Only Fools Look Back- Another Reason to Forget About the ’50′s

March 28, 2008

“Say not, ‘Why were the former days better than these?’
For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.”
-Ecclesiastes 7:10

A few days ago I made a post concerning the necessity to quit looking over our shoulders at the “good ol’ days” of American Christianity if we want to be effective for Christ in the future. It’s funny how God is always one step ahead though, and how there is so much in scripture which we can only know if we study deeper. I believe the above verse really makes the point I tried to make already, and seeing as how it is part of God’s inspired word it must be a good idea. Just thought I would pass this along.

It’s Not That We Don’t Know About Sin… – The Question of How to Evangelize Christian Societies

March 27, 2008

“It is partly because sin does not provoke our own wrath that we do not believe that sin provokes the wrath of God.” – R.W. Dale, The Atonement

I was reading “The Cross of Christ” by John Stott recently (which, by the way, is an amazing book!) when I came across this quote by the theologian R.W. Dale. It seemed very poignant to me, especially as recently I have been considering a related larger question which is: how can Christians most effectively evangelize “Christian” societies?

To me, this is one of the most pivotal questions which American, and in general all Western Christians must face. As time goes by we see our traditionally Christian countries, such as the United States and Great Britain, becoming increasingly secular. It is up to the point where weekly church attendance in the United Kingdom has dropped below 10% of the total population, and in America it is not too much better. However, a majority of citizens in these societies would still like to bear the moniker of “Christian”, even though for all intents and purposes that ship has long since sailed. Therefore, as responsible evangelicals we must search for a way to address this issue.

One of the biggest chasams in the way of reaching these people is what I believe the quote is trying to address. In going into a western, Christian society it is not the same as going into the African plain or the South American rain forest, where location and language are the biggest barriers. Instead, what we have to deal with is a people who largely know they are sinners, largely know what the Bible teaches about morality, and yet, through their own depravity and jadedness towards the failings of the church, have made a conscious decision not to be bothered by this. It’s not that the people don’t know that they are sinful, but it is that they know and yet are unbroken by it! Therefore, the challenge becomes how to make people reject a lifestyle which they have actively chosen in spite of, and sometimes even in opposition to, the Christian teachings which have occurred around them their entire life.

This is so crucial because, like it or not, the course of the world is still being driven in large part by the western societies, and if Christianity were to vanish here, it would have a major impact everywhere else.

Expect more on this in the weeks to come, as I am currently preparing a Bible study on the topic for April 4th.

Of Course I’m a Christian! Didn’t You See My Stupid Bumpersticker?- How to Not Let Our Symbols Lead to a Mistaken Identity

March 25, 2008

“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” -John 13:35

“Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.” -Matthew 7:20

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” -Matthew 5:14-16

There is nothing in all of our modern society which can more quickly draw my ire than seeing people who proclaim “Christianity” in some manner or another and in doing so do more to drag Christ’s name through the mud than to give it glory. I felt this recently in watching a reality show where a girl wearing multiple crosses spent the hour unveiling her sexual indiscretions and activities in front of her mother, boyfriend, and a national audience, without remorse, in an attempt to win money! I feel it every time a celebrity takes the mic at an awards show and thanks God for giving them the talent to write songs about drugs or perform so well in their sex scene.

But more than that, I see it everyday on t-shirts, jewelry, t-shirts and even Facebook groups, all of which have become more about pop culture and less about a revolutionary lifestyle. Now, I don’t want this to be a series of ranting about some rapper who referenced God or some guy with a Jesus fish decal who cut me off. Instead, I want this to be a way for us to critically examine the ways in which we identify ourselves as Christians and see if the message we are trying to give is the right one.

Please hear this: I don’t believe that for a Christian to wear or display certain self-identifying markers is a bad thing. I personally wear a cross necklace on a daily basis which is very non-traditional, with a good conscience, and so feel in no position to be casting stones about that. However, as a Christian there is a certain level of discernment which we need to exhibit so that our markers are emblematic but not detrimental. In this there are two things we must consider.

First, we must make sure that the symbol is not bad theology. This is directed especially towards bumper stickers and t-shirts. There are so many of these items available which are clearly meant for a Christian consumer, and yet the message they give is a total misconstruing of Biblical teaching. If we are going to brand ourselves, make sure that that brand is at least true to the message it conveys. Second, we must beware of making the marker an idol instead of an emblem. If our identity revolves around wearing a specific item or signing emails with a certain verse instead of around the God who loves us, then we have stepped into territory where we dare not tread.

This said, randomly over the next little bit I want to share with you guys some of the ways in which we identify ourselves as Christians that may or may not give off the right message, always keeping in mind that the verse does not say “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, that you wear those wicked cool Jesus shirts every Wednesday!”

Why Didn’t You Listen to That Woman?- Another Point for Anti-Misogynistic Christianity

March 24, 2008

“Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.” -John 20:16-18

“Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!” “ -Luke 24:22-25

“Afterward he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at table, and he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen.” -Mark 16:14

I would like to quickly return to the matter that we were addressing the other day, about what the Bible teaches us on about the Christian attitude towards women. We argued that the true revolutionary Christian should be able to interpret the Bible’s message of honor and respect of women. However, in looking at verses surrounding the Easter celebration we see something else, that being that women are to be equal partakers of the good news with men!

This can be observed in the gospel accounts of Jesus’ resurrection where we see that the first one who sees and recognizes Jesus is his follower (but not wife, grrr!) Mary Magdalene. To truly understand the point being made, we must first understand that in the Jewish and Roman culture of Jesus’ time it was not acceptable in issues of witness to take the testimony of a female as being valid. If a crime or event occurred and there was a trial, no party could call a woman to the stand to give an account of what she saw, for the culture would not accept what she said as truth.

That said, we see that Jesus specifically commands Mary to go tell others of what she’s seen. Why would he do this, since obviously Jesus is familiar with the practices of the culture? And what’s more, we also see that Jesus chastises the male disciples for not believing what Mary has told them! So, not only does Jesus appear first to a woman and command her to go tell others, knowing that the culture will not accept her testimony, but then he gets frustrated that his followers did not believe what she came to tell them. Clearly Jesus is not just being incredibly dense here, but instead we can understand that he is being incredibly intentional. Through this transpiring of these events we watch how Jesus feels about the role of women in society and whether or not they should be oppressed in matters of honor and respect.

Thus, this is just one more point in the column of the anti-misogynistic gospel, and a particularly pertinent one since we see that Christ viewed women in such a high regard that he actually entrusted one with declaring the greatest news of all time, the news that without which our faith would be in vain!

Without the Resurrection There is No Hope- The Importance of Easter

March 23, 2008

“For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.” -John 10:17-18

“Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead.” -John 20:6-9

“And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” -1 Corinthians 15:17

“God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.” -Acts 2:24

“And was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.” -Romans 1:4

“Who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” -Romans 4:25

As a non-believer looking in at Christianity it would not be much of a stretch to think that the most important part of Christianity is what we celebrate at Christmas. That is the holiday full of decorations and presents and songs and movies. And yes, the coming of God in the form of man was a glorious thing, but the reason it was so wonderful is specifically for what was accomplished 33 years later in the event we celebrate by Easter.

It is with Easter that we remember and rejoice at the resurrection of Christ. The same Christ who three days earlier gave up his life on the cross in order to pay the penalty of our sins, now takes his life back up to show that death no longer has hold. It is because of this that we are able, as it says above, to be justified, or made clean and righteous before God. This is important because unless we are righteous we have no hope of living eternally in the presence of the Holy God. As the apostle Paul says, if Christ were not raised then we are totally hopeless. However, knowing that he has been resurrected we should celebrate all the more, for this is the only power which can free us from our sins!

Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?- Mark Driscoll

In Christ Alone- Newsboys

Redemption- The Purpose of Good Friday

March 21, 2008

“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” -1 Peter 2:24

“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit.” -1 Peter 3:18

“For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life.” -Leviticus 17:11

“Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” – Hebrews 9:22

“In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” -1 John 4:10

On this day, that which we celebrate as Good Friday, the day that we placed Jesus Christ upon the Cross to die our death so that we may live, I wanted to just share with you two pieces which I have gone to in order to place this day in perspective for myself. The first is a sermon by Mark Driscoll describing the Day of Atonement and how it is a picture of Christ’s sacrifice for us. The second is a song by Johnny Cash about the wonderful meaning of the blood that was shed for us on the Cross. I pray that you may take these and listen to them as you reflect upon the central importance of this day for everything that we believe and that the crucifixion is not just a flippant event for us speak vainly about, but was instead a brutal day of agony for the only one who was righteous in order that we may be forgiven of our horrible lives.

“But he was wounded for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his stripes we are healed.”
– Isaiah 53:5

The Day of Atonement- Mark Driscoll

Redemption- Johnny Cash

You Are Your Brother’s Keeper- How Not to Murder Other Christians

March 20, 2008

“For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” -1 John 3:11-15

“In the course of time Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. The LORD said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.’ “ -Genesis 4:3-7

At first blush when one reads the above verse, the take-home message they get from it is that we should not hate those around us, maybe even to get that we shouldn’t hate fellow believers. And because of this we take a look at ourselves, ask ‘Do I hate anyone?’, give a haughty ‘Nope’, and move on feeling pretty good about ourselves. However, if we take a closer look at the substance of what is being said I think that that confidence won’t be so full. I know mine wasn’t!

Look again. Why did Cain murder Abel? Because he hated him. Okay, good, but why did he hate him? Because God loved Abel but not him. Well, sort of. Observe, in Genesis 4:5 it say, “but for Cain and his offering he had no regard.” And then, in Genesis 4:7, “If you do well, will you not be accepted?” So, the fundamental problem was that Cain had not done well in the offering that he made to the Lord, as his brother Abel had, and so the Lord did not favor him. Thus, because the Lord favored Abel but not Cain, Cain took it upon himself to kill Abel.

But there is the rub? Why Abel? Was Cain in competition with Abel for God’s love? No. Was Abel causing Cain to do poorly? No. It wasn’t even jealousy, for there was nothing available to Abel that Cain could not himself have as well. Then what was it, what drove Cain to be the first murderer in the history of the world? It was because Abel was using what God had given him to glorify God, and Cain was not. And so, instead of focusing on God and searching for the strength to worship Him with the right heart, Cain turned his heart against Abel and ended his life.

So, returning to the original verses I think we can bring a deeper interpretation. Not only should we not hate our brothers in the sense of emotional hatred, steaming red ears and anger directed towards them, but we should also not hate our brothers in the sense of being cynical towards the way they worship God.

I think we can all see manifestations of this in our own lives. Speaking personally, I know there have been times in the past when I sat under a teacher and all I did was criticize them because they were ‘too serious’ or because they ‘didn’t realize we’re not all going to seminary’, and so instead of learning from them I was hardened to what God had given them through hard work to share. But was this because I wanted to teach and couldn’t? No. It was because there were sins in my life that I was holding onto with all my might. Because when I listened it always convicted me and made me feel bad, and so instead of receiving the message I spent all of my time trying to shoot the messenger. People I loved personally, and yet when they began to teach my insides just changed. Even now I catch myself doing this, and so I am constantly having to turn my heart over to God, to seek His assistance, because as he told Cain, “if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”

We must take this to heart. Those times will come when we see our brothers serving Christ, times which will convict us that we are not, and it is at this moment that we must make a choice whether to fall in brokenness before the Lord or else to take on the nature of Cain and murder that brother in our minds.

What Do We Do About Harry Potter?- The Potentially Harmful Conundrums of Religious Christianity

March 19, 2008

“You remember Harry Potter? Big publishing phenomenon. I remember when the books came out. There we had a world full of war and terror, a world where millions were dying of malnutrition, where children were being born into slavery, where drugs were rampant and violence was endemic. A world where people flew planes into buildings, and greed and avarice wiped out whole communities around the world. And the burning issue for Christians was ‘should I let my child read Harry Potter?’ “ – Nick Page, The Church Invisible

“They only were hearing it said, ‘He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.’ And they glorified God because of me.” -Galatians 1:23-24

I came across the above quote in my readings today and felt this really put us on the horns of a dilemma: what about Harry Potter? Of course, Harry Potter is just a placeholder. You could just as easily replace it with ‘The Beatles’ or ‘moshing’ or ‘South Park’ and get the same essence, that being the question of whether or not Christians should condemn aspects of the culture which move into the vogue?

Of course, the question is really more than this. As the rest of the quote says, there are all of these things going on around us, 9/11, the war in Iraq, mass suffering of AIDS patients in Africa, and yet what does the world see? They see a Christian community whose biggest ethical query involves a children’s book. As the author points out, “No non-Christians were worried about that.” No non-Christian goes to bed at night and loses sleep because their child just received Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows. And if that’s the case, then why should we? Should we be more concerned about a nerdy junior magician in a fiction novel than we are about the sufferings, whether physical or spiritual, of our fellow humans? At the risk of exposing a bias I would have to say no.

Why? Shouldn’t we care that our children are being exposed to the dangerous world of witch craft and black magic? I mean, isn’t Harry Potter trying to turn all of our children into pagan worshippers of the paranormal? Well, even if he is, we as parents should have enough influence over our children and should be making our devotion to Christ apparent enough in the home that our children are left with little doubt as to what team we’re on. This seems to me as the same question that comes up in the home schooling movement that is running throughout Christian circles these days. As Christian parents we see a public school system which no longer reflects our moral values (didn’t we just talk about this golden age thing?) and so the cry comes out to have an “exit strategy” to save our children. (However, this is a discussion which is likely to come any day know, so I won’t go into it any further at this time.) To me, I wonder how we can ever claim, as Paul did, that people glorified God because of us when all the world sees us doing is fighting against every new piece of pop culture and secularization that makes its way onto the scene.

In the end, I guess the big question is this: how do we possibly become “all things to all people” when we spend the majority of our time running away from them?

Misogyny, Chivalry, or just plain Biblical- The Revolutionary Attitude of Men Towards Women

March 17, 2008

“Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity. -1 Timothy 5:1-2

“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” – Ephesians 5:25

One issue which really burns me about how the world views Christianity is in the treatment of women. So many people want to criticize the church as being neglectful or oppressive towards women. Even many inside the church attack conservative Christianity as being behind the times or too fundamental in its interpretation of the role of women. Therefore, it is necessary that we set on firm ground just exactly what the revolutionary Christian should believe. (Note: this is a look at treatment of women only. The role of women in ministry will not specifically be discussed, but if you wish to email me I would be glad to discuss this with you as well).

The main complaint is that the church is oppressive of women because of verses such as Ephesians 5:22 (“Wives, submit to your own husbands…”) and 1 Peter 3:7 (“…showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel…”). The feminist movement of the late 20th century argues that women are not weak and should not be “forced” to submit to any man, particularly their husband. Women are equal members of society, they say, and as such should be treated equally with and by men.

In response, many Christians (men, specifically) have failed in illuminating the texts. They say, “Yep, Ephesians 5:22; that’s what it says,” and then they expect the world to do the exegesis itself (or worse, they expect the women to be swayed by that evidence). However, as a Christian living the revolutionary lifestyle, it is important that we make the connection between the two sides.

First, we must make clear that this is a commandment being directed to believers. In no way should the church expect a non-believing couple to follow this model (see 1 Corinthians 5:12). Second, it is important that we assert what the Bible is truly saying to us here if we take the whole context and section. It tells us specifically two things: (1) women should willingly come under the authority of their husband. This does not mean that she is forced into submission, nor does it mean that she has relinquished all of her own opinions and identity, but just simply that when it comes to spiritual matters where there is disagreement, the woman should willing give way to her husband for direction. But this is checked by (2) which is that the husband is also to be in submission himself, that being to God. So, in as much as the wife is in submission to her husband, she can have faith knowing (hopefully) that her husband is in submission to God, and through her husbands submission the will of God can be done. Notice also that this doesn’t mean that the man is always right, but instead that when he is wrong then through his submission to God he will be corrected, and so this relieves the necessity for the woman to do the correcting.

We also must realize that the charges of misogyny can not be leveled against the revolutionary Christian male if he is in exercise of 1 Timothy 5:1-2. In this passage the young man is given direction for how to treat various gender/age groups, including older and younger women. Of older women he is instructed to encourage and treat her like a mother, which is certainly a good thing since the fifth commandment is that we are to honor our mothers. And of the younger women we are told to treat them in all purity like sisters. This again is a positive image, as I don’t know of any guy who would not want his sister treated well (see Genesis 34).

This point about younger women I believe is especially poignant. If there is anything that I could stress to young Christian males it would be the necessity for treating young women, whether they are believers or not, as sisters. The prevailing attitude of most young guys is to treat girls as objects, as pursuits and idols of sexual worship. This is why the call is made to treat them in all purity! Especially within the church, men should not take that to be there own personal dating service. Instead, we should treat these girls as sisters. We should love on them, encouraging them with kind words, telling them that they are beautiful and building them up. So many young girls struggle hard with their self-image, but a group of compassionate, God-obeying men could make a great difference in their lives by making them feel loved as they are. Notice that I said “God-obeying”? This isn’t about chivalry and some belief that men should just be courteous and open doors; it’s an observance of God’s command to treat young girls properly, out of love and respect, with pure thoughts, motives, and actions.

The world criticizes Christianity because of our perceived (or actual) attitude towards women, but the revolutionary Christian male can make a real difference in living out a life which treats women in the appropriate way which God has laid out: like mothers and sisters, in all purity.

Forget about the ’50′s- Why We Should Have a Revolutionary Vision for the Future, Not of the Past

March 15, 2008

“Personally, I think it is time the church gave up the illusion of a golden age. It is difficult to march forward with any conviction if you are always looking back over your shoulder.” -Nick Page, “The Church Invisible”

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” -Hebrews 13:8

We hear it so often today, “When I was young…”, “Back in the day…”, “There was once a time when…”, and with each cliche we know that there is coming some reminiscence of a time when families ate dinners together, teenagers didn’t have sex, and Jesus was the master of every house. This is often said to contrast with our times now when the overwhelming push is to drive God out of politics, out of schools, and effectively out of any type of public observation. People weep and pine for a “return to traditional values.”

But what does that even mean? Wasn’t Hitler alive in the 1930′s? Doesn’t calling prostitution “the world’s oldest profession” necessarily imply that it existed before 1960? Didn’t Karl Marx, Marquis de Sade, and Nietzsche all write prior to the 20th century? Then why is it that we have this idealized view of the past? Why do we long to return to the “golden age” of black-and-white TV America?

Yes, things are bad. Abortion is now legal, teenage drug use is at tragic levels, and the American family is all but destroyed. Yes, church attendance is down and atheism and cult religions have more attraction than ever. But, at the end of the day we can’t be fooled by the illusion; we can’t go back to the 1950′s!

Instead, what we must do is devote ourselves to worshipping God in a way which is most appropriate for today. We must confront the problems of today, talk about the gritty details, and come face-to-face with the major issues which affect peoples lives in 21st century America. It is not sufficient to just try and escape back into an episode of Dennis the Menace, when the biggest concern in American neighborhoods was an errant baseball breaking your kitchen window. Today there is rape, drug abuse, and pregnancy, all before the age of 18, and if anybody is going to address these problems it must be the Church.

Don’t get me wrong, there were good things “back in the day”, but those things are still available; his name is Jesus, and he isn’t going anywhere. The apostle Paul constantly characterizes the Christian life as a race, but anyone who races will tell you that the surest way to lose is to spend the whole time looking behind you at where you’ve been instead of looking forward to best plan where you are going.

As well, I do not believe that this relevance needs to come at the cost of reverence. There are many popular leaders today, such as Rob Bell and Brian McLaren, who believe that the only way to be successful in today’s culture is to rewrite the inspired word of God. If the Bible says Jesus was born of a virgin, that must be wrong because we know better than that. If the Bible says homosexuality is a sin that is only because the Bible is not up-to-date with current moralities and sensitivities. These are the wrong attitudes to have. It is not God that has to change, in fact we know that he doesn’t, but it is the Church which must change. We must become more willing to live a revolutionary lifestyle, which at the same time reveres God and engages the culture.

At another place in the book I quoted above, the author tells a story about an elderly, once-glamorous actress who had been successful but was unwilling to change her image to keep in the business. He says that she spent the whole evening backing him into corners, remarking about how she had once ‘acted with Brando.’ He then comments that “[this] is how I feel about the church. It backs you into a corner at parties and tells you how it was once famous.” Yet, like the actress, too many congregations are so fixated on who they were to do what’s necessary to be famous again. We must be famous again!