Do Muslims and Christians Worship the Same God?

The other day as I was getting a haircut, my stylist (I know – what hair do I have to style?), found out I was a pastor and so asked me a great question based off of an earlier conversation about the news coming out of the Middle East. “Why do Muslim’s and Christian’s fight each other? Don’t you really worship the same God anyways? Why not just focus on the stuff you are the same like the love stuff and be kind to each other stuff?”

She probably didn’t expect me to answer the way I did. Most people just say “You’re right, why don’t we?” I think most people would answer that way because they don’t know what to say or because they’d agree with her premise. Before you accuse me of promoting hatred and warfare, I did agree with her about the peace part. After all, we are to love God and our neighbour as ourselves, and the neighbour thing includes my muslim neighbours whether they be next door here in Halifax or across the ocean.

What I didn’t agree with her about was the idea that we worship the same God. So I seized on her openness of the moment to share the beauty and uniqueness of Jesus and his teachings. She engaged in the conversation and was genuinely surprised about the differences – apparently no one had told her what I was telling her, along with the obvious fact that she hadn’t explored the idea herself.

I wasn’t surprised, and in fact I find this to be a common way of thinking. What I do find surprising however, is that there are some within the Christian camp who hold a similar belief, in that there isn’t much difference between the three Abrahamic faiths; Christianity, Islam and Judaism. In fact, there are a large number who’d say that we actually worship the same God.

Back in December of 2015, Dr. Larycia Hawkins, a professor with Wheaton College (An evangelical institution), put on a hijab and stated on Facebook, “I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book. And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.”

Five days after that posting, Wheaton College gave Dr. Hawkins a ‘time out’ saying that they wanted to give her “more time to explore (the) theological implications of her recent public statements.” Giving a grown woman, a Doctor none the less, a time out wasn’t received well, based on the firestorm of controversy it ignited.

The Chicago Tribune, described Wheaton’s actions as “bigotry… disguised as theology.” This assessment was partially based on the input of Yale Professor Miroslav Volf, a theologian who said, “There isn’t any theological justification for Hawkins’s forced administrative leave. Her suspension is not about theology and orthodoxy. It is about enmity toward Muslims.” That sounds a bit harsh, but is he right?

WHAT IF ANY, ARE THE SIMILARITIES?  

The founder of Islam, Muhammad, saw himself as the last in a line of prophets that reached back through Jesus to Moses, beyond him to Abraham and as far back as Noah. According to the Quran, God (known as Allah) revealed to Muhammad:

“The Book with the truth [the Quran], confirming what was before it, and [before He sent down the Quran] He sent down the Torah of Moses and the Gospel of Jesus… as a guidance for the people.” 

The Muslim and Christian views of God certainly do have some similarities. For example, Christians believe in one eternal God who created the universe, and Muslims apply these attributes to Allah. Both view God as all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-present. Jesus is mentioned 25 times in the Qur’an. And then there’s the fact that Christianity and Islam having similar teachings on morals and ethics.

The obvious conclusion to some then is that Muslims worship the same God as Christians, it’s just that the two mega faiths are simply having some familial misunderstandings about what he’s like and what he’s done – yet still the same God. After all, both Christians and Muslims recognize that their books speak about the same God who created Adam and Eve, who rescued Noah from the flood, who promised Abraham a vast progeny, who helped Moses escape Egypt, who made the Virgin Mary great with child, who sent Jesus into the world, who helped the disciples overcome, and who is still sovereign today. Is that not the God of the Bible being described in the Quran? The Quran even asserts that the Torah and the Gospel are inspired scripture and that Jews and Christians are people of the Book.

And then there’s the fact, the Quran tells Muslims to say to them (Christians and Jews), “Our God and your God is One, and unto Him we surrender” (29.46).

That sounds very benign… and inclusive to me. Listen, if the Quran asserts that Muslims worship the same God as Jews and Christians, doesn’t that settle the matter?

Fair question deserving a fair answer. My observation however, is that those assertions do not settle the matter even remotely. That’s because Muslims and Christians do not worship the same God. Here is why I make that claim. It’s because making a claim that it is the same God being truly and honestly worshiped equally by both Muslims and Christians quite simply subverts Christian orthodoxy in favour of Islamic claims.

ARE THE DIFFERENCES REALLY DIFFERENT ENOUGH?

Christians believe Jesus is God, but the Quran is so opposed to this creed that it condemns Jesus worshipers to Hell (5.72). In fact, any belief in the deity of Jesus is considered shirk (“polytheism”) to Muslims. Further to this, Islam denies the death of Christ on the cross (4:157–158). So, right at the start, the most crucial doctrine of the Christian faith is rejected in Islam. This fact alone should be enough to settle the matter.

But even if that wasn’t enough, there is the doctrine of the Trinity to consider. In the Bible, God has revealed himself as one God in three Persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. So from a right understanding of Christian scripture, we see that while each Person of the Trinity is fully God, God is not three gods, but three in one.

God’s Son came in the form of man, a truth called the incarnation, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Sonfrom the Father, full of grace and truth.” – John 1:14(Also look up, Luke 1:30-35; Colossians 2:91 John 4:1-3).

Jesus conquered the penalty and power of sin by dying on the cross, and then after rising from the dead, went back to heaven to be with his Father and sent the Holy Spirit to believers.

 “’But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.’ And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven’.” – Acts 1:8-11.

Islam, on the other hand, roundly condemns worship of the Trinity (5.73), establishing, in contrast, its own core principle: Tawhid, the absolute oneness of God. Tawhid specifically denies the Trinity, so much so that according to Islam, worshiping the Christian God is not just wrong; it sends you to Hell.

ARE WE BEING HYPOCRITICAL WHEN IT COMES TO THE JEWISH FAITH?

Allow me to answer a question that many might be asking at this point. “How can you Christians accuse Muslims of worshiping a different God without also indicting the Jews of doing the same thing, isn’t that hypocritical & inconsistent?”

That is a fair question, however the response should be obvious to those who have studied the three Abrahamic faiths: The Trinity is an elaboration of Jewish theology, not a rejection. By contrast, Tawhid is a categorical rejection of the Trinity, Jesus’ deity, and the Fatherhood of God, doctrines that are grounded in the pages of the New Testament and firmly established centuries before the advent of Islam. Most of the earliest Christians were Jews, incorporating their encounter with Jesus into their Jewish theology. Nothing of the sort is true of Muhammad, who was neither a Jew nor a Christian. Islam did not elaborate on the Trinity but rejected and replaced it.

For the Christian though, no Trinity means no incarnation of God’s Son in the Person of Jesus Christ. Without Jesus Christ, there would be no salvation from sin, no matter you be religiously Christian, Jewish or Muslim. Without salvation, sin condemns all to an eternal hell. And for Christians, the deity of Christ is non-negotiable, because without his deity, Jesus’ death on the cross would not have been sufficient to be the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the entire world, He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” – 1 John 2:2

So, do Christians and Muslims worship the same God? A better question is, “Do Christians and Muslims both have a correct understanding of who God is?” To this question, the answer is definitely a big fat NO! And that is this, because of the crucial differences between the Christian and Muslim concepts of God, the two faiths cannot both be true. The biblical God alone addresses and solves the problem of sin by giving his Son, the God man Jesus Christ.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” – John 3:16-18

Is It Unloving to Not ‘Integrate’ Same-sex Couples into The Church?

Increasingly the church is being confronted with the idea that the time has come for Christianity to accept monogamous same-sex couples as normal and & beautiful expressions of love within the church. Mainstream culture (and much of the mainstream, old-line church) seems to have come to this conclusion already and thus we ‘other’ Christian’s need to catch up. The logical step, it is assumed, is to integrate same-sex couples into the life stream of the church and if we don’t, but instead keep on saying that homosexuality is a sin, we are unloving and thus not living up to Jesus’ command to love one another.

In many ways I understand where culture is coming from. Modern culture’s ideology is rooted in Postmodernist thought, which questions (even denies) morality, absolutes, reason and of course God. This is where things get interesting. The prevailing thought currently out there is that we must not question nor judge the tastes, desires, practices, or beliefs of others. Sounds ultraistic and peaceful so far. Here’s the problem (and I’d even suggest the hypocrisy). That argument is always used in their favour but dare speak out against it or state an opposing viewpoint and watch the fireworks.

Do you see why our biblical world view creates such waves in the Postmodernist’s world? These ideas absolutely clash with each other. Publicly present a Christ centred world view and they can’t stand it. I believe the problem stems from a denial of God. If there is no God (or at least a God who is involved in human affairs), then the question begs to asked; Where do we get our moral directive for anything we do? The short answer is that culture gets direction from the collective – each other (where they get it from initially will be another blog).

In my humble opinion that hasn’t always worked out so well. Just look to history with culturally influenced ideological movements such as Isis, Nazism, Communism, KKK, Fascism, Trudeaumania. Ok maybe not so much that last one but you get my point.

For the Christian who believes in the authority of scripture however, we do have a clear foundational starting point on this morality question – God. And we discover what he says about homosexuality from scripture. Which is what confuses and saddens me so much about my ‘evangelical’ friends who claim to believe in the inspired word of God as well yet deny what scripture clearly says about homosexuality. (I smell another blog down the road).

At any rate, to answer the challenge presented about us needing to catch up to culture and prove that we the church are obeying Jesus’ commands to love our neighbour at least as good as culture is, let’s go to the word of God and see what God says about all this.

But first, I think that we need to answer the question “Is being gay itself a sin?” To do that I think that we need to challenge some assumptions upon which the question is based. Within the past fifty years, the term gay, as applied to homosexuality, has exploded into mainstream culture, and we are told that “being gay” is as much outside one’s control as “being short” or “being white.”

So, the question is worded in such a way that it makes it almost impossible to adequately answer in that form. So, let’s break this question up and deal with each piece separately. Rather than ask, “Is being gay a sin?” let’s ask two questions first, the first one building a foundation for the second, “Is it sinful to be same-sex attracted?” And then, “Is it a sin to engage in homosexual activities?” Then we can finally address the initial question, “Is it unloving to not integrate monogamous homosexual couples into the Church?”

Is it sinful to be same sex attracted?

Concerning first question, “Is it sinful to be same sex attracted?” Let me just say from the outset that the answer is complicated. First, we should probably distinguish between (actively) sinning and (passively) being tempted:

Being tempted isn’t a sin otherwise Jesus would have sinned before even starting on his ministry, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” – Hebrews 4:15

Then there was Eve who was tempted in the garden. She found that the forbidden fruit was definitely appealing to her, but it seems that she didn’t actually sin until she took the fruit and ate it. “So, when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.” – Genesis 3:6-7

You and I might (and probably do) struggle with temptation, and that temptation might lead us to sin, but we need to remember that the temptation itself is not a sin.

So here’s the problem with same-sex attraction, or the feeling of “being gay,” as I understand it. It’s an attraction to something God has forbidden, and any desire for something sinful ultimately has its roots in sin. Our natures have been so infected with sin that what is evil often looks good to us. Sin causes us to see the world and our own actions through a warped perspective. Our thoughts, desires, and dispositions are all affected. That helps us understand the bent of our culture’s move away from any Godly moral foundation.

Scripture says we are sinners by nature So, same-sex attraction, per se, is not always an active, willful sin, but it springs from that sinful nature. So, in the end, same-sex attraction is on some level, an expression of the flesh, or our fallen nature. No wonder the culture has the worldview it does. Sinful humans living in a sinful world are pelted with curiosities, interests, and opportunities that lead us further from God. Our world is filled with forbidden fruits, including the enticement to “be gay.”

A happily married man can be suddenly smitten with attraction for his new female associate and wrestle with those feelings every day. A sober alcoholic can struggle with the ongoing desire to drink, even years after she becomes clean. Those desires don’t represent an active choice to sin, but they do have roots in the sinful nature.

We might not always be able to control how or what we feel, but we can control what we do with those feelings along with the responsibility to resist temptation. “Therefore, take up the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.” – Ephesians 6:13

And along with that we are to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” – 2 Corinthians 10:5 while being transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2).

Is it a sin to engage in homosexual activities?

The second part of this question, “is it sinful to engage in homosexual activities?” has a more straightforward answer. Being drawn toward a morally forbidden relationship is not an active sin; it is a temptation. However, sin occurs when we yield to the temptation.

Our culture says that homosexuals were born gay and thus must be accepted, and that gender dysphoria is to be celebrated, not overcome. But I need to challenge that thought. Even if someone was ‘born that way’? Why does that make it ok? We’re all ‘born that way’… that way being a drive to sin in any number of ways. We all have this pull in our hearts to lie, gossip, cheat, live selfishly – looking out for number one.

There are even those who are born with a desire to murder, or commit acts of pedophilia. That’s a current reality of this sinful, God hating world we live in. Yet somehow, we all (or at least most) would agree that these other things I mentioned are not acceptable even if we are born that way. So, what makes homosexuality different in our cultures mind set then?

I believe that Paul tells us why… “Therefore, God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves,because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.For this reason, God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.” – Romans 1:24-31

Because of this, we now have an entire generation of children and teens who never knew a time when homosexuality was considered unusual. In fact, in elementary and high schools, it is now fashionable to call oneself “gay” or “bi” or use any number of other faddish sexual labels without any real understanding of their meaning – or more importantly of the moral and eternal implications. And the growing sentiment is that if homosexuality is called for what it is – sin, that the individual(s) making that claim are unloving, homophobic, bigots who are merely shadows of a long ago, soon to be forgotten past who can be ignored at the very least or hate (speech) promoters deserving of jail at the worst.

Is it unloving to not ‘integrate’ monogamous same-sex couples into the Church?

One thing I’ll say on the outset. When speaking about not integrating same sex couples, I’m talking about not allowing for membership and leadership roles. Outside of that I welcome (and have welcomed) homosexuals to join us at any of our weekly services. At LifeBridge we recognize that people come from all different places of journey’s into faith. God has, and I know in the future will, bring people who need an accepting place that is committed to loving and sharing Christ with them. The hard facts are is that we are all sinners in need of grace, no more no less than anyother person in this world.

However, I do argue that it is unloving not to speak the truth about what God’s word says regarding homosexuality or any sin for that matter, thinking that by not speaking the truth or by accepting non truths we’re being loving. That is why I believe that it is unloving to integrate monogamous same-sex couples into the life of the church… because to do so would be to lie about something that leads to extreme harm for the couples in question as well as the church as a whole.

Think about this. If I tell my son that it’s ok for him to shoot hoops on the busy highway because he loves basketball so much, and the reason I encourage him to do so is because It’d appear to be unloving in discouraging him from what he loves so much, you’d call me foolish (or worse).

It’s foolish to not identify sin in our lives or pretend it doesn’t exist because we’re afraid it might come across as unloving, especially given the eternal implications, let alone the very specific and tragic phycological, medical and social problems that homosexuality has introduced to the world. Love without truth is hypocrisy and a lie and is damaging (temporally as well as eternally) to those who receive it.

Saying all that however, we must also remember that truth without love is brutal and harsh. If we speak truth without love for others then all we are doing is making a lot of noise which obviously doesn’t make any sense for the person on the receiving end (I Corinthians 13).

Tim Keller said it this way… “Love without truth is sentimentality; it supports and affirms us but keeps us in denial about our flaws. Truth without love is harshness; it gives us information but in such a way that we cannot really hear it. God’s saving love in Christ, however, is marked by both radical truthfulness about who we are and yet also radical, unconditional commitment to us. The merciful commitment strengthens us to see the truth about ourselves and repent. The conviction and repentance moves us to cling to and rest in God’s mercy and grace.” – Timothy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God

Please remember that homosexual behaviour won’t damn a person any more quickly than pride, gossip, greed or adultery. Without Christ, we’re lost, whether we be gay, straight, or asexual. But, when we surrender our lives to Jesus Christ, he gives us a new nature, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” – 2 Corinthians 5:17

And a wonderful part of the continuing gospel narrative is that Jesus doesn’t stop there, he also destroys the power that sin once held over us (Romans 6:1-7). That old nature that once dictated our actions has been conquered in a born-again child of God. And though temptation still rages, and weaknesses still torment, the incredible loving truth is that the power of the Holy Spirit helps us to resist Satan and overcome the sins that once held us captive. “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” – James 4:7

If Jesus Said I’d Do Greater Works Than These – Why Then Can’t I Walk On Water?

Recently, while visiting at a friend’s fellowship on a Sunday morning, I overheard a comment made in the foyer following the worship service. A young lady was excitedly talking to her friend about a ‘truth’ that she recently discovered while at her small group meeting and was excited about the upcoming opportunity to see it come to fruition in her life. It seems that she, and for that matter all Christians, through the power of the Holy Spirit, have the ability to walk the streets of our cities and preform amazing, superpower like miracles, in this way becoming the hands and feet of Jesus on this earth. We just need to first claim the amazing words of Jesus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.” – John 14:12 

Sounds amazingly cool and so helpful to a hurting world. Is she right? If she is then why don’t we see these words coming to fruition, on the streets of Toronto, Seattle, Perth or Beijing as a regular occurrence? After all, Jesus did say those words and he always means what he says. Jesus raised the dead, walked on water, and fed thousands – all amazing miracles. So, if it is true that those who have faith in him will perform “even greater” works than those miracles just mentioned then we should be in for an amazing show of power. Here’s the thing though; we just don’t see the evidences of this in the life of Jesus’ disciples, certainly not since the days of the Apostles. But a question I think begs to be asked is, “Should we?”“Should you and I be able to walk on water?”

Now I’m not going to argue someone’s personal experience, and I don’t doubt that God couldn’t and hasn’t healed someone through the laying on of hands and through prayer. I’ve personally seen it happen and believe and expect that God could do so again. The claim I’m specifically addressing here is that we should be the agents of “greater”things than these – meaning we should all be in the process and practice of preforming greater miracles than Jesus did.

At the risk of alienating some of you I must tell you that I don’t believe that is what he meant at all, and in fact I don’t see any evidence to substantiate it as a norm in the church’s experience – ever. Even in the days of Pentecost we didn’t see it occurring as some may argue Jesus meant it to happen. There are some who would point to the heady days of the early church such as when Peter’s shadow touched people and they were healed in Acts 5 as evidence of this happening. But when we read the passage in context, it never actually says people were healed because of Peter’s shadow. In fairness, it could have happened, but it’s speculation at best – we just don’t know.

An argument I’ve heard for why we’re not seeing amazing miracles like Jesus did today is because of other people’s unbelief or the result of the lack of faith of that pesky cessationist in the room we all know. Here’s the thing though, Jesus experienced a lack of faith from others too, even being accused of preforming demonic trickery by a room filled with faithless people. And then there are clear examples where miracles were performed on behalf of people who evidenced no faith in him at all. I mean think about it, how much faith does a corpse have?

But what about Mark 6:5 where Jesus could do no mighty work? In view of his wide range of supernatural abilities, it is hardly conceivable that Jesus failed in power on this occasion. The truth is that Jesus did perform some miracles in the territory at that time. Even Mark specifically says: “He laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them.” – Mark 6:5b. His power, therefore, was not the problem. Matthew actually explains it, “He did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief.” – Matthew 13:58. Bottom line? Jesus chose to limit his miraculous demonstrations in his old neighbourhood.

Still, Jesus did actually say that not only would his followers do the same works as he did, but they would do “greater” works. So, are we missing something in the translation then? Obviously, it’s important to understand just what Jesus meant by those words of his before anyone goes about applying a worldview and then subsequently claiming promises about things that might be or might not be promised.

Here’s what we need to understand. Jesus wasn’t referencing to the works’ being greater in “power”. Simply look to the story of his friend Lazarus. Jesus had raised his friend, who had been dead already for four days in the tomb, yet later on, not even the Apostles during the days following Pentecost did a greater miracle than that. Bottom line? No one has ever exceeded the power or majesty of Jesus’ miracles – ever. Even practically speaking, we must conclude that Jesus wasn’t saying that every single Christian would walk on water, raise the dead, and bring sight to the blind. I still find it telling that with the technology we have today that allows us to record events, we have yet to see a verified raising of the dead or an individual walking on water on YouTube.

Granted, the Apostles performed some miracles that were similar to Jesus’ works, but even they didn’t walk on water or feed multitudes, as far as we know, and they most certainly didn’t transform spiritually dead souls to a new changed life or forgive sins – and what could be a greater work than that?

So, what did Jesus actually mean then that his followers would do greater works than he? Quite simply Jesus was referring to the greater “extent” of his works than what he had accomplished to that point. It’s important to understand that Jesus’ earthly ministry had been largely limited to Galilee and Judea; his disciples, however, were going to extend his ministry to the uttermost parts of the earth. The morning of Pentecost, Jesus’ followers numbered 120; forty days later, in response to the preaching of the Apostles, that number swelled into thousands and by the end of Acts, the gospel had made its way to Rome.

With some of that understanding let’s look at the words of Jesus again in the John passage. “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.” – John 14:12

Jesus was about to be arrested and suffer a cruel and unjust death. The disciples themselves are going to be scattered that very night. So, these words were of tremendous comfort for his men that night, assuring them that even after his earthly ministry ended, his work would go on. The Disciples of Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit, would continue to help and heal people but it’s the fact that the gospel would now have a worldwide impact that was greater than the limited geographical scope of Jesus’ ministry.

No longer limited to Israel, we see Jesus’ work continuing in far off places like Canada and Chile, someone is finding a new life in Christ in Japan as you read this, and a life is being transformed in Denmark even while you’re getting ready for your next appointment. Every hour, even now, the great work that Jesus began is continuing all over the world. As God’s people pray in Jesus’ name, answers come, and the greatest miracle of all is now common place – nothing less than the forgiveness of sins through faith in Christ – the transformation of a sinful heart to the glory of God.

So, will we perform greater works than these? I think the evidence speaks for itself – unquestionably yes. But it’s not to be able to say we have amazing superpowers, rather it’s all to bring Glory to God. And that my friends is a wonderful reason to get excited about in any foyer after every worship service from here on in.

Why Christians Should Not Tithe

Should a Christian tithe? Many people think that Christians should tithe 10 percent of their income every month to their local church or at least share it between a number of mission and church agencies. If you’ve spent longer than two Sunday’s in any local church you’d have at least heard the language of “tithes and offerings” in a worship service. For many who haven’t grown up in the church (which is a growing number all the time), the word ‘tithe’ itself is a foreign concept to begin with. So how in the world would you go about doing something that you don’t even know what it is anyways?

Before we go any further in answering the question about whether a Christian should tithe or not, let’s learn (or re-learn) what this tithing concept is first.

Tithing in the Old Testament

Quite simply, a tithe is a percentage portion of something, such as money, or crops, or something else used in payment or as a contribution to a religious organization or even compulsory tax in order to show support or devotion to that religious organization, priest, prophet, or even government.

Abraham gave a tenth of his spoils of war to Melchizedek in Genesis 14:20, and the book of Hebrews appeals to this account to support the superiority of Melchizedek’s priesthood over Levi’s. God met Jacob at Bethel and promised him covenant blessings; Jacob then promised God a tenth of everything granted him.  “And this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house. And of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you.” – Genesis 28:22

God established that Israel’s tithe would operate as payment to the Levitical priests for their services. “To the Levites I have given every tithe in Israel for an inheritance, in return for their service that they do, their service in the tent of meeting.” – Numbers 18:21From the income that the Levites received from the tithe, they were still responsible for giving 10 percent off the top for the chief priests seen in verse 26 of Numbers 18.

Some understand the Old Testament tithe as a method of taxation to provide for the needs of the priests and Levites in the sacrificial system.“But you shall seek the place that the Lord your God will choose out of all your tribes to put his name and make his habitation there. There you shall go, and there you shall bring your burnt offerings and your sacrifices, your tithes and the contribution that you present, your vow offerings, your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herd and of your flock.” – Deuteronomy 12:5-6

The tithe was not a volitional offering. The 10 percent off the top belonged to God and the Israelites understood this as simply repaying it. But this wasn’t the only obligatory tithe. They also tithed to support a special jubilee festival and took a third tithe every three years to take care of orphans, widows, and the poor. These mandatory offerings averaged out to about 23 percent a year. On top of these compulsory tithes, there were regular opportunities for freewill offerings. These were generous gifts that expressed the Israelites’ gratefulness through voluntary giving in response to their devotion.

At a bare minimum, they gave 23 percent a year, but there was no ceiling on their generosity. They could – and frequently would – give exorbitantly out of their excess. In response to Moses’ call for contributions to the building of the Tabernacle, the Israelites literally gave so much that Moses had to command them to stop giving.

“And Moses called Bezalel and Oholiab and every craftsman in whose mind the Lord had put skill, everyone whose heart stirred him up to come to do the work. And they received from Moses all the contribution that the people of Israel had brought for doing the work on the sanctuary. They still kept bringing him freewill offerings every morning, so that all the craftsmen who were doing every sort of task on the sanctuary came, each from the task that he was doing, and said to Moses, ‘The people bring much more than enough for doing the work that the Lord has commanded us to do.’ So, Moses gave command, and word was proclaimed throughout the camp, ‘Let no man or woman do anything more for the contribution for the sanctuary.’ So, the people were restrained from bringing, for the material they had was sufficient to do all the work, and more.” – Exodus 36:2-7

In that time period, those who didn’t tithe were threatened with a curse, while those who did tithe were promised blessing. “Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.” – Malachi 3:8-10

THAT WAS THEN, THIS IS NOW

So, the question remains, should a Christian tithe today? Does the Old Testament directive continue into our time and place? I argue the answer is no because the commands stipulated in the Mosaic covenant are no longer in force for believers today. It’s true the moral norms of the Old Testament are still in force today, and we discern them from the law of Christ in the New Testament, but tithing is not among these commands.

In fact, the New Testament not only nowhere commands, it doesn’t even recommend, that Christians submit to a legalistic tithe system. The New Testament only says that gifts should be “in keeping with income”- 1 Corinthians 16:2

Certainly, some defend tithing by saying that Jesus praised the practice, even if he said it was less important than other things. This argument appears strong, but it’s not persuasive. If you think about it, Jesus also mentioned offering sacrifices in the temple, but we don’t think – even if the temple were rebuilt – that we should do that. We must always consider the words in their proper context. Ask what was Jesus’ context, and situation in redemptive history? Jesus spoke about sacrifices and tithing before the cross and resurrection, before the dawn of the new covenant. He used tithing and sacrifices as illustrations when addressing his contemporaries. Further to that, we know that he kept the law because he was “born under the law” – Galatians 4:4.

Jesus was an obedient Jew who kept the law. But we know that he later fulfilled the law and as a result, the rest of us are no longer under the law. In understanding and recognizing the context it makes sense then that we can no more take his words as a commendation for tithing today than we can his words about offering sacrifices.

 And then there is the fact that when Christians are instructed to give to the poor, they aren’t commanded to give “the poor tithe.” Instead, they are instructed to be generous in helping those in need. As an example, read what Paul said.

Now concerningthe collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come. And when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift to Jerusalem. If it seems advisable that I should go also, they will accompany me.” – 1 Corinthians 16:1-4

Here’s what I wish to point out to you. This is a passage often cited in popular circles in support of tithing in the New testament church. However, it doesn’t even mention tithing. All Paul is talking about here a one-time gift for poor saints in Jerusalem.

TITHING MAY NO LONGER BE A REQUIREMENT,  BUT GENEROUSITY IS  

Though we don’t see a requirement for a tithe we do see a requirement to be generous in giving. Just because tithing isn’t required today, it doesn’t follow that believers should hoard their possessions.

As an example, we are commanded to support those who preach the gospel, “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honour, especially those who labour in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain, and, ‘The labourer deserves his wages’.” – 1 Timothy 5:17-18

We’re also called to be generous to those in need, “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.” – 1 Timothy 6:17-19

Wealth can so easily become an idol, leading us to abandon Jesus and his mission. And since God is to be our treasure, believers are to give generously and freely, as we are able. Sometimes that means giving more than 10 percent; sometimes that may mean giving less. It all depends on the ability of the Christian and the needs of the body of Christ.

Obviously, the New Testament Scripture doesn’t command Christians to give a tenth – and Scripture, not tradition, is our rule and authority. But for those who insist on advocating tithing as a rule to follow, the number in the Old testament was certainly more than 10 percent and closer to 23 percent as noted above. That being the case, I’d suggest that they should probably settle on 23 percent. Just putting it out there if that is you.

In the end, every disciple should diligently pray and seek God’s wisdom in the matter of giving, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” – James 1:5

So, should a Christian tithe? No, because we are no longer under the law. However, a disciple of Jesus’ should want to give gifts and service to the ministry of the church, and to meet the needs of the poor. That being the case, let’s give generously, gladly with pure motives and an attitude of worship to God and service to the body of Christ.

“Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” – 2 Corinthians 9:7

Is Gossip A Benign Sin?

Many of us (probably all of us) have either engaged in gossip in one form or another, been the victim of gossip, or both. What is gossip? And is it really that bad? The Hebrew word translated “gossip” in the Old Testament is defined as “one who reveals secrets, one who goes about as a talebearer or scandal-monger.”

That speaks to me of ‘intent’. I understand that there are times when we may need to share or process with a confident to help us think through personal issues with other people. But if the ‘intent’ is to take privileged information about people and proceed to reveal that information to those who have no business knowing it, then that is gossip rather than counselling or healthy processing. And let me say that in my experience, gossip rips apart friendships, slanders good names and leaves scars and hurts that can (& often do), last lifetimes.

 In the book of Romans, Paul reveals the sinful nature and lawlessness of mankind, stating how God poured out his wrath on those who rejected his laws. Because they had turned away from God’s instruction and guidance, he gave them over to their sinful natures.

God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips,slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.” – Romans 1:26-32

I don’t think that it should go unnoticed that the list of sins includes gossip, murderer and homosexuality, (among other sins) as being in the same category. Think about it… gossip is seen as serious as murder in the eyes of God. That should say something to us. The fact is that the sin of gossip is one of the sins that is used to characterize those who are under God’s wrath even saying that death is the deserved outcome. That’s pretty heavy news if you ask me.

And yet it seems much too often that the heinous sin of gossip is somewhat acceptable, or at least not worthy of being dealt with seriously in the church foyer or prayer group. It’s almost like we think of gossip being a benign sin.

But what would happen if we approached gossip the same way we would approach someone willfully and openly engaged in other sinful activity such as homosexuality or murder? We would absolutely deal with those scenarios in all seriousness. If so then why is gossip seemingly overlooked?

I believe that it’s part of our old natures to do so. We easily recognize stealing, anger and jealousy as sins, but we often don’t consider that gossip is also a sin. Sin is anything that goes against God’s will and his laws. To commit sin is to transgress or disobey these laws. The lust to sin dwells in our human nature deeply. In other words, it is contaminated and motivated by the sinful tendencies that dwell in all people as a result of the fall into sin and disobedience in the garden of Eden.

Problem might be in the fact that we don’t see gossip as a sin… or at least as a ‘big one’. (Which by the way is an oxymoron because there are no big or little sins. All sin is rebellion against God and all sin is serious enough in God’s eyes that it deserves the death penalty).

Here’s the thing. No sin can be considered ‘benign’. As in any sin, the results of the sin of gossip are horrendous even if we don’t think we see it: Division, strife, suspicion. Satan is all about division. He loves any opportunity he gets to break down the church family and crate disunity. It is incredible what gossip tears down. The Bible even tells us that, “A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends”– Proverbs 16:28

Many a friendship has been ruined over a misunderstanding that started with gossip. Those who engage in this behaviour do nothing but stir up trouble and cause anger, bitterness, and pain among friends. Sadly, some people thrive on this and look for opportunities to destroy others.

And when such people are confronted, they deny the allegations and answer with excuses and rationalizations. And rather than admit wrongdoing, they blame someone else or attempt to minimize the seriousness of the sin, even going so far as to say things like, “Oh, I’m only sharing because I’m concerned for them.”I’ve even heard people use prayer for others as an excuse to gossip. “I’m only sharing this with you so that you can pray.”

Here’s what the bible has to say about the dangers of gossip and the potential hurt that results from it. “A fool’s mouth is his undoing, and his lips are a snare to his soul. The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man’s inmost parts” – Proverbs 18:7-8

 And in 2 Timothy the Apostle Paul likens it to a messy stinky disease.“But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene.” – 2 Timothy 2:16-17 

So How Do We Counter This Sin?

Certainly, a key to battling this sin in the church is by growing in love for one another. “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” – Ephesians 4:32

To be free from gossip, we need to grow in love. Are our words building up bonds of love, or are they tearing down? “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” – Matthew 12:34

If our mouth is quick to speak evil of the others, what does this tell us about our hearts? How much love do we have, really, if we are so eager to talk about the others behind their backs? When we have a genuine love for the others, it simply isn’t possible to gossip about them. All grievances and complaints against them disappear.

Often the love chapter in 1 Corinthians is used as a text at weddings. Truth is that though this text can be appropriate for weddings, the intent of the context of this passage speaks to us as members of the body of Christ and in our dealings with each other. Read it again, but this time read it with the picture of someone who has wronged you or is frustrating you in the church right now.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” – 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

 Think about that person now after reading this with them in mind.If this is the kind of love we have for them, the mere thought of speaking against, or of gossiping about them in secret should be terrible! We need to pray to God for help so we can grow in love and show goodness and kindness towards them.

That way then, if we think someone is doing something wrong, we can pray for that person and God will show us how we can help. Perhaps we can go to the person in a spirit of love and ask them for clarification, rather than muddy the waters with gossip. It’s nearly impossible to harbour evil thoughts or to gossip against someone we are praying for. By sharing this love, we can help to bring peace and rest.

Maybe, instead of us doing the gossiping, we have been invited into a conversation where people are speaking badly about someone else. “Hey, did you hear about what he did?Let it die with you! “Where there is no wood, the fire goes out; And where there is no talebearer, strife ceases.” – Proverbs 26:20 

If we accept everything we hear about the others as fact right away, it shows how close the sin of gossip is to us. Even letting the idea run around in our minds is the first step on the path towards division and strife. Lies spread like wildfire.

If we allow any gossip to continue, we are just as guilty as the ones who brought it up. We need to search our hearts and ask if we have a willingness to fight against this. Do we want to be finished with this sin? If that’s where we find ourselves then we can’t allow these thoughts and actions to live when we know that they need to die. Instead we need to learn how to comfort and edify one another.

 “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” – Ephesians 4:29 

Our mouths can be used to bless and uplift others, or they can be used for great wickedness, in speaking evil and slandering the others. “Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing.” – James 3:10The question is which way do we choose to use our mouths?

When we take up the battle against gossip, we can become an example for others. We can radiate a spirit so strong against gossiping that people will know that it simply isn’t acceptable and helps set the pattern and the cultural DNA in the church body of gracious speech and loving hearts.

Let’s learn to guard our tongues and refrain from the sinful act of gossip. “A man who lacks judgment derides his neighbour, but a man of understanding holds his tongue. A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret” – Proverbs 11:12-13

If we surrender our natural desires to Jesus, he will help us to remain righteous. So, let’s all choose today to follow the Bible’s teaching on gossip by keeping our mouths shut unless it is to build up. And let us instead choose to love God with everything we have and to love our neighbour (who incidentally includes my church brothers and sisters), as ourselves.

“You are not only responsible for what you say, but also for what you do not say.” – Martin Luther

How Do I Talk To My Kids About Homosexuality?

I only have one major point in this article, and it’s this: the best way to talk to your kids about homosexuality is to first talk about healthy sexuality.

In our ministry we’ve recently been preaching an entire book of the Bible in one sermon. I just preached on Judges. Since there are some pretty spicy topics in this book, I sent a PG-13 warning to parents pointing out the rape, murder, and mutilation of the concubine (Judges 19). One mom didn’t read the email. Afterward she confided in me that she hadn’t yet talked to her child about sex, let alone its worldly distortions. Her fears about raising her boys in this world came trembling out as she explained the complicated tight-rope she walks with her lesbian neighbors, their kids, and her own.

How do I talk to my kids about homosexuality?

As a 27-year-old father of a 3-year-old, it seems both unwise and presumptuous to tell godly, mature parents how to talk to their kids about this issue. Nevertheless, if I’m not talking about it, everyone else is. I have an obligation to give some kind of Christian response to secular wisdom, even if it’s tempered by my lack of parental experience.

Questions like the one above will only increase in frequency in today’s cultural climate. But this shouldn’t discourage us. Such questions provide unique platforms to talk about healthy marriage in general. Throw in the divorce rate in the church, and it becomes clear many of us are failing to teach our young people about marriage in any form.

Confused By Love 

I encourage you to watch this Jimmy Kimmel Live video from last summer before reading the rest of this article. It’s funny, fascinating, and demonstrates our world’s view of marriage.

Kimmel’s point is that kids are sophisticated enough to handle the throes of modern love. When asked why people get married, the kids answered, almost universally, “Because you love someone and have a connection to them.” Kimmel—and CNN—were proud to hold this up not only as the final definition of marriage, but also as an apologetic for the legalization and self-evident virtue of same-sex marriage.

After watching the video, it occurred to me that we can’t marry for love anymore. At least, I can’t tell my children that love is the ultimate reason I proposed to their mom. “Because I love her,” though true, is to give an answer the world has thoroughly co-opted. As expected as it seems, “Because I love her” might actually confuse them more than the biblical answer would.

According to Ephesians, Christian marriage isn’t finally about my love for my spouse; it’s about Christ’s love for his.

Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. (5:31–32)

If the world believes our children are sophisticated enough to understand the realities of modern love, let’s one-up them. Let’s show them our kids are capable of understanding the truth of an ancient, eternal love—that marriage isn’t only our response to another’s love, but ultimately a response to our Savior’s sacrificial love. (Though one article can’t address this issue exhaustively, I should also add that Genesis 2 presents all marriage—including non-Christian marriage—as a divinely commissioned creational good. Marriage isn’t only a gospel mirror, then, but a blessing for all humanity, which God established in Eden when he united Adam and Eve.)

Five Ways Christ’s Love Recalibrates Our View of Marriage

1. It elevates marriage beyond something we initiate and sustain to something God initiates and sustains.

“What God has joined together,” Jesus declared concerning marriage, “let no man separate” (Mark 10:9). Marriage is God’s work, God’s idea, God’s plan. It’s not something we get to co-opt, redefine, or bail on. Marriage is a divine work woven through creation to display God’s creative glory and incredible love.

2. It makes marriage ultimately about the gospel.

If the gospel is such great news, our children need to see it work its way into all parts of our lives—including how we see and value our spouses. I desperately want my daughter to know Jesus loves her and died for sinners like her. And I want her to catch a glimpse of that kind of sacrifice in the way I love her mom, so that when she asks I can tell her, “How could I not love your mom this way in light of how Jesus has loved me?”

Additionally, viewing marriage through the lens of the gospel shows our kids marriage isn’t about feeling 100 percent in love 100 percent of the time. Scripture makes clear that marriage isn’t a life of warm fuzzies sustained by the loveliness of our spouse. Rather, it’s sustained by a love that continues even when we become unlovely, bitter, and aged. Gospel marriage is a recapitulation of our salvation—we are deeply sinful yet deeply loved by our Redeemer. Moreover, it relieves us of trying to be perfect husbands and wives by pointing us beyond ourselves to the perfect love of Jesus.

3. It helps us see marriage is a calling to love and serve, not an institution for self-expression and self-fulfillment.

Marriage today is seen as a universal right. In reality, though, it is a gospel-fueled sacrificial responsibility. Through sacrificial suffering for the sanctification of our spouse, marriage reflects Christ’s sacrificial suffering for the glory of the Father.

4. It displays our union with Christ, the essence of our salvation.

Marriage involves two unlike beings—a man and a woman—joining together as one. This mirrors the way God and a sinner—two very unlike beings—become one through the saving grace of Christ.

5. It primes our children for inevitable conversations about the corruptions of godly marriage and sexuality.

It lets them know God has established a standard for marriage and sex, even as they interact with gay neighbors, a friend’s divorced parents, or a buddy having premarital sex. God has already set the standard for what our conversations and relationships should look like, no matter one’s sexual sin. (We are all sexual sinners, after all.) And the Lord’s standards are finally about love, not judgment; for our good, not our harm. As John Piper beautifully writes, “God does not forbid sexual sin because he’s a killjoy, but because he opposes what kills joy.”

When we respond to questions about same-sex marriage in this way, we cut through much political punditing and religious noise. We frontload youth with a view of marriage that is more robust, more profound, and more beautiful than any “because I love her” line. And we give them a biblical perspective that will strengthen and enhance their own marriages one day, if God calls them to it.


Editors’ note: An earlier version of this article originally appeared at RootedMinistry.com.

How Can Christians Impact A World Opposed To Jesus?

The world is celebrating ‘Pride month’ as I write this. Parades, putting on display a show of open rebellion to God’s design of sexuality are promoted as normative family celebrations.

I see several posts on FB that call out to embrace this vision. Posts declaring “Love is Love” showing pictures of same sex couples, or pronouncements stating how we must end any dialogue against same sex relationships, is common place and sadly many of those posts come from church folks.

I write this while sitting on an airline flight, and the magazine in the seat pocket in front of me highlights and presents Pride as achieved through the embracing of the LGBTQ community as though it is the most natural thing to do.

The key article in the magazine is titled  Pride & Joy and is speaking to the pride and joy that has come from the steps made to normalize the gay lifestyle in Canada. Over the past 20 years in Canada, ‘Pride day’ has shifted to become ‘Pride month’. The anticipation and expectation is that society is quickly moving to ‘Pride life’ all year long.

Not only that, the anticipation & expectation is that we will and or must all agree with that vision and if we don’t we are branded as homophobic, accused of hate speech, considered bigoted, old-fashioned or seen as narrow-minded zealots.

For those who hold to the biblical understanding of marriage being instituted by God as a lifelong covenant between a man and a woman for the purpose of companionship, encouragement, sexual intimacy, and procreation. And who believe that sexual intimacy can only be enjoyed and expressed in the marriage relationship, how are we supposed to respond to the neighbour who doesn’t hold to the word of God and this biblical vision?

Can we have an impact or are we too late?

We can get upset post angry or derogatory comments ‘back at em’ on our FB posts, we can try to argue people into the kingdom. We can attempt to be ‘louder’ than the world around us. I have seen and heard much of that approach. But here’s the thing. I don’t think that anyone is listening. And even if they are, they’re not caring about our opinions.

I’ve discovered that one of the reasons people aren’t listening is that we are trying to answer questions nobody is asking. And so instead of stopping to listen to our angsts, we are being shut out.

Think about it. Do you think the average non-believer cares if they’re being biblical? Or that they aren’t following your Christian world view? Why do we continue to expect none-Christians to act like Christians? Christians themselves have a hard-enough time trying to act like a Christian.

Paul said in Romans, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world,in the things that have been made. So, they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore, God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. For this reason, God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents,foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.” – Romans 1:18-32

According to Paul, people can’t help having a distorted image of themselves, including their sexuality because of mankind’s sinful propensity to choose ‘idols’ instead of God. Man continues to see distorted images instead of the perfect image of God through Jesus.

So How Can Christians Impact A World So Opposed To Jesus?

It seems that to many, the greatest sin one can commit is the sin of “offending.” We guard our words, our actions, our attitudes, in case others become offended and turn away.

However, I really believe that if Jesus was around today, he would be called intolerant and even a ‘hater’, not because he sought to be divisive but because he wouldn’t be one of those who’d follow the crowd or bend to what is popular.

Sure, Jesus was about love… he cared for those in need and he obviously cared for those on the fringes and those folks who didn’t fit the religious standards. But he was also about truth and about ‘going & sinning no more’.

The average person couldn’t figure him out, which is why later on he lost the majority of his followers. Jesus was divisive, not because he was a jerk, but rather because of what he stood for. As a result he was different then everyone else… and it ultimately cost him.

Fast forward to our world and it seems that most of us work extremely hard to make sure we’re not seen as divisive and different. (Or if we do, we do it more as a badge of honour in our ability to ‘shake up the cultural tree’ than to do it to be Christ like). Either way, if we find that our ‘discipleship’ is acceptable to the masses, and if it doesn’t cost us something, then I think we’re doing it wrong.

The call of discipleship is, fundamentally, a call to allegiance. And as such, Jesus refuses to be an afterthought, a diversion, or a hobby in the lives of those who claim to be his disciples. It is an all or nothing thing, which includes giving up everything to follow him and standing apart from the masses even if that means being unpopular when the masses go opposite God’s way. If we’re not willing to do that – then can we be called a disciple of his?

Listen to these statistics… First, the average family has the television on for over 7 ½ hours a day – that’s just nuts! But then according to a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, those aged between 8 and 18 years old spent an average of 53 hours per week using electronics.[i]

That’s mind blowing enough, but then add to that the admission that most of us don’t spend more than 10 minutes a day in God’s word let alone spend any time praying other than over a meal. Wow! That should bring us to our knees. Knowing this, it should come as no surprise that the church in the West is weak.

Get Grounded 

So, what do we do? It is vital to make Christ the first priority of every aspect and every decision in our lives if we expect to grow in relationship with him and then as a result impact the world around us. The Psalmist tells us how to make that happen. “He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.” – Psalm 1:3

If you have ever seen a satellite picture of the Nile River in Egypt you will appreciate the picture it shows. The land is rich and lush with life along the banks of the flowing river, but as you move away from the water, life becomes scarcer and scarcer, the green turns lighter and lighter until soon all that’s left is a yellow desert. The focus of the picture though is of the green where there is of a continual flowing of refreshing waters that give the tree life, producing the greenery.

The water of the river flows 24/7 and as a result the tree is able to suck up all it requires to live and not only to live but to flourish and produce fruit just like a blessed man (and woman) who is ‘grounded’ by thirst quenching water and nutrient enriched soil.

I’ll admit that if there is one thing that bothers me as a preacher, it’s when people leave a morning worship service after getting their 40 – 60 minute fix of ‘God’, telling me on their way out to the car (and lunch) that they’re excited about living for Jesus because of what they’ve heard and experienced.

That part doesn’t bother me and in fact that is awesome. What bothers me is when I discover later that many of those very same people will, by that same evening, continue to struggle with the very things that they were so sure were conquered after getting excited at church on Sunday morning. I honestly believe that they want to change but don’t or can’t. They want to get close to Jesus but aren’t – Why?

Here’s why… You can’t be watered 40-60 minutes each week and expect to be strengthened, there must be a continual watering. A tree will die without being watered. That is why we need to get involved in reading God’s word daily. Follow Jesus daily, get involved with your local church community, places where you can be helped and be held accountable. As the church, we are meant to be a community to build each other up in our faith, continually, not just once a week.

Don’t expect to grow and feel close to Jesus if you are isolating yourself from others who can speak into your life, or if you aren’t putting yourself in a position to learn from his teachings which we get from reading his word and praying and learning how to pray.

Discipleship isn’t a Sunday thing it’s a lifestyle. God wants full custody… not just weekend visits.

 

In Acts 2 we see that the early church met daily and as a result they became grounded in Jesus Christ, and when persecution came the church grew and didn’t fall apart. They were strong and healthy and produced fruit just like the blessed man we see in Psalm 1.

So, let’s be honest with ourselves. We can get all worked up about how this world is going to the dogs and get all bothered about how the church doesn’t seem to have any teeth to combat sin, or for that matter too much teeth, but then not be willing to do what it takes to make Jesus the first priority and seek out what it means to be grounded in him… If that is us, can we actually expect to have an impact?

[i]http://www.zdnet.com/article/study-american-kids-spend-7-5-hours-per-day-using-electronics/

Depression: A Biblical Understanding

I had a great and stimulating conversation with my chiropractor today. That’s not unusual, it seems we normally do. Today however was greater than other times. I think it had to do with the topic. He’s not a church guy and has been clear on the fact that he’s not a Christian. However, he likes to discuss a wide range of subjects whenever I go in, topics such as politics, finances, family and even spirituality.

I’m praying that he will discover Jesus through all our ‘chats’. Today he asked me what my blog topic was about and so of course I told him it was about whether or not it is a sin to be depressed. He asked me if that’s a real question among Christians, and when I assured him that yes it was, he stopped what he was doing, looked at me for a moment, and then asked, “Isn’t that what faith is about”? He’s much closer to knowing Jesus than he knows.

So, is it a sin to be depressed? Does being depressed mean that somehow there is something wrong with our faith? Depression is somewhat of a charged issue among disciples of Jesus. Some flatly declare it to be a sin. The thinking is that depression reveals a lack of faith in God’s promises, or that God would never allow a Spirit filled – Spirit led believer to fall into a state of depression. Some will even say that it is God’s judgment on sinful behaviour, or the depressed individual has done something to invite spiritual oppression.

Some others will claim that that it’s just laziness, because – as the thinking goes – we know that God is good and loving and that we are secure in him, so what is there to be depressed about? We hear things like, “Stiff upper lip and get on with life.”or “Tough it out.”Not really helpful.

Then there are those who declare depression to be nothing more than a medical condition, a result of chemical imbalances in the brain. In other words, depression is really no more wrong than having the flu.

Several others (probably most Christians), aren’t really sure what this ugly beast of depression is. Faith seems somewhat related, but so do brain chemicals. Caught in all of this is the depressed Christian, left to feel guilty, defensive, confused, lost, or simply too depressed to even care what the church thinks. So, is it a sin to be depressed?

To begin to answer that question, I believe it is helpful and I’ll admit encouraging to know that there are many examples of biblical champions struggling with sadness, even to the point of depression. David wrote, “Record my misery; list my tears on your scroll – are they not in your record?” – Psalm 56:8.

David, a man after God’s own heart, did not gloss over his sadness; he expressed it to God. You’ll even find strong heroes of the faith such as Moses and Elijah, confess to God that they preferred to die rather than live in their current reality (Numbers 11:15; 1 Kings 19:3-5).

Interestingly, neither of these men were rebuked by God for their feelings; instead, they all were met with God’s love and provision. Even great church teachers and leaders of the past few centuries were known to suffer from depression, some for most of their lives. Men such as Charles Spurgeon and Martin Luther faced the dark depths of despair at various seasons of life and yet were used greatly by God to further the work of the church. It seems that the Bible isn’t shy about admitting that sadness and finding oneself in a deep funk is part of life, and it is not condemned.

I am not claiming that I am an expert in treating or diagnosing depression. In fact, I wish to emphasize that the purpose of this post today isn’t to definitively define anyone’s condition. I am not about to tell you if your’s or a loved one’s specific case is a result of something clinical, spiritual, physical or a combination of any of those. If you are struggling with depression, allow me encourage you to seek the council of a professional, a pastor who knows you or talk to a close friend. What I am attempting to do is biblically determine whether depression itself is a sin or not.

Truth is, the word depressed is a fairly loose term to begin with. It can refer to a diagnosable medical condition (clinical depression), but it can also refer to a temporary feeling of sadness or apathy or to a nebulous, lingering malaise.

For some people a chemical or hormonal imbalance triggers a depressed state. Having a medical condition is not a sin, however, what brings a person to that condition could berooted in sin. For instance, it is not wrong to have diabetes, but it is wrong to be a glutton (and the two are sometimes related).

Occasionally depression is situational, caused by adverse circumstances such as life changes, a spiritual crisis, etc. Our emotional response to those changes or crises can in turn trigger a chemical imbalance. Knowing that we humans are fearfully and wonderfully made, as the psalmist said in Psalm 139:14, it should come as no surprise then that our biology interacts with our emotions and vice-versa.

Once a person is depressed, the cycle of hormonal imbalance and negative emotions can be difficult to break. Whether the emotions cause the biology to change or the biology causes the emotions to change, the resulting symptoms are the same.

We live in a world of pain where tears of sadness are common. Even Jesus wept when his friend Lazarus died (John 11:35). I think it’s safe to say that there’s no need to always put on a happy face and pretend that things are okay when they are not.

But does that mean then that we are to submit to sadness or depression as the inevitable state? No, we don’t. Even when we’re sad or depressed, disciples are encouraged to see the greater reality of God’s plan. Yes, this world is fallen and often painful. It can be depressing. But God is far greater. He is at work, victoriously.

Moses and Elijah received God’s provision and experienced his refreshing care. Shortly after pouring out his sadness, David praised God. Jesus said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”– John 16:33

Taking heart does not mean pasting on a smile or ignoring the feeling of emptiness that depression brings. It does not mean neglecting to treat depression through counseling or medication. It does not mean ignoring the relational hurts or the misperceptions that have led to depression (Satan’s lies, if we believe them, will lead us to despair). It does not mean denying the fact that depression could be a lifelong struggle.

What taking heart does mean is bringing all our pain to God. It does mean continuing to trust in him. It does mean believing that what he says about himself and about us is true, even when we don’t feel like it is. It does mean getting the help we need, battling depression rather than giving in to it. We acknowledge the depravity of the world, but we also acknowledge the sufficiency of God.

If you are depressed there are some things you can do to alleviate your anxiety. Make sure that you are staying in the Word, even when you don’t feel like it. Emotions can lead us astray, but God’s Word stands firm and unchanging. Maintain strong faith in God and hold even more tightly to him when you undergo trials and temptations. 1 Corinthians 10:13 tells us that God will never allow temptations into our lives that are too much for us to handle. Do not hide away from people and forsake the fellowshipping with other believers. God knows we need community for encouragement and to be loved on.

Is depression a sin? No, it is not, however know that we are still accountable for the response to the affliction, including getting the professional help that is needed. It is not a sin to be depressed, but it is a sin – and not especially helpful in overcoming a depressed state – to give up on God when we are depressed. “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God” – Psalm 43:5.

Is Suicide The Unforgivable Sin?

I love travel documentaries and one of my favourites has been, “Parts Unknown” on CNN hosted by Anthony Bourdain. You can imagine my surprise when I heard that Anthony was found dead by suicide this past Friday June 8th2018. According to his mother, Anthony had everything to live for. “He is absolutely the last person in the world I would have ever dreamed would do something like this,” Gladys Bourdain told the New York Times.

Another celebrity, Kate Spade, sounded happy the night before her body was found in her New York City apartment last Tuesday morning. “There was no indication and no warning she would do this,” her husband Andy Spade said in a heart-wrenching statement published in the Times.

For more than four decades Antoon Leenaars has tried to construct a theory to explain why people kill themselves. Among his findings is that those who die by suicide are often tragically gifted at concealing their true intentions, even from themselves. “We find it in the suicide notes and in the psychological autopsies,” said Leenaars, a Windsor psychologist whose archive of more than 2,000 suicide notes is believed the largest collection of its kind in the world. “There’s both a conscious and unconscious intent to be deceptive, to hide, to mask,” he said.

I think that’s why, for the most part, we are often surprised when someone takes their own life. I haven’t personally experienced a close friend or family member commit suicide, yet I have been around many others who have had close friends or family take their lives, and I can tell you that it can be terribly confusing and heartbreaking. For the friends and family of that person who has taken their own lives, grief can be like a wild animal inside, thrashing to get out. There are times It won’t be contained, spilling out in sobs and screams, while at other times it turns inward, causing those left behind to desperately examine every interaction over the weeks and days preceding their loved one’s death, wondering what they could have done differently. It’s a terrible place to be.

Does the bible say anything about committing suicide?

Is suicide the unforgivable sin? Does the person who self kills go immediately to hell? Within the church community, this controversial topic has unfortunately often been addressed in emotional ways, not through biblical analysis. For example, for those who grew up Roman Catholic the prevailing view is that suicide is definitely a mortal sin, irretrievably sending people to hell. Influenced by the arguments of Augustine and Aquinas, this belief dominated through the Reformation. This of course causes much angst and problems for the survivor to process through. As a result, the approach is most often an emotional one. Besides this traditional position of the Catholic Church, we encounter three others:

1) A true Christian would never commit suicide since God wouldn’t allow it.

2) A Christian may commit suicide but would lose his salvation.

3) A Christian may commit suicide without losing his salvation.

As purposeful as those statements are, we still need to ask what the Bible, not tradition or opinion says. As much as we don’t have all the answers, let’s begin by talking about those truths we do know as revealed in God’s Word.

We know that humanity is totally depraved (Isaiah 64:6; Romans 3:10-18). Of course, we should understand that this doesn’t mean we’re as evil as we could be, but rather that every human capacity – intellect, heart, emotions, will – is tainted by sin. We also know that even after regeneration, a Christian is capable of committing any sin except the unforgiveable one. We see the unforgivable sin mentioned in Mark 3:25-32 and Matthew 12:32. A study of these passages leads us to the conclusion that they are referring to the continual rejection of the Holy Spirit in the work of conversion, ultimately referring to a committed unbeliever.

I think that it’s important to remember as well, that a believer is quite capable of taking the life of someone else, as David did in the case of Uriah, without this action invalidating his salvation. After all, Christ’s sacrifice on the cross has forgiven all of our sin – past, present, and future (Colossians 2:13-14; Hebrews 10:11-18). Still, suicide is a serious offense against God because it represents arrogant violation of the gift of life the Creator has given. However, if a genuine believer is theoretically capable of taking another’s life, why is it impossible to conceive he or she could ever take his or her own?

The truth is that the sin a Christian will commit tomorrow was forgiven at Calvary – where Jesus justified us, declaring us positionally righteous. He accomplished this work through one single offering that didn’t need to be repeated again. On the cross Jesus didn’t make us justifiable; he made us justified (Romans 3:23-26; 8:29-30).

Granted, some point out that Scripture contains no instance of a believer committing suicide, while it includes many cases of unbelievers doing so, thus coming to the conclusion that believers simply don’t (won’t) commit suicide. But this is an argument from silence. Scripture doesn’t explicitly mention many things in life. Moreover, some hold suicide robs a Christian of her salvation because it doesn’t provide an opportunity for repentance. But if you were to die right now, would there be any unconfessed sin in your life? I think that we could only say that yes, of course there would be.

The sacrifice that covers the unconfessed sins we have remaining until death is the same sacrifice that would cover a sin like suicide. Suicide is not what determines whether a person gains entrance into heaven anyways. If an unsaved person commits suicide, she has done nothing but “expedite” her journey to hell. However, that person who committed suicide will ultimately be in hell for rejecting salvation through Christ, not because she committed suicide. “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” – John 3:18

We should also point out, however, that no one truly knows what was happening in a person’s heart the moment he died. Some people have “deathbed conversions” and accept Christ in the moments before death. It is possible that Anthony Bourdain could have had a last-second change of heart and cry out for God’s mercy, we don’t know, but if he did, we can know that God’s mercy would have reached him even there.

Back to our original question. Issuicide the unforgivable sin? If we’ve established that a Christian is capable of committing any sin, why can’t we conceive that someone could commit the sin of suicide? And if we believe Jesus’ blood is capable of forgiving any sin, wouldn’t his blood cover this sin too? The wonderful truth of the matter is that if Jesus’ sacrifice has made believers perfect forever (look up Hebrews 7:28-10:14), could any sin remove their salvation? Based on scripture, I’d have to say a resounding no – including suicide.

Further to this point, if someone like Moses (and Job, and Elijah, and Jeremiah) came to a point where he wished God would take his life, couldn’t a believer with schizophrenia or extreme depression, who lacks Moses’ strength of character, make this wish a reality? Martin Luther believed that a true believer could be oppressed by demonic powers and thus driven to the point of suicide. The suicide of a believer is evidence that anyone can struggle with despair and that our enemy, Satan, is “a murderer from the beginning” – John 8:44

Having said that, on the basis of Scripture, history, and the experience of God’s people – as well as the indwelling Spirit and the means of grace in the church – it’s most likely that suicides will be rare (though not impossible) for genuine believers.

How should we respond to a survivor?

Even still, when a suicide does occur, we should seek to comfort, not accuse. Instead of identifying the horrors we should seek to comfort the hurting. Our chief focus should be on that about which God has said much (salvation), not on that about which he’s said little (suicide).

Sometimes the best thing we can say to a survivor (friend or family member of someone who took their own life) is NOTHING! In fact, sometimes the best reaction is no words at all, but a hug. There is much comfort that comes with the caring presence of friends, and the assurance others are praying for them. Even still, if you do feel led to say anything, here are some examples you can use that I have found helpful as I have come along side those who are hurting.

“Tell me a favourite memory of…”

“I love you, and my prayers are with you.”

“How can I help you today?” (Following through with errands, grocery shopping, cleaning, going to church with them, etc.)

“I am so sorry for your loss. Words fail.”

“I’m here.”

The best advice to anyone who wants to comfort a suicide survivor is: “Show up, let them see you care, and respect the griever’s right to feel bad for a while (guilt, anger, sadness, etc.). Too many survivors reported “friends” who avoided them altogether after their loved ones’ suicides rather than to risk saying the wrong thing. Please don’t do that, because that hurts most of all.

What Is The Meaning Of Life?

What is the meaning in life? Have you ever wondered? Why are we here and what is our purpose? We work and play and strive towards our goals, in the search for fulfilment and satisfaction.

Albert Einstein was one of the world’s most brilliant thinkers, influencing scientific thought immeasurably. He was also not shy about sharing his wisdom on other topics, writing essays, articles, letters, giving interviews and speeches. In his collection of essays and ideas “The World As I See It” Einstein speaks to the question of the purpose of life, and what a meaningful life is on several occasions.

In one passage, though not a Christian, he links it to a sense of religiosity.
“What is the meaning of human life, or, for that matter, of the life of any creature? To know an answer to this question means to be religious. You ask: Does it many any sense, then, to pose this question? I answer: The man who regards his own life and that of his fellow creatures as meaningless is not merely unhappy but hardly fit for life,” – Einstein

What is it about humanity that we desire purpose? What is it, exactly, that we are looking for? When relationships are failing, careers start feeling empty, or tragedy strikes, questions like these begin to bubble up in our minds.

Sometimes we work towards a goal for years only to find that the end result – the money, power or recognition we’ve achieved – doesn’t give us that sense of purpose and peace we were seeking to begin with. Those who haven’t yet reached their goals may look up to heroes who have made it to the top. But when asked what he wished he had known starting out, one successful athlete said, “I wish that someone would have told me that when you reach the top, there’s nothing there.”

Most people at some point in their lives, like Einstein, ponder the meaning of life. Some look for meaning by doing good deeds for others or trying to make the world a better place. Some people look for meaning in pleasure, fun or relaxation. Others pursue business success, wealth, power or politics. Others search for meaning in family or romantic relationships.

Ultimately, a deep emptiness remains. Why is that? Solomon said of God, “He has also set eternity in the hearts of men…” – Ecclesiastes 3:11. In our hearts we are aware that the “here-and-now” is not all that there is. As a result, the human heart can’t find meaning in anything less than infinite because the need in a heart is infinitely big. And so, once God, who is that infinite piece, is taken out of the possible answers to discover meaning, the human heart can’t help but try to fill more of what we think brings us meaning and purpose. The problem of course is that we try to find more in finite things such as more money, more stuff, more friends, more love, more religion or more success.

We believe that if we could only do enough, be enough, achieve enough, we will be worth something. And we desperately want to be worth something, don’t we? But what more do we need? How much is going to be enough? And so, we live for the moment, whether that moment is miserable or magnificent. But God created us for a purpose that goes far beyond anything we can even imagine here on earth. And that purpose is found in living out our role as image bearers of God, that is only possible in the restoration of a relationship with our heavenly father through his son Jesus.

That is why the Easter story of Jesus’ death and resurrection is so important… because in reality it presents to mankind the meaning of life itself. Allow me to explain. By the time Jesus died, his disciples were devastated and discouraged beyond belief. How could God’s purpose continue? What would keep this new way to God, its flame barely burning at this point, from being completely snuffed out?

Obviously, it would have been a very confusing time for the disciples. Right to the end, they thought that Jesus the Messiah was going to redeem Israel as a nation. However, Jesus ended up instead being crucified like a common criminal. How dark their outlook must have been? Where was the meaning in all of that? So, they did the only thing they could do in the circumstance… they put his body in a tomb and sealed the entrance with a large stone. Done! Nothing left but the crying.

Later on, the women come looking to anoint Jesus’ dead body with spices, this is where the story gets really interesting, they’re met by an angel who says, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.” – Matthew 28:5-6 That’s a game changer if there ever was one. “He was raised from the dead! It’s over, he’s gone. And by the way, it happened before you got here. Come on in and see for yourselves.”

Interestingly the angel didn’t roll the stone away to let Jesus out, the stone was rolled away to let us in. If we think about it, Jesus didn’t need the stone removed to get out any more than he needed the door opened to get into the upper room when he appeared to the disciples. That speaks to the invitation of almighty God extended to each of us that Easter morning, he has removed the barriers that you think are insurmountable in order that we can come to him uninhibited. The stone, a dark future, a blackened past, and certainly death are now no longer in the way of a restored relationship with God because of the resurrection.

Once the disciples saw the empty tomb, everything changed! They now realized that the meaning of life was no longer in the building of their own futures here on earth, which was only temporal anyways.
“And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age’.” – Matthew 28:18-20

The meaning of life is found in a grand purpose which is to proclaim a new hope to a lost world – to proclaim a risen Saviour, to reintroduce an infinite God to our finite lives. The meaning of life is found in now giving ourselves completely to Jesus’ mission and to a God who proved his love to us by not only dying for us but also rising from the grave, defeating sin, evil and death and then staying with us.

Jesus really is alive. And what that means is that there’s a future, a purpose, a meaning to life. It’s not all darkness filled with despair. This isn’t the end, we’re not in a cul-de-sac or at the end of a black tunnel that closes in with a final wall. Truth is that there is a thoroughfare through death that Jesus went through showing us that there’s something on the other side.

Ultimately, we have a choice. We can continue to seek to guide our own lives, which results in emptiness, or we can choose to pursue God and become his image bearers, joining in his mission with a whole heart. This will result in living life to the full, having the desires of our hearts met, finding contentment and satisfaction, as we discover the meaning of life revealed through the risen Lord.