Why Did You Do That?


Just yesterday, my youngest son did something stupid.

To tell the truth, his mom and dad often do stupid things, too—daily. But our job is to correct him and help him to be better than we are (which means making him prone to doing fewer stupid things). So we corrected our child.

The main way we corrected him was by asking him a question: Why did you do that?

ask blackboard chalk board chalkboard

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

His reply was, “I don’t know.” When he responded that way, we knew clearly where our real work needed to begin. We needed to help him understand why he does inappropriate things. If we could help him understand why he does these things, we might also be able to lead him to see why he should not do them—and why he should do more positive things instead.

This struggle in our day to day child-rearing turns out to be a struggle that sits at the heart of Christian ethics. Christian ethics is about what we ought to do, what we ought not do, and why we ought to do/ not do certain things. On this last question, the “why” question, there is much debate among Christian thinkers. Why ought we love others and not murder them?

The simplest ethical response is, “Because God says so.” (But why does God say so? How do we know?)

The answer growing more popular these days to the “why” question is something like, “because good people (God’s people) do good things.” This latter answer operates on the idea that our character determines our actions. According to this view, God is intensely concerned to shape our character so that good actions which please him will flow from our good character. A classic example of this approach comes from Jesus in Matthew 12:33-35,

red cherry fruit on brown tree branch

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Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil.

Christians obviously want to be good trees bearing good fruits. The kind of person you are determines the kind of actions you will perform. But there’s a  big #Problem!

How does this work? By nature, we aren’t good trees! Scripture tells us that we are by nature dead—children of wrath (Ephesians 2); Scripture says that by nature not a single one of us is righteous (Romans 3); and the Bible teaches that by nature our hearts seek to do evil continually even from a very young age (Genesis 8).

The naturally bad trees will not attempt to do good—that would be working against our own nature (like a peach tree somehow deciding to grow a watermelon). If, on the other hand, we simply confess we are bad trees and thus must do bad works, we fall victim to fatalism and disobey God’s instructions openly. How in the world can a naturally bad tree produce good fruit?

Here is where Christian ethics must begin—with theology! Christian living begins with God supernaturally revealing himself and his gospel to those who are by nature children of wrath. God reveals both himself and the sacrifice Jesus made in order for those who believe to be “converted” into good trees bearing good fruit. As Paul writes in Ephesians 2:4-5,

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved!”

God makes His people alive! God reveals himself and his will to his people. His people love and trust him. They trust him to teach them how to live in this world and how to remain safe in his presence forever. Because God is good, everything he commands his people is also good.

The key to Christian ethics is simple: Start with a good and gracious God making his will known; then make disciples (teach people of all backgrounds to obey what Jesus teaches).

Disciples start obeying. From their obedience, disciples grow more and more good fruit. Obeying Jesus leads to better discernment. As the writer of Hebrews says it,

“But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Hb 5:14).

So, Christian ethics, like child-rearing, is a process of asking and answering, “Why did you do that?” –followed by, “Why don’t you simply trust God and do what He says?” #Discernment #Sanctification

Space, Steve Miller, and a Good Christian Time


 

About forty years ago, my friend and I sat excitedly as the diamond needle made its way from the edge of the vinyl disc toward the center. Reliably, the turntable rotated at 33.3 RPM until the needle made its way to the grooved section with the song we most wanted to hear: “Fly Like an Eagle” by the Steve Miller Band.

bald-eagle-521492_1920As Miller’s melody filled the air, we experienced many feelings; disappointment wasn’t among them! The instant the “space intro” began to play, we were transported from our south Louisiana homes into a far-away world of rhythmic delight.

More recently, in a different small town in south Louisiana, scientists were likewise transported into a far-away place of audible fascination, but theirs was not a musical adventure—at least not technically. Scientists detected a faint chirp from deep space, instantaneously affirming Einstein’s century-old prediction that gravitational waves permeate our universe.

Writing in the New York Times, Dennis Overbye describes this chirp as music to the scientist’s ear,

“If replicated by future experiments, that simple chirp, which rose to the note of middle C before abruptly stopping, seems destined to take its place among the great sound bites of science, ranking with Alexander Graham Bell’s “Mr. Watson — come here” and Sputnik’s first beeps from orbit.”

On September 14, 2015, scientists at two different LIGO[1] facilities in Washington and Louisiana achieved the milestone discovery of GW150914—the first directly observed gravitational wave in space. Lasting only 0.2 seconds, the chirp of this wave reverberated around the world to the delight of scientists everywhere. Though discovered in September 2015, the wave was not announced until February 2016. Scientists ever since have been heralding the wave detection as a major achievement in science. Bruce Gordon of the Discovery Institute calls this discovery “the real thing,” while Szabolcs Marka of Columbia University says it is one of the major breakthroughs of physics. Eric Katsavounidis (LIGO team member) says, “This is the end of the silent-movie era in astronomy.”[2]

Astronomers are ecstatic about this discovery for more than one reason. Sure, Blog universe-2368403_1920GW150914 affirms an important aspect of Einstein’s theory of relativity. Perhaps more importantly, the detection of this gravitational wave means an entirely new dimension of exploration is unfolding. In the past, scientists studied the universe mainly by observing light. Now, gravitational waves can be studied throughout the cosmos, further clarifying aspects of motion, time, and origin of the cosmos. Adding gravitational waves is like adding sound to the light of the universe.

Years before my friend and I even heard of the Steve Miller Band, scientists had already begun working to observe gravitational waves. LIGO began as a dream in the 1960’s with scientists like Kip Thorne at Caltech. These scientists persevered through funding issues, research setbacks, and technology deficiencies for forty-eight years before their dream of detecting a gravitational wave was realized. If nothing else, the achievement stands as a testimony to human perseverance.

In 1916, Einstein first proposed finding gravitational waves. The search for these waves began in earnest about fifty years ago. Construction of super-technical, super-sensitive equipment began two decades ago. Over the last two decades, more than two hundred million dollars were invested in upgrades to the two LIGO observatories, culminating in a final round of intensive upgrades over the last five years. And just about a year ago—before the equipment was officially ready to launch—it happened. The chirp sounded (listen here). For two-tenths of a second, the earth surfed across a gravitational wave. Scientists worldwide rightly applauded.

Gravitational wave GW150914 was produced by the final collapse of spiraling, binary black holes. These spiraling black holes were once massive stars which collapsed into themselves, then into each other. Each of these black holes began as stars with a mass thirty times that of our sun. The collapse of the two stars, and the consequent merger of the two black holes, happened 1.4 billion light years away in the Southern Celestial Hemisphere.

No one on earth felt the gravitational wave. Without the sophisticated, ultra-sensitive LIGO equipment, no one would ever have known that such a wave existed. But because of LIGO scientists who were able to split laser beams and send them through 2.5 mile long vacuum tubes 90 degrees apart in Louisiana and Washington, the world now knows for sure that gravitational waves are rippling through the cosmos like intergalactic whirlpools. It’s easy to see why physicists are so excited.

Christians should join their applause. LIGO is a monumental achievement. Christians might be tempted to conflate this discovery too quickly into an argument for design (against evolution), or to question the assumptions of origins (for fiat creation against Big Bang cosmology). Scientists do tend to leave a number of metaphysical questions hanging like the ill-fitting apparel we put on the discarded clothes rack in fitting rooms. Charles Q. Choi explains it this way:

“Since the universe by its definition encompasses all of space and time as we know it, NASA says it is beyond the model of the Big Bang to say what the universe is expanding into or what gave rise to the Big Bang. Although there are models that speculate about these questions, none of them have made realistically testable predictions as of yet.”[3]

blog galaxies-connectedWhy is the universe expanding? To what end is the universe expanding? Is there a purpose built into the expansion? Where did the energy and mass derive from which the Big Bang occurred? Why should there be a Big Bang in the first place? These and many other questions remain unanswered. In truth, GW150914 answers some questions, refuses to answer other questions, and reveals still more fascinating questions waiting to be asked.

One such question in my own mind is how does this discovery affect our understanding of time and history. Ostensibly, the experiment had little to do with time; it was an experiment designed to detect gravitational waves in space. Yet everything about the experiment extols the virtues of linear time.

Think back to the song “Fly Like an Eagle.” The song wished for a revolution to eradicate poverty. Steve Miller wished he could fly like an eagle until he was free from the suffering in this world. Miller hoped for progress over time. One of the more memorable lines from the song is the confident refrain, “Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, into the future.”

Like those of us whose cognitive formation took place in a western tradition, Steve Miller assumed that time is linear—that time progresses toward a defined point which we call the future. Does the notion of linear time correspond to the reality of the cosmos? Eastern religions doubt linear time. Even in the West, some have begun to doubt that time has a fixed beginning and a linear progression into the future.

Friedrich Nietzsche may be the most influential philosopher in the West to argue against linear time. According to Nietzsche, time occurs in a series of endless loops, a system he referred to as eternal recurrence. In this system, time is more like a wheel, turning round and round but going nowhere. Human action is rendered insignificant because whatever is has already been and will be again. In eternal recurrence, human action is pre-determined by the cycle of time. Thus, no human action ultimately changes history. The future is swallowed up in the past. So Nietzsche explained in Zarathustra, “The soul is as mortal as the body. But the knot of causes in which I am entangled recurs and will create me again.”[4]

Nietzsche was comfortable with—if not excited by—this loss of future meaning, but not everyone shares his zeal for embracing (and thus defying) the meaninglessness of human existence. Philosopher Ron Nash points out that Nietzsche’s eternal recurrence robbed history of meaning: “In order for history to have significance, it must have a goal. Without a purpose or goal, neither history nor individual human lives can have significance. Without a goal, there would be no basis by which mere change could be identified as progress.”[5]

It’s easy to see that the LIGO scientists pay close attention to history—especially the last 100 years. Not only history, these scientists are serious and sober about the future. They believe they are making progress, but they know they are only scratching the surface. They are determined to learn as much as they can before they die, leaving a knowledge trail for future scientists. In other words, these scientists believe in progress. LIGO scientists believe in the future.

The optimism of this work affirms in three ways the linear concept of time: First, that this universe has a single point of origin. Second, that this is an orderly universe which remains intact over time. Third, that the work done presently matters (has enduring significance not just now but in the future). These scientists share a belief in the progress of knowledge (preservation and advancement).

Christians, too, believe the universe has a single point of origin. We proclaim the significance of human life now with great confidence toward the future. We believe, for instance, that Christ died for our sins once in history for all time, and the benefits of that death endure to the future.

Christians should join the celebration of GW150914. The discovery of this wave affirms the way we see the universe. Christians and physicists agree that time is significant for human beings in the past and present. This discovery also means that we can keep singing Steve Miller, as time keeps on slipping, slipping into the future.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                [1] LIGO stands for Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory. There are two observatories, one in Livingston, LA, the other near Richland, WA.

[2] As quoted by Robert Naeye, Sky and Telescope, February 11, 2016, accessed [on-line] 27 January 2016: http://www.skyandtelescope.com/astronomy-news/gravitational-wave-detection-heralds-new-era-of-science-0211201644/

                [3] Charles Q. Choi, “Our Expanding Universe: Age, History, and Other Facts,” Space.Com (January 13, 2015), accessed January 30, 2017, [on-line] http://www.space.com/52-the-expanding-universe-from-the-big-bang-to-today.html

 

                [4] As Quoted in C. Ivan Spencer, The Tweetable Nietzsche (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016), 104. Originally, this quotation is found in Nietzsche, Friedrich, Thus Spoke Zarathustra [III, “The Convalescent”].

[5] Ron Nash, The Meaning of History (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 1998), 38.

How Serious Are You About the Lord’s Supper


“In 1530, not even two decades into the Reformation, Martin Luther lamented the way that Christians viewed the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, stating that ‘people now regard the holy sacrament of the body and blood of our Lord so lightly and assume an attitude toward it as if there were nothing on earth which they needed less than just this sacrament.’”[1]

Lord's Supper Bread WineWhen I first read that quote, I thought—Wow! If Luther thought the Lord’s Supper was treated casually in his day, what in the world would he think about our treatment of it today! I heard of a group of Christians who thought they could take the Lord’s Supper in their dorm room using Twinkies and Kool-aid. Even in established churches one gets the idea that the Lord’s Supper is often nothing more than a procedural stamp of approval so the service can conclude. There are even “all-in-one” disposable Lord’s Supper kits—wafer and grape juice in a single hygienic package to get the deed done in rapid-fire succession.

But historically speaking, the bread and the wine have been subjects of the utmost importance. A century or two before the arrival of Martin Luther, men like John Wycliffe were risking their lives to expound a biblical view of what we now call the practice of the Lord’s Supper.  Wycliffe escaped martyrdom, but not persecution. Indeed, he was ultimately condemned as a heretic by the Council of Constance in May of 1415—four decades after his death. Here is the Council’s condemnation of Wycliffe:

Furthermore, a process was begun, on the authority or by decree of the Roman council, and at the command of the church and of the apostolic see, after a due interval of time, for the condemnation of the said Wyclif and his memory. Invitations and proclamations were issued summoning those who wished to defend him and his memory, if any still existed. However, nobody appeared who was willing to defend him or his memory. Witnesses were examined by commissaries appointed by the reigning lord pope John and by this sacred council, regarding the said Wyclif’s final impenitence and obstinacy. Legal proof was thus provided, in accordance with all due observances, as the order of law demands in a matter of this kind, regarding his impenitence and final obstinacy. This was proved by clear indications from legitimate witnesses. This holy synod, therefore, at the instance of the procurator-fiscal and since a decree was issued to the effect that sentence should be heard on this day, declares, defines and decrees that the said John Wyclif was a notorious and obstinate heretic who died in heresy, and it anathematises him and condemns his memory. It decrees and orders that his body and bones are to be exhumed, if they can be identified among the corpses of the faithful, and to be scattered far from a burial place of the church, in accordance with canonical and lawful sanctions.

Why dig up a man’s bones and burn and scatter them forty years after he died? Because his crime was so heinous that his bodily remains could not be allowed to rest among the “faithful.” And what were these awful crimes? The Council enumerated 45 different anathemas of which it found Wycliffe guilty. Interestingly enough, the first 5 of his crimes were directly related to the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper. The Council pointed out that Wycliffe believed

  • The bread remained bread and the wine remained wine.
  • The bread didn’t just “appear” to be bread. It remained bread and not the flesh of Christ.
  • That Christ did not bodily become the bread.
  • And that the current (14th century) practice of the Mass was not supported by Scripture.

For these beliefs about the Lord’s Supper, Wycliffe’s body was exhumed and destroyed. He was condemned forever as a heretic. Today, most Protestants agree with Wycliffe’s observations about the Roman Catholic mass and its insistence upon the doctrine of transubstantiation (where the wine becomes the blood of Christ and the bread becomes his flesh).

While we can be glad that we are free to believe and practice the Lord’s Supper as we think it is taught in Scripture, we should not be casual or indifferent towards this ordinance. It is specifically commanded by Christ for us to practice, and it is designed by Christ for us to remember his sacrifice on our behalf and proclaim his greatness until he returns.

A great many of our Christian fathers have been persecuted—and some have even died—for the right to celebrate the Lord’s Supper by faith according to the Scriptures. The next time we go to take the bread and the wine, let us remember that this is no small practice. It has been ordained by Christ Himself so that we will remember him and preach him to the watching world. Let us remember that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures. Then let us obey our Lord’s command,

“Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

[1] Matthew Crawford, “On Faith, Signs, and Fruits: Martin Luther’s Theology of the Lord’s Supper,” in The Lord’s Supper: Remembering and Proclaiming Christ Until He Comes, NAC Studies in Bible and Theology (Nashville: B & H Academic, 2010), 193.

How Many Meanings Can a Biblical Text Have?


How many meanings can a biblical text have? Here is a good question—and a pertinent one. In Sunday school classes from coast to coast, in small group Bible studies, in house groups and house churches, this principle question is tested week after week.

Text hermeneutics single meaningIs it not quite common for a group of believers to sit around and say in turn, “To me, this text means…?” Some house churches even pride themselves on an equal meaning principle which says that no one is to be viewed as an authoritative preacher or teacher. All share equally in interpretations. But there are good reasons such careless language needs to be clarified and avoided.

A biblical text can have only one meaning, except in the rare cases in which the author uses double entendre (an intentional double meaning).[1],[2] If a text is able to mean different things to different people, then, ultimately, it doesn’t mean anything at all. Here is the correction that is needed: Texts mean what the author intended them to mean.

So meaning is bound by authorial intent. Such a bound meaning means that our work is to dig through the author’s writings to determine how he uses words and phrases, thus discovering what he intended to say when he put ink to parchment. This differs from common practice in three ways.

First, it obviously differs from the practice of “Reader Response,” in which the reader gets to decide the meaning for him(or her)self. Second, it differs from locating the meaning in the text itself, as though the text has a life of its own, morphing and changing from generation to generation. Third, it differs from many forms of “theological” interpretation which often include allegorical interpretations. What I have in mind here is laying some “higher” meaning over the text, saying things like, “We believe in the Scriptures as interpreted by Jesus.” The end result of this thinking is to free us (as Christ’s representatives) to believe—or not believe—whatever we wish from the Scriptures, justifying our belief by saying “What Jesus really meant was….”

The real work of a preacher or teacher begins with digging into the Scriptures to determine what the author meant for the reader to understand when he wrote the text. Obviously, a myriad of mitigating circumstances can make this task quite difficult. Our culture is not like David’s culture from 3,000 years ago. Our languages are different, too; and language differences always cause problems. Yet, there is a meaning the author willed, and that meaning is our original exegetical task.

At this point, we need some clarification. Usually, when our Christian brothers and sisters sit in a circle saying “to me, this text means,” they are not actually speaking of the meaning of the text; rather, they are speaking of their understanding of the text. So, technically, they might say, “My understanding of this text is….” Of course, our understanding could be wrong. We might misunderstand. The meaning itself is unaffected by our error. It is our understanding which must be corrected.

Another helpful clarification is that a text may have many applications, even if it has only one meaning. Take, for example, Paul’s admonition in Ephesians 5:18:

“And do not get drunk with win, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit.”

What is the clear meaning? Be wise. Don’t drink yourself to drunkenness. Rather, seek to fill yourself with God’s Spirit for Bible hermeneutics interpretation single meaningthe good of God’s people. (See vv. 15-21 for the reason that I added wisdom and fellowship to my interpretation of v. 18).

Ephesians 5:18 has a single meaning. My interpretation above represents my attempt to put into words Paul’s meaning. Like my understanding, my interpretation could also be wrong. Still, Paul’s meaning stands. Assuming that I am right about my interpretation, I can then move to an application from this text. The point of the verse is to practice wisdom, being filled with the Spirit for the good of others, while avoiding drunkenness. So, I could apply this to my own life and say that I will not get drunk on any alcoholic beverage (beer, bourbon, or wine). Others might realize that for them this would apply to their need of avoiding marijuana or narcotics. Paul’s meaning stands, even while the application to our lives differs.

These clarifications may seem like a nit-picking of words. But there is an enormous cost to saying that a text has many different meanings. If a text can mean different things to different people, then who can say that the cult leader David Koresh was not the Lamb of Revelation 5?  Koresh believed that Revelation 5 spoke of him and his ability to open the scrolls (see here).  Hmmm… I think he was wrong—fatally wrong—and guilty of distorting the Scriptures to his own destruction (cf. 2 Peter 3:16). There is a right way to interpret Scripture and a wrong way.  And the right way is to begin with the author’s intended meaning.

Let’s be helpful to our brothers and sisters in our small groups and Bible studies. Let’s encourage each other to share interpretations of the Scripture together and to tell how the Holy Spirit is leading us to apply those Scriptures in our own lives, but let us all agree that God led these authors to write certain things with single meaning and purpose. Our work is to pursue that meaning and purpose and obey it joyfully, while honoring our pastors and teachers who pay extra close attention to such things.


Definitions Needed for Persecuted Christians in Nigeria

Why Definitions Matter

[1] See for instance John 2:19-22, in which Jesus speaks of the temple of his body, but the disciples obviously understand the temple to be in Jerusalem—but realize the full meaning of Christ’s teaching after his resurrection.

[2] The principle of single meaning was affirmed in Article VII by the 1982 International Council on Biblical Inerrancy.

What Good Is Hell?


The doctrine of eternal hell is one of the most controversial of Christian beliefs—even among professing Christians!  For some, the doctrine is simply unthinkable. Thus, like a nasty family secret, the doctrine is tucked away in a mental category called “Let’s not talk about that anymore.” For others, Hell is to be explained away through a belief in annihilation (that we will finally be destroyed) or universalism (that somehow all will be saved eventually). 

Persecution and HellEven Christian leaders who are convinced of the biblical teaching concerning a literal hell find themselves struggling with the concept and almost apologetic about its inclusion in the canon (see one example of such struggling in this review of Erasing Hell). According to one scholar, however, the New Testament is not as squeamish about eternal torment as 21st century Americans. 

Chris Morgan, editor of Hell Under Fire and a wheel barrow full of other evangelical books, has written a fascinating little article in the most recent edition of the Southern Baptist Journal of Theology. His article displays his passionate, pastoral heart, along with his focused, intentional mind:

There is a sense in which we sympathize with these concerns. In a very real sense, hell is tragic, because sin is tragic. We are rightly repulsed by people who angrily and gleefully wave banners such as “You’re going to hell!” as weapons in their cultural wars. No, we do not want people to go to hell, we are grieved at the prospect, and we pray, minister, give, and witness in hopes that people will come to Christ for salvation, glorifying God as worshippers of Jesus.

But Morgan is neither naïve nor satisfied with mere sentimentality. He delves further into biblical teaching to discover an untapped mine of theological riches concerning hell and persecuted Christians.  (And once again, the biblical text challenges what we think we know.) Meditate on this amazing realization from Dr. Morgan:

Far from displaying our current moral angst, the Bible routinely portrays hell as right, just, and an aspect of God’s final victory. Even more, the Bible regularly instructs about hell in order to comfort God’s people, particularly those undergoing severe persecution…

After quoting Paul (2 Thessalonians 1:5-10), Morgan offers this insightful commentary from that text:

Paul comforts these believers by emphasizing the just judgment of God:  “God’s judgment is right” … “God is just: he will pay back trouble for those that trouble you.” … Thus, these persecuted Christians can find hope in God’s retributive and vindicating judgment.

So what good is there in hell? It is a sign of God’s victory to encourage the faith of God’s saints suffering persecution.

I really appreciate these insights from Dr. Morgan. I’m sure you will, too. You can read the whole article here.

Who Is Persecuting Palestinian Christians?


No one needs to ponder whether Christians in Palestinian territories are suffering terribly. They are. Who’s to blame?

Christian persecution middle eastThere are very strong voices in the media and in political circles who point out that Israel is the country doing all the killing. Sure, Hamas is firing hundreds of missiles into Israel, but they don’t end up killing anyone because of Israel’s advanced “Iron Dome” defense systems.  Meanwhile, Israel’s rockets do reach their targets, and, so, more than 100 Palestinians have been killed in recent fighting. Palestine has been an area of Christian influence for centuries. And Israel has been an unwelcome occupier of the land since 1948. Protected by her western allies, Israel is responsible for exerting its disproportionate force in such a way that Christians in Palestine are the ones who end up suffering.

Against this view, there are those who argue that Israel has done no wrong. They point out that Hamas—a known Islamic terrorist organization—has been in control of Palestine since 2007.  In the last decade more than 4,000 rockets have been fired into Israel from Gaza.  The rockets are fired by Hamas, Al Quds, and others, who launch the rockets from hospitals, elementary schools, and apartment buildings in order to prevent Israel from fighting back.  If Israel were to fight back, she would inevitably kill civilians, which would then create “martyrs” for media manipulation.  The entire affair is as cynical as it is sordid.

What if—instead of being sucked into the bi-polar, geo-political warfare being waged from both sides—what if we could hear directly from Palestinian Christians? Maybe we can. They have been speaking out for the past couple of years.  From a 2012 Gatestone Institute report,

In a rare public protest, leaders and members of the 2,000-strong Christian community in the Gaza Strip staged a sit-in strike in the Gaza Strip this week to condemn the abductions and forced conversions in particular, and persecution at the hands of radical Muslims in general.

Most of us are not experts on the political machinations of the Middle East. We rely on news reports, testimonies, and research we hope we can trust. And we must do our best to make sense of a situation that always seems to inflame passions more than light the way of truth. It isn’t easy. But here’s a thought.

Given the fact that these Christians are living in Hamas-controlled Palestinian territories, they would be applauded by their government and by the sentiments of the general population if they blamed Israel. Blaming Israel would be the most natural, most agreeable, and most simple statement for them to make.  But they have been doing the opposite. They have been protesting the treatment they are receiving at the hands of Hamas and their own leaders.  They have been saying that their people are being kidnapped and forced to convert to Islam. And they have said this publicly at their own risk:

The protest has further aggravated tensions between Muslims and Christians in the Gaza Strip, which has been under the control of Hamas since 2007.

Leaders and members of the Christian community now fear reprisal attacks by Muslim extremists. Some have appealed to the Vatican and Christian groups and churches in the US, Canada and Europe for help. 

It seems to me that it would take much more courage for them to speak against their own Muslim (Hamas/PA) leaders than it would for them to Israel Flag God Favor Israel Ethnic National Christspeak out against Israel. Thus, I tend to believe that Palestinian Christians are in fact being persecuted by and, consequently, have been suffering at the hands of Hamas and other Muslim radicals in Gaza.

I’m not saying that Israel is always right. I don’t believe that. I don’t even believe that the land and geopolitical entity we now call Israel is particularly favored by God (as I have explained here).  There is no doubt that Israel’s wartime mentality is creating a terrible hardship for many, even if Israel has taken the unprecedented step of announcing ahead of time where and when she will strike. (See here for particular stories with varying degrees of blame toward Israel).

What I am saying, however, is that Palestinian Christians have been persecuted by the Hamas-led Palestinian authority. And at least some Palestinian Christians have been trying to speak up about it.  They feel that the media are punching the mute button toward their voice-boxes because their complaints don’t fit the typical political script.

At the end of the matter, of course, it does not matter who is to blame as much as what will we do? Will we help them with our prayers (1 Cor 1:8-11)?  Above all, let us pray that Christ Himself would be their strength, their hope, and their refuge through this awful storm in which they seem to have lost all their earthly allies.

For Krauthammer’s take on current Israel-Palestine crisis:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/charles-krauthammer-moral-clarity-in-gaza/2014/07/17/0adabe0c-0de4-11e4-8c9a-923ecc0c7d23_story.html

 

 

 

Here’s a Great Test for True Religion


Our van was nothing fancy.  No one would have mistaken it for a limousine. It was plain, boxy, kind of like a Volkswagen cargo van in which someone bolted a couple of seats to the floor. Nothing about the van stood out in the bustling African streets of Addis Ababa. Like everyone else in town that day, we darted and beeped and chugged along through the crowded automotive corridor, windows down, taking our oxygen from air saturated with a mix of dust and exhaust fumes.

Ethiopia Widow True Religion Cochran blogAs inconspicuous as our vehicle was in the city traffic, our faces were not so unnoticed. Our skin was noticeably pale compared to the native melanin. Immediately upon entering the market area our van became a gathering spot for kids selling toothbrushes, kids shining shoes, and kids selling packs of chewing gum. But worse than the badgering of the ambitious children trying to make a living was the agonizing appearance of destitute women, widows we were told.

In Ethiopia (and in many other places in Africa), there is little provision for widows. In the market place, haggard ladies wearing mismatched patches of dirty material draped over their malnourished figures tap incessantly on the van windows before we’ve even parked. Through the obstacles of a language barrier, they somehow communicate very clearly that they are starving and want money for food. They know we have money because we are, after all, going shopping at the market.

How could we not help these women? They were widows. And what is pure and undefiled religion if it isn’t helping widows in need?

James 1:27 says, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (ESV).

In Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, we had the opportunity to visit widows in their affliction with help that was sorely needed.

In Nigeria, an African nation just three countries to the left (west) of Ethiopia, widows also cry out in the name of pure and undefiled religion. But in Nigeria the pure religion being sought lately is not the care of widows and orphans. Instead, the pursuit for pure religion has become the occasion for turning these women into widows.

The pure religion being sought in Nigeria is not that which is mentioned in the New Testament book of James; rather, it is the pure religion of Islam—according to the terrorist group Boko Haram.  And the widows are crying out not simply because their husbands are dead, but because their husbands were murdered in Boko Haram’s effort to purify Islam by ridding the country of its Christians.

According to this report, more than 2,000 women have unexpectedly become widows as the result of their husbands being murdered by Boko Haram’s quest for Islamic purity in Nigeria.  These women are destitute.  They have children to feed but no means of providing them the basics of food and shelter.

Here–in this Nigerian nightmare–we have a true test of pure religion. On the one hand, Boko Haram in the name of Islam believes that Christian men should be killed, leaving in the flow of bloodshed a wake of widows and orphans–hoping eventually for a purely Islamic Nigeria. On the other hand, Christians have a clear statement from James 1:27 that pure and undefiled religion does not result from killing opposing ideologies. Instead, pure and undefiled religion is on display when we help these widows and orphans pick up the pieces of their broken lives—somehow helping them reassemble the shattered mess of their lost hopes, dreams, comforts, and expectations.

In the case of Nigeria in particular, Christians have the duty to act. It’s easy to see a widow’s need when we are forced to look into her hungry eyes. It’s harderPure Religion James 1 Widow Orphan Cochran blog when the widow lives an ocean away.  And yet, our Christian sisters in Nigeria represent the actual intent of James’s admonition.  In the New Testament, the first responsibility for widow and orphan care exists within one’s own family (1 Tim 5:4, 8).  When the family cannot provide, the church must—starting with widows and orphans within the body of Christ.  For James, the pure and undefiled religion of caring for widows and orphans would begin with the church taking care of Christian widows and orphans (for more, see here or here).  James has been addressing his readers as “brothers” throughout the letter, signaling that this is from a Christian brother to other Christians.

Furthermore, James spells out that his talking of the poor means primarily poor brothers and sisters in the faith (2:15).  He is constantly speaking throughout the letter to brothers and sisters about righteousness and faithful works.  Like any believer in the first century, James thought in terms of a covenant community. The church was like family, and who could allow orphans and widows in his own family to starve? No one could if they understood God’s nature. Just listen to Exodus 22:22ff.,

“You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. If you do mistreat them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry, and my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless.”

How awfully dreadful is the state of those who oppress widows and orphans! I have no doubt that those who murder Christian men in their zeal for a purified religion are under the weight of the wrath of God almighty for causing children to be fatherless and wives to be destitute.

But what about us? Do we not have an opportunity—even an obligation—in the face of this wrongful attempt to purify religion by killing Christians to actually demonstrate the pure and undefiled religion God requires? It’s time for us to come to the aid of Nigerian widows in distress. How pure is our religion? The African widows know.

 

Christians Stop Calling Yourselves Sinners


Billy Joel famously confessed in song,

“I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints

The sinners are much more fun—only the good die young!”

Overlooking his obvious false dichotomy between saints and fun and his full-throttled embrace of sin, we can give Joel credit for seeing something that many sinners and saints equally miss: Saints and sinners are two distinct groups of people. In this distinction, Billy Joel is being quite biblical.

These two categories, in fact, are biblical categories by which all of humanity can be divided.  The Bible makes this distinction in various ways: darkness/light; believers/unbelievers; children of God/children of the devil; and saints/sinners.  The New Testament does not call Christians sinners.

Did you hear that?  Christians are not addressed as sinners by the writers of the New Testament.  Christians are called saints. See Paul’s address to the Corinthians for a clear and very common example:

To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours…

If Christians are saints, and not sinners, then why do Christians refer to themselves so often as sinners and almost never as saints?  I came up with four possible explanations. You may think of more (or better) explanations. Here are my four thoughts:

First, we Protestants have a lingering discomfort with the catholic traditions (Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodox) because of their veneration of the saints. Variously, these traditions pray to the saints, hold feast days in their names, and revere certain saints above others. Indeed, these catholic traditions do not use the word saint to refer to all Christians set apart by the gospel. Rather, they use the term to refer to super holy Christians (or something like that).  So, the catholic traditions employ the term in a way we don’t like. We, in turn, choose not to use the term much at all.

Second, we are simply too aware of our own sins, individually and collectively, to think of ourselves as anything but sinners.  We know we have sinned terribly against the Lord.  We know that we still fall short of His glory. Thus, we think of ourselves as sinners.  We call ourselves sinners because we know that is what we have always been.

And all of this is true of course. We were born sinners.  We still sin.  Thus, in a very real sense, we are still sinners.  We feel the tension Martin Luther expressed so well: Simul iustus et peccator [at the same time, we are righteous and sinners]. Our problem is that the apostles and writers of the New Testament refer to Christians as saints, not sinners. Our experience makes us feel like sinners. (So, Paul would call himself the chief of sinners, yet he referred to believers in the churches as saints).  There is serious tension.

Third, let’s be honest—we are not comfortable being called saints. Going by the name sinner is easy. It sounds humble—“I’m just a poor sinner.”  It relieves our responsibility (and even guilt?) somewhat because we can identify with every other Christian who knows he, too, is just a poor sinner.  We commiserate.

Such thinking might also build a certain level of defeatism into our spiritual psyche.  When it comes to exercising spiritual discipline in the morning, it’s easier to slide into sinner mode than saint mode.  When it comes to fighting temptation toward lust, laziness, or lack of evangelistic zeal, we have an easier time consoling ourselves of our failures when we think of ourselves as failures—as sinners.

But the New Testament thinks of us differently. Peter, for instance, reminds his readers,

“You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).

Wow, that’s a high calling!  Peter and Paul tell us we are saints, holy, royal, and chosen. They do not say we are sinners, partly because (as a biblical category) sinners are condemned (see Paul in Romans 3:7, Peter in 1 Peter 4:18).  Mostly, they use saint as a reminder of our high calling in Christ.

Fourth, we might be confused about the term saint. What does it even mean?

Basically, a saint (‘agion) is a person who is sacred, holy, or “set apart.”  It does not mean super moral or super righteous Christians.  All Christians are called by God, set apart from the world.  We are no longer in the darkness, but we have been transferred into the light, into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son.  As such, we are saints by God’s calling.

The Apostle Paul explains this concept in Romans 6:12-14:

Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions.  Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.  For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace (ESV).

Paul is borrowing temple language. In the temple, there were instruments set apart for use in temple service. What was the difference between a

Fan of saints not sinners

www.Wallpixr.com
(Yes, I’m a saints fan!)

firepan in the temple and a firepan used, perhaps, in a pagan temple?  Nothing, materially speaking.  But everything in a spiritual and theological sense!  One was pleasing to almighty God and used for worshiping him.  The other was abhorrent to God and used to commit idolatry against Him.

Paul reminds us that we are called (set apart, saints) to be useful in worshiping God, not to be useful in the idolatrous practices of our past (or those present in the world).  We should remember our calling to be set apart. We should remember, as Paul told the Philippians, to let our lives be lived in a manner worthy of the gospel to which we have been called.  Today, we are to be instruments useful to God, set apart for His good purposes. We are His saints today. Therefore, we must go and be useful for God.

The distinction between saint and sinner is not essentially moral. Neither the saint nor the sinner is perfectly holy in moral terms. Yet, one is characterized by his sinful desires; the other is characterized by his holy desires.  One is characterized by idolatrous and fleshly practices; the other is characterized by godliness and usefulness to Christ and the gospel.

Billy Joel, it seems, got two things right. There are sinners, and there are saints. Which one are you today?

Imagine Living as a Christian in Nigeria


Just this past weekend, my family and I hosted a World Cup party. About 25 people crowded into my living room to enjoy the epic battle in which the U.S. Men’s National team fought against the highly-touted, Ronaldo-led squad from Portugal.

Religious Freedom down Hostility Up

Freedom Down, Hostility Up

Yes, the last-second cross from Ronaldo to the head of Varela sent shockwaves down all 25 spines in the room, causing us—at least momentarily—to lose both our will and our ability to speak.  But, all in all, we enjoyed the football, the food, the fellowship, and the fun of the World Cup event. Many people around the U.S. enjoyed similar parties in similar settings.

But World Cup parties played out differently in Nigeria. Nigerians—including Nigerian Christians—also had World Cup viewing parties. Sadly, in the Mubi area of Adamawa state, Muslim extremists bombed a party of football watchers gathered (just as we were) to enjoy this global spectacle that, by design, hopes to bring the world together.

According to this Reuters report, the attack left 14 people dead and 12 injured, some of those are critically wounded.  Most people suspect Boko Haram, a terrorist group working to rid Nigeria of all but the purist form of Islam. In April of this year, this terrorist group kidnapped 200 schoolgirls possibly to keep as brides for Muslim men. The girls are still being held. And, since the kidnapping, Boko Haram has killed more than 500 innocent civilians in settings similar to World Cup watching parties. The majority of those being targeted by Boko Haram are Christians.

We have taken much for granted in the U.S.  Even while our freedoms are shrinking daily, we still have not come to a place where bombs are expected at “futbol” parties. We can be thankful for that, of course, but we also can be more sober about the world in which we live.

Islam is a force of intolerance with no equal right now. A couple of Islam scholars I have read have argued that groups like Boko Haram spring up in countries where Islam is almost a majority. Their hope is that through violence and intimidation and an appeal to Islamic heritage they can tip the Lady Justice Judge othersscales nationwide toward Islam and Sharia law.

I’m certainly no expert on these matters, but I will say that Nigeria fits that description. Nationwide, they are 50% Muslim and 50% Christian or traditional African religion.  The area targeted in this recent attack is a Fulani area (I think). That would make sense because Boko Haram has been slaughtering Christians and any who don’t appear Muslim enough. The Fulani people, I believe, are mostly Muslim, but they hold to a tradition all their own.

Regardless of the particulars at play in Nigeria, the case is certain that it is not safe to be a Christian there, especially in the northern parts of the country like Adamawa state (where this attack occurred).  Our brothers and sisters in Christ in Nigeria need our continued prayer and support. Our concern for humankind and for individual liberty calls us to care for the fate of the Fulani people in Nigeria, too.

To contemplate the reality that while we were joyfully watching a game for its entertainment value other people were being mercilessly slaughtered in the name of religious conformity is, at the very least, sobering. It is an almost unbearable reality.  We can’t just ignore it for that would make us cold, indifferent, and almost culpable.  We also can’t be debilitated by it. We must continue both to express our own freedom and work so others can enjoy theirs. Both in Nigeria and in California, people should be free to watch the World Cup together without fearing an Islamic invasion.

More thoughts about religious liberty

 

A Simple Way to Share Your Faith


The hardest part of sharing the gospel (for me) is starting the conversation. Like most Christians, I love to talk about Jesus and the truth of the Scriptures, but it is hard to get the conversation going. So, I’ve tried to identify easy “connections” between the Bible and everyday life. One of the most natural connections to everyday life is found in John 3:16.

Share Christ Christian Evangelism Salvation PersecutionJohn 3:16 is a great place for starting gospel conversations because it is easily remembered. Most Christians memorize John 3:16 early in their Christian walk. More than a few pastors, scholars, and teachers have recognized how clearly the gospel is present in this simple verse:

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

To begin with, John 3:16 gets immediately to the heart of the human problem: Perishing. From birth, we are perishing apart from the life-giving, resurrection power of Jesus Christ. This concept of perishing operates as a great connector from the mundane world of human existence to the heavenly glories of Christ and His kingdom. Here’s how to make that connection plain.

Have you ever heard your friends talk about their problems? Have you ever had family members dump their emotions on you, venting about their frustrations? Have you ever heard your colleagues bemoaning some injustice in the world? Yes, yes, yes! Of course, you have. Each of these experiences exists on account of the Fall of humankind from peace with God.

In other words, all problems are ultimately rooted in the singular problem of our being at odds with God: the Fall. Because of the Fall, we are all mired in sin, stuck in a web of deceit, sinfulness, and death. The problem, ultimately, is that we are perishing. We are in the darkness and hating the light because of our own evil deeds (John 3:19-20).  We are living as human beings in the world, but we are under the curse of death. That is our problem. We are perishing.

God’s provisionto remedy the curse and reconcile us to Himself, giving us life instead of death, is nothing less than Jesus Christ. God so loved…that He gave Christ to be a payment for our sins. The problem is that we are perishing under the curse. The Provision from God is Christ Himself, who came to satisfy the payment price for our sins and purchase for us the remedy for death.

The problem is that we are perishing in our sin under the curse of death. The provision is Christ who came to pay the price for us. And now there is a promisefrom God. The promise is eternal life. God so loved that He gave with the purpose and intent that whoever believes will NOT perish, but HAVE eternal life. Christ remedies the curse of death with the sure, purchased promise of eternal life in His name.

In this simple way, this one common verse is able to move you from a perennial problem (sin, death) to an eternal solution (eternal life in Jesus’s name). You are likely already familiar with John 3:16 so there is no need to get anxious about “what should I say” or “how should I start”? Just start with John 3:16 and cover the problem (perishing); God’s provision (Christ); and the promise of a new life (eternal life).  Problem, Provision, Promise. There’s the gospel from John 3:16. Now, let’s go share it!

Christ’s Heart for the Persecuted: A Simple Explanation with Current Illustrations


I know a woman whose life was very hard through no fault of her own. She and her husband had 8 children together when he was murdered, leaving her a widow with very little means to survive. Family members offered to take the younger children so she could try to survive with the older ones. She told them they might as well have asked for her arms, or legs, or her very heart. She could not part with any of her children.

Christ love persecuted churchHer children remained poor, but they were loved. This simple, widowed mother was asked one time which child she loved the best. That question would shock some of us, as we might wrestle within ourselves with guilt over the tension and frustration we feel toward some of our own kids. I mean, I could see wrestling with the question and having to ask myself, “Oh, no! Is there a chance I love one child more than another?” –I don’t, mind you, but my emotional weakness would cause me a little anxiety.

But the question did not cause this woman even the slightest angst. She was not flummoxed by it a bit. Her answer was simple and to the point. When asked which child she loved the most, she quickly and calmly replied, “Whichever one is hurt.” The child who is hurting is the one most in need of a mother’s love and, thus, the one to whom her love must be directed. It’s a simple, profoundly true concept.

I know it is not appropriate to take our own illustrations and project them upward, onto God. Yet, the truth of love and its direction toward the needy must correlate to some extent. It might be better to say it this way. The reason a mother (or father) knows instinctively to love the child in need is that we have a heavenly Father whose heart is toward the needy, the suffering, and, especially, the persecuted–those who suffer explicitly because they belong to Him.

When Christ’s martyr Stephen was stoned, Christ was standing there to receive him (Acts 7). When Christians are called on by governors and authorities to answer for their faith in Christ, they are instructed by Him not to prepare what to say because His very Spirit would speak through them in that hour:

they will lay their hands on you and will persecute you, delivering you to the synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors for My name’s sake. 13“It will lead to an opportunity for your testimony. 14“So make up your minds not to prepare beforehand to defend yourselves; 15for I will give you utterance and wisdom which none of your opponents will be able to resist or refute. (Luke 21:12-15, NASB)

We could continue on–Christ identifies Himself as the object of persecution when He calls Saul to account (Acts 9). He takes it personally: “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”  And, Christ is pictured in Revelation as holding all time at bay until the full number of his saints are martyred, then the reckoning will follow, and his angels of vengeance will reap full justice on the earth (Revelation 6…). The principle seems sound to me. Christ is particularly present with his saints who are suffering on account of Him.

So, below, I have listed a few examples of Christians who may be the objects of Christ’s particular love and affections–where He may be particularly present in this hour of need. Let us, too, draw near to Him and offer prayers for these suffering saints since we ourselves are in the body.

From Back to JerusalemMuslims in Syria recently crucified two Christian teenagers for refusing to convert to Islam. The story was crosses persecution Christian syriareported on a Croatian Catholic website by Sister Raghida, former head nun at the Christian School in Damascus who witnessed the atrocity.  (This story is graphic. Villages were stormed and Christians killed mercilessly. Some were beheaded, and the killers “played soccer” with their heads).

Lela Gilbert reminds us of the plight of Asia Bibi: Nonetheless, since 2009, this falsely accused woman has been on death row in a filthy prison cell, wondering if and when her death sentence will enforced. She longs for husband and five children. Day and night, in squalid surroundings, she fights off her fears, endures physical illness and prays.

And from Nigeria: Muslim herdsmen armed with guns and machetes on Friday night (March 14) launched attacks on three villages in Kaduna state, killing more than 100 Christians and destroying homes, sources said. 

May the Lord indeed be present with His people in their darkest hours, as we help them through our prayers (see 2 Corinthians 1:5-11).

What Should I Read This Summer?


I once saw a Facebook status which confused me: “I’m sooooo bored,” it read. I wondered–with so many great books and so much to explore–how could anyone be bored?

Book Schaeffer How Then LiveBelow is my service to any who might be tempted to boredom. Here is a list of some helpful and Biblically sound literature. I compiled this list (or one closely like it) for a student of mine who asked what he should read this summer. These are not recommended as “must -reads.”  And they are not listed in any particular order. They are simply some of the books thinking Christians will want to read.

I hope this list sparks your interest in learning more. The list covers hermeneutics, apologetics, theology, pastoral ministry, productivity, and even history. I tried to offer a variety of topics. Enjoy.

  1. Robert Stein, A Basic Guide to Interpreting the Bible: Playing by the Rules.
    1. Dr. Stein’s book is deceptively simple. It reads as a basic introduction to reading the Bible, but it is thoroughly informed by the most important trends in hermeneutics. Dr. Stein is a gifted writer, and this book is profoundly simple in offering a few rules for how to approach the Scriptures, taking into account authorial intent, genre, text criticism, etc.
  2. Matt Perman, What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done
    1. Matt has done a great job of sorting through the latest literature on business, productivity, and efficiency. He then interprets that literature through the lens of the gospel to produce a helpful resource for making the most of our time as Christians.
  3. R. C. Sproul, Willing to Believe
    1. In this classic overview of the literature related to the age-old question of God’s sovereignty vs. Free will, R. C. Sproul offers a thorough Book Willing Believe Free will sovereigntyintroduction to the best arguments for and against “Free –will.” He traces the debate from the Scripture through Augustine, Calvin, Arminius, Edwards, to the present. It is amazing how succinctly and clearly he is able to cover so much ground.
  4. R. C. Sproul, Getting the Gospel Right
    1. In this volume, R. C. Sproul—somewhat controversially—takes aim at some of the more stalwart evangelical Christians of our day. His reason is to protect the gospel from the errors of the Reformation. Even if he might be deemed too harsh in his criticism, Sproul does a great job in this book of highlighting the importance of Reformation distinctions related to the gospel.
  5. Carl F. H. Henry, Twilight of a Great Civilization
    1. Written in the late 1980’s, this book by Carl Henry proved prescient indeed. He spoke of the “drift” in culture and offered a Christian response which proved to be prophetic. His remedies are still worth considering by those wishing to remain evangelical in a world which emphatically is not. Henry is too quickly being dismissed by evangelicals today. We need to keep reading the works of this brilliant stalwart of our Christian faith.
  6. John R. W. Stott, The Preacher’s Portrait
    1. For those who are pastors, or those wishing to be pastors, or even those just wishing to understand the basic nature of pastoral ministry, John Stott has written a simple little volume which offers a snapshot of the pastoral life. His style is simple and clear. This is a very helpful little volume.
  7. Donald S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life
    1. Don Whitney is a gifted writer and speaker. This book—which is about to be released in an updated anniversary edition—should be required reading for every Christian. He walks through the Christian disciplines in a simple, step-by-step way. His work is as encouraging as it is enjoyable to read. For anyone who has not read this work, you should start here. Dr. Whitney is a reliable guide for the Christian faith.
  8. Ron Nash, The Meaning of History
    1. For a change of pace, I offer this intriguing read. It isn’t a long book, and it is well written, but, I will warn you, it is a work of philosophy.Book Meaning History philosophy time hebrews As philosophy books go, this one is easy to read, but the ideas are profound. Dr. Nash demonstrates how important the Christian view of history is. We take this view for granted, but such a view of history is fading as our culture reinvents itself in a non-Christian way.
  9. J. I. Packer, Knowing God
    1. Hopefully, you have already read Packer’s classic volume on the basic proposition that we are able to know God through His revelation. This book is foundational in many ways. It is, as I sad, an evangelical classic. The book has been in print for 4 decades and has sold millions of copies.
  10. Francis Schaeffer, How Should We Then Live
    1. Like Carl Henry, so, too, Francis Schaeffer’s voice was absolutely prophetic. All the dangers about which he warned us have unfolded over the last 30 years. This book by Schaeffer has been a foundational work in apologetics, particularly from the presuppositional perspective. It is still very much worth reading because of the manner in which Schaeffer traces ideas through history which have brought us to our present state of affairs. Schaeffer is an outstanding writer.

I hope at least some of these titles will interest you, as you continue to be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

Calvin Goes to China? A Look at How New Calvinism Is Spreading in China


Time magazine provoked evangelical paroxysms back in 2009 when the publication unveiled its list of “10 Ideas Changing the World Right Now.” According to Time, New Calvinism was the number three idea at work reshaping America. (Don’t know what New Calvinism is? See here) Calvinism China New Calvinism

Five years on, New Calvinism is still going strong, so strong, in fact, that the New York Times has now taken notice of its growth. This New York Times article points to the rise of New Calvinism at evangelical conferences and in several denominations across the U.S., including Presbyterians and Baptists. The article points out that nearly one-third of Southern Baptist churches self-identify as “Calvinistic.”

The article points out also that the New Calvinist movement has more than a few detractors. Rather than engaging that debate, I have a different question to ponder. Is New Calvinism spreading beyond America and Europe? Specifically, are there Calvinists in the eastern world? Have Communists in China discovered predestination? Is Calvinism now spreading through the world’s most populated nation?

A review of recent literature demands an affirmative response: “Yes, there are Calvinists in China, and they seem to be spreading.”  Fredrick Fallman of Stockholm University has done a good bit of research on this question. He has a chapter titled “Calvin, Culture, and Christ,” in the book, Christianity in Contemporary China: Socio-cultural Perspectives. In his chapter on Calvinism, Fallman makes a strong case for the New Calvinism in China to be the product of universities and networks of highly educated elites. Here is how Fallman says it:

There is a tendency among some of the urban, unregistered churches to adhere to reformed theology, inspired by what in North America is sometimes known as “New Calvinism.” The focus is more on Puritan teachings than on John Calvin himself. Such communities draw much interest from young urbanites, and they seem to attract these young people because of their solid stance on moral issues and their non-relative beliefs, contrasting with society at large. Reformed Christianity may also appeal to the subconscious Confucian thought patterns and beliefs that linger among Chinese elite intellectuals in general. As both Christian elders and public intellectuals, the young urban church leaders also assume the traditional role of the intellectual, feeling his responsibility to act and assist when the nation is in danger, this time from moral decline.

No doubt, many in the cities and in the university are well-educated and, most likely, exposed to Calvinism through books and conversations in academic settings.  Likewise, I have no doubt that the certitude provided by reformed theology offers much-needed antidotes to the less desirable aspects of the brand of Communism which has run its course through China in the last 5-plus decades. Nevertheless, from mere instincts and from personal experience, I have the feeling that something more is happening.

I, for one, will not be at all surprised to discover a much broader base of support for New Calvinism in China. While Calvinism is gaining traction among the educated and the elite, it may be appealing to more than the upper crust of Chinese citizens. My guess is that there are plenty of “Calvinists” in the lower classes and in the rural areas of China as well. Here are three reasons I make this assertion.

First, Christianity in China blossomed and bore the majority of its present fruit through intense persecution. Stories of faithful saints like Samuel Lamb, Allen Yuan, and Li Ying reverberate with strong chords of God’s sovereignty. I’m not arguing that those who suffered intense persecution were by definition part of the New Calvinist movement. Instead, I am simply saying (in accord with the book of Revelation, for instance) that intense persecution demands a sovereign Christ. Thus, when the biblical and doctrinal support for such high thoughts of Christ arrives in Calvinistic form, it resonates with many grassroots-level saints.

The Sovereign Lord of Revelation has eyes of flaming fire and will return mounted for war to bring justice to His suffering saints.  Chinese Christians have suffered long bouts of persecution. They are not interested in anemic, pseudo-Freudian portraits of Jesus. The “New Calvinists” offer a Jesus of worthwhile authority making claims of eternal dominion.

Second, the New Calvinism movement in America has had a strong missionary impulse from the beginning. Many would consider John Piper one of PiperMissions New Calvinism Chinathe “fathers” of the movement. His missionary zeal is legendary. His website mentions about 4 dozen languages around the world where his books have been translated. In addition, conferences and conventions within the movement have included pastors, laymen, missionaries, and teachers from around the world. Congregations in remote parts of Africa were livestreaming the recent Together for the Gospel (T4G) event in Louisville, KY. I know also that people living in the remote northwest portion of China were in attendance at the first T4G event eight years ago.

The endurance of Christianity is at least partially the result of those receiving truth sharing it unsparingly. Obviously, none of this proves anything. It is, to be sure, anecdotal. One could easily assert that those who attend such events or read such books would also be from the affluent, educated classes of China’s citizens. I’m simply guessing that some of them are not.

And even if those who have attended the conferences and have read the New Calvinism literature have all been from the affluent, elite strata of China society, they have undoubtedly not been silent. They have been leveraging their influence for the sake of good theology. Thus, I’m guessing their teaching is spreading.

Finally, Piper is not the only one publishing “New Calvinist” literature in China. Other publishers are legally publishing reformed literature in China. Again, this literature may first go to the educated in easy-to-reach urban centers. But it will not end there. Perhaps it already has spread beyond the urban areas and further into the heart of China. It may well be the case—as with Calvinism in America; and as with the house church movement in China—that the strong roots of fervent Christianity are already quite strong in Communist China. The New York Times caught up with New Calvinism 5 years behind Time. So, what  do you think will be the report on Calvinism coming out of China in 2019?  What do you hope is the report?

Shall We Give Them What They Want?


Shortly after Thanksgiving a few years ago, my wife and I were in the yard with a dear, dear brother. His name before he was converted was simply “Mad Dog.” As he says, “when I was a pagan, I meant it with all my heart.” (He is just as sincere now that he is a believer.)

Dog Desires John 6 JesusAnyway, our dog, Tess, had found the post-holiday turkey carcass and was in full delight tearing at the bones like the hungriest of wolves. For Tess, the random meat portions she found along the way were better than music to her ears.

My friend noticed both how delighted the animal was and, yet, how dangerous were the turkey bones. Turkey bones are notoriously damaging to dogs because of the way the little bones splinter in digestion. So, my friend said, “You can’t let her have that.” – He really loves dogs. My wife replied, “But she’s enjoying it so much. We can’t take it away from her.”

At this point, the wisdom of conversion overcame our friend. Fired with conviction and unafraid in his love both for us and our animal, he replied, “Well I used to love marijuana, too, but it doesn’t mean it was good for me.” His point was simply made, and profoundly true.

But his is a lesson easily forgotten. When our children cry for ice cream and cookies instead of carrots and peas, when our bodies crave sleep or stimulation instead of sermons and truth, or when our lusts crave riches and ease rather than conversions and faith—we, too, demonstrate the animal-like tendencies of a dog eating turkey bones. We want what we want, with little regard for truth beyond our immediate appetites.

Jesus once pointed out this human tendency to a very large crowd of onlookers. In John 6:26, Jesus said to a large crowd of followers:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.”

Notice the Spirit of Jesus here was the same spirit exhibited by my friend toward Tess: Don’t go after that which ends—sooner or later—in death. Rather, seek that which gives life. Life comes from one source: the living God. And Jesus Christ has made Him known. So hunger and thirst for Jesus. Feed on Jesus Christ, who has been raised from the dead to give eternal life to all who believe and follow Him.

Sadly, if you know the rest of the story of John 6, then you know that the vast majority of those assembled found no use for Jesus and His instruction. They truly were following Him only to feast on his baskets of bread.

This Easter season, we should remember that we follow Christ not because He can give bread, but because He alone is life. The story in John 6 ends with almost the entire crowd turning away from Jesus. Listen to Peter’s response and offer your own “Amen!”

67 So Jesus said to the twelve, “You do not want to go away also, do you?” 68 Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. 69 We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.”

How Have We Kissed the Son?


Psalm 2 famously states, “Kiss the son, lest he be angry and you perish in the way” (2:12, NKJV).  But there is more than one way to kiss the son.

Luke 22 tells the story of Jesus’s arrest. Jesus was handed over to his captors by a kiss from Judas Iscariot: “Jesus said to him, ‘Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?’”

The irony of such a kiss is captured by Michael Card in his song, “Why?”

What Kind of Kiss World Vision PersecutionWhy did it have to be a friend
Who chose to betray the Lord
Why did he use a kiss to show them
That’s not what a kiss is for

Only a friend can betray a friend
A stranger has nothing to gain
And only a friend comes close enough
To ever cause so much pain…

Card goes further in the song to explain that the world cannot offer a true kiss, just as the world cannot truly crown Christ as king. Christ’s demands of allegiance are too great. His love is too pure,

Because in this life that we live

For all who seek to love

A thorn is all the world has to give.

Christ offers himself in love. The world crowns his love with thorns. Judas Iscariot indeed did kiss the Son, yet he perished in the way. The kiss of Psalm 2 was never meant to be merely a kiss. A kiss of genuine affection and devotion was the one intended by the psalm.

A kiss of mere lip service is never enough, as though the action itself were all that was demanded. Spurgeon reminds us to be on guard “when the world puts on a loving face, for it will, if possible, betray me as it did my Master, with a kiss. Whenever a man is about to stab religion, he usually professes very great reverence for it.”

Our kiss must stand the trials of time. When pressure builds to affirm same sex marriage, will we still offer our affectionate embrace of God’s Son, or, as with World Vision, will we seek favor with donors or those wielding political clout? When we are called hateful bigots because we think homosexuality is sinful, will we still kiss the Son?  When we are ostracized, outcast, and persecuted, will our kiss endure?

We must kiss the son, but not like Judas.