Sunday, August 30, 2009

Detecting Antichrists

(Edited for clarity on 9/3/2009)

Every night (except when I'm so dog-tired that I can barely muster to find the bedroom), I read a few Bible verses to our son. It's a moment of quality father-son time, that I would not trade for anything. Lately, we've been reading 1 John, which I like to call "the opposites letter", on account of all the contrasts that it contains. The start of chapter 4 hit a chord in me, and I'd like to talk about it a bit.

[1] Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.

First of all, we must always be on our guard, because false doctrines and false teachers are everywhere, some so cunning that, if it were possible, they could deceive the very elect (paraphrased from the Bible). Like the famous Bereans, we need to be comparing what we see and hear with the Word of God. That means not only having the Bible handy, but internalizing its contents, so that we are walking Bibles. This is especially important, as there seems to be a church on every corner, and religious people all around us.

[2] Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God:
[3] And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God....

Here's a litmus test that tells you whether or not a person, organization, or doctrine is of God. Sounds a little simplistic, if taken at face value, but when you look at it a bit closer, you'll find so much more.

What does "Jesus Christ is come in the flesh" mean? Just that there really was this historical guy named Jesus, who walked around Galilee, 2000 years ago? Even many atheists will agree to that. But the "Christ" is not a last name, but a title. A title reserved for the Messiah, the one that scriptures prophesied that would come and bring salvation. The Holy One of God, God Himself, come in the flesh, to die on the cross for our sins. There's a lot there! And there are so many who deny this truth, try to water it down, or add man's ideas to it. God's not into that; no, He tells it like it is, and so do His people. Those who don't, simply aren't of Him.

[3] ... and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.

Many Christians are into "The Antichrist" that's supposed to come at the end of the world, only to be defeated by Jesus. I can understand where that idea came from, but there's nothing in the Bible that confirms that any one personage carrying that title will ever come. Only 1 and 2 John even mention the word "antichrist", and he makes it clear that they are already here today (from his time, even) and are very, very common. By his definition, an antichrist is one who denies that Jesus is the Christ (1 John 2:22, 2 John 1:7). Jews are antichrists (how's THAT for political incorrectness???). Muslims are antichrists. Atheists are antichrists. Hindus and Buddhists are antichrists. The various end-times beasts and false prophets mentioned throughout the Bible are antichrists. I think even some "Christian" sects are that way or extremely close. And, of course, there are those (such as the Catholics and Mormons), who although will verbally agree that Jesus is Christ, they have added so many rules, traditions, and doctrines, that Jesus simply gets lost in the shuffle.

But a true Christian is one whose entire being depends on this simple truth: Jesus is Christ.

[4] Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.

So need we fear the falsehoods out there? Naaah! Jesus has already overcome it, and through Him, we are overcomers, too! How do we overcome? Not by beating everyone else over the head with a family-sized Bible, but by not being tainted by their lies. By being a shining example, in spite of them and by not failing to teach our children to walk in God's truth.

[5] They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them.

How true this is! Here is a phrase software engineers like to use: You put garbage in, you get garbage out. For a computer program, this means that if you feed it incorrect data, you will get incorrect results, no matter how well-written the program itself is. Humans work the same way. We were created in God's image, but if we gorge on the sinful things of the world, that's exactly what we'll be spewing back out. But if Jesus and God's Word are what we put in, then that's what will be on our minds and lips.

[6] We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.

We have a choice of what we put into our minds. People of the world like to listen to the things of the world, and people of God like to listen to Him. Worldly people will not want to hear what you have to say (even those who claim to be Christian). Here's a funny one for you: will a TV set ever listen to what you have to say (no matter how much you yell at it)? Where does it fall in, according to John?

The rest of the chapter is totally awesome too, but I'll stop here, for now.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

A (World)View of "Camelot"

Ted Kennedy died of brain cancer this past Tuesday, leaving behind a tainted legacy. He was the liberals' champion and the conservatives' arch-enemy. But this post is not about his works or where his soul might be resting right now (if it is resting at all). There is something he said at a dinner, more than 20 years ago, that has shed a spotlight on a current issue. The following is an excerpt from Yahoo's biographical article on him.

When a Moral Majority fundraising appeal somehow arrived at his office one day in the early 1980s, word leaked to the public, and the conservative group issued an invitation for him to come to Liberty Baptist College if he was ever in the neighborhood.

Pleased to accept, was the word from Kennedy.

"So I told Jerry (Falwell) and he almost turned white as a sheet," said Cal Thomas, then an aide to the conservative leader.

Dinner at the Falwell home was described as friendly.

Dessert was a political sermon on tolerance, delivered by the liberal from Massachusetts.

"I believe there surely is such a thing as truth, but who among us can claim a monopoly?" Kennedy said from the podium that night. "There are those who do, and their own words testify to their intolerance."

"Tolerance" has a become a buzzword and a banner, used by the secular left, to push an agenda of relativistic morality (or none at all) and gain acceptance of practices and beliefs that have historically been frowned upon by the populace-at-large. Drug use, sexual promiscuity and deviancy, abortion, and entertainment being some of the most obvious examples.

How ironic that Kennedy confessed a belief in (absolute) truth, but in the same breath denied the possibility that anyone could know it. By accusing such people of intolerance, he himself demonstrates a similar intolerance toward those very same folks.

In general, many vocal non-Christians accuse Christians of being intolerant, just because we espouse to the immutable truths found in the Word of God. But God Himself is the very image of tolerance. Anyone who's read the Bible cover-to-cover knows how infinitely patient and forgiving God is. Just look in the Books of Judges and 1 and 2 Kings, how often the Israelites rebelled against Him, and yet He always heard their pleas of repentance. Jesus patiently tolerated not only the doubts and nearsightedness of His own disciples, as well as the humiliation of imprisonment, torture, and the cross. How many sinners does He even today allow to live to a ripe old age?

On the other hand, God told the Israelites, as they were about to enter Canaan, to mercilessly and utterly wipe out the nations around them. He warned them that if they failed to do so, their heathen neighbors would be a stumblingblock to them and lead them astray. Naturally, God's chosen people disobeyed, and we all know the results. Likewise, I think Christians as a whole have been too tolerant of society's moral slipping and sliding, to the point where we have not only become the extremist minority, but we and our children are being assaulted every day by the filth that runs through our streets, like open sewers (paraphrasing from a Carman song).

Is there a way back? Some, looking at Revelation, say that things will just keep getting worse and worse, until He finally makes His triumphant return. But I say, even if the Titanic's sinking, we should not just sit there playing fiddle, but get as many as we can to the liferafts.

So don't let the atheists shoot you down with accusations of intolerance, hatred, and judgmentality, for they are guilty of the very same thing they accuse you of. Invite them to remove the beam out of their own eyes, before they start looking for slivers in yours.

As you can see, I don't tolerate people who call me intolerant. ;)

Friday, August 21, 2009

Greg's Testimony: Farrah's Viewpoint

Posted by: Farrah

I wish that I was worthy of the rosy picture Greg painted in his testimony. I wish I could say that I was a perfect Christian, but that is not the case. It would have been best if my husband had been my first date. He can say his wife (me) was his first kiss, but I was not so noble. I tried very hard to mess up God’s plans. As sincere and devoted as I was to my faith, it seemed I could not master the temptation of dating the wrong men.

Thankfully, God was merciful and intervened. One lost interest, one had a heart attack and returned to his Arab country from where he basically proposed. His family was wealthy, and I think he would have flown me across the world. Praise God, I came to my senses! To think I might have ended up trapped in a land where women are slaves to their husbands! The third terminated our relationship after finding a girl who had no limitations. He was in jail for rape by the time I married Greg.

That last one was rough, because it ended in real heartbreak. The kind of heartbreak that makes you want to die. I cried every day for weeks and begged God several times a day to take away the pain. I remember my mom sitting on my bed saying, “You don’t know what could happen. God could bring you the perfect Christian guy. A year from now you could be married!”

It seemed impossible. I laughed through my tears though there was a glimmer of hope. God is mighty, and He does big things.

I barely knew Greg. I have a vivid memory of sitting in the same computer lab doing homework. I was studying at a table, while he was writing a program. Apparently it wasn’t going well, and he was cussing like a sailor. Hardcore, offensive profanity. I thought, “I could never marry a heathen like that.” No joke!

Not only that, but I liked clean cut. He had a ponytail. I noticed eyes, he wore glasses. His pants and shirts were too short. Seriously, his pants were several inches above his ankles. I was surprised when he walked into the room one day with new clothes and contacts! I thought, “Wow! He’s actually attractive when he doesn’t look like a geek!" We enjoyed chatting now and then. Once he impressed me with his kindness and patience when he took the time to teach me three different ways to do matrices on my calculator.

After my horrible heartbreak I prayed and made a strong commitment to God that I would never date again unless the man loved Jesus as much as I did. One day, I got an e-mail from Greg out of the blue. I had asked him to e-mail me during a casual conversation the previous year before he went off to grad school. “Send me an e-mail when you get there.” and he took me seriously. It’s funny, I don’t even remember that conversation!

What a nice e-mail it was! Well written and overflowing with his amazing sense of humor. I looked forward to receiving more letters from this new friend. It would be a fun and refreshing break from the monotony of school.

But I was cautious. I knew my weakness and was determined to keep my commitment to God. I knew I couldn’t trust myself if I spent time with a guy, so I did everything I could to guard against romance. The first time he came back to visit his parents for vacation and wanted to get together, I warned him, “This is JUST friendship. It’s NOT a date.” Poor guy! He had never even kissed a girl, and after hearing THAT, he was scared to try anything! He was a perfect gentleman.

We went to a restaurant, and I prayed before we ate. Afterwards, he looked me straight in the eye and said, “Farrah, that was really beautiful.” There was no hint of mockery. He was completely serious, and I was floored at this incredible, rare display of sincerity. I knew that Greg wasn’t a Christian, but he was real. In fact, that was one of the things that struck my family when they eventually met him: His sincerity.

I have little else to add beyond what Greg said. I shared my faith with him, and we fell in love over time through e-mail. I was worried about what would happen. I was extremely distraught when we had to end our friendship. It was heartbreak city all over, but this time I was confused. “Why God? WHY? I don’t understand how this happened again! I tried SO hard to do the right thing this time! I will just have to trust that You know what You’re doing.”

But it wasn’t a week later before Greg told me that he realized he was giving up not just me but God and asked me to teach him more about Jesus. I had renewed hope. The day he told me he got saved was one of the happiest days of my life!

Something different with my relationship with Greg is that I experienced the full joy of being in love after he became a Christian. It was the first time I walked around with a silly grin all the time and told everyone I met that I was so happy I couldn’t contain it. It felt right, because it WAS right. He was the one God created for me. And you know what? It probably was just about a year after that conversation with my mom that Greg and I were united in marriage. Our Lord is amazing!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

My Testimony: Ending Is Beginning

We broke up. Someone stopped the car, before we plunged off the cliff.

I thought long and hard about the situation. Here was a young woman who chose her faith over me. Though I knew she was as head-over-heels for me as I was for her, this Jesus guy trumped all else. She dumped me, for a dead guy in an old book.

But what if there really was something to Jesus? Then I would not only lose her, but also a chance to find the answer to what I may have been missing all along. By the next morning, my mind was made up: I had to find out. I had to know if this Jesus, that she chose over me, was for real. I sent her an e-mail and told her that I wanted to know more about Jesus. I told her I could make no promises about us, until I made up my mind about Him. Later that day, she called me, and I spoke to her dad, a pastor. He was very nice, and he recommended I buy a King James Bible and study the Gospel of John.

I had tried reading the Bible before, for classes and Young Life, but it never made much sense to me, and it was very boring reading. Still, I needed to find out more about Jesus, and that seemed as good a place to start as any.

I went to the local bookstore, a dinky place in an old building, and scoured the Bible racks for a KJV. Didn't find one until I looked up. High, on the topmost shelf, someone had put a paperback KJV, all by its lonesome. It was meant for me. I bought it and began to read.

For some reason, the words made sense to me, now. The account of Jesus' travels and teachings became real to me. It was as if Jesus was speaking directly to me..., and I believed.

On April 8, 1998, while sitting at my desk, doing homework, I prayed the first earnest prayer of my young life. I asked Jesus to forgive my sins and to guide me in every decision I would ever make, including whether this girl that I still loved was the one for me.

She was.

And still is.

The following December, we were married, and Farrah and I will be celebrating our 11th anniversary this year.

So, this was actually the story of a love triangle. A Savior who loved His children beyond imagining used one to lead the other to Him. For that, I will always be thankful to Jesus, and to a woman who had the faith to love Him more than me.

So, did I adopt new beliefs for the love of a woman? Some may say that I have, but that's an awfully shallow way of looking at it. No one ever comes to Jesus, without Him first drawing them to Himself. He uses different means, depending on the person. For some, it's hardship. For others, it's the example of a faithful servant. For me, it was the love of a woman... for her Savior.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

My Testimony: Being Led and Leading On

Now, you might remember from my last post that I had decided to never let any girl alter my beliefs. Keep that in mind, because it's pertinent to what happened next.

There was a girl (isn't that how it always happens???) in college, whom I had a crush on. She was in the same major as me, only a year younger, but I was always a grader for her professors, so I didn't want to mix business with pleasure. OK, I was shy and totally scared out of my shorts to even say anything to her, save for teaching her how to do matrices on a calculator and talking about Star Wars. True story! Can you say G-E-E-K???

When I went to graduate school (1800 miles away), we started corresponding via e-mail. I quicky discovered that she was a devout, ultra-conservative Christian, very different from any other religious person I had ever met. She seemed to live what she preached, not just on Sundays, but every day. We both greatly enjoyed our discussions, and as often happens in such cases, we fell in love. OK, not just in love, but head-over-heels, walking-on-Cloud-Nine, miss-your-floor-on-the-way-up-the-stairs (also a true story!) type of love. The kind that makes people around the two of you want to hurl. ;)

But there was a barrier. She loved Jesus, and I didn't. I wanted nothing to do with religion (little did I know that religion and Jesus have nothing to do with each other!). She shared the Gospel with me and told me that she could not maintain a relationship with (much less marry) a guy that did not believe the same as her (turns out she had already gone down that road, and it inevitably led to heartache). Unwilling to even consider "converting", but already head-over-heels for her (note that our relationship was strictly over e-mail, with only a couple phone calls in-between), I kept postponing the issue.

I'm ashamed of this now, but whenever she brought it up, I told her our love was like a car barrelling toward a cliff, without any brakes. I said that we won't know what will happen, but that the ride would be exciting. Inside, I was hoping that we could work it out, that we would stay together, without me having to pretend that I'm a religious person. After all, I wasn't ever going to let a girl change my beliefs.

One afternoon, it came to a head. She said that she had to make a stand for what she believed: in spite of her deep love for me, she could not marry a guy who did not love Jesus as much as she did. I answered that I never would. We broke up.

She cried herself to sleep that night, but she knew, though it hurt, that she made the right decision.

Friday, August 14, 2009

My Testimony: The Early Years

This blog's new incarnation is approaching the one-year mark, and I recently realized that I've never shared how I came to the Lord. Let's fix that right now.

I was born in Romania, in a non-religious home. I think my parents did a good job teaching me right from wrong, but I had very little knowledge of the Bible or its Magnificent Author. As a teenager in the U.S., I was pretty much an atheist.

My first real exposure to the Christian religion (but not really Jesus) started when a high school classmate invited me to a Young Life event. I had no idea what Young Life was; I thought it was just a party. We did volleyball and lots of fun competitive games, and at the very end, one of the leaders gave a short message. I liked it and went back the following week, but with each successive event, less and less time was spent on fun and more on the Bible. I started to realize that the games were a way to get young people to come and hear the good news.

Unfortunately, while they taught about man's sinful nature, I only remember a "believe only", watered-down version of Salvation. I "decided" to follow Jesus, but did not repent of my sins nor gave my life to Him. Aside from their organized events, I didn't read the Bible, much less study it. I prayed to God, but He didn't seem to respond back. I continued in my sinful ways, unaware that Jesus had so much more in store for me.

The one unforgettable experience I had, in my one-year foray into Young Life, was a summer camp in British Columbia. There, at the Malibu Club, is some of the most beautiful country that God has ever made! But aside from the fun and challenging activities (especially the zip line that I almost chickened out on), I did not grow at all spiritually. I can't blame the staff; I wasn't ready. I now think that God was preparing me, but He was not calling, yet.

After I returned home, they kept asking me to come to other events, throughout the week: church, Bible studies, picnics, etc... I went more out of a sense of obligation, than anything else. Oftentimes, I would make up excuses, when I really didn't feel like going. The last event I think I ever attended was a mini-camp, ironically not far at all from where we now live. The last evening, I took a walk with my counsellor, and we chatted for a while. I mentioned that while the Bible has great teachings, I didn't take everything in it literally. I said that since men wrote it, it must have many mistakes. He didn't take that very well. It wasn't so much WHAT he said, as HOW he said it. He said that I couldn't follow Jesus if I didn't believe the ENTIRE Bible as true. Of course, I see that now (thought there are many parts that are symbolic, not to be taken literally), but his reaction was the last straw for me. From that point on, I saw religious people as no different from anyone else, except that they were stuck following a bunch of rules and doing boring things, like going to church and reading outdated writings. I felt sorry for them. I think that was the last time I had anything to do with Young Life.

As I got into college, I not only finalized my decision that there was nothing to Christianity (or any religion, for that matter), but also that I would never let any girl change my mind.

By the way, the picture of the guy on the zip line isn't me, unless I fainted on the way down! No, if it was me, you'd see a guy desperately clutching the rope. I think I'm getting better about it now, nearly 20 years after the fact, since a new friend has introduced me to rock-climbing. But that's a story for another time.