Sunday, January 22, 2012

What is repentance and why do I have to do it to be saved?

The very short answer:

  • Repentance is stopping the bad things and doing more good
  • You have to do it because otherwise you are not admitting that God is good and you are not good

A little longer:

Before becoming a Christian, everyone does what they want to do.  For many that is even trying to be good according to what they, themselves, think is good.  We are influenced in our understanding of "good" by many different things and people.  At the end of the day, if we aren't looking to God to guide our actions, we are not good.

Repentance means deciding that God is much smarter and wiser than yourself, then finding out what He has to say about life, and acting and believing in your life the way God says you should.  Where there is desire to be godly, God will give the ability to change, and during your life you will overcome your old ways and gradually be transformed into something new!

If you've properly understood what repentance is then it easily follows that you have to do it to be saved.  If you didn't change your ways you would be admitting (by your actions) that you don't really believe God is worth listening to.  You would be putting your own view of "good" above God's view.

Something to notice is that while repentance leads to doing good things, it is primarily a change of attitude.  Just deciding to be good, and then doing good things (often called "good works") will not save you.  You have to believe that God is the measure of what is good - this is a part of the essential saving faith.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Why can't I just believe what makes me happy?

Because if the things that make you happy are wrong and there really is a hell, you will spend more time unhappy on the eternal scale of "time".

Because what makes you happy might make others unhappy. What do you do then? Who's happiness is more important? Your happiness shouldn't trump the happiness of the most important person (Jesus). Everything you do should be to make God happy. If you become happy though this, that is a nice bonus. In fact, God's happiness will lead to the most joy in His followers, which means the most joy out of everyone (believer or not).

Psalm 4:7 You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound.

Psalm 16:11 You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Psalm 30:4-5 Sing praises to the LORD, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name. (5) For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.

There seems to be a paradox: sacrifice happiness to receive more happiness? But if you notice from the last Psalm referenced, perfect joy is not guaranteed here and now. Psalm 16 shows that we receive our "fullness" of joy in the presence of God. Eternity. Heaven. Fullness of joy.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Vague Christianity

Here's something to be careful of.

Have you ever come out of church and then had an argument with someone else over what the sermon was about?  The preacher said X, you interpreted it as Y, and your friend thought he was talking about Z.

If you went to the preacher, he might have said, "Everyone gets something different out of a sermon," and if pressed on which was the appropriate interpretation he may have said, "It doesn't matter what I meant, it's more important what you got out of it personally, and that a conversation was started."

There are a number of troubling things about this:

  1. This is not biblical preaching where the teacher should be accountable for what he says - in the vague view it is up to the interpreter to get the message out of it that they supposedly need.
  2. To get something out of a sermon that the preacher didn't intend, that you had to work out for yourself, means that you did all the work.  The preacher is unnecessary.  All that is required is a focal point to start your own thinking and reflection.
  3. What do you do if you are not particularly gifted with teaching?  How do you get anything out of the sermon that will grow you?
  4. This raises the value of personal interaction and engagement with issues over the value of the issues and content.  Truth is relegated to the background, if it is even included.  
This vagueness, I believe is a defense used by preachers who can't teach or who refuse the responsibility of their position.  I don't think this is necessarily clear to these preachers themselves, so be as gentle as you can.  But challenge your preachers and pastors to be clear in what they are saying.

When you think about it, ministers already have a captive audience so why not just tell some simple truths from the scriptures that will help them live better.  Isn't that what preaching is?  But there is pressure to perform, pressure to make listeners happy, pressure to be relevant, pressure to fill the tithing bucket, pressure to get more people in the door next week.

If you want examples of this vague and dangerous "Christianity" (in quotation marks because it is doubtful that they are teaching Christianity, even if their intentions are good).  Try reading something written by Rob Bell or take a look at The Shack

Monday, January 9, 2012

Christians do bad things too. Why do I have to be a Christian?

It's not a question of whether Christians are better people or not.  It's a question of forgiveness of those bad things, and the response to that forgiveness.

Someone who is not religious may do something bad, but there is only his or her conscience to catch them out.  Even then, there is no reason to obey the conscience except if another person catches them out.  The craftier a non-religious person, the more they can get away with if they choose.

Now, I'm not saying that all non-religious people will try and get away with everything they can, but there is no good reason not too in their eyes.  If you are non-religious and have a reason to do good, you have to show that there is an objective 'good' and that your reason to do good is worthwhile.

Someone who is a Christian receives forgiveness for their sin, Christ taking punishment on the cross for them.  Their response to this should be gratitude, leading to a greater reluctance to do wrong in the future.  This means that someone who is a Christian (and not a pretender - there are many) will become a better member of society over time.

Eternally speaking, the biggie is Judgement Day.  The difference between a Christian and non-Christian on this day is forgiveness and heaven (eternal life) and un-forgiveness and hell (eternal death).

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Who did the children of Adam and Eve marry?

The answer to this is easy, though dealing with it as a listener is not quite so easy.

Adam and Eve's kids married each other.  They had to because there was nobody else to marry! (That's the easy part)

The natural question that then arises is, "But isn't that wrong?"
So the hard part is accepting that there was no rule (at this stage of history) that said it was wrong to marry a sibling.  Some speculate that since it was much closer to the fall, the genetics weren't quite so muddled with mutation.  This meant that harmful genetic mutation wouldn't compound the way it does with inbreeding today.  Either way, there was no rule until much later.

What is more important in this objection isn't the question and answer, it is the ability to accept an answer that is based in a very different morality than that which we are used to today.

Some more reading from

Thursday, January 5, 2012

What's the big deal between Catholics and Protestants?

Have you ever heard of the Protestant Reformation, sometimes just called the Reformation?  If not, then you need to know a little something about this important historical event that has shaped the western world so much.

In the 16th Century (the 1500s), various people (reformers) began to protest against the Roman Catholic Church because of the way they did things.  Martin Luther (not Martin Luther King) wrote 95 things he saw that were wrong or unjust about the Roman Catholic Church.

This protest (where the name "Protest-ant" comes from) sparked a huge split in the church with the Protestants bringing the focus back to God and His glory.

All of the Protestant denominations have come out of the Protestant side of things as each splinter group tries to reform further.  Some have had success and some have gone too far, becoming non-Christian cult groups who you can often identify by their particular attire or presumptuous and premature titles.  Find out more about some of these groups here and here.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Why does evidence matter when the Bible is only a book of faith?

Is it "only" a book of faith?  What happens when the Bible is no longer a historically reliable account (in the parts that it claims to be)?

When you reduce these parts of the Bible down to a few general metaphorical ideas, you establish a way of interpreting scripture.  If you then apply that way of interpreting scripture in essential areas (like the historical crucifixion), you end up doing away with everything that matters about Christianity.  In short, you are calling the Bible a lie.  Joel S. Baden does this, I think without realising, in this article.

Let me make this really clear.  If you cast doubt upon one historical account, e.g. the waters parting for Israel, then you also cast doubt upon another, and Jesus no longer really rose again.

The apostle Paul has this to say about this situation:

"...if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins..." 
- 1Corinthians 15:17

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

God's chosen people are through Ishmael, not Isaac - Muslim objection

Have you ever come across this objection?  Muslims will often make this claim when you speak with them.  What is a good approach when it comes up?

You can start by pointing to the bible, and the lineage of Jesus, or the scriptures that show God's people are Israel (the children of Jacob/Israel, son of Isaac)and not Ishmael.  This will inevitably bring up the objection about the bible being corrupted which is where you want this conversation to go.

It all will come down to the bible for a conversation with a Muslim.  In this objection, they must show that their claim is more reliable.  Unfortunately for them, the bible was there first, and their belief that it was deliberately corrupted is nonsense.

It is their religious writings that are unreliable because they came later and even borrowed from the biblical texts enough to try to lend some authenticity.

A final point to try and get in there (if the conversation is still reasonable at this point) is that all nations can be God's people now.  Through Jesus, and the cross, salvation is no longer through a single race.  Circumcision is of the heart.

Monday, January 2, 2012

But won't heaven be boring?

What will we spend our time with in heaven?  At the moment we have TV, computer games, etc.  But that kind of stuff doesn't seem to be a part of heaven.  Maybe I don't want to go there if I'm not entertained...

If 3D TV is your idea of good entertainment, prepare for something infinitely more amazing.  How about viewing something that will never get boring.  Not even after a million years!

Even if heaven is merely sitting and staring at God, that will be enough to blow your mind for ever.  Think about what that means for a moment.  If you stared at your TV for a week straight you would probably be going mad with boredom.  Even your beautiful spouse can't captivate you within a billionth of what God can.

I'm sure there will be more to heaven than merely sitting and watching though.  Consider the nature of the Kingdom of God, a part of which is merely a perfect version of life and society, not too different to how we live now (though completely different at the same time!)

Heaven won't be boring.  I'm certain!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Objections - learn to face them head on

If you want an authentic faith, and want real confidence in your message, you should learn to face objections head on.

As you deal with the objections, rather than hiding them under the rug, you will gradually form a message that integrates well with the rest of your life and is harder for objectors to ignore.

At the very least, you should face objections because people are good at sensing when you are bluffing your way through.  Much better to know why the objection is no real challenge to your faith.

One strategy to prevent being overwhelmed by objections is to deal with one at a time.  Pick one and deal with it inside and out.  Often many other objections fall away when you do this.

Happy New Year, and God bless!