Where’s Safe?

September 28, 2017

A gunman kills a woman in a church parking lot and then enters the church building wounding even more. It may cause us to ask the question: where’s safe? It is a question I have thought about since watching the Twin Towers fall on live television. It’s a question prompted by natural disasters, accidents, and disease.

One thing I have reminded myself is that I still live in a relatively safe world. I walk the streets of my neighborhood without fear. The article “Crime in Context” noted: “a recent study posited that 5 percent of city blocks account for 50 percent of the crime. That is why most Americans believe crime is worse, while significantly fewer believe it is worse where they live.”* I still live in relative safety.

I recently sat across from a doctor and received the news: I don’t have cancer. It would be an understatement to say I felt relief. However, I still must be followed by a hematologist because my test results are irregular though currently free of disease, and I could face the opposite news someday. God has not promised me health. I know that disease does not discriminate and fall only on bad people. My prayers and the prayers of others may not always be answered in the way we would prefer. I’ve known too many good people with terrible diseases.

Disease, accidents, natural disasters, and crime are all a part of the world in which we live. Bad things happen in our world because sin entered it. Bad things happen to good people as well as bad, just as the rain falls on the just and the unjust. Paradise was lost, and humankind has been living with the consequences ever since. So, where’s safe?

Safe is not a place in this world. I or someone I know could be in the wrong place at the wrong time when disaster strikes. But I will not live my life in fear of what may or may not happen. A truly safe place won’t arrive until the age to come. In this world, the answer to where’s safe is found in a relationship. Safe is in Christ.

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:37–39, ESV)

So, what do we do as we await the safe place? We do what Christians have always done. We help the needy and hurting. We share the good news which brings light and healing to a dark and broken world. We walk by faith. In Christ is the answer to the question: where’s safe?


Survey Says or God Says?

September 21, 2017

A recent survey involving 2000 respondents in the U.S. and Europe studied their experiences and feelings about the number of sexual partners. A part of me hates polls. Their validity depends a great deal on getting the proper sample and not having people refuse to take the poll. Further, I’m concerned that polls are used to shape opinion as much as discover it. But with those caveats in mind, what did the researchers find.

  • At what number of sexual partners do you think a person becomes too promiscuous? Females: 15.2, Males: 14
  • What do you think is the ideal number of sexual partners for a person to have in their lifetime? Females 7.5, Males 7.6
  • At what number of sexual partners do you think a person is too sexually conservative? Females 1.9, Males 2.3
  • With how many partners have you engaged in sexual intercourse over your lifetime? Females: 7, Males 6.4

Of course, you may be wondering whether respondents are telling the truth. That question was also a part of the poll. Males said they had not lied about the number of partners 58.6% of the time, and females 67.4%. If we assume that the respondents are reasonably telling the truth, we see that people are basically saying their own behavior is close to ideal.

G.K. Beale makes a great observation about our society, “Worldliness is whatever any culture does to make sin seem normal and righteousness to be strange.”* The above survey is telling us that it is normal to have multiple sexual partners and strange to limit sex to the marriage relationship between one man and one woman. But for the Christian it should never be about what the world views as normal but what God views as moral.

Paul wrote to a basically Gentile audience in 1 Thessalonians. These new Christians came out of a culture not unlike our own. What does Paul tell them?

For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you. 1 Thessalonians 4:3–8, ESV

God defines what is sexual immorality. He defines it in scripture as sex outside the marriage relationship of one man and one woman. Paul encourages them to abstain from the world’s passions and live lives of holiness. He warns them that God is an avenger against immoral behavior. He reminds them that to ignore this teaching is not to ignore human teachers but God himself. So, what will it be: survey says or God says?

*G. K. Beale. We Become What We Worship, p. 300.

The Bible in Your Pocket

September 15, 2017

Microfiche Bible

Someone cleaning out a drawer sent me “The Smallest Bible in the World.” I remember seeing these in bookstores in the early 1970s when I was in college. It’s a Bible on microfilm. I would look at them in the bookstore, but since I had no microfilm reader and few dollars, the practicality of buying one on a lark escaped me. It was a novelty item at best. And the truth is, even though I now have one, one day I will clean out my drawer (or my heirs will), and it will get passed on to someone else. It’s not a practical Bible even though it is small.

But back then, I wanted a Bible that I could easily carry around. I had a pocket New Testament, and even a pocket Bible. You had to have a good-sized hip pocket and young eyes to see the small print, but it was convenient.

Since 2000 carrying a Bible around has gotten easier. I purchased a Palm IIIxe as my first PDA. It had a whopping 8 megabytes of RAM, but that was plenty to do calendar, to-do lists, book reading, and have a Bible. I began using Olive Tree’s Bible Reader on that early Palm device and have watched that software become more powerful and migrate to various operating systems just as I migrated from Palm to Pocket PC to iPod Touch to iPhone.

The advantage of having a Bible with you all the time is that you can use waiting time for reading. All of us wait in lines, at the doctor’s office, and the department of motor vehicles. As long as I have my device with me, I’m never bored. And it also means when you have the unexpected Bible question asked or an opportunity to share the good news, you have a Bible with you.

Recent stats suggest that 50% of the US population access a Bible online at some point in time. Yet, we still need more people to read their Bibles. We need people who will read books of the Bible all the way through. Fragmentary reading, a few verses here or there, will not bring about the knowledge we need.

The Bible is now easily transported with print adjustable to even my older eyes. My advice is to take advantage of the opportunities we now have available around us. If you are new to electronic Bibles on smart phones and tablets, let me suggest a few to consider.

You can learn about what is available at the above sites, and then find the app at your respective app store. The Bible is small enough to carry with you everywhere. Take advantage of the Bible in your pocket.

In Jesus’ Name

September 8, 2017

In a prayer, you have probably heard or said: “in Jesus’ name.” Why do we say it? What does it mean?

The biblical basis of the phrase occurs in the instructions that Jesus gives to his Apostles on the night of his betrayal (John 14-16).

Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it. John 14:13–14, ESV. See also John 15:16, 16:23-24, 16:26-27.

What does the phrase “in Jesus’ name” mean? Name in biblical thought is closely associated with the person named — his character, authority, and rank. So this phrase evokes several ideas. Pray by Jesus’ authority. Pray in keeping with Jesus’ character. Pray as Jesus would pray for his mission, purpose, and will. For these passages in John, the standard Greek dictionary suggests that it means “with mention of the name, while naming or calling on the name … ask the Father, using my name.”*

Do we always have to say the phrase “in Jesus’ name”? I normally do, although I will admit to some quick, inaudible prayers during the day like “Lord, help me” that lack the phrase. Much depends on what we think the phrase means. If it means by Jesus’ authority or in keeping with his character and mission, then the prayer could have those qualities without necessarily saying those words, and vice versa, we could say the words and lack the meaning if we are not careful. If the Greek dictionary above is correct, then we would want to make certain that we mention Jesus.

As I read on this subject, a few insist that it should always be said. Most would say that it is not required, but appropriate. They would point to prayers in the New Testament like Ephesians 3:14-21 which lack the phrase as evidence. The latter would insist that the meaning of the phrase, however, must be true of our prayers.

What should we do? First, it is important for us to understand the meaning of this phrase. God never wants us to say empty, meaningless things in prayer. Second, saying the phrase is a helpful reminder that our prayer should be according to Jesus’ authority and consistent with his character and will. Third, in public prayer it may be better to say it in order not to be a distraction to others in the assembly. Finally, rejoice that we have the privilege of prayer. We can approach the throne of grace with confidence because we have a mediator — Jesus.

*A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, p. 713

The Power of Habits

September 1, 2017

Habits are powerful. They are the things we do without having to think about them too much. They represent our routine. When they are good habits, they help us live the kind of life we want.

I’ve been working on healthy habits this year. I’m drinking more water and very little diet soda. I’m trying to eat right, which in my case involves counting calories. I’m walking daily and exercising. But I will confess that forming these new, healthy habits has not been easy, but it has been life changing. I wish I’d done it sooner

How long does it take to form a new habit? One number that is frequently heard is 21 days. This number doesn’t quite represent the original quotations from which it was taken. It would have been truer to say a minimum of 21 days. More recent research would such that it takes on average 66 days, but depending on the complexity of the behavior, it can take longer. But good habits are worth it.

Once you form a good habit, you do certain things routinely. Of course, the danger is that you will lose the habit if you keep breaking it. Habit formation doesn’t take perfection, but it does take consistency.

Spiritual formation also includes habits. I’ve learned important routines in my spiritual life, things that I automatically do. One of the habits I would like to suggest to you as we begin a new quarter in our Bible school program is participation in Bible class on Sunday morning and Wednesday night. For some of us, this is a habit. We don’t have to ponder whether we are going to go. We just go. We have formed this as a habit in our life.

Will every class meet a burning need in my life? Will every class give me a spiritual, mountain top experience? Probably not. I’ve had meals of physical food that were quite memorable. I’ve eaten food that didn’t appeal to me very much (for example, think about your least favorite leftovers), but was still nourishing. The same will probably be true as we attempt to provide spiritual food in our Bible classes. I’ve learned to find something worthwhile in the classes I attend and to be spiritually nourished by it. Besides another aspect of being together is fellowship and forming my identity with fellow Christians. This is even more important for our children.

I suspect in eternity we will not look back on time that we spent in Bible classes and say things like: I wish I’d slept in more. I wish I’d watched more TV. I wish I’d worked more. I wish I’d done more household chores, or whatever else we might have done with this time.

I hope that you will give this habit a try. Remember habit formation will probably take weeks to months. Consistency is important in forming this habit. But maybe at the end of that time, you will say what I’ve said about my new healthy habits: I wish I’d done it sooner.