Doubts, Questions, Queries, Thoughts…

Just because I know you’re out there, I thought I’d just remind you that the ‘Itching Questions’ tab still exists.

I absolutely love questions. Even when I can’t answer them, they open an opportunity for thought.

Don’t be intimidated because I don’t know anywhere near everything and I never will.

Don’t be afraid because my aim isn’t to cut you down but to draw light on your questions/thoughts from the Bible.

Don’t hesitate because you might learn something you didn’t know before.

Don’t hold back because getting into the depths of the Bible is something I find fascinating and I can guarantee it’s worthwhile.

So there, hopefully that’s reason enough to just ask away.

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Everyone’s Religious: whether you like it or not.

 

To some this may come as a shock, maybe not to others, but it’s true: everyone is religious.  People often think of religion as a set of defining rules that guide life based on some supernatural power they call their God(s).

Check out the Oxford dictionary definition of Religion: “a pursuit or interest followed with great devotion.”

I don’t think one can go through life without having an interest that they devote themselves to. Even the atheist, they have devoted themselves to denying the existence of God, a sportsman has a religious attitude towards their sport, or a businessman has devoted themselves to growth and profit, etc etc.

Think about some of the things you devote yourself to, are they worth the effort? Or are they essentially futile and keep you busy while you live on this earth?

I was reading Acts 17 this morning and I was struck by how little humanity has changed, if at all. After Jesus ascended into heaven, his disciples took the truth to the nations. Paul, who was once called Saul, and he was “ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.” (Acts 8:3). He was heading off to Damascus to find “any belonging to the Way, men or women” to “bring them bound back to Jerusalem”(Acts 9:2) when he had a revelation, and became one of the most influential people in the Bible.

So Paul travels around, going into churches, starting churches and just telling anyone and everyone the truth offered through and in Jesus. Acts Chapter 17 records Paul’s work in Athens. So he’s arrived at Athens and walked into the Areopagus to address them. The Areopagus is the judicial body of aristocratic origin that subsequently formed the higher court of modern Greece.

“So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god’. What therefore you worship is unknown, this I proclaim to you.”

Acts 17:22-23

Paul’s picked up on all the things these people dedicate themselves to, many of which are man-made and some they can’t even name or know. He addresses Athens because “he saw that the city was full of idols” (Acts 17:16).

“The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives all mankind life and breath and everything.”

Acts 17:25

Paul reveals the real God, who doesn’t need us to help him out, who isn’t restricted to temples. A God who is the creator and the provider and the sustainer providing mankind even with breath. Is that not more worthwhile of devotion than an ‘unknown god’ or a material god? But why devote yourself to a God that has no need of us? Paul continues:

“And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for

‘In him we live and move and have our being’;

as even some of your own poets have said,

‘we are indeed his offspring.'”

Acts 17:26-28

Why should we bother following God? Because God created us with a purpose, he gave us life so that we should ‘seek God’. But God isn’t this abstract force, we are made in his image, ‘his offspring’. We exist because of him, so isn’t that reason enough to exist for him?

“Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

Acts 17:29-31

Not only should we seek God, but there are consequences for your decisions. Because we are in his image, his ‘offspring’, we shouldn’t replace him with things he’s made. How ridiculous to think that a material object that God has created is more worthy of devotion or pursuit than the being that created it!

God has not just left us with no direction as to how to come to him, he sent us his son Jesus Christ (who is the man appointed to judge). He’s given us the opportunity to repent and have assurance, even through judgement, despite the fact we’ve offended him by replacing him with these inanimate objects. This judgement is guaranteed by Jesus resurrection. He is often referred to as the ‘firstborn among the dead’ (Col 1:18). Everyone will be judged based upon this decision. So what are our options then?

“Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this”. So Paul went out of their midst. But some men joined him and believed.”

Acts 17:32-34

A claim like this demands a response. Either you can see a vivid reality of judgement and a conviction of your offense toward the Creator and repent, or you can see this as the folly of ignorant and mislead people. Think about it. This decision has real consequence, eternal consequence.

So what have you placed where the living God of the universe should be? Or do you think He is unworthy of that position and you would prefer to devote yourself to the created, the mortal and fleeting? It’s up to you, but it’s not a decision you should treat lightly.

Holiness in a World Where Anything Goes

Holiness: non-conformity

Today I’ll be heading off to Easter Convention which is like a big family camp that happens every year and they get all these great speakers in from every where to come and speak. This year I’ve been asked to help lead the yr 11 and 12 group, so its gonna be an exciting few days for me. When I get back I’ll let you all know how it went down.

This year the theme is….’Committment in the age of disposable love’. Don Carson, who is pretty well known in Christian circles, written like a million books. Then there’s Dale Davis, who is a Professor of the OT somewhere in America, and finally Simon Flinders, from right here in Australia, who is the Chaplain to the Australian Cricket team. So I’m really excited and thought I’d let you know what’s coming up. If you could pray that hearts would be changed and that the leaders would have energy and enthusiasm to serve these next few days.

“So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.
The acts of sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissentions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self control. Against such things there is no law. This who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying other.”
 Galatians 5:16-26

Young people grow up these days with little understanding of what is right or wrong. Let me justify myself with some statistics…

Australia was reported to have the sixth largest rate of teenage pregnancy among developed nations in 2003.  5% of Australian babies were reported to be born to teenage girls, while legally induced abortions were the second highest reason for girls between the ages of 12 and 20 to get admitted to hospitals.

Crime statistics present that roughly one-third of all victims of violent crime are teenagers, between the ages of 12 and 19. Need I say more?

I hope that you can agree that this has developed from the ‘relativism’ I talked about in the last post. It has led to little fundamental agreement over what is right and what is wrong. As Satre once said:

“God does not exist and we have to face all the consequences of this. It is extremely embarrassing that God does not exist for there disapears with him all possibility of finding values in an intelligible heaven. We find no values or commands to turn to”

Can we decide between right and wrong?

People who don’t believe in a moral authority follow how they feel when they make a decision. This feels right or it feels wrong. You know, the cliche ‘go with your gut feeling’.
But to be honest, feelings aren’t that reliable and change from culture to culture and person to person. Look at Adolf Hitler, he felt it was right to kill off all the Jews.

This world screams, ‘We are released from the shackles of religion and Victorian morality, we are free to believe what we like and behave how we want.’ It sure sounds attractive, doesn’t it? But are its consequences as desirable?

“for it is written:” Be holy, because I am holy.””
1 Peter 1:16

‘There is no truth except my truth and no morality except my morality.’
To be holy means to be set apart, to be different in a way that reflects God’s moral perfection in ones life. This is one of the hardest things for a Christian cos as humans we’re naturally conformist. We prefer to ‘go with the flow’, ‘follow the crowd’.

1. We Must Recognise Our Sin.

The purpose of moral law is to make us aware of our sin. In a previous post called ‘No one is Righteous, not even one’ I expand on this a little more if you’re interested. Following and perfecting this law isn’t what saves you, you can’t perfect yourself. Salvation comes through Christ alone in faith alone.
The passage above suggests that the church that Paul was writing to were becoming complacent about this. They had thought, ‘well, if we’re saved, and Jesus has got all our sins covered, past, present and future, then we can just sin all we want, he’s got it all covered.’ Paul corrects this and says that it does matter how we live.

Rotten to the Core
No matter how morally sound we present oursleves everyone is sinful and corrupt within. The recognition of sin is the first step to living differently.

A Grusome List

“The acts of sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissentions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
v19-21

Look at this list, by nature we are competitively selfish – sexual immorality, fractured relationships, pride. However, God doesn’t ‘grade’ sin, there is none more severe than any other.  And becoming a Christian doesn’t mean you are magically immune to sin

2. We depend on God’s Spirit

‘Holiness is not a self-help programme’ – Vaughan Roberts
We can’t make ourselves holy all on our own, if you want to become more like Christ, he is your call of help.

The Fruit of the Spirit
The Holy Spirit is what opens up a new lifestyle. ‘A vine does not produce fruit by an act of parliament. They are the fruits of the vine’s own life.’ It is the spirit that will make real changes within a person, not following the law like they are the keys to Salvation.

3. We Must Work Hard

So like I said before, being saved isn’t the cue to go on taking it for granted.
” So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the deasires of the sinful nature.”v16
Making the decision to live by the spirit isn’t easy, but its rewarding.
“For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.”v17
Living as a Christian is a battel between two natures, the spirit and our sinful nature. Every decision, action and thought is a moral choice as to which side you’re gonna go.
Keeping in step with the spirit means to consciously operate alongside it, the choice is all yours.

“Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.”
v24-25

We need to live lives that reflect our decision to follow Christ. The Spirit works as we work. You can’t just sit back and wait for God to do it all, He works alongside us, giving us the strength to fight but we must supply the will.

The choice is yours, we can’t change on our own, follow the sinful nature or the Spirit.

Certainty in a World in Which Everything is Relative

This post kind of is an extension onto “Is there anything out there?” that I posted a few weeks ago. I got a little excited about it and posted a little spoiler earlier. So here’s some more on the subject if you’re interested.

So to sum up what the previous post said, it was something along the lines of…Christianity is the only religion whose information comes from outside this world. Therefore, it is the truth about God because it came from God not man.

“Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one come to the Father except through me.”
John 14:6

‘The man from the outside”

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God , and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.”
John 1:1-2

Jesus was with God from the beginning but then he entered our history. He wasn’t just a creation that was made to fix sin because Gods plan went in a direction he never expected. Jesus was there from the beginning.

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
John 1:14

This is still sort of a recap on the previous post. So basically, Christianity isn’t just a pile of guess-work. The Bible is how God reveals himself to man. ‘Now, at last, it is possible to know the truth about God. It is not discovered by the power of human reason or mystical experience, but through revelation.’ (Vaughan Roberts – Distinctives)

“No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.”
John 1:18

You might be thinking, hold on, Christianity isn’t the only religion that claims to be founded on revelations from God, how can you claim that Christianity’s revelations are the truth over other religions revelations?

Well, I can confidently say that Christianity is based on real history.

‘Your word is Truth’
Despite Jesus no longer being on Earth we still have access to the truth. The Old testament is seen as the truth. Jesus often quoted it and equated it to the words of God.
The Bible is a book written by humans, around 40 different authors all with different styles, personalities, occupations and historical contexts. Gods spirit spoke through them creating a written record.

How do you know it’s accurate?

“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever-the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you will know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.”
 John 14:17

This is a verse from the gospel of John where Jesus is explaining that he is going to leave them. They have a little freak out and don’t really understand and they keep asking him, ‘Where are you going?’ and ‘How can I follow you there?’ Here Jesus is promising to give them the Spirit of truth (The Holy Spirit).

“But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have said to you.”
John 14:26.

So, Jesus left them with the Holy Spirit. What does the Holy Spirit do? In the verse above, the Holy Spirit was at work in the people who wrote the Bible, ensuring that what they wrote was accurate. Basically he’s saying, it’ll help you remember what’s gone down so that you can write it right and pass it along to other people.
 
“I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.”
John 16:12-13

The Bible is revelation from God, the Spirit works in the authors of the Bible to make it true and accurate. But it then causes a conflict with a world of relativism. It becomes a claim of absolute truth in a world that doesn’t believe in absolute truth.

‘Our knowledge of truth does not depend on our imagination within the enclosed world of time and space, but rather on the revelation of the one who is from the outside – God himself.”
Vaughan Roberts – Distinctives

1. Know the Truth
So if the Bible is this revelation from God, accurate and true. The first step to take is to begin to learn it and know it.

“Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation.”
1 Peter 2:2

Peter writes in one of his letters that the word of God is what sustains and grows Christians. Being a revelation from God it is the thing that nourishes a relationship with God.
However, the world has shifted to value emotion over thinking. People now expect and seek this ‘direct experiential encounter with God’ and often they find it difficult to see how our minds fit into that emotional encounter.
That isn’t what leads to spiritual health, it is the truth of God that brings spiritual health. Therefore, knowing the truth must have priority over experience.’Only those who have responded in faith to the gospel of Christ have a true knowledge of God.’ pg 80
Basically, regular reading of the Bible and valuable teaching from the Bible are essential for growing in Christ. So you can imagine how important it is. David in one of his many songs wrote…

“Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long!”
Psalm 119:97

2. Live the Truth
Just knowing the truth isn’t enough. Often people call Christians hypocrites because they don’t live what they believe. It is not the Bible that is at fault, but the people here. Christians are all sinful and imperfect but that doesn’t mean we can’t do our best to live the truth.

“Do not merely listen to the word and so deceive yourselves, do what it says.”
James 1:22

Be careful that you don’t let learning from the Bible become a mere intellectual excercise, the purpose of believing it is to do it. Pray, ask God to help you put these things into practise. It’s not something you can just magically achieve over night. It’s also not something that God expects us to be able to do easily, so ask him to help you out.
To be honest, starting this blog has really challenged me in this area. It’s so easy to put minimal energy into acting on what you learn, particularly when people only have a vague idea of what Christians believe. So starting this blog and telling other people about what I believe and brought me to work harder at living what I learn.

3. Contend for the Truth
On the same note, this blog is also an effort of mine to contend for the truth. To clear up the stereotypes and falsity that has been placed on Christianity. 

“Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.”
Jude 3

Relativism reigns in this world. Christians are persecuted for their claim to have the only and absolute truth. Vaughan Roberts in his book ‘distinctives’ quoted from his local newspaper:

“The idea that any mere human…could have any conception of what God is thinking is surely laughable and arrogant in the extreme…There is no-one…who is so perfect in themselves that they have the right to go around criticizing the behavior of other people…A bit of compassion and tolerance is more appealing than a load of bile and bigotry.”

No one wants to receive that response and so often Christians shy away but that’s not something we can afford to do.
Be careful and critical of the teaching in your church, make sure that the truth is being preached and isn’t modified to accommodate for the worlds love of relativism. Gods word doesn’t need to be sugar-coated to attract attention, it needs to be revolutionary and strikingly different and its capable of being that on its own.

4. Proclaim the Truth
As I said in an earlier post, if you knew the cure for cancer you’d tell everyone, wouldn’t you? You’d be proud and eager to share it. Well, God has provided an escape from hell, a way out of the punishment that we all deserve. Is that not something to eagerly tell others as well?

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Matt 28:19-20

Don’t just resist this movement of relativism, proclaim the absolute truth. We are called to be counter-cultural. The world is happy for us to believe what we want, it’s when we start sharing it that it becomes a problem. Often this is what limits our evangelistic goals to ‘people more like us’. We avoid those of other religions because we expect this reaction of being accused of stealing people away from their religions.
We have received the truth and it is our privilege to pass it on. Evangelism is underpinned by relationships. Jesus didn’t only preach it, he lived it.