Under Lesser Burdens

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Surely now God has worn me out;
he has made desolate all my company…
He has torn me in his wrath and hated me;
he has gnashed his teeth at me;
my adversary sharpens his eyes against me. – Job 16:7, 9

In his misery Job thought God hated him and was his adversary. And yet he continues to hold out hope that God would hear his cries and deliver him. He still believed that God was just and would do the right thing if he could only argue his case before him.

In a few chapter, while still in his distress, Job will confess:

For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and at the last he will stand upon the earth.
And after my skin has been thus destroyed,
yet in my flesh I shall see God,
whom I shall see for myself,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another.
My heart faints within me! (Job 19:25-27)

What an example of enduring faith in the face of hardship. Our pain will very seldom rise to what Job suffered but may our faith and trust in God never sag under lesser burdens.


Google Morality

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A while ago, I did a podcast test segment the point of which was to discuss the problem with trying to “be good for goodness sake.” That is, ethics without God, ethics based on a general notion of “good.” I said that it wouldn’t lead us into a time of great human flourishing, rather, it will  lead to a new breed of Pharisee.

It appears that the moral relativism born in ’60s, nurtured in ’70s, and come to blossom in ’80s has given birth to what I call “Google Morality”. Whatever social media buzzes about now defines what is right and what is wrong (though buzz tends heavily toward what is wrong) and there are social warriors who will enforce it with very little sympathy, empathy, or consideration of other viewpoints.

Think I’m just making this up? Though it has been my unvoiced opinion for a while, no less than The Atlantic has written on this phenomena. And I quote:

The subjective morality of yesterday has been replaced by an ethical code that, if violated, results in unmerciful moral crusades on social media.

A culture of shame cannot be a culture of total relativism. One must have some moral criteria for which to decide if someone is worth shaming…

This new code has created a paradoxical moment in which all is tolerated except the intolerant and all included except the exclusive.

See? It isn’t just me and The Atlantic is no bastion of conservative, Judeo-Christian ethics. I hate that the article ends on Trump but up to the point where his name appears, the article is pretty good.

Edit: I should have noted that this was part b to this part a.


The Wisdom of Dr. Anthony Bradley

A while ago I happened upon Dr. Anthony Bradley on Twitter and I was impressed. He speaks with clarity and wisdom on racial issues and that’s rather hard to come by these days. So often when he says something that challenges me, I shut up and listen and ponder. Relevant Magazine’s recent interview with Dr. Bradley did that to me again. He discusses the history of slavery and evangelicals in America. He pulls no punches and at the same time, calls us to remember the gospel in light of our failures.

Here are a few quotes that highlight the clarity and charity of the man. Please, read the entire interview and think about it.

iu“Part of me wonders if our resistance to telling the story is our lack of confidence in recognizing that just because Christians practice the faith incorrectly and inappropriately at times doesn’t mean Christianity is false. Perhaps we are so used to believing this narrative that Christianity is right and good and true because of what Christians did as opposed to understanding that Christianity is right and good and true because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The truth of Christianity is not dependent upon the actions of God’s people at any given moment in history…

“I would argue that evangelicals often put themselves in positions where they believe minorities should come to them and be received. But moving forward, evangelicals as far as possible given their geographic location need to move toward minorities and be in their churches and be in their schools and be in their neighborhoods to create opportunities for solidarity and reciprocity…

“I would say that white churches need to go in communities and partner with the black churches and the hispanic churches and the Asian churches that are already there. It’s hard to imagine a minority neighborhood anywhere in this country that has a high concentration of people for whom there are not already existing churches. The idea that evangelicals need to move in and set up a flag for the Gospel and start something that’s not already there tends to overlook the decades if not centuries of work of Christians in churches that have been laboring in those neighborhoods already.”


But Some Doubted

There is a way in which doubt can establish faith rather than undermine it.

Let’s suppose for a moment that Jesus did not rise from the dead. Some people believe that and the way they explain the Biblical accounts is to say that years later they were written by manipulators in order to turn a good teacher into a god to galvanize a movement that was beginning to fray.

There are historical, theological, and textual problems with this answer, but let’s leave them aside for the moment and ask what kind of writings such manipulators might manufacture. How would they tweak history to convince people 100 to 200 years later (according to skeptical timelines) that Jesus came back to life?

You might put words in Pauls mouth to the tune of:

“He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.” (1 Cor. 15:4-8)

Years after Paul’s death there would be no way to actually verify any of this. These writings would be taken as inspired scripture which you’re not allowed to question so there you go. Jesus rose even when he didn’t.

I’m giving the skeptic a lot of leeway here. There are problems with the idea of anyone accepting modified writing or with their sudden appearance 200 years later if they were made up. But let’s let them have those for now.

A more sophisticated approach might be the story of Thomas’ doubt in John 20:26-29:

Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

You see? Thomas came around! A story like, were it fake, would serve to strengthen the deception. “See? Thomas didn’t believe it either! But Jesus said you’d be blessed it you believe without seeing.”

What you would not expect to see if people are trying to establish the lie that Jesus rose from the dead and everyone back then knew it and believe it is this:

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. (Matt. 28:16-17)

These supposedly fabricated stories would seek to establish the supposedly ancient truth that Jesus rose and people saw him. Why would they include this? The disciples saw the resurrected Jesus and they worshipped him. “But some doubted.” What more proof did they need? He’s standing right in front of them!

But Matthew’s account could serve to undermine the entire covert attempt to fool people. You can’t let that kind of doubt slip through or the whole thing could unravel on you.

So why did Matthew include it? Probably because it really happened. People are not so simple as to believe just because they have evidence. We all doubt sometimes and the disciples were no different. After all, people don’t usually rise from the dead. Even in the pre-scientific mindset of the first century, Lazarus rose from the dead because Jesus told him to. But Jesus just rose.

That leads to another problem with fabricating this story. Even by the third century, women were not given equal status in society. So when the gospels say that women reported that Jesus rose, it again kind of undermines the attempt at deception.

So is it satisfying to believe that these masterminds who attempted to turn Jesus into something more than a rabbi were genius enough to fudge the scriptures and at the same time dopy enough to do it so poorly? It isn’t to me. So even when I question and wonder and, yes, doubt I still look at the scriptures and believe. But some doubt.


Labor and Politics and God

When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God. – Lev. 19:9-10

Notice that God commands that they are not to consume all of the fruits of their labors for themselves. Sow to the edges of your field and tend all of your vines. But when you reap, you intentionally leave some for the poor.

Also notice that God does not command them to harvest the rest and deliver it to the poor.

Work is good and so is sharing the fruit of your labor. At the same time, work is good for the poor. Keep this in mind when you hear the politicians debating about income inequality. The fault is probably not solely located on one side or the other.

God continues in Leviticus and says:

You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor. – Lev. 19:15

Too often only one side or the other is cited as the problem. The progressives blame only the rich and the conservatives blame only the welfare state. If we’re to do no injustice either for the poor or the great, we have to understand that many do indeed reap to the edges of their fields. They consume all that they make only for themselves by taking the highest possible wage they can. At the same time, others refuse to rise and go glean from the edges of the fields. It seems below their dignity to work for minimum wage or minimum wage can’t compete with the government benefits they receive. Or they are not allowed into the field at all.

It is injustice against the rich to just assume that we’re not taxing them enough and it is injustice against the poor to trap them on welfare. We need to weigh these issues with impartiality. That just doesn’t happen in a political campaign when people are trying to appeal to their base by speaking to their prejudices in order to secure their votes.

We can surely do better than this for the great and the poor alike.


Podcast Test Run

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This is a test run of a segment for the potential, future podcast Cruciform. The production value of this audio segment is not great; I didn’t record it to test that but to see if the content would be sufficient and if my voice is not too annoying.

Please comment on the content of this podcast. Did it hold your attention? Is something like this a podcast you would want to listen to? Aside from better recording, how can we improve?

My ultimate goal is to have a quarterly podcast on a specific theme. It would be a longer podcast with different segments covering that subject. First, I have to finish my ministry licensing paper, then I’ll consider Cruciform.

Thank you for listening and commenting.

Links to resources mentioned in this segment:

 


Filled with the Holy Spirit

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What does it mean to be “filled with the Holy Spirit”?

And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit – Luke 1:41

Remember that in Luke 1:15, the angel Gabriel told Zachariah, Elizabeth’s husband, that her baby John would be “filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.”

So what we have here is John in Elizabeth’s womb and he’s filled with the Holy Spirit, but Elizabeth herself is not. At least not until Mary visited her. And then she is. For a while you had a spirit filled individual inside an individual who was not spirit filled.

John leaping in Elizabeth’s womb illustrates the point of what it means to be filled with the Holy Spirit. John hears Mary’s voice and, presumably, through the illumination of the Holy Spirit, he knows that that means that Jesus is near. Elizabeth tells us that John leapt for joy.

That’s what the Holy Spirit does when he fills people, he leads them to action, he shows them the joy of knowing Jesus.

At that moment, then, Elizabeth is filled with the Spirit and she exclaimed that Mary was blessed and so was the fruit of her womb. Again, the Spirit lead or enabled Elizabeth to do something, to say something, to “exclaim with a loud cry”.

The point is that being filled with the Holy Spirit is not a matter of geography. The Holy Spirit resided within the confines of Elizabeth’s body but he was not filling and enabling her.

Another way to think of it is to recall that God is ubiquitous, or omnipresent, or in simple terms, he’s everywhere. But if I say that God is inside that tree or that mountain, aren’t I approaching animism or spiritism or pantheism or something?

Not really. God was within Elizabeth but he wasn’t filling her in the way he was filling John. God can be “in” a rock but that doesn’t mean that the rock is divine nor that he’s giving life to the rock. He is present but not the same way he is with his people.

So have you been filled with the Holy Spirit? How do you know? What happens to you when people start talking about Jesus? Do you yawn, get angry, or does it bring you joy? A better way to ask might be, does it ever bring you joy since I have yawned, gotten angry, and felt joy while listening to radio ministries.

The bottom line is that the Holy Spirit does something when he fills someone even though he is omnipresent.


Immanuel

This was the Christmas Eve meditation from Trinity Community Church, December 24, 2015

Immanuel

When Joseph found out that Mary was pregnant before their wedding day, he decided to divorce her quietly. But an angel appeared to him in a dream and told him to marry her and said,

Matt. 1:20-23 “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

Matthew then explains:

22All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

23“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel”

So which was it to be, Jesus or Immanuel?

To understand the relationship of these two names, let’s look at the second name first. Matthew points out, parenthetically, that the name Immanuel means “God with us” and so it does.

God has always wanted to be with his people. In the garden of Eden when the evening winds came and cooled off the heat of the day, God would come and walk in the garden with Adam and Eve. According to Genesis 3:8, after the fall, after sin came, Adam and Eve heard God walking and they hid themselves. Sin had broken this relationship with God.
Read On…


For Christ and His Kingdom

If I were to say that Abraham Lincoln was a lawyer in Illinois, became the 16th President of the United States, had a beard, and signed the Emancipation Proclamation and another person said that Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation but never became president and a third group said that he was a lawyer in Nebraska, that he signed the Emancipation Proclamation but he was the Emperor of Canada and no Emperor would ever wear a beard, are we all speaking of the same person? We all agree that his name is Lincoln but beyond that the agreement gets rather thin.

In light of the suspension of Dr. Larycia Hawkins from Wheaton College for claiming that Muslims and Christians worship the same God, Miraslov Volf tweeted (amongst other things):


Read On…


Ordinary Preaching is Fine

Great churches1“Church” = A group of disciples worshiping and growing in Christ together. don’t need great preachers to be great, but cults2“Cult” = Personality cult, false religion, a group centered around a human being, living or dead, rather than Jesus Christ risen from the dead. do.

Wait. What?

If a “great church” is a church that is making unbelievers into disciples of Jesus, baptizing them, teaching what Jesus taught, serving each other and the needy, etc. then church size is irrelevant. A “great church” doesn’t have to be one with large numbers in attendance. It could be, but that isn’t the measure of it.

If a “great preacherPreacher Boy” is someone with impressive oratory skills, someone who has a great stage presence and is able to stir the emotions with his or her speaking style and speech-making skill, then we don’t need them to make a church great, given the above definition of a great church. The pastor’s public speaking ability, provided that he is faithfully teaching the scriptures, is not as important. God can use men who are very good preachers and men who are merely adequate at preaching.

However, for a personality cult to form a “great preacher” is absolutely necessary. I’m thinking of Joel Osteen, Hitler, Charles Finney, etc.3Stop it. Just stop it. I am not equating Osteen and Hitler. They were/are great communicators and created huge movements. But without them personally, their movement will fade unless they are replaced by another great public speaker.

I know of churches that are very good, solid believers, unbelievers in process, senior saints, etc. and they’re lead by godly men who are merely passable preachers. There are and have been large churches that are unhealthy but their pastors are very good public speakers; turn on the television and watch some of the Word Faith hucksters and you get the idea.

I don’t mean to belittle preaching, it is important and the Bible has some significant things to say about it. I’m trying to not go beyond those things and make “a great preacher” a necessary part of the church. Faithful preaching, hail and amen, but “great preaching”? I don’t see it as necessary as some people seem to think it is.

Find a faithful preacher who knows Jesus and the Bible, who is committed to making disciples, who loves the church the way Jesus does, who walks in holiness. If he is a great preacher, you are blessed. If he is adequate, try to stay awake during his sermons and be blessed. Every church does not have to have a Spurgeon, Piper, MacArthur, Martin Lloyd-Jones, John Calvin, or Jonathan Edwards. These men are rare gifts to the Church. Learn from them, emulate them as they emulate Christ, don’t just listen to their speaking, heed their sermons, but by all means, don’t measure your pastor or other pastors by them. Ordinary preachers greatly outnumber them.


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1. “Church” = A group of disciples worshiping and growing in Christ together.
2. “Cult” = Personality cult, false religion, a group centered around a human being, living or dead, rather than Jesus Christ risen from the dead.
3. Stop it. Just stop it. I am not equating Osteen and Hitler.