Tag Archives: Christian teaching

Who Knows You Best?

Open Bible  Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
       in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.
                   –Psalm 139:16 ESV

The psalmist firmly believed the story of creation in which God himself formed Adam with his own hands. In fact, it was clear to him that the miracle of life was God’s work from start to finish, and he saw in his relationship with God that human life was on a different level from all other life. He recognized God’s creative work in each human being from before the moment of conception. The psalmist could never have considered carving up the body of an unborn child to sell the pieces, because he saw how sacred was the relationship between God and each human throughout his life.

He did not think that a human was born by accident. He knew that a human was created and born for relationship with God. Elsewhere in this psalm, the writer declares that God never lets human beings escape his attention:

   Where shall I go from your Spirit?
        Or where shall I flee from your presence?
     If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
                                    –Psalm 139:7-8 ESV

He might as well have said that we can run, but we cannot hide from God.

When Jesus humbled himself and came to earth in human flesh, he did not cease being the God who seeks out human companionship and knows humans inside out. In the gospel of John, we read:

47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” 48 Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”

                                                —John 1:47-48 ESV

Nathanael’s response, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God,” is not a knee-jerk reaction to the statement of a fortune-teller. It is the recognition that knowing human beings is part of God’s character. Nathanael knew the psalms, and he knew about the creation of human beings. He recognized that the “knowing” of Jesus was far beyond the mere knowledge of sacred writings. Jesus knew who Nathanael was far beneath his skin.

By the time John wrote his gospel, he had had a lot of time to think about what he saw during the time he walked Galilee with Jesus. John affirmed what he saw in Jesus. He said, “[Jesus] needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.” John 2:25 ESV

When we read that a state has declared that people may end their own lives whenever they wish, or that a government somewhere in the world has authorized doctors to practice euthanasia, or when we read that the UN has declared it a universal human right for a woman to destroy her own unborn child if she likes, we shake our heads. Why do people treat human life so casually? God himself has acted in the creation and development of every human life. He knows each of us even before we are formed, certainly long before we are born. Each of us clearly has a place in God’s infinite and eternal plan. How can anyone presume to end a life before God takes it?

We Christians are accused of utter disregard for the woman whose body has been invaded by an alien being we call a baby. The culture calls it the “products of conception,” or “a blob of cells.” We recoil in horror at the idea that doctors will be motivated to encourage patients to sign “Do Not Resuscitate” orders. We are accused of expecting a family, or a patient’s estate, or even the government to keep paying and paying to keep someone alive long after he or she has ceased to contribute anything to the community. It is not easy to stand up when a cultural steamroller threatens.

How do we stay calm and stand strong in the midst of this chaos and destruction?

  • We must put our hope in God, not in government.
  • We must remember that God is still sovereign and that he has never surrendered any item of his purpose for humankind. The suffering and death of Christ tell us how much God loves the people he creates and knows so well. The resurrection of Christ promises us that the time/space continuum is not the end.
  • We nurture our relationship with God through prayer and Bible study, and we nurture the fellowship of family, church, and friends.
  • Most of all, we refuse to succumb to the temptation to feel like victims. Because Christ lives, we are never victims no matter how things look. We can trust the God who already knows us, the God who has already poured the blood of Jesus over us to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. We can pray with the psalmist:

23    Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
24    And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting!
–Psalm 139:23-24

By Katherine Harms, author of Oceans of Love available for Kindle at Amazon.com.

Image: Open Bible
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AOpen_Bible.jpg
By Wnorbutas (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0

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Where do Christians Get Their Ideas?

Humanist writers, the scribes of secularism, often complain that Christians do not learn from history. They point to past cultures where aberrations such as homosexuality and gender confusion were treated as normal components of the community, and because such communities existed, they suggest that Christians are out of order to call homosexuality a sin. Yet there is no corresponding cry for the sacrifice of human beings whose living hearts were ripped from their chests in ancient cultures. If learning from history is such a good idea, what happened to human sacrifice?

On the other hand, humanist writers claim that human beings are evolving inexorably into better and better beings. The journalists of evolutionary progression say that recognition of homosexuality as normal is a natural outcome of human maturity. When Christians declare that homosexuality is sin, these writers scornfully consign Christians to “the wrong side of history.”

Secular thinkers call on both science and history to declare that homosexuality should be accepted as normal. Secularists ask, where do Christians get the idea that they can ignore science and history?

Christians get their ideas from the Bible.

The Bible is God’s gift to humankind to be their guide for faith and life. The Bible’s truths do not change over time; they are absolute. Whatever the Bible declares to be sin in one writer’s work is still sin when it appears later. Humans do not evolve. God does not evolve. Truth does not evolve.

Christians call homosexuality sin, along with many other sexual perversions, because the Bible calls those behaviors sin. Christians do not deny that there have been humans throughout history who have practiced sexual immorality in many different ways. They reject the idea that homosexuality, like any other sexual perversion, is normal, because the Bible says it is not normal; it is sin. The Bible teaches that humans were created male and female, by God according to God’s plan. The Bible teaches that the union of male and female is the union that fulfills every human being’s sexual potential completely, all the while modeling the relationship of God to his church, a relationship that fulfills the total potential of every human being. Against this absolute truth received by God’s revelation of himself in the Bible, secularists base their conclusions on a moving target, a relative truth that is different for each person. Secularists operate on a self-serving standard that says that each person must discover his own truth, which he will recognize when it makes him feel good.

People who are trying to make sense of the cultural discourse on this subject need to recognize two important truths:

  • God created the universe and all life within it, including human beings, whom he uniquely created for relationship with him.
  • The Bible is God’s revelation of himself through human instruments, and it can be understood .by reading the language as if it meant what it says.

Some Christians torture both language and scholarship in order to make the Bible appear not to call homosexuality sin, because they think that the Jesus who said, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” could not have intended for homosexuals to be called sinners. They confuse the recognition of sin with justification for hatred. Too many people who claim the name of Christ do, in fact, use the Bible and teachings about sin exactly that way. They forget that while Jesus taught us to eschew sinful behavior (he told the prostitute he rescued from stoning, “Go and sin no more.”) he did not teach us to act as judge, jury and execution when we observe someone in sin. Rather, he taught each of us to get the logs out of our own eyes before we presume to pick splinters out of the eyes of others. Jesus taught us to remember that each of us is a sinner. Not enough Christians speak in public about the truth that every person is a sinner, and no sinner’s sin is less sinful than anybody else’s sin. In plain language, it doesn’t make any difference if you are homosexual or heterosexual before God; you are a sinner.

When we see sexual perversion this way, it means that we don’t even need to know if someone is homosexual or a prostitute or a banker or a thief before we share Christ with that person. We share Christ with everyone, because everyone needs Christ. Everyone is equally sinful. Where do we get that idea? We get it from the Bible.

All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God. Romans 3:23 ESV

This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted. John 3:16-18 The Message

We are all “Born That Way”

People who see the demographic for homosexuality increasing in the context of today’s cultural stew really do want to know where homosexuality comes from.

The answer is: Satan

Homosexuals, and all the other sexual variants that now fall under the umbrella of “gender queering” want to say that it is genetic. The fact that no evidence has been found for any genetic basis for the behavior has not discouraged the political types at all. They list possible areas of research as if the list itself proves the hypothesis the research will test.

Christians come under intense pressure and vitriolic scorn from LGBT activists, because Christians call homosexual behavior a sin. The revealed Word of God calls it sin, and people who take the revealed Word of God as their guide for faith and life accept that what it says is truth.

The mantra of LGBT activists, bloggers and public figures is that homosexuals are “born that way.” Further, they assert that the drive for homosexuality is not only inborn, but it is also immutable; a born homosexual is incapable of changing his or her sexual orientation.

 They further declare that only a vindictive God would create homosexuals and then condemn homosexuality as a sin. Thus, if one accepts that a person could be born homosexual, that fact is said to completely debunk the Bible as a vicious myth, because the Bible says that homosexuality is sinful and lumps that behavior in with a lot of other behaviors that are condemned as evidence of Satan’s work in human life. According to the LGBT activists, the fact that a person is born homosexual, “born that way,” automatically establishes the behavior as normal. They are outraged that God would condemn someone for something he did not choose and cannot change.

Christians who hear this argument are tempted to engage in the rhetoric over genetic research. Genetic research to date has found no evidence of a genetic basis for homosexuality. Christians want to say that the lack of evidence proves that homosexuality is a choice. LGBT activists, firm in their conviction that it is not a choice, aggressively point to what they consider to be promising lines of inquiry that could establish some prenatal factor in the vast biochemical stew that is the human body which predestines a fetus to be born homosexual.

Christians cannot disprove what has not been alleged to be proven. This line of argument is fruitless. It is also beside the point. If homosexuality is a sin, then the real problem homosexuals have is not genetic. It is also not unique, because every human being is born a sinner. Being born sinful is a universal problem.

Every one of us is “born that way.”

To accuse a homosexual of being a sinner is no different from accusing a thief of being a sinner. The behavior someone engages in as a consequence of being a sinner is irrelevant to the real problem. Every person is sinful and needs salvation, and there is only one way to fix the problem.

The answer is: Christ.

The cultural issues surrounding homosexuality and the way people act when confronted by it are complicated. Homosexuals feel that society has scorned them, and it feels hurtful. The reason they feel that way is because society does scorn homosexual behavior. It is true that the culture has expressed complete repugnance at homosexual behavior. Homosexuals rightly point to a long history of real abuse of homosexuals, but the fix for the problem is not to deny the biblical truth that homosexuality is sin.

The fix is: Christ.

Christians and non-Christians alike have expressed outrage at homosexual behavior. Many Christians have behaved very badly. Why? Because Christians are human beings, and human beings are “born that way.” What way? Human beings are born sinful. Christians are human beings. The difference between Christians and non-Christians is not perfection of behavior and attitude: the difference is the blood of Christ. Christians are born sinful, and their sins are forgiven, because Christ died for all people. When they receive Christ as their Savior, they become forgiven, not perfect. Bad behavior toward homosexuals is the consequence of their human nature, not an indictment of the Savior.

This problem proves an important point: because every human is born sinful, and because forgiveness of sin neither eradicates sinful human nature nor destroys Satan, every Christian is still subject to behave under the influence of Satan through the agency of sinful human nature. LGBT activists say that because a person is “born that way,” the condition is immutable. If being born sinful were immutable, then Christ’s death would have no purpose. The fact that Christ died for all people and rose to give all people eternal life means that while everyone is born sinful, and even though the condition of being sinful is immutable, everyone is invited to be forgiven and to be fundamentally transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Every person is born a sinner. The kinds of sin are numerous. Homosexuality is only one. No Christian who happens to be untempted by homosexuality should scorn those who are. We are all born sinners, and one sin is not any better or worse than another. What Christians must NOT do is be tempted to deny the sinfulness of sinful behavior. Christians who feel confident in asserting that homosexuality is sin must also be honest in asserting that lying is a sin. There are, for example, no “white” lies that are good in contrast to “black” lies that are evil. God is the God of Truth, not of lies.

We cannot classify some sins as worse than others. What makes us feel that way is often the problem of advocacy. We feel that while every person is a sinner, those who make a career of luring others into sin are worse than those who go about their sinning quietly. Jesus agreed with that evaluation. He said that misleading a person and luring people into sin would merit a particularly gruesome punishment in God’s eyes. Christians are justified in their insistence that voices demanding the normalization of homosexuality in the culture and voices pushing to teach kindergartners that they need to figure out if homosexuality is for them must be silenced. To demand an end to public advocacy for homosexuality is not the same thing as demanding the shunning or exclusion of homosexuals. To refuse to participate in homosexual behavior such as pretending to get married is not the same thing as saying that homosexuals have no right to pretend whatever they like to pretend. Christians must be firm in rejecting the behavior and in refusal to participate in it, just as they might refuse to promote a Ponzi scheme or decline to drive the getaway car for a bank robber.

Christians must reject sin in all its forms. Christians are called to hate sin and love sinners. This attitude does not justify or promote ugly behavior toward homosexuals; if anything, it should promote understanding of their plight, which is no different from anybody else’s plight. Christians are, as Martin Luther commented, sinful saints and saintly sinners. If Christians do not love sinners, then they cannot love anybody, because the truth is:

We are all “born that way.”

Who Has a Biblical Worldview?

‘One cannot reduce the whole of religious theology, that is to say the question of how different religions relate to one another, to a yes-and-no question. It amounts to doing violence to a wealth of knowledge and experience that can be found there.’

Before you know who made this statement and on what occasion, please read it again and ponder what you think it means. What could be the purpose for a statement like this one? What does it say about the value the speaker attributes to any religion?

The statement was made by the head of the Lutheran Church of Sweden in answer to a question. Antje Jackelén was asked “Does Jesus provide a truer picture of God than Muhammed?” The quotation above was her answer. That she made this statement while holding a leadership position in an organization which alleges to be a Christian church is disturbing. That the people who were tasked with selecting a national leader for that church chose this woman rather than the bishop who flatly answered “Yes” is extremely disturbing. Any child in Sunday School who knows that Jesus is God in the flesh could answer this question, yet the national leader of the Lutheran Church in Sweden cannot answer it.

Unfortunately, she is not alone.

There are many Christians who would not be sure how to answer that question. Some might equivocate as she did, attempting not to answer it at all. Some might be bold enough to say, “Well, Jesus is only one view of what God is like. Mohammed is another.” Some might say that the answer doesn’t even matter since there are so many ways to see God. These Christians might all be American Christians, too, because statistics bear out what any casual observer might deduce: the fact that someone calls himself a Christian does not mean that the person believes what Christians have historically taught as the core truths.

The Barna Group, which studies the landscape of religion in the USA, identifies 6 teachings that make up a Christian worldview:

  • Absolute moral truth exists
  • The Bible is totally accurate in all the principles it teaches
  • Satan is a real being, not a mere symbol
  • It is not possible to earn entry to heaven by doing good works
  • Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth
  • God is the all-knowing, all-powerful creator of the world who still rules the universe today

It is possible that some Christians would word these teachings a little differently, but 2000 years of writing about the faith would find little to dispute in this definition of a biblical worldview. The one point avoided in the way Barna speaks of a biblical worldview is a statement that Jesus was 100% human and 100% God. It is hard to imagine how someone who was not God could live a sinless life, but there are almost certainly people who would try to make that point. However, people who believe all six teachings will certainly have a distinctive outlook consistent with the Bible.

It would be easy to look at that list and observe that the new Bishop of the Lutheran Church in Sweden does not agree with it. Her statement is that theology cannot be reduced to yes and no answers to religious questions. Right away it is clear that she does not agree that absolute moral truth exists. In the culture of the US there are many people who agree with her, and a large number of those people attend American Christian churches and self-identify as Christians. This despite consistent biblical emphasis on moral absolutes. The statistics gathered in a survey in 2009 are thought-provoking.

  • 66% of all adults surveyed believe there is no such thing as absolute truth
  • 50% of all adults surveyed believe that the Bible is only a good myth
  • 73% believe that Satan is a myth
  • 72% of all adults believe that it is possible to earn entry to heaven by doing good deeds
  • 60% of all adults believe that Jesus was a good man but not sinless, certainly not God
  • Amazingly, only 30% of all adults doubt that God is the creator and still in charge of the universe

The problem with all these statistics is that about 75% of all adults self-identify as Christians. When all the statistics are boiled down, about 9% of adults have a biblical worldview. Among the adults who do not hold biblical worldviews, a sizable number are Christian leaders – pastors, Sunday School teachers, theology professors, and so forth.

It would be easy to laugh at the Swedes for picking a bishop who clearly does not see Jesus as 100% God and 100% human. But 90% of the people in the USA probably agree with her.

That is something to think about for the next few days.

Great is the Lord

Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols    Ps 96:4–5 

When I listen to the news or page through online reports and commentary, it is astonishing that so much of the material is related to the topic of sex. It may be sexual misbehavior by a political candidate. It may be protests at attempts to limit abortions. It may be discussion of employers who sue to escape the legal requirement to provide free contraceptives in group health insurance. It may be gay marriage, or it may be about whether a person with a gender identity problem can use the girls’ bathroom at school. Sex is pervasive in the news, and there is daily raucous conversation in public about things people used to believe were subjects only for private, adult conversations.

Americans think they have come a long way since ancient times, but they have actually regressed in a major way; Americans worship the gods of the ancient cultures. Tribal gods in primitive cultures and gods in the state religions of ancient empires usually had their roots in the need for fertility of crops and livestock. Worship of the gods included sex acts of various kinds. The Bible records that the lure of the sexual element of worship of those false gods repeatedly drew Israel away from faithful worship of God. Today’s Americans are at least as focused on sex and sexual behaviors as the ancient religions that threatened Israel, and with less reason. The ancient worshipers hoped that their sexual activity would result in abundant food for the survival of the culture, but they also hoped that they themselves would have many children in order to perpetuate their own families. Today’s Americans want to have sex with anybody they choose at any time they choose with no consequences, not even pregnancy. All they want is the buzz. Everything else about sexuality is considered trivial and not worth mentioning. The cultural fixation on sex has led to the destruction of respect for fertility.

The American wish to have free sex with no consequences or connections has led to another ancient practice: Americans sacrifice their children. In ancient cultures, living children, post-born fetuses, fourth trimester babies, to use some of the current jargon, were routinely sacrificed to the gods for various reasons, or for no reason other than an alleged demand from the god. In the USA, children are routinely sacrificed for the purely selfish reason that the parties to copulation never wanted children, and had no intention to produce children. They just wanted the buzz. They don’t burn the child up on an altar or make a virgin cast herself into the sea. They take drugs that reverse normal body processes and reject the implantation of a fertilized egg. If that approach fails, or if they don’t decide to sacrifice the child till later, they resort to surgery and outright murder of a living, sentient baby. The news this year has included evidence of the murder of unwanted babies any normal human being would love and cuddle and welcome into the world. In a normal hospital the birth of a baby with life-threatening issues automatically initiates a full-bore effort to save the life of the baby. Yet we now know that many babies with no threat to their lives at all except rejection by their own mothers are murdered by the doctor, a person who took an oath, “first, do no harm.” How can people who do these things believe that they are in any way superior to ancients who burned up their babies for the gratification of an idol? How can Americans credibly proclaim that people are learning more and more about life and becoming better and better in every way when the number of babies aborted in the USA would populate a sizable country all by themselves if they came back to life.  

When the psalmist confronted cultural attitudes and behaviors like these, he responded. The psalmist saw and heard his culture acting on concert with idolators, engaging in orgies for the supposed gratification of the idol, burning their children to satisfy demonic gods. The psalmist chose instead to give his testimony to God in praise and thanksgiving:

I give you thanks, O Lord, with my whole heart; before the gods I sing your praise.  Psalm 138:1

This choice of words creates the obvious image of a believer testifying to God’s love and grace, as well as God’s call to use the gift of sexuality the way God intended it to be use. Robert Alter interprets the scene this way: “I hymn to You in defiant presence before all these deities that people imagine to be real gods.” (Alter, The Book of Psalms, 2007, p.476) The rabid, frenzied defense of sexual libertinism in the culture is a testimony to the presence of those ancient demonic idols. Christians who deplore the abuse of the gift of sexuality and the sacrifice of children to the god of sex feel the presence of those demons. They, like the psalmist defy the culture, giving thanks to God for all his blessings including the gift of sexuality. They endure the scorn of the general population and even of some Christians when they praise God and uphold God’s standards for human beings – a call to treasure and respect the gift of life and the gift to reproduce life which is the gift of sexuality.

An important lesson of the Bible is that human beings never change. There is a popular way of thinking that says humans are becoming better and better, constantly learning new and better things about living. The evidence of human behavior is that humans from ancient times to the present prefer self-gratification to any other pleasure. There has been no change in that attitude, no improvement in the moral view of it. Libertine enjoyment of sex is the most powerful force for self-gratification, and it is easiest to justify it if you call self-serving behavior a good thing. It is justified by saying that the things that make a person feel happy are the things he should do. The current sexual attitude in the culture certainly looks just like the behavior of ancient idolators who at least attempted to cover up their lust with a spiritual wrapping. Contemporary hedonists don’t even bother. They don’t worry about hiding their behavior from a God whom they consider to be an imaginary friend.

The psalmist had one more message for the current culture. Psalm 14 and Psalm 53 both start with these words: “The fool says in his heart, There is no God.”  These psalms continue to describe the evil of those who reject God, that “not even one” does what is right. It is no comfort to Christians to figure out that contemporary people live by moral standards that were considered degenerate thousands of years ago. Rather, it is a reminder that we must look to God, and to the Bible for our moral guidance, not to the culture.

A couple of years ago, someone told me that if I did not endorse same-sex marriage, I would be on the wrong side of history. The psalmist reminds all of us that the judgment of history is the judgment of human beings. In the eternal scheme of things, the judgment of history matters not at all. It is only God’s judgment that matters. We may be on the “wrong side” of history, but it is much more important to be on the “right side” of God. Christ Jesus ascended to heaven where he sat down at the right hand of God the Father. When the landscape of history is burned up in fire it won’t any longer matter which side someone stood on. It will only be important to be standing with the Lamb at his marriage supper in the New Jerusalem. That is what the psalmist was saying when he wrote:

I give you thanks, O Lord, with my whole heart; before the gods I sing your praise.  Psalm 138:1