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Archive | Theology

Processing the Tragedy in Sutherland Springs

The tragedy in Sutherland Springs, Texas has been heavy on my heart and mind since I first heard about it during lunch on Sunday. I have been praying for everyone in that small community – the church members, their families, those ministering to them, law enforcement officials. And the family of the shooter.

Those of us watching from a distance feel the shock waves. Every time it comes to mind, let us pray. Let us ask God to comfort them with His presence. And may He protect them from anger and bitterness. May their grief cause them to draw near to God and not turn away.

Sutherland Springs, Texas

Many – those directly affected and those of us watching – may be struggling with those age-old questions. Questions like:

Where was God? Why did God allow this horrible act of violence?

We must grab hold of the truth we know from God’s Word and remind others of that truth. God did not cause this devastation. Yet neither was He unaware or powerless. So again, why?

Why did God allow this?

I don’t have all the answers. But I know, I know, that God is loving, kind, and faithful. And He is good all the time. People make choices. They even make horrific choices that lead to horrific acts. But those acts do not negate who God is. And I also know that God was there. He is still there. And in the wake of this evil, He will do what only He can do.

This morning, I read Psalm 91:3-4 with the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs on my mind. As I read, “He will deliver you… He will cover you… you will not fear,” I asked God what that looked like for His children in that church on Sunday morning.

God pointed me back to the truth of His Word. the Bible says that we will indeed have trouble in this world. But God also promises to be with us in the waters, to walk with us through the fire (Isaiah 43:1-2). He promises to protect and deliver. I believe all this is true.

Was God in Sutherland Springs?

God was in Sutherland Springs on Sunday morning. And He was still God. Evil men might choose to kill, but they can never take what only God can give – spiritual life, eternal life with Jesus. Sometimes God delivers His people from trouble. Sometimes He delivers us in the midst of trouble. And sometimes He delivers us through trouble. But He always, always delivers us.

On Sunday morning, God delivered 26 people through trouble, all the way to His side in glory. The world is full of trouble. There are days when evil seems to prevail. But under God’s protective arm is always the safest place for us to be.

Yes, let us pray. But let us also watch for God’s power and activity in the midst of this heartbreak. And let us glorify His name even as we don’t fully understand. We can trust that He does. Our all-powerful, sovereign God will not allow His purposes to be derailed. Praise His name.

A few helpful links:

 

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5 Things I Wish Christians Would Stop Saying

Just because we hear something – or say something – over and over again doesn’t mean it’s true. For instance, when my grandson Micah was 3-years-old, he referred to Hulu as “WeeHoo.” Whenever my daughter carefully pronounced it correctly for him, he would say “No, Mom. It’s ‘WeeHoo.'” Yes, the illiterate toddler thought he knew better than the grownup.

As silly as that sounds, we sometimes do that with God and His Word. We have allowed things out of line with Scripture to become so embedded in our brains, we now accept them as fact. Or we take a truth out of context and misapply it. And unfortunately, we repeat these things to others.

Although not an exhaustive list, the following examples are ones I hear over and over.

  1. “We are all God’s children” – All people are definitely God’s “creatures,” created by God and for God. But only those who have been spiritually born again through a saving relationship with Jesus are God’s “children” (Ephesians 1:5, Romans 8:15-17, Galatians 4:4-7). (This post explores what the Bible says about this topic.) At its best, this phrase is incorrect. At its worst, it gives people without a saving relationship with Jesus, a false sense of eternal security.
  2. “Judge not” – We too often quote these words of Jesus as an excuse to ignore sin in others’ lives or as a reason for others to leave us to our own detrimental behavior. The passages we whip out are Matthew 7:1 and James 4:12. Unfortunately, we regularly fail to consider the context of the greater passage and the whole counsel of God’s Word. Yes, both Jesus and James condemned a harsh, critical “judging” of people’s motives. This kind of “judging” is motivated by a self-righteous, hypocritical attitude. But in the whole of Scripture – including words of Jesus and James – God clearly commands Christians to lovingly point out sin and exhort each other to holiness. It is not our place to determine their motives, but it is our responsibility as a member of the body of Christ to gently identify behavior that God has already judged to be “sin.” The goal is to reconcile that person with others and with God and to keep the sin from spreading to others (Matthew 18:15-17, 1 Corinthians 5:5-7, Hebrews 12:15, James 5:19-20). For more about “judging” read this post.
  3. “God will never give us more than we can handle” – There is just one problem with saying this: It’s simply not what the Bible teaches. Many well-meaning people quote 1 Corinthians 10:13 to back up this understandable desire. But the context of this passage is about temptation. Here’s the good news: God does promise that He will never allow us to be tempted beyond what we can bear; He will always show us a way to stand firm. So what does God teach about the amount of trials and difficulties He will allow into our lives? In a nutshell: He will allow far more than we can handle. Paul wrote that he had suffered extreme hardship in Asia, “far beyond his ability to endure so that he despaired even of life” (2 Corinthians 1:8-11).  God allowed this so Paul and his companions “might not rely on themselves but on God.” For more on this topic, read this post.
  4. “God is love” – First, yes I believe that God is love! Scripture says it over and over (1 John 4:8-10). God defines real love. He is loving by nature. He expresses this divine love in all that He does. But unfortunately, some Christians try to stand on this truth – “God is love” – to rationalize sin or to dismiss hell.
  • “A loving God wouldn’t send people to hell.”
  • “God loves me, He would want me to be happy.”

But our loving, holy God does not sweep sin under the rug. Instead His love moved Him to provide a way of salvation for all people by sending Jesus as an atoning sacrifice for our sins (1 John 4:11). And Christ’s love compels us to repent of our sins, accept His sacrificial death, and be reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:11-21). God’s love provides a way of salvation, not a license to sin.

  1. “All sin is the same” – Most assuredly, any and all sin separates us from God and brings eternal spiritual death (Romans 6:23). In that way, all sin is the same. But Scripture does show that some kinds of sins cause far greater harm to ourselves and other people or bring far greater consequences than other sins. (For more on this see this article at BillyGraham.org.) Here are a few examples:
  • Sexual Immorality – Due to the intimate nature of sex, sexual immorality has unique consequences, such as tearing apart families and even directly impacting our relationship with God (1 Corinthians 6:18-20).
  • Pride – Scripture condemns the sin of pride over and over. In fact, the Bible says that God “opposes the proud” (Proverbs 3:34, James 4:6). Pride is an underlying attitude that manifests itself in a host of other “sinful” ways.
  • Hypocrisy – Jesus sternly warned the Pharisees about their hypocrisy (Matthew 23:13-36). This kind of self-righteousness blinds us to our own sin and our need for God. “Woe!”
  • Leading others into sin – Jesus’ language was harsh for those who would dare lead a “little one” into sin. It would be better for them to have a millstone tied around their neck and be thrown into the sea. Sounds serious! (See Matthew 18:1-9.)

You may not agree with me on all these, and that’s okay. What I hope we will all do is go to God’s Word to find His truth. But, let’s not ever settle for a “truth” we’ve grown accustomed to.

Have you ever said any of these 5 things? How do you feel about it now? What are some other things you hear often from Christians that don’t line up with God’s Word? Be sure to share what God’s Word says about it!

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Following Jesus is either the BEST Decision or the WORST

Yesterday, while visiting another church in our new area, one of the ministers said something that bothered me the rest of the service and into lunch. The children’s minister introduced a ten-year-old girl who had recently decided to follow Jesus. Right before he baptized her he said, “It’s one of the best decisions she will make in her life.”

As soon as we got in the car, we began our after-church, church search routine. We shared our thoughts about the church, the service, and whether we think this might be the church God has for us.

“I was really bothered by the minister’s statement about that girl’s decision to give her life to Jesus,” I said.

“Yeah. That struck me too.”

“It’s not the first time I’ve heard a Christian say that. He probably didn’t even realize what he said. But it puts a decision to follow Jesus right up there with who to marry, what career path to follow, and how to invest your money.”

Maybe you think I’m making a big deal out of nothing. Getting on a soapbox over a slip of the tongue. But I don’t think so.

There are other vitally important decisions in our lives, ones that impact our health, relationships, and livelihood. There are even decisions with eternal consequences like whether to tell others about the salvation found only in Jesus or to keep it to ourselves.

But the decision to follow Jesus – or not follow Jesus – is the only decision a person can ever make that determines her or his eternal destiny.

If there is life after death… If we need a Savior because of our sin… If trusting in the death and resurrection of Jesus is the only way to be made right with a holy God… Then choosing Jesus is the BEST decision you’ll ever make.

But if this life is all there is… Or if your soul gets absorbed into the universal cosmos (or some other silly nonsense)… Or if you can choose your own path to God… Then choosing Jesus is the most ridiculous, time-wasting, WORST decision you’ll ever make.

Choosing to give your life to Jesus in exchange for the eternal life He offers is either the BEST decision you’ll ever make or it’s the worst decision you’ll ever make. Period.

Have you made the BEST decision in your life? If you want to know more about eternal life found only in Jesus, click here.

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Does it Matter What My Church Believes?

church doctrineJust last month, my husband and I moved to a new town. Yesterday, we began the search for the church God has for us. Our actual address may be small town Texas, but since we live on the fringes of the Dallas/Ft Worth area, church choices abound. We could visit for months – maybe even years – without attending the same church twice.

How do we begin? How can we narrow our search? Before we made the first visit, we narrowed the possibilities significantly based on what the church believes.

What? Doesn’t the preaching and the music and the programs and the community involvement carry a lot of weight? Does a church’s doctrine really matter that much?

Yes, a church’s doctrine is that important. Not only do the biblical truths and principles on which it stands shape its people and its ministry, but if what it believes does not align correctly with God’s Word, then the church is not following Christ.

I realize that’s a bold, brazen statement, but it’s based on the teaching of the New Testament. For instance, in Paul’s letters to the churches in Corinth and Galatia, one of his primary purposes in writing was to combat false teaching and to admonish them to cling to the truth of Jesus (2 Corinthians 11:3-4, Galatians 1:6-9). Paul describes the warped gospel they were following as “no gospel at all.”

And in the book of Revelation, Jesus Himself called the churches in Pergamum and Thyatira to repent from following false teaching before they experienced God’s discipline (Revelation 2:14-16, 20-22).

Yes, what a church believes – and therefore teaches and acts on – absolutely matters.

I can hear wheels turning. Do you mean everything? What about the differences between denominations? Are you saying that only one denomination is right?!

Many differences between denominations and even individual churches within denominations are peripheral to the heart of God’s gospel. They do not impact key doctrinal truths. These kinds of differences can be held loosely. In fact, we can enjoy and even celebrate the variety within God’s church.

Things like style of music, order of worship, and areas of ministry focus broaden and strengthen the worldwide church. Even other beliefs like the role of women in ministry, the view of end times, and the structure of church leadership are not considered core essential truths. These types of areas are considered “minor doctrines.” There is room for differences.

But in other areas, those considered to be “major doctrines,” there is little if any room for difference. With these doctrines – ones that are central to Christianity and have significant impact on other doctrines – we must hold firm. These fundamental truths flow from the nature and character of God and His saving work.

We can’t fully cover all these major doctrines in one blog post. But here is a quick list of many of these essential truths:

  • The nature of God
  • The Trinity
  • The deity of Jesus
  • The authority of the Bible
  • The nature of mankind and our need for salvation
  • Salvation solely through faith in Jesus
  • The death and resurrection of Jesus
  • The return of Jesus

What a church believes about essential doctrines are deal breakers for me and my husband. For instance, if a church believes there is something more required for salvation than faith in Jesus – or that salvation can be found anywhere else – that one doesn’t make the cut. If a church doesn’t hold to the truth that God is one God yet three distinct persons, there is no need for us to visit.

Why are we so dogmatic? A church that does not hold to the essential truths of the Christian gospel is not following the gospel at all. Overall, as believers, we can be gracious in those minor doctrines, the non-essentials, but we must be hold tight to the essential truths of our faith.

If you aren’t sure what your church believes about the major doctrines, find out. Many churches have “statement of beliefs” on their website. (I even have one on this website!) If you aren’t sure what you believe, start studying! Of course the Bible is your first and primary source. But if you’d like some additional resources, check out the list below.

Do you know what your church believes about the major doctrines? Does it matter to you?

Suggested Reading:

 

 

 

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Let the Church Search Begin

churchFinally! No more boxes! (In the house anyway. The garage does not count.) Pictures even adorn the walls.

Our moving adventure hit full swing three weeks ago today. Now that we are able to function in the house it’s time to begin finding our place in our new community.

In 34 years of marriage, our family has moved 7 times. After unpacking boxes, our first priority has always been to find a new church home. Now it’s that time again. It’s time to find the church God has chosen for us.

Our family does not “church shop.” In fact, I really dislike that term. It implies that believers should look for a church like we look for a new car. That we find the one with all the desirable features. That we chose the one that will serve and suit us best. After all, we want to get the most “bang for our buck.”

But that’s not what the Bible teaches about a believer’s relationship to a local church. Sadly, many of us today have unknowingly allowed our consumer culture to shape our thinking about the church. We look for the church that will meet all our “needs.” Then when it doesn’t we move on down the road to the one with the more dynamic preacher or better youth program or better entertainment value. (For more on church shopping and church “hopping” check out this post and this one.)

I admit, this attitude affects me too. That’s one reason I want to share my “church search” experience with you here.  I pray that the transparency will keep me from falling into that trap.

I want to seek and find the church God has already chosen for us. The church where He already has a place for us to serve. The church where the body needs us and the gifts God has given us.

3 key truths the Bible teaches about a believer’s relationship with God’s church

If this way of thinking about church is “new” to you, maybe these points will help.

  1. God wants me to use the gifts He has given me to serve a local church (1 Corinthians 12:4 and following) – My God-given gifts and talents are not for me. He intends me to use them for the good of other believers – particularly in committed relationship with a local church.
  2. God has a particular spot for me in a particular body (1 Corinthians 12:21-27) – Which church and which place of service is NOT my decision. God has already chosen it. It’s my task to discover His will and obey it.
  3. God works through the local church to grow me up spiritually (Ephesians 4:11-16) – I cannot be everything God intends for me to be without being vitally connected to a local church. God matures me and strengthens my faith within that context. He has designed faith to be a corporate experience. We cannot adequately follow Christ on our own.

I miss our church in Houston. But I am also excited about what God has planned for us here. Over the next few weeks, I plan to share that journey with you and talk more about the church. I’d love for you to share your thoughts with me too!

Are you actively connected to a local church? If not, why not? If so, what led you to that specific church?

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Star Trek, CS Lewis, and Your Free Will

Free WillI am a Trekkie. I was a fan of the original Star Trek series, but I really loved The Next Generation. My favorite character was Lieutenant Commander Data.

Data was an android with high computational capabilities. He looked like a human and was physically fully functional. Yet one thing prevented Data from understanding and relating to humans. He lacked human emotions.

Data’s desire to possess human emotions – and thus become truly human – was an ongoing thread in the show’s storyline. Although Data was like the rest of the crew in many ways, this deficiency made him somewhat of an outsider, unable to form strong bonds and experience deep relationships.

This may sound strange, but I thought about Data the other day while reading “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis. During the discussion of another topic, Lewis wrote this about mankind’s free will:

He (God) gave them free will because a world of mere automata could never love and therefore never know infinite happiness.

The question of our free will has come up countless times in Bible study groups I’ve led or been a part of. “If God knew we would sin, why did He give us free will? Wouldn’t it have been better if we couldn’t disobey?”

Free Will Makes Ultimate Joy Possible

No, it wouldn’t have been better. If God withheld free will we could never know true happiness. We would be like little robots, always doing the right thing, but never experiencing the joy of relating to our Creator.

Even though Data was superior to humans in some ways, he knew he lacked the best part of humanity. The ability to love and be loved.

God desires to love us and to be loved by us. And He implanted the desire to love Him back in the deepest part of our souls. And that’s where we find our purpose, our fulfillment, and our ultimate joy. In choosing to love and be loved by our God.

Have you struggled with the question of mankind’s free will? Does Lewis’ explanation help?

 

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