Welcome to tomthinking.com Sunday, October 21 2018 @ 06:00 AM UTC

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).

Priorities in Prayer

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What do you want out of your Christian experience? If you’re like most people you might answer that you are looking for peace, strength during difficulties, or even some level of personal prosperity. Would these be your answer? If so, you might want to consider God’s list of priorities for us in prayer. When you pray, what are your priorities—your spouse or kids, your job, your finances, for your friends and family?
Lo and behold, none of these are God’s priorities in prayer. Don’t get me wrong. We can and should ask God for these things. But we need to have our prayer priorities straight. Think back to your prayers. Whatever you pray for first, or most often, is your priority in prayer. So let’s compare that to God’s priorities in prayer and see how we fare.
Jesus provided his disciples with a model prayer in Matthew 6:9-13. Let’s take a look:
Our Father who is in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
In this model prayer, Jesus has given us five prayer priorities. What is number one on God’s list?

New Survey of Mongolian Christians: Troubling Signs of Syncretism

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In July 2011 AMONG Mongolia initiated a research project to learn about the condition of the Mongolian church as related to syncretism. The survey was conducted by Mongolia’s Press Institute using a set of questions provided by AMONG Mongolia. Our goal was to discover if there are traditional religious practices not related to Christianity that have been combined with Christian belief and expression. If so, what is the potential damage to Mongolian Christianity and can it grow spiritually with these combined elements?
There were some positive developments indicated by the survey. Brief examples:
  • Overwhelmingly, those who identified themselves as Christians did not avail themselves of advice by a monk or shaman, but preferred to bring their problems to their local Christian pastor (90.2%).
  • When asked who Jesus Christ was, 70.6 percent identified him as the only son of the only God.
  • 78.4 percent identified the Bible as a unique book, unlike any other.
  • 68.6 percent of Christian respondents say they have read the Bible (39.2) or the New Testament (29.4).
These answers represent a positive development. In fact, these issues are foundational for believers to understand if they are going to grow spiritually and replicate themselves with others.

A Missionary's Most Difficult Task: Releasing His Kids

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I’ll never forget the day my friend Karl called to tell me he was leaving Mongolia, never to return. We were planning to work on a ministry project together. Then, it seemed out of the blue, he decided to leave. When I asked him why, he said, “We really miss our kids.” Karl had a thriving ministry, spoke the language well, and understood the culture. But being separated from his grown children was too much to take so he decided it was best to leave his ministry and return to the States. Karl was trying to balance his choices between his ministry and his kids, and the kids won. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but his choice ended up closing down his ministry.
Every parent faces the prospect of losing their children as they grow into adulthood. But most parents are comforted by the fact that if there is a problem they can drive down the road, or to the next state, or catch a quick flight to be with his or her child. Just a century ago this was not possible. When parents released their children they knew that they might not see them for many years, and in some cases with children going abroad, they might not see them ever again.
Thankfully the modern world has made that situation (for most westerners) null and void. But there is a group that suffers this kind of separation anxiety more than the average westerner—missionaries.
I’ve lived in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia for nearly nine years. My daughters grew up here. I decided early on that when it would come time to release my children I would focus on my ministry. I would let my work distract my grief. That didn’t work out so well.

Recognizing a False Prophet

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The world as we know it will end on October 21st of this year. That’s the newest claim by Christian broadcaster, Harold Camping. Camping earned his 15-minutes of fame when he predicted the rapture of believers and end of the world would take place on May 21st. Of course, we’re still here. Mr. Camping’s word failed to be fulfilled, so he moved on to a new date for his spurious claim.
Most people familiar with the scriptures can easily refute Camping’s doomsday claims by quoting a short, straightforward passage of scripture: Matthew 24:36, “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” However, many people, possibly thousands, were taken in by Camping’s claims to know the end of days. Why did they fall into such a spiritual trap when they had the basics before them in the Bible? In fact, why do people follow cult leaders or organizations at all? What is it about people like Harold Camping, Joseph Smith, Jim Jones, and so many others that people fall under their influence? Certainly lack of Bible knowledge plays a roll. Just because you call yourself a Christian and own a Bible doesn’t necessarily mean that you know what it really says. So how do you recognize the characteristics of such charismatic leaders? How do you know they are what the Bible refers to as “false prophets?”
In addition to the guide written in Deuteronomy 18:20-22, here’s a seven-part test to help you recognize a modern-day false prophet.

When to Unify and When to Separate

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If there is one topic or theme that prevails throughout the book of I Corinthians it is unity. I Corinthians deals with many significant and difficult issues including leadership, wisdom, spiritual growth, marriage and divorce, spiritual gifts, love, and the resurrection of the body. But one of the themes that runs through the book is unity. The Apostle Paul, the author of I Corinthians, regarded the unity of the church so important that he dealt with the subject right at the beginning of his letter, and then nearly every other topic he addressed had something to do with, or became an example of, or life lesson about the unity of the church. Paul wanted to unify the Corinthians believers around Christ and certain core principles of the faith.
As Christians, what unifies us? Are there times when it is permissible for Christians to be divided? Must Christians always be in agreement about everything? Why did the Apostle Paul regard unity as so important?

The Jaw-Dropping Peace of God

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Have you ever heard a Christian say they have decided to do something or not do something and that they “have a peace about it?” “Peace” is one of those Christianese terms that is sometimes used in the context of decision-making as a test for God’s will. Often when a Christian says, “I have peace about this or that,” they mean that they take that particular thing to be God’s will for them. Every Christian I’ve gotten to know over a length of time, no matter what country or culture they are from seems to have this universal catch-phrase in common. “Peace” is used as a barometer to determine the right thing to do in a given situation. Many go so far as to say, “God has given me a real peace about it.” (As opposed to him giving a false peace?)
In my Christian experience I’ve sometimes taken to using the peace barometer to aid decision-making. Rather, I should say that I used to do that. I don’t do it anymore because, uh, well, because…
I don’t have a peace about it.
;-)

Was Adam a Fantasy or Historical Figure?

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Just the same week I happen to be reading Science, Creation, and the Bible, a new survey by Gallup was released showing that 40 percent of Americans still hold a young-earth creationist view. To be honest, I’m not sure where I stand on the young-earth/old-earth debate. Though I do lean heavily in the old-earth category for both theological and scientific reasons. However, I’m willing to leave myself open to other opinions.
Science, Creation, and the Bible by Richard F. Carlson and Tremper Longman III is an interesting read, but falls very short of convincing me that theistic evolution, as they advocate, is true. Carlson is a scientist. Tremper is a reformed theologian. What captured my attention to read this book was the mix of the two authors. What lost me was their conclusion that Genesis 1 and 2 are not to be taken literally or historically, but serve as a sort of Old Testament parable literarily designed to communicate a set of truths to ancient Israel within the framework of their Ancient Near East (ANE) culture. The two go so far as to say the Genesis creation accounts are myths used to teach specific values.

It's About What's Real

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For a long time many people have believed that there is a war between science and faith. The issue of origins is a challenging one. On one side the evolutionist argues for creation as a self-directed process without the interference of a Creator. The other side argues in various ways for an intelligent agent that guided the process of origins. Both sides, with minor exceptions, view the other as the enemy. “Creation is religion and not science. Religion does not belong in the classroom,” goes the mantra. “Evolution is only a theory, not a fact,” says the other. Both sides are at war. Science and religion, as it goes, are incompatible.
I think, however, that there is more to this issue than to simply (and wrongly) say that science and religion are incompatible. The two operate in different spheres, but the two also touch the other. Is there really a disagreement between science and faith? In my view, such a classification doesn’t quite address the core issue. The core issue is, to put it simply, this: This is not a disagreement about science and faith. It is a disagreement about what is real and what is not real.
In one sense it doesn’t matter which side a person is on. The question is the same for both. What is the nature of reality? Does God really exist? Are origins dependent upon or independent of a Creator?

Buddhism's Error of Self-Denial

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Denial is a concept found in virtually every major religion. Various ideas on the practice of self-denial can be found in Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity and other religious and philosophical streams. In most religious practices, like Buddhism, self-denial is a means to achieve an end. Ironically, self-denial is a means of attaining something for oneself - selflessness. Some have thought that the Bible teaches something similar, noting as one example Jesus’ words in Matthew 10:39, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Are these concepts similar? Not in the slightest.
Unlike Buddhism and the other major religions of the world, self-denial in Christianity is not a means to an end, nor is it a religious practice. Self-denial is a loving expression of benefit for others, in obedience to God.
There are three great differences between most religions and Christianity regarding self-denial:
Buddhism & Other Religions
 
  • Self-denial is a means to spiritual enlightenment,
  • Self-denial is a religious practice,
  • Self-denial is performed for the benefit of oneself.

 

Christianity
 
  • Self-denial is an indicator of pre-existing character,
  • Self-denial is not a religious practice, rather it is an expression of love for others and for God,
  • Self-denial is not performed for personal spiritual benefit, it is always performed on behalf of others.