Deny Yourself

Luke 9:23

And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. (NASB)

     What does Jesus mean when He says that we must “deny ourselves”?  This was the question that capitalized our attention at Sr. High youth group this week.  Many of the students in our group (and likely many of you) took this to mean that we need to abandon the goals that we used to have for our lives.  For example, before Hypothetical John became a Christian, he wanted to be an actor.  But now that Hypothetical John is a Christian, he must abandon his dream and find something else to do as a career; something more “Christian-y”.  But is this what Jesus meant?

     Clearly, there are some hopes and dreams that must get scrapped when becoming a Christian.  There is no way to be a disciple of Jesus while still making it big in the adult film industry.  But, it is not the obvious that brings confusion to Jesus’ statement.  What about Hypothetical John?  Sure, there are some morally questionable actors, but is acting something that Christians should not do?  Of course not.  There are plenty of Christian actors; not all of which are only found in Christian films.  Denying ourselves is something bigger than changing our career goals.

     In our study, author Darrell Johnson says that denying yourself “means to deny your lordship”.  Imagine that there is a thrown within your heart.  Our default position is to have ourselves seated on that thrown.  Because we sit on the thrown of our own lives, everything we do is motivated by our own selfishness.  But when we accept Jesus as our Lord, we must remove ourselves from lordship and place Jesus on the thrown.  Jesus has plans for our life (and the rest of the world) which are not rooted in our own selfishness, which is why denying ourselves requires us to reevaluate our life’s goals.

     But does reevaluating our goals mean that we must give them up? Sometimes this is the case, but often it isn’t.  Remember, God created us with passions and talents which He intends us to use for His glory.  Even though it might have taken us a while to get on the same page as God, those desires have always been a part of us.  Hypothetical John might need to reevaluate why he wants to be an actor and confirm that this goal is still in-line with God’s plan, but it was no accident that he gravitated towards acting.  God’s plan for John might be that he continues to become an actor with the intention of reaching other actors in Hollywood for the Kingdom of God.  God’s plan might instead be that John teaches drama at a local high school, offering himself as a mentor for the youth that he serves.  The difference between Hypothetical John’s pre-Christian goals and his goals as a disciple of Jesus is that he is no longer motivated by a selfish desire to become rich and famous, but rather by the desire to make the love of Christ famous.  We cannot do that while we sit on our own thrown.  We must deny our own lordship and allow the true king to take His place.
For His Glory

Sharing the Gospel with the Skeptic: The Bible (pt. 2)

            This time we are going to look at the reliability of the Bible.  It is, after all, a book written almost 2000 years ago.  Does the skeptic have a good point in claiming that a book written so long ago cannot be reliable?  Well, let’s look at other books written a long time ago.  Shakespeare wrote his plays about 400 years ago, yet we still attribute his 37+ plays to him.  The majority of historical writings that inform us of who Alexander the Great is were written in the 3rd century, yet no one claims that he never existed.  These writings serve a double purpose in our conversation with the skeptic since Alexander the Great lived in the 3rd century B.C. and the writings we base our history books on were written 6 hundred years later.  By comparison we should be claiming that it was all made up and he never existed, but if you write that on your exam you will fail 11th grade history.  But for some reason, the Bible is held to a higher level of scrutiny than any other piece of writing in our history.  Thankfully, it can hold up.

            Let’s take a step back really quick and remind ourselves of a very important truth.  Christianity cannot be proved through any one well-crafted argument.  It requires multiple arguments showing that it is the most probable conclusion.  Convincing a skeptic that the whole Bible is completely true and without error (in its original manuscripts) is just not possible in one shot.  A better practice is to shine light on one particular part of the Bible.  I would suggest an argument that shows Paul to be a credible author.  Once Paul is established as a credible author, it is not a far leap to bring credibility to the Gospels because of Paul’s quotations and through that, Jesus which is our ultimate goal.

            So how do we shine a light on the truth of Paul?  Well, the most effective way is to bring to the skeptic’s attention the life that Paul lived.  In that culture Paul was a Rock Star.  He was a well-known Pharisee (political party of sorts) and a promising student under the tutelage of the finest Rabbi.  He was the Kanye West (but in a good way if that is possible) of his day.  He had no reason to change his life in any way.  Unless of course, he was presented with an unavoidable truth.  In an instant, Paul (Saul at the time) went from hunter to hunted, star to scum, etc.  It is not just a matter of giving up a good life to sit back and relax.  Paul gave up a life of prestige for a life filled with prisons and beatings and a stoning, you get the idea.  Look into your own life, can you fathom making that choice?  Not unless you were presented with an unavoidable truth. 

            We believe that truth to be Jesus, but the skeptic might not yet, and that is okay.  Remember our reminder, Christianity is not explained in one argument, but many different truths that point to Jesus.  Even if they are not ready to believe that yet, they at least have to recognize that Paul’s writings are based on a belief so powerful that he had no choice but to choose Christ.  At this point, I would encourage the skeptic to give some of Paul’s writings (Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon) another look.
For His Glory

Sharing the Gospel with the Skeptic: The Bible (pt. 1)


     The Bible has been translated over and over again and again, by now there is no way it says what it originally said.  How can we trust a book that was written thousands of years ago to be true?   These are just two examples of common oppositions that you will hear when trying to witness to a skeptic.  Believe it or not, this is a good sign, because it means that this skeptic is thinking.  If their claims are correct, these are the conclusions that they should be coming to.  The problem is, a few of their premises are off and with “gentleness and kindness” it is our job to help them with these.  Do you know where to begin?

            Let’s begin with translation.  Currently there are about 900 different English translation and paraphrases of the Bible available.  It is not important to know every one of them, but what is important to know is the different categories that these translations could fall into.  The first categories are “translation” and “paraphrase”. 

     If a Bible is considered a “paraphrase”, that means that the scriptures have been written in a much more readable way.  Biblical wording and grammar is only used when it makes sense, but is not a priority.  Sometimes, the source material for the paraphrase is another English Translated Bible.  Popular Bibles that fit this criterion are “The Message” and “The Good News Bible”.

     If a Bible is considered a “Translation”, that means that the source material is not another translation, but manuscripts in the original language.  This is one reason why we can trust our English Bible; it is not coming from a friend who was told by his cousin, who was told by a guy down the street, that heard from a dude at the store, that Jesus rose from the dead.  It is coming from the author to the translator, with no one in between to scramble things up.  It is the most boring game of telephone, ever.  Now, within the category of “translation”, there are many different versions (NIV, NASB, NLT, NKJV, etc.).  These versions are split by their translation philosophy; whether to stay true to the original language in word choice and grammar (NASB, NKJV), or to stay true to the idea that the original manuscript is trying to convey and word choice and grammar is not always the first priority (NIV, NLT, ESV, etc.).  Each one of these translations fall somewhere on a spectrum of how close vs. how far they are from the word choice and grammar of the original manuscripts.

     That was an awful lot to simply say that a true translation is coming straight from the original sources.  It is simply not sufficient to answer acquisitions of the telephone game with, “nuh-uh!”  Now you know how the categories work and should be able to communicate that to anyone who says otherwise, with gentleness and kindness.
For His Glory

Sharing the Gospel with the Skeptic: Introduction


     How many of you have ever shared your faith with someone only to find yourself faced with a question about Christianity that you didn’t know how to answer? I have. In fact, a situation like this is what introduced me to the subject of Apologetics in the first place. I was talking with an old high school friend. We got on the subject of my training to be a pastor, and he said that he has no problem believing that there is a god, but he can’t accept Christianity because of all the wars and killings that have happened in “the name of God”. My response was that not everyone who claims to be a Christian is actually a Christian. He agreed, but then he asked how I would then explain all the wars and killings that God commanded in the Bible. This caught me off guard. I had never thought about it. I knew there had to be a reason, because God is perfect in His judgment as in everything else. What that reason was though, I didn’t know. And I knew that “I’m sure God had a good reason” would not be a good enough answer to his question. That’s when I started to look into my faith even deeper.

        1 Peter 3:15 tells us to “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have”. This means that we need to be able to explain to people why we believe what we do. In most situations, this is referring to knowing and sharing our testimony, but every now and then we come face to face with a question that we just can’t answer. There are some Christians that would argue that faith does not need every question answered. This is true in the sense that we are not going to be able to answer every question (i.e. “what was God doing before the Earth was created?” as my children have asked), however I find more often than not that this response is given as an excuse for the Christian to not have to think. To this, I would remind the Christian of what is says in Mark 12. In verse 30, Jesus tells us that the greatest command is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength”. If we are not willing to study and fully understand our faith, are we really loving the Lord with all our mind?

        This post is the first in what I hope is a life changing series of posts focused on answering questions like these that shake our faith. The goal is to give you real answers to real questions as well as provide practical tools to use when you find yourself in a conversation with a skeptic.

        Until my next post, ask yourself (and then practice saying it) “why do I believe in God and why has knowing God enriched my life”? Once you understand why it works for you it will be easier to explain to others.
TomFor His Glory

Reading The Bible On My Own

As Disciples of Christ, we must be dedicated to the Word of God.  Reading God’s revelation for humanity is a must for us all.  But for those of us who are new to faith or are old in faith and have never really read the Bible on their own, it can be scary.  Where do I start?  What if I don’t understand it?  All these questions might fly through your mind, and that is okay.  In this blog, I want to give you some tips to help you begin to read the Bible on your own.  It really isn’t as difficult as it seems.
Tip #1
There is no right time of day to read the Bible
            I think this is the one of the biggest misconception about Bible reading that Christians have; the belief that in order to be a good Christian I must have a quiet time in the MORNING.  I absolutely agree that in order to keep our faith strong we must regularly meet with God in prayer and through reading the Bible on a regular basis.  The idea that it is only effective in the morning when you first wake up is bogus.  I will say however, that the morning offers the added benefit of starting your day focused on God which will help to keep the rest of your day focused on Him as well.  But if you are not a morning person then you run the risk of your morning quiet time becoming a chore that you dread rather than the worship it is supposed to be.
Tip #2
What Bible should I use?
            Take a trip to a Christian book store and walk down the Bible Aisle.  Here you will see hundreds of options of Bibles.  There are many Translations, Study Bibles, Gift Bibles, Student Bibles, Application Bibles, Parallel Bibles, Paraphrase Bibles, etc.  Which one is for you?  There are many benefits in having access to many different versions, but if this is your first Bible or this is the first time you have seriously desired to read your Bible, it is important to choose one that is beneficial without being overwhelming.
            Your Bible should be a true translation, not a paraphrase like The Message or The Story.  Our church uses the New Living Translation (NLT) for most of our Sunday Worship Services.  I also like the New International Version (NIV) and the English Standard Version (ESV).  These Bibles are translated in a way that takes English grammar into consideration to make them more readable.  For now, you should avoid translations that try to stick closer to the original language’s sentence structure (NASB, KJV).  They are great Bibles but can sometimes be difficult to read.
           After that, the choice is really up to you.  You do not need to buy a $90 study Bible, but you may want to pay a little bit more for a Bible that has some extra notes or maybe one with reading plans and devotions.  In an effort to stay at a reasonable price point, take a look at the Life Application Bible.  It comes in many of the major translations and even has additional options such as Bibles for Teens, Girls, Boys, Women, Men, etc.
Tip #3
You do not have to be a Bible expert
            Many people, even Christians, fear opening up the Word of God.  Not because of what it says, but because they are afraid they won’t understand it.  Folks, let me point your attention to my man Peter.  Peter is the number one Apostle, Jesus’ right hand man; he is the Commander Riker to Jesus’ Picard.  You know what else Peter is?  He was a gigantic buffoon; a fisherman, with a fisherman’s education.  The disciples were not the brightest crayons in the box, yet they were put in charge of the Church.  It is not necessary for you to have a special education in order to understand the Bible.  Sure, an education will ADD to your understanding, but it is not necessary prior to opening the Book. 
            That being said, if you are new to reading the Bible, there are certain books to save until you have a little bit of a foundation.
Your first book should NOT be:
  • Leviticus
  • Numbers
  • Judges
  • 1 & 2 Kings
  • 1 & 2 Chronicles
  • Job
  • Ecclesiastes
  • Song of Songs (“Song of Solomon” in some translations)
  • Lamentations
  • Daniel
  • Hebrews
  • Revelation
     Save these books for after you have spent some time in the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke & John) and the narrative books of the Old Testament.
Tip #4
Start Here
            There are thousands of reading plans out there and they all have different reasons for the order they suggest.  Let me give you a quick breakdown of them all.  Unless we are talking about a very specialized reading plan such as those that follow the actions of the Holy Spirit or some other specific topic, most of them will start you in one of two places, one of the Gospels or Genesis.  These are great places to start.  If I wrote a reading plan, I would start you in the same place. 
            The Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, & John) tell the story of Jesus’ Life and Ministry from four different perspectives.  You will even notice many stories being repeated between the four books.  If you would like to start with one of the Gospels, I would suggest picking anyone of them but the Book of Luke.  The book of Luke is fantastic, but it doesn’t have the same emotion and feeling that the other three carry.  Matthew is a great start.  I also like the Book of John because John adds little notes explaining different situations that might not have been clear otherwise.
            If you would like to start with Genesis, remember to read it like a story this first time.  You will have plenty of time to ask questions and dig deeper, but this first time should be read like you would any other novel.  Otherwise you will get lost in the rabbit holes and never finish the book.
Tip #5
            Before you start reading the Bible, pray.  Pray for guidance.  Pray for understanding.  Pray that you hear the message that God desires you to hear as you read His Word.  If you are anything like me, you might also need to pray for focus.  And lastly, give thanks to God for giving us His Word.  Without it, we would be lost.
For His Glory

To Help Or Not To Help

Turkey syrian refugees kurds

          There has been so much talk about whether the United States should take in and accept Syrian refugees or not.  And I have to tell you, no matter what side you fall on, the left or the right, Christian or Non-Christian; the situation is not as easy as everyone claims it to be.  From the Christian perspective, most people would assume that I have to agree to help the Syrian refugees since I am supposed to take care of my neighbor.  This is true, but it’s not complete.  Let’s chat.

          The Syrian refugee situation brings up many questions.  The two that I have been hearing most often: is it safe and can we afford it?  As Christians, are these questions that we need to be asking before we help someone?  In Luke 10, Jesus explains that the way to eternal life is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself”.  To which a man asks “who is my neighbor” and Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan.  In this parable, two men (a priest and a Levite, perceived to be good and godly), pass by a man in dire need.  Finally, a Samaritan man steps up and takes care of the injured man.  This is significant because the Jews and the Samaritans do not like each other.  It is actually considered to be unclean to touch the injured man, so rather than having to perform the ceremonial washings the priest would have had to after touching something unclean, he decided to pass by without helping.  I would assume the Levite is walking on for similar reasons.  It is the so called enemy who ends up helping.

          The Samaritan was wealthy enough to help out, so he didn’t have to ask if he could afford it.  But it does not say anything that would inform the man if the situation was safe.  He didn’t know who the man was, and he didn’t care.  He saw someone who needed help, and he helped.  Jesus did this very thing.  I’m not talking about dying for every person, good or bad.  I’m talking about when Jesus stops Peter from continuing to attack the guards that came to arrest Jesus.  Not only did Jesus stop Peter, but He healed the damage that Peter had caused.  This guard was not a friend of Jesus, yet Jesus acted as if he were.

          Here is another point, something from the Old Testament that you might not be as familiar with.  Now before you grown or say “we don’t have to read the Old Testament, we are no longer subject to the law”, I just want to say a big fat Ya Huh!  It is true that we are not subject to the Law as a means of our salvation.  Our salvation comes from the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ; but here is a little something to chew on.  God is the same today as He was yesterday and how He will be tomorrow.  This means that if God felt there was a lesson that was important for the Israelites to know back then, it is important for us to know it as well today.

          Leviticus 19:9-10 says, 9“Now when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10 Nor shall you glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger. I am the Lord your God.”  This word “stranger” is often translated as alien or foreigner.  Basically God is saying, “I want you to take care of the needy so much that you will even leave parts of your field just for them”.  This would almost be like putting in a “Free” section in a grocery store.

          After reading these two passages, I’m sure you are thinking that I have come to the conclusion of helping the Syrian refugees, but I’m not done, because to jump to that conclusion means that you have missed a few parts of these stories.  First of all, the Samaritan takes care of his neighbor knowing that he has enough money to do so.  Did that come into his decision making?  Maybe.  Would he have helped anyway, even if he didn’t have the money?  Probably.  There are many examples throughout the Bible of people helping other people even though they have very little themselves.  The point is, counting the cost and knowing how much help is possible to be offered is an acceptable precaution to take.  If the US brings in refugees and we cannot financially support them, what do we do?  Second, God built helping the poor into the Israelite’s way of life.  They never expected to be able to harvest the fruits of the edge of their field because they knew it belonged to the poor and the traveler.  But it did not say that the field owner had to harvest it, do all the work, bundle it up, and bring it to where the needy where.  The poor and the travelers were allowed this blessing, but they had to work to get it.  They had to go to the field and harvest it themselves.  God built charity into their system but it is not without work.

          This is why I say that this situation is not black and white.  There seems to be just as much Biblical Truth to not help the refugees (due to our financial situation) as there is to help.  As Christians, we like to claim the United States is a Christian Nation, founded on Christian principles.  Whether this is true or not is a topic for another time.  At the very least, Christians need to be asking themselves how God expects us to help the refugees.  The clearest answer to this question is “Yes” God expects us to help.  The less clear answer is “how?”  As our nation is currently in a battle about legal and illegal immigration, it is hard to understand how we would be capable of helping even more people.  This is not a hesitation of bigotry and xenophobia.  This is a hesitation of concern that we might not be able to help as well as we hope.  Take into consideration that our VA system is in shambles.  We can’t figure out how to help thousands of veterans, how are we going to help thousands of refugees?  I wonder if the American people would be more willing and able to help if we used a method similar to what Moses wrote in Leviticus; one where there was work expected of the refugees.

          To the point of those wondering whether some of the refugees are dangerous, I don’t think this has any bearing on whether we help or not.  I cannot think of any situation where the Bible teaches us not to help someone because they might be dangerous.  The way we help may look different, but we certainly help.  Why?  Because Jesus died for us and never asked us to prove if we were good before He did.
Tom For His Glory,
Tom Dixon