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Friday, December 28, 2007

"The Prosperity Gospel"

I wanted to comment on this news article, but the entry was getting long so I decided to journal it here instead. Here goes:

I found this interesting:
The Book of Job is a case study in piety unrewarded...
I guess Mr. Palmer forgot to read all the way to the end of the book of Job. I'm sure he can find a better example than that!

Lack of balance on the part of some doesn't mean that the whole thing is incorrect. As I journaled recently, just because someone is mistaken about the nature of the sun doesn't mean there's no sun. To me there is so much evidence that God wants His people to be well-supplied (I won't go into multimillionaire territory here... I just mean not destitute and scrambling for funds) that it's hardly worth arguing, but here are a few things to think about. God calls us an army. Who sends their army out without provisions? God calls us his children. Who willingly sends their children to school hungry? Jesus called us "friends." Who sees his friends in need and doesn't try to help out? We just had a new baby; friends of ours from church brought us dinner for a week. Jesus said the Church is his "bride." You wouldn't marry someone and then lock them in the basement to starve, would you?

All of those terms are terms of endearment, of love. The world around us is partially constructed in such a way that it teaches us things about God... which is why we have fatherhood (to show us fathers how God feels about us) and marriage (to show us how Jesus feels about us) and all those other things. If you think God wants you dirt-poor or sick or any of those other negative things, you're not paying close enough attention to your own attitudes toward the ones you love.

Now, I think some people live lives of poverty because of a call of God. If you are one of those people, you know it and have peace about that; if you don't have peace about that, you're likely not that person. Some people's lives end in martyrdom; those are casualties of war, not some kind of Holy Corpse Brigade. Sometimes things don't seem to fit the mold, but the concept remains: God loves us and His best, in general, is not for His beloved to suffer.

The problem here is thinking that you can do something and make something else happen. Thinking that I can put a $10 bill in a collection plate and then, based on the "hundredfold return" principle, assume that God is obligated to send me $1,000 right away. That, my friend, is not "faith" but "magic." Witches and magicians think they can cast spells and control nature. Christians know that only God can control nature. Nothing I can do can force God to do anything.

So, my thinking is this: we need to follow the teachings of the Bible as best we can, including the ones about giving and tithing. Doing these things Scripturally means that you are doing them out of a giving, generous heart, not with an attitude of trying to get something back. When we do so, we satisfy something in the system of just cause and effect which God has set up, and it allows us to receive from God whatever He, in his sovereignty, has decided to provide for us.

We're not making things happen. A better way to look at it is that we are being obedient to God in an effort to not stand in the way of the blessings which we believe He is sending our way.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Peace on Earth: How Can It Be?

I wish you a hopeful Christmas
I wish you a brave new year
All anguish pain and sadness
Leave your heart and let your road be clear
They said there'll be snow at Christmas
They said there'll be peace on Earth
Hallelujah Noel be it heaven or hell
The Christmas you get you deserve

Emerson, Lake & Palmer - "I Believe In Father Christmas"

We guard our world with locks and guns
And we guard our fine possessions
And once a year when Christmas comes
We give to our relations
And perhaps we give a little to the poor
If the generosity should seize us
But if any one of us should interfere
In the business of why they are poor
They get the same as the rebel Jesus
Jackson Browne - "The Rebel Jesus"

Peace on earth, can it be?
Years from now, perhaps we'll see,
See the day of glory,
See the day when men of good will
Live in peace, live in peace again.

Bing Crosby & David Bowie - "Little Drummer Boy/Peace On Earth"

"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men." Sounds like Christmas time is time for people to be nice to each other. After all, Linus said it, didn't he? If Linus said it and Snoopy approved this message, then it must be true. Actually, I think we have misunderstood the message a little bit... most modern translations word it something like how it is worded in the ESV:
"Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!" (Luke 2:14 ESV)
The "peace on Earth" is not for the whole Earth, but specifically for those with whom God is pleased (NIV "on whom his favor rests"). Although we know God has called us to be peacemakers (Matthew 5:9), apparently Jesus knew that He was not going to have that effect on people as a whole:
Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. (Matthew 10:34-35 ESV)
So, I've been thinking about those things this December, as the songs quoted above and others have been swirling around me. The three songs I quoted are all actually big favorites of mine, both musically and lyrically, but something about each of them bothers me. The cynicism of the ELP song, the mild judgmentalism of the Jackson Browne song (covered this season by Bebo Norman, which is how I first heard it), and what I believe to be the misplaced optimism of the beautiful duet from Bing & Bowie (who may be the strangest Christmas duet combination ever, although Frank Sinatra and Cyndi Lauper on "Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town" is right up there too).

I don't think there will ever be peace across the whole Earth... at least, not until Christ returns and we live under the rule of God alone. I do think that each of us has a job to bring peace to a small corner of the Earth each and every day; I can make peace with my next-door neighbor. Better yet, I can live in such a way that he sees peace in me, and comes to the source of that peace... being drawn ultimately into peace with God (Romans 5:1).

But we have to do this peacemaking in the power of the Holy Spirit, and that's the problem with some utopian Christmas songs. There is doing good things by our own human good will, and that's terrific but we clearly can't maintain that state forever without messing it up (see Isaiah 64:5-6). Then there is doing good things by the power and leading of the Holy Spirit, and that is infinitely sustainable because God strengthens us to perform the tasks He has called us to. The problem with "peace on Earth" without first becoming one "with whom He is pleased" is that it is probably impossible to maintain indefinitely. People get tired and frustrated eventually, and their base instincts rear their heads.
With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God. (Mark 10:27 ESV)

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Here "he" comes

Here comes Santa Claus, here comes Santa Claus, right down Santa Claus lane
He doesn't care if you're rich or poor; he loves you just the same
Santa knows that we're God's children, that makes everything right
So fill your hearts with Christmas cheer, 'cause Santa Claus comes tonight!
I don't know why I'm being such a Grinch this year, but I just head this song on the radio (thank you, Elvis!) and remembered how much this pseudo-religious mumbo-jumbo verse has always bugged me. It's almost like Santa is being cast as Jesus in a mushy local theater production of A Christmas Carol.

I see nothing in the Word of God that says that everyone in the world is a child of God. I've actually heard Christian leaders who should know better (Michael Tait of DC Talk comes to mind) saying baloney like this. I see in the Word that those who receive Jesus and believe in His name (John 1:12) through faith (Galatians 3:23-26) are sons of God. I see that those who are led by the Spirit of God are His sons (Romans 8:14). I see that peacemakers are sons of God (Matthew 5:9). But until everyone meets these criteria, not everyone is a son of God.

And even assuming that we were all God's children... how does that "make everything right"? Is everything right in the world? In a dream world, maybe. In this world, I don't think so.

The only person that truly loves each and every one of us exactly the same (infinitely) is not Santa Claus. Santa may love us a lot, but the only one who can love us completely is Jesus Christ! ;)

Thursday, December 6, 2007

MY God

"My God."

"MY God."

"MY God."

Yesterday evening during the worship service at church, I began thanking God that He had made it so He could be my God. I wasn't specifically thinking about Hebrews 8:8-12 at the time, but that's the vibe. God is mine. My God. Not just my church's God. Not just my family's God or my parents' God. Not necessarily my nation's God, like the children of Israel to whom this prophecy was originally given... my God. It's what was being spoken into my heart as I was communing with God.

Last night I went home and worked on my checkbook. Let's just say that it's not how I would like it to be, especially right before Christmas. Unless something changes, I'm going to need to call some people and have some uncomfortable conversations. This is occurring immediately after we began giving toward our church's new debt reduction/building project. I'll be honest... it makes me feel anxious that I don't know when God will come through for me. After all, He's not the one that has to make those phone calls.

This morning it started to come to me again... my God. My God. He's MY God. And then, unexpectedly, the phrase completed itself out to a familiar Scripture verse about a group of people who had been giving of their finances to God:
And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.
(Philippians 4:19 ESV)

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Something for lunchtime

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written,

“‘Man shall not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
[Matthew 4:1-4 ESV]

A very familiar passage, and I was NOT reading that passage today but this one:
“The whole commandment that I command you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land that the Lord swore to give to your fathers. And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.
[Deuteronomy 8:1-3 ESV]

Very interesting:
Led by (Spirit of) God into wildernessLed by God into wilderness
40 days40 years
being "tempted by the devil"being "humbled" and "tested" by God
refused to supply for Himselfreceived supply from God

I suspect that Jesus had been thinking about this passage as he sat there, out in the wilderness, hungry. It was on the tip of his tongue when the devil came along. He may well have been hanging onto hope that just as God had supplied for His people back then, He would supply for Jesus now. (Of course, God did so, when the time was right.) Pretty cool!

The other two verses He quoted are from Deuteronomy chapter 6, specifically verses 16 and 13. Draw what conclusions you may from that... maybe He had spent a few days meditating on that passage as well.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Fah who foraze, dah who doraze

Right this minute I'm listening to the classic Boris Karloff reading of How The Grinch Stole Christmas... you know, the one they made for the cartoon. I have it on CD. I've always loved that story! I even bought a copy of the book itself and listened to the CD while I read through the book (did you know that he uses black thread in the cartoon, but he uses red thread in the book? FASCINATING!!! hehe) So anyway, hearing it again this year reminded me of something that occurred to me last year around this time. The story about the Grinch is a sweet story, but it is not particularly compatible with Christian values... in fact, I think I would probably classify it as squarely humanistic.

Why pooh-pooh a Christmas classic? you may ask. (Did you ask? If you didn't, go ahead so I can make my next point. ...OK, thanks.) I'm not throwing mud at Dr. Seuss, and I'm not denigrating the story of the Grinch, either. Heck, I have a t-shirt with the Grinch's head on it, for goodness sakes! But the message of the story does not include any indication that we need anything bigger than ourselves to bring peace and cheer into our world. The story of the Grinch tells us that all we need is to be nice to each other. As long as we hold hands and just "be ourselves" we don't mind if someone stole everything we own.

Maybe that's how Whos are, but it's not how Whumans are! And it's not how Christians should try to be, either. Without Jesus in our lives, unless we submit to him, someone in the circle is going to start squeezing someone's hand, and a fist fight will break out. Someone's going to dah-who when they should have fah-whod, and someone else will hear and get crabby that the music is messed up and feelings will get hurt. Besides, where are the police here? The whole village is ransacked and nobody even cares to bring the criminal to justice? Seems like a good way to get robbed over and over until you wise up.

I love the Grinch story. I think it's good to teach especially very small children that we need to do our best to get along, especially at Christmas. But I think the final message of the story is imperfect. There's a crack in the foundation. Enjoy it and get warm fuzzies and hug your family members, yes! But don't build your life on it philosophically.

Then again, if you're building your philosophy of life on Dr. Seuss stories alone, maybe you should put a little more effort into that. :)

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Judy, Judy, there's just something about that name...

Many times I've heard people lamenting what is often called "Jesus is my girlfriend" songs. You know the ones... the song where the word "Jesus" is never mentioned, and although the song is on a "Christian" CD, it's never quote clear whether they're talking about their Savior, or a junior high crush. Or sometimes, as I read recently, the name "Jesus" is in the song, but if you replace it with a girl's name, the song still makes exactly as much sense as it did before.

I've always agreed with that, and I still agree that it is deceitful to write a boy/girl song and then rephrase things just enough so you can sing it in church. That's intellectual dishonesty at best... you're not being true to the song, and you're trying to trick perfectly intelligent people into thinking that's how you feel about Jesus when it's really how you feel about Jennifer or Christine or Amanda. But something I read in the Bible shocked me. Jesus calls us, the Church, His Bride! Jesus loves us like I love my wife (except infinitely more consistently and perfectly than any human is capable of)! So hmm. Maybe the problem is not that Jesus is the girlfriend. Maybe I am the girlfriend!

If God repeatedly couches His desired relationship with us in romantic terms, maybe it's not so bad to write and sing about it that way sometimes, not specifically as a way to make it easier to connect with someone who might be hostile to Christ, but as a true expression of the ardent passion that we have for Him. It's not bad to "love" Jesus, and it never has been. It's what Jesus wants.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Don't Be Alarmed

My pastor was talking about a passage in Matthew last Sunday, and something in it struck me as very odd. I'm going to quote the passage and highlight a few spots to show what I'm thinking about, but I'm not going to draw any hard and fast conclusions... I think this is something that it's good for each person to think through for himself. Here we go (remember, all emphasis is mine):
3As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, "Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?" 4And Jesus answered them, "See that no one leads you astray. 5For many will come in my name, saying, 'I am the Christ,' and they will lead many astray. 6And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. 7For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.

9"Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. 10And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. 11And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 12And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But the one who endures to the end will be saved.
So here's what struck me as particularly odd: what kind of person says, "Don't be alarmed; they're going to put you to death, but if you endure to the end, you will be saved!" Seems almost like doublespeak, doesn't it? Clearly there is more to the picture than what Jesus is making explicit (for example, did you notice that Jesus seems to be speaking in plural "you" for most of the passage, but in the last verse I've quoted he switches to saying "the one"?) I have my ideas about what the passage means, but of late I've become a fan of the ambiguities Jesus left unresolved when He was speaking, so I think instead of adding my own interpretation, I'll leave it up to you to ponder the missing pieces for yourself.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007


A friend of ours has an 8-year-old son who is in the hospital right now with awful sores on the outside and inside of his body. I don't think the doctors have yet determined exactly what they think the illness is, but the boy is in tremendous pain. Yesterday I emailed the friend to tell him he is in our prayers and I can only imagine what he would feel like... I have a 7-year-old son and I'm afraid I would be on the edge of being a basket case if it were me. I also told him something I learned from experience: if you put your trust in Jesus in these kinds of circumstances, He will give you peace. I reminded him of just this promise in Isaiah 26:3. And I mentioned that I knew this from experience...

This past year my wife's mother left this world and went on to be with Jesus before her time. She was 62 years old and healthy; it was a needless, senseless thing that happened to her, and the family was devastated. It was probably the most emotionally difficult week or two that I have ever experienced in my entire life. Five or six months before that, my wife lost a much-loved aunt to cancer. My wife's first name is her mother's, and her second name is this aunt's name. Needless to say, it was an incredibly tough year. But in those times when we thought we were going to be physically ripped apart by emotion, the peace of God was with us. It was unbelievable that there could be a sense of peace in those places in those circumstances, but there was.

When Jesus was on the Earth, he wept with the family when a friend died (John 11:32-35). He had compassion on the sick and hurting (Matthew 14:14). He fed the hungry (Matthew 15:32-37). Jesus felt. He was fully man, and He understood sadness and loss (many commentators speculate that Jesus may have lost His Earthly father Joseph as a child, since Joseph does not appear in accounts of Jesus as an adult although his mother Mary does.) I was thinking this morning about how much I wish I could eradicate suffering just from my one friend's life, not to mention from the entire world. Jesus feels that. I believe that Jesus is waiting with great anticipation for the day when He is told by God, Now is the time, Son. Go bring your bride to me!

The word translated "shout" in the KJV of 1 Thessalonians 4:16 actually means a shout of command more than a shout of, say, joy or excitement. More of a "giddyap!" kind of shout than a "hooray!" type of shout. But I think there is an element of excitement in that shout as well. I think Jesus is so ready to eliminate evil once and for all that He won't be able to keep His voice down. I think God loves us that much!

Monday, November 5, 2007

The Sun

I was wondering today if The Sun exists. I've heard about it all my life, and I do believe in it I guess, and from time to time I've even felt its presence warming me. But I've started to wonder about this whole flaming-ball-of-gas thing. I mean, the ancient Greeks believed that the sun was really a chariot flying across the sky driven by a Titan in a crown. Ancient Egyptians believed that The Sun was the Eye of Ra. Who am I to go against what they believed? Maybe they were right and I was wrong. It's kind of tough to figure out, though, because even people who believe in The Sun don't agree... the Greeks and Egyptians believed The Sun was male, but I hear the Vikings believed The Sun was a woman.

Besides, what about people who live in caves all their lives? For them The Sun doesn't even exist. I mean, I've always been "taught" that life on planet Earth wouldn't be able to exist at all without The Sun, but those cave people live without The Sun their whole lives and they seem to be doing OK. It seems like people who believe in The Sun without reservation are kind of dogmatic and closed-minded.

What I'm really wondering, though, is whether it really matters whether I believe in The Sun or not. If it exists, it exists whether I believe in it or not. If I believe The Sun is a shiny huge grapefruit, and it's actually a shiny huge pool cue ball, I don't automatically change it into a grapefruit. I guess it would be pretty arrogant of me to think I could make The Sun be whatever I wanted, assuming that it does exist up there somewhere. And I'm not even sure that it's possible to prove that The Sun exists. I mean, if The Sun is a king in a chariot, maybe he would hit me with his scepter if I tried to find him. If it's a flaming ball of gas, I would probably catch on fire if I tried to get too close. I guess all I can do is keep trying to find out things about The Sun and maybe I can figure out what the real truth is. What I "think" doesn't really matter if what I think is not fact. The Sun can't possibly be a grapefruit and an eyeball. I'm going to keep searching for clues until I figure out which one it is.

Friday, October 26, 2007

If You Think It

Why is it that "intellectuals" seem to feel such a need to attack Christianity?

This morning I was listening to a CD of a lighthearted sci-fi story that was produced for radio. Every once in a while in the story, there is a little break where two female androids talk about stuff. Often it is silly stuff, like the time they talked about what sheep dream (an homage to the title of Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, the short story that the movie Blade Runner was based on). The music bed behind them is some trancelike techno music, with the ultimate effect being that the clips almost have the feel of subliminal advertising or what some might look at as some kind of mild hypnosis. Generally it's fun stuff, but this morning I was surprised to hear the androids say (I'm paraphrasing; I don't have the CD with me):
If you believe it, it is true. For you. If you believe that Jesus is your savior, He is!
The obvious implication being that Jesus as savior exists only to those who are dumb enough to swallow the whole thing. It's all in your mind. The next break with the androids in it talked about "barking up the wrong intellectual tree," accompanied by the sound of dogs barking. (To be fair, the android breaks seldom seem to have any connection with each other, but I wanted to illustrate the cynical humor present in the breaks.)

My question is this: why was Jesus targeted? Why not Mohammed or Shiva or Zeus or Krishna? Why not The Flying Spaghetti Monster, for goodness sakes? My hope is that it's because Christianity is so prevalent in Western civilization. The humor might be less obvious if the joke was about, say, Quetzalcoatl or Ra. But it does make me wonder if the attacks are because Christianity is a big target, or because of the germ of truth that nags in the back of the mind of those who struggle intellectually against God.

By definition God cannot be understood; He is the creator and we are the creation, thus the reality we live in is within and smaller than the reality He lives in, so His reality is difficult or maybe impossible to figure out unless He reveals it to us. Intellectuals like to figure things out (I ought to know, I'm one of them). Maybe smart folks "attack" God because they want to understand but can't, and it makes them afraid.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

parent gifting

I've many times heard ministers talking about how when their son or daughter approaches them with a heart of gratitude and love and asks them for something, the child can get whatever he or she wants. This is used to illustrate how God provides us what we need when we ask Him in faith. The whole metaphor seems sort of flawed to me, though... if I had unlimited funds, would I give my son anything he asked me for? If I did, he would wind up spoiled and with no appreciation for any of it! And then again... does God give me anything at all that I ask for? Of course not. If I ask to be president of the moon, it's not likely to happen, at least not until someone LIVES on the moon. If I ask to be the owner of Microsoft... well, someone already owns Microsoft. And then there are the times when we feel we have made perfectly reasonable requests of God, and yet He does not seem to come through. What about those?

So what's my point? I don't exactly know. The Word specifically tells us that God will supply all of our needs... but I don't know that it says He will supply everything we want. I would never withhold food or clothing or shelter or love from my child, but I might withhold candy or a toy in certain situations. Maybe God, as our loving Father, works things out in a similar way. Maybe there's some sort of God-logic to when He answers "want" prayers. But I guess it doesn't hurt to ask, right? "You have not because you ask not" it says!

(I don't really want to be president of the moon, though.)

Thursday, October 4, 2007


I've been thinking about what people call "spirituality" for a while now. Particularly this comes up in the arts... musicians, actors, those types. People who have no real understanding of God or religious beliefs. "I'm not religious, but I'm a very spiritual person." This bothers me, because unless you are in a relationship with God, the Bible says that you are dead spiritually. Which means that this "spirituality" has no basis in the real spirit world... it's all human emotion, empathy with other human beings or being in touch with nature, that sort of thing. In the long run, it's not spirituality... it's being human. That's not the same thing.

This becomes dangerous when just the kind of attitude I quoted before comes about: "I'm not religious, but I'm spiritual." When humanity starts being called spirituality, it leads people to intellectually believe that they are in touch with whatever "spirit" is, and so they are off the hook to figure it out: I don't need your Christianity, they might think, because I'm already very spiritual.

Spirituality is not being in touch with our feelings. It's not being in touch with The Human Race At Large. It is not feeling sympathy for things in nature. It is not a feeling of wonder at a sunrise. Spirituality is being in relationship with God. Those other things might take you somewhere into the neighborhood of spirituality, but they are the means, not the end. Spirituality is, in a nutshell, meeting God and joining His family.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007


Today I was walking down some stairs with a handrail, and a series of thoughts hit me in rapid succession:

1. I wonder who else has had his or her hand on this handrail?
2. Maybe nasty stinky persons... ew.
3. Maybe someone I wouldn't mind being friends with.
4. I wonder if I'd want to hold hands with those persons? I hold hands with lots of different people during prayer time at church.
5. Why would it seem repulsive to touch something someone has touched?
6. Why would it seem repulsive to touch someONE?
7. God is not repulsed by us... by ANY of us. Even the nasty stinky persons.
8. Why is that?
9. Because God doesn't look at the state of our bodies as the final indicator of our worth... He sees the worth he constructed within each of us.

All that before I reached the end of the stairway! Maybe I'm deep or maybe I'm trite, but that's my deep thought for the morning...

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

White Stag

I was just listening to the Roar of Love album from 2nd Chapter of Acts. The album is based on The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, and the last song, "White Stag," is about the hunt for the stag at the end of the book. Interesting how the children, now grown into adults, begin to see landmarks of their previous journey (the lamppost is the main example) but have forgotten what the landmarks are. They follow the signs anyway, and they wind up children in "our" world again. Since the white stag is clearly a symbol for Aslan/Christ (or maybe for the Holy Spirit, since Aslan generally appears in the books as a lion?), the picture that presented itself to me was this: when we grow "old" and have lost sense of the true landmarks of our spiritual journey, sometimes God will lead us into a place where we can become children again.

Food for thought.

Thursday, September 27, 2007


I attend a church that believes, and I believe myself, that prayer actually causes things to happen, not by making God do something or by changing Him, but by giving Him free rein to act in a realm where mankind has been given authority (Luke 10:19) and dominion (Genesis 1:26). Anyway, we believe that Christians can pray for sick people and God will heal them. Lately, though, something has been eating at me a little bit. I hear things in people's prayers like describing to God what He needs to do ("God, just open those arteries and clean them out, flush the crud out that's clogging them up, cause the blood to flow freely!" "Lord, just make that cold go away, clear out the phlegm and inflammation, cause that cold bug to just die!" etc.) It's almost like we think God doesn't really know what's wrong with the person's body... like he's a first-year med student who needs a guidebook or something. Even worse, I hear phrases like "from the top of her head to the soles of her feet" that really add nothing to the prayer but words. And then I think about Matthew 6:7-8 and wonder if we are not sometimes in danger of going where those Gentiles of yesteryear went.

I guess in a sense we pray hoping to build up the faith of the person we are praying for... intending somehow to show that we empathize with them. Or maybe we have heard prayers like that which contained genuine words of prophetic knowledge from God where the person praying speaks details he could not possibly know without a word from the Holy Spirit, and we subconsciously try to emulate that. Or, sadly, maybe we as the praying persons are trying to kind of rev ourselves up so we feel like our prayers are getting traction somehow. I don't know why the tendency is there... I've fallen victim to it myself... but it seems to me that the work is God's and the faith is ours. A prayer of "God, heal him!" that has behind it the understanding and faith that God can and wants to heal that person, likely will work better than all the top of the heads and soles of feet we can muster.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Reflections on "Reflections on the Psalms" - part 2

"One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple." (Psalm 27:4 ESV)

"I have been told of a very small and very devout boy who was heard murmuring to himself on Easter morning a poem of his own composition which began 'Chocolate eggs and Jesus risen.'" (C.S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms)

C.S. Lewis believed that when the writer of Psalm 27 wrote that he wanted to "gaze upon the beauty of the Lord," he wasn't talking about an emotional experience... he was talking about the beautiful ceremonies that were performed at the temple. To that Psalmist, the ceremony and the "beauty of the Lord" were indistinguishable. Likewise, the boy who wrote the poem about the Easter eggs did not yet see the distinction between the treat and the religious event. On the other hand, as adults in the 21st century, we are accustomed to looking at the ceremony as one thing and the presence of God as something else. God is not the drumbeat or the lights or the smoke or the tune we're singing, we believe; it is perfectly possible to attend service and never "gaze upon the beauty of the Lord" (which, from our perspective, would probably be expressed more as "feeling the Spirit" or something like that).

Several times Jesus told His disciples that we were to approach Him as children. If a child doesn't see any difference between performing a ceremony for God and being in the presence of God, maybe we're looking at it the wrong way. I've been in church services myself lots of times when I didn't "feel" anything special. Horror of horrors... some of those times I was standing on the choir risers! Does that mean that God was not present? Of course not... God is always present. Now... if I don't "feel" the emotional urging to praise God during a particular service, does that mean I should not sing, clap, even jump or whatever? Let's assume that I sing and clap anyway. If I do so but never feel anything "spiritual" the whole time, does that mean that I didn't actually praise God? What if I come to service with a desire to worship the Lord, and then I participate in the service and enjoy it the same way I might enjoy a rock concert, never feeling anything that I would call "spiritual" but simply rejoicing and having a good time... did I mess up? Is it OK to rejoice just to rejoice in Jesus, without a specific "prompting" from the Holy Spirit?

Chocolate eggs and Jesus risen! God is present whether you "feel" Him or not, and when you join in worship with a congregation that has come together to honor God, whether you "feel" it or not, God is honored. What, are we supposed to feel bad if we enjoy the music? It's totally OK to taste the candy as long as you know that the reason it's there in the first place is because of the Resurrection. Don't misunderstand; I believe strongly that worship comes from the heart of the believer, and I MUCH prefer it when I can feel it coming from my heart. But there's no reason for any of us to feel like we have somehow failed to worship God if we don't get all mushy or something. We can express the Lord's "beauty" anyway, knowing in faith that we will feel it... if not today, next Sunday or the Sunday after that. Usually when I kiss my wife, my heart flutters. But if something's going on and I'm tired or sick or preoccupied and my heart doesn't flutter one time, I kiss her anyway, and I know it will flutter the next time, because I love her. Love God in worship, whether your emotions are there "this time" or not. God accepts your praise and worship regardless!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Reflections on "Reflections on the Psalms" - part 1

Recently I read C.S. Lewis' Reflections on the Psalms, and as a member of the worship department at my church a few parts stood out to me. Here's part 1.
“If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mine. Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats? Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the Most High, and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.” (Psalm 50:12-15 ESV)

"The world rings with praise -- lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favorite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favorite game..." (C.S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms)
Does God "need" our praise? Of course not. God is self-sufficient; he needs nothing. In fact, it is not unreasonable to assume that if God needed someone to praise Him, he could come up with a better option than fallen, soiled, sinful old us. God has spotless glorious angels all around Him, for crying out loud. Besides... does God need someone to give Him a little boost to His self-image? Ridiculous! So why do we praise?

C.S. Lewis observed that whenever we enjoy something, that enjoyment automatically spills out into proselytizing. Did you just see a great movie? You want to tell everyone about it! How about a concert from your favorite band? Did you just see a rainbow? You're going to be talking about it! The telling, according to Lewis, is actually part of the enjoyment! The joy that you feel becomes more complete when you share it with someone else... especially if they enjoy it as much as you do. Maybe that's one of the reasons that God commands us to praise Him; until we do we cannot fully enjoy Him as He wants to be enjoyed.

For the record: I don't think the phrase "sacrifice of thanksgiving" was intended to have the meaning we give it these days. A "sacrifice" to us means something that is hard, undesirable, probably even painful. But if you look in the Old Testament, it was simply something that you were commanded by God to do... like tithing, or Communion. I don't think that struggling with the worship service makes it a "sacrifice of thanksgiving." To take the metaphor in context, you'd have to guess that it's a "sacrifice of thanksgiving" if we simply offer thanks to God in the way He has prescribed, whether the process of offering it was painful or pleasurable. Praise God to enjoy Him!

Monday, July 23, 2007

The Gospel of Inclusion by Carlton Pearson

I've been taking a look at The Gospel of Inclusion, Carlton Pearson's book about the changes that have come about in his Theology in the past few years (see this Christdot item and the comments for more details). I did not expect to be swayed to his way of thinking, but I always try to look at everything with an open mind. Sometimes, even in things that are far more off-base than Carlton's book is, there is a glimmer of truth. I was looking for that, and I think there is a glimmer there... but more than that, there is confusion and misrepresentation both of the Bible and what it teaches, and in what others believe about it.

I was shocked to read this sentence right no page 7: "The so-called word of God, referred to as the Bible, is less the true logos (Greek for 'meaningful thought') of God but rather the word of man about God, as man perceives Him or Deity." Seems like maybe that's where he and I begin to part ways. That sentence gets us started on the familiar, slippery slope of relativism. If there is no definitive record of God's intentions for His creation, then most of the Bible was "made up" by Paul, Moses, David, and whoever, and I am as free to make up something about God as they were. I get the impression that Carlton does not include the recorded words of Jesus Himself in this, but he never clearly says if he thinks the words recorded as coming from Jesus' mouth can be considered the words of God or not.

Carlton apparently began his journey into inclusivism while watching the TV news. He saw images of people suffering and dying in some remote corner of the world, and cried out to God that it wasn't fair that God was sending those people to Hell and that Carlton was not able to go "save" them. He says God told him that He had already saved them, and that that wasn't Carlton's job. The crazy thing is that this is absolutely TRUE. God has already done all He is going to do to bring Salvation to the world (the work fo Christ on the Cross); there is nothing you or I can do to bring it to anyone but ourselves. But Carlton makes the faulty jump of logic that if the work is done, then everyone is already "saved." The fact is that there is nothing we can do to "earn" our Salvation, and in fact even the one thing we need to have in order to be saved is faith that comes directly from God (Ephesians 2:8-9), but we do have to "accept" our salvation for it to go into effect.

What Carlton is forgetting is that God has given us a free will. God does not force anyone to accept the sacrifice of Christ and obtain Salvation. However, Carlton is right that it is available to everyone.

I have a friend who believes that each individual has a choice presented to them at the point of death... they can choose God at that point, or they can choose to reject God. He bases this idea on a near-death experience that he once had himself. If that is the case, then even those starving, tormented people Carlton saw on his TV will have that chance to choose. And logically, evangelism could be seen as providing people exposure to a truth that will help them make an informed decision at that point, whether they actively embraced Christianity during their lifetime or not. I can't say that I know this for a fact, and in my own life I am seeking to live for God every day and I'm not waiting for a post-death-bed conversion, but that is one theory that could explain how people could be "without excuse" (Romans 1:20) for rejecting Jesus.

Carlton also seems to have some misconceptions about the place called Hell. Carlton seems to think that Christianity says that Hell was made for people, and that God sends them there. Maybe that's what some churches teach, but the Bible clearly states that Hell is a place that was made to contain Satan and his cohorts, but that people will indeed wind up there (Matthew 25:41-46), but it will be because of their own choices, not because of God's vengefulness.

I got a feeling while reading the book that Carlton has thrown out the baby with the bathwater. He has rejected some of the excesses and errors he has seen in the Christian Church's attitudes, and has substituted his own excesses and errors. Jus because Salvation has been made available to all, does not mean that all will accept it. Just because people wind up in Hell does not mean that God wants them there. And just because some Christians believe things that are off base does not mean that everything they believe is off base.

I look at the picture of Carlton on the cover of the book... I look at his eyes... and they don't look particularly peaceful to me. They are partly closed, and one eyebrow is in an almost sardonic arch. His smile turns down at the corners. I realize that ofthen photos capture things in a way that misrepresents them (the other day a friend showed me a picture of a little girl giving her mommy a pretty evil-looking, red-eye look for playing with someone else's new baby!) but for something like the cover of a book, you would expect the publisher and author to choose the picture that they feel best represents the author. I very much believe that you can tell something about an individual by looking at his eyes, but I hope what I perceive in Carlton's eyes is not what is really there. Maybe he was tired from finishing up the book. Maybe I'm seeing the stress of getting rejected for your honest beliefs. I do firmly believe that Carlton himself will go to Heaven, but I also believe that he is bringing confusion to a subject that should be clarified, not muddied. I hope that Carlton is able to find the peaceful place to live in that God wants for him (and each of us).

Jesus completed Salvation on the Cross. YES. Salvation is available to all. YES. Yes, even you on the back row. Everyone is already "saved"? In one sense, sorta. God considers the Salvation of all purchased and completed. But Salvation MUST BE ACCEPTED by faith. If Salvation is rejected when offered, that person has damned himself to Hell. God doesn't want us in Hell; God wants to bring us life. However, if we choose death over life and cursing over blessing, God will not go against our free will.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Reading The Bible To Children

I ran across this blog post via this post on the ESV blog. This paragraph caught my attention:
Obviously you’re not going to read the first chapter of Matthew (a long list of “begats”) in family worship time. And you’re probably not going to read the Song of Solomon (at least not until they’re a bit older). But the narrative sections of the Old Testament and the parables in the Gospels are excellent sources for family worship and they’re short enough to keep even the shortest attention spans engaged.
I have a 7-year-old and we started off this year with the intention of trying to make our way through the Bible using The NIV Narrated Bible. Now, keep in mind that I've READ the Pentateuch. Unlike some people who maybe haven't spent a lot of time in the Scriptures, I knew the steamy stuff that was in there. Heck, we well-informed Christdot regulars know that there have even been efforts to classify the Bible as pornographic in some countries. So maybe I should have been prepared a little better for questions about those "narrative sections of the Old Testament." I would encourage parents who are thinking about reading the actual Bible to their children... and I am not trying to discourage that by any means... to read ahead. Know the maturity level of your kids and especially how much about sex you are willing to explain to them. If you've read the whole book of Genesis, you know what I mean. If you haven't, now's the time! At least do it before you read it out loud to children. You might save yourself some embarrassment!

Friday, May 25, 2007

Swimming Without God

Help me out God
I need a little something
Turn the brights on
I can't see where we're going cause I don't know
when things'll work out just fine
Or if this road we're on leads us up
Or is leading me on down to my wishing well
Where I might drown
Oh I might drown
'Cause I can't swim without you God
I can't swim without you God

from "Help Me Out God" from the album Karaoke Superstars by Superchick

I was listening to this song the other day and it got me thinking. You know, there are millions of people who live out their lives without God. Some of them actively reject God, some maybe never hear of God, but many of them do "just fine" and, to all outward appearances, lead happy, healthy lives. So it struck me that if this song is literal, that means the songwriter is someone who desperately needs a crutch to lean on... someone who is at best a weakling, and at worst, codependent. No matter if God is real or not; if you "can't make it without God" then all of those millions of atheists and heathens are of stronger mind and character than you.

There are lots of songs like this one out there in Christian music. I think maybe some of them owe a lot to a legacy of similarly codependent "love songs" in the nonreligious realm... "Tell me how am I supposed to live without you, now that I've been lovin' you so long? How am I supposed to live without you? How am I supposed to carry on when all that I've been livin' for is gone?" (thank you, Michael Bolton!) I could probably come up with more examples, but you get the picture. We want to apply those strong, inspiring words to Jesus because we feel like Jesus deserves strong, inspiring words. And He does. But...

A few months ago my father-in-law lost his wife to death. He is in his sixties, and they got married as teenagers. He loves her very, very much. He misses her every day. In fact, he still feels unable to do certain things... drive very far, concentrate for long periods of time, things like that. But you know... as much as he loves her and needs her, he is carrying on. And I think he has a really good shot at living a long life even though she is gone. Some who lose spouses that they are devoted to even go on to remarry and have equally loving relationships with another spouse... I was talking to a friend just a few weeks ago who lost his much-loved first wife to death, but then eventually he met and married a wonderful woman who he is also devoted to. Fact is, well-adjusted human beings are very resilient, and at the risk of sounding callous, I'll state the obvious fact that often we can recover from things we think we can never recover from.

So if songs like "Help Me Out God" have a possible heritage in faulty pop love songs, is there validity in songs like that applied to Christ? That depends on whether those sentiments are Scriptural. I spent an afternoon racking my brain, trying to think of a place in the Gospels, Paul's letters, the Psalms for goodness sake... ANYWHERE that says that once you become a believer in God, after that point your physical survival depends on maintaining your relationship with God. I don't see it. The best I could do was this:
I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. -John 15:5 ESV
But the fact is, that doesn't really prove our point. That's Jesus talking, and Jesus isn't interested in any good deeds we perform in our own strength:
We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. -Isaiah 64:6 ESV
In other words, from God's point of view, if He did not initiate your activities, whatever you are doing counts as nothing. Jesus wasn't saying that you would stop breathing if you turned away from God. Although I guess it could be argued that if Jesus turned His back on us, the fabric of the universe might disintegrate:
And he [Christ Jesus] is before all things, and in him all things hold together. - Colossians 1:17 ESV
But now we're going places that the Superchick song isn't going. Clearly we can physically survive without God. We cannot accomplish anything for His Kingdom without His help, but I don't find it in Scripture that we must stay in fellowship with God for our physical or emotional survival. God's people are not weaklings; we are human beings like everyone else, but if we say stuff like "I can't live without God!" we present a picture to the unsaved that we do not want to present... basically, we are saying that we are weaker than they, because they are likely doing just fine without God where we would emotionally fall to pieces without Him holding things together. No wonder atheists often say that Christians are weak-minded. We basically say it ourselves.

Don't get me wrong; I enjoy that Superchick song. And you know, sometimes I feel like I would crack up without God helping me out. And I know that my life has meaning and purpose to it that it would not have if I didn't have Jesus giving me direction and empowering me to do what He has instructed me to do. But from a purely human standpoint, I am as stable physically and emotionally as the next guy. I'm not too weak to function in life without some spiritual "crutch," but I do know a good thing when I see it. If I have the choice to walk five miles to the store or drive in my car, I'd be stupid to walk, especially if I had a load to carry home. I have the option of leading a life without God or living a life with God. It's possible without God; it's better with God.

I choose God.

Friday, April 20, 2007

!Hero, The Musical

I discovered today that !Hero: The Rock Opera is now being licensed for local theater groups to perform! See for more details.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Wrath Of God

Romans 1:18 (ESV) says:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.
Did you notice that "the wrath of God" is not focused on the "men"? God's wrath is not against people. God's wrath is aimed squarely at sin... unrighteousness, ungodliness. It's only when we hang on to our sin that we potentially can wind up in the crosshairs. I'm so glad that Jesus made it possible for us to divorce ourselves from our sin once and for all and experience HIS righteousness!

Friday, April 6, 2007

Brick Friday

For those of us who would like to think about what we are celebrating this weekend but who maybe fall asleep actually reading a Bible, here's one with pictures:

the last few days of Jesus' life on Earth, told in Legos

Monday, March 5, 2007

Give away the ESV!

Last week when I was at a Christian bookstore in our town picking up the new Veggie Tales DVD for my little boy, I picked up ten copies of the ESV Outreach New Testament. I've had a link to information about them up on ever since I first found out about them, but I hadn't been to a Christian bookstore to pick up some copies. I really like the ESV, and wanted a chance to share it with others. And at fifty cents per copy, you can't beat the value! I plopped down a fiver and was able to give a copy of the ESV New Testament to everyone in my Sunday School class. The print is kind of small, but it's a great introduction to the ESV for people who maybe haven't heard of it or haven't had occasion to try it out.

Friday, March 2, 2007

What destroys the yoke?

The KJV of Isaiah 10:27 says:
And it shall come to pass in that day, that his burden shall be taken away from off thy shoulder, and his yoke from off thy neck, and the yoke shall be destroyed because of the anointing.
This week I was listening to a message where this passage was used as evidence that the anointing of the Holy Spirit (I guess roughly analogous to the Holy Spirit's power working in our lives) is what "destroys" the yoke of slavery. Problem is, I was reading the passage out of my ESV:
And in that day his burden will depart from your shoulder, and his yoke from your neck; and the yoke will be broken because of the fat.
A footnote on the word "fat" says "The meaning of the Hebrew is uncertain." The NIV and the NAS both go with "fat" as the proper interpretation. The RSV text, from which both the ESV and the NAS were adapted, seems to go with something totally different:
And in that day his burden will depart from your shoulder, and his yoke will be destroyed from your neck." He has gone up from Rimmon...
The Strong's definition of the word lists the meanings of the word as both "fat" and "oil" (as in anointing oil), with the KJV translating it most often as "oil." What I'm curious to find out is why, since "anointing" seems to be a translation that makes sense (at least to a layman) because of the association with olive oil, and "fat" makes no apparent sense at all... why would so many of the mainstream translations have gone with "fat"?

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Flesh or Spirit?

Yesterday I finished a book called Shepherding a Child's Heart by Tedd Tripp. As I read it I kept tripping over things that I didn't particularly agree with, and sometimes I think Pastor Tripp contradicts himself in trivial ways, but by the end of the book I think I understood what he was driving at. Basically, by "shepherding" your children, you train them, over the course of their childhood, not just to "do what is right" but to do it the right way... to do it from their hearts, by the power of the Holy Spirit, not by willpower or whatever. Children are fallen beings, the book reminds us, like we all are, and cannot obey "the law" (Moses' law or Mommy & Daddy's law, it doesn't matter) by works of the flesh.

It's that "like we all are" part that sort of stuck with me. What about me? How often do I do the right thing because of my own willpower, or the knowledge that I'll get in trouble or get arrested or get fired if I do the wrong things, or because someone will get mad and yell at me, or...? Do we forgive others because God's nature rises up in us, or so that the fight will be over and we can go back to normal life? Do we resist chewing out that rude stranger in the grocery store because God helps us to have self-control, or because we don't want to make a scene or because we are afraid of reprisals by that stranger? I've begun to think that most well-adjusted, law-abiding adults act that way because they know that they have to or else there will be unwanted consequences. I want to train both my children and myself to live and act by the Spirit of God inside us as often as possible, and to do the right thing by fleshly means as seldom as possible.

Monday, January 8, 2007


Saturday we went to see the first theatrical release from FoxFaith Movies, THREE (based on the novel by Ted Dekker). The movie is a psychological thriller, along the lines of Speed or The Silence of the Lambs, or more recently Saw or SE7EN, except without three things: (1) gory crime scenes, (2) nudity, and (3) profanity.

So the question is... is it better for the omission of those things, or worse, or neither? I'd say that as someone who enjoys that kind of movie but has not been able to watch much intense stuff since I have a young child in the house... I enjoyed it very much! The movie is low-budget, but the story is solid and keeps you guessing, and the twist at the end totally caught me off guard. We saw it with friends, and everyone seemed to enjoy it, so that's a good sign. Critics have compared it unfavorably to other movies (particularly Saw for the plot similarity, SE7EN for title similarity, and a 2002 movie called Adaptation which is about a screenwriter who mentions an idea he has for a movie with the same twist at the end as this one!), but I can't say that it seemed like a hack to me. If FoxFaith can up the ante on budget and move on from here, this is a FABULOUS starting point!