Welcome to tomthinking.com Wednesday, August 22 2018 @ 07:38 AM UTC

A Complete Bible Study Is Transformational

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Here’s a four-part tidbit about Bible study. How do you know when you’ve successfully explored a passage of scripture?
Any Bible study that is to be personally effective has four elements. Take a look and ask yourself if these four elements are part of your regular approach to God’s word.
Effective Bible study requires examination. This includes reading the text, but also searching the text a bit deeper for something that may escape your notice at first and lead to erroneous interpretation. For instance, have you read John 10:10 where Jesus says, “The thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy?” Most people read that passage and immediately think of Satan as the thief. However, a closer examination reveals that Satan is not the subject of the text. Someone else is (I’ll let you do the examining to find out who). A careful examination of the scripture makes a world of difference when it comes to interpretation.

Animism & Christianity

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This week’s offering contrasts a few of the basic ideas between Animism and Christianity. The idea of what Animism is, is hard for some westerners to wrap their minds around. It seems to many western observers that Animism is similar in many ways to Buddhism, Hinduism, Shinto, and even many Native American religions. The answer of course is yes, it has many similarities, but it is also different. The ideas of Animism are often mixed with other philosophies and religious beliefs, changing their fundamentals or turning them into something like magic formulas for the benefit of the adherent. Animism is not exclusive to non-Christian religions. The concepts of Animism can be found, most notably, in what is commonly referred to as the Word of Faith or Prosperity Gospel movement.
Very simply, Animism in all its various forms is based upon a simple idea: That the physical world is influenced, guided, or manipulated by the spiritual world. Spirits, or spiritual reasons underlie all circumstances in the real world. This may soundlike Christianity, which subscribes to a spiritual realm having influence with the physical, but it is actually much different. In Animism certain actions must be taken to appease the spirits (both good and bad) and even take power over the spiritual realm through trinkets, charms, idols, rituals, prayers, and declarations.

Idols and the Christian God

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Are you an idol worshiper? What place do idols or images have in your religious life? What light does the Bible shine on idol worship or veneration? Many people in traditional and tribal religious systems around the world use idols or images as part of their religious devotion. Even some Christians, longing to have their Christianity be relevant to their former religious beliefs, sometimes incorporate idols into their Christian religious expression. In fact, a recent survey in Mongolia revealed that as many as one-quarter of professing Christians still have a Buddhist or Shamanist idol in their homes. Even worse, as many as half of the Christians surveyed keep a Christian image of some kind in their homes for the purpose of worship or veneration.
What is an idol?
An idol is any representation of a deity or exalted person that people venerate or worship. Idols are usually a focus of worship or a tool used to direct veneration or worship to what it represents. In the Bible, the Old Testament speaks of idols that Israel sometimes worshipped in hopes of having good crops, wealth, blessings upon children, or defense. The idol of Baal, discussed in the Bible, was a fertility god of the Phoenicians. For hundreds of years God’s people worshipped images of Baal, even though God had forbidden it. Some of the idols that the Israelites worshipped were particularly cruel. An example of a cruel idol from biblical times was Molech, a false deity that required child sacrifice. In fact, one Israelite king, Manasseh, sacrificed his own son as a burnt offering to this false god. God fiercely condemned the worship of all false idols, commanding his people not to adopt the practices of idol worship.
In modern times many people worship idols of money, possessions, or reputation. Some people venerate historic figures that are important to them. These may include religious figures in history, ancient ancestors, philosophers, or even political or national leaders. Essentially, an idol is anything real or imagined that takes a person’s focus off of the one true God and gives dedication, veneration, or worship to something or someone other than the one true God.

The One God of Mongolian Creation

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Though Tsagaan Sar is technically over, there are a few private celebrations still going on here and there. Diane, Rochele, Whitney, and I also went to the home of Mongolian friends for celebrations. So while the holiday is technically over, it’s not too late to share an interesting story from the holiday.
We spent about 3 hours with our host family enjoying food and fellowship. This wonderful Christian family was very gracious, and it was a pleasure to get to know the elderly lady of the house, Garmaa. I was most interested in her Christian experience. She came to Christ in 1998. She is 74 years old.
We all know how rare it is for people to come to Christ as they get older. So it was a great experience for us to learn about Garmaa’s walk with the Lord. The most interesting was what she had to say about her first realization, as a little girl, that there must be a Supreme Creator of the Universe.
At the age of 12 (1946), she was herding sheep as so many countryside Mongols do. Unlike modern city life where many kids do their own thing, every member of a countryside family takes an active role in basic family survival. Twelve-year-old Garmaa always wondered where the creation around her came from. She looked at the grass of the field, the sheep she was herding, the family’s other animals, even the mountains and the sky and realized at the young age of 12 that such beauty must have a designer. These were, of course, rudimentary thoughts. But clearly God was at work in her early life at at time when Christianity in Mongolia was almost nonexistent. The testimony of natural revelation was having its effect on her. “For that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attribute, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made” (Romans 1:19-20).

The Necessity of Sin and Guilt

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After writing my article, The Truth About Truth, I felt that something was missing. There were a small number people upset with the article, but as might be predicted, they were people who had trouble with the idea of absolute or objective truth. Since I’ve brought it up, let me touch on one aspect of objective truth verses subjective truth. I read a Buddhist blog entry this week where the writer protested the notion of “objective” truth. He reasoned that since all truth has to be perceived by someone, therefore no truth is truly objective. The writer asked, “How can one posit an objective absolute without a subjective perceiver?” I respect his point of view, understanding where it comes from, though I disagree with it for a very simple reason.
Objective, absolute truth really does exist apart from the perceptions of an observer – no matter how subjective that observer might be. If there were no people in the universe to observe truth, the truth would still exist because as I explained in the article, God is the ultimate, first and final source for all that is truth. Truth is part of God’s nature and as the Creator of all things; He stands alone as the sole, truly objective observer to all things in creation. God’s view is not subjective since God sees, hears, and experiences all things in all times, at all moments, forever, consistently, and without interruption or end. God is both the objective Creator as well as the objective observer since He and He alone is the source of truth. Therefore, our perceptions and subjectivity, while interesting to debate, have only a small degree of value when it comes to really understanding truth. When we think about reality apart from God’s influence and control then we can only have a partial understanding of truth. But when we begin to think as God thinks we can begin to see and experience truth for what it really is. “My thoughts are not your thoughts, and my ways are not your ways,” was a warning given by God through the prophet Isaiah in 55:8. But now that Christ, the incarnate Son of God has come the Apostle Paul reveals in I Corinthians 2:16, “We have the mind of Christ.” Therefore when we think according to that “mind of Christ,” then we can begin the journey to understanding the full nature of truth.

The Integrated Life

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It was an editorial in the Los Angeles Times that got my attention this week. The editorial, Just How Crazy are the Dems?profiles a Rasmussen Reports survey indicating that 35% of U.S. democrats believe that President Bush knew about the 9/11 attacks in advance (intimating that he let it happen or was part of a conspiracy to let it happen); and that 26% of democrats “were not sure” if Bush was involved or not. Put that together and that means that 61% of U.S. democrats subscribe to a view of 9/11 that has nothing to do with reality, or are not even sure about what reality is. What’s going on that fully 1/4th of the American electorate (democrats are about half of the U.S. electorate) subscribe to such bizarre views?
While my purpose today is not to engage in a political commenterry for today’s entry, I think it offers us a look at the symptoms of a dysfunctional society where the basis for making decisions—political, personal, social, etc.—seemed to be divorced from reality.

The Godliness of Shame

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Last week’s revelation that National Evangelical Association President Ted Haggard may have been involved in drug use and homosexual activity came days before Coloradoans go to the polls to decide whether or not same-sex marriage should be legal. While the political relationships of the scandal are clear to most people who are paying attention, what is not made clear by the secular media is how the scandal (if it can be called that) has demonstrated that when a biblical process of confrontation and restoration is followed, good things happen. In the case of Ted Haggard, his open shame is restoring him to godliness, and protecting the integrity of the church.
Haggard was exposed to public shame by male prostitute and apparent drug dealer, Mike Jones (who ironically does not seem to be under any public shame for being a male prostitute or drug dealer). On a Denver talk radio program Jones accused Haggard of engaging in monthly homosexual activity with him for three years, and helping Haggard acquire methamphetamine. Haggard immediately denied knowing Jones (a lie), that he used Jones’ services (another lie), or that he bought meth (a lie again). When gay prostitute Mike Jones revealed taped phone messages from Haggard seeking more meth, the jig was up. The timing of the revelations have lead to some speculation that Mr. Jones’ actions were politically motivated, a charge he denies. However, it might be answered, why does a drug dealing gay prostitute need to keep recordings of his phone messages anyway—to maintain a client list?

A Minimalist's Salvation

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Many years ago I used to teach a Sunday morning Bible study to a group of men who had been in the church I attended for many years. Almost no one in the group was under the age of 60. Needless to say, when I was asked to take over the teaching post I was pretty well intimidated. What in the world did I have to teach a group of men who had claimed Christ for longer than I had been alive?
For the first set of lessons I decided to teach on principles of spiritual growth. Each week went by and the guys listened, and I taught, and we discussed, but I could tell underneath that something was a bit off. I discovered it one day when one of the men spoke up and said, “What do I need to know all this stuff for? I mean, hey, I prayed the prayer and I’m in!”
What kind of attitude do you hold about your salvation? Do you care about growing spiritually? Do you care about pursuing Jesus?
You may have heard the saying, “What did the thief on the cross know?” Someone usually says something like that to justify their lack of pursuit of spiritual things. If the thief on the cross could receive salvation without knowing much about Jesus, then why make any effort to know Jesus at all? Just pray the prayer and you’re in!
Sadly, such an attitude may mark a person who does not know Jesus at all.
What did the thief on the cross know? It turns out he knew quite a lot—a lot more than most people think. Look carefully at this account from Luke 23:39-43.

The Authority of the Christian Church

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 What is the Christian church supposed to look like? What kind of authority does the Christian church possess? What are the limits of the church’s authority?
Everyone has a problem with authority. Every person, no matter who they are, enjoys the freedom to do their own thing without interference from others. Teenagers like to be free from parental oversight. Wives don’t like it when their husbands tell them what to do. Citizens often prefer a government that keeps its hands out of personal affairs. No one wants to stop when the policeman pulls us over. Yes, it’s true, human beings have a problem with authority. We love to exercise authority, but we hate to have to obey it. Every organization from the nuclear family to corporations to governments wield some kind of authority over others. Authority is necessary for society to be ordered and stable. We recognize that authority is necessary and good, but that doesn’t stop us from resisting authority from time to time. That’s because human beings want to live life according to their own authority, and on one else’s—not even God’s. Man, by nature, is rebellious.
The Bible is a book of authority, and the Christian church is also an organization that carries authority from its founder, Jesus Christ. The authority of the church is derived from God, and as such, it exercises its authority under certain conditions.

God's Plan: Salvation Through Slavery

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Have you ever noticed that the hardest passages of scripture tend to be the ones that call us to the greatest commitment to Christ? I was reminded of this after reading the closing chapters of Genesis.
In the Bible’s story of Joseph we see a man with incredible integrity, a man of great character. We admire him when he rejects the advances of Potiphar’s wife. We are impressed by his commitment to do what is right no matter the cost—even many years in prison. We are amazed when he stands before Pharaoh to interpret dreams but he never complains about being imprisoned unjustly. We admire his cunning and tact when he confronts his brothers and professes his tender love and forgiveness for having sold him into slavery.
How many times have you heard a sermon on the life of Joseph and the things just cited above? Probably more than you can count. But the chances are that you’ve never, or perhaps almost never heard a sermon on Genesis 47 when Joseph, that humble, just, man of God sells all of Egypt into slavery.
Yes, that’s right, Joseph sold Egypt into slavery.
Joseph is one of those people in the scripture that we refer to as a “type” for Christ. His innocence and suffering and his rise to power are all marks of what would come centuries later in the life of Jesus. His is one of only two people in the Old Testament whose sin is never mentioned (Daniel is the other).