Friday, August 31, 2012

But What About the Food Adam and Eve Ate?

A short post today to close out this creation series:

I made the claim yesterday that death comes from sin. No death existed in God's good creation until after Adam and Eve sinned.

One counter to this claim is to ask about the food that Adam and Eve ate. The question/reasoning goes something like this, "Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the tree. This is the killing of plant life. Therefore, death did come before sin. So why do you say that death only came after sin?"

At first this question seems to have some merit. However, a closer look shows that it simply does not. The question makes a claim itself: that eating fruit is killing. But is it?

I like apples. I eat one almost every day. In doing this, am I killing? I would be if I was killing the plant. However, the plant is just fine. That's because the plant is the tree. When we eat of the fruit of the tree or vine we are not killing because the plant itself remains as healthy as ever. In fact, it probably continues to produce more fruit.

Adam and Eve ate the fruit. They did not eat entire trees. We get no sense that they even had to prepare food of any kind. Instead, they just walked over to the plant, picked whatever fruit they desired, and partook (there was that unfortunate incident with one specific tree, but that's another topic).

No killing involved whatsoever.

For illustration purposes, do we consider ourselves to have killed when we get a haircut? Of course not. The reason is that even though the hair is trimmed, the roots remain. They probably even benefit from a little trim.

We can see, then, that Adam and Eve did not kill plants. Therefore, their eating habits did not in any way bring about death. Why is this? The reason is that in God's sovereign wisdom, death is a consequence of sin. This means that death has to come after sin.

Again pointing to Romans 5:12, "Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned..." (ESV).

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Death Before Sin?

This is a re-post, with some minor changes, from 2009. My thoughts have not changed on this topic in the past three years:

With this being the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin, there will undoubtedly be much discussion this year of his impact upon society. Since 2009 is also the 150th anniversary of the publication of The Origin of Species, Darwin will be difficult to ignore.

It does not surprise me that secularists in general and atheists in particular believe that the world came about through evolutionary processes. It makes sense that people who do not know Jesus Christ will also hold faulty views about the beginnings of the universe.

It does surprise and trouble me that some Christians believe that God used evolutionary methods to bring His creation into existence. I've heard this many times from people who I have no doubt are followers of Jesus Christ. I believe that these Christians mean well.

Despite their good intentions, Christians who believe in some sort of evolution (macroevolution, not microevolution) have a big theological problem on their hands. The big problem is this: in their view, death must come before sin. If plants and animals existed for millions of years prior to the first humans, then there must have been a great deal of death before any humans walked the earth.

However, the bible tells us that death is a consequence of sin. Death comes from sin and after sin. This is what we see when we give a literal reading to Genesis 1-2. Years later Paul writes, "Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned..." (Romans 5:12, ESV)

A related problem for Christians who hold to evolutionary beginnings is this: if death comes before sin in Genesis 1-2, then to be consistent death must still exist in Revelation 21-22. Is the Christian/evolutionist ready to say that death will exist after sin is done away with by Christ? We certainly can't believe that this will be the case. Revelation 20:14 even says, "Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire." Death will be done away with forever by Christ.

It saddens me that many Christians are willing to sacrifice theological truth on the altar of secular scientific theory. Christians must realize that evolution today is pushed and promoted by secularists. It is secular scientists who are trying to force their beliefs on our culture. On the other hand, many scientists who are also Christians believe that the objective scientific data corresponds closely with a literal reading of Genesis 1-2.

It is a great biblical truth that death only came after sin. We also know that after sin is gone, death will be gone as well.

I have never once heard a good answer from a Christian/evolutionist as to how death can come before sin.

I'm still waiting.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Evolution is a Slippery Word

(I include the above photo simply for fun.)

The word "evolution" is a slippery one. I'm referring to the fact that it is used in a variety of ways by various people. This often leads to lack of actual communication and accompanying consternation/frustration for everyone involved.

In general "evolution" means change. We've all seen change, both good and bad, occur in almost uncountable ways in our lives. For example, the technological evolution just during the past thirty years is immense. I can remember when we bought our first microwave oven. Nowadays we can't live without the internet. These are significant changes.

When it comes to the world's beginnings, we must be clear in what we are talking about. Darwinian evolutionists demand that macro evolution occurs through processes of natural selection, mutation, and random chance. They state unequivocally that no higher intelligence is behind it. No discussion/debate on the issue is tolerated (especially within secular universities).

This is fascinating because the positive changes we've experienced in this world occur through much planning and intelligence. The evolution we have seen in technology has come from many smart techno-folks logging long hours to create software, computers, cell phones, flat screens, etc. None of these types of changes have happened through people simply sitting around waiting for something to happen by chance.

Evolution, when simply meaning change, can be a positive thing only when intelligence is behind it. On the other hand, evolution apart from intelligence and planning leads only to a big mess or worse. A great example of this is the state of my kids' bedrooms. I've blogged about this before, so I'll simply say here that order does not stem from chance. Their bedrooms only become clean through much effort and planning.

This is not to say that God controlled evolutionary processes to bring this world into existence. That is simply not the case. Genesis 1-2 makes it clear that God crafted this world in a highly organized, step-by-step process.

Changes do, however, occur in this world. Evolution, meaning simply change, even happens within species over time. However, it never happens at the macro level. Species tend to remain the same, not change from one to another.

Let's be careful in our definitions. Statements such as "I don't believe in evolution" are not helpful because they are not precise enough. In order to have intelligent conversation on this issue, we must define what we are talking about.

There was no evolution in the creation process.

There is evolution (meaning simply change) in the world as we know it. Positive change only stems from intelligence and planning.

Changes that come from lack of order or planning are only negative ones. Order never comes as a result of disorder.

As followers of Jesus we must be clear in what we are talking about as we engage the world on these issues.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Scary Implications for Interpretation

The bible is a book of truth and facts. It is also literature. In light of these things, we must put forth effort to interpret and understand it correctly. Ultimately, our goal is to accurately comprehend what God means through the scriptures. No sane person reads the bible, or any other book for that matter, while hoping to misunderstand it.

One aspect to correct interpretation is consistency. This means that when we look at the same types of literature, we interpret them using the same methods. Since the bible has various types of literature within it, we must be thoughtful in our approach. However, when looking at the same types of writing, we must take meaning in the same way.

The bible is written for our understanding. Most of it was penned in a manner that is extremely straightforward. For example, when we read the gospels we see an account about the life of a real man in a real place doing real things. There is no reason to do anything but interpret this literally.

The same can be said of Genesis chapters 1-11. Specifically concerning Genesis chapter one, we see a real God speaking a real planet into a real existence. God does this in space and time. As with the gospel accounts, there is no reason to understand it in any way other than literally. We do not have the right to pick and choose how we interpret the bible. God has given it to us according to His standards.

When scripture is our ultimate authority, we never have to allow outside influences to affect how we understand it. It is to be interpreted on its own merits. This applies to all information in the bible, including the creation narrative.

However, if scripture is not the starting point for thinking about this world's beginnings and some type of theistic evolution is embraced, then a big issue immediately surfaces. That issue is how to interpret Genesis chapters 1-2.

A fair reading of Genesis 1-2 indicates six 24 hour days. This is what happens when the passage is treated as being literal.

Those who adhere to theistic evolution must, therefore, interpret it in some other way than literally. Many think of it as an allegory or fictional story of some type. The specifics are explained away by saying that it is only meant to give us the idea that God is in charge of creation. They claim chapters 1-2 are not intended to provide any actual scientific data.

The scary aspect of this is that it smacks of subjectivity and relativism. Who has given them the right to treat Genesis 1-2 as if it is not to be taken literally?

The only reason the theistic evolutionists do this is because it doesn't fit their worldview (which stems from secular scientific naturalism).

If they interpret Genesis 1-2 as being non-literal, then why do they interpret any passages in a literal fashion? What is their reasoning for thinking (as many do), for example, that Adam and Eve did not exist but that Jesus did?

More specifically, why do they believe in a literal gospel message? Why do they think God literally came to earth, lived, died, rose again, and ascended? Why think any of the miracles in scripture literally occurred?

Every true Christian by definition believes in a literal Jesus. However, those who hold to a non-literal rendering of Genesis 1-2 are in a scary position. Their choice for what is to be taken literally and what is not appears to be simply that: an utterly subjective choice.

There are two consistent positions when it comes to Genesis 1-2. The first is to take it literally and accept it. The second is to treat it as fanciful and reject it wholesale (as most secular scientists do). The untenable position is the one that tries to find the middle of the road. That's what we see with theistic evolution.

Their inconsistency and subjectivity is scary for what it says about their understanding of the rest of the biblical message.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Starting in the Right Place

I'm writing about creation this week because I'm concerned about the rising influence of Biologos within the church. Biologos is an organization that promotes theistic evolution.

I'm going to be relatively short and to the point in this post. Christians who hold to theistic evolution are starting in the wrong place. Specifically, their authority is wrong when it comes to creation.

When the bible is the place we begin, and we read Genesis 1-2 in a straightforward manner, we can see that God created this world in six 24 hour days. Interestingly, the facts of science support this.

When Christians begin with secular scientific findings, they end up with evolution. This puts them in a pickle. What can they do? Answer: they force Darwinian theory upon scripture and come up with theistic evolution. This theory basically says that God controlled evolution to bring about this world.

This is not a science versus bible issue. Rather, it is a secular atheism versus Christian theism issue. The problem with theistic evolutionists is that they have surrendered authority on the issue to the secular academy. They have bought into secular theories about the world's beginnings in the hope of being accepted by secular scientists.

Scripture makes it clear that as followers of Jesus we will be outcasts in society. Our view of how the world began is part of this. We reject Darwinian theory in favor of what God has done. In His grace, God has shown us what He did. He's given us plenty of details in Genesis 1-2, and, more broadly in Genesis 1-11.

This is not a core gospel issue (theistic evolutionists can be saved). However, it does have theological and interpretive consequences. As an example, scripture tells us that we all fell when Adam fell. Because of this, all can be redeemed through faith in Christ. If evolution is true, then all did not come from Adam. Various humans would have evolved from different sources. This being the case, how are those saved who did not come from Adam? Theistic evolution lends itself to all sorts of theological problems.

The worldview of scientific naturalism wages war against biblical Christianity. We must not accept it in any way. We have to have the correct starting point for our beliefs. The bible must be the place we start. If we begin in the right place, we have a great chance of drawing the right conclusions. A correct beginning leads to a correct ending.

All scripture has been breathed out by God. When Paul writes this in II Timothy he is talking about the Old Testament. This includes Genesis 1-2. While the bible is divinely inspired and free of error, science is imperfect at best. Even Christian scientists are imperfect people looking at imperfect data in an imperfect world. Science has flaws.

When we look to scripture as our authority, we will have an accurate understanding of this world and its beginnings. True scientific data will only support what we have already read in the bible. A great example of this is the fossil record. It corresponds perfectly to the global flood account.

Let's begin with the bible.

Proverbs 9:10, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is insight."

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Top Ten Reasons to Grow a Beard

This is my new look. I've had a beard before, but not for quite a while. The grayish-white hair on the chin is a new feature. Anyway, this inspired me to compile a list of the top ten reasons for men to grow beards. Enjoy:

10. Beards mean you don't have to shave every day.

9. Beards and (at least the appearance of) wisdom go hand-in-hand.

8. Beards feel excellent.

7. Many great theologians have had beards.

6. You don't have to shave every day.

5. Beards are masculine.

4. You can witness to Muslims more easily with a beard.

3. You don't have to shave every day.

2. Jesus probably had a beard.

1. Beards are cool.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Two Different Directions

One fascinating change that's occurring in the American church has to do with size. A consistent trend exists today for churches becoming either bigger or smaller. They are moving in two different directions.

We're all aware of the modern phenomenon that is the rise of the mega church. Click here for a prime example. We also have seen many Christians moving toward smaller groupings. This usually takes some form of simple/organic/house church life.

As groups become either bigger or smaller, it is the congregational size churches that either are or will be facing great challenges. These churches typically run 100-300 people. As time goes on and folks leave congregational churches for either much bigger or much smaller groups, the 100-300 size church will gradually die out. This is not to say that these medium size churches will no longer exist, but that they will no longer be the dominant model of church life.

(As an aside, I write from an American perspective here. I admit to ignorance when it comes to what is happening in the church in other countries. If you reside in another part of the world, I'd love to hear what is occurring where you are.)

These size changes lead to a question for us: How can we in small churches work with those in large churches to make disciples?

It is painfully obvious for all involved that those of us in simple church life reject almost all of the shenanigans that go on in the mega church. However, there are many Christians in mega churches who want to make disciples just as much as we do. Therefore, we have a challenge of working with them while at the same time not working under the constraints of their large institutional framework. How can we do this?

First, we must always remember that it is Jesus Christ who unites us, not our view of the church. This is a great challenge since our understanding of the church is so different from that of most Christians in the institution. Since our unity is in Christ, we must look to His call for unity in His church. Unity has no loopholes.

Second, we must avoid the trap of isolating ourselves from believers in mega churches. If we know other Christians in the workplace, neighborhood, etc., let's see how we can work together instead of avoiding them.

Third, one of the positives of the rise of the mega church is the corresponding rise of the small group. Mega churches, at least to some degree, understand that community is necessary in the body. This cannot come through their large gatherings, so they have small groups of one type or another. Some of these groups function somewhat like simple churches. We can draw on these commonalities as we work together.

Fourth, working together to make disciples can often be a simple process. Much can be done in homes or coffee shops. The mega church institution does not even have to be involved. Staying away from the mega church structure is not as difficult as it may seem.

Finally, we must remember that disciple making is the mission of the church. We cannot push it to the back burner. Additionally, Jesus did not tell His followers to only work together with those they agreed with on church issues. They were all to come together for the cause of the Great Commission. By extension, we have this same commission. We must find ways to work with those in mega churches to make disciples.

As church size continues to change in this country, we need to be ready to work with our brothers and sisters in mega churches. This does not require us to accept all they believe about church. However, it does require us to focus on unity and find ways to come together despite our obvious differences.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

A Theology of Pen and Ink

"I had much to write to you, but I would rather not write with pen and ink." 3 John 13

We must be careful in how we interpret scripture. Our goal should always be to determine what the original author meant. We do not bring our own meaning to the text; rather, we strive to know what the Holy Spirit inspired through the person who penned it. There is one meaning. We must find it.

It is possible to make mistakes in this process. One classic way of coming to the wrong conclusion about a text is to look at only one verse at a time devoid of context. Meaning in the bible comes from the paragraph and/or entire book. Single verses certainly carry meaning, but if we look at them in isolation we run a great risk of drawing conclusions that the original author never intended.

Let's look at a silly example for the purposes of illustration. In the epistle of 3 John, the apostle writes, "I had much to write to you, but I would rather not write with pen and ink."

Taken alone we could draw the following erroneous conclusions:

1. John generally preferred not to write with pen and ink.
2. Writing with pen and ink is a sin.
3. We must not write with pen and ink.
4. Writing with pen or ink is fine, but avoid the two together.
5. Writing with something else like pencil is better and safer.

Ridiculous and absurd. However, if we are to look solely at 3 John 13, then these are at least semi-legitimate conclusions. It is only in the broader context that we see how silly they are.

Let's remember that context is always, without fail, key to correctly understanding any bible verse. Even if a single verse supports a doctrine that we hold dear, we cannot yank it out of context for our own selfish purposes. The verse must remain firmly entrenched in the wider paragraph. Only then do we have a chance at accurate interpretation.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Missions in Hebrews

"For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured." Hebrews 13:11-13

The book of Hebrews appears to be a series of sermons/teachings that exhorts early Jewish Christians not to fall away from the faith. The consistent message is, "Jesus is better than anything else." In the midst of these exhortations to remain steadfast, can we learn anything about missions? As always, the answer is yes (to read the first post in this series, click here).

Some NT books tell us much about how to do missions work. Hebrews is not one of them. However, this epistle does give us much helpful information as to the content of what we should be sharing. In the face of this world's pleasures, the author of Hebrews informs us that Jesus is better than anything else, including all the world has to offer. That is the big picture of this book.

It is always a challenge to select a "most important" passage for missions in any book of the bible. I admit that in some ways it is artificial. Therefore, I'll just say that Hebrews 13:11-13 is very important for a full presentation of the gospel. This passage is a reminder that Jesus is worth suffering for.

These verses at first point back to the sacrificial system of the OT. The bodies of the animals used for the sin offering on the Day of Atonement were burned outside the camp. They were completely rejected, not to be consumed by the priests. Like the rejected animal bodies, Jesus (our atonement) was rejected outside the camp. He was crucified outside the city walls at Calvary.

Verse 13 is the tipping point. All believers are called upon to go to Jesus outside the gate. This is speaking of rejecting the pleasures and comforts of this world in favor of Christ. This decision will have consequences that usually include suffering.

One problem with much witnessing, at least in the Western world, is that the gospel presentation does not include a counting of the cost. We must forthrightly tell non-believers that a life with Christ may very well be a life of suffering. Despite this, it is a much better life. Only when they understand that following Christ goes hand-in-hand with suffering do they have a full understanding of the gospel.

Let's be faithful in sharing that the Christian life takes place outside the gate with Jesus.

To read any or all posts in this series, please click here.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Buying a House or Living in a House?

I love the atonement of Jesus Christ. The fact that Jesus died in my place at Calvary is an astounding thing. My favorite bible verse is II Corinthians 5:21, "He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." Apart from His sacrifice on the cross, we would have no hope, no salvation, no eternal life.

Here's a related question: Is it possible that we spend too much time talking/thinking about the atonement of Christ and not enough time abiding in Christ?

I'm not trying to create a false dichotomy of sorts here. Of course we should both ponder/cherish the atoning work of Jesus and enjoy abiding in Him moment-by-moment. I just wonder if we spend so much time on the former that we are losing out on the latter.

Some of this stems back to the Protestant Reformation. The Reformers in general were concerned with having a biblical understanding of salvation. I am deeply grateful to men like Luther and Calvin for the work they did in this area. Those of us coming from Protestant backgrounds have been taught again and again about the transaction that took place on the cross. Jesus purchased our salvation by taking our place. This is the substitutionary atonement.

My concern is that, coming from a Protestant background, I (and maybe you too) have my priorities askew just a bit. Could my focus be off a little? Could I look more at the transaction that Christ purchased than at Christ himself?

This is sort of like the difference between purchasing a house and living in a house. The purchasing is certainly important. Without it there would be no living in the house. However, once we buy a house we do not spend most of our time thinking about the day we bought it. Instead, we simply enjoy the daily living in the house. In our relationships with Christ, it seems that we would benefit from more time basking in the presence of Christ in the here-and-now, and less time focusing on what He bought for us so long ago (I realize the above house analogy breaks down at several points. I simply include it as an illustration).

It is correct to say that we cannot and should not separate Christ from the cross. However, if we stare too intently at the cross, we may treat Christ as someone who mostly functioned in the past. He is alive and well today! We are called upon to abide in Him in the present. In the book of I John, the apostle repeatedly refers to our abiding in Christ. For example, John writes:

"And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming." I John 2:28

"Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us." I John 3:24

"Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him." I John 4:15-16

Click here for a complete list of John's uses of "abide" in I John.

When we read the bible we see a real person named Jesus Christ. He lived, died, and was resurrected. These things truly happened in space and time. Praise the Lord for this! These truths are necessary for our faith. If any fail (which they cannot), then we are without hope.

That said, Jesus lives today. He is doing very well and sitting at the right hand of His Father. John calls upon us to abide in Him. Abiding is a second-by-second communing with Jesus Christ. It is truly living with Him in every sense of that word. His death on the cross enables our abiding, but it is not the same thing as our abiding.

Let's not spend so much time thinking on the Christ of the past that we lose out on the joy of the Christ of the present.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Me as a Young, Hip Mega-Church Pastor

Last year I wrote a post outlining the three required characteristics for young, hip mega-church pastors: gelled hair, funky glasses, and facial hair of some sort. Well, I was recently inspired to act out the role myself. In these photos you can see all three characteristics in place (I'll admit to lacking in the "young" department). As a bonus, I'm even wearing the right kind of shirt. Now where's my resume?

Monday, August 13, 2012

Bikinis Part Deux

Last week I asked a couple of questions related to modesty and swimwear. Specifically, I asked the following of Christian women who wear bikinis:

1. Why do you feel comfortable wearing a bikini to the pool or beach when you would feel uncomfortable wearing only a bra and panties in public?

2. Why is is appropriate for you to wear a bikini to the pool or beach when it would not be appropriate to wear only a bra and panties in public?

My purpose in that post was to hear from Christian women about their rationale for wearing clothing that shows off 90% or so of their bodies to public view. My intent was not to slam anybody, but rather to generate conversation. This is a topic that genuinely confounds me. I simply cannot understand how modesty and bikinis go together.

Alas, no Christian women who wear bikinis answered the questions. A few of you broke the rules (you know who you are) by commenting even though you are not Christian women who wear bikinis. Thanks for your interest.

Now I'm going to give the rest of you an opportunity to weigh in on this issue. Anyone is free to answer; you will no longer be labeled a "rule breaker." Of course, I'd prefer to hear from Christian ladies who wear bikinis because it is their reasoning that I'm trying to understand.

Is their lack of responding/commenting due to some sort of shame? Is it because they don't read this blog? Is it because they feel like they will be chastised? I have no idea.

Anyway, feel free to chime in. Let's see where the conversation goes.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Believe Eric

If you look closely on the bus in the above photo, you'll see that it says, "Romney Believe Eric." That sounds like a good idea to me.

I rarely venture into politics on this blog, but since Romney's bus has invited me, I'm going to give the Republican candidate some things to believe. If he'll do these things (if by some chance he gets elected) our country will be better off.

Ten things Romney should do:

10. Adhere to the motto that "Small Government is Better Government."

9. Embrace peace and reject militarism.

8. Get our military out of Afghanistan and Iraq.

7. Engage in sensible dialogue with Middle Eastern Nations.

6. End the Fed.

5. Lower taxes across the board.

4. Slash, slash, slash federal spending.

3. Balance the budget and pay down the federal debt.

2. Recognize that states have rights.

1. Govern according to the Constitution.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Two Related Questions About Bikinis for Christian Women Who Wear Bikinis

First the questions:

1. Why do you feel comfortable wearing a bikini to the pool or beach when you would feel uncomfortable wearing only a bra and panties in public?

2. Why is is appropriate for you to wear a bikini to the pool or beach when it would not be appropriate to wear only a bra and panties in public?

I've made my position on bikinis clear here, so I won't revisit that now. My purpose in asking these two related questions is to (I hope) receive a coherent, reasoned response. I've never heard one before, but I hope to in the comments.

A few things about the questions:

First, I'd like to receive answers from Christian women who wear bikinis. If you are not a woman, not a Christian, and/or do not wear bikinis, then please do not comment. I'll give the rest of you an opportunity to answer next week.

Second, when I use the term "bikini," I'm referring to a two piece swimsuit that shows as much skin as a bra and panties. For clarification, I'm not referring to two piece suits that cover more skin such as tankinis.

Third, the issue I'm addressing is one of modesty, not location. In other words, I'm not asking why you would wear a bikini to the pool but not to work or church. Keep that in mind as you respond. Thanks.

Fourth, I won't chastise you for your response even if I disagree with you. I'll probably ask you a question, but I'll be charitable.

I have no idea who reads this blog. Therefore, I don't know if any Christian women who wear bikinis read it. Because of that, I may not receive many responses at all. In light of that, if you are a reader of this blog (and you are if you've gotten this far) and you know Christian women who wear bikinis, please ask them to respond. I'd really like to know the reasoning behind it.

As I said, I'll revisit these same questions next week to give all of you (who are not Christian women who wear bikinis) a chance to comment.

Monday, August 6, 2012

A Streaker in the Castle

This past week we traveled as a family to St. Augustine, FL for a mini-vacation. St. Augustine is the oldest European-settled city in the lower 48 states, having been founded by the Spanish in 1565. As a bonus, it is only about three hours from Savannah.

It was wonderful to simply spend time together as a family while visiting some interesting places such as Castillo de San Marcos (pictured above), the St. Augustine Lighthouse, Flagler Collge, and of course the beach. We also enjoyed hanging out in our motel room in the evenings while watching the Olympics.

Despite all our fun, one disturbing event keeps coming to mind. Soon after arriving in St. Augustine, we went to Castillo de San Marcos. It is a Spanish-constructed fort from the late 1600's. We had only been inside the fort for a minute when a completely naked man streaked past us with blood running down his forehead. All five of us, along with all the other tourists, stood there in shock. The man, who was yelling loudly, ran across the fort's courtyard and up some steps. He entered an upstairs room and proceeded to jump up and down just behind a window opening. Unfortunately for all involved, everything was visible.

The police soon arrived and, with what sounded like a taser, subdued the streaker. During the arrest the man fell down some steps about 12-15 feet and had to be airlifted to a local hospital. It turns out that prior to entering the fort, the man had crashed his vehicle into a drawbridge about 1/2 mile away. I'm not sure why he chose to run to the fort.

Our guess is that the man was either mentally ill, on some sort of illegal drug, off of medication that he needs, or demon possessed. It could be some combination of the above. Regardless of cause, it is clear that this is a very troubled individual. I certainly hope he gets the help he needs.

The entire episode illustrates what a sin-ravaged world we all live in. I have no idea whether or not the streaking man knows Jesus Christ. However, his actions are the results, one way or another, of sin. This is not how this world was created. Somewhat ironically, Adam and Eve were both naked. However, that was at a time of innocence. Ever since they picked the fruit off the tree sin has been at the heart of rebellious man. Only in a sin-marred world does a man crash a vehicle, tear off his clothes, flee from the police, bare himself to everyone around, and require a taser to be calmed down.

Incidents like this one remind me that things are going to get better one day. Jesus is going to come back to rescue his church. He will restore/renew his creation. At that time it will be easy for us not to sin. We will get to enjoy our king's presence for eternity. I can't wait.

Until that time we have a job to do: make disciples. Although things will get much better some day, for now they are not. Every day we will see the effects of sin on this world. It won't always be as obvious as when a man runs past your family in the buff. However, it will be clear nonetheless.

Let's do our job while enjoying living in Christ. We have hope that sin is not victorious. Christ wins.

"But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." Romans 6:22-23

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Chick-fil-A: Both-And Instead of Either-Or

I've been thinking about the whole Chick-fil-A thing for a few days now. Part of me is tired of it and just wants it to go away. However, since it is a significant cultural phenomenon and conversation, my desire is to end up thinking biblically about it.

I live in the middle of Chick-fil-A world (meaning the South of the USA). My daughter has worked at a local CFA branch for a couple of years now. Because of this, I've frequented Chick-fil-A restaurants, well, frequently. As a family we had lunch twice at a CFA in St. Augustine, FL this week (on a short family vacation).

Ever since Dan Cathy made his statement in favor of a biblical definition of marriage, the culture wars have been ablaze. As you well know by now, both sides have dug in. During this time, I've read two types of blog posts in the Christian blog-o-sphere. The first comes from those in favor of standing with CFA by eating at the restaurants while the left-wing in our country takes aim at CFA. The second comes from Christians who seem bent on inducing guilt in other Christians by writing things like, "You need to help the starving overseas instead of eating a chicken sandwich."

My reaction to all this is that we as Christians can treat the CFA situation from a Both-And perspective instead of Either-Or. I see no reason why Christians must either support CFA by eating a sandwich or care for the poor, care for the starving overseas, and share the gospel. Certainly the second option is more important, but why can't we do both?

Of course we must be careful in how we think of this. Eating a CFA sandwich supports a company that is trying to do things the right way and stand for something more than making the most money. However, that's all eating a sandwich really does. It doesn't make disciples or relieve suffering.

Of far more importance is sharing the gospel and caring for those in need. Additionally, we must remember that gays are not the enemy; Satan is. Homosexuals need Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior just like all other lost people do.

To sum up, feel free to eat a CFA sandwich. You'll be glad you did. It's infinitely better than the excuses for chicken sandwiches they sell at places like McDonald's and Wendy's. Just make sure that you're involved in much more than this for the cause of Christ.

And for you Christians who are determined to guilt the rest of us for eating at CFA, please relax a little bit. My advice is that you eat and enjoy a CFA sandwich.  Have a milkshake while you're at it.

If you do not live near a CFA, I feel sorry for you. You may need to relocate.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Two Different But Related Questions

When we look at early church practices we are faced with two different but related questions. Those questions are as follows:

"Are we required to follow what is modeled?"

"Why wouldn't we want to follow what is modeled?"

New Testament church practices are wide ranging. Much is modeled for us. Because of this, we need to ask and answer the above two questions about practices individually as opposed to a whole. It does little good to answer "Yes" or "No" to a question such as, "Should we follow what we see in the NT?" That question is too broad. Rather, we do well to look at specifics.

The first of the two above questions has to do with what God requires of us. In other words, is it an issue of obedience? Are we sinning if we fail to follow what we see? It can often be difficult to determine the answer to this one.

The second question relates to our own motivations. If we choose to not follow what is modeled for us, why do we do so? What is our reasoning? This appears to be less an issue of obedience than desire.

Let's look at a couple of examples to tease this out. For our purposes we'll look first at the Lord's Supper. First question: are we required to celebrate the Lord's Supper as we see it in the NT? I believe the answer is a mixed one. There are certain things that we do have to do. For example, Paul makes it clear in I Corinthians 11 that we should wait for everyone to arrive prior to eating. We should also eat in an orderly fashion. However, there does not seem to be a command for us to treat the Lord's Supper as a full meal.

Second question: why wouldn't we want to follow the model of the Lord's Supper as set forth in the NT? If we choose, for example, not to have the supper be a full meal, what is our motivation? What causes us to choose to deviate from the model we see in scripture?

Let's take another example: church gatherings. First, are we required to gather as the early church generally did? Specifically, do we have to meet in homes? Also, do we have to meet in a participatory fashion? Further, must we meet for the purpose of mutual edification? As I look in scripture, I see no indication that the church is required to gather in houses. For example, we know that Paul met quite a few times with other believers in the Hall of Tyrannus. As for meetings, no outright command exists that they be participatory. I'll admit that the language in I Corinthians 14:26 can be interpreted in various ways on this issue; however, I don't believe it is a clear command. What about mutual edification? This is commanded. I Corinthians 14:26 and Hebrews 10:24-25 make this clear.

Second question(s): why wouldn't we want to gather in homes? Why wouldn't we want to meet in a participatory manner? What is the motivation behind deviating from the NT model? Many churches do not meet in homes. Many do not meet in a way that allows mutual participation (at least in worship services). What, then, is the motivation behind these decisions?

These two related questions can be uncomfortable for all of us. The reason is that they may point out either disobedience or poor motivations on our part. No one that I know enjoys being informed that they are wrong about something.

However, if we are unwilling to ask these questions, it shows something else. What's that? It shows that we are either afraid that our practices are unbiblical or that we don't care if they are. Both of those are extremely problematic.

My encouragement to you is to dare to ask these two related questions. They may not be welcomed by your friends and family, but it will still be worth the effort.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

# of Kids: What's the Big Deal?

I'm admitting up front that I don't understand why number of children is a big deal to some folks within the church. It's actually an issue that some Christians divide over and/or feel pride about. I just don't get it.

I'm all for people having the number of children they believe God has for them. If a couple wants to have lots of kids, like the Duggars, that's a wonderful thing. Children are clearly a blessing from the Lord.

Psalm 127:3-5 tells us, "Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one's youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate."

That said, I do not believe that the number of children a couple has is of importance. Some may choose to have two, some three, some four, etc. God instructed both Adam and Noah to be fruitful and multiply. However, God did not specify number. We also must be careful whenever we take narrative commands and apply them to ourselves.  For example, no one expects us to build an ark.

I do believe it is problematic if a couple chooses to have no children whatsoever simply because they want the freedom from raising others. This is selfish beyond measure. After all, someone took the time to raise them.

Some couples may elect not to have their own children, but instead to adopt. This is beautiful. Other couples will have their own and adopt. I applaud.

Additionally, other couples may not be able to have any children due to a variety of physical issues. I'm clearly not referring to them when writing about those who choose to have no children for freedom's sake. My hope is that every Christian couple who cannot have kids will be able to adopt.

I write all this to say that we in Christ should not fight over this issue. Satan would like nothing better than to cause strife within the church regarding number of kids. At worst it causes fighting, and at best it is a distraction.

Let's all just take joy in the kids we have and that God may give to us. No one is a better Christian because he or she has a different number of children than anyone else. It's not an issue worth fighting over.

As Christ's church, we must stay focused on the task at hand: making disciples. Let's avoid distracting arguments like this one at all costs.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Missions in Philemon

Philemon is not a book we normally turn to for information about world missions. However, like every other book in the bible, we can learn from this one, too. What does Paul tell us? (For the first post in this series, click here).

No one particular verse or paragraph stands out in this short epistle when it comes to missions. In light of that, we might be tempted to ignore it in our study. We make a mistake if we do this. The reason is that one of the primary themes of this letter is directly related to our proclamation of the gospel.

That primary theme is forgiveness. Paul writes to Philemon, exhorting him to receive back Onesimus. It appears that Onesimus was a runaway slave of Philemon's who may have even stolen from him. At some point after running away, Onesimus came in contact with Paul. We can safely assume that Paul preached the gospel to Onesimus, and that he came to Christ. After that, he became "useful" to Paul.

Paul could have kept Onesimus with him, but he wants to clear things up between Philemon and Onesimus. He writes to Philemon, in essence calling upon him to forgive Onesimus and accept him back not as a slave but as a forgiven brother in Christ.

This is a lot to ask. Paul realizes this, but also reminds Philemon that his very salvation has occurred through Paul's ministry. On top of this, Paul is willing to pay off any debt owed by Onesimus upon his hoped for future visit.

We clearly see Paul's call upon Philemon to forgive Onesimus. We also see Paul's willing payment of Onesimus' debt. Both forgiveness and debt payment lie at the heart of the gospel message.

When we proclaim the good news, we tell of God's willingness to forgive our transgressions against Him. God is willing to do this because of Jesus Christ's payment of our sin debt through his execution on the cross. Without forgiveness, there is no gospel. Without substitutionary payment, there is no gospel.

Furthermore, once we come to Christ we are to become forgiving people. Forgiveness is a characteristic of the people of God. As Philemon was exhorted to forgive someone who wronged him, God expects us to forgive those who wrong us. We see this clearly illustrated in the parable of the unforgiving servant.

As we share the good news, let's learn from this short letter between friends. Forgiveness is a beautiful truth at the core of the gospel.

To read any of the posts in this N.T. missions series, click here.