November 10, 2014

Obedience: a family thing

"Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love..."
1 Peter 1:22a

This verse strikes me. It catches me off-guard, and tells me something I do not expect.

I am a Calvinist. About as Calvinist as they come, subscribing to all five points of the classic TULIP acrostic:

Total Depravity
Unconditional Election
Limited Atonement
Irresistible Grace
Perseverance of the Saints

Which basically is a more complex way of saying that I believe salvation to be a work of God, not man, lest anyone boast (Ephesians 2:8-9). So, when it comes to thinking about purification, my mind typically thinks of the objective purifying we experience by being identified with Christ, our sin-bearer and righteousness-giver (2 Corinthians 5:21). He bore my sins in His body, therefore in the eyes of God they no longer are borne by me.

Now, let's glance back at our opening verse. How does Peter say his readers have purified their souls? By obedience to the truth. That's interesting. I want to briefly consider two things that I think Peter is saying to us here.

1) There is a very true sense in which trusting Christ as Savior and Lord is itself an act of obedience to the truth. Jesus is the truth ( John 14:6) and He himself demands that sinners repent (Mark 1:15). We see in John's gospel the intimate connection between belief and obedience (compare John 3:16 and 3:36). This could well be Peter's primary meaning in this passage, in fact I tend to believe it is, since he refers to their obedience in the past-tense. So we need to see that obedience to Christ, first of all displayed in trusting Him for salvation, purifies our souls.

2) There is however a secomd part of this, the part that struck me afresh today. That is, obedience is something I am continually called to, and thus obedience to the truth will have a continual purifying effect on my soul. This is perfectly in keeping the command but a few verses earlier to "be holy, for I am holy." There is the promise of holiness for all who believe in Christ, but there is also a command to pursue it. Likewise here, for all who trust in Christ there is the guarantee of a purification of the soul, but there is also a command to purify our souls. By our own power? Of course not. Paul reminds the Philippian believers to, "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure." (Philippians 2:12a-13)

Finally I want to consider what purpose God has in this. He purifies our souls objectively in Christ, and calls us to pursue it practically in our lives. But to what end? "For a sincere brotherly love." The purifying of my soul, while having profound impact on me, is not ultimately about me. It is for a brotherly love, a serving of others, particularly of other Christians. Believing in Christ isn't just about you being saved from Hell. It's about God creating a people, a family, for Himself. His purifying you by the work of His Son and the power of His Spirit is to make you fit to join this family, not merely relish in your personal rescue.

November 03, 2014

Hating the Sabbath

This is a little more journaly than I normal put up here, because I wrote it straight to me. Hope it's helpful.


Yesterday was Sunday. My only day off of the week. Andie made breakfast, we went to church as a family. Surprisingly, both kids sat through the entirety of the sermon. That was a relief. Andie took them home during Sunday School, and I taught a class. Was filling in for another teacher, so I taught on the importance of the preached word, taking Romans 10:13-17 amd 1 Timothy 3:15-4:2 as my primary texts. Rest of the day was wholly unproductive.

Took the family to Taco Johns, tried unsuccessfully to nap, then went to my mother-in-law's house (our normal destination on a Sunday afternoon). Spent the rest of the day watching football and a movie. It could have been a relaxing, enjoyable afternoon. Instead, I spent a good part of the time fretting over what I wasn't getting done. I have next week's Sunday School lesson to prep. I have two Absolute curriculum lessons to write, one to video and upload (along with editing it's manuscript), blog posts I should work on, books to read. Yet I did nothing. And I was wracked with guilt for it. But should I have been? Jesus says in Mark that the Sabbath was made for man. God commands a day of rest in Exodus.

Yahweh commands it, Jesus commends it: why am I afraid to practice it? Especially in a life where I am so bogged down constantly by fatigue; how could I not relish the gift of a day free from labor? I don't know. I don't know.

I worship myself. My productivity, my performance, my adding value to the world. It won't be remembered. It. Will. Not. Be. Remembered. That's one of the main points in Ecclesiastes. Whereas, obedience to God and doing what He has actually said to do, that has benefits to the thousandth generation! Don't hate the Sabbath. Thank God for the gift that it is, and enjoy it. He has given you six other days to be productive.

October 30, 2014

Jesus Calling

Some thoughts thought along the mail route today:

I reflect often on the inclination of Christians-praying, church attending, Bible reading Christians-to desire something more from their Christian life than, well, what I just described. There is, it seems to me, a very pervasive attitude that says, "yes, praying, church, Bible reading. All well and good, but I want something more. I want God to speak to me personally." I want to address, not the sole cause of this, but a particular cause that I believe to be both large and overlooked. Let's start with some Bible.

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.
2 Timothy 3:16-4:2

I have read a number of blogs, articles, etc, addressing the problem of what we might call Christianity plus, where the author turns to this passage to make the point that, ''hey guys, the Bible is enough!'' I have, in fact, done this myself. It's a good point to make, a Biblical point to make, an important point to make. The Bible is all we need. If you want a personal word from the Lord, look no further than His personal revelation of Himself.

That being said, many folks who faithfully read that Bible which is God's self-revelation, and walk away feeling...blah, perhaps? This has often been the case for me. And though my sample pool of acquaintances is not particularly large, many conversations I've had reveal a similar experience. Coming to the Bible is supposed to do what, exactly? Cause keeping my eyes open seems hard enough.

Now combine a typical evangelical Christianity that emphasizes a dynamic, thriving, and above all, personal, relationship with Jesus, and add to that our lethargic experience of the same; is it any wonder many are left discouraged, wanting more? Here is where I want us to notice something in the words of Paul to young Timothy.

Paul tells Timothy that the very words of Scripture are breathed out by God, and, being God's words, they are profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness. Why? That the man of God may be equipped for every good work. Scripture itself is enough to do this. Now, here is the kicker. What does Paul charge Timothy to do in reply to this information regarding the nature, sufficiency, and power of God's word? He tells Timothy to "Preach the word!" (NKJV)

God has ordained that through His word He will teach us, reprove us, correct us, train us in righteousness, and fit us for every good work (and let us not forget, to lead us to Himself through Jesus, see 1 Tim 3:15). But He has also ordained the means by which His word will do this. Namely, preaching. The preached word is not merely the transmitting of information from the preacher to the people. As others have pointed out, there are more effective ways for information to be passed along, shared, and remembered. Preaching, by definition, is the proclamation of God's word to God's people. It has at its heart not the mere transfer of facts, ideas, or life tips, but the proclaiming of what Almighty God has done in Christ, and how we are to respond. Preaching is, to use the Old Testament language, "thus says the Lord." And when His word is preached, and applied to hearts by His Holy Spirit, it is then that it does its work of teaching, correcting, etc.

Most of you reading this are not preachers. Neither am I. I used to have that opportunity fairly often, but for the last year my primary experience of preaching has been from the pew. What would happen, I wonder, if we walked into church on Sunday morning with an expectancy to hear the word of the Lord? What if, instead of expecting that God was going to show up in my quiet time in a still small voice (a silly expectation, frankly), I could know that He speaks clearly through His word, and that I would hear it audibly proclaimed to my ears and to my heart, every Sunday morning at 8:45? Perhaps my time in God's word during the week would be more satisfying if I understood that time to be a supplement to sitting regularly under the ministry of the word. Perhaps Jesus really is calling-through the voice of the man in the pulpit.

October 11, 2014

Approaching Suicide

I intend to be brief here. In recent days a young woman named Brittany Maynard has made headlines with her campaign for "death with dignity" laws, and for her moving to Oregon recently so that she might take advantage of theirs. Diagnosed with cancer at age 29, Brittany has decided to end her life on November 1st.

Many people, including my fellow Christians, are distraught over this. Over her personal choice to end her life, and over the legality of doctors assisting her to do so in Oregon and four other states. That we have become a culture willing to celebrate self-murder, as it used to be called, is indeed very disturbing. I do not wish to argue those concerns, but rather applaud them.

Exodus 20:13 is very succinct on this subject, "You shall not murder." We don't have the right to kill another person (we can discuss times of war and capital punishment another day). You also do not have a right to kill yourself. Why? Because our bodies do not fundamentally belong to us, contra western thought. Our bodies belong first of all to God who made us. They further belong, to a lesser and varying extent, to the other people in our lives. Husbands, wives, sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, friends, coworkers, extended family members, and acquaintances all have some claim to us. They are not part of a drama constructed with me at its center, where I may do whatever I want, consequences to them be damned. We each play a part in the larger story of history that God himself is telling, and we bear obligation not only to him, but the other players as well, to play our part in submission to Him. Even whem that means hard things. Even when that means death. Death is not, and never has been, intended to be on my terms. The day of death belongs to God alone.

This said, I want to encourage my brothers and sisters in Christ with Proverbs 15:1,

A soft answer turns away wrath,
but a harsh word stirs up anger.

Some of what I have read that has been directed at Brittany Maynard, or at the idea of suicide in general, disturbs me greatly. This, of all topics, is not one to approach with a high-handed self-righteousness. Is self-murder selfish? Yes, it is. Is it rooted more in an escapism that is afraid of reality more than a courageous facing of it? I think that is beyond doubt. But when I see folks just throwing those statements around, it really makes me wonder: have you ever tried to talk someone off the ledge? Have you ever stayed all night sitting at the kitchen table begging your friend to see the value in their life that you see, that others see, that God sees? Have you listened to the stories of the harships which they have walked through that have brought them here? Have you laid in bed at night begging God for the words to speak when you know your friend is teetering on the brink?

You see, this is not an abstract question dealing only with people "out there." This is a question that deals with real people, whom you know - if you will take the time to know them. To listen to them. To love them. Before it's too late.

September 27, 2014

A dim mirror?

1 Corinthians 13:12 ESV

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

Paul says here that, in this life, we see dimly. Those of you who spend much time reading Christian books or blogs will doubtless come across an argument something like this: "because we can only see dimly, and as finite creatures could never fully know the infinite God, we shouldn't focus too much on trying to nail down what the Bible says or means; because by its own admission, we never will."

What I want to encourage you with is this: if God had given us the tools (eg, the Bible, a rational mind, books and other resources from others who have studied) with which to make the mirror less dim in this life, we have no only the ability but the responsibility to make use of those means and to understand Him as well in this life as we possibly can. Don't be afraid to think really hard about God. He wants to be known.

Just because a mirror is dim doesn't make it virtuous to leave the mirror covered in dirt. Especially when you hold in your hand a rag and soapy water.

For further study: John 1:14, 18; Hebrews 1:1-4

September 20, 2014

Christian words

A brief doctrine of words.

Christians worship the Word (John 1:1), whom we know through His word (John 5:39). We are called to be His ambassadors, ministers of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-20), a task which demands the use of words (Romans 10:14). Words matter.

God has spoken to us in His Son (Hebrews 1:2), who, as we have already said, we come to know through the written pages of Scripture. This Scripture, and the knowledge it brings us of God in Christ, is sufficient to bring salvation, to teach us all we need to know in order to live God honoring lives, and to equip us for all He has called us to do (2 Timothy 3:15-17). We should then study this word. Its message is life giving and life enabling. We ought to endeavor to communicate its life-giving truth to others, verbally and through the written page.

Words are foundational to our life as humans, image bearers of the God who spoke all life into existence (Genesis 1). But they bear special importance for those of us who worship this same God. Other things do matter. Our actions validate our words and prove that there is something behind them (James 2:14). As I was reminded this evening, talk is cheap, but it takes money to buy whiskey. However, the import of action does nothing to negate the foundational and essential nature of words for the Christian. Let us ever endeavor to better understand His words, and to represent them well with our own.

September 10, 2014

Awe and Wonder

Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
Matthew 19:13-14 NIV

Jesus' words in Matthew 19 are familiar to many of us. You have most likely heard a sermon, read a blog, or been encouraged by someone to be more childlike in your faith. This is, I think, a good thing. Jesus does tell us here that "to such as these" belong the kingdom of heaven. But what does that mean? Again, we are familiar with exhortations to such things as humility and simple faith. I have no desire to contradict those here, both are concepts taught many other places in Scripture. I wonder, however, if we miss something when we equate childlikeness only with humility and trusting faith.

I am far from being a child expert, but I have been around a few during the course of my life. Being the oldest of 11 siblings, and having one child of my own, something different has always struck me as the distinctive childlike trait. Wonder. When I first wrote this, we were finishing up the Christmas season. You will often hear parents say that there is no need to actually purchase presents for small children; they are enamored enough with wrapping paper and cardboard boxes. While said in a jesting fashion, it's only funny, Bob the Tomato might say, because it's true. Children can take what we see simply as garbage and entertain themselves for hours on end. They are happy with simple toys like plastic utensils and stuffed polar bears. And oh, the toys that make noise. My little girl will push the buttons on her singing dog incessantly ... a difficult task when she is busy dancing to the music coming out of this magic machine.

I watch her, and I ponder. "Why am I not like this?", is often the question I ask myself. Not over toys and boxes. But over the marvelous things I walk past every day. Trees blowing in the wind, squirrels running through the leaves, flowers in a garden, snow flakes falling gently on my nose: are these not miracles worthy of awe, of wonder? Even more so the great realities of salvation.

Jesus, the Creator of all, whom we as human beings have rebelled against, rejected and scorned, entered human history by being born in a stable to a poor, unwed teenage mother, lived in a no-name town in the middle east for 30+ years, then after roughly three years of ministry was brutally murdered, bearing not only the human punishment for crimes not commited, but the wrath of Almighty God for the sins of men, soaking up all the wrath that God had toward us for our sin, and then dying. But not only dying; rising again, conquering death, becoming the firstfruit of eternal life, and offering this eternal life to all who would place their hope and trust in His sacrifice. He told His rag tag group of followers that they would be His witnesses to the world, and through the message of what He has done and its reality in the lives of individuals and communites, the entire world has been changed. Moreover, He has promised to return again in power and glory, righting every wrong, restoring creation, punishing the unrepentant sinner, rewarding His faithful, wiping every tear from their eyes and dwelling eternally with them as their God and King.

Can we read this story and not be struck through with awe? Can we not be amazed that, as the hymnist put it, "thou my King shouldst die for me"? It is easy to be bored with the Christian life. To come to our Bibles as we come to our toothbrush. To approach church like a meeting at work or an assembly at school. Perhaps not the low part of our day, but certainly not anything we're jazzed about. And I can't help but think that this is, at least in part, because we've lost how simply marvelous and amazing our God is. We desperately need a shot of childlike wonder in our view of life. In our view of God and His word. Perhaps this is why Jesus said, "the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these."

September 01, 2014

10 Influences

I read an interesting list today from Drew G. I. Hart over at the Christian Century on 10 books that had "stuck" with him (you can read that piece here: http://www.christiancentury.org/blogs/archive/2014-09/10-books). I thought posting a list of my own would be fun. Bear in mind that my reading is fairly narrow and some books have, I'm sure, made impacts on me that I do not consciously notice or remember, making these lists far more fun than useful. But they are fun.

In no particular order:

1. The Holiness of God: R.C. Sproul

2. Don't Waste Your Life: John Piper

3. The Great Divorce: C.S. Lewis

4. Bonhoeffer: Eric Metaxas

5. Future Grace: John Piper

6. Lasting Valor: Vernon Baker

7. A Sweet and Bitter Providence: John Piper

8. Surprised by Joy: C.S. Lewis

9. Radical: David Platt

10. Systematic Theology: Wayne Grudem

July 14, 2014

Valuing Life

Just a couple brief thoughts.

I was flipping back through Rodney Stark's, "The Triumph of Christianity" yesterday. And one of the themes he explains to be prominent in the early years of the church was the opposition to the (widely embraced) practice of infanticide. The exposing of children to the elements, often on dump heaps, was most often done to little girls because the culture valued men more highly. Christians, following in the footsteps of the Jews, rightly rejected this practice as abominable to God, who created mankind in His own image.

And this seeing of humans, women and girls included, as the image bearers of God, is the only sure footing for valuing human life and protecting the dignity of all persons.

And furthermore, this valuing of life provides a stark contrast to much of the world around us. It did in ancient Rome, it does in China with one child laws, it does in America with abortion on demand.

--------

Most of my conservative Christian readers were totally with me to that point.

But I want to take this logic a step further and point out that if we value all human life as being in the image of it's Creator, this continues past the womb, and past infancy. We must care about children and adults as well. Like the flood of immigrants from Central America fleeing drug wars. Like the millions in our prison system. These are also people made in the image of God who deserve our care and compassion.

Many Christians in America need to re-think their positions on things such as prison and border reform. I am not here advocating a particular position, but I am asking to to realize this:

Jesus said "be in the world, not of the world." Not, "be in the world, and not of anything that sounds like a liberal might support it."

July 07, 2014

Christian America?

I have, for a while now, been attempting to communicate to very well-meaning folks that there is not, and has never been a truly Christian nation; and that this statement includes America. I mean to tackle this at length at a later date, but for now here are a couple quotes from Rodney Stark's book, "The Triumph of Christianity" (HarperCollins, 2011). Emphasis is added.

"In 1776, on the eve of the Revolutionary War, only about 17 percent of those living in one of the thirteen colonies actually belonged to a religious congregation; hence more people were probably drinking in the taverns on Saturday night than turned up in church on Sunday morning. As for this being an 'era of Puritanism,' from 1761 through 1800, a third (33.7) of all first births in New England occurred less than nine months after marriage, and therefore single women in Colonial New England were more likely to engage in premarital sex than to attend church." (353)

"The very low level of religious participation that existed in the thirteen colonies merely reflected that the settlers had brought with them the low level that prevailed in Europe. Keep in mind that few of the colonists were members of intense sects who had come to establish Zion in America - Puritans did not even make up the majority of persons aboard the Mayflower. That the Puritans ruled Massachusetts, imposing their morality into law, has tended to mask the fact that, even in Massachusetts most colonists did not belong to a church congregation - only 22 percent did belong." (354)

Hopefully this gives you some food for thought. This country never has been the massively Christian nation that many people seem convinced of. It is easy to look back and romanticize the past. This is not a wise thing to do (Ecclesiastes 7:10). We should be thankful for the good in our history, without feeling the need to cover things we might find less pretty.

June 12, 2014

Loving Yourself

A brief thought here.

God never says "love yourself," "accept yourself," or "I think you're wonderful."

He says,

"You're made in My image, which makes you valuable beyond belief. You are also desperately wicked and broken and deserve to be under my wrath in hell forever. But I love you. Not because you deserve it. You don't. You don't deserve my love or anyone else's. But I choose to love you. I sent my Son to die for you and reconcile you to myself. I'm better than self-love and self-acceptance, and I'm better than love and acceptance from others. I am the greatest person and reality in the universe, and if you will embrace me as your greatest treasure, you will come to see that your need for approval elsewhere isn't actually a need. It is a desire that will shrink until one day, when I perfect you, it will be gone."

Check Romans 3, 5, 8, and 9. This is important. Self-love is one of Satan's biggest ploys in our day, and it sucks in many well-intentioned people. Many. Fight it. We don't need others to love us. We don't need to love ourselves. God loves us. This is not only enough. It's better.

May 28, 2014

Learning the Bible

I have noticed an encouraging trend. That being the urge to provide high quality Biblical education to anyone who wants it, either free of charge or for a very minimal cost.
The traditional paradigm of going to Bible college or seminary if you want to learn about the Bible or pursue ministry is either impractical or impossible for many people.
If this is you, here are three links you may want to check out

Biblical Training
http://www.biblicaltraining.org/

Bible Training Center
http://www.rmbible.org/btc/index.html

Contenders Bible School
http://www.machias.org/bible-school.aspx

I'm a graduate of the Bible Training Center, so my bias is there. However, my main encouragement to you would be to plug into something like this (if your church offers similar classes, so much the better!). If you can go to a brick and mortar school, that is wonderful. Many can't or won't. Don't let that stop you from pursuing a deeper knowledge of God and His word.

As I said, this trend toward providing as much training as possible for minimal to zero cost is a very encouraging one to me. The harvest is plentiful, the laborers few. Let's not restrict potential workers to those who can afford to take on debt or pay for school out of pocket. Let's make it available to any who want to put the sweat, hours, prayer, and effort into becoming equipped.

May 13, 2014

Michael Sam, Matt Walsh, and the rest of it

Before we dive in, I think a slight preface is in order. I try not to comment too often on current events, for a number of reasons.
First of all, I spent several years of my life totally wrapped around what was current, and the reality of this age is that what is current today is obsolete tomorrow. Even stories that get run for a week or more will be long forgotten by this time next year. Why become wrapped up in what is transient?
Secondly, it is often hard to see enough of an issue to make intelligent comment upon it when the issue is still upon us.
There are more reasons, but those two will suffice for now.

So why am I writing now? Well, I am angry.

Last week Michael Sam was taken in the 7th round of the NFL draft, becoming the first openly homosexual player to have had this honor. Unless something goes terribly wrong in training camp or preseason, he will become the first openly homosexual man to play in the NFL. This of course is no small feat considering the hyper-testosteronised (yes, I made that word up) culture of all football, and professional football in particular. The machoism associated with this sport has lent itself to an anti-gay spirit perhaps stronger than the culture-at-large, even when being opposed to homosexuality was still the in thing. That the culture in general, and football culture in particular, have shifted to the point where Michael Sam is not only accepted, but celebrated, is no small thing. Why is this necessary to point out? Because apparently Matt Walsh doesn’t think it is a big deal. Many folks in the ol’ Facebook newsfeed are sharing this piece, to the celebration (er, uh, liking) of some and the chagrin of others.

Before I rip into what I perceive to be the errors in this blog post, let me first say that I like most of what Walsh writes. I find him generally to be a keen observer of culture, one who is generally very engaging and entertaining to read. That his mile-long posts get read gives me hope for my own blog. I also agree with some of the points he makes in this particular post, most especially the point that anyone who claims they want to be evaluated by their on-field performance and then purposefully seeks attention for who they are off the field is probably someone disingenuous in their statement. The logic there is rather irrefutable. However, he misses the mark in two ways that I find particularly egregious.

First, his head-in-the-sand approach to the event. To state that “none of it matters” is to totally miss the obvious fact that it does matter. This would not, could not, have happened 20 years ago. Were there openly homosexual men 20 years ago? Yes. Did any homosexual men play in the NFL 20 years ago? Most likely. But you sure didn't see the coming together of those two, because he would have instantly become a social pariah and been run out of town by all the macho “men” around. That we have seen this much shift, not even in 20 years, but more like 10, is pretty incredible. I personally don’t believe that it’s all for the good (it is good in the sense that people, regardless or "sexual identity" or any other identity, ought to be able to participate in athletics; professionally at that. Good grief.). My position on homosexuality is well-documented on this blog and in other forums. If you have any questions about where I stand you may consult Romans chapter one. But whether or not something is necessarily for the better does not change whether it is relevant, important, or even monumental. This culture has rapidly shifted from a particularly American version of nominal pseudo-Christianity to a progressive, postmodern, post-Christianity in very short order. We need to know this and wrestle with how to relate to this world we live in, not ignore it’s realities.

Second, and more importantly. Would someone please please please please please ban any Christian from the internet who complains the Christians aren't treated fairly by the media?

The double standard is so obvious, so inevitable, and so common that I’m bored with pointing it out. Tell Tebow to stop praising his Lord and Savior, and the country will laugh and cheer along, but tell Sam to stop trying to turn his sex life into international headlines, and you’ll be bound, gagged, and tossed into a river. (From Walsh's blog)

Well, let’s see. Tebow’s Lord and Savior happens to be someone who spoke things that were so offensive that people killed him for them. And we’re surprised when the secular media isn't a fan of Tebow talking about Him? Really? Sam’s lifestyle is one that our culture (increasingly, not totally) accepts and celebrates, and the media supports him. Again, should this really catch us off guard? More to the point, why in the world should this offend us? I fail to see why  people, who claim to follow the Christ of Scripture and believe a New Testament which teaches that we ought not count it strange when fierce trails and accusations come to us, are dismayed and shocked when someone publicly mocks their beliefs. What else did you expect?

Let me again be clear. I do not condone Michael Sam’s lifestyle, or that of anyone practicing homosexuality, or any other sexual sin. These other sins would include (but are not limited to) cohabitation, premarital sex of any sort, divorce without Biblical cause followed by remarriage, adultery, and using pornography. I know and love people in every single one of those categories, and spent multiple years in the last one. I hate sexual sin because it is rebellion against God, and unlike other sins, Paul tells us it is against one’s own body. There is something particular about sexual sin that harms us in ways that other sins do not. But none of these sins are beyond the grace of God. This emphasis is totally lacking not only in Walsh’s blog, but in the responses of many Evangelicals to the world around us today.

We think that because America is changing that the sky must be falling. No. America is changing, and it is simply becoming more clear where people stand with God. It’s becoming a little less comfortable to hold to the historic, Biblical truths handed down. I don’t think that is necessarily a bad thing. It is, however, a significant thing.

I want to end on this final point, which really tails back into my second point. American Christians are particularly susceptible to the idea that there is a “Christian culture” that is crumbling around us. But what we need to realize is that American culture never has been, and never will be, truly or totally Christian. And so we aren't losing some bastion of hope in the world. All we’re losing is comfort. We need to know this, because if we think we’re losing a precious culture and become afraid of this reality, we will see the perceived takers or changers of said culture as our enemies. This is not so. We don’t battle flesh and blood! Our enemy is spiritual. Individual sinners and groups of sinners aren't our enemies. They are the ones Christ has called us to display His love towards, and to tell of His love. He didn't just die for your sins, He died for their sins too. Do we want to hold up a Biblical view of sexuality as better, more lovely, and more freeing? Yes. But this won’t happen if our mindset is “us vs. them.” Our position is distinct from the world, yes. But it is not against the world in anger or fear. It is toward the world in love.  Love tells the truth, calls for repentance, holds the Gospel out freely. It doesn't whine that their being mean to us.

April 20, 2014

Though Night was Dark

Wind shifts, rain falls
Storm comes, night calls

Rainbow disappears in grey
Daytime slowly drifts away

Clouds block starlight
Thunder brings fright

Lightning brightens up night sky
Sticks and branches start to fly

Day comes, storm lifts
Wind dies, clouds drift

Fresh rain smell saturates air
Though night was dark, day is fair

April 17, 2014

Shadow to Reality

Today, roughly 1,980 years ago, Jesus observed the Passover with his disciples for the last time, pointing toward the next day when he would become their Passover lamb. His atoning, sin covering, wrath absorbing blood is applied to all who place their faith and trust in Him; those who would have it placed on the proverbial doorposts of their souls.

The first Passover was a shadow, a picture of Christ to come. It pointed year after year to the necessity of blood to cover sin, and the deliverance afforded to those who trusted God. Jesus made the final sacrifice, and covered it once for all.

April 16, 2014

Crazy Militia Cows

Preface:
I am writing in a state of mind that Martin Luther would call beneficial: seething anger. Seething.

By the time you read this, the story of Cliven Bundy’s cattle being released will be old news, but as I type it is hot off the presses (proverbial as those presses are nowadays).  What has me in this state of seething rage is the fact that many militia groups and some on the political right are hailing this as a victory for freedom. It is quite the opposite. To be fair, the entirety of the issue is not one-sided. But this much is clear: Cliven Bundy ceased paying the necessary permit fees to graze his cattle on BLM land over 20 years ago, and he now owes the government (read: taxpayers, i.e., you and me) in excess of 1 million dollars. When he refused to comply with orders to remove his cattle from the land they were illegally grazing on, BLM went to the courts, where Bundy lost (twice). BLM was authorized to remove the cattle, which were illegally on federal property, and Bundy was instructed not to interfere. Last week the BLM started rounding up those cows. This, for the uninitiated, is something known as law enforcement. Laws are enforced on those who refuse to comply with them. That’s the system.

What else is clear? The government, as always, mishandled the situation. Hitting Bundy’s son with a stun gun, creating “First Amendment Areas” (since when is the Constitution restricted to only certain areas?), and the overall excessive use of intimidating force has gone a long way toward escalating this situation. So while the government is in the right, the government isn’t right. Doing the right thing the wrong way leads to bad things, and this very easily could have escalated into Ruby Ridge or Waco. That said, while I have many bones to pick with the way our federal government handles…well, everything, my particular point this evening is not focused on them. I want to call out those who consider themselves to be proponents of liberty.

My point is three fold.

First: we need to come to grips with the fact the Cliven Bundy is, by definition, a criminal. This person you are jumping up and down, or crouching behind a bunker with an AR-15 to “protect” is not a law-abiding citizen. This blows my mind. The same groups who will laud an Arizona sheriff for rounding up illegal immigrants will turn around here and support a man who is also breaking the law. This is not an apples and oranges comparison. If your issue with people coming to this country illegally is that they break the law, then you logically ought to be upset when other people break other laws. But this man is held up as an example of someone fighting for his rights. What rights? You don’t have a right to run your cows, or sheep, or goats, or any other livestock on federal property without going through the proper permitting and paying the applicable fees. This is because the property doesn’t belong to you, by definition federal property belongs to all Americans, and we entrust particular agencies with regulating and managing that property for the benefit of all of us. Not for the good of one solitary rancher in Nevada. Do I have problems with how that works out sometimes? Of course I do. I’m not sold on sectioning off land because a particular kind of tortoise is endangered. But you know what doesn’t change government policy? Breaking the law. Yet this is what this man has done. His fight for “rights” which he does not have make him a criminal, not a hero.

Secondly, building off of that point: The use, or even show(!), of lethal force against agents of ones own government is not serving the cause of liberty. You may counter and say, “what about the American Revolution?” To which I would say this - the American Revolution was the separating of an organized government from and against a higher form of government. It was not a rebellion of individuals against government itself. That is to say, the revolution was not anarchy. Individuals did have to choose for themselves whether to stay loyal to the crown or to place their loyalties in the fledgling republic, but we must be clear that it was a war between governments.
In this case, how could you possibly make a similar argument? One man decides to ignore the governing force over a particular piece of land based on his own idea of what is right or wrong. While this is a beautiful example of postmodern individualism, it ought to be repugnant to the mind of anyone who appreciates things like peace, order, and the rule of law. What is right and legal is not determined by how I view things, but by outside authorities. In this case the governing authority was BLM. Not Clark County, not the state of Nevada, and not Cliven Bundy. Liberty must exist within the bounds of law, or it ceases to be liberty and becomes anarchy.
Laws change when we work through the due process of our republic. Not when we rebel. Is this hard, slow, tedious? Yes. Are the odds tipped against those who love liberty? In our day, very much so. Does that change what is right or wrong and justify the show of force against the government? Hardly. Do you want to successfully effect positive long-term change? Then take your cues from Ghandi, Wilberforce, and King; not Lenin and Mao.

Third, and finally: as a Christian, I am particularly concerned with how ignorant of the Bible Christians seem to be in regard to how we ought to view government. Let me give you a quick summation of this topic, from Romans 13 and 1 Peter.
Government is a gift from God (Romans 13:3)
Christians are responsible to pay their taxes, and to give due honor to authority (Romans 13:7, 1 Peter 2:17)
Government is one of God’s main methods of punishing wrong and rewarding right (Romans 13:3-4, 1 Peter 2:14)
Rebellion against government is rebellion against God (Romans 13:1-2, 1 Peter 2:13)
All of this to say, government is God’s idea. Not only is it his idea, but he sets up and tears down rulers. He governs how particular agencies will act. He controls land management policy. Disregarding the law in these things is disregarding the command of God. That should sober us. Brothers and sisters, there will come a time, very soon perhaps, when our faith will be a legal problem for us. The apostle Peter would urge us in 1 Peter chapters two and three to be sure that when we have legal trouble, it is for doing what is right. That is, for sharing the Gospel, for helping the helpless, for telling the truth about sin, heaven, hell, creation, salvation, and the human condition. For taking a stand for right, not rights. God promises you no earthly rights. Remember that.

March 09, 2014

Warm day

Oak trees stand naked, stark
White snow contrasts against gray bark

Squirrels more active in the trees
Robin's call cuts through the breeze

Snow melt begins, ice as well
Spring, or fluke? Time will tell

February 01, 2014

And that was enough

"When I was young in the mountains, I never wanted to go to the ocean, and I never wanted to go to the desert. I never wanted to go anywhere else in the world, for I was in the mountains. And that was enough."
Cynthia Rylant, When I Was Young in the Mountains

January 13, 2014

On Family Devotions

Family devotions. Probably two of the scariest words that the average church-going man with children can hear. First there is the feeling of the Holy Spirit's prodding; the, this is a good thing worth pursuing, thought that you know didn't come from your own mind. Then there is the overwhelming realization that you have no clue where to start, the possibility for it to be terribly awkward, and uncertainty as to how your family will take this new-found initiative. These generally combine with the overall busyness of our lives to produce inaction. Which leads to our final product, guilt.

Sound familiar? It does to me. I have no heroic story of overcoming my folly. I simply have a wife who finally asked me when we were going to start doing family devotions, and about a week of doing them under our belts. There have been no deep conversations or children getting saved (my daughter is not yet one!). But I do have a few thoughts as to why this is worth it, and some suggestions that might encourage you to give this a go.

If you are a Christian, relating to God together should be your top family priority.
This may seem simplistic. Think about it, though. Every other thing that is important to your family, be it sports, art, education, etc; demands your time, attention, and conversation. This means that if worshipping God matters to us, it behooves us to worship Him together. Christianity is an inherently corporate religion, and the closest of those connections should be with those in our family. A set aside time is a major step towards this.

Looking to God together brings us closer together in other areas.
There are few things harder for me than to speak with others about that my relationship with God. I realize this bespeaks a spiritual immaturity on my part. I am convinced, though, that the solution is to push through it and speak even when it discomforts me. This has to start with my family. And if I learn to honestly communicate with my family about those things which are ultimately important, how much easier will communication in other areas become?

It doesn't have to be complicated.
I have always imagined family devos being some great and elaborate time of Scripture reading, followed by insightful exegesis by dad, a deep shared time of prayer, and perhaps some singing. Maybe for some families it is, but that is a pretty overwhelming idea to me. Little did I know how meaningful a two minute devotional reading followed by a chapter or so from the Bible and a short prayer can be. I guess my wife didn't expect a church service every night.
Totally baffled as to where to start? Just go to YouVersion and pick a devotional to go through. It's free, it's easy, and they track your progress for you. This isn't rocket science.

It isn't about you.
The idea of family devotions has totally scared the crap out of me because I know how insufficient I am. And if there is anyone else familiar with my failings, it is my wife. Soon enough my daughter will see them, too. But you know what? Family devotions aren't about me being awesome or trying to convince my family that I'm spiritual and smart. They are about me taking my family, all of us sinners, before the throne of grace. When we open God's word or approach Him in prayer or song, we should all see how small and unworthy we are. We all need His grace; grace which He freely gives to those who seek it.

This is what I desire for my family. And this is why it's worth getting past my apprehensions and insecurities; worth moving beyond my shame of past failure, to lead my family before our God. I would encourage you to do the same.

January 10, 2014

Bad Coincidence

"By tragic historical coincidence a period of abysmal under-educating in literacy has coincided with this unexpected explosion of global self-publishing. Thus people who don't know their apostrophe from their elbow are positively invited to disseminate their writings to anyone on the planet stupid enough to double-click and scroll."
Lynne Truss, Eats, Shoots & Leaves pg 182

January 08, 2014

Humming the tune

"On the page, punctuation performs its grammatical function, but in the mind of the reader it does more than that. It tells the reader how to hum the tune."
Lynne Truss, "Eats, Shoots, & Leaves" pg 71

January 05, 2014

It matters how you say it

"What the poet has to say is inextricably intertwined with the way in which he says it, and our appreciation of his ultimate message is enhanced by our delight in his method of presenting it."

Brandon Matthews, "A Study of Versification"

About Me

My photo

I love Jesus, my wife, and my kids. Writing and teaching are two things I have a passion for. Gardening and fishing are cool, too. I blog @ willdole.com, you can reach me @ contact@willdole.com