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.

Why It’s Important To Gather Regularly As The Church

Attend any church service in 2018 on a somewhat regular basis and it becomes quite clear that only about 1/3 of any particular congregant attends more than twice a month. Many attend even less. 43% of Canadians born between 1934 and 1943 reported that they attended religious services at least once a month. But only 31% of the subsequent cohort (born 1944-1953) said they attended religious services monthly or more in the same year. Younger cohorts (born 1954 and later) reported attending religious services even less frequently.

In addition, self-reported rates of attendance have been dropping in some cohorts over time. For example, in the 1988 Canadian General Social Survey, nearly four-in-ten Canadians (39%) born from 1944 to 1953 said they attended religious services at least once a month. Two decades later, in 2008, 31% of the same cohort reported attending religious services that often. Similar declines have occurred in other generations of Canadians.

Here’s the question. Does attendance matter? I understand that the church is not a building, it’s people. But that argument is the same for family. Family is not a house – it’s people. That doesn’t take away from the fact that a family spending time with each other, investing into each other and committing to being together is much healthier than a family that is connecting only once a year.

If we look at the roots of the church we find that the early church “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” – Acts 2:42.

Was that just a cultural norm or a situational necessity? More to the point, was it a pattern to follow for the early believers that we in the modern church no longer deem necessary?

I believe that there is something we are missing out on today as the church, and in fact are missing out on as individuals when we skip out on regularly  meeting together. We should follow the example of devotion the early church had. Back then, they had no designated church building, after all the church isn’t a building – it’s people as we established earlier. Even  so as people, “every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts” – Acts 2:46 Wherever the meeting takes place, believers thrive on fellowship with other believers and the teaching of God’s Word.

Church attendance is not just a “good suggestion”; it is God’s will for believers. Hebrews 10:25 says we should “not [be] giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Even in the early church, some were falling into the bad habit of not meeting with other believers. The author of Hebrews says that’s not the way to go. We need the encouragement that church attendance affords. And the approach of the end times should prompt us to be even more devoted to gathering together.

The wide purpose of the church is two-fold

We gather and then we scatter. First off, we gather together (or assemble) for the purpose of bringing each member to spiritual maturity.

Until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” – Ephesians 4:13

And then secondly the church scatters (reaches out) to spread the love of Christ and the gospel message to unbelievers in the world.

 “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’.” – Matthew 28:18-19

This is what is known as the Great Commission. And we’re given that commission by God because for whatever reason he has decided that the church is to be one of the main vehicles through which he carries out his purposes on earth. We, the church, are the body of Christ – his heart, his mouth, his hands and feet – reaching out to the world.

To break it down even more practically, Acts 2:42 could be considered the action statement for the church: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”- Acts 2:42.

According to this verse, the purposes and the activities of the church should be 1) teach biblical doctrine, 2) provide a place of fellowship for believers which includes observing the Lord’s supper together, 3) prayer (corporately and privately, 4) and then as the early church scattered they would Proclaim Christ.

I’ve heard others say that ‘their’ church is the lake, or a place where they can meet with one or two others because after all, “where two or three are gathered”. That passage btw is taken out of context and though it is a part of the church functioning, is not speaking to the function of the church on the most effective corporate scale. The most obvious place in our modern culture for growth, accountability, use of gifts , corporate prayer and worship, teaching and sending is during a corporate gathering, whether that be on a Sunday morning, afternoon, Saturday evening or whenever your particular church family gathers as one body.

The gathering of the church is to be an occasion of fellowship, where Christians can be devoted to one another and honour one another, instruct one another, be kind and compassionate to one another, encourage one another, and most importantly, love one another.

“For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.” – 1 John 3:11 

 Gathering together regularly allows for familiarity, and shared needs. A family that meets for dinner only once a month is not as intimate as a family that meets weekly. A football team can’t be effective if the players show up only on occasion to fill their roles… just can’t be as successful as a team that practices weekly together. A weekly church gathering is the place where believers can love one another… much easier to do when they connect regularly (1 John 4:12), to encourage one another (Hebrews 3:13), “spur” one another to love and good works (Hebrews 10:24), serve one another (Galatians 5:13), instruct one another (Romans 15:14), honour one another (Romans 12:10), and be kind and compassionate to one another (Ephesians 4:32). How can these spiritual ‘emotions’ grow effectively when a disciple connects only on occasion? The simple answer – it can’t.

Some final purposes of the church

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” – James 1:27

The church is to be about the business of ministering to those in need. This includes not only sharing the gospel, but also providing for physical needs (food, clothing, shelter) as necessary and appropriate.

The church is also to equip believers in Christ with the tools they need to overcome sin and remain free from the pollution of the world. This is done by biblical teaching and Christian fellowship.

So, what is the church? Paul gave an excellent illustration to the believers in Corinth. In 1 Corinthians 12:12-27 Paul paints a picture of the church as God’s hands, mouth, and feet in this world – showing us as the body of Christ. We are the Church and as such we are to be doing the things that Jesus Christ would do if he were here physically on the earth.

For a church body to function properly, all of its “body parts” need to be present and working (1 Corinthians 12:14–20). It’s not enough to just attend a church; we should be involved in some type of ministry to others, using the spiritual gifts God has given us (Ephesians 4:11–13). A believer will never reach full spiritual maturity without having that outlet for his and her gifts, and we all need the assistance and encouragement of other believers (1 Corinthians 12:21–26). Not only that, the mission of the church can’t happen in a casual independent way. It takes commitment to the other members and to a shared proximity and a shared story which happens in a consistent connection over time. Otherwise it’s just an event or a club.

For these reasons and more, church attendance, participation, and fellowship should be regular aspects of a believer’s life. Weekly church attendance is in no sense “required” for believers, but someone who belongs to Christ should have a desire to worship God, receive his Word, serve together in the body they’ve been placed into, submit to some form of accountability and fellowship with other believers. And when those times together are missed – more than we could possibly know is missed in the spiritual health of the body and in the disciple.

Jesus is the Cornerstone of the Church (1 Peter 2:6), and we are “like living stones… being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5). As the building materials of God’s “spiritual house,” we naturally have a connection with one another, and that connection is evident every time the Church “goes to church.”

Do You Really Believe In Grace?

Some time ago a Christian friend came to me in distress. He and his wife had a pretty loud blow out – you know, one of those shouting matches for the ages – the type that all the neighbours heard. They’d known their neighbours for years. As far as he was concerned, he’d just blown several years of witnessing to them.

We have a prayer ministry offered every Sunday at the end of the service. We find that often people don’t take advantage of it because as one individual said, “I’d never use it. I’d hate for other people to assume that I had a problem.”

Both these incidents reveal an underlying condition in many of our churches. I’m not sure we really believe in grace. We do, in the sense that we teach it and assent to it in our orthodoxy… in our outward confession. But I’m beginning to think we don’t actually believe it based on how we express it (or don’t) in our orthopraxy.

 I wonder if it’s because of our mistaken attempt at Christian chivalry. What I mean by that is what we think it means to live for Christ. We think that we’re protecting Jesus’ honour by how we live as in: If I look good, then Jesus looks good. So, we hate the thought of not looking good and when we don’t look like shiny specimens of Christendom, we look bad for Jesus and so failed (at least we think that). The problem with that mindset however, is that our life becomes all about performance.

And so, we put on our best Christian masks before heading out into our community of faith. Soon life experiences such as parenting becomes about trying to perform well in front of the kids, working hard at making sure they only see the highest standard of Christian behaviour.

But this is a disastrous way to live or think because it always leads to hypocrisy. The simple fact is, we’re not good, and we can only keep up the façade for a little while before the mask slips off of our growing noses. It’s our kids who see it right away. They know what we’re really like and can immediately tell when we try to put a polished Christian spin to it.

And then we wonder why they don’t want to join us any more in our Christian fellowships. They certainly know that you, or they, are not exactly perfect and have made a mess of this Christian chivalry thing, maybe even feel that they (or you) have let Jesus down. The natural progression in this kind of thinking is that good church folks see this as failure.

We don’t support making Jesus look bad of course and so we must root out the bad apples in the bunch. After all, one bad apple will ruin the whole barrel. We might not say it, but the average Christian doesn’t feel supported in a community of faith when they do fail, so of course the last place they’d want to go to is a church.

Think about it. If we know we can’t begin to pretend things are together and church is the one place we’re supposed to look squeaky clean, then it’s probably just easier simply not to go because after all, it’s easier to keep the mess away from the holy gathering than it is to be as holy as we’re expected to be.

All this is a sign that while we may be professing grace, we’re not actually inhabiting a culture of grace. Truth is, we’re not meant to be Jesus’s image protectors, he can handle his own image. Instead we need to remember that we are broken people, and he is our Saviour. In other words, I don’t need to look good so Jesus can look good; rather, the truth is that I need to be honest about my massive spiritual need so that he can be seen and celebrated as all-sufficient. I don’t increase so he can increase; I decrease so he can increase(John 3:30).

 Imagine the difference this would make to our witness. Rather than thinking I have to constantly be looking less sinful than every non-Christian I know, I am instead liberated to be myself so that I can show that my confidence is not in me.

Please don’t hear me say that that we are free to sin with abandon. Paul dealt with that pendulum swing in Romans, What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” – Romans 6:1-2.

 So, no I’m not saying that we are freed up to sin, however we also need to realize that God is working in us, sanctifying us and we are a work in progress. It is what we do with those moments and how we receive others in spite of their shortcomings that make all the difference.

As an example. My friend and his wife who had that blow-up shouting match now have an amazing opportunity to be authentic witnesses for Christ – not by pretending they don’t have any sin, but by demonstrating what they do with it. If it’s about performance, then my friend really has blown it and will be too embarrassed to see his neighbours. But if it’s about forgiveness, then he gets to model repentance, to show brokenness about sin and sheer relief in a Saviour.

Imagine also the difference this would make to those looking in, and for that matter those already ‘in’ who continually feel that they don’t measure up to our particular standard. The assumption stops being “We have to be good to come here,”and instead becomes “This place is for the messy – like each of us.”

Which do you think sounds more inviting? Which is going to foster deeper confession and public repentance? Instead of feeling embarrassed about going forward to receive prayer, we can experience the joy and relief of knowing we’re all ultimately in the same boat. It fosters a sincere attitude where we repent often, forgive freely and extend grace continuously.

I love what John Newton said, “I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I want to be, I am not what I hope to be in another world – but still I am not what I once used to be, and by the grace of God I am what I am.”

Living with this understanding, grace becomes not just an orthodoxy we know about in theory, but a deeply felt reality – a true orthopraxy that is expressed in the very being of who we are. Our testimonies are no longer, “I was a mess, then Jesus showed up, and now my life is perfect.” Rather the testimonies become, “I was a mess – and I still am – but I’m a mess who belongs to Jesus, a mess he is committed to cleaning up. And in spite of the mess, Jesus came to me, stuck with me, and continues to be my everything.”

How To Be A Christian On Social Media

How sober minded, self controlled and Holy are we Christians – really? I know we think we are, but have we really asked that about ourselves? I bring this up because I have a social media account, actually more than one. Before you classify me as a social media ‘hater’, allow me to say that as much as I dislike aspects of the social media ‘habit’ we seem to be living in today, social media does allow for connections and updates that are not a possibility without it.

I also like using social media for teaching points and reminders of connections, among a host of other benefits, so it can be a useful tool if used responsibly. Whatever you might think about it though, it is a medium that isn’t going away any time soon so we should learn to use it.

In the end, you need to know that I’m not a social media ‘Debbie downer’. My point for bringing this up though is that while it can be a good medium, we should also be aware that it allows us all to peek into each other’s’ minds and sometimes what we discover (I’m speaking to the Christian remember), is a lack of sober minded thinking.

What I mean by that is that some, not necessarily the majority (though enough to alarm me) of the discussion I see happening in our social media platforms, conforms more to the world’s philosophy of thinking and less to a Christ centred outflow.

From my observation, a ‘Drunken Christian’ is a thing, and more prevalent than we might like to think. I’m not talking about drunk as in too much alcohol – though that can be a problem too – but rather drunken in the ‘not thinking rationally’ way.

Regarding my social media observations, I’m not going to give specific examples, instead I think that we should each of us consider our own hearts and ask the questions (in both the cyber world and the real world) the following: “Am I sober minded or am I living the Christian life like a drunken sailor?”and “Are those observing my ‘life’ seeing Christ or do they see the world?”

In the first century, Peter wasn’t dealing with social media, but he was dealing with social interactions just the same. In his first Epistle he said the following, “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” – 1 Peter 1:13-16

A few summers ago, I visited Canada’s wonderland with my family and of course had to try out a few of the rides. The Leviathan is a giant roller coaster that both of my boys wanted to try out. I had been on roller coasters before and so for the most part I knew what to expect.

But this would be their first time and so as a good dad would do in this situation I didn’t tell them a thing to help them prepare. I wanted to see how they’d react. As we got to the top of the first hill, just before the top, I made sure to look over at them as we crested the hill and began the plunge downward. It was amazing, the look on their faces that is. One of them saying over and over again “Oh Oh Oh Oh Oh”the other’s eyes like saucers, holding on for dear life.

I’m ok knowing that you’ll probably never let me look after your kids. I’ve made peace with that. The point was that they weren’t prepared for what was coming and so were put into a bit of a panic.

Peter in the passage I shared, is telling us to get prepared. Why? Because of what he was giving us a heads-up about in verse 6. That we will suffer various trials for the name of Christ. He then goes on to tell us what to do. “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. – Vs.13 In other words, keep yourself mentally fit and morally sober to fight the fight of hope.

What comes out of 1 Peter, and the whole New Testament for that matter, is that the Christian life is supposed to be a lifelived inGod. We are supposed to be constantly aware of God, constantly submitted to God, constantly trusting in God, constantly guided by God and constantly hoping in God.

What amazes me is that when I look into the culture around us today however, the alarming reality is the complete insignificance of God. Christ doesn’t play into our culture except to be used as a swear word. And so, our culture has proven itself to be Christ-less which equals hope-less. Sadly, much too often we see (usually in the social media realm) the Christian world acting out or speaking up the same way as our none Christian neighbour.

In comparison, when we look into the Word we see that the most amazing and striking thing is that God is everything. Hope and holiness come only through a Christ-filled life. And we can’t live both lives – Sundays Christ-filled and then Monday’s to Saturday’s Christ-less. In person Christ-like and on social media culture-like. We have a choice to make. It’s one or the other. Either we live a Christ-less life or we live a Christ-filled life. Since we are called to be Holy the choice is clear. There is no halfway. It’s like a woman who says “I’m kinda pregnant”You either are or you’re not.

So, if you want to live a Christ-less life that’s easy – live for yourself, just be honest about it. But if you want to live a Christ-filled life then there are some choices that need to be made.

“Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. – 1 Peter 1:13

Peter says that we need to prepare our minds for action, to fasten our seatbelts because it’s gonna be a wild ride. The picture we have here is of men girding up the loins of their minds. Very picturesque. In the East, men wore long flowing robes which slowed them down from moving too quickly. Around their waist they would wear a wide belt and when action was necessary they shortened the long robe by pulling it up into the belt in order to give them freedom of movement.

The modern-day equivalent of the phrase would be to roll up one’s sleeves or to take off one’s jacket. Peter is telling his people that they must be ready for the most strenuous mental endeavour.

Never be content with a flabby and unexamined faith; don’t become complacent. Don’t be lazy. We need to think things out and think them through. And he says to be sober minded, which means that we need to be rational in our thinking. Don’t allow yourself to become intoxicated with intoxicating thoughts, don’t get caught up in the bling. Be sober-minded, mentally alert, self-controlled.

When someone is drunk, not sober, they don’t make the wisest of choices – relationships and otherwise. A few years ago, I was visiting with a friend and I noticed a very crude, cartoonish, and ugly tattoo on his forearm.

I asked him about it and he told me hated it. He then shared with me the story. He isn’t a follower of Christ yet and so doesn’t make the same life choices I do, in this case the over drinking part. He had gone out drinking with a few friends and, let me say that he tends to drink much more than is recommended.

His dad had been in the navy and he wanted to do something to honour him, which is kinda ironic since his dad hates tattoos. I personally don’t have an issue with getting inked, though I do recommend to first ‘think through’ what you’re getting. (Check out my blog post on tattoos if you want to know more about my thoughts on the matter). In his case though, there wasn’t a lot of thought put into his adventure and he ended up getting the stupidest and ugliest one you could imagine.

In his mind and in his state of intoxication – not being sober, he got carried away with what he thought was the ‘next’ exciting thing to do. He wasn’t at that moment self-controlled in his mind. And now he has a daily reminder of that soberless choice on a daily basis.

It’s no different as Disciples of Christ in the spiritual realm. If we’re not self-controlled in our minds we can get carried away with the next sudden exciting thing, even if it’s a worldly philosophy that’s opposed to a Christ-like philosophy. Sometimes even getting so intoxicated with the newest craze in the Christian scene we think that it’s the most incredible thing ever, though it may be taking our minds off of Jesus.

Peter is saying to them, and to us, to keep the balance as Disciples who know what we believe, so that when weconsider our hearts and ask the questions (in both the cyber world and the real world) the following: “Am I sober minded or am I living the Christian life like a drunken sailor?” and “Are those observing my ‘life’ seeing Christ or do they see the world?” Others can answer with confidence that yes, they see sober mindedness and Christlikeness, and as a result God is reflected throughout our world.

What Bible Translation Should We Use?

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” – 2 Timothy 3:16-17

A question asked of me quite often is about which bible translation is best. The common question of which Bible translation to use is very important because it concerns the most important words ever spoken, the words of God the Creator. So, you want to make sure the version you use reproduces in your own language what God actually said.

Before I get to my thoughts on that however, I’d like to address another question which also comes up on occasion and relates to the same the question. “Is the King James Version (or Authorized version), the only true translation for the English-speaking world?”

I don’t personally have an issue with the King James Version, but I do have an issue with the “King James only” or the “KJ only” approach which suggests that the English translation of 1611 is inspired of God. Especially when statements are made such as in the October, 1978 issue of “Bible Believers Bulletin,” by Peter Ruckman “. . . the Holy Ghost, who honoured the English text above any Greek or Hebrew text. . .”

By this he meant that the KJV translators were guided more accurately in their translation by the Holy Spirit than were those men who copied the original manuscripts.

There is in fact a growing literature crusade which claims that “God wrote only one Bible.” By one Bible, they mean the King James Version Bible written in 1611. They conclude that the King James Version is the only English version which faithfully preserves the original writings. I find that troubling for a number of reasons but for sake of space I’ll only share my issue with the “Textus Receptus” claim.

Textus Receptus

One of the concerns brought up by the KJ only camp concerns 1 John 5:7-8. The claim is made that it was a part of the Textus Receptus manuscript (claiming that this is the only accurate manuscript) and should, therefore, be included in all translations – and where it’s not indicates that that particular version is in error. Of course, it’s found in the KJV and not in most others seemingly boosting the position for the “KJV only” advocates.

A major problem with this whole issue is that the term, “textus receptus” is often misunderstood and misused.

The Trinitarian Bible Society exists for the purpose of circulating uncorrupted versions of the Word of God (namely KJV). Terrence H. Brown, the TBS secretary, makes this honest admission.

“One problem is that many people use the term ‘textus receptus’ without defining it, and give the impression that this received text is available somewhere in a single manuscript or printed copy, but this is not the case. No copy, written or printed, was called the ‘textus receptus’ until the Elzevirs used this description in the preface to their addition in 1633. It should therefore be understood that the King James Version translators, who published their work in 1611, did not use an addition of the Greek text actually known by this name.”

Understanding this, it is very interesting that when explored further, the passage from 1 John 5, is found to be absent from every known Greek manuscript except four, and these four (which are dated very, very late) contain the passage in what appears to be a translation from a late translation of the Latin Vulgate.

Further to that, the passage is quoted by none of the Greek fathers, who, if they had known it, would certainly have used it in the trinitarian controversies of the early centuries. As well, the passage is actually absent from the manuscripts of all ancient versions and is quoted for the first in time not in a Bible text but in a Latin treatise about the Bible in the 4th Century A.D.

Its inclusion in the Textus Receptus seems to have come through the pen of Erasmus. When charged by Stunica, Erasmus replied that he had not found any Greek manuscript containing those words, but that if a single Greek manuscript could be found that contained it, he would include it in a future edition.

The one manuscript that was later presented to Erasmus in substantiation of the inclusion of that verse has now been identified as a Greek manuscript written in Oxford about 1520 by a Franciscan friar who took the words from the Latin Vulgate. Erasmus then inserted the passage in his third edition of 1522 but indicated in a lengthy footnote his own personal suspicions that the manuscript had been prepared in order to refute him.

What I find curious is that the KJ Only movement claims its loyalty to be to the Textus Receptus. However, upon further examination, it can be seen that KJ Only advocates are not loyal to the Textus Receptus, but rather only to the KJV itself. The New Testament of the New King James Version is based on the Textus Receptus, just as the KJV is. Yet, KJV Only advocates label the NKJV just as heretical as they do the NIV, NAS, etc.

I think it’s important to remember that the Old and New Testaments were not originally written in the English language. They were first written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. We should also remember that God never promised the perfect preservation of the originals, but he did promise to preserve their content. They are preserved within the body of currently existing manuscripts, and so where there are textual variations they are almost always incidental and do not significantly affect the sense of what Scripture is saying.

As a matter of fact, once the easily solved variants are removed, 99.9 percent of what is in our various translations can be confirmed without question. It is usually easy to identify the cause behind a textual variant because the Greek New Testament has been preserved in far more existing manuscripts than any other piece of ancient literature. In actuality, we are faced with, “an embarrassment of riches.”

We should also recognize that when the Bible is translated for the first time into a new language today, it is translated into the language that culture speaks and writes today, not the way they spoke and wrote 400 years ago. The same should be true in English. The Bible was written in the common, ordinary language of the people at that time.

Bible translations today should be the same. That is why Bible translations must be updated and revised as languages develop and change. The KJ Only movement is very English-focused in its thinking. Why should people who read English be forced to read the Bible in outdated/archaic English, while people of all other languages can read the Bible in modern/current forms of their languages?

Our loyalties shouldn’t be to the KJV, but rather to the original manuscripts of the Old and New Testaments, written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. Only the original languages are the Word of God as he inspired it. A translation is only an attempt to take what is said in one language and communicate it in another. The modern translations are superb in taking the meaning of the original languages and communicating it in a way that we can understand in English.

The question remains, which is the best translation (or version) to use? To help us navigate to a place of confident understanding, I believe it helps to know that behind each version is a fundamental philosophy of Bible translation.

 How Do We Choose?

You can separate modern Bible translations into two basic groups – formal equivalency and dynamic equivalency. Formal equivalency attempts a word for word rendition, providing as literal a translation as possible. Dynamic equivalency is more like a paraphrase, trying to convey ideas thought by thought.

Since no one language corresponds perfectly to any other language, every translation involves some degree of interpretation. A translation based on formal equivalency has a low degree of interpretation; translators are trying to convey the meaning of each particular word. When faced with a choice between readability and accuracy, formal equivalency translators are willing to sacrifice readability for the sake of accuracy.

By its very nature, a translation based on dynamic equivalency requires a high degree of interpretation. The goal of dynamic equivalency is to make the Bible readable, conveying an idea-for-idea rendering of the original. That means someone must first decide what idea is being communicated, which is the very act of interpretation. How the translators view Scripture becomes extremely important in the final product.

Therefore, it’s vital that you find a translation that represents what the Holy Spirit actually said as faithfully as possible. We want to read what the author intended us to read, which is what the Holy Spirit originally inspired.

The most popular dynamic-equivalency translations, which dominate the evangelical world, are the New International Version (NIV), Today’s New International Version (TNIV), The Message (MSG), The Living Bible (TLB), the Good News Bible (GNB), and the New Living Translation (NLT). Of those, the NIV is the most reliable.

The NIV was completed in 1978. Its translators did not attempt to translate strictly word for word but aimed more for equivalent ideas. As a result, the NIV doesn’t follow the exact wording of the original Greek and Hebrew texts as closely as the King James Version and New American Standard Bible versions do. Nevertheless, it can be considered a faithful translation of the original texts, and its lucid readability makes it quite popular, especially for devotional reading.

The four most popular formal equivalency translations in English are the King James Version (KJV), the New King James Version (NKJV), the New American Standard Bible (NASB), and the English Standard Version (ESV).

The KJV is the oldest of the four and continues to be the favorite of many. It is known as the Authorized Version of 1611 because King James I approved the project to create an authoritative English Bible. Although it contains many obsolete words (some of which have changed in meaning), many people appreciate its dignity and majesty. The NKJV is a similar translation, taken from the same group of ancient manuscripts, that simply updates the archaic language of the KJV.

The NASB, completed in 1971 and updated in 1995, is a revision of the American Standard Version of 1901. It is a literal translation from the Hebrew and Greek languages that incorporates the scholarship of several centuries of textual criticism conducted since the original KJV. It quickly became a favorite translation for serious Bible study.

The ESV (the one I use most often) is the most recent translation, which stands firmly in the formal equivalency tradition. It is a very solid translation in updated language that aims to reproduce the beauty of the KJV. The result is one of the most poetic and beautifully structured versions that maintains a high degree of accuracy and faithfulness to the original languages.

Which version is the best to use? Ultimately, that choice is up to you. Each of the formal-equivalency versions has strengths and weaknesses, but they are all reliable translations of the Bible. If you want to read a dynamic-equivalency translation, the NIV is the most reliable.

Ideally, as a serious student of Scripture, you should become familiar enough with concordances, word-study aids, and conservative commentaries so that even without a thorough knowledge of the original languages, you can explore the nuances of meaning that arise out of the original texts.

Can A Follower Of Jesus Be Homophobic?

A common accusation thrown at the (conservative) Christian community is that we are homophobic. Is that true? Are Christians really homophobic?

Often, we Christians are tagged homophobic because we identify homosexual behaviour as sin. But the fact is that the term homophobic is in reality a term often used by homosexual supporters to deflect genuine criticisms. Without question, there are people who have sadly developed an irrational hate of homosexuals and who are prepared to use violent actions to inflict suffering upon someone who identifies as gay.

“We Christians have sinned
in at least two major ways
when it comes to reaching the
LGBTQ community”


However, the problem is that much too often the homophobic label is placed on anyone & everyone who opposes homosexuality as a legitimate option for humanity. As a result, any Christian who is convicted in their heart that homosexuality is an unnatural sin is associated with violent lunatics who hate for hatred’s sake.

Having said that, there is still a homophobic stigma that we wear. And I believe we have that stigma in part because we Christians have sinned in at least two major ways when it comes to reaching those in the LGBTQ community.

On the one hand, some have laid aside God’s clear teaching that homosexuality is a sin in a misguided attempt to show God’s love. But love stripped of truth is not love – its deceit.

   “Truth stripped of
compassion is not love
     – its hypocrisy”


The other way we have sinned as a Christian community has been a neglected compassion or even a condescending attitude toward the LGBTQ community while feeling ‘righteous’ in our conviction as we hide behind ‘truth’. But truth stripped of compassion is not love – its hypocrisy.

Does this mean that we can’t or shouldn’t answer the arguments presented by the LGBTQ community to save us from the homophobic label? Should we just smile, nod politely and ‘live and let live’ to keep the peace? I believe that we must absolutely answer away! How else will the truth be made known? But remember that we must speak the truth in love. 

Discussion Points

There are many arguments and discussion points that are brought up in the media. For sake of time and space I’ll only share a couple of the bible’s responses below. After all, the purpose of this post isn’t to answer all the questions but to foster conversation and discovery. My hope is that this will only be a starting point for all of us to dig deeper, ask more questions and discover what other things God may have to say about this subject.

I was in a conversation recently with a friend who said, “Jesus didn’t speak about homosexuality, so he’s at least neutral if not open to it. What Jesus doesn’t condemn, we shouldn’t condemn.”

On the surface this may sound plausible; however, the problem with this argument is that this is an argument from silence. The fact is that silence doesn’t take place in a vacuum.

Should kidnapping be allowable too? After all Jesus never said that kidnapping was a sin, yet I’m sure that all of us would agree that stealing children is wrong.

It’s true that Jesus didn’t address homosexuality directly, but he did speak clearly about sexuality in general, specifically addressing and defining marriage in Matthew 19:4–6 & Mark 10:6–9 using both Genesis 1:26–27 & Genesis 2:24 to explain it. 

“At the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So, they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate.” – Matthew 19:4-6

Here Jesus defines and affirms marriage as between a man and a woman, a reflection of the fact that God made us male and female to care for creation together.

If Jesus had believed in a broader definition of marriage, then here was his opportunity to present it. Yet he didn’t. Rather he was solidly affirming the male – female relationship as it had been established with the very first couple, Adam & Eve.

Another argument I have often been presented with is about the fact that we no longer follow the OT laws such as eating certain types of food, or having tattoos, or wearing clothes with mixed material. The argument is that if that’s the case then why should we accept what the OT says about same-sex relationships?

When we take a serious look at the context of those passages being disputed, we discover that some of those laws dealt with the issue of uncleanness tied to the temple and worship. The important piece to understand is that these restrictions mentioned aren’t moral laws, rather they are purity laws or restrictions that distinguished Israel from the surrounding polytheistic nations who were morally loose and sacrificed certain types of animals (and in some cases, children) as part of their worship.

Add to that, we don’t see the continuation of these purity laws into the NT era and in fact see that God declared the OT rules of clean versus unclean as null and void when the Gentiles came into the fold (Acts 10:9–29).

However, it is different when it comes to sins such as drunkenness, greed, homosexuality, gluttony, idolatry, etc., because with these sins we find that every single OT and NT text that mentions them mentions them negatively. This shows a continuity of thought and practice which spans OT to NT in belief and practice.

“The good news for a gay man or woman
is the same good news for a straight man or woman.
Homosexuality isn’t the chief sin; unbelief is”


Back to the original thought. Can a follower of Jesus be homophobic? Fact is a Christian following the teachings of Jesus Christ can’t be homophobic, even while having one fear regarding homosexuals. The Christian should have the fear that anyone practising a homosexual lifestyle (along with anyone living in disobedience to God) will suffer eternally if they decide to reject the only means of salvation – the Lord Jesus Christ.

The good news for a gay man or woman is the same good news for a straight man or woman. Homosexuality isn’t the chief sin; unbelief is, and thankfully Jesus has an answer for that.

“… do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God”. – 1 Corinthians 6:9-11

6 Ways To Affair Proof Your Marriage

Infidelity is one of the most painful and devastating experiences that a married person can encounter! Around the world, it is universally accepted as grounds for divorce and is even a legally accepted justification for murder in some states and many societies. Secular movies, television and books often depict infidelity in a humorous fashion but people impacted by infidelity are invariably shaken to the very core of who they are!

The Bible warns those who are married against extra marital affairs and in fact it seems to be so important to God that he posts them in the ten commandments twice; in Exodus 20:14 & 17. “You shall not commit adultery.” (vs 14), and “You shall not covet your neighbour’s house. You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour.” (vs 17).

We may read this and not think that it is of any consequence to us, and yet statistics indicate that in the coming years many of us will be involved in affairs ourselves; either as the one betrayed or the betrayer.

Studies vary regarding the percentages who cheat ranging everywhere from 10% to over 75% but no matter the percentage the truth is that anything over 0% is too high. The actual percentage probably falls somewhere around the 25% – 30% range, and the Christian community is not immune. Carol Botwin, author of Men Who Can’t Be Faithful says: “Although some earlier studies indicated that men who were religious were more likely to remain monogamous, other, more recent studies have shown that religious men are as apt to have affairs as those who never enter a church. That goes for some religious leaders too.”

Charles Mylander, evangelical pastor, and author of Running The Red Lights says: “Christians may fall into extramarital affairs even when they are not looking for them. Too often well-meaning believers make unwise moves and suddenly realize they are in love with someone other than their spouse. The revelation…’If only I had known what was happening…’ dawns too late.”

Reasons for infidelity range all over the map. We can have unrealistic expectations that our relationship will always be the way it was in the early days of marriage and so cease to work at it. Or there is the belief that ‘if my spouse really loves me, he or she will know what I want without my needing to ask.’ Maybe there is extraordinary work stress or possibly one partner is going through a midlife crisis. Then there has been the increased opportunities for men and women to be alone together, as in work related scenarios. Studies have empirically shown that when persons of the opposite sex are in constant contact, such regular exposure enhances interpersonal attraction and tempting situations naturally increase.

We also have seen an increase since social media has become commonplace with the reconnecting of old flames. Seeing an old friend or flame from years ago on Facebook followed by a pleasant interaction is not wrong in and of itself, however if, because you are old ‘friends’, you feel it’s ok to meet several times alone… (after all it’s only a coffee), that is a recipe for disaster and often leads to more. We also have seen a rise in sexual addiction, especially since there is so much available online. And these are only a few examples, there are many more ways that affairs can start.

So how can we affair proof our marriages? The following five action steps are not fool proof nor are they a cure all for affair proofing a marriage. However, if they are followed together as a couple, your marriage will definitely be made stronger and put in a healthier place so that you can work on any other deep seated issues you may have.

 1  Foster a deep ‘friendship’ love

This is vital to a healthy marriage . A lot of people marry on the basis of romantic feeling (eros – love), but the core of a good marriage is not romantic feeling, but deep friendship (philia – love). The only way you will know if this sort of friendship is a possibility is by spending time together.

Couples do this fairly well before they’re married, it’s called dating or just hanging out or being together. But after you’re married don’t stop. Continue to build on that friendship through-out your marriage relationship. Learn to have fun together and commit to ongoing date nights and the occasional weekend away. Allow your marital friendship to grow such as determining that your spouse should come before your extended family, friends, hobbies and career. Certainly, we all agree that a career is important because it helps to supply the family material needs. However, there are times when a career can become a sort of ‘mistress’ itself. A career is a means to an end, not an end in itself.

And commit to the understanding that your spouse should come before your kids. It is so easy to focus strongly on our kids and yet studies have shown that children feel safest in a family when the husband-wife relationship is the core of the household.

2  Communicate from your heart consistently

Learn to listen to your spouse. Lack of communication is the major problem cited by both men and women impacted by affairs. How can you discover what your spouse really feels and where they are emotionally if you don’t listen to their heart? And how can you expect to resolve conflicts without truly listening? Listening helps to avoid many of those issues to begin with.

The late Harriet Pilpel, who practised family law in New York said, “I have seen a number of women whose husbands, according to them, have simply ‘walked out on them without any warning.’ When I talked further with them it turns out there were serious problems in the marriage. But the (wife) did not confront these issues, no less ask (her) partner to confront them with (her).” Oh, and just in case you’re wondering guys… listening is not just for your wife, that goes for you too, possibly twice as much because most of us guys are naturally poor listeners to begin with.

Communication involves speaking the truth in love and stating clearly and fairly your understanding of the issues as well as how you are feeling about the situation. Never speak with the intention of ‘getting even’ or with the attitude, ‘Wait till I give you a piece of my mind.’ Instead the goal is to open lines of communication, share as clearly as possible, and understand both sides of an issue as best you can.

Speaking the truth in love is really the fairest way of communicating because internalising your feelings hurts you because you are unheard and therefore not honoured. But also remember that keeping your feelings inside hurts your spouse as well; if they don’t hear from you, they are unable to respond (remember, we are not mind readers!).

Don’t avoid the tough or painful issues because the facts are that tough stuff is a reality in everyone’s lives. That’s hard to do because the natural tendency is to avoid hard situations and the pain that comes when we hurt. But the problem with avoidance is that it can cause a lot of other problems, because the pain comes out anyway and only ends up attacking each other. So, it’s better to communicate openly and face the issue and the hurt head on and in unity. This will build your relationship rather than tear it down.

3  Pray with each other often

According to FamilyLife USA, less than 8% of couples surveyed pray together on a regular basis. A Southern Baptist Convention’s poll in 2001 discovered that of Christian couples who actively pray together, the divorce rate is less than one percent. This begs the question: How often do you pray with your spouse? I mean really pray. Don’t include saying grace at supper, that doesn’t count.

The most important communication tool in a healthy relationship is prayer together. Intimacy and openness grows between a couple who are vulnerable enough to honestly spend time in prayer. A couple who prays together – stays together.

4  Mutually fulfill sexual needs

Research finds that an unfulfilling sexual relationship places men in high risk of having an affair. In fact, the number one need of men is sexual fulfilment. Sex is a beautiful gift from God reserved for the couple to procreate along with the mutual pleasure of each other. And by the way, research also shows that the sexual need for men does not diminish with age, in some cases it increases… just saying.

5  Remember your first love

Reminisce often about how and when you and your partner met. What were some of the activities you did together? What was it about your spouse that caused you to fall in love? Get a baby sitter and have a regular date night… just the two of you. Take at least one weekend a year away from everyone and re-engage alone as a couple to explore your love for each other and what that means and how you can grow more in love each year.  “May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.” – Proverbs 5:18

6  Learn anti-temptation strategies

Identify personal areas of vulnerability and honestly examine yourself and your relationships to discover those areas which are your weakest link because after all, awareness is half the issue. “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” – Psalm 139:23-24

Along with learning anti-temptation strategies make an explicit commitment to fidelity by developing personalised statements that both partners make to each other outlining your love for each other along with your commitment only to each other and then reviewing these commitments often.

Be aware of the high cost of infidelity. Think about the loss of relationship with spouse. trust totally gone, children would be without a mom or dad, reputation is gone, damage to the church and the name of Christ, major financial loss, you can add many more…

But still, the best strategy to guard against temptation is to develop a biblical conscience. “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honour.” – 1 Thessalonians 4:3-4

The Bible is very clear regarding affairs…it is sin, but don’t be discouraged if you have ever been unfaithful to your spouse. There is hope for redemption with our father because after all we serve a loving God who offers forgiveness if we humbly come to him and seek repentance.

“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” – 1 Corinthians 6:9-11

Can I Love Jesus And Not Love The Church?

Over the years I have heard the following sentiment being expressed. “I love Jesus, but I don’t love the church” or “Church folks are just too messy or too hard to deal with.” …or something else along those lines. “I can go it alone”, is the meaning behind their words.

But Paul suggests that it’s a lie to think that anyone could go it alone – “Just me and Jesus” and have the kind of firm, living faith in Christ that is able to resist the enemy. We must gather together in our pursuit of Jesus and his vision for us if we can expect any success. Alone, we are all too vulnerable to discouragement and prone to the believable, but deceptive arguments thrown our way and easy pickings for that lion called the devil.

 “For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, inwhom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ.” – Colossians 2:1-5

Being knit together in love speaks to three things… A united community, an authentic community and a loving community.

A United Community

All through the New Testament there is this plea for Christian unity, but its more than a plea; it’s really a declaration that no man or woman can live the Christian life unless in his or her personal relationships he or she is at unity with his or her fellows; and that the Church cannot be truly Christ-like if there are divisions within it.

So, when we hear in verse 2 Paul’s urging to being knit together in love, we know he is echoing Jesus’ words along with other scripture. Paul is saying in essence, “join hands together.”

The chain is only as strong as its weakest link and to make the rest of what I’m about to tell you work, we need unity first. James McDonald uses a phrase that is appropriate in this context: In essentials, Unity. In non-essentials, Liberty. In all things, Love.

When we look at God we see that he values loyalty and harmony in our relationships. He hates those who sow discord among brothers. “God hates… one who sows discord among brethren.” – Proverbs 6:19

If that be the case, I think it behooves us as his image bearers to strive for unity with the brethren. However, unity won’t last if it’s not authentic.

An Authentic Community

What is authentic community?
Authentic Community has three components: :

  • Communal past
  • Communal proximity
  • Communal potential

A communal past helps to establish a sense of identity and belonging. Communal proximity allows a particular group to be with one another over time to creating meaningful connections. Communal potential allows for a sense that we’re all going in the same direction.

That is what we see in the early church. “On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God.” – Acts 4:23

 In Acts 1:14 we read that “All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer.” In chapter 2:46 it says, “day by day attending the temple together”.

Chapter 5:12 “Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together.”

The effect of the persecution that was happening in Acts was to bind the members of the community together and in this case binding them together so that there was a common desire to pray. And this because they shared communal past, proximity and potential.

Finally, it is love that is the crucial component to unity. Paul includes it as a part of the instruction given. “being knit together in love…”

A Loving Community

With all the focus the world has on love we really do a poor job at living it out. I will love as long as I’m loved back. I’ll love as long as it’s on my terms. And when you don’t love back well I won’t either, I’ll love only if you love but I’ll sure hate if you hate.

But then Jesus comes along and says, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another…. By this will all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” – John 13:34-35

John believes it’s so important, this love each other thing, that he speaks with unmistakable definiteness and with almost frightening directness. “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer” – 1 John 3:14-15

And “If anyone says, I love God, and hates his brother, he is a liar” – 1John 4:20

The simple fact is that love of God and love of man go hand in hand; the one can’t exist without the other. The simplest test of the reality of the Christianity of a man or a Church is whether or not it makes them love their fellow-men.

True love, as the bible teaches us, always involves sacrifice and it involves giving away of self, in spite of and even though you may not be able to love back and even if you hate, the power of God’s love loves through.

I think it’s good to recognize that we could be like Peter and offer words that affirm our love for God and our love for people, but if the people don’t have names, do we really love them? If we don’t love ‘authentically’ how can we show our love of God?

Granted, sometimes connecting in a community of believers feels like it’s a lot more trouble than it’s worth. But Jesus whispers in the background, “If you love me, you’ll love them.”

Question we need to ask is, “Do I love Jesus?”

Is Easter Birthed Out Of Pagan Origins?

The other day I was having lunch with a good friend of mine. At one point the subject of Easter came up and he shared with me how he doesn’t believe we should celebrate it as Christians. Partly because it has ‘iffy’ pagan beginnings and partly because it has become less about Jesus’ resurrection and more to do with commercialism. Is he right? And if he is, should we then all cease to celebrate this Christian holiday?

Certainly, for some people in our culture, Easter Sunday is more about the Easter bunny, colourfully decorated Easter egg hunts and chocolate treats then it is about Jesus’ resurrection. Granted, most folks still know that Easter Sunday has ‘something’ to do with the resurrection of Jesus yet are unclear as to how that is related to the Easter eggs and the Easter bunny. That’s because there is no connection between the resurrection of Jesus and the common modern traditions related to Easter Sunday.

The truth is, that in order to make Christianity more attractive to non-Christians, the ancient Catholic Church mixed the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection with celebrations that involved spring fertility rituals. These spring fertility rituals are the source of the egg and bunny traditions.

Fast forward to today, our consumeristic culture can’t seem to help itself in trying to cash in on the gullibility of people to be parted with their money for none essential trinkets and sweets which focus on those eggs and bunnies. So, it seems that Easter might as well have pagan origins, since it has been almost completely commercialized – the world’s focus is on Easter eggs, Easter candy, and the Easter bunny and not on the resurrection. Does that mean we stop celebrating Easter? And what about the ‘iffy’ pagan origins?

Pagan origin theories

Some have made the claim that we get the name Easter from pagan sources, one being Ishtar an ancient Mesopotamian goddess of war, fertility, and sex. She is featured in the Epic of Gilgamesh, and the “Ishtar Gate” was a part of King Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon. Her worship involved animal sacrifices; objects made of her sacred stone, lapis lazuli; and temple prostitution.

A popular meme has been circulating the internet with these words superimposed over an image of Ishtar: “This is Ishtar: pronounced ‘Easter.’ Easter was originally the celebration of Ishtar, the Assyrian and Babylonian goddess of fertility and sex. Her symbols (like the egg and the bunny) were and still are fertility and sex symbols (or did you actually think eggs and bunnies had anything to do with resurrection?). After Constantine decided to Christianize the Empire, Easter was changed to represent Jesus. But at its roots, Easter (which is how you pronounce Ishtar) is all about celebrating fertility and sex.”

Here’s the thing, there is absolutely no conclusive connection between the pagan goddess Ishtar and the Christian celebration of Easter. Any theory that Easter is named after Ishtar is pure speculation. Added to that, there is also no proof that Ishtar was ever associated with eggs or rabbits as symbols. Truth be known – Ishtar’s sacred animal was actually a lion. Both lions and bunnies are fluffy and furry, but certainly not the same.

Another theory makes the claim that the name Easter comes from a pagan figure called Eastre (or Eostre) who was celebrated as the goddess of spring by the Saxons of Northern Europe. According to this theory, Eastre was the “goddess of the east – from where the sun rises,” her symbol was the hare (a symbol of fertility), and a festival called Eastre was held during the spring equinox by the Saxons to honour her.

This theory on the origin of Easter is highly problematic however, because we have no hard evidence that such a goddess was ever worshiped by anyone, anywhere. In fact, the only mention of Eastre comes from a passing reference in the writings of the Venerable Bede, an eighth-century monk and historian.

Bede wrote, “Eosturmononath has a name which is now translated as ‘Paschal month,’ and which was once called after a goddess of theirs named Eostre, in whose honour feasts were celebrated in that month. Now they designate the Paschal season by her name, calling the joys of the new rite by the time-honoured name of the old observance” (source: De Temporum Ratione).

Other than this one source though, Eostre is not mentioned in any other ancient writing; no shrines have ever been found, no altars discovered, and nothing has ever been identified to document the worship of Eastre. So, it is quite possible that Bede simply extrapolated the name of the goddess from the name of the month.

Others contend that the word Easter ultimately derives from the Latin phrase in albis, related to alba (“dawn” or “daybreak” in Spanish and Italian). In Old High German, in albis became eostarum, which eventually became Ostern in modern German and Easter in English.

In the end, even if it could be proved that the word Easter is etymologically related to the name of a pagan goddess such as Ishtar or Eostre, it would not change what the Easter holiday itself means to us. For that matter, I don’t think that it should go unnoticed that the word Wednesday comes from Woden’s Day in honour of the Norse god Woden or Odin – but we don’t fret about ‘that’ word’s pagan origin.

In the end, while the word Easter most likely comes from an old word for “east” or the name of a springtime month, we don’t have much evidence that suggests anything more. Assertions that Easter is pagan or that Christians have appropriated a goddess-holiday are untenable.

What Does Scripture Have to say?

Christians celebrate Easter as the resurrection of Christ on the third day after his crucifixion. It is the oldest Christian holiday and the most important day of the church year because of the significance of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. I get that because of the commercialization and possible pagan origins of Easter, many churches prefer to call it “Resurrection Sunday.”

The rationale is that, the more we focus on Christ and his work on our behalf, the better. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:17, that without the resurrection of Christ our faith is futile. What more wonderful reason could we have to celebrate!

But, whether we call it “Easter” or “Resurrection Sunday,” isn’t the important thing. What is important is the reason for our celebration, which is that Christ is alive, making it possible for us to have eternal life. “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” – Romans 6:4

So, should we celebrate Easter or allow our children to go on Easter egg hunts? This is a question both parents and church leaders struggle with. Ultimately, I believe that it comes down to a matter of conscience as Paul speaks to in Romans. “One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.” – Romans 14:5

There is nothing essentially evil about painting and hiding eggs and having children search for them. What is important is our focus. If our focus is on Christ, our children can be taught to understand that the eggs are just a fun game. Parents and the church, however, do have a responsibility to teach the true meaning. In the end, participation in Easter egg hunts and other secular traditions must be left up to the discretion of parents.

Regardless of where the name Easter came from, or what the world has done to commercialize an ancient experience, Easter itself is the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, which is a critical doctrine of the Christian faith. When we celebrate, we are making a statement declaring definitively that Jesus conquered death and the grave, proving to be the world’s Saviour from sin and death. “Whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” – John 3:16

Worship Is So Much More Than Music

What comes to mind when you hear the word ‘worship’? Most people think music, usually done at a ‘praise & worship service’ or singing loudly along with a ‘worship’ cd playing in our car. Those aren’t necessarily wrong, and in fact can be quite wonderful if the worship is sincere. But I would propose that worship is much more than that and goes beyond music, by, like a lot. Worship is much more than a great song sung on a Sunday morning.

The English word “worship” comes from two Old English words: weorth, which means “worth,” and scipeor ship, which means something like shape or “quality.” We can see the Old English word ‘ship’ in modern words like friendship and sportsmanship – that’s the quality of being a friend, or the quality of being a good sport.

So worth-ship is the quality of having worth or of being worthy. When we worship, we are saying that God has worth, that he is worthy. Worship means to declare worth, to attribute worth. So, when we speak, declare, or sing, about how good and powerful and worthy God is – we are worshipping.

This is a purpose for which we are called: “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” – 1 Peter 2:9.

We receive absolutely everything from God… but the one thing we get to give back to him as our gift is worship. That is one of the job descriptions of a Christian. We are called for the purpose of praising and worshiping God. We should declare that God is worthy, worth more than everything else put together.

God wants worship not only verbally, but also in our hearts. He wants our worship to be sincere – he wants to be the most important thing in our lives, that we are truly submissive to him. He wants our worship to affect our behaviour. In other words, our worship needs to result in a response.

The best thing that has ever happened to us is that we have God in our lives and the best thing that’s happened to us this week is that we have God in our lives. In short, we have reason to celebrate all the time and in every place. Even Paul and Silas sang praises while shackled in prison.

They did something that should be quite natural for a spirit filled believer especially when with another believer. It is natural that we praise God when we gather together, when we speak to one another about the best thing that’s ever happened to us – not the situation itself, but the fact that God is with us in the situation. In other words, we really should be worshipping all the time, and that means then that worship definitely needs to be a priority when we gather together as the church.

Having said that, we need to understand that corporate worship is not about a great sing along on Sunday mornings. So then if that’s not it, what does corporate worship look like? Is there a method to the madness? What is my role as a part of the ‘crowd’?

The following are five aspects of corporate worship to consider every time we meet together.

Gather

Simply by gathering, we are showing that God has worth. Where two or three are gathered in his name, he will be present in a special way. When we gather, we gather in the presence of God. As the Old Testament says, we appear before the Lord. It’s like an ancient throne room, and we are invited to be with him. In our worship services, we want God to be present.

We specifically ask him to be present. He promises to be present. And if we are sincere about this, we should expect him to be present. And when we sing in God’s presence, we are singing to him. It’s not just a song about God — it is a song to God. These are words spoken to him. Many of the psalms, hymns and other spiritual songs we sing are often prayers set to music. He is the audience; we are the participants. That’s so cool.

Music

Throughout the years our music has come from a rich & wide variety of styles. Some songs express positive emotions, such as adoration, praise, thanksgiving, confidence, faith, joy or excitement. We should always be happy that God is in our life. Even when we have trials, we are to rejoice. The psalms tell us to come before him and rejoice, to praise the Lord, to sing a new song unto the Lord.

That means then that our joy in him should spill over into praises. In fact, our worship should be dominated by praise. But joy is not the only legitimate emotion we can have with God. The psalms also have prayers of confession and supplication. Some of our songs are more meditative than celebrative. Some ask questions, some express sorrow, or anguish or fear. All of these are legitimate emotions we can sing about.

Prayer

Our times of worship need to comprise prayer. This includes praise, petitions and confession. We join in the prayer not as spectators, but as participants. When we say “amen,” we are saying, that’s my prayer, too. When we express our dependence on God, when we give all our requests to him, it shows his worth. When we want to be in his presence, it shows that he is good. When we confess our sins to him, it shows his greatness.

When we give him thanks and praise, it exalts him and glorifies him. We worship when we participate in prayer together. Worshiping God through prayer brings us closer to him. It changes us. It changes our lives. It changes our circumstances. It gives us peace. It gives us joy. It strengthens us. It builds our faith. “Come close to God, and God will come close to you.” – James 4:8 NLT

Preaching

Yes, you see it correctly, preaching is a part of worship. In fact, I’d go so far as to suggest that preaching alone can be used by God, just as a a worship service with music alone can be amazing, but together in their proper places, worship can be explosive. The sermon is a communication of God’s word to us. It explains to us what God’s will is for our life. We expect God to speak to us through his Word and we listen for what God is telling us. God’s truth affects our lives and our hearts. It affects real life, and it demands a heartfelt response.

The sermon should therefore appeal to our mind and to our emotions. In the sermon, we are not just an audience – we should also be participants. We should actively think about the Scriptures, think about the sermon, think about what it means in our lives. This isn’t just information about God — it is information about how God wants to change our lives.

This means then that a part of our worship, a part of our respectful response to God is listening for what he wants to teach us and how he wants to change us. We have to listen with the expectation that the sermon contains something God wants to tell us. It may be different for you than it is for me. The point is that we have to participate in the listening. Just as we participate in the music, and as we participate in prayer, we should participate in the sermon, too.

Response

Jesus said, “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” – John 4:23-24

Worship is much more than an emotional connection. We worship in spirit and truth – it’s a both/and. As we listen, we should be ready to respond to the message we hear in the preaching (truth), and the message we have discerned in our prayers (spirit), and the message we have experienced in the song (spirit & truth). The response can come in many different forms, depending on the message we have heard.

One way to respond is to do what God is telling us to do. Some people are doing this by serving in various capacities within the church. Others respond with service outside of the church, and some may respond by telling others how good and great God is – worshiping him by doing the priestly duty of sharing the good news of salvation – and hopefully all these responses will be common.