Look in the Bible for Basic Answers

October 10, 2009 by admin  
Filed under Defending the Faith, Thoughts

CSL047The last book of the Bible was written 1,900 years ago. In that time, empires have risen and fallen: Rome is gone; Charlemagne’s empire has vanished; mighty Britannia has given her children their freedom. Major wars have been fought. New philosophies have come into vogue and have declined. Electronic technology has improved and become common place. In light of all this, the Bible may seem like a quaint but archaic book, good only for gathering dust on the shelf or for analyzing in a classroom.

What could the Bible 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! This is partly because fundamental human needs haven’t changed at all in 2,000 years and partly because God inspired scripture to speak to people in every age. So, the Bible we have today continues to answer the basic questions people are asking. You can look up the scripture references yourself and see what you think. 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.)
  • Why do humans have a strong tendency to hurt others, break widely accepted rules and live for themselves? Is there some basic flaw in us? (See Genesis chapter 3, Romans 1: 18ff, 3:9-18, etc.)
  • Is there some way to correct this flaw and have acceptance with God? (See John 14:6, Romans 3:22-23, Galatians 5:24).
  • Is there any basis for real brotherhood among people? (See Genesis 1:27-28, 10:32, Romans 10:12, etc.)
  • Does life have any meaning or purpose? (See John 10:10, John 17:3).
  • Is there life after death? (See Revelation 20:11-15, Luke 23:40-43, John 14:2, Revelation 7:9).

These questions and many others are answered in the book of books, known as the Bible. I challenge you to search for its answers yourself. You might just be delighted by what you find!

Michael Bogart

Prodigals Can Return

August 11, 2009 by admin  
Filed under New, Thoughts

Prodigal SonAs a pastor, I frequently meet people who once had some connection with Jesus and his Church, but who for some reason have been out of touch for some time.  In some circles these people are called backsliders.  Other groups refer to people in this situation as “out of fellowship” or “lapsed”.  In my experience there are a surprising number of such folks.

I suppose that people drop out of Christian faith, or at least the practice of it, for a variety of reasons.  It is common these days for many people to have to work during the times when churches normally hold their services.  When there are few opportunities for Christian fellowship, it is easy to see how people become sidelined.  Other reasons for a cooling off of Christian practice could include personal difficulty, hurt feelings caused by other believers, a change of priorities, or just plain disillusionment and apathy.

Folks who find themselves adrift from their faith often experience guilt, embarrassment and despair.  Some have been away from Christ for so long that they have given up hope of ever returning.  Is there hope for such people?  Certainly.  Here are some ways to get back in step with Christ:

First, admit where you are. Face the fact that you have dropped out and need to return to the source of your true life.  In Bible terminology this is called repentance.  It doesn’t mean you have to promise never to stray again or to become a model Christian.  Just tell God that you have been wrong and that you want to come back.  But the first step is to face where you truly are without excuses.

Ask God for help. Prayer does make a difference.  If it is a time issue, tell God about work schedule.  Ask him to work on changing it or to provide opportunities for fellowship and growth in other ways.  If broken relationships are behind the estrangement, appeal to God to smooth hurt feelings, forgive those who have wronged you, rearrange your priorities or give perspective.  If you have found yourself in new and unfamiliar surroundings, ask him to direct you to a church or fellowship in which you can be nurtured and in which you can serve others effectively.

Make yourself accountable. Find another Christian who has personal integrity you can trust and who will have both courage and compassion to ask hard questions and expect straight answers.  You may fool yourself with creative justifications of your attitudes and behavior, but it is more difficult to fool someone wise who knows you and cares about you.

Let bygones be gone! If dropping out resulted from someone’s wrongdoing, work through it and move on.  Why should the past ruin your present joy?  Why should someone’s sin hinder you from doing right?  Do you think God is impressed with excuses which put blame on others for your own choice to abandon the God who has demonstrated his love for you by sending his Son to die on your behalf?

Serve. There is no better medicine for recovery and progress in spiritual growth than consistent Christian service in an area which you find fulfilling.  Try some things until you find something that is regular, fits your talents and gifting and results in the kinds of goals you are energized by.  Make sure that what you are doing benefits people and honors the Lord Christ, whom you serve.

Yes, there is indeed hope for those who have dropped out of active Christian faith.  Reasons need not matter.  Years don’t have to hold you back.  Prodigals can come home.  The point is, are you willing?  An old Chinese proverb says, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”  Take that first homeward step and before long, the prodigal will see the Father’s welcoming smile.

Michael Bogart

What it means to be saved by faith

July 13, 2009 by admin  
Filed under Defending the Faith

butterPicMany people use the word faith. People claim to have faith or not to have faith in lots of things from baseball teams to governments, marriage and religion. When someone uses the word faith, a variety of things come to mind.

In one popular dictionary, there are at least nine shades of meaning in the current English usage of the word faith.  For example, it can be defined as a personal opinion, a religious system, a sacred promise, or even as an attitude of perseverance (as in “Keep the faith.”). We English speakers have a genius for taking a word and using it creatively. In many ways, that is what makes our language so rich and adaptable.

However, there are times when we must be very clear about what we mean. For example, when Christians use the word in a gospel sense, much hinges on the correct understanding of the term. The gospel of Jesus Christ promises forgiveness, new birth, peace of mind, life-purpose, eternal life and much more. In essence, the gospel is this: If we will turn from our destructive patterns of doing things (sin) and put our faith in Jesus Christ, we will be saved. But what exactly does it mean to put faith in Jesus Christ? The New Testament idea of faith comes from the Greek word pistis, meaning trust, reliance, conviction–faith. As the New Testament uses the word there are several facets to the meaning of pistis:

First, it is a firm conviction that Jesus is who he claimed to be in the gospel accounts and that his death on the cross paid the penalty for human sin against God.  It is an acceptance of what the gospels and the rest of the New Testament say about him.  In other words, it is a belief that the information given to us in the Bible is accurate.

Of course, there are many people who simply don’t believe these assertions are true. They deny that Jesus was deity in any sense, or that his death had any significance other than as a tragic example of injustice. Some even deny his existence. Other people do believe in Jesus as he is portrayed in the New Testament. They have come to the conviction that Jesus was unique in his dual nature as human and divine; that his death achieved atonement for sin; that he is lord over all and that to know him in a faith-sense is to be granted eternal life. This is the factual basis for faith. It is the mental response to the gospel message.

But faith moves on from a willing acknowlegement of certain biblical and theological truths to a personal choice to surrender one’s life with its willful independence, destructive behavior and violation of moral principles and  to rely on God to remake us from the inside out. In other words, it is entirely possible to know the facts about Jesus and assent to their validity, but to miss eternal life. What is lacking is a profound response to these truths. This works out as a definite choice to receive Jesus’ forgiveness and allow his benevolent ownership of our lives.

This is why a main feature of evangelistic events is to bring truth to bear on the conscience so that people come to a point of decision. Without a definite positive response to Jesus Christ, there can be no salvation. This is salvation-faith. It what God asks of us in response to what he has done in Christ. It is both emotional and volitional. That is, it is a choosing to act on what the mind accepts.

But there is still another aspect to the New Testament usage of the word faith.  Faith always results in actions and conduct consistent with the assent of the mind and the response of the will and emotions. The book of James reminds us that faith without works (actions) is dead. This is stating the rather obvious truth that we understand pretty well in other aspects of life. In a romantic relationship, if the feelings, commitments and words don’t show themselves in any sort of tangible action, the beloved would clearly have the right to question the reality of what he or she has been told. To say we believe in Jesus and never act in a way which confirms that claim, rightfully causes people around us to be highly skeptical of the validity of our faith.

In other words, faith in Jesus shows itself in visible ways.  Certain things we were in the habit of doing which are offensive to God and other people now bother us. We notice and feel uncomfortable about how we use our mouths, how we treat people, how we regard ourselves and about our attitude of flippancy toward God. There is a new desire to please God along with the beginning steps of tangible actions showing that desire. We are pleased to see the basic shape of faith appear in our lives as we act on what we have come to believe.

OK: enough explanation.  Now let’s get practical: does this describe you? Perhaps you don’t know enough yet to have a well-rounded theological faith, but at least you believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that he died for you, rising again from the grave. You have moved on from what you know about Jesus to a response of gratitude and a willing reception of what he has done. Your life is now showing the beginnings of real change on a number of levels. This is biblical faith, saving faith. There is nothing on earth like it.  I highly recommend it!

Michael Bogart