For some Christians, thinking about the end times, the Tribulation, the Antichrist, and how bad society is these days is a traumatic thing. Every current event is interpreted as if it is a herald of the immediate collapse of the world. This can bring paralyzing fear, or a morbid kind of existence. Here are a few quick pastoral thoughts on living in light of the end times.
Last month, Chuck Lawless wrote an interesting post on what consultants have learned about the question of why church members don't invite others to church. I noticed that a lot of these reasons are "me" centered.
What would I say if I were asked to speak before an audience of Christians on the subject of integrity? Here are some thoughts.
Any other thoughts you would add?
Last time we pondered the definition of morals and saw that morals and sin are related to one another. We continue to another question now.
Is it Immoral to Hold Wrong Morals?
To hold a moral (standard of behavior) that is opposed to a moral that God holds is itself immoral, i.e., a sin. This is because God's standard is the standard. What He holds is right; holding something else is wrong. It is not honoring to Him. We may disagree as to our understanding of what God's revealed standard is, but it seems that we should agree that there is a standard and failing to hold that is itself a sin. God cares not only about what one does but who one is internally.
Consider the simple command to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ in order to be saved. That is what God says is acceptable. If you reject Jesus, then you are saying that God's belief about appropriate behavior is wrong. Thus, it is true that all who reject Christ are immoral, at least in that part of their standards for behavior.
Remember we said earlier that non-Christians borrow morality from the Christian God. They "borrow" it because although they have been given a conscience by God, yet they deny God's place of authority over them, but still use some of the God-given standard they have in their conscience in order to live in an orderly fashion.
Are All Believers Moral?
True Christians hold to a standard of behavior that is consistent with what is presented in the Bible, that is, with the standard God desires. In that sense, believers are moral. However, no Christian is completely consistent in following the Bible's moral standard and so falls short of the standard in some measure.
Are Atheists Immoral?
Christian, is it immoral to reject Jesus? Is it immoral to believe that abortion is OK? Is it immoral to believe that gay marriage is acceptable? Is it immoral to believe that a command of God is a sin? Is it immoral to trample the Savior underfoot and count the new covenant blood as nothing, and insult the Holy Spirit?
Let me ask the question a different way. Do atheists believe that certain things are acceptable which God does not believe are acceptable? Certainly. Atheists believe it is acceptable to reject belief in God, or to live practically as if God doesn't exist. That is not acceptable to God. Atheists believe it is OK to reject salvation offered in Jesus Christ, whereas God commands all people to repent and believe the gospel (Acts 17:30-31).
I expand my thought from atheists to the more general category of non-Christians. Many non-Christians today believe that the morals Christians hold are in fact wrong and Christians are thus evil. In these areas (abortion, gay marriage, as examples), they hold the reverse morals of the Christian. They would affirm that Christians are immoral! But the fact of the matter is, according to divine revelation, it is immoral to be an unbeliever; it is immoral to think that rejecting God is OK.
Those who reject God and those who are Christians have, in many ways, diametrically opposed morals. The severe conflict between them will never go away because they hold different morals. The Christian contention is that those holding a set of unbiblical principles are in fact immoral. And we don't have to apologize for saying that. It is the real core of the difference between the believer and the unbeliever.
Are you evil?
The point of this post is that you cannot call a genuine Christian evil in an unqualified sense.
Variations on the question "are you evil" have repeatedly come up over the years of my ministry. I was reminded of it again as a I read a post by Ben Edwards at the DBTS blog.
Consider the following interchange between two born again believers in Jesus Christ:
Bill asks John, "How are you doing today?" John replies, "I'm good." Bill retorts, "John, there is none good, no not one!"
Ouch! John is not good? He may be feeling fine, but Bill has pulled the rug out by changing the context of the question in the middle of the conversation.
Certainly none of us measures up to God's standard of perfection (Matthew 5:48). Certainly Jesus called fathers evil in Matthew 7:11 and Luke 11:13, although He may have been speaking to a mixed audience of believers and unbelievers, or mostly unbelievers. Certainly there is none good like God (Mark 10:18).
But does that mean that we have to see ourselves as just plain-old evil people, even if we have repented of sin and are making good progress on the narrow way?
Not at all. Consider Barnabas. "He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith" (Acts 11:24). Other texts that refer to people as good are Proverbs 12:2, 13:22, 14:14; Matthew 12:35; and Luke 6:45.
Barnabas was a good man. If you are a Christian, you should be a good man or woman too. You should be more like your Heavenly Father instead of like the evil earthly fathers Jesus mentioned. You should be good and getting better. You must NOT be evil. You must stop any evil that you are doing.
God is in the business of taking the raw material of evil people and making them into good people. Where are you on God's assembly line?
Answer these questions and see.
This is a self-evaluation tool for you to determine if you are thinking and living like a Christian, by the Bible's definition of Christian. Make no mistake that this is not a to do list to accomplish in order to become a Christian. You become a Christian by repentant faith placed solely in Jesus Christ who died for sinners and rose again. You can evaluate if your repentant faith is real by asking yourself some questions such as the following.
You will notice that some of these questions are about your conversion, while others concern the evidence that exists in your life to justify or disprove your claim that you are a Christian. Note that the evidence comes from a general pattern of your life. To answer a question yes, you need not have perfection in the area in question. But answering yes also means that your life gives the evidence much more than "once in a while."
Is your assurance is well-founded? These questions will help you to think clearly on that topic.
Hit a run post. I feel like I've said this before. We need to acknowledge that it is possible to ask a bad question. We can ask a question that misleads, or a question that exposes our own answer before we give an answer.
For example: can a Christian drink alcohol?
A better question would be: should a Christian drink alcohol?
In this case, the first question is one of permission. It biases the discussion from the start, so that if a "yes" answer is extracted from the respondent, then all seems to be well for the alcohol drinker. The second question asks a question of value and points the discussion in the direction of what is best, rather than the lowest permissible standard. In reality, both questions need to be asked, and it is a failure to stop at the first question and not ask the second.
That is the subject of a blog post worth reading.
Definition of Morals
We next must define what the word moral means. I'll use Google's help and ask it to "define moral" so we have a sense of how it is used in modern English.
Based on the repeated words and ideas in these definitions, morals have to do with principles, standards, beliefs, right, wrong, behavior and conduct.
As an adjective used to describe a person, the word refers to someone who holds or demonstrates high principles for proper conduct. What "high" exactly means is not defined.
As a noun, the word refers to the actual standards of behavior or beliefs themselves. These standards concern what is or is not acceptable conduct in that person's view.
Let me make three notes at this point. First, it is easy to see that one person's standards or beliefs about acceptable behavior can differ from another person's, sometimes vastly. Second, a person's standards can be inconsistent with themselves. And third, because morals have to do with acceptable conduct, it is clear that morals and sin are in fact closely related, contrary to the objector I cited in Part 1. Their relationship is at least this: sin has to do with behavior that is unacceptable according to God's standards of behavior, and so sin is that conduct which is out of accord with God's morals. We could even suppose a set of standards other than God's and talk about the relationship of morals to sin. Say a person named Jane has a set of morals. I violate one of those; I could be said to "sin," that is, miss the mark, of her standards of behavior or belief concerning what is appropriate to do or not do. Clearly morals and sin are related.
But there is another level to this question of the relationship between sin and morals that we need to investigate. More to come...
What was the point of @RZIMCanada's original tweet?
Andy was saying that Christians cannot legitimately claim that all atheists act immorally or that they have no morals. We do, however, say that they have no logical basis to ground their morals. In fact, they borrow morals given by God. They cannot give a rational account for morality within their own system. That is, if you ask them why murder is wrong, they will say something self-referential or circular like, "It just is." Or they will say that societal norms have evolved that way. But as soon as they appeal to one authority, they are caught because there are other "authorities" who disagree (Hitler is probably the most common counter-example). There is nothing in the atheist's system of thought that makes murder inherently wrong for all people.
In the Christian worldview, there is such a firm ground for the moral "murder is wrong," and it is the Christian God, Who rules over all.
More to come...
Consider the following Twitter conversation:
Several atheists mocked me for the question I asked. Another person wrote, "You are confused. Sin and morals aren't related in any way."
Then I mentioned this subject to some folks at the church on Wednesday night and was surprised at the interest and conversation it generated. Evidently I must write some on the subject. So, here are some thoughts.
The first objection is that I did not identify which God, and even worse, I must reject a great many gods so I'm guilty of the same immorality I questioned. Since all "gods" (lowercase) are about the same to @ALAtheist, everyone who claims one god over another is immoral.
The answer to the objection is straightforward, though most certainly dissatisfying to the objector. Yes, there are many so-called gods, but the context of the conversation shows that we are talking about the Christian God. He is the one true and living God, the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, eternally existent in three persons united in their sharing of a single divine essence. This God is the God who created everything that exists, even the atheist who rejects him.
There are no other true gods. There are figments of people's imaginations. And there are demons who masquerade as gods, gathering a following. But they are not God.
More to come...
Last year, I wrote briefly about several software packages that are great tools for a small church or church plant. This is an update, so I won't discuss some of the programs.
Skype continues to be a very helpful tool for calling free over the Internet as well as using the Skype credit to call landlines and cell phones throughout the world. One thing that I was disappointed to learn is that Microsoft has added (or was forced to add) features to make it easier for the government to have a backdoor into the communications being shared over Skype. That may not bother some of us since we don't have anything to hide, but a backdoor here in the U.S. means there is a a backdoor in closed countries, and our Christian friends using Skype could be found out.
OpenOffice is upgraded to 4.1.0. FileZilla and GIMP also continue to see updates, as does Scribus. I have not had great luck using Scribus to do some simple one-page layouts, but it has been helpful on other occasions. Ghostscript 9.14 is the latest release of the postscript and PDF tools that Scribus uses under the hood. Thunderbird is well maintained and with the Nostalgy plugin helps me file and find emails very quickly.
Occasionally someone in the church will ask help to fix a computer problem. OK, I can do that, but not too often! TeamViewer allows you to connect remotely and see the screen of the computer you are working on.
This is the one program on this list that is not entirely free, but it is worth the modest registration cost. We use Goldwave to record sermon audio and do edits on it afterward to clean up the audio. Top notch.
ImgBurn can take a DVD and create a .ISO image from it, and then turn around and put that .ISO image onto a new DVD. I have used it to make backups of important DVD material that we have at the church.
Finally, I add Password Safe 3.33 to this list. With all the websites for banking, shopping, utilities, healthcare, etc. the list of passwords you have is probably quite long. If you don't some kind of secure password management tool, you are opening yourself up for trouble. For each website you use, you should have a unique password. And it should be hard, because about 70% of passwords you think are pretty good are actually fairly easy to crack. I can't show you a really good example here because it has so many strange characters the blog software or RSS reader will be unhappy.
Since it is hard to create and remember such passwords, Password Safe helps you to to do it. It has a generator function for good passwords, and an easy way to copy them to the clipboard and paste them into the website you are visiting. It stores the passwords in a database that is encrypted, protected by one password that you remember that is very long, complicated, and never written down! It organizes the database according to categories so that your passwords are easy to find.
With all the crooks out there and government snoopers (total depravity is a real problem, isn't it?), a good password program is a must.
I have been reading the Greek New Testament this year. I have two editions: Zondervan's Reader's Greek New Testament, 2nd Edition and Crossway's UBS Greek New Testament, Reader's Edition With Textual Notes.
The Zondervan edition is very nice in a number of ways. It is a very handy size, nice paper, and inexpensive. It lays fairly flat even in Revelation. However, it has some ghosting because of the thin paper. Its font is small. And the biggest strike against it is that the footnotes are very difficult to locate with the eye because they are bunched together in a single huge paragraph at the bottom of the page. The notes only define terms but do not give verb parsings, which is another strike against this edition.
The Crossway edition is much more expensive, has thicker paper (and still some ghosting), and is about twice as thick as the Zondervan. It does not lay flat when reading at either end of the New Testament. (Later addition: I take that back! After spending quite a bit of time reading Revelation, the binding is apparently happier and it stays open fairly well.] However, where it wins for me is the type is larger, a little darker than its competitor, and very clear. Even better, the footnotes are arranged in a two-column tabular format which makes locating the necessary note easy on the eyes. The footnotes define rare words and additionally give parsings of verbs.
There is a lot to like about both editions, but I prefer Crossway's offering. Pick up either one and read! —MAP