for herself or trust others to care for her basic needs of food, love, protection, shelter, etc.; (c) if boundaries exist and if there will be consistent consequences for not following boundaries; (d) what authority looks like (i.e., the child will learn if there is an authority structure [a “head of the family” so to speak] or if there is a power struggle between parents or if there is no authority because the child is being neglected.  This will be transferred from the home to the school, to sports teams, to the work place, and on the streets in how that child interacts with authority); and (e) how adults interact with people in good and bad situations, which will teach them how to interact with their peers.

Our culture, which has rejected Judeo-Christian values, believes there is no “head of the home.”  I understand some of the reasons why: some women saw arguing parents and abuse of authority by their dad, and therefore they think, “I’m never gonna be bossed around by my husband!”

[I must interject here that a husband should never “boss” his wife around or put her under his thumb – any man who thinks this is biblical leadership does not understand Genesis 3:16 and Ephesians 5:22-33.]

Is rejecting the idea of “head of household” the best solution? If you believe it is, then when you get married you will likely: (a) fight with your husband frequently and have a constant power-struggle; or (b) have a passive husband with whom you are constantly frustrated because he is a pushover.

Is this how you want to live?

What do your children learn from the fighting, arguing, power-struggle, or from a passive dad? This might make you think, “I would divorce that guy!”   Well, if you get divorced, will anything change with your next relationship? If you have kids and get divorced, what does divorce say to your children? Will it be easy for you financially once you get a divorce? Will it be easy for you and your children at Thanksgiving and Christmas when they see you arguing over where your kids will go for the holidays? What about the complications of divorced families coming together?

When people in my generation think of all the above they tend to think, “Marriage didn’t work for my parents, so I’m not gonna get married!” But is this the best solution, to be alone? What about temptation to satisfy sexual desires or the desire to not be alone? What happens when your girlfriend gets pregnant? Most guys bail because they do not desire to settle down and support a family.  Other guys pressure their girlfriend to have an abortion or give the child up for adoption.  What kind of emotional scars do you think this leaves on the hearts of the boyfriend or girlfriend? What do you think the child feels when she realizes she was a “mistake” – unwanted by her parents? What about the child not aborted and not given up for adoption, but raised by a single mom? Who supports the mother during those first few months and years? Will that child grow up in the best economic situation? Will that child miss or desire the affection and care of her natural father? Will the child desire to have a “normal” family with her own biological mom and dad loving each other?

When the natural, biological family breaks down in a society it creates the need for: (a) welfare; (b) children understanding agape [unconditional] love; (c) children understanding commitment; (d) children understanding authority; (e) children having equal opportunity; and (c) role models in society to teach respect, right from wrong, and how to navigate this world without becoming a casualty of a broken society.

[Again I must interject here, this is where Christians need to step it up and not judge, but help their friends or children make wise decisions beginning with understanding the cross of Christ – that your sins are covered by the cross and now this is an opportunity to redeem the problem rather than condemn the individuals who made mistakes – but this often doesn’t happen, which is part of the failure of the Church].

As society rejects the natural, biological family and God’s prescription for raising children, so goes society.  Rejection of God’s blueprint will result in disrespect of teachers, principles, coaches, bosses, police officers, which contributes to an increased risk of drug or alcohol use, increased crime, increased sex outside of marriage, STDs, and children being born out-of-wedlock, and the cycle continues.

Has society’s solution of money and education worked to solve the problems?

No, because as immorality increases and as families break apart and as more children are born outside of natural marriage, so also the need for money to pay for government programs increases, which creates difficult decisions for politicians when a sequester is about to be enforced.

Let’s get straight to it – what I have said and what I am about to say does not sound presidential, but it is what we need to hear – we all need Jesus, we all need the Gospel.  The Gospel teaches us four basic things: (1) God created the world to be a certain way (Genesis 1-2); (2) we humans messed things up and can’t fix it (Genesis 3 to Malachi  4); (3) God sent Jesus to give us the solution (Matthew 1 to Revelation 19); and (4) Jesus will return to restore everything to the way it was meant to be from the beginning (Revelation 20-22).

May you find redemption in Christ, may you not beat yourself up or become cold to the world.  May God work in you through Jesus Christ to reform your life – start by picking up a Bible and reading the Gospel of Matthew in the New Testament.  Come and meet Jesus.  When I did He lightened my load, took a burden off my shoulders, and has been teaching me how to live by His principles ever since.

Shalom

How to be saved to heaven

Salvation is simple –

  1. Admit God exists and that you are not God.
  2. Admit God is holy and you fall short of His glory.
  3. Admit God has a plan to save you and that you cannot save yourself.
  4. Admit God’s plan is to save you through Jesus, who is God’s Son, who came to earth, showed us how to live (as recorded in the gospels) and then died on the cross an innocent death for the purpose of your sins being transferred to Jesus so that God could punish your sin and then Jesus’ righteousness will be applied to you so that you will be innocent in God’s eyes and be saved.  His resurrection is evidence that this transfer really happens and that He is God’s Son.
  5. It all begins with admitting the above and asking Jesus to save you.
  6. After praying to receive Jesus as savior, make Him your Lord by reading the New Testament and doing what it tells you to do.
  7. Also, going to a good church helps, along with Baptism as a public declaration of your faith.

GODSPEED

Pope Benedict XVI Resigns

I am not a Catholic, but I was saddened to hear that Pope Benedict XVI resigned as leader of the Roman Catholic Church.  He was a champion of Orthodoxy and has had great courage to stand against the moral progressivism in order to maintain the teachings of Christ and His Church.  For this I consider him a man of honor to be respected by all Protestants and people who claim the title Christian.

For most Protestants, we don’t understand why there is a Pope and how this lines up with Scripture.

The short answer is Saint Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch developed a structure for the Church to help establish orthodoxy, fight heresy, and establish an ecclesiastical structure (church leadership structure) that would guard the church against false teachings and maintain the orthodox teachings of the Apostles as the standard for all Christians.  His structure was that Christ is the head, Peter was his successor, and next are Bishops, Elders, and Deacons.  Peter’s role was to lead and guard the church against heresy.  Was he the first Pope? Scripture does not use this word of Peter and so it was a man-made office, however, as in all institutions there should be a leader — the establishment of clergy and church structure was necessary considering the heretical teachings that threatened to splinter and destroy the Church.  There were people claiming Christ was just a ghost, or that sexual immorality was permissible, or that the physical universe is evil and only the spiritual is good – these three teachings were not based in the teachings of the Bible.  They were based in Greek Philosophy or Pagan Mythology, therefore the false teachings were rejected by the Apostle John and by those trained under John like Ignatius and by those trained by Ignatius and so on – this was called Apostolic Succession (authority passed down from generation to generation originating with the Apostles and based in their teachings, which is the New Testament writings).  This is the role of the Pope, to uphold the Scriptures and guard the Church from heresy.

Progressive Catholics – The word progressive means progress, to move forward with society.  This is fine as long as Catholics and Christians do not compromise the Scriptures.  The Scriptures do not contradict what we know about science, archeology, and history — however, there has been an incredible attempt on the part of liberal scholars to suggest otherwise – but when you do the research you will discover liberal scholars base their claims on shoddy research guided by bias.  About liberal scholarship, Anne Rice said, “…I discovered in this field some of the worst and most biased scholarship I’d ever read.”

The Role of the Pope – If the role of the Pope is to be the head of the Catholic Church under the authority of Jesus Christ, and if his role is to guard the church from heresy and point people to orthodoxy, then it is the Pope’s job to uphold Christian morality as found in the Scriptures and to stand against moral progressivism.

Good for the Pope – Pope Benedict XVI is one of my modern-day heroes because he stood against anti-Semitism and those who would claim the Holocaust never occurred; he condemned clerical sex abuse and said he is deeply ashamed; he rejected sex outside of marriage; he rejected same-sex marriage and described homosexuality as an objective disorder and an intrinsic moral evil; and firmly upheld bans against divorce, abortion and stem-cell research.

May church leaders from all denominations have such courage to stand for Scriptural values.

GODSPEED

Canon, Creed, and Clergy

A question many people have today is how the Scriptures came about? Why they were written? Why do we have creeds and orthodox beliefs? And why do we have a church organizational structure?

I am teaching on this subject in my School of Theology class this Sunday before our worship service, and so I thought I would share with you some of the basics of these questions.

First, how did the Scriptures came about? And why they were written?

The Apostles of Jesus memorized what Jesus taught them and would have also taken notes on wax tablets and such.  After Jesus died they started preaching the Gospel and the stories and teachings of Jesus.  As the numbers of people accepting the Apostles’ message grew and as Christians migrated to Antioch, Alexandria, Rome, etc. there was a need for the message to be written down.  At first, the Apostles took their message into many of these cities and shored up the teaching in the existing churches and built up leadership who could carry on their teachings without the Apostles being present.  Because there was a need for teaching to be directly from the Apostles so that the information was first hand eyewitness accounts, the Apostles starting writing letters and compiled Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life, teaching, and ministry.  John Mark heard many of the Apostle Peter’s teachings about Jesus and wrote them down; this became the Gospel of Mark.  Mathew (an Apostle) wrote the Gospel of Matthew.  Luke went to Israel and researched what happened by interviewing firsthand eye-witnesses and putting everything in chronological order as best he could; this became the Gospel of Luke.  He also wrote Acts, which is a book about the spread of the Gospel.  John the Apostle wrote John and was writing more from the perspective of theology about Jesus than he was from the perspective of what happened (i.e.,John was interpreting for us what was going on).

The Epistles of Paul and Peter, etc. were letters of instruction to elders of churches in different cities to help them work through specific theological, moral, or practical issues they were experiencing.

After the Apostles were martyred for their faith, new teachings arose (at the end of the first century and the beginning of the second century ) in various communities that contradicted what the Apostles had taught.  Since only John was alive at the end of the first century, only John was really able to combat some of these heresies.  After John died, some of the heretical teachings (e.g., Gnosticism, Antinomianism, Marcionism, Montanism, Nomism, Docetism, etc.) were put into writing; for example the Gnostics wrote the “Gospel” of Thomas or the “Gospel” of Mary or the “Gospel” of Judas in the middle of the second century and claimed Thomas, Mary, or Judas wrote the books.  They did not, but this led to the question of what is orthodox Christianity and who gets to decide?

Why do we have creeds and orthodox beliefs?

A creed is a summary statement of belief by a religious group.  The Apostles’ Creed was written by Christian Theologians in 150 AD to summarize what the Apostles taught in Scripture and to combat the Gnostic heresies.  Such topics in the creed were: God the Father’s creation of the physical universe (something Gnostics did not believe); the incarnation of the Son of God (the Gnostics did not believe Jesus became a man); and the redemption of the physical as well as the spiritual (the Gnostics only believed the spiritual was good and worth saving).

The purpose of the Apostles’ Creed was to say, “This is Orthodox Christianity and anything that contradicts is heresy.”  But the Gnostics did not believe they were heretics, they thought they had the truth, and they did not acknowledge the authority of the Church.  Hence there was a need to establish authoritative structure.

And why do we have a church organizational structure?

As Gnosticism was developing in the second century, many Gnostics would infiltrate churches and influence people to leave the Christian church.  Since the Apostles were dead, church leaders recognized the need for a unified front against heretical teachers in the form of the Canon, Creeds, and Clergy.

There were a few bishops in the second century who established their authority because they were discipled by the Apostle John.  They claimed “Apostolic Accession” – which means they were taught by an Apostle and received their teachings, Scripture, and authority directly from an Apostle and passed it down to the next generation and so on.

Ignatius was the Bishop in Antioch; he was trained under the Apostle John and he founded the “catholic” authority structure (when I say “catholic” I do not mean the Roman Catholic Church, although they base much of their structure on what Ignatius taught).  The basic structure of Ignatius was Bishop > Elder > Deacon.  The Bishop would oversee a region, the elders would oversee individual churches, and the deacons would help the elders to serve the people.

This system is in line with Titus and 1 Timothy – what was / is debated is if “Bishop” and “Elder” are two offices or just one (elder was used in Titus and Bishop in Timothy).

Regardless, the structure was based in Scripture and helped the church: (1) develop a center for developing orthodoxy; (2) a center to combat heresy; and (3) a structure to serve the people.

Since the majority of Churches acknowledged the 27 books of the New Testament, these books and the above authority structure based in Scripture was used to shore up and strengthen the “catholic” (meaning universal & united) Church.  There were no denominations, nor did the church want to divide and create denominations.  But the question still remained if the teachings and books of the Gnostics had any value in church.  Hence the Canon of Scripture was created.

Canon means measuring rod in Greek.  There were three measurements for what is considered Scripture: (1) the book must be used by a majority of churches as authoritative; (2) the book must agree with the rest of Scripture; and (3) the author of the book must be an apostle or a close friend of an apostle. 

Since the Gnostic books had contradictions in themselves and with the rest of the 27 New Testament books, and since they were not used by many churches at all, and since they were all written in the second and third Centuries by people who never met Jesus or an Apostle, they did not pass the test.

Hence, the Canon is closed, Creeds were written based on the Bible, and Clergy were developed to protect the church.

The above leads to the question: does an authoritative structure work in an individualistic society like America.

In other words, how you see church affects what you do.  Think on these questions:

1)       What about the needs of the individual vs. the need for community?

2)       Who or what is the church’s authority vs. individual autonomy?

3)       How do we decide on morality, ethics, & church discipline?

 

God bless those who came before us an may we learn from them.

GODSPEED

How Paul Ministered & How Conversion Happens

I have been reading a fascinating book on Church History called “The Triumph of Christianity” by Rodney Stark. He is well researched and gives tremendous insights into the history and culture of the church, and especially the 1st century and how Christianity spread. The following gives us insight into the book of Acts and can teach us to be more strategic in the 21st Century by working together to reach this culture.

I will cover two topics from chapters 3 and 4 in his book. The first topic is how the Apostle Paul ministered and the second is how conversion happens. If we keep these in mind and put them into practice we will see people come to Christ (1 Cor. 15:58).

How Paul ministered:

When we think of the Apostle Paul we think of a theological and evangelistic giant. We think of a man skilled in apologetics and evangelistic techniques and with a personality to win people by his personality to his beliefs. But in reality he was not a very good public speaker, in fact his verbal communication and charisma in person was quite ordinary (2 Cor. 10:10).

What Paul was gifted at was not so much argumentation, apologetics, and evangelism – rather he was bold and gifted at organization, modeling the Christian life, and the written word.

In the beginning of Paul & Barnabas’ mission work they would debate in synagogues, which was unsuccessful. Paul soon learned to make prior arrangements through people who knew people with commitments of support from where he was coming from before entering a new community (much like modern missionaries raising support and connecting with an organization already established in a particular country or city). Paul learned to take advantage of people’s social networks (family and friends of Christians) to reach people he would not otherwise have come into contact with.

Paul promoted what we would call friendship evangelism. He would instruct people to evangelize their friends and their family members through casual conversation in ordinary and everyday life. Then he would instruct the Christians to invite their friends and family members to an evangelistic event. To make these events successful Paul learned that numbers tend to inspire, so Paul traveled with as many as 40 followers (i.e., he would bring with him an instant congregation). Before entering a new town Paul would send a group of people ahead of him to try to gather together all the Christians in that town, along with relatives and friends in preparation for evangelistic worship services. Then Paul would come with his entourage of 30-40 people and meet up with his friends he sent ahead of him to meet with the crowd of skeptics and new believers for something like a “Tent Revival Meeting” or a “Billy Graham Crusade.” In the months to follow these events, Paul would focus on establishing and training potential church leaders to be the Church without Paul being present.

In his group of 30-40 disciples he would have had scribes; they would have taken notes when he preached or would help in making copies of his letters to distribute to churches for encouragement, edification, and training. One of the scribes revealed his name in Romans 16:22 – “I, Tertius, the writer of this letter, greet you in the Lord.”

Conversion – how it happens:

Rodney Stark points out sociologically that when someone converts, doctrine is usually of secondary importance – this is not to say doctrine doesn’t matter, rather that most people convert to a religion because of relationships. As Rodney Stark put it:

“people tend to convert to a religious group when their social ties to members outweigh their ties to outsiders who might oppose the conversion, and this often occurs before a convert knows much about what the group believes.”

Conversion begins through social networks or friendship evangelism; what causes people to remain in a religion or to grow as a person is good doctrine. In the first century church the majority of converts who came to Christ did so because a friend or family member had converted and shared with them the good news.

Gentile Conversion – at the beginning, the majority of Gentiles who converted were already God-fearers who were hanging out at the local Jewish Synagogues and already had knowledge of the Old Testament Scriptures. The reason they did not convert to Judaism was because it was too difficult; they would have had to renounce all Gentile ties that conflicted with the 613 Laws of the Old Testament and would have had to be circumcised (ouch!). When Christianity came along the God-fearers did not have to convert to Judaism and would have been allowed to still live in their Gentile culture and retain many of their friends; they were just forbidden from immorality and idolatry so that they now would be devoted to Christ rather than to a religion.

The other Gentiles who converted were pagans who were not devoted to a particular god or religion and who were empty on the inside and were seeking something more. When they would encounter a friend or family member devoted to Christ who was completely changed they would begin to investigate this new religion. When persecution broke out, the faith of Christians became stronger and many of their friends and family members had sympathy, which actually led to more conversions to Christ.

Jewish Conversion – many of the Jews living in a pagan world were separate from the pagan world because the Jewish Laws restricted their involvement in regular every day activities like eating with friends or business associates, etc. Many Jewish people were frustrated by this and when Christianity came along, which retained much of their Jewish heritage and which was the promised fulfillment of the Old Testament, many Jews converted because they saw it as a Jewish religion in which Jesus the Christ abrogated many of the Old Testament laws so that Gentiles and Jews could live as one under the Messiah as Lord. This was relatively easy to swallow for many non-legalistic Jews and many converted.

What can we learn from the above? Go out into the world, engage the world, share Christ with the world, and don’t compromise your morals but don’t fear the world at the same time.

Grace Church or any church will grow because of you.

Talk to your family members and friends, your social networks, your neighbors and co-workers; share Christ and then invite them to Church on Sunday where the preacher will present the gospel. Then invite your friends to get involved in a Home Community or AWANA or School of Theology class so that they can grow.

GODSPEED