Hope And The Here And Now


westcoast sunsetWhile I acknowledge that this world is filled with disappointment, I also recognize the beauty of God’s handiwork. Yes, there is sadness, but there are also joys. People get married, and babies come into the world. People get promotions and book deals and raises. People go on vacation and spend an evening with friends.

There are so many joys, I can’t help but be hopeful about today.

There are friends, too, bringing laughter and acceptance and companionship. How about family and loved ones—people who don’t care what our hair looks like in the morning and aren’t afraid to tell us if something is hanging from our nose. They love us in such everyday ways we sometimes overlook them, but when we list what we’re thankful for, they come to mind first.

snow_road-winter-xsYes, the joys and the people are part of God’s handiwork, but of course the natural world can’t be left out. Which of the beautiful things tops the list—the white-capped Rockies, the sunset over the Pacific, the snow-dressed forest, the green and golden fields, the woods clothed in autumn finery, the dew-kissed rose, the yellow-breasted song bird . . . the list is endless.

Joy, people, creation. God’s fingerprints are everywhere, and each one brings hope. If things are this good today, can’t tomorrow be just as good? Or better?

The greatest present hope is God Himself. The amazing truth is that God IS, though all else fails. God is the greatest treasure, so I may be poor in this world’s estimation, but if I have Jesus, I am rich. I may mourn, but joy comes in the morning. I may feel defeated, but Christ is the victor. I may be grieving, but not without hope.

Though the fig tree should not blossom
And there be no fruit on the vines,
Though the yield of the olive should fail
And the fields produce no food,
Though the flock should be cut off from the fold
And there be no cattle in the stalls,
Yet I will exult in the LORD,
I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.
The Lord GOD is my strength,
And He has made my feet like hinds’ feet,
And makes me walk on my high places. (Hab. 3:17-19a)

God, in His great mercy, gives us memorials so that we don’t lose sight of hope. He gives us sun after the rain, spring after winter. He gives us comfort in the midst of sorrow, kindness from unexpected places.

He tells us to remember Him in the broken bread and shared cup at Communion. He established His Church as the “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession.” He gave us the Lord’s Day and reminded us to continue gathering together then.

He gave us His word that is sharper than any two-edged sword—the perfect weapon against the false teaching our adversary throws at us. He taught us to pray and gives His Holy Spirit to interpret when we don’t know what we ought to say.

This is the same Holy Spirit that lives in us—which is why we can truthfully say we are never alone. He is the One Jesus sent when He left earth, promising that it was to our advantage that He go.

God’s presence in the form of His Spirit, His communication with me through prayer, His word, His fingerprints all over the world—these are things I have now that fill me with hope.

Though our society is far from God, why not revival, I think. God changed my heart. He can change anyone’s heart, even atheists putting up anti-church billboards—Nebuchadnezzar was just such a man, and God brought him to his senses. Even people killing others in some mistaken view that they’re doing God’s work—the Apostle Paul was just such a man, and God opened his blind eyes.

With God, there are no limits.

Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth
Does not become weary or tired.
His understanding is inscrutable.
He gives strength to the weary,
And to him who lacks might He increases power. (Isaiah 40:28-29)

To him who lacks hope, I daresay, He gives that, too.

Published in: on December 4, 2014 at 5:30 pm  Comments (1)  
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The Foundation Of Hope


AdventCandles

I don’t know much about Advent. Here’s what the always helpful Wikipedia says about it:

Advent is a season observed in many Western Christian churches as a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas. The term is an anglicized version of the Latin word adventus, meaning “coming”.

Latin adventus is the translation of the Greek word parousia, commonly used to refer to the Second Coming of Christ. For Christians, the season of Advent anticipates the coming of Christ from two different perspectives. The season offers the opportunity to share in the ancient longing for the coming of the Messiah, and to be alert for his Second Coming.

I like that!

I didn’t grow up in a church that treated Christmas as a season, much less as one with an organized, scripted approach to the lead-up to the Big Day. Until lately my church didn’t do much, if anything, with Advent.

So this year we are forging a new tradition. Apparently liturgical churches have certain Scripture readings that go with the each of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas. We aren’t a liturgical church, so instead we’re receiving devotions centered on a particular weekly theme. Any guess what we’re focusing on this week? ;-)

I’ve been thinking a lot about hope in preparation for writing my blog posts. To be honest, this is new territory for me. I’ve studied faith and thought a great deal about love and grace and trust. But hope?

Now I’m alert to the topic and have begun to see how frequently Scripture addresses it.

The thing that keeps coming back to me is that line from Romans 5 about hope not disappointing. I looked at Hope And Disappointment yesterday, but in the devotion my church sent, the contrast came up again. The truth is, a lot of Christmas is about disappointment.

Maybe that’s because a lot of life is about disappointment. When you’re young, of course, you don’t realize the permanent nature of disappointment. Yes, permanent. You didn’t win the high school football championship, so you say, We’ll get it next year.

But eventually there is no “next year” for high school football, and that disappointment about missing that block or dropping that pass or fumbling that punt return will just be there.

This is true about pretty much everything. Husbands and wives, who love each other dearly, nevertheless discover that their spouse is not perfect. That she doesn’t bake cakes like Mom did is disappointing, or that she has gained a few pounds or wants to stay home instead of pursuing her career and bringing in a second income is disappointing.

He, on the other hand, doesn’t take care of the yard the way Dad did, and he doesn’t like to go out or have friends over for dinner. Instead, he seems glued to the TV every weekend. It’s disappointing.

But kids, well, there’s nothing disappointing about our children, is there? I mean, they are so cute and cuddly and innocent and sweet. So precious. Until they begin to cry. At 2:00 AM. Until they poop in the diaper you just changed. Until they take longer to walk than you thought they should. Until they tell you no. Until it’s hard to potty train them. Until they don’t like to read, and you’re a bookaholic. Until . . .

You get the picture.

What in life isn’t disappointing? Sure, there are successes—like winning that high school football championship. But that was high school. What are you doing now? And how will you top it tomorrow?

There’s always a new goal, something else that we need, someone else we wish were here. It’s a great time, but if only . . . then it would be perfect.

Along comes the Bible announcing a hope that does not disappoint. There’s a specific reason why this hope is different from all others:

and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. (Rom. 5:5-6)

The passage goes on to explain how Christ’s death for sinners accomplished something we need: reconciliation with God. So here are the twin foundations of the hope that does not disappoint: God’s love (which is as eternal as He is), and the relationship Jesus made possible for us to have with God.

The one Person who loves perfectly has lavishly poured out His love and He did so, not because of anything worthy in us. Just the opposite. He gifted us when we had nothing of value to give Him.

All we bring is our imperfect selves. What He brings is a robe of righteousness—the clothes fit for a king, bought and paid for by Jesus with His broken body and shed blood—which He gives to us who believe.

And those are things—God’s love, Christ’s sacrifice—that don’t change and won’t dissipate or fade away or need to be replaced. They are forever gifts—the foundation of hope that does not disappoint.

Why Thanksgiving Day


ThanksgivingFeastI love Thanksgiving. For a number of years I said it was my favorite holiday.

My church used to hold special Thanksgiving Day services—a kind of “come as you are” affair back in the days when everyone still dressed up for church. So there was a real casual feel.

I don’t remember what all we did. Sing, I’m sure. And pray. But this was the part I remember the most: in this church whose sanctuary held over 1000 people, they put up microphones in the side aisles and let whoever wanted to share come down and talk about why they were thankful.

No time limit. No slick presentation. We went for an hour and a half, give or take, and it was the best, hearing what God was doing in the lives of the people in our church. Often these were people saying how great God was although they’d experienced some pain or suffering or loss. Their witness was that God went through the trial with them. More than once I ended up in tears from hearing these experiences of God’s faithfulness.

God’s faithfulness. That’s really what Thanksgiving is about. Those early colonists who set aside a day to express their thanks and to feast with their Indian friends who had made their survival possible, were proclaiming God’s faithfulness, even in the midst of the trials they’d faced.

Danger, sickness, and death on the ocean. Dwindling provision, inadequate shelter, more sickness and death when they landed. But when they made it through the winter, when the Indians helped them plant, when harvest time came and they had provision for another winter, they gave God thanks.

When we slide past Thanksgiving on our way to Christmas instead of plugging into the rich heritage this nation has enjoyed, we miss out. Think about those early celebrations. No racial or ethnic or cultural prejudice. No one advertising or trying to get rich quick. Everyone sharing from what they had. And everyone acknowledging God as the Giver of all good gifts.

Today if everyone in America spent Thanksgiving by setting aside any prejudices, by taking a pause in all the get-ahead schemes, by sharing instead of trying to get, by thanking God for giving us what we need for this day, how different our nation would look.

Christians so often like to say we need to put Christ back into Christmas, but I think we need to put thanks back into Thanksgiving Day.

Scripture puts a great emphasis on thanking God. For example, note the times thanks is mentioned in this passage in Colossians:

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father (3:15-17, emphasis added).

To our detriment, we Christians don’t make thanksgiving a big part of our worship service, or, I dare say, of our own personal prayers.

In describing the process of falling away from God, Romans 1 says, “For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened” (v 21, emphasis added).

Not giving thanks follows immediately after not honoring God. I don’t know if there’s anything that can keep us closer to God than thanking Him—not particularly for the stuff He gives but for God Himself.

I think it’s cool to take a passage of Scripture and identify what it shows us about God—either His work or plan or person—then use that to thank Him. But not just on Thanksgiving Day, though setting aside a day to feast and thank God and our family and friends is a cornerstone upon which we can build thankful hearts during the other 364 days.

In many ways, the more prosperous we are, the more we have to work at thankfulness. It’s so easy to start taking for granted the good things we have—and expect to have, day in and day out.

For example, I made a grocery store run this afternoon. I didn’t think until this minute to thank God for the grocery store. I’m not wondering if I’ll have access to a grocery store tomorrow. I expect to have it available to me whenever I need to buy more food.

It’s easy to move from that “take it for granted” position to an entitlement position, then a demanding one (see the people of Israel during the exodus). Giving thanks forestalls that downward spiral.

Thanksgiving feeds a relationship. Why wouldn’t it work the same way with God? In fact it does. The more we thank Him, the more we appreciate the many things about Him for which we can be thankful. As our awareness grows, our appreciation grows. As our appreciation grows, our thankfulness grows, and our thankfulness triggers a whole new awareness of God, starting the cycle over again.

So, no matter whether you live in the US or not, Happy Thanksgiving, all year long.

Congregational Singing


Photo shared on FB by Susan Gentry DeMaggioOnce upon a time, when churches had bulletins in which the order of service was printed, occasional lines read, “Congregational Singing,” followed by a number in a hymnal.

Times have changed, bringing changes to church services. Certainly some of those are fine and appropriate and not in the least contrary to Scripture since the Bible doesn’t mention bulletins or orders of service or hymnals.

In fact, how we conduct “church” is more a reflection of our culture than any Biblical mandate. There’s simply not much laid out concerning what our “assembling ourselves together” is supposed to look like.

I was raised in a church that didn’t use instruments to accompany our congregational singing, and I don’t remember a choir. Instead the congregation sang hymns in four-part harmony at the direction of a music minister or song leader—I’m not sure what his title was.

But in my teen years someone introduced contemporary Christian music, and before long praise songs made their way into church.

Since then, there seems to be a running controversy about how we are to “do worship” because with more and more frequency, congregational singing has come to be known as “worship.” Prayer, offering, sermons, even communion are something else, apparently, and corporate singing alone is worship.

Along with these changes, much of this “worship” has taken on the trappings of secular concerts. Again, there’s nothing wrong with this ostensibly since the Bible doesn’t lay down any direction about our singing except to say that we are to teach and admonish one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in our hearts to God (see Colossians 3:16).

So in some churches, the tech people flash words on a screen, lower the house lights, turn on spotlights to illumine the worship band, and crank up the mics. The leader will sometimes verbally cue people to the next line of a song—though it’s in front of them—or riff some line that’s not there. Sometimes, with no warning, all but one member of the “worship team” will stop singing and the rest of us are left to wonder if we are also to be silent or to be led by the single singer.

In short, there’s more of a concert feel to these times of singing than there is of congregational singing. Good? Or bad? Young people should feel right at home with the concert atmosphere, and tradition isn’t supposed to become Law.

But maybe there are a couple bigger issues. I wonder if we’ve lost the purpose of our singing.

When we meet together we can make a joyful noise to the Lord as the people of Israel did and we can sing to instruct one another as Paul said in Colossians 3. However, I think we might be losing both those purposes in our concert environment.

First, people go to concerts to be entertained. I think too many people are going to church for the same reason. Was the pastor funny? Did he repeat the stories he’s already told? Was he boring? That mindset is replicated during the singing. Rather than thinking about the instruction of the psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, or singing with thankfulness in our hearts to God, or making a joyful noise to the Lord, we’re thinking about whether or not we liked the music. Is it too old fashioned, too shallow, too repetitive, too loud, too archaic, too jazzy, too uni-voice, too whatever I don’t like as much as I like something else?

People who love hymns and people who love contemporary music can error in the exact same way—judging the music based on how entertained they are by it.

In addition, in a recent Facebook discussion about worship, several people mentioned euphoria as part of the experience in the “concert mode” style. I have to wonder how many people are gauging “worship” based on how euphoric it makes them feel.

I do think when we enter into a closeness with God, we can experience a “spiritual high,” but if we go about trying to recapture that surprising joy, as C. S. Lewis referred to it, we’re worshiping for the wrong reason. We ought not think about what we can get from the experience. Instead, we ought to be focused on other believers or on God as we sing truths or praise. And yes, when we sing truths for others, we will hear them too. When we sing praise to God, we may enter into a closer experience with Him.

But those are gifts God gives us as effects of our singing. Our purpose ought not to be to receive an emotional boost, and it ought not to be to be entertained.

Secondly, singing is only one aspect of worship, but our concert mode and our “worship team,” “worship band,” “worship leader” phraseology encourages us to think of music as worship and the rest of our service as something else.

I suppose these two are tied together because we don’t often get a euphoric bump when we put an offering into the plate or even when we listen to a sermon (unless our preacher is one who milks the crowd and has everyone weeping by the time he’s finished). Nevertheless, the teaching of the word of God, giving to His work in our church, community, and the world, petitioning Him to change our hearts and draw us closer to Him, are all parts of worship, whether we feel it to be so or not.

Worship ought not to be about how we feel. Worship is about us giving. We ought to worship God, not because we to get something from it, but because He deserves it.

Josiah’s Humble Heart


High Priest reads the Law to Josiah005The last good king in Judah came to the throne when he was 8. His grandfather, King Manasseh, had re-established idol worship, including the sacrifice of children. And he reigned for more than a half century. His son only ruled two years because he was assassinated. That left young boy Josiah on the throne.

Unlike his father and grandfather, this child king patterned himself after David. Eighteen years into his reign he ordered temple repairs and a bunch of clean-up measures. In carrying out the young king’s commands, the high priest found a copy of the Law. When he read it to Josiah, the king understood what kings older than he, had completely missed: because his nation had rebelled against God, He would cut them loose and send them into exile.

Josiah’s response? He humbled himself before God, first with a public display of sorrow, then by seeking out a confirming word from a prophetess of God:

When the king heard the words of the book of the law, he tore his clothes. Then the king commanded Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam the son of Shaphan, Achbor the son of Micaiah, Shaphan the scribe, and Asaiah the king’s servant saying, “Go, inquire of the LORD for me and the people and all Judah concerning the words of this book that has been found, for great is the wrath of the LORD that burns against us, because our fathers have not listened to the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us.” (2 Kings 22:11-13, emphasis added)

He was right. God’s wrath—His righteous judgment against those who rebel against Him—was great. The prophetess gave
the messengers from the king this answer:

Thus says the LORD, “Behold, I bring evil on this place and on its inhabitants, even all the words of the book which the king of Judah has read. Because they have forsaken Me and have burned incense to other gods that they might provoke Me to anger with all the work of their hands, therefore My wrath burns against this place, and it shall not be quenched. (vv 16, 17)

God’s word stands.

There was one other part to what the prophetess reported, however, and this had to do with Josiah and his response to God’s Law:

“Because your heart was tender and you humbled yourself before the LORD when you heard what I spoke against this place and against its inhabitants that they should become a desolation and a curse, and you have torn your clothes and wept before Me, I truly have heard you,” declares the LORD. “Therefore, behold, I will gather you to your fathers, and you will be gathered to your grave in peace, and your eyes will not see all the evil which I will bring on this place.” (vv 19, 20, emphasis added)

Josiah’s reward? Peace in his day. He wasn’t going to be the king dragged off to Babylon, who had to watch the slaughter of his sons, then have his eyes gouged out. He wouldn’t have to walk the walls of his city and see his people eating their dung and drinking their urine or bartering to serve up their children.

Peace in his day.

Josiah may not have fully appreciated what this meant as we do after the fact, but he embraced the time God gave him by being zealous in his obedience to the Torah. He cleaned out the idol altars and utensils from the temple, torn down the idol high places Manasseh had put back up, instituted the Passover, and even went to Israel and torn down the golden calves their first king Jeroboam had erected which caused the northern kingdom to stray from the start.

This guy was relentless in bringing his people back to God—even though he already had God’s promise that he’d enjoy peace in his day.

A humble heart does that, I think. It’s not focused on self. He cared not just about escaping the coming wrath. He cared about doing what God intended His people to do.

Great example, I think. Recently the Church has been rightly rebuked for caring more about our own comfort than about pleasing God and loving Him through our obedience. Of course, that’s a generalization. Many in the Church live sacrificial lives. Many have such an integrated faith you could no more divide their sacred activities from their secular than you could divide water into hydrogen and oxygen.

That’s the way we should live, I think. It’s the way Josiah lived after he humbled himself before God.

Published in: on November 13, 2014 at 6:34 pm  Comments (3)  
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Hezekiah And The High Places


King_Saul006As far back as the time of the judges, before Israel went through the civil war that split them into a northern and a southern kingdom, they began disobeying God. One manifestation of this was the fact that they began building “high places” all over.

God had instructed the people through Moses to have only one place of sacrifice, one altar where they were to gather and where the priests were to offer the Sabbath day, new moon, and feast day offerings.

The thing was, the peoples around them had a different way of doing things, and pretty soon, though Israel started out with zero toleration for strange altars and offerings, they began to look more and more like the nations around them. When the northern kingdom succumbed to Assyria and went into exile, here’s the epitaph God wrote for them:

Now this came about because the sons of Israel had sinned against the LORD their God, who had brought them up from the land of Egypt from under the hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and they had feared other gods and walked in the customs of the nations whom the LORD had driven out before the sons of Israel, and in the customs of the kings of Israel which they had introduced. The sons of Israel did things secretly which were not right against the LORD their God. Moreover, they built for themselves high places in all their towns, from watchtower to fortified city. They set for themselves sacred pillars and Asherim on every high hill and under every green tree, and there they burned incense on all the high places as the nations did which the LORD had carried away to exile before them; and they did evil things provoking the LORD. (2 Kings 17:7-11, emphasis added)

There were other things too, but this passage seems to indicate that building high places so they could be like the other nations was a key part of Israel’s downfall.

I’ll be honest: I don’t know why God wanted one central place of worship. The Church today obviously is made up of many houses of worship, and the very idea of a single location for all believers to gather is impractical in this lifetime. Consequently, it’s hard for me to imagine why it was so important to God that Israel establish one and only one worship center.

I can speculate on reasons—the main thought I have is that by maintaining one place of worship, there would be less likelihood of false teaching seeping into the nation because everyone would be hearing the same message from the same high priest—but God only knows why He planned it this way. I have no doubt that His way was best for Israel and that by copying the nations around them instead of following God’s clear instructions, Israel opened themselves up to many other evils.

Surprisingly Scripture never records a prophet reprimanding a king for tolerating or promoting high places, though the kings of Judah are identified as good to the degree that they did or did not remove the high places.

In fact King Hezekiah was one of the few who did remove the high places:

He did right in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his father David had done. He removed the high places and broke down the sacred pillars and cut down the Asherah. He also broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the sons of Israel burned incense to it; and it was called Nehushtan. He trusted in the LORD, the God of Israel (2 Kings 18:3-5a)

Ironically, Assyria came up against Hezekiah’s kingdom, too, and the military leader who led the siege against Jerusalem chided Hezekiah as anti-God for this very act of obedience:

But if you say to me, ‘We trust in the LORD our God,’ is it not He whose high places and whose altars Hezekiah has taken away, and has said to Judah and to Jerusalem, ‘You shall worship before this altar in Jerusalem’? (2 Kings 18:22)

Basically he was saying, Hezekiah just tore down your God’s altars and places of sacrifices and expects you to only use the altar in Jerusalem, and you think this same God is going to protect you now?!

Because Hezekiah was doing something counter-cultural—all the surrounding nations had high places where they worshiped their gods—this Assyrian, who didn’t have the Torah and didn’t know what God had told Moses, questioned Hezekiah’s relationship with God.

I’ve started wondering what the high places are which the Church of today has built or which it has not torn down. We have God’s word, but the culture around us does things differently, so we are choosing to go along with them instead of standing up and doing what God has said to do.

A few things come to mind, one being gender issues. We the Church went along with the patriarchy of society for years and years, though Scripture paints a different picture of the husband/wife relationship from the beginning and even after the fall.

Yes, when God established the Church, He did clarify the roles of husband and wife, but like Christ sacrificed Himself for His Bride, so a husband is to love his wife in the same sacrificial way. That’s his role, which isn’t the kind of patriarchal, iron-fisted, authoritarian rule too often seen in the past. Sadly the Church went along with “the way things were in the world.”

feminismToday there’s a shift in the culture, and women are now being told we are only valuable if we do what men do. Once again the Church is peering about, watching what the world is doing, and scampering to catch up to the customs of those around us. Consequently, some in the Church believe women are only valuable if we can be like men, Therefore, we must be allowed to be pastors too.

I think both extremes are “high places” we’ve built and are building, instead of paying attention to what God has told us about man/woman relationships.

Published in: on November 11, 2014 at 7:15 pm  Comments (4)  
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Giving And Receiving


offering_plateA friend and I were talking about giving and receiving the other day. Not an exchange of gifts like at Christmas, but generously sharing from the abundance of our wealth with those in need. And those in need receiving what they’ve been given.

I’ll admit, I think I’ve been on the receiving end more often than the giving. When I was a kid, both my parents taught in Christian schools, and we were poor. There were months that the college where my dad was employed, couldn’t make payroll. I don’t know how often this happened, but I remember one occasion when someone left a bag of groceries on our porch.

Later when we moved to California, we children benefited from “hand-me-downs” from some of the other faculty, as I had from my older sister for a number of years.

As an adult, I received support from family and friends during my three-year short term missions experience in Guatemala.

Recently I’ve received money more than once when I needed it for odds and ends like rent and food, the gift of a brand new Kindle from writer friends and a used iBook computer—such valuable tools for a writer. Then there is food. One friend has regularly shared tomatoes from her garden or oranges or left over dishes from church gatherings. My former neighbors used to give me bread and tortillas from his work. Another family gave me plates of food when they didn’t use everything they’d prepared for a church get-together. In the past two weeks two other neighbors have given me plates of food.

And there’s been more. It astounds me a bit because I’m sure I don’t look like I’m starving! These people are sharing out of their abundance and because of their generous spirit. It’s an incredible blessing.

The thing is, that’s the way God wants the Church to work. Paul explained to the body in Corinth:

For this [sharing with others] is not for the ease of others and for your affliction, but by way of equality—at this present time your abundance being a supply for their need, so that their abundance also may become a supply for your need, that there may be equality; as it is written, “HE WHO gathered MUCH DID NOT HAVE TOO MUCH, AND HE WHO gathered LITTLE HAD NO LACK.” (2 Cor. 8:13-15)

The truly amazing thing is that the person or church group who receives is not, in reality, the one who benefits most. Paul made this clear to the Philippians when he was commending them with sharing with him when he was in need:

Not that I seek the gift itself, but I seek for the profit which increases to your account. (Phil. 4:17)

When Paul reminded the Corinthian believers of their promise to give to the famine-stricken church in Jerusalem, he established some principles of giving:
* it should be bountiful

So I thought it necessary to urge the brethren that they would go on ahead to you and arrange beforehand your previously promised bountiful gift, so that the same would be ready as a bountiful gift and not affected by covetousness. Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. (2 Cor. 9:5-6)

* it should not be spontaneous but thought out and planned for according to each person’s ability to give
* it should be with a cheerful heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion

Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Cor. 9:7)

Paul’s admonition builds to a crescendo, a tipping point: you promised to give, so plan on giving. Do so lavishly, not because you have to but because you enjoy giving. God will supply for you all you need so you can give to the needs of the saints. But more so, your giving will be an occasion for those believers to give thanks to God. And it will build unity among the Church because those who receive will be filled with warm feelings for those giving and will pray for them.

How cool is that! Receivers actually create an opportunity for givers to be blessed, to profit through God’s rewards and the receivers’ prayers. AND the occasion of receiving heaps thanksgiving on God.

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed; as it is written,
“HE SCATTERED ABROAD, HE GAVE TO THE POOR,
HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS ENDURES FOREVER.”
Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness; you will be enriched in everything for all liberality, which through us is producing thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only fully supplying the needs of the saints, but is also overflowing through many thanksgivings to God. Because of the proof given by this ministry, they will glorify God for your obedience to your confession of the gospel of Christ and for the liberality of your contribution to them and to all, while they also, by prayer on your behalf, yearn for you because of the surpassing grace of God in you. (2 Cor. 9:8-14, emphasis mine)

Both giving and receiving are part of God’s plan. It produces equality but the spiritual benefits and the glory God receives can’t be calculated.

Published in: on October 23, 2014 at 5:51 pm  Comments (1)  
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What To Do About False Teaching


False teaching has far reaching effects. Christians, like someone standing on the sidewalk when a car splashes through a muddy puddle, end up sprayed and splattered by false teachers and their followers.

Scripture spells out the harm that false teaching does, to those who buy into it and to the true Church:

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep. (2 Peter 2:1-3 – emphasis mine)

Seems to me, because of the destructive nature of false teaching and because God and His Truth are maligned as a result of it, Christians ought not stand idly by.

But if we take it upon ourselves to correct false teachers, what’s to prevent us from becoming like the hateful Westboro Baptist people who picket funerals with signs bearing offensive messages?

Not that there isn’t a place for rebuke. There is. 2 Peter goes on to say

forsaking the right way, they have gone astray, having followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness; but he received a rebuke for his own transgression, for a mute donkey, speaking with a voice of a man, restrained the madness of the prophet. (2 Peter 2:15-16)

OK, in Balaam’s case, no one else was around to rebuke him, so God opened the mouth of his donkey. Rebuke would seem to be a vital part of handling false teaching.

But there appears to be a difference between rebuke and reviling. Peter and Jude both make a point of saying that even the angels don’t dare bring a reviling judgment on false teachers.

Jude actually gives a blueprint to the Christian for handling false teaching:

But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life. And have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh. (vv 20-23)

The first admonition is for believers to focus on our own spiritual walk—our faith, our prayer life, our love of God, our expectant hope for eternal life.

In addition, there are some to whom we are to show mercy—those who are doubting. I suspect this may refer to those who have been subject to false teaching and consequently have doubts. How can we extend them mercy? Certainly not by picketing funerals. But we can pray. We can live lives of faith. We can testify to God’s goodness and the truth of His world. We can also be forgiving rather than easily offended.

Others we are to snatch out of the fire. James 5:19-20 comes to mind:

My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

How do you turn someone back from the error of his way? I suspect only someone who has a relationship with a person straying from the truth can effect this change. In the parlance of the world, this might be an intervention. In Biblical terms, it would be “going to a brother” as described in Matthew 18.

With some we are to have “mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.” Strong language, but it seems to me these are pictures of running away, not fighting against.

Our act of mercy would be what? I’m not sure. I do know that extending mercy is not something hateful or oppressive. But doing so with fear and hating even the outward manifestation of sinfulness doesn’t sound like we’re having coffee with those caught up in false teaching.

In other words, it seems there’s a point when someone is pulled in so far that we are not to pursue them, or if we do, we should tread carefully, mindful of the quicksand we’re edging toward, mercifully willing to throw a line, but hating the grime so much we stay clear of it ourselves.

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This article, with some editorial changes, first appeared here in October 2011

Published in: on October 16, 2014 at 7:06 pm  Comments (2)  
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Women As Leaders Of The Church?


When I originally posted this article three years ago, it wasn’t one of the more popular blogs I’d written. I don’t suppose that will have changed, though I do think this is an important topic and this content is well worth bringing to the forefront again.

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It seems obvious to me that the culture and not Scripture has influenced many people to believe that women too can be pastors and elders (would they be call eldresses? ;-) ) For over 1900 years, it seems, the Church understood the role of pastor to be reserved for men, but now in these last few decades we have scholars who say that actually all those earlier students of God’s Word, for all those centuries, had it wrong.

Why would we think that God would not correct this error long ago, if in fact it was error? Why, in the first place, did the Holy Spirit lead Paul to write something that for centuries the Church would misunderstand?

In reality, I think the Church for all those centuries understood exactly what God intended—that the role of pastor was reserved for men. Here is Paul’s clear instruction to Timothy:

A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. (1 Tim 2:11-14)

Paul not only gives the principles the Church is to follow, he gives reasons for it. A woman’s role, in part, is established because of the order of creation. It is also set because Eve was deceived, not Adam.

There are several other issues involved too.

First, Scripture gives clear instructions about the relationship a wife is to have with her husband. He is the head who is to love her sacrificially. She is to give him her respect and submission.

That’s not subservience. Her submission is the same as my putting myself under the authority of a principal when I was a teacher. I may have disagreed with how a certain principal wanted to do things, but in the end, the teacher needs to give way to the principal, though in the best working situations, the two strive to reach a place that satisfies the concerns of both.

That’s the way any organization must work. Somebody has to be in the hot seat where the buck stops. In a family, that “somebody” is the husband—the one tasked to love and selflessly serve his wife.

Each local church also has a leadership structure, with a pastor and elders taking the responsibility.

So what would happen if a woman was pastor—the head or leader of … her husband, a member of her church, who was to be her head? At one point or the other, the leadership structure God designed for the family or for the church would break down.

There’s another issue. The pastor or episkopē and the elders were given the role of “shepherding the flock.” Luke mentioned this in Acts when he recorded Paul’s farewell admonition to the elders in Miletus:

Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. (Acts 20:28 – emphasis mine)

Peter goes into more depth in his first letter:

Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. (1 Peter 5:1-4 – emphases mine)

Is it coincidental that Peter refers to the pastor and elders as shepherds and Christ as the Chief Shepherd? Clearly not. He is likening their role, in miniature, to Christ’s role—just as Paul did when he addressed husbands and said they were to love their wives like Christ loved the Church. In other words, as the husband is to serve as a type of Christ by his sacrificial love, so the pastor is to serve as a type of Christ in his shepherding role.

We should not minimize this function of the pastor—as one who gives us a glimpse of the head/body relationship we enjoy with Christ.

Apart from specialty cases in which God may indeed call and equip a woman for a time, even as He allowed David to eat the sanctified bread reserved for priests, the teaching of Scripture gives the offices of pastor and elders to men. They are to be humble servants and caretakers of their flock, and women, as fellow servants and fellow heirs, are to join in ministry, just not in the lead role.

Published in: on September 19, 2014 at 6:09 pm  Comments (8)  
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Spanking In The Age Of Abortion


spanking painting Conrad,_Giorgio_(1827-1889)In the early days of advocacy for abortion, proponents said that ending unwanted pregnancies would eliminate unwanted children and therefore child abuse. Instead of eliminating abuse, however, the disregard for the life of a fetus seems to translate into a disregard for the well-being of children.

Child neglect and abuse and accompanying activities such as child pornography, pedophilia, and sex trafficking have risen to horrendous proportions.

In 2007, 1,760 children died as the result of child abuse and neglect. (“Child Protective Services,” Wikipedia)

As a result, the government has stepped in with stringent laws and burgeoning social service agencies in an effort to protect children from battery and other forms of abuse. Nevertheless, the problem continues to grow.

Once thought to be a problem involving only a few thousand children a year, child maltreatment has since been identified as nothing less than a national emergency. (“Child Maltreatment”)

Estimated child fatalities per day due to maltreatment have risen from 3.6 in 2000 to as high as 4.8 in 2009 (Child Help).

Interestingly, and also ironically, the attitude in western societies toward corporal punishment has turned decidedly negative. Once, “taking a child out to the woodshed” was an understood and accepted, even expected, form of discipline. For some, part of the process included cutting the switch by which they would receive their spanking. Other parents relied on something more immediate, like a belt. Still others, even some school administrators, kept a special paddle for the occasion.

Spanking actually has roots in Scripture. The book of Proverbs contains a number of passages indicating that corporal punishment is part of forming a child’s character. Take Proverbs 29:15 for example:

The rod and reproof give wisdom,
But a child who gets his own way brings shame to his mother.

Or how about Proverbs 13:24.

He who withholds his rod hates his son,
But he who loves him disciplines him diligently.

These and other such passages undergird a Biblical view of child discipline that includes spanking.

As society has moved away from the authority of Scripture, however, it has also moved away from corporal punishment of children. Time out, yes; spanking, no. Hitting, the critics say, only teaches children to use violence.

Into this environment of increased child abuse and decreased corporal discipline, football player Adrian Peterson, running back with the Minnesota Vikings, was indicted for reckless or negligent injury to a child because he spanked his son with a switch.

tree-branches-1438732-mHelpful as always, ( :roll: ) the media, thinking the public ignorant of what a switch is, re-defined it as “a tree branch.” I don’t know about you, but when I hear “tree branch,” I think of a fairly sizable, sturdy piece of wood, along the lines of a baseball bat at least.

A switch is nothing like that. The New Oxford American Dictionary defines it as “a slender flexible shoot cut from a tree.”

Still, apparently Peterson marked his son. I haven’t learned the precise details of this case, but I suppose someone—medical personnel, perhaps—reported the injuries to the Child Protection Agency. A grand jury was convened and Peterson ended up being charged.

Sports reporters are horrified since this allegation of child abuse comes so closely to the released video of Ray Rice punching his fiancée in a hotel elevator.

I think that’s unfortunate.

I don’t want to see an instance of spanking lumped in with spousal battery. One of the verses in Proverbs says

Do not hold back discipline from the child,
Although you strike him with the rod, he will not die. (23:13)

Unfortunately, we’ve lost sight of this truth. In summary, this is where we are:

* In the name of “preventing abuse” we legalized abortion.

* Nevertheless, abuse is on the rise.

* To counter abuse, we have constructed an elaborate system of laws and organizations to enforce them, often separating families needlessly and placing children in the foster care system.

(Sadly, reports show that more children are abused in foster care than in their own families.)

* At the same time, psychologists have persuaded a good number of people that spanking is not beneficial and might even be harmful.

Adrian_Peterson_VikingsI don’t know if Adrian Peterson inappropriately used force to discipline his son. I have no doubt that he was acting to correct him, though. His actions are not in any way comparable with Ray Rice’s and shouldn’t be lumped into the conversation about domestic violence.

Instead, I think it would be a healthy thing if we opened the discussion about spanking as a legitimate means of discipline. I think it would be helpful and healthy to discuss the difference between spanking and beating and to look at the pros and cons of this kind of discipline.

Above all, parents need to understand their role as disciplinarians. They need to accept the responsibility for training their children. Instead, too many parents shirk from this aspect of their duty. They may not neglect a child by withholding food or clothing or education or social interaction. But by refraining from discipline, they are sending the message that they do not care what their child does and therefore, do not care about their child.

I’ve also seen parents who put up with a child until they lose their temper. Then a child is in serious danger, vulnerable to verbal, emotional, or even physical abuse.

Parents need to learn how to discipline their children. But who is teaching this? Once grandparents critiqued parents in their job. Wives tempered their husbands or husbands tempered their wives. Now we have so many of the supports removed from a parent that they have little chance to learn how to discipline correctly.

Wouldn’t this be a good role for the church to take up? Ought we not provide help for parents who are struggling with strong-willed children or children reacting to their unstable environment caused divorce or overly active children or children seeking the love and attention of their busy two-career parents?

At a minimum, I’d hope we can at least discuss spanking and not react to corporal discipline as if it is no different than domestic violence.

Published in: on September 16, 2014 at 5:00 pm  Comments (28)  
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