Cowboys Don't Baptize Babies

I now know the real reason why we evangelicals don’t baptize babies. It’s because we’re cowboys and our doctrine was formed in frontier America. That’s pretty much the core of it, according to an article sent to me in response to my hat tip to the evangelism and disciple-making work of Church of the Violet Crown in Austin. The article says evangelicals really like rugged individualism, frontier camp meetings and fire-and-brimstone preaching. So Yee-haw! and Yippee-yi-o-ki-yay! and all that cowboy, spittoon-spit stuff. Check out an uber-caricature of so-called us at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jo-pApe1Kd0. But that is not us.

On the contrary, our conviction that only believers should be baptized is rooted in thoughtful exegesis of many Scriptures. Some who baptize babies believe the act of baptism forgives sin and grants eternal salvation. Some believe that baptism is not salvific, but is akin to circumcision in the Old Testament.

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It is disturbing, though, that those who largely disagree with believers-only baptism are not-so-rarely condescending in their arguments. Instead of addressing and discerning the issues in relevant Scriptures, there’s often a dismissive sarcasm in the discussion that does not appeal to understanding the meaning of the Scriptures.

We can easily discuss conversion and whether Christian parents urge children to embrace the faith or whether the faith is inculcated from infancy, as the article states. Certainly, the faith should be taught as a pattern of life in Christian families, but individual faith is not genuine until it is personally embraced and proven over time by the fruit of belief.

It's a valid criticism that evangelicals tend to hyper-emphasize the moment of conversion rather than the fruit of a life in relationship with Christ. We know that some genuine followers of Christ cannot state an exact date of conversion, sometimes recalling a season of life as their turning point to faith. Even so, that fact in no way validates infant baptism. The two are separate issues. We argue from the Scriptures that no ritual act brings anyone into saving relationship with Christ.

What of the criticism that evangelicals typically claim repeated conversion in countless altar-calls, hoping that this time faith in Christ takes root? That argument makes a mockery of those who endure seasons of doubt and genuinely examine themselves to discern if they truly are in the faith. In fact, in his second letter to the Corinthian church, Paul admonishes each person to do this work of self-examination (2 Corinthians 13:5). Although I have never known even one person who has repeatedly claimed conversion and then has been repeatedly baptized, several of my pastor friends tell me they have known a small number who have claimed that experience. But the bottom line is that this experience is not normative and should not be mocked as if it were.

Lastly, does teaching your children a song such as Jesus Loves Me or the Lord’s Prayer, (known as the Our Father in my Roman Catholic upbringing), mean I really don’t believe children need regeneration? Obviously not. Teaching our children the Lord’s Prayer and singing songs about Jesus’ goodness and love simply teaches children about the character of God and how to approach Him. It’s a silly non-sequitur to conclude that our convictions about innate human depravity are insincere because we teach our children to pray and we teach them songs about Jesus.

The article The Real Reason Evangelicals Don’t Baptize Babies concludes that evangelicals come to a Yahoo! moment when they begin to understand that God induces a change of heart and a saving faith in those too young to even speak or remember their conversions . . . and that evangelicals impose a system that was designed for first-generation converts. Yeah, well, I’d be interested to read a biblical defense of those deeply spurious conclusions, because I don't think you'd get them from a thoughtful and careful exegesis of the Scriptures. And, apart from all of that, Yippee-yi-o-ki-yay! and Yee-haw! is not us.

First Instincts about Cutting, Picking Skin and Every Trouble Under the Sun

Thinking about a church shepherd’s First Instincts . . . when he hears about someone struggling with cutting, skin-picking, addictions, emotional support animals, all manner of sexuality issues and every trouble under the sun. What’s the shepherd’s instinctual response? If his first response looks to psychiatry and medications and the like, then he’s doing it wrong. His thinking ignores a core tenet of good shepherding. That is, What is the person’s spiritual condition? What does the Lord think? What does the Lord say in His Word? Those questions get to the nub of problems and will give the person a path to freedom and healing.

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As obvious as that should be, some shepherds lean immediately into the world’s looseness or the world’s solutions. Or they’re fighting a frustrating battle within the congregation that thinks of the church and the shepherds as after-thoughts or add-ons to life. In this mind-set, the church and the Scriptures are fine on the fringes of things, but that’s all. There’s a refusal to lean into the Scriptures, a refusal to look to the Lord and His church as first-line leaders in life’s battles. And often, when they do consider looking that way, they reject godly counsel because it’s difficult or contrary to the praised practices of the godless.

Shepherds laboring in churches in the FiveStone network frequently face this fight, both inside and outside the church. A woman I’ve known casually for several years told me about her 20-year-old step-daughter who’s 50 pounds overweight, studies psychology at a secular university, refuses to work to help pay her own way, picks the skin and flesh off of her back (and then flicks the pickings from her fingers while she’s eating dinner with the family). She demands that her parents buy her an emotional support animal (a bearded dragon lizard). I don’t know what to do! the woman told me. Does this kid need a psychiatrist or does she need to be medicated or what?

I thought, That girl’s got problems. But I did not instinctively assume that she needed a psychiatrist and medication. The woman sharing her story knows what I believe and what I do in ministry. We’ve discussed it in the past. As I listened to her, I prayed, Lord, what am I supposed to say here? Not, ‘You need Jesus and your daughter needs Jesus.’ She already knows that I think that. So, I said, Is your daughter a spiritually-minded person? Of course not. Her daughter is not the least bit spiritually-minded. Even so, the question led to a discussion about Jesus and His Word and the guidance and comfort that comes from knowing Him and following His Scriptures. Afterward, I had no hint that she was going to heed anything I offered, but at least she heard the offer.

With that as one of many examples of living in a post-Christian, psychologized and medicated culture, a handful of prime shepherding tenets forge a path to leading the church to strength:

  • the gospel of Christ is central to life, for the person who does not know Christ and for the person who knows Him; salvation in Christ and knowing the care He has for His children is key to living in confident wisdom;
  • the Scriptures are core to all aspects of the Christian life;
  • focus on Him leads to delight in Him;
  • teach the church to pursue the Lord in a long obedience in the same direction;
  • serve the Word to the church and help the people feed themselves on the Word;
  • meditate on the Word, His attributes and character, leaning into His Spirit to strengthen, guide, protect, vindicate;
  • the Scriptures are deeply practical; present the clear implications and applications of the Word, teaching people how to live well and bear up under pressure.

Lucas O’Neill, senior pastor of FiveStone partner—Christian Fellowship Church—has well-preached those tenets from Psalm 119:161-168. Several key quotes: Comfort comes from God’s Word. The truths of the Bible are treasure . . . you need to relentlessly pursue its truths. Peace in the face of pain is the fruit for those who love God’s words and love His instruction. Vindication comes to the person who pursues and obeys the Lord.

Shattering Hammers on The Rock

Picture Jesus Christ as an enormous rock . . . surrounded by piles of shattered hammer heads and countless men, women and children. They clutch new hammers and pound at the rock. They exhaust themselves, the hammers blow apart, and not a mark is left on the rock.

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I thought of that picture this morning as I read a Statement discussing the Lord’s design for human life and our post-Christian era. Of course, issues of sexual identity and morality were in focus in the Statement.

The statement was released at a conference held in Nashville and addressed 14 core points. Approximately 150 leaders from various Christians traditions signed it. The Statement exhorts followers of Jesus to hold fast to His teaching on sexuality and humanity. The statement is biblically sound, strong, clear and compassionate. It reflects what is the consistent Judeo-Christian view of human sexuality as described in the Scriptures. The responses from many in the media predictably twisted Jesus’ statements and the entirety of the Scriptures’ teaching on human sexuality and the purpose of humanity. Some media comments were downright hateful. These writers obviously do not read the Bible and cherry-pick favored verses out of context and without understanding the Scripture's teaching.

Check out these two media responses: 

. . . many discriminatory positions adopted by the Nashville Statement and . . . un-American toilet paper written by hypocrites. 

http://www.salon.com/2017/08/30/evangelicals-bigotry-filled-nashville-statement-is-denounced-for-its-anti-lgbt-bigotry/

. . .  if making other humans feel less than human is a requirement for entry into heaven, I think I'll keep my soul with me, buried in the dirt, and It's an offense to God to not acknowledge that all humans are different, to ignore the fact that telling LBGT people that they're sinners, that their identity is wrong, that they're somehow imperfect, is wildly and dangerously damaging, not to mention a sin in and of itself. 

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/huppke/ct-nashville-statement-lgbt-huppke-20170830-story.html

The satirical Babylon Bee did well.

http://babylonbee.com/news/progressives-appalled-christians-affirm-doctrine-held-unanimously-2000-years/

The world continues to fail to understand that the Lord is who He is. It does not matter what anyone wants Him to be. No one can change Him, His purposes or the order of His world. Beating on Him—and on His people—changes nothing about Him or His purposes. Man’s fist-shaking rebellion against the Maker always and ultimately is a loser . . . shattered hammers, hysterical haters of the Lord, haters of His people, self-inflicted destruction.

A Young Woman's Flashing Smile at a Gray-Hair

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I was sweat-soaked and panting during my elliptical machine work-out today when a young woman walked past and flashed me a lovely smile and a thumbs-up. I smiled in return and she was gone. I’m no fabulous specimen of a man, so I had no worries there.

Here’s what had happened a few minutes earlier: Another woman on an elliptical near me asked a man standing in front of her what he was doing for Easter. He answered as you might expect, visiting family and eating ham and so on and so forth. I tuned out of their conversation and thought, What would I say if someone asked me that question? I ran through a series of answers I hoped I would give about going to church, remembering the cross on Good Friday and celebrating Jesus’ resurrection on Sunday. And, of course, gathering with family. As I was thinking about that, I tuned back into their conversation when she said, Well, I know I’m a sinner.

The man responded with some snarky comments about Jesus and the Bible. I watched and listened, but the woman said nothing as the man continued to insult the Lord and His Word.

I thought, Come on lady, say something!, but she didn’t. And then I thought, Stay out of this. This will be trouble. It’s a public place. There’s people everywhere. They’ll throw you out. My mind shifted to the movie Amazing Grace, when William Pitt counseled his old friend William Wilberforce. I would urge caution, Pitt said. Then he added, Oh, to hell with caution.

So I said to the man, loudly enough to be heard, I really don’t think you read the Bible.

The man looked surprised. He said, I used to, just like I used to read comic books.

Pedaling and panting much harder now, I said, Oh wow! Out of the heart, the mouth speaks!

He shouted, There is no God! There’s a super-force! We’ll be judged as good or bad by the force. We’ll be fine if we do good.

I said, No one is good enough to get to God. That’s why Jesus came in the first place. You need to read the Bible and learn what Jesus did. You know what? You’re going to die. We’re all going to die. You’re going to face Jesus! You need to read the Bible. 

We went back and forth like that for a bit and when it was over I looked around as I continued working the elliptical and realized everyone was quiet in the fitness center. I thought, Well, I guess I didn’t handle that very well. I’m a lousy evangelist. They’re going to throw me out of here. They’ll never let me back in.

And that’s when the young woman walked by flashing that big smile and a thumbs-up.

Today I set a personal best for speed and distance on the elliptical. Maybe I didn’t respond very well to that man. Still, I’m glad I tried to honor the Lord when the challenge came my way. And I’ll long remember that young woman’s affirming smile and thumbs-up.

It's Those Evil Christians!

Nobody I know is celebrating the massacre of 49 by an Islamic terrorist at a gay bar in Florida. Everyone I know is disgusted by it all. Even so, followers of Jesus—those who take His Scriptures seriously—are targets for hate and blame as a result of the attack. 

Here's a sampling of comments I’ve read:
•    “You all are CINOs (Christians in Name Only). Paul said in Romans 13:10 that love does no harm to a neighbor.”
•    “I blame you and people like you for Orlando. They’re dead because of homophobia. You and your ilk, spreading your messages of hate, directly contribute to tragedies like this.”
•    “You Christians helped cause this massacre. F__k your prayers and your chaplains. How ‘bout you stop your anti-queer theology that supports our death and despair, huh?”
•    “The Christian Right has introduced 200 anti-LGBT bills in the last six months and people blaming Islam for this. No.” (Posted via Twitter by an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union.)

The blame, of course, is completely ludicrous. It is the practitioners of Islam who advocate and practice the execution of homosexuals. The Florida massacre was the direct result of Islamic hate. The repeated massive and bloody violence perpetrated in the name of Islam bears its own sole responsibility. Christians obviously are fighting the forced overturning of biblical teaching on sexual sin and obvious natural law regarding relationships between men and women. Fighting by argument and persuasion the hostile overhaul of biblical values is righteous and perfectly legitimate. But many cannot tolerate the tension, resorting to blame-shifting, name-calling and hateful intolerance of the Christian's biblical worldview.

This 21st century is building into something of a mini-first century. When Rome burned in A.D. 64, Emperor Nero blamed the Christians, even though Nero likely started the fire. Christians were easy targets. Roman practices were steeped in sexual immorality and idolatry. Christians refused to take part. Nero and his followers called followers of Jesus haters of the human race. They must be disliked by all because of their anti-social attitudes. (Nero famously took the term dislike to the deepest level of understatement.) Followers of Jesus were hunted, arrested, killed. Roman senator and historian Tacitus reported that some were crucified. Bloody animal skins were sewn into the bodies of others who were then hunted down and torn apart by wild dogs. Other Christians were immersed in hot tar and burned alive, serving as living torches in the night. After all of that, Tacitus had the gall to write that followers of Jesus were notoriously depraved. Juvenal, a Roman poet, piled on by calling followers of Jesus river sewage.

The restaurant chain Chick-fil-A, (a favored target of Christian-haters) served free sandwiches and iced tea to those donating blood for the surviving victims of the Florida massacre. Caring for those victims is a perfect and precious example of loving your enemies. I wonder how those enemies will respond.

 The rainbow, a sign of His covenant promise. The Lord will never again cause a flood to destroy the Earth. Genesis 9:11-17. Doesn't matter what anybody else says about the rainbow. The Lord always keeps all of His promises about everything.

The rainbow, a sign of His covenant promise. The Lord will never again cause a flood to destroy the Earth. Genesis 9:11-17. Doesn't matter what anybody else says about the rainbow. The Lord always keeps all of His promises about everything.

The Blinding Stupidity of the Smart

I was reminded this weekend of the television show, The West Wing. In one episode, the U.S. president executes a withering word assault on a Christian radio personality. At the close of his assault, the president snarls that the Christian wrongly assumed that the White House meeting was the monthly gathering of the ignorant tight-ass club. Obviously, only idiotic no-fun fools take the Bible literally.

A similar slap at Bible-believing Christians was thrown in at the tail-end of an otherwise insightful December 13 New York Post article about the primary cause of Islamic terror: ‘They’re so nice,’ until they get religion and want to kill us. http://nypost.com/2015/12/13/theyre-so-nice-until-they-get-religion-and-want-to-kill-us/

It is self-evident and obvious that Islam has a terrorism problem, despite the willful blindness of politicians and most of the media. In contrast, Christianity has no terrorism problem. Nor does Judaism, Buddhism or Hinduism have a terrorism problem. It’s become axiomatic that the more devoted a Muslim is to the tenets of Islam, the more likely that person is to be violent. That conclusion comes from the obvious facts of hundreds of Islamic killings in San Bernardino, Paris (twice), Chattanooga, Boston, London and many other locales around the world. That conclusion also comes from experts in the FBI and from several organizations that have researched Islamic terror. Despite these obvious facts, many continue to suppress the truth, ala Romans 1:18.

And, to perpetuate the lie that all religions struggle to contain so-called extremists, many continue to suppress and misrepresent the history and tenets of Christianity. That episode from The West Wing ridiculed Christians who believe that homosexuality violates God’s natural law and God’s mandates for human sexuality as revealed in the Bible. Among other things, the president in that episode bloviates about wanting to sell his daughter into slavery (Exodus 21:7) and mockingly asks whether he should have a staff member executed for working on the Sabbath (Exodus 31:14). That president’s assault against the Christian’s beliefs about homosexuality could stand as a poster-sample of the biblical ignorance of our anti-Christian cultural elites. That president obviously never studied or gave even a slight thought to the relationship of Old Testament law, culture and practice to the New Testament’s teaching of Jesus as the fulfillment of the law and freedom from the law. Homosexuality is judged wrong in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. And Jesus specifically referred to marriage as assumed to be between a man and a woman (Matthew 19:4-6). Marital alternatives are assumed to be so outrageous that they do not even warrant a mention to be rejected in the Scriptures.

Ignorant school-boy mocking both from the president in The West Wing and from those who hate the biblical Christ do not change the truth. The Bible obviously is to be interpreted literally where it is meant to be interpreted literally. The Bible uses historical record, the writings of prophets and kings, and letters from church leaders to inform and to teach. It uses poetry, parables, metaphors, similes, sarcasm, hyperbole . . . all to lead the reader to a clear understanding of the Lord’s character and the Lord’s ways and the Lord's demands.

It’s painfully outrageous that so many mock the Scriptures and the tenets of Christianity while at the same time revelling in complete, willful blindness to the primary cause of so much of the world’s terrorism. Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi—who is a Muslim—argued early in 2015 that Islam must reform. Islam, he said, must stop being a source of anxiety, danger, killing and destruction for the rest of the world. He’s right, but don’t expect that to happen anytime soon. Best to get shrewd as a serpent about all of this. Otherwise, we might hear really smart people say something like, You have a cloak; you shall be our leader, and this heap of ruins shall be under your rule. Isaiah 3:6.

 

Haters Gotta Love Christianophobia

It’s obvious that a hateful dynamic has been building against followers of Jesus. It’s older than Emperor Nero but new to followers of Jesus in America. Rejecters of the Lord often aren’t satisfied just rejecting Him and being quiet about it. Now they celebrate it and happily mock those of us who do not join them in their way. I’ve heard them spit foul words as they lie about us. I’ve heard them draw strange caricatures of us as they try to bully us into fear and silence. This is common in the broad public square and in academia. It’s becoming more common in individual neighborhoods and workplaces. It’s the new reality: a growing Christianophobia in America.

George Yancey—in his thoughtful book titled Hostile Environment, published by IVP—well-describes the problem. Simply said, Christianophobia targets followers of Jesus with irrational, unwarranted hatred. It seems to me that this phobia, when unleashed from common courtesies, also features irrational thinking and lies, foul language, hateful name-calling, and bizarre behavior.

Yancey cites the Hobby Lobby case, decided in favor of Hobby Lobby by the U.S. Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision, as evidence of the strange response of our opponents. Recall that the owners of Hobby Lobby simply did not want to pay for their employees’ use of drugs that induced abortions. Yancey notes that, Even small legal victories by Christians engender a hysterical level of anger . . . the wild accusations following the case are unreasonable. The only reaction some of those with Christianophobia will accept is complete capitulation of Christians to their social and political desires.

Yancey cites research that shows that Christian-haters do not understand Christians, nor do they want to understand them. Next to that comment in the margin of the book, I wrote, Right. They don’t want to know or understand Christians, but they also don’t want the biblical Jesus. Or, they twist the Scriptures to create a Jesus who is soft, roundy . . . one who nods with a stupid grin at their basest of rebellions. But Jesus does not contort himself to please people. He is who he is.

I greatly appreciated Yancey’s discussion of how to respond to Christianophobics and their attacks. He cites Luke 6:29 in asking, Didn’t Jesus tell us to turn the other cheek? Of course, He did. Yancey notes that the apostle Paul, unjustly arrested for speaking the gospel in Acts 22:22-29, did not silently accept flogging. Instead, he challenged the Roman jailers who were getting ready to flog him. And Jesus, in John 7, challenged the crowd that planned to kill him. Jesus did not allow the crowd, at that time and in that place, to escalate their abuse and kill him. Christians are not called to be the world’s pathetic doormats.

Yancey gets it right: Turning the other cheek is most appropriate when a person is dealing with personal privileges or offenses. Slapping . . . is an insult, a personal affront. In my life there will be those who attempt to slap me, to personally insult me. The insult is directed at me personally. I can confront them, or I can turn the other cheek. I prefer to turn the other cheek in situations of personal affront.

Conversely, says Yancey, confrontation is appropriate when more is at stake than your own sense of worth or personal rights. He argues that turning the other cheek is wrong when seeking after broader justice is required. You don’t turn the other cheek, he argues, when the ramifications of the wrong extend beyond you personally. These are situations leading to sin against certain groups. Determining when to take action to protect other Christians will be important for assessing when to confront those with hateful attitudes and actions against Christians.

If the offense is personal, just be sure you don’t throw your pearls before swine as you turn the other cheek, as in Matthew 7:6. Yancey suggests that, When someone starts a conversation with an insult, you are not addressing someone with whom you can have a fruitful discussion. If individuals . . . do not return some degree of respect, then we are probably wasting our time.

Right. See the Lord use dog imagery: Don’t give dogs what is holy, Matthew 7:6. And there’s the clear difference between those whom Jesus allows into His heaven versus those He rejects. Those are the dogs, sorcerers, sexually immoral, murderers, idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood. Revelation 22:14-15. He is who He is.

Suddenly Strangers in a Strange Land

If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is because everything would be what it isn’t. And contrary-wise, what it is it wouldn’t be, and what it would be, it would. You see? – Alice of Alice in Wonderland

We now are wandering a surreal wonderland: an obviously white woman becomes African-American because she identifies as such, a man is celebrated as a true woman by adjusting his genitalia, an oligarchy of five supremes discerns that the U.S. Constitution gives two men or two women a fundamental right to marry.

Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, though he voted last week with the majority in the court’s 5-4 decision on so-called gay marriage, nodded to objections for religious grounds. He wrote that those who adhere to religious doctrines may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned. Last week, a bill introduced in the U.S. House and Senate would prevent the federal government from penalizing federal employees, contractors or religiously affiliated organizations that oppose gay marriage.

Even though a couple of other justices gave a similar nod as Kennedy to those whose religious convictions reject such so-called marriage, it is a dubious nod. The five supremes certainly know the reality to come and the reality already here. Their edict opens the gates for people of faith to be persecuted, vilified and otherwise marginalized even as they stand on their genuine religious convictions. People of faith are protected under the U.S. Constitution’s first amendment commitment to freedom of religion. Even so, if there is a fundamental right of two men or two women to marry, the ruling oligarchy of five could easily decide that a fundamental right of marriage between two men or two women trumps first amendment freedom to live by genuine religious convictions. The courts are sure to be overwhelmed with years of lawsuits and attacks against people of faith and the organizations they support. The secular and the pagan are uniting to unleash their vision of an irreligious, fascist utopia against those of genuine religious faith. The coming years of culture and legal wars will be similar to the ongoing battles that still follow the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court’s abortion rights decision.

The irreligious and secular certainly will seek to punish pastors who refuse to marry two men or two women, they’ll push to strip churches of their non-profit status if they do not support such so-called marriages, they’ll seek to punish faith-based schools and teachers at those schools. Parents should beware of public school curriculum that will force the secular, pagan worldview on their children.

This is the way of those committed to willful blindness; they're blind to the sinfulness of sin. We in the U.S. suddenly are a long way from our constitutional republic rooted in 1776. The Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland put it this way: You used to be much more . . . muchier. You’ve lost your muchness. 

Infinitely better, the Lord Himself said it in Isaiah 3:8-9: For Jerusalem has stumbled and Judah has fallen, because their speech and their actions are against the LORD, to rebel against His glorious presence. The expression of their faces bears witness against them. And they display their sin like Sodom. They do not even conceal it. Woe to them! For they have brought evil on themselves.

To make it plain, below is the FiveStone Churches conviction about marriage and human sexuality, as excerpted from our Principles of Doctrine, Governance and Practice:

The Scriptures teach and require that marriage be reserved for and restricted to a union between one man and one woman (Genesis 1:27, Matthew 19:4-6, Romans 1:26-27). God designed marriage between one man and one woman for four primary purposes: complementary partnership, relational intimacy, sexual fulfillment and multiplication (Genesis 1:27-28; Genesis 2:18; Genesis 2:23-25, 1 Corinthians 6:18, 1 Corinthians 7:9, Ephesians 5:31). The Scriptures encourage and honor sexual intimacy only within the covenant of marriage between one man and one woman (Matthew 19:4-6, Hebrews 13:4).


Paris and Here in North America

The murders of the 12 in Paris this week are the latest in a flowing trench of blood that Muslim terrorists are spreading around the world. The bloody trench is growing ever deeper and wider. It’s a war of classical Islam and its sharia law against everybody else.

In a New Year’s Day speech, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi offered several observations about the status of Islam. El-Sisi is a Muslim.

The Islamic world is being torn, he said. It is being destroyed, it is being lost. And it is being lost by our own hands. It's inconceivable that the thinking we hold most sacred should cause the entire Islamic world to be a source of anxiety, danger, killing and destruction for the rest of the world. This is antagonizing the entire world. It's antagonizing the entire world! Does this mean that 1.6 billion people (Muslims) should want to kill the rest of the world's inhabitants—that is 7 billion—a that they themselves may live? Impossible!

Yes, it’s impossible to kill 7 billion non-Muslims, but Muslim terrorists are giving it a bloody-good try. They continue to post literal head counts all over the world. So, finally, we hear from a prominent Muslim—El-Sisi—who condemns the carnage of Muslim terrorism. But where are the voices of other Muslim leaders? Silent. Disgustingly silent. There are no Christian terrorists cutting off the heads of men, women and children in the name of Jesus or performing other feats of unspeakable cruelty of which we now are so sadly familiar. There are no Buddhist terrorists, Hindu terrorists, Jewish terrorists. We only need watch for the Muslim sort.

Muslim terrorism of the Paris sort surely is coming to Canada and the U.S. We will not escape it. Almost any Americans or Canadians will be targets, but followers of Christ eventually will get special, targeted attention. But, at least as of today, the enemies of Christ in North America are spewing hatred onto Christians for the heinous, disgusting crime of believing that marriage is to be between one man and one woman. Months ago, the head of Chik-fil-A restaurants took a hailstorm of abuse for simply speaking of his belief in traditional marriage. And the owners of Hobby Lobby stores were vilified for refusing to pay employee insurance premiums for abortion-inducing drugs. The latest prominent Christian target is Kelvin Cochran, the newly-fired fire chief of Atlanta, Ga. He wrote a book that endorsed traditional marriage and spoke against various forms of sexual sin.

Cochran said: The LGBT members of our community have a right to express their views and convictions about sexuality and deserve to be respected for their position without hate or discrimination. But Christians also have a right to express to express our beliefs regarding our faith and be respected for our position without hate and without discrimination.

No matter. Cochran was fired anyway. Our pluralistic, post-Christian culture now is saying, All hail the irreligious! and All hail the Jesus you create for yourself, and All hail the Jesus who lets me do what I want whenever I want. That’s the Jesus, the false Christ, that many demand and foolishly have created.

But the Jesus of the Scriptures set the standard for marriage to be between one man and one woman. His word rejects sexuality expressed in other forms. Our culture, largely rejecting His word, have the right to do so. That’s their privilege. It’s also the privilege of faithful followers of Christ to speak His word and follow His ways, despite the reviling that is here and the deeper persecution that eventually and surely will come.

In light of that, FiveStone Churches has added to its Principles of Doctrine, Governance and Practice the following statement on the issue, just to make it plain where we stand.

Here it is: The Scriptures teach and require that marriage be reserved for and restricted to a union between one man and one woman (Genesis 1:27, Matthew 19:4-6, Romans 1:26-27). God designed marriage between one man and one woman for four primary purposes: complementary partnership, relational intimacy, sexual fulfillment and multiplication (Genesis 1:27-28; Genesis 2:18; Genesis 2:23-25, 1 Corinthians 6:18, 1 Corinthians 7:9, Ephesians 5:31). The Scriptures encourage and honor sexual intimacy only within the covenant of marriage between one man and one woman (Matthew 19:4-6, Hebrews 13:4).

 

The t-shirt Jesus Could Wear

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My daughter gave me a bookstore t-shirt featuring what easily could be a true-to-life sketch of the rough ruggedness of an Old Testament prophet or a New Testament apostle.

And I thought, The Lord made His prophets and apostles look something like this guy. Would the Lord come to Earth looking like something cleaned up, perfumed? Nah. Jesus was a burly-man.

Jesus came to Earth not majestic or pretty . . . Isaiah 53:2-3. It's sad, disgusting, the things people do to shrink Jesus. 

Now He looks like nothing we've ever seen, as in Revelation 1:12-18.

Awesome . . . beyond measure.

I need to meditate on Jesus as He is, the Logos of the Trinity . . . firing up, looking forward to Sunday. 





Born-againers Born that Way

It's amazing how the world has turned in a few years. The homosexual rights movement and its allies have convinced the broader culture that the homosexual lifestyle has nothing to do with choice but has everything to do with being born that way, being born gay. So, they say, anything less than a full embrace of gay everything and anything makes you a homophobic-bigoted-hater-troll-idiot, or something like that.

Born that way or not, what these people do not know is that devoted born-again followers of Jesus really are born that way and have no choice in the matter of following Christ. What they also do not know is that all real Christians are born-againers, as some derisively call us. And, as followers of Christ, we make it our aim to obey Him and cooperate with the way He has set up His world. Born-againers are born that way, actually born again that way. Those devoted to Him make it their aim to please Him (2 Corinthians 5:9; 2 Timothy 2:4). It’s rooted in who they are. Sure, as any critic of Christians knows, a self-proclaimed follower of Christ can rebel for a moment or for a season. But he’ll feel terrible about his rebellion and will self-correct, or the Lord will handle the correction through natural or supernatural consequences. The devoted follower of Christ has no real choice in the matter because Christ rules the born-again heart.

So, all the world’s disgust, punishment and reviling heaped upon the born-again baker who won’t bake a wedding cake or a born-again photographer won’t shoot photos at a so-called gay wedding really reflect a broad cultural rejection of Christ and His ways. The same holds true for the owners of Hobby Lobby stores, who refuse to pay employee insurance premiums for abortion-inducing drugs. The same goes for the head of Chick-fil-A restaurants, who faced a whirlwind of hate for simply saying that he believes marriage is only between a man and a woman.

You know the arguments: Christ never said a word against homosexual relationships and Christ accepts everyone and who are you to judge. The apostle Paul was just a homophobic bigot because of his words in Romans 1, the Old Testament’s condemnation of homosexual relationships is irrelevant because, after all and for example, crazy dietary laws of the Old Testament make the entire book entirely irrelevant for today. It doesn't take a brilliant theologian to turn those arguments aside. In Matthew 19:4-6, for example, Jesus affirmed the veracity of the Old Testament and the conviction that marriage is between a man and a woman and only between a man and a woman. Jesus’ clear conviction affirms the concept of marriage that consistently has been held for millennia before and after His life, death and resurrection. By extension, His argument for one woman, one man marriage also rejects all homosexual relationships.

An item on Bible.org offers a key observation: In the 1930s, British anthropologist J.D. Unwin studied 86 cultures that stretched across 5,000 years. He found, without exception, when they restricted sex to marriage, they thrived. Strong families headed by faithful spouses made for bold, prosperous societies. But not one culture survived more than three generations after turning sexually permissive. Noted Harvard sociologist Pitirim Sorokin found no culture surviving once it ceased to support marriage and monogamy. None. (If you want to read J.D. Unwin’s entire book, titled Sex and Culture, it’s available at this link.)

We are in deep danger here in the U.S. The haters of Christ do not seek our tolerance; they demand our compliance. But we should make no room for a Jesus formed in their preferred image of a pudgy, palatable man, all so soft and mild. He does not want or need soft and mild disciples.

Jeremiah 1:17 and Luke 18:8 are especially relevant. In Jeremiah 1, the Lord tells Jeremiah that the people of Judah have been evil in abandoning Him. They've made offerings to other gods and worshiped the works of their own hands. But you (Jeremiah), dress yourself for work; arise, and say to them everything that I command you. And then, the terrific second half of verse 17, Do not be dismayed by them, lest I dismay you before them. Am I so afraid of them that I do not speak of the Lord and His ways? The Lord’s admonishment to Jeremiah rings. If I am so afraid of them that I refuse to speak of Him, then the Lord will make me even more afraid of them so that I cannot speak of Him. The lack of courageous words reflects a cowardice that is the fruit of a less than devoted life.

At the end of it all, how many of us are sufficiently devoted to embrace ridicule, humiliation and physical loss as a cost of knowing Christ and living in His ways? As in Matthew 10:24-39, He demands that each of us acknowledge Him as proof of our relationship. It is expensive, in this life, to be a born-againer.

An Earnest, Wacked Read!!!

To make it plain, I didn’t like much in Mortimer Arias’ book, Announcing the Reign of God. The crux of Arias’ argument is stated at the book’s close. The Christian church, he says, needs a creative and new understanding of evangelization and must focus on a new kingdom perspective.

He is earnest—relying on 110 exclamation points for urgency in the book’s 139 pages—but his vision of a more just and kinder world is peppered with common criticisms of the Western church, and he argues that broad re-distribution of the world’s wealth will yield the excellent fruit of a great and just kingdom of Christ on earth. Arias also falls into heresy when discussing repentance, the nature of salvation, the understanding of the purpose of communion in the local church and what he calls gross literalist images of second-coming preachers who were an offense to my intelligence and my faith.

Arias is a bishop in the Bolivian Methodist Church and was a professor of evangelism at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver. He says, The kingdom of God is . . . the new order of love, the kingdom of the Father. The need for a new order of love is made clear by people struggling for justice and freedom from oppressive societies; when so many young people are rebelling against authoritarian religions; when others are running away from neglectful parents; when women are seeking equality and liberation from the exploitative use of patriarchal images of sexual subordination it is essential to recover an understanding of God’s fatherhood and the liberating and fulfilling meaning of the reign of God that Jesus came to inaugurate: the reign of fraternity, the true family of God, the reign of grace.

This reign of grace, as would be expected, translates into a liberal dose of what Arias calls unconditional forgiveness and free forgiveness with no need of individual repentance. If unconditional and free forgiveness is a true understanding of the forgiveness Jesus offers, then who on Earth needs to repent? In Arias' theology, God gives every person unconditional forgiveness and God welcomes every person unconditionally into his heaven. Obviously, if this is so, then Jesus did not need to die and Jesus did not need to rise from the dead. There are many ways to tear into Arias' view, but naming just three: What of Jesus’ admonition of Nicodemus in John 3:3 that You must be born again? What of Jesus’ claim in John 3:18 that a person who does not believe in the Son of God is condemned? And what of the urging of John 20:31, requiring personal belief in Jesus as the Christ in order to be granted eternal life?

Arias argues that authentic liberation is not represented by those who present the false liberation promoted by those who see sinners as people without hope or any possibilities at all. Yet, Arias offers no answer to the many Scriptures that clearly describe all individual people as enemies of God at their core and, as such, are without hope for relationship with him until they repent and turn to salvation offered in Christ.

Troubling also are the author’s inflammatory statements that criticize the fruit of sin but do not connect the sin to a new birth with power to sever the cause of sin at its origin in the human heart. Arias also sees societies and, by extension, the church, as reluctant to recognize the full humanity of disabled people. Arias would re-distribute the world’s wealth by giving unlimited funding for children’s lunches, old people survival incomes and more accessible education and paltry sums given to Third World nations through the World Bank. That’s a good plan, sinners confiscate all the wealth of other sinners expecting to righteously spread that wealth and build a righteous world. Who needs Jesus anyway.

As could be expected, given his commitment to what he calls a new kind of evangelism, Arias espouses a clearly postmillennial view of eschatology and says, We can commit ourselves to the improvement and the transformation of society for the sake of the reign of God, in line with the reign of God. Arias does not argue that a personal encounter with Christ will change a person's heart and lead to a better world. His vision is rooted in a vision for a better world apart from a transformed life in Christ. He embraces the love of Christ without embracing the power of Christ that enables selfless love. Arias’ error is encapsulated in his misunderstanding the very nature of repentance. He argues, for example, that Zacchaeus’ transformation in Luke 19:1-10 came as the result of his change of economic relationships and the implicit change in style of life and priorities Jesus called ‘salvation’ and integration into the people of God. Contrast this view with the Bible's consistent presentation that repentance comes first and is demonstrated in a person's good works.

Announcing the Reign of God is another proof that earnestly urgent sincerity doesn’t prove right doctrine. Saul of Tarsus was earnestly urgent in his sincerity. But he was just wacked . . . until he personally encountered Christ!      

Can Anything Good Come Out of America?

When I read this third book, The New Global Mission by Samuel Escobar, I repeatedly felt like asking, Can anything good come out of America? It seemed Escobar’s answer was a repeated and clear, No. 

OK, I understand that the center of Christianity’s power has shifted away from Europe and the United States and has moved toward China, Africa and Latin America. Western culture has proven itself  increasingly stubborn in resisting the gospel, but the church in China, Africa and Latin America is the spawning bed of innovators and disciple-makers in the third millennium. And I also understand that the Christian church is facing a world that is largely post-modern and post-Christian, leading to an erosion of Christian influence on the forces that shape culture. Christians, particularly those rooted in Europe and the U.S., frequently struggle toward effective missions ministry as they face the new reality.

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So says the theologian Escobar, who is a native of Peru and is president emeritus of the Latin American Theological Fraternity. Escobar reflects on the implications of the new global reality and offers insights into how the church should take advantage of  the shift as it evangelizes in the third millennium. He details on-going struggles for influence, focusing on Western missionaries who are finding it difficult to respond to the massive change. Escobar argues that the ways of missionaries and evangelists from Europe and North America often are rooted in cultural habits and preferences rather than in biblical requirements for conversion and spiritual growth. There must be a distinction, Escobar argues, between the gospel of Jesus Christ and the American way of life.

Today, Escobar says, missionaries and evangelists from the West are engaged in a not-so-subtle struggle for influence with the church in China, Africa and Latin America. Missionaries and church leaders from the West seem unable or unwilling to come to grips with the new realities. The new reality: disciples of Christ outside the boundaries of Europe and the U.S. have immense and growing influence over the missionary methods of the Christian church. At the same time, however, Western managers of those missionaries often measure success solely based upon numbers of conversions. Says Escobar: They (missionaries) have to produce a certain number of churches or conversions within a given time limit, and if they don’t, their failure is considered a sign of inefficiency, lack of faith or poor spirituality. This places intolerable burdens on them . . .    

This criticism may be valid. However, equally valid is the flip-side of the argument. The flip-side says that missionaries must have some accountability for the stewardship of their work. Accountability for one’s work is not a European or American concept. It is a biblical concept. Without it, because human nature is corrupt, it is easy to fall into a standard that fails to hold missionaries to any standard of accountability for the fruit of their work.

Unfortunately, as I heard one senior pastor say in an elder meeting, Missionaries line up a bunch of natives against a wall, shoot a photograph and say, ‘Look at the fruit of my work! Isn’t it great!’ Where’s their accountability for our investment in missions?!

The pastor’s comment, despite its sarcastic bite, reflected a legitimate concern. Yet Escobar mentions nothing of a concern for assessing fruitful ministry. There is no way of knowing whether he is oblivious to the concern or simply is not interested. Escobar frequently repeats his refrain against what he calls the dominant current paradigm for mission (a.k.a. the Western way) that pushes missions as an efficient machine. Spiritual formation is neglected because it does not easily fit the assembly-line paradigm. The factory paradigm encourages missionaries to set objectives for mere outward behavior. It is primarily interested in quantities.

Yes, character and commitment built through spiritual formation are key markings of genuine conversion, but Escobar ignores the reality that the Scriptures also commend other measurable types of ministry fruit. Genuine fruit is a product of an authentic life based upon a commitment to integrity. While Escobar argues against measuring ministry success by quantity, he also argues for measuring success by quality. Really, both are measuring sticks. Escobar values quality over quantity, and who will argue against that? But, truly, measuring quality requires a quantitative exercise of its own. (Some churches measure success solely by quantity. Measuring fruit by quantity always is a serious wrong. Healthy things may multiply, but not everything that multiplies is healthy, as in, for example, cancer cells or weapons of terror or financial debt or even numbers attending worship services.)

There is great error in measuring success primarily in terms of numeric growth, but there also is great error in pretending to measure nothing quantitatively. In any mission, it is encouraging to know the number of children fed or the number of abused women served in court protection proceedings or the number of homeless people placed in shelters or even the number of people who confessed conversion to Christ. It’s simply encouraging to those who work in and support the ministry. But it seems that Escobar sees none of it, except the qualitative factor which, as I said, actually includes significant quantitative elements.

Escobar endorses the argument that, because African culture does not ordinarily focus on individuals, missionary evangelists must aim their work at families and groups of people. This argument ignores the reality that the Bible fundamentally calls for an individual decision for or against Christ. It is true, of course, that the Philippian jailer’s family was saved and the argument for working in families and groups of people is understood as biblical. However, more to the core of the issue of conversion is the individual decision for or against Christ. This is not a Western concept or a Western cultural preference. It is a biblical mandate—as in, for example, Matthew 10:32-39—so that even if father or mother or son or daughter opposes a person’s conversion, that person is responsible to make the decision and will be held accountable for that decision.

Escobar also falls into a related trap when he levels yet another criticism of Western missionaries. He cites the example of an American-trained medical doctor who had to unlearn some of the things he learned about human nature in his American education and needed to learn new perspectives from Africans. Without denying that new perspectives can be useful, unlearning what was learned in America fails to acknowledge that there is good to be gleaned in any culture and tradition, even the sort taught in an American medical school. Or, are we really expected to answer, No, to the jaded question, Can anything good come out of America?

Salvation, Social Justice, Vegans

Christopher J. H. Wright, in his book, The Mission of God’s People, seeks to answer what he calls a broad question, What do theology and mission have to do with each other? He argues that theology (properly understood and applied) must have missional impact and mission must have sound and defensible theological foundations. That makes sense, but Wright runs into deep trouble when his list of missional impact and mission seems to elevate social justice and ecological sensitivity to quasi-salvific status. He also calls for Christians to be irresistibly attractive to the world, but offers zero counsel of how to be so attractive when people either cannot care less about Jesus or despise you and your savior from the get-go.

Wright is the international director of the Langham Partnership International (John Stott Ministries in the U.S.). The book presents a clear, systematic analysis of who God’s people are and what God’s people are to do. He dives into analysis of the Lord’s call of Abram in Genesis 12:1-3, and argues that God’s people are not only to rejoice in their own salvation, but they are also to bless others as a significant fruit of enjoying their relationship with God.

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Wright asks the question, Do the people of God have any responsibility to the rest of human society in general beyond the imperative of evangelism? Of course, his emphatic answer is, Yes, as he affirms the gospel implications on how Christians are to conduct social justice, pursue fair and equal treatment of people groups, properly care for the Earth, represent the Lord  to the world and attract people to Him. Christians are to embrace the call to be sent ones into the world and actively pursue the work of being a blessing to each and all nations of the Earth.

Wright properly notes that Christians have suffered, are suffering and will suffer for their faith. At the same time, though, he wonders whether Christians are missing out on the excitement and joy of sharing in the God’s attraction (of other people) by failing to have hearts that are fully committed to the Lord God in practical daily living according to his ways and standards. For our mission begins as we seek to live in that way—a way that enables God to attract outsiders to himself. Wright says that the Bible proclaims the kind of people God’s people are meant to be rather than the kinds of things they are meant to say. He calls it missional magnetism. This magnetism should be so attractive that the world takes note and becomes interested in hearing the great truths and changed lives brought by Jesus Christ. The world will see no reason to pay any attention to our claims about our invisible God if it sees no visible difference between the lives of those who make such claims and those who don’t.

That’s nice. But Wright fails to mention in even the smallest way the implications of life in post-Christian, postmodern North America or post-Christian, postmodern Europe. In the post-Christian culture, almost everyone has already heard of Christ and his followers, have been infested with poisonous reports about Christians or have few interactions with Christians. What they think they know of followers of Christ, they do not like. And they have not the slightest interest in following either the hard-edged ways of Jesus or even his softer ways. They have seen the Christians, and they have decided they want no part of them or Jesus. Wright fails to discuss or even mention the challenges of evangelizing for Christ and living for Christ in such a culture.

In expounding Exodus 19:4-6, Wright argues that Christians must live out their identity as ones who truly have tasted God’s grace and mercy. And live with such attractive obedience of ‘good lives’ that people will be attracted to the God you worship, and whatever they say about you, they will come to glorify him. Or, of course, these same people may completely despise you and seek to ruin you or kill you. Wright’s application of Exodus 19:4-6 may be tenable, but again he fails to discuss how Christians are to live in a post-Christian culture that wants no part of it. And he makes no mention of texts such as Matthew 10:16-25 (sheep among wolves), Matthew 10:34-39 (not peace, but a sword), John 15:18-20 (the world hated me before it hated you), Philippians 1:29 (believe in Christ, suffer for Christ) and 2 Timothy 3:12-13 (to live godly in Christ is to be persecuted).

The question of evangelizing and living in a post-Christian culture is connected with the concept of social justice, as in, Wright says, actual actions that you do, not concepts you reflect on or an ideal that you dream about. Wright’s concept of rightly living the Christian life emphasizes social justice and proper care for the Earth. He places social justice and ecological sensitivity in such prominence that they are, perhaps unwittingly, equated with individual believing on the Lord Jesus Christ and thus gaining eternal life. Wright bemoans the use of animals for food, calling meat-eating within God’s permission but hardly within the Creator’s best pleasure. Even if I accept Wright’s argument, am I then to become a vegan to gain God’s best pleasure? The Scriptures simply do not teach this. They do teach us to have dominion over the Earth and all of its creatures (Genesis 1:26), and that it’s no problem to kill and eat (Acts 10:13). Ecological sensitivity and good works in social justice may lead to opportunities to share the gospel, but salvation is not won by good works in social justice and ecological sensitivity. Wright elevates the two, leading to a confused understanding and a false communication of the core identity of salvation.

Despite that severe error, Wright hits the mark with the implications of personal salvation in Christ: If God blesses you, it is so you can bless others. If God redeems you, it is so you can demonstrate redemptive grace to others. If God loves you, feeds and clothes you, then you should go and do likewise for others. If God brings you into the light of salvation, it is so you can shine with a light that attracts others to the same place. If you enjoy God’s forgiveness, then make sure you forgive others. In this sense, all of our biblical theology should be missional.

David Bosch's Transforming Mission

I’ve read four books this summer focusing on the theology behind missions and evangelism. Of the four, I especially liked one, one was good, one was just OK and one was mostly bad because the writer’s theology is just wacked. In any case, I’ll devote four articles reviewing the four books. Below is the first . . . about the book I liked best. It’s the great work of the Dutch Reformed theologian and missiologist David Bosch. Here you go:

In his preface to the 20th anniversary edition of David Bosch’s book, Transforming Mission, Paradigm Shifts in the Theology of Mission, William R. Burrows praises Bosch for creating an oasis that recognizes God’s complete freedom to be who He is. It is we humans who build up illusion-creating systems that tame God’s mystery to make God safe for us. Of course, God is not safe, not for any person and certainly not for any system created and nurtured by the minds and hands of fragile human beings.

Bosch himself experienced the fragility of life and the fruit of a sinful system in 1992 when he bled to death in rural South Africa after a head-on car crash, only one year after publishing Transforming Mission and two years before the end of apartheid. After the crash, passersby called for an ambulance to free him from the wreckage to stop his bleeding. When no ambulance arrived, they called a second time. The ambulance dispatcher reportedly replied, You didn’t say he was a white man. A subsequent investigation proved inconclusive, largely because recordings of the two phone conversations had disappeared.

In Transforming Mission, Bosch clearly describes the certain transience of all things that are not God and all methods and models that do not come from His hand. Bosch first focuses on the New Testament models of mission, detailing the differences and similarities of mission in the entire New Testament and discussing mission practices of the apostles. He follows with descriptions of the many and inexorably shifting historical paradigms of mission in Christian history. The descriptions are completely satisfying for their detailed clarity and thoughtfulness.

If one covering statement is to be offered for a theme of Bosch’s book, it may be, We are the product of our times. Apart from taking right confidence and comfort in the certain reliability of the Scriptures, history shows that human beings have no reason to be certain that their interpretations and, consequently, their life applications of the Scriptures will endure beyond the current generation. This is not to say that the Scriptures are not reliable and that the tenets of the Christian faith are malleable. The Scriptures are completely reliable. The tenets of the faith are not malleable. As the divinely inspired apostle Peter said in 2 Peter 1:20-21: . . . know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. Proper interpretation of the Scriptures is not God’s problem. Proper interpretation—and resulting application—always is man’s problem. Man’s interpretations reflect his holiness, his sinfulness  and the powerful unseen influences of the era in which he lives. We would be wise to build a hard strength in the discipline of allowing the Scriptures to speak for themselves no matter the influences of the day.

What can be certain is that the gospels reveal the Lord’s heart and standards for the mission of spreading faith in Christ. The gospel of Matthew, written for Jews, is interested in costly discipleship. Matthew’s gospel is not simply interested in the numerical expansion of the church. Says Bosch, Ideally, every church member should be a true disciple, but this obviously is not the case in the Christian communities Matthew knows. If this attitude (of costly discipleship) scares people away, then so be it.

In the gospel of Luke, written for gentiles, the reader is told in nine references that, whatever else Jesus was doing, He was on His way to Jerusalem to suffer and die. The gentile readers know from Jesus words in Luke 24:46-47 that . . . the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. Luke’s particular interest is in the materially and spiritually poor and other marginalized people groups. But what does Luke say in his gospel and in the book of Acts about the materially rich? Acts notes that wealthy and distinguished people joined the Christian community. Both rich and poor are tested for their willingness to follow Christ no matter the cost. Bosch notes: In Luke’s gospel, the rich are tested on the ground of their wealth, whereas others are tested on the ground of their loyalty toward their family, their people, their culture and their work. Just as the materially rich can be spiritually poor, the materially poor can be spiritually poor.

For the apostle Paul, mission means the announcement of Christ’s lordship over all reality and an invitation to submit to it. Paul’s mission is deeply personal, as it is driven by and rooted in the overwhelming experience of the love of God received through Jesus Christ. Bosch cites Galatians 2:20 and Romans 5:5 as evidence of Paul’s devotion to his Savior. Bosch also could have cited Romans 2:4 as further evidence of Paul’s devotion. Paul calls for personal response to the Lord’s astounding love for each person: . . . do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?

It is important to note the contrast between the solidarity of the Scriptures and the fractious practices of the church throughout its history. The Scriptures describe coordinated motivation and heart of mission. But church history is marred with fractious, contentious and often vicious persecutions—pitting follower of Christ against follower of Christ—in the name of advancing the Lord’s work on Earth. Despite these terrible divisions, the universal Christian church was and is ultimately battling against the spirits of the age that war against the Lord’s reign.

Bosch notes these terrible divisions as he walks through an analysis of the church’s missionary paradigms in the Eastern church, in medieval Roman Catholicism, in the Protestant Reformation, in the wake of the Enlightenment, in the postmodern world and in ecumenicalism. History marks the ebb and flow of life as a Christian. Whereas the earliest Christians were persecuted, ridiculed, isolated and pursued as ignorant renegades against the state, by the late second century Christian scholars were matching pagan philosophers in erudition and argument for the Christian faith. Says Bosch, Even before the persecutions stopped and Christianity was declared the sole legitimate religion in the Roman empire, the church had begun to be a bearer of culture and a civilizing presence in society.

It is ironic how things have swung around for followers of Christ in the present age. The world is largely post-Christian. Certainly the U.S. and Canada and Europe are post-Christian. Most people know the message of Christ and His offer of salvation. Most have heard of Jesus, they know of His church through relationships with followers of Christ or through the exposure gleaned via the media or through government messaging. They often are committed to non-Christian, pagan, agnostic or atheistic worldviews. Many of them despise the thought of Christ and what they sense is the bad odor emanating from Christians. And so, as Bosch rightly notes, It is today a liability rather than an asset to be a Christian. He notes an ever-increasing tension between the church and secular authorities.

Even with such tension between the church and secular authorities, the church in North America seems to have fallen into what Bosch describes as an effort to re-gain lost ecclesiastical influence. The church appears to act out of what may be wrong motive to win people not to Christ, but to individual churches. . . . there is an implicit (and sometimes explicit) suggestion that competition is necessary. Thus, people in the surrounding community, whether they belong to other churches or not, are perceived as ‘prospects’ to be won. Much of this reflects the tendency toward empire-building—the church cannot resist the temptation to open yet another branch office in an area that looks promising. Whether intended or not, this mentality suggests that it is not by grace, but by becoming adherents to our denomination, that people will be saved.

Bosch goes on to argue that much of so-called contemporary evangelism aims at satisfying rather than transforming people. That seems obviously true, at least in much of the contemporary Christian church in the U.S. and in Canada. Equally obvious, then, should be a call to return to the simple and powerful imperative in Matthew 28:19 to Make disciples. This must include Matthew’s concept of costly discipleship and, as Bosch says, if that scares people away, then so be it.

Allahu Akbar! (You Got That Right)

Last week’s hideous murder of British soldier Lee Rigby on a busy London street has led to earnest observations and guidance from all kinds of sources. As you know, two men repeatedly shouted Allahu Akbar! (translated from Arabic: God is greatest!) as they stabbed and chopped the defenseless Rigby. Then one of the men showed off his bloody hands as he boasted via video of the goodness of his deed.

The attack quickly was followed by spokesmen for Islamic organizations and the British government who insisted that the savages of London had no connection whatsoever with Islam. (Well, scratch my head. I guess. If you say so, then it must be true.) Of course, we were then scolded to be tolerant and non-judgmental and not even pass a thought that there just might be even a tiny little problem with Islam.

In connection to all of this, I keep thinking about Ahmed Deedat. Many disciples of Christ probably never have heard of Ahmed Deedat, the famous Islamic apologist. Maybe Deedat should be referred to as a polemicist, as he engaged in intensely snarky arguments to promote Islamic doctrine and belief. His particular energy was devoted to quoting the Qur’an, ridiculing the Bible, mocking Christians and denying the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

Unlike some Muslim clerics who directly advocate killing we who are so-called infidels, we who believe in Jesus as the unique and only Messiah, Deedat did not directly advocate killing us. But he hurled nasty ridicule Christ’s way, our way. Deedat and his teachings are highly regarded by many Muslims. On internet discussion boards that I’ve been reading, Deedat is considered a great defender of Islam.

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We can ponder a few of Deedat’s jewels from his Combat Kit Course Against Bible Thumpers (http://english.truthway.tv/). Teaching his students in Kenya how to answer Christian evangelists, Deedat cited a portion of Qur’an Surah 3:110 and said, The majority of them (Jews and Christians) are perverted transgressors. The Bible is the most dangerous book on Earth. Keep it under lock and key. Your children must not have access to it. It has an x-rating. It’s rubbish, crap, shit. This is not the book of God. You need an inoculation against the book. (Note: I added the boldface.)

To the claim that parts of the Qur’an actually were copied from the Bible, Deedat said that between the years 1800 and 1950, Christians wrote 16,000 books against Islam. They (Christians) behave like innocent little babes, like children, like cherubims. What do you have (in the Bible) that is worth copying?

Or, consider some of Deedat’s insights in Qur’an or the Bible, which is God’s Word? (http://english.truthway.tv/). Deedat said, There are 10 cases of incest in this book of God (the Bible). The types of incest that you can commit. A textbook if you want to know what types. And as a dessert . . . the whites in my country, in South Africa . . . most of them are Christians. Eight percent of the whites in South Africa commit incest with their own daughters. Thirteen percent of Americans are committing incest with their own daughters.

Deedat does not explain how he gathered these statistics, but similar diatribes are innumerable against the people of the book, as Muslims often derisively refer to Jews and Christians.

Deedat also attacks topics involving historical characters noted in the Bible: There’s rape, not only rape, but how to rape your own sister if you want to. It’s given to you in detail. One of the sons of David said what you must do if you wanted to rape your own sister. Gang rape is there. The crime rate in America increased because of the stories in the Bible. This is what you read and this is the result.

After many years of similar talk, Deedat stopped his work in 1996 when he was hit with a stroke. The stroke left him paralyzed from the neck down. He died in 2005. In the nine years that he lived after the stroke, he could not move or speak. He communicated only through eye movements. Maybe there’s no connection between Deedat’s fate and his hatred of Jesus Christ, his hatred of the Bible and his hatred of the people of Christ. Maybe there is a connection. It is interesting, but I don’t know. We know that Christians and all people suffer all kinds of fates.

I suppose we should just keep repeating, as directed by so many sources, that there is not the smallest connection between Islam and the now many despicable terrorist attacks. Of course, Deedat hated Christ and hated Christians. And so many others hate Christ today and hate Christians today. We disciples of Christ shouldn't need convincing of the direct connection between those who hate Christ and those who hate us. Christ warned us of this. John 15:18-21. No surprises, not anywhere. Not in any of it.

Governing Freak-out and the Local Church

How church world intersects with the maneuverings of federal budgets and spending cuts, a.k.a. sequester

Several years ago, a church planter and I walked into a school district administrator’s office in the Chicago metropolitan area to suggest that we rent one of the district schools for Sunday worship services. We promised to pay a good rental rate. We promised to pay the rent on time. We wouldn’t break anything but, if we did, we’d be quick to replace whatever it was that we broke. We’d be good citizens.We knew the district was hungry for more cash, so we thought we had a good shot of working out an agreement. But the answer was a quick, firm and non-negotiable No.

Was it because the administrator hated the thought of a church in the district schools? Maybe he doesn’t know that he can’t legally forbid a church from renting the facilities if others rent the facilities. Or maybe he was just having a tough day. 

No, it’s not that, he said. The taxpayers just voted down a property tax increase. We don’t want to add revenue at this time.

He didn’t want to add revenue at this time . . . because taxpayers voted against adding their revenue at this time. I remember thinking it was all so very weird. The district wanted cash. We would have provided a good monthly chunk. But the administrators obviously were planning to punish taxpayers because they did not cooperate with the district’s tax plan. Doesn’t matter if other revenue sources could be found or, for that matter, if spending cuts could be found. Bottom line was that the taxpayers would suffer consequences for their stubbornness. District services would be stripped away as a first resort to cause pain to taxpayers.

I think about that local school administrator when I read the headlines about the consequences of federal budget cuts. The people will suffer consequences, whether the consequences are needed or not. They must feel pain.

So the federal government is facing 5 percent cuts in programs that have increased by an average of more than 17 percent during the Obama presidency. Airline flights will be delayed, children and old people will suffer. Food quality will decline. Prisoners will be set free to terrorize us. Governing via freak-out.

I’ve seen this movie before. Now it’s re-runs over and over and over. We truly are strangers in a strange land. The human heart is desperately sick, as the Lord said in Jeremiah 17:9. Thank the Lord for His word and His church.

A Desirable Discovery on a Honda Gold Wing

I had an unusual encounter along the Indiana Toll Road near South Bend late yesterday afternoon. Some might call it serendipity—a desirable discovery made by accident. But, truly, it was the good Lord handing me an unexpected blessing.

Joyce and I were driving home from Pennsylvania, feeling a little sad after dropping off our daughter Rachel at college. We pulled into a rest stop along the toll road and I spotted a man and a woman in motorcycle gear standing next to a parked Honda Gold Wing. I had to talk with them.

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They were astounding. They had a powerful but controlled energy that was exciting and marked by good humor. He’s 77 years old. She’s 73. They love the Lord and boldly told me so. I was stunned when they said their nephew teaches Bible at the college Rachel attends. Rachel’s taken two of his classes, and he’s one of her favorite professors. They were traveling from their home in Pennsylvania to Carson City, Nevada. They had already traveled about 375 miles that day. An excellent ride, but the rain in Pennsylvania and Ohio wasn’t much fun. About 2,000 miles to go to Carson City. They soon would stop for the night.

He asked me, Have you been to the Creation Museum in Cincinnati? He didn’t pause for an answer, but continued, You gotta go! They’re building a replica of Noah’s Ark. It’ll be done in 2014. We’re planning to go after it’s done.

What delightful people. At 77 and 73, they were full of adventure and excitement and on their way to Carson City on a Honda Gold Wing, with plans for Cincinnati in 2014. And, in all of that, they found a way to encourage me as I was missing my daughter.

Twenty minutes after our 15-minute encounter, as Joyce and I were heading down the toll road at about 70 miles per hour, the couple on the Gold Wing zoomed past us going about 75. I waved out of my window as they passed, but they were busy talking and didn’t notice. They pulled off the toll road at the next exit.

Who could have put together my encounter with this couple? Serendipity? Not. When I parked at the rest stop in Indiana, I just was curious about the gray-haired motorcyclists and their Honda Gold Wing. I was handed gifts of encouragement, humor, energy, vision and love for the Lord. I hope I’m like them if I get to be 77. Or, maybe even today.

Great People, Nameless People

Reading about great saints tends to put things into right perspective, as it did for me recently. A few ministry frustrations had thrown me into a funk. So, I spent a chunk of time reading missionary history.

Some missionaries are famous, some notorious, but others are completely obscure. The obscure saints caught my mind. They’re long-gone, nameless men and women, boys and girls, who suffered terribly in giving everything for Christ. They’re disciples who no one knows, and they’re on no one’s roster of great Christians. Even so, I’m guessing that the Lord lists them among the greatest of his people. In the Lord’s economy, of course, fame is not greatness, and success is not measured in human terms. The obscure ones may even be the greatest of all.

A few of many examples, cited from A History of Christian Missions:

•    converts to Christ in India who, as result of their faith, were kidnapped and disappeared forever or were completely rejected by their families;

•    a missionary physician and his wife, serving Christ in India, who saw each of their five children die from disease;

•    African boys who, after they received Christ, rejected the sexual advances of their tribal chief. Three of the boys were roasted over a slow fire. Thirty-two others were gathered together and burned in one immense pyre;

•    in Madagascar, a queen ordered her soldiers to seize every Christian, bind them hand and foot, dig a pit on the spot and pour boiling water on them and bury them. At least 200 Christians were killed this way, 14 were hurled over a cliff, four were burned alive. One witness recorded his observations of their deaths: They prayed as long as they had life. They died, but softly, gently. Indeed, astonished were all who beheld the burning of them.

•    missionaries who made their way to strange lands to share Christ’s gospel and quickly, or after a short season, were killed and eaten by the indigenous people. (That’s what the book says. They were killed and eaten.)

I am freed from my wimpy little funk. Nothing to complain about here. Just thankful for the Lord's patience, grace and mercy.

The Stink of Foolishness

Ecclesiastes 10:1 popped into my head this morning. And I’m really glad it did.

I was reading news articles and commentaries on Jim Tressel’s resignation as head coach of Ohio State University’s football program. Tressel is accused of repeatedly lying to NCAA officials when he said he knew nothing about a couple dozen Ohio State players receiving cash payouts, getting discounts on new cars, selling football memorabilia and getting tattooed by a drug trafficker. Tressel originally was suspended and fined $250,000, but the story has legs. Tressel resigned on Memorial Day.

Tressel’s football accomplishments are superb. But, like Ohio State coach Woody Hayes before him, Tressel may first be remembered for his terrific failure. The Hayes incident—in which Hayes punched an opposing player in a 1978 bowl game—was a rapid-fire moment of foolishness. By 1978, Hayes had been coaching at Ohio State for 27 years and had amassed an immense record of accomplishment. But what's the first thing I think of whenever Woody Hayes is mentioned? Right, it’s the closing minutes of that game. It’s Hayes’ punch to the throat of that Clemson player who intercepted a pass along the Ohio State sideline. The memory of Hayes' accomplishments is dimmed by that foolish moment.

This morning, writers are quoting Shakespeare and a few others for insight into the Tressel story. One writer mocked a Tressel quote out of the book The Winners Manual: For the Game of Life, published in 2008. It seems Tressel wrote that, The reputation of a thousand years may be determined by the conduct of one hour.

Right, it could take an hour, but it also could take a moment, or a couple of days or weeks or months. Decisions made in advance can easily and quickly lead to a moment of crushing destruction. It only takes a couple of bad decisions to reap a big ruin. And it can happen to anyone.

A couple of friends and I used to remind one another that you’re only two or three bad decisions away from taking a sledge-hammer to your life . . . to your relationship with the Lord, to your marriage, to your legacy as a father, to your reputation, to your future in ministry.

I’m really glad that Ecclesiastes 10:1 ran through my mind this morning as I read about Tressel’s sad fall. I take that as an indicator that the Lord’s warnings and the Lord’s ways are close. The Word hidden in the heart. What an immeasurable gift from the gracious Lord. What a great thing to remember on the day after Memorial Day.