Living an Undivided Life

A photo by Dietmar Becker. unsplash.com/photos/8Zt0xOOK4nI

It’s easy for people to pick on teenagers for having such a clear distinction between who they are with their different friendship groups. We all know someone who is totally different person depending on who else is around.

While it might be most obvious with teenagers, aren’t we all like that to some degree? Think about it…

  • If your church friends saw you at work/school, what would they think?
  • If your work/school friends heard you at church, would they be surprised?

God calls us to whole-hearted and undivided people who love and honor him. If that’s what we want, then it’s good to take a moment from time to time and recalibrate.

We can easily allow our “Christian life” to be expressed here and our “normal life” to be lived over there. Instead, what would it look like for us to live one faithful life?  Continue reading

Christian Views on Creation: A Short Summary

Time for another reader question. You can submit your question HERE:

Hi Mike! I have always struggled with the topic of creationism, as I know there are many different types. I don’t know were to start with researching them, but I feel like I should know a lot more about it than I do (especially where I’m taking lots of science classes at college). Any suggestions on what to do? I’m a little lost.

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Thanks for your question, it’s an important (and common) one. As we consider the glory of creation and the complexity of understanding HOW God created, I want us to keep a few things in mind:

  1. Science is Good: Unfortunately, the stereotype of religious folk is that we are unscientific. Most of Western history’s greatest scientists were faithful Christians who practiced science as a way to explore God’s good creation. Many of these people were actually funded and sponsored by the Church. Today, however, people have replaced faith in God with naturalism, which says, “If I can’t physically and scientifically prove it, then it isn’t real.” Science is good, Naturalism is not. The scientific method is the creed of the naturalist, just as the Bible is the authority for the Christian.
  2. Multiple Interpretations: Scientific data is often debated. There isn’t always one clear and obvious conclusion. Multiple scientists often draw different interpretations and conclusions from the same information. The popular voice isn’t always correct. Without room to debate interpretations, the best-funded voice will always prevail. This cuts both ways, and we need to be willing to learn from those with whom we disagree.
  3. Science is Limited: Obviously, a Naturalist will disagree with this statement, but it’s important to put up front. If you believe there’s more to reality than what we can empirically test, then you will draw different conclusions from the scientist who believes “it’s only true if you can scientifically prove it.” We will never understand everything. We aren’t supposed to. However, that’s not an excuse to disregard science. Science teaches us amazing things about our world, so take it seriously, but remember it cannot answer all questions.
  4. Adaption & Evolution: No one denies adaptation. Even the most literal 24-hour day creationist confidently agrees with significant amounts of adaptation within species (see HERE for an example). Adaptation and evolution within species makes good scientific sense to everyone. The debate revolves around whether or not one species can evolve into a new species, especially regarding the origin of humanity.

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When Doubt is Good for You

I vividly recall looking at my hand and bending my fingers, and being amazed at the simplicity and complexity of that movement. All the bones, joints, muscles, nerves, etc. working together to do what my brain was telling them to do. Amazing.

As a teenager I wrestled with doubt.

What if we did “just happen” and if we evolved from primordial ooze?
What if Jesus didn’t really say or do the things the Bible says he did?
How do I know God is even real? 

Thankfully, I was free to embrace my doubt and to ask my hard questions. Many teenagers who grow up in the church feel the pressure to keep their questions to themselves. If they do ask hard questions, they feel looked down on.

An increasing amount of books are recognizing the good things that come from allowing ourselves (and others) to doubt. Teenagers who grow up in Christian families often report a lack of freedom to voice their doubts. Instead, I try to encourage people (especially younger people) to ask their hard questions and to wrestle with their doubts.

One of my favorite stories in the Gospel comes when Jesus interacts with a man whose son is demon-possessed. Here’s the key interaction. We need to encourage this kind of honesty in the church.

But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out[a] and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”
(Mark 9:22-24, ESV)

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What is “Sin that Leads to Death” in 1 John 5:16-17?

question mark on sticky noteOne of my favorite features on this site
is the reader questions, because I want this site to serve you. If there is something you’ve been wondering, please submit your questions HERE. You can search some of the other reader questions.

I would like to hear your insightful comment on 1 John 5:16 – 17 regarding sin that does not bring death and sin that does bring death. I welcome your perspective and clarification.

“If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life—to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death.” (1 John 5:16-17, ESV)

Context is King
As always, the best way to interpret Scripture is through understanding the context where the confusing passage occurs.

General Context: Faithfulness in the life of the Believer
Throughout the entire book of 1 John there is a strong emphasis on sin, confession, and faithfulness of believers. Over and over again Christians are described as those who do not sin. It’s important to realize in original languages, these verses use a grammatical structure which clearly implies a continual, ongoing habit of sinning. Some of these passages emphasizing the faithful Christian life are listed below.

If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. (1:5)

Everyone who make a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness…. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. (3:4 & 6)

If anyone says, ‘I love god,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. (4:20)

We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him. (5:18)

Upon reading through 1 John it should be clear that it was written to a church who enduring conflict and division. The members are wandering away and arguing with each other. The fellowship is broken. John is encouraging the believers to walk in the truth by loving one another as an expression of their love for God. True Christians endure – they don’t walk in habitual sinfulness, and they don’t abandon the family of God. This is a clear and consistent call throughout the book of 1 John, and this sets the context for 1 John 5:16-17.

A photo by Cristian Newman. unsplash.com/photos/zFnk_bTLApo

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How You Say It Matters: Thoughts on Form & Function

There was competition for my kids’ attention as we were reading the Bible last night. But I couldn’t get rid of the competition. Instead, I needed to embrace it. Because the competition came from the Bible App for Kids… the very app we were using to read the Bible in the first place!

You see, the Bible App for Kids takes the Bible stories and animates into interactive stories for your kids as the story is read out loud to them. My kids love it. I’m a little torn… because they half listen and half play.

They love the many Bible stories to choose from, the animation is great, and they especially enjoy touching the screen to see what the characters are going to do next. But are they listening to the story? Are they actually learning what the Bible says? To me… that’s not totally clear. There have been moments when the form (making the Bible stories fun and interactive) has overshadowed the function (teaching the Bible stories to children).

 

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Why the Church Must Prioritize Function Over Form 
It raises the question of which matters most: Form or Function?

  • Form is the shape of what you’re doing and how you’re doing it.
  • Function is what you’re trying to accomplish.

Form and Function should never compete. When they do, you lose. Without good For
m, the Function isn’t accomplished. The mission fails. The message was sent, but no one was paying attention. And without prioritizing Function, the Form received more attention than the thing it was trying to accomplish. For this reason, Function needs to have priority while valuing Form enough to give it the skill and attention necessary that the mission is accomplished.

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Suffering and the Problem of Evil

Today marks the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorism attack on New York City and the Pentagon. In the midst of such commemorations, it’s important to ask ourselves (and to allow others to ask) hard questions. The Problem of Evil is among the most difficult topics to address.

Traditionally, the problem of evil is stated in three sentences, of which one supposedly cannot be true:

Suffering exists in the world

God is sovereign and in control of the world

God is good and loving.

Even some Christians attempt to “let God off the hook” by minimizing the pain of suffering. Hope gives strength to endure, but it does not mean suffering isn’t painful. Minimizing the legitimacy of suffering as a cause for doubt is intellectually dishonest and emotionally callous.

Yet, some defend God’s goodness by saying that he would stop all suffering and pain if he could. They determine any number of reasons why God can’t, but in the end, he would stop it if he could but he can’t. This version of God is kind and gentle, but powerless to save and unworthy of reverent worship.

Another response upholds God’s holiness but seems to minimize his compassion for the people who endure such suffering and pain. This God is holy and worthy of worship, but he is difficult to love.

One of the best Christian responses to the problem of evil comes through Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. At this point in the book/movie, all hope seems lost as the Dark Lord Sauron is growing in power and hope seems to be fading in Frodo and his team’s quest to destroy the ring of power. As Frodo is overwhelmed by the impossibility of success, he has the following dialogue with his friend and compatriot, Sam:

(I know you’re probably tempted to skip over this video. Don’t. It’s 2:30 long, and brilliant. If you’re somewhere public so you can’t listen, read the text HERE and watch it later, this scene is really just that good.) 

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5 Good Reasons Tithing Matters

My parents never taught me to tithe. That was something adults did. I was a kid, so I could keep my allowance and spend it on myself without feeling guilty. Since they’re good parents, I wasn’t allowed to be self-centered and they taught me the importance of caring for others. But I wasn’t taught about tithing and giving back a portion of my money to God as an expression of thanks and joyful dependance.

When I started working part-time, it was really hard to start giving 10%. Because I only had a little money, so I needed all of it. Instead, I gave a few dollars here and a few dollars there. Then I started working more and earning more, and if I actually tithed I’d be giving a lot more money than I was comfortable with. So what would I do?

Now that I’m a dad, I look for opportunities to teach my kids to give as an expression of our family’s joyful dependance on God’s provision. Whether your a teenager or a parent, it’s important for us to put our money where our faith is. Parents, teach your kids about tithing when they’re younger.

God doesn’t call us to give out of our wealth. Instead, we give out of our sense of need. Christians serve a generous God. How could we honor him by being so stingy that we wonder how little we can get away with giving?

Eventually, I’ve learned to tithe (and to enjoy it). God truly does love a cheerful giver, because a cheerful giver reflects God’s generosity to the world. Here are five reasons you should grow towards tithing to your local church, regardless of your age:

in-god-we-trust

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How I Changed My Mind on the Doctrine of Election

When I was a freshman in college, I remember the first time someone asked what I believed about the doctrine of Election. It was my friend Julie, and we were in Introduction to the New Testament. Honestly, I needed her to explain what Election meant before I could even tell her if I agreed or disagreed with it.

All I knew about John Calvin was from high school Social Studies class saying that he believed God created some people for Heaven and some people for Hell. That sounded pretty unbiblical to me, and everyone in class thought that was pretty terrible, so I agreed with them. Why would anyone like this Calvin guy?

A photo by Alex Siale. unsplash.com/photos/qH36EgNjPJY

As I sat under the spectrum of Bible/Theology professors, some of whom were Arminian and some who were Reformed, I was drawn again and again to wrestle with the simple text of Scripture.

“I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” (Exodus 33:19)

“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:44)

“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide…” (John 15:16)

“But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory” (Romans 9:20-23)

“Even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.” (Ephesians 1:4-6)

What would I do with these passages? I didn’t really want to believe them. I wanted to mix them up and explain them away. But that would mean I’m explaining away a ton of passages which seem pretty clear and direct… and that didn’t seem right or honest.

At the same time, the Bible talks a lot about our responsibility and freedom to choose:

 “Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:14-15)

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:23-24)

“This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:4)

“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)

 

Rather than going into the details of what I currently believe about the particulars of Election, here are three general truths I’ve learned which have greatly shaped my Christian life.

Be Faithful to Scripture, Not Your Theological Grid: Embrace the Mystery
It’s so tempting to read and study theological systems and simply fall into them comfortably. Resist theological comfort. Stick to what the Bible teaches. If there’s a theological system that persuades you because it handles the whole counsel of God with greater faithfulness than any other system you’ve found, then great… follow that theological grid completely. But there are some times when grids draw conclusions in order to be logically consistent, not because the Bible clearly teaches that conclusion.

There are all sorts of versions of Arminianism as well as Calvinism. For sure, there’s a strong temptation to be so internally consistent within There is even a growing identify for Reformed Arminians, whose soteriology is a blend of both theological traditions (Roger Olsen, here’s looking at you).

Does God choose? Yes.
Do I choose? Yes.
Is that a contradiction? No… it’s a mystery. 

We need to avoid the temptation to ignore or distort Scripture from correcting our theology. Instead, we need to correct our theology to square with good biblical exegesis. Theology flows from Scripture.

God’s Sovereignty is Greater Than My Freedom
I’ve come across so many Reformed folk who are so focused on divine election they balk at any mention of human freedom. At the same time, I’ve met way too many arminians who talk/preach as if people willingly choose God apart from His sovereign call. God’s sovereignty doesn’t erase my freedom. My freedom doesn’t overpower God’s sovereignty. My freedom finds its strength through submission to the sovereignty of God.

The Bible repeatedly proclaims the holiness, sovereignty, and faithfulness of God. It also keeps reminding us of the sinfulness and faithlessness of God’s people. And yet, God continually rescues and saves his people. It seems far more biblical to err on the side of trusting God.

If there’s anything my ongoing war against sin teaches me, it’s that I would never choose God if it was completely up to me. I love Jesus and have assurance of salvation, and yet I continue to give in to temptation often enough that I should realize my salvation is completely the work of God, and whatever faith I have comes from Him. I am free and responsible before God. But all the glory for salvation and holiness goes to God.

Election Demands Humility
Where I had always believed the doctrine of Election promoted pride, I came to realize the opposite is true. This should be obvious. Unfortunately, it’s not.

God did not choose the elect because they were better or more worthy. Because I know that anything good in me is the result of God’s initiative, then what could I possibly boast about? There is no room for pride. God did not choose the elect because they were worthy, but because he chooses the foolish to shame the wise, so that his power might be put on full display.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

“But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:27-29)

When we discuss the Doctrines of Grace, Election, Sovereignty, Freedom, or whatever else you want to call it… may we all remember these principles:

  1. The Bible is God’s Word. Theology helps us explain what the Bible teaches, but only when it’s the servant of Scripture. Keep the discussion about the text of Scripture as you disagree with others about theology. Also, when you keep the conversation centered around the Word of God then you (should) be less likely to speak disrespectfully to each other.
  2. Put God first. This is a priority everyone can agree on at the practical level of what it means to live theologically. In everything we do, we must put God first. I am persuaded that salvation from the very start to the very fulfillment is the work of God. Still, we have work to do, and both the power and motivation for that work come from God.
  3. Kill your pride. Pride should have nothing to do with these conversations. Stop being proud that you’re theologically right and the other people are wrong. Stop taking more credit than you deserve (this applies to everyone).

 

Book Review: Designed to Lead

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For the last few years I’ve had this nagging feeling that the church has been doing too much. Then I came across the book Simple Church by Thom Rainer & Eric Geiger. To say I enjoyed that book is a massive understatement. Then I heard about Designed to Lead by Eric Geiger & Kevin Peck and it looked like the perfect followup. I didn’t just read Designed to Lead. I devoured it. Wherever you look, you’ll find the need for more leaders and for better leaders. For that reason Geiger & Peck’s books should be put in the hands of every Christian leader, that the Church would produce godly leaders for all spheres in our world.

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