Monday, July 26, 2010

Me or Us?

There are two things that have been swirling in my brain. (Actually, there are a lot more than two things in there, but I am going to limit myself today.) First of all, in worship I have been preaching on the Seven Churches of Revelation (Revelation 1 and 2). In my study on this passage I have been reminded of the emphasis that is placed on the corporate-ness of these congregations. They are addressed as churches, not as individuals.

My tendency is to read the Scripture- and probably everything else, for that matter- in a very closed, selfish way. I want to get right to the personal application. "What's in it for me," so to speak. But these letters do not allow for that.

When Jesus stands at the door, it is not the door to my heart. He is wanting to enter the church.

When Jesus says that he will spit out the lukewarm, he is not talking about lukewarm Christians. He is fed up with lukewarm churches.

When he says, "I know your works," he is declaring that the activities of the congregation are known to him. In this passage he is not looking at every detail of every member.

That thought led me to my second thing. When I was a boy, I was given a bad interpretation of a very familiar Bible verse. John 3.16 says this: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." When I was a child, in an evangelical Sunday school class a well-meaning teacher gave me the evangelical party-line. She said, "You can put your own name in there, you know. 'God so loves Dewey...'"

You see, evangelicals believe that every person is valuable to God. And that every person must come to faith in Christ of his own will and initiative. I agree with that, by the way. Every person must have a personal relationship with Jesus. I am an evangelical after all. The problem is that John 3.16 is not an individual salvation verse. It is a corporate salvation verse- just like Revelation 2-3.

So, there is a conflict in Christian circles between those who believe in individual salvation and those who hold to corporate salvation. Let me weigh in with my opinion on the subject: Yes.

Every person must come to faith in Christ. Romans 10.9 teaches that it is the responsibility of each individual to come to faith in Christ. I am thoroughly evangelical. Each person must confess and believe for him/herself.

But, Jesus came for all people. There are requirements, commands for the "church" of Christ. There is no getting around our responsibilities to the body of Christ, the church, and to Christ himself.

The right answer is not either/or, but yes/and.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Family Lists: Children

Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long… Exodus 20.12

Too often, it seems to me, we stop here at the Ten Commandments, when we are considering children in our family relationships. We want our children to obey, to respect, to honor, but perhaps not much more. We want them to “be seen and not heard.” We believe in “spare the rod and spoil the child.” Children should know their place. All of these things are true, but in the Bible (and in life) there is so much more for children to know, to do and to fulfill.

  • Samuel was a boy who ministered to the Lord (1 Samuel 3). In fact, he heard from God when no one else did. Eli, the priest did not hear God, but a boy did. Children today can hear the voice of God as well, if we will teach them to and allow it.
  • Jeremiah was called by God, even before he was conceived (Jeremiah 1.5). There are great things in store for people (children) even from the earliest ages. Do not diminish what your children are destined to accomplish for God’s glory.
  • Jesus welcomed children in his group (Matthew 19.14). Not only did Jesus teach them, include them and admonish the disciples for their treatment of children, he also touched them, held them and blessed them.
  • It was a young boy, who was almost arrested along with Jesus at the end of his life (Mark 14.51-52). We sometimes get over-protective of our children. They should be allowed to follow Jesus and take risks for the sake of the Kingdom of God.
  • Young people can have leadership roles in the church (1 Timothy 4.12). Be careful to not overlook those who are gifted and called for ministry just because they are younger than you expect them to be. God calls people regardless of their age.

Everything that has gone before applies to young people generally and not necessarily to children in the context of their families. However, all these things are true in families as well. I was fortunate as a child to have parents who listened to me and believed that I could accomplish great things for God. They nurtured me and my relationship with God. They listened to me and offered guidance and correction from time to time. Let me assure you that I was not excused from chores, family responsibilities, obedience or respect. I was well-rounded in all those ways. The rod was not spared in my childhood home. I knew when I was to be quiet and when I could speak out. But I never sensed that I was not respected and loved.

The same should be true for our children. We must love and nurture them. Teach them respect. And allow them to blossom in whatever ways God calls them. Who knows: The next Billy Graham may be living in your house or attending your church. Wouldn’t that be a great thing?

Friday, July 23, 2010

More Thoughts on "New"

I recently posted some concerns with all things new. Our culture is consumed with emphasizing new, young, beautiful, the latest, greatest, WOW, "now with added value bleach." If you do not believe this, think about the last time you saw a middle-aged, elderly, homely or overweight person in a reality television show, or as a contestant on a game show. You would think that everyone in America is young and beautiful.

Well, as is often the case, I am not done. I have some more concerns with what the world considers new. Isaiah 43.19 declares that God is doing a new thing. For that very reason we need to be sure that we do not eliminate everything new out of hand. We do not want to miss what God is doing. But at the same time, we must be careful to not over-emphasize new things at the expense of our traditions, values and history.
  • Focusing on new things causes us to lose sight of our traditions, our culture, the very things that make us who we are. When we are only looking for what is new, we will forget where we came from.
  • New things could cause us to repeat the mistakes of the past. When we forget what we have learned, we may well mess up again.
  • Being consumed with new things makes us produce new things more frequently and more quickly. This automatically diminishes the value we place on new things and the quality that the new things represent.
  • Finally (I think), the new promotes only surface interest in everything. When we have tradition, we live with music, art, literature and life over and over again. We can truly see the value and the depth of a thing when we spend time with it.
I am sure that there is more. I am not ready to eliminate the new, but I definitely refuse to throw away what has been tried, tested and established through the years.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Problems I Have with "New"

I have been thinking a lot about new things lately. I love new things. I look forward to the new television programs during the Fall Television season. I love to watch movies at the end of the year when all the really good movies come out. I like to get the newest album from my favorite artists. In fact, I love new music so much, that I prefer new music and new artists to established ones sometimes.

However, there are some problems with my love of new. This was brought into focus during a recent conversation with a group of pastors. Our discussion centered around Psalm 96.1, "Oh, sing to the Lord a new song." We extolled the virtues of
  • Creativity- God is doing something when a new song is born.
  • Variety- There should be no limit to the types of expression of worship.
  • Work- It takes effort to learn or do "new." God is worthy of that.
However, all that "new" is not necessarily better. In fact, there are some definite problems with emphasizing the new.
  • To begin with, valuing new simply because it is new leaves us with the distinct implication that the old is necessarily inferior. This is not true.
  • If we are so concerned to find God's new thing, we may get the idea that he never did an old thing, or that there wasn't a new thing before. This might leave us with a sense of spiritual superiority.
  • Focusing on the new will almost always diminish the value of the old.
  • Emphasizing the new will often lead to instability. Consistency is sacrificed when we move quickly to the latest, newest thing.
  • Making too many changes, too quickly, will certainly offend and alienate those who are emotionally invested in the old ways. The status quo is not necessarily bad.
Finally, new is good. Change is good. But we must be careful that we are not looking for new just for the sake of new. We must never change just for the sake of change. Balance in everything is essential.

Friday, July 16, 2010

More on Social Justice

Recently I wrote about the church abdicating responsibility for caring for the poor and oppressed. A natural response to that is that the government has picked up the slack. I received one email written from the position that the government has taken the responsibility from the church. My perspective is quite the opposite. For the most part, I think it is the chicken and the egg. I believe that the church failed, forcing the government to care for people. Others believe that the government usurped the church's responsibility and therefore its ability to help people.

Ultimately, I think we agree. The church should be doing what the government is doing.

Let me cite one example of the church doing its job regardless of the activity of the government: The Amish. The Amish are taxed in the same way as everyone else. I am sure they are beneficiaries of many government programs as well (examples could include unemployment compensation, but I am not certain of this). I do know, however, that the Amish do not participate in government sponsored insurance programs. The church itself cares for members who are ill, have lost a home or are in some other need. The church can and should care for people regardless of what the government is doing. (An interesting side note: The average Christian gives about 3% of his income to the church. If Christians would tithe, we could care for those who need and cut our taxes.)

One more thing: I had a disagreement with my mother-in-law recently. She was upset about the proposed health care reform bill (this was before it passed). She said, "Everyone I know has insurance. I don't see what the big deal is." When I began to tell her the names of the people I know who are uninsured (about a dozen, many that she also knows) she was amazed. I think it is easy to think about those in poverty as having an entitlement mentality, but when you spend time with them you can see the world through different eyes.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Fair and Balanced?

When I was in college my major course of study was Biblical Literature. In one of the first classes I took we learned that we were supposed to approach the Bible objectively. It is unfair, inappropriate and unsafe to bring my own ideas to the Scriptures. In addition, we must never use the Bible to bolster or support what we already believe. The idea behind studying the Bible is to find out what it says, not getting it to say what I want.

Then I got to seminary. One of my professors in seminary taught us that it is impossible to be completely impartial in reading the Bible. I can never pretend that I am not who I am. I will always have my thoughts, beliefs and ideas. Rather than pretend that I do not, I should be honest about the impact that those things have on my reading of the Bible.

That reminds me of the media wars that we are seeing today. Most of the media is pretending to be objective, even though they are not. They all have certain agendas, perspectives and biases. Even those commentators who complain about media bias are biased media commentators.

Today there are a lot of 24 hour news channels on cable television. My satellite system has at least eight stations that are devoted to non-stop news, business and opinion. Everyone of them is a little bit different from the others. Some of them cater to women, some to men. One has a particularly liberal perspective, another is conservative.

The problem I have is that some of these networks have a particular political agenda, but act as though they do not. One promotes itself as "fair and balanced." Fair and balanced implies that all sides of an issue or event are explored impartially and without bias. This is certainly not the case for this network.

They are certainly allowed to present issues in whatever context they desire. I have no problem with their rights to broadcast in this manner. However, if you pretend like you are objective, you should be objective- at least as objective as you can be.

One more thing: This same network makes the boast, "We report, you decide." How untrue. They report, that much is accurate. But, they report only what they want to report. They provide perspectives and analyses only from experts that they choose. The world view of this network is focused just so that I will decide what they want me to. The reporting of this channel is designed to make me decide in a particular political way.

You can believe what you want. You can even spread the propaganda that you want. Just be sure that you do not try to convince the American people that everyone else is biased and you are not. Tell the truth.