Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Romans Infographics

Last month, during our adult Bible studies on Wednesday nights we've been going through some sections of the book of Romans.  A couple of times throughout that study I've thought that an infographic might help in laying out where the text is going.  So here are some infographics I made on Romans 1.1-6 and 5.15-19.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

If God Loves Life, Why Is There So Much Killing In The Bible?

In Joshua 20 God instructs Joshua to set six "cities of refuge" throughout the newly acquired Promised Land.  These cities were intended to provide protection for those who found themselves in the unfortunate position of having accidentally injured or killed another human being.  In such an event, a person would flee to a nearby city of refuge for protection from the victim's family seeking vengeance for the spilled blood of their family member until the case could be heard and a judgment could be rendered. 

God instituted the cities of refuge to preserve human life - innocent life.  If an accidental death occurred at the hands of another, the cities of refuge guarded against a further injustice of the taking of the life of the "manslayer."  Clearly, the institution of the cities of refuge shows us that God desires to preserve human life as much as possible.  God loves human life because it is made in his image and it is to be held in high regard and protected to the best of our ability (Genesis 9.5-6). 

However, the notion that God loves human life and desires to protect it as much as possible can ring hollow when derived from a book of scripture like Joshua - arguably the most violent and blood-stained book in the entire Bible.  Indeed, the book records the divinely-sanctioned death of countless thousands of Israel's enemies (see, for example, Joshua 6.218.25-2610.2611.6, etc.).  If the institution of the cities of refuge show us that God loves and desires to protect human life - as indeed it does - then why does God seem to condone so much killing?  A further understanding of the cities of refuge can help us to answer this question. 

If a man were to accidentally - and without negligence - harm or kill another human being, to take his life as punishment would be a miscarriage of justice.  Not only does God love human life, but he also loves justice, and so to repay one tragedy with another would be unjust.  However, in the event that a murder is committed with malice aforethought, or if innocent life is lost as the result of gross negligence, a just punishment is justified (see Numbers 35.16-21 and Exodus 21.28-29 for examples).

These principles should help us think about the other descriptions of God-sanctioned killing in scripture.  God does not desire to kill, nor have his people kill on his behalf.  God created man in his own image - male and female he created them - and as image bearers they are the crown jewel of God's creation.  All human lives have value; all human lives are precious.  It is not his desire for any of them to be destroyed (2 Peter 3.9).  In fact, because man is made in his image, there will one day be a reckoning for every drop of human blood that has ever been spilt (Genesis 9.5-6).  

In every instance in the Bible, God desires to preserve and protect human life as much as possible - even the lives of the most despicable and wicked people who have lived throughout history.   The Canaanites, whom God commanded the Israelites to kill and/or drive out of the Promised Land, were vile, wicked people. Their religious practices often called for human - and even child - sacrifices.  They were idolatrous and hedonistic, refusing to acknowledge God.  But even so, God did not desire to destroy them.  In fact, he desired to preserve and protect them and bring them into his family.  For this reason, God gave them a period of 400 years to turn from their wickedness and to him (Genesis 15.13-16).  After that 400 year period, the choice of the Canaanites was evident: they had chosen to reject God and to refuse to acknowledge him as God.  And thus their self-imposed destruction became imminent.  The Canaanites were not innocent people who found themselves at the wrong end of an unfortunate tragedy.  Instead, they were people who rejected every attempt by a loving God to bring about their salvation, and so they met their deserved end.  God wanted to save the Canaanites, but the sad truth is that the Canaanites didn't want to be saved.    

So we can say that not only does God desire to protect and preserve innocent human life as much as possible, but that he also desires to protect and preserve guilty, vile, and wicked human life as much as possible.  It is not God's desire to kill his enemies; it is his desire to save his enemies.

Nowhere is reality this more evident than the cross.  All people have turned aside and become corrupt.  There are none who seek understanding, none who seek God.  We have become worthless.  There is no one who is good; not even one.  Our feet are swift to shed blood, and in our paths are ruin and misery.  The way of peace we have not known (Romans 3.10-11, 15-17).  This is the human condition: a people who have rejected God and deserve his judgment - who deserve to be killed.  But the cross shows us the lengths to which God is willing to go in order to not kill his enemies, but to save them.  God was willing to sacrifice his own Son - to send him to earth to bear the punishment for the sins of all who would believe on the cross - so that anyone who would turn from their sin and trust in him might not receive the punishment that their sin deserves (death), but would instead receive life.  

God loves life.  He desires to protect, and preserve, and save, and give life as much as possible - even to his enemies!  And he has given all people the opportunity to trust in him and receive life instead of death.  He has provided a "city of refuge" in his Son, Jesus Christ.  It is God's desire that his enemies will find this city of refuge in his Son and thereby find salvation from the punishment that they deserve.  

Monday, October 17, 2016

Thinking About Politics as a Christian

On September 25 a roundtable discussion was held at Riverview Baptist Church entitled “Finding Our Voice: Engaging in Politics as a Christian.”  This discussion covered several aspects of entering into political discourse through the lens of a Christian worldview.  In light of the difficult decisions that Americans – and especially Christians – must make during this election cycle, Pastors Joel and Levi present portions of their answers from that discussion.  

What is government? What is its purpose? 
Government is a system that God has put in place for the primary purpose of protecting its people through the enforcement of laws, for punishing evil and promoting good (Rom.13-3-4, 1 Peter 2.14).  Scripture is clear that government is a good thing that has been put in place by God – not by any man-made system.  The question then becomes, “How is the government to promote good and punish evil?”  It does so by enacting just laws – laws that are not evil and are instead fair.  And it does so by punishing those who break laws and by doing so impartially.

Along these lines, the Founders declared that the purpose of government was to recognize that all men were created equal and endowed by our Creator with certain, unalienable rights, and “that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”  Government is not the source of our rights; God is (Acts 17.25).  Therefore the government is accountable to him.  The government does not give us our rights but instead acts on God’s behalf by protecting them based upon its delegated authority from the consent of the governed – the people.   It is not the chief authority, but it answers to both God and man.  

For these reasons, Christians are commanded by scripture to submit to and pray for the government that God has put in place, inasmuch as it does not command us to sin (Rom. 13.1-2, 5-7, 1 Tim. 2.1-2).  

What are some things all Christians should be united on when it comes to politics? 
We acknowledge that there are several areas in which the Bible does not speak clearly regarding current political issues, and there is much room for constructive disagreement and debate.  In general, however, Christians should be united on political issues about which the Bible speaks clearly, and there are many.  These issues include but are not limited to (in no particular order):

1. The gospel of God in Jesus Christ is the source of our hope and salvation – not any government or human ruler (Ps 33.16-17).  

2. A Christian’s true citizenship does not lie in any earthly nation, but in heaven (Phil. 3.20). 

3. Our hope is in the future kingdom of Christ in the new creation – not in a political party (Rom. 1.16). 

4. We must submit every aspect of our lives – including political involvement – to the authority of Christ our Lord (2 Cor. 10.5).

5. All men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain, unalienable rights (Gen. 1.27, Acts 17.25). 

6. Innocent human life is to be protected and preserved in all forms (Gen. 1.27, 9.6).  

7. Marriage was instituted by God as being between one man and one woman (Gen. 2.24, Matt. 19.4-6).  

Why is politics important?  Why is it not important? 
Engagement in politics is important because it is vital to the functioning and flourishing of our country and government.  Because we live in a constitutional representative republic, political engagement is necessary for the preservation of freedom and for our system of government to “work.”  We are a self-governed nation, and as such we are all rulers to an extent.  As such we must attempt to self-govern in such a way as to show our ultimate allegiance is to Christ (Phil. 3.20).  We must remember that our political activity is an area which is under the lordship of Christ and therefore – even and especially when considering difficult and complicated issues – our goal should be to obey Christ and to identify with his morality and his kingdom above the factions of this world (2 Cor. 10.5).  For these reasons, it is incumbent upon all American citizens to take part in the political process.

At the same time, it can be difficult for American Christians to find the balance between our involvement in politics and trusting in the sovereignty of God to direct the affairs of nations (Ps. 44.7-8).  It is easy for us to adopt a self-important view of our role in the political process, assuming that the course of our nation is determined solely by a majority of votes.  In fact, our system of government is set up in such a way as to emphasize the sovereignty of the voter, and not the sovereignty of God.  We should take care not to think that our nation’s course depends solely on votes and voter turnout.  In this sense, politics is “not important” because it is God who directs the affairs of nations, and the king’s heart as a stream of water in God’s hand (Is. 46.9-10, Ps. 75.7, Prov. 21.1).  

Considering these realities, we believe it wise to regard our role in the political process as participating in what God is doing in the world, in submission to his sovereign will (Est. 4.14).  When we engage politically, we do so with wisdom and the counsel of scripture in order to participate in what God is doing in our cities, states, and country.  

What is the role of the church in politics? What is the role of individual Christians? How are they different? 
The primary role of the church in the world is to spread the kingdom of God per the great commission (Matt. 28.19-20).  As the church goes about this mission it is not to endorse a candidate or party, nor are we to seek to set up our church, religion, or denomination as the “ruling religion” like the Roman Catholic church did for many centuries.  There is a separation between the church and the state in which the church does not seek the authority to run the country, and the state does not seek to control the church.  That being said, there are indeed ways that the church can and should influence the realm of politics, such as:

1. The church can and should set the cultural tone in which political discourse takes place.  The church shapes the marketplace of ideas in which we engage political ideas by informing public discourse with biblical principles (Acts 17.16-31, 2 Cor. 10.5).  

2. The church is to preach the gospel and teach the Bible to believers so as to inform and influence their individual political involvement (2 Tim. 2.15). 

3. The church is to call the nation, political parties, the government, and government officials to repentance (Luke 3.19).  When the government acts wickedly, the church identifies their sin and calls them to repentance. 

It must be acknowledged, however, that the influence of the church in cultural and political discourse has been diminishing in recent decades, and its influence has been declining exponentially in recent years.  It has been said that we are now living in a “post-Christian” culture in which the influence of the church has waned and we no longer have the collective power to be the culture shaping entity that we once were.  In this sense, the role of the church in politics has, and most likely will continue to, diminish.  

The role of the individual Christian in politics is to first and foremost engage in and challenge political issues through the lens of a Christian worldview informed by scripture.  Individual Christians should be leaders when it comes to fulfilling their civic responsibilities and taking positions of leadership in political arenas.   

What would you say to a non-Christian who says religion has no place in the public square, or in politics in general? 
We hold that any and all political discourse necessarily rises from a moral foundation, be it Christian or otherwise.  In fact, we assert that the notion that one can engage in political issues or in the marketplace of ideas without appealing to a definitive standard of truth is erroneous.  All people engage ideas through the lens of their worldviews, and each worldview has the right to be represented in the marketplace of ideas.  Christians should not be expected to abandon their worldview or standard of truth in political engagement any more than others who represent an opposing worldview.  In fact, even the statement “religion has no place in the public square” is an inherently moral statement that arises from a particular worldview.  If the worldview that generates this moral way thinking is welcomed in the public square, then on what basis should the morality of the Christian worldview be excluded?  

Along these lines, a common refrain is that morality can’t be legislated, and that to insist that laws be written based on a particular moral standard is to “force your morality” on others.  In fact, morality is the only thing that can be legislated.  All laws are moral and rest upon a moral foundation.  Many American laws are founded on the basis of Christian morality.  Other laws are not, but they are no less moral legislation.  

In the end, everyone always engages in political discourse and the marketplace of ideas through the lens of a worldview rising from a foundational morality.  If we truly desire for the marketplace of ideas to be a free marketplace, all worldviews must be equally welcome. 

What does it mean to vote for someone? 
In the most basic sense, to vote for someone is to give your delegated authority to a candidate to represent and govern on your behalf.  For this reason, we believe it is vitally important to prayerfully consider the candidate(s) to whom we give our authority, for in so doing we tie ourselves to the candidate and his or her actions and become, at least to some extent, accountable for them. 

For example, if a candidate runs on a promise to invade Canada and take all of their natural resources and does just that, and you voted for him then you are responsible on some level for giving him the authority to do what he said he was going to do.  It is true that candidates lie about what they are going to do in office and do things that we cannot anticipate, but we should be vigilant to be as informed as possible when it comes to giving our authority to (voting for) anyone.  This reality should give us pause as we consider the promises made by political candidates, and especially when considering party platforms.  By voting for candidates we give them the authority to accomplish what they have said they will do, and to promote the things that they value.  It is our belief that we will be held accountable by God for this decision.  

We have heard a lot about voting for the lesser of two evils, or not doing so this year.  Is voting for a third party candidate a waste?    
One thing is certain: every candidate in the history of the United States has been a sinner and, to some extent or another, a “lesser evil.”  On this side of heaven we will never have a ruler who is not stained by sin (Rom. 3.10-11, 23).  So we should not expect or demand perfection from our candidates, because such a thing is not possible.  

In this sense, perhaps we should reframe the question from asking “Which candidate is the lesser of two evils?” to “Which candidate will further biblical righteousness more?” (Micah 6.8, Amos 5.24)  Even if both (or more than two) candidates are not Christians, one will certainly govern in a way that is more in line with biblical principles than the other(s).  We should support candidates who will lead us closer to biblical righteousness.  

Furthermore, the Bible makes it clear that God reigns as the Supreme Ruler over the nations.  God has foreseen and ordained the results of this election – and every election – since before the foundation of the world.  Put simply, one vote (or any number of votes, for that matter) is not going to thwart God’s plan, and he won’t be surprised by the way anyone votes.  If this is true, then it should reshape the way we think about voting.  God uses people to accomplish his purposes in the world – including through voting.  God uses voting and elections to “remove kings and set up kings” (Dan. 2.21).  Since God is in control of our elections, voting, then, becomes not so much determining the course of our country, but participating in God’s foreordained plan for our country.  A good question to ask ourselves might be, “Which candidate, if elected, will move our country closer to the righteousness God has revealed in the Bible?”  If we will be faithful to use biblical wisdom to vote in accordance with biblical principles, our vote will not be wasted, regardless of whom we are led to vote for. 

Monday, October 3, 2016

How to Take Risks for the Glory of God

Life is dangerous.  Every day each of us risk our lives in a variety of ways.  For example, you have a 1 in 366,000 chance of falling out of your bed every morning and hitting your head and dying.  You likewise have about a 1 in 800,000 chance of drowning in your bathtub, and a similar chance of choking on your breakfast.  But by far the most dangerous thing you do in a day is getting into your car and driving to work or school.  Every time you’re on the roads, you have a 1 in 6,000 chance of dying. 

But in spite of these odds and the risk these every day activities incur, most of us gladly take them.  If we didn’t we’d live a sheltered, unfulfilled life that never accomplished anything.  Taking calculated risks is a good and right thing to do.  In fact, we could go so far as to say that there is nothing worth doing that doesn’t involve at least some measure of risk. 

In addition to the normal, every-day type of risks that we take, God also calls us to take risks of faith and obedience – times when he desires for us to walk in faith in order to do something he has called us to do.  For instance, maybe you’ve known that God wants you to share your faith with a friend or family member, but to do so you’d be risking your relationship with that person.  Is that a worthwhile risk to take?  Or maybe you’ve known that God wants you to invest your finances into a particular ministry, but times are tight: is that a risk that is good to take?  Or, maybe you and your spouse have been having a rough time in your marriage, and God wants you to start the healing process by confessing your sin and asking forgiveness, but to do so would be to make yourself emotionally vulnerable.  Is that a risk you’d take?  As in all things, the Bible guides us in how we should think about taking risks of faith and obedience. 

The story of Caleb in Joshua 14 provides us with an excellent example of how we should evaluate and weigh risks of faith, and ultimately to take risks for the glory of God.  You can read his story here and listen to a message on his life here. 

How to take risks for the glory of God
1. Consider what God has done. 
When we think about taking a risk of faith and obedience, the first thing we should call to mind is the testimony of all that God has done in the lives of his people.  The Bible is replete with miracle after miracle that God has performed on behalf o those who are trusting in him: the plagues in Egypt; the parting of the Red Sea; manna from heaven; the Jordan River standing as a heap; the walls of Jericho fall; and on and on it goes, and that’s just a few examples from the first six books of the Bible.  Open your Bible and discover that God continuously provides for, fights for, rescues, delivers, saves, blesses, cares for, and loves his people.  The testimony of God’s mighty works should instill confidence in us as we consider taking risks of faith and obedience, and they should motivate us to walk in faith.  The same God who did those mighty deeds in the pages of the Bible is the same one we serve today.

Similarly, we can also consider what God has done by our own testimony to his power.  You know better than anyone what God has done in your life: how he has provided for you, how he has rescued and delivered you, how he has saved and blessed you, how he has cared for and loved you.  When you consider stepping out in faith, and when you’re faced with the uncertainty of the future, consider what God has done and let that motivate you to walk in faith.

2. Consider what God has said.
In addition to considering what God has done when we take risks of faith and obedience, we should also consider what God has said.    Is God faithful to his word?  Will he keep his promises?  Again, we have a whole book that proves to us that it is impossible for God to lie and that he accomplishes all his purposes.  He is a faithful God who keeps his promises. 

The Bible is full of promises that apply to you and me – promises that ensure that God will always care for us and provide for us and help us – especially when we are willing to take a risk and step out in faith and obedience.  God delights in being faithful to what he has said.  So as you weight the risks of faith and obedience, consider what God has done and what God has said.

3. Walk by faith.
When you have determined to take a risk of faith and obedience based on your knowledge of what God has done and said, then go for it – take the risk, step out over the ledge and do it.  Don’t waffle; don’t doubt; don’t second guess yourself.  Instead, walk in bold faith. 

So often we spend a lot of time thinking about what we’re going to do that we never actually get on with it.  When you’ve been inspired to take a risk for the glory of God because of what God has done and said, carry through on your decision: trust God and walk in faith. 

4. Remember that God reigns over the future. 
If we take risks for the glory of God and walk in faith and actually live out those decisions, will we always be guaranteed success?  No, because we don’t know the future, and God has never promised that every decision we make or risk we take will end in success. 

Instead, we can walk by faith and take risks – not because we know the future – but because we know our God.  We know that God holds the future in his hand, and that he is reigning over the future right now, in the present.  So even if I take a risk of faith and end up getting hurt, God has not abandoned me.  No, he is still there, and waiting to care for me, heal me, and rescue me.  For these reasons, God’s people can and should walk confidently in faith, ready to risk it all because of the God they serve.