Sunday, September 28, 2008

Worldview Class – Part 4 – Mixing Politics With Religion

This is a continuation of highlighted topics discussed in a worldview class I am teaching on Sunday morning. The main text for the study is The Battle for Truth by David Noebel. A good deal of this class is also based on personal research.

In Part 3 of this series, we learned that separating the sacred from the secular is an incorrect approach to weighty topics such as psychology, law, and economics. These topics should be considered entirely sacred, where they touch on ethical issues. But, something has happened to me several times in developing the worldview class for my church – I become hesitant to share a topic because it doesn’t seem “biblical” enough.

In developing some quotes and examples, I find myself second-guessing whether or not I should be presenting these in a church environment. This is especially true in the area of politics, which I often find myself addressing. Something inside me still struggles to mix these two. Could it be that my own worldview has been affected by my upbringing – especially where I’ve been taught (incorrectly) about the concept of separation of church and state? I think this is partly to blame for my hesitance in addressing politics in a church setting. A piece of me still thinks of politics as belonging strictly in the “Secular” box.

The apostle Paul was an excellent example of someone who was not afraid to share the gospel in a place other than a typical “church” setting. His speech in Acts 17:16-31 was given in the Areopagus, a kind of Roman high council venue, and a true political situation. Paul preached Jesus crucified and resurrected in this place, without apology. He was well-spoken and convincing in his argument.

‘While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to dispute with him. Some of them asked, "What is this babbler trying to say?" Others remarked, "He seems to be advocating foreign gods." They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, "May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we want to know what they mean." (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)

Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: "Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.

"The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. For in him we live and move and have our being.' As some of your own poets have said, 'We are his offspring.'

Therefore since we are God's offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by man's design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead."’

Paul’s example demonstrates that politics and a religious worldview can be presented in the same context. To some degree, our culture has tried to pry these apart and make the claim that they cannot coexist. But it should be understood that God’s grand design flows down to a great number of subjects – even politics. Our founding fathers knew this, and if you still doubt it, go back and read some of their quotes on the subject (from Part 1).

To Worldview - Part 5 - Secular Humanist Theology

Or go back to the main index for all twelve Parts.

If you are interested in portions, or all of this twelve part series taught in an engaging, educational fashion, please contact Alan at Banyan Concepts.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Thanks to “The Greatest Generation”

One of the finest books that I have ever read is The Winds of War by Herman Wouk. It is a fictional account of a Navy family set in non-fictional World War II. Wouk has written many excellent books that I heartily recommend – The Caine Mutiny and War and Remembrance being his major works that I have enjoyed.

My wife and I both enjoy reading novels set in history, and we recently decided to relive some old times by renting The Winds of War mini-series (about ten hours to watch in total, and it only gets you to Pearl Harbor, as there is also a War and Remembrance mini-series that followed).

One cannot help but be drawn to the central figure in the story – Pug Henry – played exceptionally well by Robert Mitchum. Pug is a gritty, determined Navy captain, who is smart, resourceful and protective of his own family. He is a classic military man, willing to sacrifice his own life and dreams for the service of his country. His career goals are constantly frustrated, as he is continually passed over for sea captaincy in favor of dealing diplomatically with the central figures in the war story – Hitler, Roosevelt, Churchill and Mussolini. His toast at a banquet hosted by Josef Stalin is one of the best scenes in the movie.

Pug finally gets his battleship command of the U.S.S. California, only to arrive in Pearl Harbor a few days after its destruction. His son is serving there aboard an aircraft carrier, and Pug displays his typical, reserved demeanor in dealing with the overall situation.

At the end of the movie, Pug stands on a hill overlooking Pearl Harbor, as his son sails away on the carrier. He lifts his eyes to the heavens, and says these incredible words (they brought tears to my eyes):

"Oh, Lord, in a world so rich and lovely, why can your children find nothing better to do than to dig iron from the ground and work it into vast, grotesque engines for blowing each other up? Is it because Abel's next-door neighbor was Cain? Is it because if my enemies make deadly engines, then I must do it better or die? Maybe the vicious circle will end this time. Maybe not. Maybe it will take Christ's Second Coming to end it. Maybe it will never end. But it is 1941 and I know this. Until the life is beaten out of the monster Hitler, the world cannot move another inch toward a sane existence. There is nothing to do now but win the war."

I admire the men and women of that era, and the sacrifices that they made. Their firm resolve to do what was right, at all costs, is unparalleled. It is truly difficult to watch this scene without tears welling up in your eyes. Many times, I have longed to have been born during that era, if for no other reason than to have experienced the hearts and minds of “the greatest generation”. Their unselfish attitude, and their willingness to give up their dreams for a time in order to win a bitter but necessary war inspires me to be involved in great things. How I wish for the chance to be involved with people like them, working for a cause that is great and good.

If you know a WWII veteran, please forward this to them. For those World War II veterans and families who might read this, let me thank you for the sacrifice of time, pain, and even family members if you were called to make such a forfeit. You are truly heroes, who gave up so much in order for our nation (and other nations, as well) to continue in freedom and serve the Lord without fear of punishment. I long for a nation that would do it again.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Worldview Class – Part 3 – Sacred and Secular

This is a continuation of highlighted topics discussed in a worldview class I am teaching on Sunday morning. The main text for the study is The Battle for Truth by David Noebel. A good deal of this class is also based on personal research.

A number of the topics in this class are rather intimidating. When we mention that a worldview must contain opinions on all ten of the listed topics – theology, philosophy, ethics, biology, psychology, sociology, law, politics, economics, and history – it may tend to drive some people away. This feels too much like reliving some of my least favorite college classes.

After all, aren’t these subjects of a more worldly concern? Topics like economics, biology and psychology surely don’t belong in a Sunday morning Bible class, nor should they be a great concern to professing Christians. Shouldn’t we spend our life on more spiritual matters? Aren’t there really two compartments in our lives – one secular and one sacred?

Actually, the follower of Christ should be concerned and knowledgeable about these subjects and should profess a godly opinion for each. Each item should be rooted in biblical truths, straight from God’s word – not just a high-minded opinion of each. We should search the scriptures for God’s stamp on each of these issues.

The first nine chapters of Genesis alone deal with all ten of the topics listed above. For example, Genesis 2:9 tells of the “tree of knowledge of good and evil”, clearly dealing with the topic of ethics. Genesis 1:28 says “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it”, which gives us some direction on the topics of sociology and ecology. The Bible is filled with references which spell out God’s design on each of these topics.

An excellent verse to memorize and commit to heart is Romans 1:20-23 - “For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.” Pay particular attention to the part of the verse in bold, that is, that we can glean God’s design by looking at what has been made. From a Christian worldview, the ten topics mentioned above are reflected in aspects of God's nature and the creation and order that He established…which makes all of these topics sacred, and not secular.

That’s right – our viewpoint on a subject such as psychology should reflect what God has revealed to us about the science of human behavior. Similarly, we should treat economics with knowledge given to us by God on the best way to deal with finances. Does the Bible talk about these subjects? It absolutely does.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer says, “There are not two realities, but only one reality, and that is the reality of God, which has become manifest in Christ in the reality of the world.” And so, we conclude that there are not two distinct compartments in our life, but rather, there is just one. Everything created by God is sacred and set apart for His purposes. We do not live dual lives – a “religious” one on Sunday, and a worldly one the rest of the week. Instead we “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” This is no small task, but it is important for us to realize that every good thing is sacred in God’s eyes.

To Worldview - Part 4 - Mixing Politics With Religion

Or go back to the main index for all twelve Parts.

If you are interested in portions, or all of this twelve part series taught in an engaging, educational fashion, please contact Alan at Banyan Concepts.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

What’s Eternity Got To Do With It?

Our church recently sponsored a Christian gentleman to travel to Colorado and speak with us. For years, he has been a tireless worker in the faith and has traveled around the world speaking about his experiences. Ben Alexander is the author of the book Out from Darkness, which details his experience in the world of Satanism and the occult. Thankfully, he was able to see the error of that path, and has been spreading the good news for over forty years.

During one of his lessons, he said something that struck me as important. His words were, “This life has almost nothing to do with this life. It has everything to with eternity.”

That phrase made me stop and reflect for a moment. It’s an unusual statement in that it’s counter-intuitive to almost everything I read in the newspaper and see in the media. And yet, there is more than a nugget of truth in what he said. If my daily strivings have nothing to do with this life, then why do I worry so much about finances, safety, and overall security? Those are the things that get so much attention every day – from paying the car insurance, to fretting about the stock market, to praying for my wife and children to have a safe trip on the highway when visiting friends in Denver. Before you start to protest, please understand that I’m not suggesting we should avoid insurance coverage or that we stop praying for our families.

So much of our lives are devoted to thinking about the future – but is often limited to the future in this life only. Matthew 6:25 comes to mind – “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?” I’ve often read these words and thought that Jesus is much more pragmatic about the future than I can ever be. This was especially true when my own children were born, and my whole perspective about what was important was forever changed. The safety and security of my wife, son and two daughters seems paramount to me. I can’t imagine life without them.

So here’s the hard part. Do I really trust that God holds the future in His hands? Deep down I know that He does, but I have to truly let go and believe that He reigns over my life and the life of those I love. For me, giving up control is a very hard thing to do (I come by this trait honestly). But it is this very freedom that God offers to me, if I will have enough faith.

Once again, like so many things, it comes down to having an eternal perspective. If I can just see this life as an infinitesimal blip in the entire quantity of time that God offers to me, then I will be closer to understanding His plan. A lifetime on earth often seems so long, but compared to an eternity, it is nothing. And if I realize that eternity holds the promise of being with my loved ones forever, then the wealth that I might enjoy on this earth or even the length of my own life becomes less meaningful. But that is hard to live out in practicality. The concept of eternity is often overlooked, and is difficult to grasp even when reflected upon.

Jesus speaks on this topic in Luke 21:34-36 – “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap. For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth. Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.” It’s clear that Jesus wants us to focus on the life that is to come, and to be prepared for the day He comes back.

Because this life has everything to do with eternity.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Worldview Class – Part 2 – Cat Murder – Ethics and Truth

This is a continuation of highlighted topics discussed in a worldview class I am teaching on Sunday morning. The main text for the study is The Battle for Truth by David Noebel. A good deal of this class is also based on personal research.

In the last installment, I mentioned how critical it is that we recognize this fact – there is only one truth. To further emphasize the point, let’s consider a premise given by the New Age community – that truth is different for everyone. In this case, the New Agers will contend that each individual has the ability to “define their own truth”. So for one person, truth might be that cats are inherently ugly. Another person will contend that cats are preferable to any other living being, including humans. The New Age worldview will say that both are right, and that there are two truths in play (I recognize that this may be a tough example for some, considering how opinionated people tend to be about cats).

Moving up the spectrum a bit, let’s leave the topic of feline physical beauty, and put into play whether it is ethical to murder a cat. This example gets a clearly different answer from people, as many in our society are invested in the rights of animals. Others have no qualms about drowning cats. Again, New Age says that both viewpoints can be correct, as truth is different for each individual.

So, it’s time to take the example to the extreme. Consider the topic of premeditated human murder and where people might classify it – as an acceptable practice, or an act that must be punished by law? With very few exceptions, people will say it is the latter. The New Age movement will, in general, say that premeditated murder is inherently wrong and against societal norms. And, thus, we can draw the following spectrum diagram:

There are two questions that beg to be asked here. Number one – where does an issue go from becoming one of personal preference (cat beauty) to one of ethics? And, number two – along the ethical point of the spectrum, where is the concept of multiple truths supplanted by one single truth for all? That is, can I definitively locate the gray arrows in an absolute place – for all people?

To do so requires the admission that somewhere there is an absolute truth. And the next question must be, “Where does that absolute truth come from?” The answer from the Christian worldview is obviously, “It comes from God”. But what is the answer offered by other worldviews?

This clearly causes a dilemma for other worldviews, who must struggle under the weight of a changing or arbitrary definition of right and wrong. It is much easier to believe that God set right and wrong in the hearts of men and that, for matters relating to ethics and not personal preference, there is a defined line of good and evil that pertains to all men. “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” (Romans 1:18-20)

To Worldview - Part 3 - Sacred and Secular

Or go back to the main index for all twelve Parts.

If you are interested in portions, or all of this twelve part series taught in an engaging, educational fashion, please contact Alan at Banyan Concepts.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Grace In Three Flavors

Throughout the Old Testament, we are reminded that the Israelites are God’s chosen people. Even when they turn away for a time, God was always there to receive them again after they had repented. Though they were the chosen nation, they didn’t win every battle or overcome every obstacle, but only the ones which God deemed that they should win. God’s wisdom and providence was dispensed, and sometimes withdrawn when they had a need to draw closer to Him.

Like the Israelites, we Christians are God’s chosen people, bafflingly chosen by Him before we were born, but with full free will to accept or reject Him. But what does it mean to be “chosen by God”? We can’t earn a place in heaven through good works, so we desire that He chooses us. It is God’s grace that we seek – and even that can’t be earned. This is often a difficult and confusing concept for my tiny mind to grasp.

My life has consisted of three different approaches to God’s grace. I believe these different phases mirror three types of Christian approaches to the topic. First was the period where I did not comprehend the concept of grace, but assumed that the Christian life demanded perfection and sinlessness. Where I fell short, I had to pray for forgiveness and hope that God took me seriously. We still have a book in our house from my teenage years called Some Do’s and Don’ts for the Christian. I lived as if there was a list of rights and wrongs that was clear – all I had to do was live by the “right” list, and avoid the “wrong” list. In short, grace was available from God, but I did not understand that it was free for the taking. Some payment had to be demanded – that’s the way the world works. Fortunately, God’s system didn’t originate in this world.

The second phase was a revelation to me – God’s grace was available and didn’t require me to make an atonement for each individual sin I committed. In a way, this was a new type of freedom, because I had lived previously under a system where I had better know right from wrong, and I had to be aware of which side I was living on during every minute of the day. I found that God’s grace was truly bigger than my sin and this was a joyous realization. All that remained was to determine how I could earn God’s grace and be covered by its blessing. And so I sought out new ways to earn that grace, by once again applying myself to good works in the hope that God would choose to award the gift to me when my time came to leave this world.

But there is very little difference between these two approaches to grace, other than one focuses on individual atonements for every sin, and one is more inclusive in its application. Both approaches require me to do something in exchange to earn God’s grace. Like a weekly allowance that’s dependent on completing a list of chores, I was living by a catalog of “do’s” and “don’ts” that either added up to damnation or salvation.

But there is a third approach to grace, where I give up my salvation to God alone. Nothing I do can make that salvation more or less sure, provided I still call Him my God and humbly accept His offering. Grace is God’s gift to me – end of story. Why is that so hard for me to grasp sometimes? I confess that my actions and my thinking still lapse back into the first and second approaches at times. This grand plan of God’s is so foreign to my worldly way of thinking that it often requires me to disengage from the daily grind and simply ponder Jesus’ sacrifice as the incredible gift that it is. If I were designing a path to forgiveness and salvation, I would not have thought of a plan like this. My design would have included lists, training, and an elaborate scoring system (almost certainly involving an Excel spreadsheet). Thankfully, God reigns over all – not me.

Romans 5 details the sin of Adam as bringing condemnation on all men, but the sacrifice of Jesus brings salvation to all men as well. Verse 17 says “For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.” There is a beautiful parallel contained in this chapter, of one man and the effect he can have on many men. Here is the mystery that sometimes escapes me.

God, grant me the ability to see Your grace for what it is – a free gift. And with that gift, help me to serve You in all things for eternity.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Worldview Class – Part 1 - Introduction

Here is an index of this twelve-part series on worldview:

Worldview - Part 1 - Introduction (this post)

Worldview - Part 2 - Cat Murder - Ethics and Truth

Worldview - Part 3 - Sacred and Secular

Worldview - Part 4 - Mixing Politics With Religion

Worldview - Part 5 - Secular Humanist Theology

Worldview - Part 6 - Marxist Theology

Worldview - Part 7 - New Age (Cosmic Humanist) Theology

Worldview - Part 8 - Christian Theology

Worldview - Part 9 - Secular Humanist Ethics

Worldview - Part 10 - Marxist/Leninist Ethics

Worldview - Part 11 - New Age (Cosmic Humanist) Ethics

Worldview - Part 12 - Christian Ethics

If you are interested in portions, or all of this twelve part series taught in an engaging, educational fashion, please contact Alan at Banyan Concepts.

While teaching a Sunday morning class at church on the topic of various worldviews, I plan to share some of the more significant findings which our class is learning. The main text for the study is The Battle for Truth by David Noebel. A good deal of this class is also based on personal research.

A worldview is an acquired and developed “filter” which each person possesses (whether they want to or not). Each person’s worldview may be slightly different, but it is this filter which determines how we view most everything that we experience. When we read the newspaper, our worldview determines how we interpret data and articles, and is the driving force behind the formulation of our own opinions on almost every subject. In our class, we will touch on four different worldviews (though there are more than this which could be considered) – 1) the Christian worldview, 2) the Secular Humanist worldview, 3) the Marxist/Leninist worldview, and 4) the Cosmic Humanist (or New Age) worldview.

Consider this example – Saint Peter reads an article in the newspaper about new abortion rights being granted to mothers and is horrified at the prospect. This rails against his perspective that all life is sacred and should be preserved. Madonna (the singer, not the painting) reads the exact same article and is filled with satisfaction that the universe has reached a new level of progressive achievement. How can two people read the very same article and yet come away with such radically different conclusions? It all has to do with the worldview that they possess.

This subject is timely. The Christian worldview has largely been removed from the public square, and is even condemned at times by our own laws and practices. But our nation did not start out this way. Consider these words from some of our founding fathers:

“Whoever will introduce into public affairs the principles of Christianity will change the face of the world.” – Benjamin Franklin

“It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religion, but on the gospel of Jesus Christ.” – Patrick Henry

“We have staked the whole future of American civilization not on the power of government, far from it. We have staked the future of all of our political institutions upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.” – James Madison, fourth President of the United States

“The highest glory of the American Revolution was this: that it tied together in one indissoluble bond, the principles of civil government with the principles of Christianity.” – John Quincy Adams, sixth President of the United States

“God has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty, as well as the privilege and interest of our Christian nation, to select and prefer Christians for their rulers” – John Jay, first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court

Can we imagine a politician or Supreme Court justice uttering these words today? Clearly, the worldview lens at the political level has changed in the last two hundred years.

There is much to support a Christian worldview. The idea of a soul is engendered in many other worldviews, including that of New Age supporters, but it is often not thought of as a “real” item to possess, but as more of an ethereal concept. Consider these words from Alexander Solzhenitsyn:

“There is a disaster…which has already been under way for quite some time. I am referring to the calamity of a despiritualized and irreligious humanistic consciousness. If humanism were right in declaring that man is born to be happy, he would not be born to die. Since his body is doomed to die, his task on earth evidently must be of a more spiritual nature.”

Throughout this class, I will reveal several articles of faith to be declared emphatically as elements of a Christian worldview. The first is this:


Once we arrive at the understanding that truth is not different for each individual (a common misperception in the New Age arena), it drives us to seek and understand what this truth is. This element is not an easy one for many people to accept. Many professing Christians will falter on this issue as they unintentionally compromise their belief or their moral position in order to be more accepted by others, and so live to fight another day. But this concept is one that must be adhered to if one is to successfully defend the ideal of Christian Theism.

To Worldview - Part 2 - Cat Murder - Ethics and Truth

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Offering Meditation - What’s In Your Garbage Bag?

What am I truly invested in? What measure do I use to determine what is really important to me? It could be the time I invest in things, or the effort that I expend toward achieving a task. Or it could be the fervor with which I discuss a subject with a friend. I get up early in the morning on Saturday to do things that I deem to be especially important.

I still find myself checking bank accounts, stock prices, and financial investments sometimes in order get an estimation of my worth in this world. Sometimes, that actually gives me a measure of comfort, though it is usually short-lived.

Recently, I asked my family to do something a little different. I hung a clear plastic garbage bag outside the door in the garage and asked them to put every receipt for every purchase we made in the bag, until I was ready to use the bag for something special. To tell the truth, I knew that I would have an offering meditation to do at church in the future, and I had an idea that saving these receipts would provide some interesting subject matter. For about three months, we saved our receipts faithfully until I pulled the bag off the wall one day.

There was a time when filling that bag with receipts would have made me a little proud. It was a measure of what I could afford, which was a proxy for some degree of financial status. But now, it made me a little sad to see that my efforts to earn a paycheck and provide for my family in a financial way could be represented by a garbage bag full of bits of paper.

When we opened the bag, I had the family just take some time to go through the receipts and recall some of the things that we thought were important at the time. Curiously, almost all of the items listed in the bag are consumable – those things are now gone. I also noticed that our family eats quite a lot of cheese.

Getting older has woken me to the fact that there is much more to the life than the present moment. I think having children was the start of that journey. Tucking them in at night and watching them sleep when they were little, and wondering what they would become and how I could contribute to that outcome has a sobering effect. It makes it easier to invest in things other than bank accounts or retirement funds. Things like education, choosing friends, or getting involved in people’s lives take on new meaning when an eternal perspective is involved.

Matthew 6:19-21 says “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Heaven is what lasts, and it’s where I want to spend eternity with my wife, my children, and everyone else whom the Lord deems to enter there. Bringing that eternal point-of-view in focus against the window-dressing of this world has a life-changing effect.

After all, when you get to the end of your days, do you really want to be the one to say, “Hey, I had the biggest garbage bag?”