FRONT PAGE - here you will find the last 20 postings about recent conversations. Please pray for these people!

Equity of Opportunity or Equity of Outcome?

1/2/21      Jason (see HERE)


Equity of opportunity or equity of outcome?

What does that even mean?  This is a question that’s been tossed around lately, and it’s actually at the heart of many of the political differences we are experiencing.  A recent Gospel outreach conversation I had with a young man named Jason got me thinking about that, and though we were talking about religion I think there are some answers for politics as well.

We know there is inequity everywhere in our society, not to mention in the entire world.  Many well-meaning people want to make the world a better place by working toward a more equitable society, but often disagree bitterly on exactly how that should be done.

One side says the problem of inequity has mainly to do with our society, and if we can change our political and economic systems, we can create an equitable outcome for everyone regardless of whether they are from a privileged background or not.

Another side says the problem of inequity is mainly one of personal responsibility, and that if individuals work on the content of their character, say, on developing a strong work ethic and making positive moral choices, they can take advantage of whatever opportunities they have regardless of whatever hand they’ve be dealt.

Which approach is the best?  Both sides have inherent flaws.  Those working toward equity of outcome often find they have to categorize people using outward characteristics such as race or handicaps in order to use government control to give artificial advantage to those groups with perceived disadvantages.  They blame racism and prejudice for many of the problems of inequality, but then end up trying to use forms of racism and prejudice to solve them.

Those who believe in equity of opportunity must face the fact that many are born with fewer opportunities than others through no fault of their own.  As much as each person is responsible for taking advantage of whatever opportunity they do have, still it’s the fault of the society they are born into that there is so much inequity of opportunity to begin with.  Much as they might say the competition of a free market creates a natural reward system for innovation and hard work, still some government is needed to make that system fair and opportunities equitable.

So what does the Bible have to say about it?  When I was talking with Jason I was thinking about Jesus’ parable of the talents in Matthew 25 which describes what the Kingdom of Heaven will be like:  “It will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey.”

Each servant was “dealt a hand” with different amounts of gold to work with, and the hand the first man was dealt was to be the master over them all and owner of a great deal of wealth.  No equity of opportunity here! 

The parable goes on to describe how the first two servants used the opportunities they had been given to double their money, and they were rewarded with even more responsibility while the third servant wasted the opportunity he had been given and was punished.

I believe a major point of this parable is we can expect neither equity of outcome nor equity of opportunity in life, but that the One to whom we are accountable and the One who matters the most treats us according to what we have done with whatever hand we have been dealt, no matter what the rest of the world says about it.

In Luke 12:48, Jesus said “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”  Interestingly, He chose not to say the obvious opposite, that “from those who have been given little, little will be demanded.”  I’m thinking Jesus didn’t want anyone to focus on how little they have, for we are all given some level of opportunity to take advantage of, whether others think they are equitable or not. 

I think this is what Martin Luther King was referring to in his famous quote about the dignity of work:  “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, 'Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”

What matters is not what we do that is important, but rather what He to whom we are accountable thinks of it.  And no matter what sort of opportunity we have to work with, we all have to opportunity to hear the words of our Heavenly Father: “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

So, imperfect as they both are, which of the two political goals are most biblical; equity of opportunity or equity of outcome?  I hope its as obvious to you as it seems to me.

Thanks, Jason, for allowing me to record our conversation.  It can be seen on my Youtube channel.     


https://youtu.be/l3BKFUunQzM

 

Baseless Claims, Evidence, and Proof

 12/20   Ishmael  (see HERE)

There is a big difference between “evidence” and “proof”, and I think many of our difficulties with both religion and politics could be much better understood if we use these terms correctly.
“Proof” is defined as “evidence or argument establishing or helping to establish a fact or the truth of a statement” whereas “evidence” is defined as “the available body of facts or information indicating whether a belief or proposition is true or valid.”
They are very similar but different. “Proof” is generally not something that can fit in a soundbite, or even within the attention span of the average sceptic. It is made up of the sum total of a body of evidence, and in my opinion, it is almost impossible to establish, even in science. The whole post-modern movement exists because long-held physical “laws” are being undermined. Scientist are increasingly being reminded that they can’t afford the arrogance of certainty.
So I never claim “proof” in my Gospel outreach conversations, but I do claim to provide evidence, which Pastor Tim Keller wisely calls “clues”. In a court of law, both the defense and the prosecution build a body of evidence for their respective claims, and the judge or jury weigh the evidence, pro and con, and declare a verdict. Rarely would one claim that the other side has absolutely “no evidence”. Both sides usually have reasonable evidence; it’s just that one side has more than the other.
Yet that is what I see in arguments for both religion and politics. Usually what people mean when they say there is “not a shred of evidence” or “baseless claims” is that they see no evidence that they are willing to consider or accept according to their personal “scepto-meter”, due to their strong commitment to a certain position.
A young man named Ishmael, for example, claimed he would start believing in God as soon as he saw “proof”. My usual response is that as a Christian I can’t “prove” God exists, but that there is enough evidence that we can have “reasonable faith”, as opposed to the blind faith that Christians are so often accused of.
The Bible and Romans 1 in particular tells us that God gives us all the evidence we need for that reasonable faith, but it never tells the sceptic will get all the evidence he wants. In my experience, even if a sceptic does get the proof he requires, he would just dismiss it by quickly moving the goalposts.
For most controversial truth claims, circumstantial evidence and eyewitness accounts aren’t enough to convince the opposing view. Casual arguments rely on expert testimony, which can be detailed and time-consuming to consider. So the argument quickly devolves into a contest of “my favorite expert versus yours”.
In person, I for one can’t remember all the details of the arguments my favorite experts give that were so convincing at the time I read them, so I end up making claims that I can’t quickly back up in a sound bite. Online, our opponents are rarely willing to read the convincing but lengthy sources we link them to.
I believe the best approach is usually to present our view along with a reasonable amount of evidence to at least show our claims aren’t baseless, and to demonstrate we understand the opposing view and have considered that evidence also. But before we do that we need to prove ourselves to be careful, active listeners, and to ask sincere clarifying questions.
I hope we can all learn to stop talking past each other, to quit trying to convince each other of our position in a slam dunk (otherwise known as shoving our view down their throats), but also to stop retreating to our polarized safe zones and avoiding and even condemning dissenting opinions. We as a culture, especially in this age of social media algorithms, must make an effort to engage in civil conversations that help us to stop demonizing the other side but to better understand both our differences and the many things we still have in common.
Thanks for allowing me to record our conversation, Ishmael! It can be seen on my YouTube channel.

https://youtu.be/8inuD2GmYX8




Why Would You Need Jesus?

12/20 Dolly (see HERE)

“If you could get to heaven by being a good person, why would you need Jesus?” I asked Dolly, a young person I found sitting on a bench outside of a grocery store. Dolly said she had attended a Christian church, believes in God and that she will go to heaven because she hadn’t done any of the real bad things that could send a person to hell.
In her view, Jesus basically came to teach us and to set an example for us to follow, which is why I asked her whether she even needed Jesus for salvation. Anyone with a reasonable church background has heard growing up that “Jesus died for your sins”, but what does that really mean? Why would the obscure death of a Jewish itinerate preacher on a cross 2000 years ago in a remote Roman province have anything to do with our forgiveness here in America today?
Everything. Jesus lived and taught the moral law of God as revealed in the Jewish scriptures so that we might have a mirror in which to see ourselves, not in comparison to other people but in comparison to God’s holy standard. And if we are brave enough to take an honest look at ourselves in that mirror, we will see that we can’t possibly measure up to that standard. Romans 3 tells us “…no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin”.
God’s law, then, helps us; not because by following it we can be saved, but because by measuring ourselves by its standard we see our need for a savior. John the Baptist used various commandments to prepare people’s hearts for Jesus, and Jesus did the same with his famous “Sermon on the Mount” in Matthew 5. In it, he told us of an impossible standard: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
But Jesus also taught that what is impossible for man is possible for God. We can’t save ourselves but Jesus can. Romans 3 continues to tell us “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith.”
This all means that as our “sacrifice of atonement”, Jesus took the punishment for our sins in our place. Even though we are guilty and He is innocent, He took the punishment that we deserve. We did the crime, and He paid our fine. But we need to settle out of court, now, today, before that great Day of Judgement arrives. We need the repentance John the Baptist preached to “receive by faith” the gift of our salvation bought with the “shedding of his blood” – which alone can take away our sin and allow us to reach that impossible standard of perfection in God’s sight.
Why do we need Jesus? Better, where would we be without Him? Just something to think about this Christmas as we contemplate the obscure birth of a baby in a manger in a remote Roman province with a little village called Bethlehem, over 2000 years ago.
Thanks, Dolly, for allowing me to record our conversation! It can be seen on my YouTube Channel.

 https://youtu.be/Bad6-Mka4wk

God's Discipline

12.29.20 Nelson (see HERE)

Like many people, we have a “lockdown puppy”, a German schnauzer named Winnie, whom we adopted at the beginning of remote teaching in March. We’ve had many dogs over the years, but Winnie is by far the best trained and most obedient and well-adjusted of them all. This is partly because we’ve learned a few things about training dogs over the years but mainly it’s because we’ve had a lot of time to spend with her in the training process.
A lot of people I’ve met in my outreach conversations have some misunderstandings about God’s discipline, viewing it basically as His “training program” for humans. One such person was a man named Nelson, himself a dog trainer, who stated that he only believes in positive reinforcement, not punishment, for the dogs he trains. And I believe this training philosophy carries over into his beliefs about God as well.
Nelson at first told me he is agnostic, and explained that this means he simply doesn’t know if God exists or what He is like. Yet he went on to state with quite a bit of certainty his ideas about what God does (love and other forms of positive reinforcement) and what God does not do (punishment and other forms of negative correction.)
But God isn’t limited by any human “training program” philosophy, whether it includes both positive and negative reinforcement or not. The problem with putting God’s character in this sort of manmade box is that when God seems to act in ways we believe to be outside of our box, our image of God becomes subject to criticism and, soon after, to unbelief.
A man-centered theology, which believes God exists to serve man, cannot accept that God may have purposes and plans that don’t directly benefit or include ourselves. It can’t accept that God may do things in and around us for which He owes us no explanation. It easily dismisses whatever it can’t understand, as if God needs man’s acceptance or permission to carry out His will.
In Job 38-39, God asks Job 77 rhetorical questions designed to show Job, and us, exactly who we are in relation to our Creator: “Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone—while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?...”
It goes on like this for 2 chapters, and should help us to see that neither you nor I are at the center of God’s universe. I’m not trying to compare us to dogs, but, frankly, the biggest problem with an untrained dog is that he comes to believe he is the center of his own universe, and our puppy Winnie was no exception, smart as she is. But as she undergoes the training process, she is becoming much more content, more assured and confident, and her life will be much happier in the long run, even if she has not understood what I was doing or even thought that I was being demanding or cruel at times.
So who IS at the center of God’s universe? A God-centered theology means just that – God is. We exist to serve Him, not He for us. He wants to be our heavenly Father, and Jesus gives us the perfect example of what it means to be a child of God. On the night He was betrayed, when He was in agonizing prayer contemplating the suffering He was about to face, Jesus prayed “Not my will, but yours be done”.
This kind of discipline, trust and obedience doesn’t happen overnight, but it begins with putting God first rather than ourselves, understanding that He is God, and we are not.
Thanks, Nelson, for allowing me to record our conversation. It can be seen on my YouTube channel.

29 - Gifts of the Holy Spirit Pt. 1 - General Questions

What are spiritual gifts?  How many are there?  Have some gifts ceased?  How do we seek and use spiritual gifts?

 In parts 29 and 30 of our 34-part theology series, we learn about spiritual gifts.  Throughout Church history, the twentieth century in particular has seen a remarkable increase in interest in spiritual gifts, primarily because of the influence of the Pentecostal and charismatic movements within the church.1 In this lesson we will first look at some general questions regarding spiritual gifts, then examine the specific question of whether some (miraculous) gifts have ceased. In the next lesson we will analyze the New Testament teaching about particular gifts. 

 Anyone who reads the Bible on a regular basis has begun to develop a “theology” of who God is and what he has revealed of Himself to man down through history. But is it organized to the point where you can confidently say “this is what the Bible teaches” on a particular topic, or do you just base your beliefs on random verses that could well be misunderstood because they are taken out of context?

 My confidence in going out to share the Gospel with strangers comes largely from my study of “Systematic Theology”, which I’ll define as learning what the whole Bible teaches us about a given topic. I’m confident that I’m not misrepresenting God as revealed in his Word, and I’m confident when people make unbiblical claims about God that challenge my own beliefs. I’m increasingly amazed by the consistency of the Bible, written by so many human authors but without contradiction, that I can only conclude it was written by divine inspiration.

 I’ve gained so much personally from my systematic study of theology that I’m teaching a 34-week class on it at church, based on Dr. Wayne Grudem’s books “Systematic Theology” and “Bible Theology”. I’m excited to dig deeper personally as I prepare the outlines and lessons, and I want to take as many people along with me on this journey as possible. So I am recording the class and posting the videos to my YouTube channel, and making downloadable PDF chapter outlines and audio recordings available on a Google Drive folder as well.

 

Care to join me? Links to my YouTube channel and shared resources are as follows:

Video: YouTube.com/c/JeffReiman

Shared Resources folder: https://tinyurl.com/yxy2kb56  

Direct link to this video:  https://youtu.be/OO63Ab3Qf-k

Karma, or God?

12/20   Josua  (see HERE)

Would you rather have the justice of an impersonal and automatic judge, otherwise known as “karma”, or the mercy of a heavenly Father?

I was talking with a young man named Josua about his beliefs in reincarnation and “karma”, when it occurred to me that karma really isn’t the logical concept many people think it is.  Many are attracted to the idea because it is seen as an equitable and universal system of justice, but reality contradicts that theory.  We all know good people who can’t seem to get a break in life, and bad people who seem to get away with murder.  Even if the wheels of karma justice eventually catch up to everyone, its timing is very inconsistent and arbitrary, and justice delayed is really justice denied.

Not so with the justice of God.  Although we all deserve “instant karma” for our many offenses against His holiness, God instead chooses to give us mercy.  We get the blessing of life we don’t deserve, instead of the curse of death we do deserve.  And the Bible tells us He does this for a reason: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead, he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”

God is not arbitrarily slowing down the wheels of justice – He does so in order to show mercy, that we might have time to repent and turn to Him.  That’s not something karma can decide to do, for by definition karma doesn’t think for itself or feel love or compassion.  Only a kind and gracious heavenly Father can show the kind of mercy required to draw us into a right relationship with Himself, and to help us grow and mature in character once He does.

God’s wisdom also knows the limits of mercy; that it need not continue indefinitely.  Not everyone will come to repentance, and the passage goes on to say He will keep His promise of judgment: - “The day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.”

Karma, or God?  Only One is able to give us the mercy we need, rather than the justice we deserve.

  

Thanks, Josue, for allowing me to record our conversation!  It can be seen on my YouTube channel.      https://youtu.be/CGTHrvKN7HY

 

Fade to Black

12/5/20        Adam (see HERE)
 

Fade to black….

 That’s how an otherwise positive and outgoing young man named Adam described what he believes happens after we die.

 It reminded me of probably the darkest place in the book of Psalms – Psalm 88 – which describes the despair and hopelessness its writer was feeling during a very dark season of life.

 Listen to some of these lines penned several thousand years ago:

 “I am overwhelmed with troubles

    and my life draws near to death.

I am counted among those who go down to the pit;

    I am like one without strength.

I am set apart with the dead,

    like the slain who lie in the grave,

whom you remember no more,

    who are cut off from your care.”

 

“You have put me in the lowest pit,

    in the darkest depths.

Your wrath lies heavily on me;

    you have overwhelmed me with all your waves.

You have taken from me my closest friends

    and have made me repulsive to them.

I am confined and cannot escape;

    my eyes are dim with grief.”

 

It ends with the sad comment “darkness is my closest friend”, which is why Adams “fade to black” comment reminded me of the Psalm.

 Yet, dark as it is, this Psalm has a spark of hope in the midst of the darkness.  Throughout the Psalm, he writes as if God is actually listening.  He knows his words matter.  He might be venting now, but I believe he knows there is light at the end of the tunnel. 

 There are other Psalms in which the writer is obviously venting their frustration and despair to God, but as far as I know Psalm 88 is the only one in which the writer doesn’t somehow resolve his feelings with faith.  In this case, the faith came at the beginning:

 “Lord, you are the God who saves me;

    day and night I cry out to you.

May my prayer come before you;

    turn your ear to my cry.”

 I think Psalm 88 is a powerful reminder that life with God still takes us through many peaks and valleys, like the “Valley of the Shadow of Death” in Psalm 23, sometimes we might see an end to the dark seasons we find ourselves in.

 Sometimes we just need to turn arond from staring out into oblivion, and we find that God was right there with us all along.

 Despite his bleak belief in a future of “fade to black”, our conversation led me to believe that Adam, too, believes that there is a God who is listening, and that his life has significance.  I did my best to try to communicate the good news of hope that is the Gospel. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, even if it hasn’t come into view just yet.

 Thanks, Adam, for allowing me to record our conversation.  It can be seen on my YouTube Channel.  https://youtu.be/BUnq4GIlLfk

One Parachute For Us All


 12/20      Jessica and Ankrit    (See Here)

It was a fun conversation, up there on the hilltop overlooking the Chicago skyline.  Jessica, a non-practicing Catholic, her friend Ankit, a Hindu from India, and myself, a protestant Christian.

It was fun because we felt free to ask questions and learn about one another’s background and perspectives on matters of faith.  Jessica, in particular, stated right up front that she had never felt that freedom to question in her Catholic upbringing, that to ask questions was equivalent to questioning the faith itself.

It was fun because we discovered we had a lot in common, and the areas in which we differed were not threatening to explore.  As people of faith, we weren’t there to argue or question God’s existence, but rather to share how our respective beliefs deal with the fact that we all have a God-given moral conscience, we all rebel against it in some form from time to time. and we all have different beliefs as to how we can be at peace with God despite that fact.

For both Jessica and Ankit, the answer lies in some sort of “balance scale” justice, in which ones good deeds must outweigh the bad, and a continuing series of tests by which one can improve oneself to prove worthy of heaven – for Jessica in this life (and perhaps purgatory though I don’t think she mentioned it) and for Ankit as a Hindu through multiple reincarnations designed to prepare one’s soul for heaven.

This is where biblical Christianity is unique, and I think our conversation remained positive and fun because I tried to approach it from an educational, rather than persuasive, perspective.  It can be a little complicated so I asked for time to explain it (for example, nodding doesn’t necessarily mean one agrees with the various points I was making, but simply that it makes reasonable sense and they understand it.)

The main question I was trying to explain was when Ankit asked “How is it, then, if a Christian already believes they are forgiven and going to heaven, that they don’t just go out and sin at will without any consequences?  What’s to keep Christians from continuing to sin after they’ve been forgiven and saved?

The simple answer, I think, is that we no longer WANT to.  What complicates it is the fact that many who claim to be Christians show by their actions that they do, however, want to continue that sinful lifestyle.  So this means I needed to explain why some people identify as Christians without any understanding of what that really means, and that they usually default to the same sort of “balance scale” belief system that most religions of the world believe in. 

But the Bible tells us that we aren’t doing God any favors by our good deeds; rather, we are only doing what He rightfully expects of us.  James 4:17 tells us “If anyone, then, knows the good they OUGHT to do and doesn't do it, it is sin for them.” 

Ephesians 2:10 tells us these good works are what we were made for: “For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”  So, to do the good we ought to do doesn’t make us a “good person”, it just brings us closer to be fully human the way God intended. 

So contrary to what most religions believe, on a balance scale, we can’t balance outweigh the bad we ought not to do with the good we ought to do anyway.  We are, in effect, morally bankrupt because of our sins, and the bad news is that no amount of good works can save us.  I told Jessica and Ankit that its like falling from an airplane and relying on flapping our arms to keep us from hitting the ground.  No amount of effort can replace the parachute that we really need to save us.

The good news of the Bible is that we do have that parachute in Christ.  Jesus is the Savior sent by God to rescue us, not from the law of gravity but from the law of sin and death. And because He saves us rather than requiring us to save ourselves, when we are born again of the Holy Spirit we are filled with a gratitude that takes away our desire to continue in sin.

There are many religions and the way might seem narrow in that there is but one Savior, but it is wide in that He is able to save all who will trust him.  No matter who it is, no matter what religious background, we all have a common sin problem that has cut us off from a right relationship with God, and we all have a common solution – Jesus, the savior of all mankind.

Galatians 3:28 tells us “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  It could go on to say there is neither Catholic nor Hindu, atheist, nor Baptist, Buddhist nor humanist – there is room at the foot of the cross for us all.

 

Thanks Jessica and Ankrit, for allowing me to record our conversation.  It can be seen on my YouTube channel.     https://youtu.be/h33BrPLcJTM

Questioning the Religion You Were Raised In

 12/20      Justin (see here)

With a world of ideas available to us at our fingertips, more and more young people are questioning the religion they were raised in. “If I was raised in a Muslim family, I’d probably be a Muslim” they argue, and I don’t disagree. Obviously, the religion and culture parents choose to expose their children to have a direct impact on the choices their children make, especially if their children can’t see beyond their limited choices. And I think the Bible agrees also. Proverbs 22:6 says “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” Many Christian parents see this passage as a promise that their efforts to raise their children as Christians will not be in vain. But I think that although the beliefs and values parents instill in their children do have an impact, we shouldn’t see this passage as a God-given guarantee that their children will automatically be Christians also. After all, in the context of other passages concerning salvation, we know that everyone must come to a faith relationship with the Lord personally, such as we read in John 1: “…to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” Maybe to “train up a child” has more to do with biblical knowledge, lifestyle habits, moral values and personal discipline – all of which can be a blessing that will impact that ultimate faith relationship with Christ. And certainly the “effectual fervent prayers of a righteous (parent) availeth much” as parents pray for the salvation of their children. All this to say that I believe God often blesses the efforts of Christian parents with children who eventually do become Christians themselves, and just because children of parents in other religions follow their parent’s beliefs also need not negate this wonderful fact. One of those children, raised in a Christian home and church, was a man named Justin whom I talked with at a local park. Justin isn’t a Christian himself, at least not yet, but I could tell his Christian upbringing has had a deep impact and blessing on his life. He was one of those troubled by the seeming direct connection between the religion we are raised in and that which we adopt as our own. Maybe we need to look at Proverbs 22:6 as a warning as well as a promise: Raise up a child in any one of a number of other religions, or godless, confused, materialistic, or the like, and he too will not depart from it. Proverbs 22:6 is not a set promise but just more of the common sense we find throughout the Book of Proverbs. Parents do have a huge impact on the religious choices of their children. It’s just a fact of life, and in no way negates the wonderful truth of the Gospel. see video HERE


 

 


 

26 - The Nature of the Church


 26 - The Nature of the Church

How can we recognize a true church?  What are the purposes of the church?  What makes a church more or less pleasing to God?

 In part 26 of our 34-part theology series, we learn about the true nature of the Church.  We define the “church” as the community of all true believers for all time. This definition understands the church to be made of all those who are truly saved. Paul says, “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25). Here “the church” is used to apply to all those whom Christ died to redeem, all those who are saved by the death of Christ. But that must include all true believers for all time, both in the New Testament age and in the Old Testament age as well.  So great is God’s plan for the church that he has exalted Christ to a position of highest authority for the sake of the church: “He has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fulness of him who fills all in all” This Doctrine of the Nature of Christ’s Church is but one of 34 lessons in systematic theology.

 Anyone who reads the Bible on a regular basis has begun to develop a “theology” of who God is and what he has revealed of Himself to man down through history. But is it organized to the point where you can confidently say “this is what the Bible teaches” on a particular topic, or do you just base your beliefs on random verses that could well be misunderstood because they are taken out of context?

 My confidence in going out to share the Gospel with strangers comes largely from my study of “Systematic Theology”, which I’ll define as learning what the whole Bible teaches us about a given topic. I’m confident that I’m not misrepresenting God as revealed in his Word, and I’m confident when people make unbiblical claims about God that challenge my own beliefs. I’m increasingly amazed by the consistency of the Bible, written by so many human authors but without contradiction, that I can only conclude it was written by divine inspiration.

 I’ve gained so much personally from my systematic study of theology that I’m teaching a 34-week class on it at church, based on Dr. Wayne Grudem’s books “Systematic Theology” and “Bible Theology”. I’m excited to dig deeper personally as I prepare the outlines and lessons, and I want to take as many people along with me on this journey as possible. So I am recording the class and posting the videos to my YouTube channel, and making downloadable PDF chapter outlines and audio recordings available on a Google Drive folder as well.

 Care to join me? Links to my YouTube channel and shared resources are as follows:

Video: YouTube.com/c/JeffReiman

Shared Resources folder: https://tinyurl.com/yxy2kb56

Lesson 26 - https://youtu.be/YDHNuIR1wDs

Who Shall Be King?

11/20    Alfredo   (see HERE)

“Is it your life, or is it God’s?”

 That was the main question a young man named Alfredo had for me, and it seemed to be the main reason he rejects the Gospel.  “If we are given something”, he reasoned, “shouldn’t we have the right to use it the way we want?”

 Alfredo was very insightful during our conversation in the parking lot outside a fitness club, and I feel like his question gets to the heart of the Gospel.  But I believe the answer isn’t one most people want to hear.

Whose life is this, anyway?

 It’s a question of kingship.  Who sits on the throne of our life?  Are we going to live life on God’s terms, or our own?

 It’s not a new question.  Centuries ago, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon was walking on the roof of the royal palace, and said, “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?”

 Nebuchadnezzar was clearly living life on his own terms, so God decided to intervene and teach him a little common sense: 

 “Even as the words were on his lips, a voice came from heaven, “This is what is decreed for you, King Nebuchadnezzar: Your royal authority has been taken from you. You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like the ox. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes.”  Immediately what had been said about Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled. He was driven away from people and ate grass like the ox. His body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair grew like the feathers of an eagle and his nails like the claws of a bird.

 The once proud king was reduced to living like an animal until the real King deemed that lessons had been learned:  “At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever…. When my sanity returned to me, so did my honor and glory and kingdom. My advisers and nobles sought me out, and I was restored as head of my kingdom, with even greater honor than before.  Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and glorify and honor the King of heaven. All his acts are just and true, and he is able to humble the proud.”  (Daniel 4:28-37)

 God taught Nebuchadnezzar a valuable lesson, one which Alfredo also needs to learn.  Later in our conversation he had said that God would have every right to tell him what to do, and knows he may suffer the consequence for his actions he deserves.  But, like King Nebuchadnezzar, I don’t think he realizes how real these consequences are for living life on his own terms rather than giving God the glory that only He deserves.

 Thanks, Alfredo, for allowing me to record our conversation.  It can be seen on my YouTube channel.  https://youtu.be/JTPBziJegd8

 

Mustard Seed Faith

 

11/30/20         Chris (see HERE)

“Just have faith” they say.  “You just have to believe” 

 It sounds good enough.  After all, doesn’t the Bible say somewhere that all you need is faith the size of a mustard seed and your dreams can come true?

 But is a mustard seed faith really enough?  What does that even mean?

 A lot of people describe their spiritual journey as alternating between times of doubt and times of faith, kind of like changes in the weather.  That’s how it was described by a man named Chris, during a brief conversation at a bus stop.  As a result, he said. “I do have faith, I just don’t get all gung ho about it!”

 I wonder if Chris has something in common with Jesus’ disciples, who struggled with the same roller coaster of doubt and faith.  Once, after trying to heal a boy of seizures, they asked Jesus for help.  After Jesus healed the boy, they asked why they couldn’t do it themselves.  He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move.  Nothing will be impossible for you.”

 

Another time, after hearing Jesus teaching about the importance of forgiving even those who continually wrong us, these same disciples said to the Lord “Increase our faith!”

 Jesus replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.”

 Now, moving mountains and transplanting whole trees are not exactly everyday events, so it seems that Jesus was simply using hyperbole to demonstrate the difference between those who live by faith and those who do not.  After all, only God can move mountains, right?  

 But maybe there is another way to look at the possibilities a mustard-seed size faith might bring.

 Jesus went on to explain his mustard seed faith analogy with a parable:  “Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”

 What?  Why did Jesus explain the power of faith, even a mustard seed faith, with this parable about servanthood?

 I believe its because the AMOUNT of our faith isn’t what’s important, but, rather, the OBJECT of our faith.

 For Christians, Jesus is the object of our faith.  And if he is truly the Lord of our lives, then the point is not what WE want, but what HE wants, for in his parable explaining faith, WE are the unworthy servants who are to do our duty, and that rarely involves moving mountains or uprooting trees!

 Maybe the reason we don’t move mountains simply by faith is because God doesn’t need us to.  He made those mountains and put them there for a reason.  Neither do we uproot trees and throw them into the sea at a whim because the Lord planted them there for a reason.  We may have great faith that he who made the trees and the mountains CAN move them if he wants to, but the question lies more in whether he WANTS to move them.

 What this means is that the way to be people of faith is not just to increase our amount of “faith” in general, but to get to know the object of our faith better.  When we seek first the kingdom of heaven, we need to seek first the King.  When we begin to put Jesus first in our lives, we stop praying childish, self-centered, double-minded prayers, and the mustard-seed faith we start with starts to become as powerful and trustworthy as the One we put that faith in.

 “Just have faith’ is too often just a tired religious platitude.  It needs an object – Jesus, and a purpose – to serve him.  And as His servants we are assured in 1 Timothy 3:13 that “Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus.”

 

 Thanks, Chris, for allowing me to record our conversation.  It can be seen on my YouTube channel.  https://youtu.be/FK7UqMMFgPU


The Peace Than Passes All Understanding


Do you have the “peace that passes all understanding”? What does that even mean?

Well, by definition, I can’t answer that in a way anyone else can understand, but apparently it’s worth mentioning, as Paul did in Philippians 4:7 – “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." I believe it’s one of those things that can’t be attained by direct pursuit (true happiness would be another), but rather can only be realized as a by-product of other pursuits. Yet many worldly philosophies and methodologies do view a personal sense of peace of mind as a worthy goal to pursue directly. For some the method of choice might be yoga or transcendental meditation, for others, psychedelic drug use. For a young man named Collin, it is the practical teaching of what he calls “secular Buddhism”. This is, basically, Buddhism without its spiritual or superstitious aspects, and focuses on just those attitudes and actions that help one find peace in the here and now, without regard to the future. Collin described it as a pragmatic approach to the Buddhist “eight-fold path” of right view, intention, speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness and concentration. Often the people I talk with are very positive and enthusiastic about a particular lifestyle or philosophy like this that gives them day to day peace and happiness. Some of these are actually spiritually dangerous because in their emphasis on emptying the mind of stress they leave people open to other, even worse, spiritual problems. But for the most part there are usually at least some aspects to their approach that are indeed good and helpful. What I would question and warn people about, however, would be one of motive. Is personal peace and happiness really our highest purpose in life? I don’t know that the Bible tells us the meaning of life in a neat soundbite, but it does give us clues. Ephesians 2:10 tells us: “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Isaiah 43:7 tells us: “ ‘Bring all who claim me as their God, for I have made them for my glory. It was I who created them.’” We were created to serve and bring glory to God, and I believe Jesus tells us we are headed for disaster if we seek to serve ourselves, even if we are simply pursuing peace or happiness: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” And Jesus promises that the things we need in life – food, clothes, shelter, and yes, peace and happiness, come indirectly as we put God first in our lives: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Matthew 6:33 Paul could write of this peace that passes all understanding, because he too was seeking God’s Kingdom rather than his own selfish interests. He went on to write “ I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.” He then gave the secret to his indescribable peace: “I can do all things through him (Christ) who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13) It might be the peace that “passes all understanding” when we try to put it into words, but it’s a peace that’s meant to be lived and experienced personally, not reduced to some impersonal concept that can be simply explained or described and understood by outsiders. Thanks, Collin, for allowing me to record our conversation! It can be seen on my YouTube channel at YouTube.com/c/jeffreiman https://youtu.be/0uHsWJ_lv1Q

25 - Death, the Intermediate State, and Glorification

What is the purpose of death in the Christian life? What happens to our bodies and souls when we die? When will we receive resurrection bodies? What will they be like?

In part 25 of our 34-part theology series, we learn about Death, the Intermediate State, and Glorification. The process by which God brings redemption to believers must include a consideration of death and the question of how Christians should view their own death and the death of others. We also must ask what happens to us between the time we die and the time Christ returns to give us new resurrection bodies. 

 This Doctrine of Death, the Intermediate State, and Glorification is but one of 34 lessons in systematic theology. Anyone who reads the Bible on a regular basis has begun to develop a “theology” of who God is and what he has revealed of Himself to man down through history. But is it organized to the point where you can confidently say “this is what the Bible teaches” on a particular topic, or do you just base your beliefs on random verses that could well be misunderstood because they are taken out of context? 

My confidence in going out to share the Gospel with strangers comes largely from my study of “Systematic Theology”, which I’ll define as learning what the whole Bible teaches us about a given topic. I’m confident that I’m not misrepresenting God as revealed in his Word, and I’m confident when people make unbiblical claims about God that challenge my own beliefs. I’m increasingly amazed by the consistency of the Bible, written by so many human authors but without contradiction, that I can only conclude it was written by divine inspiration. 

 I’ve gained so much personally from my systematic study of theology that I’m teaching a 34-week class on it at church, based on Dr. Wayne Grudem’s books “Systematic Theology” and “Bible Theology”. I’m excited to dig deeper personally as I prepare the outlines and lessons, and I want to take as many people along with me on this journey as possible. So I am recording the class and posting the videos to my YouTube channel, and making downloadable PDF chapter outlines and audio recordings available on a Google Drive folder as well. 

Care to join me? Links to my YouTube channel and shared resources are as follows: Video: YouTube.com/c/JeffReiman Shared Resources folder: https://tinyurl.com/yxy2kb56


24 - Perseverance of the Saints


 Can true Christians lose their salvation? How can we know if we are truly born again?

In part 24 of our 34-part theology series, we learn about the “perseverance of the saints”, or remaining a Christian. The perseverance of the saints means that all those who are truly born again will be kept by God’s power and will persevere as Christians until the end of their lives, and that only those who persevere until the end have been truly born again. There is assurance to be given to those who are truly born again, for it reminds them that God’s power will keep them as Christians until they die, and they will surely live with Christ in heaven forever. The Bible also makes it clear that continuing in the Christian life is one of the evidences that a person is truly born again. It is important to keep this aspect of the doctrine in mind as well, lest false assurance be given to people who were never really believers in the first place. This Doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints is but one of 34 lessons in systematic theology. Anyone who reads the Bible on a regular basis has begun to develop a “theology” of who God is and what he has revealed of Himself to man down through history. But is it organized to the point where you can confidently say “this is what the Bible teaches” on a particular topic, or do you just base your beliefs on random verses that could well be misunderstood because they are taken out of context? My confidence in going out to share the Gospel with strangers comes largely from my study of “Systematic Theology”, which I’ll define as learning what the whole Bible teaches us about a given topic. I’m confident that I’m not misrepresenting God as revealed in his Word, and I’m confident when people make unbiblical claims about God that challenge my own beliefs. I’m increasingly amazed by the consistency of the Bible, written by so many human authors but without contradiction, that I can only conclude it was written by divine inspiration. I’ve gained so much personally from my systematic study of theology that I’m teaching a 34-week class on it at church, based on Dr. Wayne Grudem’s books “Systematic Theology” and “Bible Theology”. I’m excited to dig deeper personally as I prepare the outlines and lessons, and I want to take as many people along with me on this journey as possible. So I am recording the class and posting the videos to my YouTube channel, and making downloadable PDF chapter outlines and audio recordings available on a Google Drive folder as well. Care to join me? Links to my YouTube channel and shared resources are as follows: Video: YouTube.com/c/JeffReiman Shared Resources folder: https://tinyurl.com/yxy2kb56 Lesson 24 video: https://youtu.be/-g4cd9fYbnA

Guilt and How to Get Rid Of It!


11/20        Casey (see HERE)

I’ve long wondered how otherwise positive and vibrant people could prefer to believe that they will cease to exist once this present life is over.  How could a lover of life here on earth, awesome as it is, not long for life eternal with the One who created it all?

I talked with one of these people, Casey, an artist from New Zealand, about just this sort of thing.  Casey grew up in an orthodox Jewish family and synagogue and prefers to believe that all she will leave behind will be her story, or legacy, and hopes her story will be about someone who lived this life to the fullest because this is all there is. 

But positive as she is, there is one thing that Casey looks forward to escaping from when life ceases to exist.

Guilt.

I asked more about this, and it’s not necessarily the guilt of offending a holy God, because she doesn’t necessarily believe that God would be so personally involved with us to be concerned about sin.  Rather, it’s the guilt that comes with not living up to the group expectations of society or one’s family, the fear of being a stain on the family name.  Better to leave behind a positive legacy and never have to live with that fear again, would be her conclusion.

I hadn’t really thought about that aspect of guilt before, probably because as an American we are generally taught to be less concerned about how we represent our family or tribe, and more concerned about how we represent ourselves. 

But whether it comes from a God who will one day judge the content of our character and the integrity of our actions, or other people who will judge how well we upheld the family name, I think I can begin to understand why guilt would be something people would be glad to be relieved of, even if it means they must cease to exist.

The Bible has both bad and good news for people like Casey who are so concerned about guilt.  The bad news is that we can’t escape it simply because we will cease to exist, because we won’t cease to exist.  God has put “eternity in the heart of man” – so much so that what we experience physically in this present life is actually more transitory and less “real” than that which exists spiritually – “…as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”  (2 Corinthians 4:18)

Casey had said that life becomes more precious when one believes this is all there is, but I think the opposite is true – if we know we will live forever than this life becomes even more precious in preparing us for that eternity.  The bad news would be that we can’t escape our guilt, because without some sort of intervention it too will exist with us forever.

But the good news is that there IS some sort of intervention.  The same Holy God to whom we are accountable offers to be the One who will take away our guilt.  Forever.  

We are told in Colossians 2 – “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.”

This is the good news of the Gospel.  In Christ, God takes away our guilt and says “There is therefore now no condemnation (guilt) for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8)  The guilt that first exposed Adam and Eve and drove them to hide from God also separates us from a right relationship with our Creator – but in Christ we can have the peace with God that passes all understanding as our guilt is taken away and we experience God as our Heavenly Father.

I pray for that peace and wonder and joy for Casey and all those who struggle with that life-robbing sense of guilt from which there seems no escape.  It doesn’t have to be this way.  There truly is that escape is the Messiah, Jesus, the Christ.

Thanks, Casey, for allowing me to record our conversation!  It can be seen on my YouTube channel.  

https://youtu.be/5DuT16JHWR8


Man in the Mirror


11/20    Jarmine  (see HERE)

How long would you go without looking in a mirror?
As far as I know, most people check themselves out in a mirror every morning, the better to be sure we are looking our best before going out into the world. And we keep doing this, even if we don’t necessarily like what we see.
Many people don’t realize it, but the Bible, and especially its moral laws such as the Ten Commandments, are meant to be a sort of “mirror” in which to see ourselves as we really are, not in comparison to the world but according to God’s holy standards. And, like a mirror, when we don’t like what we see we are given the chance to do something about it.
James 1 says “Do not merely listen to the word (the Bible), and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.”
So like a mirror the Bible gives us a picture of ourselves according to God’s standards, not in comparison to worldly standards. Just as we might recognize a counterfeit bill by becoming very familiar with the real thing, we need regular exposure to the Bible in order to see ourselves as we really are in God’s eyes. And as James tells us, just as we shouldn’t see mud on our face in a mirror and do nothing about it, neither should we look into the mirror of the Bible without acting on what we see.
I thought about this after a conversation with a young man named Jarmine, who has grown up in a Catholic home and seems to have been comparing himself and the world to the mirror of God’s word. But he also showed signs of the slide that so many young people his age do, away from the standards of God’s word and toward the standards of the world.
And why not? The standards of this world can be deceptively attractive, and it takes humility and courage to look into the mirror of God’s Word. We will see in ourselves the stain of sin, as described in Isaiah 59: “For your hands are stained with blood, your fingers with guilt. Your lips have spoken falsely, and your tongue mutters wicked things.”
We won’t like what we see. But the bad news of our sin can be replaced by the good news of forgiveness in Christ. We read in Galatians 3 that “...the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith.”
We can’t save ourselves by following God’s moral laws. We’ve already broken them, and besides, that’s not their purpose. They are a mirror that remind us of our need for the Savior, and the standard to follow as we want to live a life of gratitude and obedience once we have been saved.
And just as we look into a mirror daily, we need to look into the Bible daily for self-reflection, and, with God’s help, to act on what we see there.
Thanks, Jarmine, for allowing me to record our conversation! It can be seen on my YouTube Channel.