Monday, June 30, 2014

It's a Celebration!

It is a well-known fact among my friends that I enjoy celebrations. I often will joke about how some holidays (such as birthdays and um... labor day!) don't actually make sense, but whoever cares? We need all the reason to celebrate as we can!

As such, I have found one more reason to celebrate. Last week, I hit over 2500 pageviews on this blog! That was something I wasn't quite expecting. Also somehow without marketing this blog much at all, I'm averaging about 10-15 pageviews a day. 

But that is not why I am celebrating today! No, today I am celebrating that this is the 100th post on this here blog. It truly does feel like last week when I wrote the celebratory 50th blog post, but apparently that was almost 4 months ago. Time is weird sometimes (and this isn't even Doctor Who!). 

To celebrate today, I'm gonna do something strange -  talk about myself. Hopefully, this is more interesting to you than I would at first think.

I mentioned in my fiftieth post that I started this blog as a way of keeping myself in the habit of writing while on my financially-imposed gap year. This is definitely true, but only part of the story. You see, as I mentioned in Joseph, Levites, and Vows, the Lord was using this gap year and the book of Numbers to get a hold of my heart during October. I was then stranded between two options: the political track my life was on and the Pastoral track that seemed to be laid before me. 

Silly me thought this blog would be a great way of determining which route I should choose. By utilizing a blog where I posted about politics one day, apologetics one day, and a simple devotional the third, I thought I could see where my talents lie and what interests other people. 

My Gideon tactic didn't quite work out as I wanted. Through this blog, I didn't quite learn that particular area of what God's plan was for my life. He revealed to me through other means that he desired me to enter full-time ministry. What I learned through the blog is that well, different people are interested in different topics regardless of the quality of your writing or where God wants you in life. 

I also learned that within a setting where people are reading or listening to you for your insights (if indeed anyone was doing this), they are more interested in the knowledge you have to impart than how your studies brought you to this knowledge. I could tell you how I learned this, but you just wouldn't be interested. 

As my loquaciousness subsided and worked into short posts, I learned that the Lord would help me write posts succinctly and not ramble on forever and ever. You see, in the past, I would make sure that I made my point by repeating it over and over. Apparently repeating it over and over develops the point further than if you just say it once and then move on. Now I will admit that repetition can very well be a solid tactic to get people to remember what you are saying, but there comes a point where the reader grows tired of reading the same thing over and over again, and you just stop communicating very clearly. For instance, this paragraph should have only been two sentences long...

But these are all peripheral lessons to what I learned through this blog.

I learned first and foremost that I need not show off with the blog. I'm sure it will come as no surprise to anyone that I enjoyed writing some posts in order to show off my intellect, writing ability, or just how close I was to God. I learned time and time again (and maybe if I'm really lucky, I will retain that knowledge this time and not have to learn it again) that this blog and any other opportunity to speak needed to have the Lord as the ultimate focus.

In a similar vein, I needed not become so obsessed with how many pageviews certain posts received or how many likes a Facebook link could receive. I needed to rely upon the Lord to use this as He intended, whether in the marketing stage, or the writing itself. (That doesn't mean I stopped outlining, but then I would have had to start to stop...) 

And now my life has come full circle."I'm going on an adventure!" Not really, but it feels like that sometimes. I am going to college at Cedarville University in the fall studying Biblical Studies.

As such, I have the next few years of my life figured out and will soon be writing for classes soon. Therefore, both of the original purposes of this blog are of no consequence. But I greatly enjoy writing it, and I see the Lord doing great things in my life through it. As long as that is the case, even if I never got another pageview, I will continue to write it. 

So hey, today I'm going to celebrate what the Lord has worked through this blog. It will probably be a small celebration. It will start by a decision to go back to sleep before beginning the rest of my day. I may have let myself get a little far behind on that note these last few weeks.

Since celebrations are so awesome, why don't you use this as a convenient excuse to celebrate, too?

Friday, June 27, 2014

Worship is God

As Christians, we often focus a lot of our time on worshipping God and ensuring that we do not make idols in our life.

Let's just be honest though, when we use that term, we are using it more metaphorically than literally. We aren't as likely to find ourselves building stone images and bowing down to them in our day as we are to put things in our life ahead of Christ.

Now we all automatically know these things. There are things that while innocuous of themselves can be sinful if we put them too high in our lives. In fact, anything despite how innocuous it is in and of itself becomes sinful and becomes idolatrous when we treat it as a higher priority than we do Christ.

While we typically think of cultural things like television, music, and books as being things that we have to watch to keep within their proper sphere to avoid idolatry. We tend to forget that all things are actually like this.

Have you ever stopped to consider whether the way you worship God had become more important to you than actually worshipping God? Have you ever found yourself in a position where you find your ministry within a church to be an end within itself, and not a means to please God?

If you said, yes, then I'm sorry, my friend, but you're an idolater. Yes, you are in love with the process that you use to worship God. Yes, you are in love with the ministry that you have been placed in. Yes, you are in love with the things of God. Yes, there is nothing wrong with that.

But there is something wrong with displacing your love for God with this love. Burk Parsons explains in Assured by God, 
"Some Christians have studied the Word of God for many years. They know their Bible backward and forward, and they know every doctrinal "i" that should be dotted, and every systematic 't' that should be crossed. The love the theology of the word of God, but their love for God Himself has been displaced... Whether it is our love of spending time studying things about God or whether it is our love of spending time serving God, such things can too easily replace our love for God Himself who is our great reward and inheritance... We must be consumed with the understanding that all of our service o God and all of our understanding about God should lead us to love God more and more."

 When I read these words two weeks ago, the Holy Spirit much convicted me that this was what I was doing in my Christian life. I had begun to enjoy the study of the Bible, not because it corrected me, or brought me closer to God, but rather because it gave me an intellectual footstool to find a greater knowledge about God. But all that knowledge was on a more abstract and less personal basis.

But of course that doesn't mean I should stop studying the Bible! That would be a horrendous move on my part. What it does mean is I need to pray and work on my mindset during such activity to ensure I have dedicated it to the Lord and not my intellectual benefit.

Perhaps the same should be done in churches across America, where I believe ministry, church attendance, and probably yes, even intellectual knowledge about God has displaced the love that Christians feel for God Himself.

Modes of worship are not God, but we certainly can't treat them so at times. When we do, no matter how beneficial and amazing the act is in and of itself, it has become our idolatry. We just can't have that.

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Purpose of the Christian Life

When asked about the purpose of the Christian life, practically every elementary child growing up in the Christian church will shout, "The glory of God!"

Now that's all well and good. We definitely are called to glorify God in our walk with the Lord. Indeed, we get this very admonition in I Corinthians 10:31,
"Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God."

Now of course, we have just divorced this verse out its context a bit (its context is actually about extra-morality in case you were wondering).  However, there is certainly truth to the statement found here in this verse that we are to glorify God. Indeed I Peter 4:11 explains further,
"If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen."

So there we have it, the purpose of the Christian life is to glorify God, that post was short and simple, I'll see you Friday!

Not so fast. It is one thing to say that we must glorify God, it is another thing entirely to have any sort of clue as to what that means.

A former Sunday School teacher of mine made it a point to not allow Sunday School answers in his class. What he meant by this were answers that we had been trained since youth were right, but that we just didn't understand. As regrettable as this is, I believe many Christians today are in this particular batch of understanding when they proclaim that their only purpose in life is to glorify God.

The common perception on how the glory of God is supposed to work, is we do things by the abilities God has blessed us with, and then voila! When we are starting to reap the benefits, we shout to the world, "Don't give me the credit! To God be the glory!"

But is that really all that is required to glorify the Lord in everything that we do? A few simple words after our accomplishments are made? Certainly there is absolutely nothing wrong with these words themselves (they could even come from a noble heart), but are they the only prerequisites necessary to bring God glory?

It seems to me that if this were the case, the Christian has life pretty easy. He can do whatever he wants and just be sure to give the necessary words of God's glory and then on the final day, hear, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant."

But we have so many other commandments given to us in Scriptures about loving our neighbour, about sharing the word of God with those around us, about not being judgmental towards other believers. We know that our purpose in life is not that easy to accomplish.

We could say that we have to obey God's commandments in addition to glorifying God. This is possible, but then we have to admit that we have two purposes in our life. That's not a problem at all, but I don't think the purposes are truly separate.

In the second chapter of the book of Malachi, the priests are being rebuked for not giving glory unto the name of the Lord. Verse 2 declares,
"If ye will not hear, and if ye will not lay it to heart, to give glory unto my name, saith the Lord of hosts, I will even send a curse upon you, and I will curse your blessings: yea, I have cursed them already, because ye do not lay it to heart."
However, as the rest of the chapter tells the priests their specific abuses, we don't hear that they didn't tell the people, "to God be the glory" when people tried to congratulate them on their service to the Lord. Rather, we hear about how they broke the covenant, led people astray, and called evil good.

The reasons why they have failed to glorify God are truly actions of disobedience to the Lord. Could it really be that the glory of God is all about the works that we do?

This should come as no surprise to those familiar with Matthew 5:16,
"Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven."

Even in the aforementioned I Peter 4:11, where we hear a direct command to glorify the Lord,  that glorification is tied to our actions and service of the Lord.
"If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen."

Glorifying God is not about the words we say when people start to credit us. Ultimately, bringing glory to God is an attitude of submission, service, and sacrifice. That then is the true duty of man - to respect and obey God at every turn.

As Ecclesiastes 12:13 says,
"Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man."

Friday, June 20, 2014

The Way Out of Suffering

The Jews are in captivity in Persia. Life isn't all together horrible for them though. In what is likely the reign of the prior king, Daniel has ascribed to great power and station.

So the situation is not so bleak for the Jews... Yet. You see, the King Ahasuerus of Persia has recently promoted a man named Haman. Ahasuerus has even gone so far as to delegate his legislative powers to Haman.

This would be all well and good if Haman didn't have a grudge against the Jews, and decided to use his power to decree that all the Jews should be destroyed on the 13th day of the 12th month, that is the month Adar (February/March).

Of course, we all know this story. The Lord had provided for a Jew by the name of Esther to be Ahasuerus' queen. After a convincing speech by Mordecai, Esther agrees to risk her life for an opportunity to save the Jews. In her resolve, she states In Esther 4:16, 
"Go, gather together all the Jews that are present in Shushan, and fast ye for me, and neither eat nor drink three days, night or day: I also and my maidens will fast likewise; and so will I go in unto the king, which is not according to the law: and if I perish, I perish."

 Esther is given favour of the king, and is granted her request to save the Jews (yes, I know this version is much abridged; if you want the whole story, read the book of Esther!). Thus, Esther's cousin Mordecai is given permission to write up a decree.

But all is not as cheery at this point as it may seem. You see, Haman's decree was written with the king's name and sealed with the king's name. As such, it has all of the authority of the king. But Esther 8:8 tells us that no man (not even the king) can reverse that which has been decreed by the king's authority.
"Write ye also for the Jews, as it liketh you, in the king's name, and seal it with the king's ring: for the writing which is written in the king's name, and sealed with the king's ring, may no man reverse."

Thus, as Mordecai writes with the king's power, he is not able to entirely reverse the work of Haman. All people of Persia will still have consent to hunt down and destroy as many Jews as they possibly can upon the thirteenth day of the month Adar. All Mordecai can do is give the Jews a legal right to self-defense.

It would seem that this is a small thing. Why didn't the Lord just allow for the situation to be resolved without any fighting necessary?

This would seem to be our first response in a crisis such as this. Indeed in my life, there has been a situation that I greatly wanted the Lord to resolve immediately. I wasn't happy with the opportunity He has provided for me to work through the issue over a period of time.

The Lord promises to strengthen our efforts, but he does sometimes actually require our efforts. We need to find contentment with the route that He has provided to get us out of our own crises. Through this book, the Lord was able to reprove me in this manner, and cause me to find some contentment.

Of course, the Jews in this story found contentment so much quicker. When the decree was sent out to all the land, they responded immediately with rejoicing for their opportunity to save their lives, the opportunity to get themselves out of their tribulation. Esther 8:17 explains,
"And in every province, and in every city, whithersoever the king's commandment and his decree came, the Jews had joy and gladness, a feast and a good day. And many of the people of the land became Jews; for the fear of the Jews fell upon them."

 Ultimately, the Lord did strengthen their efforts and get them out of the pickle that Haman had put them in. In Esther 9:2, we learn that "No man could withstand them."

There of course will be times when the Lord will get you out of a struggle without any effort from yourself (Haman's attempt to hang Mordecai in Esther 5-6 is an excellent example; here Mordecai likely did not even know his life was ever in danger), but that is not always the route He chooses to use. We must learn to be content with His own path for us, and know that no matter how difficult it may seem, we will find more difficulty without His guidance and protective hand.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Here and Now

Last week, I mentioned that Wednesday 7-post series would be no more. I expressed a desire that it would be the first and only casualty of my soon to be less flexible (though not necessarily busier) schedule upcoming my college career. What I said and what I meant were not entirely the same principle.

You see, I had more information about what this particular change meant, and despite all my communication experience, I committed the cardinal sin of forgetting that the audience may not (in this case definitely did not) know the information you do.

This particular change isn't just an end of Wednesday series posts, but a end of Wednesday posts altogether. This post (which will involve substance more than planning shortly) will be the final Wednesday blog post for a long while.

But that is only the half of it. I created Wednesday posts to be a more intellectual, abstract type of Christian teaching in contrast to the simpler, practical-based devotional posts that herald the Friday chain. I am not willing to eliminate these types of discussions.

So there has been a change to Monday posts as well. Instead of heralding a new political post every Monday, I will alternate between politics and Christian ethics.

Ethics is defined by the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, as,
"The field of ethics (or moral philosophy) involves systematizing, defending, and recommending concepts of right and wrong behavior."

What I specifically mean by ethics is systematizing, defending, and recommending correct behaviour for Christians here and now in this world. This can include stewardship (as we will briefly discuss today), the purpose of man, whether it is always wrong to lie (I kinda snuck this into a couple of devotional posts. Shhhh...), and how elements of Old Testament law apply to us today.

I hope you will stick with me in the coming weeks as we evaluate these areas of ethics. Of course, some may question with as much as I had been presenting that our focus needs to be on eternity, what exactly are we to be responsible for in this world? (This is my smooth transition into that stewardship discussion I promised you.)

Well, for starters, that indicates that we as Christians have a responsibility and are stewards of lost souls and trying to prepare them for eternity and advance the cause of Christ in eternity.

But that's not the end of the story. Indeed we as Christians are not just called to work with problems of eternity. That is to be our focus, but we are not to turn a blind eye to the problems that exist in our world today.

James 1:27 specifically explains,
"Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world."

We are called to care for and visit the sick, poor, and destitute. We have a responsibility to provide for the material and temporal needs of others.

But that of course is not the end of our stewardship obligations. We also must work strongly to care for the environment that has been placed under our care (this doesn't mean we need to stop using the environment altogether).

And of course, I believe that we as Christians have an obligation to be good citizens of our nation, and watch our government to ensure that our freedoms (especially the freedom of religion) are not threatened by the ever-growing governmental bureaucracy.

Let us try our best not to be too heavenly-minded to be any earthly good. After all, we are in this world with specific areas of stewardship available to us. Let us remember well the parable of the talents. 

In this oft-cited parable, we learn of a master who gives talents to his three servants, fully expecting that when he returns to them, they will have increased his possessions. All three knew he was returning and they all were focused upon that fact.

Two of them of course used this knowledge to be good stewards of that which had been presented to them. One decided he would just make sure that he didn't lose his talent. Simply not losing a talent was not enough for this master. He punished the servant greatly for his irresponsibility.

Similarly in our days, we all know that Jesus is returning, but that knowledge and that focus isn't enough to make sure we make the right decisions. We have been given things we need to be stewards of in the current world, and we need not be so concerned with Jesus' return that we don't adequately prepare for it.

That is why we must worry about the stewardship responsibilities that God has placed upon us in the here and now.

Monday, June 16, 2014

National Security, Immigration, and the Great Melting Pot

America truly would not exist without immigrants. However, these same immigrants have come to know this land as their own now, and some would like to refuse access to future immigrant.

Of course, their intentions are not quite as diabolical as that image makes us think. The vast majority of people who are against immigration don't simply want to deprive hard-working immigrants from the advantages of the United States and its economy. Instead they are concerned with the economic and national security risk associated with immigration. 

After all, our fathers weren't exactly the nicest to the native people when they immigrated here to America. So how are we to know that the immigrants that come into America will have the best interest of Americans at heart? How do we know that they aren't just terrorists who are taking the opportunity to enter America to cause havoc? 

This is indeed why we have a screening process. This is why illegal immigration can be such a big deal. We do need to ensure that the immigrants have pure motives of pursuing the American dream, enjoying liberty, bettering themselves, and not motivations to take down the government or the people within. 

But somewhere along the way, our screening process has become a bit too restrictive. You see, in addition to this legitimate concern about the the intent, the government has decided to that it needs to keep the immigrant community from taking over the economy. 

It seems simple enough, right? If too many immigrants enter into the country, then they will take up jobs that Americans need in the market, and thus cause problems in the economy of America. 

But Judy Gans, Director of the University of Arizona’s Immigration Program at the Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy, explains that these workers are not taking jobs away from the American worker. 
"Noncitizens are filling some real gaps in the work force. This is a complementary workforce, not a replacement workforce. We have a larger workforce, so the economic pie is bigger.” 

Not only are immigrants not a burden on the economy, but indeed they support and strengthen our economy in very essential ways. As the Cato Institute reported,  
"Immigrants, today as in the past, come to America to work, save, and build a better life for their families. They make our economy more productive, boosting output by billions of dollars and filling gaps in our labor market. Large sectors of our economy, from tourism and health care to education and high tech, would be crippled if our borders were closed to immigrant workers. According to the National Research Council, the typical immigrant family and its descendents will pay $80,000 more in taxes during their lifetimes than they consume in government services."

Immigration is a boom to our economy, and great for our society. After all, without immigration, we would be without pizza, tacos, and hamburgers!

There is limited reason to limit immigration except for terrorist threats. It is paramount that we work in this area to secure the borders to keep armed assailants from entering into the country. But is that currently a significant problem in our nation today?

As of March 2012, the Pew Research Center found that there are 11.7 million illegal immigrants in our country today. Scary yes but let's look at the whole picture here. These illegal immigrants don't seem to be committing acts of terrorism, or increasing the number of crimes.

Indeed a 2010 report by Stuart Anderson of the Cato Institute found that immigrants (legal and illegal alike) commit far fewer crimes than their natural-born counterparts.

But still these people broke the law to enter into this country, so surely they will break the law again once they are here. Well, not exactly. Immigrants become illegal for various reasons.

Yes, some may have been denied a visa and found their way across the border. Others though fall into a far more innocuous category. Let's say someone entered into this country legally on a work visa, and then overstays that visa. Guess who's now an illegal immigrant? Let's say someone entered into this country legally, and moves within the same area without reporting a change of address to the INS. Guess who's now an illegal immigrant? 

Indeed the aforementioned Judy Gans explains,
"Our immigration laws are more complex than the tax code, which is something of an accomplishment. It is an inordinately complicated system that is expensive to comply with... These are the realities that are driving this: We don’t provide adequate legal channels for economic migration. If the legal channels aren’t there, there is tremendous pressure for workers to come in through another source.” 

We need to simplify our screening process and allow for a greater opportunity for those from other countries to enter legally. Yes, we do need to protect our borders and view illegal immigration as a crime and punish it accordingly. But let's be reasonable in our screening process. We are a nation of immigrants; thus, we should make it easier for foreigners to enter this fine country legally. Our economy (and our food) will be better off if we do.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Sacrifice vs "Sacrifice"

In the book of Malachi, the spiritual condition of post-exilic Israel is once more being discussed. By this time, the Temple has been rebuilt and sacrifices are continuing. However, all is not well with the worship and sacrifices that the Lord is receiving by the hands of the Israelites.

The Israelites are trying to find ways to get away with going through the motions of sacrificing without actually "sacrificing" anything. Providing lambs that are of no use to them whatsoever, they are using the Lord's Temple as a garbage bin.

If they were to pass this off to any man, he would not accept it. If they were to give it to their governor, he would not accept it. So instead they pass it off to God. 

But the Lord is not pleased with this type of "sacrifice." As he says in Malachi 1:6-8, as the great King of Israel and the Lord of all the earth, he deserves more than the governors of the land, not less. 
"A son honoureth his father, and a servant his master: if then I be a father, where is mine honour? and if I be a master, where is my fear? saith the Lord of hosts unto you, O priests, that despise my name. And ye say, Wherein have we despised thy name? Ye offer polluted bread upon mine altar; and ye say, Wherein have we polluted thee? In that ye say, The table of the Lord is contemptible. And if ye offer the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? and if ye offer the lame and sick, is it not evil? offer it now unto thy governor; will he be pleased with thee, or accept thy person? saith the Lord of hosts."

If you were to take the devotion that you present to the Lord, and present it instead to say, your father (it is Father's Day this Sunday after all), would he be pleased with your actions? Would he acknowledge that you had done well, or would he know you were just using him as a dumping post?

Better yet, whom do your actions show you respect more: your earthy authorities or your God?  Whom do you spend more time pleasing: your earthly authorities or God? For whom do you sacrifice your interests: your earthly authorities or God?

If your answer is your earthly authorities, remember this, the solution is not to respect your earthly authorities less, it is to respect God more. He is a Father, where is His honour?

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Trials and Persecution 7: Day of Reflection

It is with a sad heart that I write this post today. This post will be the last of the series posts that have been the Wednesday posts over the duration of this blog. It is the first and hopefully only casualty this blog takes from the very soon not as flexible schedule my life will file under. A greater announcement regarding that will come next Wednesday.

But the show must go on; we have business to attend to today that isn't related to that which pertains to these series as a whole.

In life, we are bound to experience trials. There are self-help and encouragement books galore to show us how to survive and thrive through the struggles we find in our lives. Indeed some have gone as far as to say that success happens simply when people are able to overcome those obstacles in their life that would so easily beset them.

If success truly is determined by our abilities to overcome suffering, then we ought to be able to understand all that suffering encompasses. Truly, it makes sense that there are so many books dedicated to suffering. This is just another one of those written types of presentation regarding hardship for the Christian. But I would hope that thus far I have stumbled upon a certain amount of encouraging truth.

Let us review our discussion of the trials and persecution that a Christian will inevitably face by examining the history of suffering throughout the Bible.

Cause of Suffering

"In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth." 

Thus begins the Bible in Genesis 1:1. This is then the beginning of the world as we know it. Through the rest of the chapter, we hear about how the Lord created everything that we know. He declares of course after everything that he created, that it was good. 

Indeed it was perfect in complete harmony and bliss. Adam and Eve were placed in this utopia by the Lord, and the Lord even went so far as to warn them of which fruit was good to eat and which would cause certain death to interrupt their eternal bliss. But Adam and Eve decided they knew better than the Lord did, and ate the forbidden fruit anyway. Since that time, we've seen that the Lord was right, death and suffering of a both temporal and eternal kind were introduced into the lives of humans, all because of sin. 

Now we must be careful here. Just because the ultimate cause of all suffering is sin, does not mean that all individual suffering comes from a direct result of sin. Indeed, hardship can also come as a means of avoiding greater trials, a temptation from the devil, and to increase our faith for greater service to the Lord. 

It is impossible to tell for sure why each trial we see in the world is happening, but we best not assume that it is all because of sin. The book of Job among other portions of Scripture show us that this is not the case.

Cessation of Eternal Suffering

Adam and Eve have now reproduced and the world is populated. Through the seed of Adam, all man has been born evil, with nary a glimpse of righteousness in their minds. Men have a code of morality, and some men appear to live fairly decent lives based on it. But in Isaiah 64:6, we learn that even the good works we do are nothing righteous at all.
"But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away."

We remember that this sin in our lives is going to lead us through a life of suffering into the ultimate and eternal suffering. It is a pretty bleak scenario.

But the Lord is gracious. Just as He didn't give up on humanity after the fall in the first place, He hasn't left them to eternal suffering even now. He uses His omnipotent and sovereign power to supernaturally cause Himself to be born into this world without the evil seed of Adam.

At this point, God Himself calling Himself Jesus is a second and final Adam. He once again is placed in a world with no sin at first, and then was tempted just as anyone else would be. Yet through this all, Jesus did not sin.

Then in the end of it all, he went through the ultimate suffering on the cross, both physically and emotionally, as a penalty for the sins of the world. Jesus' atoning sacrifice promises to eliminate the eternal suffering of those who would accept it as punishment for their actions.

Notice though that Jesus' sacrifice doesn't promise anything regarding the hardship we face in our own world. The temporal trials that we face will not be magically gone once we trust in Jesus. In fact, if we truly trust in Jesus and follow in His words, the persecution we face should increase. Look at 2 Timothy 3:12,
"Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution."

Salvation and Christianity are not about having a fulfilled, wealthy life here on earth; it is about our eternal life being more abundant in the end. However, Christ doesn't leave us hanging out to dry nonetheless.

Christ's Strength through Suffering

Knowing that serving the Lord would only produce results that are troubling to our lives, we might be tempted to just decide to give up. Trust that the Lord will keep His promises to grant us eternal life. With our eternal suffering taken care of, we should see what we can do about working through that temporal suffering too. 

Before you jump the ship that quickly, ask yourself, are you really prepared to go through trials and persecution without the Lord's presence, and without His strength in your life? Because whether you serve Him or not, hardship will find you. The only difference is, whether you have someone to help you in the crisis. (I'm going to neglect to mention that serving the Lord stores up eternal treasures in Heaven, so you can consider the persecution it beings in this Earth an investment.)

You see, as if the Lord hadn't done enough already by giving us both life and eternal life by His grace, He also decided that He is going to always be there for us to comfort us in all manner of our conversation in this world. Jesus Christ our Lord promises to strengthen us so we can manage to survive through any suffering that may befall us. As Sarah Arthur brilliantly puts it
"Jesus fought the war and has come back to help us win our battles." 

Paul explains in much more detail in Philippians 4:11-13,
 "Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me."

After all that the Lord has done for me in relation to His grace, I'd say that I am willing to suffer a little for His sake, knowing that His presence is better than being comfortable in my life. With all the love He has given me, I would like to be able to please Him as I would any other person who cared about me so deeply.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Only the Carpet! An Introduction to the Social Contract Theory

When people enter into contracts, there is an expectation that the contract will be fulfilled. Yes, that's the beginning of our deep thoughts for today. But on a rather serious note, when someone says that they will clean your carpeting, you expect them to clean your carpeting. Additionally, you don't expect them to decide that what you really need is new furniture and have them take liberties with your money in order to get you that new furniture.

Contracts are truly something that give the power to a company.Contracts are written agreements or designation of power from one person to another.  No power outside the contract is within the company's control. What is obvious about this system is that people can not give away power that they themselves don't have. I cannot give you the power to use my sister's desk because I do not have power over that desk in the first place.

All of this is commonplace, of course. And you probably are waiting for me to start explaining how this relates to the social contract theory and the basis of governance. I guess I'm really predictable.

All governments as well are based on contracts. These contracts happen when entities (usually people) come together to form a government. They form these governments for specific purposes and delegate their power to the government to further specific causes. The government then has the responsibility to pursue efforts with the monies of the populace as directed in the contract.

What perhaps is the most over-looked part of these contracts is that just as I cannot sell rights to my sister's desk, people in society cannot ascribe to the government rights they themselves don't have. If you can't force your neighbour to eat his vegetables, then you can't possibly delegate power to the government to force your neighbour to eat his vegetables.

Of course, the government's contract acts like other contracts in one other area as well. It is a delegation of the powers that they can have from the people, but this contract also limits the responsibilities to just that one area of industry. Just as you would not be happy if your carpet cleaners bought you new furniture without your consent and approval, the government has no right to present or try to solve any other problems than what its contract says to do.

In the United States specifically, there are several different governmental contracts. There are state constitutions and county charters formed by the people within a given society. What makes America truly unique however is its federal contract, the United States Constitution. Agreed upon by the states within the country, the Constitution provides the basis for all federal action.

Of course, I did not sign the Constitution. No one in government alive today signed the Constitution. Indeed not one person alive today signed the Constitution! We never agreed to this contract, so doesn't that make it void for us?

This is the most common argument voiced against the social contract theory. However, a close look at other contracts shows that it is not relevant. In business, an employee is responsible to a degree to the contracts the CEO makes. Regardless of whether he himself had anything to do with the actions of ensuring a client, he has the responsibility to provide whatever services the CEO provided.

More relevantly, when a new CEO is hired, he is responsible for all of the contracts the prior CEO left him. It doesn't matter that he didn't specifically make the contract, he is still legally compelled to follow them.

Just because we never saw the specific contract and had no place in its initiation doesn't void our contract. We are in a contract with the government and have enumerated certain of our powers unto the respective governments of our nation.

But let's ensure that our carpet cleaners only clean the carpet and that our government only fulfills its purposes.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Deus Ex Machina

There is  literary device in the world of fiction, called, Deus ex machina. It name is Latin for, the God from the machine. It is used to denote when a resolution to a plot comes from outside the plot. It's as if some god decided to change the final endings for some undefined purpose.

It is a pretty sad literature device in most instances; however, in the real world, there are many instances of Deus ex machina . Time after time, the Lord will save his people from doom, whether that be from keeping them from harm or preventing them from hurting others. Today, we highlight a few examples of such things.

King Saul confronts David

Throughout the years between when David was anointed king and when he became king, he was constantly in danger of his life at the hand of the current King Saul. More times than one can even count, the Lord protected David from the hand of King Saul. One particular instance is instructive. 

In I Samuel 23, David is on the run from King Saul. Against the urging of his men, David follows the will of the Lord to protect the city of Keilah from the Philistines. David knows that is he stayed in Keilah after the battle that he would be caught by Saul (the Lord told David as much), so he leaves. 

Even still, the actions have alerted Saul as to the whereabouts of David and his men. The Lord keeps Saul from finding David, but Saul is persistent. David cannot relax for a while here as Saul and the Israelites pursue him. 

Then we have our Deus ex machina. The Philistines have regrouped and are now invading Israel. Saul's attention can no longer be turned towards David. As I Samuel 23:27-28 says, 
"But there came a messenger unto Saul, saying, Haste thee, and come; for the Philistines have invaded the land. Wherefore Saul returned from pursuing after David, and went against the Philistines."

Israelites Selling Children into Slavery

It is a sad time again for the Israelites. They are in captivity under Persian rule. There is a famine in the land and they are struggling to make ends meet and pay the taxes that Persia has placed upon them. But that is not the worst of it! No indeed, the rulers and nobles are taking advantage of the harmed economy, exacting interest and buying the Israelites' children as slaves. 

There seems to be no end in sight for these struggling Israelites. The only people they legally have a claim to complain to are the ones that are harming them. The Israelites have no option available to them in order to present the possibility of getting out of this situation. 

Then just when things couldn't get worse, the enemies of Jerusalem knock down the wall! Now, on top of having no food, no resources, and no children, they have no defenses. The situation is really hopeless now. How are they ever going to get out of this? 

Then comes our Deus ex machina. You see, a little while after Jerusalem's wall is torn down, King Artaxerxes appoints a new governor over Jerusalem with the purpose of rebuilding the wall. The Lord has started to orchestrate an option for the Lord to provide for His people to have defenses. 

But that's not the end of it. Although there is still a famine in the land after the 12 years that Nehemiah serves as governor of Jerusalem, Nehemiah rebukes the leaders, and requires them not to take advantage of the Jews. The Jews start to cooperate together in this situation, and ultimately, their children are restored and their lives return to normal. 

No Heat for the Orphans

A minister is running an orphanage. The orphanage is usually without extra funds because this man believes on fully trusting the Lord to supply funds, and thus doesn't specifically seek donations for this purpose. This works out quite well for the orphanage over many years. The Lord worked through several smaller Deus ex machinas to keep this orphanage running.

Then the boiler for their heating apparatus broke. It couldn't have happened at a worse time. It was just starting to become winter, and without this boiler repaired quickly, the children could have frozen.

It took some great lengths to get the repair people there to fix this boiler for the orphanage, but the Lord blessed in this area. An appointment was set with the workmen to repair the boiler.

But as that day approached, a tremendous North wind appeared. It was going to be cold, and the orphans would deal with that. The date of the appointment couldn't be changed and the boiler couldn't be running while it was being repaired. There was a considerable question about how in the world the orphans would survive this day.

But the minister decided to pray. He prayed that the North wind would miraculously change into a South Wind and that the repairmen would have a mind to work and finish their repairs quickly.

And wouldn't you know it? That is exactly our Deus ex machina in this story. As the minister writes in his autobiography,
"The evening before, the bleak north wind blew still; but on the Wednesday the south wind blew: exactly as I had prayed. The weather was so mild that no fire was needed. The brickwork is removed, the leak is found out very soon, the boiler-makers begin to repair in good earnest. About half past eight in the evening...  In speaking to the principal of this, he said in their hearing, 'the men will work late this evening, and come very early again to-morrow.' 'We would rather, sir,' said the leader, 'work all night.' Then I remembered the second part of my prayer, that God would give the men 'a mind to work.' Thus it was: by the morning, the repair of the boiler was accomplished...and all the time the south wind blew so mildly that there was not the least need of a fire."

This great minister spent many of his years like this in prayer, and would provide a plethora of examples of Deus ex machinas. His name is George Muller, and he explained,
"When I am in need of anything, I fall on my knees, and ask God that he would be pleased to give me what I need; and he puts it into the heart of some one or other to help me. Thus all my wants have been amply supplied during the last twenty-six years, and I can say, to the praise of God, I have lacked nothing." 

The Conclusion: Trust the Lord

Here we have several examples of the Lord controlling things that we have no access to to save us from harm, yet we still don't trust him, do we? We don't think that he can solve our problems. We try to figure out everything on our own, and will not take our situation and place it in God's hands. 

But we should. These examples show that he is able to be trusted with our lives. Thank goodness, Deus ex machinas happen in the real world. 

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Trials and Persecution 6: Together for Good

Many Christians like to point to the truths included in Romans 8:28 in a time of trial.
"And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose."

This verse is commonly used as encouragement to those suffering, that ultimately all of the persecution we have in our life will ultimately work to provide us with a happier, more fulfilled life. But this is not a proper interpretation of this verse.

Yes it is true that occasionally we will see suffering working in order to save us from further harm, but nowhere does this verse truly tell us that we are to receive a fulfilled and abundant life on earth. If we examine the rest of Scriptures (particularly the New Testament) we learn that we are to live our lives for the glory and honor of God, and that truly that is the only purpose we have in life.

Thus, when it says that all things work together for good, why do we start to selfishly think that this good is something that is good for us? Nowhere in Scripture does it guarantee that our lives will be pleasant. They certainly can be joyful despite what we go through. But we have to acknowledge that our lives will bring persecution if we are truly living for God. Remember the words of 2 Timothy 3:12,
"Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution."

That persecution is in my mind, a small price in order to please the Lord, but it is a price. Pleasing the Lord does not promise rewards in this life.

In this life. That one phrase highlights a few deeper problem in Christian culture in relation to this verse. Since when have we become so concerned with the rewards we can receive temporarily on Earth anyway? Shouldn't we be more focused upon eternal rewards?

Yes, our eternal life is presented purely on the basis of the works of Jesus and our faith in Him. But our works can have an impact on the rewards that we will receive in Heaven. For instance, in 2 Timothy 4:7-8, we read,
"I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing."

We are promised rewards throughout Scripture for our service to the Lord, but they are always promised in eternity. In this world, we will have tribulation. In this world, we might not have the most enjoyable time. But in the next, we will have rewards.

I know this isn't the popular thing to say. Perhaps it is because it is a depressing subject that nobody wants to hear about.

But if there is one thing the Bible is clear about, it is this - the end of Christianity, the reason Christ came and died, was for our eternal benefit and not our temporal one.

When we interpret Romans 8:28 to refer to our temporal gain, we have divorced Christian life from its entire purpose. We have started to gain the wrong perspective on how we are to live our lives. Our ultimate goal has become to store up treasures on Earth, and not in Heaven. But Matthew 6:19-33 admonishes us,
"Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness! No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? ... Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you."

So as we go through our suffering in today's society, we do have this consolation from Romans 8:28, all things work together for the Lord's and our eternal gain. That's still a pretty encouraging thought to me.

Monday, June 2, 2014

It's All About the Money, Boys!

Money! It is something that many people will seek in the world. Some may cheat for it, some may steal it, but whatever it is, it is something that most people in this country so desperately seek.

But why is this such a fervent desire anyway? It's not as if the money we get in this world today is actually worth anything at all!

Yes, you knew I was going there, didn't you? Here I am, telling you your money is just worthless paper. Now of course we agree to trade it still. But that is only because the government says it's valuable.

Yet even the government is not able to keep our "dollars" at a steady rate. Due to laws of economics, the money we use is bound to become far less valuable over time.

It wasn't always this way. When our dollar system started, it started out as a gold certificate. You see, a dollar is a measure of weight. You could return a paper dollar into the US treasury and receive a dollar of gold.

Then in the Great Depression, the American people were robbed. The paper currency was no longer backed by the Gold Standard. Since that time, the American people have been trading green Federal Reserve Notes that for some reason still go by the name, Dollar in common nomenclature.

Here's the benefit with Federal Reserve Notes. They are not standardized by a set amount of gold and thus can be inflated at the government's will.

The main disadvantage with Federal Reserve Notes is that they are not standardized by a set amount of gold and thus can be inflated at the government's will.

That's when the laws of supply and demand kick in. As the supply of dollars in our economy goes up, the value ultimately goes down.

Think of the most expensive things in the world: Diamonds, signed Home Run Balls (especially when breaking a record), chocolate. Oh wait no, that last one isn't expensive, it's just in the same league as the others qualitatively.

But then that illustrates my point exactly. Despite the fact that chocolate is as good as diamonds, why is it that diamonds are so much more expensive? Well, if you go into any store, you will find chocolate. But you won't always find diamonds. Diamonds are much more rare. Even with the recent chocolate shortage, there is still a higher supply of chocolate than there is of diamonds.

As the dictates of supply and demand tell us, with rarity comes a higher value. When supply is increased, demand for that commodity is decreased, and the product now has a lower value.

And that is what has happened with the US Dollar as it shifted from a gold certificate to the Federal Reserve Note we see today. As the Federal Reserve inflates the dollar by pumping more Reserve Notes into the economy, it requires more greenbacks to buy milk, eggs, and bacon. Thus, inflation causes rising prices.

But then that shouldn't be that big of a deal, right? After all, since there's more money in the economy, we should all have more money to spend on milk, eggs, and bacon, right?

Except the harsh reality is that when the Federal Reserve pumps more into the economy, it never is distributed perfectly among all citizens in the nation, leaving some with limited buying power, and others with a surplus.

That is why it is so silly for us to have money that is truly worth nothing at all. I didn't even mention the Boom-Bust Cycle or the exchange rates between currencies in other nations. But even with this surface-level examination, we see ample reason why inflation is destructive.