Category Archives: Life

Why Christmas?

There are several ways Christians view the Christmas season. Some go at it with reckless abandon – house full of lights, presents galore, fridge full of eggnog, Bing Crosby and The Carpenters blaring on the radio. Others shun it altogether, citing it as unbiblical, or even pagan. Many are somewhere in between, feeling confused, wanting to be faithful but wondering what to make of this time of year. I suppose my family falls into this latter category. Like most Christians around the globe we observe the holiday, but struggle to find the best way to do so. How much emphasis on the decorations, or the presents? How do we rightly instruct the children? Is all of this really necessary? Certainly, there are excesses this time of year, yet also a lot to celebrate. So … what do we do about it?

Well, this post isn’t about whether or not Christmas is pagan (that will be another post). And it’s not to preach a definite “do this” or “don’t do that” regarding presents and trees and such. Rather, my goal is to lay out some basic principles – or, better, emphases – to guide us during this season.

Adoration of the Magi (1632) - Rembrandt.  public domain

Adoration of the Magi (1632) – Rembrandt. public domain

Number One: celebrate the coming of the promised Messiah

Try to forget, for a moment, cute children singing “Happy Birthday Jesus.” That’s most certainly not the point of Christmas. There’s a much more edifying way to look at it. Think of it this way: there was a time in history before Christ. Yes, of course, but what does that mean? For the Jews, he was the long promised fulfillment of dozens of ancient prophecies. They longed for his coming, spending time in a lengthy exile and under foreign subjugation in their own land. For me, as a Gentile, it also means a whole lot. Prior to his coming there was no redemption, no hope of eternal life, no giving of the Holy Spirit. There were no Gospels instructing us about God’s ways. There was only hopelessness, the fearful truth that death would come, but without a sure knowledge of what would come afterward.

Jesus changed everything. His entrance into the world was epoch-making. If he hadn’t come, I would be doomed. Because he did come, I’m saved. “But I’m a Gentile!”  “Yes, but now you’re mine too.”

That’s why I celebrate this time of year. Yes, we should also remember his resurrection and long for his return. But that doesn’t mean we cannot have a time when his first coming is celebrated. This coming – or Advent – demands our primary focus. It’s a time to reflect on our own blessings, as well as point others to the purpose behind his advent.

Number Two: don’t be too distracted

There is a yearly tendency to get wrapped up, so to speak, in all of the hustle and bustle of the season itself. Lots of gifts to buy, decorations to put up, travel plans to make, dinners to cook. None of these in and of themselves are wrong. However, they can become problematic if our focus is taken off Christ. If that occurs, the whole holiday is just an end-of-the-year party, devoid of any spiritual merit. How easily this happens! My advice (and this includes myself) is to know thyself. Take a daily inventory of where you’ve focused time and energy. Know when the season threatens to steal your true joy. Make it a point to meditate on Scripture, particularly those relating to salvation in Christ. And direct your children consistently to those same vital truths.

Number Three: don’t spend too much time fretting over what Christmas has “become”

Yes, Christmas is over-commercialized. This has been going on for many decades. Charlie Brown even lamented this in the 1960’s. The fact is that Christmas to the world is completely secular. It’s all about being with family, sharing gifts, Santa, and hoping for snow. But instead allowing this lack of spiritual focus to annoy us, it should remind us to pray, and to use every opportunity to engage the culture with the truth. The irony of Christmas is that most people reject the very one in whose name they celebrate. Our task is to show them what they’re missing. We can also pray that while they sing or record some of the traditional carols, some of those biblical lyrics will lead them to think about him of whom they sing.

Christ by highest heaven adored
Christ the everlasting Lord
Late in time behold him come,
Offspring of a virgin’s womb.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
Hail, the incarnate deity,
Pleased as Man with Man to dwell,
Jesus, our Emmanuel!

O holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born to us today.

For lo the days are hastening on
By prophets seen of old
When with the ever circling years
Shall come the time foretold
When the new heaven and earth
Shall own the prince of peace
Their King
And the whole world
Send back the song
Which now the angels sing

[In order, Hark the Herald Angels Sing (verse 2); O Little Town of Bethlehem (verse 4); It Came Upon a Midnight Clear (verse 4)]

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20/20 Takes on Heaven

I just finished watching the two-hour 20/20 special, “Heaven: Where is it? How do we get there?”  Honestly, I didn’t expect much, so I wasn’t disappointed in what I got.  What does make me sad is how much distortion and deception there is on this topic.  Actually, it’s more provoking than anything.  It made me want to . . . well . . . blog about it.

In true post-modern style, we were treated to a smorgasbord of ideas from Barbara Walters and company.  Various faiths and non-believers had their say.  Even hell had a short segment at the end.  Very little of biblical truth was presented.  Barbara (yeah, we’re on a first name basis) did interview Joel Osteen.  He managed to state that Jesus was the only way to heaven, so that was good, but so much more needed to be said.  There are a couple of key truths that seem to elude virtually everyone, including an increasing number of Christians.  A lot more could be said, but let’s start with these two . . .

First, there is a tendency to think that heaven is achieved by how good we are.  Most people take this view.  We like to earn things by nature, so why not heaven?  Yet the Bible indicates very clearly that no amount of good works can get us into heaven.  It would be like a serial killer (think Charles Manson or Jeffrey Dahmer) who thinks he should be released from prison because he bought some Girl Scout cookies, or gave some change to a homeless guy.  The problem is that the good deed comes nowhere close to matching the atrocities committed.  In the same way, our sin is presented in the Bible as an atrocity against God, our Creator.  No amount of goodness can cover that amount of rebellion. (cf. Rom. 3:9-20; Eph. 2:9).

Second, most people come at this issue with the idea that heaven is the default destination for themselves and everyone else.  This comes from the idea that we are good by nature.  However, Scripture gives us a totally different picture.  We are by nature rebels and we have sinned repeatedly against a perfectly holy God.  Therefore, the default destination is hell.  As the Paul wrote, we are all “by nature children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3).

The Bible paints a bleak picture of humanity.  To sum it up, we’re not nearly as good as we thought – in fact we’re criminally bad.  And we’re not headed toward a future blissful existence – we’re destined for the due penalty for our sins.  We are doomed.

Well, not quite.  Not everyone.  There is more to this story.  Thankfully!  In the very same passages mentioned above, we also read these beautiful, life-giving verses:

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by faith you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:4-6)

“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it – the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ.  For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.  This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.  It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:21-26).

Yes, there is a heaven.  We’re not told exactly where it is.  But we are told how to get there: by faith in Jesus Christ, and repentance of our sins.  In an age of confusion, where every idea gets heard and the only ones viewed with suspicion are those stated with certainty, this truth must be proclaimed.  It is what a dying world desperately needs.

**All Scripture cited from  the English Standard Version, Crossway, 2001.

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Joseph and Christian Leadership

It has been said that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  Even a cursory survey of human history brings to mind tragic stories of promising men who ascended to powerful positions only to wind up as corrupt and paranoid mad men. Even recent church history is rife with scandal, as leaders have abused their position through love of money, sex, power, or some combination of all three.  The world has taken notice.  It is one thing to be a secular leader who falls, quite another when a religious leader does the same.  Little tolerance is given to the latter, as Christian leaders in particular have been judged rather harshly for their scandals.

Despite the recent scandals, most Christian leaders live exemplary lives.  One of the key ways to keep above the fray is to consider the examples in Scripture.  Of course, Jesus Christ is the greatest one to emulate.  But in the life of Joseph is found one who rose to the top of the Egyptian government, from slavery, to prison, to Pharaoh’s right hand man, yet was able to keep his head and spiritual life intact with such amazing faith that it can only be viewed as being a gift of God.  It will become clear that Joseph’s life is well worth studying for leadership or for life in general. Few can match the leadership skills he displayed.  In fact, many people have noted that Joseph is one of the few major characters in Scripture about whom nothing negative is recorded. This post will give various accounts of Joseph’s life and will include four areas of his leadership that are worthy to be emulated: faithfulness, honesty, discernment, and humility.  The text of Scripture will be from the narrative on Joseph’s life found in Genesis 37, 39-47, 50.[1]

Trustworthiness – (39:2-6)

When Joseph was a young man of about seventeen, he was sold by his jealous brothers to Ishmaelite merchants and taken to Egypt, where he ended up at the household of Potiphar, an official of Pharaoh.  It was partially because of Joseph’s obedience to his father’s command (Gen. 37:13) that his circumstance became so dire, and now in Egypt Joseph demonstrates his trustworthiness again, this time to his master, Potiphar.

We read in the text that the primary reason why Joseph prospered was because the Lord was with him (39:2).  But God’s help is in accordance with Joseph’s own faithfulness in fulfilling his duties.  Certainly God could override all circumstances, but he chooses instead to work with His creatures, especially in their obedience.  When it is said in Scripture that God is with someone or favors someone, it is always in accordance with their faithful actions.  Potiphar saw that the Lord was with Joseph and that Joseph was trustworthy, so he put him in charge of his entire household, leaving in “Joseph’s care everything he had” (39:3-6).

Joseph’s trustworthiness was challenged when Potiphar’s wife began to make advances.  She desired an affair with Joseph, but his response to her was to cite his master’s trust of him to take care of his household and that to sleep with her would be a sin against God (39:7-9).  Though he never touched her, she took his cloak and used it against him, lying to Potiphar that he tried to force himself upon her.  Potiphar had Joseph thrown into prison where he found favor in the eyes of the warden, who put him in charge of many prison related duties (39:12-23).

The faith of Joseph in continuing to do good even when bad events follow needs to be heeded.  He obeyed his father, yet he wound up in slavery in a foreign land; he faithfully obeyed Potiphar, and he was falsely accused and sent to prison.  And even now he was being trustworthy in the most base habitation imaginable—prison.  Many times in leadership, we will be tempted to turn away from our faithfulness as negative circumstances choke the life out of our plans and self-image.  Yet Joseph demonstrates that the leader God has chosen is encouraged to persevere, knowing that God is with him.  Darkness comes before the dawn, and in every position of authority there will be times of darkness.  But the Christian leader is to continue to be faithful and trustworthy in his position.

Honesty – (40:9-19)

While in prison Joseph was tending to two of Pharaoh’s servants who had fallen out of his favor, the baker and the cupbearer.  One day Joseph noticed that they were down and dejected; after inquiring into the matter he found out that they each had a dream and were perplexed as to the meanings.  Joseph first listened to the cupbearer’s dream about a vine with three branches full of grapes that he, the cupbearer, squeezed into Pharaoh’s cup.  After listening to him, Joseph gave the positive interpretation that in three days the cupbearer would be restored to his previous position (40:9-15).

After listening to the cupbearer’s happy fortune, the baker told Joseph his dream, one in which three baskets of bread sat on his head while birds ate out of those baskets.  Then Joseph had the unenviable task of telling the baker what the dream meant.  In three days Pharaoh would hang the baker and the birds of the sky would eat away his flesh (40:16-19).  Both interpretations came true; the baker was killed and cupbearer was restored to his position, but he forgot about Joseph (40:20-23).

Another amazing truth about Joseph is that he was incredibly honest.  How easy it is to tell people good news!  The fact is, human nature is such that we like to be liked—so much so that sometimes the truth is compromised so that peace can be achieved.  It is easy to fall prey to such behavior, yet Joseph did not water down the interpretation God had given him regarding the fate of the chief baker.  Honesty had gotten Joseph in trouble with his brothers, but that did not stop him from being honest here.

In the same way, leaders are to be honest with everyone even in situations where the truth hurts.  Oftentimes it will.  Joseph had asked the cupbearer to remember him, but Joseph was forgotten and remained in prison another two years (41:1).  And it is almost certain that the baker did not have Joseph high on his list of favorite people.  So also, leaders and teachers are to proclaim the truth of God’s word and not try to water it down so that it becomes more palatable for the sheep.  Watering down the truth would not have done the chief baker any good, and it will certainly not do Christians good either.

 Discernment and Prudence – (41:33-40)

While Joseph was still sitting in prison, Pharaoh had a couple of dreams.  In one, there were seven fat cows followed by seven thin cows, and in the other, seven healthy heads of grain, followed by seven dry heads of grain.  In both dreams the sickly seven at up the healthy seven.  None of Pharaoh’s magicians could interpret the dreams, but the cupbearer remembered Joseph and Pharaoh sent for him.  Joseph gave Pharaoh the interpretations, both the dreams meant the same thing—there would be seven years of good crops and plenty of rain, followed by seven years of drought and scarce food.  The drought would be so terrible that the people would forget about the previous years of plenty.

After telling Pharaoh the interpretation, Joseph goes on to give him some instructions on the best way to handle the situation.  He suggests that Pharaoh appoint a wise man over the land of Egypt along with commissioners to oversee the gathering of one fifth of the grain harvest.  This grain was to be kept in reserve for the time of famine.  Upon hearing all of this, Pharaoh saw Joseph’s discernment and placed him in charge of virtually everything in Egypt.

Once again Joseph proved himself to be honest in rightly handling the truth of God’s interpretation, but now he is found to be wise in understanding and dealing with difficult situations.  While nobody else knew what to do, Joseph put forth a plan that would save the Egyptians, and many others, from starvation and ruin.  The wisdom he displayed did not go unnoticed by Pharaoh, who immediately understood who to put in charge.

Christian leaders are to display wisdom and discernment in handling people and various situations that arise.  Of course, the first step in attaining wisdom is to know and fear God.  Proverbs states that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (9:10).  It cannot be overstated the importance of the Christina leader’s relationship with Jesus Christ.  Only a humble submission to His Lordship and a firm grasp upon His word will the leader truly lead effectively.

 Humility – (45:1-15, 50:19-21)

The famine eventually came and much of the surrounding areas were affected.  Among those coming to Egypt for help were Joseph’s older brothers.  When Joseph recognized them, he was moved to tears (42:24).  But he pretended not to know them and sent them back to Canaan with the orders to bring back the youngest, Benjamin, while the oldest, Simeon, would be kept behind to ensure their return.  Upon their return, they met again with Joseph.  He gave them a feast and after seeing his younger brother, once again wept (43:30).  After a while, Joseph finally revealed himself to his brothers, those who had treated him so badly and sent him into slavery.  Weeping loudly, he cried to them “I am Joseph!” (45:2-3).  What he said next truly revealed his heart and his understanding of God’s ways: “Do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. . .to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance” (45:5,7).  He then gave them instructions to bring back his father, Jacob; along with everyone else they were to live in Egypt so that they might have provisions.

What was perhaps the most startling attribute of Joseph was his tender heart.  He had every opportunity to let bitterness eat at him while on his journey to Egypt, as a slave, or while in prison.  And he also had the chance to become prideful in his new position of authority.  Yet Joseph did not let past aggressions or his power to change his heart.  He knew God and exemplified what it meant to be a humble servant and leader.

In the same way, Christian leaders cannot afford to let past hurts create a revengeful spirit within them.  Forgiveness is to be an important aspect of the leader’s life, since it will be required time after time.  If bitterness takes root, the heart will grow cold, and the ministry will dry up.  Additionally, a humble, tender heart is especially needed in positions where the flock’s admiration and accolades will threaten to make the leader feel too much pride.

Conclusion

In an age where many leaders, both secular and Christian, have fallen from their positions, and have created a general distrust among the populace regarding people of authority, it is especially important for Christian leaders to look at the life of Joseph as a model to follow.  If the need is to feed the sheep, Joseph’s honesty is a model of accurately handling Scripture.  If the goal is to model Christ-likeness, Joseph’s humility is a good example of living a godly life.  Of course, Joseph was not perfect, but he was used by God to keep Israel from starving in the famine, and is a great example for us today on how to be an effective Christian leader.


[1]All Scripture taken from the New International Version, Broadman & Holman, 1996.

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Christianity and Homosexuality, pt 1: Jesus and homsexuality

Question: Jesus never condemned homosexuality.  Rather, he showed love and acceptance to everyone.  Shouldn’t Christians follow his example?

Most everyone claims to know Jesus.  Depending on your outlook, he is one or more of the following (in no way an exhaustive list): liberator, rebel, magician, great teacher, good man, miracle worker, hippie, leader, Lord.  Corresponding with many of these views is a pervasive tendency to rescue the true Jesus from a corrupted Bible and the insanity of his followers.  But my aim here is not to give an apologetic for the view that the Bible is trustworthy and reliable, nor to defend the “crazy” Christians.  Though important, that is a lengthy discussion going well beyond the present topic.  Besides that, the question above assumes the Bible is correct in reporting the words of Jesus.  Therefore, the answer given below will answer in kind.

I’m going to list some general points, in no order of importance.

  1. Jesus always affirmed the OT Scriptures, which clearly condemn homosexual behavior.  The burden of proof lies with anyone who argues otherwise.
  2. The culture he was in (1st C. Judea) universally rejected homosexuality so there wasn’t a pressing need to address the subject.
  3. We only have a limited amount of Jesus’ sayings.  He could have (and probably had) talked about the subject, but these things have not been recorded because.  As John wrote: “These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ,” (Jn. 20:31) and, “Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” (21:25)
  4. If Jesus gave such strict understandings of other areas of sexuality, it is extremely unlikely he would have wavered on homosexuality.  For instance, to look at a woman lustfully was on a par with adultery; divorce and remarriage = adultery; in other words, he upped the ante on sexual behavior.  In fact, if someone says that Jesus only (or even primarily) taught on love and forgiveness, then they have not read the Gospels very closely.  Some of the hardest sayings of the Bible were from the lips of Christ.  He was uncompromising on the subject of sin.  Yes he spoke of love and forgiveness, but this is never to be divorced from the repentance demanded from those seeking God’s love and mercy.
  5. We cannot create a dichotomy between Jesus and the rest of the NT.  The same Jesus who died and rose again commissioned the apostles to write under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  By Jesus’ own words, he was present in and through the HS.  Thus, the words of Paul should be considered worthy of scripture – as even Peter affirmed.  Paul condemned homosexual behavior.
  6. True, Jesus told the woman caught in adultery: “Neither do I condemn you.”  But we went on to say: “Now go and sin no more.”  We can surmise from this that he would have told a practicing homosexual something similar.
  7.  Jesus also never spoke in the Bible regarding polygamy or incest.  If threesomes (or more) are committed to one another, then why deny them the right marry?  If father and daughter or brother and sister want to be married, why not?
  8.  Jesus only spoke of marriage in terms of a man/woman relationship.

So, what about Jesus’ love and acceptance of all people?  Certainly, Jesus did show compassion to the downtrodden, and ended up talking and dining with society’s undesirables.  But his message to them was the same: repent and turn to God and you will inherit the kingdom of God.  Jesus was inclusive in that he welcomed all regardless of race, gender, status, or past sins; he was exclusive in that he only welcomed those who believed in his name and turned from their sins.  The same is true today.

More could be fleshed out of each of these points.  Suffice it to say, it is stretch to use the Gospel’s silence on the topic of homosexuality as a license from Jesus to practice the same.

**All scripture taken from the English Standard Version (ESV).

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Series on an important topic – homosexuality

One of the more heated debates in modern America has to do with gay marriage.  Should it be legal?  Is such a union legitimate at all?  At the heart of the discussion is the morality of homosexuality itself.  Is it really sinful?  Churches and secular culture, once largely in agreement on this topic, are now at odds, with the latter defending vehemently the right to express one’s sexuality as he or she desires.  Even many professing Christians are now voicing support for gay marriage.  Others have fallen silent, instead focusing on building friendships, and shunning any type of controversy that might hinder their mission.

There are many questions to be answered, and misunderstandings and misconceptions abound.  My hope is to list some of the major objections to a Christian understanding of homosexuality and offer an honest, reasonable, and gentle response.  Here is a list of some the topics to be discussed (though more may be added):

Jesus never condemned homosexuality.  Rather, he showed love and acceptance to everyone.  Should not Christians follow his example?

Why do churches harp on homosexuality so much?  Aren’t there many other sins they’re ignoring? 

Why appeal to Leviticus to condemn homosexual practice when you ignore all of the other laws?  Do you pick up sticks on the Sabbath?  Do you wear clothes with different types of fabric?  It seems that Christians are picking and choosing.

The story of Sodom and Gomorrah was about the townspeople being inhospitable, not about being homosexuals. 

Paul was simply teaching the sexual mores of his day.  He did not have access to what modern science has shown about the genetic aspects.

Homosexuality is a desire that is proven to be genetic.  It is also proven to be unalterable.  Yet churches continue to teach that LGBT’s can change their orientation.  Why do you continue to deny the obvious?

Many LGBT’s want to worship and serve God, but feel excluded.  Shouldn’t churches follow the lead of many other Christian congregations by welcoming homosexuals into their fellowship and realizing that they have something to offer?  Isn’t this the example Jesus set forth? 

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How Shall We Then COEXIST?

Scarcely a day goes by that I don’t see the popular “COEXIST” bumper sticker gracing the back of somebody’s car.  It usually accompanies other stickers of a similar ilk, but often stands alone.  I can’t help but wonder about the decision process of the folks who apply this sticker to their bumper.  There seems to be a couple of possibilities:

  1. They simply want people of differing views to get along without violence.  There is no pronouncement of religions being all the same, or of some desire to see a one-world religion.  It is primarily a view of peace.
  2. They want a world of peace and understand that the best way to accomplish this is to promote the view that there is no religion that is better than any other.  Not only war, but any kind of verbal disagreement is seen as the enemy.

Before weighing in on which is the more likely true message, here’s how the website http://www.coexistbumpersticker.org describes the meaning of the sticker and its purpose:

The letters that spell coexist use different religious symbols to represent the different religions. Here are the letters used and what religion they are for.

C – This is a crescent moon that represents Islam

O – This is the peace symbol or pagan/Wiccan pentacle.

E – It is the male/female symbol or a scientific equation.

X – This is the Star of David and represents Judaism.

I – It is a pagan/Wiccan symbol used.

S – This is a Chinese yin-yang symbol.

T – The cross is used to represent Christianity.

Now that you have been enlightened to the coexist bumper sticker meaning, you can see how it is designed to promote peace and coexistence among different people, no matter what your religion is.

Many people don’t think that this is a good idea, but if you think about it, when people start to coexist with each other, the problems in the world will become less. If you believe that coexistence is a good idea, then this could be the right type of sticker for you to add to your vehicle.” (emphasis mine)

While the makers of the bumper sticker promote the message in a non-threatening and winsome way, there’s good reason to think they have in mind a message more in line with (2) than (1).  The line I’ve italicized betrays this: “when people start to coexist with each other, the problems in the world will become less.”  While the statement on the surface seems innocuous enough, when we consider what it takes to accomplish a lessoning of the “problems in the world” we see that it cannot merely refer to physical or verbal fighting – there are many, many other things wrong with the world: hunger, disease, racial inequalities, environmental issues, etc.  With each religion and/or philosophy comes a differing view about how to approach each problem.  And some problems are viewed as worse than others based upon the particular worldview examining it.  For instance, a New Age person might view environmental issues as the most pressing problem of the day, since in that worldview the earth is all we have and we must treat it (or, her, as the case may be) with much care.  On the other hand, some Muslims (and some Christians, I’m sorry to say) don’t really care about these issues at all.  With such divergent worldviews, it’s a pipe dream to imagine universal agreement on fixing the world’s problems.

With that line of reasoning as our base, let’s think about this for a second.  There’s only two ways, theoretically, to bring about peace and harmony among all peoples, and to cure the world’s ills.  In one, the realization must emerge that only one way is correct.  When the masses understand this, harmony will ensue since there will be a common belief system, and with that common worldview will come a common purpose and outlook.  In the second, the realization must emerge that either there is no true religion or philosophy, or that all religions and philosophies lead to the same ultimate goal, or god.  This too leads to a common worldview and purpose and outlook.

Guess which view the COEXIST crowd is most likely to espouse?  The first is intolerable, since having only one way is viewed as narrow and bigoted.  It almost goes without saying that you would be hard pressed to find someone with the COEXIST bumper sticker holding this first view.  The second must be the choice.  But with the second comes the view that true peace and coexistence can only take place once religion is relegated to the realm of non-importance.  After all, it is supposed, any claims on religious truth leads to discord, and disagreement is not harmonious.

Compare the message with the famous song “Imagine” by John Lennon:

Imagine there’s no Heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace

You may say that I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

Lennon’s song has become something of an anthem for the New Age worldview.  It lays out in strikingly unambiguous words what it takes to achieve true peace, true oneness.

But the Christian who holds the Bible as the infallible word of God, and Jesus as the only way of salvation, will understand the COEXIST message in a different way.  There will only be true harmony when every knee is bowed to the one true and living God.  Yet this doesn’t mean that we cannot “coexist” in a more biblical sense.  Here are some guidelines:

  1. As Jesus commanded, we should love our neighbor (i.e., everyone – cf. Mt. 5:44-47)
  2. While we may disagree with the views of others, and may even engage in discussion and debate, we must do so “with gentleness and respect” (1 Pt. 3:15).
  3. We must seek to “live at peace with all men” (Rom. 12:18; cf. Heb. 12:14).
  4. We must pray for a peaceful existence with all people (2 Tim. 2:1-2).
  5. We must do good to all people (Gal. 6:10)
  6. We must understand and teach that biblical coexistence is not about differing belief systems; instead, it is about divergent peoples coming together under a common belief, namely that Jesus is the Messiah who died for sins and rose from the dead.

What we must not do is compromise our message.  If Jesus truly is the Messiah, we must preach it – yes, with respect and gentleness – but also with clarity and boldness.  True love for all people demands nothing less.

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Avoiding “The Great Imposter”

About ten years ago I was positively affected by a short article by Mart De Haan of RBC Ministries, called “the Great Imposter.”  In it he noted how subtle pride can be and then went on to list the many ways it can rear its ugly head.  An updated version of the article can be read at his blog here.  I’ve listed below some of his “prides” to avoid.  But beware, some of them sting.

Self-defeating pride– On a good day, it keeps us from thinking that we need to do anything differently. When trouble comes, we don’t want people to think we’re changing our ways just because we’re in trouble.

Wounded Pride The pride that prompts us to think more highly of ourselves than we ought to think can also fill us with self-contempt when we don’t live up to our own expectations.

Fearful Pride The ego that causes us to be overly competitive on some occasions can also keep us from trying at all in other situations. Sometimes pride makes us willing to win at the expense of others. Sometimes it causes us to avoid the embarrassment of possible failure.

Uninhibited Pride The pride that causes us to be meticulous with our appearance can also cause us not to care what others think of us.

Self-deceiving Pride The pride that causes us to call attention to other people’s mistakes can lead us to believe we don’t have any reason to be critical of ourselves.

Procrastinating Pride The arrogance that causes us to think we can change anytime we want can keep us from ever changing at all.

Uncaring Pride The conceit that allows us to be preoccupied with our own problems can also help us to be oblivious to the pain of others.

Sulking Pride The pride that keeps us from asking others for help can also cause us to sulk when others are not “there for us.”

Self-introducing Pride Sometimes to admit pride seems fatal. At other times, saying that we know we are proud is a way of saying we think we have something to be proud about.

Self-berating Pride The pride that keeps us from admitting we’re wrong can also lead to self-berating behavior that helps us avoid being corrected by others.

Pious Pride The pride that causes us to be prayerless in our personal life can also prompt us to pray with crowd-pleasing eloquence in public settings.

Overly-talkative Pride The survival instinct that prompts us to be silent about what is really happening in us can also cause us to dominate conversations and relationships when we don’t want others asking questions.

Slacker Pride The self-sufficiency that drives workaholics to try to make themselves indispensable can also cause a lazy person to assume that he can be a slacker without consequences.

Tearful Pride The conceit that causes us to disregard the feelings of others can also cause us to use tears to play on the emotions of others when we want something.

Quiet Pride The self-interest that causes us to parade our success can also prompt us not to admit our failures.

Contrite Pride The self-absorption that allows us to protect ourselves at others’ expense can also prompt us to think we deserve forgiveness once we’ve admitted our wrongs.

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