Are Christians Insiders?


E Free church

From time to time, those who have reason to criticize the traditional church pull out the Pharisee-accusation card. The idea is that Christians in the traditional church are the new Pharisees.

At times, the accusation can refer to legalism and at others to self-righteousness or to exclusivity. The idea is, a la the Pharisees of the first century, these traditional church people believe themselves to be in the know; they get it, do it right, and separate from those who do it wrong. They are insiders and proud of it.

On Sunday, my pastor, Mike Erre, put forth the idea that Christians are insiders, but our problem is that we act in a prideful way because of it.

I have to admit, I bristle at this idea. I don’t think Christians are insiders. Except, we kind of are.

Let me try to clarify.

First, as I’ve laid out in other articles, Christians are not Pharisees (see for example “Who Are The Pharisees” and “Missio Minded“). Pharisees believed they had the inside track with God because of their birth and because of their rigorous adherence to the Law. In other words, they were entitled to a seat on the inside but they had also earned it.

Christians, on the other hand, recognize that we are part of the “all” in the verse, “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” We don’t deserve right standing with God and can’t earn it. Bottom line, we aren’t special–not in and of ourselves.

Besides our “not Pharisees” status, we also have received a commission to go into all the world and make disciples. “The world” contains people from different religious backgrounds, economic strata, ethnicities, languages, races, nationalities. There’s no exclusivity here. The Church is the least segregated organization on the planet.

Granted, local churches don’t always look like the greater Church, but that’s to be expected. People worship where they live. I don’t have to travel to Japan to worship with Japanese Christians just to put a white face in their congregation.

On the other hand, in the US, particularly in a number of cosmopolitan cities, there is a blend of peoples from different backgrounds. In those instances, the local body should more nearly reflect the great blending we will one day experience in heaven.

But are Christians to separate from the rest of mankind? Jesus said no. We are to be in the world. We are to be light for the world. We are to be witnesses to the world. These are hard things to accomplish if we are off in a corner.

In one respect, being a Christian has nothing to do with me. I don’t have one spiritual provision that every other person in the world can’t have.

So are Christians insiders?

God calls us His children, members of His body, branches on His vine. Anybody can be His child, but only those who go to Him actually are. Anybody can be members of His body, but only those who accept the headship of Jesus are. Anybody can be a branch on His vine, but only those grafted to Him are.

Christians aren’t insiders. We don’t deserve special consideration from God and we haven’t earned His favor. But we are adopted members of His family, invited guests at His banquet. We know Him, are friends with Him, hang out with Him because He’s brought us near. We’ve accepted what He’s made available to everyone.

Are we insiders, then, because we realized the paucity of our own abilities and our great need for a God who could rescue us from darkness?

No, the same information is available to everyone. It’s not exclusive. On this, I trust God’s word:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. (Rom. 1:18-20)

Suppress the truth. That’s the picture of all of us, except at some point Christians relent. We give up and accept the truth instead. We are like people who can’t swim, drowning in the deep end of the pool. We fight the life guard, try to grapple with him, to push him under so we can keep our head above water. But at some point we either give in and let him rescue us, or we drown.

Are we special? No. Are we insiders? No. Are we in God’s family? Yes. And that’s an exclusive group–only those who have stopped fighting God are in.

So Christians aren’t insiders, but we are sorta.

Published in: on March 31, 2014 at 7:19 pm  Comments (1)  
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Christians And Unity


Crowds_in_the_Big_TentOne thing evangelical Christians in particular get dinged about, especially by atheists and liberal or progressive “Christians”–Big Tent advocates–is our lack of unity. If your god was real, the implication seems to be, you’d all be one big happy family, not a bunch of squabbling, self-interested nay-sayers.

There’s some truth in this accusation. Jesus told His followers that their love for one another would be the thing that would draw others to them. And still, the early church was fraught with division.

Some problems were personal. Take, for example, Paul’s rift with Barnabas. We know Paul didn’t want to take John Mark along on what would have been their second missionary journey after he deserted them during the first one. Barnabas insisted. And Paul refused, so they parted ways.

Or what about the two women in Philippi–fellow workers with Paul–who had some disagreement with each other that required the apostle to tell them to knock it off.

James wrote to all the Jewish Christians scattered beyond the borders of Judea, and he addressed the problem of “fights and quarrels among you.”

Besides personal discord, the Church also faced disunity because of personal sin. Corinth is the most obvious example. That body of believers was tolerating a man who paraded his incestuous relationships in the church. A faction apparently was patting their backs for their tolerant attitude toward him, thinking their acceptance was a demonstration of grace.

On top of this kind of personal sin, there was also false teaching. Peter said there would be false teachers who would introduce “destructive heresies” (2 Peter 2:1).

Jude referred to people who

are hidden reefs in your love feasts when they feast with you without fear, caring for themselves; clouds without water, carried along by winds; autumn trees without fruit, doubly dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up their own shame like foam; wandering stars, for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever. (1:12-13)

Later he said they are ones “who cause divisions,” are “worldly minded,” and “devoid of the Spirit” (v. 19).

I think it’s significant that in the first two instances, personal squabbles and personal sin, the Church was instructed to take steps to correct the situation. The fighting fellow workers were to stop, those lacking unity were admonished to be of the same mind, to look out for the interests of others, to bear with one another, forgive each other. Brethren were instructed not to judge each other or complain against one another.

At the same time, the Church received instruction not to tolerate sin. The brother living like a non-Christian was not to enjoy the fellowship of the Church, but the purpose was to draw him into repentance and restoration. The “disunity” then, was purposefully and temporary.

The situation with false teachers was different. Jesus Himself warned of “false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Matt. 7:15). Paul went so far as to say those who were “rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers,” needed to be silenced because they were “teaching things they should not teach for the sake of sordid gain” (Titus 1:11b).

In other words, there is no plea for unity with these divisive false teachers. They, in fact, were the cause of disunity, disrupting and scattering and devouring the sheep, as wolves are wont to do.

The mistake, I believe, evangelicals have made is trying for a false peace. We are in danger of becoming like those Jeremiah spoke of:

They have healed the brokenness of My people superficially,
Saying, ‘Peace, peace,’
But there is no peace.

For some reason, we have no desire to pretend unity with a hateful group like the Westboro Baptist cult, but we turn around and gloss over the blatant misuse of Scripture from any number of others. Who are we to judge? we say.

But the fact is, universalists like Paul Young (The Shack) or Rob Bell (Love Wins) can’t be right if Jesus said the things the New Testament recorded about separating sheep from goats and sending wicked slaves into outer darkness.

I don’t think we need to be unkind or snarky or offensive. I mean, the point of silencing false teachers in the church is not to come out looking superior or more knowledgeable or highly spiritual. It’s to keep their teaching from gaining traction and spreading. We’re not standing in God’s place to judge them. At best we can pray, “The Lord rebuke you.”

Nevertheless, we ought not seek unity with those who say they are Christians, but who do not believe what the Bible teaches about God, His Son Jesus, and what He did at the cross in order to make a way for humankind to be reconciled with the Father.

So why is there disunity among evangelicals? First because we are sinners–saved by grace, yes, but prone to wander, and in our wandering we do disruptive things that require discipline and forgiveness and restoration.

Second, there’s disunity because people who aren’t believers say they are. They believe something, surely, but it is a different gospel, a result of “taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind” (Col. 2:18b).

rose-1441525-mAre we to pursue unity with these wolves in sheep’s clothing? Not while they are trafficking in heresy. But that judging question comes up again. Who are we to judge?

We aren’t judging when we call a spade, a spade or a rose, a rose or false teaching, false.

Discernment and judging are two different things.

Life Isn’t Complicated


Jesus_the_Shepherd004Too often, in the harried lives we live, with tablet in one hand and cell phone in the other, with polarization in our political arenas and terrorist concerns banging into school shootings, we think life is overwhelming. Some people want to escape, and do so in happy hour or party time or whatever thrill the weekend holds.

Others–Christians, for example–dive into a sweet Amish romance or steep themselves in fandom, whether of their favorite sports team or movie star. Still others live to be involved in their children’s lives. They are the soccer moms who man the snack bar or bring the team treats or drive them to pizza after the game. But they’re also the Little League moms, the AAU basketball moms, the Pop Warner football moms.

Today I was listening to a sermon on the radio by Phillip DeCourcy (Know the Truth) about child rearing. He said, surprisingly, it’s not all that complicated. As he laid out his position from the Bible, I got what he was talking about. And I think it applies to all of life.

Yes, this world changes. There are new technologies to learn, new challenges for parents and children alike, new global circumstances.

But God is the same.

His word is the same. (“The grass withers, the flower fades/But the word of our God stands forever” [Isaiah 40:8]) I tend to think life gets complicated when we start looking at the wrong things. In his letter to the church in Colossae, Paul said,

Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. (3:1-2)

That’s not particularly complicated.

We seek the things above by reading the Word given to us from above. We set our minds on the things by praising God–for who He is, what He’s done, for His plan and purpose, for His care and protection, for His counsel and guidance.

When it rains, we thank Him for the rain. When it doesn’t rain, we ask Him to bring rain, but also to work His purposes through the drought as we wait on Him.

God is omnipresent. He is fully engaged with His creation. It is we who ignore Him, not He who ignores us.

God is also infinite. There’s no limit to His knowledge and understanding. “Who has directed the Spirit of the Lord,/Or as His counselor has informed Him?/With whom did He consult and who gave Him understanding?” (Isaiah 40:13-14a)

Paul also said in Colossians that “He rescued us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (1:13-14)

Really life boils down to one thing. As my pastor said on Sunday, how I live either feeds the darkness, from which I’ve been rescued and to which I own nothing, or feeds the light, the reflection of the image of His Son. I am either living for God or for a false, apostate substitute, which might even be me, myself, and I.

Choose for yourselves this day, Joshua said, whom you will serve. And then choose again tomorrow and again on the day after that and the one after that. Not complicated. But not easy either.

It means loving God more than these, whatever these are today. It could be my desire to be right, to put someone else down, to brag about some accomplishment, to whine and complain about whatever circumstances God has given me, or any number of other things. God wants me to love Him so much those other things fade to nothingness and I simply want to please Him more.

Thanks be to God that He doesn’t abandon us or forsake us, that He gives strength in our weakness.

So, no, life’s not complicated. It’s a matter of letting the Good Shepherd gather us in His arms and carry us in His bosom and gently lead us where He wants us to go.

Published in: on March 11, 2014 at 7:54 pm  Comments (1)  
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Thinking Biblically


Bible-openThinking Biblically ought to put Christians at odds with our culture. How could it be any different? Western culture says humans are their own masters, captains of their own fate. Christianity says, God is our Master and, in fact, Lord of all.

Western society is an odd mix of democracy and equality tangled with one-upmanship capitalism. We’re all equal, which means we don’t care who we step on as we climb our way up the ladder of success. Christianity, on the other hand, has no such confusion. We are to share with the needy, give no bribes, play no favorites.

The world in which we live says we are to protect what’s ours. Build fences (which make good neighbors), sturdy banks, efficient security systems. The Bible says we are to trust God, love our neighbors, give our shirt when someone takes our coat.

Our culture says there’s a drug for all your needs. Feeling a little anxious? Try something to calm you down. Need more sleep? Take a sedative. Not alert in the morning? How about some caffeine in a cup? God says, let your requests be known to Him. Don’t be anxious. Make Him your refuge and your strength.

I could go on and on–about our attitudes toward people of different races or ethnicities, toward those in governmental authority, spouses, parents, bosses, toward discipline, money, enemies, borrowing, work, education. There are a hundred ways Christians should stand out as different from our culture.

The point is, believing God to be omnipotent, sovereign, good, all knowing, and my personal friend ought to change the way I do things. But it seems there’s too much noise drowning out God’s voice, too many activities to crowd out time with our sure Counselor.

I think the bottom line is this: none of us can think Biblically if we don’t read the Bible. Regularly. As though the answers to all the problems we face day after day are within its pages.

I remember one particularly difficult year when I read the book of 1 Peter every day for a week or more. I wanted to hear what God had to say and it seemed like that book had the answers. But as each day wore on, I found myself back with my same attitudes and worries. So I’d dig into 1 Peter again. I wish I’d been better at putting what I was reading into practice, but I hadn’t learned to pray with those things in mind.

I knew God would hear and answer prayer according to His will. I just hadn’t figured out that the Bible told me at least a part of His will. So when He said, “casting all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you,” I didn’t draw the conclusion that God’s will for me was to cast my anxiety on Him.

It seems rather obvious now. But my learning to think Biblical was and still is, in process.

To be honest with you, I’d prefer to be in the social center rather than at odds with society. I don’t like feeling like an outsider, a misfit, someone who doesn’t belong. I spent too many years as the new kid who’d just moved into town and had to find a way to be accepted.

Now as an adult I learn I don’t fit because my citizenship is in heaven. I have a different mindset, a different allegiance, a different hope, a different strategy, a different goal.

Part of me would like to pull in and find a comfortable place with like-minded people where I’m understood and secure. Except, then I’m not positioned to accomplish my goal or live out my strategy or demonstrate my hope or allegiance.

In short, thinking Biblically isn’t easy. It puts me at odds with my culture. And that’s actually as it should be.

Published in: on January 28, 2014 at 6:34 pm  Comments (4)  
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It’s Not About Us


beach umbrella-1-1288990-mFalse teaching seems to be increasing. More people are buying into old lies and new lies are popping up at an alarming rate. There is an ever growing number of people who want to camp under the umbrella of Christianity but who don’t hold to some of the most basic tenets of the faith–such as, God exists.

I don’t mean to be snarky here, but I don’t see the rationale behind the idea that a person is an “agnostic Christian.” The Christian faith is centered on Jesus Christ and His work to reconcile us to God, so how can a person be a Christian if he’s uncertain about God’s existence?

But those who identify as agnostic Christians have lots of company when it comes to people who claim the name of Christ while ignoring what He said. My point here isn’t to start a list of false teachings. Rather, I want to focus on what those false teachings seem to have in common.

In a word, I think all false teaching is self centered. It’s more important to those believing a false teaching that they are comfortable or tolerant or intellectually satisfied or rich or right or inclusive or whatever else different people set ahead of God.

Some will even say, in essence, If God is like the Old Testament describes Him, then I don’t want anything to do with Him. God, in other words, has to conform to their wishes. He must be made in their likeness, as opposed to they made in His.

The truth is, Christianity is not about what we wish God were or what we’d like Him to do. We don’t get to tell Him how He should deal with suffering or sin. We don’t get to exclude Him from creation or salvation. Any attempts to change Him and what He’s said or done are actually forms of rejecting Him.

That’s not to say we can’t question. Those who embrace a false teaching often say people who cling to the God of the Bible are unwilling to search for answers. But that’s simply not true.

Job asked more questions than a good many people ever will, and God didn’t scold him for asking. He confronted him about his accusations against God, and Job agreed that he was wrong. God “in person” showed Job what sovereignty and omnipotence and wisdom really meant, and Job repented in dust and ashes.

Gideon questioned God, over and over. He wanted to be sure he’d understood that he was to be a part of the great victory God had planned. He wanted to be sure he got it right that he was supposed to decrease the size of his army. He wanted to be sure he was supposed to go forward in the face of his fear.

David asked questions, too. Why do the wicked prosper; how long, O LORD; why have You forsaken me; what is Man; why do You hide Yourself, and many others.

Abraham was another one who entertained doubts. He, and Sarah, weren’t sure they’d got it right. God was going to make a great nation from his descendants? God must have meant heir, or, if descendant, then birthed by a surrogate, not Abraham’s barren wife.

No, and no. God corrected him and repeated His promise.

Mary questioned. Me? A virgin? How could that possibly happen?

Moses doubted which lead to such despair he asked at one point for God to simply kill him then and there because he couldn’t continue leading an angry and rebellious people.

I could go on, but the point is this: asking questions is not wrong–it’s thinking that our answers are better than God’s that is wrong.

And that’s what all false teaching has in common. Man has secret knowledge of God, or can earn his own way into God’s good graces, or can come to God however he pleases, or can worship the god of his own choosing, or can manipulate God to do his bidding–all of those and a host of other false ideas put self ahead of God, as if it’s all about us.

But it’s not.

Remembering C. S. Lewis – The Voyage of the Dawn Treader


The-Voyage-of-the-Dawn-Treader-coverContinuing with my tribute to C. S. Lewis, I want to share another one of my favorite scenes from Narnia. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the third (by order of publication) installment of the Chronicles, begins with a memorable few lines:

There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it. His parents called him Eustace Clarence and his schoolmasters called him Scrubb. I can’t tell you how his friends spoke to him, for he had none.

The story features only Lucy and Edmund of the four Pevensie siblings. In a surprising manner they, along with Eustace, are pulled into Narnia. Eustace proves to be an insufferable companion, and through a little magic working on his own greed, he turns into a dragon. However, he doesn’t stay a dragon long, which is a good thing because he carried a deep wound on his arm that likely would have killed him.

When Edmund discovers Eustace is once again himself, Eustace relates how his change took place, a truly beautiful picture of the change God works in the life of every Christian:

Last night I was more miserable than ever. And that beastly arm-ring [the source of his wound] was hurting like anything–”

“Is that all right now?”

Eustace laughed–a different laugh from any Edmund had heard him give before–and slipped the bracelet easily off his arm. “There it is,” he said, “and anyone who likes can have it as far as I’m concerned. Well, as I say, I was lying awake and wondering what on earth would become of me. And then–but, mind you–it may have been all a dream. I don’t know.”

“Go on,” said Edmund with considerable patience.

“Well, anyway I looked up and saw the very last thing I expected: a huge lion coming slowly towards me. And one queer thing was that there was no moon last night, but there was moonlight where the lion was. So it came nearer and nearer. I was terribly afraid of it. You may think that being a dragon, I could have knocked any lion out easily enough. But it wasn’t that kind of fear. I wasn’t afraid of it eating me, I was just afraid of it–if you can understand. Well, it came closer up to me and looked straight into my eyes. And I shut my eyes tight. But that wasn’t any good because it told me to follow it.”

“You mean it spoke?”

“I don’t know. Now that you mention it, I don’t think it did. But it told me all the same. And I know I’d have to do what it told me, so I got up and followed it. And it led me a long way into the mountains. And there was always this moonlight over and round the lion wherever we went. So at last we came to the top of a mountain I’d never seen before and on the top of this mountain there was a garden–trees and fruit and everything. In the middle of it there was a well.

“I knew it was a well because you could see the water bubbling up from the bottom of it: but it was a lot bigger than most wells—like a very big, round bath with marble steps going down into it. The water was as clear as anything and I thought if I could get in there and bathe, it would ease the pain in my leg. But the lion told me I must undress first. Mind you, I don’t know if he said any words out loud or not.

“I was just going to say that I couldn’t undress because I hadn’t any clothes on when I suddenly thought that dragons are snaky sort of things and snakes can cast their skins. Oh, of course, thought I, that’s what the lion means. So I started scratching myself and my scales began coming off all over the place. And then I scratched a little deeper and, instead of just scales coming off here and there, my whole skin started peeling off beautifully, like it does after an illness, or as if I was a banana. In a minute or two I just stepped out of it. I could see it lying there beside me, looking rather nasty. It was a most lovely feeling. So I started to go down into the well for my bathe.

“But just as I was going to put my foot into the water I looked down and saw that it was all hard and rough and wrinkled and scaly just as it had been before. Oh, that’s all right, said I, it only means I had another smaller suit on underneath the first one, and I’ll have to get out of it too. So I scratched and tore again and this under skin peeled off beautifully and out I stepped and left it lying beside the other one and went down to the well for my bathe.

“Well, exactly the same thing happened again. And I thought to myself, oh dear, how ever many skins have I got to take off? For I was longing to bathe my leg. So I scratched away for the third time and got off a third skin, just like the two others, and stepped out of it. But as soon as I looked at myself in the water I knew it had been no good.

“Then the lion said–but I don’t know if it spoke–You will have to let me undress you. I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.

“The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know–if you’ve ever picked the scab of a sore place. It hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away.”

“I know exactly what you mean,” said Edmund.

“Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off–just as I thought I’d done it myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt–and there it was lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly looking than the others had been. And there was I as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me–I didn’t like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I’d no skin on–and threw me into the water. I smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I’d turned into a boy again. . .

“After a bit the lion took me out and dressed me–”

(pp 87-91)

On Being Silenced


Speak no evil monkeyThere’s apparently a brouhaha among certain elements of those professing Christianity that started on Twitter as a result of a conference with an overwhelming number of male speakers. One person evidently pointed this out, and an exchange of Tweets ensued. Next came blog posts.

I’m uninformed about the particulars. However, a familiar claim jumped out at me–one that surfaced in the discussion I found myself in a month or so ago. The common thread is that people who take a different approach, who counsel unity, who disagree are trying to silence criticism.

Here are the lines that jumped out at me:

I don’t like being divisive. Believe me.

But I don’t like being silenced either. (Emphasis in the original)

So “don’t try to silence me” appears to be the current trump card in disagreements. The troubling thing to me is that those calling for unity are being lumped in with those “trying to silence people.”

The implication is that a call for unity requires the person raising a criticism to back down, and therefore to be quiet.

There is the possibility that this is precisely what the critics need to do. I’m astounded when I read about organizational infighting as if it is a power struggle. Here’s an example:

The reality is, some folks benefit from the status quo, and it is in their best interest to characterize every challenge to the status quo as wholly negative and a threat to Christian unity. This makes it difficult for those who perceive inequity within the status quo to challenge it without being labeled as troublemakers out to make Jesus look bad.

In other words, the advantage goes to the powerful because things rarely change without friction. (Excerpt from “On being ‘divisive’. . .”)

Status quo. Challenge. Threat. Inequity. Powerful. Are we talking about a government, a business? Since when is the Church all about getting into have and have-not camps? Since when are we looking at the Body of Christ as specialty groups, one in a “position of privilege” and another “speaking from the margins”?

Let’s say for the sake of argument that these groups exist. What does God’s Word say about quarrels and conflicts that might arise? James takes the hardest line:

What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. (4:1-2)

There are all kinds of other passages in the New Testament that address the issue of Christians and how we are to treat one another (with love), how we are to view one another (as one body–not as Jews versus Greeks, circumcised versus uncircumcised, male versus female, rich versus poor), and what it takes to accomplish this goal (the humility of Christ).

I want to stress what James said, though: You do not have because you do not ask.

Would our good God not care about inequity within the body of believers? We know He does because Acts records an inequity in the church with certain widows (the most marginalized members of that society) being forgotten. The Church leadership dealt with the problem, so we know this was not an insignificant matter. God cared for those widows and He cared for us in the 21st century to have the example of how the 1st century church handled the situation.

So why, I wonder, are those who are concerned about the number of women speakers at a host of Christian conferences not content to ask? Primarily I believe we should be asking God to change any problems in the Church. He cares for His temple of living stones being built up, founded on the choice and precious cornerstone of His Son.

Will God ignore us if we ask?

James again:

You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. (4:3)

So yes, it’s possible prayer for women to be put in higher profile positions within the Church might not be answered. I have no way of knowing what motive women have who think it is better to hear a woman speaker than it is to hear a man. I have no way of knowing if they have brought their concerns before God in prayer.

I do know that we are to speak the truth in love, not in snarky tweets. And it is the way we speak to each other, not our agreement on every point, that is to set us apart from the rest of the world.

Published in: on November 14, 2013 at 6:56 pm  Leave a Comment  
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An Attitude Shift


Locusts_feedingAll things are lawful. That’s what the Bible says, and that’s apparently the way many Christians are living their lives. The fact is, however, that the Apostle Paul who penned those words under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit didn’t stop there. He went on to say that not all things are profitable or edifying.

As part of this “not all are profitable or edifying,” I was raised to believe that some things were better left alone lest they prove to be harmful or stumbling blocks.

Alcohol was one such thing. Yes, the Bible did not prohibit drinking. In fact Jesus turned water into wine, and that makes it pretty hard to make a case against drinking alcohol. And yet there were cultural considerations–how strong was the alcohol in Biblical times and what other drinks did they have available? In addition there is the knowledge we’ve gained today about the addictive quality of alcohol and the psychological propensity of some people toward addiction.

In short, we have choices people in the first century didn’t have, bad and good, and we have an awareness that we might find alcohol more than we can handle. So is it OK to drink? Presented with such a choice about any number of things–smoking, doing drugs (easier to decide because those are illegal), sex before marriage, going to movies, dancing, gambling–my church and family challenged me to error on the side of caution.

My body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, I was reminded, and a temple should be cared for, not exposed to harmful substances, whether harmful physically or emotionally or spiritually.

I suspect that kind of reasoning is foreign to today’s youth.

As I look back at the particulars of the things I was taught, I can see how some churches and some individuals turned those tenets into legalistic propositions that defined spirituality. Clearly such a misuse of cautionary behavior is wrong. And today legalism has become the great sin of the church.

But it seems to me we have tossed the baby out with the bath water (that’s really a horrible image, isn’t it?) Yes, we have unshackled our youth by teaching them that the only sin connected with alcohol is drunkenness and that sex outside of marriage is wrong but if you’re going to do it, be sure it’s safe sex, and dancing isn’t outlawed in the Bible (after all, David danced before the Lord), and on and on. But where’s the caution? Where’s the “all things may not be profitable or edifying”?

From what I can see, Christian kids are too often thrown to the locust–that is, forced to make decisions that could affect their entire lives without the cautionary wisdom that they might want to protect the temple of the Holy Spirit from harm. They’re given the facts, certainly. They know about addiction and sexually transmitted diseases and designated drivers.

But they aren’t being challenged, I don’t think, to choose what is profitable and edifying. They’re being taught how to play with fire rather than the wisdom to stay away from fire.

“All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify” (1 Cor. 10:23).

“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body” 1 Cor. 6:19-20).

In the end, I chose some of the things I was taught as a young person and rejected others. What I didn’t reject was the principle that I had freedom, including freedom to choose the profitable and the edifying. I was not a slave to my lusts or to the way the world does things.

Yes, I acted like a slave at times–still do. Thank God for His mercy.

What I fear is for this generation of young people and their children who aren’t being taught that they don’t have to involve themselves with lawful things simply because they are lawful. They can choose a better way, a profitable and edifying way, that will spare them lives of heartache and missed opportunity.

God can redeem the years the locust have eaten, but I can’t help but wonder if we who should be teaching the next generation when we lie down and rise up, when we’re sitting in our houses or walking along the road are not fulfulling our responsibility. Should we not clue them in that all things may be lawful, but a whole lot of stuff isn’t profitable or edifying?

Dogmatism And What Christians Don’t Know


halloween-1369053-mRecently I took the time to write a number of articles to refute the notion that spiritual things are not knowable (for starters, see “Christians Should Not Be Silent,” “What Christians Know,” “What Else Christians Know,” “Christians Also Know . . .,” and “Doubt And Uncertainty.”) Frequently those who take the “can’t know” approach accuse Christians of being know-it-alls. Because I say there are things Christians do know, I am not saying we know everything.

Sometimes I think we need to remind each other of this fact. Because we are Christians, we don’t know who will make the best President of the United States or who should be the next Supreme Court justice. We don’t know if it’s better to delay Obamacare or not. We don’t even know if we should celebrate Halloween or if we should baptize babies or move to Arizona. We don’t know if we should homeschool or send our children to Christian school or to our local public school.

Let’s face it: there are tons of issues that require an opinion, and most of them do not have a corresponding, clear statement of Scripture by which we can set our convictions. There may be principles to guide our thinking, but different people can interpret principles in different ways.

Which brings me to dogmatism. We should cut it out (she said dogmatically. ;-) ) Seriously, dogmatism, by its nature, leads to some dangerous things: legalism, self-righteousness, pride, exclusivity, prejudice, even abuse.

As soon as we cling to a belief dogmatically such that we believe our position is the only right one, we are putting ourselves in jeopardy. Please note: I’m not referring to those things that Christians know, such as God is, Jesus shows us the Father, we are saved by His grace, and so on.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. I believe the Bible clearly teaches parents are to discipline their children. Some parents believe that when Scripture refers to the “rod of correction,” this means a literal rod and the only appropriate discipline is spanking.

Other parents take issue with that view and believe there are effective means of discipline which fulfill the Scriptural principles regarding raising children that don’t include spanking.

My caution is against dogmatism and against ignoring Scripture. If one parent understands what Scripture says about discipline and decides the best way to implement the principles is by spanking, and another parent, also using Scripture, decides to use time-outs, neither should judge the other.

Scripture is to be our guide, and by prayer, trusting in the Holy Spirit to illuminate His truth, we should make reasoned, careful decisions. But once we’ve done so, we need to refrain from extrapolating from our experience to what all other Christians or Americans or humans should do.

We don’t know what God has in mind for someone else and ought not judge.

However, not judging does not mean we are to make our decision and ignore everyone else. We are in relationship with others. With peers we are to let iron sharpen iron. We are to discuss, even debate, so we and they can learn. We are to teach–older women, the younger, and older men, the younger. Pastors and teachers are to instruct. We are to live as examples for one another as Paul did for the church at Philippi.

In other words, it’s fine, even necessary, for us to share what we’ve learned and what we believe. It’s not fine to expect everyone who has heard us to reach the exact same conclusion as we have. And, more so, it is not fine to look down on those who do things differently.

We might think they are wrong. We might even be responsible for confronting them and telling them they are wrong, though we would need a lot of Biblical backing to reach that point. But unless the issue is something clearly stated in Scripture (don’t steal, for example), it’s not OK for us to be so dogmatic we leave no room for the Holy Spirit to work differently in the lives of different Christians.

Unfortunately, I think our Western culture has influenced Christians to the point that we are less inclined to be dogmatic about the things the Bible states without equivocation (for example, Jesus is the way, the truth, the life; no one comes to the Father but through Him) and more inclined to be dogmatic about our own preferences and point of view (things like, the Harry Potter books are of the devil–or not).

There’s one other thing I think we need to remember. With God there is forgiveness. Nothing any of us does or has done is beyond God’s mercy. He has made it clear that Jesus “bore our sins in His body on the cross that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.” So even the things that we hold to dogmatically that align with Scripture (I’d put a stand against abortion in that category, for example), do not give us the right to hate others or malign them.

Scripture says we’re not fighting against flesh and blood but against spiritual forces. Consequently, people with opposing views are not our enemies. If this is true when it comes to the clear things of Scripture, it certainly is true when it comes to things not spelled out in the Bible.

In short, we have no business taking a dogmatic stand on things that aren’t in the Bible–I don’t think. ;-)

Published in: on October 29, 2013 at 5:00 pm  Comments (2)  
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I Hate Halloween


halloween-jack-o-lanterns-650264-mHalloween has never been my favorite holiday. For one thing, it wasn’t a real holiday–I never got out of school, as a student or teacher, because of Halloween. For another, it meant disruption–going to strangers’ houses or having strangers come knocking at my door. Then, for those of us who put only a little last minute thought into a costume, there was the embarrassment of people saying, “And what are you supposed to be?”

Add to this the growing emphasis on horror and fear-inducing entertainment–things I do not like–and Halloween is less to my liking than ever.

Beyond my personal issues with the day, however, I’ve come to hate Halloween because of the attitudes of different Christians. Again this past week I heard on the radio a Christian pastor telling his listeners about his book exposing all the pagan roots of Halloween.

There’s plenty to expose, too, but of course, there are believers who argue that the true roots of the holiday lie in Christian tradition.

Others accept it for what it has become–a day to dress up, to pull spooky pranks, to have parties, to get or give candy. In other words, in the culture at large, it has no particular pagan or religious significance.

Several years ago, I did a three-day series on Halloween (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3), but in the end I came to a different conclusion than what I’d intended when I started. Here’s the bulk of the final post of that series. I based much of the article on a comment asking shouldn’t we have some agreement within the body of Christ?

I think that might be the problem–we’re all coming at this hotbed topic from different points of view, and yet we’re expecting agreement.

We aren’t going to find agreement because our past experiences and our present influences–all of which differ from person to person–affect what we think.

Because of my childhood background, I thought the school I taught in, by banning all Halloween trappings and celebrations, was behaving a bit like Chicken Little crying that the sky was falling–until Charles Manson and his “family” who had gone on a killing spree shaved his head and said “I am the Devil.” Suddenly I got it. Paganism, in stark rebellion to God and His law, was in our culture.

The students I taught needed to know.

But what did they need to know? That carving a face in a pumpkin was sinful? That dressing up like a princess and going door to door for candy is sinful?

That having a party called a Harvest Festival is OK but having one and calling it a Halloween Party is sinful?

Too often I think we Christians, in our zeal for the truth, forget why we’re teaching what we teach to children, and why we believe what we believe.

Would any of us disagree that Satan is real, and he is to be resisted? I suspect evangelical Christians see eye to eye on this point.

Would any of us condone participation in Wiccan celebrations? I imagine we would uniformly say we would not.

At the core, I believe we would be united in those points because we believe in Jesus and do not want to give any quarter to the enemy of our souls.

But from that point on, our agreement splinters based on our experience. Which is why I believe grace needs to reign. Grace and our oneness in Christ.

Scripture is clear how we are to treat one another though it says nothing about carving pumpkins or bobbing for apples or, for that matter, pretending to ride a broom.

As I see it, Halloween is a great opportunity for Christians to witness to the world, not because we all should give out tracts that night but because we can stand up and say, I love my brother in Christ MORE than these other things. I will respect my brother’s decisions and not ridicule or judge or accuse. I will not insist he does things my way. And if necessary to keep from offending him, because he’s got a weakness in this area, I won’t do things my way either.

Now that‘s what I think we Christians should agree on.

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