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Monday, September 28, 2009

One-Year Anniversary Post

I checked today, and as of this week, I've been on blogger for about a year now. (My first post was actually on October 1, 2008, but it took me a few days to get this site up; so, take or leave a few days).

I figured I might use this anniversary opportunity to share more about why I'm blogging and what I hope to accomplish through this site.

This blog started out as an unnamed, unformed idea that I had over a decade ago. I thought it would be great if I had a website where I could talk openly about witnessing, Jesus, and false-doctrines and theologies. Unfortunately, that idea got tabled until just over a year ago.

This project was never about making money (and so far, it hasn't). Honestly, that doesn't bother me. My goal has always been to help other people get to know God, or come to know Him better.

If serving the Lord is making you feel "like a bird alone on a roof" (see Psalm 102) I hope I've been able to encourage you with the knowledge that you are not alone. There are many other, like-minded individuals across the globe who have gone (and are currently going) through the same situations. Better yet, you have the promise that God is always with you, even in places where the rest of us can't go. In Christ, you are never abandoned!

If you've been struggling with confusing teachings and doctrines that have shaken your faith or caused you to doubt, I hope I've been able to arm you with tools you need to fight back. The world is a dangerous place for Christians, where "All day long they twist my words; they are always plotting to harm me," (Psalm 56:5 NIV). If our enemies spend all their time thinking up ways to hurt us, chances are we aren't always going to see it coming. That just means that we need to spend plenty of time in the Word, studying to insulate our faith in preparation for attacks, and arming ourselves with knowledge that can help us fight back. Even our enemies need rescuing.

Many times, especially in recent years, I've come up against people who seemed to spend all their free time plotting ways to trip me up in my faith and convince me to believe in very, very subtle lies. I've spent many hours doing my own plotting, too--that is, plotting out exactly what they're saying, and exactly how it's false. Their arguments seem to always come down to the same statements: God doesn't exist; God doesn't care; God will accept anything; God is make-believe; it's crazy/stupid to believe in God; Christianity is a waste of time; I think you're crazy/stupid/brainwashed; I'll obey God when I get tired of disobeying Him; blah blah blah. Honestly, I believe it's important to analyze everything we are taught to take for granted, because it just might be a trick. I don't know every trick in the book, but what I do know, I want to pass on to others who don't, yet.

To paraphrase all that, I want this blog to give you the tools to disarm the bombs you may encounter in the most innocent of disguises. That's why I named it the way I did.

So, I'm calling on my readers for some input, here. How am I doing? Have I accomplished my goals? Is there something I should consider changing in order to better accomplish them? What was my best post, so far? What was so bad about my worst? I'm anxious to hear what you have to say.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Can't Teach Me Nothin'

Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity. --1 Timothy 4:12 NIV

What was Paul telling Timothy when he wrote that? Punish older members of your church if they don't give you proper respect because you are younger than them? Or, perhaps, that young persons in leadership shouldn't take any criticism from older congregants?

How are we to interpret the "don't let" part of that verse? I've heard this verse used to criticize church elders who disapproved of the younger generation's "new way of doing things." I've also heard it used to encourage young people to lead when they were neither equipped nor qualified for the positions they were being encouraged to seek. However, this verse isn't saying either thing.

The main point of the verse was not to address the "problem" older people who were looking down at their young pastor, Timothy. It's really about Timothy's worthiness for their respect, and what he could change about his own behavior that would gain their respect. If Timothy wanted respect from the elders in his church, he had to change himself, not react against them. Youth, in an older person's mind, translates to "wild oats," erratic and often disobedient behavior, even rejection of authority. This is certainly not godly behavior, and no one should be given authority or respect when he or she has no respect for God's standards.

No, if any young person wants to lead, he or she has to act mature, not like a "youth." Young leaders should model the godly behavior they claim to be leading others to have, being exemplary role models "in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity." Otherwise, these young leaders are the worst kind of hypocrites, and deserve to be ignored or replaced by worthier leaders.

Another important thing to glean out of this verse is the disassociation of "mature" and "immature" behavior with the actual age of the person. Timothy was instructed to act older than his physical age, to gain the approval of his elders. Meanwhile, there may have been older people who were acting younger than their age, dismissing genuine, God-given authority with the petulance of stereotypical teenagers, and using Timothy's youthful appearance as a justification for their deeper spiritual rebellion.

The one thing we can certainly see is that God's standards of behavior apply uniformly to both groups, both young and old. Straying from God's moral standards makes a person unworthy of respect, no matter his or her age, five or ninety-five. All Christians, in order to gain respect, must act mature, modeling righteous behavior in every aspect of their lives.

How do we go about measuring maturity, if it has nothing to do with physical age?

Mature, as in the Bible, Not as in Video Games

  • In Speech--Do prospective leaders recognize bad speech habits in their own lives and humbly seek to correct these habits? This includes gossip and dirty jokes and cursing.
  • In Life--Do prospective leaders live their everyday lives for God, making life and career choices to please God and to do His work, or do they go through life without considering other people or even consulting God about their decisions? Is it clear that they know Whom they are working for, and what God's purpose is for their lives? (Philippians 1: 20-26)
  • In Love--Do prospective leaders love others, and not just themselves and their friends? It is easy to love friends, but it is hard, without God in our lives, to love people who hate us or who cause us pain or discomfort. A Christian leader should be capable of godly love, or he or she is not actually a Christian ( 1 John 4:20).
  • In Faith--A leader without faith may know an awful lot about the Bible and even be able to recite passages, but without faith, all that knowledge is meaningless to him, and to those whom he teaches. Knowing all about God is not equal to knowing Him (Hebrews 4:2). Without faith, a leader has no understanding of what Christianity really means, so how could he or she teach it to others?
  • In Purity--This goes farther than just avoiding the many kinds of sexual immorality in this world. A prospective leader should not be engaging in any sort of behavior that is offensive to God or that casts shadows on his/her credibility. This ranges from covering for and sheltering murderers, to consulting with witches and fortune tellers, to having a reputation for cheating and lying. Just as the priests in the old testament were not allowed to enter the temple if they were impure, Christian leaders of any age should not attempt to take leadership if they are blemished by sinful behavior (see Psalm 24: 3-5).

Can't Teach Me Nothin'

From God's perspective, maturity is not defined by age or life experience, but rather a willingness to obey and humble ourselves to His leadership. For the longest time, people have mistakenly believed that experience or even extensive education brings wisdom and leadership potential, but only humility and obedience to God really brings about the proper maturity. In this way, it is possible for a child who reads his Bible and tries to do what it says to be a more qualified leader than the adults who teach his Sunday school class.

If a child wishes to take up this leadership role, he has only to set an example in moral behavior that shames even the adults around him--not to advance himself, but rather to advance Christ's work.

We should never have the "can't teach me nothin'" attitude that I've been picking up from people in the church lately. More specifically, this includes adults who feel that they can learn nothing from younger Christians, because they've already "been there, done that," and young people who dismiss everything older people say because it seems too outdated or old-fashioned. What has been true is still true, or it never was; what has been righteous is still righteous, or it never has been. If what is being taught is in God's Word, it's validity is not in any way affected by the age and experience of the one sharing it. Physical age means nothing if we are spiritual babies. If we haven't learned it yet, we shouldn't shoot the messenger.

The standard by which Timothy was to measure his life was a universal standard, which applies with impunity to all people in the Christian community. We are all leaders in this world, setting forth the moral standard of Christ. If all the world sees is a bunch of immature people, behaving like uncontrolled "youth," they have every right to despise us--and far too often, they do. We claim that we have something better in our walks with Christ; now it's time to prove it. If we want the respect of the world, we have to earn it, not demand it or take offense when we don't receive it.

Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity. --1 Timothy 4:12 NIV

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Creating in Our Own Image

I logged on here today to post the completed draft of this post...but the draft is gone. So, I'm going to try to reconstruct what I said before, but I'm pretty concerned that it's not going to be as good as the first time. I'm sorry, folks. It kinda makes me want to cry, but I think I will survive this. It's not the end of the world, but it is pretty upsetting.

I'm so glad that God didn't have to rely on electronic auto-save features to preserve His Creative work from one creation day to the next, or some things might not be here. He might have even given up on the whole project (as I am feeling inclined to do). That's one way God is not like me, and I'm fine with that.

It's ironic how even catastrophes can tie into the point I am trying to make, because I can see now how it relates to the title I'd previously chosen. Note the term "creative," which we now use to describe human beings who take ink, paint, stone, sound, or whatever, and create a work of art of some merit with the raw materials. The word doesn't have a long history of use in that sense. Before the nineteenth-century Romantic movement (I think Lord Byron led the way), it was used only in the sense of God creating the world. The Romantics started using it to describe their own artistic efforts, in essence comparing their inventive work to God's, and claiming godlike power over the artistic field in which they worked.

While it is true that it seems like we have "creatio ex nihilo" power ("out of nothing, creating something"), there is a certain absurdity in that claim. I heard a joke once that illustrated the point:
A bunch of scientists were celebrating one day, and called a press conference. They claimed that they had finally figured out how to create life, and stated that mankind can now dispense with God. God overheard them, and showed up at the press conference. "Okay. Let's see what you can do," God challenged them.
The scientists smiled, stooped down, picked up big handfuls of dirt, carried it to some test tubes, and before long, they had created a healthy baby boy. "Ta da!" they announced. "See, God?"
"Wait, a minute," God said. "That's really impressive, but you need to try again."
"What's the problem?" the scientists complained, upset that God was still refusing to accept their victory.
After a dramatic pause, God explained, "First, you make your own dirt..."
Human beings can create impressive things from raw materials, but they will never truly be creators, since they can only work from materials someone else made.

The Obsolescence of God?

The impulse in humankind to give ourselves creation power extends far beyond our ability to shape the world around us to meet our ends. And that gets back to the point I was originally trying to make, before it got deleted.

What do schools of thought like postmodernism and relative morality have to do with this impulse to create and shape? Is this just a recent trend in human behavior, or is it much, much older?

Well, let's first look back at those belief systems. Postmodernism is really a blanket term that the other falls under. Postmodernism claims that there is no center, no absolutes, no core values system that pertains equally to all. Christianity is viewed as outdated and too narrowly "Victorian," and God as Christians describe Him is recast as one of the many faces of the "god concept." Yes, you got it. They say that God doesn't really exist, but rather, He's just a cultural concept.

Relative moralists also teach that there aren't absolutes or standards that all people in all situations and cultures have to follow. In other words, you can change your mind about what's right or what's wrong, depending on the situation and without the control of a moral standard, such as Biblical ethics.

None of this makes sense to me. If there is no authority, who can claim enough authority to tell us that there isn't? If there are no absolutes, how can we absolutely posit that there are no absolutes?

Essentially, despite the fancy technical names for everything, postmodernism and all the little schools of thought that fall under it are just replacing God and His authority with other gods and authorities. Most often, the replacement is the human thinkers behind the movements. They don't want to be powerful like God; they want to be God. How long has this been going on?

Greek to Me

Someone once pointed out to me that the Greek pantheon of gods and goddesses were a whole lot like human beings, because they had the same problems with lust, war, tragedy, vanity, and so forth. They weren't really superhumans; they were just big-humans.

What does this tell me about human nature? For one thing, we are more tolerant of a kind of god that never disapproves of what we want to do. We want a buddy, not a law enforcer. We don't mind enforcing laws and rules on other human beings, but we don't like anyone telling us what to do. If God won't go along, we just put a different face on Him, and that face is usually our own. Postmodernism is just one of the latest manifestations of this tendency.

Way Back--To Genesis, To Eden

In the account of the creation of the world, the Bible says,
"Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.'
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them." (Genesis 1: 27-27 NIV)
There are a number of ways to interpret "in the image of God." What exactly does that mean? Do people look like God, because that draws speculation on what race God is, how tall He is, whether He wears designer fashion, and all those other particulars. Humans are so varied in their physical appearance that it seems that someone is going to be left out if we try to interpret it that way.

It seems more likely, and I've heard Bible scholars teach it this way, that "the image of God" is more of a human resemblance to the nature of God. For instance, it is God's nature to make rules which He lives by, and to require others to live by those rules. Human beings, in the above verses, were likewise given the job of governing the earth, as God has the authority to govern us. Our natures and our deeds were supposed to mirror those of our Creator.

When Adam and Eve sinned, they challenged God's authority to rule over them. In essence, they set themselves up as little gods with the power to make God go along with them. They tried to dethrone God, taking the example of Satan (Isaiah 14: 12-15 NIV). The creation doesn't need the Creator anymore? Where have I heard that one before?

God didn't go along with those kinds of demands; therefore, it seems that human beings have been trying to remake God ever since. We don't like how God's rules show our aberrancy, so we try to corrupt the standard to mask the problem, rather than fix the problem to reflect the standard. I think that's why there are so many gods of clay out there that have a few admirable qualities, but are repulsive in other respects.

The fact is, we don't have the power to "fix" God, and pretending He doesn't exist isn't a good fix, either. We call a king a despot when he remakes the laws daily to give himself loopholes, but we demand that God embrace our own despotism. Wouldn't it just be easier to let God be God, and get back to living the way we were made to live?

I've seen a tremendous pull to make God more "hip" for this generation, but it just looks like another attempt to worship a God we've created in our own image. I'm speaking and praying against that, because I don't follow a clay God I've made to look just like me. I'm happy I don't have to set the standard for the whole human race, because they'd all be angry with me for leading them to destroy their own blog posts today ;).

So I invite you to lay it all down today, and let God lead you. Let God set the example for how you should behave and what you should do, instead of relying on your own imperfect self to get you out of trouble. Are you ready?

If you are, wherever you are, why don't you join me in this prayer:
"Dear Lord, I'm ready to follow You. I've been going about my life all wrong, and now it's time to admit that Your way is better than my way. Create in me a new heart, Lord, and give me a new Spirit, because I don't have the power to fix myself. Make me into the kind of person You wanted me to be. I'm willing to obey You. In Jesus' name I pray, Amen."
I'm praying for you!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Orphans Are "In" and Other Trendsetting Movements

I've been reading the Lemony Snicket series, called "A Series of Unfortunate Events." If you're familiar with it, you know that the story is about three kids-- Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire--and their efforts to find a guardian after their parents are killed in a fire. This is complicated by the evil Count Olaf, who wants to steal their family fortune. In their sixth home (book six), which I just started reading, the kids go to live with the trend-savvy Esme and Jerome Squalor. If you've read it, you already know that the reason why the Squalors did not adopt the children before was that, until recently, "orphans were 'out.'" In fact, when something goes "out," as the children learn in the early chapters, the Squalors drop it like a hot potato, which makes the Baudelaires wonder how long they will last.

Okay, so what does this have to do with this blog?

The setup for this book got me thinking about trends: fashion, decorating, reality-TV, fitness and dieting, "green" efforts, politics, et cetera.... It seems that culture is driven constantly from one extreme to the next by different trends. If we're not careful, it can pull us in and toss us around like laundry in the washing machine.

One basic rule of trends is "what goes around, comes around." We're always seeing the same fashions again, for instance. Pack rat frugality really pays off, if you're willing to keep a closet full of old clothes long enough. Solomon was right when he wrote, "What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun" (Ecclesiastes 1:9 NIV).

Frankly, I'm tired of trends and trend-following. It wastes my time and money, and leaves me stressed-out or insecure about myself. Keeping up with the latest trends is exhausting!

The Rudderless Ship

The one thing that bothers me even more is when I see the church as a whole chasing after various cultural trends. To make myself perfectly clear, I get angry hearing the elements of postmodernism, moral relativism, self-affirmation humanism, psychobabble, and the like in church. These things aren't from God! They can only confuse people and destroy their faith. The Apostle Paul wrote,
It was he [God] who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. (Ephesians 4: 11-15 NIV)
I have been told that the image of people being "tossed back an forth by the waves" is that of a rudderless ship. The rudder is for steering, and is especially useful during a powerful storm. The image paints a clear picture of one way of life. Without knowledge of the truths of God, we cannot become strong or mature, and our lives spin helplessly out of control.

Note the difference between the two kinds of doctrine and the two kinds of teachers Paul describes. The first teachers are God-appointed, and their teaching gets its authority and fulfillment from God and in the very nature of God. It trains and equips its hearers and leads them into "maturity," "unity in faith," "works of service," and ultimately to attaining everything that God wanted them to have, "the whole measure of the fullness of Christ."

In contrast, these teachings of cunning and crafty men are compared to "waves" and "wind." They are useless and impotent. They can't steer anyone's life or help in any way, because they are not unified, and they have no future purpose in mind. They can't prepare anyone for a future purpose. Rather than strengthening the "boat," they are merely threatening to tear it apart.

I hate human trends in church because I can see how they break the church apart and steal away its direction and purpose. Ultimately, they rob everyone of "the whole measure of the fullness of Christ" and wreck their lives on a darker shore. It is Christ, not man, who should be behind our doctrine, giving it authority. Any other offering is irresponsible, at the least, or "deceitful scheming" at the worst.

I Didn't Forget...Back to "Orphans Are 'in'"

Lemony Snicket's Baudelaire children worried about the day when "orphans go 'out.'" I'm happy to say that with God, they are always "in."
Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me. (Isaiah 49: 15-17 NIV).
Follow God! He knows where He's taking you (even if it's not popular), He cares deeply for you (even when no one else remembers!), and He wants to see His purpose fulfilled in your life (to the full measure of blessing!). Don't be deceived--don't choose the shipwreck!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

What Has God Done for You, Lately?

My latest post series was about what we ought to do for God. So often, rather than think about what I should be doing for God, I'm thinking of things I want or need Him to do for me. When I get into this pattern of thinking, it's not long before I'm just giving God a grocery list when I talk to Him.

I know that the Bible tells us over and over again that God loves to shower the people He loves with good things. We are told to confidently approach the throne of God and give Him our requests. But honestly, we shouldn't think of God merely as someone who gives us stuff. He's so much more than that.

I caught myself starting into a grocery list again when I was saying my prayers last night, but that attitude just didn't seem appropriate. So what has God done for me in the past week, month, year, decade?
  • week: Everything from basic things, like supplying me with food, running water, and electricity, to major things, like reminding me to hold myself to His perfect standards, rather than the shifting morality of the world.
  • month: Helping me cope with life's stresses and lifting me up so I can laugh at life and enjoy the sunshine and the beauty of God's Creation.
  • year: Allowing my writing to find favor with a publisher, teaching me how to love the people around me with His kind of love, granting me more sleep.
  • decade: Looking back, I can see His involvement in every situation, bright or dark, guiding me through and teaching me maturity and discernment. In all this time, He's led me through schoolwork, career choices, loss, relationships, and spiritual breakthroughs. Really, it's been a remarkable journey.
I love to whine, how about you? I've just decided that today, rather than whine to God about everything that isn't going the way I intended, I ought to think about everything that is going well, thanks to Him. God already knows about my problems (He also knows how much I like to complain!), but I think He deserves to hear how grateful I am to have Him as my closest friend and redeemer. Where would I be without Him?

I know there are several people out there who regularly read my blog, so today I thought I might poll the readership. Can you think of something good that God has done in your life today? Would you be willing to share it with us? I'm excited to read your comments!