Category Archives: Christian living

Thoughts on Evil and God

In the wake of the evil in Newtown, CT

This is the outline of what I shared at my church, Summit Foursquare Church, in Longmont, CO. I wrote this down after reading several great articles on evil and God as well as my own pondering and prayer. I’ll be honest: when I first heard the news my first reaction was not one of love or grace, but anger. I have a 6-year old son (and a soon-to-be 9 year-old son along with a 4-year old daughter) and I realized I wanted to hurt the person responsible. That’s the truth of it. But I believe, God is good. Even in light of this tragedy…

The question is there as to how this could happen?

  • And if we’re so bold, how can God let this happen?
  • In this state (Colorado), there is the memory of Columbine and very recently Aurora

Why?

We can try and explain it sociologically

  • He was a troubled genius with mild autism
  • His parents divorce caused deep hurt
  • Some other reason that may emerge as the investigation continues…

But none of these can really explain why a 20 year old man would walk into an elementary school with forethought and intent and wantonly murder nearly 30 people mostly 6 and 7 year olds.

I believe when faced with these events we have to face a truth that we rarely deal with in our modern, supposedly enlightened culture: evil      

  • Evil is the end-result of sin and separation from a good and loving Creator
  • Paul writes in Ephesians 6 that there is a battle, and that battle isn’t with ourselves, it isn’t a battle of poverty, or angst, or a battle against a troubled childhood, it isn’t a battle of the mind or a battle of our emotions
  • It is a battle with evil, quite plainly, but perhaps not quite simply
  • There is God who is good and only good, and there is Satan who is evil and only evil, and mankind has given Satan a foothold in this world through our sin and rebellion against the Good God
  • That foothold leads to acts of pure evil as we witnessed this past week
  • It is a moral evil that is the result of a man’s decision

How can a good God allow this?

This isn’t God’s desire

  • Some may use this as an argument that God is either non-existent or that He is not truly good

But God’s original plan of Creation has been broken by the choices of His greatest Creation: us

In Genesis 3 we read that Adam and Eve walked side by side with God in intimate relationship

  • Everything was good
  • Just as God had created
  • Just as God had intended

But God in His love and goodness did something else: He gave His greatest Creation an incredible gift

  • The freedom to make decisions
  • We are not mind-numbed automatons that God created for His fancy as playthings
  • We have a spirit and a soul and choice
  • God is love, and desires for His creation to love Him
    • To love is to make a choice

With that choice comes options

  • Adam and Eve had everything they could possibly want
  • But Satan came into that Garden and began to exert his purely evil influence to destroy this peace God had created
  • He taunted Eve and then Adam with a choice to defy God
  • So through Satanic influence, but human choice, evil came into our reality

Because God is good, and man became not good, we were separated from direct relationship with God until Jesus came to pay the price for our evil

But evil still exists

Why doesn’t God obliterate evil…

I don’t know

But I know that we as humans value freedom over slavery

With that freedom comes the ability to do great good, but also the ability to make evil decisions

The best example we have is watching children grow up

  • I want to control my children’s every decision
  • But I don’t-and sometimes they do some really stupid things
  • But true joy as a parent is when we see our children freely make good decisions
  • I believe it is the same for God

He has chosen to let us choose…

Why doesn’t God intervene?

I don’t know…

But we’re in good company

Writers of the bible asked this question too without receiving good answers

  • Jeremiah
  • Habakkuk
  • Job in Job 40, God specifically tells Job he cannot understand the ways of God
  • In Luke 18 Jesus predicts his torture and death and the disciples did not understand why, the meaning was hidden from them
    • Imagine them: Jesus has done amazing works and claimed to be God, why in the world would He need to die, to be tortured…from their perspective it made no sense….
    • But in this God showed He is ultimately good

God does not always answer “why” but He does show himself good

God, in His goodness, is with us in our suffering

Additionally, this is a God who came down to live as a man so he could share in our suffering and then be fully able to comfort us in our suffering

His cousin Lazarus died and Jesus wept, he grieved

This is not some aloof god hidden on some cloud swept lofty peak

  • This is the God Incarnate who lived and suffered and died for us and then rose from the dead to now comfort us in our suffering, because He knows suffering first-hand

…for good

Romans 8:28

“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”

The disciples didn’t understand why Jesus would have to be tortured and killed

God’s original plan at Creation was not for His son to have to die as the penalty for mankind’s sin

But we know that Jesus’ death worked for the good of all mankind

God can make this tragedy turn out for some kind of good

We may not see it, or understand it, but it is what I choose to hold on to in the midst of this uncertain world

Philip Yancey, the author, says, “…it seems that the only alternative to disappointment with God is disappointment without him.”

  • What he means is this: we must acknowledge disappointment will happen in this life
  • We can choose to walk through it alone and hopeless without God
  • Or we can choose to walk through it holding on to the eternal plan and love with a God who intimately knows our pain and suffering having experienced it for himself

This is perhaps not a fully satisfying response, but I can tell you, it is for me

In John 6 Jesus has chased away many of his followers with talk of life and death and he turns to his disciples:

“Then Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you also want to go away?” 68 But Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. “

 I choose to hold on to the eternal promise of Jesus

  • He’s done too much in my life
  • He’s done too much good for me to walk away
  • He’s forgiven too much sin in my life
  • The cross is too real to me and is enough to overcome the evil actions of mankind
  • I choose to trust Him and His love
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A Biblical View of Alcohol

 

Position on Alcohol, the Church, and the Christian

The purpose of this paper is to establish the position of Ephesus Church (Charlotte, NC) on alcohol, the church, and the Christian. For well over 100 years, the Protestant Christian Church in the United States has held a mostly negative view of alcohol consumption of any kind. This has led to the view that abstaining completely from the consumption of alcohol is holy, godly, and “Christian-like” for all believers. The leadership of Ephesus Church believes this to be an incorrect and unbiblical viewpoint on alcohol. This has led to shame, guilt, and secrecy among many Christians who do consume alcohol. Additionally, it has further separated the U.S. church from the culture it has been called to reach out to by placing undue and unnecessary restraints on living missionally. This paper will clarify a biblical view on alcohol consumption as held by the leadership of Ephesus Church.

Background

Historically, the Church has not held a prohibition on the consumption of alcohol. This is a new phenomenon stemming from social changes of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. A new piety swept the nation and influenced how Christians viewed alcohol. This led to a widely held value that Christians must be abstentionists or prohibitionists. This culminated in the passing of the 18th Amendment in 1919. Concurrently, imbibing alcohol by Christians took on the label of “sin” and became a new standard by which holiness could be measured. This attitude towards alcohol has continued to the present day in many Protestant Christian churches and organizations. There are instances that this is explicitly stated as requirement for membership in churches and/or denominations. However, more often, it is just “understood” that a righteous Christian will not drink alcohol. These perspectives on the consumption of alcohol have led to a disconnect with the culture the Church has been called to reach, limiting opportunities to gather and share the Gospel with those that do not yet know Jesus. Additionally, a false legalism has led to expectations placed on Christians and non-Christians alike that further separate the Church from its community, a mentality which leads to self-righteous superiority and failure to love people as Jesus does.

 

Position of Ephesus Church

The leadership of Ephesus Church holds the position that consumption of alcohol, in moderation, does not violate Scripture and, in fact, is shown to be a part of the lives of many Leaders of the Faith and biblical persons, including Jesus, the Apostles, and early church pastors. Below, we will present the biblical and historical support for the consumption of alcohol, in moderation, in the Christian’s life.

Biblical Support

  • Psalms 104:15-“wine makes glad the heart of man.” The Psalmist praising God for His Creation that provides for mankind. This includes wine, oil, and bread, the staples of Hebrew life.
  • Ecclesiastes 9:7-“Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart; for God has already accepted your works.” This is a celebration of a life lived following God.
  • Song of Solomon 1:2-The wife of Solomon makes it clear that wine is good, although married love is better!
  • Luke 5:27-39 (Matthew 9:9-17, Mark 2:13-22)-Jesus celebrates the salvation of Matthew the tax collector at a party thrown by Matthew that includes eating and drinking. He then equates the Kingdom of God to new wine in new wineskins.
  • Luke 7:33-34 (Matthew 11:18-19)-Jesus makes it clear that John did not drink wine, but Jesus had been accused of being a drunkard through His partaking of wine. From this, we know Jesus was not a drunk, but did drink wine.
  • John 2:1-10-The first recorded miracle of Jesus’ ministry is turning water into wine at a wedding feast. It is not feasible that Jesus would miraculously create wine knowing that its imbibing would lead those around Him into sin.
  • 1 Timothy 5:23-Paul encourages Timothy, the young pastor of the church in Ephesus, to “use a little wine for your stomach’s sake and your frequent infirmities.” Modern medicine has shown the positive value of moderate alcohol intake for any number of health issues.
  • Titus 2:3-Church leaders are to “not be given to much wine” along with other valued traits. This is not a call to abstention in leadership, but wise consumption.

From these passages we see that God created wine for mankind to enjoy, that Jesus made and drank wine, and that early church leaders were encouraged to include alcohol in their diets in moderation. There is no restriction on consuming alcohol in moderation in Scripture (over-consumption will be addressed below), therefore Christians today cannot have any such restrictions either.

Alcohol in the History of the Church

This does not seek to be a complete view of alcohol in the history of the Church but selected instances of respected church leaders and Christians throughout history that consumed alcohol.

  • Martin Luther, in letters to his wife, lamented missing her beer while he was away traveling. On the one hand, we see that Luther was deeply in love with his wife; on the other, she was a beer brewer who apparently made a good brew that Luther enjoyed. (Radical Reformission, Mark Driscoll)
  • The Puritans brought beer over on the Mayflower, and the first building they erected in New England was a brewery. (Drinking with Calvin and Luther, Jim West)
  • Arthur Guiness, who began brewing Guiness beer in Ireland in 1759, was a devout Christian who used the proceeds of Guiness beer to finance Sunday Schools throughout Ireland teaching literacy and the bible. His motivation for brewing beer was in response to the large-scale alcoholism throughout Ireland from the consumption of high-alcohol content, yet poorly made, gin. Guiness Beer was a lower-alcohol option, with the added benefit of also cleaning out dangerous bacteria from the water as it was brewed. (Guinness, Relevant Magazine April 2011)

Prohibitions of Alcohol

The position of Ephesus Church is not complete without also addressing the issue of drunkenness. While the bible makes it clear that consuming alcohol is not sinful and, in some cases, encouraged; it also makes very clear, the sinful consequences of drunkenness or the inappropriate use of alcohol in certain circumstances.

  • Leviticus 10:9-10-The priests were not to consume alcohol while performing their priestly duties in the tabernacle.
  • Isaiah 5:11-Isaiah declares “woe” on those that drink all day and become drunk.
  • Proverbs 31:4-5-Leaders are not to drink excessively while presiding as judge.

Multiple times in the New Testament Christians are called to not be drunk.

  • Romans 13:13
  • Ephesians 5:18
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:7
  • Galatians 5:21
  • 1 Peter 4:2-3

Additionally, Christians are called to obey the law of the land in regards to drinking.

  • Romans 13:1-Christians must be “subject to the governing authorities.” In the United States, the legal drinking age is 21. Therefore, Christians who have celebrated their 21st birthday are allowed to drink alcohol. Christians who have not celebrated their 21st birthday are violating Scripture if they drink alcohol in any quantity.

An argument against drinking uses 1 Corinthians 8:9 as a prohibition to drinking alcohol. This verse addresses Christian liberty wrongly causing another brother or sister to stumble in their faith. The argument in this context is that Christians drinking alcohol may cause those prone to alcoholism to stumble. This is a noble challenge. There are those that are prone to alcoholism, and the Church must recognize and appreciate that struggle. At no point can we see our consumption of alcohol from a sense of “selfish entitlement.” 1 Corinthians 8 should not, however, be seen as a wholesale prohibition on alcohol consumption by Christians. Others are prone to obesity, yet Christians celebrate over meals regularly. Also, some are prone to sexual addiction, but Christians do not prohibit interaction with the opposite sex! We must be aware and considerate of those prone to addictions in our actions and words, but we cannot wholesale prohibit many healthy areas of our lives in the process.

Conclusion

The biblical and historical evidence points to the reality that a holy, righteous, and godly life can include the moderate consumption of alcohol. There is clear direction from the bible to avoid drunkenness and, as with all things, be mindful of those around us. But the Church cannot rightly claim that imbibing is sinful. As we joyously live in the freedom of Christ in this area, we are less prone to legalism and religiosity while making Christ and Christian-living more accessible to those that do not yet know Him within our cultural context. And enjoying a drink with friends is a great way to build community!

 

 

 

 

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God Gives a Swift Kick…

Acts 12:7-9

7 And behold, an angel of the Lord stood next to him, and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him, saying, “Get up quickly.” And the chains fell off his hands. 8 And the angel said to him, “Dress yourself and put on your sandals.” And he did so. And he said to him, “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.” 9 And he went out and followed him. He did not know that what was being done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. (ESV)

For some reason I really enjoyed reading this verse. The angel “strikes” Peter in the side. No peaceful nudge and whisper in the ear with a glow over the angel’s head (a la Touched By An Angel). Peter wasn’t touched, he was struck! Couple things come to mind. 1) It was time to go. No sense in waiting around for the right “moment.” Get up Peter and go! 2) People were praying. This is an awesome testimony to gathered, corporate prayer. The answer to pray was an angel coming in to Peter’s cell and kicking him in the side to get going. 3) We all need a swift kick every now and then. I almost wonder if Peter was in a place of self-pity. Feeling so sorry for himself he was inconsolable even when the angel showed up, so the angel kicked him in the side. “Get a hold of yourself man! God has sent me to rescue you! Let’s go, work to be done…”

Do you need a swift kick to get moving on what God is ready to do in your life? I often do. First-pray, pray hard and pray with others…that reminds me, February 25th we’re gathering to pray together as a church. 2-Don’t get so self-absorbed that you become non-functional. God may be ready to move in your life, but you’re too busy wallowing in self-pity. 3-Go! If God is kicking you in the side, you better move!

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Fatherhood continued…

Yesterday at Ephesus we took the opportunity on Father’s Day to look at the biblical standards God calls dads to live out. You can download the podcast and listen in if you’re interested. It should be posted soon. Today as I read my Life Journal reading (more are now available for $6 at the Connections Table), I read a story that grieves me each time I revisit it. Jehoshaphat was a great king of Judah who loved the Lord, followed Him closely and heeded His prophets. He did not make a move without seeking the Lord first. J. has always held a special place in my heart for 2 reasons. 1) He was truly a man of God and ruled by His grace. 2) In middle school I was in a church musical called “Fat, Fat Jehoshaphat.” It was a retelling of the time J. was faced with enemies on all sides, fasted, prayed and sent the musicians out first and God won the day. Good times. But I picked something up in the life J. a few years ago. As great a king as he was and as much as the Bible tells us he loved God, he failed as a father. This has always grieved me. Today in the Life Journal reading we pick up the story of the son of J.

2 Chronicles 21:4-6-Now when Jehoram was established over the kingdom of his father (Jehoshophat), he strengthened himself and killed all his brothers with the sword, and also others of the princes of Israel. Jehoram was thirty-two years old when he became king, and he reigned eight years in Jerusalem. And he walked in the way of the kings of Israel (who followed Baal and Asherah), just as the house of Ahab had done, for he had the daughter of Ahab as a wife; and he did evil in the sight of the Lord.

You can read more of Jehoram’s story in 2 Kings 8 and 9, but you get the gist. He blew it, killed his brothers and worshiped false gods. What grieves me so much (he was one of many Hebrew kings who worshiped false gods) is the failure of his godly father Jehoshophat. A godly man and godly king who loved and followed the Lord, yet failed to raise up a godly son. We read of no good excuse as to why this would have happened. We only can see that Jehoshophat failed as a dad to pass on his love for God to his son. This struck me today again as we focused in on honoring and challenging fathers yesterday during our service.

Men, we are called to love God, have a personal relationship with Jesus and pursue personal righteousness. But we must not ever neglect to pass this legacy on to our children. One of the points we talked about yesterday was a father’s responsibility to pastor his children. To teach them about Jesus. As great as Jehoshophat was, his reputation is tarnished in my mind because of the horrendous failure of his son. Don’t pursue godliness or accomplishments at the expense of your children, or those God has placed in your life to mentor and lead. Your legacy matters! After your time on this earth is complete, what will you leave behind? My desire above all is to leave children who love God and advance His kingdom in ways I could never imagine!

Life Journal 6/17/09 How then shall you live?

Young folks especially READ ON!!

Reading Colossians 3 today as a part of my Life Journal reading (If you haven’t gotten a Life Journal yet, there are some on the way). I read in my NKJV but then popped in for a rare visit (at least these days) to the Message translation of this same chapter. Eugene Peterson brought some good paraphrasing to this particular chapter. Paul is laying out some basic standards for living as Jesus-followers. This ties in with Jesus’ teachings on the Mount in Matthew 5-7. If we have really given our lives to Jesus and accepted the love, grace and mercy available because of the cross and resurrection then Paul challenges us to truly change the way we live. I see this chapter especially poignant to young people. Our faith in the US has experienced somewhat of a backlash against religious legalism, and for the most part I’m all for it. There has been added “requirements” placed on Christ-followers that aren’t based in Scripture. This backlash has been especially true among young adults and teenagers. One of the things I love about Ephesus Church is the freedom to truly be ourselves. To be discipled and challenged and grow while not bogged down with false legalism and requirements.

However…there are some dangers to this new exploration of “freedom in Christ.” Taking it too far. As Christians we are called to righteousness in our thinking and our actions. Jesus sets this up in Matthew 5-7 and Paul continues it through much of his writings (probably because it’s all from God and is useful for teaching!), especially here in Colossians 3. Too often young people who are Christians push the envelope a little too far in how they live life. Too much drinking, too much “passion” (Col. 3.5), too much filthy language, etc. Another element that Eugene Peterson translates in the Message is good stuff: “killing off everything connected with that way of death:…doing whatever you feel like whenever you feel like it.” Then later, “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord, rather than for men.”(both Colossians 3)

Young people, hear me, how are you going to live? Jesus is calling us all to more than just acceptance of the cross, He’s calling us to righteousness in every aspect of our lives. Live free, enjoy life, don’t get bogged down in legalism. Those of you that have hung out with me know I strive to live this way. BUT, there is a balance. Don’t be like the world just because you have “freedom.” Choose to live differently as Scripture challenges us to live differently in those areas of your life. Read and meditate on Colossians 3 and see if there are areas in your life where some shifts need to take place.

Game on!

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