Can philosophy lead us to Jesus?

philosophy

Until relatively recently, in world history, it has been widely understood that there is a larger power at play in the world.  Societies have engaged the supernatural world in a variety of ways, creating some major world religions and countless tribal traditions celebrating the unknown, creating images to worship and developing folklore to explain the inexpiable.  As philosophy has developed over the centuries and as it was influenced by scientific theories – namely evolution – a growing number of people began to reject the idea of the supernatural, an eternal soul, and ultimately meaning in life.

Philosophy and science can lead us right into the arms of God, or they can lead us directly away.  Many of the greatest minds throughout history in both the scientific and philosophical world were Christians, and their studies and theories enhanced their faith.  Others were not, but we have much that we can learn from them as well.  When we live without faith, we seek to enhance our pleasure while on the world.  We are unsure, at best, if there is an after life and we long to make our earthly lives as comfortable and enjoyable as possible.  We have all watched in amazement, however, as some of the most successful, beautiful, outwardly happy people kill themselves and throw away their lives.  It is because when people have attained everything that this world has to offer, they are still left unsatisfied and wanting.

C.S. Lewis, a great philosopher, was led to theism and ultimately to faith in Jesus Christ because of this very reality.  He was not yet a believer, but had become convinced of the existence of God when he made this profound statement:

“A man’s physical hunger does not prove that that man will get any bread: he may die of starvation on a raft in the Atlantic. But surely a man’s hunger does prove that he comes of a race which repairs its body by eating, and inhabits a world where eatable substances exist.”  In other words, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”

– C.S. Lewis

The Bible verbalizes this truth in a variety of ways as well.

“He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves abundance with its income. This too is vanity.”

– Ecc 5.10

“As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.”

– 1 Tim 6.17-19

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”

– Matt 5.6

No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

– Mat 6.24

“For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”

– 2 Cor 5.1

Even when our Earthly tent (our bodies) are destroyed, even if everything we own gets swallowed up in fire, we will find our eternal home and fullest pleasure with God in eternity.  Thus, seeking to attain pleasure here on the Earth is futile and impossible, if we strive for money and worldly pleasure.  We may experience moments of happiness, but it will not ultimately satisfy.  It will not last.

Do you know that you were made for another world?  Or are you still storing up your treasures here on Earth, where moth and rust destroy?  Have you bought into the lie that philosophy and science do not serve God?  He is the creator of the mind, the universe, the natural laws and there is nothing that will be found or tested that will ever disprove His existence or the Bible.  Science and philosophy are His tools, and tools that can help us to understand Him and the world around us better.  Let us reclaim our thought life, our jobs and our pleasures for God.  Let’s not put Him in a little box that we take out on Sunday mornings and keep separate from everything else.  We were created for another world, and for relationship with Him.  Let’s live for that.

Advertisements

God loves a cheerful giver.

offering

Let’s talk about money.  I know, I know, it is culturally taboo to discuss how much you make and where you spend it.  We are so afraid to talk about it, in fact, that we hire people we do not even know to give us advice because we cannot ask our friends how they are handling debt, houses, retirement, general income and the like.  I lived for four years in a country where financial matters were not a taboo in conversation – people regularly asked how much something cost, how much one another made and how money was being spent.  That was possibly one of the strangest quirks in the scheme of adjusting to a new culture.  But I think we can learn something from it, namely, interpersonal accountability with our finances.

Now, hear me.  I am not saying that we need to make public knowledge how much you bring home on each pay check and every candy bar purchased at the gas station.  But having a close friend or friends who can hold us accountable with how we spend our money is just important as having a close friend who can hold us accountable to any sin of disposition.  Why?

For some reason tithing has become a taboo issue.  We have developed a heart of animosity against the local church and we have decided that we are all wise enough and subordinate to no one that we have the final say in where our money should be given.  Some argue that they do not make enough money to give to the church or any charity, while others consider a paycheck for a pastor or heating bills for the building to be a poor use of “God’s money”, so they bypass the church and give to whatever effort tickles their fancy.  They like to show up to the building and listen to the preacher, but their money will go to a real ministry – like feeding the hungry.

Others want to argue that tithing is an Old Testament command and therefore not expected of the Church.  Yes, we know that the Old Covenant taught tithing clearly, and that it was declared, by God, to be the first ten percent of everything (Lev 27.30, Deut 14.24, Num 18.26).  It was not only the first ten percent (before taxes and wages), but it was also supposed to be the best:  the best sheep, the best grain, the best harvest.  It was a physical tithe in those days – the actual harvest or animals bred.  God had the physical goods brought into His house, His storehouse, to meet the needs of the priests and the poor (Mal 3.10).

God also promised in the Old Testament that giving the giving of the tithe would guarantee the provision of God of the physical needs of His people:

“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,” says the LORD of hosts, “if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows.  Then I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of the ground; nor will your vine in the field cast its grapes,” says the LORD of hosts.  All the nations will call you blessed, for you shall be a delightful land,” says the LORD of hosts.

– Mal 3.10-12

So how does this apply to the New Covenant and the Church today?  We first must understand that when Jesus came to the World, His intention was not to do away with the Law, but to fulfill it.  In fulfilling the Old Covenant Law, some of the laws were indeed changed – and those are the ceremonial laws required in order to come into God’s presence and the sacrificial system of atoning for sins.  These were fulfilled and therefore no longer need to be required.  In fact, it would be a dishonor to Jesus and His death to try to keep these laws.  You can read more about that here.  The other laws, God’s moral laws, were not changed or fulfilled.  They teach us the heart of God and about sin.  So we must then understand if the tithe is a ceremonial law.

Ceremonial laws that were fulfilled by Jesus were dealing with the way we approach God and obtain pardon for our sins.  This was the sacrificial system.  The tithe in no way bought one’s pardon, that was left completely to the killing of animals and the shedding of blood.  Forbidden foods and clothing were named to look forward to the purity of the blood of Christ that would cleanse us and to set the people of God apart symbolically.  Jesus has now come and fulfilled the cleansing of our sin, and thus those laws are fulfilled.  The tithe was a functional law, however, to care for the leaders (the priests) and to meet the needs of those within Israel.  The leaders of the church still need to be cared for, as do the poor.  The tithe, therefore, is not a ceremonial law that was fulfilled.

If any woman who is a believer has dependent widows, she must assist them and the church must not be burdened, so that it may assist those who are widows indeed.  The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.  For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox while he is threshing,” and “The laborer is worthy of his wages.”

– 1 Tim 5.16-18

The New Testament clearly teaches us that the Church is supposed to care for the poor and provide for the pastors.  If we hire a pastor to teach us and oversee us Spiritually, that is His job.  His boss is God Himself, He will give an account to God for how he cared for our souls, and we will give an account to God for meeting his physical needs (Heb 13.17).

Because the law of the tithe has neither been nullified nor fulfilled, we can heed the warning of the Old Testament as a fearful thing:

“Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me! But you say, ‘How have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings.

– Mal 3.8

Do you want to steal from God?  We know that everything that is in the world already belongs to God – because He created it (1 Cor 10.26).  And everything that we have is because God gave it to us (1 Cor 4.7), and God is our Father – a good father – who has promised to meet our needs and to give us what is the best for us:

“If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!”

– Matt 7.11

God has given us everything that we have.  He has commanded us to give back to the church ten percent, at least, to provide for our leadership and to have money and goods in the storehouse which can be used as ministry.  When we give that money, it is God’s and it is not ours.  If we want to give specifically to a ministry, then it must be above and beyond what we give to the discretion of the local church.  The tithe is the ten percent.  It actually means ten percent.  Offerings are above that.

God is also extremely concerned about our hearts.  We must not give our tithe out of obligation.  We must give out of thankfulness and cheerfulness:

“Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.  Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

– 2 Cor 9.6-7

We know that when we give, we are not only being obedient, but we are giving into the storehouse of God from which we can see God meeting needs and preforming ministries.  Yes, God is infinitely bigger than our storehouses and His efforts will be beyond anything that we can imagine, but this is a system that He has set up for us to be able to be a part of His ministry and to see be blessed.  Thus, we should be excited to give – to see what comes out of it in terms of ministry.  We should be happy to give because we have been blessed and given something to return.  We should also be humbled to give that God has entrusted us with His possessions.  And as we prove ourselves faithful – both as individuals and a church – He will entrust us with more.  Maybe not finances, but possibly more Spiritual responsibilities.

“He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much.  Therefore if you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous wealth, who will entrust the true riches to you?  And if you have not been faithful in the use of that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own?”

– Luke 16.10-12

The bottom line is that anything we do that is not from faith is sin (Rom 14.23).  We must give joyfully and in faith.  We also must come to understand that nothing we have is our own, and that it all already belongs to God (1 Cor 10.26).  Jesus recognized and honored the woman who gave the only two pennies over the man who gave much money, but only a fraction of what He owned (Luke 1.1-4).  He does not need our money, but He honors the one who gives.  He also commands us to give at the minimum ten percent in order to keep the local church running and serving the community.  So let us step out and be obedient, with the ten percent.  Let us also love lavishly and give to ministries and people above and beyond that ten percent.  Because it is all God’s, and He has promised to provide and meet our needs.  He also has entrusted us with much, so let us use those blessings to His glory and honor.  And lastly, let us find people in our lives who will hold us accountable to do so.  Money is just money.  But we must honor God with how we use it.  And it is very easy to slip when no one knows how we use what we have.  Put down your pride, and find someone with whom you can get real.  And let’s stop robbing God.

“Come and See” OR “Go and Tell”?

go and tell

When Jesus came to the world, He radically transformed everything.  Pre-Jesus, the Hebrew people had been given structures for how to interact with God.  They were the chosen people, they had a central house of worship where God’s presence literally resided, and priests who served Him there.  The temple was ornate.  The kings were wealthy and wise.  King Solomon was the wealthiest and wisest ruler in history, and people (like the Queen of Sheba) came to see his wealth and hear his wisdom.  Outsiders were welcome to come and to incorporate themselves into Jewish tradition and faith, but it was a “Come and See” religion.

Jesus fulfilled the traditions and laws of the first covenant by being the only person to ever perfectly and completely obey the Law and then offered Himself as the final and perfect sacrifice for the sins of those who would believe.  With the completion of the Law everything changed.  God no longer maintains His presence in a temple.  There is no centralized city where the devout can more intimately meet Him.  God is no longer declaring Himself through an earthly kingdom and reign, but is establishing His eternal kingdom through the hearts of the devout worldwide.  It will take its fullest form in completion only on the New Earth.

Jesus transformed the faith from, “Come and See” to “Go and Tell”.  It used to be,

Come and see the works of God,
Who is awesome in His deeds toward the sons of men.

 – Ps 66.5

But now it is,

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

 – Matt 28.19-20

In general, Churches will affirm that they understand this mandate and structure that Jesus set up.  Most people will be able to name a handful of missionaries that they support, most churches will have a missions team, missions fund, and endeavor to be a part of the “kingdom work”.  But Jesus told us that you can test someone’s heart by examining their checkbook.  You can see what a Church considers important by a quick glance at their budget.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

 – Matt 6.19-21

I grew up in a church of several hundred people in Philadelphia, PA.  The church owned a building that was built in 1914 and modified throughout the years to keep up with growth, but the church as a whole had a conviction for the great commission:  to go and tell.  Professors from the Philadelphia Bible College were members, board members from a variety of missions organizations were members, and the church was thriving and alive.  The heart of the Church was “Go and Tell”.  So they paid two staff and 70% of the budget went to missions.  People were being called to the field.  The biggest week and event of the church life was missions week when missionaries from around the world came to inform and encourage the church of what was happening around the world.  Every member had a book full of missionaries’ prayer cards to lift up before God, and there were so many that every calendar date had three to four missionary families for which to pray.  Children were discipled.  The community was being reached.  Disciples were being made.  People were going and telling.

To be clear, this church was not perfect.  But their treasure was Jesus and obeying the great commission, and they put their money where their mouth was.

What is the treasure of your church?  What percentage of your budget is designated to feeding the poor, supporting missionaries and reaching the lost?  And what percentage of your budget is spent on making your church cool, hip, and well staffed?  The Barna Group research company ironically informs us that Millenials, those born from the mid 1980’s to early 2000’s – those for whom we are trying to make the church cool and appealing – by 67% would describe their ideal church as classic.  Only 33% would describe their ideal church as trendy.  77% chose a sanctuary and desired ornate stain-glassed windows with pulpits that were overtly Christian.  Trendy, non-traditional rooms leave the unchurched unsure of what the space is.  Most shockingly, 78% of Millenials said that they prefer a quiet and reverent church, not a loud church.

The sad reality here, however, is the fact that we are researching how to modify our churches to draw people in.  Our society is well-entertained and the church cannot (and most assuredly should not) try to compete.  Our music will not be as good as a concert.  Our preaching will not be as engaging or entertaining as a TV show or comedian.  But that is not the goal.  Our goal should be to worship God.  The church is a place to worship God, a house of prayer, a place to learn and grow and to be held accountable.  It is not a place to draw in and wow the lost.  We are commanded to go and tell, not to bring them in to see.

So how are you doing personally?  Are you going and telling?  Does your checkbook show your treasure to be making disciples of all nations?  How is your small group doing?  How is your church doing?  Let’s transform our perspectives and take the world by storm.  There are 6,552 unreached people groups (clusters of people who are unique in language and culture who are less than 2% Christian) around the world.  If just one mega church in the United States was mobilzed, we could have a missionary amongst every. single. one.  If just one family from only 6,552 churches in the United States was mobilized, we could have missionaries in every. single. one.  There are more than 50,000 Southern Baptist Churches alone.  How many churches does that mean there are of every denomination?  We must learn to go and tell.  Come and see is no more, Jesus has given us a calling.  Let’s be obedient.  Let us treasure that which God treasures.

Death Grip

Last night my small group discussed briefly the topic of urgency.  The simple fact that if we knew someone was close to death – or if we knew that we were close to death – we would be more intentional about sharing the Gospel.  The topic is not a new one, but one that Christians regularly consider for brief amounts of time and then slip right back into their routines.  Why?  Because we have routines.  Because we are rarely confronted with death.  Because we have no way to visualize eternity and keep it on the forefront of our minds.

Jesus set the bar for salvation very high.

“So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.”

– Luke 14.33

We all know, at least in theory, that nothing we acquire on Earth is eternal.  We cannot take it with us.  Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.  Solomon grieved this very point when he was experimenting with the pleasures of the world and becoming extremely wealthy:

“A man to whom God has given riches and wealth and honor so that his soul lacks nothing of all that he desires; yet God has not empowered him to eat from them, for a foreigner enjoys them. This is vanity and a severe affliction.”

– Ecc 6.2

When we are consumed and focused on this life we cannot even enjoy the fruit of our labor because we are too busy looking at the next task, the end project, the next goal.

“Hold everything earthly with a loose hand, but grasp eternal things with a death-like grip.”

– Charles Spurgeon

Let us spend our energy today remembering the things that have eternal value:  knowing and loving God and sharing His truth and Gospel with those around us.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

– Matt 6.19-21

Does Jesus Want Me To Be Poor?

poverty

We’ve all heard the popular teaching of Joel Osteen and the promises of the Health and Wealth Gospel.  Preachers on TV are promising us that God wants us to be happy, healthy and rich.  The level of faith that we have directly parallels our financial and personal success.  The Prayer of Jabez, after all, is an example of praying for our own personal prosperity and God blessed him and called him righteous, right?

The opposite extreme sprinkled throughout evangelicalism today looks at the Church in large.  They consider the Persecuted Church, they examine revivals, history, and the overall nature of the Church to say that no, Jesus is not concerned with making us rich, but that He wants us to give to the poor and to live a simple life.  Ultimately they become various levels of ascetics.

So.  Does Jesus want us to be rich?  Or does Jesus want us to be poor?

We are called to be stewards.  

“And that slave who knew his master’s will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, will receive many lashes, but the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few.  From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.”

– Luke 12.47-48

This passage is extremely familiar.  Surprisingly, however, it is speaking about actions and not finances.  It is a principle that applies over and onto finances, but God is concerned about our hearts.  Jesus Himself said that all of the Law was summed up in these two: love God above all else and love your neighbor as yourself (Matt 22.37-39).  If we love God above all else, then our talents, our time and our finances will be spent to His glory and honor.  If we love our neighbor as ourselves, we help meet their needs, we put them above ourselves and glorify God with our time, energy and finances.

Paul makes the very clear assessment of our abilities (which again, applies to finances):

For who regards you as superior? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?

– 1 Cor 4.7

But most fundamentally we all know that,

“The Earth is the Lord’s and everything it contains.”

– 1 Cor 10.26

It all belongs to God.  Everything.  Including money.  So whatever you have – gifts, talents, finances, freedom, slavery, jobs, family – it is all God’s.  And He has allowed us to use it for a season.  We are stewards of His belongings.

For my ascetic friends, I would like to point out the fact that many of our forefathers were among the richest men who ever lived.  Solomon was worth, in today’s dollar, approximately 100 billion dollars.  That is substantially more than Bill Gates’ worth.  David, Abraham, Joseph, Jacob and many others were granted physical and financial wealth in the roles that God gave them.

For my rich friends, I would like to point out the fact that the very humility exemplified by the creator of the universe was to leave the throne of glory and come to Earth, living without even a place to lay his head.  He kept minimal possessions and when He sent the disciples out to serve Him, they were to rely on the hospitality of others for their sustenance.

Our responsibility is stewardship of what God has given us.  When we consider our finances, let’s ask this simple question, “Is God glorified in this?”  When you stand before God on judgment day, will you be ashamed of how you spent your money?  Or your time?  Will you be proud of the toys, the clothes, the house, the comforts that you bought?  Or will you know that you gave sacrificially to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and put one another’s needs above your own?  Will you look back and find that your finances served God or you?

I used to wrestle with giving money to beggars.  I always wondered for what they would use the money.  But one day I realized that God would hold him accountable for how he used the help that he received.  He would only hold me accountable for my willingness to help.  I am confident that I will not stand before Him and He say, “You should not have given that money to that beggar.  You should have bought a new shirt with it instead.”  Now, if God has given you the mind and ability to help the homeless establish themselves in jobs and fight addictions such that they are able to feed themselves, and all you do is throw a twenty in their cup, there might be something to answer for.  But that is between you and God.

Jesus was comfortable with a woman pouring out extremely expensive perfume on his feet.  There are times for extravagance in the worship of Almighty God.  Jesus does not say that to follow Him we must be poor.  In fact, He says that we are to care for the poor.  So we must be stable enough to be able to give in order to care for the poor.

It’s about our heart.  We must be satisfied in God alone, and consider His provisions as tools to serve and glorify Him.

“…for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.  I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.  I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”

– Phil 4.11-13