Welcome to tomthinking.com Monday, March 18 2019 @ 07:41 PM UTC

Why Are You Following Jesus?

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We were launching a new ministry project in Mongolia. During a board meeting we wrestled with the issue of why our TV ministry was limited only to a single city while all of our competitors were broadcasting on satellite nationwide.
It was then that the Lord gave us a strategy to take a series of character-driven Bible movies into the Mongolian countryside to do Bible story telling and win communities to Christ. Called, Steppe-by-Steppe, the project is a resounding success.
At the time of this writing more than 95,000 were touched in hundreds of countryside communities with more than 50 new church groups planted—in just seven short years. But when we began putting the project together I wondered if we could even find the right people to carry it out.
We interviewed more than 50 Mongolian men looking to fill six slots for Mongolian missionaries. These men would need a strong knowledge and reliance on scripture. They would need a clear sense of calling. Most importantly they would need a firm understanding of the Gospel message. Candidates went through multiple interviews, but the first interview was the most important.

Prosperity Gospel: How We Approach The Scriptures

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How do you approach the Bible? How do you know that your approach to the Bible gleans the most accurate understanding of the scripture? Do you simply open and read and see what you are impressed with? Or do you have a set of assumptions that guide your approach to God’s word? In fact, everyone approaches the Bible with a set of assumptions. But some assumptions are faulty while others are better suited for receiving life changing truth from the Bible’s pages.
It is important to recognize that we all have assumptions about the Bible, and many within the church have differing assumptions. Many people have some things in common about the Bible, and some important differences. For instance, we may agree that the Bible is the word of God and should be taken as our authority for all things in the Christian life.
But we may part ways on how passages of scripture should be interpreted and appropriated. Indeed, many Bible teachers, especially those in the prosperity gospel movement, often appropriate verses from the Bible that at a surface level would seem to be exactly about what the teacher is teaching, whilst other evangelicals scratch their heads in light of the context or culture of the passage. Let me provide a brief example.

Jesus & Homosexuality: Silent, Supportive, or Sin?

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Since President Obama recently came out in support of gay marriage a number of editorials have made arguments in favor of gay marriage from the Bible. Specifically, there have been three assertions made about the Bible and homosexuality that to the normal Christian seem to be a stretch of biblical logic. In a nutshell, those arguments are:
  • Jesus never said anything about homosexuality, he never condemned it
  • The Bible condemns eating shellfish, and wearing clothes of two different fabrics, along with homosexuality, how then can we take it seriously?
  • Paul taught mistaken views about homosexuality. We should follow Jesus' teachings, not Paul
For the purposes of this article the issue before us is not whether gay marriage should be legal or considered a human right. The issue here is whether or not the above statements regarding the Bible and homosexuality have any merit. It is one thing to argue for gay marriage as a right based upon history, politics, and biology. It is another thing altogether to argue for gay marriage or so called gay rights by using the Bible as a supportive document. Does the Bible support the modern idea of gay rights? Let's find out by answering the three challenges above.

Putting Away Former Religious Practices

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As a Christian did you come from a Buddhist or Shamanist background? Do you sometimes feel that you need to get advice or instructions from a lam? Do you feel pressured by family or friends to seek the help of a shaman? Do you sometimes throw offerings of milk or do other things to gain religious merit or favor? Do you chant certain words or forms when you pray instead of simply talking with your Heavenly Father?
Many Christians who have a former background in Buddhism or Shamanism often keep some of their former religious practices and use them in their expression of Christianity. Yet the Bible makes no mention of performing these kinds of practices in order to be in a right relationship with God. The focus of Christianity is on a right relationship to God and not on any set of rituals or religious practices that have to be done to earn God’s favor. In fact, the Bible makes it clear that these kinds of practices are discouraged and even forbidden for the Christian. Instead, God desires a fresh, new, vibrant relationship with you through fellowship and loving expressions of faith.
Let’s look at some of the practices of traditional religious beliefs and discover what the Bible has say about these.

The Deficiency of Rebirth

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(There’s bit of humor and sarcasm in this post, so…relax ’bout it.) Hot on the heals of my recent article on the Rebirth comes this article about the false religious concept of Reincarnation and how a belief in Reincarnation may have negative effects on the brain. I’ve excerpted pieces of the article from MSNBC with the main points and pasted the relevant sections below, along with added emphasis and a few pithy comments. Enjoy.

People who believe they have lived past lives are more likely to make certain types of memory errors, according to a new study. The propensity to make these mistakes could, in part, explain why people cling to implausible reincarnation claims in the first place (“Implausible” is an interesting descriptive term for reincarnation, for which there is ZERO evidence).
The researchers found that, compared to control subjects who dismissed the idea of reincarnation, past-life believers were almost twice as likely to misidentify names. This kind of error, called a source-monitoring error, indicates that a person has difficulty recognizing where a memory came from (Wait, could this be evidence of reincarnation? Uh, no, keep reading).
People who are likely to make these kinds of errors might end up convincing themselves of things that aren’t true, said lead researcher Maarten Peters of Maastricht University in The Netherlands (Like reincarnation, or rebirth, so go ahead and swat that fly, then go enjoy a burger).

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.