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What I Believe About You – Free pdf

what i believe about you frontHi!

I just wanted to make you aware that What I Believe About You is now available as a free pdf preview. This is a nonthreatening, nonjudgmental, encouraging and informative look at getting started with the Christian faith. In addition, it takes on questions like these:

  • Why am I suffering?
  • Prove to me that God exists.
  • How do I forgive people I don’t feel like forgiving?
  • What about Christian leaders who fail?
  • With all those religions out there, why choose Jesus?
  • How can I make sense of the Bible?

The entire book is included. No sign up, no email, no cost. It’s right here:

What I Believe About You

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They see it all

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Each of these four beings had six wings, and each was covered with eyes all over, even under his wings. Night and day, without stopping, they say, “Holy, holy, holy is God, the all-powerful ruler of the universe, who was, who is, and who is to come.” Revelation 4:8 The Easy Bible

This is the center of the book of Revelation. An unchanging God, fully in charge of the church, the pagans, the spirits, the devils, the angels, the dead and the living—takes His place as King of the universe, under the constant inspection of these super intelligent and powerful creatures.

And they are in awe.

“Why all the eyes?” I ask our Father. “Is it so they can see You, or so You can look them in the eye, and see inside their spirits?”

And then I realize they see it all. They see thousands of years of rebellion. Billions of evil men and women, legions of demons, inflicting horror on those God loves. They see the church with all its beauty and all its flaws. And they see God.

Though they’ve seen the depths of evil, they are overwhelmed, not with what’s wrong with us or with unbelievers or with demons, but rather with what’s right with God. Triumphant, holy, unchanging, sovereign God.

It’s a ray of light in our dark world. If we could see enough, we too would be overwhelmed.

Photo credit: Adapted from a photo by US Geological Survey, Flickr, Creative Commons License

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Fear God?

If God loves us, why would He want us to fear Him? How can we love and fear God at the same time?

I got this great question today from a nineteen year old man. For me, the best analogy is semi trucks. My brother-in-law was a professional semi driver. Once or twice, I rode with him. It’s a great deal of fun. I really enjoyed it. You could say that I “love” semis.

But I also fear semis. No, I don’t lie awake at night in a cold sweat shuddering at the thought of a semi. But at the same time, I’m not stupid enough to stand in the middle of the Interstate on a foggy night waiting to take on a forty-ton mass of metal coming at me at 70 miles per hour. I have enough sense to get out of the way.

In the same way, I love God. I love hanging out with Him. I love being with Him. But I’m not stupid enough to tangle with Him. People who pick a fight with God lose. I don’t want to be that person.

Photo credit: Leland Francisco, Flickr, Creative Commons License

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Like a wave

15298537725_0a1739e17c_mThis book is about the things God showed Jesus so He could tell His followers what will soon happen. Revelation 1:1 The Easy Bible

It’s a big world out there. And things get bigger, much bigger, when God steps in to bring history to a screeching halt. Like a great wave, humanity’s hatred of God rushes in, but, like any other wave, it breaks on the shore of eternity and it is no more.

The day of evil is coming to an end.

Photo credit: Rachel Kramer, Flickr, Creative Commons License

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What does it mean to be born again?

8123521804_b77bb4db8e_zWhat does it really mean to be born again? At one time, I thought if you prayed the magic prayer, you were set. Your sins were forgiven and you were assured a place in heaven. I seesawed back and forth over whether you could “lose your salvation,” but I believed that salvation came simply by admitting you were a sinner and believing that Jesus died on the cross to take the penalty for your sins.

Over the years I became increasingly uncomfortable with this idea because it doesn’t seem to square with the Bible. I am afraid that millions of people may be thinking they bought the insurance by praying the magic prayer, but they aren’t born again, and they don’t have the assurance of eternal life.

As I re-examine the Bible, I see several things that I didn’t see early on.

First, the phrase “born again” is only used three times in the entire Bible. (John 3:3, John 3:7, 1 Peter 1:23) To truly understand what it means to have peace with God and a place in heaven, it pays to read the entire Bible from cover to cover paying particularly close attention to what Jesus says in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Second, “born again” means starting a new life. That means the old life died, a new life begins. You have a new identity as a new person. You were a sinner. Now you are a child of God. The old is dead. You simply can’t be born again without receiving a new life. This is why baptism has been such an important part of the Christian experience; it signifies the death of the old, the birth of the new. This new life may be invisible, but it is not nonexistent. It changes everything. It changes how you think, how you talk, how you live.

Third, in order to be born again, we must accept a spiritual union with Jesus Christ. We must give Him His rightful place in our lives. The Bible is very clear on this. “If you have the Son [Jesus], you have life. If you don’t have the Son, you don’t have life.” (1 John 5:12) The reason that Jesus and the Apostles emphasized “believing in Jesus” is because their First Century listeners understood the implications of that belief. They understood that believing in Jesus means the transfer of ownership of our lives over to Him (1 Corinthians 6:19-20), and giving Him command over our lives (Luke 6:46). Being born again does not mean that we’ve installed a religion app in our lives, and that once in a while we will go to church or do some other religious activity. It means that Jesus now commands everything we do. While we are still free to say yes or no to Him, our inclination is to say yes. Nothing will get between us and God (Matthew 19:16-30).

This is a heavy duty decision. If we want Jesus in our lives, we need to “accept” Him as He really is: God the Son, Lord of All, King of Kings. There’s no way we can accept the real Jesus and not choose to put Him in charge of our lives. He is nothing less than Lord, and He must be accepted as such. No wonder Jesus said, “If you want to follow Me, it’s going to cost you something. Count the cost.” (See Luke 14:25-33, etc.)

Fourth, while the process of being born again may be invisible, the results are plainly visible. Here are a few of them:

If we are truly alive, we will have an appetite unless we are in ill health. If we are truly born again, we will have an appetite for God’s word, the Bible. (See 1 Peter 2:2)

We will love God and love His children, our fellow Christians. (1 John 3:14-15, 4:7-8, 4:19-21) That does not mean that we will never be angry with God or with our fellow Christians (Jeremiah 20:7, Ephesians 4:26), but we will process that anger with God, and we will forgive our fellow Christians (Matthew 6:14-15).

We will live differently. Some Christians talk about a “positional” righteousness before God, that “just-as-if-I-never-sinned” justification that makes us judicially right before God. But the Bible accents a practical righteousness (1 John 3:9, etc.) that will be marked by good deeds, caring for the needy (Matthew 25:31-46), and so on. On Judgment Day, God doesn’t want to be placed in a position where He needs to say, “Yeah, I admit he acted like a jerk his entire life, but he prayed the magic prayer so he’s in.” And we don’t want to try to put Him in that position.

But this is where many Christians seem to get confused. They assume that righteousness is something that we manufacture on our own, even though the Bible clearly teaches that we cannot and must not (Romans 4:13, Galatians 3:3, etc.). Some will say, for example, the fruit of the Spirit is patience, so we must learn three easy steps to patience. But this is wrong. Fruit is not manufactured. It is organically produced by our connection to the root. Sadly, “try harder” Christianity is regularly taught from many if not most pulpits.

Instead of standing over us with a whip, God intends to take us through a process with Him where we shed the lies we have believed, and embrace the truth about who we are, who He is, and how much He loves and cares for us. The outcome of this process is a transformed life. The supernatural result is this: Eternal life begins the moment we embrace Jesus for who He really is, and our transition to heaven at the end of this life is a natural step, because we’ve already welcomed the presence of God into every door we know how to open (Revelation 3:20).

Photo credit: Jason Pratt. Flickr

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Were rape victims punished by God?

I recently came across a post on Facebook alleging that God punishes rape victims. The person posting this pointed to Deuteronomy 21 & 22, particularly 22:23-29. He also said that Christians try to explain these passages metaphorically, but the Bible says what it says.

The Bible contains a number of passages that an honest person will find challenging. In my view, an important part of spiritual growth is to work our way through these passages while keeping the rest of the Bible in view. With that in mind, what follows was my response to the post:

In my view, all of these things need to be understood not metaphorically, but rather within the context of the culture at the time they were written. Throughout the Bible, God worked within cultures to incrementally transform those cultures. He worked with what He had, and took steps to make it better.

Women were considered to be the responsibility of men. And, yes, many men did treat women as property. God worked to mitigate this. See, for example, Deuteronomy 24:5.

With this in mind, let’s look at the passages you cite, and let’s start with the most problematic one: the rapist must marry his victim (Deuteronomy 22:28-29). I would point to several dynamics taking place here. First of all, in this culture it was in a woman’s economic best interests to be married since property, and with it, the ability to make a living, transferred to male heirs. Since marriages were arranged, most women were betrothed or pledged to be married at a young age. If a woman was not betrothed, her family, possibly due to poverty or some other issue, was probably having difficulty finding a husband for her. If she was raped, she would lose her virginity, making it much, much more difficult for her family to find a husband for her. The law, therefore, was written to discourage men from raping a woman in this situation, because he would then be required to take economic responsibility for her for life. In any case, the provisions of this passage would almost certainly be interpreted against the backdrop of Exodus 22:16-17 which gives the woman’s father veto power over a marriage. If the father felt that his daughter’s best interests would not be served by the marriage, he collected the fine from the rapist and did his best to find his daughter a different husband.

Clearly, a law like this would never work in our culture. But it wasn’t intended for our culture; it was intended for a very different culture, where a very different set of values and priorities were in play.

Since most young women would be betrothed, the provisions of Deuteronomy 22:23-27 would normally apply. Here we have a rudimentary test for consent: If the rape took place in town, did the woman scream? It’s admittedly an incomplete test, but this was the reason judges were appointed among the Israelis—to get at the intent of the law. The intent of the law was NOT to punish a rape victim.

The betrothal arrangement needs to be understood as something stronger than an engagement in our culture. The only way to break a betrothal was to get a divorce. So consensual sex between a betrothed woman and someone not her promised husband was considered a form of adultery.

Some of the punishments for offenses such as adultery were harsh, unreasonably harsh by the standards of our culture. I can’t say that I totally understand all of the reasons for that. But these thoughts have helped me: God was forming a nation, a theocracy, to represent His interests to all other nations. As such, He needed the people of that nation to abide by a certain code of behavior, and deviation from that couldn’t be tolerated.

As we come to the New Testament, several profound paradigm shifts take place. Among them: The people of God are no longer understood to be the citizens of a single nation, but rather people “called out” from every nation. In fact, the Greek word for “church” ekklesia literally means “called out.” As a result, the people of God needed to bring God’s values into every culture. Instead of laws and punishments, a personal relationship with God was meant to bring God’s values into every relationship.

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4 Principles for dating

15018392488_7d79de04cd_zOne of my friends asked for dating advice. Since Jesus never dated nor married, he was wondering what guidance there might be for followers of Christ. My response:

Here we need to draw on principles found throughout scripture. Based on scripture, I’m going to suggest four principles that should govern any dating relationship:

#1 Respect: In my words and in my actions am I showing respect for this other person? Am I respecting her boundaries? Am I respecting her time? Am I respecting her body and her person by waiting until marriage before any sexual contact? Am I respecting her thoughts and opinions?

#2 Trust: Am I making it possible for this other person to feel 100% safe with me? Am I showing myself trustworthy? Do I keep my promises? Am I a man of integrity? Am I being manipulative or am I being straightforward, honest and open handed?

#3 Understanding: Am I seeking to understand this other person? Do I take the time to actively listen without passing judgment? Do I know and “speak” this person’s love language in an appropriate way?

#4 Love: While we think of romantic love, that romantic love needs to line up with a higher form of love that always seeks the best for the other person. See 1 Corinthians 13. This love says we don’t play games with her heart. This love stands ready to make sacrifices–even walk away from the relationship–if that’s what’s best for her.

Though I wrote these with males in mind, I think they apply the other way around. Thanks to John Henry for bringing these four principles into focus for me.

Photo credit: Darin Kim, Flickr (Creative Commons attribution license)

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My beef with the traditional church

churchLet’s start here. I love Jesus. I love pastors. I love my brothers and sisters in Christ. Until recently, I was an every-Sunday churchgoer for over four decades. I believe every Christian needs to be connected with other Christians. I believe in the church.

Don’t bother me with your ministry

Ephesians 4 makes it clear that the role of Christian leaders is to equip people for ministry. Yet many churches I’ve experienced seem to convey this message: The only ministries that matter are those that happen within the four walls of our church building. I’ve seen people in the congregation with a passion (and even a ministry) to heal marriages, to set up community-based recovery ministries, to set up food pantries, to rescue people caught in human trafficking and more—I’ve seen these people marginalized, ignored, forgotten, while the pastor gets up front week after week to beg people to work in the nursery.

In many churches only three or four things matter—in trailing order of importance: the pastor’s sermon, the songs, the offering and the kid’s program. Try to get even fifteen seconds of stage time on a Sunday to promote a para-church ministry or event, and you quickly figure out where the real priorities are.

Don’t take away my money

I’ve heard pastors say that they don’t want to allow missionaries to speak at their church because they’re afraid that people will give money to the missionary that the pastor believes should go to the church.

While we’re on that subject of money, let’s think about church buildings. If a church is successful, it fills a building for a couple hours on Sunday, then most of these buildings lie empty all week long. Meanwhile, the congregation is saddled with mortgage payments and maintenance expenses. Look at your church’s budget. Where does the money go? Once pastor and staff salaries are paid and building expenses are made, how much is left over? Why can’t the building be used during the week to generate the income needed to pay the mortgage so the congregation’s money can be used for other kingdom purposes?

I think it’s very important to give generously to God’s work, but I understand why people don’t want to give to the church. It can feel like so much money is spent perpetuating an institution, and so little money is spent actually advancing the kingdom of God. How many churches spend even five percent of their budget helping the poor and needy? Where’s the budget for helping members of the congregation launch new kingdom endeavors?

Does it really make sense to center our churches around sermons?

In most evangelical churches, the sermon is the centerpiece—it’s the main course of the main event. Some pastors are incredibly gifted in this area. Some are not. I’ve listened to thousands of sermons, and it’s pretty rare that I hear something in a sermon that I haven’t already heard many times before.

Making the sermon the centerpiece made a lot of sense in another generation where nearly everybody went to church, almost everyone in the community shared the same set of values, and there was no access to television, radio or the web to listen to any number of sermons anytime anyone wanted to. But today I question the strategic usefulness of making a sermon the center of everything church.

To be honest, I object to the approach taken by many pastors. Many preachers, like the disciples in John 9:2, seem to be on a sin hunt. They aren’t satisfied until they’ve uncovered at least one area where you’ve sinned and “need to repent.” In some cases, pastors go so far as to accuse their listeners of committing specific sins when the pastor would have no way of knowing if the members are guilty of those sins or not. This all brings to mind Job’s “friends.” And, if I’m not mistaken, the role of “accuser” is already taken.

Some pastors seem to preach the same sermon over and over every week. It all boils down to a sales pitch where you are instructed to “make a decision for Christ.” How does that help the person who “made a decision for Christ” fifteen years ago? In other churches, the sermons seemed designed to reinforce the values of a smug and insular group so that the members can walk away with the assurance that they’re right, and everyone else is wrong.

Don’t get me wrong. Some sermons can be wonderfully inspiring. Some wake us out of our apathy and complacency. Some are dripping with the presence of God. Sermons can be a great tool. But should they be the centerpiece of the church? Should every church service be a concert followed by a motivational speech followed by a brief Christian cocktail party as we pick up our kids and make our way to the car?

Sermon-centered church ignores the reality that God gave different people different learning styles. What about those who don’t learn well from lectures? Where are the visuals? Where are the labs? Where are the small group discussions? Why can’t that be part of the Sunday morning experience?

Sermon-centered church also seems to assume that one person not only has all the answers, but telepathically knows which questions everybody is asking even before they verbalize them.

The missing piece here is dialogue. I’ve seen research to suggest that this is why an entire generation is walking away from church: all monologue, no dialogue. There’s no opportunity for individuals to process their own spiritual journey, to ask the questions that are burning within them, to explore their own and one another’s faith experience.

I know what many readers will be thinking. This is why we have home groups. The reality is this: Most home group meetings are tightly regimented. There’s little opportunity to step outside the curriculum, the agenda, for a conversation about what’s really going on. Which leads me to my concerns about relationships in the church.

What about relationship repair?

If the kingdom of God is mostly about relationship repair, why are those who don’t know how to do relationships often left to fend for themselves? Why is it that some people can attend church for years, and still feel lonely, isolated, marginalized and unwanted? Why are people like this blamed instead of helped?

Sure, we say, “Join a home group.” How well is that working? I’ve seen churches heroically champion home group ministries month after month, year after year, and the result is this: a whopping twenty percent of the congregation enrolls. What about the other eighty percent? And could it be that the people who need the home group the most are the least likely to join?

Years ago when I was a student at a Christian college, a friend said to me, “The problem with the Christian church is that there’s no community.” A member of the dean’s staff overheard the remark and rebuked the young man who said it, assuring us that there’s all kinds of community in the church. I’ve thought about this many times over the years, and I’ve concluded that they’re both right. For those who know how to go after it, you’ll find many good friends in a church. For those who don’t, churches are very lonely places.

Where do we go from here?

Hebrews 10:24-25 makes it clear: We need to meet. We need to use that meeting time to encourage one another to love and to do good. Church as we know it is the Christian community’s best attempt to carry out that requirement. I hope my words here will encourage Christian leaders to explore incremental ways to improve how we do what we do. Pastors, you are loved and appreciated.

After decades of faithful church attendance, I stepped away from the traditional church for the time being. That doesn’t mean you should. You should do what you are sure God is telling you to do. In my case, I do a home church with my sons and their friends when we’re not visiting traditional churches. I attend a weekly home group. I reach out to people through face-to-face and online friendships. And I’m exploring new ways to connect with those who have disconnected with church but remain interested in exploring a faith journey. If that’s you, please contact me here or on Facebook. I’d love to talk with you.

I hope that my words will also encourage you to look for meaningful ways to connect with Christians, talk about your faith journey together, and go out into your world and make a difference.

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