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Posts Tagged ‘Christianity/Religion’

You don’t have to have a degree in theology, philosophy, or science to engage in Christian apologetics or “defending the faith.” What you need is a deep-seated faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and an abiding love for Him.

but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. -1 Peter 3:15-16

Did you notice what Peter didn’t say? He didn’t say you need to have a working knowledge of metaphysics or a basic understanding of aristotilian logic or even the scientific method.  He didn’t even suggest that conversation on spiritual matter requires an ability to answer all spiritual questions an unbeliever might have. While knowledge in the above areas is incredibly valuable, none of these things actually equip us for the task of defending the faith.

On the contrary, regarding “Christ the Lord as holy” in our hearts is the means by which we will be ready to give an answer for the hope that is in us. In other words, if you want to be prepared to defend your faith–you must simply treasure Christ supremely in your heart.

You might object that some people won’t care about how precious Christ is to you. They have questions about Christianity, the Bible, evolution, etc. etc. Let me first say that most people don’t have nearly as many questions as we think they do. And secondly, all people are naturally opposed to the things of God anyway (1 Cor. 2:14).

When we seek to convince a non-Christian of the veracity of the Christian faith, we are fighting a losing battle. Apart from the work of God on the human heart, people suppress the truth in their unrighteousness (Romans 1:18). In other words, its impossible for Christianity to gain a fair hearing–everyone you would hope to convince of Christianity’s merit are already opposed to it.

Does that mean that apologetic task is doomed to fail? If all our arguments will not convince people, how are we to approach apologetics? I have never met anyone who converted to Christ because they lost an argument about Christianity. On the contrary, I have witnessed many come to faith because of testimony of a faithful Christian and the hope they found in Christ.

The manner in which we do apologetics is as important as the answers we provide. Thus Peter says when you give a reason for the hope you have in Christ, do so “with gentleness and respect.” So its important that our lives are consistent, in some regard, with our testimony. I am not arguing that Christians seek to be perfect, but rather that they continually rely on, live by, and hope in the gospel.

Peter would have us be ready to give an answer “to anyone who asks us a reason for the hope that is in us.” You don’t have to be an expert in philosophy or science to do so because life’s biggest questions cannot be answered by science or philosophy. What happens when I die? Why did my friend die so young? Why is there so much sin, sickness, and despair in the world and will it ever go away? What is the meaning of my existence?

Science and philosophy attempt answers at these questions but neither can fix the problems that drive them. The gospel does one better. The gospel offers a fix to the problems behind these questions. Simply put, the gospel offers what people truly need:  hope.

Science and philosophy can only attempt answers to the “why” questions but neither can solve our most desperate problems. So instead of constantly worrying about whether you can intelligently answer every question your unbelieving friend might have, simply offer them the hope you have found in Christ. They may be completely closed off to any discussion of Jesus now, but eventually life will confront them with questions that they cannot answer and problems they cannot fix and if you are abiding in Christ you have the answer to their heart’s deepest longing–to know their creator through the sacrifices of His Son. When you have a friend desperate to save their marriage or coming to terms with the reality of death, if you are abiding in Christ, you have the answers to their most desperate questions.

I am thankful for intelligent Christians in the public square who are answering the scientific and philosophical questions of the unbelieving world. I praise the Lord for them but these conversations are not likely to produce much fruit. What will, however, is one friend offering another hope–hope to overcome our deepest flaws and failures. Hope to live again. Hope that will not disappoint.

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19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.  (Hebrews 10:19-25).

I have been thinking a lot about the local church lately—partly because I have been teaching on it and partly because I am fascinated by what the New Testament has to say about it.  In Nicaragua, I had the privilege of teaching pastors on Biblical church discipline—the practice of caring for the souls of the congregation—the NT’s emphasis on church discipline tells us that God has designed the local church to be a testimony of God’s grace to the world and its members to exercise genuine care and watchfulness over each other’s souls.

There is absolutely nothing like the local church.  The church universal is God’s global display of his life transforming grace.  The church local is one of the most profound experiences of that grace this side of eternity.

Hebrews 10 informs us of the value of the local church–it is the training ground for the age to come.  In the local church, God’s people are to “stir one another up to love and good works  . . . all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (vv24-25).

If the local church is the believer’s training ground in which to prepare for the Lord’s return, we ought to think very carefully about how we “do life” together in the church.  A huge part of doing life together as the church local is simply showing up.  The writer of Hebrews says one of the ways we stir one another up to love and good works is by “not neglecting to meet together.”  Apparently meeting together is one of the primary ways in which we prepare for the age to come.  If that is true—we ought to make every effort to get the most out of our corporate worship as a local church and give the most to those who gather with us.

Given the value of the local church and the command to stir one another up, I have been thinking about how we can make the most of our Sunday morning gatherings.  With that in mind, I came up with four suggestions as to how we might do that:

  1. Come to Church.  Seriously—I know this sounds silly but if you are not here regularly, its very difficult to encourage and build up the body as the NT commands us to (Heb. 10:24-25; 1 Thess. 5:11; 1 Cor. 12:13-30).
  2. Sing—sing and sing loudly!  No one is going to fault you for your lack of pitch—even if you can’t sing well, when others hear you sing, they will hear you singing God’s praises and rejoice and sing along with you.  I have found when I sing loudly, other people sing louder, perhaps out of desire to drown out my poor vocals, but nonetheless our singing should have a corporate feel to it as the Bible commands us both to sing to God and to each other (Eph. 5:19)!
  3. Talk to people—its difficult to “stir each other up” when we are mere spectators at church and are not utilizing this time to build relationships.  Some of my very best friends are members of our church, but sometimes I have to make a point not to spend all my time talking to them at church.  At church, I want to make a point to talk to people who I do not know as well.  Those who I am very close to will still be my friend if I don’t spend all my time at church talking to them and there are many wonderful, mutually encouraging relationships that can be built in our church if we will just step out of our comfort zone and talk to the people we don’t know as well.  Our church is small but just big enough for folks to fall in the cracks and miss out on mutually encouraging relationships.  Be intentional in your communication with people when we gather for corporate worship.  Instead of blaming others for their lack of interaction with you—why not seek them out.  You will only get out of church what you are willing to put into it.
  4. Make a point to let your fellowship extend beyond our corporate gatherings—as valuable as it is for us to meet together on Sunday morning, it is not enough.  We are to continually be encouraging one another and building one another up—that means our relationships ought to extend beyond what the settings that the local church provides.  Sign up for a community group and make a point to eat with people in our church to do fun things with them—make plans to go to a football game or to have lunch, go run, walk, or bicycle, play games together, it doesn’t matter what it is, but build relationships!  Invite a family you don’t know over for dinner—it may be awkward asking them because you don’t know them that well, but God will bless it because he promises to bless our obedience with His grace!

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If you haven’t heard, the Dove World Outreach Center (DWOC) of Gainsville, FL, a church of about 50 people, plans to burn several hundred copies of the Qur’an on the anniversary of 9/11. Their Pastor, Terry Jones, told  ABC’s “Nightline” on Tuesday “Jesus would not run around burning books, but I think he would burn this one.”

I don’t know what is more infuriating—the astronomical amount coverage that has been given to a nutty, disgruntled pastor in Florida or the fact that said Pastor thinks it wise and pleasing to God to burn Qur’ans.  When folks in Jakarta, Indonesia found out about this small church in Florida planning to burn Qur’ans, thousands rioted outside the U.S. Embassy.  In Kabul, Afghanistan, thousands protested and burned an effigy of Pastor Jones!  That seems a bit of a strong reaction to the burning of your holy book.  Its incredible that this sort of nonsense is not getting the same media attention as some crack pot who leads a church of 50 people is planning to burn a few thousand copies of the Qur’an.  Nevertheless, we as Christians need to remember that not all the Muslims in the world are rioting and again that our aim is always first and foremost the proclaimation of the gospel to all people.

I think it goes without saying that this action is not the sort of thing that Christian churches ought to be doing.  We are, after all, called to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matt. 5:44).  Further the purpose of the church is to make disciples to the glory of God (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:8), and we are do so with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15-16).  It is difficult for me to understand how burning another world religion’s sacred book would aid us in fulfilling the great commission.

This act is nothing more than disrespect.  Such statements do not represent what Biblical Christianity is about. Such statements do not promote Muslim/Christian dialogue—in fact such acts serve to cut off such dialogue and erect unnecessary walls to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

So what do we do when professing Christians act foolishly in public like this?

I have three suggestions:

  1. Ignore them—Pastor Jones and his church are looking for attention.  This is a publicity stunt—so the best thing we can do in response is ignore them.  If the media in our country had half a brain, they would have ignored it too, but instead its been made a national spectacle and Hillary Clinton and General Petraeus are somehow involved.
  2. Major on the Majors—what bothers me most is the unnecessary walls to the gospel that are being erected because of this.  This ought to remind us of the Biblical call to take the gospel to all nations—including Islamic nations.
  3. Live above them.  When people misrepresent Christ, we must strive all the more faithfully to represent Him as He truly is.  When Jesus said we are to shine as lights in the world, I am not sure he had in mind Christians lighting other religious books on fire in protest.  Don’t mishear me—I think the Qu’ran is a false book, I think it has led many people to Hell, but again the goal of the church is to make disciples of all nations.

Interestingly enough, Pastor Jones said, “We expect Muslims that are here in America to respect, honor, obey, submit to our Constitution.”  It is that very same constitution that gives Muslims the right to read the Qu’ran and Christian’s the right to share the gospel with such Muslims.

What a crazy world we live in—I think the best thing we can do with this whole fiasco is to ignore it and press on to preach the gospel to all tribes, tongues, and people

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When you grow up in church and you are around spiritual teaching often it can be very easy to become comfortable with the Bible.  When I really read the Bible carefully and thoughtfully, it often does not make me very comfortable.  Of course I find rest in Christ and hope in the gospel, but what Jesus has to say and the way the Bible calls me to live are pretty radical and I think growing up in church can sometimes make us callous to the radical nature of its teaching. 

The Bible is a pretty wild book.  And I think there is a danger when you grow up around it, to become cold or indifferent to the radical nature not only of Scripture but of the gospel itself.  The gospel is pretty wild–think about it.  The God of the universe became man, dwelt among us, ate with tax collectors and sinners, healed the sick, cast out demons, raised the dead, betrayed by one of his closest friends, is beaten within an inch of his life at the hands of his own people, dies a criminal’s death on a cross, rises again, and sends the Holy Spirit to empower those who believe in Him.  And this death and resurrection redeems me, Jesus (as only He could do) paid for my sin on the cross and heals me such that I can personally know the God who made me. 

That is wild and I fight every day to believe every word of it.  And the more I fight to believe it the more clear it becomes to me that I am not a particularly good person.  Certainly, like any other person, I am often tempted to elevate myself over others because of my percieved obedience, but the more deeply I understand the gospel, the less I cling to my own righteousness and the more I cling to Christ.  And consequently the more I love people and long to point them to Christ.

So what does all this have to do with growing up in church?   Growing cold to the radical nature of the gospel happens very subtlely.  At first, perhaps, it begins by noticing the lost people in your community, particularly the one’ s caught up in particularly destructive sins.  You see drug or sex addicts and you are noticably quite different from them.  So as we begin to elevate ourselves over such people, it naturally follows that we begin to think ourselves to be deserving of some special blessing from God–becuase hey, by comparison to these folks, we look pretty good!  God must really like us.  So we begin to think that we deserve something from Him, whether it is some more respect, some more freedom, or some more money, or more something

And what happens when we don’t get that freedom or that money or that respect?  We begin to forget what God has done for us and question Him for what He hasn’t.

Perhaps this is why Jesus hung out with tax collectors and sinners and why Paul shook the dust off his feet and started taking the gospel to the Gentiles–because these folks didn’t have any false pretenses that they deserved something from God and thus were ripe for the gospel–I don’t know. 

I do know this–God is not a tool for you to use to get what we want.  Whether you know it or not, God is what you need. God is what I need–He is the answer to my heart’s deepest longing.  What we think He owes us, we don’t actually need–what we think we need will only leave us empty and hungry.  I need God.  You need God.  We need Him more than life.

Don’t think that God owes you anything because you are better than someone else, wake up and see all that God has done for you in Christ!

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God (1 Peter 3:18)!

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To understand fully where I am coming from, this article should be read alongside its companion article, 4 Reasons Video Games Are Not Worth Playing.   I am not being intentionally wishy-washy on my stance on videogames, I really think there are sound arguments for why Christians should be wary of video games as well as sound arguments for why video games are a worthwhile activity for Christians to engage in.

Let me say at the outset, that despite what you have heard, video games are not evil.  This is a common fundamentalist misunderstanding of art.  Simply put, video games do not have souls and therefore are neither good nor evil.  Human beings as the creators of video games are the ones that infuse them with either positive or negative qualities.  Thus to label all video games as evil, connotes a misunderstanding of art–video games just like any other art form can communicate many different messages.  I think that video games, therefore, can sometimes possess worthwhile messages.  Certainly many video games are not worth playing because of the message they convey but that doesn’t mean that there are not worthwhile games out there.  However, the video game  industry does tend to make games which lend themselves to abuse (or more pointedly to addiction)–I discuss this in the companion article.

4 Reasons Why Video Games are Worth Playing:

1.  Video games can foster community – I experienced this recently playing Beatles Rock Band with 6 students from my church–all at once!  It was a lot of fun–we laughed at each other at how terrible each of us sing and we helped those who had never played before learn how to play the drums and the guitar.  It was a lot of fun and I think some community was built.  Certainly there are more worthy ways to build community, but that doesn’t rule out video games altogether.  Having fun laughing and working together can help to build community.  Games like Little Big Planet and Super Mario Brothers Wii encourage team work and are just plain fun to play in group settings.  If you have never played it, I recommend next time you have several people over to your house (if you have a Wii), trying WarioWare: Smooth Moves and tell me if its not fun!  Furthermore, many sports games are fun to play with friends and having fun with friends is generally a good thing.

2. Video games are fun.  I basically made this argument already so I won’t say much here.  Simply put, video games are fun to play.  Entertainment is not evil in and of itself.  If we elevate entertainment to “god” status, we have certainly erred and made video games an idol. But again the error lies in us and not the medium itself.  It is possible to play video games for fun in healthy doses and in such a way that we are not making an idol out of it.  Everyone does things for entertainment and everything we do for entertainment can be engaged in healthy and unhealthy ways.  A basic rule of thumb is to check yourself before blaming the medium itself.  Sin comes out of the heart of man not from outside (Mark 7:18-22).

Furthermore, video games are an art form.  We don’t often think of them that way, but nonetheless they are art and people created in the image of God are capable of creating beautiful art worth experiencing–sometimes this actually happens in video games (i.e. Shadow of the Colossus).  I would even say that the way in which FIFA 10 displays “the beautiful game” is well, beautiful.

3.  Video games make people think.  Video games can help people develop critical thinking skills and challenge us in moral decision making.  I discussed this briefly in a previous post.  Video games have changed dramatically over the years and some of them are now very complex in the world they present.  Many video games today offer the player a great deal of freedom in the choices they make and the way in which they accomplish their quest (think Fallout 3, Infamous, or Fable).  Many video game developers are working to make games more like real life–such that the player decides what kind of person he or she will be in the game.  This, can be a healthy exercise.  Certainly, some will posit that gamers will choose to be hedonists in such games (and perhaps less like real life because video games aren’t real), and certainly that temptation is present.  I would say, however, that that temptation is present everywhere in and everything we do.

4.  Many games still operate on the traditional good vs. evil scheme.  This is changing as postmodern ethics begin to make their way into the medium of video games, but nonetheless, I would say a great number of video games are still made with a traditional understanding of good vs. evil (think Mario games, many role playing games like Final Fantasy, and most superhero games).

So there you have it, though not a comprehensive list, I hope this gives you some perspective on why the medium of video games is not inherently evil and in fact can be engaged in such a way that positive results follow.  As with any form of entertainment or any art form, it can be abused.  That possibility should not discourage Christians from thinking about ways to engage video games redemptively.

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A while back I promised to write some posts about Christianity and video games and I never did. Given the recent media controversy about the airport terrorist scene in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2,  this week I started feeling guilty about not having done what I promised, so here is one such attempt at such a post.  I don’t own Modern Warfare, so I cannot comment on that too much, but I do want to talk about video games and the ethical decisions that we are sometimes asked to make in them.

Video games have changed drastically over the years.  They have gone from being relatively simple (i.e. Pong–hitting a ball back and forth, which surprisingly can still provide some entertainment), to being quite complex–not just in how difficult they are to play but also in the complexity world they create.  Though there are still many mind numbingly simple games out there (most of which can be bought for Nintendo Wii), there a number of new and innovative games being released every year.

Some games are worth playing simply for aesthetic reasons, these are rare, but games like ICO and Shadow of the Colossus are worth picking up just to experience the beauty of the world found therein.  However, there is another trend in video games (not that new, it can be traced back to the first role playing games) to make games in which players are presented with moral choices.  They can choose to make righteous decisions or they can choose to make selfish, evil decisions and face the consequences of either.  Probably the most popular recent game where this is the case is Fallout 3, though the Fable series is well known for incorporating this dynamic (I think Infamous follows this trend).  I don’t have Fallout 3 or Fable II (though I do still have Fable for the original Xbox), so I won’t discuss either of those games, but instead I will address how this plays out in my favorite spy game, Splinter Cell.
I recently bought Splinter Cell Double Agent for Playstation 3 (Its been out for a while now, so now you can get it cheap!).  The game posses a great number of difficult moral choices.  In the game you go undercover to bring down a terrorist organization that is trying to overthrow the U.S. government in some malicious ways.  You have to accomplish missions for the terrorist cell while reporting information to the NSA and in the process, the game gives you freedom to determine how much you will sabotage the terrorist’s evil ends. Every decision you make affects how much the NSA and the terrorist organization trust you.  If either of them lose too much faith in you–game over.
I found this incredibly compelling as I first began to play the game.  In the first several missions you are able to please both the NSA and the terrorists without too much trouble.  But recently I had to put the game down because I was presented with a terribly difficult moral decision to make and I just decided to put the game down cause I couldn’t decide the right thing to do.  Let me explain.

In the mission I am currently on, I had to go and plant a bomb on a cruise ship.  Fortunately you are able to fake a fire on the ship so that most of the passengers evacuate.  However, the Mexican Coast Guard is privy to a terrorist threat, so many of them remain on board.  As you plant the bomb, you also record the disarming code so that you can disarm the bomb before it goes off.

At the end of this mission you are given 3 options–(1) disarm the bomb and take a HUGE hit in how much the terrorist organization trusts you or (2) disarm the bomb and blame it on another member of the terrorist organization who will then be killed or (3) let the bomb go off as it would not kill any Americans, only members of the Mexican Coast Guard.  Very interesting question.

1.  You disarm the bomb and face the consequences–this will make the next mission incredibly difficult as you will be on very shaky ground with the terrorist organization–it is not “game over” but its close.

2.  You disarm the bomb and blame it on someone else.  Interestingly enough though, the person you can blame it on is the only terrorist with redeeming qualities–she is the one person who was opposed to planting the bomb and one that perhaps could be turned away from terrorism and perhaps even help you take the organization down!  On the other hand she is a member of a terrorist organization and blaming it on her would save you from losing an incredible amount of trust and blowing your cover.

3.  You do not disarm the bomb, let it go off and kill several Coast Guard soldiers.  This is after all just a game and not real life, why not do the thing that will make the game easier for you?  (not advocating this, just asking the question).

This moral conundrum surprised me, I didn’t expect to be so conflicted about a choice in a video game, so I just quit playing–it is a game, it is not real, so I have that option.  In life, however, though we will probably never face a moral dilemma on this level, we will face difficult moral decisions and we cannot quit, we will have to make a decision of some sort and face the consequences whatever they may be.

I have decided to pick the game back up, I now know what I am going to do.  I have settled in  my mind what the right course of action is.  What would you do?  I want to see if this generates any discussion first, but later, I will post in the comment meta what I am going to do.  This whole situation, I think was actually an interesting exercise for me in moral decision making.  So feel free to share your thoughts about ethics, video games, etc. in the comment meta.

In short there are some games out there (few though they may be) that make us think about difficult issues.  As a family pastor, I would would be careful about letting your children play games like Splinter Cell: Double Agent, but nonetheless it presents us with some interesting questions that are worth asking and worth thinking through.

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If you haven’t heard this story, you really have to see it to believe it. Check out this link–this cartoon is shocking to say the least–even if this cartoon were free from homosexual elements, I would still find it creepy.  This brings up the question, who should be teaching kids about sex and sexual orientation?  Schools in California are planning to teach on these issues and it seems clear that their agenda is not one that many evangelical parents will support!

If you get a chance to watch the video on Fox News, let me know what you think.

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