Ask Anything: Good Sins? Bad Sins?

Thanks to Linnea Spicer for providing this excellent, thoughtful response

“There is one vice of which no man in the world is free; which every one in the world loathes when he sees it in someone else; and of which hardly any people, except Christians, ever imagine that they are guilty themselves … And the more we have it in ourselves, the more we dislike it in others.”

- C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, p.121.

The answer to why some consider certain sins better or worse than others lies in the question itself:  it is the ultimate sin of Pride, the sin that leads to every other sin and the sin that Lewis calls “The Great Sin” that led to the devil becoming the devil.  Many are under the illusion that sin is merely what we do (observable, external actions or behaviors) rather than a state of being (a condition of our souls – permeating our thoughts, will, emotions and desires as well as our behavior – that has no remedy outside of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross).

Anyone can check in with the media and see that in our current cultural climate, it does appear that Christians as a large group set themselves against certain sins (homosexuality, abortion, sexual promiscuity, etc) and yet seem silent on so many other societal sins (violence against the poor, materialism, greed, gluttony, etc).  Although, by the grace of God, it does appear that the Spirit is moving hearts within the church to address the latter group as of late, Christianity still seems to get a bad rap for being known more for what they stand against rather than what they are for.  And yet it is within proper Christian doctrine where we can safely address pride for what it is – true enmity that pits man against man and man against God. Continue reading

Ask Anything: 501c3 or 501c4 or Nothing At All?

Thanks to Randy Smith for giving a thoughtful and thorough answer to this question.  For further reading on Discovery’s political approach, you can download our white paper on politics here.

QIs Discovery a 501c3 or 501c4 church?  If so how do we reconcile the restrictions placed on the church by having that status? Are there any other areas we are obligated to the State (emergency response teams, census/membership data, etc)?  There are political topics that impact believers and teachings.  I hear very little public discussion of these topics and I wonder if this is the reason why?

Note: It’s also my understanding (which may be wrong) that a church doesn’t necessary need to apply or have 501c3 status to be held accountable to the regulations.

A:  As stated in Article 9 of the Discovery bylaws, Discovery is recognized by the IRS as a 501(c)(3) organization. The classification under code 501(c)(3) is for organizations that are organized and operated exclusively for religious, charitable, scientific, testing for public safety, literary, or educational purposes, or to foster national or international amateur sports, or prevention of cruelty for children or animals. To be approved by the IRS for 501(c)(3) status, Discovery was required complete a form and provide documents of the corporation, such as bylaws and a description of the organizations activities. Discovery must also file annual informational returns with the IRS to maintain 501(c)(3) status. Other than that, Discovery is not obligated to provide any other information to the IRS or the State.

A 501(c)(4) classification is for organizations that must operate exclusively for the promotion of social welfare. Discovery does not exactly fit 100% into this requirement of the code. 501(c)(4) is geared more political organizations, civic associations, and volunteer fire departments. Additionally, where charitable contributions to 501(c)(3) are tax deductible, contributions to 501(c)(4) organizations are not. Even if Discovery qualified as a 501(c)(4), this is not beneficial to the members of Discovery to be a 501(c)(4).

IRS regulations forbid 501(c)(3) nonprofits from engaging in most political activities, such as specifically endorsing a particular candidate.  Discovery, for the most part does not discuss politics from the pulpit or otherwise, outside of encouraging citizens to vote responsibly.  Not because of IRS regulations. Rather, because it is not the mission of Discovery to drive a political agenda. Discovery’s mission is to love God and serve others, transcending any particular political approach. We teach the Bible and how God is alive and present in a broken world. While we love and respect our government and the political process, we have a huge responsibility to keep on task in our mission.

Besides, with the way political ads are these days, there should be some places where you should be exempt from hearing them, don’t you think?

Ask Anything: God’s Will: Smaller Decisions?

Thanks to Nancy Movick for another thoughtful response

Q: God’s Will  – Does God’s will extend to “smaller” life decisions, such as working/staying at home with children/buying a specific house/which ministry opportunity to serve, etc. or is His will primarily to love and serve Him and each other, to spread His message to others, to live a holy life, etc.?  If it does extend to the more nuanced and detailed levels of our lives, how to we discern what His will is in those circumstances?  How do we separate whether we are hearing our own will/opinion/desires from His, even as we seek his guidance and the leading of the Holy Spirit?

A: This is a question I have pondered often. Perhaps I can try to flesh it out in a few different ways. To begin with, I think it is important to remember that we are beings that grow and mature. I relate to my children differently as young adults than I did when they were toddlers. I believe God relates differently with us in our different stages of spiritual maturity as well.

With spiritual maturity we become more familiar to the will of God because we become more familiar with God himself.  He places passions in our hearts and burdens us with the things that grieve him so that we are compelled to rise up and fight injustice and spread love.  Continue reading

Ask Anything: Trinity

Another excellent guest post from Nancy Movick

This is a great question and tough one to answer in a short blog post – but here goes…

The quick answer is this; God dwells in three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, they are not separate, but one.

Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:  (Mat. 28:19)

Some people have used H2O as an example of something that is the same, yet exists in three different forms (water, ice and steam). Perhaps a more satisfying way of explaining the Trinity is to discuss the character of God. The Bible describes God as highly relational, which in and of its self is amazing and humbling. We believe in a God who created all things and is all-powerful and omnipresent (present everywhere at the same time). Yet, he is intimately involved in the tiniest details of our lives such as

The number of hairs on our heads: Continue reading

Ask Anything: Multi Stage Philosophical Concern about Eternity

Thanks again to Keith Johnson for approaching this excellent question with an equally excellent answer.  

Keith’s Note:  This question was proposed to Discovery in the form of a philosophical argument with both premises and a conclusion.  We were asked to comment on the logic of the argument including each premise as well as the conclusion. The author’s “But” statement is positioned as a problem which from then which other questions are drawn.  In attempt to keep this to blog length and not book length, I will address each premise as well as it’s conclusion, but not all the specific follow on questions or positions which may arise.  Through this process, I will also attempt to address what I see as the author’s essential question or issue with Christianity: If God is a loving God, then why would God create a world in which most people are sent to torment hell?  Moreover this doesn’t seem very fair or loving.

Premises:

1) One must accept God’s grace through Jesus in order to be accepted into heaven.

2) This acceptance must be made during this life.

3) The only alternative to heaven is eternal torture in hell.

4) The majority of people on earth or who have ever lived have not accepted Jesus (or been law-abiding Jews).

Therefore:

5) God created a world in which the vast majority of his creation will spend an eternity in torture after a finite life.

But: (i.e. the problem)

6) God is Love

——————————————–

  1. One must accept God’s grace through Jesus in order to be accepted into heaven.
    1. Answer: In short; “Yes” this premise is correct and backed Biblically.  Reference:
      1. John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
      2. John 3:36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.
      3. John 14:6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
      4. John 17:3 And this is eternal life,that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.
      5. Acts 2:21 And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
      6. Acts 4:12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.
  1. This acceptance must be made during this life.
    1. Answer: In short; “Yes” this premise is correct and backed Biblically.  Reference:
      1. John 8:24 “I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am he, you will indeed die in your sins.”
      2. Romans 10:9  If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. Note; Obviously, in order to declare with your mouth you must be alive.
  1. The only alternative to heaven is hell.  (Note: I have intentionally abbreviated the premise here so as to not side track into the specificity of what is “hell”.)
    1. Answer: In short; “Yes”  this premise is correct and backed Biblically. Reference:
      1. Matthew 25:46  And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.
      2. John 5:24  Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes Him who send me has eternal life.  He does not come into judgement, but has passed form death to life.
      3. Romans 6:23  For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
  1. The majority of people on earth or who have ever lived have not accepted Jesus (or been law-abiding Jews).
    1. Answer: In short; “Yes”.  This is really just a question of math in that most people of the world today are not Christian and when one looks back from the beginning of time (especially  B.C.) the math compounds.
  1. God created a world in which the vast majority of his creation will spend an eternity in torture after a finite life.
    1. Answer: In short; “No”.  This conclusion is logically flawed.  Remember the specific question in premise 4 is past tense and does not consider the future (nor can it while also upholding logical reasoning).  It presumes that just because the majority of the people of this world, prior to Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection, and perhaps because the majority of people up until this time, have not accepted Christ as their Lord and savior, that this trend will continue into eternity.  The plain fact is that we can not foresee the future.  We are not omnipotent.  And trends change over time.  Remember, God is playing for the long game.
    1. If that isn’t satisfying enough, then consider this; we need to understand that God gave man (meaning men and women) free will and choice to either join God in heaven or to not join him.  Reference:  Matthew 7:13-14  “Enter by the narrow gate for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it.  Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.”  This means that many, after having heard the words of salvation through Christ may willingly choose the alternative.  At first blush, this may sound odd, but consider the fact that God is giving people what they want most, including the freedom to choose one’s own path in both life and death.  God blessed us with the free will to choose sin or salvation, and way back in the beginning of time, man chose sin.  Reference: Genesis 3:2.  This is why you hear many Christians say we live in a “fallen world”.
    1. The bible is also very clear in that the purpose for our creation is not to be cast into eternal hell, but to be united with him.  Reference: 1 Thessalonians 5-6 “For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.  He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him.”  1 Timothy 3-6 “who (God) wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people.”
    1. Despite our seeming predilection with choosing sin over salvation, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”  John 3:16.  This is why the Bible is considered to be the greatest love story of all time.

Ask Anything: Crucifixion and Bible Stories Hoax?

Another great post by Keith Johnson.  

Q: I saw this article online yesterday and I don’t have a specific question to ask about it, but it got my attention.  It’s contradicting what Christianity is all about (crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Christ).  Do you think this holds any validity or truth?

Here is the article in question:  http://higherperspective.com/2014/05/1500-year-old-bible.html

A:  Here is a synopsis:  “1500 Year Old Bible Claims Jesus Christ Was Not Crucified – Vatican Shocked”.  The article goes on to talk about the Gospel of Banabas which demonstrates that Jesus wasn’t actually crucified and doesn’t claim him to be the son of God.  Furthermore it quotes a report from “The National Turk” saying that this 1500 year old bible was seized from “smugglers is a Mediterranean operation”.  They value the book at $28 million (we presume US Dollars).  Experts in Tehran insist that the book is authentic and state it is written in Aramaic (a popular middle eastern language around the time Jesus walked the earth) using gold ink.

Here is a picture of the so called 1500 year old bible: ETNOGRAFYA MUZESI'NE TESLIM EDILEN EL YAZMASI INCIL

So enough with the preamble.  Let’s dig in here.  Do I think this holds any validity or truth?  Points to consider:

  1. The first thing I would point out is that if I owned a $28 Million dollar book, I certainly wouldn’t risk tearing the almost priceless document with a $0.02 cent paper clip!  Would you?
  2. Furthermore, even if it was 1,500 years old, that’s still about 450 years too new to have been written by an apostle of Jesus as he would have been long dead.
  3. The original texts of all books from the New Testament were written in Greek, not Aramaic.  Old Testament books were mostly written in Hebrew with only some use of Aramaic, so to find an entire “new testament gospel” in Aramaic is somewhat odd.
  4. An article written by  the Vatican Insider, in March of 2012 said that the ”discovery is probably a hoax, the work of a forger who, according to some, could have been a European Jewish scholar from the Middle Ages.” The article also goes on to state that the most criticisms have come from actual Syriac’s (whom speak Assyrian today).  They note that a modern Assyrian would not have any difficulty reading this manuscript yet it is filled with grammatical errors which wouldn’t be present in a historic religious document of such significance.  The problem with this is that it is written in modern Assyrian and not classical Assyrian which would have been used at that time.
  5. There is much more evidence used to discredit it here:

http://vaticaninsider.lastampa.it/en/world-news/detail/articolo/bibbia-bible-biblia-13182/

  1. And here:

http://catholicexchange.com/why-the-gospel-of-barnabas-is-a-medieval-fake

  1. If you don’t want to review the Vatican’s method, or the Catholic Exchange, to discredit the document, then how about the “Assyrian International News”?

http://www.aina.org/news/2012022916569.htm

  1. In short, I am quite confident that this is in fact a hoax.
  2. Just remember there are others of this world who will use every possible attempt to weaken our faith:  “Be alert and of sober mind.  Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” 1 Peter 5:8

Ask Anything: Hebrews 13:17 and How it Affects Discovery?

Q: What does Hebrews 13:17 mean to you?  How does it affect your church?

Hebrews. 13:17 states, “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.”

The author of Hebrews recognizes the weight of responsibility that comes along with leadership and so encourages people to “not be a burden” to leaders.  The author also recognizes that leaders often make difficult decisions that require trust, that a leader has an unequal amount of influence and therefore responsibility.  The verse ought to give every leader pause about their grave responsibility.  There is a weight of burden that comes with leadership and the author encourages people not to add to that burden.

However, I would be cautious with any church leader who wields this verse against people.

If you have questions about a decision or direction, and rather than providing insight, the leader uses Hebrews 13:17 to say, “you must trust us, you are under our authority,” I would recommend proceeding with extreme caution.  Some leadership decisions are of course confidential (personnel matters, for example), but a leader worth following ought to be authentic and open, providing perspective and insight for people, which leads me to….

“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up”  Eph 4:11,12

This is the passage that most affects Discovery.  No doubt, leadership is a grave responsibility and we take Hebrews 13:17 seriously, but our task as leaders is Ephesians 4:11,12.

A good leader will see their primary relationship to church members as that of “equipper” so that all people can “do works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.”  A good leader ought to open a process to people, invite people in to participate and contribute and help people see their vital contribution.

If a church leader continuously replies to a legitimate inquiry with “you should trust your leaders who have authority over you,” without providing context, insight, or clarity, I would caution you about the wisdom of staying under their authority.

Ask Anything: Faith, Trust, Scammed and Deceived….

Another excellent post by Laura Brasov
Q: Why when you walk in faith and trust, it seems you just get scammed or deceived?  Is it possible to be skeptical but still believe?  Life has just seemed to prove the pet doctrines of the church to be used to measure spirituality.
These are some great questions!  I am going to address them individually, even as I recognize that they build on each other.
First, it is possible to walk in faith and trust and yet not have life turn out the way we desire.  This is why Jesus commands his disciples in Matthew 10:16, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves.  Therefore, be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”  In other words, we are to be thoughtful and smart in our sizing up of situations, and yet irreproachable and unwavering in our trust of God’s ability and willingness to be present in the midst of the situation.  Sometimes this will mean to leave the situation, by the way!
Second, it is possible to have doubts, to earnestly seek, to search out and even question God while having belief.  As the father of a boy possessed by an evil spirit told Jesus, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (NIV) or “I believe.  Help me with my doubts!” (MSG) in Mark 9:24. Often doubts come in momentary whispers, sometimes they come during long seasons of wrestling. Regardless, God welcomes our deeper questions and thoughts and invites us to struggle with Him through them.
The third question is more of a statement than a question, originating from the place we have all experienced personally: the place where we have felt sized up, categorized and often even diminished or dismissed by others as to our spirituality.       It is a disappointing place to arrive at not being “_____enough” – good enough, spiritual enough, smart enough, etc.   Fill in the blank; we can all relate.  The truth is that God says we are enough; yet we often look to others instead of Him to validate that truth.
When we look to others for validation instead of God alone, we find ourselves facing what theologians have referred to over the ages as the tension that resides in all of us; the tension between the depravity and the dignity of man.  In other words, in each of us resides depravity: our own brokenness, our unique tendencies to sin, our individual behavioral habits and traits that we’ve developed over the years.  Yet in each of us also resides great dignity: the gift of Himself that God bestowed upon us during creation that enables and reflects His desire that we are to be His image-bearers in our own unique, creative ways.
The tension between the depravity and the dignity of man is alive and well, in and out of the church.  Hurt often comes when we expect the church and its individuals to be different, only acting out of God’s imbedded dignity, and we instead receive more of its present depravity.  In those moments, we need to remember that we – just like the church and those individuals that make up the church – are broken and yet beautiful. We too will continue to sin, and we will continue to be forgiven. We too will wrestle with depravity and dignity inside of ourselves, just as we learn to recognize and navigate that tension in others around us.

Ask Anything: Greek, Hebrew, Unlocking Knowledge.

This guest post is from Laura Brasov.  Laura has a M.Th from Talbot School of Theology, helped launch and lead Discovery’s Women’s Ministry, and has served faithfully on our Leadership Team.  She and her husband Adiel advocate at Discovery for our Albania Partners, Ylli and Nikki Docci and have visited them several times.  Laura is a good thinker and has a deep passion for all things Jesus and people.  

Editorial note from Steve:  People who translate the Bible into the English Bibles we have in our hands are brilliant original language scholars.  Occasionally, delving into the original languages will enhance an understanding, or open up some wonder, but all of that knowledge can be accessed through english tools, as Laura points out below.  

Q: Do you have to know a lot of theology/greek/hebrew to know all the things about the Bible you need to?

A: I remember deeply wrestling with a biblical truth that was being challenged and nuanced politically and culturally during my time at college, so I asked my university pastor to help me.  Yet what I recall about that conversation was not his willingness to help me understand God’s truth and heart, but rather his conclusion statement of our time together: “Because you don’t know the original language, you can’t possibly understand the true meaning of the bible here.”  Needless to say, I left his office not encouraged but tremendously deflated and overwhelmed.

In hindsight, however, God used this pastor’s words powerfully, setting me on a different trajectory.  I did indeed learn theology, Greek and Hebrew later in the course of my life, but was also hit broadside by a far more potent aid to knowing God’s heart imbedded in His written word: His Holy Spirit.  I discovered grace.

In John 14:26, Jesus tells his disciples: “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”  One of the Holy Spirit’s roles in our lives is to illuminate God’s truth to us.  The best part of this statement is that the Holy Spirit is God’s gift to all of us who believe, regardless of our intellectual background or aptitude!

I wonder if the real question embedded in this original question submitted is not about knowing original languages as much as it is a question about “How much do I need to know about the bible?”  The answer then lies in the purpose behind the question: How much of the bible do you need to know to live day to day?  How much of the bible do you need to know in order to grow with the Lord?  How much of the bible affects a particular issue you are struggling with?  How much of the bible do you need to research in order to deliver a sermon?

If we really choose to develop a vibrant relationship with the Lord, for instance, we would naturally desire to have a growing understanding of His word written to us made clearer by God’s Spirit in us.  If we are trying to understand a particular issue in the bible, we might prayerfully  investigate context, background, and original texts as they pertain to that issue.  Regardless, the question then becomes, “What does God want to teach me through His Word?” Being guided by the Holy Spirit is both beneficial and necessary to understand God’s Word to us in the bible while knowing theology, Greek and Hebrew is also beneficial, but not always necessary.

Ask Anything: Evolution, Creation etc…

This guest post is from Jimmy Carnes, Discovery’s Worship Arts Director.  Jimmy is a highly talented musician and also a gifted careful thinker who has a passion for God and for science.  His article is long and well worth the time to dig in.  As with our other longer blogs, you’ll need to click “read more” to….you know….read more.  

Here’s an excerpt of this blog article to whet your appetite:

 The particular theory I am fascinated with is one proposed by Dr. Gerald Schroeder, an MIT alumni and professor with a dual doctorate in nuclear science and oceanography.  Schroeder compares peer reviewed modern science and ancient commentary in order to reconcile the six-day creation story with 14 billion years. 

And here is the whole post:

The three questions below are so closely related, that I will address them all in one post.

Qs:

1.What are your views on Evolution and geologic time?  How does it relate/clash with The Word?

2. How do your reconcile creation in Genesis w/science (old earth).  Such a different time line.

3. How do we handle disagreements among Christians about the age of the Earth?

A: Those who have given the great debate of “Science vs. Religion” considerable thought would likely find themselves in one of a few different camps.  Some believe that science and the Bible are forever at odds and cannot be reconciled.  They would generally believe that one must choose to either believe in science or the Bible, but not both.  Others would say that you can believe in both, but are divided in their reasons and explanations.  I fall somewhere in the second category, with one distinction; I think that science and the Bible are both great resources that answer very different questions.  Science by definition is the study of things that are observable, and therefore, is not a great place to go looking for answers to philosophical questions.  The Old Testament of the Bible, though full of historical information, is primarily intended to help us know and relate to an invisible God.  Personally, I go to science for help on understanding “how?” and the Bible for understanding “why?”

That being said, it would seem that the Bible and modern science have very different things to say about the same topic.  In the realm of science, fossils of microorganisms called stromatolites have been dated to be around 3.45 billion years old. Radiometric age measurements on earth’s rocks consistently show dates of over 3.8 billion years.  The Hubble telescope has allowed us to measure the expansion rate of the universe, and scientist’s best estimates place the beginning of the universe at nearly 14 billion years ago.  Continue reading