Welcome to tomthinking.com Tuesday, September 25 2018 @ 02:48 AM UTC

The Attributes of a Spiritually Mature Church

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While beginning a study on the biblical definitions of love, I ran across an interesting list by Professor Wayne Grudem from his book, Systematic Theology, on the “Signs of a More-Pure Church.” In this highly esteemed volume, Professor Grudem defines a pure church as, “[The] degree of freedom from wrong doctrine and conduct, and its degree of conformity to God’s revealed will for the church” (Chapter 45, page 873). Two things about this definition and Grudem’s list of church attributes caught my attention.
First, Grudem places doctrine and behavior hand-in-hand. Improper doctrine does not naturally or organically work itself out to become proper biblical behavior in a Christian’s life. Jesus remarked about this is Matthew 7:17-20 when He said:

The Body of Christ

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The Bible’s two primary dissertations on the Body of Christ (the Church) are found in Romans 12 and I Corinthians 12. The Apostle Paul, though writing to different audiences, penned both passages in the same year – 56 or 57 A.D. Thus they have some ideas in common, especially on the theme of the Body of Christ:
  • The body has many members (Romans 12:4, I Cor. 12:14)
  • Each member has its own function (Romans 12:4,6-8, I Cor. 12:4-7
  • Each member belongs to the other (Romans12:5, I Cor. 12:14-21
  • Each function of the members directly benefits the whole body and its individual members (Romans 12:6-8, I Cor. 12:7-11)
  • Both passages on the body are followed by a dissertation about love (Romans 12:9-21, I Cor. 12:31-13:1-13)

A Context For Christ

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When I came to Mongolia in November 2002 to take over as Station Manager of Eagle TV I was not sure what to expect. I knew that I would be leading a staff of mixed religions at a TV station where those mixed motivations might normally seem contrary—even out of place for a Christian owned organization with dual faith/secular objectives. Eagle TV has Christians, Mormons (not the same, in case you didn’t know), Buddhists, shamanists, and atheists working in nearly every department. The ministry department is naturally made up of Christians of various theological backgrounds. When I arrived four years ago I expected to encounter Mongolian Christians who were young in their faith, but passionate about the Bible and biblical truth. I encountered this in other countries I had experience in where the church was young, small (in fact 15 times smaller than Mongolia), with few resources to learn about God’s word. Yet the biblical knowledge of those young believers was, to put it mildly, remarkable. I remember observing Christians in one Middle Eastern country who had known Christ for far shorter than I, yet I felt ashamed because many of them understood far more about the Bible than I did.

Faith! Faith! Brutha, You Gotta Have Fay-eth!

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“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). This verse has been dancing around my head recently because of a conversation my daughter and I had after a faith preacher came to town to offer healing to whomever wanted to come forward for their miracle.
The Word of Faith brand of Christianity is quite popular in Mongolia. If you are a preacher who claims to heal or do miracles you’ll find an easy audience here. Word of Faith theology is a form of heresy, that is, it is predicated upon ideas foreign to the Bible so that the biblical text is reinterpreted apart from its historical intent to bring meaning to the scriptures that distract from its central themes. Word of Faith theology is part of the Charismatic wing of evangelicalism. Not all charismatics are Word of Faith oriented, though Word of Faith ideas do have a significant influence on the charismatic movement today. Some have described Word of Faith theology as charismatic Christianity turned into charismania.
I got to thinking about these things again because of the predilection by Word of Faith preachers (I scarce call them teachers) to claim that miracles and healing can come to you “if you only believe.” 
I bring this up to preface my main subject this week: Faith. You may have heard the old saying that, “Faith doesn’t require evidence.” Some well-meaning Christians have said this taking Hebrews 11:1 to heart, from older, less accurate translations that read: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (1769 KJV). That little phrase, “Evidence of things not seen,” is problematic for two reasons.

Darnel It All

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Had a great time at church this afternoon looking at a large number of verses about God’s sovereignty over all creation, and the supremacy of Christ. Our service time was spent looking through scriptures and discussing how people often perceive the Gospel. We went through so many passages this afternoon that I lost count, but the one in particular stuck out to me: The Parable of the Sower.
Luke 8:4-15 records Jesus’ parable and its meaning so that what he intends us to get from the parable can be clear and unmistaken.
In the past whenever I’ve read this passage I tended to focus on the hearers whom Jesus describes as being good soil. More than anything I want to be good soil, that is, one who hears the word of God and bears the kind of fruit that God intends his word to bring about. Though Jesus does not explain in this passage what “fruit” means, his meaning is actually pretty clear since throughout the Gospels and the New Testament “fruit” is either used to represent the souls won to Christ by Christians, or (and most often) it is a reference to personal character brought about in the Christian through obedience to Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit in a person’s heart (in John fruit refers to both, but in Matthew, Mark, and Luke fruit refers to character). More importantly for my purposes today I was drawn to Jesus’ use of the description of “thorns” that grew up with the seed (word of God) and choked it. It brings to mind another passage where Jesus referred to “tares” or in the common vernacular, “weeds” in Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43.

Without Sin

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How well do you know God? Has it ever occurred to you why we are able to know the depths of God’s character?

We all have people we know better than others. We know them better because we spend more time with them, interface with them more than others, and feel a closeness to them. In the case of our Lord Jesus, the more time we spend in communication with him, the more meaningful time in his word and contemplating his truth, the better we get to know him. But I submit that our knowledge of God’s goodness and character would be severely limited if not for one terrible thing.
Allow this to roll around in your head for a while. Had it not been for sin we would know and understand far less about God’s character than we do right now. When I say “know,” I’m referring to knowing God experiencially. It’s one thing to know God theoretically or intellectually, but experience is a different matter altogether.

Merry Christmas: Christianity Creates Economy

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I’ve been reflecting upon Christmas in a way that most people tend not too. I’ve decided that I’m all for the commercialization of Christmas. In fact, during a time of bad economics, more Christmas commercialization is needed, not less.
My reasoning goes like this: If you think the economy is bad now, imagine how much worse it would be without Christmas. For many businesses the Christmas buying season accounts for nearly a third of annual income. The Christmas buying season is so heavy compared to the rest of the year that retail stores usually hire extra employees to handle the load. Even in these recent, tough economic times retailers are still hiring seasonal employees. Imagine the impact on the retail and grocery industries if Christmas went uncelebrated.

The Seen and Unseen World of Merit and Rebirth

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Rebirth and Merit are two important concepts in the Buddhist way of life. The two are intimately attached. Under Buddhism a person tries to end the suffering of rebirth by attaining merit through good works. In Buddhism merit is “the fruit of good actions which can be devoted to the welfare of other beings.” (1) As one accumulates merit he or she expects to attain a higher state of enlightenment through a more desirable rebirth that gets him or her closer to the goal of nirvana.

This concept sounds simple enough. Do good works and be rewarded. Yet there is a catch that many Buddhist, perhaps even you have experienced. How do you know when your good thoughts, feelings, and actions outweigh your bad ones? How can you know if your merits toward rebirth really outweigh your demerits?
Many Buddhists have great private struggles with their merit and demerit, and for very practical reasons. They simply cannot remember all of their good deeds and bad deeds. The answer for many Buddhists has been to dedicate themselves more fully to the Buddhist way of life—meditations, visiting monasteries, making gifts, attending teachings, and performing rituals. Out of a fear of suffering and imperfection they try to do more in hopes of earning a better rebirth. Rebirth, in this sense, is a form of punishment—in other words, a form of justice.
But is the rebirth concept practical, possible, or even just?

For the Buddhist Seeker: The World Around Us

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If there is group of people that might be described as “seekers,” then Buddhists must be high on the list. Buddhism, as a system, requires its adherent to be devoted to exploring a set of principles that will earn him or her an enlightened state that they hope will lead to the end of suffering—a noble and worthwhile goal. Those who explore the Buddhist path are taught concepts such as: The Middle Way, Samsara, The Four Noble Truths, and others.
Yet on a practical, day-to-day level, many Buddhists inwardly struggle. They feel spiritually empty, as if the practices they engage in provide some temporary satisfaction or guidance, but when over, the emptiness or futility remains. While they pursue the path they are taught the Buddha has lain out, they secretly wonder about the reality of the Buddha’s teachings. Being taught that they will experience many rebirths until finally reaching their objective, they cannot help but wonder, “Will this truly end my suffering? How can I know that what I am doing really works?”
I want to explore together some key ideas in Buddhism. I attempt to compare Buddhist principles to the teachings of the Bible and Jesus Christ in hopes of helping the Buddhist seeker, discover a different kind of enlightenment—one that can be fully experienced and realized in this life, right now, without the need for what may seem like a tumultuous cycle of rebirth.

What To Look For In A Leader

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As you consider the future during the next election cycle, know that God has considered it as well. God has prepared guiding rules for us to use when selecting political leaders. When we think of government controversies and ethics problems, the rules of Deuteronomy 17 offer evidence that the Bible is relevant to all of the issues of modern life.
In Deuteronomy 17:15 God outlined what kind of leader He wanted for His chosen people:
    "You shall surely set a king over you whom the Lord your God chooses."
How do we find out who God chooses for us? There are two simple ways: Study of the Word of God and prayer. Each of us must seek God in prayer for His choice of leadership. It was Israel that chose Saul as their king, but their process for selecting leadership didn't conform to God's desire for His people. The result was a nation that God's chosen leader, David, had to rebuild after Saul's death.