Guns, Swords, and Inspired Words

Whenever a random act of violence occurs, debates about the 2nd amendment and gun control are sure to follow. This isn’t surprising. People have different opinions about is best for the country. Some think that it would be in the best interest of American citizens if people had less access to guns. Others think it would be in the best interest of the citizens of this country if we had more guns in the hands of responsible citizens. As long as people have disagreements about the direction the country should go, debates are unavoidable. But despite all the arguing, the problem of violence continues, and often seems to grow worse.

As Christians, there are two ways to approach gun control debates. The first way is to ask what we, as American citizens, think would be best for our county. That is, we could join in the same debate that everybody else is having. The second way is to ask what we, as Christians and citizens of God’s kingdom, think would be best for advancing God’s kingdom. This second discussion receives far less attention, despite the fact that the kingdom of God offers real world solutions to the problem of violence.

Jesus had a lot to say about how his disciples should respond to evil. They are to love their enemies (Lk. 6:27, 35; Mt. 5:44). Love is defined in the New Testament by pointing us to Jesus dying for his enemies (1 Jn. 3:16). They are to do good to their enemies (Mt. 5:44; Lk. 6:28). They are to forgive them (Lk. 6:37; 11:4; 23:34). They are not to resist with the same kind of evil that their enemies use (Mt. 5:39; Lk. 6:29). They are to pray for them rather than seeking to injure them (Mt. 26:51-53). Since God loves and blesses others indiscriminately, we are expected to love and bless others indiscriminately (Mt. 5:45-47; Lk. 6:36-37)

Jesus’s apostles echoed these teachings. Peter wrote that we should follow Jesus’s example by being willing to suffer unjustly at the hands of our enemies, even when we have the power to defeat them (1 Pet. 2:18-23; 3:15-16). Paul wrote that we should never return evil with evil, or take vengeance against our enemies, but always return evil with good (Rom. 12:17-19). Instead of harming our enemies we should provide for their physical needs, and overcome their evil by doing good (Rom. 12:20-21).

To the best of my knowledge, this represents everything the New Testament has to say about how Christians should think about and treat their enemies. What’s more, there’s never an exception clause. The New Testament never says anything along the lines of “love and do good to your enemies, unless you run in to the really nasty, violent, life-threatening kind.” To a first century audience, it would have been clear who they talked about when they said “love your enemies.” First and foremost, they would have thought of the Romans, who enforced Pax Romana by fear. They were the kind of enemy who could crucify your friends and family just to flex their muscles. They were the nasty, violent, life-threatening kind of enemy.

The early Christians were not simply concerned about protecting their rights or fixing unjust Roman laws. In fact, they had a reputation of rejoicing when they were wrongfully beaten and imprisoned and plundered by their enemies (Heb. 10:32-34). That’s not to suggest that Christians should minimize the wrongfulness of denying other people their rights. It is right to be deeply concerned when we see the government passing wicked laws that cause more people to be harmed. These Christians responded to violence with joy, not because they didn’t care, but because of their confidence in God’s promises (Heb. 10:35-36). In the meantime, they actively showed compassion towards those whose freedom had be wrongfully taken away (Heb. 10:34).

Ultimately, the problem of violence will never be solved by endless debates about what the government should do about violence. Since rulers and authorities gain their power from the implied threat of death, they were left disarmed when death was defeated (Col. 2:15). As Christians, our relationship to earthly government is defined by an attitude of submission. We submit to them “for the Lord’s sake”, recognizing that “this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people” (1 Pet 2:13-15). We submit, because we recognize that God uses government authorities as his ministers to execute wrath and vengeance on evildoers (Rom. 13:1-4).

It is our duty to solve the problem of violence, not by arguing about what Caesar should do about it, but by spreading the peaceful principles of the kingdom of God. As we spread the boarders of his kingdom, we recognized that “the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds” (2 Cor. 10:4). Swords and guns are completely unnecessary to be a disciple of the prince of peace. Unlike earthly governments, which at best can argue about who should have the right to carry a gun, the kingdom of God provides a real solution to the problem of violence by pointing us to Jesus. Jesus defeated evil, not by carrying a sword or gun against his enemies, but by loving his enemies, dying for his enemies, and by rising from the dead to show just how powerless their violence really is.

Roe v. Wade and the Temptation To Do Good

On June 24, 2022 the Supreme Court made the wonderful decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. When the news broke it was immediately recognized as a time for celebration for Christians, and for good reason. But along with the positivity, there’s been another side of the Christian response which has been troubling. That is, many Christians have pointed to this as evidence of the good that Christians can accomplish by pursuing political influence and power. It is argued that Roe v. Wade would have never been overturned without Christians using the political strategies and choices that were necessary to bring about this change.

Although I unapologetically celebrate the Supreme Court’s decision, I do not believe that Christians should look to earthly power as the primary, or even as one of the ways to bring about good in the world. Not only do I whole heartedly oppose abortion, I also believe that the kingdom of God must be kept distinct from the kingdom of the world; not only in what we say is wrong, but also in how we fight against what we recognize as wrong. As a believer in moral absolutes, I believe abortion is wrong and is destructive to society. I also think it is important for Christians to heed the warning of Psalm 146:3, to “put not your trust in princes.” As a Christian, I celebrate the Supreme Court for their decision which could potentially save millions of lives, and I call on Christians to faithfully follow the way of Jesus, who rejected earthly political influence in order to establish a kingdom which is not of this world.

Yes, I know I’m being redundant. But that’s because some Christians still just don’t get it. Let me make myself perfectly clear: I oppose abortion. Abortion is murder. Abortion is selfish. Abortion is immoral. Christians should actively fight against evil, and abortion is evil. But none of this should be viewed as justification for Christians to fight against evil in ways that blur the distinction between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the world. This is precisely what most (if not all) activities and decisions made in the pursuit of earthly power cause Christians to do.

A Kingdom Not Of This World

My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.

John 18:36

When Jesus claimed “My kingdom is not of this world”, He pointed to the observable fact that his disciples were not fighting to substantiate that claim. Of course, you could say that in a sense Jesus’s entire ministry was a fight against evil. But even still, Jesus’s disciples were not fighting in the same way that other revolutionaries would fight.

When Jesus used the phrase “of this world” He was not speaking of the geographic location of His kingdom, but rather He was referring to the world’s way of doing things. For example, Jesus said He came to testify against “the world” because its deeds are evil (Jn. 7:7). Elsewhere, John would say, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15). The contrast between “of this world” and “not of this world” is referring to the world’s ways of doing things and a godly way of doing things.

If Jesus’s disciples had a reputation of fighting in the same way the world fights, Jesus’s claim would have been completely meaningless. Can you imagine Pilate’s response if this had been the case? “What do you mean your kingdom is not of this world? Then why is Peter standing out there handing out picket signs at the political rally? Why did Matthew just send a donation to a Roman senator? And why is Simon recruiting more zealots?” But as it was, Jesus’s disciples were not fighting, and so Jesus’s teaching stood with the weight of observable truth.

Yes, Jesus’s early followers, like us, also had an earthly citizenship. But despite the fact that they lived under subjection to the kingdoms of this world, their distinction from the world remained apparent. They were “in” the world but not “of” the world.

Scripture drives home this distinction when it teaches us to view ourselves as soldiers stationed in a foreign country, and thus refuse to let ourselves get entangled in “civilian pursuits” (2 Tim. 2:4). It teaches us to view ourselves as “strangers” and “exiles”, just like Abraham did (Heb. 11:8-10, 13-16; 1 Peter 2:11).

Note this carefully – preserving our “exile” status is at the very core of who we are. That’s why Scripture repeatedly stresses the fact that we are called to be a “holy” people (2 Cor. 6:17), indicating that we are to be “set apart” (Ps. 4:3). Like Israelites coming out of Egypt to be “set apart” for God, Christians are instructed to “come out” of Babylon (Rev. 18:4). We are to be holy in the same way that God is holy. Our holy and distinct relationship with the world should be every bit as holy and distinct as Jesus’s relationship with the world.

Our Mission

It’s important to understand that I’m not arguing that Christians should adapt an escapist position, where we simply isolate ourselves from societal problems such as abortion. When God called Israel to be a “holy nation”, the purpose was not to isolate them from other nations. Israel was to be a holy nation so that they would serve as a light to the other nations (Isa. 49:6; 55:4-5, etc). God’s plan was always to bless all nations through Abraham’s family (Gen. 12:1-3).

So too, Christians are called to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Mt. 5:13-16). But in order for us to be salt in the world, we must maintain our distinction from the world.

If salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.

One way we maintain our holy distinction from the world is by refusing to pursue ruling authority over others. That’s the way the world tried to accomplish great things, but Jesus explicitly instructs us not to seek that kind of power.

You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But is shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.

Mark 10:42-45

God so loved the world that He sent his only begotten Son (John 3:16), and we are to imitate His love for the world by imitating his self-sacrificial behavior (Eph. 5:1-2). If we really love the world, and want to make a positive difference in the world, we would do well to love the world in the same way God did. The reason we are not to be “of” the world is so that we can be “for” the world.

We are not simply called to do “good”. We are called to be faithful. We are called to “imitate Christ”. We are called to be holy.

Jesus and the Temptation to Do Good

Paul says that we must be careful not to be outwitted by Satan’s designs (2 Cor. 2:11). With this in mind, we would be wise to reflect on how Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness, so that we do not fall into a similar trap.

The Devil tempted Jesus by offering him all the kingdoms of the world (Luke 4:5-8). The Devil essentially offered Jesus what he came to get (Mt. 28:18-20), but by way of an immediate shortcut that would bypass his sacrificial death on the cross.

Think about it. Without having to suffer and die, Jesus could have immediately taken all the kingdoms of the world into his possession. Can you imagine how much “good” Jesus could have done if he had accepted Satan’s offer? He could have quicky overturned every evil law in Roman society. Jesus could have immediately outlawed abortion throughout the world. The Devil’s temptation would not have been a temptation if there was not a lot of “good” wrapped up in it.

Yet Jesus refused. Why? Because Jesus did not come just to give us an improved and more “godly” version of the kingdoms of this world. Instead, Jesus came to bring a kingdom that is not of this world. In fulfillment of Psalm 2, Jesus came to replace “the kingdom of the world” with “the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ.” (Rev. 11:15-18). He didn’t just come to fix the kingdoms of this world. He came to put them out of business, thus turning all nations to him.

As tempting as the immediately good consequences may have been, Jesus refused to lose the radical distinction of his Kingdom in exchange for the Satan-ruled kingdom of this world. No matter how much good he could have done. He refused to rule like the Gentiles did. If we are dedicated to following Jesus’s example, we must resist the temptation to trade our holy mission regardless of how much “good” we might think we can accomplish by using other means.

Continue the Fight

Abortion is a great evil. Its existence testifies to the fact that Satan is, in a very real sense the “ruler of the world” (Jn. 14:30; 16:11), “the god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:1-4), and the “prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:1-2). Abortion thrives only under Satan’s “domain of darkness” (Col. 1:3). That’s why it is so important that in our fight against abortion, we are careful not to be “conformed to this world” (Rom. 12:2).

So what do we do now? Christians should continue the fight against abortion as they have done in the past, yet without the pursuit of earthly power. Keep finding ways to serve the poor and the needy in your community. Keep inviting them into your homes. Keep supporting single mothers. Keep volunteering at pregnancy crisis centers. Keep adopting. Keep getting involved in foster care. Keep donating to children’s homes. Keep praying. The church has long led the charge in these type of actions, and that must continue. Yes, all of these things require a degree of personal sacrifice, but imitating the sacrificial savior is precisely what sets us apart from the world. Because of the gospel, sacrifice is how we believe we will win.

If we want to see Satan’s dominion weakened, we must remain faithful to God’s kingdom. Two thousand years ago, Jesus pointed to his disciples’ refusal to fight as proof that his kingdom was not of this world. When Jesus looks at our fight against abortion, does he see that our actions still bear witness to that truth?

Practical Advice for Evangelism

Everyone who is in Christ, having been reconciled to God through him, has been granted immeasurable spiritual blessings. But this also comes with responsibility: “and has given us the ministry of reconciliation … and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ …” (2 Corinthians 5:17-21, NKJV). All who have been reconciled to God through Christ are expected to give others the same opportunity. This is the God-given ministry of every disciple.

What is Evangelism?

Evangelism is not something we do to people. It is what we do with the gospel (“the good news”). We have no control over how people respond to the gospel, but we do have control over whether or not we make it available to those outside of Christ. The Lord has not given any of us the responsibility of saving souls. That’s his job.

When it comes to evangelizing, stop putting so much unnecessary pressure on yourself. God, through his word, is the one who ultimately saves (Acts 2:47; James 1:21). No matter how smart, eloquent, and knowledgeable you might be, you do not have the inherent power to save anyone. At the same time, no matter how clumsy, inept, and inarticulate you may think you are, God can and will save people through your humble efforts, despite your inadequacies. “So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase” (1 Corinthians 3:7).

Where To Begin: Attitude

Eliminate excuses. The Lord cannot be obeyed or glorified by coming up with reasons for not doing what he has called us to do. Excuses are unacceptable. Understand that the best way to ensure a lost soul stays lost is to say and do nothing.

Have a realistic understanding of who you are and what your purpose is. The greater burden actually rests on those you are trying to reach and the condition of their hearts. If a person does not genuinely desire to know and obey the Lord, there is very little you can say or do to change that (cf. John 8:47). At the same time, if a person sincerely wants to know the truth and do God’s will, irrespective of how many mistakes you might make in your fallible attempts to communicate, he or she will learn the truth and obey it.

Jesus promised, “seek and you will find” (Matthew 7:7), regardless of how unimpressive the teacher might be. He also said, “If anyone wants to do his will, he shall know concerning the doctrine …” (John 7:17), no matter how awkwardly that doctrine might be presented. He further stated, “you shall know the truth” (John 8:32), irrespective of those who make less-than-perfect attempts to communicate it.

Where To Begin: Initial Approach

Always start with prayer. Jesus (the greatest evangelist) was a man of constant prayer. Although the book of Acts is a record of evangelism and conversions, it is replete with references, examples, and allusions to prayer. What were the acts of the apostles? In their own words, “we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4). If you are attempting to do God’s work, shouldn’t you invite God to be involved in it?

Be yourself. If you try to mimic someone else’s approach or recite a memorized sales pitch, you may come across fake and insincere. Develop an approach you’re comfortable with and that works best for you.

Be transparent. People appreciate and are more receptive to sincerity and honesty. If you’re nervous, acknowledge it. If you don’t know how to answer a question, admit it. If your aim is to share your faith, don’t try to hide it. Never be deceptive, pushy, or manipulative.

Always be mindful of your immediate goal: introducing this person to the word of God. While the ultimate goal is to “make disciples” (Matthew 28:18-20), this can only be accomplished one soul at a time. If someone is not engaged in Bible study, there can be no genuine conversion (John 8:31-32, 51). With this goal in the back of your mind, it is not the purpose of your spiritual conversations to declare the whole counsel of God or to win an argument or even to answer questions.

Let the Bible do the teaching. No matter what you attempt to convey verbally, it can never replace God’s inspired word. Even if what you say is the truth, it will be no more convincing than what anyone else might say without scriptural confirmation. You are simply a guide, pointing to the scriptures for the answers and instruction.

The aim of your conversations is to develop the person’s interest in studying the Bible, and the best approach is to simply ask questions with that purpose in mind. “Tell me about your spiritual journey.” “What do you think about God?” “What do you know about the Bible?” If you get stumped and can’t think of what to say next, just blurt it out: “I’d really like to study the Bible with you.” You may be surprised at how many doors of opportunity are opened that would be missed otherwise.

Conclusion

While we should surely give attention to developing effective evangelistic techniques, tools, and strategies, at the end of the day these things are a means to an end but in and of themselves do not save anyone. The results of evangelism are not up to you. What is in your control is what you do with the word of reconciliation that has been placed in your hands. “But as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, even so we speak …” (1 Thessalonians 2:4).

Kevin L. Moore

How To Double The Size of Your Congregation In One Year

How cool would it be if your congregation’s size doubled every year? Don’t let the practical side of you immediately throw stumbling blocks at this idea. It’s understandable to be concerned about lack of space at your church’s building, for instance. God can work out the practical stuff later, because people’s relationship with God is more important than the size of your building. Assuming you know that, ask the question, what would it take for your congregation to double in size in the next 365 days? 

The Status Quo of Evangelism

One way to accomplish this type of growth would be to have the preacher prepare several evangelistic sermons and invite the entire community to the building to hear the lessons. But that’s what we’ve been trying for generations, and even when it has seen some success, it hasn’t seen that type of success. Alternatively, we could pay the preacher to not only spend time in his office preparing sermons, but also to beat the streets and set Bible studies with non-believers. Come to think of it, aren’t we already doing that too? What kind of growth has that resulted in? Praise God for the souls who have been won through the preacher’s efforts, but assuming your congregation is larger than three or four souls, one guy’s Bible studies likely hasn’t doubled the congregation’s size in one year. Here’s an idea: We could hop onto social media, post and share Bible verses and Christian memes and debate with people in the comment section. Perhaps that would work.

Tongue in cheek aside, it’s clear that the above suggestions, which, from what I have witnessed, have become the church’s status quo of evangelism, are not going to fulfill the Great Commission. Are we satisfied with the results that we have seen for the past generation or so? I hope not.

What would it really take to see the church double in size in 52 weeks? The preacher could reach an individual with the gospel. Just one soul. That would do it. So long as you did too. And everyone else. If every single Christian were involved in reaching the lost, and each one reached one, then the church would double. And it doesn’t take an overly-creative mind to imagine that happening again the following year, but this time with twice as many people participating.

Qualifications

Again, the practical side of us may want to object here, but for the time being, don’t allow it to. Instead, let’s briefly consider whether every Christian is truly qualified for this type of work. In my years of evangelism, I have seen three basic qualifications for the task:

1. Love

The apostle Paul wrote, “Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Corinthians 16:14). Love is a leading quality of the Christian. It is to be applied above all things (see Colossians 3:14). We do not evangelize to win arguments or make ourselves feel good. We do it because we love the lost, the Lord, and our own souls, which leads to our next qualification.

2. Motivation

Proper motivation is always required for a job well done. If you do not desire to do something, you’ll likely never do it, or if you end up doing it, it is likely out of necessity. Just as an overseer of the Lord’s church must not lead “out of compulsion” (1 Peter 5:2), so too must the evangelist share the good news willingly. What will motivate you for evangelism? A true understanding of the cost and answer to sin—the revelation of God’s love. 

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 5:8

3. Basic Knowledge

If you know enough to become a Christian, you know enough to teach others how to become a Christian. If you know what God has done for you, you know enough to share that news with someone else. The person who says, “I can’t evangelize; I don’t know enough” has a distorted view of evangelism. Will there be times when tough questions or objections arise in your evangelism? Without a doubt. But Jesus sent His apostles out to share the good news of the kingdom, not answer every question about Scripture. The answers to the tough questions will come with time and study, but for now, don’t waste anymore time to teach someone the basics of the gospel.

And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.

1 Corinthians 2:1-2

Paul impressed upon the Corinthians’ hearts “the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:3). Basic knowledge is all that’s needed to get started.

Objections

“Yes, yes, yes,” someone begins. “I agree I am qualified with love, motivation, and basic knowledge, but I…” How would you finish that sentence? But I can’t speak well. But I am weak. But I am fearful. I can relate. The first Bible study I led, I literally shook the entire time, so much so that the person I was studying with asked if I was okay. Do you see 1 Corinthians 2:1–2 quoted above? Check out the next three verses.

I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.

1 Corinthians 2:3-5

Did Paul actually write this? Are we talking about the same Paul we read about in Acts? Yes! Even one of the most famous evangelists in the kingdom trembled while spreading the good news. But that’s where the gospel shines the most! As the saying of today goes, “Let go, and let God.” When you depend on your own abilities, your dependence is misplaced. Let God and the message of Jesus do the work.

So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.

Romans 10:17

Faith does not come by way of well-crafted arguments and eloquent speech. It comes by hearing the message of the soul-saving gospel. 

The Keys to Evangelism

In the Greek, evangelize is the verb form of the word gospel. So, to evangelize someone is to gospel-ize, or to “good news” them. Maybe it’s better put this way: to evangelize is to share the good news with someone else. There is a place in evangelism for storytelling and sharing with others what God has done specifically in your life, but from my experience, the most effective and accurate way to share the gospel message is to have a Bible study with someone.

When you and your friend can sit down together with questions and discover the answers by turning pages and reading Bible passages in context, some amazing things happen. And this is key—while evangelizing, always have a Bible between you and your friend, either literally or figuratively. On the other hand, when you tell your friend what the Bible says, you rob them of the opportunity to discover the truth for themselves, and you are between your friend and the Bible. When you tell them the answers, best case scenario, they learn the truth, but they link it with you and your knowledge (i.e. you shine; the gospel doesn’t). You must commit to keeping a Bible between you and your friend in your evangelism. It’s easy to slip back into lecture mode. But it is so much more profitable when you take the time to help someone discover the truth in their personal copy of God’s word.

But how do you set a Bible study?

First, you must have a conversation. Otherwise, you’ll never get to the point when someone is given the opportunity to say yes to a Bible study. Many Christians depend on being extra nice or smiling more than average, hoping people will come to them and asking about what makes them different. Of course, Jesus did say something about this (see Matthew 5:16). But He also commanded that Christians actively go and teach (see Matthew 28:18–20; Mark 16:15). In order to teach, you must use words. You must converse.

When having a conversation with someone, have these two basic goals in mind: (1) develop interest, and (2) increase curiosity. When someone is interested and curious about something, they ask questions and pursue answers. However, you must also remember that one quick way to decrease interest and satisfy curiosity is to provide the answers. So do your best to navigate the conversation with questions, not answers. Our voice assistants have made things so easy. If I’m curious about something, all I have to do is say, “Hey, Voice Assistant! What’s the average lifespan of a whooping crane?” Then, the answer is verbally given and silence ensues. But imagine if the voice assistant followed up with some questions. “Do you mean one in captivity, or one in the wild?” “Are you more interested in the lifespan now, or fifty years ago?” “Why do you think the numbers are different?” “What got you interested in this subject to begin with?” “How many whooping cranes do you think are in the wild today?” “What do you think caused them to be so endangered?” I just wanted the average lifespan, but now I’m going down a research path that has me interested and curious. Okay, maybe whooping cranes are not that interesting to you (perhaps they are more so now than ever before!), but I hope you get the point.

How do you start a conversation?

Navigating conversations with questions is key to developing interest and curiosity. But how do you start a religious conversation? You may have been thinking that there is some trick or skill that only the best of the “people persons” have, but no, it is deceptively simple. Are you ready? Here it is: “May I ask you a question?” That’s something you can insert anytime with anyone, whether you’re walking up to a cashier, or in mid-conversation with your best friend. Most people will say yes to your request, and when they do, you now have permission to ask anything at all. You could ask why the sky is blue, what color their socks are, or what the average lifespan of a whooping crane is. Or you could use the opportunity to start a religious conversation. “What are your thoughts about Jesus?” “What church do you go to?” “What’s your favorite book of the Bible?” “What person in the Bible do you think you relate to the most?” Get creative! Then, forget for a moment what you think about things, and continue to ask them what they think about things. Perhaps you’ll eventually get to the point when you can ask something like, “What do you think the Bible says about that?” “I don’t know,” they may respond, to which you can say, “Would you like to know?” 

Have a genuine conversation with someone. Navigating a conversation with questions will avoid arguments and fulfill your goals of developing interest and increasing curiosity. It will also avoid running into postmodern responses like, “that may be true for you, but it’s not true for me.” Be committed to not providing Bible answers to questions, but instead providing the opportunity to discover the answers. Be careful about scripts and tactics. And you especially do not want to seem like you’re leading someone into a trap. Have fun and explore as many subjects with as many people as possible.

In your journey of having religious conversations, you’ll come across many people who are just not interested in religious things. In those moments, you have the amazing opportunity to represent Jesus. He never shoved religion or the Scriptures down people’s throats. After having given them an adequate opportunity, if they decided to walk away, Jesus allowed them to. You can do the same. Leave the door open, thank them for being willing to discuss things with you (as brief as it may have been), let them know you’d be happy to talk about it again if they ever become interested, and change the subject. Yes, many folks will not be interested, but they likely will not be hostile. And you may be surprised how many people are willing to talk about these things with you. Give as many folks as you can an opportunity to learn more about Jesus.

A word about arguments

An older brother recently told me, “I grew up during the debate age.” What he meant was during his youth, it was normal for people to have a meeting of the minds and find value in working through disagreements. Today, however, disagreements are often hostile environments and seen as intolerance (a social sin!). When the gospel claims to be the truth, you will certainly have disagreements as you share it. But we are no longer living in the debate age, so be careful about turning disagreements into arguments. 

When you navigate conversations with questions, arguments are virtually impossible, since you are simply asking the other person about their interests and opinions. But a good conversationalist will likely eventually turn the questions on you, asking you about your interests and opinions. This is an opportunity to kindly decline to answer, admitting that your opinions don’t mean much in the end. “But what do you think the Bible says about that?” “I’m not sure.” “Would you like to know?” Usually, if the conversation has gotten this far, it would be dishonest for them to say no.

Conclusion

So, what would it take for your congregation to double in size in the next year? Just reach one person. In my experience, most active evangelists are able to reach more than one person a year. So perhaps your local church can triple or quadruple in size soon. It’s not just about numbers, but a plurality is made up of several individuals. And every individual has been created in the image of God for a purpose. 

Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter:
Fear God and keep His commandments,
For this is man’s all.

Ecclesiastes 12:13 (NKJV)

Perhaps God placed you in an individual’s life to help them fulfill that purpose.

Better Bible Study Tip #66: Don’t Second Guess God’s Choice in Inspiration

One of the reasons why some people find the Bible difficult is because it doesn’t clearly answer all of their doctrinal questions, or articulate their beliefs as plainly as they wish it would. Sometimes this can lead to the bad habits of trying to pull more out of a text than what the text actually teaches, or to pull proof texts away from their contexts in an effort to explain a particular position more clearly.

We need to trust God’s wisdom in inspiring the text the way he did. For instance, if God wanted to inspire a text the show the importance of infant baptism, he could have easily included that. If God wanted to more precisely answer all of your questions about the Holy Spirit, or about the continuation or secession of miracles, he could have inspired someone to explain that more clearly. If God wanted to inspire authors of later generations to write in a way that would more clearly answer every question a modern Christian might raise, he could have done that.

Even though God could have given us a different Bible, he didn’t. For whatever reason, he choose to inspire the particular writers that he did, at the particular time that they wrote. For whatever reason, he chose to address the particular questions that the Bible deals with, teach the particular doctrines that the Bible teaches, and teach them with the precise words that he chose to teach them with. If the Bible is silent on a particular subject, God can be credited with that decision as well.

It was God who inspired scripture. It was God who selected and prepared the particular writers that he chose to inspire. It was God who gave us the Bible as it is, with the words it contains. He did not inspire a different text. God is not incompetent.

As Paul puts it in 2 Timothy 3:16-17,

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

The Bible, as it is, has a divine origin. The Bible, as it is, is sufficient. For this reason we should be extra careful to keep man made catechisms, creeds, statements of belief, and church traditions in proper perspective. If those creeds or traditions teach anything less than what the Bible teaches, they don’t say enough. If those creeds or traditions include anything more than what the Bible teaches, they may say too much. If those creeds or traditions are precisely the same as what is revealed in inspired scripture, they are redundant.

This is not to suggest that it is inappropriate for uninspired teachers to try to explain the text using their uninspired words, or for churches to write a statement of beliefs, or for traditions to be formed and kept. But we must remember that while God could have inspired other words to be included in the Bible, for whatever reason he didn’t. “Other words” are “other words.” They are not inspired. They do not originate with God.

If we can’t explain a particular belief without using the inspired words of scripture, and without using proof texts ripped from their original context, perhaps we should reexamine why we hold that particular belief. Or at they very least, we should reexamine why we feel like it needs to be explained in a way that is different from how the Bible explains it.

When we try to teach more or less than what the Bible teaches, we are disrespecting God’s choice in inspiration. We must honor God’s wise choice to inspire scripture the the time, place, and way that he did.

One Creation Story or Two?

In recent years I’ve noticed a growing trend where Genesis 1 and 2 are often referred to as “the first and second creation stories.” If there are, in fact, two different creation accounts in Genesis 1-2, this would strongly imply that there were two different authors or two different sources behind what we now recognize as the book of Genesis. This would also cast serious doubt on the traditional view of the Mosaic origin of the book of Genesis. This claim is also used to imply that inspired scripture contains contradictions, which in turn challenges the truthfulness, reliability, and inspiration of scripture as a whole.

It is my position that we should not describe Genesis 1 and 2 and two separate creation accounts. The first reason is because the evidence used to suggest that the two chapters are in tension with one another is not at all obvious. The second is reason is that a careful reading of the book of Genesis implies that the first two chapters of the book were always intended to be read together and in light of one another.

The Reasons for “Two Creation Stories” Language

The two supposed creation stores are Genesis 1:1-2:3 and Genesis 2:4-25. Genesis 1:1-2:3 has a seven day structure, with six days of creation and a seventh day of rest. By the end of this section, you have an account of the creation of the whole world. You have mankind living on dry land, which has been separated from the water. You have the sun, moon, stars, plants, and various animals all filling the created world.

This section comes to a clear conclusion in Genesis 2:3.

So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.

Genesis 2:4 then introduces a new section of scripture.

These are the generations
of the heavens and the earth when they were created,
in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens.

At this point, the reader will quickly notice that the section of scripture that follows is not connected to chapter 1 in a clear, linear, chronological sequence. Genesis 2:5 does not pick up right where Genesis 2:3 left off with the beginning of the second week. Instead, it describes a situation where there was no “bush” or “small plants” in the field. Then the text goes back and gives additional details about the creation of man.

When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up – for the LORD God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground – then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. And the LORD God planted a garden of Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Genesis 2:5-9

Not only does Genesis 2:4 begin a new section, but there are some stylistic differences between the two sections. One obvious example is that God is referred to as “God” (Elohim) throughout Genesis 1, whereas “LORD” (Yahweh) is used in Genesis 2:4ff.

Why would one author choose to use two different names for God? This is an excellent question. You can see how a modern reader might conclude that either the author of Genesis is schizophrenic, or there are two different authors.

Another reason for the “two creation stories” language is that there are allegedly contradictions between the two sections. This suggestion is primarily focused on the order of creation. Genesis 1 indicates that plants were created on the third day (1:11-12), and that man was created on the sixth day (1:26ff), whereas in Genesis 2 there were no bushes or small plants in the field until after the formation of man (2:5-7). Genesis 1 represents animals as existing before man (1:24-26), whereas Genesis 2 describes the creation of man (2:7) prior to the creation of animals (2:18-19).

These stylistic differences and alleged contradictions between the two narrative sections are the primary reasons why some refer to Genesis 1 & 2 as two creation stories.

Disunity Between Genesis 1 and 2 Is Not At All Obvious

Although there are clear differences between Genesis 1 and 2, the alleged contradictions are not at all obvious. It’s not difficult to find numerous commentators and scholars who have shown that Genesis 1 and 2 can easily be read in harmony with one another.

If Genesis 2 appears to recap Genesis 1 in some places, this should not surprise us. While in western cultures we tend to read and process everything in clear linear, chronological fashion, we should not assume that the author of Genesis intends to tell the story in this way. In the book of Genesis (as well as in other ancient near eastern writings) it is common to tell stories in cyclical fashion, where recapitulation is often employed. For an author to break from a linear, chronological telling of the story is not at all foreign to their culture. When Genesis 2 describes the creation of plants, animals, and man, this should not be considered strong evidence that the text has a different origin.

While it is helpful to observe stylistic differences between chapters 1 and 2, It is well known that a single author can vary his style or vocabulary to fit the points he wants the reader to draw from the text. Could it be that the author intentionally used the name “God” in Genesis 1, and intentionally started using “LORD” in Genesis 2 because he had a purpose for doing so?

Elohim and Yahweh are not synonyms. Elohim is a more generic term for powerful spiritual beings, whereas Yahweh is the personal name for the God of Israel. While Genesis 1 begins with the claim that the heavens an the earth were created by an Elohim (a claim which would easily be accepted in the ancient world), Genesis 2 makes the point that the heavens and the earth weren’t just created by any god. It was THE LORD God, Yahweh, the God of Israel who created the universe and all of mankind. The Creator is not only all-powerful, but He is also the most-personal and most-faithful. If we jump too quickly to the conclusion that Genesis 1 and 2 have different origins, we may miss what the author was intending to communicate by changing his style the way he did.

Although there are alleged contradictions, they are not at all obvious, as numerous biblical scholars have observed. For a good overview of why we should not assume that the chapters contradict one another, I recommend this article written by Wayne Jackson: “Critical Theory Attacks Genesis 1 and 2”. As long as there are possible satisfactory explanations to show that the text does not contradict itself, we should not act as if it obviously does.

Genesis 1 and 2 are Designed to be Read in Relation to Each Other

Biblical scholars have long recognized that the various sections of the book of Genesis are linked together by the recurring phrase, “These are the generations of…” Variations of this formula appear ten different time throughout the book (2:4; 5:1; 6:9; 10:1; 11:10; 11:27; 25:12; 25:19; 36:1; 37:2). In each instance, this “generations” phrase serves to introduce the upcoming section of scripture and to link it to the section of scripture that has immediately preceded it. This is significant because it shows that Genesis 2:4 functions not merely as an introduction to the Adam and Eve narrative that follows, but also as a link that hitches the story of Adam and Eve back to the story of creation in Genesis 1. In other words, Genesis 2:4 communicates to the reader that the two stories should be read in connection to one another.

To illustrate this point, consider how the “generations” phrase functions throughout the rest of the book of Genesis. The next two appearances of the phrase are found in Genesis 5:1, “This is the book of the generations of Adam”, and in in Genesis 6:9, “These are the generations of Noah.” Between Genesis 5:1 and 6:9 is a genealogy that traces an unbroken line between Adam and Noah. Next, Genesis 10:1 begins a section that traces the descendants of the sons of Noah as they were scattered into the various nations of the earth, thus linking Noah to the story of Babel that follows. Next, Genesis 11:10 and 11:27 bracket another genealogy that links the chosen line of Shem to the family of Abram. Genesis 25:12, and 25:19, and 36:1 trace the descendants of Ismael, Isaac, and Esau. Finally Genesis 37:2, “These are the generations of Jacob” continues the story of Jacob’s family by introducing Joseph and Judah.

Every time this phrase appears, it functions to hold the book of Genesis together into one unified work, by clearly communicating to the reader that each of these main characters are connected to one another, and should be considered in light of one another. In other words, the author of the book of Genesis intends for its readers to think of the book as one unified work.

Therefore Genesis 2:4 serves to show how Adam and Eve should be read as proceeding from creation in similarity to how the nations proceeded from Noah, Abram proceeded from the nations, and Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph all proceeded from Abraham. When read in this way, we understand that creation itself points the reader forward to the story of Israel and all mankind. This explains why Jesus showed no hesitation in combining both Genesis 1 and 2 to establish his teaching (Mark 10:5-8).

To read Genesis 1 and 2 as two independent creation stories disregards the author’s design of the book of Genesis and his intention for the stories to be read together as a unified whole. When we separate the stories, we miss theological points that can be drawn only by reading the whole text. Before adopting this language, bible students should carefully reconsider whether it actually honors the inspired text, or if it serves to hinder our understanding by introducing internal disunity that was not intended by the author.

Forgive Them

Whenever we reflect on Jesus’s death on the cross, one of the most shocking and challenging verses is Jesus’s prayer in Luke 23:34:

“And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’”

It’s one thing to pray for our enemies when those enemies are distant, don’t present any immediate danger to our loved ones, or perhaps only mildly annoy us. But the setting of Jesus’s prayer makes this verse even more shocking and challenging. Jesus said this right after being betrayed, arrested, denied by his closest friends and disciples, mocked, beaten, falsely accused, unjustly tried, nailed to a cross, crowned with thorns, and left to slowly suffocate on the cross. What’s more, Jesus had the power to call more than twelve legions of angels to save himself and destroy his enemies (Mt. 26:53), so it’s not as if Jesus didn’t have other options. And yet, it was at this moment that Jesus assumes the ignorance of those who were crucifying him, and prays for their forgiveness on that basis.

This prayer, prayed on behalf of Jesus’s enemies (and for us, for it was our sin that put him there – Romans 5:6-10), is powerful. It is life changing. This is the kind of radical forgiveness that allows us to leave our sin in the past and move ahead without having to carry our guilt with us. This is the kind of undeserved forgiveness that can transform us into completely new kind of people. But it also presents us with a tremendous challenge because we, as disciples of Jesus, are expected to forgive our enemies in the same way that Jesus forgave his enemies.

Throughout the New Testament, Jesus is continually held up as an example that we are to follow. For a few examples, consider the following scriptures.

A new commandment I give to you, that you are to love one another: Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

John 13:34-35

Observe that we are not simply commanded to love one another. We are commanded to love one another as Jesus loved.

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Ephesians 5:1-2

Observe that we are not simply commanded to imitate God. We are specifically commanded to imitate God by loving as Christ loved – a love that was demonstrated by his self-sacrifice for us.

But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believed in him for eternal life.

1 Timothy 1:16

Observe that Paul did not simply benefit from Christ’s mercy and patience. Paul recognized that Jesus’s mercy and patience were an example for those of us who believe in Him. If Jesus’ mercy and patience is an example, that means that we are expected to imitate Him.

For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.

1 Peter 2:20-24

Of course we should strive to follow Jesus’s example in all things. But observe that in this text, Peter specifically calls us to follow in the steps of Jesus as he patiently suffered and died on the cross at the hands of his enemies. We are to die to sin especially in those moments when we would be the most tempted to retaliate against our enemies.

We are commanded to have the same self-sacrificial mindset that we see in Jesus himself.

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which was also in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 2:4-5

Or as Paul simply puts in in 1 Corinthians 2:16, “We have the mind of Christ.”

This means that the attitude that Jesus had toward his enemies is the attitude we are expected to have toward our enemies and toward one another. Even when we are witnessing the worst possible behavior, we are to follow the example of Christ. Even when we are the ones who are left to suffer the pain caused by the behavior of others, we are to follow the example of Christ. Even when we are wrongfully accused, publicly slandered, or betrayed, we are to follow the example of Christ. Even when we find ourselves with the opportunity to make our enemies justly suffer for their actions, we are to follow the example of Christ. We are to assume “they know not what they do” and pray for their forgiveness on that basis.

Of course, someone might reasonably ask, “Is there ever a line that could be crossed that would be such an extreme evil that we are no longer expected to follow Jesus’s example?” This is a good question, but as we wrestle with this question we also consider if there could even be an example of evil that is more extreme than what Jesus experienced at the cross? It should be noted that the first Christian martyr, Stephen, followed the example of Jesus’ prayer almost verbatim (Acts 7:60).  

Following Jesus’s example runs contrary to what seems to come most naturally. Of course we should also be praying for friends and neighbors who suffer as a result of violence. Of course we should pray for justice to be executed in response to evil. Such prayers are natural responses to evil, and they aren’t wrong provided we leave vengeance in God’s hands (see Romans 12:18-21). But if we do not pray for the forgiveness and deliverance of our enemies, we will fail to reflect the attitude that God had towards us when we were his enemies.

For while we were still weak at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die – But God shows his love for us in that while were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 5:6-8

As our society continues to grow more and more polarized, as opposing groups continually hurl their hatred and insults towards one another, and as people continually assume the worst possible motives from one another, let’s hold ourselves to a different standard: the standard set by the example of Christ. Whenever we find ourselves horrified by acts of war and violence, let’s respond by imitating the mindset that Christ had towards his enemies.

Jesus’s prayer for his enemies (and for us) should encourage His church to cultivate this same attitude. Even when others seem to be filled with wickedness, their sin is the same as those who crucified Jesus. Jesus prayed for them. Jesus died for them. Jesus loved them. Let us follow the example of Jesus and pray “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Better Bible Study Tip #65: Do Not Force The Bible Conform To Your Denominational Preferences

If you want to understand what the Bible really teaches, it is absolutely crucial that you do not filter the Bible through your denominational preferences or your church’s interpretive tradition. Don’t try to force the Bible to be something it’s not. Don’t try to force to Bible to address modern denominational debates that were not being considered when the Bible was first written.

I’ve said it before, but it is worth repeating: If we are going to rightly apply the Bible in our own cultural context, we first need to make sure we are understanding it correctly in it’s original cultural context (see Better Bible Study Tip #41: Context is King). Thousands of years separate us from the time when the Bible was written. They were not us. We are not them. We can understand the Bible like they did, but it requires that we put ourselves in their shoes and read scripture in light of their worldview.

To illustrate my point, consider the phrase “I sent you a text.” We all know what that sentence means. But what if someone said “I sent you a text” in the year 1990? The same phrase would obviously mean something different, because “texting” as we know it simply did not exist. If someone said that in 1990, we would conclude that someone was sending somebody a book, or a manuscript or something. The same phrase would mean something completely different simply based on when it was said.

So for example, when Paul wrote to the “bishops” in Philippi, we shouldn’t imagine that Paul thought of a bishop the same way a modern Catholic thinks of bishops. When Paul wrote “be filled with the spirit” (Eph. 5:18), he was writing as a first century Jew, not as a modern charismatic. When Joel say “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved”, he wasn’t imagining that people would be saved by saying the “sinner’s prayer.” John the Baptist wasn’t a “Baptist” in the same way we use the word. He was simply a baptizer. When Paul said “the churches of Christ salute you” he wasn’t referring to the Ephesus Church of Christ or the Corinth Church of Christ as if they were a first century denomination as many use the phrase “Church of Christ” today. He was simply referring those first century churches that belonged to Christ.

This principle goes beyond simple phrases, and extends to doctrinal teachings as well. When Paul wrote about the relationship of “faith” and “works”, he wasn’t referring to 16th century Catholic/Protestant debates. I could keep going, but hopefully the point is clear. We need to be careful not to make the biblical authors say more or less than what they actually said and meant in their own context.

To filter the Bible through our own denominational preferences or church traditions that post date the time of the Bible means imposing a foreign historical context on scripture. It means changing the original meaning of scripture. It means altering what the biblical authors were trying to teach. The more we cling to our favorite denominational understandings, the more we put ourselves at risk of misunderstanding scripture. We need to respect the Bible for what it is and what it teaches, and not force it to be what we wish it was or teach what we wish it taught.

What I – A Christian – Would Say to President Biden About Ukraine

Does being a Christian mean that I am opposed to Russia invading Ukraine? Does it mean that I am opposed to the United States getting violently involved in the conflict to protect Ukraine? If I, as a Christian, am pro-life, what would I say if President Biden asked me for my opinion on how America should respond to recent events in Ukraine?

The first thing I would try to explain is that I don’t think that being a Christian means that one must take the position that the governments of this world must embrace pacifism. Of course Christians are commanded to love to their enemies, to do good to their enemies, and to seek peace and pursue it. This is based not only on the commands of our Lord and of his apostles, but also on a strong pro-life understanding that all humans are created to reflect the image of God. To take the life of another human is to destroy an image of the God we serve. Because of this, many assume that Christians should all call the governments of this world to “turn the other cheek”. That’s not actually my understanding of what the Bible teaches. I don’t believe that Jesus and Paul’s instructions for Christians to love their enemies and do good to their enemies was ever intended as instructions for how the governments of this world are to respond to evil.

To the contrary, in Romans 12 and 13, Paul explicitly contrasts the attitudes and actions of Jesus’s disciples with the attitudes and actions of the governments of this world. Paul instructs Christians to “bless those who curse you” (12:14), to “repay no one evil for evil” (12:17), and to “never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God” (12:19). Rather than retaliating against enemies, Christians are commanded to overcome evil with good, by giving food and drink to their enemies when they are in need (12:20-21). Then Paul immediately proceeds to say that God “institutes” all the governing authorities as he sees fit (13:1), which is why they “do not bear the sword in vain” (13:4). God institutes these sword-bearing governing authorities as “an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (13:4).

The point I would try to stress to Mr. Biden is that Paul forbids disciples of Christ from ever engaging in the very activity that he says God uses governments to accomplish, namely the the taking of vengeance against evildoers. We as Christians are to leave vengeance to God, who has promised “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” (12:19). This doesn’t mean that God wants Russia or Ukraine or the United States to act violently, but God does institute (or “organizes”) them and their swords to bring about as much good as possible for his disciples. Part of the good he works to bring about is specifically the punishment of wrongdoers so as to keep evil in check.

I do believe this implies that there are certain “sword bearing” activities that governments take towards their enemies that Christians are forbidden from participating in. But I do think it’s a misunderstanding to think that Christians have a responsibility to try to get their governments to try to take a pacifist position. This is to act as if the New Testament gives instructions on how to reform the kingdoms of this world, when in reality, Jesus came to establish a kingdom that is not of this world.

So what do I think that President Biden should do about the crisis in Ukraine? The most important thing I would stress is that whatever my opinion is – as a Christian – should not be taken as a distinctly Biblical teaching about what Mr. Biden should do in Ukraine. The Bible just doesn’t speak to that directly. Mr. Biden’s kingdom, and the kingdom of which I am a citizen, operate under a completely different set of values. Mr. Putin’s kingdom, and the kingdom of which I am a citizen, operate under a completely different set of values. The kingdoms of this world fight for their self-interest, while we die to ours. Their primary concern is with whatever is most practical. Our primary concern is with what is most faithful. They rely on the power to threaten and take life if necessary, while our confidence is in the power of self-sacrificial love and the hope of resurrection.

In this light, my allegiance to the enemy-loving Jesus probably means that whatever foreign policy advice I might have to offer Mr. Biden might not be very “street smart” when it comes to the best way to lead the American military. Although most Christians, including myself, have plenty of different opinions about how the United States (or Russia or Ukraine for that matter) should handle this situation, the Bible doesn’t give any specifically “Christian” guidance for how to run the governments of this world.

So with that somewhat strange point being stressed, what would say if Mr. Biden asked me what I think he should do about Ukraine? First, I would encourage him to act slowly and think very carefully. There have been numerous examples over the years of the United States acting rashly and violently towards enemies, in what turns out in hindsight to be quite foolish.

I would also encourage Mr. Biden to consider the long-term consequences of his actions. Violence almost always looks like a solution in the short run, but in the long run, violence almost always leads to more violence. How would American intervention against Russia be used in Russia and other countries to harden more people against the United States and be used to recruit a stronger anti-US sentiment in the future? I would encourage Mr. Biden to think about just how little has been accomplished in the middle east after decades of involvement. And if Russia is repelled, and Ukraine regains their peace and sovereignty, how long will this last before they expect us to get involved again?

If Mr. Biden asked for my advice, I would ask him if all other avenues have been exhausted. Have all possible diplomatic solutions been tried? Have we exhausted all attempts to dialogue with Putin? I know the media tries to make him out to be a Hitler-type madman, but ever since the cold War, the US has been able to maintain mostly peaceful relations with Russia. What changed? Is there anything we can possibly do to reopen the door for dialogue and peaceful negotiations?

I also would ask Mr. Biden to consider the costs of getting involved. The Federal Reserve is already struggling as they try to control high inflation without crashing the economy. What kind of impact will it have on the poor if they are asked to finance war expenses on top of everything else?

I would also encourage Mr. Biden to take a position that is principled, and consistent. If he views Ukrainian lives as worth defending, why stop there? Why not defend other innocent life? A great place to start would be to start defending the innocent lives of unborn children at home. If Mr. Biden recognizes Ukrain’s secession and independence from Russia, would he be consistent in peacefully recognizing the independence and sovereignty of one of America’s own states if they were to secede from the United States?

Finally, after what has hopefully been a kind and respectful dialog with Mr. Biden, I would ask for permission to ask a more personal question. Mr. Biden, as a Catholic, claims to follow Jesus. I would ask, “Mr. Biden, how do your reconcile your position as Commander and Chief of the most powerful military in the world with your profession to follow Jesus? What difference would it make if your allegiance to the teachings of Jesus were to surpass your allegiance to the United States? What difference would it make if your allegiance to Jesus were even more important than your allegiance to the Catholic church? Is there a chance that you would be willing to forsake everything else, be immersed in baptism, and begin a new life as a disciple of Christ? Would you be willing to become a citizen of His kingdom, and place your hope in the way of the cross and resurrection? Will you become a part of His church? Until Jesus comes back, there will always be plenty of violent men and women who will happily fill the role you currently fill. But in the long run, what hope does this way offer? When Jesus returns, and his enemies are defeated, don’t you want to make sure you are on his side?”

And finally, I would assure Mr. Biden that I am praying for him, and for Ukraine, and for Mr. Putin and for Russia. Because at the end of the day, I am confident that the prayers of faithful Christians will accomplish much more than violence ever will.

Better Bible Study Tip #64: Listen to Bible Themed Podcasts

I’ve been a podcast listener for several years now. Although I enjoy listening to all kinds of podcasts (business, leadership, Star Wars, economics, history, sports, etc), I spend most of my time listening to Bible study themed podcasts. I initially started listening to podcasts simply because they are more entertaining than listening to the same 20 songs over and over on the radio. But the more I’ve listened to podcasts, the more I’ve noticed that listening to podcasts can actually improve your Bible study.

We’re all busy people. Even the most disciplined Bible student will often feel like they just don’t have enough time to study as much as they should. The beauty of listening to podcasts is that you can listen on demand. You can play a podcast while you are driving, exercising, or cleaning. That means you can listen to podcasts without having to take any additional time out of your day!

Another reason I recommend listening to podcasts is because you can listen to discussions on almost any niche topic you can think of. Whether you are interested in apologetics, ancient near eastern culture, the Christian and finances, Christians leadership, book by book exegesis, or teaching children’s bible classes, there are podcasts out there focused specifically on that specific topic! I will usually have four or five different podcasts that I listen to regularly, plus several more that I will listen to occasionally whenever they post an episode that looks interesting.

What’s even better is that the the endless content of podcasts is completely free. With some podcasts you can actually learn more about a subject matter than you would if you attended a college class. I’ve read that if you drive 12,000 miles in a year, in three years time, if you listen to podcasts, it is the equivalent of two years worth of college classes. I have no idea if that’s true or not, but I do know that you can learn quite a bit from podcasts and it’s way cheaper than paying thousands in college tuition.

One other hidden gem is that many podcasts will refer listeners back to their website or show-notes page, where they have additional resources listed. It may not seem like much, but I’ve stumbled across some really interesting articles and book recommendations simply from visiting some podcast show-notes pages.

Better Bible Study Tip #3 was “Don’t Just Read – Think“. Listening to podcasts will give you plenty of things to think about. Of course, we should always listen critically. As with any other media used for teaching, some podcasts are better than others. The only way to critically decipher between good teaching and false teaching is to spend plenty of time studying the inspired text of scripture itself. For this reason, listening to podcasts should be viewed as supplement to Bible study, and should NEVER be treated as a replacement for Bible study.

Podcasts have been a blessing to my Bible study, and I’m sure they can help you gain some additional insights as well. It’s simple to start. Using a podcast app, just search for whatever topic you want to learn about, and then start listening. If you don’t like what you find, just search try something else. If you find a good one, hit subscribe as keep listening. You might also try asking for recommendations from Christian friends. If you haven’t started listening to Bible themed podcasts, I highly encourage you to do so.