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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Unanticipated Gift

I've been so busy making and purchasing gifts for Christmas that I haven't had much time to devote to my blog, but that doesn't mean I haven't been thinking about it. I've been trying to think what meaningful message I could give you for Christmas this year. America and other nations around the world are suffering from a national and international economic recession. Many people have been affected, either losing homes, jobs, or both. This Christmas is a hard one for most people.
Then I heard the song, "In the Bleak Midwinter" by Christina Rossetti, and I thought it summed up everything I needed to say.

In the Bleak Midwinter

In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When He comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty,
Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, whom cherubim
Worship night and day,
A breastful of milk
And a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels
Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
Which adore.

Angels and archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air,
But His mother only
In her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the Beloved
With a kiss.

What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb,
If I were a wise man
I would do my part,
Yet what I can I give Him,
Give my heart.

Words: Christina Georgina Rossetti (1830-1894), 1872; appeared posthumously in
The Poetical Works of Christina Georgina Rossetti, Poem #426, 1904.
Music: "Cranham," Gustav Theodore Holst, 1906
Source: "The English Hymnal," p. 44, 1916

Have a merry Christmas everyone, and remember the great gift we were given on the first Christmas day!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

What is Truth?: Heeding the Voice of Truth

Whew! I've been busy these past weeks, so I bet you've forgotten we were talking about truth and relativism before Thanksgiving. I've been trying to write this post for what seems like an eternity--at least in the blogosphere, nearly two weeks is a long time!

It seems like I've been trying to make my point much more complicated than it needs to be. The fact is, I can't think of a brilliant way to argue why relative moralists should believe the truth. In reality, it's a pretty simple decision. It isn't logical to object to truth, and therefore I can't use logic to prove such an obvious point. I mean, even Aristotelian logic was formulated with the basic assumption that truth exists and can be found.

How then can I convince anyone to give up such ideas if he or she wants to cling to them? I don't know. It's apparent that no argument can sway any mind that does not want to be changed. It isn't a cop-out on my part to arrive at that position. I have an example from the Bible to back it up.

Jesus and Pilate: The Trial of Truth

I was looking for some other angle in the Bible with which we can discuss truth, and I found this interesting conversation between Jesus and the Roman Governor, Pilate, during the trial that resulted in Christ's sentence to death by crucifixion. In case you aren't familiar with the story, Pilate did not find Jesus worthy of the death penalty, but he still sentenced Jesus to death by crucifixion. Details of the conversation are recorded in John 18: 33-38 and Matthew 27: 11-26.

I ask that you look up these passages in a Bible you have on hand, or to use the links to open them in a new tab on your web browser, so you can follow me as I explain the verses.

Pilate has often been quoted for his relative moralist line in John 18: 38: "What is truth?" In classic relativist slight-of-hand, he dismisses everything that he's heard as just a bunch of useless arguments for an unarguable position. Did he really believe what his own mouth had said, though? This was the last statement Pilate made in the conversation, so we need to understand what lead up to that point.

Pilate started out by asking Jesus point-blank if He was the "King of the Jews" (John 18:33 NIV). On the surface, this seems like a legitimate question. Pilate was the Roman governor in charge of Judea, the ancient district that included what had been the kingdom of Israel. It was now under the rule of the Roman Empire, and the Roman Emperor was the legal and official king of the Jews, as far as politics were concerned. If Jesus was indeed leading a rebellion against the Emperor, Pilate had authority to sentence him to death, but if this was a religious concern among the Jews, Pilate did not have authority to get involved.

So, it seems like a valid question to start out an interrogation, but Jesus called him on a detail. He hadn't asked Jesus if he was leading an insurrection; he'd simply asked Him about His claim to authority.

Jesus responded by questioning His questioner. "'Is that your own idea,' Jesus asked,'or did others talk to you about me?'" (John 18: 34 NIV). Pilate was supposed to be figuring out if Jesus had lead a rebellion against Roman rule, but his question betrayed the fact that he had been listening to rumors about Jesus, and was allowing those rumors to influence his "impartial" viewpoint. As Jesus had become more popular, many people had begun to hope He would become more than just a spiritual leader in Israel. Obviously Pilate had heard of that rumor. Jesus was asking Pilate, a man who obviously valued justice and Roman law, to admit that he was allowing rumors and personal opinion to have a place in Roman legal proceedings. Jesus was showing respect for Roman law by insisting that it be followed; He was also shifting the subject onto truth vs. opinion, where it truly belonged.

Apparently that exasperated Pilate, because he didn't want this to get personal. He answered Jesus with, "Am I a Jew?" (John 18: 35 NIV), which is a loaded statement. Pilate seemed to be saying that he was a Roman, and Romans didn't hang out with Jews, get involved with Jewish issues, or allow their judgment to become clouded with personal opinion like their Roman subjects. If you detect a racist superior attitude, you are right. Pilate was claiming to be above any personal interest in Jesus' leadership credentials. Then Pilate shifted the subject back to the routine and impartial trial he wanted this meeting to be. Since the Jews had brought Jesus to him, Jesus must have done something that fell under Roman legal jurisdiction. So what had Jesus done against the Roman law?

"Jesus said, 'My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place'" (John 18: 36 NIV). In other words, Jesus was assuring Pilate that He was not leading a political insurrection against the Romans. Just in case Pilate hadn't understood what His previous statement implied, Jesus was saying again that this was a spiritual issue, not a political one.

Pilate's reply, "You are a king, then!" (John 18: 37 NIV) seems like a question about Jesus' sanity to modern readers. The argument for the truth had changed from what people now might call "rational" ideas about law into more "irrational" ideas about religion, but it's important to remind you here that the Romans were very religious people. Everything was religious to them, and every unusual event was a portent of the future--a message from the gods they worshiped. The closest thing to spiritual kingship in the Roman religion was the pantheon of gods and goddesses. The Emperor himself was thought to be a god. To suggest that a person couldn't be deity would have been treasonous speech against the Emperor. Claiming to be a spiritual king (as a Roman would have understood the term) was not completely outrageous to Pilate, but it did, of course, need proof.

So Jesus gave him some proof. "Jesus answered, 'You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me'" (John 18: 37 NIV). Jesus wasn't claiming to be a little god who ruled over only the Jews (who seemed like a very small and weak group in the Roman Empire); He was claiming to be the God of all truth, who had personally come for the sole purpose of talking about truth. In the Roman religion, the goddess Veritas (truth) was elusive and hid in a well. Yet, here was someone claiming that truth was not elusive, and that He had personally brought truth to Pilate. The truth was right out in the open and Jesus was discussing it!

Now, truth, as the earlier exchange about rumors had revealed, was of utmost importance to Pilate. He was a rational man who believed in justice and getting to the bottom of things. Now Jesus was claiming that He was the authority on truth, and that anyone who cared about truth had to submit to His authority. This was a personal statement to Pilate. Jesus, this man Pilate had never met before, was demonstrating, in the most unsettling way, that He knew all about Pilate's innermost thoughts and what he valued most of all. Jesus actually knew and understood Pilate!

Pilate could have said, "Whoa, okay, you really are the King of Truth, and I believe it because you know the truth about me," but something stopped him. What was it? I think he didn't want to look foolish in front of all of those Jews standing around and accusing Jesus. He didn't want to look stupid, and he was afraid that by standing by his personal beliefs, he might cause a real Jewish insurrection. That would jeopardize his job, and perhaps even his life. If you really believe in something, you have to be willing to put everything else on the line for it.

So, in response to Jesus' claim as an authority on truth, Pilate said "What is truth?" (John 18: 38 NIV). He was afraid to stick his neck out, so he renounced the one thing he cared about. People's opinions of him--peer approval, in other words--was what really mattered to Pilate. When the going got rough, Pilate wasn't actually a man of truth and reason, and he admitted it to Jesus.

Other Arguments in the Debate

Were there any other things that Pilate ignored in arriving at his verdict in the truth debate?

  1. Pilate's wife and even his religion argued for truth. "While Pilate was sitting on the judge's seat, his wife sent him this message: 'Don't have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him'" (Matthew 27:19 NIV). I will say again that the Romans were a very superstitious people. They considered just about everything as a sign from the gods, telling them how to act. In recorded history, Roman rulers were known to consider comet sightings as predictors of the outcomes of battles, and retreat or attack based on their interpretation of the sign. We don't know what Pilate's wife dreamed, but it must have been important enough that she was willing to bother him at work.
    Though superstition usually doesn't support truth, it did, indirectly, that day. It was more than just superstition to suppose that sentencing an innocent man to death would incur wrath from God. They didn't know the God of Israel, but they were afraid to incur His wrath. Pilate's wife told him to put everything on the line to side with Christ in this matter, but he wouldn't listen.

  2. Matthew 27: 18 also includes an editorial comment, that Pilate "knew it was out of envy that they [the Jewish rulers] had handed Jesus over to him." We can't read Pilate's mind, so I imagine that something he said or did showed that he understood that their issue with Jesus was over power and popularity. Jesus was popular, and the Jewish leaders were upset that he was gaining a following that rivaled their own. Pilate knew people and understood when people were trying to trick him into getting rid of a rival for them. I'm sure, as a man in the judgment seat, he had seen his share of slander and false testimony.

  3. Finally, as a man of justice, Pilate's own conscience argued for truth. He demanded of the Jewish crowd that they tell him why he should sentence Christ to death. It bothered him when they kept insisting on it. To show them that he felt it wasn't right, he ceremonially washed his hands, saying "'I am innocent of this man's blood,'" and added, "'It is your responsibility!'"(Matthew 27: 24 NIV). Though the people willingly accepted the blame (Matthew 27: 25), Pilate was still the one recorded in history as the man who sentenced Christ to death. It bothered him, but it didn't bother him enough to stick his neck out.

Pilate was a relative moralist by choice. His position wasn't supported; he just chose it because he wanted acceptance, and debates over truth challenged that acceptance.

If you are debating relative morality, you will eventually come to the same crisis point that Pilate did. You have to either give up everything for truth, or you have to give up everything that matters for what is more comfortable. Your conscience will bother you. You will know it isn't right. You can willfully choose the discomfort of the conscience, or you could risk all for God. I can't promise you that sticking with your convictions will be easy, but I can tell you that God rewards those who stubbornly cling to the truth. As Jesus' disciples told their new converts, it is important "to remain true to the faith. 'We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God'" (Acts 14:22).

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thankgiving!

More on truth next time...right now I'm too busy preparing for guests and a big meal.
"Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song. For the LORD is the great God, the great King above all gods. In his hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to him. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land. Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care." (Psalm 95:1-7)

Maybe you could think about this and similar passages as you prepare to feast and spend time with your families. Enjoy your holiday, and God bless!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Is This the Death of Truth? Say it Ain't So!

I've heard, lately, that truth is dead in American culture. It's becoming very common to talk about "your truth" and "my truth." The name for this kind of talk is relativism. A relativist is an intellectual who, rather than reconcile two perspectives, has committed to uncertainty. That is, a relativist has embraced the notion that not settling the issue is a valid position to take. A moral relativist, to take that a step further, has decided not to "pick a side" in moral dilemmas. Moral relativists can come down on either side of an issue, depending on how the mood hits them at the time. They are proud of their undecided and undependable behavior, and treat it as an honorary badge of the educated elite.

In contrast, a moral dualist (like me) is someone who sees every moral issue as a black and white choice. I've been accused of being a universal dualist, that is, someone who sees everything in life as black and white, but that's not accurate. Some things are not black and white choices. For instance, my decision about what I should eat for dinner is not a moral or black and white choice; there is nothing sinful about choosing spaghetti instead of a smoked turkey sandwich.

It's when people try to lower moral and spiritual issues (such as murder) to the same importance and significance as turkey sandwiches that I break with them. Can the truth ever really be unimportant?

What's Important to You?

Using only human logic, not aided by Scripture, I'm going to try to show you that moral relativism doesn't check out with any method of analysis.

First, by claiming there is such a thing as "your truth" and "my truth" (multiple and contradictory "truths"), and by saying that moral choices are on equal footing with non-moral choices (like what to eat), relative moralists are not actually saying that truth is unimportant or that truth is dead. For them, truth still exists, but they either don't want to think about it, which indicates intellectual laziness, or, more likely, they don't like what the truth looks like.

Dismissing the claim that all truth is absolute leaves room for things they want to be true. Accepting absolute truth would imply that their brand of truth is false. They would look like fools for choosing lunacy and dismissing the only viable choice. Worse, if their "truths" were exposed as lies, they would be liars for trying to pass them off.

In short, relative moralists' dismissal only serves to emphasize that they know there is something to dismiss. They aren't denying the existence of absolute truth, but rather, they are refusing to acknowledge that it universally applies to them or that it has the power to deny them what they want.

Refusing to acknowledge absolute truth or submit to its guidelines has never made it go away. It only temporarily anesthetizes the moral relativist's conscience. It also works well in making moral dualists keep quiet.

Here comes the Bible Part

I found Jesus as a little child because I became convinced that there was more to life than the here and now. I had a series of nightmares about what the end of the world would be like, and what it would be like to lose everything I depended on for safety and stability. Yes, I was only 4, but the need for security is something a person is born with, and I've never seen anyone grow out of it. I couldn't base my life on believing in nothing, because I needed to be able to hold onto something. Jesus was my stability.

Jesus' absolute truth put limits on my life. It was then that I began to understand the rules that my parents imposed on me. Jesus' truth is hard to measure up to, but not hard to understand. That is the source of the educated elite's pride in moral relativism. Their system is difficult to unravel and impossible to pin down. It's designed to make you feel big and smart for "getting it" and "getting with the program." Jesus doesn't work that way. The fact is, truth is a very simple equation, but some people try to make it hard.

Here's some Bible to munch on until next time:
"You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father's desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies" (John 8:44, 45 NIV, Jesus' words). Wow! Harsh words. Jesus is not even allowing for the existence of multiple truths. There is only one truth, "the truth," and you can either hold to it, or not hold to it.

"Jesus answered, 'I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me'" (John 14:6 NIV). Here, Jesus is not only claiming to know the truth, but also to be the truth. The only way to get into Heaven is to have a relationship with Him. In this case, indecision has eternal consequences.

Don't get caught believing the lie, folks. Satan=lies Jesus=truth!

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Kingdom Perspective

I've been slow to post again, since the election. I don't want to make this a political blog, because that's not my mission here. I created this blog to talk about the issues that concern (and often deceive) Christians today.

However, where politics is concerned, I think I should speak, at least to remind people about what has really happened. I've seen a whole lot of fear and worrying coming from my Christian brothers and sisters since the election. Many good Christian people are not too happy that Barack Obama was elected as our next president, because he has announced that he plans to overturn a lot of advances that the Christian Right movement and conservative Christians have managed to achieve in our law system. For instance, president-elect Obama has announced that he is going to remove restrictions on abortion and stem cell research. Leaders of the Christian Right had celebrated these restrictions as small victories, and now it looks like their victories were short-lived. Dr. James Dobson even publicly admitted that he felt depression after this election, as if 35 years of his work and leadership in the Christian Right movement had all been for nothing. You can read about that radio broadcast in Dobson Admits to Struggling after Election by Jennifer Riley, Christian Post Reporter, Fri, Nov. 07 2008 11:29 AM EST. So, is it all over? How should conservative U.S. Christians receive the news of the 2008 election?

Have Christians in America "Lost"?

My answer: Absolutely not! We have to keep in mind that politics and governmental laws are not the same as God's government and laws. It's great when the two things coincide, and Christians in America have been abundantly blessed for many years. The laws have long supported our viewpoints, and we have been happy that we didn't have to do much fighting to establish those laws. Well, maybe that era in America has passed, but that doesn't mean we should give up or give in.

Remember that politics is a secular pursuit, limited to armies, official buildings, and stamped, signed, sealed, and embossed paperwork. Political systems have always been weak, because they are established and run by weak, fallible human beings. They are subject to coup d'etat and takeovers by foreign powers. If you put your faith in politics, you will meet with disappointment.
"Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is kept safe. Many seek an audience with a ruler, but it is from the LORD that man gets justice." (Proverbs 29: 25, 26)

I'm not attacking those who are upset about the election. I can't say that it hasn't bothered me, too. I also won't say that we wouldn't be panicking in the same way if McCain had been elected president. I'm just begging you to remember that a political defeat is not a defeat of good. Even if every kind of immoral behavior becomes legal and is officially endorsed by government (that doesn't seem likely in just one presidency, but we are heading that way), God has not endorsed it. Even if truth goes out of style in this world, God will not be shaken. Christians can stand firm in the truth, in morality, because we have God to back us--even if the government opposes us. This is not defeat, and it isn't the end of the world. At least, not yet. (If it is the end of the world, then Lord, come quickly!)

Something Else to Do, Besides Hoping and Praying

I've noticed that the beginning of this political change started in our schools and colleges. It's the culmination of decades of socially-transforming teaching, which we call political correctness. For instance, politically-correct teachers teach against saying that homosexuality is wrong and a sin, because such statements label and ostracize a group of people. Inclusiveness, the teaching that no one deserves to be singled out our rejected for anything they are, they've done, or any decision they've made is not a Christian attitude. God Himself even labels and rejects sin. However, He did provide a way for people to be included. If anyone, despite past labels, accepts God and rejects the sinful lifestyle that brought the label, Jesus Christ's sacrifice will purify and free this person from condemnation Romans 5: 16 Romans 8: 1.

So, two things Christians can do:

  1. Teach their Children strict godliness, which includes a thorough knowledge of the Bible and the rejection of anything that contradicts it.

  2. Speak out and reject worldliness in their own lives, to make themselves a holy and surrendered servant of God and an example for everyone around them.

This political election is the result of a social change, so the only thing that can oppose or change it is another radical social transformation. That starts with us, folks. It's going to take much more than a prayer in church or even at home. Society only changes for the good when hearts, minds, and lives are surrendered to God's will. Politics reflects a culture. It cannot impose morality on a population if morality isn't already there.
One parting shot:
This is what the LORD says: "Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the LORD....But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. " (Jeremiah 17:5,7)

Monday, November 3, 2008

Real Hope for the Worrying World

There are just so many reasons to worry these days. Sometimes the news makes my stomach tie in knots. How about you? I hear about people dying in the war in the Congo or starving to death in places like Haiti. Closer to home, many U.S. residents have lost their jobs, their homes, and their retirements over the past few months. Some of these people did unwise or even greedy things with money, but many did not--even so, we all have to suffer for it. Lastly, the wholesale endorsement of immorality and rebellion against God in our culture and public educational system threatens all our futures. I could sit around worrying about all of these things, or I could turn it all over to God.

Now, this may not be the best definition of worry, but in my mind, worry is that anxious feeling I get when I'm afraid of something bad that could happen. Sometimes that anxiety is a fear of something that never actually happens. For instance, worrying the night before about failing a test or blowing a presentation, but discovering the next day that I knew the material well and could handle the pressure. Sometimes that fear actually does come true. For instance, a person could be worried about his/her family member suffering or dying after the doctor issues a terminal diagnosis. Sadly, miracles don't always happen, and often a terminal diagnosis really does mean that we are going to lose the person we love.

In either situation, worrying doesn't actually change the outcome. It can sometimes help us come up with ideas for preventing the outcome we fear, but more often, worrying is what we do when we've done all we can and the feared situation is still there. In these situations, when we are helpless to do anything about what we fear, God has offered us hope, not worry.

Philippians 4:6 states, "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God." What does that mean? God is telling us that if anything is scary enough that we are worrying about it, we should tell Him about it (prayer), ask Him to do something about it (petition), and praise Him because we know He has heard us(thanksgiving).

Anything, from thinning hair to someone's impending death, that causes us to worry, is worth telling God about. The Bible also says, "Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you" (1 Peter 5:7 NIV). God wants to hear from you. He's not too busy to listen to you, and He's not going to call any of your worries stupid or silly.However, you are silly if you don't take advantage of this great offer to live a worry-free life!

I Told God Everything, So Why Do I Still Have to Face All the Things I Was Worried About?

God didn't promise us that the big exam tomorrow, or the cancer, or the pregnancy, etc. would go away if we told Him it was worrying us. However, God did offer us a promise. Romans chapter 8, verse 28 says, "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." This means that if we are counted among those who love and obey God, He will always make even the grimmest of situations work out for good in our lives--even if what is "good" isn't exactly what we wanted Him to do for us. The statement has only one qualification--you have to have a real relationship with God, through His Son, Jesus Christ, before He can make "all things work out" for you.

Well, I Don't Know God; Does That Mean I'm Out of Luck?

Absolutely not! You'll need to get a relationship with God, but that is a pretty easy matter. All you have to do is ask Him--and of course, obey Him. If you don't love God or care about what He says, you are just using Him for what you can get from Him, and He's not going to cater to such abuses.

Love God because He has absolutely no obligation to love you or help you, yet He does it willingly. Love God because even though you have rejected Him and done things to displease Him up until now, He has still made Himself very accessible through the willing sacrifice of His son, Jesus. Love God because "the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23 NIV), but Jesus has paid that price so that if you ask Him for it, you can have the gift not only of freedom from worry, but also of eternal life in Heaven.

Finally, obey God because He is sovereign over all Creation, and because you love Him and are grateful for everything I've already told you about Him!

Until next time, keep trusting God and learning all you can about Him. He truly is an awesome person and the best friend you could have when times are tough and you feel worried or stressed.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

I Vote for an Unchanging God

Over the past year, and especially the last few weeks, the blogosphere seems to be buzzing with politics. The favorite political word in the U.S. this year is change. Yes, it's true that something is going to change. I can't predict who will be elected or what the world political scene will look like in a few years. I won't endorse any candidate or party on this blog because politics are neither my calling nor my job, and I don't want to step outside of God's purpose for my life. I don't want to get too involved because I can't honestly believe any human being is the next Savior of mankind.

I can tell you that as Christians in the free United States, we shouldn't hide out. We should go to the polls and vote, because if we all stay home on November 4, only people who don't share our values will be making decisions that affect our and our children's futures. Beyond that, I can't tell you if any of the candidates are good, moral people because I don't know any of them personally. Really, only God can look at their hearts.

The best thing we average Christians can do to stay involved in politics after the election is to pray for our government. Pray that God can work in the hearts and lives of our political figures, teaching them to rule with justice and mercy and righteousness.

The problem with taking politics too seriously beyond that is that the people we elect are just as fallible as we are. The Bible tells us that all humankind is inherently evil and can fall into sin.

When we need hope and stability, we should look for a leader who is infallible and unchanging. We need someone whose future behavior can accurately be predicted by past and present behavior, and who we can know, personally, to be good. We need the Holy and Almighty God to lead us.

God Doesn't Change

I read Psalm 93 the other day and suddenly realized that the Bible has something to say about politics, too. Let's put the entire text of the Psalm here (it's really short) and analyze it.
The Lord reigns, he is robed in majesty; the Lord is robed in majesty and is armed with strength. The world is firmly established; it cannot be moved. Your throne was established long ago; you are from all eternity. The seas have lifted up, O Lord, the seas have lifted up their voice; the seas have lifted up their pounding waves. Mightier than the thunder of the great waters, mightier than the breakers of the sea--the Lord on high is mighty. Your statutes stand firm; holiness adorns your house for endless days, O Lord. (Psalm 93 NIV)

How can the world be 'firmly established' when everything in it changes constantly? People are like grass, and their comings and goings are so short. I was thinking about all of that, and realized that this is a promise that only God can truly change the world. He is the ruler who's throne (His power over all creation) cannot be challenged successfully--it never has. We can't do anything to change things without His permission.

The discussion of ocean waves sounds like a discussion of one of the most powerful natural forces the Psalmist was familiar with, but I think it could also be a poetic description of human beings. At least, that's what I've heard before. Think about it. Ocean waves pound the shore relentlessly, tearing through rock and dashing mighty warships to pieces. Nations rage constantly against the set rules and boundaries that God has established for our lives. Either one is a powerful force that can destroy land and lives. We are reassured by the Psalmist that we needn't truly fear either one, because their strength is nothing compared to God's.

What a declaration! The Psalmist ends it with a more blatant statement of his meaning, for anyone who is still struggling with the promise. God's "statutes stand firm." No one can change what God has ruled as wrong or right--not even with government action or universal acceptance of the new truth.

I wanted to leave my readers with that promise. Nothing is really going to change. God still loves us and will not relent in doing right or serving us with justice. You can trust Him, because He isn't just giving His word. He's done it. He sent His son, Jesus Christ, to rescue us from the "ocean waves." Now isn't that reassuring?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A "Sheep," on "Wolves"

What do I mean when I speak of "sheep" and "wolves" or use the expression, "wolves in sheep's clothing"?

I don't mean "wolf" in the sense of a Don Juan or Casanova type person. There may be some "wolves in sheep's clothing" that fit that description, but the Bible uses the imagery of sheep and wolves in a more general sense.

The Sheep Label

In the modern sense, a "sheep" is a person who follows blindly. This isn't exactly accurate. Sheep blindly follow instinct, and part of that is to stay with the group and run when something doesn't seem right. Humans are more intelligent, so nothing they do is completely blind or thoughtless.

"Sheep," used in the symbolic sense in the Bible, are followers of God, but this isn't a thoughtless decision, either. Christians consciously choose to obey God and let Him make the major decisions in their lives. Like sheep, Christians trust the Shepherd, but unlike sheep, humans have a choice to disobey.

In contrast to the world, God isn't calling us stupid (lacking in intelligence) by comparing us to sheep. Agreeing to follow someone who knows the future and is capable of doing anything to ensure your safety seems, well, pretty smart. No, the Bible doesn't call people stupid, but it does call some people fools. Foolishness is not a lack of intelligence. Foolishness, in the sense the Bible uses, is someone who refuses to respond to sound advice and discipline. It's a conscious decision, and fools can help being fools. Fools don't act like sheep because they refuse to follow the Shepherd; instead, they act like lone wolves.

The Wolf Label

It's pretty clear what wolves mean to sheep. Wolves are vicious, attacking some unsuspecting prey animal in the night and shredding it to pieces with their teeth. Unlike human wolves, however, they are just doing this to eat.

The Bible refers to certain people as wolves because they aggressively destroy people who obey God. Their wolf-ish behavior, believe it or not, is motivated by either a fear of giving up their hostile ways, or a hatred of God and goodness. Maybe they hurt others so their peers will approve of their toughness. Maybe someone claiming to be a Christian was mean to them, so they think God is mean and they want to protect themselves from this false perception of God. Whatever their reasoning, these wolves have set themselves up to be the enemies of Christians, just as much as wolves are the natural enemies of sheep.

Wolves in the wild would have a great advantage if they could disguise themselves and hide among the sheep, but that can't happen. People can pretend to be something they are not, because other people can't see inside their hearts and read their motives.

Recognizing a Wolf

There are still ways to sniff out the wolves. Occasionally, the people around us let slip what they are really thinking. If you want to be a Savvy Sheep, you have to watch for these glimpses and learn to spot a wolf. If someone acts like a wolf once, he or she may just be a sheep that made a mistake. If this person makes a pattern of it, however, watch out! Even if it's your best friend, a wolf is a wolf. If you don't run away, you'll end up sharing space with lettuce, tomato, and two slices of bread.

Spotting the Fangs Beneath the Wool

Malicious Gossiping
malicious gossiping is a clear sign that this person doesn't respect the feelings of the person he or she is talking about. A gossip doesn't care if he or she brings the blood, in other words. If this person is talking about someone else this way, what makes you think you aren't getting the same treatment when you aren't around?

"Jesus said, 'I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14: 6, emphasis mine). Jesus' very nature is truthful. If this person has rejected truth and gone a different way, he or she has rejected the example of the Shepherd. This person isn't obeying, and isn't following. What is this person?

Rejection of Advice
"The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice" (Proverbs 12: 15). We've already gone over the Biblical definition of a fool. If this person can't even listen to you, a friend, how can he follow God and listen to Him? *I will qualify this by saying that anyone can (and should) reject advice if it will cause chaos, contradicts Scripture, or could get someone hurt.*

"We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, 'I love God,' yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother" (1 John 4:19-21). The Bible promises us that people who hurt us will be punished for what they did. Since God has forgiven us for many things, why can't we forgive those who hurt us, too? A sheep lets God be angry for him, but don't have anything on his conscience concerning this other person. A wolf wages war on his own.

I could make the list longer, but this post is already huge. Do you want me to discuss any of this further? Just leave me a comment and I'll do my best to answer your questions.

Friday, October 10, 2008

A Christian's New Definition of Healing

For those of you who don't know me personally, my aunt passed away this week from a brief battle with multiple myeloma (a cancer that affects bone marrow). The experience took me back to memories of my granddad's battle with mesothelioma (asbestos-linked lung cancer), and a conversation that kept coming up during his 8 month battle with the disease before it took his life in May of 2005.

Close relatives and well-meaning friends prayed for my granddad's complete, miraculous healing, right up until the day he died. They based their faith in his healing in scripture. One of the main verses I heard was Isaiah 53: 4, 5, emphasizing the part I'll put in bold for you:

Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows .... But he was pierced for our transgressions,he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,and by his wounds we are healed. (NIV)

People told me that this verse meant that because Jesus died for our sins, if we claimed that healing in Him, we Christians don't have to suffer and die from traumatic illnesses.

I want to make it clear that I don't believe anyone who said this to me had evil motives in insisting that my granddad was going to be healed completely of his cancer. However,I think what they said could destroy people, because when it didn't come true, it seemed to prove that the Bible lies. My granddad's death must have come as a shock to them!

This actually drove me to examine the scripture they cited a little more closely, and I realized that the verse does promise healing, but not necessarily physical healing. If they were right, that means the apostles should still be walking the earth, because nothing kills Christians!

So here's what I think the scripture actually says. My granddad, and lately, my aunt, were healed, even though they died. I believe the healing the verse promises is a spiritual healing--their souls were healed and rescued from the spiritual death that sin brings.

Do you agree? Does this mean that Christians cannot ever ask God to miraculously heal them from a terminal diagnosis?

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

God's Kids Don't Groupthink

I heard about a term in one of my senior classes in college--Groupthink. Groupthink is a sort of abstract concept that has its roots in secular sociology and psychology, but I thought it might be good to talk about it here.

"Groupthink" happens when everyone in a group has pretty much the same background, outlook on life, etc. In such situations, they all tend to think alike and are afraid to say anything that might make them unpopular with, or different from, the group. In this situation, creativity and productivity drop. Disasters happen because no one was brave enough to warn the others about potential problems.

Leadership studies suggest that if you get a variety of people, all with different backgrounds and perspectives, who are not afraid to offer a different opinion, even if it disrupts the peace in the group, you can overcome Groupthink and have a more creative and productive workplace.

Something made me think about all of that again, the other day. Do churches have problems with Groupthink? Yes, I think sometimes they do. Unfortunately, sometimes they do the wrong thing to overcome it.

Recently, I've heard of a campaign to overthrow anything rated as old or worn-out. In churches, that may mean hushing up or purging old and accepted traditions, and replacing them with new ones.

One problem, though. Doesn't that just mean replacing one peer group with another, and thus one kind of Groupthink with another?

The Bible's Answer for Groupthink

Okay, so non-religious people have studied groups and have noticed that diversity causes a more productive and original-thinking group. If we have everything in common, we are afraid to venture out or challenge the consensus, for fear of becoming a pariah. Add someone to the group who's totally different from us, and is willing to say so, and he or she can share new information--can teach us.

So maybe out with the old and in with the new is not such a good idea. The old has withstood many challenges--that's why it's old. Why don't we just mix the two? In essence, I mean letting older people use their experience to challenge the consensus of the young, and letting younger people suggest new perspectives that challenge the consensus of the old.

This is a revolutionary idea, apparently. American culture dictates that classrooms and friendships be segregated by age group, and now even Sunday school classrooms have followed suit. Still, is this what the Bible tells us to do?

The Apostle Paul wrote about instruction and organization in the early church. He didn't let the spiritually immature teach the spiritually immature. He also specifically told people who were older (chronologically) to lead, because their more advanced lives offered more examples that others could learn from.

Older women were to teach younger women how to behave in a way that was both moral and acceptable to the surrounding culture (Titus 2: 3-5); older, married men with families were supposed to be the spiritual leaders for the whole church (1 Timothy 3: 1-5). New converts could not lead, because they lacked the knowledge of the scriptures that told them to respect their elders, and they became conceited with their new power (1 Timothy 5: 1,2; 3:6). So far, however, that only covers older people teaching younger ones. Does it work both ways?

There were cases when younger people were put in charge of older ones--case in point, Timothy, who became a pastor over a congregation that included some elders who despised him because he was younger (1 Timothy 4:12). Older people, then, can learn from younger people, provided that these younger people have enough spiritual background that they are qualified to teach. See 1 Timothy 3: 1-5 again if you need specifics on a church leader's qualifications.

Jesus Himself also said, "I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it" (Mark 10: 15). In other words, even those with mature faith can learn about genuine faith from children.

When You don't Take the Bible's Example Seriously

Problems result when kids (those lacking spiritual maturity) only minister to kids. King Rehoboam is an excellent case in point.

His father was the wisest man who ever lived, although even King Solomon didn't take his father's (David's) example, and ended up following after other gods.

His son, Rehoboam, also didn't learn from his elders. When his kingdom complained to him about his merciless labor requirements, he went to his experienced elders, his father's advisers, and asked for advice.
They told him to be compassionate and give his subjects a kind answer, so they would love him (1 Kings 12: 6,7). Instead, he went to his peers who had grown up with him and shared his background (uh-oh, Groupthink!) and took their advice (ignore his subjects' concerns and speak harshly to them), which resulted in civil war (1 Kings 12: 8-19).

Solving It

The lesson we can learn, as Savvy Sheep, is that we should never dismiss someone or something (such as a church elder or a church tradition) just because we don't like what it has to say about us. Rehoboam wanted to look tough, like all the surrounding kings. He also wanted the approval of his friends. Perhaps he rejected the elder's advice because he didn't like what it revealed about his own character (petty and mean, not kind at all), or perhaps he just thought it was too conventional. Whatever his reasoning, he got disaster.

So, how can the church overcome Groupthink? We can start with the good foundation of faith and holiness that our elders have laid for us, and to that we can add the knowledge and perspective of our own experience. Disaster comes when we completely throw out the old and do our own thing. How could Rehoboam, with his unique and up-to-date knowledge of politics, have used the situation to unite his people and built up a favorable reputation for his kingdom? How can we use the old teachings and the experiences of our elders to address the problems this generation is facing?

Come on, folks. Let's all put our heads together and come up with creative ideas for our churches that capitalizes on diversity. It works better that way.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Sheep's Testimony

Ahem! Is this thing turned on?...

This first post is like talking into a microphone on an empty stage in front of empty auditorium seats. The silence is rather awkward, right now, but I'm sure once we discover each other and introduce ourselves, everything will work out just fine.

Let me begin by introducing myself. I am a sheep. No, not literally. My name actually means "Ewe Lamb," but beyond that, I'm all human. I'm not dumb like sheep, but I do follow leaders I feel are trustworthy. I am a follower of the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ.

My history isn't all that unusual. I was the stupid sheep that wandered away from the flock, causing the Shepherd to leave the 99 other sheep in the fold so He could go and find me (Matthew 18: 12-14; Isaiah 53:6). Even after that dramatic rescue, I've still been pretty guileless, like any other sheep, and I've been taken in a few times by smart-talking wolves (i.e. people who pretend to be Christians so they can ruin real Christians after earning their trust). That wasn't pleasant, but God has promised to straighten things out in the end (Isaiah 23: 1-4).

I'm not telling you all of this to be silly. The Bible compares everyone to sheep because, like sheep, we have the urge within us to trust a leader to protect us from harm and introduce us to good things.

Maybe you've been taken in by a few sheep-leaders who turned out to be wolves in sheep's clothing, but that doesn't mean that you shouldn't trust God. He's neither wolf nor sheep, and He's looking out for you. Choose your shepherd wisely. Don't let your shepherd be death.

Human beings, despite their wealth, do not endure; they are like beasts that perish. This is the fate of those who trust in themselves, and of their followers, who approve their sayings. They are like sheep and are destined to die; death will be their shepherd... Their forms will decay in the grave, far from their princely mansions. (Psalm 49: 12-14 TNIV from Zondervan ).

This blog is about rescuing sheep from false shepherds and wolves, who only want to tear them apart. It's about making them wiser than the average sheep, so they can't be taken in. It's about teaching them to know the Good Shepherd's voice, so that good things can come to them.

I'm just another sheep, but I know a little, and I want to pass that on to you. I'll be posting regular entries about how to live like a sheep among wolves and emerge without a scratch. If you want to add something wonderful to this discussion, please feel free to drop a line. I'd love to hear from you!