Friday, September 12, 2014

Summer Soldiers and Sunshine Patriots

The Bible promises that “all who desire to live a godly life will be persecuted” (2 Tim 3:12). Peter, seeking to calm his own congregation, said “do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange was happening to you.” John, who if tradition is correct was boiled alive in oil and banished to Patmos, also told us “do not be surprised that the world hates you” (1 John 3:13). Paul recognized that “we are afflicted in every way” (2 Cor 4:8). Later, he urged a young Timothy to obediently “fight the good fight of faith” (1 Tim 6:12).

How is it then that our churches are filled with people who have no stomach for the fight? There is within the visible church far too many “summer soldiers and sunshine patriots” (to borrow an image from Thomas Paine) who shrink at the first moment of crisis or difficulty. Where in modern American Christianity is there the mindset of Pilgrim’s Progress, which depicts the spiritual life as one of great struggle and labor until Christian arrives safe in the Celestial City? Certainly, as Job testifies, the days of every human being are full of trouble (Job 14:1), but the believer in Christ endures yet another difficulty. We are, after all, at war with the god of this age. Have we really come to believe that Satan has embraced pacifism?

As Thomas Watson once reminded his congregation, “a soldier does not have his soft bed or daily fare, but undergoes tedious marches, and such is the Christian life.” This Puritan pastor decried those he called “delicate, silken Christian.” God has called us to stand and fight against our sin and the devil’s rebellion, under his banner and obedient to his leadership. With the Old Testament saints we are to recognize that “God is with us; he is our leader” (2 Chron 13:12). The King James renders this as “captain”, though the Hebrew literally means “head”. He is "on top" and the rightful ruler and therefore the guarantor of our victory.

Until that day of final victory comes, fight the good fight of faith. Don't grumble or act perplexed when difficulty comes. Despite what peddlers of false peace may promise, you were never intended to have 'your best life now'. Recognize your "fiery trials" for what they are...the endurance of a good soldier and servant of Christ living in a lost world at war with our Captain. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Stop abusing Philippians 4:13

In 2011, Hollywood director Sean McNamara released the film Soul Surfer, the true life story of Bethany Hamilton who suffered a horrific shark attack while surfing off the coast of Hawaii. It was a wonderful film with a positive, inspiring message. For Christians, the film was especially meaningful because Bethany and her family are devout believers, which while not an overt theme, nevertheless came through in the film in a positive way.

I want to be very clear on this: I absolutely LOVED this film.

Thumbs up! Rent it. Watch it. Own it. The acting is delightful, the special effects are well done, the camera work excellent, and the plot is inspirational. While not a "Christian movie" per se, it is an inspirational story about a young girl who happens to be Christian. Far from mocking her beliefs, her faith actually features as a key component in the story line. I praise God for this film.

But yes, I am going to use it as a negative example. Just know I'm not a hater.

One scene caught my attention. While Bethany lay recovering in the hospital after the accident, she asks her father if she will ever be able to surf again. Her dad, play by Dennis Quaid no less (awesome) quotes Philippians 4:13, "You can do all things through Christ who gives you strength". (OK, the writers of the film replaced "Christ" with "Him", but let's not get sidetracked). In essence, he was saying 'yes daughter, with God at your side you can one day surf again.'

Philippians 4:13 is a popular verse. Tim Tebow, a young Christian man with loads of integrity, regularly placed that reference on the black strip under his eye (alternating with other verses such as John 3:16). The verse is quoted by coaches giving pre-game pep talks and by moms encouraging their little girls to perform well for ballet recitals. Well meaning adults, when counseling teenagers with low self-esteem and who are convinced they will never amount to anything, quote this verse to convince the despondent teen that anything is possible.

The meaning is clear: You can accomplish anything. You can be anything. With God at your side, the world is at your fingertips!

Except, that's not at all what the verse means. Not even close. Let's look at in in context:
"...I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength." - Philippians 4:11b-13
Paul's letter to the Philippians is one of his Prison Letters, so titled because he wrote it while in prison. In fact, he was quite literally chained a Roman guard. Despite the miserableness of the situation, Paul stay positive. In Philippians 1:12-13 he even wrote, "Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the Gospel. As a result, it has become clear to the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ." He goes on in the next verse to say that because of his imprisonment, other believers have become more bold in "proclaiming the Gospel without fear". 

Imprisonment in the Roman empire wasn't a picnic. There was no minimum security prison for white collar criminals, complete with ping pong tables and free college classes. The conditions were brutal. Often they wouldn't feed or clothe prisoners, which is why Paul was so thankful to the believers for sending provisions. Chained to a Roman soldier, Paul would have been beaten, abused, and humiliated.

But Paul was happy. Joyous even.

This wasn't because he felt he could realize any potential or accomplish any task. In fact, there wasn't many tasks he was even considering. Except maybe survival. For Paul, the presence of Christ in his life wasn't the promise that he could accomplish anything, but rather that he could endure anything. In all situations, he could find contentment. No matter the hardship. No matter how far down the rabbit hole one fell, Christ remained his strength. The devil would not win. Sinners would never ultimately triumph. His faith faith and his joy could remain as strong as ever, regardless of what the Enemy threw at him. He could endure to the end.

No promise of freedom was given. In fact, for all he knew he might be killed the next day after enduring a brutal beating, but the point was that he could endure. No matter what, the joy that he found in Christ couldn't be broken.

Paul learned this lesson and he is inviting us to learn it as well. Whatever the situation, no matter how horrific it may be, we can endure.

As far as the movie was concerned, I actually found it very inspirational that a young girl would overcome all odds and surf again. I admire the strength and resolve. I find the dedication and 'can't-keep-me-down' attitude praiseworthy. The movie has much to celebrate.

But surfing was never the promise God made to her. The promise was, despite her circumstances, that Christ was with her. She could endure. She could find joy.

From everything I've read of Bethany Hamilton, God kept his promise to her: her faith remained strong. That's the real story.

Oh, by the way, it just so happens that he let her surf again, too.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Stop abusing Psalm 37:4

"...and he will give you the desires of your heart."
Psalm 37:4b

Mr and Mrs Jones come up to the pastor on a Sunday morning, their 6 year old girl Susie in tow. "Pastor", Mrs Jones says, "Susie has a question about Heaven that we couldn't answer".

"What's your question, Susie?" the pastor asks.

"When I go to heaven will my dog Fido be there? I love my dog and I want to be in heaven with him."

The pastor answers, "Well, I do know the Bible promises that God "will give you the desires of your heart", so if you desire Fido, then God will make sure he is in Heaven with you.

Now listen. I'm not mocking the question. This little girl clearly loves her dog and we can all understand how important the question is to a 6 year old. Also, I'm certainly not mocking the principle that God will richly bless us in Heaven. What I am addressing is the complete and under disregard for the meaning of Psalm 37:4. This is one of a handful of Bible passages that we treat as if it were a giant spiritual blank check and by doing so act as if the Trinity is the cosmic version of the "Make a Wish Foundation" and as if Jesus were Santa Clause.

Once when I was discussing this verse with a fellow Christian, after saying something similar to what I've said above, I was curtly interrupted with a question: "So you're denying that God is making us a promise?" The question was asked with obvious resentment. "Well, I for one believe that God means what he said and always keeps his promises."

So do I. The question is what has God promised? Has he really promised to give us anything we desire?

The problem with quoting half a verse is that you only quote half a verse. Look at what the entire verse actually says:
"Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart."
This verse is indeed promising something. God will give you your heart's desire if your heart desires God. This promise isn't a spiritual blank check which will allow you to get an Xbox, new friends, an attractive spouse, or the guarantee of a beloved pet for all of eternity. It is not the promise of a better paying job, or reconciliation with a family member who remains bitter towards you, or a better health care package that will cover your spouse's cancer treatments.

No, it is something far, far, far better.

It is the promise of the presence of God. The reason this is so important is because God's presence changes everything. Both Moses and Joshua tried to show Israel that God's presence brings strength and courage.  "Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go" (Joshua 1:9; see Deut 31:6). The apostle Paul clung to this promise so tenaciously that he wrote "I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:38-39).

The coming of Jesus Christ was the fulfillment of the promise God made in Psalm 37:4. As the Old Testament saints delighted in God, he gave them their desire by sending Jesus Christ. For this reason, Jesus was first called Immanuel, which means "God with us" (Matthew 1:23). This promise is realized anew in the heart of everyone who calls upon the name of Jesus Christ.

If you desire God, he will give you himself. Richly, freely, and without restraint. That is a promise he always keeps.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

I care very little if I am judged by you

"I care very little if I am judged by you...."
I Corinthians 4:3a

A number of years ago an angry congregant came in my office with a list of my 'faults'. I knew tension had been building for some time but wasn't aware of the specific issues. Almost as soon as he sat down, he blurted out "I don't have any respect for you!"

Not exactly what a pastor wants to hear, but sadly not an unheard of conversation, either.

"What's the problem, brother?" I asked.

"For starters, it's the way you keep your desk", he replied.

OK. Guilty. If you have ever been into my office you will know I have a messy desk. The old adage rings true, "a cluttered desk is the sign of a cluttered mind." I agree. My mind is so cluttered that I have a hard time navigating it most of the time. If that frustrates you, imagine what it does to me!

"I believe a pastor should be professional and have a respectable office", he added.

Now the curious thing is that I had just been at this brother's place of work the week prior, though he was out of the office when I stopped by. I had planned on leaving a note but his desk was so cluttered I figured he would never find it. When I pointed this out, he became even more furious.

"How dare you?" He exclaimed. "That is not the same thing, you are a supposed to be a man of God, and I believe a man of God should have a clean office!"

We talked for another 45 minutes or so before he eventually stormed out of my very messy office. Throughout the meeting this brother's tone was angry and biting, especially as he listed all the immoral and sinful qualities he associated with having a messy office. I wish I could tell you I convinced him he was being silly. I wish even more I could tell you I shrugged it off and went about my day with confidence.

The reality is that I wept.

After he left I shut off the office lights, sat on the floor behind my cluttered desk, pulled my knees up to my chest, and started to weep. His words and accusations, which I knew were foolish and false, still hurt. The anger in his eyes towards me cut like a knife. The loss of relationship and friendship felt like a hole in my chest.

While it was right to mourn the loss of a relationship, the reality is that I suffered from the same problem as my brother. To him, my messy desk had become a very big thing. To me, his accusation had become a very big thing. In reality, both were small & insignificant. And we were both being disobedient to Scripture by treating a small thing as if it were a big thing.

In 1 Corinthians 4:1-5, the Apostle Paul states two basic facts. First, the Corinthians were supposed to regard him as "a servant of Christ". Second, many at that church refused to do so (vv.2-5). Paul was being judged. He wasn't being judged according to the standards of God, which is always appropriate. In fact, in chapter 5 Paul makes perfectly clear that we are to judge (i.e. confront) other believers who are engaging in sinful behavior. But the problem here was that Paul was being judged according to human standards.

He wasn't Apollos. He wasn't Peter. He wasn't Jesus. And some in the Corinthian church despised him simply on those grounds.

In love, Paul directly and bluntly confronts the situation: "I care very little if I am judged by you." A more literal translation would read, "It is a very small thing to be judged by you." 

I see many in the Christian community breaking under the weight of not meeting someone's expectations. I am not talking about when a dear brother or sister in Christ lovingly confronts us over a sin issue (oh how I pray that such confrontations continue and that we would all have the humility of accepting this much-needed rebuke). But I am talking about the needless guilt we feel when we don't measure up to someone's personal, arbitrary standards of how to live.

This doesn't mean that we don't listen to such criticism. But it does mean, ultimately, that the standards, opinions, and judgments leveled against us by others isn't that big of a deal. It is small. It is tiny. It has no bearing on eternity. It has no effect on our holiness. It is something that is fine to think about but need not occupy much of our thoughts.

But there is a very big thing that is supposed to occupy our attention. In v.4, Paul says "it is the Lord who judges me". He wasn't being flippant. He wasn't saying "I don't have to listen to you and I can live anyway I want." But he was saying that pleasing other people isn't nearly as important as pleasing God.

Paul chose to spend his mental and emotional energy living in a way that pleased the Father. Everything else was small, very small, in comparison.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Stop abusing 1 Corinthians 6:19-20.

No this isn't a post defending tobacco or booze. Not really, anyway.

But we've all heard it. Well meaning Christians challenge their fellow believers with these words: "do you not know your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit...?" Or often these folks skip right to v.20, "You were bought with a price. Therefore honor God with your body." 

We hear this verse quoted about everything from smoking tobacco, to consuming GMO corn products, to eating hamburgers. Joel Olsteen recently published an online devotional claiming "when you take care of yourself by eating properly and getting enough sleep, you are honoring the Lord with your Body." Elsewhere he uses this verse to argue against eating bacon and other greasy foods, saying to do so is "disobedient".

There's just one problem. 1 Corinthians 6 isn't talking about tobacco, greasy foods, soda pop, or the failure to get a good night's rest. It's talking about sexual immorality. Let's look at the passage in context (vv.12-20):
12 “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. 13 “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food”—and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 14 And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. 15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! 16 Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” 17 But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. 18 Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. 19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. 
But despite its clear context, this passage is used to support the notion that if a particular activity has bad health effects, it must be 'sinful' because it hurts your body. Of course, there are two huge problems with that. First (and less important), such a position is inherently self-defeating as no one can live it out consistently. Everything we consume ultimately hurts us. We live in a world tainted by sin and even the water we drink is full of impurities. Don't get me started on ice cream or chocolate. Secondly (and far more importantly), God says no such thing. 

Listen, I'm not saying it is wise to eat GMO corn products (personally, I don't have an issue). Frankly, if you want to smoke cigarettes I think your an idiot. You might be a righteous and Christ-like idiot, but an idiot nonetheless. But your morality shouldn't necessarily be called into question (see note below). If you want to sip a little booze or smoke an occasional pipe, I'll even defend your Christian liberty to do so (and might even get out one of my pipes and join you). But just to be clear, I would probably also make sure you understood the biblical commands not to be drunk/addicted to anything but the Holy Spirit, because that would be dishonoring the Lord with your body as God has declared drunkenness/addiction to be sinful. [Note: this is why cigarettes are problematic, because they are addictive. If you can't go a day, or an hour, without a cigarette you are in sin].

1 Corinthians 6 is not saying that something is wrong or sinful because of the effect that particular behavior has upon the body, but rather because the behavior itself is sinful and abhorrent to God. God nowhere declared tobacco or greasy hamburgers to be an affront to his holiness. He has claimed that running around sleeping with prostitutes or other people other than your spouse is such an affront.

See, that was the problem in the Corinthian church. They were making a mockery of the Gospel and of their own personal lives. They claimed with their mouth to believe in Jesus and to have surrendered their entire lives to God, but they were still using their bodies to engage in the same kind of sinful behavior that they had been saved from. This would not do.

This is why Paul told them in vv.9-10, "do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God." 

In v.11 he goes on to remind them that they had been freed from that behavior, "And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God." 

Now, you might strongly believe that no self-respecting Christian should smoke any kind of tobacco. You might really believe eating a greasy hamburger is a sin. Maybe you're on a crusade against margarine, whole milk, or chocolate (seriously, why chocolate?). But unless your claiming God has given you additional divine revelation, it would be nice if you would at least admit your just giving your own opinion and not speaking for the Lord.

You might be able to make a wisdom case against using such products. You just can't make a moral one.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Bryan College: Three Points to Remember

I love Bryan College. It is my school. True, I didn't end up graduating from Bryan (I finished my remaining credits at Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids, Michigan), but whenever someone asks me what College I attended, I always answer "Bryan". The only thing I am lacking is the coffee mug on my desk, which sadly was broken some months back.

So when the recent uproar over the Clarification Statement erupted I was troubled. I was troubled when the faculty overwhelmingly voted 'No Confidence' for the current administration. I was troubled over the rhetoric and condemnation coming from past and present students. I was troubled over the angry blog posts and articles from professors. I was troubled by the hateful language and the shameful name calling.

But then I noticed a pattern. None of this was coming from the Board or the Administration. While I cannot speak to what private conversations any of them have had, all of their public statements have been kind, gracious, and restrained.

All of the hate, anger, and outrage are coming from only one side.

That made me want to dig deeper, and here is what I discovered:

1. No one seems to be discussing the fact that certain faculty members were clearly in violation of the Statement of Faith.

The germane section of the Statement states the following: "that the origin of man was by fiat of God in the act of creation as related in the Book of Genesis; that he was created in the image of God; that he sinned and thereby incurred physical and spiritual death."

Certain professors, while signing that they were in full agreement with the Statement of Faith, nevertheless began openly advocating various forms of 'theistic evolution' (and I use that term non-technically). They even wrote a book endorsing these views. Yet the Statement clearly requires that one believe Creation happened "as related in the Book of Genesis". To claim that Genesis 1-2 is poetry or a myth, one would then have to say that Creation happened as described by the myth, which is clearly a self-defeating position (if it happened "according to the myth", then its not a myth). If one, however, believes Creation happened in a way different than what is related in Genesis, then that puts one outside the boundaries of the Statement of Faith.

Furthermore, the Statement maintains that physical and spiritual death were "incurred" because of man's sinfulness. If one believes that death came before man's rebellion into sin (and it would have had to if one believes in pre-homosapien-man) then that puts one outside the Statement's boundaries.

I could go on, for example, the meaning of the words "fiat", "creation", and "image of God", but you get the point. Yet, many are claiming that these professors signed the Statement in 'good faith" and just "interpret" it differently.

Nonsense. These are brilliant men who know they were playing word games.

Yes, word games!

Don't misunderstand. I don't think denying six-day Creationism puts one outside of the Christian faith. I do believe these professors were genuine believers who loved their students and cherish Jesus. An argument could even be made for allowing openness on different views on Creation. But in this case, Bryan College, from its beginning, refused to yield on that point. It made a basic agreement with the Genesis account mandatory belief for those wishing to work with or teach in the College. A few professors thought they could sign a Statement that clearly meant one thing, while openly advocating for the opposite position.

They got caught. They were held accountable.

2. No one seems to be discussing the fact that the Clarification Statement is no more specific than the original Statement.  

The Clarification reads, "we believe that all humanity descended from Adam and Eve. They are historical persons created by God in a special formative act, and not from previously existing life forms."

There is intense outrage that the Board has "changed" the Statement of Faith. In actuality, they are just stating the obvious, since the Statement requires that one believe creation happened "as related in the Book of Genesis". That book describes the special formation of Adam and Eve, who were the historical parents of all mankind. There can be no denying that Genesis 1-2 tells this story.

But notice something else. Nowhere does the original Statement or the Clarification force a belief in a literal 24-hour period.

Nowhere does it mandate belief in a 6,000 year old Earth.

Such concepts are nowhere to be found in the Clarification.  Why? Because nowhere does Genesis 1-2 overtly define a "day" as a 24-hour period and nowhere does Genesis give us an approximate age of the Earth. Those are interpretive questions and the Board rightly allowed room for disagreement on those issues.

If one believes Creation happened "as related in the Book of Genesis", then no professor should have a problem believing in Adam and Eve, since they are clearly described in the very book they declared they were in agreement with.

Yet an entire off-key chorus of angered professors, students, and alums are decrying this as unwarranted and illegal because the Bryan Constitution forbids alterations to the Statement. But this isn't an alteration, its a clarification.

Or do they really believe that we may not hold any professor accountable for any position they teach just as long as they sign the Statement? Are these naysayers really saying that the Board does not have the right to clarify anything?

What if someone openly taught that Jesus was not born of a virgin, even though this is required in the Statement? This person could easily maintain that the word 'virgin' is open to various interpretation and that the Hebrew word in Isaiah 7:14 could mean "young women", and that Matthew just used the Septuagint (which uses a Greek word that clearly means 'virgin' in the technical sense) in order to make a theological, not an historical point, and therefore Mary wasn't actually a virgin. Would the board be unable to take action? Could they not offer a clarification that by 'virgin' the Statement means 'a young woman who has not engaged in intercourse'? Or would that be an unwarranted 'addition'? What if someone does this with the Trinity?  I am not claiming that belief in Creationism is equal in importance to belief in the Trinity or the Virgin Birth, I am only pointing out that clarifying a Statement of Faith is at times a necessary practice.

3. No one seems to be discussing the fact that it is the Board's mandate, not the professors, to protect the theological position of the College.

Some professors (and the student's they have worked into a frenzy) are disgusted that they were not consulted on the Statement. There have even been posts that smack of intellectual snobbery, even questioning the intelligence of Board members and their competence for making such decisions. Never mind that the Board contains incredibly competent men, including former professors and pastors who have been studying God's word for years. They claim the refusal to include them in the clarification process has "insulted" and "demeaned" and "bullied" the professors. Students are now protesting, wearing black arm bands, taking pity on their 'abused' faculty members.

We must understand something that seems to be escaping the naysayers' attention. The Board is a Board of Trustees. The institution has put the trust of the organization into the hands of these trustees. They are ultimately responsible for setting the direction of the institution and ensuring that the administration, faculty, and employees are adhering to the theological foundation of the school's founders.

In short, it is their job to offer clarity on the school's theological identity. It is the professor's job to teach their respective disciplines in accordance with the theological statement they signed.

So What's Really Going On?

I've heard multiple complaints that some professors don't have a problem with the Clarification itself, but rather how it was 'forced' upon them and 'rammed' down their throats. me understand. These professors are claiming to agree with the Clarification, but are angry because they are being asked to agree with the very thing they claim they are in agreement with.

Perhaps an example will help. On my wedding day I made a vow to my wife that I would forsake all others. Throughout the years, we have reminded each other of that vow (in lighthearted ways). Imagine one day a gorgeous young blonde named Susie moves in next door, and my wife jokingly reminds me of my vow. Now imagine that instead of ensuring her of my agreement, I become enraged.

I begin to protest, "you have no right to amend our agreement! I agreed to forsake all others, but now 19 years later you are trying to amend the agreement." [Note: for the logical inconsistency of that position, see point #2 above].

My wife would be stunned and would probably ask if I had planned to have an affair with Susie. Now imagine if my response was, "no of course not. I am fully in agreement that having an affair with Susie would be wrong, but you have no right to insist that I agree to this. At the very least we should have given this some time, consulted experts, and did our own study to see whether or not sleeping with Susie would actually be a violation of the Covenant I made with you."

If that sounds stupid to you, and if you are still in agreement with the professors' protests, you really need to think through your inherent inconsistency.

So what is going on?

At the end of the day, there is a section of the Bryan College community (professors, students, alums) that don't want Bryan College to hold to Creationism. They are embarrassed. They feel such a position is intellectually backward and unscientific. They want Bryan to be "open" on this position because they themselves have already rejected Creationism, or at least believe it should no longer be mandated. They want to appear to hold faithful to their covenant, yet be allowed to sleep with Susie (or at least are OK if other professor's do).

For some time now they have been able to act as if Creationism wasn't mandated. They pushed this in their classrooms and conversations with students. Is it any wonder why so many students are coming to their defense? But then they pushed harder, beyond just lectures and conversations, even to the point of writing books advocating evolution.

The Board had enough.

Even if one could agree that Bryan should be open on this view, it clearly is not. At least not historically. Right or wrong, its founding documents do not allow this concession. President Livesay understands this. The Board of Trustees understands this. I only hope more professors and students are willing to recognize this as well.

The rallying cry of the disgruntled group is 'academic freedom', and in their head they have imagined this to be their William Wallace moment.

Its not a matter of academic freedom. Its a matter of honesty. The Board expects them to mean what they say. Or in this case, mean what they sign. So does Christ. So should you.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Jesus isn't my friend?

"No longer do I call you servants, for the servant 
does not know what his master is doing; 
but I have called you friends, for all that have 
heard from my Father I have made known to you.
- John 15:15

I had missed out on the opportunity to attend a large pastor's conference. Though bummed, I was thrilled to learn that the video for the conference had been posted for free online. Clearing some time from my schedule, I sat down in front of the computer, loaded the video, and began to enjoy the messages.

The speakers were well known. The host church was well known. All in all, in was an 'all-star' line up of celebrity pastors (I mean that in a good way) from the conservative corner of Evangelicalism, honorable & faithful men of God.

One of these well-known pastors, a man I respect, began lamenting how Evangelical Christians of our day have a "low view of God". Gone, he believed, was the belief that God was the holy, sovereign King of creation. He bemoaned the fact that people stroll into church services wearing blue jeans and flip flops. He bewailed the modern custom of sipping coffee during the sermon. He downright deplored the so-called '7-11' style worship songs that mark some corners of contemporary worship.

While some of his overall points had an element of truth (and certainly many of his points were downright silly), one statement above all others caught my attention. He noted the contemporary emphasis on Jesus as our "friend". Pounding the pulpit thunderously (by the way, he bemoaned the absence of pulpits, too), he boldly declared: "we don't need a friend, we need a God! Brothers, Jesus isn't your friend, he is your King!"

The crowd, almost all pastors, erupted in thunderous applause, cheers, and Amens!

Think about that statement: "we don't need a friend."

"Jesus isn't your friend!"

I am not sure what stunned me more, the fact that he made such a theologically perverse statement or the fact that hundreds of pastors cheered in agreement.

Listen, I get it. I get why he was upset. I understand, and partially agree with, his concern over the current flippancy that we see in some corners of Christianity. But my highly esteemed 'celebrity pastor', in his attempt to crown Jesus as King, denied the very words of Jesus--and an extremely important aspect of the Gospel.

Let me be clear. Jesus IS your King. But he is also your friend. Friendship with us was important to Jesus. So important that he spoke emphatically to the disciples: "No longer do I call you servants...but I have called you friends." In Scripture, it was the Pharisees who criticized Jesus' friendship with people (Luke 7:34; Matt 11:19). Believers are called to embrace that friendship, not deny it.

As you go through your day today, remember that you relate to Jesus in many ways. He is your Savior, your Lord, and your King. But he also considers you a friend.

Are you his?

Wednesday, April 23, 2014


"Clap your hands, all you nations; 
shout to God with cries of joy."
Psalm 47:1

On Sunday, March 29, AD 33 (our best guess for a date), Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. While we would normally think of a beast of burden as a sign of poverty or humility, it actually referenced a well-known Jewish prophecy from Zechariah 9:9. The Jewish people longed for the future king who would one day come riding into town on the foal of a donkey and set them free.

But I don't want to focus so much on the Old Testament prophecy as I do the response of Jesus' disciples when he rode into town. Luke 19:37-38 says "As he was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, 'Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!'” 

The apostle John tells us that believers will be shouting praises to Jesus for all of eternity (Revelation 5:9-14). Here, on this dusty Jerusalem road, the disciples recognized Jesus was the King of kings who had come to free them of their spiritual bondage. He healed leapers, raised the dead, and gave sight to the blind. As he rode, they could not help themselves and broke forth in spontaneous, individual praise. First one cried out, and then another "Blessed is the King!" Others cried "Hosanna to the son of David" (Matthew 21:9). Still others cried "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord" (John 12:13). 

Do you shout to the Lord? Do you, with a loud voice, verbally cry out with spontaneous praise? Are you like the leper in Luke 17:15 who, after realizing he had been healed, "praised God with a loud voice"? Or has something silenced your praise? Has something robbed you of confident, joyous, vocal worship of your King?

Sometimes the "robber" is other people, as was the case with the crowd in Jerusalem. According to Luke 19:39, the Pharisees didn't like the fact that the crowd was shouting praise. It didn't seem proper or 'reverent'. It violated their traditions. And they really didn't like the things they were saying about Jesus, and they tried to get Jesus to put a stop to it. Jesus responded by saying "I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out" (Luke 19:40).

The very stones would cry out!

In other words, Jesus will make sure someone...someTHING cries out praise.

How many times have you refrained from joyous and unrestrained worship of the King because you were afraid of the reactions of those around you? I know I have.

This last Sunday we tried a little experiment. Immediately after a powerful time of musical praise to the Lord, I asked the Body to stand and individually shout out praises to Jesus. 

All at once.

Some of you might be thinking, 'You tried this at Grace Chapel?!' Yes we did. Sure, it was a little awkward. No one was really sure what do to. Some were not even sure we were allowed to do this. It probably made a few mad. Most were good-natured enough to give it a go, in our own white, conservative, somewhat Mennonite way. Our congregation thought the result was a little funny.

OK, they thought it was really funny.

The experience gave us an opportunity to laugh at ourselves, and, more importantly, experience a little bit of what these New Testament disciples experienced along the road to Jerusalem. And what the Old Testament saints experienced in the days of David (1 Chron 15:28; Ps 20:5; 98:4; 100:1), Solomon (Prov 11:10), Asa (2 Chron 15:14), Ezra (3:11), Isaiah (Isa 12:6) and Zephaniah (Zeph 3:14-15). And what the leper experienced when he discovered he was healed. And what all believers will experience for all eternity in Heaven. Brief though it was, this Sunday morning I fought back years of joy from hearing God's assembled people shout out His praise.

What is robbing you of shouting out to the Lord? I'm not talking about church worship service. I'm talking about the heart and mindset of the lame man in Acts 3, who after he was healed "entered the temple...walking and leaping and praising God" (v.8). This was a man who didn't need a worship service to shout praise. He didn't care where he was...his heart was overflowing with thankfulness and praise and it just had to come out.

So, to return to the question, what is robbing you of shouting praise to the Lord? What is keeping you from doing this at work? At the local community ballpark? In the grocery store? 

Sometimes the robber is our own inhibitions. We just feel a little goofy getting all "Jesusy" and bringing 'praise language' into our everyday conversations.

Sometimes it is emotional pain. We are so overwhelmed by our circumstances that we become depressed or bitter. Then, like the Pharisees, we tend to despise others who erupt in Christ-exalting praise.

Often it is the fact that we are losing the daily battle to sin, which has robbed us of our joy. There is nothing to shout about, because we've lost sight of the fact that Christ has saved us from our sins.

Whatever the reason, Jesus is the solution. Look to Christ, the long-awaited King who has arrived on a donkey. The Savior has come. If you are in Christ Jesus, you have been set free. 


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Uncomfortable Blessings

A pastor friend recently told me that he experienced intense criticism from his church about a recent sermon on giving. Of course, criticism is part of the role. What pastor doesn't receive nitpicking and grumbling on a weekly basis? But this criticism was different, as it was coming mainly from his deacons and elders.

He had preached a sermon on giving and the blessings that come from the Lord when we give generously. He titled his message, "Give more, get more".

That's when the accusations started flowing: "This is no different than the Prosperity Gospel", "I was disgusted by this message which condoned greed", "When did Joel Olsteen become our pastor?"

But this message comes directly from the pages of Scripture, and even the lips of Jesus Christ. Throughout the Old Testament we are told that God rewards faith that expresses itself in generosity. In Deut 15:10, which speaks about taking financial care of your disadvantaged brother in the Lord, Scripture tells us to "give generously to him and do so without a grudging heart." But it is the next phrase that should catch our attention, "...then because of this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to."

Did you catch that? God promised to bless the common, average Israelite citizen with material blessing and success at their employment, investments, and endeavors if they lived a lifestyle of generosity.

Malachi 3:10 goes even further, with God even urging the Israelites to test out this blessing principle for themselves to see if it really worked. "'Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this', says the Lord Almighty, 'and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.'" The LORD goes on to promise that the crops of a generous person will be protected from pests and bad weather.

These are not the only passages, as we find this principle throughout the Old and New Testaments. Jesus directly tied our blessings from the Father to our level of generosity. He said, "give and it will be given to you...for with the measure you use, it will be measured to you" (Luke 6:38). In other words, 'give more, get more.'

So why are Bible-loving Christians ignoring, or in many cases, denying this message? It's a classic case of over-reaction...wishing so much to do away with the Health-n-Wealth madness that we are willing to jettison entire sections of Scripture to accomplish our goal. One recent article online even rebuked the Christian community for referring to success at work or the ability to purchase a new car as "blessings". The author boldly stated, "calling myself blessed because of material wealth is just plain wrong" (emphasis his). As 'proof', the author cites the hundreds of millions of Christians throughout the world who are living in poverty. Is God not blessing them?

The author of that article, just like the elders at my friend's church, have put their finger on a real issue. What they have recognized, and what the Prosperity Gospel seems to deny, is that God also sends difficulty to believers. We are promised the certainly of persecution (2 Tim 3:12) and that this suffering is "according to God's will" (1 Pet 4:19). Paul says the he and the believers in his day were "afflicted in every way" (2 Cor 4:8). He would go on to declare that instead of desiring greater wealth, he was "content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities" (2 Cor 12:10).

But how can both principles be biblical? One seems to promise us material blessings if we follow the Lord faithfully and give generously to those in need and other ministries. The other principle promises, and even promotes, suffering and hardship as the mark of a true believer. Who then do we side with?

Let me suggest that the author of the article I cited above, as well as the elders/deacons at my friend's church, have committed the same error as the adherents of the Prosperity Gospel. Both sides have chosen to set aside one set of Bible passages in favor of another. As a general rule of thumb, when your particle theology forces you to ignore or deny certain parts of the Bible, you have a bad theology.

Much better is the theology of Job. He was a man of great faith who strove to live his life in righteousness. For this, he was rewarded greatly by God, owning thousands of cattle, many properties, and had a large, healthy family. But then he was also tested greatly by God, experiencing financial ruin, the tragic loss of his children, and personal physical suffering. It was during this moment that his wife came to him and offered him horrible advice, "curse God and die" (Job 2:9). Job's response shows us his theology: "shall we accept the good from God but not the trouble."

Good comes from God. It is his blessing. Praise him for it. Did you receive a raise at work as the result of a work ethic based on pleasing God in all you do? Then praise him. Were you wise with your finances last year and able to set aside enough money to buy that new car? Then praise God, for it is His blessing. Have you tithed faithfully and given to the work of the Lord sacrificially, and still have enough money to pay your bills and get away for a week during the Summer with the family? Then praise the Lord, for this is from the Lord.

But so is trouble, and therefore it is also a reason to praise him. Of course, trouble & suffering only mean that the blessings has been temporarily postponed. To Job, as well as Paul, God always blesses. Often that blessing comes partly in the here-and-now, but at times that blessing is postponed until heaven. This is why present suffering doesn't worry the Christian. Jesus told the disciples that the poor and the persecuted (who had faith in Christ) would one day receive God's kingdom as a reward (cf Luke 6:20; Matt 5:10).

Those who hold to the Prosperity Gospel fail to realize that suffering & poverty are often part of God's design for his people. They forget, or rather deny, that the same passage in Deuteronomy that promised material wealth to God's people (Deut 15:10) is followed by a verse which promises that many of God's faithful people will always remain poor (Deut 15:11).

Other believers, reacting against the Prosperity Gospel, seem to forget that all good things comes from the Lord.

For my part, I know my God blesses me and I often receive those blessings now. Currently my family is in good health, we live in a beautiful home, and I make an average salary that provides for our needs. We are even able to take an occasional vacation and somehow manage to pay for all the kid's various extra-curricular involvements. For this I praise God.

But there have also been times when we lived on staples from a local food bank, received government assistance to buy baby formula and peanut butter, and needed financial help from God's people. At some point in the future it is very possible one or more of my family members will develop a serious health issue or perhaps we will come to financial ruin.

Doesn't matter. I'm only asked to be faithful and generous. If he chooses to give me a portion of my reward now, or save it all for eternity, what do I care? My God is good and he can be fully trusted.

After all, the blessings are only a secondary benefit, kind of like balloons at a party. The real benefit is that I know God and have a relationship with Him.

This is why both a new car and martyrdom are utterly insignificant and shouldn't concern us in the least. I don't obsess about getting the former or avoiding the latter. I just accept what my loving Father sends my way.

I know who I am. I know where my eternal home is. I know what, and who, waits for me there.

In the meantime, I just going to be generous because my Father is generous. I don't have to worry about being selfish or greedy. I don't have to hoard, and I am free to give generously. Why? Because I can't out-give God. The more I give, the more he gives me.

That's what Father's do.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Drunk Women & the Gospel

I had only been pastor at Indian River Baptist Church for a few weeks when the Youth Group held an off-site event. Meeting in the home of one of the deacons, it was an evening of playing board games, watching football, and singing praise to God. We were so new to the church that I was still in the stage of simply attending events rather than leading events, as we were still trying to meet people and learn how the church did things.

After the event, all the teens piled into various vans and headed back to the church. I decided to leave several minutes before everyone else to make sure the church was opened up and ready for their arrival.

That's when my problems began.

When I arrived at the church, I was confronted by several parents waiting in the parking lot. Apparently not all of them were aware the activity was going to be off-site (we later found out that some youth, who were not regular attenders, had lied to their parents about where the activity was to be held). Though most were reasonable, one particular woman was irate. 

And drunk.

Staggering out of her vehicle, she got within inches of my face, cursing, threatening to sue, and making personal insults. It was a very one-sided conversation, as she would ask a question, then proceed to cut me off before I could even answer her.

Then came the slap. In the darkness of night I didn't even see it coming. Whap! Solid contact. More cursing. A little bit of shoving. I still hadn't even been able to get out one complete sentence.

Another slap. I believe I saw stars that time. Now her friend jumped out of the car and she began cursing at me too. Apparently the drunk mother had exhausted herself and staggered back to the vehicle, just as the van with the teens pulled into the parking lot.

Walking over to her car (her window was rolled down), I leaned down and said, "Ma'am, I ask your forgiveness for how I've offended you. I understand that every parent wants to protect their daughter. I'm not sure what happened tonight, but if we've dropped the ball I guarantee you we will address it."

I think she mumbled "whatever". But that's just a guess.

Then looking at her friend, I said, "Now, if you want to protect your friend as much as she wants to protect her daughter, then you'll take the keys and drive the vehicle home."

Responding in grace to difficult situations isn't easy. Being graceful when getting slapped by a drunk and irate woman, in public, is even harder. But as it happens, Christ directly addressed this situation. In Matthew 5:39 he says "But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also."

I think this was intended as a metaphor for any difficult situation, though perhaps in my case the Lord allowed me to experience that verse literally because I often tend to be a bit dense when it comes to biblical application. The point is that in any situation, and perhaps most importantly in the difficult ones, we cannot lose site of the goal. The evil person who is doing us harm is important to God. He (or in my case, she) is lost and needs Christ's salvation. If I respond in anger, even under the guise of "self-dignified righteousness", then I compromise the Gospel message. I push that individual further away from the Cross.

I learned two lessons that night. First, make sure youth leaders get signed permission forms from the parents. Second, I must consciously choose, in every moment, to keep the Gospel as my number one goal.