Turn or Burn

We are all familiar with the man on the corner of the street with a sign, “turn or burn!” Most Christians are uncomfortable with the image and the message. But then we think, “At least that guy’s out there showing his faith.”

But I would question the message and the effectiveness. It’s not technically wrong, but a slogan like this leaves the message of grace out of the equation. Slogans are one of the worst ways to share our faith. They are too short and pithy to incorporate the full truth of the Gospel.

There is so much more a person needs to know before they begin to follow Jesus. Conquistadors forcing religion down people’s throats didn’t truly convert most of them. They would practice their pagan religions behind the conquistadors back. Forcing religion on people is almost never effective.

How many people can truly love of God who forces them against their will? The confrontational style of evangelism may actually fit some people. To them I say, have at it! But for most of us, we need another way to share our faith that fits her personality.

What type of personality do you have when it comes to sharing your faith? How are you most comfortable when you tell others about Jesus? Leave a message in the comments below.

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Confident to Witness

I’ve met many Christians over the years who have hang-ups about witnessing. It doesn’t help when you see someone on the street with “Turn or Burn” signs. There are many ways to evangelize and confrontational styles are one of them. But most people other than the actors on the TV show Jersey Shore don’t like confrontation.

I’m one of them. In this series I want to help people like me. The Bible calls us to share our faith (Matthew 28:19). But many of us don’t know exactly how. We your preachers telling us we have to do it and were okay with that. But how can I do that where I live, in my community and that my job?

What are some of your struggles when it comes to telling others around you about Jesus? Leave me a comment and give me some ideas on how I can help you in future posts.

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Faith in a Box

There are some interesting movements that have been around now for a while. These movements have been called by several different names such as the Word of Faith movement, Name It Claim It, and generally, the hyper-faith movements. I have never been comfortable with these people, who are usually on television programs and show up in popular piety often. Their message is very appealing to Christians because of its simple approach to faith. I must admit it would be very nice if what these people say would always be true, but often such is not the case.

I will not judge these ministries and ministers as individuals, but I will comment on their overall statements and propositions. I have had a hard time nailing down exactly why I feel so uncomfortable with what I have seen from these movements, and I’m sure they have a response to my problems with them. But I still feel that clarity in my lack of support for such movements would suffice to show my general position. This does not deal with specific cases but speaks of this hyper-faith movement in its earmarked or hallmarked characteristics.

First, these statements, such as “Believe that you’re healed even though you can’t see it,” “If you speak it into existence, God has to do it for you,” and other such blanket faith statements are too simple! They undermine the biblical principle of faith, which I will discuss in a future front page article. In the Bible, these statements cannot be found. In fact, the idea that when someone has a disease it is their fault or someone else’s fault is actually challenged by Jesus in John 9:1-7. The disciples ask Jesus who sinned, this man born blind or his parents. Notice the presupposition in the question here? It’s an either-or question, and it only has two possible outcomes, but Jesus replies with the third option: neither! The disciples’ presupposition was part of a faulty Jewish philosophy that when someone was born sick, blame must be placed on the sins of the parents or the sick person because sin had to have occurred somewhere in that person’s history for this to happen to that person.

But Jesus surprises them by not supporting such a simple view of the correlation between sickness and sin. In fact, He claims that this man was born blind so that the works of God could be displayed in Him, so that God would receive the glory for his healing and his life. He is not blaming God for this man’s being born blind, but He is saying that his healing will show forth God’s glory. I believe that this is a key principle that we may not always understand, which makes faith more complicated than these hyper-faith teachers would like. Circumstances will be as they are so that God gets the most glory out of that person’s life and situation!

Another example from the Gospels comes in the recounting of the four friends who tore off a roof to get to Jesus for their paralyzed friend in Mark 2:1-12. These are the four men who bring a paralytic to Jesus and Jesus uses the man’s healing to explain His divinity in that He can both heal and save! One of these months, I’ll do an article on the connection between salvation, deliverance, and healing. But notice before Jesus gets to the point that He can heal and save at the same time what he says.

Many hyper-faith teachers will tell you that if you are prayed for and don’t get healed, you don’t have enough faith. This is essentially telling a Christian that they have faith to be saved from their sins but not faith to be healed! How ironic and upsetting and laughable (if people did not think that this was an accurate assessment of their faith)! We must notice that such statements and evaluations can destroy a Christian’s faith! Is that what ministers should be doing? But look at whose faith saves this paralytic! Look at Mark 2:5. “When Jesus saw THEIR faith. Whose faith moved Jesus to heal this man? The faith of the four friends, not the paralytics! The pronoun clearly is plural and refers to the friends.

Faith for healing and anything in life is not just up to the individual, but also those who are involved in praying for the individual at the very least. This recounting of the four friends tells us something very important about faith: it’s not just up to the individual, but to those who minister to the individual! The ministers and people who pray for the sick must have faith also! See also James 5:14-16 where the elders must pray and must be righteous prayer warriors to see effective healing. Why can it not be that the faith-healer, these televangelists and hyper-faith simpletons have not enough faith to pray for the sick! Far be it from us to ask about their faith level! According to them, it’s always the faith level of the entire room of believers or the individual being prayed for, but I’ve never heard a faith-healer or faith teacher evaluate their own faith. That’s not genuine or authentic spirituality being practiced.

Now do not hear what I’m not saying in this example. I’m not saying that the individual’s faith is not important at all. It is essential and extremely important that the person coming to God must believe and trust in faith that God can and will do what the person asks! Jesus said it was indeed His will to heal and numerous times asked individuals what they wanted Him to do for them so that He could see their faith. It cuts both ways in the Bible, but not with these hyper-faith teachers. When what you teach does not resemble the Bible, it is not biblical or Christian teaching, period. Our theological framework must equate to the biblical framework. If it does not, we have long explanations to explain all of the inconsistencies between our theology and biblical reality.

Second, to go along with the idea that these statements and doctrines are too simplistic, the teachers of these doctrines fail to see the biblical paradigm “Already But Not Yet.” For so long, and partly because of Modernity’s effect on Theology, we have had this propensity for a long time to explain everything in the Bible exactly and completely. It’s part of our Western worldview and way of operating and thinking. We are so detailed oriented that we must know everything, and if we can’t know everything, than it’s not true. But the paradigm of the Bible flows in a pattern of Already But Not Yet. Countless times we see references to salvation both right now, at the moment of your belief in Christ, and in the eschaton, the end of time. How can this be? Which is it?

It is both. You see, we live between the ages, between the age of Christ’s sacrifice that fulfills all of the prophecies and types of the Old Testament, that provides for your salvation, healing, etc. This is the cosmic answer to the cosmic curse! But not everything has its complete reign here on earth right now! There are still wicked people in the world, and that’s not something that will still be here when Christ completely reigns. There is still sickness and death and sin, which will no longer be here when Christ reigns. But those things, sickness and sin and the problems of our world, have found their answer in Christ, and will someday stop groaning for His arrival (Rom 8:20-25). But until then, we live in this tension between completely fulfilled, and the shadow of complete fulfillment. So God works through this time period between the ages little by little. We cannot understand all the complexities of this age, but we can trust that God is doing everything for our benefit.

Third, the people who listen to and believe these types of doctrines are in great distress. How would you feel if someone told you that you really don’t actually have the kind of faith that empowers belief and God’s power in your life? I’d feel horrible, and that’s how these people feel. They feel like God has rejected them when these faith-healers tell them their faith is lacking. It causes them to despair and evaluate themselves and feel that they are incompetent Christians, then the Christian life becomes impossible to live out, so they slip away. Christian ministry does not discourage! It encourages! Personally, as a legally blind believer, I must deal with the question of my own faith in God. The story of the blind man in John 9 is close to my heart. Jesus told them that it was for God’s glory that this man was healed. I think there is an important principle here.

This principle just mentioned presents my final issue with these hyper-faith movements in that they lack a doctrine of the Mystery of God. Why do we have to have an answer for everything? What’s wrong with a little mystery? Would knowing every single thing make you a believer? No! It would make life boring and unlivable, not to mention God would no longer be infinite! There is room left in the bible and biblical theology for the mystery of tension between two choices, such as the sovereignty of God versus human free will. If the Bible doesn’t answer a question, there is a reason. Do you believe that God is always good in everything He does? Then why must everything be explained and answered. Just know that God’s working on your side for your benefit always! This takes true faith, true trust! To believe that although we can’t have all the answers, God is always good is truly trust. We trust not in what is a mystery, but what we know of God’s divine character in times where we do not know all things. It is our nature to be finite. We can’t know everything. That is the mystery the hyper-faith movement takes away when it answers the reasons why healings don’t happen every time someone is prayed for.

As I said in the beginning of this month’s article, these are a few of my own convictions concerning hyper-faith and hyper-healing movements which seem to pop up and rule the popular piety scene through revival-type settings and everyday “Christian” television programs. Soon I will write an article on biblical faith and how faith in the stupendously unseen can be properly incorporated into a healthy doctrine of biblical faith. It is unwise and unhelpful to criticize without offering a solution or a different view, so I will present this view in an article next month on Biblical Faith.

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Karma…in the Bible?

When people read some of the Proverbs of the Old Testament, they gather that this principle is considered Karma, part of the doctrine of reincarnation. Whether or not these people prescribe a pluralistic view that every religion contains a kernel of real truth and all religions basically say the same thing or not, they suspect that such proverbs and principles found in the Vedas (Hindu sacred writings) and the Bible actually stem from a common belief in Karma.

So we’ve got to ask the question. Is Karma in the Bible or not? At first blush, it may seem that Karma is indeed found in the Bible when one reads proverbs that speak of how the righteous (those who do good) will be blessed and the wicked (those who do evil) will be cursed. If we were to read this as a general forever truth that “if you do good, good will happen to you and if you do bad, bad will happen to you,” then we might consider it to be Karma. But I’m not so sure that Hindu gurus would be so happy with this definition of Karma.

So what is Karma in its own religious context? First, I want to talk about something called “Popular Piety.” Each religion has certain principles or beliefs that may be simplified for easier explanation. For instance, if I said, “It’s all about Jesus. Jesus is all there is. Everything else isn’t important in the Bible,” then I would probably receive nasty emails, to say the least. While the Bible is all about Jesus and focuses on His life from Old Testament to New, there are other principles to be gained from Scripture as well. In one sense, the Bible is all about Jesus. But in another sense, Scripture explains God’s plan of redemption to save humanity. Jesus is that plan!

The advantage of popular piety is that it helps to quickly point out a truth or a principle of a religion. This makes it easier to explain and accept. On the other hand, popular piety, in itself, may lead to misunderstandings when someone thinks that one statement explains everything. This has also happened to Karma. Karma, in its religious context, is not concerned with moral judgments. The phrase, “If you do good you will be rewarded in a good way and if you do bad you will be punished” is just a popular way of expressing Karma.

Karma is actually connected intimately to the doctrine of Reincarnation, the belief that life is circular, not linear. For instance, we commonly understand life to be linear. You are born, you grow up, you have a job, and at some point you die. Your life follows a linear format in time and an event is a point on that line. But reincarnation works off of a circular format. There are seasons of life (like Summer, Autumn, Winter, and Spring). Reincarnation would say that you have more lives than a cat and you will be reborn after death into another life.

Karma is the vehicle that decides if your next life is a step up or down. The point of Hinduism is to reach the heightened state of Brahman, the universal consciousness of all humans together. Karma is the mode of getting to Brahman. If your Karma (deeds) is good, then you will hopefully (notice it’s not guaranteed) be reborn into a better life. After being in the lower class in this life, you might be in a middle class situation in your next life. But if your Karma is more bad than good, you might be a plant or a bug in the next life. The point of Karma is to be good so you don’t get demoted on the cyclic chain of reincarnation.

Karma lacks any moral judgment. It is essentially “works salvation.” You get to Brahman by doing good. We’re talking majority percentage here. Your good deeds can be 51% and bad 49% and you might move up on the life totem pole half a notch. But the proverbs of the Bible and the principle of sowing and reaping is based on a moral principle! It is a general principle of observation that this is how life works. All of the proverbs are written to capture principles of how to act in situations in life. I am not saying that proverbs never present objective truth. They were designed and written to help us in certain contexts of life.

The point of all the “do good to be rewarded with good” principles is that when we choose to live by God’s rules, we will be rewarded because we are living within His boundaries. When we step outside of the boundaries, it’s like using a wrench to pound a nail. When we live outside of God’s established principles, it’s like sticking your arm over the boat into the water with sharks swimming around you.

Every one of those statements in Proverbs show the wisdom gained by observation throughout human history. Wisdom is to follow God’s prescribed principles so that life will be long, healthy, and satisfying. Karma is concerned with gearing up for the next life. It is a system of punishment, not a principle for living a more enjoyable life. When you read statements in the proverbs concerning the wicked and the righteous, they are written to encourage you to choose the righteous path. They are written with a moral goal in mind by the author. The entire book of Proverbs is written to young men to give them wisdom so that life will be wonderful and they will make less mistakes than their father or their ancestors before them.

Karma and the sowing/reaping principle of the Bible are not the same. Karma condemns for the next life, making this life a chore and a pain. Can you imagine having to keep track of all the good and bad things you did in your life? The Proverbs provide wisdom to avoid condemnation. They are meant to save us from troubles we can avoid. So go out and do good not because you’re worried about the next life but because you love God and you will come much closer to the righteous life God desires for you.

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Penny for Your Faith

I would like to think through a few popular theologies swimming around in Christian space. I have always been disturbed by these theologies for good, biblical reasons. But I am not one for dogmatically declaring them complete heresies. I do not believe they adequately adhere to reality and biblical thought. Many times, these are proclaimed with the underlying intention that people understand them to be fully true, whereas they may be only partly true or much more complicated matters than preachers are willing to admit.

I am speaking mainly of the idea of “seed faith money” which is the proposition that if you send money (preferably in large quantities) to ministers and ministries, then God will heal you, bless you, give you your heart’s desire, give you a pony, a Ferrari, or whatever else you want in life. The problem comes in the inability of such propositions to hold any biblical truth behind them. Sure, the Bible says that people will be blessed by God, but it does not say that God will bless only in the area of finances. Why do we seem to think that God works like the government, that if we give money we’ll get money, that if we give time we’ll get time, that if we give grace we’ll get grace?

More biblical is the idea of sacrifice, where you give expecting absolutely nothing in return. This is essentially how Christ gave. Sacrificially. He gave His own life so that we would see His love and love Him back. But much of the world does not love Jesus back even when faced with His sacrificial love. Christ was not guaranteed going to the cross that all of humanity for which He died would jump at the opportunity for eternal life. It did not play out this way in reality. So also, this idea that God blesses in the same category in which we give does not maintain reality.

A small and inadequate god gives only in the means given. God is so great and powerful that He can bless in ways we wouldn’t even have thought of, because we’re so finite. For instance, if you give people your time and your talents, God might bless you with His presence or with others who give money so that you can continue to give of yourself. The point is that the Bible never specifies how you will be blessed or in what areas. So why do we expect God to bless us in a specific area for a specific gift? Do we know better than God what we need in a future we have yet to enjoy?

I am above all thoroughly convinced that God has abundant blessings for every Christian and that He willingly and lavishly pours out His blessing upon us pre-eternity and post-eternity. But I am not so thoroughly convinced that He uses the same measurements, the same categories, the same methods, that we think He uses. No, I think God blesses more than we’ll ever know right here and now in every area of our life. Why short-change God by expecting Him to bless you only in one way? Besides, it is so exciting to discover the wide range of God’s blessings throughout your life. Christianity should be an adventure, not a pre-planned vacation.

So God does bless. There’s no question about that. But God blesses in ways we may not realize. The true gift is the unexpected gift, the one you didn’t even know you needed and it shows up on your doorstep right at the time you need it. God’s big enough to do that for you and He does it all the time. Even your next breath, thought, heartbeat, is a gift. We aren’t guaranteed anything in this life, but God blesses us in such a wide range of areas that we need to re-learn how to be thankful and generous with what He gives us because the only way to truly thank the Giver is to learn the craft of His trade: to become generous as your Heavenly Father is so generous. I think that learning to be like God in our outflow of generosity pleases and blesses God. Now there’s an interesting thought: Blessing the Blesser. You know we can bless God with our whole being when we are trying to be like Him.

Aside from this, when we expect God to give to us in a certain area, like healing for sending “seed faith money” in to a ministry, we begin in our frail minds to equate God with someone who does what I pay for. Now that’s backwards theology if ever I heard of it. But think about it. If we were told by a “man of God” that if we gave money to his ministry that God would heal us of some terminal illness, and then God didn’t do that, what would we think? We might think that our faith is lacking. We might think that God doesn’t care about us at all. Try finding that pagan idea in Scripture. It isn’t there. In fact, God cares so much about each and every one of us that the Bible says He knows the number of hairs on our heads! Does that sound like a God who doesn’t care, a Father who isn’t jumping up and down and salivating with excitement at our victories, a Father who doesn’t weep and hold us in a tight, warm embrace when we have trials? Worse than all of this, we may come to believe that God owes us or that He does not exist. Such practices are so dangerous to Christians.

So God blesses us in ways we cannot imagine and the fun of life is discovering His blessings in the right place at the right time, just what you needed when you needed it! Sure it’s fine to send money to ministries, because God uses that money to further His kingdom. But when will we think about it as sacrificial with no strings attached? When will we give out of love instead of a business deal or to get back something. The Bible promises us that we will be rewarded for our generosity. But the reward is the surprise gift you didn’t even expect from God in an area of life that you would have never imagined. God is just waiting to lavish His riches all over us. Can you see those blessings and rewards in your life? If we stopped long enough to look around instead of moaning about what God owes us or what God hasn’t done for us, we may find it quite a surprise when we count all the blessings that are in our lives direct deposit from a lavish and loving Father who’s watching your every move as an eager father eavesdrops on his own kids and experiences life with them.

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A New Way of Seeing the End

In my classes at seminary and at church, I am constantly dealing this semester with the ideas of the end times, what is called Eschatology (the last things). Some people have long, drawn out plans of what happens in the end of time. They get these charts and systems from two areas of biblical study. The first is hermeneutics (Bible interpretation) and the other comes out of Systematics (such as Systematic Theology, where someone combines the entire counsel of Scripture on a subject, like Salvation).

I have always had problems with the way these are used to provide information about the end times. It’s not these two disciplines that are the problem at all. In fact, they are absolute necessities. I am not attacking the people who use them because they are useful tools that I use every day I look at the Bible. But I do have issues with how these two disciplines are used to justify the end product of charting out the end times.

Let’s begin with hermeneutics. This is the study of the different genres of the Bible, such as poetry, narrative (story), apocalypse, prophecy, epistle (letter), etc. The basic idea is that we read a poem much differently than we read a these paper. It is the study of how we get to where we go when we open our Bibles and discover the past (the world of the authors of the Bible), the present (where we are today and how does it apply to us), and the future (where we are headed and how to get there and still please God).

Hermeneutics is used in every situation where we do more than just read the Bible. Anytime that we attempt to apply it to ourselves through understanding the author’s experiences or worldviews to finding a principle we can live by today, we are doing hermeneutics. Some methods are better than others as we will see.

The other discipline, Systematics, is wrapped up in getting a whole view of Scripture that is communicated to others in a logical format. My problems come when these two disciplines are combined with some other strange animals to produce the harry beast of what is termed “Dispensationalism” (the oversimplification that God saves humanity through different means through different eras of time). This dispensationalism has fueled Eschatology for some time now.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, remember those big charts that people love to drag out when they go through a literal reading of Revelation. Try on one of those Dake Bibles for size. Better yet, let’s take the Old Testament book of Daniel and glue it together with Revelation, do some fuzzy math and interpretation, and come out with a complete chart that totally explains every minute detail of the end of time.

Sounds great until we see not only how unbiblical this method is, but also how against Christ it has become. Jesus told his disciples about the end of time in Matthew 24:36 that no one knows the day or hour of His return. Again in Acts 1:7, Jesus reiterates this principle.

Paul speaks of the day coming upon the world like a “thief in the night” (1 Thess 5:2). So why do we try to take a book like Daniel or Revelation and turn it into a map of the end times, the specific events and days that this and that will happen? We have such a need to know the future that we don’t do our job in the present!

What, then, should our understanding of Eschatology be? Well, mine is very short. Time is short and life is short. The end times started at the day of Pentecost when Peter, quoting Joel, added “In the last days, Joel says, ‘I will pour out my Spirit…'” (Acts 2:17) When you look up the reference to Joel 2:28-32, you will find that “in the last days” is not there at all because Peter saw the day of Pentecost as the beginning of the end. So we have been living in the end times for over 2,000 years.

We are to wait on the Lord to return, and He will return. The New Testament is replete with passages making reference to Christ’s return. He will even rule the world for a millenium and still humanity will turn from Him to the devil. But waiting is not just sitting on our hands. In fact, it’s the opposite!

Eschatology should teach us not to fight over interpretations of Revelation and Daniel but to focus on actively seeking God’s return. We have a lot of work to do for God until the time He returns. We expect his return – this is hope in action. We put our actions where our hope is – that is faith. We live our faith by letting others know, in whatever manner we must, about this great news of a great God who gave Himself up just for us and for them. That’s what eschatology is all about.

Christ could come back at any time and we won’t be surprised by His return, but the world of lost people will be surprised. Do you have friends or family that would be surprised in that moment? Let’s not allow the people we care about to be taken aback by this event. Let’s let them in on what should never be called “the best kept secret of history.”

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