The Church Is Not Perfect’m sensitive about church bashing which seemed to be in vogue not so long ago. When someone started talking about the Church it was almost always to tell readers or listeners what the traditional church had done wrong. Sometimes the tone was quite snarky. It’s those old people, the grannies in their denim dresses and the old codgers with their belts up around their chests. They keep the church from growing, from being alive and vibrant.


The Church is not perfect, and never has been. Even in the first century, Paul and Peter and Titus were writing about false teachers and false doctrines and how believers were to go about sorting truth from error.

From what I understand, our first line of defense against false teaching is the Bible. Surprise, surprise. Truth is the best weapon against error. Paul even calls the word of God, the Sword of the Spirit in Ephesians when he lists off the armor the Christian is to put on in our fight against spiritual forces.

Part of using Scripture against error is our discernment—our ability to check to see if “these things are so” as the Bereans did.

Now these [Berean believers] were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so. (Acts 17:11)

The other part is to hold each other accountable as Paul did Peter when the latter started treating Gentile believers differently once the Jewish Christians showed up. Suddenly it wasn’t OK for Peter to eat with the uncircumcised as he had been. Paul called him on his hypocrisy.

But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision. The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all . . . (Galatians 2:11-14a)

The rest of the chapter records Paul’s argument against what Peter was doing.

Paul also stood up against the Corinthian church, confronting them on various issues in his first letter. In Phil. 4 he openly urged two women who weren’t getting along to solve their dispute, and he asked another member of the church to help them.

Not only are we to troubleshoot for each other, we have responsibilities, older women to teach the younger and older men to teach younger men.

Then there is the leadership. Peter says clearly, elders are to “shepherd the flock of God among you” (1 Peter 5:2). But even they have requirements.

No one in the church is above God’s standard. He’s given us means by which we can continue to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects. Not following the way of the world, not believing “a different gospel,” not following the lure of deceivers who John warns us about (2 John 1:7), not getting caught up in visions or beliefs someone with an inflated ego invents and foists on the church (Col. 2:18).

Holding people in the church accountable is not Church bashing, and it isn’t an attack on our unity.

If it were, Paul would have torn the Church apart instead of building it up.

In fact, he did what a good overseer is supposed to do—he taught the people what Scripture meant. And he challenged them to live what they knew. His reprimands, as he made clear in 2 Corinthians were because he cared for the people he regarded as his children in the faith.

Perhaps that’s the point of greatest difference between the first century Church and today’s western church. We are distracted by what worship style we like, how many people we have signing up as members, how much money we’re getting in, how many people have the church app on their phones, and on and on. But who cares enough to step up and say, Stop sinning! It’s wrong for you to sleep with someone you aren’t married to. Or to get drunk (even at college). Or to cheat on your income taxes.

We aren’t perfect, so I guess we think we have no ground to stand on when it comes to confronting someone else about sin. I understand that. The key is to deal with our own logs before we do anything else, but Scripture doesn’t imply that we should all ignore the splinters and logs everyone else is walking around with because we once upon a time had our own log. If we still have a log of our own, then that’s the first thing we need to take before the throne of grace.

But how can we stand silently by and watch wolves come climbing over the walls of the sheepfold? We ought not!

Published in: on July 21, 2016 at 5:37 pm  Comments (1)  
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What I Don’t Like Regarding Church

Mars_Hill_Church,_Ballard_location,_worship_band_stageChurches are nothing but a collection of people—sinners saved by grace who sometimes listen to God and follow Him, but who sometimes rebel and go their own way, though they may repent and come back to a place of obedience. Sometimes, without realizing it, we let stuff creep into our churches that is really harmful, stuff that acts like a little leaven. Sometimes we let in wolves that masquerade like shepherds. Sometimes we tolerate what amounts to cotton candy.

When I was in Tanzania, the average person lived hand to mouth. One of the staples in their diet was ugali, a dough-like substance made from the cassava plant. Cassava is a root, similar to the potato. In Tanzania, the farming techniques at that time often depleted the soil of nutrients. Hence, cassava, and ultimately ugali, had little nutritional value. People could eat their meals which would assuage their appetite, but they were not receiving the vitamins and minerals they needed.

Some churches can be like ugali, or like cotton candy—on the surface it seems as if the people are being fed, but they end up nearly starving.

I don’t like the things that hurt our churches!

Here, in no specific order, are some of the things I think hurt our churches:

Copying. Or jumping on bandwagons, if you will. We seem too eager, in my opinion, to jump to the next trend, as if church is all about keeping up with the trendy, the pacesetters, the megachurches who seem to have find the right formula to bring people in.

Jesus attracted big crowds, so there’s obviously nothing inherently wrong with a large congregation. But Jesus didn’t do market studies to see how to bring people in. His crowds also included a group out to catch Him in some kind of error—either morally or theologically.

The crowds also included those who were there just for a free lunch or to be wowed by the next dead-man-walking event. Some may have been there for the cool stories.

But at one point, Jesus laid out what He expected of people who followed Him, and the crowds dissipated. Rapidly. Jesus didn’t revamp His style or technique. He didn’t soften His message or steer away from the truth. He didn’t open up coffee shops or promise to provide lunch from only ONE loaf of bread if they’d just come back next week.

Which brings me to the second thing I think hurts churches: counting the number of people who attend. We’ve got this idea that more is better.

More can be exciting and encouraging when a ministry starts out. That people come to a house church in the Arab world at peril of their lives is an awesome sign that God is moving. But here in the western world? The biggest crowds are in sports arenas. In other words, great numbers aren’t necessarily a sign of great spirituality. So why do we count?

Maybe the leadership needs to know attendance as part of their planning, but a fixation on numbers can derail a ministry in short order. We start relying on the techniques of the world, we start taking credit for the “success” of a large congregation. We stop trusting God to bring the people He wants to come.

A third thing that hurts churches is performance. Ministers perform more than they preach.

They’re preceded by the opening act—the worship band. Lights go dim in the “house” as spotlights illuminate the performers. Sound equipment is turned up to loud or loudest so all that the people in the “audience” hear is the lead and backup singers and instruments. Some churches include special effects.

The point of all this performing is to entertain the people to keep them coming back. If they get an emotional kick from the concert or from the speaker, then church has been “worshipful.”

Well, no it hasn’t. Such a service puts the focus first on the performers and then on the people in the audience who are responding emotionally. Where is the focus on the Lord Jesus Christ? Putting the spotlight on Him is worship!

Number four naturally follows. Churches are hurt—crippled, really—when ministers preach the topics of their choice rather than what the Bible says. Oh, sure, lots of ministers who pick their topic use the Bible, but it’s more by way of reinforcing the point they already want to make.

How about if we opened up the Bible and looked at a passage, verse by verse and chapter by chapter, to see what it says? In other words, how about having a minister preach from the Bible—whether it addresses one of the hot, trendy topics, or something really uncomfortable—as opposed to using the Bible for our own purposes.

The thing is, some pastors who use the Bible are in sync with it, but the model of preaching that way is flawed. Therefore, someone can come along behind them who is not Biblically minded and follow the “use the Bible” model, only to lead the congregants away from the truth.

The health-and-wealth preachers fall into this latter category. Those who want to “name it and claim it” use the Bible to reinforce their beliefs about God’s blessing and prosperity while ignoring passage after passage after passage that talks about suffering and being in need and sacrificing.

I haven’t exhausted the things I don’t like, but I’m going to stop. I’ll end with this short video of a musician who understands about worship. It’s encouraging to know that there are people out there who are working to enhance corporate worship. It gives me hope.

My Cry Ascends | Greg Wilbur from Compass Cinema on Vimeo.

Published in: on May 3, 2016 at 6:25 pm  Comments (3)  
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Friends with the World – A Reprise

Sower_oilSome years ago I did a little blog surfing starting with an article published in Church Salt: “Emerging from Emergents.” The trail led me to a conclusion I hadn’t expected: those identifying with the emerging church are on the decline. Unfortunately, a group self-identifying as Progressives have seemed to take their place.

Whether emergents are a growing or shrinking number, or whether Progressives are the new emergents, isn’t the issue, however. The thinking of both or either group—contrary to the facade they portray to those “outside”— is little more than warmed over liberalism; they borrow generously from Orthodox Christianity, Gnostic thought, Eastern mysticism, even from a heretical ascetic such as Pelagius. Sadly, this thinking has seeped into the Church.

One blog post claimed youth groups have espoused emerging church views for years. I wouldn’t doubt it.

But here’s the critical point. We American Christians must re-examine our hearts to see if we have left our First Love.

James, in his letter to Jewish believers scattered from Jerusalem because of persecution, gives a sobering warning:

You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (James 4:4)

“Friendship with the world,” I would suggest, has a lot more to do with how we think than with what we do. In the previous verse, James addresses wrong motives, two verses down he speaks about pride.

Verse 5 he says something translators apparently have wrestled with but have not come to a consensus about. The New King James says it this way:

Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”?

The ESV is a little different, but I think the intent is the same:

Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”?

In the context of “adultresses” in the previous verse, these translations seems to me to make James’s intent clearer. As a husband would be jealous for his wife, so God is jealous for His Bride. And of course He wants our lives to be pure, but He also wants our hearts to be pure—free of wrong motives, without prideful self-will.

I have to believe that “friendship with the world,” then, includes the way we think.

Pastor Ray Stedman, in his commentary, “James: The Activity of Faith” says this:

And if you stop believing what the Scriptures say, you will find yourself being drawn to the lies and the alluring illusion of the world around.

Drawn to the lies and illusion of the world seems to define the beliefs the emerging church/Progressives have introduced. Here are a few: God is not a God of judgment. He is one with his creation. Hell isn’t real and Man does not sin by nature. The Bible is mostly a myth. Salvation is universal. Jesus came not as an atoning sacrifice but to show us a better way—the road of love and peace and unity.

It doesn’t take much to find article after article after article by people professing to be Christians who espouse these “progressive” views.

Of course many claim that thinking in a fresh way about their spirituality or about God or about their religion has revitalized their spiritual life.

So … can thinking that helps people see God in a new way be bad? I mean, shouldn’t we want to know God in a fresh, exciting way?

Our thoughts about God can be new every morning, but I don’t believe we need to borrow from the world’s way of looking at Him to experience Him afresh. Just the opposite. Listening to the lies of the world will kill off true faith.

Yes, lies. The world says humans are good, not sinners in need of a Savior. The world sees Jesus as just a man, not God in the flesh. The world looks at the Bible as a bunch of man-contrived rules, not the very word of God. Whenever the views of someone professing to be a Christian align more closely with what the world says than what God says, there’s reason to believe that the thinking of the world may be killing off true faith.

In the parable of the sower, that’s what happened to the seed that fell on stony ground. The soil was too shallow for roots to take hold. So, too, with pretend Christians who deny that God is a righteous Judge, the Sovereign who does what is right.

An older version of this post first appeared here in February 2010.

Living By The Terms Of The Treaty

"Scene in Geronimo's camp, the Apache outlaw and murderer. Taken before the surrender to Gen. Crook, March 27, 1886, in the Sierra Madre mountains of Mexico."

“Scene in Geronimo’s camp, the Apache outlaw and murderer. Taken before the surrender to Gen. Crook, March 27, 1886, in the Sierra Madre mountains of Mexico.”

After reading a two part series of posts on Evangelicals by my friend and fellow blogger, InsanityBytes (part 1 and part 2), I decided the following article was the best comment I could give on the subject.

– – – – –

When I was growing up, Saturday afternoon meant old B movies on TV, often something western. One particular story has stayed with me.

What history calls The Indian Wars dominated the West. Settlers and miners and railroad men and soldiers clashed with any number of Indian groups, from Chickasaw to Seminole.

In this particular story, a compassionate and understanding American, with a number of Indian friends, was convinced to take the position as agent for what was the equivalent of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. As part of his job, he was required to negotiate an acceptable treaty with the tribes waring against the US government.

Against all odds, he was successful—except, treaties needed to be ratified by the Senate. The political climate at the time was against him, and rather than agreeing to the terms he had promised the Indians, the government sent troops to implement the Indians’ forced removal from their land.

The story stayed with me because I felt the betrayal this Indian agent experienced—as both the betrayed and the betrayer. He was let down by the government that said it would stand behind his negotiations (the stipulation he demanded as the condition for him taking the position as Indian agent). As a result, in the eyes of the people who had trusted him, he became their Brutus.

It struck me recently that professing Christians who take up with false teachers are like those politicos in that old-time movie. They say they will abide by whatever their representative decides, but when the terms of the agreement come down, they don’t really want to keep their word. They find some way of changing the rules, of canceling the treaty.

In essence, they leave their representative hanging out to dry. The world, to whom He has gone, point and laugh.

    Ha-ha, they say they love, but look at the nasty things they put on their signs when they picket the streets.

    They say they don’t love the world or the things of the world, but listen to how greedy their preachers are.

    They say they live like Jesus, but they have marital breakups, addictions, bad debt, carry grudges, sneer and snark, just like the rest of us.

When we who bear the name of Christ, do not obey Him, we aren’t much better. Our disobedience affects how others look at Jesus in the same way that a false Christian’s inconsistencies end up staining the name of Christ.

I’m reminded of an Old Testament incident recorded in 2 Chronicles 18. Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, allied himself with Ahab, king of Israel. When they were preparing for war, Jehoshaphat wanted to inquire of a prophet of the Lord.

All the other prophets said the kings would have great success if they prosecuted the war, but the one prophet of the Lord Jehoshaphat insisted they bring in, said they would meet with defeat.

And what did Jehoshaphat do? He ignored the prophet of the Lord.

Why, I’ve wondered, did he bother to ask for the man to speak a message from God if he wasn’t planning to listen?

Then too, why do people today take up the name of Christ and ignore His Word?

But that forces me to ask, do I ignore His Word, too—at least the parts I don’t like? Things like, “Do all things without grumbling or disputing”?

I guess the question I need to ask is this: how much do I care about the reputation of He who I say I’m following?

Published in: on March 8, 2016 at 7:39 pm  Comments Off on Living By The Terms Of The Treaty  
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Job And Our Organic God

Job003I love the book of Job in the Old Testament, so today I want to share some thoughts I wrote four years ago (with a little add-on here and there and of course some general editing).

– – – – –

One of the things writers talk about is creating stories organically. The alternative is to force a story to become what you want it to become by reducing it to a formula. Organic stories are the ones that seem real, that last long after you’ve closed the book, that affect you rather than merely entertaining you.

There is no one key to writing organic stories, but they must have characters that seem like real people with believable motivations, realistic emotional patterns and true-to-life psychological mechanisms for handling problems.

The formulaic characters are little more than place holders. In a formulaic romance, for example, insert heroine on page 1, the opening paragraph; slot in romantic lead in chapter 2. Almost it doesn’t matter who these people are. They will have some problem that keeps them apart for a third of the book, then they will begin to draw close, only to run into a wedge that drives them further apart for another third. When all seems hopeless, after the heroine experiences the black night of the soul, the two resolve the conflict and come together. Or something like that. You get the gist. There’s a pattern, one that romance writers are taught in writing workshops to follow.

I’m not trying to pick on romances. I think westerns can be just as formulaic and so can mysteries. Character X discovers crime Y with suspects A, B, and C. With a little detecting, he uncovers clues 1, 2, and 3. A formula.

I don’t know enough about any of these genres to say whether there is a way to write them organically—to make them come alive and therefore to separate them from the pack. I do know that readers of formulaic books have a hard time remembering if they’ve already read Busted, Bashed, or Butchered. (I just made up those titles, but that kind of title connection in a series is another part of the formula). Even by reading the back cover, readers can draw a blank. Is this the book they read? It sounds vaguely familiar, but so do the other two.

What does all this have to do with God and the book of Job?

As I’ve been reading Job once more, and I’ve been struck with the fact that Job’s friends saw God as a formulaic figure. He was as good as programmed, in their minds, and had to act in manner y if person A did action B. In other words, they were not seeing God as organic—alive and relational. They were talking about Him as if He were an it, a force, a thing they could predict. Perhaps a thing they could manipulate.

While Job was wrong to complain against God and to accuse Him of wrong doing (which is why he repented in the end), he nevertheless got it right that God is a free and independent person, transcendent, able to act however He wants to act. He’s organic. He’s more than that, of course, because He’s sovereign.

In the past some professing Christians have accused traditional, Biblical Christianity of putting God in a box. Let him be organic, in other words, by which they mean, let him bend with the culture—change to fit the changing times.

Well, funny thing. The most organic thing a person can do is reveal who he is. “You want to know me? Let me tell you about myself so that you’re not reading your own thoughts or feelings or motives into my actions.”

This, God chose to do.

However, instead of embracing His story about Himself and His relationship with humankind, many people, even “religious” ones, decide they get to say who God is and what He is like. What these people are doing is “re-imaging” Him into the formula they’ve created.

That what Job’s friends did.

They determined that God dealt with people in a formulaic, foreseeable way. He punished sin by bringing suffering down on the sinner. He rewarded those who lived righteously by giving them prosperity and long life.

Consequently, they left no room for God to do anything else with an unrighteous man other than bring disaster down on his head. And since disaster hit Job five fold, he was clearly, according to their formula, an unrighteous man.

People today do essentially the same thing. God is loving and kind and forgiving and tolerant and an advocate for peace. Therefore he would never send people to hell, order the death of . . . well, anyone but most certainly not a whole nation, though He said they were people who lived in debauchery. Above all, the loving and kind and tolerant God would never punish the entire human race because one person ate a bite of forbidden fruit. That’s not God, they say. (I mean, it’s just fruit!)

Maybe punishing sin is not the formulaic God these progressive Christians have concocted, but the organic God who is sovereign, just, and good, can do and does do all the things He revealed in His word. And more.

He’s not bound by a formula. He can, and did, take the form of a mam. He can, and did, live a sin-free life. He can, and did, sacrifice Himself to pay for the sins of the world. Why? Not because we did a satisfactory quota of good deeds, certainly. He, being living and self-existent, chooses to do what He chooses to do.

Consequently, He treats people differently. Moses’s sister Miriam, for example, rebelled against Moses and God struck her with leprosy for a week. Aaron, their brother, also rebelled along with her, but God didn’t strike him with leprosy. Aaron’s sons, however, God struck down because they sacrificed “strange incense” as part of the worship ceremony. Aaron, years earlier, had fashioned a golden calf, and didn’t suffer any consequences until the end of his life when he also was not allowed to enter the Promised Land.

The point is, God isn’t limited by our expectations. He can forgive the repentant, even someone like King Manasseh who had instituted child sacrifice, though undoubtedly Job’s three friends would have demanded that He strike the man down in the midst of his wickedness.

But God, who is merciful and all-knowing and just, can be trusted to do what is right with the lives and souls of the people He created. He doesn’t have to fit the formula Job’s friends created—in fact, He doesn’t. Theirs was a works theology—do the right things and God has to bless. Stray from His demands, and He will rain suffering down.

They didn’t understand what it meant to believe God to be sovereign, to trust Him to do what is right, even when His action is surprising and unexpected and even sometimes painful. They didn’t know Him and love Him. They more nearly knew about Him and used Him—in Job’s case, to chastise a man suffering horrific loss. With friends like them . . .

Published in: on January 4, 2016 at 6:49 pm  Comments (2)  
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Majesty Replaced By Mystery

A few years ago, because I wanted to look up something about God’s character, I pulled out my copy of The Knowledge of the Holy by A. W. Tozer, then decided it was time to re-read that slim volume again. The preface alone was arresting.

In reference to the hearer, Tozer says the “message must be not only timeless but timely.” He then launches in on the rationale for his book—Christians have a low view of God. (If he thought this back in 1961 when he wrote the book, imagine what he would think today!)

The low view of God entertained almost universally among Christians is the cause of a hundred lesser evils everywhere among us. A whole new philosophy of the Christian life has resulted from this one basic error in our religious thinking…

The only way to recoup our spiritual losses is to go back to the cause of them and make such corrections as the truth warrants. The decline of the knowledge of the holy has brought on our troubles. A rediscovery of the majesty of God will go a long way toward curing them. It is impossible to keep our moral practices sound and our inward attitudes right while our idea of God is erroneous or inadequate. If we would bring back spiritual power to our lives, we must begin to think of God more nearly as He is. (pp 6-7, emphases here and throughout are mine)

Because Tozer started with the remark about the timeliness of the message, I had to ask, is this a timely message for postmodern America? What I hear and read most often proclaims God’s mystery, not His majesty. In fact, a quick check using Google search revealed seven times more blog articles discussing God and mystery than God and majesty.

Of course, if those using the term “mystery” actually mean “transcendence,” then they’re on the right track. But too often the meaning is, “We cannot know”; God—the great Question Mark, about which we cannot know and should not claim to know—is hidden from us.

Except, all throughout Scripture, God declares who He is. Take Exodus 29:46 for example:

They shall know that I am the LORD their God who brought them out of the land of Egypt, that I might dwell among them; I am the LORD their God.

Or how about Hosea 6:3:

So let us know, let us press on to know the LORD.
His going forth is as certain as the dawn;
And He will come to us like the rain,
Like the spring rain watering the earth.

Then there is Hebrews 8:11 quoting from Jeremiah:


Christ, the mediator between God and Man has made this possible.

For in Him [Christ] all the fullness of deity dwells in bodily form (Colossians 2:9)

Then we have Jesus’s own statement:

“If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him.” (John 14:7)

A mystery, God is not, at least for those who know Jesus Christ.

This contradicts our postmodern culture. Our problem, then, seems to be that we no longer grasp the majesty of God because we no longer believe it is possible to do so. Who could grasp what is shrouded in mystery?

What a subversive lie Satan has introduced. (He’s good at that, being the father of lies). First the idea that God is unknowable undermines the authority of the Bible. If we can’t know because God is mystery, then whoever or whatever claims knowledge of God is suspect. No longer is the believer to give definitive answers, and the one who seeks and keeps seeking is considered wise.

Except this position contradicts Jesus Himself.

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. (Matt 7:7-8)

Throughout the Bible, God promises Himself to those who seek Him:

  • But from there you will seek the LORD your God, and you will find Him if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul. (Deut. 4:29)
  • the LORD is with you when you are with Him. And if you seek Him, He will let you find Him; but if you forsake Him, He will forsake you. (2 Chron. 15:2b)
  • You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. (Jer. 29:13)
  • Draw near to God and He will draw near to you (James 4:8a)

A. W. Tozer took it upon himself to write The Knowledge of the Holy as his timely, timeless message—a way of calling Christians back to an elevated view of God.

It seems to me we have a different timely, timeless message to convey today before we can grasp Tozer’s—that is, God revealed Himself precisely because He wants to be known. Would Jesus have come in the form of man, lived on earth, and died otherwise? Would God have sent His Holy Spirit if He didn’t plan for us to have an intimate relationship with Him? Would He have given us Scripture if He didn’t want us to know about His person, plan, and work?

At every turn, God reveals Himself so that we can enter into relationship with Him.

Thus says the LORD, “Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the LORD. (Jer. 9:23-24)

This article with some changes is a reprint of one that first appeared here in March 2012.

Published in: on November 24, 2015 at 6:47 pm  Comments (2)  
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Reprise: Traditions Of Men

Denver Broncos Tim_Tebow_TebowingPaul said to the church in Colossae that they should see to it no one captured their thinking by philosophy and empty deception according to the traditions of men or according to the elementary principles of the world (2:8). In thinking recently about celebrity Christians, I admit to some question about how we believers are to conduct ourselves in the world.

By way of explanation, Rebeca Seitz, a PR professional who taught at the Mount Hermon Christian Writer’s Conference some years ago, anchors her work in the idea that we live in a celebrity culture—the one God placed us in—therefore, we need to learn how to be celebrity Christians, which is considerably different than regular celebrities.

In other words, as I understand it, Rebeca says we should learn to use the traditions of men. I’m reminded of God’s instructions to the Israelites the day before they left Egypt. Along with the particulars of the Passover, He told them to go to their neighbors and ask them for articles of gold and silver. Then this:

and the LORD had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have their request. Thus they plundered the Egyptians. (Exodus 12:36)

As it turned out, the gold and silver they took from the Egyptians ended up being the gold and silver they would turn around and give for the work of the tabernacle. So God had them make use of the culture in which they’d been living for His purposes. He did that with Abraham, with Jacob when he worked for Laban, in Joseph’s day there in Egypt, and years later when Joshua led Israel into the cities once belonging to the Canaanites.

Over and over God blessed his chosen people through the generosity of others or through victory over other ethnic groups. At the same time, He promised that through Israel all the nations would be blessed. Yet they weren’t to mimic the ways of those nations. They weren’t to intermarry, weren’t to adopt their gods, weren’t to follow their traditions.

In Paul’s words, they weren’t to be taken captive by philosophy or empty deception according to the traditions of men.

The point here is that the prohibition against adopting the worldview and lifestyles of the people around them was not a prohibition against interacting with them. King David, for example, teamed up with Hiram, King of Tyre, to build his palace, then to provide some of the material Solomon would need to build the temple.

The question is, how should a Christian today react to our culture? We aren’t a separate nation like Israel was. We’re integrated as were Daniel and Nehemiah and Joseph, and for a time, Moses. Daniel and Moses, we know, received their education at the government’s expense — the pagan government. Joseph and Nehemiah worked for their respective king — their respective pagan king.

I conclude that “culture” isn’t the problem. The traditions of men aren’t poison. The key is the actual admonition in Paul’s statement — “See to it that no one takes you captive” (emphasis mine). The point he wanted to get across in this section of his letter has to do with truth versus error. Earlier he explained: “I say this so that no one will delude you with persuasive argument” (Col. 2:4).

I think it’s easy to look at the disappointing and discouraging things in our society and feel like the best part of valor would be to retreat. Paul wasn’t advocating that here. After telling the Colossian believers to set their mind on things above, he went on to give a string of commands that were very earthly: put aside anger, do not lie, forgive each other, wives submit, husbands love, children obey, do your work heartily. Then this:

Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person. (4:5-6)

Am I to run from the culture—the traditions of men? I suppose if that’s the only way I can be sure someone won’t take me captive, but as a general rule, it seems to me we’re to stay where we are, surrounded by the traditions of men, but we’re to make sure we don’t get caught in their sway. We need to recognize them for what they are—empty deception—and live accordingly.

Clouds Without Water

Lookout-960x700It’s been a delightfully cloudy day here in drought-ridden Southern California. I heard via Facebook from a friend who lives in the middle of the state that they were having rain. Ah, if only our clouds would produce some rain. But the weather forecast gave us only a fifty percent chance of getting measurable precipitation from this weather event.

So I look with longing at the gray sky, the unproductive sky that promises by appearances to bring us what we need, only to disappoint in the end.

Jude uses these kinds of clouds as a metaphor to describe false teachers. They looked promising on the outside, but like a tree that appears healthy and productive, yet doesn’t yield any fruit, false teachers don’t give what hungry hearts need.

Perhaps the worst trait of these false teachers is that they create division in the Church. They are “hidden reefs in your love feasts” and care for themselves, not for others. They are mockers who follow their own lusts; they cause divisions, are worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit. (Jude 1:18-19).

I’ve been thinking about division in the church of late. Jesus said, “By this all men will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35) So we are to love other Christians—that’s unequivocal. But love doesn’t always look like unity.

I mean when a child disobeys a parent and receives discipline, there may be a time when the relationship seems to hang in the balance. The child is angry and rebellious and determined not to give in. The parent is frustrated and adamant and determined not to give in. Where’s the unity in that?

So love doesn’t always look like unity, though the appearance might be passing.

In those moments when there’s a struggle, when love desires unity, a mending of the brokenness, there’s a temptation to yield for no other reason than to restore togetherness. And in the back of my mind, I’ve thought, isn’t that what love is supposed to do?

But here is this passage in Jude saying the mockers, the ungodly ones who have crept into the Church, are causing divisions. Is it the responsibility of believers to yield to the demands of the ones creating division, the “persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (v 4b)?

So how do we know who is turning grace into a license to sin?

I’d say, we have to turn to the authority of God’s word to answer that question. Who is advocating a departure from the clear instruction of the Bible?

In our culture there are progressives who “deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” by re-imaging Him or reducing Him to a mere man or stripping from Him the miraculous power He demonstrated day in and day out.

There are also people on both sides of the sex wars who ignore Scripture’s instruction to husbands and wives, who care more for themselves and their advancement than they care for God’s name and glory. Talk about divisions!

The sad thing is, these progressives, these feminists or advocates for the manoshpere, are clouds without water. No rain comes from them to wash away the grim, to water the soil, to produce a crop. In other words, all their rhetoric doesn’t solve any problems. In fact, they create divisions in the Church. They are the problems.

But what are the rest of us to do? Hating disunity, do we capitulate?

Sure, OK, if you want to believe the Bible is true as a metaphor and not literally true, we’re fine with that. We don’t want there to be any division in the church. Or, sure, if you want to believe that a husband as the head of his wife can—or should—dominate her and control her instead of serve her and sacrifice for her as Christ did for the Church, we don’t want to actually denounce you, because, you know, unity. Or how about this one—sure, if you want to believe that there are certain things we have to do in order to be saved, that’s your choice, so you can be part of our church and teach in our Bible studies because we don’t want to offend you or cause division.

The people following God’s word are not causing the divisions. It’s the people who are departing from the Bible that are causing divisions. What are we who believe the Bible to do—rail against the offenders? picket? leave for a different church?

The latter seems to be the choice of a good many Christians. Or maybe it’s just leave without the “for a different church” part.

But leaving isn’t an option, God commands us to assemble together. And any other congregation is as likely to have hidden reefs as the one we’re thinking of leaving.

Here’s what Jude tells believers to do:

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)

I’ll distill that into four points:

1) grow some spiritual muscle by praying, maintaining your relationship with God, and looking forward to life with Him.
2) have mercy on people who are doubting
3) save others
4) have mercy with fear on those living in sin

What does it look like to have mercy on those who are doubting or who are living in sin? That’s another whole blog post, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t involve hurling invective, in person or on line.

We’re Number One

_World_Series_pregame_eventsFrom Little League to professional teams, those involved in sports—and their fans—are playing so they can be number one. In fact, throughout the season and on into the play-offs crowds have been known to break into a chant: “We’re number one! We’re number one! We’re number one!”

Except, the team they’re supporting is number one of what?

The league my middle school team belonged to when I was coaching, consisted of eight teams from private Christian schools scattered around western LA County. So yes, some seasons, we finished as number one, but one of eight! In a relatively small area of SoCal. Among Christian schools. With students aged 11 to 14.

How easy it is to lose sight of the big picture in our rush to declare our number one status. Nobody is thinking about all those high school teams that could wipe the floor with us. Or the college teams that would undoubtedly be tempted to pat us on the head and tell us how cute it was that we were trying to play.

When we’re talking about young people and sports, it’s not a big deal that we set aside the comparisons and allow winning teams to celebrate. Unfortunately this we’re-number-one mentality seems to be more and more pervasive in all of life, including our spiritual lives. Some set their hearts on being number one, to the point that they push the Only True Number One aside and claim the position for themselves.

The truth is, there can only be one Number One. That’s true in sports and in life. When all is said and done, one team will surface that is better on a given day than all other amateur and professional teams in that sport. If we add a qualifier—the number one college team, for instance—we are immediately acknowledging that the ranking is not universal. Not even for that one season.

So too spiritually. We as individuals or humankind as “a team” cannot be number one if God is number one. And yet time and again, we shove God aside and go our own way, do what we think is best, believe what seems right to us regardless of what God has said. I’ve read more times than I like words people have written stating that “if God is like that [whatever “that” is in the particular discussion], I want no part of him.”

Whenever a person reserves the right to believe in God only if He fits into his mold of “what God ought to be like,” then that person might as well break into the I’m-number-one chant.

Sadly, and almost unfathomably, there are people who name the name of Christ and hold this kind of position: If God’s going to condemn homosexuals who truly love each other, then I want no part of him. If God expects a woman to give up control of her body, I want no part of him. If God doesn’t want women to be leaders in his church, I want no part of him.

Some even reach the point of believing they want no part of God because he didn’t heal them or give them a better job or a bigger house. They don’t want any part of God because his people are hypocrites or greedy or mean spirited or abusive. In other words, God didn’t step in and create an environment that makes them safe and happy and fulfilled from the day they were born until the day they die.

I ran across (on the internet) still another group that claim to be Christians (I think), but who misuse Scripture so they can loudly proclaim, We’re number one!

There have been any number of others—false teachers, peddling a different gospel, such as the “agnostic Christians” or trinitarians or universalists or progressives or emergents. Some of these have said outlandish things—are we nicer than God? for instance—and their errors are not that hard to spot.

This latest false teaching simply twists what God’s word has to say about men and women. I don’t know if this group is large or small, organized or haphazard, but some are vocal, pushing their ideas in the “manosphere” (yes, they really use that term). And what are these ideas? They are essentially pushing back against feminism. They claim that God put men in charge, to exert “power and control.” You see, they say they believe in headship.

God did, in fact, make a husband the head of his wife, but He specifically used Jesus Christ as the example of what that headship looked like. Think about Jesus for a moment: He washed His disciples’ feet, the night of His arrest and trial. He came to earth as a sacrifice, that by His death we who believe in Him might be healed. Add in what we learn in Philippians—that Christ humbled Himself, emptied Himself, learned obedience to the point of death on the cross.

So where, I ask, does the idea of power and control come from in regard to headship? It certainly isn’t from Jesus.

Certainly God is sovereign, so He is in control, and He does have power—all power, in fact. But in His treatment of us, He exercises His love, mercy, compassion, kindness, gentleness, patience in order to bring us to Himself.

Furthermore, He tells us that if we draw near to Him, He will draw near to us. In other words, He doesn’t force us to go against our will. If we choose to reject Him, He lets us go—though He’s made it clear there will be eternal consequences for rejecting Him.

The point is, God doesn’t use His power and control to bully us into submission. He loves us and asks us to love Him back by yielding to Him—not the same thing as making us bow the knee.

So here are these men claiming to be Christians who ignore the example Jesus Christ set for husbands and their responsibility to be the head of their homes. Love and service and sacrifice? Certainly not, they say. Headship means power and control!

Well, no. Only in their manosphere where they’re gathered to chant, “We’re number one!” God’s definition of headship doesn’t look anything like the bullying and even abuse these men dispense. They apparently are so fixated on their own need for power and control that they can’t see how they are pushing Jesus aside and telling Him He didn’t do headship the right way.

Reprise: Have We Neutered God?

Aerial_view_of_damage_to_Kirikiri,_Otsuchi,_a_week_after_a_9.0_magnitude_earthquake_and_subsequent_tsunamiThe day after the 2011 earthquake in Japan, a couple Christians started taking bets on when the first Christian “leader” (the qualification is theirs) would say something about God’s judgment on this Buddhist nation. Undoubtedly they had in mind what Pat Robertson said after the Haitian quake in January 2010.

As reports came in about the tsunami that same day, every TV station seemed to have a segment of their earthquake coverage devoted to a geophysicist with a diagram of the Pacific Ring of Fire and a second diagram of two tectonic plates under the ocean moving toward one another with one slipping under the other (subduction). The resulting movement, one expert said, displaces water, sending waves surging to shore.

On one hand, a good scientific explanation from the media about what causes an earthquake and a tsunami.

On the other, a backhanded repudiation from Christians that God would “send” the earthquake against Japan.

That’s it then. We’ve moved God aside to let Nature take its course. Nature, we understand. After all, the experts have studied these tectonic plates. They’ve created devices to measure the energy an earthquake releases. They can pinpoint where the epicenter is, and the hypocenter, and how deep within the earth’s crust the event occurred.

God? We can’t study Him. Don’t know what He might be thinking or why He would choose Japan over, say, Libya, or, for that matter, the U. S. Besides, God just wouldn’t do something so randomly devastating. I mean, good people undoubtedly died in the quake and its aftermath. How could we possibly believe this event was something He sent? It would be unjust, cruel, not something a loving God would do.

Or so we think as we peer through our world-colored glasses.

For the moment, set aside the fact that Scripture records God using a natural disaster to wipe out the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, expressly because of the extent of their wickedness. Instead, ask this question. Supposing the geophysicists are right and the quake happened because one tectonic plate slipped under the edge of another, what caused the slip?

Subducting tectonic plates

Scientists have a number of theories. One idea is that the variation in topography and density of the crust result in differences in gravitational forces that drive the seafloor away from the spreading ridge which combines with drag (think, water drag against a speedboat) and downward suction.

A second explanation is that different forces generated by the rotation of the Globe and tidal forces of the Sun and the Moon create movement.

A third idea suggests that mantle convection (“the slow creeping motion of Earth’s rocky mantle caused by convection currents carrying heat from the interior of the Earth to the surface” Wikipedia) is tied to the movement of the plates.

Behind these possible explanations, however, is the question, what causes the convection currents or the tidal forces or the drag or the downward suction or the variation of the topography or the thinner oceanic crust? In other words, in a cause-effect scientific study, what is the first cause?

Ultimately, those of us who believe in God will answer, He is that first cause.

But are we saying that He, in watchmaker-like fashion, started the processes and has since, stepped back and is looking on to see what will happen next?

Or do we believe He who created the world and understands all its make up and function, who set down in Scripture the fact that the earth divided (something corroborated by the continental drift theory now widely held), and who has prophesied an increase in seismic activity as the day of the Lord draws nearer and nearer, is intimately involved in this world?

Sadly, throughout time man has declared that God is dead or irrelevant or nonexistent. But perhaps worst of all is this Christian version of this theme—that He is, but He is not powerful. He might have something to say about spiritual things (and then, only if it’s related to love and forgiveness), but the physical is beyond His reach.

This view, of course, contradicts Scripture. First is the clear revelation of His nature—He is omnipotent. He demonstrated this by His act of creation:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
– Gen 1:1

Since then, He has sustained what He made:

For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.
– Col 1:16-17 [emphasis mine]

How He holds things together is coincidentally similar to how He created the world in the first place:

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power.
– Heb 1:1-3 [emphasis mine]

And yet we are to believe He is standing by, wringing His hands, grieving over the uncontrollable events foisted on the human race by nature?

If God is God, that idea is absurd. And if God is God, we had better start paying attention to what He’s said in His word, because acts of God are not accidents of God. He has a purpose, and it would be wise of us to start talking in an intelligent way, informed by Scripture, about what that purpose might be.

With some minor changes this article is a reprint of one that appeared in March 2011.