Psalm 12

Photo Cred: (1) | Updated: 4-10-2020

Here is a poem that I wrote on August 6th, 2019 that was inspired by Psalm 12. This was written during one of my daily devotionals through the book of Psalms.

 

Where are all of the godly?

All I see is the praise of folly.

They constantly lie.

Kindness will die.

But God is not mocked for he will have the final say.

They will get what they deserve on that final day.

We speak extremely evil words.

By way of 140 character birds.

Of this I am absolutely sure.

That God’s word is pure.

It’s always the foolish who pridefully strut.

God will preserve us from this sin-infested rut.

 

With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless.

Footnotes

  1. Free stock photos · Pexels

Think Biblically | 3-15-2020

Photo Cred: (1) | Updated: 4-10-2020

[This was a sermon I gave to the youth group at my local church when serving there as a youth leader. It was about 25 minutes and was focused on helping students understand how to think biblically. This was apart of a series of sermons given during the Unshakable 2019 winter camp for our church’s youth group.]

Intro

During this weekend we are going to learn what it means to have an unshakable faith and tonight is all about how to think biblically. How to have a worldview that is able to withstand all the worries we have about our world. What I mean by thinking biblically is thinking the way Jesus thought.

Throughout his ministry, Jesus was constantly pointing everyone he talked to back to the Word of God. During that time this would have just been the Old Testament, which is the first half of your Bible. Now the Word of God is the whole Bible: Old and New Testament.

Needless to say, no matter what situation Jesus found himself in he always thought biblically. Everything Jesus did and thought was aimed at obeying God the Father. How can we purpose in our minds to do the same and obey Jesus? Tonight, we’ll learn how to do just that as we read part of a letter written by Paul the Apostle.

In the book of Colossians we read:

“Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude. See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ (2).”

After this, Paul then goes into a whole bunch of stuff that can distract us and reminds us to stay focused on Christ. He ends this section of the letter when he says:

“Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God (3).”

Now from these two passages, we can gather three main takeaways on how to think biblically. How to think like Jesus thought in spite of the world around Him. To think biblically is to keep walking, to wise up, and to wake up. By learning how to train yourself to think this way, you will add the first brick of many to your unshakable faith. Let’s learn the first way, which is to keep walking.

Keep Walking (v. 6 – 7)

Most people remember when they first met God. Those of us who have had this encounter can either remember the exact moment or even the feeling we had when we encountered God personally for the first time. I know for me it was more of a connecting the dots over time than a specific moment.

You probably have a similar situation where you either in an instant felt the presence of God immediately or discovered Him slowly over time. However that went down for you, that was just the beginning. This first step in your walk with God was just the key cornerstone in what could one day be an unshakable faith.

You may have even had mentors or youth pastors who showed you how to live the Christian life. But in spite of all of that excitement, life happened. Things changed and you changed along with it. For some of us, we stopped walking with God.

In verses 6-7, Paul reminds us about this very common problem of walking away because of all that is happening in our lives. The first way that we can think biblically is to get our heads in the game and keep walking with God. To endure the attacks that we get hit with and to keep going as Christians.

During my last Strongman comp, I did the most difficult lift of my entire life: a 450lbs. axle bar deadlift for 4 reps. It was brutal. My body was aching from the overhead pressing event where I tweaked a muscle in my lower back, I almost blacked out with each new rep, and was just stupid tired.

But the worst part of the lift was the mental game. I was wrestling with my thoughts. “Should I give up? Is this too difficult? Why try when I’m competing with an active duty captain in the U.S. Army and another guy who is qualified for Strongman Nationals?” I was this close to giving up, yet I exceeded my limits and kept going in the competition.

[Ironically enough, I never shared this strongman example when I preached this sermon. At the very last second, I changed examples. Literally when it was time to share this example during the message, I chose not to and instead shared about a conversation I had with my Granddad about college. Not sure why, but it seemed like the right move at the moment.]

Like that day when I could have given up, we too must keep walking in our faith with God. Remembering why God’s grace leads to our gratitude. Enjoying life with Him and growing in our knowledge of God as we learn from others much wiser than us. Speaking of wisdom, let’s look at the second way that we can dedicate our minds to thinking biblically and that means we need to wise up.

Wise Up (v. 8)

In verse 8 of chapter 2, we read of another threat to thinking biblically and that is the distortions of truth that the world offers. The way that the world tries to find the truth is like taking a picture with a broken lense. They have the right desire, but will never get the ideal result. Like us before we knew God, they are just looking at the big picture the wrong way. Everything is distorted without God who brings all things into focus when we draw near to Him.

With this in mind, we need to wise up and be careful of all of the stuff that is out there. These days, everything is trying to get your attention. Everyone is desperate for you to give them your time. According to a YouTube press release, about “one billion hours [of video content is] watched daily” on their platform (4). There is a battle for your mind and to fight it, you have to think biblically.

Now this verse isn’t saying that all knowledge outside of the Bible is bad or evil. I mean, how would you learn about Algebra if not for the Muslim mathematician Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi who invented it? Without his work, we wouldn’t have Algebra and you wouldn’t hate math. So like 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 says, “But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil.” Until proven true, take everything with a grain of salt. You’ll know if something is the truth when it has been tested and proven to be true. This is the second way that we can think biblically.

Wake Up (v. 1 – 3)

The final way to think biblically is to wake up. We need to wake up and realize our main reason for being Christian in the first place. We are here to know God and make God known. The Gospel is the wake up call of the world and we are the messengers.

We’re not here to get caught up in the nonsense of what is being fought over today. We have to stay focused and remember that we have a mission from up above. We have a task at hand and that is to tell others what God has done, is doing, and will do through us as Christians. We need to focus on Jesus in our life on the daily and then when that’s dialed in, show others how to do the same.

[Here I added more in my sermon journal where I wrote “show, then tell.” For the uninitiated, to show then tell is a film idea. The idea that a picture can say a thousand words and our examples in how we live do the same. Don’t remember the exact wordage, but that was the concept.]

Conclusion

To wrap up, we need to think biblically if we want an unshakable faith. We must keep walking, wise up, and wake up to keep our mind focused on God. Until the whole world hears the good news of Jesus, our mission is loud and clear. Think about it and we’ll talk in our small groups in a minute. Let’s pray.

This was a really stressful weekend because it was my first time co-running a winter camp with another leader named Sierra. We worked all day running the camp the whole weekend and by the time came for me to share my sermon, I was quite exhausted. I wasn’t as tired as last year’s winter camp, but a different type of tired because everyone came to us with their problems versus last year where we just solved problems that were there.

Anyways, I was scrambling to write the outline in my sermon journal as the worship team was doing their set before it was my time to preach. I think the sermon was fairly straightforward and had little hiccups. It went as planned for the most part. The concept for this whole sermon series I outlined as far back as August of 2018 at a leader retreat, so the main ideas had been in my mind for months by the time I shared this message. Then again, I’ve always been a clutch preacher who is changing things at the very last second pretty normally, so take that as you will. With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless.

Footnotes

  1. https://www.pexels.com/
  2. Colossians 2:6-8
  3. Colossians 3:1-3
  4. https://www.youtube.com/yt/about/press/

Psalm 11

Photo Cred: (1) | Updated: 4-8-2020

Here is a poem that I wrote on August 4th, 2019 that was inspired by Psalm 11. This was written during one of my daily devotionals through the book of Psalms.

 

In God I take refuge for he is my shelter.

During dark days, my strong protector.

The evil bend their bows.

They aim them very slow.

At your servant’s feet.

At those who are meek.

They attack the upright.

Hunting shadows at night.

But in all of this our God is king.

Only he can remove death’s sting.

He is diligent in testing all things.

We await for the justice he brings.

He will judge all and some will stand tall.

Most will cling to favorite sins as they fall.

Then again, who will answer God’s call?

 

With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless.

Footnotes

  1. Free stock photos · Pexels

Worship in the Spirit | 1-30-2019

Photo Cred: (1) | Updated: 4-5-2020

[This was a sermon I gave to the youth group at my local church when serving there as a youth leader. It was about 25 minutes and was focused on helping students understand worship in a series that paralleled our church’s series at the time. This was apart of a series on life with God that we did as a youth ministry, which again was similar to our church’s same series.]

Intro

Throughout this series, we have been exploring what it means to have life with God. Andrew and David talked about our identity in God, Dan talked last week about walking with God, and today we will talk about what it means to worship God in the Spirit. To worship in the Spirit is a combination of three things: obedience, reverence, and wonder.

But why should we worship God in the first place? Pastor A.W. Tozer puts it this way, 

“We are born to worship, and if we are not worshiping God in the beauty of His holiness, we have missed the reason for being born. Worship is a delightful, awesome, humbling, wonderful experience, which we can have in varying degrees, but if you have all those, you can live in the middle of it (2).”

Basically, worship is ingrained in our DNA. It’s just part of who we are as humans. As people who bear the image of God and represent Him here on Earth, we were made to worship. Think of it this way: true worship is a lifelong thank you to God. Or better yet, worship is the expression of love itself.

Just like two people in a relationship, they obviously love each other. But their actions and words validate their love for each other. As Voddie Baucham puts it, “love is an act of the will.” Love is proven by our worship. What we worship reveals what we actually love.

One way or another, we all worship something. Some people worship money, while others worship their sexuality. Bottom line: everyone worships something or someone.

Now worship in the Spirit is not some mystical force that compels us to do crazy or weird stuff. To worship in the Spirit is to honor God by the power of the Holy Spirit. The personal Holy Spirit gives us the ability to worship God in the first place. He guides us through the three main ways we worship God: obedience, reverence, and wonder. Let’s start with the first reason: obedience.

Obedience

We can worship God with our obedience. This can be anything from obeying our parents to obeying our teachers at school. It even means obeying the law and rules given by our government. Romans 13:1b says that “there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.” Our obedience is one way to worship God by loving those who have authority in our lives.

David and Paul Watson write that “it appears that God spells love o-b-e-y (3).” To obey the authority around us is to demonstrate how much we actually love God. We worship with obedience because God is king.

Reverence

One more way we can worship God is with reverence. The word reverence is just another way of saying admiration or respect. We can worship God by admiring or respecting Him because He is goodness personified. Asaph, a worship leader during the reign of King David once said “But as for me, the nearness of God is my good; I have made the Lord God my refuge, That I may tell of all Your works (4).” Whether it is in the beauty of Creation or the joys of friendship, every work of God is good because He is good.

Just by the fact that God sent Jesus to die on the cross for us is enough reason to respect Him. God’s grace leads to our gratitude. God is worthy of our worship because He is good. He is perfect and He is love. To worship in the Spirit is to constantly admire what God has done for us and who He is on a personal level. We worship with reverence because God is good.

Wonder

Finally, the third way that we can worship God in the Spirit is with wonder. Why with wonder? Because God is mysterious. If we knew everything about God, then He wouldn’t be God. In the book of Isaiah we read “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts (5).” God is worthy of worship because He is greater than us.

One way that God is greater than us, but is also mysterious would be His triune nature. What is God’s triune nature? It is the fact that God is one being, but three persons. [In my sermon journal I wrote “volunteer joke” right after this section, but I literally don’t remember what that joke was about. If anything, the joke was strategically placed to break the tension and refocus the students on the principle that I’m trying to teach, which is the doctrine of the Trinity. Humor is always a great tool to help others learn.]

What does that mean? I don’t know! But that’s the point. Because I don’t know how that all works, I can have full confidence that this must be God. Joe Rigney wrote that the “Trinity is the heart of the Christian religion, the great mystery that makes all other mysteries understandable (6).” In other words, I cannot explain to you how light actually works. But I can show you how light changes everything in sight. We worship with wonder because God is mysterious.

Outro

To wrap up, worship in the Spirit is the combination of obedience, reverence, and wonder. We obey God’s authority, revere God’s goodness, and wonder at God’s mysterious nature. True worship is made up of all three of these things. Let’s pray.

This sermon I think was a big improvement overall compared to my last two sermons. Those being Created In Christ: Three I’s in the Pursuit of You and The Armor of God message, which was 10 days before this one. The biggest improvements being the rehearsal process and a refined structure, plus the fact that I used a sermon journal.

It was my first time translating a message to a different audience, yet I think it went well. By simplifying my process, I think the main idea came across clearer than previous sermons. On a side note, I remember loving the prep and research for this message too. A solid sermon and it was really fun to share this one with the youth group. With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless.

Footnotes

  1. https://www.pexels.com/
  2. The Purpose of Man: Designed To Worship, P. 118
  3. Contagious Disciple Making, P. 45
  4. Psalm 73:28
  5. Isaiah 55:8-9
  6. The Things of Earth (P. 35)

Created In Christ: Three I’s in the Pursuit of You | 12-5-2018

Photo Cred: (1) | Updated: 4-3-2020

[This was a sermon I gave to the youth group at my local church when serving there as a youth leader. It was about 25 minutes and was focused on helping students find their identity in Jesus.]

Intro

We are lost. America’s latest generation is completely hopeless. According to the Center of Disease Control, the average life expectancy in America has gone down for the third year in a row.

This is due to drug overdoses like what has been seen in the opioid epidemic which has caused over 70,000 deaths, along with suicide rates rising over 10% from last year. “We’re seeing the drop in life expectancy not because we’re hitting a cap [for lifespans of] people in their 80s. We’re seeing a drop in life expectancy because people are dying in their 20s [and] 30s” says Kathryn McHugh of Harvard Medical School quoted in an article by NPR (2). Some researchers believe this epidemic to be from a state of hopelessness caused by the social shifts in the U.S.

What social shifts? Anxiety, depression, immigration, political tension, and school shootings just to name a few. The problem? We don’t know who we are, where we belong, or why we are here.

So how do we figure out who we are, where we belong, and why we are here? We must look at three I’s in the pursuit of you: identity, ideology, and infatuation. We’ll briefly look at all three, but tonight we will focus primarily on identity in Jesus as a new creation.

Identity

Speaking of which, the first of the three I’s in the pursuit of you is identity. What do I mean by that? Put simply, identity is who you are individually as a person. Think specific character traits, hobbies, and interests. It also includes how you present yourself to others whether in person or online on your social media.

Ideology

The second I in the pursuit of you is ideology. This is who you are within a group or a collection of people who share the same ideas and worldview. It could be as simple as DC and Marvel to something more complex like Democrats and Republicans. Even the dweebs who voted for Fortnite as the Game of the Year over Red Dead Redemption II. Still salty about that by the way. It’s a photo-realistic western in an open-world experience! Anyways, it’s whatever. Bottom line: we all have our own cultures and ideologies that we follow.

Infatuation

The final I in the pursuit of you is infatuation. Essentially, what you worship or what you base everything else off of in your life. Now this is going to be what drives you or motivates a lot of your decisions. A personal philosophy, if you will. It’s the passion of fighting for equality, the close-knit relationships with others, or even something as basic as sports.

It’s your starting point and from your infatuation, you find an ideology. From there, you begin to find who you are and develop an identity. Everyone associates with something, belongs somewhere, and worships someone. Who we are, who we’re with, and what we worship are the three things that make you, you. But what does God say about who you were, are, and will be in the future? Let’s look.

Who You Were

In the book of Romans, we’ll see how Paul describes who you were before you found your identity in Jesus to the Christians at that time. [After reading Romans 1:18-25] Now based off of what we just read, what were these people like before they had a personal relationship with Jesus? Hopeless and lost without knowing Jesus personally.

[At this point I did my own rendition of the “the chair’ sermon illustration and it was inspired most by Frank Peretti’s version (3). I don’t remember how I went about the illustration exactly or what I said because I don’t practice stories in my sermons. I improv all examples and illustrations because it comes cross more authentically in-person versus rehearsed. The point of this illustration was to help convey the main crux of the message: finding identity in Christ. In my notes, I only had this sentence as the ending: before we know God, we too are hopeless and lost in our journey of self-discovery.]

Who You Are

Since we’ve gone over who you were, let’s examine who you are now. This can be broken into two main sections: spiritually and practically. For the spiritual aspect of who you are, we find that summed up in the letter of 2 Corinthians. [After reading 2 Corinthians 5:17] Again, Romans 8:24-25 reminds us that “in hope we have been saved” and that we are to persevere in our life with God. Through that perseverance, we will enjoy God even more as He guides us in life.

In short, we are rebooted and get to have a fresh start, which Paul points out in Galatians 2:20. [These two sentences and really the ending were added last-minute for a student that was battling mental health issues. Might not necessarily make sense in the continuity of the message, but needed to be said for them.] You are loved and not a mistake. God is changing us into a masterpiece.

From the practical standpoint, we can see what this looks like in Psalm 1 and I’d encourage you to read that this week. Here in this relationship with God we find our new sense of identity, ideology, and infatuation. What does that really look like though? This is the breakdown. Our new identity is to be known by God, our new ideology is to make God known, and our new infatuation is to be known by God.

Who You Will Be

Lastly, let’s end reading Revelation 21:5-8. [After reading Revelation 21:5-8] Right now in Jesus you get to know who you are, where you belong, and what is worth worshiping. Being a new creation is something we get to enjoy now, but will fully understand later. Let’s pray and go to our small groups.

This was a fun sermon to preach, but does suffer from being overly stuffed with content that could’ve been streamlined with some strategic edits. This was also when I used to write out my sermons and memorize them, which was crazy in retrospect. Now I have transitioned to using a sermon journal for all of my messages. That started in January of 2019 when I shared my version of the Armor of God passage in Ephesians with the Sunday middle school group. With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless.

Footnotes

  1. https://www.pexels.com/
  2. https://www.npr.org/2018/11/29/671844884/u-s-life-expectancy-drops-amid-disturbing-rise-in-overdoses-and-suicides
  3. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ny3GBVbh8hg

Finding Forgiveness

Firearm Fumble

During the summer, the youth group that I help lead went on one of our big events at Bear Creek Lake in Colorado. Like most youth groups, students need rides and before leaving to the event I was on my way picking up a few of the students going that Saturday. After picking up four guys for the event, we were on our way.

While driving to our church to touch base with other leaders before leaving to the event, some of the guys in the backseat of my car decided to pull out their BB guns that they recently bought. Of course at the time, I wasn’t aware they even had them in my car. Anyways, they eventually got pretty excited about them and before you know it they wanted to show me how powerful their BB guns were while I’m driving.

Granted all of this is happening within the span of a few minutes, but at first they pretended to use them and make lots of fake gunshot noises. Then one of them gets the bright idea of showing me what they sound like when they shoot them without any BB’s inside. Without enough time to react, one of the students behind me points the gun directly at my front windshield and fires it twice in quick succession.

Within an instant and by the sound of it, we all realized that the BB gun was actually loaded and my windshield now had two brand new bullet holes. One in the lower right hand corner and the other in the upper right hand corner of my front windshield. My reaction could have been better, but I was pretty pissed to say the least.

We soon arrived at the church and I confiscated their BB guns for the day before leaving for the event. I decided to allow the students to go to the event, even though they just damaged my car. They come from very broken homes and the last thing they needed was to go home early. For these four guys in particular, being at church or youth group is an escape from the Hell that they have to live with on a daily basis.

For instance, one of them lives with their grandparents because his mom chose to stay addicted to drugs rather than raise him. To this day, his mom wanders around looking for her next fix, while her son wonders why she doesn’t love him enough to quit. All four of these guys have similar stories and this cultural footprint influences the majority of their behavior. These boys are simply the byproduct of broken people who don’t know any better.

When we arrived at the lake, everyone seemed to have a fun time except me. The kids were hanging out and having a blast, but I couldn’t stop thinking about why this situation was frustrating me so much. I was angry and couldn’t shake it all day, but I also knew this happened for a reason.

Unlike most people, I don’t believe in accidents or coincidences. Instead, I believe that God works all things together for those who trust in him and therefore every moment is an opportunity to learn something. In this moment, I just couldn’t figure out what that something was or why this moment happened.

When it came time to go home, I told the students that I was going to hold onto their BB guns until one of them confessed to shooting my front windshield. Because they shot it from the backseat, I never actually knew who did the damage to my car. So as I dropped off all of the students and headed home, I kept thinking about what to do next.

I texted back and forth with other people to get advice from them. They all had very similar answers: get justice. Those kids deserve what’s coming to them. They’re guilty and need to be responsible for their actions. At one point I planned on destroying all of their BB guns, but I never did because the guilty student texted me that night.

Knowing this particular student and their circumstances, I believe their apology was genuine. He mentioned that he wanted to fix things and explained to me that it was an accident. He didn’t realize he actually had BBs in his BB gun at the time. After reading his response, it finally clicked for me. I knew what this whole situation was finally about.

Forgotten Forgiveness

You see, I too was in a very similar spot when I was in 3rd grade. After school one day, I was waiting by the hill where the soccer fields were for my Dad to pick me up. I was with a few of my peers and we decided to see who could throw a rock far enough to hit this abandoned house across the street from the school where we were waiting. In between us at the top of the soccer fields hill and the abandoned house was the street where parents were picking up their students.

We each took an attempt. All of us ended up throwing way too short and were hitting the sidewalk across the street. Then we all went again. Everyone got a little closer, but I hit a shingle on the roof causing it to chip a bit. This looked and sounded awesome, so I went for one more throw.

With this third throw, I lobbed my rock way too high and it flew straight down where the cars were lined up ready to pick up kids. My third attempt went directly into the center of an expensive sports car. Like dropping a bomb in a lake, this windshield completely cracked and splintered off in every direction.

Before I knew it, this wealthy man got out of his car and was scanning the perimeter as he tried to find the culprit. Little did he know that this culprit was crying and hiding behind what felt like the only bush on that hill. I barely fit behind it and was hoping he would just go away.

What felt like hours passed and eventually my sibling came by to tell me that Dad was here talking to the wealthy man with the broken windshield. I straight up died inside right then and there from complete terror. After wiping my tears, I went down the hill and got in our car.

Later that night, my Dad was pacing back and forth. By his conversations with my Mom, I could tell that I did something really bad. That this sports car’s windshield was going to be expensive to fix.

When the dust settled, my Dad finally came to my room and told my brothers to leave so he could talk to me in private. He asked me how I was feeling and then what happened. I gave him the gist of it and he listened intently.

After hearing my side of things, there was a pause. Then he broke it by saying that I didn’t need to worry about the windshield because he was going to pay for it. We hugged and then joined the rest of the family for dinner. He forgave me and that was the last that I ever heard of that situation.

Forgiveness Found

Jump back to when I received this text from the student who cracked my windshield and now it all added up. I now knew what I needed to do. This lesson in life was about finding forgiveness when justice was expected.

Grabbing my Bible, I looked up Matthew 18:21-35 for the story of the king and the two debtors. When I found the passage, I prayed about the situation and replied back to the student. To read the screenshots of the conversation we had, I’ll just refer you to the footnotes at the end of this post.

Anyways, I said not to worry about the window and told my story from third grade. Next, I told him to look up Matthew 18:21-35 and asked him to read it instead of paying for the windshield. Like my Dad forgave me, I forgave him.

When I was at fault, I was forgiven. Therefore, since he was at fault I decided to forgive him too. From there, he did his homework and I forgave him again in-person just to make sure he understood what I was trying to show him.

That God offers everyone two choices: justice or forgiveness. The difficult road is getting exactly what we deserve and becoming not only distant to Jesus in this life, but the life to come when this is all over. The easy road is to avoid evil and conform to God’s goodness as we pursue freedom in Christ.

That day I could have gone with either option and been completely in the right, but ultimately forgiveness won out. Sometimes, justice must be done and yet other times grace must take place. At the end of the day, that decision is up to you. So when an unjust moment happens to you and you see an opportunity for the other party to learn something, find the courage to forgive. With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless.

Footnotes

  1. Matthew 18:21-35 | “Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times. “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

Alvin Plantinga + Autism

Photo Cred: (1) | Updated: 5/27/2019

About two years ago in the month of June, I was on a road-trip with my Dad and a few of our friends. On the way to and from our destination, I was finishing Alvin Plantinga’s Warranted Christian Belief and came across an interesting statement that he makes in his book. In fact, it’s not necessarily apart of the main narrative, but is rather just a footnote at the bottom of a page in the chapter entitled “Sin and Its Cognitive Consequences.” In this footnote, Plantinga writes

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Source: Amazon

It is no part of the [Aquinas/Calvin] model to say that damage to the sensus divinitatis (2) on the part of a person is due to sin on the part of the same person. Such damage is like other disease and handicaps: due ultimately to the ravages of sin, but not necessarily sin on the part of the person with the disease. In this connection, see Jesus’ remarks (John 9:1-3) about the man blind from birth (p. 214, fn. 22).

Now as someone who has been diagnosed with high spectrum autism disorder (3), this quote stuck out to me like a sore thumb when I first read it. I’ve always had a curiosity on the subject of those with special needs and their cognitive ability to know God, but this really gave me more of a drive to study it further. To think and see if someone with malfunctioning cognitive faculties (i.e. intellectual disabilities) can consciously choose whether or not to believe in God.

There is a lot packed into this brief footnote, so let’s break it down in context. The footnote is attached to a section of the chapter where Plantinga is describing the worst effect that sin has on us and our sense of God. He writes:

The most serious noetic effects of sin have to do with our knowledge of God. Were it not for sin and its effects, God’s presence and glory would be as obvious and uncontroversial to us all as the presence of other minds, physical objects, and the past. Like any cognitive process, however, the sensus divinitatis can malfunction; as a result of sin, it has indeed been damaged. Our original knowledge of God and his glory is muffled and impaired; it has been replaced (by virtue of sin) by stupidity, dullness, blindness, inability to perceive God or to perceive him in his handiwork (p. 214-215).”

In other words, Plantinga argues that our knowledge of God is the most damaged aspect of our sensus divinitatis (sense of divinity). If our sense of God was not impaired, then we would be completely aware of God in everything. But because everyone has been born into sin, we all have a malfunctioning sense of God. Like a broken window, our view of God is distorted before we accept the Gospel. After we accept it, then our sense of God is restored to what it was always meant to be since the beginning.

Yet, we all don’t have malfunctioning cognitive faculties. Is this footnote indicating that some may have a harder time understanding the Gospel because there are more mental roadblocks that may inhibit their path to genuine belief in God? Not to say that our own sin directly causes this malfunction, but that sin itself has caused this malfunction in the cognitive faculties of some.

For example, no one is morally responsible for a person being born with a heart defect, but rather this defect is directly related to the natural consequences of the Fall. The unnatural breaking down of the human body as the world ages away. Original sin is the root of these malfunctions for the most part, not the individual sins of others. For more on that, let’s turn to the Gospel of John.

The passage of Scripture that Plantinga points out in the already mentioned footnote is John 9:1-3. In this passage, Jesus comes across a blind man who has been blind since birth. Inquiring to know why this man is born blind, the disciples ask Jesus whether it is due to the man’s own sin or that of his parents.

As if to say, whose sin caused this consequence? Who is responsible for this man’s poor condition of being blind from birth? Jesus succinctly replies “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” What does Jesus mean by this exactly?

is-john-piper-happy-viuzi7xj
Source: Pulpit & Pen

John Piper of Desiring God (4), spoke on this very subject and makes an important point. “The explanation of the blindness lies not in the past causes but the future purposes,” says Piper. For this specific case, the blindness from birth was not a sinful consequence, but rather a predetermined act of God. This disability was given, so that God might have the glory in the healing of it. By healing a blind man from birth publicly, Jesus caused others to see things spiritually. Thus, leading to people naturally giving God the glory.

In Genesis 50:20, Joseph speaks about how God can take something evil like our physical ailments or malfunctioning cognitive faculties and turn them into something good. This can be seen when a family is closer to each other when compared to other families because of the attentive care necessary for one of their family members that may have an intellectual disability like autism. If not for having a family member with said disability, there are many families that would probably be more distant to both each other and God. Like usual, God can answer a series of evils with one good thing.

boy-child-country-551576.jpg
Source: Pexels

But that stills leaves our question unanswered: can people with malfunctioning cognitive faculties consciously accept or reject belief in God? Can they ever have a repaired sense of God? To put it simply, of course they can and a good portion of them do have genuine belief in God.

Even though someone may be at a mental state where they are equivalent to that of a small child or may have an IQ lower than normal, they still have the ability to receive the Gospel. In Mark 10:15, Jesus clearly states that “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” If we base our faith in our own intelligence and knowledge, then we have not received the Gospel like a child and are not actually Christian.

We have made up our own God at that point because faith in the kingdom of God is childlike, not complex and complicated. Either we believe that Jesus is Lord and confess that God raised Him from the dead or we don’t. It’s as simple as that and for someone with malfunctioning cognitive faculties, they too have the ability to receive or reject belief in God on these grounds.

One last thing. Like anyone who comes to faith in God, the moment of salvation is completely by the power of the Holy Spirit. We cannot do this on our own. We cannot have our sense of God repaired and our souls redeemed, unless by the working of the Holy Spirit in our hearts.

So whether someone has an intellectual disability or not, we need the Holy Spirit during this transformation from death to life. From disbelief to genuine belief in the one true, triune God. Without the Holy Spirit, we cannot be born again. But by the power of God the Father in Christ Jesus through the work of the Holy Spirit, we can all be born again. We can all be made alive in Christ. With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless.

Footnotes

  1. Earlier in this chapter, Plantinga defines sensus divinitatis as “a disposition or set of dispositions to form theistic beliefs in various circumstances, in response to the sorts of conditions or stimuli that trigger the working of this sense of divinity (p. 173).” This sense of divinity or this sense of God is the bedrock for which the A/C Model hinges on and is one of the main themes discussed in Warranted Christian Belief, along with the rest of Plantinga’s Warrant trilogy. The name sensus divinitatis was originally penned by a French theologian named John Calvin.
  2. It is possible that my original diagnosis of high spectrum autism disorder by Stanford University may have been a mistake. As Thomas Sowell argues, a number of cases in the past that were diagnosed as ADD, Autism, and so on could have been just children with what he dubs “Einstein Syndrome.” Also known as late-talkers, Einstein Syndrome is named after Albert Einstein due to a theory that he began to talk at a later age than usual due to certain portions of his brain developing faster than normal. If a child’s parents are extremely gifted in mathematics or music, then the child may be more likely to be a late-talker, according to Sowell. To learn more, click here.
  3. https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/why-was-this-child-born-blind

Don’t Judge Me By The Color Of My Eyes

Updated: 5/27/2019

A while ago, my older brother John wrote a really powerful Facebook post about the state of racism in the world. He considered the matter and concluded that racism is nothing more than a categorical error. The idea that because of a sole variable (i.e. the color of one’s skin), those that share that variable are less than those who do not have that variable (i.e. those of a dissimilar skin color).

Even if both groups shared almost every other variable (i.e. culture, DNA, religion, etc), they were and are still identified by a variable that bears little to no significance when compared to more appropriate labels of identification like one’s birthplace or cultural upbringing. With his permission and in light of the anniversary of Martin Luther King Day, I wanted to share his thoughts with you (1). So, let’s see what he said.

I’ve heard so much talk lately about “black” people and “white” people. Unfortunately, every single post has missed the point entirely. We live in a world where we’ve been taught to categorize by color. A process that if not taught to you since you were born, would make absolutely no sense. In fact, you would find it ridiculous because if you step back and think about it, color does not represent anything.

You would never consider categorizing people by eye color. It would be so stupid to even try. Close your eyes for a second and try to imagine a world where people were categorized by eye color. The whole idea is just stupid, right? Well, open your eyes. This is your reality.

So why don’t you even give it a second thought when someone says “white” or “black” people? The very moment that you define someone by their skin is discriminatory. That is the birth of racism. Allow me to explain.

The deep rooted problem lies in our fundamental thinking process that we all are guilty of being indoctrinated into believing. Somewhere in our messed up ideology we discarded categorizing other people by real connections like culture and heritage. Instead, we have substituted appropriate labels with something more superficial and shallow: the color of our skin.

The way we use the word color itself is ridiculous. Everyone’s a different shade of brown. Have you ever actually seen a person with white or black skin? Me neither.

Also, the word “race” is entirely incorrect in the context that we use it in when talking about people. If there is no biological difference between people of different shades, then there is only one race. I’ll say it again. If there is no biological difference between people of different shades, then there is only one race: the human race.

If you really break it down, there is only one thing that people of the same skin shades have in common: the way society views and treats them. This is the only thing that creates the bond between people who look similar and separates those who look different. But the way society treats you has entirely nothing to do with you.

Now we’re back to agreeing that there is really no difference, except the one that we created in our minds. So I leave you with this: as long as you yourself define people by categories of skin “color,” you are reinforcing racism. If you want to change society, then you must first change the way you think.

Again, I love what John wrote about this issue. Really spoke to me and I hope it speaks to you in light of MLK Day. So what’s the takeaway from this Facebook post written by John?

If you change the way you think, then you will naturally change the way you speak. Don’t judge others by the color of their eyes or skin, but instead judge them by the inner condition of their identity. Now before you go, here is some more food for thought from two very important men in history speaking on the same subject:

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” – Christ Jesus (NRSV John 7:24)

With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless.

Footnotes

  1. John also gave me permission to make minor edits that help fit the format of a blog-post, as well as fix any grammatical errors present in his original Facebook post.
  2. For more from John Cribari, here’s his personal training business: https://lessons.com/ca/simi-valley/personal-training/cribari-training
  3. Disclaimer

Three Trees

Photo Cred: (1) | Updated: 5/27/2019

This is a tale of three trees.

One tree grants the beholder immortality,

While another gives knowledge of morality.

This tale begins in a garden.

At first there is only a human,

But he becomes accompanied by the mother of women.

As the two wander,

They begin to wonder,

And curiosity begets the female traveler.

For of the three trees, only one came with a warning.

The tree of life being one of the many meant for eating.

But the tree of good and evil symbolized mankind’s future erring,

With the underpinnings of sinning.

For the serpent of old has arrived,

Bringing with him his own pride,

That so happens to be why he died.

With the snake slithering past every leaf,

Is the ever encroaching presence of the prince of thieves.

As the cunning snake dangles downward,

The woman ever so slowly goes forward.

As the Devil invites her to taste and see,

She avoids her chance to run and flee.

With the slither of Satan’s lies,

Came Eve’s enraptured eyes.

As she aspires to be wise,

Her desires begin to rise.

The fruit is within Eve’s hand,

As she is one bite away from being damned.

With the very first bite,

Eve realizes that the Devil was right!

For when she ate of the fruit,

Eve soon discovered this strange compute.

From knowing only good,

The woman has only added fire to wood.

As the decay began that day,

Eve no longer had a say.

Her goodness had been tainted by sin,

And too would it be in all humans built-in.

Once sin took its foothold,

Eve did not want to stand alone in the cold.

So she gave to her man,

And suddenly took his unblemished lifespan.

Pretty soon the two were no longer good,

Yet if they could go back they would.

But it is too late now,

For man is now putting his hand to the plow.

For we are dust,

All because of lust.

To dust we shall return,

Before some will forever burn.

Although a few will get to waltz into a glorious new home,

Far more beautiful than the pinnacle of Rome.

This new home is for the Christian,

And with every fleeting moment there is a new addition,

Due to the adherence to the Great Commission.

For Adam gave life to sin in every human,

While Jesus gave His life for sin that we can be born again.

He did this so that we might be grafted into salvation,

In order to bring about the redemption of His Creation.

Since the day we brought forth this ruckus,

The Father has sought to bring about justice.

So the Father sent His Son Jesus,

To save us from the Fall in Genesis.

You see he died on the third tree,

A cross that changed history,

Jesus atoned for all on Calvary.

This all began because of a choice between two trees,

And the choice was left to Eve.

So when the snares of sin come swarming like bees,

Consider the consequences of your actions please.

Footnotes

  1. The Three Trees (1643) by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn

Why I Am Not A Calvinist

Photo Cred: (1) | Updated: 5/21/2019

 In the first installment of my “Why I Am” series, I will be giving three brief reasons as to why I do not adhere to the Judeo-Christian school of thought known as Calvinism. As I have studied and read about Calvinism, there have been many sources I have used to write this blog-post. Some of these sources were Norman Geisler’s sermon called “Why I Am Not a 5 Point Calvinist” (2), George L. Bryson’s book on Calvinism (3), and Tim Stratton’s 4-part series “The Petals Drop” on his website (4). There were other resources, but these were the main three that inspired me to write this blog-post.

So what is Calvinism exactly? Calvinism is a type of Christian doctrine created in the 16th Century by the French Theologian John Calvin to answer how God’s Sovereignty and Humanity’s Free Will coexist together. There are five main parts to Calvinism. According to gotquestions.org (5), Calvinism can be summarized by the acronym TULIP and is defined as the following:

  1. Total Depravity: “Every aspect of humanity is tainted by sin; therefore, human beings are unable to come to God on their own accord.”
  2. Unconditional Election: “God elects individuals to salvation based entirely on His will, not on anything inherently worthy in the individual.”
  3. Limited Atonement: “Jesus only died for the elect.”
  4. Irresistible Grace: “When God calls a person to salvation, that person will inevitably come to salvation.”
  5. Perseverance of the Saints: “A person who is elected by God will persevere in faith and will not permanently deny Christ or turn away from Him.”

In other words, a Calvinist is a Christian that sees everything with an over-emphasis on God’s Sovereignty, which entails either a deterministic or compatibilistic philosopical view of the world. Here is a quick illustration that I made to put into perspective where Calvinism stands in the grand spectrum of the issue of God’s Sovereignty vs. Humanity’s Free Will within Christianity:

God's Sovereignty & Humanity's Free Will- 6 Stances

One last thing is that when I refer to a Calvinist or Calvinism, I am referring to a 5-Point Calvinist. Not those that claim to be any combination that is short of a 5-Point Calvinist like a 4-Point Calvinist or a 2-Point Calvinist. But the whole point of the 5 points of Calvinism is that they are supposed to work together like the pillars to a building. By removing one point you fracture the legitimacy of the other four points and the foundation of Calvinism in general because they were designed by John Calvin to work together, not to work independently of each other. With that said, let’s look at my objections and see why I am not a Calvinist.

1) Calvinism is Great Exegesis Without Hermeneutics

In general, with the Calvinistic perspective on Scripture, there are massive misinterpretations of certain passages within the Bible. Most notably, Scriptures such as Romans chapters 9-11, John chapter 6, Ephesians 1:1-4, and the list goes on. In contrast, there are Scriptures like 1 John 2:2, Romans 1:16-17, or 1 Timothy 2:3-6 that explicitly go against Calvinism. Put simply, context is key and exegesis without context is like a madman with a sword.

2) Calvinism Makes Sharing the Gospel Logically Incoherent

If you think about the Gospel from the Calvinist perspective, Jesus only came to save the elect, only the elect will go to Heaven, and only the elect will get saved. So then sharing the Gospel becomes useless and pointless because those who are predestined to go to Heaven will go to Heaven and those who are predestined to go to Hell will go to Hell, while at the same time you have no say in the matter.  As Bryson put it in his book, The Five Points of Calvinism, “You will be saved or damned for all eternity because you were saved or damned from all eternity.” (Bryson, 121). Although some of the most prominent preachers have been Calvinists like Charles Spurgeon, their actions are not logically consistent with determinism. It is the equivalent of preaching to tombstones because no matter what some people are just doomed to damnation because it somehow glorifies God.

3) Calvinism Makes God the Author of Evil

If God is completely sovereign, then from the Calvinistic perspective God is the author of evil because He brought it into existence. This goes against everything that characterizes God as worthy of worship and completely good. How can a perfect being bring about imperfection? Only through the Calvinistic perspective is this possible because God is the cause of everything that exists including evil, instead of Eve and Lucifer bringing sin into God’s creation by going against God in their own free will. Philosopher William Lane Craig on the subject of Calvinism once said “according to this view (causal determinism and compatibilism), the way in which God sovereignly controls everything that happens is by causing it to happen, and freedom is re-interpreted to be consistent with being causally determined by factors outside oneself (6).”

So since God is ultimately the first cause of everything, God is therefore the author of evil and good. Something that is completely contradictory to the Bible and Judeo-Christianity as a whole. There are even Calvinist’s that affirm that God is the author of evil. People like R.C. Sproul Jr. affirm this idea of God being the author of evil several times throughout his book (7) that deals with this issue.

Now these are just 3 of many objections I have to Calvinism and are just reasons as to why I do not affirm to be Calvinist. Other objections I have include sin being excusable or God lying to people in the Bible, but that would take awhile to explain every objection I have to Calvinism, so for the sake of time I only chose 3 objections. Hopefully, this helps you with understanding this issue and maybe one day you can decide where you stand on the issue of how God’s Sovereignty and Humanity’s Free Will interact together. My advice for those of you do not understand this issue quite yet is to just believe what the Bible affirms: 1) that God is Sovereign and 2) that humans have Free Will. This is the safest stance concerning this issue because it is strictly Biblical avoids the gridlock nature of philosophical schools of thought like Calvinism among others. With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless!

Footnotes

  1. https://restorethegospel.wordpress.com/2009/11/19/a-conversation-about-calvinism-and-arminianism/
  2. https://youtu.be/fPpkSiO1Ci
  3. The Five Points of Calvinism, George L. Bryson
  4. http://freethinkingministries.com/the-petals-drop-why-calvinism-is-impossible/
  5. https://www.gotquestions.org/Calvinism-vs-Arminianism.html
  6. http://www.reasonablefaith.org/molinism-vs-calvinism
  7. http://www.reclaimingthemind.org/blog/2008/09/taking-calvinism-too-far-rc-sproul-jr%E2%80%99s-evil-creating-deity/http://amzn.to/2xM4F1Q
  8. Disclaimer