Thursday, August 23, 2018

Be Educated Not Indoctrinated

Ask most Believers and nonbelievers alike and they’ll both probably tell you that being a Christian requires that you follow a lot of rules. Depending on the denomination, you may run into rules governing what you wear, what you eat, where you live, how much technology you can use, etc… In many of these cases, the rules may just represent a minor inconvenience. In others, the rules may be dangerous. Recently, a couple, Seth Welch and Tatiana Fusari, found out they would be going to trial for murder because they allowed their 10 month old baby to die. Their defense is that they were following their religious beliefs. Apparently, their Christian pastor told them that going to the doctor was wrong. Who told him that? It certainly isn’t Biblical.

As Believers we are to seek knowledge about God, but we have to be careful how we obtain such knowledge. We can be educated and we can also be indoctrinated. Education can be defined as the process of giving or receiving systematic instruction. Indoctrination can be defined as the process of teaching a person or group to accept a set of beliefs without criticism. We go to church services, bible studies, and Sunday schools to be educated, but often we come away indoctrinated. We believe we’re being taught about God, his will, and his way. Instead, we’re often taught what a person or group of people want us to believe about God, his will, and his way and then also taught that we shouldn’t question what we’re told. After all, the preachers, pastors, deacons, and church leaders have authority given by God and should be obeyed.

This isn’t new. In fact, Jesus had to deal with it constantly. The Pharisees were also spiritual leaders who believed they couldn’t be questioned or challenged. The Pharisees cared about maintaining the status quo and the cultural rules in place, and they convinced the people that God also cared about that. In one instance, they challenged Jesus over the disciples not washing their hands before eating. Jesus responded to them by invoking Isaiah. From Matthew 15:

7You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:8“ These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
9They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules. ”

Jesus called them hypocrites for what they were doing and chastised them harshly. They claimed to be following God, but were just adhereing to human convention. We see the same thing today, and we should avoid it because we risk turning the Bible into a tool to push our on agendas. Take “curse words” as an example. We know many Believers and non-believers find certain words to be offensive, but the Bible doesn’t define any specific words as profane. That distinction was made by humans. Colossians 3:8 is one scripture that addresses the subject:
But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.

It doesn’t identify particular words as bad. It speaks about the spirit and purpose behind what people say. Don’t we all know Christians that turn up their noses when they hear someone using curse words, but have no problem themselves using non-curse words to disrespect and disparage their fellow people?. That is exactly the hypocrisy Jesus spoke about. If we’re truly educated about what the Bible says, we’d understand that we need to put care into the things we say regardless of what words are used. After all, Colossians 4:6 tells us:

Let your conversation be full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

However, hypocrisy is not the only problem here. Indoctrination can also make it difficult for people to come to know and follow God. Paul ran into this problem in the Bible. His mission was primarily to bring Gentiles into the Faith, but he constantly encountered Jews that insisted that Gentiles adopt Jewish customs like circumcision even after it was made clear that God did not expect that. In fact, it was bad enough that he had to take the matter to the Apostles, and Peter addressed the matter as such:

7After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. 8God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. 9He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. 10Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? 11No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.” - Acts 15:7-11

Peter specifically rejects putting extra rules on people being brought into the Faith. It is by grace that we are saved not unnecessary rules. Consider alcohol consumption. How many Christians have said that drinking is sinful? That’s not Biblical law; it’s a manmade rule. The Bible instructs us to avoid drunkenness (Ephesians 5:18), and it’s true that the best way to avoid getting drunk is to avoid drinking alcohol. It is certainly reasonable for Believers to advise abstinence from alcohol especially in cases where addiction or poor decision making is a factor. However, providing such guidance is different from telling people that the Bible or God says not to drink. Of course we want to help those who struggle with alcoholism or anything else that could be detrimental to them, but we don’t want to prevent people from coming to Christ by making them feel sinful for something that isn't inherently a sin, such as having a can of beer after work or a glass of wine at dinner. 

We need to break our indoctrination and seek education. One way we can do that is by seeking instruction from those who teach from the Bible and not their own opinions. We all have access to the Bible though, so ultimately we should all strive to read the Bible ourselves and allow the Holy Spirit to provide the insight we need. We also need to be careful when we reach out to others. We must be sure to educate and not indoctrinate. God already provided his expectations in his Word. We can’t improve on it, so let’s share it the way he intended.


Chris Lawyer
Image Courtesy of St. James Free Baptist Church Website

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Our Cages

 





Do we ever stop to look at the cages we put ourselves in? Cages of family, friends, work, leisure, and religion; cages we build based on our understanding of these areas of life and what they entail. We try and create spaces where we can safely live out our assumed expectations; spaces where we can keep out the uncertainty and retain authenticity.

Here we become like zoo animals in a sense. Wild exotic creatures who were meant to roam and enjoy the earth God created who now have to settle for a limited artificial environment. In captivity these animals are unable to develop properly on all levels. They do not have the opportunity to learn social structures and habits such as nurturing and hunting. They become dependent on human ways to now meet their needs. This lack of natural development also causes animals in captivity to suffer from boredom, lack of exercise, and poor-quality food. Furthermore, being deprived of their natural environment and social interactions, animals in captivity often divert their energies and anxieties into stereotypical behaviors that are not at all evident in the animals in the wild. Examples of such behavior are bar biting, excessive grooming, pacing, and vomiting. 

Our artificial environments of expectations stem from the way we perceive our experiences in life. We are held captive by our thoughts- the way we were and are being conditioned to understand the world around us. We become limited by the ways of thinking that we are exposed to and choose to accept. Furthermore, the ways of thinking that we choose to accept don’t always equip us with what we need to make sense of some of the things that happen to us in life, so we become dependent upon emotions and how things make us feel. We depend upon emotions because we feel as if we have control over them, but they can lead us to adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambition, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and so on (Gal. 5: 19-21).

Let us ponder theses verses as we strive to break free of our captivity:

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ. - 2 Corinthians 10:3-5

For when they speak great swelling words of emptiness, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through lewdness, the ones who have actually escaped from those who live in error. While they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage. For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them. But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: "A dog returns to his own vomit," and, "a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire." - 2 Peter 2:18-22

 
Darnell Sheffield
Image courtesy of all4him.co

Thursday, August 9, 2018

You Don't Have to Prove God Exists, So Don't Try






It’s not so uncommon these days to turn on the television or other media outlet and find an argument between a Christian and a non-believer regarding the existence of God and the legitimacy of the Christian Faith. The non-believer may try to point out the lack of empirical evidence supporting God’s existence. The topic of the universe’s creation may come up. Of course the Believer will acknowledge that God created the universe, which, not coincidentally, is why Believers are often referred to as Creationists. The non-believer will invoke the Big Bang Theory. The Believer, if savvy, may point out that the Big Bang Theory really only proposes how the universe came to be; it doesn’t give the cause. The non-believer, if well-read, may bring up quantum fluctuations, a mathematically backed theory that claims the universe could have come from nothing. Maybe then, the Believer asks who or what created the circumstances where such quantum fluctuations would even come into play? In this hypothetical scenario, the two sides involved could debate back and forth for hours with no real resolution. The non-believer would likely come away believing he or she won the debate, and unfortunately many who witnessed the debate, especially other non-believers, would probably agree with that assessment. Believers are often portrayed as the losers of such debates.

It’s not that Believers are not as smart as non-believers or inferior debaters. The reason is that winning such debates require “unequivocal” empirical data. Non-believers cannot prove that God doesn’t exist, but therein lies their advantage in such meetings of the minds. They don’t have to prove that God doesn’t exist. They only have to provide information that suggests that God’s existence is not necessary. Quantum fluctuations don’t definitively prove that there is no God. They only provide an explanation of how the universe could have come to be without any direct action (i.e., God commanding it). Non-believers seem to have the advantage when it comes to these debates.

Occam’s Razor, a logical principle, dictates that in a situation where many explanations exist, the one that requires the fewest assumptions is most likely the correct one. Few would argue that belief in God requires the fewest assumptions. However, such discussions are ultimately about the nature of the physical world, and those arguing against God are using the rules agreed upon by the science world. By definition knowing something in a physical sense implies that you have access to information that can be verified by empirical data or observation. In other words, worldly knowing is akin to “believing it when you see it,” but that is not how our relationship with God works.

In John 20:29: Then Jesus told him,


Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.

Therein lies the crux of the dilemma. By trying to debate over God’s existence, Believers must enter the realm of logic and reason. However, our belief in God is based on faith not the world’s logic. To many non-believers, blind faith is illogical and unreasonable, but for Believers, faith is everything. However, it is anything but blind. According to Hebrews 11:1,

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.


Those who follow God don’t do so because they have physical proof of his existence.

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. - Hebrews 11:6

If God wanted, he could come down to Earth and provide unmistakable evidence of his existence winning all arguments for Believers forever, but God is not out to give us the ammo we need to win human debates. We do know that in the Old Testament he made himself known in ways that could not be argued against, and the people still turned against him time and time again. God wants us to choose him.
   

It is important to understand that God wants us to do things that society at large won’t necessarily understand. By this world’s standards, believing in a being we can’t see, or interact with in a physical sense is foolish. Then again, by human standards much of what Christians are tasked to do seems foolish. We are to love our enemies even when those enemies want to kill us. We are not supposed to pursue earthly riches even though we need money to survive just like non-believers. We are to sacrifice for the benefit of others even when we have no real relationship with them and get nothing from it. We are to do the right thing always, even when it seems to be to our detriment. In many cases, these actions may defy human logic. That is okay because it is our faith that guides us. Maybe when others witness us living our lives fully and abundantly by faith, they too will find a reason to believe even if it does not seem to be the logical thing to do. We may lose arguments, but we’ll win souls for God. That’s what matters.


Chris Lawyer and Everett Pope
Image Courtesy of marklile.com






Friday, August 3, 2018

Love Not Like

Image result for love christian

As Christians, we must never forget how important love is. Christianity truly is a religion of love. You can probably judge how much a person adheres to the Faith by how loving they actually are. The Bible is clear on this. 1 Corinthians 13:8-13 says:
8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
For anyone who has read the Bible, this should be an amazing passage. The Bible puts so much importance on faith. Faith is integral and mandatory for our salvation, but based on this passage from 1 Corinthians, God views love as being even greater. How can we as Christians not put love at the forefront of our mission? Many potential culprits are likely responsible for our failure to love. The worst may be the most obvious.

The reality is that we have a hard time loving people we don’t like. We may even believe that liking someone is a prerequisite to loving them. It isn’t. When I was in high school, I had an English teacher who happened to be a proud Christian. He described Christian love as “wanting the best for someone and doing the best for them.” That has always stuck with me because I think it is 100% true. Matthew 25:44-45 says:
44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ 45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
Jesus was telling us that we cannot claim to serve him if we are not willing to help and support those around us. When we see our fellow man in need, we are to do whatever we can for them. Whether we like that person or not should not factor into the situation at all. “Liking a person” is a fleshly matter determined by how well our interests and personality traits pair up with those of the people we encounter. Liking is a matter of how compatible we are as earthly beings, but when we follow Jesus, earthly matters should be less important to us. As believers and followers of Jesus, our love should rise above that. It should be unconditional. You don’t have to like someone to have the love of God for them. That should go without saying. Jesus instructs us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44). Enemies almost by definition are people we don’t like.

That’s part of what separates true Believers from everyone else. Our human society would tell you it’s ok to dislike your enemies. Maybe that’s true. Even as Believers, we will not always see eye to eye with those around us. Our human society would also tell you it’s ok to hate your enemies. That’s dead wrong. You may never truly come to like your enemies, but you must love them. You must love everyone because God is love and if you don’t know love then you can’t know him (1 John 4:8). Don’t dwell on whether or not you like a person. That doesn’t matter. Pray for everyone you can. Help everyone you can. Share the Gospel with everyone you can. That is love. Fulfill Jesus’ instruction and God’s will. Maybe in the process of doing that, God will reveal common interests with those you dislike, and you will wind up forming true friendships and affinities towards those people. Maybe that won’t happen. Perhaps, even after all your pouring of love onto those people, they’ll still dislike you, and you’ll still dislike them. When all is said and done, you will have obeyed God, and you can never go wrong doing that.


Chris Lawyer
Image Courtesy of The Journey Christian Newspaper