It’s Not The Holiday You Think It Is

October 31 — what’s the first thing that comes into your mind?

In all likelihood, it’s Halloween, with it’s spooky traditions and candy goodness. That is completely understandable because it’s the one that gets all the press. Who hasn’t seen commercials and store displays luring customers to buy this goody or that accessory.

But in truth, October 31 marks something vastly more important.

From my church newsletter:

Nearly 500 years ago, God moved across Europe through courageous men and women to restore to the church the truth of the Gospel, the primacy of the Word of God, the importance of expressing faith in great songs and music as well as a renewal of the personal walk of a believer with his Lord. This is the REFORMATION!

And the holiday is Reformation Day, most often celebrated the Sunday prior to October 31 as Reformation Sunday.

In part here’s what Wikipedia says:

According to Philipp Melanchthon, writing in 1546, [Martin] Luther “wrote theses on indulgences and posted them on the church of All Saints on 31 October 1517”, an event now seen as sparking the Protestant Reformation.

Martin Luther's seal now know as the Luther Rose

According to an article at the web site Sunday School Lessons, Luther’s concerns emphasized two key points: justification by faith and the priesthood of all believers.

I have to admit, I take for granted those tenets of the faith. After all, Scripture makes them so clear … except, the common ordinary people of Luther’s day didn’t have Bibles. They depended on their church leaders to tell them what was in God’s word.

A corrupt church and priests interested in lining their own pockets weren’t concerned with trivialities such as what the Bible actually said, so salvation by faith alone was not a concept widely known. The idea of “no distinction … but Christ is all and in all” was for all practical purposes unheard of.

Chaplain R. Kevin Johnson explains it this way in his article “Reformation Day”:

[Martin Luther’s] aim was to protest the assertion by the Church that God’s favor could be gained by the purchase of indulgences. Luther taught that salvation and the remission of sin are available by grace through faith in Christ alone and that no monetary offering or good deed would or could achieve the same result. With this bold act of conviction, Luther set in motion a full revolt against the Church known as the Protestant Reformation.

Luther challenged church doctrine by teaching that all Christian believers have both the right and responsibility to carry forth the gospel (a principle we call “the priesthood of the believer”). To prove his point, Luther looked to the scriptures and cited 1 Corinthians 4:1, “Think of us in this way, as servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries;” Revelation 5:10, “you have made them to be a kingdom and priests serving our God, and they will reign on earth;” and 1 Peter 2:9, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” Luther also taught that no extra-biblical means was necessary to obtain divine truth.

Justin Taylor has a great post chock full of resources for those who wish to learn more about Martin Luther and his part in the Reformation, but most powerful I felt was his closing paragraph:

Luther—like all of us—was a flawed man with feet of clay. He didn’t see or say everything right. But God used him to recover the gospel and to reform the church, and it is fitting to thank God for this remarkable man and God’s grace to him and through him.

Perhaps Reformation Day is the most pivotal holiday ever that few remember or celebrate. Not that churches don’t acknowledge it or perhaps even do something special on Sunday to commemorate it. But it doesn’t quite crowd out Halloween, now, does it?

Not that I’m suggesting Christians should have “our holiday” and non-Christians, “theirs.” But it seems pretty clear, if Christians don’t celebrate the Reformation, no one else will.

CSFF Blog Tour Wrap – The Bone House by Stephen Lawhead

Without a doubt, Stephen Lawhead is proving to be one of the most popular CSFF Blog Tour authors. His latest, The Bone House (Thomas Nelson), garnered the kind of attention you’d expect for book two of an epic series by a seasoned, well-loved author. Thirty-five bloggers in all posted sixty-four articles during the tour.

Discussion ranged from the religious aspects of the story to the concept of the multiverse. Some reviewers discussed story elements and others took a closer look at the author.

In the end, we have a collection of bloggers who posted all three days of the tour, making them eligible for the October CSFF Top Tour Blogger Award. The list and links to their articles are below:

Please take time during the next ten days to review their posts and to vote for the blogger you believe did the most outstanding job during this tour. It’s not an easy choice, I can tell you. Which is why I need your help. The poll closes midnight Pacific time, November 7.

Enjoyable Sin

Jimmy Dean -- actor, singer, entrepreneur who died at 81

Recently I read this line on Facebook, credited as a statement by Jimmy Dean: “Being a Baptist won’t keep you from sinning, but it’ll sure as hell keep you from enjoying it.”

Very funny. Several people laughed and more hit the “Like” button.

But what’s to like about the idea that sin is enjoyable? What’s to like about the idea that the enjoyment is spoiled by recognizing sin is sin?

The Jimmy Dean conclusion would seem to be, Better not to be a Baptist so you can enjoy your sin. How sad! Really. There are so many things wrong with this way of thinking, I’m not sure where to begin.

First, I suppose it’s essential to recognized the part of the statement that’s true: sin is enjoyable. If sin was only hurtful, heinous, disgusting, and it separated us from God, why would it hold a lure? It wouldn’t. But just like the Tempter who appears as an angel of light, sin is dressed up as something pleasurable — something good to look at or to experience or to own or by which to be empowered.

That pleasurable something, however, is temporary (Heb. 11:25-26). No matter how wise or wonderful or sexy or rich or strong sin makes a person, the end of is still destruction.

For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction (Phil. 3:18-19a)

Furthermore, the consequences of sin are here and now.

Behold, the Lord’s hand is not so short
That it cannot save,
Nor is His ear so dull
That it cannot hear,
But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God
And your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear. (Isaiah 59:1-2)

The third thing that makes this statement so not funny is the fact that personal enjoyment is held up as a higher good than obeying God or pleasing Him.

If you’re going to disobey God, you might as well enjoy it, is another way of saying human enjoyment supersedes the conviction of the Holy Spirit. So the real thing that is bad isn’t the sin but the guilt that spoils the fun of sin.

Note, the answer isn’t to stop sinning — that’s apparently something we humans must concede according to Jimmy Dean. The answer is to quench the Holy Spirit so we don’t feel His displeasure.

After all, life is all about pleasing ourselves, isn’t it?

Well, actually, no, it’s not. Which brings me to the next point that makes this quote anything but humorous. According to Paul in Colossians, we are to “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (v. 10).

Our goal as Christians should be to live in obedience to God, not in submission to our fleshly lusts. When we sin, it’s something to grieve, not celebrate. James says our laughter should turn to mourning and our joy to gloom.

Of course there’s the chance that the Jimmy Dean quote was poking fun at Baptists who believe certain behaviors to be sin that others think are perfectly fine — not sins at all.

Well, that’s perhaps sadder than any of the others. To think that one Christian would be so arrogant as to think another’s convictions are laughable.

If he’s a weaker brother, the stronger Christian is expressly instructed in Scripture not to act in a way that would tear down his faith.

For through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died. And so, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. (1 Cor. 8:11-12)

If a person is in error, then he should be lovingly won to the truth. If he’s a false teacher, then he needs to be prayed for and perhaps rebuked.

But made fun of?

I know a little enclave of professing Christians that think mocking other people’s beliefs is the way to turn them from the error of their ways. The problem is, these arrogant self-appointed judges get those ideas from some place other than the Bible.

Scripture directs us to love — our neighbor, fellow believer, enemy, all men. There’s no room for mocking someone for their convictions.

Here’s the bottom line — sin might be enjoyable, but it’s no laughing matter. When Christians don’t see this, we’re playing right into Satan’s hands.

Published in: on October 27, 2011 at 6:01 pm  Comments (3)  
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CSFF Blog Tour – The Bone House by Stephen Lawhead, Day 3

The Bone House, Book 2 of the Bright Empires series, a science-fantasy for adults by Stephen Lawhead (Thomas Nelson), is the CSFF Blog Tour October feature. Today I have the privilege of giving my review.

First, a number of participants have already reviewed and discussed aspects of Mr. Lawhead’s latest. One post of special note is Jeff Chapman‘s excellent look at the historical underpinnings of this novel. I’d also highly recommend Shannon McDermott‘s look at Christian elements in the story. Finally, stop by new member Katie McCurdy‘s site and read her take on The Bone House.

And now my review.

The Story. I sort of want to say, Your guess is as good as mine. The Bright Empires series is an epic story, and each of the books builds on the previous one without wrapping anything up at its end. Consequently, the wisest move a reader could make would be to begin at the beginning with The Skin Map.

Without missing a beat, The Bone House picks up the story where the first volume left off — with the exception that new characters are now inserted. How exactly they fit into the over all plot is somewhat of a mystery. But a couple things seem to unify all the various characters — they have knowledge of the ley lines, areas of magnetic energy, which allow them to move across time and space into alternate realities, and they are concerned with the map, once tatooed onto the torso of an Arthur Flinders-Petrie, that apparently brings order to the space-time dimensional chaos.

In the simplest terms, the main character is Kit Livingston who has determined to complete the mission his grandfather started — to find the Skin Map. For reasons not yet clear, Lord Archelaeus Burleigh also wants the map and will take whatever ruthless action he needs to in order to procure it.

The story, however, is anything but simple, because Arthur himself appears in an earlier time, with his wife and then his son. In fact his grandson, or perhaps his great grandson, Douglas is the first point-of-view character, and he maintains a thread throughout.

In addition, Kit’s greatest ally, his one-time fiance Mina, plays the most heroic role of all, but Kit finds help from any number of others — some by design like Dr. Thomas Young, and some by apparent happenstance like Big Hunter.

In the end, however, Kit ends up virtually alone and lost, except he’s found what everyone is looking for, what the Skin Map was supposed to show them. So what’s he to do now?

Strengths. Mr. Lawhead writes such deft prose. He paints pictures with his words and in so doing creates worlds and history and fully realized characters. He’s also impressively weaving a story with an unbelievable number of threads in a way that seems utterly believable.

Just out of reach is the Greater Meaning. After all, the story is about the universe — or more accurately, the multiverse — and man’s interplay with alternate realities. It’s also about Life and immortality and Providence, about spiritual consciousness, relationship with the “eternal, ever-living Creator,” and the “language of angels.” These things aren’t fully developed, and some have only been introduced, but the story has the feel of something Bigger.

My Guesses. [Spoiler Alert] Instead of picking at the story to find something to fault, I’d rather give my thoughts on what might be coming or what it all might mean. The Bright Empires series is, in part, a mystery, after all. And part of the fun of mysteries is to try to make educated guesses, then see how close you came to the way things actually are, story wise. So here are my guesses, for those of you who have read The Bone House.

I am postulating that En-Ul, the Ancient One, is Arthur Flinders-Petrie. I don’t know how that could be except that Kit ended up at the Well of Souls where he encountered Arthur because En-Ul apparently sent him there.

Another possibility is that En-Ul is a type of God, the Creator, or God in earthly flesh. I assumed he had gone to the Bone House to die, that this was the caveman equivalent to the Egyptian pyramid. But then it proved to be built on a ley line — or maybe The Ley Line — and Kit traveled or jumped to the Well. What happened to En-Ul? (And why could he and Kit communicate telepathically?)

The bigger issue, though, is Providence or God’s sovereignty. If Man has free will and can choose to act in any number of ways that influence others and alter history, how is God still sovereign? The concept of a multiverse cosmos could give an answer. No matter what Man chooses, God works to bring about His Grand Plan. So the alternate existences all have the same characters doing the same things with the same motives, but in one they might choose to act in one way, whereas in a second they might choose to act with some variation. In the end those differences are turned by corresponding acts so that the One Grand Design is still fulfilled.

So those are my two guesses. [End spoiler alert.]

Recommendation. The Bone House is part of what is shaping up to be a masterful epic science fantasy. It is complex, mysterious, though-provoking, intricate, and beautifully written. It isn’t particularly “character driven,” though the main character does grow and change. But the story seems less about him and more about the way the world works, though I could be wrong about that.

This one is a must read for Stephen Lawhead fans. I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys time travel (though ley jumping is distinctly different, it has a feel of time travel) or alternate reality stories. It’s also dealing with cosmic reality, so anyone who has a bent toward the philosophical may enjoy this one too.

CSFF Blog Tour – The Bone House by Stephen Lawhead, Day 2

Where is God in Stephen Lawhead‘s Bright Empires series, of which The Bone House (Thomas Nelson) is the second book? It’s inevitable in a Christian speculative tour to ask this kind of question.

As I’ve said of late, there really is only one distinctive in Christian fiction of any genre — it can tell the truth about God. No other fiction can. Stories by those of other religions or by atheists might do an exceptional job showing this world, but when it comes to ultimate reality — who God is, what He plans for Mankind, how He relates to people here and now or in the future — no one else besides Christians can tell the truth.

In other words, the fiction of those not believing in Jesus Christ will be flawed because they don’t have true understanding of reality. They either will write a story about the here and now leaving God out or they will write a story about the here and now or about the hereafter that is riddled with error about God.

But Christians don’t automatically, by virtue of our faith, depict God accurately in our fiction. Some admittedly don’t try.

A portion of those see their job as tilling the soil. They want to create a hunger and thirst for eternal things by showing something about love and life and meaning in the here and now.

Others don’t try because they don’t think they need to — their faith will be a part of their story, they believe, because it’s a part of them.

Where in all this does Stephen Lawhead fall? I have no idea. But without a doubt “religion” is moving forward in importance in the Bright Empires series.

In the first installment, The Skin Map, some reviewers didn’t think there was a central message about God. In my review I disagreed, saying, “I believe there is a consistent sprinkling of thought-provoking, well-timed mentions of God, sometimes referenced as Providence. I believe Mr. Lawhead has laid the ground work for an exploration of God’s providential work versus Man’s freedom to choose his own path.”

Honestly, I don’t yet know what the “central message” related to God is in the Bright Empires novels. After all, we’re only through book two of a five book series. But as I said above, religion has become more important.

For example, there’s this scene about a fourth of the way into the story:

Turms, splendid in a crimson robe and tall hat trimmed in gold, stooped low and thanked the animal for the sacrifice of its life. With a nod to Arthur and Xian-Li, he beckoned them to the altar and instructed them to place their hands upon the lamb. He then drew a knife made from black volcanic glass across its throat. The small creature lay still and expired without a sound. Then, while attendants eviscerated the carcass, a golden bowl in which some of the blood had been collected was passed to Turms.

He lifted the bowl and drank, then offered the bowl to both Arthur and Xian-Li.

The scene continues with this Egyptian Priest King completing the ceremony of divination and making a pronouncement that the unborn child in question would be healthy and have a long life.

This is the same Priest King, by the way, who earlier in the novel had this insight:

Turms was impressed once again, as he often was, how even the most seemingly insignificant and trivial actions and associations could, in the fullness of time, command great import.

Despise not the day of small things . . . was that how it went? It was a saying he had learned in Alexandria from a bearded eastern sage — a wise man of the cult of Yahweh — the god, it was claimed, who reigned above all others, who ordained and sustained all things for his creation, and who was worshiped by Hebrews to the exclusion of all others.

Half way into the novel another overtly religious scene unfolds. One of the characters based on the historical archeologist Dr. Thomas Young says this to Kit, the main character:

“Too many of my brother scientists are succumbing to a view that holds all religion as outdated nonsense — nursery tales from mankind’s infancy, dogmas to be outgrown and swept aside by scientific progress.”

“I’m familiar with the view,” confirmed Kit.

“But see here,” continued Thomas, brightening once more. “Contrary to what many may think, immortality is not a fairy tale invented to compensate for an unhappy life. Rather, it is the perception shared by nearly all sentient beings that our conscious lives are not bounded by this time and space. We are not merely lumps of animate matter. We are living spirits — we all feel this innately. And in our deepest hearts, we know that we can only find ultimate fulfilment in union with the supreme spiritual reality — a reality that appears, even during this earthly life, to take us beyond the narrow limits of time.”

As the conversation goes on, the doctor builds a case for Man’s consciousness — his self-awareness and imagination — not bound by time and space, yearning for “an affinity with the One Great Consciousness that made us — the spiritual consciousness of the Creator.”

He concludes by saying, “It is because we can establish an affinity with the eternal Creator that immortality becomes more than a fairy tale. At very least, you must allow, it becomes a most reasonable hope.”

As I see it, this exchange is central to understanding the main thrust of the Bright Empires novels.

But clearly, everything in the story, including the ultimate theme, is under construction. How the Priest King’s divination ceremony fits with Dr. Young’s religious philosophizing remains to be seen in the next three volumes.

About the only thing I can say with some sense of certainty is that Mr. Lawhead’s inclusion of religion is purposeful. He’s weaving the spiritual element into his stories with the same intrigue and care as he’s weaving the ley lines of his plot.

CSFF Blog Tour – The Bone House by Stephen Lawhead, Day 1

Strap on your gear. The CSFF Blog Tour is going on a whirlwind journey through time and space via “ley lines” and Stephen Lawhead‘s latest science fantasy/time-travel/historical adventure novel, The Bone House (Thomas Nelson), book 2 in the Bright Empires series.

In that short description you can see some of the contradictions in this novel — science fiction but fantasy, time travel but alternate realities, historical but strong on the adventure.

There’s more where that came from: Christian but with a fortune-telling, blood-letting pagan ceremony. Kit’s story but Mina as the hero, an orphan who is the villain not the victim.

Contradictions and the unexpected — that’s what the reader can expect when he opens The Bone House. But perhaps a proper introduction is warranted. This, from the author himself:

Next, if you’d like a refresher on the first book of the series, The Skin Map, you’ll find a sketch of the story in my review.

Now you’re ready to head off on the tour. During the next three days, enjoy what each of these bloggers has to say about The Bone House:

Each check mark links to a tour article.

Fixing Our Eyes On Jesus

This summer my church did a special series of sermons from Hebrews 11 — the “hall of faith” chapter — then ended with a message from Hebrews 12:1-2 which was the perfect introduction to the next series: a study of the book of Mark. Christ’s life, in other words.

Hebrews 12:1-2 may be a familiar passage:

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

As an aside, the word translated in the New American version above as “witnesses” is μάρτυς, transliterated as martys. While it does mean “witnesses,” there’s a specific meaning that would seem to apply here:

c) in an ethical sense

    1) those who after his example have proved the strength and genuineness of their faith in Christ by undergoing a violent death

In fact on three occasions, the word is translated in the King James Version as martyr.

The best sense of these verses in the context of Hebrews 11 and 12, then, is that we are to do what the writer is about to counsel because of the lives and testimonies of all those he has just chronicled (not because those faithful people are hovering over us from heaven, watching what we’re doing — which is what some people apparently think).

The real point of this article, though, is the counsel the writer gives: fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith.

One way to fix our eyes on Jesus is to do exactly what my church is doing: look intently at the life of Christ recorded in the gospels (in our case, in the one gospel our pastors have chosen).

There’s another. We can read the rest of the Bible searching for Jesus and what it reveals about Him.

In the Old Testament, we’ll find Messianic passages in the prophets, but we’ll also find types of Christ throughout — examples, if you will, that were not apparent to the people of that day but are remarkably clear as sign posts to Jesus once you’ve read His story.

In the New Testament, the writers open up the books, so to speak, and tell us the things that were hidden in past ages and generations. We get the equivalent of Jesus pulling the disciples aside and explaining the parables. In fact, Scripture tells us that in the days after His resurrection, Jesus explained the Law and the Prophets, showing His disciples where and how He fit into the picture (Luke 24:27). They, in turn, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, passed on the information to us.

Paul, who wasn’t a disciple when Jesus was on earth, gets a lot of flack for “making up Christianity” because his letters comprise a good portion of the New Testament. However, the book of Acts — the history of the early church — makes it clear that the others were in agreement with Paul. In other words, he wasn’t off teaching something radically different from Peter and James and Phillip.

In the end, of course, the Holy Spirit is the One who unifies the Bible: “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13a).

So what kinds of things do we find about Christ in the non-gospels sections of the New Testament? That would make a great study, I think — reading Acts through Revelation asking the question, what does this passage teach me about Christ.

I’ve already seen some great things in the book of Colossians. In chapter one, Paul has a section I think of as the “He is” section:

  • He is the image of the invisible God
  • He is the firstborn of all creation
  • He is in the beginning
  • He is before all things
  • He is the head of the body, the church

Then in chapter two he has what I think of as the “in Him” section:

  • In Him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge
  • In Him all the fullness of deity dwells
  • In Him I have been made complete
  • In Him I was “circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.” (OK, I didn’t say all these were easy! 😉 )

Lists don’t tell the whole story, of course. The key is to search out what Paul means by each of those things. But these verses from Colossians 3 seem to encapsulate the idea of fixing our eyes on Jesus:

Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory. (vv. 1-4 – emphasis mine)

Published in: on October 21, 2011 at 6:22 pm  Comments (2)  
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Love Affair With The Wrong Story

Whether it’s print media or broadcast, those reporting the news have a love affair with the Occupy Wall Street “movement.” It’s hardly a real movement — more a hyped wannabe.

David Brooks in his New York Times article “Is Occupy Wall Street Being Overhyped?” stated that there are all of thirty people involved in the movement in Minneapolis. That number swells to eighty in Washington.

Meanwhile, here in SoCal, the Los Angeles Times lists over two hundred articles covering this movement since its inception. Interestingly, the LA city leadership has been encouraging, even supportive of it:

Los Angeles elected officials have been assiduously wooing the Occupy movement, which inspired protesters furious at Wall Street to take over the grassy area around City Hall downtown — and public spaces in cities across the nation.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa gave 100 ponchos to soggy demonstrators during the last big rain. Council President Eric Garcetti told campers in the tent community to “stay as long as you need to.” And officials have quietly allowed the urban camp-out to continue, despite a law prohibiting overnight stays at city parks. (“Officials’ embrace of Occupy L.A. loosens a bit over fiscal issue”)

In spite of all this support and the media attention, only seven hundred people are staying in the tents, though that number reportedly “swells” to an unknown degree during the day.

The other notable thing is this: the Occupy Wall Street story sprang up because unspecified hundreds of people protested in Lower Manhattan and marched up Broadway a little over a month ago. One hundred and fifty of them then spent the night. And a story was born. Because of only a few hundred. Now a month later people are starting to ask if perhaps the media loves this story more than the rest of us do.

The Third Step Event is an innovative outreach to women enrolled in secular recovery programs.

Why did Occupy Wall Street become the story du jour? What makes these few hundreds more news worthy than, say, the many Walk for Life events that take place yearly? Or how about something like the upcoming Third Step Event scheduled for this Saturday in the Los Angeles area.

Third Step is a practical, positive movement designed to make a difference in the lives of women struggling with substance abuse. I see these women as similar to the woman at the well Jesus talked with or the Syrophonecian woman whose demon-possessed daughter Jesus healed. In other words, they are women in need of the Savior.

And more than six hundred of them will gather together at the Third Step Event where Christians will serve them and tell them about Jesus. From the Third Step Event “About” page:

The Third Step Event [so named after the third step in the twelve-step recovery program used by many substance abuse facilities, which involves “turning one’s life and will over to a higher power”] is an innovative outreach to women enrolled in secular recovery programs. Once a year, women in recovery are invited to attend an elegant cost-free event within an atmosphere of love, acceptance and celebration of the women’s decision to achieve sobriety. Following a full course meal, the women are treated to a special program filled with music, drama, testimonials of deliverance and they are presented a powerful and inspiring message of how freedom and transformation was attained through faith in Jesus Christ (Luke 4:18). The women are extended the opportunity to respond to the message of salvation and to pray with a trained altar counselor for God’s love and power to free them from every form [of] addiction and bondage. At the conclusion of the event, the women receive a free Bible, literature to continue in their spiritual growth, a gift bag filled with lots of special goodies, and a referral list to local churches for the women’s continued Christian growth and development upon discharging from their recovery program.

I don’t know about you, but I think that’s a better story than Occupy Wall Street.

I wonder what it would take to generate over 200 stories in the LA Times about the Third Step Event. Would the program have to spread to all fifty states? Grow from 600 to 600,000? Would it have to be a sustained movement lasting a month or longer rather than a yearly event now occurring for the ninth time?

I suppose there’s little chance of the media ever falling in love with this story because it shows Christians doing Christ-like things — selflessly helping the most needy and neglected and forlorn of our society.

Third Step is an interdenominational, Bible-centered ministry outreach, seeking innovative methods to reach the lost for Jesus Christ. The Third Step Event strongly depends on the participation and support of local church ministries.

But wouldn’t it be fun to try and get media attention by just these kinds of acts of love? I wonder how those who say hateful things about Christians would resolve their concept of Christianity with the picture of Christians giving generously of their time, talents, resources to strangers.

I know Christians do selfless things all the time. My church’s high school group sent a team of students to New Orleans after Katrina, for example. But then many non-Christian groups went to help, too, so the story surely wasn’t about Christians doing Christ-like things.

Even Walk for Life events brush up against politics and may seem agenda-driven rather than service oriented, so what’s to separate them from other political endeavors?

The Third Step Event is different because there’s nothing in it for the organizers — except obedience to their Savior and His future “Well done, good and faithful servant” they are bound to hear.

This is a story I can love!

The Christian’s Responsibility Regarding False Teaching

False teaching, as was so clearly illustrated in the articles about dominionism and the responses from readers which I cited yesterday, has far reaching effects. I’ve been slow to recognize that 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.

I should have known different. After all, 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.

Published in: on October 19, 2011 at 5:56 pm  Comments (2)  
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Persecution Of Christians And False Teaching

When I was a kid, I only thought Christians in America would face persecution if the Russians took over the world. We used to hear scary things about Soviet Russia — only registered churches could exist, Bibles were almost non-existent, and Christians were less likely to get jobs in government or any other influential part of society.

Never in my wildest dreams did I envision the US winning the Cold War and then Christians coming under attack. Not that I’ve specifically heard of physical attacks, but certainly verbal attack is routine.

Actions based on false teaching that make Christianity odious

What’s just become clear to me is the role that false teaching plays in this process.

Today’s local paper, the Whittier Daily News, has an article, originating with the Associated Press, entitled “Perry’s presidential run casts new light on dominionism.” The story is all about how Presidential hopeful Rick Perry is tied to a group of “Pentecostals” who want to establish a Christian government because of “a God-given mandate to run the world.”

The term that journalists and scholars are using for this thinking is “dominionism.” I did a little research and learned that some in the media equate this “movement” to Islamic beliefs:

In many ways, Dominionism is more a political phenomenon than a theological one. It cuts across Christian denominations, from stern, austere sects to the signs-and-wonders culture of modern megachurches. Think of it like political Islamism, which shapes the activism of a number of antagonistic fundamentalist movements, from Sunni Wahabis in the Arab world to Shiite fundamentalists in Iran. (from “A Christian Plot for Domination?” by Michelle Goldberg)

More recently the Huffington Post published “5 Facts About Dominionism” by Daniel Burke, an article with a more balanced perspective. Even so, the article generated over 1600 comments, including ones like this:

The Religious Right do NOT want a state-spon­sored church, as they are sometimes accused of advocating­. But what they DO want is probably a lot worse.

What many want is for Biblical Law (primarily Leviticus) to be legislated into the US penal code. That means, for example, that anyone that doesn’t profess Evangelica­l Christiani­ty as his or her religion would be executed. The same punishment would apply to gays, working on the “sabbath,” adultery, disobedien­t children, gluttony, and many other offenses.

Don’t be fooled when they say they don’t want a state church, because that’s just a cover for what they really do want.

Or how about this:

Keep your god out of my Government­.

The First Amendment of the Constituti­on. I would defend it to the death.

[That would be the amendment that guarantees freedom of religion, if memory serves me correctly.]

The point is this. False teaching flying the flag of Christianity doesn’t turn society against the false teaching or the small niche from which it comes. It turns society against God and against “Evangelical Christianity.”

Can genuine persecution be far behind?

Published in: on October 18, 2011 at 6:20 pm  Comments (6)  
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