A Dream

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This man is standing with his back turned to people that openly show hostility and hatred towards him. These people would likely have him dead at any given chance they could get away with it. There’s a man holding a anti-semetic sign in one hand and a confederate flag in the other while one man is giving a nazi salute and another is dressed in KKK garb. Yet, there he stands, not only with his back to them, but to protect them. That’s what a hero looks like. That is what love looks like.

It takes bravery to do what this man does for a living. His job is to lay down his life in service, whether it’s for someone with good intentions or not. This is what he does to regularly to put food on the table. Everything could potentially be taken away from him in an instant, but there he stands. It’s men like him that are going to turn the tide of bigoted attitudes towards people of color, not violent protests.

You cannot kill an ideology with hatred. An ideology in and of itself is something that’s immaterial. It exists outside of the physical world. It’s in a person’s thoughts and in a person’s heart. If you cause a person with a dangerous ideology, that doesn’t stop it from advancing in the thoughts and hearts of others. In some cases, the anger and hurt left in the wake of wars on harmful ideology can actually cause it to grow and advance, rather be silenced and defeated.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.” – MLK

MLK is another modern hero, well known for refusal to engage with those that hated him with violence and hatred. What he did sparked a dream for generations to come to dream also. Hand in hand, putting to shame those that opposed him and his supporters in the past and for generations to come.

He looked into the eyes of enemies that persecuted him and saw them as men and women with lives of equal value and dignity. He envisioned a world in which we could live alongside one another sharing that brotherhood and he died for it, but his dream lives on to this day.

I believe the reverend drew from two things to anchor him in his resolve: firstly, Genesis 1:27, which establishes the equality of all men and women from the very beginning; and Matthew 22:36-40 in which Jesus answers what the greatest commands are: love for God and love for neighbor. Maybe 1 Peter 4:18 motivated him, in which Peter shares that love covers a multitude of sins. Regardless of what verses inspired him, his mark has been made.

Christians, this isn’t the first time we’ve had this kind of display rock the world. Think of the original 12 disciples. All of them less one died gruesome deaths. The only one that died a natural death lived his life scarred and outcasted. What did God do with the love they had for people that hated them? He set the entire known world on fire! No matter how many people were set ablaze alive, thrown into lion’s dens, or crucified, the spread of Christianity could NOT be contained. The very people that wanted Christianity stopped at all costs eventually became followers of Christ themselves. If you would like something in the current time that God has worked through this kind of love, He’s got you covered there too.

China, in which people are killed for being Christians, is experiencing a boom in underground churches. Under the looming threat of arrest and/or death, the numbers of professing Christians is growing instead of declining. The momentum is swinging in favor of the Christians so much that China is actually projected to become the biggest Christian nation in the world.

I’ve said all that simply to say that if you have a problem with hate groups, you not only have to call their evil to repentence and oppose it at every opportunity, but you MUST love them with equal fervor. That’s what’s going to kill hate fueled ideology. Love! Martin was right in his following in the steps of Christ. We’re only going to see a decline in open hatred by responding in open love.

If you’re anything like me, you’re wondering just how to effectively do that to people that don’t like you for whatever reason.

 

 

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Made to Suffer

 

What would you say to someone that asked you where God was when they suffered a traumatic loss or some sort of violent tragedy? How would you show a reverent love for God and compassion for your grieving neighbor? How would you support what you’re saying with what God has revealed to Himself about us? This commenter disgracefully shows us how to disregard love, scripture, and compassion in one fatal fell swoop (S/N: reformed Christians that are young in their faith don’t seem to have a clue what compassion, grace, or sympathy are. It’s a serious problem, y’all. I digress….)

So, where was God? I immediately think of John 11:35, the shortest verse in the bible, “Jesus wept”. Jesus was weeping in this moment due to the passing of his friend, Lazarus. Isaiah 53, written roughly 700 years before Jesus entered creation, predicts Him in His humanity as a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. His own family thought Him a madman, He had no home to rest His head, those closest to Him all abandoned Him when He needed them the most, and the people of own tribe were constantly plotting to have Him murdered. Jesus was witness to much disease and death, and also to the oppression of the tax collecting Jews and Romans.

The notion that God does not understand our pain is off the mark. Jesus felt it firsthand. It was so bad near the end of His life, that He got hematidrosis, a very rare condition where humans sweat blood. All the way back then, God was with us in the form of Jesus, entering into our suffering and showing love and compassion for us when we had none for Him.

So, is God not all powerful? Could He not stop the murderer, rapist, sexual molester, or other heinous criminal? Yes, God could stop all of that. We long for the day when all of the pain and suffering of the world is finally put to death itself. This is where Jesus in His divinity steps in, because there does indeed come a reckoning for sin. The debt owed for that sin is death (Genesis 2:17 / Romans 6:23). All of us fall short of God’s righteousness in some way, and because of the chasm it creates, we don’t have peace with God. In short, we all deserve the death penalty. None of us has offered God, who lacks nothing, something to deserve the blessing of life or the comforts of it. If God again wiped the world clean of all of us, it would still be justice, but He instead shows grace.

What is God doing about all this pain if He has the power to stop it and understands how it feels? God is 2,000 years ago entering His creation as the man, Jesus Christ and living the perfect life and offering up the perfect sacrifice, which was His own life. God is rescuing the rebels, the very people who hate Him and love sin, and reeling them in to be His hands and feet, the very ambassadors of the message of reconciliation with God. God is showing us that there will be justice and that our pain is not in vain.

Paul, a man who was at the execution of the first Christian martyr was used as a prime example of this. This man went from persecuting and killing Christians to writing the vast majority of the New Testament. That’s what Jesus is doing with and through the rebels. Paul, along with all the other apostles lived incredibly difficult lives. All but one faced execution, and yet they still went on empowered by what Christ has done in them and is still doing in the world now.

To anyone that would ask me where I think God is in their suffering, I say let me grieve for you and with you in your sorrow. Let me be there for you and try to comfort you. Let me attempt to meet you in your pain the way Christ came and met us in our pain all those years ago. Let’s not pretend there are simple answers and we should just smile through our sorrows, denying the limits of our humanity. Jesus wept in his Humanity, but in power, made a way for peace, justice, and restoration. He’s still doing that today.

This is but an overview: many that are wiser and more mature have already said a lot more than I have, but here are a few recommendations:

The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis
Where is God When it Hurts? by Philip Yancey
Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering by Tim Keller

If you have five minutes, watch this:

 

If you have an hour, watch this:

The Skeptics Annotated Bible

A Christian turned skeptic set out on the laborious task of showing that the bible is not inerrant, not the word of a loving God, and the reason for faith is largely because people don’t actually read the bible or teach all of it. Here’s a blurb from the author:

“The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible (SAB) attempts to remedy this imbalance. It includes the entire text of the King James Version, but without the pro-Bible propaganda. Instead, passages are highlighted that are an embarrassment to the Bible-believer, and the parts of the Bible that are never read in any Church, Bible study group, or Sunday School class are emphasized. For it is these passages that test the claims of the Bible-believer. The contradictions and false prophecies show that the Bible is not inerrant; the cruelties, injustices, and insults to women, that it is neither good nor just.”

Have a look at the full site here. The author put in quite some time and effort into this project. There’s even a random verse from the bible displayed on the homepage that could be troubling for some believers. Through and through, it’s all pretty elaborate. He divides his arguments up by category, even! To his credit, he even links the Christian response to his website, a response that took seven years to complete. See the rebuttal to SAB here.

In this back and forth, it’s presupposed that truth, rationality, morality, and consistency are all of the utmost importance. What worldview gives the basis to account for any of that? Why is the outcome of examining the bible for errors or atrocities of any relevance? These two authors have all the same information and are coming to differing conclusions. What does this mean about the problem that remains? Who’s being consistent with their worldview in this debate?

 

 

The Outer Darkness

If someone asked the question “how could a loving God send anyone to hell?”, how would you answer? There are lots of presuppositions behind that question. It suggests that God isn’t just in sending people to hell. It suggests that hell isn’t a fit punishment for anyone. It suggests that a God that would subject anyone to such a cruel fate isn’t worthy of our worship. It makes man judge over God.

Another question to ask is this: how could God be a God of justice and mercy if people didn’t go to hell? For the victim of sexual abuse, would heaven be a safe place if the unrepentant rapist was there? For the children, would heaven be a safe place if the child molester was there? Would there be harmony in heaven if members of the KKK held their rallies there? Would heaven be a place where we truly set free of sin if we still had to lock our doors in fear of the thieves, the liars, and murderers?

“And the King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me.’ Then He will say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” – Matthew 25:40-41

From this scripture, I’d argue hell isn’t even a place made for us. Alas, it’s a place where the justice of God will be meted out. Scripture also makes it clear what our standing before God is by default. Outside of Christ, we’re described as “haters of God”, “children of wrath”, “having no righteousness of our own”, “dead in sin”, and so on. By our sinful nature, we don’t want God. Why would someone that hates the law of God even want to go to heaven to be with Him for eternity? We don’t.

Not only that, but think about this: we’re made in the image of God. Like God, we have the ability to be rational about our positions. So, think about the law you have set forth in your own home that you’ve been blessed with. Would you allow people into your home if they refused to obey the rules you’ve set forth? What would it take for you to kick someone out of your home?

My advice to anyone with questions about God’s justice is to look at the ground we stand on as part of creation. Outside of God, there is no such thing as justice, morality, or the like. There is only what is. It’s all completely neutral. We’re free to confess these foolish words with our lips, but none of lives as if this is true. I’ll close with words from a man much wiser than myself.

My Reason

What would you say if someone asked you what your reasons were for your faith? I’ve wrestled with this for a long time. I’ve studied apologetics, theology, biology, geology, cosmology, and other subjects to varying degrees so I could come up with an answer. Frustratingly enough, I’ve learned a lot, but I still haven’t been able to clearly articulate the reason for my faith. Just a few days ago, I realized the answer wasn’t in the books. God has already revealed to me what I need to say, I’ve just never thought to say. My answer is this: I know that God exists because He spoke to me directly.

During that time of my life, I was tragedy waiting to happen. I was whirlwind of chasing skirts, poppin’ bottles, and a deeply ingrained rage at what felt like the whole world. Everything seemed so pointless and empty. Brokenness was all around me. Friends betrayed friends, husbands betrayed wives,  mothers betrayed daughters, and so on. Outside of what I could see around me, my thoughts of people are out there dying from starvation, disease epidemics, natural disasters, the list goes on.

In my mind, God was busy dealing with those things. There was no way He had time for me and my little problems in the grand scheme of things. I just hoped I did good enough not to end up in hell when my life was over. In the mean time, it was up to me to find any semblance of joy on this side of life, but it was a futile endeavour. When I got to my worst and stopped caring about whether I lived or died, He spoke directly to me.

I’ll never forget that night. It was Sunday, January 20th, 2013 around 11pm. I was shut up in my room wrestling with the things I’ve personally done that have added to the world’s misery and suffering. Grief was overwhelming me to the point that I could see literal blood on my hands. Deranged is the closest word I can use to describe seeing a manifestation of personal guilt. I thought I was losing my mind, but then He said two powerful and to and to the point things to me.

The first thing He said was simply “Enough”. The blood on my hands vanished, but that only added to my confusion I really thought I was losing it then. Then He said “I have things for you to do”. It was not an option to consider, it was a command. One I could only respond to with a meek “Okay”. From then on, I just sat in silence pondering what I had just experienced and wondering if I really was just crazy.

What does God’s voice sound like? Well, I can’t tell you that. He didn’t speak to me with an audible voice. The words were impressed into my heart. He spoke to the part of me that sincerely believed those moments that I was a good person subjected to a bad world. His words showed me my lack of righteousness, and that’s how I knew it was Him.

He dispelled the illusion I was in and showed me my true self. Shortly after that, He showed me that He was working in me through other people. Someone I hardly knew told me I was different. I had only met this person one other time a year prior, when I was in the midst of my downward spiral. The second time we met the change in me was brought up and I walked away from that encounter realizing that I indeed did feel different.

The despair, anger, paranoia, and everything else was gone. I didn’t feel a gaping hole in my soul begging to be fed with a hedonistic lifestyle anymore. I was healed emotionally, spiritually, and mentally without even being consciously aware of it. He spoke to me and showed His power by changing the things I found pleasure in. The bottles in my cabinets turned into books on my shelf. It’s been a gradual process of change since then.

So, if you ever wonder why I’m so sure, it’s not because of the moral argument, uniformity in nature, the beauty of creation, love, human rights, or anything else a godless worldview has nothing to show a basis for. It’s because He chose to speak to me. All those other things just bolster my personal experience with Him from that night.

At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me,a is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” – John 10:22-30

Christianity and Tarot Cards

tarot-reading

This image via The Inquistr.

An interesting conversation happened on a friend’s Facebook page recently. She was venting about her frustrations of dealing with Christians that don’t understand why tarot readings are a forbidden practice for us. It’s a pagan practice, for sure. I don’t think anyone would argue against that fact. But, in light of scripture, why is this something that’s regarded in such low regard? Before reading this thread, I didn’t know the answer to that question (besides the obvious idolatry).

From the thread:

“Question: “What are tarot cards? Are tarot cards evil?”

Answer: Tarot cards are associated with divination—unlocking the secrets of the future by occult, supernatural means. Divination is strictly prohibited in the Bible.

Tarot cards come in a deck of 78 individual cards. They were developed about 600 years ago for gaming. However, some mystics, psychics, and occultists began to use the cards for divination, and today the cards and the ability to “read” them are seen as elements of fortune-telling. To receive a tarot reading is to attempt to find out things about one’s life or future through the occult.

Usually, the practice of reading tarot cards starts with the questioner cutting the pack of cards or sometimes just touching it. The psychic or card reader then deals out some cards, face down, into a pattern, called a “spread,” on the table. As the cards are overturned, the psychic or reader constructs a narrative based on the cards’ meanings and their position on the table. Obviously, reading tarot cards places a heavy emphasis on fate, “hidden knowledge,” and superstition.

God warned His people, the Israelites, against divination when they were on the verge of entering the Promised Land. He lists divination among such evils as child sacrifice and casting spells in Deuteronomy 18:9–12. Leviticus 19:26 puts is succinctly: “Do not practice divination or seek omens.” Tarot card reading definitely falls within the scope of this prohibition. In some cases, tarot card reading can be guided by demons. In Acts 16, Paul meets a fortune teller, a slave, who earned her masters a lot of money by fortune-telling (verse 16). The Bible attributes her ability to having a demonic spirit, which Paul was able to cast out of her by the name of Jesus Christ (verse 18). The Bible does not mention the tools the slave girl used to tell the future, but, whether tea leaves or dice or lots or cards of some type, the items used in that context brought honor to demonic spirits.

The spiritual dimension of our world is real, and it is not to be taken lightly. The Bible tells us that Satan seeks to destroy us. “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Lions are not to be toyed with.

Many people seek out supernatural knowledge about their future because they fear the future. The Bible tells believers not to fear the future; rather, we should trust God, the Source of peace (Isaiah 26:3; Philippians 4:6–7).

Solomon, the wisest person ever, offered this wisdom about knowing the future in Ecclesiastes 7:14:

“When times are good, be happy;
but when times are bad, consider this:
God has made the one
as well as the other.
Therefore, no one can discover
anything about their future.”

And in Ecclesiastes 8:7 he writes this:

“Since no one knows the future,
who can tell someone else what is to come?”

Only God holds the future, and only He truly knows what will happen (Isaiah 46:10).

If you desire to have peace about your future, turn to the Lord Jesus Christ. The future is bright for those who know Him (Romans 8:17).

Recommended Resource: The Kingdom of the Cults, revised and updated edition

To add this, I need to say again that this is a form of idolatry. It’s trusting in man made schemes to tell what our future is and, to some extent, tell us something about who we are and why are the way that we are. God has told us this already plainly from the beginning. Will we ignore His words and trust in tarot spreads instead?

 

Bible Reading Plan

Reading the entire bible can feel like a daunting task. It’s easy to get distracted with commitments to family, work, or our social lives. The busyness of life can prevent us from doing one of the most important things we can do which is to sit down and read the bible. The urgency of the issue can’t be understated. Who is God? How do we know what pleases Him? What does it mean to be a Christian? How can we know that Jesus is the messiah? How do we answer the challenge of skeptics? What is the Holy Spirit’s role in our lives? To answer those questions, we must read the bible.

To successfully complete this endeavor, it’s best to start out with a plan. In my case, it was my New Year’s resolution to do this. I got myself a reading plan that would take me through the bible from the beginning of January to the end of December by date. You can see the plan that I chose to use here. Although that’s the one I used and found helpful (especially when I started getting behind), I’d actually suggest another method of getting through the bible.

I found this website a lot more convenient from a glance. It has different plans that are specific to what you may be looking to accomplish. There are plans for particular books, just the old or new testament, there’s both testaments in a year, there’s both in three months, there’s a plan that ties themes together that are told throughout the bible, and more plans of varying difficulty. There’s even a two year plan for those of us that are really busy or are slow readers. It’s a tool for the young and mature in the faith!

No matter what plan you decide to go with, the important part of all this is to stick to it. You need to know what’s in the bible. You need to know what you believe when you confess Jesus as Lord. One read through isn’t going to give an in depth knowledge of everything, especially not in a one year plan. That is true. There’s not enough time to sit and meditate on the truths of scripture when you’re on a schedule like this. Nevertheless, it’s good to intake it all and be exposed to it. Think of it as a foundation to build on.

After you’re done with your first read through, then you can pick a more thorough reading plan for the book or topic of your choice. Personally, I decided not to go with another rendered plan. I read books of the bible at my own pace, and then I’d either find a podcast, sermon, or website that addresses parts of the text I’m wrestling with (NOT suggesting at all that it’s something everyone can or should do, but it’s been helpful for me).

Besides the two websites I have listed here, there are plenty of other options available. Check out the many bible apps for your smartphone or mobile device of choice. Both Google Play and Itunes have a plethora of them that have plans and reminders included in the software. If you’re a slacker like me, you can use an audio bible while you’re on the go to catch up. Faith comes by hearing, right?!

Once you get into some deep study, then the fun stuff like commentaries, concordances, and journaling come into play. None of those things are necessary as they aren’t biblical practices, but they sure do help with engaging the scriptures.