What is love?

Now that you’ve read that title, I need you to be honest with me. Did you just have a flashback of Chris Kattan & Will Ferrell dancing? My teenage years took place in the 90’s, and now everytime I think of that question I see those guys and hear Haddaway playing in my mind.

Setting that flashback aside, what is Love? I feel that, for far too long, our eroding culture has tried to tell is what love is. And yet, time and time again, they get it wrong. It’s wrong, because we keep hearing that love is a feeling. But is love really a feeling? I honestly don’t believe so.

… the Bible shows us that love is a choice…

Think about this for a moment. How many times have you heard people say they fell in (or out of) love. Like love is some puddle in your path that was unavoidable. Or how many times have you heard, “I can’t help who I love.” Do people actually believe love is a fleeting emotion that controls them? Do people really believe they have no choice when it comes to love? I guess if people refuse to open God’s Word, they will pretty much believe anything. I know I did before I read God’s Word. But now I believe the Bible shows us that love is a choice, not a feeling.

Jesus said to him, ” ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and will all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ ”  – Matthew 22:37-39 (NKJV)

Do you see how the Bible has a much different definition of love than our culture does?  The Bible appears to rejects the notion that we can’t control who we love. Jesus said that love is a commandment. So, let me ask this question: why would He command us to do something we have no control over? That’s right; He wouldn’t. And He didn’t, because we do have control over who we love. Just as God has control over who He loves. 

And you want to know something amazing about God’s choice to love us? He chose to love us regardless of how we treat Him. He chose to love us regardless of what it cost Him. And He chose us regardless of our love for Him. God choice to love us ought to be our example of what true love is. True love is unconditional. True love is sacrificial. And true love is a choice.

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Winnowing the Field

Did you know that the Bible actually gives us a method for electing government officials? For the longest time, I didn’t realize there was one. So, allow me to share with you how I have winnowed the field of candidates running for President of the United States. The entire process is based on the Word of God. I truly believe the Bible gives us a minimum plumbline that any candidate seeking any governmental office must meet.

Exodus 18:21 tells us that we are to select capable men that fear God, tell the truth and hate covetousness and then place them to be rulers over 1000s, 100s, 50s, & 10s. (Can you see the City, County, State, Federal separation there?)

Moreover you shall select from all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them to be rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens.  (Exodus 18:21)

Then when you read Romans chapter 13, you’ll see the role of government is to punish evil. Interestingly enough it then goes on to define specifically what is evil when it refers to half of the 10 commandments. Why half, you may ask? Because only half of them apply to civil government, whereas the others apply to self government. That’s why it also mentions those commandments are summed up in “love your neighbor as yourself” while leaving out the “love your God” part.

So, what does this all mean? If you want an easy process to determine whether a candidate is Biblically qualified to hold an elected office (to be a ruler over you), you can use the 4 points from the last 6 commandments as the best vetting tool God ever created.

1) Honor the marriage institution (Exodus 20:12, 14)
2) Don’t murder (Exodus 20:13)
3) Don’t steal (Exodus 20:15, 17)
4) Don’t lie (Exodus 20:16)

That’s my process in a nutshell. I’m not being too rigid, it’s 4 things. I’m not looking for perfection, just these 4 minimums. I’m not being political, this is Biblical. I truly realize that the only way our nation (or any nation for that matter) is going to find salvation is by turning back towards God. And that will start with us being doers of the Word, not hearers only.

If you want a more in depth teaching on this, I highly recommend watching the series of videos produced by Rev. Cary Gordon.

Tipping and Tithing

If you haven’t heard the story about the pastor not leaving her waitress a tip by now, this may not completely make sense.  Although, if I think about it for a minute, the details really don’t matter because there is a greater principle that needs to be discussed.  First of all, this pastor makes a serious flaw in either A) elevating man to the status of God or B) bringing God down to the status of man.  How, you may ask? Simply by misunderstanding the difference between a tithe and a tip.  A tithe (for a Christian) is an act of worship to God, whereby we give Him the first fruits (10%) of our increase.  In all reality we are giving back a portion of what He gave us in the first place.  We are showing Him reverence by sacrificing what is in our possession and proclaiming that He is our provider.  A tip on the other hand is a form of gratuity.  It is a sum of money that we give to someone when we are grateful for a service.  If we equate a tithe to a tip, then it is not a form of worship to God for who He is, but rather an act of thanksgiving for something He has done.

Now, I don’t expect every Christian to completely understand the principle of tithing, because studies and polls have shown very few actually tithe.  I also don’t expect every Christian (pastors included) to live a perfect life without making mistakes.  This pastor obviously sees that she made a “laps in judgment”, but what lesson should we as followers of Christ learn from this?  I’d suggest we try to actually be Christ-like.  That means we need to spend even more time reading the Gospels to learn from Jesus’ example.  We also need to read the rest of the Bible to have the same mind in us that was in Christ.

There are some pretty simple principles that can and should be applied when a Christian is going out to a restaurant.  First, remember that the laborer is worthy of his hire (1 Tim. 5:18).  That waiter or waitress is serving you.  They are performing a service for you.  They are deserving of a reward for that service.  Secondly, the whole “do unto others” thing that Jesus told us, could not be more appropriate than in a scenario such as this one.  That’s because when you read Luke 6:30-32 in context you’ll see how it directly applies.  Let’s face it, we have all had horrible service when eating out and most if not all of us have felt like stiffing the staff because somehow that seems right and just.  Well, folks let me toss this thought out there.  How would your life be if God were only righteous and just and not equally merciful and gracious?

With all of that being said, I’d like to quickly address the waitress that was fired by reminding us all of a lesson our parents have tried to instill in us.  TWO WRONGS DON’T MAKE A RIGHT!  The waitress that was fired was not even the one that was waiting on this pastor. So, first off she needed to mind her own business.  Also, just because someone did you (or a co-worker) wrong doesn’t justify you violating one’s right to privacy by posting this.  I actually applaud Applebee’s for their quick action in terminating this employee.  They have a standard that their employees must operate at and by acting the way they did they have maintained that standard.  I have worked in the food service industry and customer service for many years and understand that sometimes a customer can be very rude and disrespectful, but that is never a valid reason for reacting the way this employee did.

Next time you’re out to dinner and you get horrible service, imitate God by being merciful (not giving what is deserved) and gracious (giving what is not deserved).  And if you are on the flip-side of this and don’t get a tip or very minimal one, try remembering the words of our Lord Jesus that ‘it is more blessed to give than to receive.’

2nd Amendment vs 2nd Commandment

One week ago, today, in Newtown, Connecticut, a horrific tragedy occurred that took the innocent lives to 26 individuals, who were created in the image and likeness of God. In the last seven days, this massacre has sparked a debate across the nation from people on all sides of gun control. However, more importantly for this pastor, it has sparked a debate amongst the body of Christ. It’s pretty obvious that the Bible does not speak about guns, because the first gun wasn’t even made until more than a 1000 years after the Bible’s completion. However, just because the Bible doesn’t speak about it directly doesn’t mean it remains silent about it’s essence or usage. I don’t think I need to remind anyone that the Bible also remains silent about television, phones, or the internet, yet they too can be used for good and evil. So, what does the Bible have to say about it? Should Christians own guns? And if so, how does the “right to bear arms” line up with the commandment to “love our neighbor”?

Firstly, I want to point out what the 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states.

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

Now, I realize there are those who when reading this will try to assert that the sole purpose to keep and bear arms is to form a militia, and due to our standing Army we no longer need that. Well, those people would be wrong. If you read through our founding documents you will come to the same conclusion that the Supreme Court has. In 2008, they deemed Washington D.C.’s gun ban unconstitutional and just this year they found the same with Illinois. These courts have rejected this view and have upheld the protection of ownership and path to carry as a right.

But that still raises questions within Christianity about gun ownership and self-defense. As, I address these I’ll point to scriptures so that you do not take my word for it, but rather take God’s Word for it. So, here are a few of the questions posed.

Q: “What about the 10 commandments? Doesn’t the Bible say, ‘thou shalt not kill’?”

A: The King James Version of the Bible as well as a few translations do us the word, kill in Exodus 20. However a literal translation of the Hebrew word רצח (râtsach), as found in many more translations (Amplified, Complete Jewish, English Standard, Message, New International, New King James, New Living, etc.) define the word as murder. This remains consistent with what we see two chapters later in Exodus 22:2-3

Exodus 22:2-3 Complete Jewish Bible
(2)
“If a thief caught in the act of breaking in is beaten to death, it is not murder; (3) unless it happens after sunrise, in which case it is murder.

The difference between verses 2 and 3 is premeditation. The principle this clearly states is that defending your self, family or property from a threat, even with lethal force is not considered murder, but rather a justifiable homicide.

Q: “What about Romans 12:17, that says we are to ‘repay no one evil for evil’?

A: Well, try reading the rest of the chapter so it is in context and we get a more complete picture.

Romans 12:17-21 New King James Version
(17)
Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. (18) If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. (19) Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord. (20) Therefore “IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM; IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP COALS OF FIRE ON HIS HEAD.” (21) Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

First, we don’t repay evil with evil. Again, as we just saw in Exodus it is only considered “evil” if God says it is evil. Using lethal force as a means for protection is not considered evil by God. If you want more proof, check out Genesis 14 where Abram used lethal force to protect his nephew and Exodus 2 when Moses did the same for a Hebrew man. Vengeance is also another question brought up, but if we look at Romans 13:4 and 1 Peter 2:14 we see that God uses government for that purpose, which is why Exodus 22:3 considers seeking revenge murder. That job is left to government, but immediate defense is left to one’s self. Also notice that the last two verses paint an image of enemies who have a need that we should sustain, not a murderous or evil desire that we should facilitate.

Q: “Well, Jesus never used a gun.”

A: You’re right, because they didn’t exist. But, Jesus did use a whip to defend His Father’s house from those who were violating it. (John 2:14-16)

Q: “Didn’t Jesus rebuke Peter for using a sword?”

A: Yes, Jesus did rebuke Peter, for HOW he used the sword, not for the use in general. You see, again this takes some right dividing. First off, before this event even took place, as they were getting ready to depart for Gethsemane, Jesus instructed his disciples that if they did not have a sword they should sell garments to buy one (Luke 22:36). He said this because of the trials and persecutions they were about to endure may require the need of them. But when this event took place notice what Matthew 26:50-54 says. Really read this thoroughly. First Jesus is just questioning them and then Peter jumps in to defend Jesus. **Side note: a band of troops consisted of somewhere between 500 and 1000 troops** So, Peter decides to strike one of the 500+ soldiers and Jesus, immediately told him to “put (his) sword in its place”. He did not tell him to get rid of it, but to return it to his side. The mention of those who live by the sword dying by the sword was not in regard to self defense, because that is not what Peter was doing, Peter was looking for a fight and it was that desire of his heart that Jesus was correcting. He finishes this rebuke off by reminding Peter who He is and that He didn’t need protection because this “must happen”.

Q: “What about turning the other cheek?”

A: Again, this will require you to read the remainder of the chapter (Matthew 5:38-48). This is really something so subtle, but often overlooked. Most people are right handed, so how do you slap someone on their right cheek, if you are right handed? That’s right, it’s a back handed slap, which is not meant for injury, but disrespect and humiliation. The remainder of this chapter backs up the sentiment that when people are trying to humiliate you, take advantage of you or disrespect you, get out of yourself and try to go that ‘extra mile’ to help out those who have wronged you. This is not advocating people to line up like sheep to the slaughter, but instead to train followers of Christ to display the same grace and mercy that was given to us.

So, what can we draw from these scriptures? Well, just like there is a thin line between faith and foolishness, there is a thin line between being a martyr and a moron. God has commanded His children to promote His Gospel. We are no good to anyone if we are dead. As a father, how can I provide for my family, if I first don’t provide defense and protection for them. The scriptures seem pretty clear to me, when reading them in context, we must protect that which God has given us, because it ultimately belongs to Him. When Jesus, told the Disciples to take up swords, they were using the weapons of the day as a form of protection. Today, instead of placing at our sides swords, guns are the new side arm. Jesus was always teaching us to get to the heart of the problems rather than on the surface. Mass shootings like what took place at Sandy Hook Elementary should not cause Christians to look at the surface and be opposed to the tool used (surface), but rather the evil that led a deranged individual to commit murder (heart).

There will always be debates and discussions, but I challenge you to examine the Scriptures and see what God’s Word says about it, rather than what any politician, pundit or political party has to say.

Enjoy God’s best,

Josh

“Santa is dead.” Christ is alive.

The other day, I went to pick up my 4 year old daughter, Reagan, from preschool and had an interesting conversation with her teacher. Apparently, Reagan and a couple of girls got into a conversation about Santa Claus. When the conversation started about Santa Clause, Reagan decided that she should inform them of a tragic reality… “Santa is dead”, she said. This sparked a little back and forth between them, which fortunately our well trained teachers were able to defuse and deflect. So, what does that mean for me? Well, I usually get accused of depriving my children of a full Christmas experience or the joy of Santa Claus.
Before I explain what it is that we teach our kids about Christmas and Santa Claus, let me explain why I teach them what I teach them. First, the holiday that we are celebrating is Christmas. The very word Christmas can be broken into two parts which would be Christ (self explanatory) and the suffix mas. Mas is just derived from an old english word that means festival or feast day. So, what does that mean? The day is about celebrating Christ and His birth, nobody else, just Him. Secondly, I try to teach my kids that lying is evil and it’s a sin. When Solomon told us, in Proverbs 6, that “these six things the LORD hates, Yes, seven are an abomination to Him”, I quickly noticed that lying makes that short list twice. So, if lying is such an evil sin, why would I tell my kids such a fun, festive falsehood like a complete stranger who sneaks into our house and give them presents that their mother and I actually purchased? And why would I continue this falsehood by telling them that instead of placing a few well placed rounds of ammunition in the intruder for this B&E stunt, I offer him milk and cookies? Easy… I wouldn’t! And don’t even get me started on how we teach our kids not to talk to strangers, but yet encourage them to idolize this one. And yes, that draws the logical conclusion that we also have no Easter bunny (again about Christ) and tooth fairy. If you ask my kids what the “tooth fairy” looks like they will tell you just like their daddy, because I’m the tooth fairy they get.

So, what is it that I teach them. Simple, the truth or at least enough of the truth that redirects the focus back to my Lord and Savior. I completely reject the mythical figure and just let my kids know that those are just stories like many movies and the only real thing about it is the main character once lived. But I go on to tell them who Santa Claus is, or more accurately was. The modern figure of Santa Claus derived from the Dutch character known as Sinterklaas. Stories of Sinterklaas made their way to America with the Dutch settlers who landed in New Amsterdam. He, in turn, received much of his basis from tales about the Christian bishop, Saint Nicholas. I tell them that  jolly ‘ol Saint Nic wasn’t just a bishop, he was also a believer in the teaching that “freely you have received, freely you shall give”.  He isn’t just someone we sing about on rooftops, he is the patron saint of children, sailors, merchants and even the city of Amsterdam. Unfortunately, many of the stories about Saint Nicholas are just like those of Santa Claus, stories. But the one thing that we do no for certain is that Saint Nicholas had a great impact on his homeland and he lived his life to honor God. I find it interesting that although details about his gift giving vary, one thing that remains consistent in them is that he gave to those in need, so that they could honor God, not himself.

Ultimately, I believe this is a personal choice for each family to make. I personally, just want to keep my focus and the focus of my family on the One True gift giver, Christ Jesus. Because without Him, the greatest gift of salvation would not be possible. And no matter when the day of His birth actually took place, the fact remains that “for unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given”. I just prefer training my children by my example of speaking the truth. I also prefer not to spend too much time on depriving them of the “joy” of Santa Claus, Sinterklaas, or even Saint Nicolas. Instead I’m gonna spend my time bestowing upon them the joy in the name “Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

Merry  CHRISTmas

Why, oh why, Bill Nye?

Well, one of my favorite childhood television characters has officially let me down. Bill Nye, who over the years I and many more have affectionately referred to as “The Science Guy”, has a video out there titled, “Bill Nye: Creationism Is Not Appropriate For Children.” I watched the video, and I would suggest you do the same, because I want you to be able to see what I saw.

First off, I struggled with listening to the entire thing, because Bill’s premise that he, himself, laid out was flawed. He makes the comment that “when you have a portion of the population that doesn’t believe in [evolution], it holds everyone back.” However, just before he says this he states that denial of evolution is primarily a U.S. thing, but somehow due to our “intellectual capitol” we are the leaders in scientific advancement. So, because the majority of Americans don’t believe in Darwinism we are holding everyone back, even though we lead the world in scientific breakthroughs. That my friends is how you can officially ask to have your cake and eat it too.

Although to be fair, we can’t completely be blindsided by this because Bill Nye was the 2010 Humanist of the Year. He also gives a lot of credit to his “old professor”, Carl Sagan. You remember Sagan, don’t you? He’s the guy that claimed the Cosmos was the scientific equivalent to professional wrestler Brett “The Hitman” Hart; all there is, all there was, and all there ever will be. But then again, Carl Sagan also concluded his novel “Contact” (which later became a movie) with the Sagan-esque character uncovering that “super-intelligence” has designed the universe.

Now, I would agree with Bill Nye that any worldview that denies dinosaur bones, radioactivity, distant stars or even deep time is “crazy”. You see, I’m a creationist, but I think it’s pretty clear that all of those things do, in fact, exist. Nye, also makes a claim that in another couple of centuries creationism won’t exist. I wonder if he realizes that Darwinism is only about 2 centuries old, whereas creationism has a few hundred centuries under it’s belt. And probably the most astonishing thing to me was that “The Science Guy” says that when it comes to creationism, “there’s no evidence for it.” Really? The problem that we face with statements like this are exactly what Dr. Georgia Purdom, points out in this video response. Bill Nye, as well as most people, confuse observational science with historical science. When in comes down to the beginning of it all, it is nothing that we can observe. But it is something that can have significant historical science to verify it.

My biggest warning to all Christians and creationists out there, is to be on guard. Make sure that you believe that what you believe is really real. Resources like The Truth Project are extremely important in helping one shape their Biblical worldview.

But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear” ~ 1 Peter 3:15 (NKJV)

My “Life Verse”

So, I guess I should probably start this out by first explaining what a “life verse” is to me. And that is where we hit our first rabbit trail.

I grew up in a very small church. We were huge in our faith walk, but small in numbers. I mean there were times I remember you could count the people on one hand. So what that meant is there were a lot of fads that swept threw the Body of Christ that I didn’t experience until much later, if at all. One of these was having a “life verse”.

It was explained to me that it was a particular verse or passage of Scripture that had a great significance to you. Some piece of God’s Word that seemed to give you a little more focus. Or even something that seemed to be written especially for you. It was interesting as I grew older and started to meet more Christians. More and more started sharing their “life verse” with me and that led me to examine my heart in the light of His Word to find my verse.

For those who have met me and gotten to know me there are several words that can be used to describe me. Some of them are more colorful than others. But what I found in my own self reflection was that I, like all, have fallen so short of God’s glorious standard and needed help. As I contemplated what my verse might be, I also asked God to reveal to me a particular passage that would stay with me and help me during those times of struggle. There were so many to choose from and so many great ones that seemed to make my short list. Scriptures like Joshua 1:8, Isaiah 50:4-5, John 17:3, James 1:19, Jeremiah 29:11, 1 Timothy 4:12, Proverbs 3:5-6, and even Ecclesiastes 9:11 (yes, that was during my Color Me Bad faze). But then it truly hit me. Romans 12:1-3.

Romans 12:1-3 NKJV

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy,
acceptable to God,  which is  your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what  is  that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think  of himself  more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one the measure of faith.

You see this passage reminded me to deny my fleshly desires. To walk by faith as I’m led by the Holy Spirit instead of feelings or my own “stinkin thinkin”. A focus on humility as God doesn’t love me any more than you. And most importantly to find my true self worth in Christ. This, along with many more thoughts, brought me adopting this passage as my “life verse”.

So, how about you? Have you found your “life verse”? What is it? Why did you choose it? Or did it choose you?