Category Archives: Tough Questions

How I deal with the tough questions of life and faith.

There are no unplanned pregnancies

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Yesterday was Mother’s Day 2005, and I preached a message on three women in the beginning of the gospel of Luke—Elizabeth, Mary, and Anna. While I was preparing for the message; though, God helped me to understand something that I had never really seen before. There are no unplanned pregnancies.

This was a profound thought to me, but consider with me why I can make such a claim based on the teaching of the Bible.

  1. Elizabeth, and many other women in the Bible were barren until it was God’s time to give them a very special child (Luke 1:5-25)
  2. The Bible teaches us that God is ultimately behind everything that happens.

Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails.
Proverbs 19:21

  1. The Savior of the World came into being as an unexpected pregnancy.

We can so often think of the events of this world as if they are all up to the whims of human beings. Even Christians and other religious people can easily forget that there is another will at work in this world. It is God’s will, and his will is ultimately what will happen.

Now of course, there are always the questions of “Why do bad things happen to good people?” and I’ll address that in more detail at another time, but one question we can address is this: if God is always in control, and if God’s plans are the ones that always succeed, then from God’s perspective, there are no unplanned pregnancies, so what about…. (fill in the blank with your own “unplanned” pregnancy idea).

God has a plan for every baby.

I know there are many times when a woman gets pregnant without actually planning to be pregnant, but that doesn’t make the baby unplanned. I believe that God has a plan for every single baby. Here are my reasons:

I have 2 parents. I have 4 grandparents. I have 8 great-grandparents. I have 16 great-great-grandparents. They have 32 parents. They have 64 parents. They have 128 parents. They have 256! If I consider only the past 20 generations of my family tree, I have over two million total parents! Here’s my point. Out of two million parents, I am certain that at least one of those pregnancies was “unexpected” by the parents involved. And yet, the Bible tells me that God has a purpose for my life. Therefore, if God has a purpose for my life, then God had a plan to bring that particular baby into the world at that particular time so that someday, he could work out his purpose for me!

If I believe that I have a purpose and that God has a plan for my life, then I must believe that every single pregnancy in my family tree was planned by God.

Additionally, I’m a white man descended from European blood, and back in the middle ages, there was a great deal of warfare and barbarism going on in Europe. In fact, I can almost guarantee that one of my moms in my family tree got pregnant with a child as the result of an abusive situation or perhaps even a rape.

What does all this mean? Biblically, every child has a purpose and no child is unplanned—consider that the Savior of the world chose to be born as an unexpected pregnancy! Practically, I have a purpose for my being here, but I don’t have the right to claim that any other child doesn’t.

But what about…

Let me cut to the chase. Let’s deal with some terrible examples.

You tell me about any pregnancy. I know there are some “trouble” issues when it comes to issues of abortion, so let’s consider the worst possible situations a mom could be placed in.

  • A woman is raped and becomes pregnant.
  • A woman becomes pregnant and the baby is threatening the mother’s life.
  • A woman is pregnant and the doctors have determined that the baby has severe deformities that will diminish that child’s “quality of life” severely.

I claim that in each case, God can still have a purpose and a plan for that baby.

  • Perhaps the baby is in the womb of the raped woman because God wants to give her something beautiful out of the tragedy.
  • Perhaps God wants to teach someone about the beauty of forgiveness.
  • Perhaps God wants to teach someone about unconditional love.
  • Perhaps God allows for an ectopic pregnancy today to prevent ovarian cancer in the future.

Now, I believe that there are some biblical grounds for terminating a pregnancy in the rare case of a mom’s life being severely threatened as in an ectopic pregnancy, but in every other case, I think it’s time for us to realize that there are no unplanned pregnancies, and we should let God’s plan work itself out until it becomes clear what it was or we can ask him ourselves face to face.

Never forget Jesus

More than anything, our God is a God who turns terrible evil into glorious good. After all, he is the one that brought forgiveness to the world through the tragic and evil crucifixion of Jesus.

The next time you encounter a situation that seems evil to you, ask God to give you patience and wisdom to someday see the good he will bring out of it.

The next time you encounter a woman who is debating abortion, encourage her to trust in a God who has a plan for her and for her unborn baby.

Nothing surprises him.

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A church that impresses a geek!

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I can’t believe this!

I just saw this post (don’t ask me how I found it) about a fellow who calls himself a technology evangelist. He recently visited a church in Texas and writes about his experience on his blog. You have to check this out. I couldn’t believe the insights he gleaned and the positive experience he had at this church from a technology point of view. Now, he didn’t mention anything about the spiritual impact of the service. Hmmm… Anyway, check out the post!

Scobleizer: Microsoft Geek Blogger

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The Resurrection of Jesus (Easter 2005)

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Every year at this time, I begin to think critically about the resurrection of Jesus. Yeah, you heard me right. I said, “_critically_”. Just because I’m a pastor, that doesn’t mean I accept everything in the Bible without thinking about it too. I’m a thinker, I majored in mathematics and philosophy at [Wheaton College][1], and I’m deeply concerned with how things work. Therefore, I think deeply about the resurrection of Jesus.

One of the things I do each Easter is to try to come up with the single most reasonable explanation for the resurrection story that doesn’t include an actual resurrection. In other words, each Easter, I try to disprove the resurrection to myself. If I can come up with the best counter-argument, and then show how it is insufficient, my belief in the resurrection will be confirmed again in me with enough strength to let me present an Easter message with confidence and conviction.

This year, I have been studying the Gospel of Mark, and I’ve come up with my best and most plausible counter-argument to the resurrection that I’ve ever had. (Of course, I always think that each year’s argument is better than the previous one.) Here it is…

####Joseph of Arimathea Faked the Burial

Many theories have been proposed throughout the years to account for the resurrection stories, but there is always one incontrovertible issue that they must all deal with—the tomb was empty on Sunday morning.

There are many ways that the tomb could have been empty.

* Jesus could have been truly resurrected and left the tomb in one way or another.
* Jesus could have been resuscitated somehow after having only “swooned” on the cross and was never really dead in the first place.
* Jesus’ body could have been “dissolved” in some spiritual way similar to the way Yoda or Obi-Wan Kenobi “die” in the _Star Wars_ movies.
* Jesus’ body could have been stolen from the tomb by someone.

However, all of them have weaknesses in the argument that others have dealt with at length. You can see the links below for some other websites that deal with these issues. (I have never seen a website that addressed the _Star Wars_ theory, but then again, I don’t think it really matters!)

Just this week, though, I thought of another possibility. What if Jesus’ dead body had never been placed in the tomb in the first place?

There are three specific times during the biblical account where there is the greatest potential for deception.

1. During Saturday night when there was a small attachment of guards on duty and no one else around. This is when the “stealing” of the body is supposed to have taken place. Last year, my theory was that one of the soldiers himself had done the “stealing” while it was his watch and the others were sleeping.
2. During Friday afternoon after Jesus was buried and before the guard arrived. There is no evidence that there was any delay between those periods of time, though there might have been. The biggest problem with this idea, though, is that there simply weren’t any of Jesus’ followers who were willing to show their faces in broad daylight on the day Jesus was crucified.
3. During the time after Jesus was taken off the cross and before the body was placed in the tomb.

My counter-argument for Easter 2005 takes place during time period #3, and it centers on the activity of Joseph of Arimathea.

All four gospels agree on a man named Joseph from Arimathea who approached Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus (Matthew 27:57-61, Mark 15:42-47, Luke 23:50-56, John 19:38-42). Taken together, they teach us that he was a rich member of the Jewish council but had disagreed with the crucifixion of Jesus and was secretly a follower of Jesus.

All four Gospels agree that Pilate granted the request and gave Joseph leave to take the body of Jesus. After that, we are told that Joseph wrapped the body in clean linen and placed it in a new tomb. We are told that some women were there watching where the body was placed, but we are not told that they witnessed the preparation of the body.

However, this may have been an opportunity for Joseph to play a little trick. Here’s the scenario I’ve come up with. Joseph took the body off the cross and into a room to “prepare it for burial” where he actually got a co-conspirator who was still alive to consent to being wrapped in graveclothes. After placing the decoy in the new tomb, Joseph would use his considerable wealth and influence to find an alternate place to bury the real body in an inconspicuous and unmarked grave. The plan could then have been that after a couple days (according to a prediction Jesus had made), Joseph or someone else would return to open the grave, and the co-conspirator could walk out unwrapped from the linen, but dressed in white acting like an angelic messenger proclaiming that Jesus had risen from the dead or perhaps acting like the resurrected Jesus himself who had been “transformed” in physical appearance. After all, we are told that people who saw the resurrected Jesus didn’t recognize him at first.

####I don’t believe it.

This is the best scenario I’ve come across yet to explain the resurrection as a “hoax”; however, I’m not convinced by it for a few of reasons:

* The Gospel of John tells us that Nicodemus helped Joseph to wrap Jesus’ body together with nearly 100 pounds of spices. Therefore, at least three people were in on the conspiracy, and the likelihood of it remaining secret is reduced with each new person added. Additionally, the tight wrapping of the graveclothes with the profound amount of pungent spices was quite likely to endanger the life of the one who had consented to being wrapped up.
* We are also told that the women took a serious interest in the burial procedures for Jesus. It doesn’t seem likely that they would have allowed Jesus’ body to be out of their site for the length of time it would have taken to prepare this ruse.
* This scenario doesn’t do anything to explain the numerous accounts of personal encounters people had with the resurrected Jesus. Sure, the people didn’t recognize the resurrected Jesus at first, but all of them became convinced that it was really him, and they became convinced enough to die for their claim that they had seen a living and breathing Jesus three days or more after he had been crucified. Thomas also could claim to have touched the holes in the hands and the side of Jesus. Such things would have been difficult for an imposter to fabricate.
* Finally, it was well known that Joseph of Arimathea was a member of the high council and also the one who administered the burial of Jesus. If there had been any opportunity for deception, he would have been the first person to be interrogated about it by the council. Therefore, it’s most reasonable to assume that Jesus’ body was not prepared for burial privately but that there were a number of witnesses to his preparation and burial.

None of the “hoax” descriptions of the resurrection are convincing to me. Don’t get me wrong. I find the whole resurrection account amazing and almost unbelievable, but whatever doubts I have are because of my inherent, human, North American doubt in the reality of the supernatural and not because of any historical evidence. The evidence of the Bible, the witnesses, and the history still convinces me that the resurrection is real, and if it’s real, it must make a difference in my life!

The resurrection tells me that Jesus is who he claimed to be—the divine Son of God.

The resurrection tells me that Jesus has conquered death and the sin which causes it.

The resurrection gives me the hope that one day, I too will experience resurrection.

>Acts 2:32, 36 — God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact… Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.

>1 Corinthians 15:20-23 — But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.

>1 Peter 1:3-4 — Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you.


####Links to other sites

Here are some quick links to interesting websites on this topic.

* A [great article][2] at [answers2prayer.org][3] from the Evangelical Christian viewpoint.
* A [detailed article][4] at [laborlawtalk.com][5] attempting to address all sides of the issue.
* A poorly documented but [interesting sermon][6] at [exchangedlife.com][7] discussing many aspects of the resurrection and raising some controversial claims about non-christian support for the resurrection.
* Some anecdotal information on the Catholic Church’s tradition of what happened to Joseph of Arimathea is [here][8], [here][9], and [here][10].

[1]: http://www.wheaton.edu
[2]: http://www.answers2prayer.org/bible_studies/jesus/
[3]: http://www.answers2prayer.org
[4]: http://encyclopedia.laborlawtalk.com/Resurrection_of_Jesus
[5]: http://encyclopedia.laborlawtalk.com
[6]: http://www.exchangedlife.com/Sermons/Psalms/psalm_22.shtml
[7]: http://www.exchangedlife.com
[8]: http://www.lundyisleofavalon.co.uk/godsetc/joseph.htm
[9]: http://myweb.tiscali.co.uk/tradition/booklet.htm
[10]: http://asis.com/~stag/glastonb.html

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Questions on Tithing

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This last Sunday, a lady in my church gave me a blue card with some questions on it regarding tithing. Since my email to her was rather long-winded, I thought I would share some of those thoughts here.

Deuteronomy 26:2-15

  1. Verse 2 says to take “some” of the firstfruits. What happens to the rest? Is it sacrificed?
  2. Verse 12 talks about tithing every 3 years. What’s up with that?

The Old Testament teaching on the tithe was quite a bit more complicated than the simple 10% that is advocated these days. In fact, some estimates have the ancient Jews giving roughly 30% of their income back to God through sacrifices and other forms of worship. Nevertheless, there are three key principles that today we lump together into what we call tithing.

  1. Firstborn. (Exodus 13:1-16) God claims for himself the firstborn male of every womb. Firstborn animals are to be sacrificed, but firstborn sons are to be “redeemed” by substituting another sacrifice or by giving roughly 10 ounces of silver to the high priests (Numbers 3).

  2. Firstfruits. (Exodus 23:19; Deuteronomy 18:1-4 & 26:1-11) God claims the best of the first produce of the land for himself. Nowhere does he tell how much of the firstfruits belong to him. Nowhere does he say how long it takes for the “firstfruits” to end and the regular harvest to begin.

  3. Tithe. (Leviticus 27:30-33; Numbers 18:26-29) The tithe specifically refers to a tenth of the produce and is intended to be an easily computed amount that also equalizes people of different economic status. For animals, the tithe means that as the sheep enter the pen, you simply count them off and every tenth one is set aside for the tithe. It’s probably best to understand the tithe as a method to quantify how much of the “firstfruits” should be given to God.

When Deuteronomy 26:2-15 says to take “some” of the firstfruits, what happens to the rest? This particular passage is talking about the very first crop to produce fruit after the Israelites enter the promised land. Putting some firstfruits in a basket and taking them all the way to Jerusalem is a symbolic gesture specifically for that very first harvest. The rest of the firstfruits would be handled just like the firstfruits would be at any ordinary year. How were they handled? The answer to that will also address your second question regarding the tithing every three years thing.

The tithe, the firstfruits, and the firstborn all belong to God. But God commanded them to be used together for three specific purposes:

  1. Celebratory worship
  2. Supporting the Levites (vocational ministers)
  3. Supporting the poor

You can see these three themes in Deuteronomy 14 which directly addresses the tithe.

From Deuteronomy 14:22-29.

Be sure to set aside a tenth of all that your fields produce each year. Eat the tithe of your grain, new wine and oil, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks in the presence of the LORD your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name, so that you may learn to revere the LORD your God always. But if that place is too distant and you have been blessed by the LORD your God and cannot carry your tithe (because the place where the LORD will choose to put his Name is so far away), then exchange your tithe for silver, and take the silver with you and go to the place the LORD your God will choose. Use the silver to buy whatever you like: cattle, sheep, wine or other fermented drink, or anything you wish. Then you and your household shall eat there in the presence of the LORD your God and rejoice. And do not neglect the Levites living in your towns, for they have no allotment or inheritance of their own.

At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year’s produce and store it in your towns, so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the aliens, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.

Every year, the tithe is to be enjoyed and celebrated in Jerusalem. However, the local Levites in one’s home town were to be remembered each year as well. Additionally, once every three years, a person’s tithe should not be eaten in Jerusalem but should be storehoused in his home town to take care of both the Levites and the poor.

These same three themes appear in the passages on the firstfruits and the firstborn.

(It’s also important to know that the poor people (who have no income of their own) are not commanded to tithe, but the Levites are commanded to obey all three (tithe, firstfruits, and firstborn) by giving their portion to the high priests at Jerusalem. One final thing to note is that Jesus reaffirms the tithe but never directly addresses the other two, so it seems that the tithe principle might encompass the other two.)

As I understand it, all these principles can be summarized like this.

  • A portion of the first and the best of everything that enters my household should be returned to God. In our money economy, a tithe off my gross income should be considered the baseline starting point.
  • My tithe should be used to directly support local vocational ministers (the Levites), to help the poor people in my town, and to give my family positive worship experiences. In a healthy church, these things can be accomplished by giving the entire tithe to the church.
  • Both ministers and ministries should also “tithe upward” from their income to regional bodies.

Nevertheless, the best news about tithing should always be remembered that God promises great blessings to those who are faithful with the tithe.

Deuteronomy 14:29

…so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands…

Malachi 3:10

Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.

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