Close-up Christian

I started working with close-up magic in my teens and into college. I was pretty serious about it, and I even had a few restaurant gigs and performed at a couple of parties. However, as I started getting closer to graduation, I stopped practicing. I sporadically picked it up over the years but nothing major. After I came to Christ, I thought it would be cool to blend close-up and the Gospel, but the thought never went any further than that.

Last semester I took a class where my professor was interested in magic and had a few tricks on his YouTube page. It rejuvenated my interest in magic. For part of that course, I had to teach Romans 12:1-3 to upper elementary students, for which I created a card trick to illustrate verse 2. Despite not having practiced for over a decade I think it turned out pretty well. I would be interested in knowing what you think.

 

Verses used:

  • Romans 12:2 – Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
  • Romans 8:29 – For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
  • Colossians 1:15 – He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.
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Do Suicides Go to Hell?

NSPL_LogoDo the people who commit suicide go to hell? I’ve written about suicide in the past, and that I have had three persons who were close to me take their own lives. The death of a loved one is devastating, the suicide of a loved one is even worse. The teaching that the act of suicide is an irrevocable sin that damns a person to hell only adds hurt to an already overwhelming situation. It is a question that looms in the back of our minds and one we are often afraid to ask for fear that the answer would be yes. However, I am confident that it is not the case that to commit the act of suicide condemns a person to hell.
When coming to this question, I think it is helpful to ask more questions.

  1. Is it Biblical? I do not believe so. Not all Christians universally hold it, because it is not stated explicitly in the Bible. I find this quite compelling; not once does the Bible read that if you take your own life, you will go to hell. But what about implicitly? If you take your life, you can’t repent. However, here I think this conclusion is a stretch and requires a follow-up question. Does salvation come from Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone (Eph. 2:8), or is it by your work of repentance (v. 9)? To believe the latter would mean that most people who die suddenly are also headed to hell, and probably even me, for I am not sure if I have repented of every single sin in my life. It is also worthwhile to ask yourself how effective Jesus’ atonement is? Did he die for all sins; past, present, and future or only some sins? I think the former is the case.
  2. Does not killing yourself guarantee your salvation? No. Salvation is entirely dependent belief in Jesus (Jn. 3:16-18). I am not going to pretend to know what revelation the suicide victim responded to, but I do know God is righteous and just, and He will do what is right by them (Ps. 145:17).
  3. Why does someone take their own life? I won’t even pretend to know! If I did maybe I could have recognized the signs that didn’t become painfully evident until after the fact. However, there has been a lot of research done on neurotransmitters and suicide, suggesting that there may, at least in some cases, be a biological cause. In light of this, to hold to the belief that the suicide victim goes to hell, you must also hold that anyone who dies from a terminal illness also goes to hell.

In light of these questions and their answers, I believe the teaching to be false and unbiblical. Asking these questions has helped me put my thoughts and friends to rest, and I hope it helps whoever is reading this.

See also:

Journal: Academic & Spiritual Burnout

Not every class I take involves scripture reading, and when they do it is with a restricted agenda. Ironically, in Bible college, I read more about the Bible than I do from the Bible itself. As a result of this, I often drown out God’s voice with thoughts of homework.

My journal assignment for class this week is how to avoid letting the Bible become just another textbook, and how to live in the text as opposed to above it. This topic comes at an opportune time, for I have been reflecting on the issue lately. Recently our small group did a study in Jonah, and we were asked to identify what our Tarshish is. Tarshish is the city to which Jonah fled to escape God’s calling. While I am in school pursuing God’s calling, I frequently run to homework to avoid reading the Bible or volunteering at the food pantry. I have noticed it has had an effect on me, and the time between devotional Bible study and serving the community not only gets greater, but it becomes easier to neglect. Next, it affects my prayer life, and I start talking less to God. There is a chain of events that occurs which leads a person away from God, and I can see why so many people lose faith in seminary. This is termed seminary or Bible college burnout. I feel this form of stress is more dangerous than other forms of academic burnout because it affects not only your studies but also your relationship with God, and may lead to your rejection of Him.

I believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God, and inerrant in all that it teaches. If I thought otherwise, I wouldn’t have devoted my life to the study of it. This belief is not just an empty Creed I recite to make myself feel better; it is a belief justified by the evidence. So, why do I sometimes act like the Bible is just a book?

Jesus states that we should “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (English Standard Version, Mk. 12:30). Notice the conjunction in his statement? We are to love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength. I think this suggests that there needs to be a balance between these areas. Academically, I am loving God with my mind, but what about the rest? I need to let my academic study build up my devotional life rather than let it build over it.

This is an area in which I have been actively working to improve. There are certain steps I have recently taken to correct this imbalance between the academic and devotional love of God. I would recommend these three steps to anyone considering pursuing academic study of the Bible.

  1. Pray! Do not let your prayer life slip! If your prayer time begins to slide: pray for more time to pray! Pray for balance. Pray for guidance. Pray continually (1 Thess. 5:17). A good tip for if you notice that you have gone through most of the day and have forgotten to pray is to leave yourself sticky notes on your desk, or in your car to remind yourself. Schedule time and make prayer a habit.
  2. Schedule time for devotional Bible study. It sounds simple, but it is easy to let homework deadlines, day-jobs, and family obligations push this area aside. My family and I work through a devotional Bible study together before school in the morning and before bed at night. Another area I have found time for this is on lunch at work. I use to bring homework but never accomplished much in 30 minutes. Reading the Bible for those 30 minutes, however, accomplishes so much more. This action also has the bonus of witnessing to your co-workers. I have lost count of how many discussions this has sparked, and how many other people have been inspired to read their Bible again simply because they saw me reading mine.
  3. Try to read part of the Bible not directly related to your current homework subject. I have found that when there is an overlap, my devotional reading takes on more of an academic mindset and instead of asking how I can apply it to my life I am looking at how I can work it into my paper.
  4. Get together with a friend, share your fears and desires, and keep each other accountable. Do something non-academic together. Recently I just ran errands with a friend of mine, and it was refreshing to be able to share that time with him.
  5. Keep a journal. These journals for class have been fantastic for not only helping me gather my thoughts and think through issues but also making the lessons practical. I hope to continue with the journal once the class is over.

These few actions have helped me to begin to live in the Bible, rather than above it. How about you do you have any suggestions on steps one can take to avoid becoming burned out spiritually?

Grieving After Suicide

NSPL_LogoThree people in my life have committed suicide; my best friend when I was in 8th grade, my wife’s 13-year-old cousin, and my brother-in-law. All tragic, and all left scars that will never fade. Every person has left behind unanswered questions and feelings of guilt and self-blame. These emotions are strong; I still ask the “what if” questions of 27 years ago, but this guilt is misplaced. I read something recently that I found helpful and personal experience has allowed me to expound on this idea, to help to resolve some of these emotions.

Jesus traveled to Bethany to visit his sick friend, Lazarus. When Jesus arrives, He discovers that his friend has already died. Martha and Mary approached Jesus and stated: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (English Standard Version, Jn. 11:21, 32). Pastors Warren and David Wiersbe focus on the first two words; “Lord” and “if,” and note that of these two words one heals and the other hurts (200).

If is a natural question, it comes from our grief; it is a response that understands that something is not right in the world. If only I had called him. If only I had recognized the signs. If hurts. The problem with if is that it is good at asking questions but never gives answers.

  • If looks backward: It diverts our attention to a past we cannot change, and to alternate outcomes which will never exist.
  • If is our ego: It suggests that we are in control of everything, including the actions of others.
  • If dethrones God: It places blame on God suggesting either He allowed it to happen or even He could not prevent it.

Which leads to the healing word; Lord. Even in their grief Martha and Mary recognized Jesus as Lord. Martha states, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world” (v. 27). In this chapter, Jesus did the miraculous and raised Lazarus from the dead, but the purpose of this miracle was to glorify God and show that it was He who sent Jesus (vv. 4, 40, 42). God didn’t send Jesus to change past events, He used those past events to His glory and brought many to faith in Him (v. 45). Jesus states; “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (v. 25-26). Looking to the Lord, looks to the future, a time of healing when He will “wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4).

God is not responsible for our poor choices, just as we are not liable for the freely made decisions of others. Part of free will is that, either good or bad, all actions have consequences. However, having to endure with the consequences does not mean that God is apathetic. God introduces Himself to Moses and states that he is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ex. 34:6). In John’s Gospel it is mentioned three times how Jesus loved Lazarus and his sisters (11:3, 5, 36), it was out of love that He came to them and out of love that he wept (v. 35). So, where was God when the one we love has died? The same place he was 2000 years ago when His only begotten Son died; on His throne. God experienced the same emotions and same repercussions of loss. He cannot only sympathize with us; He can empathize with us. Our loved ones who have passed were also His children!

Which of these two words are you taking for yourself? Is it the one that hurts or the one that heals? Grieving is normal, but know you are never alone. God is with you grieving, but He is pointing you to a future of healing. Understand that no matter where you are in life, or what you have done you are never too far away to look to Him.

If you are reading this and contemplating suicide talk to someone, seek help. You may not see it right now, but your life has value. If you don’t feel that there is someone you can confide in, then call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline (800) 273-8255. As someone who has lost loved ones to suicide, I can tell you that there are people who care about you. Your life is not a burden.


Works Cited

English Standard Version. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2007.

Wiersbe, Warren W, and David Wiersbe. Ministering to the Mourning: A Practical Guide for Pastors, Church Leaders, and Other Caregivers. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2006. Print.

 

 

 

Journal: Second Temple Backgrounds

I started a new class this term; Second Temple Jewish Backgrounds which focuses on the environment in which Jesus was raised and ministered, which is considerably different from that of the Old Testament. This culture shift seems obvious when considering the 400 years which passed between the writing of Malachi, the last book of the Protestant canon, and Matthew, the first book of the New Testament. In that time the Jewish people were not in a state of stasis, and neither were the surrounding political powers. So, while Jesus was rooted in the Law and Prophets, he was planted in a world very different. To quote one of our texts:

Jesus did not come as a cultureless, amorphous, genderless human being. He came as a first-century Jewish man, with unique chromosomes and physical features, just as each of the rest of us is unique. His cultural specificity does not mean that he was not for all of us; it means instead that he could better identify with all of us as a particular person (28).

I find this quote to be true, and as you start to read the background information, it becomes clear that it is. In our first discussion board interaction pertaining to the statement that the Old Testament is not the immediate background of Jesus, one of my classmates made an astute observation. He mentioned that as much as the war for American independence is a part of our story, the events September 11, 2001, and the war on terrorism form a more direct role in defining our present setting. Strikingly, the timeframe of these events is only about half that of which passed during the intertestamental period!

Having taken Historical Geography of Ancient Israel as well as Ancient Near Eastern Backgrounds of the Old Testament, I strongly believe studying the background of the Bible is of utmost importance. One area in which this background has been helpful is in understanding how the Jewish people could be so blind to Jesus being the long-awaited Messiah. And why on earth would they choose to release Barabbas, a murderer (English Standard Version, Mk. 15:6-15) and a robber (Jn. 18:40), as opposed to Jesus who never killed anyone? However, understanding that the common messianic expectation was that of a warrior-king who would rebel against Roman oppression and free the Jewish people helps to clarify this scenario. Also of note is the recognition of a variety of forms of anti-government social banditry. The most common term in the Greek sources for this type of active resistance is lestes (Blasi 255). Josephus employs this term to describe a “band of robbers” executed by Herod (Ant. 14.9.2), an action which brought cries of protest from the people which caught the attention of the Hasmonean king of Judea. Josephus writes “Hyrcanus was so moved by these complaints, that he summoned Herod to come to his trial for what was charged upon him” (14.9.4). While this event may be related merely to disdain for Herod, it is also equally likely an indication of popular support for a group opposing foreign rule. The term lestes is used to describe Barabbas in the New Testament (John 18:40). If John’s use of the word lestes carries the indication of social banditry and active government resistance it is understandable how the crowds would choose to release him (Jn. 18:39-40) over Jesus. Barabbas was an active rebel who got immediate results, while Jesus endorsed paying taxes to Rome (Lk. 20:25).

I do believe a person can study the Bible without the background and still come to a saving faith and understanding of the text. However, learning the background lends a further dimension to understanding. It is akin to studying the text in its original language. Because, Of course, culture is a language, and ours is very different to theirs. So, to accurately translate one must have a clear understanding of both languages.

As much as I see the value in studying the background of the Bible, I do have one reservation and one fear. I am a Christian; I see the Bible as authoritative, inspired, and inerrant. My reservation is in using background sources, how much value do I place on them? Are there areas of conflict which would compromise my view of the integrity of the Bible?

My fear can perhaps be related to the effect of raising secondary sources above the Bible. I look at people like Bart Ehrman, and Raza Aslan and am terrified of becoming like them! Now, in full disclosure I have not read Aslan’s work Zealot, but I have read enough critical reviews to understand how his presuppositions have tailored his conclusions. Ehrman, on the other hand, is a different story. He studied the Bible and concluded that there were too many variants for it to be reliable, and is now an agnostic atheist. To top it off he started at Moody Bible Institute! My fear is that I would become like him, again. I was raised without actually knowing Jesus and turned to Wicca with my mom in 1996, and about eight years later I moved into a hostile form of atheism. I know what it is like to live in darkness masquerading as light. A part of me knows that I would never return, but another part of me is terrified that I could. I recognize the fact that I fear it suggests that it will not happen, for if I didn’t have the Spirit, I would probably be ambivalent to the risk, so in that sense it is an irrational fear.

But still, I pray that I keep the word of God first and foremost and not elevate other works above it. I think that as long as I continue to study the Scripture and maintain and open relationship with God through Christ that I truly have nothing to fear.


Works Cited

  • Blasi, Anthony J., Paul-André Turcotte, and Jean Duhaime. Handbook of Early Christianity: Social Science Approaches. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press, 2002.
  • English Standard Version. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2007.
  • Josephus. “Antiquities of the Jews.” Internet Sacred Text Archive. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Apr. 2017.
  • Keener, Craig S. The IVP Bible Background Commentary New Testament. Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Academic, 2014.

How I Came to Christ

On August 30th, 2010 at the age of 34 I came to Christ. However to the question of why I am a Christian there are really two parts. The first is how I came to know Christ, which is subjective and experiential. In fact, if you ask a follower of any other religion the same question you will get a similar answer. The second part of this question is what makes all the difference; it is why am I still a Christian? To this part, the answer is historically and evidentially based in cosmology, teleology, archeology, and philosophy. The arguments for the existence of God and the historical reliability of the Bible are overwhelmingly stronger than those against the existence of God. By arguments I mean the real arguments, not the straw-man fallacies of which is the basis internet memes, but more on this in a later post. This post is about how I first came to Christ, which will require a glimpse into my past. Continue reading “How I Came to Christ”