Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Holy Ostracism

An anonymous commenter posted a link to John Piper's invaluable site in response to my previous post about my gay friend Lou. It's well worth a read:
The Bible clearly says that Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners, and sinners meant sexually active prostitutes or whatever and homosexual people who aren't repentant of their actions. And so, clearly, we should not cut ourselves off from relationships with anybody who is an unbeliever if we can by any means share the love of Christ with them.

But this is describing a person who, without any sense that his Christianity is being imperiled, or his soul, is acting out homosexual desire in sexually active ways. And, in order to avoid censure, he has gone to a church that endorses it.

I think we should abstain from fellowship with that church and abstain from fellowship with him, because the Bible says that if your brother does a certain sin then have nothing to do with him. Withhold your fellowship with him.
He calls this principle "holy ostracism", and goes on to propose how a believer might approach his or her wayward friend.
In other words, you have lunch with him—one final decisive lunch—and you say, "I've really enjoyed having you as a friend. This really grieves me. I'm willing to fight with you to the bitter end to help you war against your sin, just like I would like you to help me war against my sin. But if you make peace with your sin, you're doing what Romans 6 says you can't do as a Christian. And therefore you're acting as a non-Christian, and you're claiming to be a Christian. And the Bible says that I'm not supposed to have anything to do with you, not even to eat with you. And so our friendship is going to have to be broken if you go on like this."

Sunday, April 26, 2009

"And I Am Gay"

No, these aren't my words (Mrs. Jailer may now breathe a sigh of relief). They were the words of one of my dearest friends, as I read them scrawled at the end of his letter. Intended for dramatic effect, they achieved their aim. I had to catch my breath.

Lou had been my roommate in the Philippines. At 22 I was a couple years older than he at the time, and both of us were on our first assignments in the Air Force. Lou and I hit it off from the first, and he was soon accompanying me to Bible study. Everyone seemed to love him, and none more than I did. His faith seemed genuine, if somewhat tenuous, as something about his life seemed strained.

Lou and I went everywhere together, often with a third companion ... the woman who would be the future Mrs. Jailer. The three of us had great adventures together, until the day Lou discovered his two friends had fallen in love with one another. Lou took this news badly, pushing away angrily from both of us. He moved out, avoided us, and went on a campaign to undermine our romance among our mutual friends.

At this point, I made an unusual decision for me. I decided to care. Rather than just ignore Lou and "shake the dust off my feet", I consciously chose to feel the pain of his rejection. It surprised me how deeply I felt the wound, and yet I refused to turn away. God had been speaking to me about trusting Him enough to hurt, and so I would hurt rather than be calloused.

None of this brought Lou back. He skipped the wedding. After he left the Philippines, he left the Air Force, and a couple of years later I received a surprise letter from him. It described his recent love interest in glowing fashion, and then closed with the bombshell. "His name is Ken. He is a man. And I am gay."

It was clearly targeted to test or shock me, and his postscript expressed his doubts that I would ever want to speak to him again, since he knew that Christians hated gays.
I wrote back to Lou, telling him that nothing in his previous letter reduced my affection for him. I expressed that though I believed his romantic choices were sinful, I yet loved him and was unashamed to call him my friend. I explained that faith in Christ isn't license to hate, but in fact helps me to love him even more, as I am also a sinner, saved by grace.

This seemed to surprise him, and his next letter was less confrontational--even friendly. Still, he no longer seemed interested in our friendship, and I heard little more from him. In fact, I eventually lost contact with Lou, and to this day I wonder what became of him. I pray that he might yet repent and find peace and healing for his tormented soul in Christ.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Atheletes, Politics and Down Syndrome Adoptions

Outspoken Christian atheletes are nothing new, but it still warms the heart to hear from "muscular Christians" who live admirable lives. Recently I learned that two-time Most Valuable Player Albert Pujols of the Saint Louis Cardinals is such a man:

Becoming a great baseball player is important to me, but it is not my primary focus. Because I know the Hall of Fame is not my ultimate final destination ... My life’s goal is to bring glory to Jesus. My life is not mostly dedicated to the Lord, it is 100% committed to Jesus Christ and His will. God has given me the ability to succeed in the game of baseball. But baseball is not the end; baseball is the means by which Dee Dee and I glorify God. Baseball is simply my platform to elevate Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior. I would also rather be known as a great husband and father than an All-Star baseball player. Perhaps one day I could be honored with an invitation into Baseball’s Hall of Fame. That would certainly be a boyhood dream of mine come true, but it is a far greater honor that one day I will be in heaven with God to enjoy Him forever.
Albert's Pujols Family Foundation is devoted to serving Down syndrome children and their parents. Of course, the Vice Presidential candidacy of Sarah Palin--mother of Down syndrome baby Trig--has drawn attention to the plight of these children, including the apalling statistic that abortion rates for these children may run upwards of 90%. In fact, the attention gained provoked some abortion advocates and industry practitioners to chillingly confess their preference that such children not live to see the light of day.

Perhaps as important, though less famous, are cases such as that of US Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers, whose son Cole's condition has prompted her to become a vocal leader in Congress. Down syndrome children have rapidly given pro-lifers a focus for their efforts and the opening to do something concrete and positive: Down syndrome adoptions.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Sola Fide and Catholicism

It’s good to hear from Pastor Allen, also “my true father in the faith.” I too have been thinking about “Evangelical Catholics”. While Pastor Allen’s comments are helpful, I think the essential issue is being missed:

If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared. (Psalm 130:3,4)

If one does a Google search on "Martin Luther Psalm 130", one will get many references and, in many of them, one will see the assertion that this was Luther’s favorite psalm. Most of us know enough about Luther to associate “justification by faith” with him. So the following excerpts from his commentary on this psalm will give some notion of why this was his favorite, together with giving us an opportunity to refresh ourselves on the meaning of “justification” and how important it is:

The beginning of the introduction to his commentary on this psalm:

This Psalm we do also account amongst the most excellent and principal Psalms; for it sets forth the chief point of our salvation, our justification I mean, and righteousness before God. The true and sincere knowledge whereof is it which maintains and preserves the church; for it is the knowledge of truth and life. Contrariwise, where the knowledge of our justification is lost, there is no life, no church, no Christ, neither is there any judgment left either of doctrine or spirit, but all is full of horrible darkness and blindness ...

Commenting on verse 4:

... herein alone the conscience finds rest and comfort, when altogether naked and without any addition of her own worthiness, it commits itself to the naked and bare mercy of God, and says, O Lord, I have thy promise that righteousness comes of mercy alone, which righteousness is nothing else but thy free pardon, that is to say, that thou wilt not mark our iniquities.

I commend, therefore, to you this definition of righteousness which David here sets forth, that to mark sin, is to condemn. Again, not to mark sin, is to justify or pronounce a man righteous. And this is true righteousness indeed, when sins are not marked, but pardoned and not imputed. Likewise in another place, also, he defines a blessed man; and Paul alleges the same definition very aptly: “Blessed is the man (says he) to whom God imputes not his sin.” He does not say, blessed is the man who has no sin, rather to whom the Lord does not impute that sin which he has ...

For this doctrine makes all men alike, and before God leaves no difference. For if by imputation only we are righteous, it follows not only that we are all sinners, but that also there is no difference between the learned and unlearned, the wise and the simple, the married and unmarried, the prince and the ploughman, &c ...

Thus David sets forth in this verse the sum and effect of all true Christian doctrine, and that sun which gives light to the church. For while this doctrine stands the church shall stand and flourish. But when this doctrine fails, the church must needs fail and fall to ruin ...

This passage ends with the statement with which the dictum that “justification by faith is the doctrine on which the church stands or falls” is associated. The passage cited from the introduction makes the point even more dramatically: Take this doctrine away, and all that is left in the church is horrible darkness and blindness.

In addition to making these points about the importance of this doctrine, Luther here gives very clear guidance on just what this “justification” is which alone can save us: It is (as he puts it in the introduction to his commentary on Galatians) an “alien righteousness”. It is Christ’s righteousness, imputed to those who trust in him, and apprehended by faith, and by faith alone.

For by grace you have been saved through faith,and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God,not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Eph. 2:8-10)

All this is offered as a preliminary to an important point about the Church of Rome: It is constitutionally forbidden to assent to this “doctrine on which the church stands or falls”. The Sixth Session of the Council of Trent (held January 13, 1547) produced the “Decree on Justification” which (since, in their view, the Council could not err) binds Rome. Chapter X of that Decree is “On the increase of Justification received”. It deals with what follows after either one’s baptism as an infant, or what they term “the initial justification of the impious.” Since it’s a short Chapter, it’s worth quoting in its entirety:
“Having, therefore, been thus justified, and made the friends and domestics of God, advancing from virtue to virtue, they are renewed, as the Apostle says, day by day; that is, by mortifying the members of their own flesh, and by presenting themselves as instruments of justice unto sanctification, they, through the observance of the commandments of God and the Church, faith co-operating with good works, increase in that justice which they have received through the grace of Christ, and are still further justified, as it is written: He that is just, let him be justified still; and again, Be not afraid to be justified even to death; and also, Do you see that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. And this increase of justification holy Church begs, when she prays, ‘Give unto us, O Lord, increase of faith, hope, and charity.’”
If a lot of that seems very familiar--and desirable!--to evangelicals, that’s because much of it deals with what we call “sanctification”. And the crux of the matter in this Chapter is that it essentially says that “justification” is only begun by faith, and must be completed by a sanctified life. (Because of this view, the preceding Chapter, "Against the vain confidence of the heretics", declares that what we call "assurance of salvation" is an impossibility in this life.) As Luther puts it more than once, what Rome taught both before and after Trent (and to which it definitively committed itself at Trent), is that we are not “justified by faith alone”, but rather we are “justified by faith working through love.” (Galatians 5:6 is a favorite with Rome, because they use it this way.)

This is not to say that this Chapter does not raise some questions which would be profitable for us to consider: How seriously do we take sanctification? What do we do with the 2nd Chapter of James? What do we say when we see no fruit in the life of someone who professes Christ? The list could go on.

But the most fundamental question that it should ask us is, “Do we stand with Luther or with Rome”? If we stand with Luther, that is, if we believe that, God accepts us as righteous, “not for anything wrought in us, or done by us, but for Christ’s sake alone ... we receiving and resting on Him and His righteousness by faith”, and we believe that this is “the doctrine on which the church stands or falls”, then we’re constrained to be realistic about the whole idea of “Evangelical Catholics”: There may be true believers in the Roman Church, but that “church” is a fallen one, and is committed to staying that way. Otherwise put, there may be “Evangelical Catholics”, but there is no “Evangelical Catholicism”, just an organization that excommunicated itself almost 500 years ago, “no life, no church, no Christ.”

It may not feel good to be so constrained, but there it is.

Evangelical Catholics II: Mary, the Saints, and Salvation by Organization

I recently received a note from Pastor Allen, who is my "true father in the faith" (as Timothy or Titus might put it). He has added his thoughts on the matter of Catholicism, which are worth quoting extensively:

Miriam rigged me up to your blog and I have been reading some of your articles, especially the one on Evangelical Catholics. I would like to make some comments, just for the record.

As far as praying to anyone besides the Trinity, there is no basis for it in Scripture. There is no evidence that believers prayed to Paul, for example, asking him to intercede on their behalf. Actually, Paul asked that his readers pray to the Lord for him to be successful in his ministry as an apostle. Godly people pray for one another to God for their spiritual success, and that is the pattern in both the Old & New Testaments. Prayer is an aspect of worship, for prayer is an appeal to God the Father as Jesus taught. To pray to anyone else is to render them the worship that belongs only to God.

Furthermore, the Bible is silent about what the intermediate state is, that period between a believer’s death and the final resurrection. When our earthly lives are ended here, we know that we are with Christ in the heavenlies, awaiting his return to earth in glory. But that is all. There have been speculations, but most are rather questionable and unedifying, especially purgatory, but that’s another matter. The Scriptures imply that once we have left this life, we are totally divorced from it. The “cloud of witnesses” are those saints now in glory enjoying the invisible benefits of faithfulness, benefits which far outweigh the trials and sufferings they had to endure. Their lives testify that we are not running this race in vain. The suffering is well worth it. Stay focused! Be faithful!

And this brings us to the matter of saints. In the Old and New Testaments all of God’s people are addressed as holy ones or saints. When Paul wrote to the churches, he addressed them as saints or God’s holy ones, putting them on equal footing with believing Jews. (See Ephesians 2 and of course Romans, where he explains at length how the true spiritual descendants of Abraham are all those who believe, both Jew and Gentile.) The very sad thing the Medieval Church did (among others) was to elevate certain Christians to a rather elite status, something that would shock and appall the apostles. Although it sounds pious, it flies right in the face of Paul’s warnings against “hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ” (
Col. 2:8).

The “principles of this world” would include angelology (worship of angels), asceticism, celibacy, vegetarianism or other dietary customs, and spiritual elitism, which fosters misplaced devotion and advances the notion that there are two types of Christians: the masses (inferior) and the Saints (superior). Fundamentalists (and others) fall into the same error when they take
1 Cor. 3:1-3 to mean that there are two types of Christians: carnal (worldly) and spiritual. Such divisions are abhorrent to Paul because they foster spiritual conceit and pride.

The final point I would make and one you know, I am sure, is that one saint (Mary) has been singled out for special honor. In the most recent Roman Catholic catechism she is described as redemptrix, mediatrix, intermediatrix, etc. The motto seems to be: What can be said of Christ can be said of his mother Mary as well.

By reserving the title “saint” for an elite class of departed saints, the Roman church sets them up as rivals with Christ and confuses the devout. But then again, logic is not a strong point in the Roman Catholic religion, for a number of reasons. Catholics do not appreciate the all-sufficiency of Jesus as our Substitute, the New Adam. Their doctrine of sin and salvation is truly all “mucked up.” Yet adherents are asked to assent to it. In order to remain a good Catholic, they have to assent to (and trust) the errors of the organization, though of course they do so in ignorance. It’s enough that the church “says so.” With a herd-like mentality they
persevere in a false hope (something we also see in political personalities today & post modernism).

Since reading this article and the one on “
God the Experience,” I have thought a lot about what it means to be Reformed, Catholic, & Evangelical. (I think you may see what I am driving at.) These three terms are not mutually exclusive, as some might think. I could add Charismatic as well.

I talked with two young men of the Mormon persuasion last summer. We had three meetings in my home on three separate afternoons. They were cordial and earnest. We listened to each other carefully. Our topics ranged widely. As I explained the doctrine of justification to them, they agreed with it. In fact, they agreed with just about everything. And so I said “If we agree on basic doctrine, why is there a need for the Church of Christ of Latter Day Saints?” They looked at me and one said, “Don’t you want to know what else Jesus said?” referring to the Book of Mormon. I said “No, I am satisfied with what Jesus said in the Old & New
Testaments.” With that they departed amicably.

And then it dawned on me as never before: It is the organization that saves. Belonging to the right organization (or party or club) is what saves. Logic, evidence, reason do not matter. It’s your heart feeling, your gut feeling, your will—not truth, not facts, not sense. The Mormon fellows were convinced that what matters is that you belong to the right religious organization, the one in Salt Lake City. We could believe the “same things” but it was the organization headquarters that really mattered. This was their final authority.

This is scary because when you place your ultimate trust in the capital, the headquarters, the council, the party elite etc. you are surrendering your freedom to think for yourself, to make your own decisions where you should be allowed to, and to know God and his will as he desires, not according to what some competing body says. To other religionists I may be right, I may believe in the same things they claim to believe, but I am in the wrong church. Historical considerations don’t matter, double-think doesn’t matter, Scriptures don’t really matter. It’s the leadership—the Pope, the President & the Council of Apostles, the Eastern Tradition frozen in time, the cult leader, even a General Assembly (PCUSA, although it is not so much the authority for salvation as it is for being politically correct).

[Jailer], thanks for alerting me to these articles—and the others on your blog. You’re doing a good work!
I look forward to hearing more from Rich and others as we continue to build a constructive discussion on this topic.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

He Who Honors Me: A Tribute to Eric Liddell

It's hard to imagine that the next generation will grow up having largely never seen one of the best movies ever made. Released in 1981, Chariots of Fire was more than an Academy Award winning film. It was a masterpiece, and a celebration of a race masterfully run.

Eric Liddell, the Flying Scotsman, was born in 1902 to missionary parents in China. He grew up in Scotland, attending boarding school with his brother while the rest of his family returned to China. His remarkable athletic gifts soon became apparent, and he was identified as a top contender for Olympic gold in the 100 meters.

In the months leading up to the 1924 Olympics, Liddell learned that the 100-meter trials were to be held on Sunday. Unwilling to set aside his belief in the sanctity of the Lord's Day, Liddell shocked the sporting world by pulling out of the event. Though he was savaged by the British press, and even called a traitor, he firmly held to his convictions. He instead began training in the 400, a race he'd previously excelled at but for which he was not internationally recognized as a favorite.

On the day of the finals, clutching a scrap of paper pressed into his hands by a masseur, Liddell again surprised the world with a record-setting victory. The paper read simply: "In the Old Book it says, ‘He that honors me I will honor.’ Wishing you the best of success always."

Eric Liddell eventually returned to China as a missionary himself. He remained throughout World War II, and was eventually imprisoned by the Japanese occupiers. He died in captivity and in great pain from a brain tumor at the age of 43.

Eric Liddell was eulogized by his fellow prisoners: "His was a God-controlled life and he followed his Master and Lord with devotion that never flagged and with an intensity of purpose that made men see both the reality and power of true religion … Our friend, whose happy, radiant face … will surely live on in the hearts and lives of all who knew him."

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The New Calvinism

One thing about taking up blogging is that you discover that there are "new" things, one of which is something apparently called "The New Calvinism." It seems that Time Magazine ran a story in it's "What's Next 2009" segment pointing out that Reformed theology appears to be enjoying something of a resurgence. These are things we don't know unless Time Magazine tells us, I suppose.

I'm going to mostly leave aside Time's predictably snarky treatment of a serious and important biblical debate, except to say that real Calvinists I know don't describe God as an "austerly demanding" micromanager or humanity as "puny". These are mere caricatures and straw men set up by people who don't really want to have a discussion. An evenhanded treatment of the question is probably too much to ask for from Time.

Anyway, when I was growing up, the only "new" Calvinism I knew about was something truly revolutionary:

Click the image for the complete cartoon, courtesy of The Blog from the Core.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Good Old Fashioned Prayer and Personal Evangelism

Sam seems to be onto something over at Dwell & Cultivate:
... we did something different this year: we didn't advertise -- at least not in the traditional sense of the term. In previous years we have have bought ads in the local paper and on the most popular local radio station. We have sent out direct mail postcards to those in close neighborhoods and, while they weren't as "catchy" as Slumdog Savior, they were designed to be "inviting." While we have rotated different ones of these strategies, we have annually placed a very large banner on our campus with Easter service times. Didn't do that one this year either.

INSTEAD, we went to all our Small Groups and asked them to develop prayer lists of people we care about who don't go to church. We began to pray for God to give us opportunities to comfortably invite them to an Easter service with us. We then printed out simple invitation cards with the service theme, times, location and a map of how to find us ... The result? Our Easter weekend attendance was up over 170 people from last year.
Many of the comments about my "Church-Ditchers" post centered on my supposed disdain for "modern" marketing techniques. Actually, the post wasn't about whether something was modern, but whether it took cheap shots at the church as a means of reaching the unchurched.

But still, sometimes it's good to be reminded that there's something beautiful about simple evangelism, carried out by ordinary Christians and covered in lots of prayer. Almost sounds biblical. Thanks Sam.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Bell Lap for the Marine Who Only Whispers

Bob Boardman has Stage IV cancer. The doctors have given him six months. Yet Bob has already lived nearly 64 years longer than anyone could have imagined.

Bob tells the story of what happened that day, 17 June 1945, the Battle of Okinawa, as he and another Marine attempted to carry their wounded lieutenant from their burning tank:
"A bullet went through all three of us. It hit the first man in the chin and drilled a clean hole through the back of the lieutenant's neck, but missed his jugular vein and spine. Then it went through my neck and through my trigger finger.”

"It knocked us all down, but didn't knock me out. It was like seeing light, black and then light again. As I began to try to pick myself off the ground - I still hadn't realized that I'd been hit – I saw blood all over my dungaree jacket and on my hand. Then I noticed I couldn't move just right, not the way I should be able to. The lieutenant was lying motionless beside me.”

"I looked up and saw the other two young fellows making their way back toward our lines and I tried to yell to them, "Help me," but nothing came out. I remember vividly opening my mouth to yell and I remember the looks on their faces filled with fear. It seemed like we locked eyes for a long time, but I'm sure it was just for a moment. They thought the lieutenant and I were done for, so made their way on. They were just kids, as we all were, but this was their first campaign."


"I thought about using [my pistol] with my left hand and then for the first time realized that I was having trouble breathing. Soon taking each breath was like what I imagined drowning to be. Then I figured out that this must be it. We used to talk about the bullet with your number on it. But I had become a Christian about 22 months before this, and a deep peace in Jesus Christ prevailed at this moment."
Amazingly, Bob lived through that day, though he never was able to speak again above a husky whisper. But Christ had begun a good work in him, and Bob was not a man to wallow in misery or bitterness over his condition. Instead, he returned to Japan in 1952 as a missionary to his former enemies, where he and Jean served faithfully for 33 years. He later went on to publish three books: Unforgettable Men in Unforgettable Times, C-Rations for the Warrior's Heart, and Higher Honor.

I didn't have the privilege of meeting Bob until 1995, and then only briefly, when he returned to Okinawa (where I was stationed) to pray over that place where he fell with a hole through his throat 50 years previously. As we stood with a small clutch of believers around Bob and Jean, we rendered him a salute to thank him for his service and his sacrifice, both for our country and for our Lord.

May this serve as one more salute before you go ahead of us, Bob. I look forward to hearing you sing in glory, dear saint. Well done, good and faithful servant!

Update:  Bob Boardman went to be with Jesus on September 19th, 2009.  Final tribute here.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Jesus' Bad Deal?

A philosophy teacher named Brint Montgomery posted his blog's link as a comment to Presbyter's earlier post about Our Lord and the Rich Young Ruler. Looking over his site and his argument, they have almost nothing to do with our conversation (I assume he must've Googled us). But, since he brought it up, I'll deal with the substance of his post entitled "The Rich Young Ruler was Right", which seems to be:

It appears that Jesus was asking the young guy to turn his brain off. (Not an unusual tactic for preachers.) But there is another angle here too: one can image the young guy dying after many years, and subsequently going to heaven. God says, "You'd have had a much more impacting life it you'd taken up Jesus' offer. That would have been a pure exercise of freewill, a virtue. Still, you did the rational thing by following the evidence available to you. And that was an exercise of reason, also a virtue. Enter in, then, my good and faithful servant."
This is a very strangely constructed argument. If your premise is that Jesus challenged the Rich Young Ruler to decide between having a "more impacting life" and one which is less so, then perhaps there can be some discussion about cost-benefit and God's rewarding his "virtue". The tradeoff would be between earthly treasure and inner fulfillment with no impact on his eternal destiny.

But of course Jesus didn't couch this (or any other) discussion that way. Rather, he talked about "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!" This is an entirely different kettle of fish, in which the cost-benefit analysis is between earthly wealth and eternal security (heaven and hell).

Now, if you don't believe Jesus was who he claimed to be (the Son of God, one with the Father, etc.), then you can feel free to dismiss this claim. Moreover, if that's true, you should essentially dismiss everything Jesus said, since he would have to have been a raving lunatic or a very clever liar. To quote CS Lewis:
You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come up with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.
In short, if you don't believe Jesus has the authority to be "the way, the truth, and the life" as he claimed, then call him a fraud and be done with him. It would be wrong, but at least it would be intellectually consistent.

Still, before we're too hard on Mr. Montgomery, we should perhaps reflect upon the fact that much of what the church peddles as the "gospel" runs along the same lines. Rather than, "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord," we read books and listen to sermons that effectively assert, "For the wages of spiritual immaturity is unfulfillment, anxiety and depression, but the gift of relationship with God is happiness and inner contentment."

No wonder he's confused.

Friday, April 10, 2009

How Beautiful

It's a good weekend to reflect on the suffering, death and resurrection of our Lord. This incredible anthem by Twila Paris is one of my very favorites.

How Beautiful the hands that served
The Wine and the Bread and the sons of the earth
How beautiful the feet that walked
The long dusty roads and the hill to the cross
How Beautiful, how beautiful, how beautiful is the body of Christ

How Beautiful the heart that bled
That took all my sin and bore it instead
How beautiful the tender eyes
That choose to forgive and never despise
How beautiful, how beautiful, how beautiful is the body of Christ

And as He lay down His life
We offer this sacrifice
That we will live just as He died
Willing to pay the price
Willing to pay the price

How Beautiful the radiant bride
Who waits for her Groom with His light in her eyes
How Beautiful when humble hearts give
The fruit of pure lives so that others may live
How beautiful, how beautiful, how beautiful is the body of Christ

How beautiful the feet that bring
The sound of good news and the love of the King
How Beautiful the hands that serve
The wine and the bread and the sons of the Earth
How Beautiful, how beautiful, how beautiful is the body of Christ
May the grace and peace of the One who died and rose again be with you! Amen!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Third Rail: Faith in the Military

The 501st Combat Support Wing Commander at RAF Alconbury, UK, was cleared of charges that she violated the Air Force's religious neutrality guidelines, leveled against her after she sent out a controversial e-mail:

Col. Kimberly Toney, commander of the 501st Combat Support Wing at RAF Alconbury, sent an e-mail on Jan. 16 referring airmen to an "inspirational" video on a Roman Catholic Web site.

The video featured the life of Nick Vujicic, who was born without arms or legs. In the video, Vujicic says he finds his "greatest joy in this life is to introduce Jesus to those he meets and tell them of his (Jesus’) great desire to get to know them personally by allowing him to become their Lord and Savior."

As an active duty Airman, I will refrain from commenting on the Air Force's official actions in this case, except to say that all the Services now live under a relentless microscope. There are now a number of foundations established to prevent any discussion of faith (and especially Christianity) by military officials. We all walk a very, very narrow line, and there is a well-organized "gotcha" campaign prepared to strike at anything even remotely perceived as stepping across it.

For my part, I am known to be relatively open about my faith at work, but I am very careful about personal discussions with my subordinates. This isn't just because of the potential for legal jeopardy, but because I want to avoid any appearance of favoritism or unequal treatment, or any coercion or other sense that I demand or desire conformity to my faith. Not only could these undermine my military mission, more importantly they could undermine my witness for Christ.

So does this mean I hide my lamp or that I am being appropriately shrewd and innocent? I ask myself that question constantly.

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Church of the Church-Ditchers

A church in Indiana has a marketing campaign (I suppose they'd call it an outreach) themed "Ditch Church". The short version is that they're attempting to reach the lost and disillusioned by hosting an "Easter Party" in place of a service. I have mixed feelings about this, but on balance you can mark me down as "against".

On one hand, believe their intentions to be honorable. I think they believe this is a way to reach the unchurched, and I suspect they will enjoy some measure of success in doing so. Reading through their pastor's defense of this tactic, I understand their desire is to communicate that "church isn't a building." Well and good.

Their chosen tactic is ultimately destructive, however, insofar as it attempts to communicate to the unchurched by tearing down the visible church. Moreover, it does so based upon a lie. To quote the pastor: "For too long the church has been the object of scorn and Christians have been the biggest single reason people turn away from Christianity." Good grief. Jesus said we're supposed to be objects of scorn! People turn away from Christianity because "although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened."

This appears to be a growing trend--it's almost like we're trying to win the cool kids over by trying to get accepted into their club and making fun of our old nerdy friends. In the end, do we win them to Christ, or do we just become like them?

Look, believe it or not, I don't consider myself a defender of the Western church. We are corporately in need of a spiritual overhaul, and I think we can break some eggs to do it. I'm a fan of the Jailbreaker's attempts to release the church from its cultural traps so as to return to the essence of the gospel. But this is not helping.

As I read the New Testament, we're not the first church to struggle with serious issues. Paul railed against the divisive, self-absorbed, glory-seeking, sexually immoral Corinthian church (not to mention the "bewitched" Galatians)! But that was rebuking the "family", not attacking the "enemy".

Can you imagine Paul then turning his attention outward and saying to the people of Corinth, "Forget these clowns--they're objects of scorn, and it's their own fault!" On the contrary, despite his stinging rebukes, he spoke to them tenderly and encouragingly as well: "I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way—in all your speaking and in all your knowledge—because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful." They were frustratingly sinful, but they were still the church!

You will say, perhaps, that Jesus rejected the religious class of his day and was found among the sinners, prostitutes and tax collectors. Fair enough. But I would not classify the sin of today's lukewarm and lazy church as being that of the bloodthirsty, autocratic, terrorizing "brood of vipers" Jesus encountered. Let's get some perspective.

So what will a "Ditch Church" campaign yield? Will some be saved? Probably, and for that we can rejoice. Paul also rejoiced when some were saved by dishonorable means. But let's look longer term--where does the tactic lead? And when we declare it all worthless, how much of the wheat do we burn with the tares?

Update--a church member writes in to defend their tactic:
Really? Wow. Our Easter service is the party. The word will be preached and communion offered. What is it about the word party that offends so many. I serve the only living God, and he loves me above all else. How can you not get excited about that? If you are unchurched that means you have already been a part of a church. These people already know what the "visible church" is. They have dealt with judgmental, self righteous, Holier than thou types, that you run into more often that not. They may have plugged in and tried to follow Christ, just to be knocked down, or ridiculed the first time they fell short. My bible says that we have all fallen short a time or two. The defeat isn't in getting knocked down, it's in not getting back up. At Cross Roads, we offer a helping hand when you fall, not ridicule. We show the love of Jesus to all, not just the perfect.(lol, there are no perfect people.)

Now there are different levels of sin. The "church" today is as much a pit of vipers as the church of Jesus' time. Plus the church of today has a far greater, and faster bite. Look at this blog. It could in theory impact the entire world! The church of old didn't have that power. Jesus would not say anything different about today's church then He did about the one of His time, unless He condemned it even more. The lukewarm and lazy church! Wow what a statement that is in itself. What does the bible say about being lukewarm? You saying that and not being upset enough to fight against it, to me says a lot! We at Cross Roads will not sit back and let the religious spirits rule any more, not where we can help it. We are real people, serving a real God, and trying to reach real people, where they are! If that's not something you can get behind, I'm sorry.
Again, I doubt not that they are "real people, serving a real God, and trying to reach real people," nor do I question the need for new approaches to evangelism. As I said at the beginning, it is not their motive I question, it is the tactic of attacking the church to reach the lost, and the categorization of the entire church as Pharisees. I have seen far too much of the good, godly, compassionate, humble church as I have literally traveled the world over the past couple of decades to let that stand.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Creator God or Creator Aliens?

This has to be one of the oddest conversations I've seen on the topic of evolution. Ben Stein is a champion of "intelligent design", which merely means that there is a Designer. While it doesn't name that Creator as the God of the Bible or adopt the Genesis account of the Creation, it does at least reject the premise that the universe is essentially self-created.

In his documentary "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed," Stein talks to Richard Dawkins, a very well-known atheist and evolutionary biologist. Dawkins suggests with a straight face that there could possibly have been a "designer"--as long as that designer is itself a highly evolved alien life form:
Well, it could come about in the following way. It could be that at some earlier time, somewhere in the universe, a civilization evolved, probably by some kind of Darwinian means, probably to a very high level of technology, and designed a form of life that they seeded onto perhaps this planet. Now, um, now that is a possibility, and an intriguing possibility. And I suppose it's possible that you might find evidence for that if you look at the details of biochemistry, molecular biology, you might find a signature of some sort of designer.

This demonstrates how the fundamental premise of evolutionary theory leads us into absurdities. It is a theory built upon the necessity to eliminate God as the cause of anything. Because there can be no supernatural, everything must be explicable by natural means. So when a "designer" is needed, it must have itself "evolved ... by some kind of Darwinian means ..."

The truth about evolution is that it is itself its own highly dogmatic religion, and it can be stranger than fiction--in fact, it can be science fiction.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Judging Others by their Actions, and Ourselves by our Intentions

It has been said that we judge others by their actions, but judge ourselves by our intentions. This leads us to excuse our own bad behavior as well-meaning or understandable, while ... well that other guy is just being a jerk (or heathen, or Pharisee, or ...).

Seth has a great post reflecting on Nathan and David up at Contend Earnestly:
This story always seems quite amazing that David is such a moron. The problem is that everytime I read it or hear it preached, Nathan seems to always yell at me: You are the man! For whatever reason I can easily discern everyone else's sins besides my own. I can see their faults as though I sit on some throne of righteousness. If you know any theology at all, you know, and I should know, how much I need Jesus more than any other person I know. I need to realize that I am the greatest sinner, not the most mature saint.
Amen. Of course Jesus spoke of this in a passage most of us know well: You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.

Lord, draw me ever nearer to your holiness, that I may ever more clearly see my sin and my need for your grace. Teach me always the humility to cry aloud with Paul: Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!