Should Christians Celebrate Christmas?

The debate about whether or not Christians should celebrate Christmas has been raging for centuries. There are equally sincere and committed Christians on both sides of the issue, each with multiple reasons why or why not Christmas should be celebrated.

It’s Really Paganism In A Different Skin

One argument against Christmas is that the traditions surrounding the holiday have origins in paganism. I spent a lot of time searching for reliable information on this topic but found it quite difficult because the origins of many of our traditions are so obscure that sources often contradict one another. Traditions like bells, candles, holly, and yuletide decorations are mentioned in the histories of pagan worship, but the use of these items in your home certainly doesn’t indicate a return to paganism.

While there are definitely pagan roots to some traditions, there are many more traditions associated with the true meaning of Christmas. Bells are played to ring out the great news, candles are lit to remind us that Christ is the Light of the world, a star is placed on the top of a Christmas tree to remember the Star of Bethlehem, and gifts are exchanged to remind us of the gifts of the Magi to Jesus, the greatest gift of God to mankind.

Even still, one of the reasons given to not celebrate the season does seem to carry weight. It seems that the day we currently celebrate the birth of Christ is connected to a pagan festival known as Saturnalia. Keep in mind that often, in these types of arguments, supposed facts are thrown around without establishing the truth behind a claim made.

Such is the case with the argument used to support pagan roots with Easter. The argument against the celebration of Easter is that the word Easter itself, and as a consequence the celebration of that holiday, comes from the worship of the goddess Ishtar. The problem however is that there is no evidence to support that claim, they are just two words that sound similar and so has entered into a kind of ‘Christian urban legend’ as though it was a piece of factual history even though it is not. But in the case of Christmas, the claim that Christmas is connected to the pagan festival Saturnalia, is actually true – but not for the reasons most would think.

The Smoking Gun – Saturnalia

Given the connection, there are some who claim that the ancient celebration of Saturnalia is the smoking gun that proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that Christmas is pagan.

Brief history lesson: The Saturnalia holiday was a week-long Roman festival to honour the god Saturn, starting on December 17, it fell within what we now call the Christmas season. For most of history, debauchery seemed to dominate celebrations of the holiday; in fact, the word Saturnalia became synonymous with immorality and carousing.

Still, though the Christian understanding of Christmas is not about immorality and carousing, some Saturnalia customs do come across as hedonistic perversions of Christmas traditions to the modern eye. For instance, singing from house to house naked (glad we don’t do that one in Canada), feasting excessively, eating baked goods shaped like people, and exchanging bawdy gifts. The truth is that in reality, there’s good historical evidence suggesting that these events were actually reformed, absorbed, and transformed over time as a result of Christmas’ popularity overtaking that of Saturnalia, not Saturnalia customs influencing the Christmas celebrations.

I found it interesting as I did my research, that the early Christian’s motive for celebrating Jesus’ birth on December 25 was the same that inspires modern Christians and churches to hold “Fall Festivals” or “Bible Costume Parties” on October 31. In other words, to provide a spiritually positive alternative to what is perceived as a pagan celebration. Back then, over time as the Roman Empire ‘Christianized’, customs associated with Saturnalia were ‘cleaned up’ and absorbed into the celebration of Christmas.

And it wasn’t just Saturnalia – another Roman holiday, Sol Invictus, was also gradually absorbed by Christmas. Sol Invictus (“Invincible Sun”) celebrated, on December 25, the renewing of the Sun King and was linked to the winter solstice.

It’s no secret then that the date, traditions, and long-term history of Christmas are connected to the pagan holidays of Saturnalia and Sol Invictus. Yet, like a modern Canadian family celebrating a harvest festival and dressing up like a bible character or great reformer of the past on October 31, it’s the people celebrating who decide what the celebration means. Early Christians chose December 25 as the day to celebrate the birth of Jesus and that decision of theirs continues to this day. So, though Christmas and Saturnalia may be historical neighbours with indirect connections, they are not the same holiday, never were, and of course never will be.

Since We Don’t See December 25th In The Bible, We Shouldn’t Celebrate Christmas On That Day 

Furthering the debate are those who point to the fact that the Bible doesn’t give us the date of Christ’s birth – which is certainly true. December 25th may not be even close to the time Jesus was born, and arguments on both sides are legion, some relating to climate in Israel, the practices of shepherds in winter, and the dates of Roman census-taking. While none of these points are without a certain amount of conjecture, the fact remains that the Bible doesn’t tell us when Jesus was born. Some see this as proof positive that God didn’t want us to celebrate the birth, while others see the Bible’s silence on the issue as tacit approval.

Christmas Has Become A Worldly Celebration, So We Should Avoid It As A ‘Set Apart’ People

Finally, some say that because the world celebrates Christmas – though it is becoming more and more politically correct to refer to it as “the holidays”- Christians should avoid it. But let me point out that’s the same argument made by cults that deny Jesus altogether, as well as cults such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses who deny his deity. I personally see the occasion of Christmas as an opportunity to proclaim Christ as “the reason for the season” among the nations, including those trapped in cults.

Ultimately, there’s no legitimate scriptural reason not to celebrate Christmas, while at the same time, no biblical mandate to celebrate it. So, in the end, whether or not to celebrate Christmas really comes down to a personal decision. Whatever you decide to do regarding Christmas, your (or my) views should not be used as a club to beat down or denigrate those with opposing views, nor should either view be used as a badge of honour inducing pride over celebrating or not celebrating. As in all things, we seek wisdom from God who gives it liberally to all who ask (James 1:5) and accept one another in Christian love and grace, regardless of our views.

Overcoming Porn Addiction

It probably won’t come as a surprise to you when I say that the porn industry generates about $13 billion each year in the United States. It’s a heartbreaking reality that 9 out of 10 boys and 6 out of 10 girls have been exposed to pornography before the age of 18. In fact, the average age of first exposure is about 11 years old.

Studies show that terms relating to porn are by far the most commonly searched-for terms in the internet search engines. Every day, literally millions of people do searches related to the porn industry. The powerful imagery of internet pornography is highly addictive. Many men (and women) have been caught in the snare of internet porn and find themselves helplessly addicted to its visual stimulation. Most often pornography is viewed in isolation and so, the thinking goes, it’s not hurting anyone so why make it an issue?

Porn has an incredible way of appearing harmless. But researcher Patrick Fagan, Ph.D. completed a major study of pornography and called it a “quiet family killer.” His study found that fifty-six percent of divorces had one partner with an obsessive interest in porn.[1]

Why Pornography Should Be Avoided

Just a small bit of pornography can’t be all that bad, right? Wrong! Research has found that pornography is highly addictive. Scientists now know that when having sex or watching porn, dopamine is released into a region of the brain responsible for emotion and learning, giving the viewer a sense of sharp focus and a sense of craving: “I have got to have this thing; this is what I need right now.” It supplies a great sense of pleasure. The next time the viewer gets the “itch” for more sexual pleasure, small packets of dopamine are released in the brain telling the user: “Remember where you got your fix last time. Go there to get it.” Norepinephrine is also released, creating alertness and focus. It is the brain’s version of adrenaline. It tells the brain, “Something is about to happen, and we need to get ready for it.”

The body also releases endorphins, natural opiates that create a “high,” a wave of pleasure over the whole body. After sexual release serotonin levels also change, bringing a sense of calm and relaxation. Sex also triggers the release of oxytocin and vasopressin. These hormones help to lay down the long-term memories for the cells. They “bind” a person’s memories to the object that gave him or her the sexual pleasure.

This system is intricately designed to work this way while having sex with your spouse. God designed it for intimacy and pleasure as together you and your spouse can bond emotionally, physically, spiritually along with experiencing a high, an alertness of sexual pleasure, and the deep calm afterwards (norepinephrine, endorphins, and serotonin).

With each sexual embrace you are emotionally bonding to this person. Over time a craving for sex is transformed into a desire for one another (dopamine). That is one of the reason’s (among others) that a person should stay celibate until their wedding night. On the wedding night when the spouses engage in sexual intimacy for the very first time, there is a deep physical and emotional “bonding” that takes place with no guilt.  But porn short-circuits the system because it is impersonal, short term, and completely selfish.

The problem only grows the more porn is used, in that the more exposure to it, the more the need for it to create arousal. This results in uncontrollable lust mixed in with frustration, along with an inability to experience true sexual intimacy in marriage, and often intense feelings of guilt and despair. The images that pornography provides create unrealistic expectations that will leave you empty and unfulfilled with your spouse. So, choosing to avoid pornography altogether is choosing a healthier, more satisfying marriage and sex life.

It’s become a sad reality that our world is obsessed with sex and pornography. But it’s not just a problem with those in the world but also those who consider themselves not of this world.

A survey taken at a Promise Keepers rally revealed that over fifty percent of the men in attendance were involved with pornography within one week of attending the event.

And that was 20 years ago…

Did you know that fifty percent of Christian men and twenty percent of Christian women say they are addicted to pornography? I didn’t know that. And did you know that the most popular day of the week for viewing porn is Sunday? Personally, I love hanging out with family and friends at church in the mornings, and then watch football (followed by Dr. Who), either alone or with friends and family Sunday afternoons – Go Seahawks! So, I won’t lie that the last stat really surprised me.

There Is Hope In Jesus

Porn is a problem, as I’m sure you can already tell, but I don’t think all hope is lost. There are two primary aspects in the battle to overcome an addiction to internet porn: spiritual and practical.

Spiritually, addiction to pornography is a sin that God desires you to overcome and therefore will enable you to do so. The first step is to make sure you have genuinely placed your trust in Jesus Christ as your Saviour. If you are unsure, please visit our page here called Good News.

The truth is, that without salvation through Jesus, there is no possibility of a true and lasting victory over pornography: “Apart from me, you can do nothing” – John 15:5

If you are a believer in Christ yet struggling with an addiction to internet porn, there is amazing hope and there is great help for you through the power of the Holy Spirit, “According to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being.” – Ephesians 3:16 The cleansing of God’s forgiveness is extended to you, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” – 1 John 1:9

The renewing capacity of God’s Word is at your disposal, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” – Romans 12:1-2

As you begin your redemption journey remember to commit your mind and eyes to the Lord, “For all that is in the world – the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life – is not from the Father but is from the world.” – 1 John 2:16. Along the way ask God to strengthen you and help you to overcome pornography, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” – Philippians 4:13

As well, ask God to protect you from further exposure to porn, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” – 1 Corinthians 10:13, and to fill your mind with things that are pleasing to him, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” – Philippians 4:8

You may think that you are in an unwinnable battle, you may have tried before and failed, but you also need to know that you serve a Lord who hasn’t, nor will he, given up on you.

There Is Hope In Community

God has created us for community, and we fight best alongside others. Practically, to maintain sexual purity, we need a band of brothers & sisters with whom we can be open and honest with.

To be most successful, pray for and find two or three others who recognize that they themselves are real, hard-boiled messy sinners where the sinful, broken human condition is understood and the solution isn’t ‘trying harder’ but ‘deepening surrender’. They don’t need to be struggling with or have overcome porn addiction themselves, but they should be people who are honest about their own “stuff”.

Sexual sin runs deep – accountability should run deeper. If you find yourself in a situation where sexual sin has taken over or you’ve considered entertaining the idea, find someone to talk to. Be open and honest.

Also, become aware of the numerous tools at your disposal to help you combat an addiction to internet pornography. There are good programs available at Covenant Eyes or x3watch.com. Your temptation to view internet porn would be greatly reduced if you knew your youth pastor, parent, friend, pastor, or spouse would receive a detailed report about it.

Download PornAddiction.com & Nothing to Hide and start reading articles. Visit Doing Family Right’s Victory over Porn  page on their website. 

There are also quite a few good books on overcoming porn addiction: Every Man’s Battle: Winning the War on Sexual Purity One Victory at a Time by Stephen Arterburn and The Game Plan by Joe Dallas  are just two.

Don’t Do Nothing

I watched the movie ‘Christopher Robin’ with my family recently. It was a great movie filled with great quotable lines made by Winni the Poo. One line was, “Doing nothing often leads to the very best of something.” That line fit the context of the story perfectly, however in the case of porn addiction you must do the opposite. Don’t do nothing, because nothing always leads to something, and in the case of porn it is always the opposite of the very best for you.

Don’t despair! An addiction to internet porn is not an “unforgivable sin.” God can and will forgive you. As well, an addiction to internet porn is not an “unconquerable sin.” God can and will enable you to overcome it. Commit your mind and eyes to the Lord. Commit yourself to filling your mind with God’s Word, I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” – Psalm 119:11

Seek his help daily in prayer; ask him to fill your mind with his truth and block unwanted thoughts and desires. Take the practical steps listed above to keep yourself accountable and block access to internet porn. “Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us” – Ephesians 3:20

[1]https://www.allprodad.com/the-effects-of-porn-on-marriage/

The Flood: True Story Or Just An Ancient Myth Among A Sea Of Ancient Myths?

Is the flood we are told about in the Genesis account a fact or just a story borrowed from Ancient myths? All over the world we find cultural legends and myths that closely resemble certain stories in Scripture such as Creation, the Fall, and the Flood.

I want to explore the story of the flood in this blog, however, before we dive in, (yes, I did just say that), we need to understand an important foundational point of reference to this discussion. It is simply this; if we accept Paul’s statement that we are all of “one blood” as he said while in Athens (Acts 17:26), then we should also accept the biblical account that all human heritage goes back to a singular region where all human population once lived after the global Flood of Noah’s day.

I say this because if that’s the case of real history, then we would expect to find common accounts told, such as Creation and the Flood, to be within the stories and traditions of a people group(s) that once lived together in one place. And then given years of cultural diversity, as mankind spread throughout the world, it should not be surprising that these stories would have naturally taken on their own cultural influences and nuances in the retelling.

Look no further than at the variety of Santa stories shared – all the similarities along with the differences – all over the globe: Santa Clause in Canada, Saint Nick in England, Dedt Moroz in Russia, Mikulás in Hungary (just to name a few). In some stories he’s jolly and approachable, in other stories he is to be feared and to stay away from. These stories have varied over a span of about 400-500 years, which is considerably a much shorter time period when compared to the ancient stories (i.e. the Great Flood), which would have been told and retold for a thousand or more years. When understood this way, it makes sense that there should be similarities as well as differences in the ancient telling’s.

The Gilgamesh Epic

In the mid-1800s several excavations were made in present day Iraq. The archeologists uncovered a whole library of tablets from earlier Mesopotamian times, discovered buried in cities of the Ancient Near East, including Nineveh and Nippur. These tablets listed kings, business archives, administrative documents, and a number of versions of the flood narrative. Each version had a different language and most were only partially intact. However, there was one that was the most complete with twelve tablets – the Babylonian collection of The Gilgamesh Epic. [1]

On the eleventh tablet of this epic was a description about a great Flood, with much of its detail showing similarities with the biblical account. This flood story invited many skeptics to claim that this was proof that the biblical account was a derivation of ancient mythology, just another story among countless stories found in the Ancient Middle East. The land was prone to flooding after-all, and the inhabitants would have looked for explanations to explain the ‘why’s’ of these natural disasters. Initially shared around campfires, these stories eventually made their way to tablets such as the one found. Simple, case closed… But not so fast.

Fallible Versus the Infallible

Only two conclusions can come from a study evaluating if the Bible and the stories found in its pages are truly a derivation from ancient mythology. 1) If this is true, biblical claims of God’s inspiration are untrue, and the Bible then can’t be trusted. 2) The Bible truly is the Word of God, and any other claim of authorship or external influence is false.

What it boils down to is this… If the significance of finding these documents in Nineveh and Nippur caused a skeptic to doubt the authority and validity of Scripture, the issue is simply an interpretation problem. It comes down to being a case of the fallible versus the infallible. In other words, we should always remember that the Bible is the inerrant and infallible Word of God, which follows that it should be allowed to interpret itself and the fallible evidence rather than permitting the fallible evidence to interpret the Scripture given to us from the infallible Word of God.

It’s In The Details

The Gilgamesh story introduces us to a guy named Gilgamesh, who is out and about looking for another guy who goes by the name Utnapishtim, (he’s the Babylonian equivalent of Noah). Apparently, Utnapishtim is able to give him the secret of immortality, which he’s motivated to get a hold of because he’s grief stricken after losing his best pal Enkidu.

During their conversation, Utnapishtim tells him about something else he feels is more important to know, at least for the moment. Evidently, the gods want to flood the world and get rid of mankind because they can’t sleep. The reason? Their human neighbours are making too much noise. They’re causing all kinds of racket, what with all their squabbles, and parties and also because of their squabbles for not being invited to parties… or something like that.

Earlier, Ea, the god of wisdom, had come and warned Utnapishtim in a dream to convert his house to a boat, and to then take in the seed of all living creatures, but then to not say anything about the other gods’ plans. He was instead to throw another god named Enlil under the bus (or camel train at that time) by telling the people he was building a boat to escape the wrath of that specific god Enlil.

So, Utnapishtim builds his boat in seven days and takes his family, and Gilgamesh, and the creatures, and all the craftsmen into his houseboat. The great flood came, and even the gods who planned it all were terrified of it and fled. For six days and nights, the flood overwhelmed the world and on the seventh day grew calm. The boat rested on a mountain called Nisir, and there Utnapishtim sent out a dove, then a swallow, and then a raven. When the raven didn’t return, he made a sacrifice, and the gods reappeared and gathered like flies over it.

Interesting story, especially with some of the parallels to the Genesis account. However, comparing the two accounts of the flood there are a few details that definitely stand out, especially given that the ancient stories are a little fuzzy when it comes to details.

The rule of thumb when comparing conflicting accounts of the same event is; the more detail there is in the sharing of an account, the more it can be held up as the more accurate version of said account. The reality is that the more explainable, consistent and provable the details are being shared, the more one can believe, especially when facts can be verified and/or recognized for their value to the specific event. Let’s look at how the stories stack up

Detail: Boat

One of the first details you might notice is that scripture specifically says that Noah took two of every kind of land-dwelling animal and seven of some other animals onto the Ark.

You shall take with you of every clean animal by sevens, a male and his female; and of animals that are not clean two, a male and his female; also, of the birds of the sky, by sevens, male and female, to keep offspring alive on the face of all the earth.” – Genesis 7:2-3

The biblical dimensions of the Ark are detailed and consistent with a vessel that could float in rough waters and could house the animals described along with the provisions of the food required. Especially considering the argument for young (small) animals on the Ark along with hibernations which would require a lot less food than if full grown animals were on the boat. Let alone the argument for origin of family species (i.e. all dogs are descended from a wolf or wolf type pair representing all the canine species we know of today), which meant that a limited number of each species were on the ark, allowing for the size ratio to be consistent.

The dimensions of the boat in The Gilgamesh Epic amount to more of a cube shaped vessel with the beam equaling the length. Although we know it had seven stories (decks), it is impossible to determine the full size of the vessel. Logistically, this (house) boat could not float in a stable manner in rough seas and would not be structurally reliable.

The Genesis account is clear about the size of the Ark needed for such a cargo. We can safely calculate the size of a ship needed to the number of animals, supplies & people and come to a very reliable and realistic expectation of a ‘size to cargo ratio’. In other words, the number of animals and the size of the ark specified in the biblical account is realistic and thus reliable as a stand-alone component to the story.

The Gilgamesh Epic on the other hand, would be an unreliable account in a court of law because it leaves us with no information about how many animals were likely on board the boathouse or whether all of the necessary kinds would have been represented for repopulation (along with the obvious problems that come with the structure itself).

Detail: Water

The next detail explained in the Genesis account is that the Flood began with all the fountains of the great deep broke open, covering the whole earth to the extent of the highest mountains, along with telling us that it killed every man and land dwelling, air breathing animal of the earth (Genesis 7:11-24).

The biblical detail shows that the whole earth was covered by water coming from both above and below and that it rained continuously for 40 days and nights with the waters continuing to rise until the 150th day. Science safely concurs with the effects of such a rain, along with fact that there are, even today, underground lakes and oceans that, if burst out of the earth, would have the potential of creating such a flood. Whether the skeptic chooses to believe it’s ‘probable’ or not, it certainly can’t be denied that it’s ‘possible’ based on the details provided.

The Gilgamesh Epic, while stating the devastation of the flood on humanity, doesn’t specifically detail the full geographical extent and depth of the Flood. Also, it is unreasonable to expect so much water coverage in just six days of rain.

Detail: Birds

The Genesis account is consistently reliable on the explanation of the birds that were released. For one thing, it’s logical to send out a raven before a dove, given that ravens are scavengers while doves feed only on plants. The intervals of release of the dove are consistent with the expectation of having a drained land for vegetation and occupants, and this correlates with the dove returning with a freshly picked olive leaf and then the dove not returning at all.

By contrast, The Gilgamesh Epic mentions a dove, then a swallow, and finally a raven. There are no intervals mentioned to assess the appropriate time length for flights, and sending a raven last is questionable in that ravens may have been able to survive as scavengers.

Detail: Morality

The God of the Bible sent the Flood on an already cursed world because of man’s wicked heart that only desired evil. God’s judgment in the light of sin is righteous, moral and just.

In contrast In the Gilgamesh Epic, the gods are petty, impatient and impulsive. Simply because they don’t like their noisy human neighbours, they decide to destroy them. The gods have no justifiable moral reason to do so. Further to that, the Babylonian gods go as far as to lie and tell Utnapishtim to deceive his fellow humans about the coming wrath.

The Gilgamesh Epic promotes polytheistic mythology, whereas the Bible presents monotheistic theology. The many gods in The Gilgamesh Epic differ in ideas and motivations, and they seek to thwart each other. The God of the Bible is holy, pure, unchanging, and cannot lie. These are just a few of the character differences between the biblical God and the description of the gods in the Babylonian myth.

Details, details, details, so important to a story…

There are many more details that can be discovered if we spent more time researching, but even based solely on comparison between the perfect Word of God and the imperfect pagan myths, it is absurd to think the descriptions in the Babylonian texts could be the source of the Genesis account in the inspired Word of God.

Ultimately, even the honest skeptic can’t help but see that the Genesis Flood account gives enough credible information to allow for historical and geological confirmation, while The Gilgamesh Epic provides little that can be confirmed, and what is provided does not make sense logically or scientifically.

The Similarities Make Sense

The similarities among Ancient Near Eastern mythologies, the Gilgamesh Epic and the Bible should not cause us to question the biblical account, because they actually make sense from a biblical worldview. There really should be no surprise to see people groups all over the world with their own accounts of the Creation, the Fall, the Flood, and even the Tower of Babel. The accounts tell us people once had the same record or were eyewitnesses of common events handed down from a generation that was once congregated in the same place at the same time for a period of time.

The Gilgamesh Epic tells a sad tale of a man (who was supposedly part god) looking desperately for everlasting life. This was a man who knew of great men of old who lived long lives and supposedly became gods, and he wanted to attain this status himself. He had a desperate desire to avoid death. A Christian can hear stories like this and consider them in light of biblical truth.

It’s in the Bible that we see the devastation of sin in the judgment of death and mankind’s continual need for a Saviour. So, when we read the account of the true story of a worldwide Flood that covered the entire earth in Genesis, we can recognize both God’s faithfulness in judgment and in salvation by protecting a line of humanity for the promised Messiah.

In the light of Scripture, we see confirmation in mythology around the world that the Bible is indeed God’s Word and the only reliable source of truth. In the message of God’s Word, we see him stepping into this world and taking upon himself the wrath we deserve. Only through the consistent word of the Bible can we know that salvation is only received through faith in Jesus Christ alone.

  1. [1]The Epic of Gilgamesh, translated by Andrew George (New York: Penguin Books, 1960).

Can A Christian Lose Their Salvation?

“Can a Christian lose their salvation?” (or similar), is a question I frequently hear from the lips of new or immature Christians who have often been battling an area of sin, are guilt ridden and are scared that God will or has already kicked them out of the ‘family’ because he won’t stand for their weakness’ any further. The image is one of a shouting boss or angry dad who, “Won’t put up with your incompetence any longer!”

However, the answer to their question and the balm to their fears biblically is a resounding, clear, emphatic, joyful, glorious “No.” A born-again person cannot become dead, cannot be unborn again. John MacArthur once said, “If you could lose your salvation you would.” With respect to John MacArthur, I’d go a step further and say that if I could lose my salvation I already would have.

When people come to know Christ as their Saviour, they are brought into a relationship with God that guarantees their eternal security. Jude said, “To Him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before His glorious presence without fault and with great joy.” – Jude 24. Jude knows that his half-brother Jesus is a God who is All-Powerful, and it’s his power that is able to keep the believer from falling, not yours or mine. It is up to him, not us, to present us before his glorious presence.

Jesus proclaimed, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand” – John 10:28-29b

In other words, both Jesus and the Father have us firmly grasped in their hands. Think about it, they are so amazingly strong, who could possibly separate us from their holds? That’s a firm grip I’m thinking.

Paul says in Ephesians 4:30 that believers are “sealed for the day of redemption.” If believers did not have eternal security, the sealing could not actually be to the day of redemption, but only to the day of sinning, apostasy, or disbelief. And then John 3:15-16 tells us that whoever believes in Jesus Christ will “have eternal life.” Logically then, if a person were to be promised eternal life, but then have it taken away, it was never “eternal” to begin with. That means then that if eternal security isn’t true, the promises of eternal life in the Bible would be lies.

Ah… But What About Hebrews 6?

There are many people who have taught (and others sadly still teach today) that Hebrews 6:4-6 clearly shows that a Christian can lose his or her salvation. I admit, that at a cursory reading, it does seem that this interpretation is correct. But, as it is with many scriptures, we need to be careful about not getting into the‘first glance then interpret habit’. So, let’s slow down and take a close look at this passage and see what it really is saying.

“For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and shave shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.” – Hebrews 6:4-6

This passage begs the question, “How can one be ‘enlightened’ and fall away?” It does seem to be speaking of someone losing his or her salvation.

Or does it?…

It’s important to know that this section of Hebrews is talking about apostates and heretics who may have, to some degree, embraced the gospel presented to them, but have now abandoned it. However, if we want to fully understand what is being said here we need to also know context. For instance, it’s important to know how the believers who originally read this message would have understood the phrase, “those who have once been enlightened”. Today, we might think it means that they were enlightened about the truth, or that they were regenerated. But before we add our cultural or 21st century interpretation to this passage we need to first ask what the intent of the original author was, and how would his readers have understood it?

Glad you asked…

What this passage is speaking about is of certain individuals who were involved, perhaps heavily involved, in a church community. They would have heard the gospel, and would have seen the Spirit working in the lives of the Believers. They most likely would have even received some of the blessings of being part of a covenant community, even probably publicly confessing Jesus and then getting themselves dunked ‘baptized’. By the way, it’s important to note in light of this passage, that in many instances, the early Christian writers spoke to conversion and baptism as “enlightenment”.

Back to the context. The context leads us to understand that those same people just described, never had a saving knowledge of Jesus. They only “tasted” or “sampled” him. They were never truly converted to him by faith.

Think about it this way. There is a big difference between marrying someone and just going out on a few dates with them. Anyone can learn things about Jesus, even come to admire him, and even enjoy being part of a community that celebrates him, yet still have no real lasting commitment to him.

Another example is Costco. Yes, I said Costco and yes, I mean the big giant corporation. Anyways, Deb & I are card carrying members and will go to buy and experience the perceived savings and the occasional deals that the blessed membership brings to our lives.

On occasion, one or both of our boys will come along, but for very different reasons. They are “enlightened” by, and enjoy many of the same goodies that Deb & I bring home, but they aren’t members and so can’t experience the same benefits of being a member that the totalitarian corporation can bring them. They do not have access to the inner sanctum on their own. They simply come with us to “taste” the samples that are given out. They are in Costco, but not of Costco.

We see this today. There are people who attend church for years, involve themselves in a lot of good things, even have a perfect attendance record, but aren’t saved. They’ve been “enlightened” by seeing God at work, but have only just “tasted” or “sampled” what was going on, never really being a part of it. Never buying the membership card as it were.

To paraphrase Scripture, they were “in the church, but not of the Church.” In the end I think we can all understand that to be a baptized member of a church, and to be “enlightened” by the life seen in the Church and seeing God at work, doesn’t mean the same thing. In other words, “enlightened” does not necessarily mean “saved.”

But Doesn’t ‘Fallen Away” mean That They Were Saved At Some Point?

That still leaves an important question unanswered. If the ‘those’ is someone who has ‘tasted’ of the Church, has seen what’s been going on and seen God at work, has been ‘in the church, but not of the Church,’ what exactly have they ‘fallen away’ from that they can’t be ‘restore[ed] again to through repentance’? Doesn’t that imply that they were originally brought to a place of repentance? Doesn’t ‘fallen away’ mean that they were at a place to have fallen away from? In other words, weren’t they saved at some point?

John Calvin states that the unsaved person in this situation holds onto the “shadow” instead of the “substance.” This, Calvin proposes, is what is called a “temporary faith.”

Louis Berkhof in his Systematic Theology says that temporary faith is most likely “grounded in the emotional life and seeks personal enjoyment rather than the glory of God.” That’s why it is not difficult to understand why this kind of false faith is quickly lost when God or the church stops being be fun, or when it simply loses its appeal. But for those of us who have taken a hold of the substance – Jesus Christ – our salvation, from beginning to end, is undergirded by God. Understanding this helps us I think understand the parable of the seed in Matthew’s Gospel.

Three Indicators That You’re Truly Saved

For those of you who still are uncertain about whether you are saved or not, the following is what I share with those people who come to me with heart felt questions about their security in Christ. I discovered over the years that The Apostle John was gracious enough to give us three indicators that help us to know that our salvation is owned in our hearts.

1) We believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and so love him with our whole heart.

You should have confidence in your salvation if you believe in Jesus Christ the Son of God, 1 John 5:11-13. John doesn’t want people to doubt. God wants you to have assurance, to know that you have eternal life. And this is the first sign that you believe in Jesus.

You believe he is the Christ – the Messiah, 1 John 2:22.

You believe he is the Son of God, 1 John 5:10.

You believe that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh, 1 John 4:2.

If you get your theology wrong about Jesus you’ll not have eternal life. But one of the signs that should give you confidence before God is that you do believe in his only Son Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour and that you believe that he is who he claims to be… God come in the flesh. As we grasp this great truth the great truth begins to grasp our heart and we begin to love God with our whole selves. As a result, we see the other two indicators begin to take root in our faith journey.

2) We Aim to Live Righteously

You should also have confidence if you live a righteous life; 1 John 3:6-9; 3:24. Those who practice wickedness, who plunge headlong into sin, who not only stumble, but habitually walk in wickedness – should not be confident. This is no different than what Paul tells us in Romans 6 that we are no longer slaves to sin but slaves to righteousness. We see this also in Galatians 5 that those who walk in the flesh will not inherit the kingdom.

This is no different than what Jesus tells us in John 15 that a good tree cannot bear bad fruit and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. So, if you live a life where your radar is continually being pulled back to a morally righteous life (even though you will stumble at times), you should have confidence. And in case this standard make you despair, keep in mind that part of living a righteous life is refusing to claim that you live without sin and coming to Christ for cleansing when you do sin, 1 John 1:9-10.

3) We love other Christians

You should also have confidence if you love other Christians, 1 John 3:14. Even the grumpy and mean ones or the ones who don’t seem to love back. None of that matters. In other words, if you hate like Cain you don’t have life, but if your heart and your wallet are open to your brothers and sisters no matter how they respond (or not respond), then true relationship with Jesus is a marker in you. One necessary sign of true spiritual life is that we love one another.

These are John’s three signposts to assure us that we are on the road that leads to eternal life. Keep in mind, these are not three things we do to earn salvation, but three indicators that God has indeed saved us. We believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God. We aspire to live a righteous life. We are generous in love toward other Christians.

Or we can put it this way: we know we have eternal life if we love Jesus, love his commands, and love his people; 1 John 2:4, 6; 4:20; 5:2. None of the three are optional. All must be present and growing in the Christian, and all three are meant to be signs for our assurance.

John belabours the same points again and again. Do you love God? Do you love his commands? Do you love his people? If you don’t, it’s a sign you have death. If you are seeing these become growing habits and desires, it’s sign that you have life. And that means confidence instead of condemnation.

Be Encouraged

On those day where you may still feel less than encouraged, you may find your heart blessed by these words of Charles Spurgeon taken from a sermon he preached Sunday Morning, March 23, 1856, At New Park Street Chapel, Southwark.

“If Christians can fall away, and cease to be Christians, they cannot be renewed again to repentance. “But,” says one, “You say they cannot fall away.” What is the use of putting this “if” in, like a bugbear to frighten children, or like a ghost that can have no existence? My learned friend, “Who art thou that replies against God?” If God has put it in, he has put it in for wise reasons and for excellent purposes. Let me show you why. First, O Christian, it is put in to keep thee from falling away. God preserves his children from falling away; but he keeps them by the use of means; and one of these is, the terrors of the law, showing them what would happen if they were to fall away. There is a deep precipice: what is the best way to keep any one from going down there? Why, to tell him that if he did he would inevitably be dashed to pieces. In some old castle there is a deep cellar, where there is a vast amount of fixed air and gas, which would kill anybody who went down. What does the guide say? “If you go down you will never come up alive.” Who thinks of going down? The very fact of the guide telling us what the consequences would be, keeps us from it. Our friend puts away from us a cup of arsenic; he does not want us to drink it, but he says, “If you drink it, it will kill you.” Does he suppose for a moment that we should drink it? No; he tells us the consequences, and he is sure we will not do it. So, God says, “My child, if you fall over this precipice you will be dashed to pieces.” What does the child do? He says, “Father, keep me; hold thou me up, and I shall be safe.” It leads the believer to greater dependence on God, to a holy fear and caution, because he knows that if he were to fall away he could not be renewed, and he stands far away from that great gulf, because he knows that if he were to fall into it there would be no salvation for him.”

After all is said, I still believe that the most powerful argument for eternal security in our salvation is found in Paul’s letter to the Romans, which speaks to the fact that our security is based on God’s love for the ones he has redeemed.

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 8:38-39

Insert image here (Paul’s mike drop…)

Why Saying ‘Love Is Love’ Cheapens Real Love

If you’ve spent any time on social media lately, you’ve probably seen a phrase being used which simply says ‘Love is Love’. The meaning behind the statement is that falling in love is not about the gender of the person, nor important if it’s monogamous or polyamorous. The sentiment is that you can be gay, bi or straight and pursue a monogamous or polyamorous relationship as long as you’re getting the love, affection and companionship that you need to be happy and fulfilled emotionally as well as satisfied sexually.

The understanding is that when someone makes the statement using the three words, ‘love is Love’, that should settle the matter. After all, how can you argue with someone else’s choice to love? For that matter, it might not even be a choice anyways if I have ‘fallen in love’ because that’s an uncontrolled physical and emotional response to chemistry between two people that just happens. Is it though?

There are a few issues that need to be addressed that come along with the blanket statement ‘Love is Love. For instance; where do we draw the line? Does it only include ‘love’ between two consenting adults or could it include love between an adult and a child or a human and an animal?

To most of us, including those who promote the current idea of the phrase ‘love is love’, those suggestions would be unthinkable. However, only a few short years ago the majority would have been aghast at the idea of the love is love ideology as it is promoted today. Yet there are movements afoot to normalize both pedophilia and bestiality as we speak, who’s to say that one day they wouldn’t be ‘normalized’? It’s happened before in past cultures – Rome & Greece are just two examples of many.

Who set’s the boundaries of this love is love ideology anyways? After all, ‘Love is love’ isn’t it? It comes down to the simple pursuit of happiness and that sense of being needed, wanted and cared for – isn’t that what we all want? If the answer to those questions are in the affirmative then I’d say ‘go for it!’.

But what if it is not an enlightened way to live but is instead a foolish lie? What if it leads to unhealthy places for one or both involved; emotionally, spiritually, and yes even physically?[1] If that’s the case then we need to be extremely careful in making a case for what we might think should be normal and accepted in our culture.

Before we go on, let’s look at this falling in love idea…

IS FALLING IN LOVE A REAL THING?

I’ve heard the statement used, “Well you can’t help who you ‘fall in love’ with”. Falling in love is an expression describing someone’s emotional state when those puppy dog, googly eyed, happy feelings of what’s assumed to be love, start to grip the soul and make you feel like you just can’t breathe another moment without that person being in the same room with you. But I think we need to ask whether or not ‘falling in love’ is even a real thing.

The idea of “falling in love” relies on warm emotions and (more than likely) surging hormones. However, the idea that love is all about feelings is more of a western cultural, 20th century invention than anything else. The biblical view of love is that love can exist apart from feelings. Think about it, no hormones are needed to obey the command to “love your neighbour as yourself” – James 2:8. In other words, we choose to love; that is, we commit ourselves to act in the best interests of another person.

Of course, nice emotions often accompany love, and we naturally have warm feelings toward someone we’re attracted to. And of course, it’s good and proper to have positive feelings and surging hormones when in the company of your spouse. But if that’s all there is to “falling in love,” then we’re in trouble. What happens when the feelings fall away? What about when the hormones stop surging? Have we fallen “out” of love?

Love should never be seen as dependent on feelings or expediency or romantic attraction. The “falling in love” concept places undue emphasis on the emotional condition of those involved. The wording of the phrase almost makes it sound as if love were an accident: “I can’t help falling in love with you” makes a nice song lyric, but, in real life, we are responsible to control our emotions. Many marriages have been ended (and many foolishly begun) because someone “fell in love” with the wrong person.

Love isn’t a state that we stumble into; it’s a commitment that we grow into. It’s probably more accurate to say that those who “fall in love” actually “fall in lust” or “fall into infatuation” or “fall into co-dependency.”

So my answer to that question, ‘is falling in love a real thing?’ can only be no, but rather an invention of the western world’s infatuation with a ‘fun’ emotional sensation.

LOVE IS LOVE STILL…ISN’T IT?

Even still, someone may not have experienced the emotional sensation of falling in love but have instead grown into a love commitment with someone other than their spouse, with more than one partner at a time or with someone of the same gender. If that’s the case then can we not say that for them at least, love is love? If loving is a choice that means I can still love someone of the same gender, or more than one person… after all love is love – right?

Ephesians 5:31 is a quotation of Genesis 2:24, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one.” Paul adds in verse 32: “This is a great mystery, and I take it to mean Christ and the church.”

The union of one man and one woman in marriage is a mystery because it presents a parable, a true story, a picture of Christ and the church. And hidden in this allegory of marriage is that God ordained a permanent union between his Son Jesus and the church. In other words, marriage Is not simply an ancient cultural definition that we haven’t ‘evolved’ away from yet, nor is it an accident that marriage between a man and woman provides the church with a language to explain Christ’s relation to the church.

God had purposefully designed human marriage to be an earthly reflection of his celestial plan. Do you see that picture? God willed it that Christ and the church become one body, and then willed it for marriage to reflect that pattern. That is why we see the blessing and encouragement of a husband and wife becoming one flesh as stated in Genesis 2:24.

Paul paints the picture for us even further about this being the image for the church when he says, “For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ.” – 2 Corinthians 11:2

Now, understanding that – when people say that “love is Love” – we can’t help but see how it cheapens what true love is. It doesn’t allow for the full expression to be experienced as God intended, and we see it for what it is (or is not). It’s not an enlightened understanding of love at all, but is in truth a bad copy at best.

Of all the ways we might think about love being expressed, biblical love gives us the best definition. In fact, it’s described as “the most excellent way” – 1 Corinthians 12:31. Paul says that “Love is patient, love is kind” – 1 Corinthians 13:4. I don’t think that it should be lost on us that we don’t find too many people, if any at all, “falling into” patience or kindness, do we?

“Falling in love” or saying that “love is Love” are nice phrases and make for great soundbites to use in the moment or in songs on a soundtrack. They appeal to the emotions and give us nice fuzzies, the goosebumps, the enjoyable feelings of having entered the ideal romance. Please understand that I think that those feelings are fine, in and of themselves, and it’s possible that those who are “falling in love” have actually found a perfect match.

But we need always remember that love is more than emotional involvement based on physical attraction. It’s more than finding a person or persons to ‘enjoy’ experiences with. Truth is that those who are falling in love are sometimes blinded to the reality of their situation and can easily mistake the intensity of their emotions for genuine love.

But there’s some good news…

REDEMPTION BRINGS RECOVERY

God created marriage to be THE image of Jesus’ relationship to the church. But the problem has been that sin has so confused the image as to make it unrecognizable. If contemporary culture succeeds in redefining and reimaging the purpose of love relationships, the meaning of the image we are to reflect to the world of Christ & his bride, seen as love between a husband and wife will be obscured for many years to come.

That is why we, who are committed to God’s definition of marriage, must live out the true meaning of authentic, committed love relationships, with our spouses if we’re married, within the church in authentic ways, with our neighbours representing Jesus to them, and even more importantly with Jesus Christ himself, growing to know him intimately.

As we grow in these love relationships, we need to commit to living out our true love publicly and joyfully, so that the world sees it and begins to recognize the depth of love they are missing out on. We need to live it out in such a way that our love displays Christ in all his beauty. That’s the Gospel being put on display! And pray that those who see our love in action will be so attracted to Jesus that they soon become counted among the redeemed and recover the life they were created for – a love relationship with our Heavenly Father, through his son Jesus, accomplished through the power of the Holy Spirit.

True story – It’s only as our lives are redeemed that true recovery back to reflecting the image of Jesus can be realized just as those ‘some’ were redeemed and recovered who Paul wrote to in the Corinthian church so long ago.

“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

[1]A telling statistic is that HPV infection is found in about 90% of people with anal cancer: https://www.medicaldaily.com/does-anal-sex-lead-anal-cancer-3-facts-and-myths-400561

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

Hasn’t Science Proven There is No God?

“How often have we turned on the television and heard the host say, “Tonight we will be talking about faith versus science. Or first guest is a former University of Oxford professor, evolutionary biologist, and bestselling author. He believes that science, not faith, holds the answers to all questions. On the other side of the aisle we have Joe Smith, who will speak for the legitimacy of faith and Christianity. Joe home schools his kids, thinks Oprah is the Antichrist, and lives in a swamp.”

The opening scene depicted in Mark Clark’s book, The Problem of God: Answering a Skeptic’s Challenge to Christianity, comically captures the popular idea that science and religion are incompatible ideologies. But as humorous as we might find it, there’s a sobering truth to what he says. There are many who truly believe that science is the only answer in this serious business of discovering humanity’s origins and man’s purpose, whereas religion (christianity in particular) is simply an embarrassing part of an antiquated past, best left behind.

Are Religion & Science Incompatible Ideologies?

The world’s chief apostle for atheism, Richard Dawkins, wrote in his 2006 book; “The God Delusion”, that God and belief in God are “delusions.” Belief in God, says Dawkins, subverts science and knowledge, breeds ignorance, foments bigotry, and abuses children. All this happens for the simple reason that God (according to Dawkins) is a delusion. Is he right? 

Contrary to the popular narrative of our time that posits faith, and Christianity specifically, against science, the reality is the church has never been its enemy, and any disagreements between the two, which have of course existed at times, have been gravely exaggerated.

As an example, stories are told about Galileo, Copernicus, and Giordano Bruno being tortured for holding “heliocentric” views of the universe. Thrilling dramas, but untrue, what we call historical revisionism.

The church did persecute Galileo for a season, demanding he recant some of his heliocentric views, but he was never charged with heresy and placed in a dungeon, or tortured, as has become popular mythology among skeptics.

He was sentenced to house arrest and then released into the custody of the archbishop of Siena, who housed him for five months in his palace because of other theological issues centred around the trinity. Galileo then returned to his villa in Florence, continuing his scientific work and even publishing, before dying of natural causes in 1642.

Another modern example of this historical revisionism by skeptics is the story of the medieval church believing that the Bible taught a flat earth, and then reacting in outrage when science came along and proved that the Bible was wrong.

This is simply not true. From the time of the ancient Greeks, people knew the earth was round. Job and Isaiah both speak of the earth being a sphere and Isaiah specifically speaks to the universe expanding. And this well before the Hubel telescope.

Any high school graduate will say that we learned that Pythagoras (c. 570 – 500 B.C.) was the first person to assert that the earth is round.However, the biblical passages are older than him. Isaiah is generally acknowledged to have been written in the 700s B.C. and Job is thought to have been written around 2000 B.C.

The secular astronomers before the time of Pythagoras must have thought the scriptures were wrong about its teaching of a round earth, yet the bible was exactly right. It was the secular science of the day that needed to be corrected.

So, the popular picture of Christians being scared of science and deep thinking has simply never been true. In fact, the University itself is a twelfth-century Christian invention. Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Dartmouth, and Brown all began as Christian institutions.

Facts are that detailed scientific and literary analysis has not only been an emphasis of Christianity since its inception, but Christianity had a part in their birth.

What about Faith & Logic?

A close cousin to the myth that religion & science aren’t compatible is the myth that faith & logic don’t mix.

Faith is something religious people have versus the rest of humanity, say atheists or agnostics, who believe in facts and logic. However, everyone, even the most convinced atheist, has a faith position. Everyone believes in something and makes assumptions about reality that can’t be proven even through science.

That’s because everything we believe is filtered through a grid, or worldview, that has been adopted over time (constructed from a myriad of variables: where and when we were born, our family, our education, media, etc.).

We are frequently unaware of these presuppositions, but we must see that all of them are, to a certain degree, faith-based conclusions rather than beliefs adopted through empirical proof.

For instance, I recently read a story about a nurse who was a follower of Jesus. The doctors with whom she worked were adamant that the hospital was a purely secular place – in other words, there was no room for “faith” to play a role in caring for patients. One night the staff was discussing a patient who was on life support.

In debating whether to take him off or not, one doctor said to another, “Well, at least we know if we do that he won’t be suffering anymore.”

Everyone in the group nodded in agreement. But the nurse wondered to herself, how do you know this? That belief (the idea that the person would not be suffering anymore once he was dead) in and of itself is a metaphysical statement about what the afterlife is like.

The group of doctors were speaking out of a faith position for which they had no proof. How did they know that this person wouldn’t be suffering more than he was now? They believed this wholeheartedly, but based on what evidence? It is a faith position. Everyone has one.

Spock from Star Trek’s famous line was always, “Logic Dictates” as the answer for all arguments and solutions to issues. Spock used logical apologetics to reach his answers. I believe we can learn from Spock.

Within the philosophical circles and academia there are a few logical systems of arguments that are commonly used to come to some kind of reasoning regarding matters of faith.

They are not perfect but are helpful as a starting point for someone who may be sincerely seeking answers but yet may not be at the place where they accept the authority of the word of God quite yet.

There are a few different logical arguments but I’m only going to share three for our purposes this morning.

The first one, the teleological argument, states that since the universe displays such an amazing design, there must have been a divine designer. Just as we would expect that there is a designer behind an intricate design of a watch so there must be a designer behind the more intricate design of the universe.

A second logical argument, the cosmological argument, states that every effect must have a cause. This universe and everything in it is an effect. There must be something that caused everything to come into existence. Ultimately, there must be something “un-caused” in order to initially cause everything else to come into existence.

The theory of the ‘Big Bang’ is currently the leading explanation about how the universe began. At its simplest, it says the universe as we know it started with a small singularity, then inflated over the next 13.8 billion years to become the cosmos that we know today. However, the question remains… what or who caused the bang? God as the un-caused is still the best explanation.

A third argument is known as the moral argument.Every culture throughout history has had some form of law. Everyone has a sense of right and wrong. Murder, lying, stealing, and immorality are almost universally rejected.

Where did this sense of right and wrong come from? Dawkins claims that sense of right or wrong come from self… we are the arbitrators of what is deemed good or bad.

If that’s the case then what’s to stop the Nazi’s from claiming that their philosophy which led to the extermination of millions of Jews and others is good? What makes my judgment call of good or bad better or superior to your judgment calls?

Is Logic Important?

Logic becomes important when examining claims because it helps us dictate why some claims should be excluded and others embraced. And one of the core laws of logic is the law of non-contradiction, which says something cannot be both “A” and “non-A” at the same time and in the same sense.

For example, pepper can’t be pepper and salt. If something is black, it’s not white. The only exception to this rule is when a man sees a pink dress and calls it what it is… pink. But then a woman comes along and calls it salmon, or rose, or faded red… or something else as ridiculous. Listen, in that case I stand by pink AND whatever else you call it.

That being said, used properly, logic is a potent weapon against pluralism because it clearly demonstrates that contrary truth claims cannot both be true. This understanding topples the whole “It might be true for you but not for me” mindset.

The conclusion is that faith & logic are compatible and that you can use reason and logic in matters of religion.

What Does the Bible Say About God?

After saying all this, part of the irony of attempting to prove God exists to a non-believer is that it can never be proven, but to a believer, proof of God can be seen just about everywhere.

Of course, if you need to see it to believe it, do you really have faith? The Bible says that we must accept by faith the fact that God exists: “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him” – Hebrews 11:6

If God so desired, he could simply appear and prove to the whole world that he exists. But if he did that, there would be no need for faith. That does not mean, however, that there is no evidence of God’s existence.

The Bible states, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.” – Psalm 19:1-4

Looking at the stars, understanding the vastness of the universe, observing the wonders of nature, seeing the beauty of a sunset – all of these things point to a Creator God. If these were not enough, there is also evidence of God in our own hearts. Ecclesiastes 3:11 tells us, “…He has also set eternity in the hearts of men.”

Deep within us is the recognition that there is something beyond this life and someone beyond this world. We can deny this knowledge intellectually, but God’s presence in us and all around us is still obvious.

Since the vast majority of people throughout history, in all cultures, in all civilizations, and on all continents believe in the existence of some kind of God, there must be something (or someone) causing this belief.

In Psalm 139:4, David said that we were “fearfully and wonderfully made”.As modern science discovers more about the universe, we find more evidence of a designer creator. Consider the mystery of a sperm and an egg joining together to produce life.

And the fact that no two people in the world are exactly alike. No two fingerprints are alike. The amazing complexity and replication of DNA. Every one of the 7.5 trillion cells in your body contains the genetic material to make another you, and yet your DNA is unique to you! You are different from every other person who has ever lived.

We also see God through the evidence of morality, cosmology, biology, and astronomy. The evidences are there to overwhelming introduce us to God. And not just a winder of the clock but a God who cares intimately about each of us. All of these things scream that there is a God!

Does God’s Existence Matter?

The Bible’s presentation of God shows why his existence matters. God’s holy nature is revealed in contrast to human (sinful) nature, and the Bible gives mankind a standard of right and wrong. Without an arbiter, there is no final authority to weigh the values we establish for ourselves.

Who is to say one thing is wrong and another right? Why is it incumbent upon us to help those in need? By what authority can we object to illiteracy? If there is no God, and life on earth is simply “survival of the fittest,” then why should anyone work to feed the hungry? Upon what standard do we lay the foundation of our morality?

Dawkins said that God is a delusion. However, God is not the delusion; atheism is. The apostle Paul declares that the human race in general is lost in sin and self-delusion (2 Timothy4:3-4). A sober assessment of human beings recognizes that we lie, cheat, steal, lust, complain, envy, hate, and forget and that we are careless, ruthless, disrespectful, resentful, and loveless. We are all these things naturally from birth. We are so obviously sinful that it is silly to call human beings “good.” The denial of God is the true delusion that extends to the atheist’s view of humanity as “good,” all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.

“As it is written: ‘None is righteous, not even one; There is none who understands; there is none who seeks for God All have turned aside, together they have become useless there is none who does good. There is not even one’.” – Romans 3:10-12

Think about it. Nobody teaches children to lie; they do it naturally. Nobody teaches teenage boys to lust; they do it naturally. Nobody teaches the employee to resent his boss or spread malicious gossip about the co-worker with whom he is competing with for a promotion; he does these things naturally. Nobody teaches the wife to unjustly criticize her husband or the husband to neglect his wife; both do these things naturally. But unless we are made new creations in Christ, we will continue to do evil because it’s our natural inclination.

In the end, we are either created in God’s image, or we are not. Love and compassion are either part of God’s nature (and therefore to be reflected in us), or they are products of a random biological accident (and therefore unnecessary).

The question of God’s existence is of vital important because, on a practical level, if God does exist, there is a good chance that he wants to connect with us and that he requires the meeting of certain standards to make that happen. Further to that, our existence has significance (or insignificance) depending on the existence (or nonexistence) of God. So, the question is central to everything.

So back to the original question… “Has science proven there is no God?”. The resounding answer is NO! And God has made that clear if only people open their eyes, ears and hearts. Let’s pray to that end.

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