I’ve been meaning to write about this for several days now, but just haven’t found the time until now. On Monday evening, I drove down to my old alma mater where I was asked to speak at my old campus ministries group, Campus Light. I was active in C-Light almost the entire time I attended Tech, eventually serving in every office the group had. I was rather (in)famous among the group for my lengthy Bible studies; my favorite was my study on Ehud entitled “The Southpaw who Saved the Country from the King in the Bathroom.” (Maybe someday I’ll reproduce that one here for your amusement.) As a Tech and C-Light alumnus, I was on the short list of potential speakers that they wanted to invite, and my recent move back to WV made arranging a date much more feasible. While the attendance could have been better (there were no classes Tuesday due to Election Day, so a lot of students weren’t there), I did get to meet a couple of new people and enjoyed seeing some old familiar faces. I especially enjoyed being able to share a Bible study with a group again; we’re still looking for a new church here, so beyond our personal daily devotions we haven’t had much opportunity for corporate worship.
I struggled a bit in coming up with a lesson to share with them, mostly due to lack of time. (Where have we heard that before?) I thought about digging up some of my old C-Light lessons or dipping into my collected stash of Sunday School material, but then I realized that I had the perfect lesson right at hand. My experiences from the past year had plenty of life lessons for me, and there are no better lessons to share than life experiences. You may be able to reason away theology, but you can never deny someone’s personal experience. I shared with them the events of my life in 2006, emphasizing the various life transitions we went through (the baby, losing/gaining jobs, moving, buying/selling houses, etc.) and tried to tie them to recent and upcoming transitions they have/will experience (graduating high school and college).
When tying everything to scripture, I found two appropriate passages. In the first, Matthew 6:25-34, Christ informs us that we should not worry about what we will eat or wear, or what tomorrow may bring. We are the crowning achievement of God’s creation, and He cares for us more than anything else. He will provide for our needs if we trust in Him. However, the second passage, James 4:13-16, puts a different light on things. James reminds us God’s plans may be different than ours, and we should submit to His will. We shouldn’t boast about our own accomplishments and plans, but should be flexible, trusting, and understanding when His plans overshadow our own. Together, these two passages paint a larger picture. While God promises to provide for our needs, sometimes we go through dark periods, “valleys” where we are seemingly alone and unprotected, to teach us valuable life lessons and further reliance on Him. Sometimes there are lessons we must learn and grow from; other times, the experiences we gather are not for our own edification, but are to ultimately be shared with someone else to uplift, encourage, or educate someone going through a similar “valley.” In the end, God does not place more upon us than we can bear.
Fortunately, you guys get the short version of this, mostly because you’ve been reading along through most of the events as they’ve happened (or, if you haven’t, they’re archived here so you can if you so desire).
By now I’m sure many of you have heard the news: Last week, Warren Buffett, the world’s second richest man, announced he is giving away 85% of his $44 billion fortune to Bill Gates (coincidentally the world’s first richest man) and his charitable organization, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The news outlets, of course, have been all a twitter over this little morsel, which isn’t surprising. Such massive levels of philanthropy are unprecedented and certainly to be applauded. I know CNN Headline News ran several little articles about what could be achieved with just a fraction of Buffett’s donation, such as virtually eliminating certain diseases, cutting world hunger in half, or even providing treatment for every single AIDS victim in the world for an entire year. Impressive indeed.
But then I heard an interesting quote from Buffett, which can be found in this article (among other places): “There is more than one way to get to heaven, but this is a great way.”
Let’s put a few things straight, Warren. Your generosity is certainly noteworthy, and I’ll bet you’ll be remembered for many years to come because of it. And there’s certainly a bunch of wonderful things that be done with your substantial gift, especially in the Gates Foundation’s focus areas of “world health, poverty and increasing access to technology in developing countries.” But last time I checked, God doesn’t take bribes.
Ephesians 2:8-9 clearly states that “God saved you by his special favor when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.” (NLT) No matter what the common secular notion is, nobody can buy their way into heaven. Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned; all fall short of God’s glorious standard.” (NLT) There are no exceptions. Nobody can be “good enough” or do enough to win God’s favor; we have to humble ourselves and turn our lives over to Him.
By the same token, Jesus was pretty clear on the “many roads lead to heaven” line of thinking. Christ himself said in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” (NLT) He also states in Matthew 7:13-14 that we must “enter through the narrow gate [that is, through Christ]. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (NIV) Many are deceived by the notion that if we do just enough “good” things in this world to balance out the “bad,” everything will work out in the end. But Christ made it clear: there’s only one doorway into heaven, and He’s the one who holds the keys. $37 billion in charity is commendable, but even that won’t help you pick the locks on the Pearly Gates.
I’ve been studying for my Sunday School lesson for the coming weekend, and I’ve really been enjoying it. So I thought I’d share a bit of it with you.
Anyone who has spent at least a little bit of time in a church–and probably quite a few who haven’t–can give you at least the CliffsNotes version of the story of Jonah. It’s a Sunday School staple, and just about any child could recite it from memory. The Lord orders Jonah, His prophet, to go to the ancient Assyrian capital of Nineveh and issue a warning that He will destroy the city for its wickedness. Jonah has a completely different idea about things and decides to flee in the exact opposite direction. However, running from God when He’s given you a job to do isn’t the brightest of ideas. The Lord sends a vicious storm against the ship, and the crew throws Jonah overboard when they find out that his disobedience is the cause. Jonah is subsequently swallowed by a “great fish” (or whale in some translations) and remains in its stomach for three days until he repents. The fish pukes Jonah up on shore and he does the job he was originally told to do. End of story. Right?
Not quite. While this is probably as much of the story that most people remember, that only brings us up to the beginning of the third chapter. Jonah does his job quite effectively, and the people of Nineveh themselves repent in sackcloth and ashes. The Lord takes compassion on the people of Nineveh and cancels its impending destruction. But the story still doesn’t end there; there’s still a whole final chapter left to go.
“O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, O LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”
Jonah’s hatred of the Assyrians was absolute. Assyria was a mortal enemy of ancient Israel, a large powerful empire seeming to always cast its oppressive shadow over Jonah’s tiny homeland. In fact, in less than a century, God would use Assyria as His tool of punishment for Israel’s own disobedience and send it to invade and conquer the northern kingdom of Israel and deport ten of the tribes to distant lands and scatter them throughout the empire (see 2 Kings 18:9-12). The Assyrians were considered pagans by the Israelites, with deplorable religious practices and excessive cruelty to the peoples they conquered. The Assyrians themselves left long, boastful inscriptions describing their torture practices, and God uses another Old Testament prophet, Nahum, to list Nineveh’s ruthlessness in detail. By human reckoning, Jonah had every right to hate the Assyrians, and God’s compassion to them made him so angry that was ready to die. But Jonah wasn’t on a mission for himself this time; he was God’s representative. And his reaction was far from appropriate for his position.
God responds with a question Jonah does not answer: “Have you any right to be angry?” In one of several ironic object lessons (I always knew God had a sense of humor), the Lord shows mercy to Jonah by trying to reason with him, while Jonah is furious that He would show mercy toward the Assyrians. In essence, the Lord’s question burns even deeper than a simple query about Jonah’s emotions. Is it right for us to hate those who hate us? Is it right to hate even those who have abused us? Is it right to cherish our hatreds even more than our love for God? As much as Jonah loved God (he was, after all, the Lord’s chosen prophet), he hated the Assyrians more. The thought of God’s compassion went against all of Jonah’s prejudices.
This is perhaps the true heart of the lesson. How many times have we let our prejudices get in the way of accomplishing what is truly right? It is human nature to cling to what is familiar and shun what is different. But that isn’t what God intended for us. Jesus would later tell us in Matthew 5:43-48 and Luke 6:27-36 to love our enemies. God not only loved His chosen people of Israel, but all people, even those who rage against Him, persecute His followers, or claim He doesn’t exist.
This is something non-Christians have trouble comprehending, and sadly a fair number of Christians struggle with it as well. It’s easy to call for vengeance when we are wronged or injured. It’s natural instinct. But when was the last time American Christians out there prayed for Osama Bin Laden’s soul? Or Charles Mason’s? Would World War II have ended differently if more Christians prayed for Adolf Hitler instead of writing him off as unforgivable? There are many “monsters” out there that we often look down upon as less than human, beyond salvation and unpardonable. But in God’s eyes, we are all the same: lost, aimless souls who are fallen from God’s graces, condemned for our transgressions, but redeemable through God’s grace and not our own deeds. It does not matter whether we are a suicide terrorist, genocidal megalomaniac, sadistic murderer, or a kindly old grandmother who would never hurt a fly; we are all the same in God’s eyes. He does not see race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or any other arbitrary human grouping, only lost souls in need of mercy and grace.
(This ties nicely back to my “God’s not ‘politically correct'” post back in April. Give it a read if you haven’t, or a re-read if it’s been a while.)
Continuing on with the passage, the Lord then provides Jonah with another object lesson. In verses 5 through 8, while stubborn Jonah waits ever hopeful to see Nineveh destroyed, the Lord causes a vine to grow overnight, providing the prophet with much needed shade. Jonah takes great delight in this minor comfort (the only time in the entire book that we see him happy). But the following day, God causes a worm to devour the plant and destroy it, then sends a scorching wind to make Jonah miserable. Once again, Jonah is upset and ready to die.
And once again, the Lord asks him a question:
But God said to Jonah, “Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?”
“I do,” he said. “I am angry enough to die.”
But the LORD said, “You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?”
The meaning of the “right hand from their left” phrase is debatable. Some scholars believe this refers to Nineveh’s young children, meaning the entire human population of the city could be as great as 600,000. Others believe the phrase is more metaphorical, referencing Nineveh’s spiritual and moral ignorance about God. Regardless of this uncertainty, the Lord places an obvious priority on His creation. Which is more important, a single plant to sprang up and died in a matter of days, or (at least) 120,000 (possibly innocent) human lives? Jonah’s priorities were obviously not God’s. He took greater joy in his own physical comfort than in the mortality and spiritual well-being of an entire city.
Jonah is more than a story about God using a reluctant servant. The Bible is full of those (like Moses or Gideon). It’s really a story about reaching past our prejudices and seeing things from God’s perspective. Wouldn’t the world be a much better place if we all did?
Thanksgiving is truly an American holiday, created here in the United States and celebrated only here and in Canada. But the concept of thanksgiving is an old one, and one that should never be forgotten. The secular world has done much to rob many Christian holidays of their true meaning (Christmas and Easter specifically), but it’s hard to completely remove the meaning of a holiday that at its core is about giving thanks to one’s Creator. Sure, most folks only think about football, parades, or gorging themselves on turkey, and the commercial sector looks at the holiday as a minor speed bump on the high-speed expressway to Christmas shopping, but at its heart Thanksgiving is about giving thanks. Such a novel concept. Maybe they should name the holiday after that or something.
Here’s a few selected verses that come to mind:
Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name; make know among the nations what he has done — 1 Chronicles 16:8 (NIV)
Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song. — Psalm 95:2 (NIV)
Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations — Psalm 100:4-5 (NIV)
But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. — 1 Corinthians 15:57 (NIV)
But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everyone the fragrance of the knowledge of him. — 2 Corinthians 2:14 (NIV)
Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! — 2 Corinthians 9:15 (NIV)
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. — Philippians 4:6 (NIV)
Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. — 1 Thessalonians 5:18 (NIV)
Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe…. — Hebrews 12:28 (NIV)
Back on my trip to Comic-Con, I read a rather interesting article. Whenever I go on a long trip or anticipate a situation where I’ll be doing a lot of waiting (like on a plane or at the doctor’s office), I’ll often sync up with AvantGo to get a little reading material. One of the channels I subscribe to is Wired, although I admit it’s low on my priority list and I usually only get to it after I’ve exhausted most of the other channels I subscribe to. Still, I often find a few bizarre and interesting tidbits, like this little article here.
To summarize: Electronic privacy advocates like the EFF have found an odd new ally in Katherine Albrecht, who is opposed to RFID tagging, a new and up-and-coming technology used by businesses to manage their inventory. Why is Ms. Albrecht opposed to RFID? Well, aside from the usual tin-foil hat Big Brother conspiracy theories, she’s added a new angle that other privacy nuts haven’t hit upon: she believes that RFID may be, at least in part, the fulfillment of the Mark of the Beast (see Revelation 13:16-18).
I find it interesting the reactions coming from the usually liberal and quite often anti-Christian computer literates that usually support privacy concerns. Lee Tien, senior staff attorney at the EFF, was quoted as saying, “Many of us in the mainstream privacy community don’t know how to reach out to [the Christian community].” Considering the sentiments I usually perceive of Christians by the hacker community, it isn’t surprising. I suppose it hadn’t occurred to anyone to simply ask….
But I digress. There was only one point I wanted to make from this article. I don’t want to belittle anyone’s opinions on the subject; I myself am mildly concerned about RFID and its potential implications on privacy. I can also see, as both a technology geek and a Bible-believing Christian, how RFID could possibly breathe life into the Devil’s world personal identification system. The concept of implantable ID chips has been around for a while (our cat Kiki is herself a “cyberkitty” with an implanted chip), and RFID is next logical step in technology. But here’s my question: Is this what we as Christians should really be focusing on?
Let us say, hypothetically, that RFID is indeed the future tool of Satan and will ultimately provide the vehicle for the Beast’s Mark. If that is the Will of God (or rather, the will of Satan, which God knew about and warned us of 2000 years ago), then who are we to stop it? A commenter on the article pointed to 2 Thessalonians 2:7, calling Albrecht and her supporters the “restrainer” mentioned, but I kind of doubt that. That sounds more like the work of higher powers than just minor political movement. The Devil is far too powerful an enemy and has too many allies in this world; he plays politics better than any human could.
Wouldn’t it be a better use of the Church’s time to stop demonizing a technology that may or may not play a role in future events that we cannot stop and to instead concentrate on winning lost souls to Christ? If indeed RFID is the implementation of the Mark, maybe we as Christians should focus more on evangelizing and advancing the Kingdom of God than trying to thwart the kingdom of Satan. If this means time is running out, then we have to work harder at the job we were left on earth to perform and less on political agendas.
Technology in and of itself is never evil. Technology is a tool, and it can be put to many uses, both for good or for evil. It is the one using the tool that determines the morality or immorality of its use. I think Satan can be just as insidious in his schemes whether he’s using RFID chips or Furbys. So for now I say we let Wal-Mart use RFID to bring better bargains to its customers. I’ve got better reasons not to shop there (like the rude staff and even more rude customers).
Okay, I’ll get out of the pulpit now.
Well, I rebuilt the templates to add my little “brain dump” graphic, and to my embarrassment, that meant the main page would be empty (since I haven’t posted since February). So I might as well post something now so there’s something on this page.
I was asked by a friend to teach our Sunday School class at church this Sunday, and interestingly enough, the topic is favoritism and partiality in the church. The passage in question is James 2:1-13, a rather difficult passage to swallow from a controversial and difficult book to interpret (James). In the passage, James confronts his readers about an apparent incident of favoritism shown by some members of the church toward the rich, at the expense of meeting the needs of the poor. The Sunday School lesson goes into this analysis in depth, noting that Christians should not show partiality toward anyone, regardless of affluence, appearance, race, ethnicity, nationality, or any other grouping that man can improvise. Favoritism and partiality should be considered a sin, a direct violation of Jesus’ “second greatest commandment” to “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
In the teacher’s study materials, the author of the lesson made the following statement: “God makes a distinction between His attitude toward sin and His attitude toward sinners, and between the law that condemns and the grace that converts.” This little gem of wisdom is often quoted by Christians as “Love the sinner, hate the sin,” a tidy little reminder that God loves each and every one of us, but that it is our rebellion against Him (our sin) that separates us and condemns us in His eyes (see Romans 3:23). Thus, if Christians are to strive to be like Christ, then we too should hate the sin but love the sinner, and by doing open our hearts, lives, and resources to help those around us impartially.
While this is a wonderful little lesson in and of itself (and ties in very nicely with my recent “Providence” story in GPF), it suddenly occurred to me exactly why I loathe the term “politically correct” so much. I’ve had many people argue with me that political correctness is a good thing, and that even Christians, when they apply the principles I mentioned above, uplift the practice. But thanks to this lesson, I can now put into words what that distinction really is.
You see, political correctness is just what its name implies: the “correct” way of doing things given the current political climate. It’s enforced by society, by those who don’t wish to step on toes and inadvertently offend someone. If you are not politically correct, you are branded as an insensitive bigot; it is reinforced by shame and the fear of becoming a social pariah. Respect is required, not earned, but at the same time may only be skin deep.
To me, there’s a strong separation between God’s (and by token, a Christian’s) impartial love for mankind and a mandate from some group such as the NAACP or ACLU to restrict what someone says. God is the ultimate example of impartiality. God cannot tolerate sin, yet mankind is inherently sinful (a fact that is directly contrary toward contemporary thinking). Thus, mankind has been condemned because of its sinfulness, but God, in His impartial love for all mankind–a deep, heartfelt love, not convenient lip-service–sent Christ to be the ultimate sacrifice to give us a way to escape this condemnation. (See John 3:16-18.)
Of course, I know a lot of my non-Christian readers out there wouldn’t agree with this logic, but that’s the way I see it. (For that, I take solace in I Corinthians 1:26-29.) I still can’t stand the term “political correctness,” nor the stigma (in my mind) that it implies. But you know, while God isn’t very “politically correct,” He sure is better at it than anyone else on earth is.