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.

- – – – -

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.

- – – – –

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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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.

Are Christians Insiders?


E Free church

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

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

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

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

Let me try to clarify.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So are Christians insiders?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in: on March 31, 2014 at 7:19 pm  Comments (1)  
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CSFF Blog Tour – One Realm Beyond by Donita Paul, Day 3


Donita PaulDonita Paul can claim a number of firsts. For example, her DragonKeeper books were the first Christian dragon books, at least that I’m aware of. DragonSpell came out just ahead of Bryan Davis’s Raising Dragons, which I happened to be critiquing before publication. Hers was also the first book CSFF featured back in 2006 when the tour started. In addition, she was the first recipient of the Clive Staples Award for Christian Speculative Fiction back in 2009.

Those are just interesting tidbits and not relevant to the rest of my post–a review of Donita’s latest young adult novel One Realm Beyond, book 1 of the Realm Walkers series published by Zondervan.

The Story. Young Cantor wants to be a realm walker. In fact, he’s destined to be a realm walker, but he cannot go off on adventures on his own until he receives permission from his guardian and mentor. Even then he must first travel to a particular location and choose his dragon partner, his constant, before proceeding to the Realm Walker Guild where he must train.

When at last Cantor starts out on his own, he’s faced with some surprises: a dragon who has picked him instead of the other way around, another realm walker named Bixby looking for her constant, and citizens who aren’t always willing to help him on his way. But the greatest surprise might be that the leaders who ought to be working with the Realm Walkers Guild to secure the safety and just treatment of the citizens, are actually the ones oppressing, robbing them, and kidnapping their young men.

What can two young, untrained realm walkers do to make a difference against the forces of the king? Especially without their dragons (unless you count Bridger, the tag-along dragon who Cantor doesn’t really want).

Multiverse_-_level_II.svg_Strengths. The Realm Walker series takes place in a different kind of fantasy world, more nearly a multiverse than anything. In her first post about One Realm Beyond, Jill Williamson discussed the unique world, offering several maps she found that helped her understand the description.

Interestingly, Bruce Hennigan a guest contributor at Spec Faith, recently wrote about the multiverse, so I had a picture I could call to mind. Whether it’s anything close to what Donita intended, I’ll let other readers be the judge.

At any rate, the whole concept of traveling through a portal from one plane to another is unique. C. S. Lewis, of course, had other worlds in his Narnia series, and Narnia itself could be accessed through a portal of sorts. The various worlds, however, were separate pools contained in a sort of holding place–obviously quite different than Donita’s stacked planes.

Besides this interesting setting, One Realm Beyond has delightful characters and at least one formidable adversary. Each is credible given the parameters of this story. Hence, the fact that the mor dragons can sit at the table with the humans or turn into boulders or trees at will, is plausible.

The story is also intriguing, and as Shannon McDermott noted, a tad darker than previous books by Donita Paul. There’s oppression to fight and a mass murder plot to thwart and missing loved ones to find. The story is filled with conflict which tests the mettle of the protagonists.

In spite of all these strong elements, I think the strongest might be the theme. Often Donita’s books, because they are of the gentler side of fantasy where violence is not as prevalent, are frequently referred to as fun. I’m sure I’ve used that word to describe them myself. And it’s appropriate for One Realm Beyond as well. However, people don’t often couple fun with thought-provoking, but I think that’s what we have in this novel.

All is not right in the very place that should be the seat of justice–the Realm Walkers Guild. Here, where the realm walkers are trained and where leaders of other realms turn for support against opponents of peace and harmony, where those pledged to serve Primen ought to be most faithful and true, there is corruption, plotting, power struggles, pride.

Primen is without apology an allegorical representation of God. He is supreme, he is held in highest esteem, he is served, and he is worshiped. In fact, he is the power behind the guild.

Consequently when the protagonists visit the Sanctuary, a gathering of people serving Primen, there’s a bit of a shock when the large facility only has a smattering of people seated in the pews.

Then there was this description of part of the ceremony:

The homily given by a man in elaborate robes said little other than to try to think good thoughts,. According to the speaker, this practice of thinking good thoughts would order the rest of your life. As if thinking about daises would eradicate sewer problems.

There’s the key, I think. The realm walkers and the guild are supposed to serve Primen, to protect the people, to put things to rights. But they aren’t doing their job. They aren’t speaking truth. And they’re falling away.

In short, I believe One Realm Beyond is a story about the church. I for one am interested in seeing where Donita takes her next book in the series.

Weaknesses. Every book has things a reader can pick at if they have a mind to. Was the pace too slow? Was Cantor likeable enough? Were the characters adequately motivated for each of their decisions? While these are valid things to discuss, many of like kind are in the eye of the beholder.

My hope is that those things don’t distract readers from taking this fun book seriously and thinking more deeply because of it.

Recommendation. I’m all in. Yes, this is a young adult book, but it’s dealing with subjects adults should care about just as much or more. I highly recommend One Realm Beyond and suggest readers get on board now, at the beginning of the Realm Walkers series.

In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a review copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Whose Job Is It Now?


DentistryTwo or three years ago I learned about an inner city ministry called World Impact. I was impressed with the well-rounded approach the organization is taking to reach the unchurched poor living in the cities of America.

Besides church planting, evangelism, and Bible studies, they develop leaders from their converts and train them to shepherd others in their community. They also have schools, sports teams, emergency food and shelter, camps and conferences, job training, and dental and medical care.

At least they used to.

Hold that thought.

A week ago I stumbled upon a PBS program called The Paradise. After two weeks I’m ready to say this is the next best thing to Downton Abbey (season four begins Jan. 5, by the way ;-) ). A particular exchange caught my attention in the second episode.

First, The Paradise is the name of a store. I missed the very beginning, but it appears to be a clothing store attempting to cater to the wealthier citizens in England during the 1800s. The owner has faced some opposition to the idea of “ready made” clothes which are considered inferior products.

But for the sake of this post here’s the pertinent event in the story. Someone abandoned a newborn baby boy–a foundling–at the doorstep of the store. The owner is discussing with one of his workers what to do with the infant, and she remarks that people used to leave foundlings at the doorstep of the church. The owner pauses, then says, The Paradise has become the new church.

Sadly, too true, I thought. A commercial venture, a corporation, doing what churches once did.

But as I think about “what churches do,” a couple thoughts run through my mind. For far too long it seems to me churches have let others care for the foundlings and the poor.

There are any number of reasons for this, but at least here in Southern California, there has been an awakening–a realization that “the mission field” with its ripe harvest is downtown as well as across the border or on the other side of an ocean.

World Impact is one parachurch organization that is seizing the opportunity to do in the inner city what missionaries do overseas: provide for the physical and spiritual needs of the people.

But now I wonder. Will World Impact continue to provide dental and medical service for the poor? Will doctors and dental technicians and nurses and dentists still give of their time and ability to help the needy? Or has the government taken over that job?

Clearly, there’s still much Christians can do to help the inner city poor besides dental and medical care, but I can’t help wondering if churches won’t be more and more marginalized as government grows. But maybe if we had paid attention to our inner cities sooner, government wouldn’t have taken health care over.

I suppose the real question is, what else should we be doing to help the people our society is trampling?

Who are those people? I think most of us would say abuse victims or the disabled. Some would add women who are single and have decided against abortion. Still others would include prisoners and their families.

Yes, yes, and yes.

But who is falling through the cracks? Someone with vision needs to look at what the church is doing to reach gangs and the porn addicted and college fraternities and any number of others. Because if we don’t reach them, The Paradise or the government will come along and offer to be the new church.

Published in: on October 17, 2013 at 6:59 pm  Comments Off  
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Going Along To Get Along


bird ruffling feathersDon’t make waves. Don’t ruffle anyone’s feathers. Don’t rock the boat. Those were phrases I grew up hearing that basically said, don’t say what you want to say because you’ll upset someone.

Underneath the admonition is the kind intention to spare someone’s feelings. You don’t want someone to get upset or feel uncomfortable or confused or irate or off kilter. You want to keep people happy.

Sure, it’s a good sentiment if it isn’t taken too far. But the problem is, our western culture is, in fact, taking the concept too far. The result is, we no longer speak the truth.

Christians have fallen into this same pit. We sometimes don’t speak the truth because we don’t want to make others uncomfortable, and sometimes we hold our tongues because we don’t want to suffer the outrage from others if we say what we believe.

I understand this latter position. I had an encounter last week on another blog that put me under verbal attack. I was accused of being of questionable intelligence, falsely pious, cruel, dishonest, abusive, creating intentional harm, being snide, having an attitude that was “as Christ-like as a festering pile of donkey scat,” and more. Above all, some said people like me were the reason they didn’t want to be known as Christians.

So do I relish tangling with people who I know might well unleash such a diatribe again? Not so much. It’s easier to keep quiet, to say, I’ve been in the verbal battles in the past and I don’t need more.

I used to think such rancorous exchanges could be avoided by treating others with respect. Except, some people think you don’t respect them unless you agree with them. Some people read evil intent behind every word.

At other times I’ve had people assume they know my position on a matter simply because I’ve stated a view that’s similar to someone else on their blacklist. In this last foray, I was accused regarding my opening comment of trying to prevent others from speaking.

I did say there are voices intent to drown out the message of God’s hope and help with accusations against the true Church. This statement, I was told, constituted me telling those against abuse within the church to stop talking.

What we never got to was this: the true Church doesn’t condone abuse. Does abuse exist within the ranks of those involved in Bible-believing churches? Sadly, I’m certain it does. However, writing off all evangelical churches and all evangelicals as refusing to ask questions, to look at the truth, and to accept those who are digging behind the scenes is . . . myopic. Or filled with hubris.

How can someone extrapolate from their own experience and draw conclusions about all other evangelicals and evangelical churches of whatever denomination? As I see it, someone who reaches such a conclusion might have an unhealthy idea about himself.

So ought Christians to stand by and let people slandering the true Church and maligning God’s name do so in order to avoid confrontation?

I don’t think so.

I know people have said–I think quoting C. S. Lewis–you don’t have to defend the Bible. That’s like defending a caged lion. In reality, all you have to do is let him out and he’ll defend himself.

But when it comes to the Church–well, believers are the Church, so it seems we ought to defend Christ’s bride.

In the end, the best defense is a good offense (not a quote from Scripture, but I’m sure the principle is in there somewhere ;-) ). Peter says it’s our good deeds that will win over unbelievers, though some will only get it “in the day of visitation,” which I think means Christ’s return, or the day of judgment–in other words, not necessarily in the immediate future.

I have no doubt that good deeds speak volumes. I also know Paul said we are to speak the truth in love. It’s not loving to let someone live believing a lie. It’s also not loving to call people vile names.

So Christians, I believe, need to have a determination to speak the truth and not go along to get along, and yet to do so in a way that is different from the way non-believers engage those with whom they disagree.

Speaking the truth articulately without name calling, insinuations, snark, dismissive or condescending comments ought to mark Christians. And in the internet age, speaking clearly without rancor might be the greatest witness we can offer.

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