Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Debate team

I was home schooled.  Sometimes I wish I could have gone to public schools for some things, though there are really no regrets.  I enjoyed the amount of freedom it provided.  However, I would have loved to be on a debate.  I love to argue, and if I hadn't been a pastor, I probably would have been a lawyer.  I don't always have to be right, but I do have to think I am by the end!  I even have a bit of a knack for it.  I've been in debates/arguments where I have not really known all that I was talking about, but was able to bluff my way through.  People think I'm smarter than I am sometimes because of that.  Honestly, I've been in debates where I went away to try to figure out if what I said was even true.  Sometimes it even was!

Online debates, however, are of a different breed.  I've been in many, stating my case for whatever I happened to be arguing about that time.  Whether it was politics, religion, sports or just nonsense, I'm often involved in some type of debate.  I find them fun, try not to offend anyone, and always do my best to not take myself too seriously.

It's not always easy.  I have myself had to walk away from arguments, go back and delete comments, and even apologize.  My biggest gripe is when it gets personal.  All this to say, I've noticed that I'm changing a little.  I don't debate nearly as often these days to try to convince someone that I'm right.  It's not that I don't want people to change their minds, putting themselves on my side of the debate (which of course means they are right).  That is okay.  I've found that the thing I look for more often than anything else is that someone understands my position.

You see, I don't mind if you disagree with me, as long as you understand why I believe what I believe.  I have been in many debates where the person who disagreed with me didn't really disagree with me at all.  They only disagreed with a position they assumed I held.

Please don't misunderstand; I'm sure I have fallen into this trap myself.  I am certain that I have argued with people I didn't understand.  This is where it gets so critical, though, to ask questions and listen.  What do the people who are disagreeing with me actually believe?  When using certain words, do these words mean the same to them that they do to me?

One lesson I've tried to apply to my life over the years is this one; listening isn't waiting your turn to talk.  In debates, that is essential.  I hope I never listen to someone long enough to disagree with them.  I hope I listen to them long enough to understand them.  Then the real discussion, and possibly debate, can really begin.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Where is God?

Have you ever wondered this?  Have you ever wanted to know where God was?  Tragedy is happening everywhere, yet Christians claim to serve a God of love.  Well, where is this God now?

This is a really good question, and while there can be the obvious temptation to ignore the question and just hope it goes away, the question remains.  So let me, briefly, attempt to answer this question.

First, there is mystery.  No matter who answers this question, there will always be an element of mystery.  The question we must ask is this; where does the mystery belong?  Some say that mystery belongs in the will of God.  They would tell us that when tragedy strikes, it will, in the end, bring glory to God.

But God isn't as mysterious when it comes to His love as we might think.  God is love.  It is not something that He does, but something that He is.  So when we ask questions about how a man could go into a crowded theater and shoot down the innocent, or how a man, who claims to be doing good for society, turns out to be a pedophile, how can we possibly look to God and think He wanted this?  How could we possibly believe that God desired these things to happen?

So while there is mystery, let me say that I don't believe it falls on God, at least not in this case.  Instead, we need to look to the people who are doing these terrible things.  Indeed, when bad things happen in the Bible, the finger is not pointed to God, but to man, and the sin which is in each of us.  It doesn't take much to convince us that within humanity is the desire, quite often, to do evil.  We are a selfish people, and hurting others for our own good is pretty much the way we've been doing things since creation.

No, these tragedies in our lives don't belong to God; instead, they are brought on to us by the enemy, Satan, and the people who are living under his authority.

This doesn't mean, though, that during tragedy we don't point to God.  In fact, it is more important than ever during our times of suffering to look to God.  We look to Him God and we see a suffering Savior.  We see Jesus, who chose to not look on our suffering from a distance, but to become one of us and join us in our suffering.  He was made flesh and dwelt among us.  He was wounded on our behalf so we could, one day, know an end to suffering.

So for me the mystery isn't how God could have let this happen.  The mystery is why God would come be a victim with me.

Friday, July 20, 2012

A Mixed Bag

On occasion, I would like to provide some links of things which have interested me.

First, do you know how many slaves work for you?  There is a way to get an idea of just how big your slavery footprint is.  Head over to http://slaveryfootprint.org/ to find out.  My number ended up being 60, which might have been a little high, as they didn't include questions about some things.  Still, it's a little disturbing, and something I need to be more careful with.  If you want to know what you can do to help, one of the organizations I really like is International Justice Mission.  You can head over the their site to learn a lot more about the slave trade and what we can do to respond.

Gregory Boyd is one of my favorite authors.  On occasion I get an opportunity to listen to his sermons.  This one intrigued me, because in it he deals with the disturbing passages in the Old Testament.  While you may not agree with his conclusions, I would encourage you to listen and consider.  I don't always agree with Boyd, but I always find him challenging and thought provoking.

Another group I really like is Project 7.  They are a for-profit organization which takes their money and gives it to various groups who are doing good in the world, focusing on seven areas of need, including hunger, education and creation care.  They sell water, gum, mints and coffee.  Their motto is "To ensure everyone around the globe has access to fundamental human needs for a healthy life."  Sounds like a great motto to me.  Watch a short video about them here.

Finally, my favorite new comic strip comes from Radio Free Babylon.  These are quite humorous looks at life, particularly religious life.  Since I'm not offended easily, I really enjoy them.  If you don't like people making fun of things which some people take way too seriously, don't read their comics.  You've been warned!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Separation of Church and State

In case you don't know, I'm a devout Christian and pastor.  I love God with all my heart, and seek to serve Him with my life.  I'm also proud to be an American.  I'm thankful for a nation which was founded on Christian principles, and for the men and women who have sacrificed so much to give me the freedom I have to worship God.  My politics tend toward the conservative, with some liberal touches here and there.

I say these things because what I'm about to say might get me in trouble with some, but I feel it needs to be said.  In addition to all of these things, I love history, and feel like perhaps a little history lesson is in order concerning the separation of church and state.  This is a phrase thrown around a lot, on both sides of politics and religion.  Those who want nothing to do with religion say this means the church needs to stay out of government.  Those who are staunchly religious say this means the government needs to stay out our church. Then there are loud claims made from them saying the phrase isn't found in the constitution.  Fair enough.  They aren't wrong.  It isn't in the constitution, and I know my history well enough to know the phrase originated with a letter from Benjamin Franklin.

However, we must not forget that we have amendments to the constitution.  The first amendment (adopted in 1791) says this: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or of the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."  

So what are we to make?  Let's give a little history.  It's very important to know that many of the founders of our country, as well as those who came here from England and other countries, were fleeing persecution.  They were coming from countries where you had one option if you wanted to be considered a citizen, and that just happened to be whatever religion was the established religion of your own country.  So when the Pilgrims came over, and the founding fathers began to establish laws, they were very concerned that America didn't have laws which outlawed those who were of different faiths.

Many of the founding fathers were Christians, faithfully serving God with their lives.  They therefore established this country on Christian principles.  They didn't, though, establish the country as a "Christian nation".  That is impossible, for Christ makes it abundantly clear that His Kingdom is not of this world.  It is a spiritual Kingdom, and knows no boundaries.  (For more on this, I recommend Gregory Boyd's book "The Myth of a Christian Nation.  You can find it on Amazon.)

One Christian principle which is essential to our faith is that of choice.  I can no more make you become a Christian than I can make you a duck.  So they established freedom of religion, and therefore the separation of church and state, so we could discover God for ourselves, and then make a choice to follow Him.

We seem to have forgotten this in today's world.  I was reading an article about some folks in Tennessee who were trying to keep some Muslims from opening a Mosque, saying that Islam wasn't a "true religion."  You can read more on that here.  We must remember that not only is the act of these Christians against the standards set by the founding fathers, it is also against the standards established and lived by Christ.  He never tried to force people into the Kingdom of God.  As a matter of fact, it seemed at times that He went out of His way to make it harder.

So what are we to do when some Muslims open a Mosque down the road?  What should we do when it seems that the laws of our nation are no longer reflecting the Christian principles they once did?  What are we to do when abortion becomes so rampant in our nation that we are killing babies daily by the thousands?

The Biblical answer may not be the popular one, but it does seem to actually make more of a difference in the long run.  The answer is to live like Jesus.  The Jesus who wasn't afraid to call out the wrong, but also the one who loved sinners enough to lay His life down for them.  If we want to turn this ship around, it isn't going to take laws, but love.  It isn't going to be about making others see our point of view, but instead to make Jesus famous.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Recommended Books

Those who know me know I love to read, so I thought I would let you know some of my favorites.  I'll update from time to time.  Some of them I've done reviews for in the past (and perhaps will do more in the future), so I've provided links to those.

General Christian

Crazy Love - Francis Chan
Waking the Dead - John Eldredge
The Barbarian Way - Erwin McManusAbsolute Surrender - Andrew Murray
Why Revival Tarries - Leonard Ravenhill
The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience - Ronald Sider (Review)
The Hole in Our Gospel - Richard Stearns
The Knowledge of the Holy - A. W. TozerA Plain Account of Christian Perfection - John Wesley


Letters From a Skeptic - Gregory Boyd
What's So Great About Christianity - Dinesh D'Souza (Review)
The Case for Christ - Lee Strobel


God at War - Gregory Boyd
Created for Community - Stanley Grenz
Arminian Theology - Roger Olson
The Mosaic of Christian Belief - Roger Olson
Outward Sign and Inward Grace - Rob Staples


And - Hugh Halter and Matt Smay
On the Verge - Alan Hirsch and Dave Ferguson (Review)
Courageous Leadership - Bill Hybels
They Call Me Pastor - H. B. London and Neil Wiseman
The Present Future - Reggie McNeal (Review)
The Peacemaking Pastor - Alfred Poirer

Church History

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy - Eric Metaxas (Review)
Christianity's Dangerous Idea - Alister McGrath
The Story of Christian Theology - Roger Olson
Sounds from Heaven - Colin and Mary Peckham


Pilgrim's Progress - John Bunyan
Adam - Ted Dekker
The Circle Trilogy - Ted Dekker
Odd Thomas - Dean Koontz
The Chronicles of Narnia - C. S. Lewis
Till We Have Faces - C. S. Lewis
This Present Darkness - Frank Peretti
The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Crying Wolf over Persecution

You've probably seen the story.  A man in Arizona is "jailed for holding a Bible study" in his home.  Fox News broke this story to us this week.  You can watch their video here.  The story from their view point is that this was a man, in his own living room, who is holding a Bible study.  Now he is arrested and persecuted because of his faith.

But is this the whole story?  Actually, it is far from the whole story.  Relevant magazine posted a story today which sheds some more light on this story.  You can read their story here.  I have several major issues with this story, and how it is getting twisted to make it sound worse than it is.

Let's begin with the claim that he isn't actually breaking the law.  As it turns out, the man is not only breaking zoning laws, but also tax laws.  He wants the government laws to work in his favor when he can keep the money, but not when he needs to pay up.  This is a legal issue, and in case we forget, we are called to submit to the governing authorities.  They are not asking too much.  They simply want him to obey the laws which are in place.

And by the way, this isn't in his living room.  It is in a building out in the back of his house, where they have seating for 140 people, and meetings there three times a week with up to 80 people.  The area he lives in isn't designed for that, nor is the building.  It is a danger to those who are inside, and those who live in the community.

If this man would simply obey the law, he could have church.  If he wants Bible studies in his home, that is okay too.  But this wasn't a Bible study.  This was church, with a pulpit, offering and all.  Crying wolf only hurts the image of Christians today, and does nothing for the cause of Christ.  

My biggest gripe, though, is the claim of being persecuted.  We in America need to stop this complaining.  There are countries where you cannot even claim to be a Christian, let alone talk about Jesus, without being martyred.  There are countries where, when you get baptized into the Church, you are forever cut off from your family.  Even in some of the areas of the world with "lesser" persecution, you can be one, just don't speak about it in public.  We are not persecuted in this country.

In addition, this is an insult to those who are actually undergoing persecution.  There is the recent story of the pastor in Iran jailed for his faith, and concern for many all over the world who are dying.  Just a couple of weeks ago, two churches near the Somali border were attacked, and 17 Christians were gunned down.

Fellow Christians, please speak up loudly for the persecuted Christians of the world.  We must raise our voices, and lift our prayers to the heavens for those who suffer for what they believe.  For those, however, who are claiming persecution, but living in violation to the Word of God and reasonable civil laws, we must be careful to not defend.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience

I thought maybe it would be a good idea to review some books that I've read in the past, particularly ones which I've enjoyed and have helped me a lot.  Today I want to give you a brief introduction to "The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience" by Ronald Sider.  I first came across Ron Sider in an article in Relevant Magazine which was an "open letter" to this generation.  You can find the first part of that article here, with the rest just a click away.  They are very much worth a read.   This book challenged me a great deal, and it gives us a lot to think about.  Because it's a small book, it doesn't take long to read, but it still manages to challenge the reader enough to be particularly difficult.

The subtitle of the book, "why are Christians living just like the rest of the world?" perhaps gives us an indication of why this would be so difficult.  This question is dissected right away in the first chapter, as Sider gives us the statistics to show why those who claim the name of Christ in America are living just like everyone else.  Looking at wealth/poverty, divorce, racism, abuse and more, Sider shows us how we are indeed living just like the world.

He goes on in the second chapter to talk about the Biblical Vision.  What does the Bible say we should look like?  This, after all, should be our driving force.  It turns out we are to look different from the world, but not just a little bit.  We are to look vastly different.  We are to "bear much fruit" and understand that those born of God won't "continue to sin".  These are calls found throughout Scripture, and need to be taken seriously.

The third chapter is, in my opinion, the best in the book.  Here Sider compares and contrasts cheap grace with the whole gospel.  He begins with this quote from Peter Gillquist; "All the evangelism in the world from a church that is not herself holy and righteous will not be worth a hill of beans in world-changing power."  Indeed, you can reach the lost, but if it not with the gospel, they are still lost.  We must live the whole gospel, and not just the convenient parts of it.

The fourth chapter explores the question of whether we will conform to the world or will we be the church.  Unfortunately, many churches and Christians have chosen to look like the world.  Some use it as an excuse to evangelize better, and some are just lazy.  Some, unfortunately, do so because of false teaching they are hearing in the pulpit.  The more we act like the world, the less likely they are to conform to Christ.  This truth cannot be debated.  Not only will they not be changed, but we are not being the Church.  We cannot be a "royal priesthood" and act like the world.

The final chapter is about the rays of hope.  They are not many, but there are some.  In my personal estimation, the rays of hope are to be found, but we must be careful to nurture them, and not destroy them.

All in all, a very good book.  I would recommend it to anyone, and am thankful for the dramatic affect it has had on my life.