Today on the radio show, Greg talked about the importance of using Christmas cards to evangelize, have a very specific Christian message in your card. Here are some of his suggestions for messages to add to your card if it doesn't have a Christian message already.
What a blessing Christians have in the New Testament era to be able to search the Old Testament prophecies and understand them, to see how God fulfilled His promises to His people of providing their redemption and salvation. We can see that God kept His promises in Jesus, which gives us good reason, confidence, and hope that He will fulfill those promises He is still working out. His grace is evident as we read of the fulfilled prophecies; and His grace is sufficient now.
1 Peter 1:10-12
Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from Heaven, things into which angels long to look.
In Thee Is Gladness
In Thee is gladness, amid all sadness, Jesus, sunshine of my heart. By Thee are given the gifts of Heaven, Thou the true Redeemer art. Our souls Thou makest, our bonds Thou breakest; Who trusts Thee surely hath built securely, And stands forever. Alleluia!
If God be ours, we fear no powers, Not of earth or sin or death. God sees and blesses in worst distresses, And can change them in a breath. Wherefore the story tell of God’s glory With heart and voices; all Heaven rejoices, Singing forever: Alleluia!
Greg takes a look at Bible verses commonly taken out of context:
Colossians 2:8 “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.”
Marvin Olasky did a great job of pressing an ungrounded moral claim to its real conclusion. He writes:
The prestigious Oxford University Press sent me the new book Morality Without God by Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, a Dartmouth professor. (I'm going to quote him a lot, so I'll use his initials.) WSA begins by complaining that his students quote to him Dostoevsky's favorite line, "If God is dead, everything is permitted." WSA then argues that we don't need God: We all should simply agree not to harm others—cause death, pain, or disability—unless there is "adequate reason."
Wondering if WSA is one of those exceedingly rare secular professors with the courage to be pro-life, I emailed him to ask. He responded that there is no "simple solution to this complex problem . . . the moral problem of abortion cannot be solved by citing religious texts or religious leaders."
Hmm . . . How can it be solved? WSA wrote, "What matters is the present and future harm to the fetus and others. This does not solve the problem, but it tells us where to focus our discussions. I hope this helps."
Hmm . . . It helps only if WSA can tell us how to compare "harm to the fetus" (death) to other harms, so I emailed him again. He responded, "The bottom line is that I think some moral problems are insoluble....They are just too difficult for us to figure out. . . . The answer, 'I do not know,' should become common.
Olasky points out why this agnostic posture is a facade:
But WSA suggested in his book Moral Skepticisms (2006) that since we don't know whether abortion is morally wrong, it's unfair for employers to insist that health plans not pay for abortions.
Hmm . . . Health plans should pay for an abortion even though we know abortion does not protect the health of the unborn child? I asked WSA, and he responded by saying that abortions can promote the health (physical and psychological) of the employee.
So there we go. In theory, a person might say he doesn't know what's ethical in regard to abortion. In practice, he or she has to choose. Should a college cover abortion in its health plan or not? Gotta choose. A young man calls up and says his girlfriend is pregnant. Gotta choose. A professor claims to ride the fence. Gotta choose.
We really do have to make moral choices in real life, and often we're not left with the luxury of answering "I don't know." That is a convenient way of ducking the responsibility of justifying a moral view. WSA really does have a moral view and he should offer a sufficient grounding for it. People who pretend to be morally tolerant really aren't - and can't be. We all have moral views and we need to justify them. The morality left without God that Sinnott-Armostrong proposes isn't sufficient for grounding everyday moral choices. Christianity has a better alternative.
I was thinking this past weekend about the cloud of witnesses that God uses in our lives - and how He can use us as a cloud of witnesses.
I think often of my cloud of witnesses at the church and school I grew up at, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church and School in Inglewood, CA. I am the person I am today because of my parents and because of the men and women at Good Shepherd who took Christian education very seriously and committed themselves to this fellowship of Christians. I was thinking about them this weekend because another of the adults who made up this cloud of witnesses died recently, Mr. Kamrath. (Everyone to me, still, is Mr. or Mrs. or Pastor. We never used first names to address adults.) He is just one example of the many adults that made our congregation a community of believers with eternal impact. Many of them have died, and each one grieves me beyond my current personal connection to them; I grieve because it's the passing of a group of men and women who were significant in my life.
Our church and school was made up of men who provided strong and faithful leadership, serving because they understood the importance of the local fellowship of believers; moms who busily volunteered (very few of them worked back then) their time to organize a myriad of activities and events to make our lives rich and fun; teachers and a pastor, who were committed for lives in a sense of vocation to the ministry of Christian education and dedicated their lives to establishing us in the Word of God. Our teachers and pastors - and I guess our parents, too - were very old school and traditional, which probably seems very old-fashioned now, and I'm very glad of that because they passed on an education that enriched and values that are, well, valuable.
Pastor Dierker was the only pastor I knew growing up, serving his entire career at Good Shepherd with wisdom and steadfastness. My teachers, among them Mr. Eggers and Miss Oelschlaeger, were solid German-bred educators who saw this as their life calling. And despite the old-school, strict manners, they were warm-hearted and compassionate.
Miss Qelschlaeger was a character everyone remembers who sat in her classroom. She was named Quinta because she was the fifth child in a German-speaking parson's family in Nebraska. She told decades of students on the first day of school that they would not pass fifth grade without being able to spell her name. The next day, we all lined up at her desk to spell it. (It's 12 letters and you develop a rhythm if you break it into groups of three letters.) To this day, any person I meet who was in her class can spell her name. And she had a "Board of Education," and she did use it.
Mr. Eggers was quiet and taciturn. His punishment of choice was sentences, starting at 25 and doubling each day of procrastination. My whole sixth grade class once had to write "Portland" 1000 times because we'd gotten quite rambunctious reading our spelling words in unison in class, as was the practice with a new week's list. For those who took care to notice, though, Mr. Eggers was warm and loving, protective even. He was the church organist - quite skilled - and I found out when I was in college he was a jazz fan. Mr. Eggers had a wild side!
We learned Lutheran's Small Catechism every year. Even if all I can remember is Luther's affirmation at the end of each explanation, "This is most certainly true," what was taught and explained and repeated soaked deep into my mind and soul. And the love and respect for God's Word, the commitment to understand it, and the devotion to live it, which was taught and modeled by the parents, pastor, and teachers has formed the foundation and example for my life.
Obviously, I took most of this for granted as a child - all of the time, devotion, sacrifice, and energy by the adults who made up our congregation. But it had its' affect on me and many others.
I'm incredibly grateful for the congregation where I grew up, and as I look back on the events that led my parents to attend there, I can see God's sovereign and gracious hand. This cloud of witnesses was essential for God's work in my life. They took quite seriously Paul's admonition to Timothy to "guard the treasure," to pass it on to other faithful Christ-followers. I am the grateful beneficiary of their commitment. And it makes me think of how seriously we must take our responsibility to be a cloud of witnesses to the next generation, and the one after that. God works through His people, through His church. God grant that we are used by God as significantly as my witnesses at Good Shepherd.
Have you ever inserted your name as you read the Bible to make it more personal? Now you can experience the reality of God's love and promises in a way you never thought possible. In the Personal Promise Bible, you will read your first name personalized in over 5,000 places throughout the New Testament with Psalms and Proverbs, over 7,000 places throughout the complete Old and New Testaments.
Here's a sample (you can get a sample on the website):
John 3:15-16 Melinda has eternal life in Christ. Melinda, believing in Him, shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved Melinda , that He gave His one and only Son, that Melinda, believing in Him, should not perish, but have eternal life.
I can see the appeal, but I'm really troubled by this. In a good-hearted desire to help people understand God's personal love for them, this is tampering with God's Word and feeding the self-absorption common in our culture.
Christianity affirms verbal inspiration for the Bible. That means the very words were God-breathed, not the general message, but the actual words. Playing with the words shouldn't be taken lightly even for good intentions. God gave us His Word, we take it as He gave it taking the words seriously.
Even a simple substitution changes the nature of the message in John 3:16. It was given as a corporate message about the world, but now it's individualized. That has already changed the meaning. How far do they go? Do the titles of the books get my name inserted: The Letter to Melinda?
Christians are very prone to reading verses out of context and reading in their own subjective interpretation and application. This only perpetuates that mistake.
Not everything in the Bible is about us. This has tremendous potential to distort the meaning of passages. And it perpetuates a sinful cultural trend to focus on ourselves. I have to wonder whether any of the curses or judgments get my name substituted. We have this tendancy when attempting to apply Bible verses out of context to only abscond with the good stuff that doesn't always have justification in the historical context (like blessings in the Old Testament). We want the good news and not the bad. So I'd bet that they haven't personalized much of the bad news.
The desire to help people understand God's love for them is a good thing put to bad use in this Bible. Frankly, I think it's condescending and dangerous. God has revealed His Word (words) to us in Scripture and we have to grow up in Christ to learn to read and understand the text, not substitute ourselves smack-dab in the text. We can communicate God's love without tampering with His Word.
The American Freedom Alliance is sponsoring a debate Monday, November 30 between Michael Shermer from the Skeptic Society, Stephen Meyer from The Discovery Institute, Donald Prethero from Occidental College, and Richard Sternberg, from the Biologic Institute and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. (Congratulations to Steve Meyer whose book, Signature in the Cell, is on Amazon's 2009 bestseller list.)