Friday, February 28, 2014

Abimelech, the First King in Israel

I know what you're thinking. The first king of Israel is clearly Saul. Although Saul is the first king in the line of kings we typically think of, there was a small period of time when Abimelech the son of Gideon ruled as king over Israel in the days of Judges.

This story begins with the work of Abimelech's father Gideon. As many of you know, Gideon was a judge whom the Lord used to overthrow the Midianites. After this, the Israelites wish to make Gideon their king, but he replies in Judges 8: 23,
"And Gideon said unto them, I will not rule over you, nor shall my son rule over you: the Lord shall rule over you." 

However, the rest of his actions are not exactly befitting of that level of commitment to the Lord. Gideon who spent his early ministry tearing down idols, now has the Israelites furnish their own. Gideon caused the Israelites to go "a-whoring" after false gods.

This was the milieu in which Abimelech was raised. The son of Gideon and his concubine, Abimelech shared the inheritance of his father  with Gideon's seventy sons.

Or so he should have anyway. Instead though Abimelech decides that he is going to work his ways into the hearts of the men of Shechem to be their king. He challenges them in Judges 9:2,
"Speak, I pray you, in the ears of all the men of Shechem, Whether is better for you, either that all the sons of Jerubbaal, which are threescore and ten persons, reign over you, or that one reign over you? remember also that I am your bone and your flesh."

There's just one problem. The other sons of Gideon have as much right to rule as does Abimelech. But this is no hard task for Abimelech. When he receives the blessing of the men of Shechem, he immediately goes to his father's house and slaughters the rest of his brethren.

This is a depressing time for the Israelites. One man has slain all his brothers for his own selfish ambition.

Thankfully, the Lord provided that not all the sons of Gideon would be slain. Jotham, the youngest son, hid from Abimelech and was saved. You can all guess how the events transpired from here. Jotham turns the hearts of the Shechemites against Abimelech, but he does this civilly without any threat of war. Ultimately, Abimelech dies, and the era of judges continues with a man by the name of Tola the son of Puah.

Jotham is never heard from again. He exhibited extreme selflessness working to free the people from the reign of Abimelech. He didn't look to put himself on the throne for himself, but rather sought to free Israel from the rule of this treacherous leader.

Truly that is what this passage is all about. Being more willing to serve than to rule. ln other words, looking out for others and God rather than pursuing your own agenda. As Jotham tells the men of Shechem in Judges 9: 7-15,
 "And when they told it to Jotham, he went and stood in the top of mount Gerizim, and lifted up his voice, and cried, and said unto them, Hearken unto me, ye men of Shechem, that God may hearken unto you. The trees went forth on a time to anoint a king over them; and they said unto the olive tree, Reign thou over us. But the olive tree said unto them, Should I leave my fatness, wherewith by me they honour God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees? And the trees said to the fig tree, Come thou, and reign over us. But the fig tree said unto them, Should I forsake my sweetness, and my good fruit, and go to be promoted over the trees? Then said the trees unto the vine, Come thou, and reign over us. And the vine said unto them, Should I leave my wine, which cheereth God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees? Then said all the trees unto the bramble, Come thou, and reign over us. And the bramble said unto the trees, If in truth ye anoint me king over you, then come and put your trust in my shadow: and if not, let fire come out of the bramble, and devour the cedars of Lebanon."

In this parable, the bramble is symbolising Abimelech and his treachery. Jotham is saying that the judges prior to Abimelech were more interested in serving those around them, than they were in having power of their own. The Matthew Henry's Commentary on this chapter explains further,
"When the trees were disposed to choose a king the government was offered to those valuable trees the olive, the fig-tree, and the vine, but they refused it, choosing rather to serve than rule, to do good than bear sway. But the same tender being made to the bramble he accepted it with vain-glorious exultation.... He hereby applauds the generous modesty of Gideon, and the other judges who were before him, and perhaps of the sons of Gideon, who had declined accepting the state and power of kings when they might have had them, and likewise shows that it is in general the temper of all wise and good men to decline preferment and to choose rather to be useful than to be great."

A few weeks ago, this passage really spoke to me, in that I need not go about my days pursuing my own agenda, but looking to serve the Lord whole-heartedly, to be a blessing to those around me. Authority, power, enjoyment is all empty if we do not look to serve others. This is much more fulfilling than living a life of greed. Let it run every waking moment of your day.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Doctrines of The Christian Faith 7: Day of Reflection: The Nature of the Image of God

Today is the seventh post of the Christian Doctrines series, and that means it is time to conclude our series by looking at what we have accomplished and rest, just as the Lord did after his 6 days of creation. Although these works can never even be a fourth as good as that which the Lord created, the model will continually be echoed throughout these series for as long as I write them.

So what have we accomplished in this series? Honestly, not as much as I wanted. A lot of the posts were either too simple or made too many points to be coherent. I even left out a few points because I discovered as I wrote the sixth post, I had left too much for it. As such, next week, an "Addendum" will be posted that will detail these few points in detail.

Nevertheless, I was still able to express the most important event in all of history bit-by-bit throughout this series - the story of man's sinfulness, God's holiness and mercy, and the sacrificial atonement for our sins. Today, I will tell this story once more, in a different way than I originally shared it. Today, we discuss the nature of the image of God.

Man Created In God's Image

In Genesis 1:26-27, we learn, 
"And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them."

Here we see the first time man is mentioned in the Bible. The Lord says that we should make man in our image. (Remember that the Lord is three persons in the outer "crust," but one all the same.) But what exactly is the "Image of God?"

In Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem defines the image of God as,
"The nature of man such that he is like God and represents God."

Although Grudem correctly identifies that the image of God transcends beyond any one attribute, I would like to highlight in this post the specific part of the image of God that refers to moral purity. Thus, throughout the rest of this post, I will be using the image of God synonymously with perfection or holiness.

Sin had to "enter into the world" through Adam because when Adam was first created he was as God, without sin.

Let us remember that God is so holy he cannot fellowship with those unholy. A substitutionary sacrifice was needed to allow sinful Israelites to commune with the Father. (I say to you today, one is still needed, but I am getting ahead of myself.) As Habakkuk 1:13 states,
"Thou are of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity." 

This makes man's fall from the image of God all the more troublesome as it also means falling from God's presence.

Man's Fall from God's Image

Prior to the fall, when man was still fully in the image of God, Adam and Eve lived in the Garden of Eden, where God walked with them. Here, the Lord talked with Adam and Eve and told them they may eat of every tree of the field, except the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. 

We all know what happens next. The Serpent comes, and Adam and Eve eat of the forbidden fruit. With sin now in man's nature, he has distorted the initial image of God. He no longer can claim perfection. In fact, no man would ever be able to again. Romans 5:12 explains, 
"Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:"

We are now all corrupt vessels. We now all, as Romans 3:23 proclaims, "Fall short of the glory of God."

But the impact as mentioned above is greater than that. Eating of the fruit makes them unholy, and God's holiness prevents him from fellowshipping with anything unholy. This sin could forever separate Adam from God's presence. But the Lord is merciful. He provided a way for Adam and his descendants to atone for their sin by continually sacrificing perfect lambs without blemish.

The atonement was always temporary though until a different Lamb took the substitutionary sacrifice for the sins of the world.

Jesus' Gift Allows Restoration of the Image

The image of God in shambles! But have no fear, the Lord will establish a permanent way of restoring fellowship with his creation. 

It all happened when the Lord supernaturally was born on this earth to a virgin. There was nothing special about this girl, except that which was in her was of the Holy Ghost. A man, who was "Tempted like as we are, yet without sin." This man was Jesus Christ. 

Jesus was God, and thus had the entire image of God. He was without blemish and was prepared to be the perfect sacrifice for the world. And he did sacrifice; He died on the cross and took away the sins of the world. As I Peter 2:24 tells us, 
"Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed."

This action is enough to restore the image of God to man, but it doesn't just go to everyone. The lambs of the Old Testament had to be brought in by the person who wished to atone for his sin. It couldn't atone for his neighbour's sin, or his family's sin, but for his alone.

While Jesus' death is sufficient to take away all the sin of the world, one must accept it as payment. One must ask for this sacrifice be applied to their sin and for them to be forgiven. Then the image of God is restored, and we can fellowship with God eternally. As Romans 8:29 states,
"For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren." 

Monday, February 24, 2014

Get Off! The Purpose of the Federal Government

On a few occasions, I have discussed that redistribution of wealth is not a proper use of federal funds because it does not fit within the parameters of the federal government's purpose. This raises the question, what is the purpose of the federal government?

To answer this question, let's first remember the words of Ronald Reagan in his Inaugural Address in 1981,
"All of us need to be reminded that the Federal Government did not create the States; the States created the Federal Government."

Indeed, the states do not exist for the whims of the federal government; the federal government exists for the whims of the states.

This fact is seen in the Constitution first and foremost by the amount of powers enumerated to the states. The tenth amendment guarantees that all power not enumerated within the Constitution are reserved for the states or we the people.

Outside of taxes and interstate commerce, the Constitutional powers given to the federal government are entirely limited to areas of national defense. The federal government exists because a unified force of the thirteen states was stronger in foreign policy than thirteen individual states. The federal government is more like a league between thirteen (now 50) individual nations, rather than a country itself.

Yes, I really am implying that the federal government should step entirely out of domestic policy, except the laws against treason and the like necessary to protect national security. The fact is, state and county governments are better suited to address the issues within a small state than is the federal government.

The federal government is very disconnected from the US citizen and how we live. Living in D.C., they don't face the same struggles that each state economy individually struggles with, or each local economy for that matter. They are all different, and the more decentralized the government, the better suited it is to tackle the unique challenges each community brings.

This is not just true not the economy, but also of education, health care, and every other part of our lives. Of course, the people who truly understand these things are we citizens ourselves; thus, we must be just as cautious of a authoritarian state or local government as one on a federal level. But we have greater opportunity to take powers away from the state government than we do the federal government as grassroots campaigns are easier to run in one small community, rather than a conglomeration of several communities.

If we are to restore this separation of powers in the United States, we will need to put in a significant amount of effort. Some may question whether it's even worth it. After all, this seems radically conservative. Some may even call it anarchist (it's not).

Call it what you may, it is what the majority of the founders intended and for good reason. For instance, James Madison, one of those sneaky Federalists wanting a STRONGER federal government, wrote in Federalist 45,
"The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government, are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite. The former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce; with which last the power of taxation will, for the most part, be connected. The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State."

Friday, February 21, 2014

Micah and his Levite: The Progression of Idolatry

In Judges 17, we hear of a man from Mount Ephraim who is known as Micah. The very first thing we learn of Micah is that he has stolen eleven hundred shekels of silver from his mother, but that he for whatever reason (I speculate guilt) did nothing with this silver and ultimately restores it to his mother. 

His mother's response is a bit odd. Instead of rebuking him for stealing it, she asks that he be blessed of the Lord. However, the real oddness of her response is what she said after that. In Judges 17:3-5, we learn, 
"And when he had restored the eleven hundred shekels of silver to his mother, his mother said, I had wholly dedicated the silver unto the Lord from my hand for my son, to make a graven image and a molten image: now therefore I will restore it unto thee. Yet he restored the money unto his mother; and his mother took two hundred shekels of silver, and gave them to the founder, who made thereof a graven image and a molten image: and they were in the house of Micah. And the man Micah had an house of gods, and made an ephod, and teraphim, and consecrated one of his sons, who became his priest."

Wait, what? In some of the first commandments that the Lord gives the Israelites after their exodus from Egypt, he tells them,
"Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth."

Now Micah and his mother are trying to serve God by disobeying Him?  This is nonsensical, but before we judge too hard, let us remember that we do similar things. Although we may not violate specific written commands, we still try to serve the Lord based on our desires and not those of the Lord. 

We may reject specifically what the Lord desires for our life and still try to serve the Lord by living our own will for our life. Sure, we aren't violating the Ten Commandments in this instance, but we are still disobeying God when we refuse to listen to his calling in our life. 

So you see, Micah is guilty of a sin that plagues many Christians. They decide that they can ignore God's will for their lives and still serve the Lord. 

I myself had this tendency when the Lord was calling me to the ministry. I wanted to reject this idea and still serve God as an economist, a lawyer or something related to those interests. But we all know that never would have worked. 

Indeed if we follow the rest of Micah's story, we will see how well he is able to serve God by disobeying his commandments. 

Micah is not ignorant of the law, and he is trying hard to do right by it. However, he is still holding onto his idea that the idols he has made can be used in this purpose. But he knows that his sons are not adequate priests to the Lord. The Lord did after all consecrate the Levites to serve Him.

Thus, when the opportunity presents itself, Micah hires himself a Levite to be the priest of his household at ten shekels of silver a year. At this point, Micah thinks that his use of a Levite as a priest redeems his sins of the graven images. His worship he thinks should now be acceptable unto the Lord. Judges 17:13 proclaims, 
"Then said Micah, Now know I that the Lord will do me good, seeing I have a Levite to my priest."

The fact that the Levite accepted this arrangement indicates many flaws in his character unbecoming of a religious leader, but alas, that is not the focus of this post.

Micah incorrectly believes that adding in certain elements of God's plan of worship will eliminate all the evil he has done while serving the Lord. But the sin he has committed is still incompatible with the will of God and simply having a Levite is not enough to redeem him.

Similarly, if we have disobeyed in our service to the Lord, we can't redeem ourselves by doing anything but changing course to obedience. If we have neglected God, we cannot hope to serve Him until we approach Him.

This disobedience eventually means that we no longer even hold an illusion of serving God. In Judges 18, we continue to hear of Micah and his idols. Here the tribe of Dan "buys out" the Levite's service and steals the images that Micah has made.

When Micah learns of this, he does what we would expect. He gathers as many people together to fight to bring his items back. He confronts the children of Dan, asking why they have stolen his images. But he does not say they have stolen his instruments for serving the Lord. No, he has given up on that illusion. The Danites have stolen "his gods." Micah's rebuke in Judges 18:24 dictates,
"And he said, Ye have taken away my gods which I made, and the priest, and ye are gone away: and what have I more?"

My gods? It is not surprising to any of us when we see this in Micah. He started out just trying to serve the Lord with his own devices, but ended up serving the works of his own hands. Yet when the same thing happens in our own lives, we are shocked. We don't understand how our good intentions didn't pan out into effective service of the Lord.

But as we see through Micah, it's not just about our intentions. We may intend to serve the Lord, but are we willing to leave aside our desires and serve the Lord by his standards? Micah was unable to, and thus, he found himself serving false gods. We must put aside all our own plans for our life if we wish to serve the Lord and not just serve ourselves. We can't try to mix the two. "No man can serve two masters." We must, as Joshua proclaimed,
"Choose you this day whom ye will serve... but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Doctrines of the Christian Faith 6: The Nature of the Gift

Jesus died on the cross taking on him the sins of the whole world. So that's it, right? We're done here. Everyone gets to go to heaven, right?

It's not that simple, no. Remember the words of Romans 6:23,
"The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." 

Eternal life through Jesus' sacrificial death is a free gift from the Lord, but gifts can be accepted or rejected. In fact, the natural state is for the gift to be rejected.

Similarly, the gift of eternal life is rejected until we accept it as the only thing necessary for salvation. But how do we accept this gift?

Born Anothen 

 Jesus himself explains how we can accept this gift to Nicodemus in John 3:3,
"Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God."

The Greek word for "again" here is anothen, which can mean either "Again" or "From above." From Nicodemus' discussion in the next verse, we understand why it was translated as, "again" rather than "from above."
"Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born?"

However, Peter J. Leithart makes the case in his book, A House for My Name, that John is using a bit of word play,
"In John 3...Jesus tells Nicodemus that he must be born anothen, a word that can mean either "from above" or "again." Given John's track record, we are safe in concluding that he is being deliberately ambiguous. Being born again is being born from above, by the Spirit, through the One who was sent from above."

This is further shown as Jesus further explains his point to Nicodemus in John 3:6-7,
"Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again."

So, clearly we must be born of the Spirit in order to receive the gift of eternal life. Knowing that it is from the Spirit shows us once again that this is a free gift that has nothing to do with what we can do, but rather is entirely based on what the Lord will do in our life if we accept Him.

Accepting the Gift

But we have still not answered the question of how we can accept the Lord Jesus Christ. Now I know that what I am about to tell you is generally used to teach children about the how to accept salvation, but I find it to be rather clever, so I will use it myself here.

It's as easy as ABC.

Admit. Admit that you are a sinner and that you can't make it to Heaven on your own. The Bible proclaims that on the day of judgment, people who have done several good works will find themselves unworthy to enter Heaven because it's not about us, it's about Him.

Believe. You must believe that Jesus' sacrificial death on the cross alone is sufficient to take the punishment for your sins and gain you entry into the Kingdom of God.

Call. Finally, you must simply call upon the Lord to take away the punishment for your sins.

As it proclaims in Romans 10:9-13,
"That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved."

Not of Works

By now, I have probably impressed upon you the idea that salvation cannot be earned by our works, but is instead a free gift from God. Now I would like to discuss a specific impact that this idea has on the permanence of our salvation.

Some people would claim that if we don't stay right with the Lord, we will lose our salvation. However, this is nonsensical. If we can't do anything to gain our salvation, then how can we do anything to lose it? How we act and respond after we have received this gift has no affect on what the Lord has already done in our life. That is why we have such faith in eternal security, and why John 10:28-29 explains,
"And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand."

 The Big Picture

Our lives can be filled with our efforts to be good enough for Heaven, but it will be for naught. We must accept Jesus Christ' sacrifice as atonement for our sins. In conclusion, I will leave you with the words of Ephesians 2:8-9,
"For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast."

Monday, February 17, 2014

Addictions in Politics

America's politicians have an addiction problem. It is not an addiction with drugs or alcohol (at least not that I am aware). Despite the consequences, politicians return to this addiction. The addiction of which I speak is that of subsidization.

It's not just those stinking Democrats either. The Republicans would just as well like to support their agenda by subsidy. For instance, the Republican party supports subsidies for the nuclear industry.

Today, I would like to examine a laundry list of reasons that this addiction to subsidies is as painful as any other addiction.

1. It is redistribution at its worst
The money that the government is giving to these industries doesn't just come from thin air. It is taken from the US taxpayer. As previously mentioned, the US citizen gives this money to the federal government for a specific purpose which does not include giving handouts to any industry no matter how noble the government politicians think or profess it to be. This idea opens the door to all kinds of corruption.

2. It diverts resources
Newsflash: the federal government does not know what's best for the United States citizens. Over the past few years, we have seen this repeatedly. The rollout of a burdensome "one size fits all" healthcare plan has shown that the government doesn't know how to cope with the individual needs of all families in the United States. Yet when the government subsidizes certain industries, it is trying to determine which corporations should receive money and should thrive to be available to the American citizen. They are trying to decide what we need.

3. It encourages lobbyists
Subsidies are bound to be given by politicians, and this is a known fact. If you then are trying to make an investment in a risky venture, you might decide that instead of risking your own money directly, you would try to risk the money of the US taxpayer. Then all you have to do is lobby politicians to receive the handouts in the form of a subsidy. It is simple and easy. This highlights that decisions regarding subsidies aren't even being made with our best interests in mind in the first place, but rather with the interests of the politicians themselves.

4. Subsidies rarely go to small businesses
Small businesses are rarely seen or noticed by politicians. This life source of the US economy then is neglected by the government in favor of already established businesses. These large businesses themselves are not evil corporations, but how is a small business supposed to survive against any business that can lower their prices significantly below market levels because of the money that small business and other hardworking US citizens are paying to the large corporation? Small businesses are attacked twice: once through taxes and another time through the artificially lower prices of their competitors.

5. Subsidies provide ways to avoid political pressure
In the end, subsidies make life easy for politicians. Instead of confronting real issues, they can write a check to some industry and tell them to fix it. In this way, politicians can appear to solve the problem without doing anything at all. Nuclear regulations are too strict and are constricting investment. Here have some money. Healthcare regulations are killing health insurance. Here, Americans, have some free government sponsored healthcare! We see then why politicians are so addicted to such a harmful subsidy regime. It allows them to avoid any real responsibility for their actions. 

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Greatest of These

I expected a much different focus in my earlier post, but the Lord had other plans. Still I wanted to share these verses with you today, so you get two blog posts! (Sort of.)

In I Corinthians 13, commonly called the "Love Chapter," Paul tells us what love is and why it is so important. As you read these words, please consider the truths presented and whether they apply currently to your life.
"Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.
"Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
"Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. ...
"And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity."

Love is Deeper than Chocolate

It's Valentine's Day, and you know what that means. Procrastinating men everywhere will be rushing through grocery stores looking for some satisfactory chocolates and flowers to show their dedication to their wives. (Because nothing says love more than chocolate right? Well, maybe bacon.) Knowing my procrastination skills, I can say that I will probably be one of them (but hey, I'm writing this post on Thursday at 3, that's an improvement).

In the meantime, all I can think of about Valentine's Day is the following:
Love is patient. Love is kind.
Love is slowly losing your mind.

Of course, I'm just showing my cynical self. I am well aware that love isn't about chocolates, doesn't necessarily mean going insane, and isn't about some desire to be together all the time.

At its core, love is about sacrifice. It is about putting another's interest above your own. It is about caring despite how hard it is at the time. It is also about many other things I don't comprehend. What I do understand is that Jesus truly loved us. He sacrificed for our sins. He put his well-being aside. And he loved what truly is the unlovable.
"Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."  ~ John 15:13
"Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins."  ~ I John 4:10

Do you exhibit a similar love to God? Are you willing to put your interests and desires aside to serve the Lord? I saw a banner once in the youth auditorium of a church that read, "He died for me. The LEAST I can do is live for Him." (Emphasis added.) Although this banner makes it seem as if it would be easy to live for the Lord, it is correct in its assertion that it is reasonable indeed for us to live a life of sacrificial love for God. As Romans 12:1 says,
"I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service."

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Doctrines of the Christian Faith 5: The Nature of the Atoning Sacrifice

A man in Israel has sinned. He requires atonement for his sins. Thus, he goes out to his flock of and finds his choicest sheep, one without blemish. He brings it to the priest. The man puts his hand on the sheep and in that instance, the sin from the man is transferred to the lamb. The priest will then slit the throat of the lamb, and sprinkle the blood of the dead lamb upon the altar. The man has now been cleansed of his sin, at least until he sins again.

This substitutionary sacrifice is the same that we see in Jesus' life. We have seen in our last two posts in this series, that we, like this Israelite have sinned and need atonement, and that Jesus like this lamb was without blemish. 

We all remember that the punishment for sin was death, or a separation from the Lord God the Father. We know that the Lord has such a wrath for this sin that he must punish it. His holiness demands it. Yet we know that despite our filth, the Lord desires us to be blessed and to be with him and not undergo the punishment. 

That's where the Lamb comes in. Jesus the Lamb of God came down and made the substitutionary sacrifice. 2 Corinthians 5:21 explains, 
"For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him."

Jesus became the substitutionary sacrifice that is able to atone for all sins. He was made sin for us, and then the Lord's wrath and punishment for sin was redirected onto him. Jesus went through torture and hell to provide a bridge between the holy God and sinful man.

The love demonstrated in this sacrifice is unheard of today. Think of the most wonderful person you're ever known, would you die for him? Maybe, but would you be willing to die for the annoying people that you've met? As seen in Romans 5:6-8, this is analogous to what the Lord is doing here.
"For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us."

Here we see that not only was Jesus without blemish, but he also had a transfer of sins onto him, and died as a substitutionary sacrifice, just as the lamb in the Old Testament. It's no wonder that John the Baptist proclaimed in John 1:29,
"The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world."

However, there are two primary differences between the lamb of the Old Testament and the Lamb of God. The first is the permanence of the solution. In the Old Testament, the lamb was insufficient to solve for all past transgression and all future transgressions. Thus, every time an Israelite sinned, he required a new sacrifice. However, Jesus' sacrifice was once and for all. No new sacrifice would ever be needed.

The second difference is the permanence of the death. When the Old Testament lambs were killed, they stayed dead. They didn't have any zombie action going on. Now Jesus did not have any zombie action either, but three days after he died, he rose again. As I Corinthians 15:3-6 states,
"For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: And that he was seen of Cephas (Peter), then of the twelve: After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep."

Indeed, Christ died for our sins and was resurrected to be a living Saviour. He is not the Saviour of the whole world, just over those in the world who will accept him. As the great hymn He Lives proclaims,
"I serve a risen Savior
  He’s in the world today.
I know that He is living,
  Whatever men may say.
I see His hand of mercy;
  I hear His voice of cheer;
And just the time I need Him
  He’s always near.
He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today!
He walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way.
He lives, He lives, salvation to impart!
You ask me how I know He lives?
    He lives within my heart."

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Chains of Government

One day Mr. Smith is driving through one of his favorite neighborhoods. It is a beautiful day, so he decides to park his car and take a walk. As he passes Mr. Johnson’s immense house, Mr. Smith pauses but a second to examine the tall pillars, big windows and large front porch. 

As he looks at one of the trees, he sees Mr. Johnson’s gigantic German Shepherd sitting by it. Being a dog lover, he thinks nothing of this dog until it suddenly looks at him, growls and rushes towards him. Scared for his life, Mr. Smith runs as fast as he can and jumps back into his car. 

Breathing heavily, he hesitantly looks back at the dog in Mr. Johnson’s yard. What he finds shocks and amuses him – the German Shepherd from which he just desperately ran is harmlessly chained to a tree. The owner must have realized that his German Shepherd had the power to harass passersby, so he fulfilled his obligation to chain his dog to protect people like Mr. Smith. 

In a similar way, our founding fathers believed that the power of the government could very easily create a danger to the citizens of the United States. They decided they must restrain this power, as dog owner Mr. Johnson does with his German Shepherd, with chains. Indeed Thomas Jefferson said, 
“In matters of power let no more be heard of the confidence in man but bind them down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution."

In other words, the Constitution was created to chain the leaders and their corruptible nature down. But these chains do little good if the government has the ability to take them off themselves. The owner would not give his dog the ability to break himself free from the chains binding him. 

Similarly, I believe that the chains of the Constitution should only be amended to further the Constitution’s original purpose, namely, to protect the rights of the American citizens from the unchecked power of their political leaders, and not to further the political ends of those same leaders. 

Changes to better protect individual rights, or to further limit governmental power, such as what the Bill of Rights and slavery amendments did, are clearly justified. In other words, changes to further the Constitution’s original purpose of chaining governmental power are legitimate. However, changes to the Constitution made for strictly political purposes are not. 

The Constitution was created to limit what government will do with its laws, yet if government can just change or reinterpret the Constitution at will, the existence of both is threatened. However, that’s exactly what our government has been doing in recent years. 

We must be firmly resolved to do whatsoever is necessary to protect the integrity of our Constitution. Just as dog owner Mr. Johnson has an obligation to chain his German Shepherd down to protect passersby like Mr. Smith, we have an obligation to protect the chains of the Constitution to prevent the government from infringing on our rights and the rights of other citizens. 

We can and we must once again bind down the government with the chains of the Constitution and reduce the unchecked power that comes with our corruptible nature.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Joseph, Levites, and Vows: God's Will for My Life

This post will be most difficult for me to write. But then that is exactly why I am writing it. I have difficulty sharing about myself and that needs to change. But let me start with the direct motivation of this post.

In Sunday School this week, my class was blessed to hear a message on the life of Joseph. It was geniusly called, "Lessons from the Life of Joseph." I simply wrote "Joseph" at the top of my sermon notes journal.

Our teacher would start talking about the dreams that Joseph had and how he responded. After a short discussion of how we should not be complacent in our walk with the Lord, and always striving for more, he expresses how we can't be afraid to share what the Lord has put in our heart.

Indeed, sharing with your fellow believers should be an encouragement to both you and those with whom you speak. You shouldn't hesitate for fear of how others will respond. You must speak and be unashamed.

I never thought that I was ashamed of what the Lord had put in my heart. Indeed, I felt quite privileged to have been given the opportunity (though I fought it for weeks) to serve the Lord, yet how many times had I had an opportunity to tell those around me, but said nothing? Too many to count, I'm afraid.

But now you are really wondering what I am talking about, aren't you? Due to this Sunday School lesson, I plan to share with my few faithful readers (and anyone else who happens to view this post at any time) exactly what the Lord has shown me in the last few months.

If you remember from my earlier post, last summer I had plans to attend Grove City College and study Economics. As I said there, this ultimately didn't work out, and that was the best decision that has ever been forced upon me (I would say it's the best decision I ever made, but I didn't exactly make it). The Lord had much greater plans for my life than I could ever see.

The Lord had me where he wanted me, in Ohio, with my family and with my church, both institutions that have played a huge role in my spiritual development and would continue to have an impact over the past few months.

In the summer, I had started reading through the Bible yet again and in October, I was reading through the book of Numbers. Numbers is rarely seen as convicting and powerful, but leave it to me to find the most unusual way to truth ever! As I read through Numbers, I kept reading that the Levites were set apart for the work of the Lord. I heard the Lord speak simply, you too.

I ignored it. Indeed for the next few days, I had to force myself to sit down and do my devotions as I didn't want to hear it. I didn't want to be in full-time ministry! Surely, you wanted me to be an economist, Lord!

But I did continue my daily devotions. I would continue to hear the conviction of the Holy Spirit. Then it began to happen during sermons.

I could no longer ignore the conviction after the October 31 service. My pastor gave a sermon about something I don't even remember what, but in a minor sub-point, he referred to Numbers 30:2,
"If a man vow a vow unto the Lord, or swear an oath to bind his soul with a bond; he shall not break his word, he shall do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth."

This verse doesn't seem overly important, but as soon as Pastor read it, the Lord caused me to remember the vow a naive 10 year old boy, committing himself to full-time ministry. I told myself that was nothing. That the Lord wouldn't care about the vow of a naive little boy, but I couldn't shake the fact that the Lord caused me to remember it.

That night, I surrendered to the possibility that economics wasn't where the Lord wanted me. Yes, just a possibility. Whether because I was worried about rushing into a wrong decision or because I was holding on to some faint trace of faithlessness, I would only commit to pray about the situation further.

By Thanksgiving, I had told my parents about the possibility. I continued to pray about it until I had such peace about this decision that this was definitely God's will for my life. I wished I could tell you when this happened, but I don't exactly know. I believe it was during 2013, what would have been the fall semester of my Freshman year at Grove City College had the Lord not intervened. I don't know where my life would be had I gone to Grove City, but it certainly wouldn't be here. I would not be looking for colleges to learn more about the Bible. That is why I say not going to Grove City was the best thing that ever happened to me.

If you have any suggestions or advice for me as I pursue this further, I would greatly appreciate the help. If nothing else, would you please pray about me as I make important decisions over the next few weeks.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Great Debate: Thoughts in Review

I had much to look forward to in regards to the debate that took place at the Creation Museum last night. I would like to note up front, that I didn't expect the debate to change any hearts in and of itself. In my experience of four years of competitive debate, I can say that debate is just not conducive to that type of response.

However, I was looking forward to the debate because it gave the opportunity for amateur apologists like me (do I even qualify as that?) to further learn the nuances of apologetics from the arguments Mr. Ham presented. As far as this was concerned, I was disappointed, as most of his arguments I personally knew and have previously used in this blog.

With this said, you would assume that Mr. Nye won the debate by a huge margin, but this was not the case. Apparently, the truth doesn't need highly advanced arguments to stand. Let us begin a more organized and exhaustive look at the debate.

In the fray of arguments, I believe the original topic was lost. This was specifically,
"Is creation a viable model of origins in today’s modern, scientific era?"

Note that this topic is not at all about whether Creation or evolution is more viable as a model. The discussion is only about whether Creation should be considered in this debate in the first place, and by practical application, whether it should be allowed to taught in schools.

Nye addresses this question by expressing evidence upon evidence about why evolution is a viable theory. However, just because evolution is a viable theory, doesn't mean Creation can't be.

Even still, his evidence was a bit weak. He pointed to several ancient items, like a 9500 year old tree. However, he danced around the issue of how he was able to determine this age. I got the feeling that we were supposed to accept this as true simply because he was a scientist.

The rest of his time, Nye spent asking questions of Ham (which the format would not allow him to answer anyway) and trying to separate the ideas of Creationism from the Lord and make it "Ken Ham's model" of origins.

To say that Nye was not as good as I expected would be a rather fair assessment. But I had a similar reaction to Ken Ham's arguments.

I do have to give Ham credit. His points did half-relate to the topic as presented.

He focused his time on discussing the difference between historical and observational science. Observational science is what we normally think of when we think of science. Historical science on the other hand deals with subjects (like origins) where we cannot observe, nor prove, what happened in the past. Thus, what we think about origins is more a question of worldview and how we interpret the facts than the facts themselves.

Ham is taking us down a road that shows that as a scientific theory, both Creationism and evolution are equally valid because they utilize the same types of assumptions. However, he never actually takes us to this destination. Personally, I wasn't that impressed with this connection as I briefly mentioned it here (I suppose it's possible that the argument was that impressive and I'm just smarter than I think, but I don't think so).

This was the main theme Ham wanted us to leave with from what he said, and it is enough to "win" him this round.

But then winning wasn't exactly the point. What impact this debate will have on eternity will probably not be known until we reach it. But I would say that Ham's heart and conviction were evident. His clear presentation of the gospel has likely softened a few hearts throughout the world. This of course was the most beneficial result that could have come from this debate, but it didn't have to come at the expense of presenting strong support for the Christian faith. As a whole, the event seems successful, but it could have been much better.

"The Doctrines of the Christian Faith" series will resume next Wednesday.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Hold the Applause: The Confederacy

When I wrote Hold the Applause: Why Abraham Lincoln was No Hero 2 months ago, I intended to make this a recurring theme/series. I believe it is high time I revisit this idea and make it a reality.

Today, we will examine the other side of the Civil War - the South. (I should note that I will delve into other areas with this theme than just the Civil War soon.) While our textbooks do teach us that the South was fighting to simply keep their slaves, some in America today idolize the South for their fight for federalism.

For the first time in this blog, I will defend the textbooks' views. As much as I think for the North, the war was about survival, I would say that for most of the Confederacy, the war truly was about protecting the institution of slavery.

For years prior to the Civil War, southern states were nervous about alleged northern conspiracies to gain a competitive edge against slavery through seemingly harmless bills, such as what was on full display during the 1837 tariff crisis. Whether the South was right about these conspiracy theories, it demonstrates that they were pursuing an agenda of protecting slavery.

But the best way to see that the Confederacy truly did care about keeping their slaves is to look at what they themselves said. Simply look at the very words of the Confederate Constitution. 
“Our new government is founded…upon the great truth that the Negro is not the equal of a white man.  That slavery—subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition."   

Furthermore, in response to the Emancipation Proclamation, Jefferson Davis published this edict, 
“On and after February 22, 1863, all free negroes within the limits of the Confederacy shall be placed on slave status."

The South stood up for the atrocity of slavery, while the North stood up for little at all. So, typical cynical Ryan would like to remind you that when it comes to the Civil War, we should not applaud either side, as neither stood up for what was right.

(All quotations found in Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen's book, A Patriot's History of the United States.)