The last book of the Bible was written just over 1,900 years ago. Empires have risen and fallen in that time: Rome is gone; Charlemagne’s empire has vanished; horrendous wars have been fought; new philosophies have come into vogue and declined; technology has improved. In light of all this, the Bible seems like a quaint, but archaic book, good only for gathering dust on the shelf. What could it possibly have to say that would be relevant to us and our particular needs in the Twenty-first Century?
Surprisingly, it has a lot to say, partly because basic human needs haven’t changed at all in 2,000 years and partly because God speaks to every age. I never cease to be amazed at how the Bible answers the fundamental questions people are asking. For example:
Is there a God, and if so, what is He like? See Psalm 14:1, Romans 1:19-20, John 3:16, etc.
How did the universe come into being? See Hebrews 11:3, Genesis chapters 1 and 2, etc.
What is the cause of the human tendency to do wrong? Is there some basic flaw in us? See Genesis chapter 3, Romans 3:9-18, etc.
Is there some way to correct this flaw and have acceptance with God? See Romans 3:22-23 and Galatians 5:24.
Is there any basis for real brotherhood among people? Genesis 1:27-28, 10:32, Romans 10:12, etc.
Does life have any meaning or purpose? John 10:10, John 17:3.
Is there life after death? Revelation 20:11-15, Luke 23:40-43, John 14:2, Revelation 7:9.
These questions and many more are answered in the book of books.
People sometimes ask, “Does the Bible speak to issues that make a practical difference in my life? So what if it deals with the big questions, such as, ‘Does God exist?’ or ‘Is there life after death?’ What about daily living kinds of questions? Does the Bible have anything at all to say about those? A fair question. How about these issues?
What is the key to personal happiness and fulfillment? See Ecclesiastes 3:9-14, Philippians 4:11-13, etc.
What is real success and how can I achieve it? See 2 Timothy 4:7-8, Ecclesiastes 5:18-19, Romans 5:1-2, etc.
How should I regard money and possessions? Matthew 6:19-21, 1 Timothy 6:6-10, etc.
How can I make lasting relationships? Proverbs 17:17, 27:17, John 13:34, etc.
What can I do to build a strong marriage and family? Colossians 3:18-21, Proverbs 22:6, Exodus 20:12, etc.
How can God be fair if sometimes people suffer deeply? Romans 5:3-5, Psalm 145:17, the book of Job, etc.
Is there really only one true way to know God? John 14:6, Acts 4:10-12, etc.
These and scores of other questions have their answers in the Bible. But don’t take my word for it: I challenge you to seek out the answers for yourself. Don’t just accept the word of anyone. You must be satisfied yourself. And remember: the Bible does you no good unless you read it!
In the last several decades it seems as though there has been an effort on the part of some in our society to discredit Christianity. Followers of Jesus Christ are sometimes portrayed as bigoted, narrow-minded and hypocritical. It is insinuated that sincere believers are either willful relics of the Dark Ages or simply ignorant folks who have yet to get with the more enlightened modern times.
To be fair, there are cases in which the shoe does fit. No doubt, the isolated instances of hypocrisy or ignorance have been exploited to the maximum by Christianity’s detractors. It is absurd to suggest, however, that this ridiculous caricature of Christianity represents reality. I should know: I once believed it myself. It was a major turning point in my life to realize how twisted that picture often is.
So, I refuse to be ashamed of being a Christian. In these times when believers are often sneered at, there is a great temptation to take a low key approach to one’s faith. I refuse to be intimidated by this scorn. Here’s why:
I am a follower of Jesus Christ, the noblest person who ever lived. The Bible says that he is God the Son made into a human being. It also says that someday Jesus will return as judge of the earth, and that all authority both on earth and in heaven has been given to him even now. How could I be ashamed of being identified with him?
The Bible is God’s communication to us through various chosen servants. Through the years it has been vindicated against its critics many times. This is true archeologically, prophetically, textually and, not the least, in the powerful way it diagnoses human need and changes lives through its good news.
Christians are often wonderful people to associate with. Yes, there are hypocrites, backward folks and even phonies, but many, many believers are just quality people. Studies have shown that serious Christians are, in general, hard working, honest, less self-centered and more likely to have a strong family life. I have personally experienced true friendship as well as constructive criticism among those who identify themselves with Christ’s name.
Christianity has stood the test of time. The pages of history are littered with the wrecks of fads, trends and movements. The Christian Church in its various forms has proven amazingly adaptable to the ravages of the past 2,000 years and singularly difficult to suppress over time.
Finally, I am a better person for having committed my life to Christ many years ago. Following him has made me wiser, more realistic about myself, and able to survive the inevitable ups and downs of life in much better shape than I might have otherwise.
What about you? Are you a bit shy of being labeled a “religious fanatic” because of your association with Christ? Or perhaps it is this very type of fear that has deterred you from even investigating Jesus at all. Don’t be intimidated. There is no better way of spending your life than to follow him.
Some years ago, James Huston published an article entitled, “Where did the rest of the class of ’91 go?” It was a fitting question, considering that, since the 1970s, in the United States alone more than a million unborn children per year have had their lives ended through abortion. In all, something like 50 million abortions have been performed since the Supreme Court decision known as Roe vs. Wade was handed down in January of 1973. With the population of the United States approaching 300 million, that means that almost 16 percent of all Americans have lost their lives in legal abortion procedures, without so much as their knowledge, let alone their choice. This stark truth certainly ranks with Hitler’s holocaust and Stalin’s gulag as one of the most horrible facts of our times.
Think of the impact the loss of 50 million American lives means for us now. The oldest among them – those in their mid-to-late 30s –would be well into the process of raising their own children. Some would still be pursuing an education others would be starting careers and families. A significant group would be serving with U.S. troops in various parts of the globe. There would be famed Olympic athletes and accomplished actors and musical geniuses. But the reality is that none of them will ever do any of those things, because they were never permitted to reach their date of birth.
Those conceived in the early nineties would now be headed for the homestretch of high school. They would be thinking of proms and exams and college applications. However, 1.5 million of the Class of 2009 – fully one-quarter of it – will be missing graduation this June. The later members of this missing group of Americans would still be working their way through the lower grades of school. Many would spend this winter sledding and ice skating. They would still be enjoying the gifts received at Christmas. This summer they would play little league ball and go to camp. On the Fourth of July, they would join the rest of us in honoring our country for guaranteeing them life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Admittedly, some of these 50 million Americans would have ended up in abusive homes. Some would have found their way into gangs, and possibly ended up in prison. People do sometimes make bad choices and cause others to suffer for those choices. Yet it is also true that some of our most dynamic leaders and most conscientious citizens, as well as some of our best friends, have been lost forever in this largely un-mourned American tragedy. So much for the lost Americans. They are gone forever, past any of our whims or legalities.
And yet, though we cannot change the past, we can affect the present and the future. As for the present, we must deal with our baggage. To ignore the past only causes its patterns to continue. Abortion is a serious sin, just as murder or any taking of innocent human life is morally wrong. But the good news is that sin can be forgiven. That is the whole purpose for which Jesus Christ came into the world. And, whether many people are saying it or not, Jesus is still in the business of cleansing anyone who is willing to be done with the burden of sin and is ready to follow Him.
The future can be different. For now, the laws permitting abortion still stand. Until that can be changed, we must choose life for the unborn. So here are some challenges for the present:
1. To the Christian community: For the most part, we stand for the right to life for the unborn, but we need to do more than just talk about it. We must support organizations which help women with problem pregnancies by giving of our money and our time. We must take issue with those who so blithely talk about babies being merely masses of tissue and who depict women as being restricted or demeaned by motherhood. We also need to continue to use our vote and purchasing power to their maximum potential.
2. To women who have made the difficult choice to have an abortion: What was done is done. God can and will forgive you if you ask his Son to cleanse you. The words of Jesus are still valid: “Go and sin no more.” This year can be a time of release and new beginning for you.
3. To women contemplating abortion: There are better choices available than ending your pregnancy. Perhaps the child within you may be God’s answer to some of the problems of the future. Please take the time to call your local Crisis Pregnancy Center. They will knowledgably and compassionately tell you about some of the alternatives. Seek assistance from a local church. We’re not perfect people ourselves, but we are here to help in Jesus’ name.
“Ladies and gentlemen! The President of the United States!” This is the introduction given by a person at the entrance to the Floor of the House of Representatives just before the President gives his State of the Union Address. This official’s job is to announce clearly that the person the assembled dignitaries have come to hear has arrived and is about to ascend to the podium.
It is possible, though highly improbable, that this person could make their announcement in a drunken state, or in tattered clothes, or that he or she could hog the limelight in such a way that the president might be overshadowed. But one thing is for certain, if that sort of thing happened, the announcer would not hold their job for very long. The announcer’s only function at that point is to introduce the President and let him speak.
From time to time, it seems that there are some “announcers” in Christian circles who have done this very thing. I am talking about men and women in Christian ministry who have grabbed attention for themselves, sought to represent the Kingdom of God and somehow have forgotten that the whole issue is not them at all. In so doing these folks have reflected badly on the one they should have been drawing people’s attention to.
As a preacher and Christian leader myself, I understand how tempting it might be to hog the limelight. Though I have never achieved celebrity status, I can imagine that when such a person finds himself (or herself) with power, popularity and access to wealth, it must be tempting to believe that they are somehow a cut above others and that the attention they are receiving is deserved. If they dwell on that sort of thing long enough, it is not difficult to see how they might begin to feel that they are above the standards that everyone else must keep. Perhaps some of these “announcers” may have begun with the best of intentions; others may never have had pure motives or even really understood the gospel from the beginning. God alone knows.
Be that as it may, I think we need to be reminded of something very important: no matter how shabby or disreputable the announcer may be, it is Jesus Christ that we need to hear. I am not excusing Christian people who bring shame on Christianity. To dishonor Christ’s name is very nearly inexcusable. But even if all those who proclaim Christ were dishonest, Christ would still be as good and true and powerful as ever because he is perfect.
So I am calling us all to remember that it is Jesus who died for sin; who offers forgiveness and new life through faith; who claims lordship of our lives. It is Jesus Christ who will judge the heart of each person. In other words, Christ is the all-important issue.
I for one am glad when a man or woman of God announces Christ clearly and reflects his image brightly. When they do not I mourn, not only because it reflects so poorly on the rest of us announcers, but mainly because it discourages people from seeing Jesus in all his truth and grace and glory.
So I urge us all to remember: announcers have their job to do. If they do it well, be glad; if they do it poorly you may have a right to be disgusted. But either way, don’t focus on them. It is Jesus who is the real attraction. Whatever you do—hear Him!
Please read no further if you don’t want a refreshing change in your life. Stop reading now if you want to escape the rearrangement that joy may bring to your world. If you prefer the status quo; if you would rather muddle through as you are; if you would like things to stay the same as always— this is not an article you will want to waste your time on. Please skip over this and continue with other pursuits, because a decision to trust wholly in Christ will inevitably bring a new and beneficial direction to your life.
So, if you want to avoid joy, a good way to do that is to avoid any commitment to Christ.
If you would rather not experience the peace that results from forgiveness of your sins and wrongdoings, don’t consider this any further.
If you would rather not rub shoulders with some of the most surprising and wonderful people anywhere, by all means don’t attend church.
If you take comfort in labeling all Christians as hypocrites and narrow-minded fools on the thin argument that because some do exist, therefore, all who follow Jesus must be the same, please keep your mind tightly closed to the facts.
If you want to miss the most fascinating and profound reading you will ever encounter, please—under no circumstances read the Bible.
If you desire no straight answers to questions about Christianity’s claims to truth don’t pick up a book or browse the internet seeking such things.
Let me say it again, don’t read this!
If you want no understanding ears to listen to your hurts or insightful suggestion to a practical problem, don’t contact a pastor or Christian friend.
And- especially- don’t ponder the point of this obvious reverse psychology if you would just as soon not be bothered with anything like fulfillment, purpose for living or challenge to become something higher and better.
But if, by chance, there are stirrings of some of these deep yearnings somewhere within you, remember:
I warned you not to read this!
The clash between modernist thought and Judeo-Christianity has produced more than a century of accusation, rebuttal and counter-accusation, with religion forced into a mostly defensive position. Modernity has asserted that religious belief is irrelevant because it is based on an outmoded and unscientific worldview. Rudolph Bultmann (1884-1976) the famed critic and de-mythologizer of the Bible put it this way, “It is impossible to use electric (devices) and take advantage of modern medical discoveries, and at the same time believe in the New Testament world of spirits and miracles.” This modern worldview spoken of by Bultmann and others has been responsible for a significant decline in religious belief in Western culture. Modernity’s claim that religious faith (specifically Judeo-Christianity) is no longer relevant is based on the following arguments:
1. Religion is invalid because of the vastness of the Cosmos. In other words, if a Creator exists, why would he be concerned about such an insignificant place such as earth? It is unrealistic to think that a Being of such immensity would pour so much of himself into this tiny speck in the hugeness of the universe. Modernity would say that if religion has any value, it is in its expression of the human aspiration for meaning and belonging in the larger scheme of Cosmic reality.
2. Science has demonstrated that religion is an inadequate explanation for the reality of nature. Natural phenomena, which less advanced people explained in a religious way are now known to be caused by natural forces. For example, thunder was seen by primitive people as God expressing his displeasure or showing his power, but the scientific method shows that it is caused by complex electrical processes in the atmosphere. So science and technology have replaced the need for supernatural explanations, making religion a much less necessary part of human life.
3. Human beings ought to be allowed the freedom to search for whatever personal fulfillment each may find to his or her sensibility. Religion has often been a hindrance to the quest for personal fulfillment, and should be abolished or modified so that it no longer obstructs that freedom. Karl Marx (1818-1883) believed that religion was simply a tool of oppression used by the upper classes to maintain their control. He once called religion “the opiate of the people.”
4. Religion is simply a protective framework constructed to deal with the fear and uncertainty which naturally result from an unpredictable and dangerous universe. In his book, The Future of an Illusion, Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) argued that religion could be explained as a psychological response to the human inability to control nature. Because they feel helpless and frustrated, people need a sense of security provided by a theoretical Protector. In other words, Freud saw religion as a form of neurosis. Freud did see belief in God as providing some social and psychological benefits, but he felt that the downside of religion was to leave people in an infantile state. Mature people, freed from neurosis, would have no need for God.
5. The best that can be said for religion is that it is a useful social “glue”. Emile Durkheim (1858-1917) saw religion as a necessary institution which enabled society to function harmoniously. In the West, Judeo-Christianity has provided a certain stability by teaching and enforcing a definite moral code, which, over time, became formalized into law. It has also validated authority structures and discouraged anti-social behavior.
Let us think through each of these main objections to religious belief posed by Modernity. Do modernistic explanations really disprove religious belief?
Response 1: If a Creator exists, it would seem rather rash for human beings to attempt to predict what the Supreme Being would be likely to do. As a part of God’s creation ourselves, it would be foolish to say dogmatically that he would have little or no interest in one particular planet in his universe or about human life on that planet. So, simply because the universe is a very large place, doesn’t disprove the Judeo-Christian assertion that the Creator is profoundly interested in us.
Response 2: It is the function of science to provide technically correct explanations for natural phenomena. What may seem like mythological views of God’s activities and character in the Bible may be understood as complementary to science rather than in contradiction of it. A careful study of the Bible as ancient literature shows that biblical descriptions of God are not so much mythological as they are poetic. When God is spoken of as riding on thunder clouds, it is a picture of God’s majesty and power, rather than a technical description of the hydrological cycle. In other words, religion offers valid explanations of realities which lie beyond the physical properties of natural phenomena. Science can describe and (sometimes) predict the way in which nature is structured. It cannot evaluate the origins of nature, nor is it always in a position to answer questions about why it functions as it does. Furthermore, science cannot predict whether the laws of nature may be temporarily set aside should the Creator think fit to do so.
Response 3: Probably no informed person would want to argue the point that religion has often been used to prevent people from pursuing certain avenues of self-expression. Certainly people have used the Bible and religious tradition to deter people from all sorts of activities. Most people who have been involved in a religious community have either personally experienced or at least witnessed the harmful and manipulative use of power by religiously motivated people. For many, one such experience is more than enough to convince them that all religious warnings and moral statements are simply a type of power-play.
The true question is whether religion is serving its proper function when it attempts to use various forms of persuasion to affect people’s thinking and behavior. To answer this, we must discuss the issue of assumptions. Either God exists as Judeo-Christianity depicts him or he does not. If the Judeo-Christian view of God is not accurate, then the argument might be made that religious moralizing is an improper hindrance to human self-expression. However, even assuming that God does not exist, religion might still serve a useful function in deterring people from behaviors and activities which generations of human experience have shown to be either harmful or unproductive. On the other hand, if Judeo-Christianity gives an essentially accurate picture of God’s character and will, then a major task of religion would be to help people understand and conform to those ideals.
Response 4: It is undeniable that religion meets some very basic psychological needs. Like most other religions, Judeo-Christianity deals with fear of the future and offers a sense of peace amid life’s calamities. The fact that it does so is no argument against its validity. The truth is that if Judeo-Christianity did nothing to address those very common human experiences, it would argue strongly against its validity. Simply because religion effectively addresses deep-seated human fears and insecurities, does not mean that this is its sole function. Nor does it mean that religion is somehow false because fearful people find refuge it its assurances.
Response 5: It is also true that religion performs the function of binding people together in community. Communities teach social values, enforce a minimum standard of adherence to those values and demand respect for approved leadership. The result is a fairly stable social structure. In doing all of these things, religion plays a crucial role in society. Perhaps in non-Western cultures religion plays such a dominating role in people’s lives that its value as a social glue is outweighed by its oppressive effects. For the most part, Western societies are in no imminent danger of that scenario. Given the fragmentation of Western culture, religion’s stabilizing effects may prove of even greater value in the future (provided we don’t fall into religious conflict). Once again, the fact that religion plays such a role, is no argument against its validity.
Conclusion: While making major inroads into the influence of religion in society, Modernity has failed to convince a significant portion of Westerners to abandon religious belief and practice and its arguments have fallen short of proving religion to be either false or unnecessary. To the contrary, Judeo-Christianity has benefited from the modernist critique in that it has been forced to re-evaluate its premises and function, resulting in a renewed confidence and in a needed overhaul of its approach to society.
There are many differences between the three main branches of Christianity (Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy and the various types of Protestants). However, as streams within the overall Christian tradition, they are akin in certain basic beliefs. These primary tenets of faith include:
The Bible is inspired and authoritative.
God exists as the eternal Trinity.
Creation: The Cosmos was created in a state of completion, but is now fallen into a state of futility due to sin.
Human Nature: People are specially made in God’s image, but are fallen through sin into separation from God and the degeneration caused by sin.
Jesus Christ is the Messiah of Israel and the Son of God. He is the Second Person of the eternal Trinity. Jesus is both fully God and fully man.
The Atonement: Jesus’ death paid the penalty for human sin and opened the way to restore people to God. His resurrection validates the Father’s acceptance of his atonement.
Human Response: Faith toward God (specifically in Jesus) is what God requires for people to receive forgiveness and new life. Faith is a deep level of trusting, which results in actions which show its reality.
The Church: All who have faith in Christ are part of the Body of Christ, which is manifested in local bodies of believers, known as churches.
Holy Living: Faith shows itself in new desires which, honor God accompanied by a new power for living. The old sinful desires and tendencies can still operate, but no longer have complete control.
Death and Eternity: Death is the natural result of being separated from the Living God. Eternity follows physical death and seals a person in a state of faith or unbelief. Eternal life or eternal condemnation await everyone.
The Future: The present age will end with a catastrophic clash between the Kingdom of God and the world-system. Jesus will return to rule. The Cosmos will be remade to exclude evil.
How to give a ceremonial prayer in a pluralistic setting
First of all, understand the context. If the event is purely secular (non-religious) or is an interfaith gathering, it may be best to use a more generic prayer format rather than a prayer-style and vocabulary which not everyone can relate to. As much as some believers are concerned about compromising their position, remember that a ceremony as a whole belongs to all those who participate. Imagine what it would be like to attend an event which was very important to you and someone from another faith group was asked to pray. If that person gave a prayer which seemed exclusive or was spoken in a manner which was difficult to follow, you might very well feel as though your experience was diminished.
Secondly, don’t be afraid to be who you are. If you have been invited to pray, then do your best to represent your tradition or faith community well. Make sure that you speak to God on behalf of the entire group in the very best way you can.
Ask God for what is appropriate, given the occasion, and then simply stop. A rambling or repetitious prayer soon becomes offensive. Be very careful to abide by whatever time restraints have been put upon you.
In your prayer, avoid the temptation to assume control of the event simply because you believe that you have an insight into religious truth which others do not. Most people can spot this kind of attitude within seconds.
Make sure you pray in a voice that is slow and loud enough to be heard by everyone present. On the other hand most people dislike a preachy or ranting tone in prayer.
Praying in Jesus’ name can be done even in an interfaith gathering. I have found that as long as I say, “I pray in Jesus’ name” without presuming to speak for everyone, (We pray in Jesus’ name) most folks are willing to give me the benefit of the doubt. On the other hand there is nothing necessarily compromising in ending a prayer with a simple “Amen” (It is actually biblical).
Finally, be genuine. Far better than simply mouthing eloquent words, aim at true communication with God. There is nothing wrong with writing out your prayer beforehand. This will prevent saying something silly or unclear. If you read your prayer, put your heart and mind into the words you are saying. Remember, you are asking God’s blessing on the gathering in some way. That alone is enough to take the assignment very seriously.
Here is a sample of an invocation I gave at a secular graduation for one of the institutions where is serve as an adjunct instructor:
“God in heaven—It is our privilege to invite you here as the guest of honor on this __________________ (occasion). It is our request that you would bless this graduating class, but more than that– and of first importance– we desire that you would be here with us this evening (morning, afternoon).
Among other things, O God, you are the Creator of the human mind, which you modeled in some fashion after your own great mind. Though we acknowledge that your thoughts are infinitely higher and more profound than ours, we glory in the notion that we may, on our own level, think some of your thoughts after you in this place. Thank you for the precious gifts of knowledge and discovery.
I ask on behalf of those gathered here that you would indeed bless each of these graduates. Give them the grace to make a difference for the good wherever they may find themselves in the years ahead.
- For those who will pursue further education, grant not only the knowledge they will need in their chosen fields, but also wisdom to apply that knowledge to life as it really is.
- For those who will be going directly into the workforce, give a sense of what is right and good and appropriate in the often-confusing issues they will face.
- For those in military service, may they draw courage and strength from you. May they serve our country and all of humanity with integrity and honor.
- For all of these graduates and the families of which they are a part, we ask that they may make a significant contribution to the general welfare of society. May they especially be a blessing to those whose lives they personally touch.
And now, may you be pleased with what is done here this evening (morning, afternoon). Thank you for your presence.
It is in the name above all others that I pray, Amen.”
I hope this has been helpful. Michael Bogart
A common question for those engaging the services of clergy for special occasions is, “What is the acceptable honorarium range for a pastor performing a private ceremony such as a wedding or funeral?”
Research shows that the current rule of thumb is somewhere in the $150-$300 (USD) range for special clergy services. This (or the equivalent) is consistent in North America and Europe for the year 2009.
Minimum Scenario: The officiating pastor will spend a bare minimum of three to four hours working on a wedding ceremony. This would include 1-3 hours at the rehearsal and 1-4 hours at the actual ceremony and reception, plus preparation time.
Maximum Scenario: A “full-service” wedding from the pastor’s side of things could include as much as 10 -20 hours of labor over a period of several weeks if premarital counseling is included.
Minimum Scenario: The officiating pastor will spend a bare minimum of two to four hours working on a funeral or memorial service. This would include 1-2 hours meeting with the bereaved and 1-2 hours at the actual ceremony and reception, plus preparation time.
Maximum Scenario: A “full-service” funeral from the pastor’s side of things could include as much as 5-10 hours of labor if counseling is included.
Unless he is a close personal friend, a pastor is forfeiting other options for the time spent to participate and be at the disposal of the parties concerned. Even if he is also a friend, he is not simply a guest at the event, but an essential part of the ceremony. He will most certainly be held responsible in some way for its outcome.
Moreover, a pastor often has specialized training and extensive experience, which he brings to the event in order to make sure it goes smoothly as well as make it inspiring and memorable. These skills are certainly worth something to ensure a positive outcome on such important occasions.
Few clergy are doing what they do simply for the money. However, other professionals with a similar level of training and experience often charge $50 to $150 (USD) per hour for their services. While most pastors earn very modest salaries, they often they charge little or nothing up front for their service and expertise on these special occasions. A thoughtful and appreciative beneficiary of their services might do well to “honor” them by giving as generous an honorarium as their means allow.