Trustworthiness and Commitment

In our world today the concept of commitment is not a popular one.  “In our permissive, irresponsible, escapism mentality, commitment is almost a dirty word  Those who would rather rationalize and run than stick with it and watch God pull off a miracle or two (not to mention shaping us in the process) resist this whole concept.” – Chuck Swindoll.

 We are recognized as trustworthy when we are dependable and keep commitments.  We fail when commitments are not realized because of inability, lack of planning, or will.

Commitment is something we expect of others, but is it something we are willing to give?   What does the Bible say about keeping your word, being depend­able, keeping promises and commitments?

God is a covenant keeping God.  He never goes back on His word.  If He has spoken it, He will do it (Heb. 6:17-18; Isa. 46:11).   God made a covenant with Abraham and David which had promises for Israel and the whole world (Genesis 12:1-3; 2 Samuel 7:14 with Isaiah 2:1-4).  What if God said, “I’m really tired of putting up with these people?  After all, they broke their commitments to me.  Why don’t I break mine to them?”  Sup­pose God relied only on His feelings.

David wrote, “But he honors those who fear the Lord; He who swears to his own hurt and does not change” (Psalm 15:4). “Swears to his own hurt” results from learning to be true to one’s word even when it is difficult to carry out what was promised.  A vow is a vow.  A man must honor that vow even though it costs him.  But it will cost  more later on if he doesn’t.  When younger I knew a college student that was not treated very well by someone who misunderstood his intentions. That person, who was an authority over him, sent him packing.  The student owed some money to that individual and his organization.  The student, though he had no positive motivation, paid every last cent because he considered it the right thing to do.  In his doing so I gained increased respect for him.

 Why do people NOT keep commitments?  Here are some possible reasons:

 1.  Public opinion and peer pressure – People around us exclaim, “Why sweat it?”  They don’t care to keep a promise as long as it serves their own interests.  Others’ lack of commitment influences us to become less serious about keeping our own.  We lack the example of people to admire in public life who keep their word.   Some of the most egregious examples are those who are not hypocrites, but those who have deception built into their political philosophy.  The end justifies the means.  Truth is that which advances my agenda.  Promises are made to get elected or advanced.  There is no obligation beyond that.

 2.  Accommodating theology – Sometimes people say, “God is leading me to violate this contract, dissolve this marriage, or break this promise.”  This has the illusion of making and then breaking your word look respectable.  Ecclesiastes 5:4-5 states, “When you make a vow to God, do not delay to pay it; For He has no pleasure in fools.  Pay what you have vowed—Better not to vow than to vow and not pay.”  A couple in their marriage vows usually say, “for better or for worse…till death do us part.”  Most have forgotten marriage a divine contract (Matt. 19:6).  The promise to be faithful is made “before these witnesses and before God.”  It is a three way agreement.  God is committed to the success of that marriage brought about by the commitment of the couple.  And the witnesses are there to provide support in the carrying out of the marriage vows as well.  While the Bible does make accommodation for divorce, it is not commended nor commanded (e.g. Matthew 5:32).

Sincerity in making a promise is always in vogue not only in one’s relationship to God, but also with other human beings:  Jesus admonished, “Just say a simple, ‘Yes, I will,’ [and mean it] or ‘No, I won’t.’ [and mean it]  Anything beyond this is from the evil one” (Matthew 5:37 [NLT]).

 3.  Delayed consequences – People seem to get away with breaking their word without God interfering in judgment.  But Ecclesiastes 8:11 says, “Because the sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil”. Intentional disregard in keeping promises works for a while, but then offenders get found out and no one trusts them anymore. Eventually, they lack credibility.  Their ability to be regarded as a role model is decimated and the stigma is difficult if not impossible to remove.

 4.  Christian approval – The Corinthian Christians boasted of their tolerance of a man who had sexual relations with his father’s wife (stepmother?). See 1 Corinthians 5:1-2.  This gave aid and comfort to those who wished to persist in a sinful life-style.  Here, respecting the commitment of others in marriage was disregarded.  Promises and vows in things pertaining to marriage are to be taken seriously by us because they are taken seriously by God.

 God directs the Christian to be different.  He is not to be conformed to this world, but be transformed (Romans 12:1-2).  The world may not esteem commitments the same way God does.  However, if we can cut through the rationalizations and trust the sovereign God of the universe in the midst of keeping commitments to secure His approval, we will be better off in the long run.

 

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Published in: on February 18, 2014 at 4:03 pm  Leave a Comment  

Why Christian Education?

It has been said that we are only one generation away from barbarism. Surveys have uniformly revealed that most Americans believe that we are on the wrong path. Indicators of social disintegration seem to confirm that trend.

Education is often touted as a cure to reverse this trend. Money is poured into public education from kindergarten to college but the results do not seem to justify the expense. The child is born into a world in which the world and life view projected by the major institutions (media, education, government, etc.) is a lot different from that of a generation ago let alone from the days of our founding through the 19th century. Parents are genuinely concerned that their children assimilate values that will make them honest, compassionate, thankful, hard- working, generous, just, productive citizens and that they receive a first class academic education so that they might make a good living. A child who embraces a positive sense of meaning and purpose in life has an invaluable intangible asset. Unfortunately, the adoption of this mindset by this generation seems to be getting rarer.

What most of these institutional influences consistency overlook and very often undermine is the importance of a distinctive Christian education. Few seem to understand what a Christian education even looks like. Since these institutions often try to persuade us that the Christian aspect of education is irrelevant and even harmful, parents as well as children are confused.

Here is a partial portrait of what a Christian education should look like:

1) A Christian education should be given by those who not only know Christ as Savior and have eternal life, but those who are committed to a biblical world and life view and who are daily trusting and obeying God and His Word.
2) A Christian education is primarily the responsibility of parents, not just the Church or the Christian school. Cf. Deuteronomy 6:4-8. This means that the Church and Christian school are not to do the work of the parent, but support it. For parents who may not be able to home school, a Christian school can provide needed assistance to the parents in their desire to teach their children not only how to make a living, but how to live. Christian education should be an extension of the training children receive at home. Ultimately, education is not the responsibility of the state.
3) A Christian education is comprehensive in scope. A Christian teacher should not only teach the Bible, but be able to apply it to every area of human life. This means that not only should children learn Bible verses, pray, and know what and why they believe about God, the Bible, angels, Christ, etc., but also be able to apply biblical principles and insights to family life, ethics, the arts, history, economics, business, science, literature, public speaking, math, and philosophy. This approach assumes that the Bible is reliable and will not lead us astray, but into objective truth. In a truly Christian education there an integration of general education, biblical studies, and preparation for professional studies.
4) A Christian education is committed to academic excellence. The Christian school recognizes the principle found in Colossians 3:23: “And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men;” The Lord expects our best efforts in representing Him and being productive in this life for good. This spiritual principle aligns with the principle of good customer service, an essential component for success in life. Lack of diligence and lack of knowledge leads to incompetence, a common failing in meeting the challenges of life.
5) A Christian education prepares the student for life. The rationale for this is that the child is exposed to the eternally valid Word of a God who knows everything in contrast to the philosophy of man who knows next to nothing by comparison and whose values shift from generation to generation. This forms a foundation to make sense out of the world and act in wisdom while interacting with it. A Christian school is not, as some critics would say, a hothouse where students are sheltered from the “real world” so that once they graduate, they cannot function in the world outside their home and school. In the formative years children actually do better, not in a resistant atmosphere, but a supportive one. Children grow when exposed to good food and care. The must be shown genuine love and given wise instruction so they will be able to detect unwholesome influences. Besides achievement, testing has consistently shown that Christian school students actually perform better overall than their public school counterparts.

My wife and I have raised three well-adjusted children who are successful in their lives and their careers. Much of that success we attribute to Christian schools who assisted us as parents. Today there is harmony and good will among all our family members with no fragmentation or alienation. We are glad we made the decision to take responsibility for our children’s education and use others of like mind to assist us. In retrospect, we found we headed a lot of problems off at the pass. Today my wife and I function as board members of a Christian academy that shares the same dedication that we experienced with the teachers who taught our children. No tax payer money was available for us to send our children to a Christian school, but the sacrifice in terms of cost and time has paid off. Now we wish to pass our support on to a newer generation of students.

Suggested reading: Christian Education for the Real World 3rd ed. by Henry M. Morris. Green Forest, Arkanss: Master Books, 1991.

Published in: on December 27, 2012 at 8:23 pm  Comments (2)  

Do Missionaries Destroy Cultures?

In the popular culture, influenced in large part by segments of the secular media and the educational establishment, the idea has been set forth that missionaries are simple minded insensitive people who are motivated in reality by self-serving motives. When they come into contact with other cultures they simply cannot understand the values of others so they cause indigenous peoples to accept their “superior” Western cultural norms and sometimes in misguided zeal destroy libraries, totem poles, and other expressions of culture. All missionaries are and were interested in was colonialism and lining their pockets with what they exploited from native peoples.

In certain oft read fictional accounts missionaries came to be cariacatured as lustful (e.g. W. Someset Maugham’s Rain or Seven Women) or as those who messed up the peaceful idyllic life of natives (e.g. James Michner’s Hawaii). In Hawaii the odious bigoted Abner Hale becomes the prototype for understanding missionaries’ contempt and disregard for native culture. Alan Tippet, an anthropologist, however researched hundreds of early missionary sermons from Hawaii and found that none had the ranting style Michener suggested was typical.

It is, therefore, the conclusion of many today that these peoples could do very well without Christianity. They had their religions and ways of life. It is better that they should have been left alone. However, what is overlooked is that these peoples had already been exploited and abused. David Livingstone was preceded by Arab slave traders. But Livingstone did what he could for the slaves by treating them and burying their dead. Before Any Carmichael there had been those who dragged boys and girls away from Indian temples to child prostitution. Livingstone and Carmichael, however, opposed these practices and made a difference. William Carey spent 56 years in India and rescued more than a thousand children from neglect of abuse as Hindu temple prostitutes. Missionary Jeremy Evarts opposed the removal of the Cherokees from their land when the U.S. government wished to do so.

It is true that there have been missionaries who have been insensitive to the culture of those they have tried to reach. In some cases they have been destructive and self-serving. On the other hand there are secularists who do not always have a good record.  They introduced things such as alcohol, drugs, and fire arms to those who were not responsible in using them. Land hungry settlers pushed some native American tribes into extinction. This leads us to an important observation. Missionaries are not to be necessarily associated with imperialistic exploitation. A recent well-researched book entitled The Imperial Horizons of British Protestant Missions, 1880-1914 states, “most missionaries were no conscious imperialists in either a political or denominational sense.”

Are missionaries routinely money grubbing? Hardly. Many go on the basis of faith missions pledges with no parent organization guaranteeing that their needs will be met. Many serve when they do not have their full support. Take William Carey who is credited with being the father of modern missions. As a young preacher he wanted to go to India. He had a pledge of $250 from a group of his Christian friends to launch his ministry. The British government offered to pay him $7,500 a year if he would teach English in an Indian University. He decided to live on the $250 and then gave the $7,050 to missions. It is estimated that he gave over $400,000 to world missions. Livingstone had to deal with dysentery, malaria, insects, lions, thieves, hunger, unfriendly villagers, slavers, rain, drought. Yet he persevered to bring the gospel to and to live unselfishly before those he met.

Missionaries often work where it is dangerous to live. Many have lost their lives as a result. Critics have in effect said, “You Christians are nuts! You go to other countries and get kidnapped, shot and killed by people who don’t want you. Get out of these countries and this won’t happen.” But these critics are oblivious to the danger of something much worse happening if the missionaries do not go with the gospel message. The removal of guilt (a universal need), motivation to live a better life, and bringing hope for eternal life are three rich spiritual legacies that missionaries leave behind. Besides the spiritual liberation that is accomplished, very often expanded human rights, hospitals, orphanages, treatment of AIDS, prison reform, and halting of practices such as slavery, forced prostitution, and ritual widow burning have followed. Multitudes were taught to read and write. In fact, such caught the attention of Nicholas Kristoff writing in the NY Times a few years ago in which he expressed admiration for Christian concern for the world’s poor and oppressed.

Today’s missionaries, more than ever, are taught to respect other cultures where they can and are trained in cross-cultural communication. Where practices clearly violate biblical ideals they are challenged. The story is told of a traveler whose self-confidence exceeded his humility and perception. He went to a tribal village and found a native seated on the ground reading a Bible. “What has that book done for you?” he skeptically asked. The man looked up from his reading. “We might better ask what the Bible has done for you?” “For me?” the traveler asked in surprise. “Yes, if I had not read this book you would be in that pot over there.” Fortunate indeed for the traveler that a missionary stopped by and introduced the Bible to these people!

Published in: on July 13, 2010 at 2:31 pm  Leave a Comment  

Are the 10 Commandments Inferior?

The other day I was listening to a talk radio program where a person being interviewed claimed in a heated exchange that the 10 commandments were inadequate because they did not address slavery, nor did they address child abuse. The implication was that they were defective and should not be heeded.

The speaker had a motive for finding fault with the 10 commandments because he was running a service that facilitated the breaking of the commandment forbidding adultery. His service for a price would facilitate an affair if you happened to be bored in your marriage.

But was his criticism true? The commandments are indeed concise. It is true that the commandments do not specifically address per se the issues of slavery and child abuse, but they are more comprehensive in scope than first meets the eye.

Several of them are cast in a negative form, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor, You shall not covet . . .” But within every explicit prohibition there is an implied positive injunction. For instance, the prohibition against destroying life has as its flip side the virtue of promoting life. This not only has to do with preserving life itself in another person, but enhancing the quality of life. This not only extends to acts but motives. Jesus, in clarifying the commandment, You shall not murder, noted that logically that prohibited the motive that gave rise to the act—that of unrestrained anger without just cause and verbal abuse (Matthew 5:21-24).

So then, the commandments do cover the issue of child abuse. A child is a human being who qualifies for being treated with dignity and respect. When that is done the quality of life of the child is protected. This does not mean that the child has no accountability when disobedient. The child may be chastened by any number of means short of exasperating or injuring him or her (Eph. 6:4). The attitude Jesus, master teacher of the law, manifested towards children was one of kindness and He warned the abusive that they would be held accountable (Matt. 18:2-6).

With regards to slavery, that is a little more complicated to answer though it comes under the umbrella of the same commandment that promotes life. A short answer would be that under the Old Testament slavery existed, but was regulated and not widespread. Certain rights were extended to slaves who often qualified for eventual manumission, but that requires a more thorough treatment beyond the space permitted here. In the New Testament mutual obligations were enjoined upon believing slaves and masters whose legal status had been defined by the Roman Empire. These made the institution more humane and an example that is still applicable to employer and employee relationships today (Ephesians 6:5-9). In no case was slavery looked upon as something desirable and freedom was to be preferred over slavery (I Cor. 7:20-24). The teachings of Scripture undermined the institution of slavery that was often dehumanizing in its practice under Rome and other pagan nations. It is no quirk of history that the movement to abolish slavery in the early 19th century in Britain was led by a Christian named William Wilberforce and those who supported him such as former slave-trader, Pastor John Newton who wrote the song, Amazing Grace.

The lesson is clear. Before we criticize the 10 commandments as not casting a wide enough net to cover the essential ethics of life, we need to take a closer look and we need to ask why we are criticizing them to begin with.

Published in: on May 27, 2010 at 8:33 pm  Leave a Comment  

Is the Holy Spirit just a symbol for God or something more?

Recently a survey by George Barna revealed that 68% of the youngest American Christians believe the Holy Spirit is just “a symbol of God’s power or presence, but is not a living entity.”

I remember that when I was quite young, a neighbor friend about my age telling me he could never believe like we Christians because we believed that the Holy Spirit was God. I denied this was the case, but just to make sure, I asked my Mom. He assured me that this was indeed a belief Christians held and for the time being that was good enough for me.

The belief that the Holy Spirit is just a symbol cannot be derived from the Bible for it teaches that the Holy Spirit is a person. He has intellect (I Corinthians 2:10-11), emotion (Ephesians 4:30), and will (I Corinthians 12:11). This does not conform very well to the idea of the Spirit simply being an abstract representation.

Even more difficult to explain, assuming that the Spirit was merely symbolic, is why the Spirit is honored as an equal partner with God the Father and Jesus Christ. Matthew 28:19 says, for instance,“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

The quotation in Matthew infers that there are three separate coequal persons. Each is regarded as God and as such is eternal (John 6:27; Hebrews 1:8; Acts 5:3-4). This, of course, is speaking of the Trinity. God is one Being, but in the unity of that one Being there are three coequal and coeternal Persons. This means the Holy Spirit is God.

To make the Holy Spirit a symbol is to rob Him of the honor, recognition, and even worship that is due Him. If we fail to realize He is an actual divine Person, we fail to see Him as Someone who seeks to minister through us and to us. We will tend to see ourselves as utilizing the Holy Spirit rather than the Holy Spirit utilizing us. As a Christian when I received the Spirit I was not just getting power from God, but a Person who supplies the power.

Furthermore, if we deny the reality of His personality, we have no right to expect personal fellowship with Him. A person can only have fellowship with another person. The thrilling truth is that it is possible to experience personal fellowship and blessing because of the Holy Spirit. When we are properly related to the Holy Spirit, we are having fellowship with Him. Then we can wish to one another as Paul did to the Corinthians, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion [fellowship] of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Corinthians 13:14).

If you are an older Christian and you happen across a younger one this week, you might want to ask, “What are your ideas on the Holy Spirit?” You might have a teachable moment of which to take advantage.

Published in: on May 26, 2010 at 6:09 pm  Leave a Comment  

Why We Feel Uncomfortable Around God

To really answer this question I have to get a little theological and use some terms you might not be used to hearing every day. But hang in there. It will be worth the effort to understand.

There is a fundamental difference between God and us. The Bible tells us, He is holy (Isa. 65:5); we are not (Romans 3:23). That creates enormous psychological distance. We are okay as long as God is viewed as impersonal or if He is all loving and approves of all we do. But as soon as we become aware that He requires that we be as perfect as He is, we feel uncomfortable, even fearful or angry at Him. When others require us to be something we are incapable of being, we seek to avoid them and escape from their judging gaze.

We have cause to be uncomfortable because those who are not as perfect as God (and that includes all of us) cannot qualify to live with Him forever. We would ruin heaven for Him. I explained to one person this last weekend that the question is not, “How can a loving God send anyone to hell? The real question is, “How can a holy God allow anyone into His perfect heaven?”

The important thing to note is that the perfection God demanded, He provided. We had minus righteous. Have you ever lied? Have you ever stolen anything? You get the picture. God, however, provided plus righteousness. In fact, it was more than what we needed to qualify for heaven.

Here’s how. When Jesus as a sinless substitute died on the cross He paid sin’s penalty which was death. He made it possible to transfer His perfect righteousness to us in exchange for our sin. He died in our place (Matthew 20:28). He suffered what we justly deserved, thus releasing us. When we trust Jesus as the payment for our sin debt, He becomes our Savior, giving us the free gift of eternal life (Romans 6:23). Romans 4:5 says, “But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness.”

If you receive God’s free gift of righteousness by receiving Christ, you have all the righteousness you need to enter heaven. The gift is given freely so that you might respond with heartfelt thanksgiving in grateful service to Him (Ephesians 2:10).

If this makes sense, why don’t you, the best you know how, receive that gift for your own? “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved (Acts 16:31).” And then you should feel relaxed, comfortable, and at ease with God because you would truly be His child and accepted by Him into His forever family (John 1:12-13).

If you have received this gift and are God’s, what are you doing with it to make your life count for Him?

[Verse references not quoted may be looked up in your Bible for verification]

Published in: on May 18, 2010 at 2:30 pm  Leave a Comment  

Four Big Questions

There are at least four different big questions that clamour for answers:  Where did I come from?  Who am I?  Why am I here? and Where am I going?  The atheist’s answer in short to the first question is, “I got here by evolution.”  The answer to the second question generally is “a mass of protoplasm; an extension of the physical universe; matter in motion, nothing more.”  The answer to the third question requires silence since the impersonal universe logically is capable of instilling any real genuine sense of purpose.  The answer to the fourth question is, “My destiny is dust and oblivion.”  The short existence one lives upon the earth is it.  After that, it is all over.  Yet, it is difficult if not impossible, to logically live a full and meaningful life with these kind of answers. 
 
The atheist may object that he does have a meaningful existence.  He does have a sense of purpose.  It might be found in acheiving fame, helping others, gaining voluminous knowledge, pleasure, or any number of options.  The prospect of annhilation at death removes the terror of any afterlife should it not be so pleasant.  When looking at the vast universe he is struck by his apparent insignificance in the grand scheme of things.
 
Christianity puts it altogether in the following way:  Our origin if from God.  He created us.  Our identify comes from the fact that we are made in the image of God and are people for whom Jesus died.  Both these aspects of our existence are permanent and irreversible and are the basis of valuing all human life.  Our purpose is expressed well in the Westminster Catechism in that we were created to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.  And our destiny is heaven.  This can be counted on the moment a person receives Jesus Christ as his personal Savior (Jn. 6:47).  He is the Savior, not us (Titus 3:5).  The Bible describes heaven as a better place than our present world with all its evil and suffering.
 
While the atheist has no logical basis for a meaningful origin, identity, purpose, and destiny, he does sense in life what would be true if God exists in his life and in his conscience.  Sometimes Christians are caricatured as saying that atheists must necessarily be unethical.  Atheists have varying degrees to morality like other homo sapiens.  And since they believe they call the shots, their morality is not always uniform.  Some might want their unborn child; others would be content to kill them through abortion.  Many Western atheists for conscience sake (Did evolution produce that?) attempt to distance themselves from the atheistic communists of the 20th century who simply followed the logical implications of naturalistic evolution.  When man views himself as an animal, it is more likely he will act like one if he does not see himself as a human being vested with great value and responsibility for others’ welfare by His Creator.
 
If you are considering the denials of atheism, do yourself a favor and also consider the claims of Christ.  He claimed to be the Son of God who can explain your origin, your identity, your purpose, and can produce a resurrection unto life that you can look forward to without committing intellectual suicide.  His explanation fits the real world and does not reduce human beings to mere animals or machines.
Published in: on April 27, 2010 at 11:47 pm  Leave a Comment  

Thanks for A Special Gift

On January 1, 2010 Quarterback, Tim Tebow, in great style, led the Florida Gator football team to a win over Cincinnati.  True to his usual practice, Tebow had engraved below his eyes the address to some Bible verses.  On this day he had chosen Ephesians 2:8-10 which states,

  8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.

If anyone had looked up Ephesians 2:8-10 in their Bibles from watching that game they would have found that they emphasize that salvation is a free gift that cannot be earned.  It can only be received by faith.  The reason for this is that God is too holy to be impressed by our good works and we are too sinful to save ourselves by anything we do.  So God condescended to our need.  He sent His son Jesus to die on a cross to pay the penalty for our sin, to die in our place, so that we would not have to spend eternity in hell.  This is truly good news.  And it was to me the evening I accepted Jesus as my Savior.  These verses had been placed before me and I believed and am confident of heaven, not because of what I have done, but what Jesus did for me.  Verse 10 became more special to me as I realized that I was given eternal life for a purpose.  That purpose was to do something for Christ because of what He had done for me.  I realized that my life was to be lived as a thank you letter to God.  Having received the gift I was now His workmanship.  The good works that would not save me I could do with thanksgiving, not out of an attempt to earn something I never could.  So in my first post it is only fitting that I pay tribute to a great Savior who gave me His best and frees me to perform for His good pleasure!  That understanding from that day until now has been a driving force in my life.

I hope this makes sense.  If you have just placed your faith in Christ or you are seeking Him, I would enjoy hearing from you.

Published in: on April 14, 2010 at 12:06 am  Leave a Comment  

First post

This is the first post.

Published in: on September 22, 2009 at 3:05 pm  Leave a Comment