Thursday, March 31, 2005

Shout Hallelujah!

I had the song "Shout Hallelujah" (sung beautifully by the a cappella Zoe Group) running through my mind yesterday evening, and for good reason. Another sweet niece of mine (Jamie) was baptized into Christ last night!

God is so good, and real faith in Him is so infectious. I'm absolutely confident her gift for conversation will be a huge asset in sharing the good news of Jesus Christ throughout her life.

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Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Tsunamis and the God of the gap

After yesterday's earthquake off the coast of Indonesia, I read an article quoting a scientist who stated that there was a 100% chance of a tsunami in the region:
    "My personal view is that a tsunami has a 100 percent chance of happening," US Geological Survey earthquake expert Kerry Sieh told journalists in Los Angeles.
Whoops! Now there's this article today: Scientists Puzzled No Tsunami After Quake:
    Tsunami experts could not understand why Monday's forceful earthquake off Indonesia failed to produce massive waves similar to those generated by the Dec. 26 quake that killed at least 175,000 people in the same region.
    ...There was no tsunami, but a small wave was detected by a tide gauge on Cocos Island near Australia, about 1,500 miles south of the epicenter, according to the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center on Oahu. "I'm baffled an earthquake this size didn't trigger a tsunami near the epicenter,'' said Robert Cessaro, a geophysicist at the center, which is operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
But what this ought to be screaming to us is how little we humans know about the day-to-day operation of the universe God created. If the amount of data out there to be learned is infinite--and it most surely is--then the gaps in our knowledge must also be infinite. Scientists and Christians alike (the two are not mutually exclusive) sometimes need to learn this lesson, because surely there gaps in our knowledge of God as much as in our knowledge of what He made.

Although everthing has been revealed that is necessary for life and godliness, what we don't know far surpasses what we do know. This means that a little humility ought to be in order.

Christians are often ridiculed by the secular humanist/materialist for having a "God of the gap," or invoking God only when there is something we don't understand. I, for one, am happy to proclaim that God is truly the God of all that we know and what we don't know. All that we know about the physical universe declares the glory of God. The gaps in our knowledge, when you really think about it, also tell us a lot about Him--if we're listening. Hopefully, when we recognize those gaps, we'll be spurred on to further seek Him.

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A toothless watchdog

If creeds are so useful for the truth they may contain, but are not authoritative for our salvation, then we might as well call Moby Dick by Herman Melville a creed. Scripture is quoted in the novel, so it contains some inerrant truth, right?

People view creeds as watchdogs to protect a group from heresy, but if the creed has no real authority, then it is a toothless watchdog. One bit of prose is as good as another, provided there is some semblance of truth in it.

As long as we are all free to dissent with this phrase or that nuance of meaning without endangering our soul, then why have the creed in the first place? Because it's a crutch. Everyone is deathly afraid of what would happen if there were no creeds, thinking that chaos and heresy would be just around every corner. But that implies that they are not at the moment, which I deny emphatically. Creeds have been used for centuries now, with the same chaotic and divisive results. How many Christian sects and denominations do we have now? Thousands, no doubt. If we keep doing what we're doing, we'll keep getting what we're getting.

The meaning of the word heresy, as it was used by new testament writers, was not departure from orthodoxy, but a schism. We can discuss all day long what the appropriate circumstances are for a schism, but the fact is that creeds have engendered more of them than they have ever patched up, simply because they introduce fallible language and opinions into what is intended to be an authoritative document.

But again, if Christians don't have to consider them authoritative, then why have them? Perhaps we should make nothing a test of fellowship that God has not made a test of salvation. Then the real watchdog against heresy becomes the inerrant Word of God. And there is an additional benefit; it has real teeth.

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Monday, March 28, 2005

Sweet Fellowship

My first exposure to the singing group Acappella was their album "Sweet Fellowship" about 15 years ago or more. The title track is a great song, and very encouraging. I thought I'd post the words to it here, since the subject of fellowship features prominently around here:
    Fellowshipping with one another as we're walking in the light
    (We keep on walking when we're...)
    Fellowshipping with one another as we're walking in the light

    For there's nothing as sweet as fellowship
    As we share each other's lives
    For there's nothing as sweet as fellowship
    As we share each other's lives

    When we give our hearts to each other you can feel His love inside
    (We keep on loving when we...)
    When we give our hearts to each other you can feel His love inside

    For there's nothing as sweet as fellowship
    As we share each other's hearts
    For there's nothing as sweet as fellowship
    As we share each other's hearts

    Fellowshipping with the Father
    Fellowshipping with the Lord
    Fellowshipping with the Spirit
    Fellowshipping with the Family

    Sweet Fellowship
    Sweet Fellowship
    Sweet Fellowship

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Thursday, March 24, 2005

Attributing good motives

It's my experience that one of the most kind and useful things we can do to facilitate edifying relationships with other believers is to assume they have good motives. When I don't recognize that a fellow Christian is sincere in what I perceive to be his error, it is far too easy to dismiss him or demonize him. Too often, I've treated a brother in error as if he is a brother wanting to be in error. The truth is that there is no other kind of brother but a brother in error while we are in this human body, and few of us want to remain in error.

My human instinct is to want to shout to the world how wrong a person is, rather than go to him alone and gain a brother--or simply keep my disagreement to myself, if the situation warrants. If he demonizes me, or attributes bad motives to me, I am certainly not likely to learn much from his advice or wisdom--which might otherwise be quite beneficial to me. I ought to apply the Golden Rule and treat him with the same good assumptions about his intent to do what is right.

This is one of the things that went terribly wrong in Christian circles during the 1900s. There was a great religious awakening in America during the 1800s, but people turned their guns on their brethren and fought amongst themselves. I have a large stack of various religious newsletters from the 60s and 70s, and many of them contain serious personal attacks on the motivations of fellow believers. I don't attribute bad motives to these editors and writers. I know they were doing what they thought was right, and perhaps they grew out of their ways later in life. I know I would hate to be judged by things I said and did years ago.

But it's amazing how much we can accomplish in shining the light of Christ and edifying one another by simply acknowledging the fact that the Lord judges the heart of man so that we don't have to.

    1 Corinthians 4:5 - Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one's praise will come from God. (NKJV)
Only when we impute good motives to our brother will we be able to have a relationship with him, and relationships are the key to edifying one another in love. We can't encourage someone whom we attribute bad motives to, nor can we be spurred on to love and good works by him. We humans have a way of judging by outward appearances, but we can thank God that He alone judges the heart. We ought to always think the best of someone, knowing we would want them to do the same of us.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Christian coalitions of the willing

I think President Bush's use of "coalitions of the willing" as a replacement for rigid treaties and lines of demarcation between allies and enemies makes an interesting application to our Christian cooperation with each other. This is particularly true in the sense that modern believers in Christ have factionalized themselves with their own rigid and outdated creedal "treaties," whether written or unwritten.

If these creeds are not inspired or authoritative (and who would suggest that they are?), then the proper thing to do is stop pretending that they are. Is there anyone who really believes one must read, understand, and assent to the Westminster Confession or some other list of "distinctives" in order to be saved? Of course not. So why do some believe they can't associate with someone who's never read or assented to their own opinions? Why not just have organic Christian "coalitions of the willing" based entirely on the consciences of the individuals involved?

Just as the demographic of each country changes from generation to generation, so the demographic of each community of saints changes over time. And well it should, because if a group is not changing over time, it is not growing. Creeds have a way, like formal treaties between nations, of locking in an alliance that may turn out not to be a wise alliance in later years. They also have a way of locking out of our alliances some who deserve to be in it by virtue of the fact that they have been cleansed by the blood of Christ. Why not do away with all formal alliances except our common alliance with Christ? That is true first century Christianity.

Until all consciences are equally educated and mature (an unlikely and perhaps scary scenario), there will always be those who cannot work together in a particular aspect of Christian endeavor. Variations between consciences are understandable and acceptable until human pride and factionalism enters in. But Romans 14 does not assert the need for dissenting brethren to form a faction around their "distinctive" opinions.

Someone will always be found who thinks eating meat is wrong, so to speak, and we all have to do our best to be patient and not destroy him with the liberty that the rest of us have come to realize. There is no reason that two groups of people with differing views on "eating meat" cannot work together in some other aspect of their Christian walk. We ought to forbear one another in love and work together in the areas in which we are agreed, rather than being impatient with each others' growth and refusing to edify one another in love.

I believe that over time, as we seek to become more Christlike, our differences on "distinctive" opinions will become fewer and fewer. In fact, we might even keep many of them to ourselves. Then our coalition of the willing might include more who are "willing." Wouldn't that be great?

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Terri Schiavo and our web of laws

It's interesting to think about the Terri Schiavo case as it relates to a law of ordinances vs. a law of love. It seems that it is impossible to create a set of legal regulations that would deal justly with every contingency in life.

The husband has legal standing, as well he should:

    Genesis 2:24 - For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. (NIV)

But the family, as it appears to me, is on the side of morality when it comes to love and compassion for the weak and oppressed of this world:

    Psalm 82:3 - Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. (NIV)

No matter what lawmakers do, they cannot create a system of laws that won't let an occasional fly through it web, uncaught.

On the other hand, if everyone in the case would act in love toward God, Terri, and each other, the correct approach would become obvious.

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Thursday, March 17, 2005

Bickering, bloodsport of siblings

I just saw a copy of the LA Times laying around and noticed a headline on the Home section: Bickering, bloodsport of siblings by Robin Greene Hagey. As a parent it caught my eye. As a Christian, the parallels were obvious.

The caption under the headline reads: "You should worry if your kids aren't squabbling, say the experts. Home is the lab where children can try out behaviors." So does God worry when we're not bickering amongst our fellow siblings in the family of God? Is the church a lab where we should try out new ways to not get along? I don't think so.

I can relate to the frustration parents feel when their kids bicker with bloodsport enthusiasm, but I don't excuse it any more than I believe God excuses us believers when we do it with each other. The article focuses on the fact that sibling bickering is natural, but natural doesn't equate to good.

If seeing our kids bicker is truly a good thing, as this article (and its quoted expert) suggests, then we parents ought to encourage it. I, for one, don't--and while my six homeschooled kids do bicker (like all siblings)--they are appropriately discouraged from doing so. As a result, they truly love each other and enjoy the company of their siblings--most of the time.

Such it should be among the children of the King, I surmise. But, no doubt, many experts would say otherwise.

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Diversity and homogeneity

Joe over at EO posted an interesting article today entitled Micromotives and Macrobehavior: How Diversity Leads to Homogeneity. He is writing about how even the extreme diversity of thought represented in the blogosphere tends to coalesce along standard political or religious lines.

(I like Joe's quote from Montaigne: "There were never in the world two opinions alike, any more than two hairs or two grains. Their most universal quality is diversity." I'd forgive Joe for quoting a deist humanist from the French renaissance, but then I'd have to forgive Paul for quoting pagan poets on Mars Hill.)

If you're interested in such things, it may provide something of an explanation how church groups have become segregated, not only according to race in some cases, but according to sets of doctrinal opinions (such as written or unwritten creeds).

In ruminating on these things as they relate to Christian unity, it's important to recognize that neither diversity of thought nor uniformity of thought are stated goals of Christian association. Paul did not command us to "speak the same thing" on every opinion--that is humanly impossible--but to be in harmony with each other in our love for the Lord. Nor did he say to try to make our discourse as cacophonous as possible.

The mutual edification of believers, always in humility and love, is the stated goal of associating with one another. It is true, as Joe pointed out in reference to bloggers, that we will tend, over time, to gather into similar groups. For believers, however, there are clear dangers in either extreme as far as group dynamics goes. For the Christian to form a spiritual bond with anyone and everyone who loosely professes Christianity is not good, because there are clear reasons (continued immorality or denying the deity of Christ, for example) that require us to separate from a brother.

On the other hand, we can be so conformist on the other extreme that we never allow fresh (and potentially correct) thoughts about the Scriptures to challenge our previous thinking. What's the saying? "Ego is an anesthetic that dulls the pain of ignorance." I must have needed pretty high doses of that anesthetic at times.

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Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Tolerating error

In recognizing the brotherhood of all who have put on Christ, one sincere concern of some good friends has been that I may be tolerating error--that I may come to accept the errors of denominationalism or the deeply divided "religious world." Rest assured, I'm not. I still remain just a Christian, not a hyphenated or a sectarian one.

But there is a world of difference between tolerating an error and tolerating a person who is in error. It is impossible, when I really think about it, to tolerate an error other than my own. An error (in this context) is a mistaken understanding held by a person. I have no more ability to tolerate another person's erroneous idea than I have to correct it myself. The error is his own to either tolerate or correct, and I can better help him correct it if I treat him as a brother.

So the question really comes down to whether I should tolerate the person who holds an erroneous idea, not whether I should tolerate the error. I have learned that I can completely reject what I believe to be another person's erroneous thinking and still love him as a brother in the Lord. Jesus died for him as well as for me, even if we are both mistaken on some things, as we both most certainly are. If his error is a fatal one, or a destructive one, or if I think it is, I certainly should endeavor to persuade him of that out of love. But treating him as a brother does not make his error mine.

Of course, there are situations where we are not even to tolerate the erroneous person. When someone insists on continuing in immorality, or tries to divide believers into factions, he is to be rejected from our Christian associations. If someone teaches that Jesus Christ was not God in the flesh, or denies the resurrection, or other aspects of the good news, we are to avoid him. These are the scriptural reasons to be intolerant of an erroneous brother, because in other matters, we humans may all have some erroneous thinking yet to be purged from our minds.

God Almighty created all of our intellects differently. Some are born with an extensive one, others (like me, perhaps) were born with limited intellects. (They say intellect has a lot to do with memory, and you can ask my wife, my memory is "like a vapor!")

The great thing about being in Christ is that we are all, from the least to the greatest in wealth, maturity, and intellect, gathered around the same table. I, for one, don't want to be the one to push someone away from that table. He is Jesus' guest, not mine.

    Romans 15:7 - Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. (NKJV)

So with few exceptions, I must be longsuffering with my brother in spite of his own personal errors, secure in the knowledge that he is called to be longsuffering with me in spite of mine.

    Ephesians 4:1-3 - I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (NKJV)
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What makes sin sin?

Ponder for a moment what makes sin sin. Is murder wrong because it is listed in the Decalogue? Is it wrong because it is listed in the new testament scriptures as sin? Or is it wrong because it violates our "social contract," or the law of the land?

No, forgive the circularity, but murder is wrong because it is wrong, just as God exists because--well, because He exists. Theologians have spent a great deal of time rationalizing the existence of God, yet it should be obvious when we look at God's creation that He exists. Likewise, philosophers, for their part, have spent a great deal of time rationalizing the existence of the conscience. Perhaps both need to spend more time in their Bibles for their answers.

The idea of a social contract is a convenient way to explain human morality without having to acknowledge the Creator of our morals. The idea is suggested that humans generally refrain from murdering one another because they have a natural desire not to be murdered--a kind of amoralist approach to the Golden Rule. But this is more of a rationale for why humans might choose to behave morally, not a rationale for where the morality comes from in the first place. For instance, it is universally wrong to murder a man, even if the murderer is on a remote island where he has no fear of being murdered himself. Murder is wrong in all cultures and in all circumstances, and there is no way to explain this except by acknowledging the Creator of our morality.

What makes sin sin, then, is not the written words of the Bible. That is how we learn about the subject of sin, of course. That is how we learn that it separates us from God, and that we have a way to end that separation through Christ. But the fact that a sinful behavior or attitude is listed in the Bible is not what makes it a sin. In fact, sin should simply be obvious to us:

    Galatians 5:19-21 - The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. (NIV)
Is hatred wrong because it's listed here? No, these things are wrong because they are wrong--because they go against the nature of God, to present it more logically. In fact, Paul's phrase "and the like" should tell us that there are an infinite number of ways to sin, limited only by the creativity of the sinful mind. The same can be said for the fruits of the Spirit a few verses later. There are an infinite number of ways to do good, as well.

The divine origin of our morality is comparable to the divine the origin of wisdom. Solomon knew something about wisdom. He wrote a book about it that we call Proverbs, noting that wisdom comes from God:

    Proverbs 2:6 - For the LORD gives wisdom; From His mouth come knowledge and understanding; (NKJV)
But does this mean that an atheist can't have any wisdom at all? It is certainly unwise to be atheistic, but an atheist may exercise some wisdom in some areas of his life. This is because God blessed each one of us with some amount of wisdom, whether we acknowledge Him or not, just as he blessed each one of us with a conscience whether we acknowledge Him or not. We learn broadly about wisdom from the Word, just as we learn broadly about sin from the Word, yet neither can be codified or described fully.

So what? What is useful in thinking about sin in the proper way? The primary benefit is that it frees us from the letter of the written code:

    Colossians 2:14 - ...having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. (NKJV)

    Galatians 3:10-14 - For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them." But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for "the just shall live by faith." Yet the law is not of faith, but "the man who does them shall live by them."

    Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree"), that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. (NKJV)

The written code, or handwriting of ordinances, was nailed to the cross. This frees us to fully serve God with the law of Christ that has been written on our hearts:
    Galatians 6:2 - Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. (NKJV)

    Jeremiah 31:33 - But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. (NKJV)

When we sin, it's because we are not living by the Spirit, or being Christlike. That's what makes sin sin. It is not because we broke a regulation written down somewhere.

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Monday, March 14, 2005


Wow! Yesterday was another awesome day of fellowship and encouragement with my church family. From the songs to the morning discussion on Acts to the lesson (good job, Dennis), from breaking bread together at lunch to discussing the fruits of the Spirit together in the evening, the day was packed with uplifting interaction between brothers and sisters in Christ.

I am more convinced than ever that if we Christians get our "Christology" right--patterning ourselves after the Person of Jesus Christ--that "churchology" will fall into place. I'm on a quest to set aside the more fruitless debates in Christendom, and simply focus on being Christlike. It's hard to argue with the idea of being less fruitless and more fruitful.

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Friday, March 11, 2005

Is God binary?

Too often, I've made the mistake of thinking that God is binary--that He can only be "for" something or "agin it." Fortunately, he's more merciful than that. Often times, there is a third option that may be in play that we haven't considered--"I don't care, as long as you act in love."

I see this so clearly as a parent. When my kids were younger, I had to make laws for them, explicit rules that could not be broken. I was either in favor of them playing a board game at that particular moment, or I was against it. I made the rule, and they had to comply.

As they mature, I find myself less inclined to lay down explicit laws for them. I find that I really don't have an opinion, most of the time, on whether they play a board game or not. The bottom line now is that if they choose to do so, that it be a pleasant experience for all involved, without arguing. In short, they need to act out their love for their siblings. Too many times than I care to think about, I find myself responding to their dispute with the words "I don't care either way, just get along!"

There's no surer way to get this loving Dad to lay down the law and abolish a particular activity than if I find them arguing about it. After all, law is added because of transgression and is only a tutor, or schoolmaster. But when my kids are grown, they will have outgrown my laws, which were only intended to be training tools. Left in place of those regulations will hopefully be the law of love.

The obvious parallel is that we are no longer under law as believers. The old law was a code book given on mount Sinai full of "thou shalts" and "thou shalt nots," and this code book was nailed to the cross of Jesus Christ. It was meant to fence us in with regulations, but now we are to be drawn by love to serve him willingly.

But the other parallel is this idea that God is not a God of two answers, only "yes" or "no." Sometimes the answer is "either way is fine, just get along with each other."

    Romans 14:13-20- Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother's way. As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean. If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died. Do not allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men.

    Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble.

One of the lessons of Romans 14 is that if our rules of Biblical interpretation only allow for two answers, then we must be filtering out some of what God has to say.

We can only learn so much about God or what He wants by mashing truth through the screen of binary proposition statements. I know, because I've tried that route, and it is a lifeless relationship with the Creator when raw data about Him is the main thing we're after. Sure, God is the God of truth. But we like to think of truth in binary terms, like a code of ones and zeros. The real truth is that sometimes the answer is neither yes or no. Sometimes the truth is "It doesn't matter, just love one another."

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Thursday, March 10, 2005

Words mean things

There is an interesting article in BusinessWeek Online about whether bloggers are journalists:
    So is a blogger a journalist? Certainly, some organizations have begun to legitimize Web logs as a valid grassroots form of journalism. In 2004, bloggers for the first time received press passes to cover the conventions during the Presidential elections. They have broken major news stories. Several prominent bloggers have become media pundits. And mainstream media outfits, including BusinessWeek Online, are developing blogs to complement their traditional outlets.
The question of whether a blogger is a journalist is separate from the question of whether mainstream journalists accept them as fellow journalists. It is akin to asking if a man who writes is a writer if he's not labeled so by the Writer's Guild, or if a man who tends cows is a cowboy if he's not sanctioned by the local rodeo, or if a person who evangelizes is an evangelist if he's not recognized by a particular group. Is a Christian not a Christian just because someone doesn't recognize him as such?

A person may be good or bad at any of these functions. He may do them with or without financial support from some organization on a full- or part-time basis. But if he does them at all, he fits the description of the word at the time that he does them.

I am a writer when I write, a blogger when I blog, an evangelist when I do the work of one, and a husband, dad, and believer 24/7. I am a builder when I build, a preacher when I preach, a thinker when I think, and a sinner when I sin. Our Christian walk is about using all of our activities, sans the sin, so that our lives honor our Creator. Now those are words that mean something to me.

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Wednesday, March 09, 2005

More on speculative theology

I appreciate the sentiments expressed by Rey over at Bible Archive on God and the subjugated role of our opinions about Him. After writing a great parody piece on the need to worship God on the mountains, he followed up with a post about the Syrian assumption that the God of Israel was the God of the plains. God, of course, made it clear to the Syrian army that He was not merely the God of the plains.

As Rey pointed out:

    He would prove His might and power and that He is not limited by men’s conceptions of who He is for He is the Lord.
    I take great comfort in this knowing that although I see many things in the Scriptures about my God, the Living God, I know that other devout believers see other things as well. And though I have deep convictions of what I see the Living God to be, I know that He is so much greater than any theological box I may put around Him.

    Read the full post...

What's great about recognizing the lesser roles of opinion and intellectualized "theology" is that I don't have to put myself in the judgment seat to figure out precisely who else God is the God of. My primary job is to make sure that He is my Lord and my God and that my family seeks after Him.

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Monday, March 07, 2005

The relentless optimist

I read through Hebrews recently and was amazed by the relentless optimism of the "heroes of faith" in chapter 11. Granted, the word "relentless" doesn't usually have a positive connotation. But what word better explains the persistent faith of people like Noah, Abraham, Moses, and the others listed in that chapter? And what is faith if it is not optimism about the goodness of God and his promises?

The faith of these heroes was such that it never dimmed through the trials and difficulties life threw their way. Sometimes the problems they faced were of their own making, like Abraham telling his wife to lie about who she was. Other times, their problems were from those around them who were not quite as optimistic about things, such as when Moses was confronted by his fellow Israelites who didn't really trust his leadership.

But the faithful were relentless in looking to the bright side, focusing their thoughts and actions, not on the possibility of failure and retreat, but on the greater promises God had in store for them. When challenges and rough spots arose, their humanity caused them to misstep at times, but they always fell back into line with relentless consistency.

It was said of Abraham that he saw in the distance a better city, a more enduring one, without ever reaching it in this life. What was Abraham's faith, if not relentless optimism?

    Hebrews 11:8-12 - By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God. ... These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them.... (NKJV)
Abraham embraced the promise of God to the very end, never even receiving it in this life. He remained, I am convinced, eminently positive until the end, knowing that this life is merely a blip on the radar screen of eternity. He knew God would not let him down, and he acted with confidence accordingly.

Therefore what?

    Hebrews 11:16 - ...Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them. (NKJV)
That's a pretty nice consequence of our relentless faith, that insatiably positive zeal for God that should be overflowing from our lives. God is not ashamed to be called our God when we live that way. It just so happens that this overflowing enthusiasm is infectious, making it one of the most effective tools of an encourager:
    2 Corinthians 9:2 - For I know your eagerness to help...and your enthusiasm has stirred most of them to action. (NKJV)

    Hebrews 10:24 - And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works. (NKJV)

Amen to that!

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Friday, March 04, 2005

Do peace and liberty destroy unity?

OK, so Scott Ott of Scrappleface wasn't writing a parable about Christian peace, liberty, and unity. But, as Alexander Campbell might say, "The parable is just, and the interpretation thereof, easy and sure."

In a post entitled "Annan: Bush Destroying Arab Unity," Scott writes with tongue firmly planted in cheek:

    (2005-03-04) -- The Bush administration's foreign policy blunders threaten to "drive a wedge through the Arab world destroying the unity which has kept the middle east peaceful for decades," according to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

    Read full article

Tongue in cheek or not, you have to admit--there is a grain or two of truth in here somewhere for us Christians contemplating a more peaceful coexistence amongst ourselves.

So, do peace and liberty destroy Christian unity? Don't go off and start a revolution, just let the answer to the question sink in as you read through the scriptures. Remember that the first rule of ending divisions is not to divide. Remember which Command is the Greatest. Lead by following. And above all, stay glued to the Word.

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Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Fighting for truth

We've probably all heard the expression "might doesn't make right." We can probably agree that right makes might, at least morally speaking. But does right make fight?

Too often, I've felt the need to fight for every scrap of truth. Sometimes, like a dog fighting for a meaty bone, I was fighting to protect what I saw to be a truth, and other times I was fighting for ownership of it, as if it belonged only to me. But fighting for truth is not the same as fighting for The Truth.

Should we pursue to the point of division every nugget of truth that we cull from the Scriptures? Should we divide from our brethren over whether Abimelech was a judge or not? I believe it is clear he wasn't, but nevertheless, some mistakenly include him in the list of the judges of the children of Israel. Is that worth biting and devouring one another over? Of course not, and I think we are all agreed on this (with the possible exception of those poor souls who are grossly mistaken about Abimelech's identity).

It should be apparent, then, that all truths we find in Scripture or deduce from them are not equal. Some truths are simply statements that are not false, like the fact that Abimelech was a usurper king during the historical period of the judges. Other truths are more transcendent, meaningful, and, in fact, expedient to believers. In fact, their expedience, or utility, is what gives them their importance. That is why there is such a thing as useless knowledge--yes, even useless Bible knowledge.

This is important if we are to understand what Jesus meant when he said that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life:

    John 14:6 - Jesus said to him, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. (NKJV)
There are many "truths" that humans have uncovered to find peace, God, a happy marriage, sanity, or a combination of these. Some of these truths may actually be useful, and can be found, to some degree, in the sacred pages. But all truths are not useful in reconciling us to God, only the good news of Jesus Christ can do that. The Son of God, crucified and risen again, is The Truth that is expedient to becoming reconciled to our Creator. This is what was acknowledged prior to the Ethiopian eunuch's immersion:
    Acts 8:34-38 - So the eunuch answered Philip and said, "I ask you, of whom does the prophet say this, of himself or of some other man?" Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him. Now as they went down the road, they came to some water.

    And the eunuch said, "See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?"

    Then Philip said, "If you believe with all your heart, you may." And he answered and said, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God."

    So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. (NKJV)

Jesus is The Truth, but not all truth. Jesus is not embodied in the truth that my laptop is black or in the fact that Abimelech was a king. Every truth is essential for something, and The Truth of Jesus Christ is essential to something more important than the truth about Abimelech. This is why I look, not for a collation of the Bible into "essentials" and "non-essentials," but for the application of the question "essential to what?" to the things we find there.

All Scripture truth is essential, but it is not all essential to the same thing. (This is why creeds divide, by the way, not unite.) Some of Scripture is essential to a correct understanding of history. Some is essential to a correct understanding of Judaism. Some is essential to understanding King David's character, or heaven, or conduct in the Christian assembly, or the traditions of synagogue worship, or the appointment of elders, or eschatology. But some of it is essential to our initial salvation--our citizenship in the kingdom of heaven--our cleansing from sin that is accomplished through the saving work of Jesus Christ on the cross. This is the good news. This is the "gospel of our salvation" that Paul writes about:

    Romans 1:16 - For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. (NKJV)

    Ephesians 1:13 - In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation (NKJV)

The Truth, of course, cannot be taught without teaching His death, burial, and resurrection:
    Romans 6:1-8 - What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

    For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him.. (NKJV).

This Truth is the very teaching that separated us from sin when we obeyed it from the heart, as he goes on to explain a few verses later:
    Romans 6:17-18 - But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. (NKJV)
Once the Lord has numbered us with his called out, we now must set out to learn other types of truths, truths that will help us educate each other as brothers, truths that will train us in becoming Christlike in our character, truths that will teach us to stay away from certain kinds of lifestyles. All of these truths are essential to our growth and proper understanding of the Christian walk.

Nevertheless, as long as we are in this fallible, earthly body, we will not have a perfect understanding of all truths. This means we will hold some opinions and deductions which are neither accurate nor factual. We will be mistaken on our understanding of some truths, because we are human, and to err is human. Our life is to be a career of eradicating the errors from our thinking and our practices.

But we dare not veer from, nor be mistaken about, The Truth of the good news of Jesus Christ, otherwise we have accepted another gospel. On that we can't afford to be mistaken, because it is the very thing that brought about our reconciliation to Him. Paul's reprimand to the Colossian believers stands as a warning to us today: If Christ did not die for our sins, then we must still be in them.

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Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Worshipping on Mountains

I found a very funny and useful parody about "prooftexting" our beliefs, written by a blogger named Rey at I disagree with Rey on some important points of theology, like "eternal security" and insisting that being immersed into Christ is trying to be saved by our "works." Rey, my friend, keep reading those Scriptures for yourself, and ignore the old seminarians who are forcing their philosophical deductions on people!

Nevertheless, I'll freely give praise where praise is due, and Rey hit the ball out of the park on "Worshipping on Mountains."

Here is an excerpt:

    The following is an example of today’s preaching and yesteryear’s theological stances which have carried into today. Begin Transmission: When we study the Bible let’s make sure to do it systematically—finding out all that the Scriptures have to say on a subject and deducting our conclusion. In fact, you can even start the process by thinking about the attributes of God then finding out how the Scriptures fits into your thinking. Read on, and see how the Scriptures teach that we are to worship on mountains.

    God is high and above all things. He is the God of a thousand hills and over all His creation. How do we react to that fact?

    The Scriptures explicitly teach that we are to worship on a mountain. ...

    Read on

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Follow the Leader, lead the follower

What is a follower and what is a leader? Jesus blurred the distinction in many ways. Was He a forceful leader, or a meek follower? Or, perhaps, was he a meek leader, not a forceful follower?

As I think about these questions, I realize now that at times I've been a forceful follower. All of us who are disciples of the Son of God are called to be followers of Him. The sheep know His voice and follow their Shepherd. Who am I, a fellow sheep, to impose my opinions and deductions on other sheep?

The best form of leadership for us, the sheep of His pasture, is leadership by followership, or leadership by discipleship, to put it another way. That may seem paradoxical, and it is, of course. But Jesus loved using paradoxes like this in his teaching. After all, Jesus was both the sheep that was led to the slaughter and the Shepherd:

    Acts 8:32 - The eunuch was reading this passage of Scripture: “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth. (NIV)

    John 10:11 - “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. (NIV)

    John 10:14 - “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me. (NIV)

Humility has always been the trademark of discipleship:
    Psalm 25:9 - He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way. (NIV)
What is fascinating about this is that our Leader, despite being God, humbled himself in order to exercise his own leadership:
    Matthew 11:29 - Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (NIV)

    Philippians 2:1-9 - If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being likeminded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

    Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-- even death on a cross! (NIV)

According to Paul, our attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus. If Jesus led sacrificially as a follower of His Father in heaven, our leadership as sheep of His pasture should be no less humble and sacrificial.

In fact, it shouldn't be surprising that this type of self-sacrificing leadership is how husbands are to lead their homes:

    Ephesians 5:25-29 - Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church... (NIV)
When we lead by example, without the selfish ambition or other works of the flesh we see listed in Galatians 5, we become most effective at leading other followers--not to follow ourselves, but to step into line by our side as we follow the Shepherd. This is the Christ-like model for how followers, or disciples, are to lead other sheep. It also happens to be the model that bears the most promise for uniting Christians in their followership of the one and only Good Shepherd.

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