Archive for the ‘Apologetics’ Category

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Deliberately Declaring a Dependent Gospel: Acts 17 and Evangelism…

May 9, 2013

I have written before about the urban witness in light of Acts 17 (read here) recently I was blessed to spend some time at a missions conference at Hunter Street Baptist church in Birmingham, AL.  I was there to discuss church planting and the motivation for witnessing to those around us.  Below is my exposition of the text of Acts 17:26-28.

Upper_East_Side_of_Manhattan_New_York

As I have spent the past two years processing a call to plant a church in New York City and as we now prepare to commence that work on site, there has been one text that has impacted my vision of more than any other.  With every visit to the city, nights spent there, days engaged there, the truth contained in the text has been confirmed over and over again.

When I first began to go to the city, I was overwhelmed by its size and complexity.  So many people, so little space.  It is easy to view this concentration as somehow incidental, some random function of economics and sociology.  Yet through the lens of Scripture and in light of our knowledge of God, the reality of the city’s purpose becomes clear.

In Acts 17, Paul is talking to the men of Athens at the Areopagus.  They have surrounded themselves with idols to every god known to man, but they have reserved one space empty for the ‘unknown god’ and it is in the name of this god that Paul begins to speak.  He begins at the beginning, a very good place to start; he explains that they are not unknown to this unknown God.  This God has in fact created them, and all the people of mankind.  He has determined the time and the place that they all live.  He has done this so that they might seek after Him and find Him.  For whether they realize it of not, it is in Him that we “live, move and have our being.”  This is no manmade golden God, it is the God of the universe that made man.  God now commands all men to repent.  And Paul explains the gospel of Christ’s resurrection.  Some received his words, some rejected it outright, some walked away in contemplation.

Deliberate

This is one of those key passages of scripture where God lifts the veil, if only for a moment, and exposes the unfathomable counsel of His will.  When we look at cities and we consider their existence and construction, and we dwell on the fact that for the first time in human history more people are living in urban areas than in any other time in human history; we can not deny the hand of God is at work.  God determines the time that each and every person exists and He draws the boundaries of their dwelling places.  This kind of deliberate action on His part should amaze us, and it should inform our lives and our mission.  We do not serve a random God.  He is deliberate.  This should spur us to be deliberate and intentional.  God has not called us to wander, He has called us to Go.  When Jesus charged His disciples, He did so with geographic intentionality.  They were not to randomly scatter across the globe, rather they were to go to Jerusalem, then Judea and Samaria, then the utter-most parts of the earth.  In Acts, we see His overwhelming orchestration in the collection of disciples in Jerusalem, and then their dispersal to almost every city in the Mediterranean.  Paul was sent, city by city, to proclaim the gospel to the souls God had providentially gathered together in cities across the Roman empire.  We have to recognize our place in this paradigm.  God has called us and placed us with the same meticulous intent, and for the same glorious purpose.

Declaring

God has brought people together and concentrated them in cities for a purpose, so that those who do not know Him, might find Him.  How does this happen?  How do these people find God?  The irony in this text is that the Athenian men, listening to Paul, were unaware of just how close God was to them at that moment.  He was there in His omnipresence to be sure, but He was also present in the Word Paul proclaimed to them.  God was as close as the spoken word is to the ear.  As Paul, indwelled by the very Spirit of God proclaimed the Word,  the Word who was with God and was God and is God was very much present.  The lost that God has gathered together find Him when we share and proclaim His Word.  He has His sheep in every city, they hear His voice and they follow Him.  This should fill us with awe and wonder.  Not only are we the vehicles of God’s divine pursuit of the lost, but we get to bring God close to those around us when we share and proclaim His Word.  What a privilege.

Dependence

Paul proclaimed a particular message to these men.  He informed them that this ‘unknown’ God is the reason these men exist.  He made all of mankind and mankind is totally dependent upon Him for their lives and for their salvation.  Their response should not be one of ignorance, but of repentance.  The call to repentance is a call to proclaim your total dependance upon God.  God alone can provide salvation from judgement; and when we repent we acknowledge that our sins are great but we recognize that our God is greater.

Response

Cities are not accidental, they are the deliberate act of a loving God.  God has a divine intention in bringing men and women into close proximity with one another, so that they might seek after Him and find Him.  As believers, we must recognize our role in His plan.  When we love those around us, when we share His Word, when we display our dependance on Him, we are in fact bringing God within reach of those in need.  The question is not whether God is present in your city; the question is do your lost neighbors, co-workers and family members see His presence in your life?  For “how can they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him they have not heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?

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The Limits of Freedom and the Abundance of God: On Rights and Christian responsibility…

January 14, 2013

FDR memorial

So teach us to number our days
that we may get a heart of wisdom.
Return, O LORD! How long?
Have pity on your servants!
Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
and for as many years as we have seen evil.
Let your work be shown to your servants,
and your glorious power to their children.
(Psalm 90:12-16 ESV)

One of the remarkable facets of the American experience is that we as a people are engaged in a constant national dialogue concerning freedom and its exercise under the law.  To the generational nay-sayers who are quick to pass judgement on this era in American history, I would direct them to almost any coffee table, newspaper, blog, or news channel where the predominant topic is civil liberties and their expression in society.  The nation is humming with discussion of the Second Amendment and firearms, the Fourth Amendment and abortion, and the Tenth Amendment and healthcare.  While our founding fathers would likely blanche at the scope of the issues faced, somehow I believe they would appreciate our commitment to the laws they drafted and their place in our national consciousness.

American Christians have emerged from a period of prominence into a time of trial, and as a result we face an era of unprecedented challenge.  Christians in America are confronted with debates of staggering legal and moral complexity.  Few debates are as complex as the debate over the second amendment.  Our hearts break as we witness events like Columbine, Virginia Tech, Aurora and Sandy Hook.  We join sympathetic voices across the nation proclaiming love and remorse over the tragic loss of life.  With increasing frequency, our free society presents us with ever-exagerated abuses of freedom.  How are we as Christian citizens going to meet these abuses?  How do we as Christians engage this debate in light of our country’s constitution?  More to the point, how do we engage this debate in light of our Kingdom calling?

Our society is constructed around the concept of a social contract, that is, our ability to enjoy freedom is predicated on our ability to coexist with each other peaceably.  In order to do that, in order to enjoy freedom, we sometimes have to be willing to give and take rights in degrees, so that our freedoms do not infringe upon one another.  (i.e. Your constitutional right to move about freely ends at my front door; or my yard.) Limits are placed on the exercise of our rights so that we may all enjoy as abundant freedom as is possible.

Now in regard to guns, practically speaking it will be impossible and impractical to remove guns from our society, regardless of what has been done in Australia or Holland or any other example, guns will always be a part of the American experience, in large part due to the 2nd amendment.  What we have to contend with now is a situation where access to certain weapons seems to be against the public interest.  I think inherent in the rights enumerated in the constitution is the idea that these rights can only be enjoyed to the fullest by a nation that values the ultimate right of the individual to live.

Sadly our society seems to value life less and less.  The founding fathers lived in a time when there was a pervasive understanding of man’s worth being from God, and that human life should be valued. (Unless you were African American or a woman, but even then there was some appreciation for their life, if not their legal standing.)  When society has broad recognition and respect for life, more freedom can and should be granted, with the understanding that people will most likely exercise their rights in favor of life.

But in our day, values have changed, culture has changed, the morals of society have changed, and not for the better.  So when we are faced with a society where individuals can gain access legally to weapons that can inflict great harm on a great number of people; I.e. Semi-automatic/automatic assault rifles with armor piercing bullets and 20-30 round magazines, we have to ask ourselves can we as a society handle that freedom responsibly?  If a large enough group of the electorate concludes that we can not, then there are mechanisms in place to restrict our ability to exercise that freedom.

Think of the debate in terms of drugs, say opium, now there was a time when there were not laws in place restricting access to opium, or cocaine.  But there came a point where we as a society recognized that while we have a constitutional right to imbibe whatever we wish, we did not have the restraint, nor was it in the public interest, to allow unrestricted use of that drug.  So our rights were limited, but for the public good. We did not ban or restrict all drugs, but certain drugs were deemed too dangerous.

When we look at Aurora, or Sandyhook we see instances where individuals legally obtained weapons that caused a tremendous amount of damage in a brief amount of time.  These gunman were not part of the seedy criminal underbelly, but law abiding citizens up to the point of their crimes.  So what everyone is asking is, are they ways that we can prevent just ONE of these tragedies from happening again?  I know that there will always be nut-cases, and criminals who, regardless of the law, will get guns and massacre others.  But is there anything that can be done to prevent even one of these events from happening again?  If, say, we ban multiple round clips, or bushmaster assault rifles could just one of these tragedies be prevented?  If you were the parent of one of the 20 six year-olds killed last month, I think you might be asking yourself the same thing.

Now I know that there is the slippery slope argument, that this is just the beginning steps until President Obama and all liberals have some firearm auto-de-fe and trample on the constitution.  However, the problem with slippery slope arguments is that the reductio ad absurdum can be used for just about any initiative on any side of the political spectrum.  (ie like when the political left argues that teaching creationism in schools will lead to a state religion, that is a slippery slope, so does that mean that they have a point?)  While these laws may not be perfect we can not allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good.  Simply arguing that an assault weapons ban will not end gun violence is not a good enough reason to not do it.  Simply because somewhere down the line this might be used to attempt to limit access to guns in general is not a good enough excuse not to do it.  Something is going to have to be done, for we as a society are forfeiting our ability to enjoy freedom, by exercising it improperly.  When we are facing that slippery slope, we might well ask if it would be better to build a fence on top of the hill or a hospital at the bottom.  Most agree that the fence is easier to build.

Ultimately, we have to ask ourselves as Christians, apart form whatever the constitution says, are we going to be a people who value access to guns even if that access comes with an increasing toll on human life?  If societal morals were better, then maybe we could trust society with the unrestricted right to all kinds of arms, but as I mentioned earlier society has increasingly showed that it can not handle that freedom responsibly.  A similar argument can be made in regards to abortion.  Every christian recognizes a right to privacy, but the court has extended that right to include the right of a mother to decide in private what she does with her baby.  While we Christians agree with the right to privacy in the 4th amendment, we do not think that it extends to the point where a woman can end a pregnancy and kill a child.  Constitutional law allows a woman to kill her baby, and society has degenerated to the point where this is done with frightening frequency.  As Christians, we recognize the constitutional right, but make an argument that society can not responsibly handle this constitutional freedom of privacy as the court rendered it.  Clearly it was not the intent of the founders that the 4th amendment to be extended to allow for 1 million + abortions a year.  Christian conservatives make arguments everyday that the constitutional rights of women be limited in order to protect the lives of unborn children.

Likewise, while I am thankful for the 2nd amendment and agree with the founders intent to provide society means of protection from government excess, I do not think that it was their intent that the freedom go so unchecked that thousands every year be gunned down with assault rifles and large magazine and armor piercing bullets.  So I, along with others, argue that the some rights of some gun owners be limited to protect the children already born.  It is the same principle, its the same argument.  When society can not responsibly exercise freedom, then it is the burden of the government, of the people, by the people, and for the people to make every effort to protect human life and insure the our access to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.

We live in a sinful world, which by its very nature is limited by sin.  We see only in part, we live only in part, and we long for the demise of sin and the arrival of true freedom.  We must recognize our limits, and seek hearts of wisdom.  We must seek our satisfaction in God; and though the days are evil, we must display His work to others and proclaim His power to our children.  Our chief identity should not be in our rights as recorded in the constitution, but in His work on the cross.

I’d love feedback, and welcome any discussion as to whether you agree or disagree.

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Welcome to the Party: When Christians Put the Caucus Before the King…

November 5, 2012

 

Photo Credit: Here

Have you ever been to a thanksgiving or Christmas dinner that has erupted into shouting or anger looks over politics and political parties?  You would think that being in the presence of family these differences would subside.  And yet they often intensify.  It is not difficult to look across the political arena and see Christians at party conventions fighting and acting very un-Christian-like when it come to the party platform.  Should this be the case?  I would argue no.

If you are a Christian you are a citizen of God’s Kingdom, and your allegiance to that kingdom and your membership in that family should supersede any partisan differences that may exist between you and another person.  What you find with individuals who get caught up in political anger is that they have lost perspective and have come to primarily identify with their political party.  So when you attack that party and its stances, they interpret it as an attack on their very being.  For non-believers political stances may be all they have, and that may be their identity; but for believers we must locate and root our identity in Christ and our allegiance to His kingdom.  As Kingdom citizens, when our positions are attacked we should not return in- kind, in anger or in rage.  Rather we should respond with grace, humility, and honor, confident that our Kingdom is not of this world and our self-worth is not identified with a caucus but with a King who has reigned and will reign forever over the kingdoms of this world.

In his recent book How Christians Should Vote?, Tony Evans answers two questions regarding Christians and political parties, both of which are helpful as we navigate the desire to identify our political ideologies with our faith.

Q: In your book, you says Christians should be like NFL referees when it comes to politics in that they should represent a kingdom perspective rather than identifying primarily with a political party. How can we really know what God’s will is on issues like health care or immigration law?

A: “I believe that there are biblical positions on every issue, but no party fully represents all God’s views consistently on all God’s issues. Christians are going to vote differently because they will prioritize issues differently. My concern is that we’ve so aligned ourselves with the parties of this world that we’re missing the kingdom of God. The proof of that is that we’ve let political parties divide the kingdom of God. My illustration regarding referees is simply to say that while they sometimes vote for one team and sometimes vote for another team, they’re obligated ultimately to neither team, because they belong to another kingdom called the NFL. So, we should never let the party divisions interfere with the unity of the church, causing the church to lose its influence in the culture.”

Q: And yet, white evangelicals are very much identified with the Republican party and black Christians are often identified with the Democratic party. How do they come to such different perspectives on issues?

A: “It’s more priority of issues. For example, the white evangelical community will emphasize right to life in the womb. The black Christian community will emphasize justice to the tomb. For me, those both are one issue, whole life, not term. Since that is one issue with two different locations, Christians can agree on the whole life issue even though they vote differently, and come out with a whole-life perspective that if we were unified both parties would have to interface with and take seriously. Because they can split us up along party lines, we do not have a single voice on the issues that represent the kingdom of God.”

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Abortion: Finding Life, After Death…

November 2, 2012

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How do you comfort a woman in your congregation who has had abortion? How do you deal with friends who confess to you that they have, in the past, ended a pregnancy? These are not easy questions to be sure. Below is a very helpful suggestion from CCEF .(The Christian Counseling & Education Foundation)

Excerpted from a track available for purchase in full here.

“Imagine a woman who has previously had an abortion waking one morning with the realization that she has murdered her own child. She experiences guilt, grief and loss over this child, who will never be replaced. The death of her own flesh and blood is on her hands. Gripped with emotion she comes to you for help and relief. What will you tell her? How will you attempt to relieve this grief that inhabits her soul?”

“Approach her with love, compassion and hope. In this state the woman’s only hope in obtaining real peace is in a loving, forgiving, gracious God. This is the same God who sent His Son Jesus to die for us sinners on the cross as payment for our sin (John 3:16). As a result, even the killing of the woman’s child might be forgiven so that she could be reconciled to God. Hope is found in this wonderful salvation offered to us as a free gift (Rom. 6:23).”

“The biggest tragedy for this woman is that her sin and guilt have not only hindered her relationship with God and other people, but they have also prevented her from fulfilling God’s purpose and plan for her life. God has called us to holiness. When we recognize the ugliness of our sinfulness and the beauty of His grace, it should drive us to want to serve Him, to live in the radiance of His beauty (1 Pet. 1:14-16; 3:1-6). Help your counselee to find opportunities to use her gifts and talents to serve the Lord. She can share her story to help comfort and counsel others. She can serve at a crisis pregnancy center or in her church. Only God can sanctify our deepest distress and use the bad for good. One day your counselee may be able to sing, “Fill me with fire where once I burned with shame, grant my desire to magnify thy name.”

“As Christians we must address these women with a spirit of meekness, being compassionate and sensitive to her needs while speaking the truth in love. Some women will reject God’s plan of salvation. Others will begin a process of change and then resist further counseling. It is important that you take them as far as they will go in the processes of reconciliation, restoration, renewal, and healing. If necessary, warn them that following the way of the transgressor is hard (Prov.13:15); if you harden your heart, you will be suddenly broken (Ps. 29:1); and they may experience physical or emotional consequences due to sin (Ps. 32:3). Challenge those who will listen to use their remembrance of the past so that they might be gracious, merciful and helpful to others, humble in spirit, and able to rejoice in God’s goodness. Motivate them to use the remainder of their lives to serve and follow their forgiving God.”

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During This Election: The Future Context of our Voting…

November 1, 2012

 

As Christians we are to pray for our nation, we are to pray for our governments and our leaders, we are to give them the honor that they are due.  We recognize that no one comes to power apart from the sovereign providence of God.  While we hope that our leaders lead wisely, our ultimate hope is set on what is to come.  We are not; moreover we cannot place our hope in earthly things, but only in what is to come.  We set our hope fully on the revelation of Jesus Christ that is to come. (1 Peter 1:13)  At His appearing the kings of this world will bow and all that is wrong about the world will be made right.  So when you are prone to discouragement about the state of American and world politics rest in the knowledge that our systems are but a faint imperfect shadow of what is to come.

Revelation 21:1-5

1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” 5. And He who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”

John in his book of Revelation gives us a glorious picture of what the future will be like in chapter 21, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  And I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.  He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”  And He who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”

There will come a day when there will be a new heaven and a new earth, the difficulties of this world will pass away.  On that day, our leader will be a Lamb, seated on a throne, whose only agenda will be to make all things new.  As we pray for America and for our leaders we must pray in light of that coming day of glory.

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During this Election: The Current Context of our Voting…

October 31, 2012

As Christians we are to reside in the world, but we are to be set apart from it.  That is what it means to be a holy people of God, to be set apart for the purpose of reflecting God’s glorious light amid a dark world.  This is the context of our earthly citizenship, that we are to love the Father but not the world or the things in the world.

1 John 2:15-17

15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world-the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions-is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.

John instructs us in 1 John 2:15-17 that Christians,  “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world-the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions-is not from the Father but is from the world.

And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.”  It is easy to put all our hope in the political process, we can easily trust that politicians have all the answers and that their ways are the only ways.  But Scripture is clear that we are not to be enamored with the ways of this world.  This world is fleeting, God’s kingdom is eternal.

We pray for our leaders, we pray for our governments, but we do so knowing that the world is passing away.  But if we do the will of God we will abide forever.

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During this Election: Who Should Christians Pray For?

October 30, 2012

Christians are called to a life of humble character far above and beyond what the rest of the world expects.  We are to keep our conduct honorable among unbelievers, so that we might live above reproach and so they may see our good deeds and glorify God.  Part of that honorable life is a life lived in submission to the earthly authorities and institutions that God has placed over us.  We are to do this for presidents, and governors not just for our own sake, but for the sake of the Lord.  We are to live as a people who are free, not just free politically but free eternally.  Therefore we are to honor everyone; love our brothers and sisters in Christ; Fear our God, and honor the emperor.

 

 

1 Peter 2:12-17

12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. 13 Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. 16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. 17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.

We find that in 1 Peter, Peter gives us the ethic that should inform evangelical Christians.   He says in chapter 2, “ Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.  Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.  Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.”

Christians are to live as a people who are free.  We are not bound to political parties or constrained by ideologies.  We are to show honor to everyone, above that honor we are to love our brothers and sisters in Christ, we are to fear God and we are to honor those he has placed in government above us.

So as you honor those above you, ask yourself, “Have I prayed this week for my president?”  “I am living subject to Human institutions, or am I trying to find loopholes in the system?”