Thursday, May 7, 2015

Godly cleanliness, bootstraps, karma, creeds, homosexuality & how to improve your thinking

Here’s a little test:
  1. The Holy Spirit is a force, not a personal being. True or false?
  2. Jesus is the first creature created by God. True or false?
Remember your answers.

I’ll get back to the test in a minute.

God helps those who pull themselves up by their bootstraps

When I was a kid it wasn’t unusual, after being admonished by an adult to clean up my room, wash my hands, blow my nose, or otherwise undishevel myself, to hear the adage, “Cleanliness is next to godliness, you know!”

In fact it was implied that this was a biblical mandate!

When I was small I was gullible and trembled with fear at the possibility of crossing an always watchful ready-to-zap-me God.

Now, older, I know better.

I know that the adage about cleanliness is not in the Bible. Neither is anything about bootstrap-self-help. And I know that the God I serve does not have his finger on the trigger of a divine zap gun just waiting to zing me.

I also learned that while all truth is God’s truth, all of what is proclaimed as “truth” isn’t.

How do I know? Because I’ve read the Bible a few times. And in more than one translation.

And you?

Unused tools don’t help you get the job done well or at all

Years ago while working at AT&T I was the first in my workgroup to get a PC. It was something I’d been lobbying for for months trying to move us away from clunky UNIX terminals that were not suitable for developing formatted documentation.

Once the PC landed on my desk, I determined to learn as much as I could about how to use it. I bought books about PCs, DOS, Windows, and more. I signed up for courses where I learned several applications as well as gained insight into how a PC operated. I learned how to take a computer apart and put it back together.

After all, this tool was essential to my work!

Later, everyone got a PC. There were many who refused, at first, to learn how to use them, relying instead on the UNIX terminals they still had access to. Then, one night, after several warnings, the UNIX terminals were removed.

Oh, the lamentations that sounded throughout the office! It took time, but slowly and surely everyone got up to speed on the PCs and productivity rebooted as well.

PCs are great tools, if you take the time to learn how to use them.

So, you’re a Christian?Okay then. Learning, knowing, and living God’s Word is essential to your Christian life!

Sadly, many Christians fail to understand this need-to-know the Bible which is the ultimate user guide for all believers.

When confronted by a fallen culture many are left defenseless to fend off sinful worldviews and horrendously evil yet winsome influences and so get sucked into wrong thinking which leads to bad behaving which leads, well, to death. Spiritually speaking.

Karma Chamelon’s got a catchy tune but isn’t a good guide for godly living

In a class on ministry and theology I participated in, one student, a lay minister, commented during a discussion, “Karma is a universal law!”

Say what?

This person obviously didn’t understand what karma is and certainly did not have a good grasp of Scripture.

If all you know about karma was gleaned from watching “My Name Is Earl,” you’re in the dark. Karma is not just about cause and effect in the present, but is a specific teaching of Hinduism, Buddhism, and other Eastern religions related to earning benefit for one’s life after death through reincarnation.

To put it into Christian lingo, karma is an elaborate human-effort-dependent form of legalism and works that is completely counter to biblical teaching.

According to the Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry, “The law of karma implies that every thought or deed, whether they are good or bad, will count in determining how an individual will be born in their next life on earth.” Further, “karma, which makes morality like a law of nature, does not allow for the possibility of forgiveness.  Its consequences are inevitable and inescapable. Because God is personal, and because persons can forgive, God can forgive us of our sins.  Moreover, He has done so through Jesus Christ.”

Karma is impersonal because it isn’t real. So karma doesn’t care because karma can’t care. (By the way, appealing to “the universe” is as pointless as believing in karma.)

God is real, personal, does care, and extends grace.See the difference?Actions have present consequences but grace changes the future.

While we do reap what we sow as Paul states in Galatians 6:7, as is clear from the context around this verse, we can sow to reap righteousness which cancels out the eternal impact of sin.

But our actions on earth will still yield effects and consequences on earth.

For example, if you drive drunk and have an accident, you will reap the consequences of the damage you cause to your car, damage to other cars or property, potential injury or even death for you or others, plus all associated costs and legal liabilities. You may lose your license, have your insurance go up, be put on probation, or go to prison for months or years.

These are “bad” things that you brought on yourself through your free-will choices. Saying you’re sorry and even making some form of restitution is no guarantee of everything coming up roses for you down the road.

However, as a Christian who repents and genuinely seeks God’s forgiveness, you will still reap eternal life. This forgiveness comes regardless of any reparations you are required to make or choose on your own to fulfill.

Karma has nothing to do with it. It’s all about that grace.

There will be tests so you need to study

Now, about that test at the beginning of this post. Remember your answers?

As reported by Ed Stetzer, recent research into Bible literacy in America revealed that a large percentage of people believe, wrongly, that the Holy Spirit is a “force” and that Jesus was the first “created” creature, among other errors.

Jesus and the Holy Spirit are “persons” just like God because they are God as they exist in the Trinity. Jesus was not created and the Holy Spirit is not a “force” or “thing.”

Why do so many get these basic, essential truths wrong?

Because, in part, theology and doctrine -- the reading and studying of the Bible -- are viewed  as boring. However, as Stetzer warns, “The problem is, when we forsake doctrine, we end up creating theological beliefs in our own image—driven by the winds of our own age.”

We let “contemporary society” or Oprah or Deepak or Yoda or any number of bestselling authors, “thought-provoking” movies, popular culture icons, fictional characters, or godless philosophies to infect and warp our thinking.

Many say to only “believe” in something. Like magic. The problem is, just believing isn’t a good way to go because what you believe and who you believe in makes a huge difference. But it sounds nice to say “Believe!” and makes for cute posters and pretty throw pillows.

If it sounds good or seems reasonable or our best friend says it’s true then we’re all in. No thinking or substance required!

In other words, we idly and wrongly believe in things such as karma and worse. Often and tragically without even realizing it.

Better living through biblically-based critical thinking

What we believe drives how we think and live. It shapes our worldview and impacts our discernment. It feeds our choices and behavior.

Paul encouraged young Timothy to “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15, NIV).

In other translations the phrase “do your best” is more plainly translated as “study.” This is an admonishment we all who call ourselves Christians would do well to heed.

To accomplish this, it’s important to read your Bible, read good books about the Bible and theology, pay attention to your pastor or whoever is preaching on Sunday, and apply what’s learned.

To help you kick start or enhance your study, what follows are recommendations on some good tools and resources:

As for a Bible to read, there are a variety of translations and opinions as to which is best. Whatever version you choose, I recommend that you find the “study Bible” edition in your preferred translation.

Study Bibles include introductions to each book giving timelines, historical context, and information on the author. Also included are cross-references, commentary, definitions, maps, and much more. A study Bible is like owning a small biblical reference library in a single volume.

Here are links to three, any one of which is an excellent choice:
Once you’ve got a good Bible, you’ll need some guidance on how to read and study it in an organized manner.
As you become more adept in biblical thinking, it will be helpful to develop tools for improving your ability to discern truth among the popular ideas of the day.
Historically, the church, from the first century through the 21st, has had to confront, call out, and correct heresies. Often, these challenges lead to a clarification of the orthodox, biblical, and essential statements of belief through creeds.
  • Know the Heretics and Know the Creeds and Councils, both by Justin S. Holcomb (Zondervan) are superb primers on the key heresies that still persist today and the various creeds that most Bible-grounded churches and denominations ascribe to.
Biblical thinking and correct doctrine can be honed when wrestling with tough issues of the day. Developing right ideas and sound arguments on issues can be helped by reading good books written by godly men and women addressing single topics.
  • What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality? by Kevin DeYoung (Crossway) rather than a wild-eyed rant is a clear-eyed, well-researched, biblically-grounded accessible exposition of this sensitive and very hot topic. It offers a solid foundation of the Bible’s stance on the LGBT issue as well as a good example of biblical thinking at work. Everyone who calls themselves Christian should read this important book.
As you become more involved in a church and mature in your Christian walk, you will inevitably begin to encounter specific doctrinal paradigms (aka theologies). Theology is simply an organized structure that helps explain what the Bible says and how to apply this truth. Two that are prominent today are Arminianism (which has nothing to do with the country of Armenia) and Calvinism (also referred to as Reformed theology). I lean Arminian and have great respect and love for those who lean Reformed.
These are just a few good tools available to you to help you improve your biblical thinking skills.

The bottomline is, don’t take someone else’s word about what is in the Bible or what is true. Go find out for yourself.

The truth is out there and He is ready to assist you in your studies to “equip you with everything good that you may do his will” (Hebrews 13:21, ESV).

Do you read your Bible every day? What translation do you prefer? Are there other Bible study tools, tips, tricks, or resources you have found helpful? What wrong beliefs have you encountered that others held? What wrong beliefs did you used to hold and how did you learn they were errors? Feel free to share in the comments!

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