Bible

The Poor Are Also Created in the Image of God

“If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with action and in truth.” (1 John 3:17-18)

Wow. I must confess, this passage is difficult for me to imitate. Throughout life, I have bypassed many beggars on the streets and ignored their plea for money. What’s my excuses consist of?

Here is a list that usually runs in my head: If they are able-bodied, why can’t they get a job? What if they use that money for drugs or alcohol? How do I know they are telling me the truth? I need that money for myself. I have a family to feed.

How do you respond when a beggar asks for money? Have these thoughts ever entered your mind? If so, you are not alone. But are these excuses valid? As Christians, I do think we need to be wise in how we give money to strangers, but are we ever justified to ignore a person in need?

Let’s examine the Bible. Jesus makes it clear in Luke 6:30, “Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.”

The Greek word for everyone is πᾶς. It means, “all people.” Similarly, in the passage above, the Greek word for anyone is ὅς, which has a totality emphasis, meaning to give unconditionally. There are at least 30 additional passages that Jesus preaches on concerning charity towards the poor.

Based on Scripture, I believe all of us have a duty to help people in need. Does that help always include financial assistance? Not all the time. If you are financially unstable, and someone is begging from you, it may be unwise to give them money you don’t have.

However, I still think there is an obligation to show Christ’s love to that person. You can certainly pray for them. Peter is a perfect example of this in Acts: “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk (Acts 3:6).”

Therefore, while there may be conditions in which you can’t give monetarily, there are no conditions in which you should ignore the person.

When I was in college, I used to preach in the open air. Homeless people would come up to me all the time and ask for money. Instead of giving them money, I invited them to eat a meal with me. Most declined.

There was one person I vividly remember accepting my invitation. When we walked into the restaurant, I will never forget the reaction on the customers’ faces. It’s almost as if you could read their minds. “What is he doing in here? He smells bad.” I felt sympathy for this homeless man because I experienced what it was like to sense strong rejection, as if I was sub-human.

While we were eating, he told me his life story. I came to the realization that he was a person just like me. Full of dreams. Creative. A sense of humor. Personable. On the other hand, broken. Confused. Depressed. Despite the virtues and vices, this man was a priceless vessel created in the image of God.

This experience has helped me to become more sympathetic towards the poor and needy. And it should. The Bible tells us that if we don’t have pity for the brokenhearted, then the love of God does not reside in us. James tells us that if we have faith, but not works, our faith is futile. Our religion becomes worthless when we abandon the widows and orphans in distress.

On judgment day, Jesus will say to the righteous: ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me (Matt. 25:40).” Next time you see a stranger in need, remember that a day is coming when you will either be exhorted by your decision to help a person in need or rebuked for failing to imitate Christ’s love.

Be encouraged. There are endless opportunities to show the love of Christ to the outcasts. Here are 7 suggestions. Please add more to this list in the comments below. God bless.

  1. Go on a mission trip with your local church.
  2. Help out at Vacation Bible School.
  3. Adopt a child in the foster care system.
  4. Give to Hope for the Hungry.
  5. Bring food to a homeless person.
  6. Instead of buying a cup of coffee, save that money for a beggar.
  7. Grab some lunch with an outcast at your church who may not have a family nearby.

The Gospel in 5 Words and 5 Verses

Creation

“Then God said, Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” – Genesis 1:26

Sin

“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” -Romans 6:23

Love 

“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.”- Isaiah 53:5

Grace

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God; not by works, so that no one can boast.” -Ephesians 2:8

Life

“Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” – Acts 2:38

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Should Christians Gamble?

In college, I went to the Kentucky Derby with my friends. The main reason we went was to socialize, not bet on horses. After watching a few races, we decided to put down a measly sum of money. $10 to be exact. Was that wrong for us to do? Would the Bible condemn that action?

While there are no specific references in Scripture that condemn gambling, betting, or lottery, the Bible does warn us not to be tempted by the love of money (1 Tim. 6:10; Heb. 13:5). Scripture also condemns receiving money without labor (Prov. 13:11; 23:5; Eccl. 5:10). All of us know the gambling industry personifies both. Therefore, I think gambling should be avoided by Christians. Let me explain why.

Anyone who gambles can develop addictions if they are not aware of the risks and do not gamble responsibly. Signs that indicate someone has a problem is when behavior hinders relationships, finances, and the workplace. Gambling addiction has been known to be a “hidden problem” because there are no obvious physical signs or symptoms like drug or alcohol addiction. Here are 4 things to ask yourself to determine whether you may have a gambling problem:

  1. Feel the need to be secretive about your gambling. You might gamble in secret or find ways to lie about how much you really spend on betting. For instance, you may go to the convenience store everyday to get a lottery ticket but tell people that’s not “really gambling.”
  2. You may have trouble controlling your gambling. When you begin gambling, is it hard for you to walk away from it? Are you compelled to keep spending your money until you bet the last dollar? Do you borrow money from others so you can win your loss back?
  3. If you gamble even when you don’t have money, this is a concern, especially if you have children and a spouse to take care of. When you feel pushed to borrow or even steal things for gambling money, you have a problem.
  4. People closest to you in life will share their concerns, eventually when you can’t hide it anymore. Denial keeps problem gambling going, but after a while it becomes obvious. When friends and family show concern, it’s best to get professional help.

If gambling is a struggle, I would encourage you to seek help. Get counseling from a Christian counselor who can remind you of the power of the Holy Spirit to overcome temptation. Remember, all of us struggle with sin. It’s when we admit it and are willing to repent from it that God will help us in our time of greatest need. I will end with this verse to remind you of God’s great love. God bless.

“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” – 1 Corinthians 10:13

Why Does a Good God Allow Human Suffering?

“Good and upright is the Lord.” – Psalm 25:8

Why does a loving God allow human suffering and evil? If God is all-powerful, doesn’t he have the ability to prevent it? If the Creator truly cares, wouldn’t he bring peace upon this earth? What is the purpose of suffering, if any at all? These are all common questions that people ask, especially when they are experiencing tragedy.

When my wife was a child, she had a younger sister named Natalia. At the age of 1, it was evident something physically was wrong. Her parents went from doctor to doctor to get a diagnosis. Finally, the worst news possible: Natalia had terminal cancer.

Her parents were determined to save Natalia’s life. They tried chemotherapy, surgery, traveled to clinics around the country, but there was no remedy for this cancer. It started in the tailbone and spread to her lungs.

When Natalia began to walk, she would complain about her leg pain. She just wanted relief. My wife vividly remembers a time when Natalia said to her Mom, “I just want an injection. Can you give me an injection to relieve this pain?” Most children loathe shots, but Natalia needed it because her pain was unbearable. That same year Natalia passed away and began the journey to her heavenly home.

Stories like these are hard to hear. My wife and her family were devastated. Heartbroken. Questioning the goodness of God was a natural conversation considering their circumstances. Despite the pain, this tragedy had started a positive direction for their family.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” – Romans 8:28

After the funeral, my Father-in-Law, who was an agnostic, started attending church. He had nowhere else to go. In his brokenness, the only relief was to be part of a community of believers who would pray and comfort him and his family during this ravenous storm.

My wife started going to church with her grandpa. My Mother-in-Law also began attending church. Although Natalie had passed into eternity, her influence was prevalent. This tragedy brought the entire family into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Today, my wife loves the Lord. She has helped missionaries translate the gospel from English to Ukrainian. She has counseled several women in the church. Everyday,  she teaches my two boys the importance of God’s love. For instance, our eldest son Evan is already sharing Jesus with kids he meets at the park. She has been a tremendous helper for me and a vital asset to the strength of our family.

My Father-in-Law owns a successful business. He gives employees the option of staying after work to do in-depth Bible studies with him. And yes, they get paid for being present. He has contributed greatly to their city, revamping dilapidated buildings, creating programs for youth, and teaching Bible studies at his house. He knows the Bible better than any seminary trained professor I have ever met.

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” – James 1:2-4

All of us will experience tragedy at some point. It’s inevitable. When these tragedies do arise, what will your attitude be? If you become bitter and angry towards God, I can promise you, life will become a dark tunnel filled with disappointment. Bitterness always leads to the grave.

My wife’s sister Natalia was a heartbroken event. Both her laughter and tears will never be forgotten. And yes, grieving is the right attitude, but it’s not the final outcome. Natalia had a positive impact on my wife and her entire family. Her death brought brokenness, but that brokenness led the Livinyuk family to seek refuge in Christ. Praise be to God.

Quantum Mechanics Points to an Intelligent Creator

Can quantum mechanics objectively prove God’s existence? Yes and No. Let me explain. Looking at the science objectively, I can demonstrate, for instance, that the wavelength of a photon can be determined by taking the velocity of the wave and dividing it by the frequency. This can be measured and proven in the observable universe.

From this data, I can only infer subjectively that it’s possible some intelligent mind gave quantum mechanics the sophisticated brilliance to work so elegantly. Does this therefore conclude God exists? In my mind, I can’t think of any better explanation for the data given.

Some have contested this statement, saying, “Why would you infer a mind or that it is intelligent? The universe “works” in such a way that it comes on as all of this, but terms like sophisticated, brilliant or elegant are meaningless here. Do those words even really describe it?

I would argue yes, quantum mechanics does point to an intelligent Creator. For instance, Eugene Weigner, a Nobel Prize Physicist, had argued materialism is no longer logically consistent with present quantum mechanics. Beforehand, Einsteins theory of relativity maintained the universe was deterministic and mind independent. Now, through the double slit experiment, scientists discovered a wave function collapses when there is an observer. When no observation takes place, the photon continues as a wave. When it is observed, it quantizes into a particle.

If the laws of physics weren’t affected by the minds observation, then mechanical materialism or physicalism would be a tenable theory. However, quantum mechanics suggests the opposite.

If the human mind transcends matter then it’s possible there are other minds that transcend the physical universe. And might there not even exist an ultimate mind? Quantum mechanics help bridge the gap between the pure sciences and the metaphysical world. This is huge because no longer are we “inferring” a mind, but the experiments are rather proving it.

In conclusion, it’s hard to make a definitive statement that science “objectively” proves the existence of God. We can’t experimentally test this in a lab. But that doesn’t mean science can’t point to God being a more probable explanation for the existence of the universe than string theory, multiple universes, or naturalistic processes.

Why? Because as I said before, the real world is more sophisticated than a computer machine. Computer machines don’t just spontaneously pop in and out of existence. There was an architect with a mind who gave it code and mathematical computations. Software programs are not self-sufficient; they require a designer. If computers require a programmer, how much more does the fine-tuning universe need one? That’s why I still contend that God is the best explanation for the universe. Thoughts?

 

Did God Change His Mind About Dietary Laws?

It is crucial to note that God’s first commandments to humans were related to eating. The Hebrew word “command” is used for the first time in Genesis 2:16-17 to reflect God’s headship over creation. While God gave Adam and Eve dominion over the created order, He still set “boundaries” when He said, but the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat.

This is a pivotal point. Eve really ate a forbidden fruit. The physical reality of eating something that God has “declared” forbidden is linked to the spiritual reality of disobedience to God. If this interpretation was strictly to convey a moral point, then why not turn the entire story into an allegorical lesson? Because you and I both know it’s critical to believe in a literal Eden, a literal tree, and a literal fall of man or otherwise the historical-redemptive piece is missing from the Bible.

It is correct to say the original Edenic diet assigned to man consisted of fruits, nuts, grains, and vegetables (Gen. 1:29-30; 2:9; 3:2). That being said, God was the first to kill an animal in order to clothe Adam and Eve for the purpose of keeping them warm and more importantly, to demonstrate without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness (Heb. 9:22).

It was also Abel’s sacrifice of meat in Genesis 4:4 that was acceptable and pleasing to God, not the fruit of the ground brought by Cain (Gen. 4:3). The main focus was the sacrifice, but that doesn’t mean meat was forbidden in God’s original plan. I believe God always intended for meat to be eaten, and he would later differentiate between clean/unclean in Noah’s time based on Genesis 7-9.

Regardless of whether meat was eaten or not in the garden, the distinction between clean and unclean animals was still made before the more specific covenantal stipulations with Israel at Sinai.Thus, dietary restrictions are not embedded in the socio-cultural context of the Isrealites, but is rather a subset of the clean/unclean distinction as a meta-narrative of the entire Bible.

Therefore, when John Piper associates circumcision with the dietary restrictions, he is committing the fallacy of false equivalence. First, circumcision was deeply embedded in the ceremonial law. One could not come to the temple if they weren’t circumcised. It was also a sign of their “distinction” from the pagan nations. But the separation from Pagan nations rationale doesn’t work with the clean/unclean animals. For instance, W.F. Albright points out in his book, “Yahweh and the Gods of Canaan,” that large and small cattle were more generally sacred, so that it is quite irrational to single out the economically and religiously much less important pig and to explain its prohibition in Israel by its alleged religious significance.”

Additionally, a comparison between Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 demonstrates that the repetition of the dietary code in Deuteronomy 14 is free from ceremonial or ritual regulations connected to the sanctuary or holy place. Also, out of all the eleven kinds of uncleanness that are classified in Leviticus (uncleanness of child birth, mildew in clothing or in house, leprosy, etc) all of them are temporary. Some are 1 day, 7 days, 33 days, etc). The uncleanness of animals, however is permanent (Gen. 7:2; Lev. 11:1-47; Deut. 14:3-21). This means an unclean animal is born unclean and dies unclean. As one scholar pointed out, “the type of uncleanness is hereditary, non-cultic, and universal, while the other kind is acquired, temporary, and ritual/ceremonial.” In fact, the dietary regulations were required for the “sojourner” in Leviticus 17:3 through the law of hunting.

Skeptics argue there are no positive evidence existing in the form of commandments or prohibitions prior to the book of Leviticus to support such a standard. First, let me point out that God still punished Cain for murdering his brotherAbel prior to the 10 commandments. Scripture makes it clear that the law of God is written on our hearts (Rom. 2:15). In fact, God’s invisible attributes are clearly seen in “nature” so that all are without excuse. Secondly, I disagree. If you read Leviticus 11, it is connected theologically with the Exodus from Egypt in terms of motivation for its observation. Recall that Exodus 20:2 starts with “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt,” The same terminology is used in Lev. 11:43 “You shall not defile yourselves with any swarming thing that crawls upon the earth. For I am the Lord who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God; you shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.” Here cleanness and holiness are linked with redemption from the slavery and bondage in Egypt.

Moreover, God links Leviticus 20:22-26 in connection with the gift of the land. “You shall inherit their land, and I will give it to you to possess, a land flowing with milk and honey. You shall therefore separate the clean beast from the unclean, and the unclean bird from the clean. You shall not make yourselves “detestable by beat or by bird or anything which the ground crawls, for I have set apart for you to hold unclean…” The appeal to following the laws of the land are connected with future blessing.

Another objection raised was that if one applies the dietary regulations then do they have to apply the entire book of Leviticus? First, the idea of unclean/clean is not limited to the book of Leviticus. Yes, the specific command is, but the motivation and themes are represented throughout the entire Bible, from Genesis 1 to Revelation. Second, why is it that people hastily jump to the conclusion that the laws in Leviticus are arbitrary? Do you think God would create “revelational” laws in contrast with “rational” laws which man can better understand? Remember Leviticus also condemned prostitution, bestiality, and other abominations that Christians reject as well. As far as the mold, how do you know whether God was trying to protect his people from infection? If you want to do extensive research, look up D.I Macht, “A Scientific Appreciation of Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14.

The key is really to look at the passages in the New Testament to see if God’s commandments concerning clean/unclean animals have been abolished. First, the Mark 7 passage is mentioned to argue God abolished the old testament dietary law. According to the text, I agree with the statement that there is nothing outside a man which by going into him can defile him, but the things which come out of a man are what defile him. No one is suggesting the animal itself is what defiles us. Otherwise, God wouldn’t call his entire creation “good.” Second, when the Jews obeyed God through circumcision, temple worship, honoring the Sabbath, etc, were those “practices” keeping them from being defiled? Of course not. While it was an external sign of their obedience, it was their “faithfulness” to God and desire to be “holy” that was pleasing to God. And our salvation is never found in the law, but in Christ.

At the same time, faith without works is dead. There is no such thing as a disobedient “faith.” Same is true with the Sermon on the Mount. He did not abolish these commands, but rather to show that they all went down to motives, not just external acts. So when God tells us what is clean/unclean for food, and we disobey that command, then it’s our disobedience that “pollutes the heart.”

Moreover, this passage has been studied in detail by R.T. France. He makes this statement.
“The syntax clearly marks out καθαρίζων πάντα τὰ βρώματα as a parenthetical editorial comment, since there is no masculine singular subject within the reported speech to which it can relate (hence the emendations found in some MSS, representing attempts to ‘correct’ the syntax by those who failed to recognize the nature of the clause…The subject therefore is Jesus (the subject of λέγει, v. 18a), whom Mark thus interprets as ‘cleansing all food’ in the sense of declaring that it is no longer to be regarded as ritually ‘unclean’” (R. T. France, The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary on the Greek Text [NIGTC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002], 291; cf. 276).

As I argued beforehand, it’s clear from the passage in Matthew 15:20 that Jesus concludes with why he made the statement: “These are what defile a person (murder, anger, lying, etc); but eating with UNWASHED HANDS does not defile them. There is no mention of “unclean animals.” Secondly, the Greek word bromata that is used refers to all foods of any kind. If flesh meat was the subject under the discussion, the word for flesh, sarx, or even a reference to animals would be a more appropriate distinctive. If all foods are employed, then even poisonous berries and mushrooms are now okay to eat. I don’t think this was the driving force behind Jesus’s statement here.

Finally, in Acts 10, Peter saw a great sheet let down from heaven with all kinds of animals, birds, and reptiles in it. Peter was instructed to rise, kill, and eat. Then God says, “What God has cleansed, you must not call common.” The lesson is God was trying to show Peter that Gentile converts were acceptable to God and should be received by the believers. This is evident because Peter was perplexed until Acts 10:28 when he explains what he thought the vision meant: “But God has shown me that I should not call any MAN impure or unclean.” The context is clear Peter was referring to the Gentiles, not food.

The vision also needs to be understood. It does not say the sheet was full of unclean animals. There was a mixture of animals, both clean and unclean. The words used are koinos or common and akathartos or unclean. The unclean animal is clearly one that God assigned in Leviticus 11. The other kind was a clean animal that had “been contaminated or defiled by contact with an unclean animal.” Moreover, Paul rebukes Peter when he says, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?” If Peter was accused of being like the Gentiles, it surely wasn’t because he started eating unclean meat. For he said in his vision in Acts 10:14, “I have NEVER eaten anything uncommon or unclean.”

Romans 14:14-17 is another passage where Christians say Pauls point was to tell Gentiles to abstain from consuming unkosher foods since it would offend the “weaker Jewish brother,” not because there is still a creation distinction of clean/unclean. But Paul defines the weaker brother in verse 2 as one who eats only vegetables. The question was whether meat was acceptable at all since meat was sacrificed to idols. One might accidently consume it without knowing it came from a pagan temple.

In 1 Timothy 4:1-15 the traditional interpretation is Paul condemns the practice of abstaining from certain foods for religious reasons and shows that every creature God made is now clean because they are sanctified by prayer. When Paul says every, it’s not to be absolute. For example, in Genesis 1:29 God told Adam to eat every tree and plant, but we know in Genesis 2:16 that the tree of knowledge was off limits. The meaning of this passage is every creature God made for “food” is to be received with Thanksgiving because it is sanctified by God’s word through his law (Lev 14/Deut 14).

In conclusion, God always has a purpose for his laws. They are not arbitrary. They are for our good. Marriage is for our good. The Sabbath is a day of rest since humans need breaks. Eating clean animals helps nourish our bodies. These laws are to protect us from harm. Above all, God wants us to obey these laws to keep us healthy and demonstrate our “faith” by our works. Our works don’t save us, they only reveal our trust and commitment to the only one who can save us, Jesus Christ.

How do we Fish for the Souls of Humankind?

“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” -Matthew 4:19

Today, my son and I were playing the Catch and Count Fishing Game by Melissa and Doug company. The fishing rods have a magnet attached at the end of the pole that connects with another magnetic circle on the fish. Each fish has a different color, fin arrangement, and number. The game is really useful for hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills, problem solving, and interpersonal skills, but most importantly, it reminds my son of the gospel message.

Every time my son and I play, he tells me of the time in children’s church when Jesus said we should make fishers of men. It’s such a joy to have your own son remind you of the importance of evangelism. While he may not perfectly understand this analogy, he does know it’s crucial for believers to fish for the souls of humankind.

Are you currently fishing for the souls of people? Do you think about how to share the gospel with your friends, neighbors, family members, or co-workers? I want to encourage you that God has given you the best fishing pole (The Word of God) and the bait (grace) to bring the most hardened fish (sinners) to a relationship with the Almighty One.

Maybe you are hesitant to cast out the fishing line in fear of rejection from others. Don’t worry. Jesus said that when you follow him, you will make fishers of men. He didn’t say you “might” make fishers of men.

As Christians, our call is to be faithful to what God commanded: To go and make disciples. To make fishers of men. When we use the right fishing pole (the Bible), the right bait (grace), you might be surprised how many fish (people) begin to nibble (inquire) about the good news of Jesus Christ. May God bless you in your endeavors!