Doing Good


tennis_shoesThe nightly news has taken to reporting YouTube videos that go viral. One they featured last night was of a store clerk who stooped to tie the shoes of a customer who would have had a hard time doing it himself.

According to their reports, the clerk has received an outpouring of positive feedback. The customer who filmed him bending and tying this stranger’s shoes supposedly teared up because it was so stunning to see someone do a random act of kindness like that.

I suspect it had such great impact because no one had told this store clerk he should do a random act of kindness. In other words, there was no campaign, no day set aside to look for someone to help. He acted because he saw a need and wanted to do what he could.

The story made me think—that’s the kind of self-forgetful love God intends His Church to display, first toward one another, then toward our neighbors, and even toward our enemies.

Imagine what an impact the Church could have. I mean, if one random act of kindness moved people so, what might a dozen do? Or a hundred? Multiply that by every city that has a hundred Christians.

It seems to me either people would notice or people would start taking random acts of kindness for granted. Of course, not every random act of kindness is going to end up on YouTube. In fact, if it does, there’s a possibility it isn’t so random.

I remember when America’s Funniest Home Videos were random instead of staged. I liked them a lot better. Something about the pre-planned spontaneous moment loses authenticity. I suspect the same would happen with pre-planned random acts of kindness.

My guess is, a lot of people would be willing to do a random act of kindness, but we’re too busy and too unaware. We rush past those in need without realizing we could help them. We don’t see the untied shoe or the stalled car or the dropped diaper bag. We could stoop to pick it up or pull out jumper cables or get on our knees to tie it. But we don’t pay enough attention to the strangers around us to realize we could help.

We’ve also become a suspicious lot. We think if someone is offering to do something nice, they must have an ulterior motive.

And we’ve become an independent culture—oddly, when the US was a rural society, neighbors relied on neighbors, but now that we live in close proximity in our cities, we operate on the self-serve principle. Consequently, we may not think to help others because it hasn’t dawned on us that they would want help. We would rather do it ourselves, so they probably would too.

And when we can’t do it ourselves, we pay to have it done. Reportedly, the gentleman who had his shoes tied, tried to pay the clerk for tying them. I’m not surprised. Thankfully, the clerk declined to take any money for doing a good deed.

The first step, I think, is to decide that yes, even little things like tying someone else’s shoes matter. After all, Jesus took it upon Himself to wash His disciples’ feet.

In that Jewish culture, the job of washing feet was a servant’s job and the recipients were the guests, particularly the guests of honor. Jesus, who truly was the Guest of Honor, took the role of servant, and He stated clearly that He was doing it as an example for His followers.

You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. (John 13:13-15)

When I was young, my parents belonged to a church that believed the foot washing command was literal. Hence foot washing became a ceremonial observance attached to communion.

I can tell you, it’s a humbling experience—not so much washing someone’s feet but having someone else wash yours. I get why Peter didn’t want Jesus to wash his feet.

But that’s a side issue. The point here is, I believe Jesus wasn’t limiting His command to foot washing. I believe He was saying we are to take the role of servant in our relationships with others.

Hence, we ought to be attentive to those around us. We ought to care more about their time worries than our own. We ought to be willing to go out of our way for others.

Isn’t that what the Good Samaritan did in the story Jesus told to illustrate who our neighbor is? Our neighbor—the person we are to love—is the individual who is in need right in front of us.

In this communication age, we often know of people in need who live half way around the world. Sometimes we think we have a responsibility to them, but we think we have no means for significantly providing them with help. However, we can always pray! That’s not a “cope out.” It’s the best thing we can do because we are involving omnipotent God who can make a difference in their circumstances.

But possibly being so aware of the great needs around the world can make us numb to the smaller needs across the street or down the block. If people aren’t running for their lives or haven’t been imprisoned or kidnapped, we somehow don’t think their needs merit our attention.

In reality, there are people who have the resources to help others in small ways, but they are blind to the very people God has put in their path. So our second step, after we decide little things matter, is to determine that the people God places in front of us matter.

Prayerfully we can make ourselves available to do the small acts of kindness that can make a difference to a watching world starved for love and good news–small acts like tying someone else’s shoes.

The Power Of Perseverance


open-door-1152770-mPhiladelphia was the penultimate church Jesus addressed in His messages to the seven churches which John recorded in Revelation. This message was perhaps the most unusual of all.

Jesus begins as He most often did—letting them know that He was mindful of their deeds. But instead beginning a list, either pro or con, Jesus rather embarks on a litany of what He has done or will do for them.

First, He put an open door before them. Apparently Philadelphia was situated in a place that gave them the opportunity to “evangelize” for Greek culture. They were a showcase-city, serving as a “little Athens” that gave people a taste of what being Greek was all about.

Jesus’s open door would seem to mirror this kind of evangelizing, only for the kingdom of God. Christ had “put before you an open door which no one can shut, because you have a little power, and have kept My word, and have not denied My name.”

In telling them He would give them an open door, Jesus gives them the reason why. Was their “little power” a reference to their faith? Some how I can’t imagine Jesus calling His Spirit a “little power.” What I do know is they kept Christ’s word and did not deny His name.

Thus, the open door.

I think today of the various groups who profess the name of Christ and yet deny His person, His word, even His work.

He isn’t God. Or, The Bible is myth. Or, People can find God without believing in Christ. Those who say these kinds of things are false teachers, and Jesus does not promise them an open door.

Next Christ told the church in Philadelphia, people who claim to be Jews but are lying, who are from the “synagogue of Satan,” would bow at their feet. And Christ would make them know that He loved the church in Philadelphia.

Again, I don’t really understand. In Scripture whenever people are going to bow down to one of God’s servants, he always stops them. No, I’m a man, or No, I’m a servant. Worship God. Here, however, it is Christ who will make them come and bow down at their feet. One commentary says that they are bowing in their presence, not actually to them. And that might be the best explanation. It would certainly be consistent with the rest of the Bible.

Clearly they will be set apart because Christ will make known His love for them. This reminds me of what Jesus said to Sardis about confessing their names before the Father and the angels. Jesus will publicly declare His relationship with these believers. It’s better than getting an autograph or having a five-minute photo shoot. This is God saying, These are my guys and gals, my special people who I love.

The third thing Jesus said He would do for them also had a specific reason:

Because you have kept the word of My perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth.

As a reward for their perseverance, Jesus promised them a “keeping.” They would not have to face what the whole rest of the world would face.

Soooooo, those people died and there still hasn’t come upon the earth “a great hour of testing,” if that refers to the Tribulation. Then what was their reward?

Well, this is Revelation, with all the picture-language details about the end of this age. So of course commentators link Christ’s promise to the Tribulation. But I’m not so sure. I’m also not a Bible scholar.

Still, it seems to me, this message first had to mean something to that church in Philadelphia. Then it means something to us based on what it meant to them. So what would they hear?

First that their perseverance was something God was honoring. Second that His way of honoring them was to keep them from testing which the rest of the world would have to face. I know God is faithful. He wouldn’t promise something and not deliver, so I have to think the “testing” in this passage is something other than the Great Tribulation. And that He did, in fact, keep them from it. Was this something people face at death, perhaps? Was it the persecution that would come on the church from Rome? Don’t know.

I do know Christians have been and are persecuted, so clearly this passage is not a blanket promise—persevere and you won’t have to endure persecution. This testing has to be something else. Could it be doubts in later life? The fear of facing our Maker? Whatever it was, I’m sure the church in Philadelphia benefited greatly.

Next Jesus tells them He is coming quickly. OK, His return doesn’t feel quick to me. But again, that’s my errant perspective. In 2 Peter 3 God makes it clear that His “delays” are an evidence of His kindness to give people a chance to repent and that He isn’t tied to our view of time (with him a thousand years is like a day).

In addition, His coming “quickly” carries with it the idea of suddenness rather than in a short period of time. The point here is that those who have ears to hear need to be ready.

Then an interesting admonition to the believers Jesus commended for their perseverance: “Hold fast to what you have.” It’s like saying, you who are holding on, hold on!

Please understand, this was not a command to be greedy. Rather, like the parable of the ten virgins, the five who had the oil because they were ready were not stingy for not sharing.

What we’re holding fast is Christ. We know this because the result of holding fast is to keep our crown. James tells us the Lord promises the crown of life to those who love Him.

Jesus isn’t done showering them with good things. He says the one who overcomes will be a pillar in His temple. This reminds me of Peter calling us living stones being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices well-pleasing to God through Christ, who just happens to be the cornerstone of this temple.

In addition, Jesus will also write on him who overcomes, God’s name (which stands in stark contrast to the stamp of the antichrist which later chapters of Revelation detail), and He’ll write on Him the name of the New Jerusalem, AND Christ’s new name.

No doubt about who the overcomers will be identified with.

Published in: on August 6, 2014 at 6:43 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Asleep At The Switch


Sleeping_studentsWhen I was in college I didn’t always get to sleep at a decent hour. I had one particular literature class that was . . . less than scintillating. As I recall, we read such riveting stories as “The Heart of Darkness.” On top of my sleep habits and the boring (to me) topics, the teacher had a tendency to drone. These three are not a good mix.

And yes, the day came when I fell sound asleep in class, only to have the professor ask me a question. I had no clue what he was asking, but in reality he was more concerned with waking me up than with digging an answer out of me.

In a much more serious circumstance, Jesus delivered a wake up call to one of the seven churches in Revelation. For once, He didn’t start out listing the positive qualities of the church. Rather, when He dispatched His message to Sardis, He said, You’ve got the reputation for being alive, but actually you’re dead. Wake up! Strengthen the parts that are still alive because they’re about to die too.

Wow!

That admonition fits perfectly for a church that needs revival. When I read those opening verses of Rev. 3, I thought of a particular local church that was known years ago for their youth outreach to middle grade kids. Twelve, thirteen, and fourteen-year-olds used to come from all over to that church’s Wednesday night youth event. The reputation of that church was that they reached young people.

Except, the kids were coming because they could hang out on a school night with their friends. They could meet new guys . . . or girls. The youth “ministry” was about as dead as it could be. There was no spiritual growth happening.

The parents thought it was a safe place for their kids to go; the staff thought bringing in big numbers meant they had a vibrant, happening youth group; but the kids thought it was a great chance to hook up.

The church needed to wake up. What they were doing looked alive on the outside, but it was dead, and the little part that had any semblance of pointing those kids to Jesus Christ needed to be held onto with both hands. Those church leaders needed to “remember what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent” (Rev. 3:3a).

Paul said more than once in his New Testament letters, believers are to be alert—which is another way of saying, Stay awake.

Clearly the bulk of the believers in Sardis had not followed this instruction, so Jesus followed His admonition to their church with a warning. Jesus would come to them like a thief.

To the few who had not “soiled their garments,” Jesus promised them they would walk with Him in white—a picture of the righteousness Jesus clothes us with because our scarlet-stained, filthy rags have been purified so they are as white as snow.

Further more He will not erase their names from the book of life.

I think that’s a frightening thought—that He might erase someone’s name from the book of life. I don’t know how to square that idea with the fact that the Holy Spirit seals believers and that no one can pluck a believer out of His Hand or that none the Father gives Jesus will be lost. The verses about Jesus not failing us or forsaking us are stacked pretty high.

He is faithful when all others are not. But those who have a reputation for being alive but are dead—do they get their names put in the Book of Life?

In the end, though, Jesus is making the point that the names of those clothed in white are in the Book of Life permanently.

Then, too, He will confess their names before the Father and before the angels. That’s like Him taking them up front to the throne and saying, Father, I want you to meet my good friend ____ who didn’t soil her garments back there in Sardis when everyone else in the church was part of the living dead.

What an amazing thing, to receive Christ’s public, “Well done.”

“He who has ears to hear . . .” Jesus says, as He does at the end of each section. In other words, not just Sardis needed to listen to this message. This is for anyone who will hear—the way James wrote about hearing: doing what you hear you are to do.

Published in: on August 1, 2014 at 5:57 pm  Comments (4)  
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Jezebel In Our Midst


Seven_churches_of_asia.svgIn Christ’s fourth message to the churches in Revelation, He follows the familiar pattern established in the previous three. He catalogs both commendable traits and those which He counts against them. Then He delivers a warning and a promise.

Thyatira, home of Lydia, Paul’s first convert in Asia, receives some of Christ’s strongest words in each of those categories.

First comes the list of what these believers had right. It’s quite impressive:

  • Deeds.
  • Love.
  • Faith.
  • Service.
  • Perseverance.
  • Greater deeds now than at first—i.e. growth, progress, spiritual development, living out their faith more each day.

As great as this commendation is, Jesus says, “But I have this against you.” That’s an ominous opening to the next section—perhaps the most detailed of all the confrontations sections in these messages.

The problem: the church in Thyatira tolerated a Jezebel—someone in their midst who called herself a prophetess. Bad enough, but here’s what she was on about:

she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols.

Immorality and idolatry. These activities would be bad enough if someone in the church engaged in them (see Paul’s chastisement of the church in Corinth when they tolerated a man involved in incest), but this Jezebel is teaching others and leading others—Christians, mind you, believers Christ describes as bond-servants—into immorality and idolatry.

The amazing thing to me is that Christ then says He gave this Jezebel time to repent. Repent! She’s immoral, she’s idolatrous, she’s leading Christ’s followers astray, and what does Jesus want? For her to repent! What mercy!

What a stark contrast to some in the church in the West who call down God’s wrath on the disobedient, as if we know in advance that God will not extend mercy to them or that they will never repent. This Jezebel in Thyatira didn’t repent, but God gave her time to do so as an exercise of His mercy.

As an exercise of His judgment, however, He will bring her down, along with all those who “committed adultery” with her. James calls those who are friends of the world adulteresses, and the Old Testament prophets frequently used the image of Judah or Israel as an adulteress because of their unfaithfulness to God. So clearly Christians who act in this same faithless way—putting their own lusts before God or even “mixing their worship”—would be subject to the discipline Christ will bring.

It’s a sobering warning:

Behold, I will throw her on a bed of sickness, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her deeds. And I will kill her children with pestilence, and all the churches will know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts; and I will give to each one of you according to your deeds. (Rev. 2:22-23)

What about the rest of the church, those who didn’t actually follow after what the people in that day termed “the deep things of Satan”? Christ told them to hold fast to what they had—their works and love and faith and service and perseverance and growth.

I think it’s notable that he didn’t call them to repent. I take it they were not endorsing this Jezebel or accommodating her. I suspect, instead, they were either not in a position to deal with her or were too small a group to make their voice heard.

As Christ did in the other messages, He promises something to “he who overcomes.” But this time He adds a little extra: “he who overcomes, and he who keeps My deeds until the end.”

This idea of doing something beyond overcoming reminds me of what Paul told the church in Thessalonica: “Excel still more.” I think this is why God gives us the admonition not to grow weary in well doing. The Christian doesn’t go on vacation from our service to Christ. We don’t retire from loving others or persevering or growing. Rather, we are to be like the sprinter racing hardest at the end, running through the tape, not slowing up.

The reward Jesus promises is particularly interesting. He quotes from Psalm 2—a Messianic passage. Here are the pertinent verses, with the portion which Revelation 2 utilizes in bold type:

“But as for Me, I have installed My King
Upon Zion, My holy mountain.”
“I will surely tell of the decree of the LORD:
He said to Me, ‘You are My Son,
Today I have begotten You.
‘Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance,
And the very ends of the earth as Your possession.
‘You shall break them with a rod of iron,
You shall shatter them like earthenware.
’ ” (vv 6-9)

In Revelation, Jesus says what God has given Him, He will give to those who overcome and hold fast. Interesting that those who did not follow the deep things of Satan or get drawn into the immorality and idolatry of Jezebel will one day be in positions of authority over the nations. In other words, there will be a time when they are not helpless to stop the waywardness currently surrounding them.

Christ closes by promising to give them the morning star. As one commentator notes

Jesus offers them a reward greater than the kingdom. He offers them the reward of Himself, because He is the Morning Star (Revelation 22:16). (“Study Guide for Revelation 2″ by David Guzik)

Immorality? Yes, we see that in the church today in the rampant involvement in illicit sex. Idolatry? To our sorrow, yes, it’s there in our self-worship and greed. The “deep things of Satan”? We see the love of “mystery” and the twisting of Scripture so fitting of the Liar and Father of Lies.

But towering above all that Jezebel brings to the church is Christ, our true Reward. We will one day see Him face to face and know Him even as we are known. We will see His purity, His holiness, His righteousness—the same righteousness with which He clothes us.

Warning To The Church In Ephesus . . . Or In America?


An early Christian ichthys symbol carved into some marble in the ruins of Ephesus, Turkey.

An early Christian ichthys symbol carved into some marble in the ruins of Ephesus, Turkey.

A few years ago I wrote a post about the book of Revelation in which I drew this conclusion: “Revelation is a rich book because it shows us more about who God is than it does about what will happen someday.” I think that’s an accurate evaluation. A lot of the “someday” portion of Revelation is couched in picture language, and Biblical scholars don’t agree about their meaning.

But there’s a short section at the beginning of John’s vision that was quite contemporary to him. In these chapters Jesus comes to John and tells him to write “the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after these things.”

It is “the things which are” that I’m interested in because I wonder if they are not also the things which will take place.

Jesus delivered specific messages to angels apparently assigned to particular churches existent at the time of John’s writing: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.

I find it curious that only these seven churches are addressed. What about the church in Corinth or the one in Antioch? Why these seven? Were they unique?

The symbol Jesus used for them was a golden lampstand. Was the idea that these were golden somehow significant. I don’t know that any Bible scholar can tell us. However, we do know from various places in Scripture that believers are to be light to the world. So the image of a lampstand for a church certainly seems fitting.

In addition, the particular messages which Jesus delivered to the various churches, while uniquely fitted to each unique body, seem universal in their application. What He said to one church would seem to apply to any church with similar qualities or circumstances or failings.

So when Jesus delivers a message to the angel of the church in Ephesus and tells John to write it down, He would seem to be delivering the same message down through the church age to any body of believers who share the matters he addressed.

His message to this first church contained six parts: an explication, a confrontation, an admonition, a warning, a commendation, and a promise.

First Jesus gave an analysis of the church. This is what was true about the believers in Ephesus: there were things they’d done, work they’d performed. They’d persevered, which implied things weren’t always easy.

They also didn’t tolerate evil men. Instead, they tested those who put themselves forth as teachers. They held fast, endured, and don’t grow weary because of one thing: the name of Christ Jesus.

That’s a pretty fair evaluation. I wonder how the Church in America would stack up in these areas. Do we have a record of things accomplished and work we’ve performed? I suspect so. Have we persevered when things weren’t always easy? That’s harder to say because the church in America has had very little adversity.

Do we tolerate evil men? Sadly, our record there is spotty at best. We have tolerated evil men—false teachers and cult leaders who often got their start within the church. Perhaps this toleration is because we haven’t tested those claiming a position of leadership as we should have. Ironic, since we have God’s written word. We aren’t forced to rely upon hearsay or occasional letters or itinerant preachers sent from the apostles. Instead, all we have to do is test what a teacher says by comparing it to the Bible.

Finally, do we hold to our faith without growing weary because of the name of Jesus Christ? Or do we become disappointed with God when things don’t go our way? Do we complain and grumble when God doesn’t seem to answer our prayers?

In an examination of our over all condition, I’m not sure the Church in America would stack up all that well against the church in Ephesus.

On the other hand, Jesus admonished the believers in Ephesus for something that may be all to similar to the condition of believers in America: “But I have this against you, that you have left your first love” (Rev. 2:4).

Loving God first would seem to be the point here. Loving Him so that nothing else came ahead of Him. This confrontation seems like another way of saying, you’ve allowed idols to steal away your affection. I can think of a few idols the American Church has bowed to—ease, traditions, our nation, our families, to name a few.

Jesus next gave the church in Ephesus an admonition: remember what you used to do, repent, and get back to doing what you had been doing.

The Church in America used to evangelize and share with their neighbors, feed the poor and take the lead in things like establishing universities and leading the fight against slavery. The Church in America read their Bibles and went to prayer meetings. God was important and obeying His word was important.

Do we need to repent and get back to doing what we did before?

View_from_odeonJesus next warned the Ephesian believers—if you don’t repent, Jesus would remove their lampstand, their witness, from that place. This, remember, was the church Paul wrote to about putting on the armor of God, repeatedly telling them to stand firm. And what’s the condition of the church in Ephesus today?

Then His praise: they hated deeds Jesus also hated. These deeds are those of the mysterious Nicolaitans. I’ve not heard a pastor yet who claims to know who these people were. Apparently there’s no record of them outside the Bible, and there’s no other explanation of them or their deeds. But there really doesn’t need to be. Whatever they did, it was something Jesus hated. Scripture gives us plenty of things that would fall into that category.

So the question: are we tepid about things God hates or are we white-hot angry about the things He hates. If we’re unsure what God hates, we can start with this list from Proverbs:

Pride and arrogance and the evil way
And the perverted mouth, I hate (8:13b).

Or how about this one:

Lying lips are an abomination to the LORD (12:22a)

I’m not so sure Jesus would commend the Church in America for hating deeds He hates.

Jesus ended His message with a promise:

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God.’ (Rev. 2:7)

“To him who overcomes” seems directed to individuals rather than to the Church collectively. The promise is familiar. Eating of the tree of life harkens back to the Garden where God walked and talked with the man and woman He had made and found to be very good. It evokes the image of the feast in the parable Jesus told. It alludes to eternal life, and this promise is certainly for any in the American Church who “overcome.”

There isn’t much of a context clue to explain what “overcomes” means, but there are clear passages that deal with God granting eternal life, the most well-known being John 3:16.

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

I surmise, then, that “overcoming” is tied with believing in Jesus. There are lots of “professing Christians” in America today who don’t believe in Jesus as the Bible reveals Him. But the true Church? Well, belief in Jesus is really the dividing point, isn’t it.

Published in: on July 28, 2014 at 6:29 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Warden And The Wolf King – CSFF Tour, Day 2


Warden_Wolf_King-banner

The Warden And The Wolf King by Andrew Peterson is an ambitious young adult fantasy, the conclusion to a wonderful four-book series called The Wingfeather Saga. Several participants in the CSFF Blog Tour, which is featuring this book that officially releases today, have given a summary of the first three books. I think that’s extremely helpful, and I encourage those interested in the series to check out posts by Jason Joyner and Meagan @ Blooming Books for starters.

Part of why I like the Wingfeather Saga so much is because Andrew Peterson does so much with his story. He’s painted a fantasy world with some depth; created characters that are interesting, even endearing; infused his story with humor and poetry and song; given us action and adventure. Above all, he’s given us something to think about.

I want to expand on one of those “somethings.” When I read book three of the Saga, The Monster In The Hollows,” I noted in my Day 1 CSFF Tour post that I saw parallels with the Green Hollows and the Church. I’ll reiterate here, Andrew Peterson is not writing allegory. However, there are similarities between his fantasy world and the real world.

One of those is the existence of a community defending against despoiling evil. However, without their king, they were merely hunkering behind what they believed to be an impenetrable barrier and living life without seeming regard for the rest of the world that struggled against slavery and kidnappings and transformations into evil creatures. They were content with their own safety.

Until, of course, the Igbys arrived and evil came after them. Remarkably, the Churc, I mean, the Green Hollows, came to their defense and fought to the point of sacrifice. In other words, when evil pushed in on them, they pushed back.

But they liked their evil clearly defined. Hence, the King of Anniera who looked like a Grey Fang was someone they didn’t fully trust—until he saved them. And when he decided to leave, there was a pretty clear indication that the Hollow folk were glad to see him go.

Of course, their feelings for Clovenfast, the neighboring community which they never realized existed, and for the clovens who inhabited it, were equally distrustful. After all, these were half changed citizens, trapped between the transformation from human to fang. What were they? Enemy? Monster? Friend? How much easier to pretend they did not exist, to drive any who wondered into the Hollows back into the dark forest.

I’ll admit, the section of The Warden And The Wolf King about the clovens had me both excited and uncomfortable. Excited because I had an inkling of what might take place (I was only partly right), and uncomfortable as the story unfolded because I saw the Church too clearly in the Hollish folk.

The fact is, evil wounds more often than it kills.

In the Wingfeather Saga, some people were transformed into Fangs, making them as good as dead to the life they’d known as humans. Now they lived to server Gnag the Nameless and to do damage to everyone else in the process.

But then there were the cloven, those injured in the transformation. They were broken Fangs, no longer human and no good as servants of Gnag.

In real life there are those who love the King of Kings and follow Him, and there are those who purposefully battle against Him, choosing instead to serve the Enemy of their souls. A great host in between make no choice, not realizing that standing still means they are not following. Hence, their not choosing is a choice.

They are the ones often damaged. They aren’t surrounded by the protective community of the Hollow, uh, of the Church. They live in the in-between, not wielding evil to get what they want, but not protected from those who plot against them.

They live in forgetfulness—an unconscious choosing of ignorance rather than the painful remembrance of what could have been, what they have lost and what they have no hope to recover.

But why don’t they have hope? What if the Green Hollows took them in? What if the Church welcomed the afflicted and needy? What if the Church put an arm around the homeless lady or the ex-con or the foster kids or those with disabilities and brought them inside? What if the Green Hollows was the place of comfort and a place to point them to the life-giving water that would make them whole?

Seeing the Green Hollows and their fight against evil, their reaction to the clovens, before and after the battle, I am challenged. I want to spread the word that the Church can be different—braver in the face of evil, kinder too, less focused on ourselves and more giving. More like Christ.

These thoughts about the Church are only some of the Big Things The Warden And The Wolf King brought to the forefront. I’m of the opinion that any book which challenges me in my real life, in my spiritual life, is a true winner.

I’ll get into a proper review tomorrow (or not), but I don’t want to hold off on my recommendation. This book—actually this series, because The Warden And The Wolf King really can’t be read in isolation—is a must read. No limits—a must read. This story is the next thing to Narnia. It’s one you won’t want to miss.

Despising Youth


McCainFatherandGrandfatherWhen I was young, I loved Paul’s counsel to Timothy not to let anyone look down on him because of his youth. Now that I’m likely in Paul’s generation at the time of his writing that letter, I’m less certain it’s such a good idea for young pastors to lead the elders.

Of course it was a great idea in Timothy’s case. Paul described him like this to the Philippians:

But I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly, so that I also may be encouraged when I learn of your condition. For I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare. For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus. But you know of his proven worth, that he served with me in the furtherance of the gospel like a child serving his father. (Phil. 2:19-22)

Timothy was Paul’s kindred spirit. He was genuinely concerned for the welfare of the church in Philippi. He didn’t seek after his own interests, but those of Christ Jesus. He’d proven his worth in the past, publicly. He’d served with Paul to advance the gospel. He’d worked for Paul the way a child would for his father.

Those are a lot of pluses, but there’s more. In Paul’s first letter to Timothy he tells him to

remain on at Ephesus so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines, nor to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere speculation rather than furthering the administration of God which is by faith. (1:3-4)

Young though he was, Timothy could discern between strange doctrine, myths, endless genealogies, speculation and the truth about God. He wasn’t fooled, though apparently men his senior had fallen into such error—people Paul had “handed over to Satan.”

In fact, Paul told Timothy to be an example to others by his speech, conduct, and quality of godly living.

Is it so hard to imagine that young people today might not have the same qualities Timothy had?

I don’t think Timothy was one of a kind, but at the same time, I don’t think his validation in Scripture is cause for the church to rubber stamp someone because he is young.

In other words, in the same way Timothy’s youthfulness was not to be a reason for people in the church to discount what he said, his youthfulness was not the reason they were to pay attention to him, either. Rather, Paul was saying Timothy had a spiritual gift and had served with him and had the ability to discern error. Because of his godliness and service and work for the gospel, his youthfulness wasn’t to prevent him from ministry.

In Colossians Paul said that in the family of God there is neither Jew nor Greek, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Sythian, slave, or freeman, but Christ is all and in all. In Ephesians, he added male and female. In many ways, though he didn’t list it, he was making a case in 1 Timothy for old and young being included with the others.

Today I see a sad turn of events in the church—division based on age. Maybe I spent too many years teaching junior and senior high schoolers, but I happen to enjoy the Timothys of the church. As I’ve heard from several sources lately, they aren’t the future of the church; they are it’s present, just as much as I am.

Age divisions aren’t new. I experienced the “generation gap” when I was growing up. It’s simply ridiculous, as if youths have nothing to contribute because they haven’t lived long enough and older folk have nothing to contribute because they’ve lived so long.

Isaiah says that “vigorous young men” can stumble badly and that those who are weary and tired can gain new strength by waiting on the Lord.

In other words, old age is not an excuse to retire from Christian service, and youth is not an excuse to avoid it. Older saints serve an important role in the church—they are “like fathers” and “like mothers” to younger members. But youths play an important role too, some, in fact, as significant as Timothy.

More important than the believer’s age is their heart-attitude. Timothy was Paul’s kindred spirit. Any young person who thinks like Paul and cares like Paul and serves like Paul should most definitely not be despised because of his youth.

Published in: on July 14, 2014 at 5:53 pm  Comments (1)  
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Hymns


Rose-on-hymnal-on-pianoI suspect fewer and fewer churches sing hymns any more. My church did away with hymnals when we remodeled the sanctuary last year. We now have one service with “classic worship,” but the music of late seems to be one hymn to every three contemporary praise songs.

What stands out to me when the songs are put side by side is the quality of the hymns and, well, the weaker craftsmanship of the contemporary songs. Often times the latter doesn’t have a very complex vocal arrangement. I’m not a musician, but I don’t think you have to be one to hear the difference when they’re played one after the other.

But of late, it’s the lyrics I’ve been noticing. The last two Sundays I’ve been thinking, I grew up singing the kinds of hymns like “To God Be The Glory,” and it’s no wonder I have a strong sense of who God is and what He’s done.

At least for me, music gets inside me and makes the lyrics live. If contemporary music focuses more on the worshiper (“I give You my heart/I give You my soul/Lord, have Your way with me”) rather than on the object of our worship (“To God be the glory, great things He has done”), then it seems we’ll have fewer and fewer doctrines of the faith reinforced through our music.

I understand hymns are hard. There are too many thee‘s and thou‘s and hath‘s and would’st. But it dawned on me a number of weeks ago, those hymns were hard for me when I was growing up, too. I didn’t understand phrases like “schisms rent asunder” or “Mid toil and tribulation, / and tumult of her war, / she waits the consummation / of peace forevermore,” at least not in those early years when I first sang those lines.

But like learning another language or learning to read poetry, the meaning of those hymns became clear one by one. When I was younger I loved “Trust and Obey.” Now I’m pretty sure I thought of that song as my favorite, not because I was so trusting or obedient or even because I valued those qualities greatly, but because I understood what the words were saying. “Trust and obey for there’s no other way / to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”

I’m tempted to say “Trust and Obey” has a lot in common with contemporary music because it does seem to put the focus on the worshiper, but there’s still doctrine woven into the fabric of each line. The point here is, “Trust and Obey” is an example of my “entry” hymns. I understood it and came to love it and that led me to other hymns I understood and loved.

Ultimately, singing hymns was no longer a chore but a rich pleasure. I miss four part harmony, I miss the great truths of the faith put to music. And I’m concerned for the next generation, growing up with parents who have been raised without hymns and with a postmodern outlook on life which has given them a relativistic perspective and a lack of an authoritative anchor.

Of course there are a handful of musicians who saw this situation before I did and who are doing something about it. They’re writing modern hymns. The ones I know are Keith and Kristyn Getty who have written songs like “All Around The World”:

All around the world the Kingdom cry resounds
From mountain town to desert plain,
From city to the shore.
Truth will not be bound by walls upon the earth.
From every nation, tribe and tongue
God calls His people forth

Now if we could just sing those hymns more often.

Published in: on May 26, 2014 at 6:48 pm  Comments (14)  
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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.

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  Comments Off  
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