Tuesday, August 27, 2013

What Shall I Wear to Worship?

       The question stated in the title of this blog is a good one to ask. It matters on many different levels. It matters because how we present ourselves to God matters. It matters because how we present ourselves to fellow Christians matters. It matters because how we present ourselves to the world matters. Of course, the question of what we wear matters outside of our worshiping God as well, but rarely do I see discussions and debates about that get as heated as what we wear when worshiping God. In light of this question getting oft brought up and discussed, I thought I might attempt to add my thoughts to the discussion as well.

       First, it would probably be good to discuss modesty. Modesty, in many ways, is defined by the culture in which one lives. Now let me make it clear that I do not believe that culture allows us to transgress God's laws if our culture is accepting of some act or way of living if God has forbidden it. That being said, there is clear Biblical evidence, as well as logical conclusions, that what is modest can be greatly affected and shaped for the Christian by the culture in which they live. Consider I Corinthians 11:2-5;13-16 for a moment.

Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you.  But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.  Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven...Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a wife to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering. If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God.

       Notice hear that Paul is discussing prayer, one way in which we can worship God, and in context is talking about a time in which they have gathered as an assembly. Paul talks about how it is not only shameful for a man who prays and prophecies have long hair, but how it is also shameful for a woman who has her head uncovered when she prays or prophecies, and is no different than her head being shaven. Paul mentions that even nature teaches that long hair on a man is shameful, but in what way? Is man inherently opposed to having long hair, while women are inherently opposed to having short or shaved hair? Not at all, rather, the word nature here refers to a learned behavior or way of life, one that was defined by their culture. Because of what it would lead others to think about them, there were some things they could not do because of society's disdain for them. Does our society view all long hair on men as shameful, or does long hair insinuate some sort of sinful lifestyle? How long is too long? What about short hair on women? Is it viewed with shame, or does it suggest something immoral? How short is too short?

       We can also consider I Timothy 2:9, which addresses the appearance of women in a congregational worship setting.

I Timothy 2:9 likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire,

       Should we conclude from this if a woman today wears her hair in a fancy braid, wears any sort of jewelry, or costly attire (at what price does it become costly attire?) is in sin when she worships with other Christians? If so, then there is an extremely large group of women that need to be corrected! No, instead we see in two different epistles that how Christians were to dress were influenced and affected in many ways by the culture in which they live, and we can see this in practice still today. When I do mission work in Jamaica, there is a cultural dress that is very different from what I am used to, and if I wore what I might normally wear in America, I would stand out, maybe even be considered a show-off. In like manner, a friend and brother of mine who preaches in the Philippines described what they might normally wear, and it would be considered beyond casual in many American churches today.

       Now there are passages within the Old Testament that refer to the topic of clothing while worshiping God, and while the Old Testament was "written for our learning," we must remember that it was to guide us to the new covenant. There is much within that old covenant that focuses on the outward, and ritual, and it is important to note that, but it is also important to note that these things were a shadow of the ethics and behavior of God's kingdom on earth, and so we much be very careful in picking and choosing what we pull from the old covenant as principles for better understanding the new. Did the priests under the old covenant have a certain garb? Certainly, though it is also the case that the average priest had a much more plain garment than the high priest, and that, according to Leviticus 16, when the high priest went behind the veil on the day of atonement, he too would have a much plainer garb than he would in his normal day to day duties, but is the principle in that to be that God's priests today need to have the best clothing by society's definition? I would not personally be quick to jump to that conclusion. 

       Other than those two passages we noticed above, I cannot find much of anything in the New Testament that is very specific on our outward appearance when it comes to worshiping God. That is not to say there aren't any, just that as I write this I am not aware of any others. There are a plethora of verses though that talk about the inward "dress" of man though. Other than noting that we should not go out publicly, and even in worship with other Christians, in a way that would cause society look at us in shame and to question our morality, God seems more concerned about the condition of our heart and mind when we come and worship Him.

       I would imagine though that whenever this topic is discussed, people expect some sort of discussion on the typical suit and tie that many of the more conservative churches seem to expect. Should we simply rebel against this? Well, no, not if it will cause division and strife, and not if it will cause the brethren and/or the world to look on you with shame, or to question your morality. If I am preaching, there is a 99.9% chance that you will find me wearing a suit. Why? Because I feel it is the right garb for a preacher to wear? Not at all, but normally because it is what is expected and I do not wish for the focus to be on me, what I'm wearing, and why I might be wearing something unexpected. 

       At the same time though, we as Christians do not need to grab onto this particular trend for "worship wear," and hold on so tight that it becomes something we bind. And let us also be honest with the fact that even though we might often say we don't bind the issue of wearing some particular type of dress clothing to worship, that can often found that it is implicitly bound, or that we find ourselves like those in James 2 who begin to judge someone based on what they are wearing. We might find ourselves worrying so much about what someone is wearing, wondering if they didn't have anything better to give to God, or how we just saw them at a funeral in suit last week, yet for worship they wear jeans and a polo, that we end up compromising our ability to properly worship in the process.

       What many fail to take note of is that America is currently in the middle of a generational change. We might notice it in the sense that we note all of the bad things that are happening, but in doing so we might fail to remember that generational, or cultural, change is not inherently bad, and even if many aspects of it are, it doesn't mean all of it is. The Millennial generation has recently surpassed the Baby Boomers for the largest generation in America. Baby Boomers are also at the point where they are getting much closer to retirement, if not already there, while Millennials are entering the work force, or may be at a point where they are taking many of the powerful and influential positions from the past few generations. That means that our culture is in somewhat of a flux right now. We've seen that that can bring about a lot of negative, and ungodly changes, but it also connects back to the principle of modesty we noted earlier.

       Because we are in a flux, it can hard to always pinpoint the cultural side of modesty. We have many Baby Boomers still in positions of influence and power, speaking of a secular sense, that hold on to many of their generations cultural concepts of modesty and what is appropriate. At the same time, we have many Millennials who are bringing in what their culture deems as modest and appropriate, and so we have a good bit of friction and strife that may come up because of it, and the problem is that this friction and strife is not always kept out of the Lord's church. We have many well established brethren from the strong Baby Boomer generation, and at the same time have a great number of Millennial brethren that are reaching the point where they are expected to help lead the congregations, and both have scruples and aspects of culturally based modesty that they hold onto, and so friction and strife occurs, and both sides grab on tightly to their scruples, and their generational culture, and hold on tight, refusing to budge, and at the same time questioning the love that the other group has for the Lord, how devoted are the really if they would act or appear in such a way, how they are trying to bind what is not bound or lose what is not loosed. Consider this quote from C.S. Lewis on the topic of modest clothing in the midst of a cultural and generational shift:

"While this confusion lasts I think that old, or old-fashioned, people should be very careful not to assume that young or 'emancipated' people are corrupt whenever they are (by the old standard) improper; and, in return, the young people should not call their elders prudes or puritans because they do not easily adopt the new standard. A real desire to believe all the good you can of others and to make others as comfortable as you can will solve most of the problems."

       If we fail to do have the understanding and Biblical attitude towards cultural bound modesty what is the result? Well ultimately we get so caught up in these little cultural battles over things that are not as important as either side may make them out to be, and were never going to be permanent in the first place, as change in culture will always happen, that we lose the opportunity to be a light to the world. We get so caught up in nitpicking little things that are more of a matter of the culture in which we grew up than an actual Bible command or desire of God, that we lose our ability to be effective in teaching people that God's church is about how groups of people can all find common ground despite generational or cultural differences, and how God's kingdom focuses on what is eternal rather than what is temporary. And the problem is that both sides of this generation change are to blame.

       Of course, I also have to ask the question of consistency in how we practice these issues. Many brethren have asked why men might wear suits to the morning worship service of a congregation, but just jeans and a casual button up at night, and while I might disagree with the conclusion they have about what to wear, their question is no doubt a valid one. What is the difference between the two services one might attend on a Sunday? But what about other times where the congregation worships together in some fashion? What about Wednesday night when we have singing, praying, and teaching? Should our Sunday garb not be the same, or does the fact that we collect an offering and partake in the Lord's Supper on Sunday change what we are expected to wear? What about a youth devotional? What if I am worshiping alone, singing songs of praise to God? If God expects me to appear a certain way when with the saints, is it different if I'm alone? These are questions that BOTH sides of the issue need to consider if they are going to take the time to debate and discuss the issue to any real depth.

       To make a short conclusion to a rather lengthy post, maybe it would better for us to stop nit-picking a number of different issues that are going to end up being, Biblically speaking, affected a great deal by the cultural stance on things, and focus on perfecting unity with one another despite differences, all while being an example to the world what the church is supposed to be. Does that mean I have the answer to the question in the title? Not entirely. I do believe the Millennial generation still has a sense of respect of reverence for what they wear outwardly when it comes to worshiping God though it might not match up to the older standard, just as much as I believe that the older standard holds a greatly needed respect for the act of coming before God in worship and praise that many Millennials today need to learn from and practice as well. Might there be a middle, and hopefully Biblical, ground for us all to stand on?


Thursday, August 8, 2013

Are You Holding on to a Letter that Kills?

             Paul's second epistle to Corinth is one that deals with many of the false charges from Jewish "converts" who were trying to maintain the Law of Moses alongside the "perfect law of liberty" (James 2:8). At the start of II Corinthians 3, Paul defends himself by pointing to the very people that were questioning his credibility, the church at Corinth that he had planted. In verses 1-4, Paul notes that one could know his character based on what he taught, and how the churches he planted lived. If he was representing God and godliness, then the congregations he planted or taught would follow God as well.

            Following the example of the church at Corinth though, Paul then begins to contrast that which Corinthian Christians were taught by Paul to that which the Judaizers were teaching currently to those in Corinth. He does this by reminding the Christians what the purpose of the Old Testament was as well as what the purpose for the New Testament is, and how it excels in comparison to its forerunner.We will take the rest of this chapter verse by verse to discuss Paul's argument.
II Co 3:6  who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

     Paul has just noted that God had made him sufficient to preach the Gospel of Christ (Verse 5), and starts by making a contrast between what he calls "the letter" and "the spirit." Our part in study is to determine what Paul is referring to in by these two terms. 
     As we continue through the chapter, we quickly find that "the letter" refers to the Law of Moses that was given on Mount Sinai. In verse six, Paul refers to the "the letter" as something that kills, and in verse seven Paul writes, "Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone" and continues to reference the events between Moses and the Hebrews after Moses comes down from the mountain. It is here that it becomes clear what "the letter" that kills is. It is the entirety of the Law of Moses, which was written on stone. This begins with the Ten Commandments, and continues on through what is recorded in the book of Leviticus.

    Paul addresses the fact that Moses' face glowed for a period of time after receiving the law, and how he put a veil over his face (Exodus 34:29-35), but how it would fade away, and how that event was actually a foreshadowing of the fact that the Law of Moses itself would fade away as well.

    Along with identifying "the letter," we also need to identify what "the spirit" is that Paul places by the side of the Law of Moses. Many people try to define it, but we really have no need to as Paul himself defines it in verse seventeen. Paul writes, "Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom." Paul is clear that what he is contrasting here is that which was given to God's people by Moses and that which was given to God's people through Jesus. The two contrasting covenants both were given with a purpose, but God's people cannot be under both of the covenants at the same time.

II Co 3:7-8  Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses' face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? 

    When many entertain the thought that we are not under the Law of Moses, Ten Commandments included, cannot seem to fathom the thought. Paul makes it clear though that the Law of Moses was glorious, and had a specific purpose. One should never downplay anything that God has given as part of His ultimate purpose, but at the same time one should keep God's actions within their context and purpose. And so Paul notes that the Law of Moses came with glory, and that should be remembered, but from the inception of the Law of Moses, it began a process of being brought to an end to make way for the even more glorious teachings of Christ, the perfect law of liberty, and the question we must ask is, if there is a covenant that is more glorious than the Law of Moses, why would one want to bind themselves to the commands within Law of Moses?

II Co 3:9  For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory.

     As Paul continues making note of the contrast between the old and new covenants, he refers to one as the ministry of condemnation and the other as the ministry of righteousness. The Law of Moses is the ministry of condemnation (again, the letter kills!) because it was not designed to forgive sins and save individuals, but to teach people about how deep sin goes and how deeply it affects our relationship with God.Galatians 3:24 reminds us that the Law of Moses was a "tutor" or "guardian" to bring us to Christ so "that we might be justified by faith." The "tutor," or "paedagogus" described here was one that would lead young Jewish boys to school. As Albert Barnes wrote,
"It is true, that when the “paedagogus” was properly qualified, he assisted the children committed to his care in preparing their lessons. But still his main duty was not instruction, but it was to watch over the boys; to restrain them from evil and temptation; and to conduct them to the schools, where they might receive instruction."

      So while the Law of Moses was able to restrain them to an extent, the purpose was to lead, not to teach. And so it is in the law of liberty that one is able to find righteousness, and again, as we did with the last segment, we must ask, if the Law of Moses can only bring condemnation, and only the law of liberty can bring righteousness, which one do we want to be in submission to now?

II Co 3:12-16 Therefore, since we have such hope, we use great boldness of speech--unlike Moses, who put a veil over his face so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the end of what was passing away. But their minds were blinded. For until this day the same veil remains unlifted in the reading of the Old Testament, because the veil is taken away in Christ. But even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart. Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.

    Paul notes that he is able to have bold speech in what he teaches as minister for God and an apostle for Jesus because the law of liberty which he preaches is not one that fades away, is more glorious than the Law of Moses, and leads to righteousness rather than death.

    Paul then turns back to the illustration of Moses putting the veil over his face to make one last statement against the Judaizers who were condemning him and the work he was doing in the name of God. Paul makes the claim that those who are still trying to stick to the Old Testament, refusing to acknowledge what its true purpose was, and that it was not meant to last, but to lead to the messiah, are like Moses, covering their face with the veil. The difference is that when Moses went back before the Lord, he took the veil off, but these Jews refuse to lift theirs.

    We can then make the same comparison to the many today that so desperately want to hold on to the Law of Moses. Sometimes it might be just the Ten Commandments. Sometimes it might be just particular bits of the book of Leviticus that suit a moral argument they want to make. That is not to say that we should not study the Old Testament, because, like with the Jews, it can prepare us to better understand the messiah, and there are many shadows within it of things to come, as we've seen from this very post, but we should not confuse learning from the Old Testament with being bound to its law. By Paul's argument, those that wish to hold on desperately to being bound to any part of the Law of Moses are no different than the Judaizers who leave a veil over their hearts and minds. It is certainly a blunt statement, but one who would forego, or even weaken the ministry of righteousness that gives life needs just that!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Why My Wife and I Will Homeschool

This morning I read a blog post on Facebook (http://moralitycheck.wordpress.com/2013/04/18/ancient-boundaries-spiritual-liberty/) that provoked me to write a post I have had developing in my thoughts for a while now. It's about homeschooling. You see, I've got two children now. One is four, which means that a year from now, he will be of the age where most parents will be getting ready to send their child off to a public school to start Kindergarten. Kristen and I have decided to homeschool our son. We will also be among the group of parents getting ready this time a year from now to take our son to a public school and watch him start his first day of kindergarten there, probably to be sad all day about how quickly our son is growing up, and awaiting the moment we can go pick him up and see what all he did during the day. Maybe you're confused. You read above that we were going to homeschool Ben, only to read after that that we are planning on sending him to a public school. You read correctly.

As a parent, and then even more so as a Christian, I don't really see how anyone can escape the necessity of homeschooling their children. I may send my child off to a public school to learn knowledge about the world, to meet (and hopefully influence) other people his age that come from different backgrounds and cultures, and too enjoy many good friendships that come from such a place, but that never takes away the necessity for me to continue to teach him in the home as his father, and to have that be his main source of learning, and comfort, and growing as a person. I can't say that I know much about education of young people in the ancient world, but I can't help but think of Deuteronomy 6:5-9 when I consider my role as a parent. Moses said, "You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates." You see, regardless of any sort of teaching situation, the parents of children were commanded to teach their children through word and example about God. It isn't an option. Ben WILL be homeschooled no matter what because Kristen and I don't plan to abandon him as he grows.

In the article above, Andrew Warnes noted that he planned to homeschool his children in the sense that they would not be attending public school. He also notes though that quite often we can get into an unwarrented and unneeded firestorm over the issue within the church. At one point, those within the church that homeschooled might have been thought of as outcasts. They were trying to take their children out of the world. They had unrealistic expectations, and were keeping their children from being able to function in a world marred by sin. Certainly some families have had that result by the methods they have chosen.  Sometimes it seems the tables have turned though now, to the point that it often seems like those who choose to make use of public education are showing a lack of concern for their children's future, that they are throwing them to the wolves, and placing worldly knowledge in their mind while setting the children up to abandon God and His church. Again, there are certainly those who have achieved just this by the methods they choose, but just like with the homeschooling assumptions mentioned above, this is not usually the case at all, and all of us, regardless of what we choose for our children in the area of education, need to remember this.

If I were to be honest, Kristen and I haven't talked much about our decision to send Ben to public school simply because of worrying about what type of reaction we would get because of it. It would be nice to just be able to put off this feeling of worry on other people, but having conversation over this issue, and others that Christians may practice differently but aren't matters of salvation, is important, and it is something that I don't need to avoid either. It really seems that sometimes we get so worried about this issue and others that we cut off any ability to grow, and share the pros and cons of any decision we may make. Kristen and I know that there are a lot of issues that will come about because of public schooling that we will need to be ready to deal with, but there are also many positive aspects. The same could be said about homeschooling. Are there issues with homeschooling that could have a negative affect if handled improperly? Certainly, but there are also many positive aspects of it, and Kristen and I are not above homeschooling in both senses if public school doesn't work out for Ben.

Regardless of any future education situation we find ourselves in, Kristen and I will (hopefully) homeschool Benjamin still, simply because that is our role as parents, and along with this, I pray that we will be open and patient with those that may differ in decisions made for their families.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Boycotting Convenience


      Boycotts. I've talked about them just as much as everyone else. I may have talked more about them than I needed to, maybe not enough, maybe just the right amount. I figured at least one more time wouldn't hurt. Boycotts are all of the rage these days, whether they come from the liberal activists, conservative activists, Christian, non-Christian, heterosexual, homosexual, and anything else you can think of. The only thing more popular is probably that boy band Misdirection, or whatever they're called. Most people who read what I post on Facebook know that I'm not a big fan of boycotts, but I do support at least one boycott, the boycott of convenient Christianity. This blog post might rub a few the wrong way, so I will do my best to be as kind as I can, to not make blanket statements and not judge the hearts of individuals. I will have to reject the easy way dealing with things though. In my opinion, boycotts are just a way to take the easy route in dealing with things. I'll try my best to explain myself. Before I do that, I will note that I also consider the "Chick-Fil-A (CFA) Appreciation Day" a boycott, not in the usual sense, but a show of support that in essence proves we'll boycott the companies that don't fall in line with our beliefs, and show immense support for those that do. 

      I want to preface my explanation by saying that I don't believe there is anything inherently wrong with choosing to not shop somewhere. As another has said, and I share the sentiments, I don't eat at Hooters because the clothes that the waitresses wear can very easily cause lust, and is probably designed to do just that. I'm like that with a few other places too. I have personal boycotts that I personally uphold, so for me to condemn someone for choosing not to shop somewhere, or choosing TO shop somewhere based on their moral beliefs would be highly hypocritical. The one thing I've yet to notice though is a great public outcry against Hooters, whether it be a call to boycott them, or a call to visit a restaurant that has modestly dressed waitresses in support of their dress by Christians. Along with that, our scruples are rarely consistent. That almost seems to be the nature of scruples. We boycott Target, Home Depot, and J.C. Penny. Then we support Chick-Fil-A, but show our support by uploading a photo from our computer that has an operating system produced by a company that openly supports gay rights, and post it on a social media site that also openly supports gay rights. Amazon.com openly supports gay marriage the day of the CFA Appreciation day and I've yet to see an uproar about it and the companies that followed suit. Our scruples aren't consistent, and no one has asked them to be consistent, but when we make them into a public issue, and moral stance, that scruple opens itself up to judged by the world, and one might want to consider how the enemies of the cross would use such inconsistency. 

      The personal choice to not shop somewhere is certainly Biblical as far as I'm concerned. Romans 14 is the foundation I'd give for that stance, so go read it. Paul's writing though calls for one to make the decision and go on living their life. If you don't support a place, avoid it and move on. It's no one else's business. It isn't my business to ask people what places I do and do not support, and it isn't my place to tell other people what places I do and do not support. If I'm asked to go somewhere that offends my conscious, certainly I can decline and explain why, but is that the same as making a public announcement of it? Certainly not. That's why I personally have come to the conclusion that the boycott trend, specifically in regards to the Christian life, usually tends to be more of a lazy form of Christianity rather than a committed life of discipleship and service to God and the world. That sounds harsh, I know, and I don't want to pretend that I'm not guilty of lazy Christianity as well, as there are certainly more ways in which it manifests itself outside of the mass boycott movement. 

      As far as I've observed, this approach seems to do more with distancing ourselves from the work of a Christian, rather than embracing the life that God would want us to live as a disciple. It's much easier to stand to the side, complain about the current culture's lack of respect for God, and claim, "Well I won't shop anywhere that supports this sin" than to actually reach out to people who struggle in whatever sin it might be, get to know them, talk to them, love them, and help them. Certainly there were SOME who disagreed with Chick-Fil-A's stance and protested on the CFA Appreciate day. My question is which is easier? To stand in line, get your food, post a picture of your food on Facebook and exclaim how much you love CFA and good family values, or to perhaps find a protester and say, "Hey, I know you're not fond of this place, so let's go to Jimmie John's. I'll buy you lunch and we can talk about our beliefs and ourselves. I'm sure you're hot and tired after standing in this heat anyway." Certainly the first situation is easier. We don't have to be involved. We don't have to face someone we believe is living in sin and deal with them as a person. We instead get to sit inside a cool place, eat our tasty food, and be glad that we get to stand against evil. 

      How was it that Jesus dealt with the unfair and unjust publicans? Well he called one to follow him. Another we meet, well Jesus called him out of a tree and invited himself over to eat with him, an act that wasn't anything simple in those days. Jesus led the way by setting the example, by finding those who needed the Gospel and approaching them face to face. The way of the world seems to be dealing with problems through a distance. These days, when we go to war, we use guns, they distance us. We use bombs and drones which distance us even more, as do missiles and rockets. When we want to debate (and here is me calling myself out) we get on Facebook and find a post to comment on back and forth. A situation where we can sit on our couch or in our office and never have to deal with the person face to face, simply respond to a screen and their still picture. That's not to say that written responses are bad, because the majority of the New Testament is just that, but simply to note that we live in a day and age where we enjoy the ease of being able to face issues at a distance instead of dealing with someone as a person.

       I've heard some make the cry that we're being persecuted and we have to win the culture war. We have to stand up for free speech. As one brother pointed out, "The mission of God is about reconciliation of all people to God and each other (Eph 2:14-16) and not winning a culture war." Brethren, we cannot "win" the culture war. The truth it, it was won long ago. Jesus already won the culture war through a sacrifice of his own life and freedoms. Revelation makes sure to constantly point out as well that as long as the earth stands as it does, the culture war will not be over. You can read through the book and find that God brings justice against Rome, but John continues on to write, pointing out that even though that nation fell, more will come and will be just as evil, and it will continue on until the final judgment day. From start to finish though, John's writings tell us to patiently endure. 

      About persecution, I wouldn't go as far as to say that Christianity faces no persecution, but could it be that maybe we're exaggerating it just a bit? On CFA Appreciation Day, I saw some talk about how Christians were bravely standing up to ungodly morals. Bravely? Really? Not to be to critical, but at what point were we in danger by going to CFA to eat? Did we think we might be arrested for going? Beaten? Killed? Some may call us hateful, bigots, homophobes, or any other amount of things, but should we really consider ourselves as brave for standing in line for an hour, only to sit down among fellow believers and supporters and peacefully eat our $7 a person meal? Persecution comes in all shapes and sizes, but to call this persecution, and going on to pretend we are being brave in eating chicken or not shopping somewhere, at least in my opinion, should be considered an insult to those in the world that have and still do face real danger in standing up for our heavenly King. Nigerians are currently being murdered for their faith, and yet we're outraged and feel persecuted because someone tells us we're hateful and judgmental, and we fight back by eating chicken. 

      Let's deal also with the topic of free speech. Many people stated they were simply standing up for freedom of speech, or working to protect that right. I enjoy freedom of speech. It allows me to post this. Sometimes I think we expect too much from that right though. Some mayors said they didn't want CFA in their towns. They may not have the right to do that, but they have the right to say it, and to encourage people to resist a CFA planted in some town. Free speech does not promise that there are no consequences, and if we get to enjoy it, so do other people. When companies come out as pro-gay rights, we feel like we have the right to say almost anything we want in response to them because "we're speaking the truth." Yet when someone speaks against what we believe, it almost seems like we can't believe that it actually happened. So let's enjoy free speech, but let's be balanced on our approach to it as well. And should we be expected as Christians to defend that right? In my opinion, not especially, no. They are nice, but think of the "rights" we already have in Christ. Jesus didn't die so we could say what we wanted without consequence, but so we could preach the truth despite the consequences. I was told recently that if we don't stand up against this, then we're going to be silenced in the pulpit when it comes to preaching about these issues. That's simply not true. If one is silenced from teaching the Gospel of Christ and all that it comes with, it isn't because any government agency said to stop preaching, but because the preacher was too afraid of what consequences his actions might bring. Do we NEED to protect our civic rights? Not at all.

      I know this is long, but there is one more issue I feel needs to be discussed, and that is our method of dealing with issues. I can't know the heart, intentions, or motivations of anyone but myself, but our motivations don't always justify an act or make it the best way to react to an issue. I've been told that Christians were orderly, nice, kind-hearted, and all the other good things one should when participating in CFA Appreciation Day. That's good, and we should act that way regardless of where we are, but consider this illustration. As I write this, my wife is pregnant and suffering greatly from morning (read "All-Day") sickness. She's miserable, and I want her to be happy. I can, and have, tried many things, and though my intentions are good, sometimes I just make it worse. This issue has been addressed many times by other authors, and the reaction always tends to be the same. "God already spoke on the issue and we have to stand up for truth!" You're right, no one is claiming otherwise. It isn't a question of SHOULD we take a stand, but HOW we take a stand. There is no one right answer, but consider how all of this CFA mess has played out over the last few weeks. A man known for running a business based on a few Biblical guidelines is asked his stance on a hot-button issue and he responds to it. The opposing side responds by calling for a boycott, and calling the company evil and immoral, trying to prove that they have the loudest voice and the most power. Our response is to come in waves to Chick-Fil-A to prove that WE have the loudest voice, the most power, and more influence. Their response then is to come a few days later and practice homosexual PDA at Chick-Fil-A's to show that they aren't giving up, and that they are actually the ones with the most power and people. I then received invitations to reenact the events of CFA Day to try and shut out the PDA'er's so that we can prove that we have the most power and are the majority. Brethren, where does it end, and what does it accomplish? 

      Let's think about things for a moment. When they called for a boycott of CFA, how did we feel? How did we react? Did we suddenly wish to consider their viewpoint? Did we want to sit down and talk to them about it? No, we wanted to strike back. And when they decided to strike back against our strike back, what was our reaction? Did we want to sit down and talk about it then? Did we want to consider their point of view? No, instead we started to devise MORE ways to strike back. Now consider the reactions to our boycotts and strikes. If we don't like it when they, in mass, boycott our beliefs, and try to publicly strike against them, what makes us think that we are doing good, and reaching out, and working towards their reconciliation to God when we act in the same way they do? I hear nonstop from Christians, complaints about having the non-Christian lifestyle shoved down our throats, so why do we think that shoving our beliefs down their throats is going to be an effective strategy? Why do we think that filling up the Facebook news feed with crowds at Chick-Fil-A, and bragging about how much we've eaten there and how much we've spent there, and how it proves that "bad people" aren't as in control as they want us to think is going to be effective? This doesn't mean that we don't act, and don't stand up for what we believe in, but it does call us to think about what we're doing, the effect it has on others in the short and long run, and if it is productive evangelism. Everything we do is evangelism. Paul wrote to the Colossians that all that we do, in word or deed, should be done in the name of Jesus, giving glory to God. What we do matters, and has an effect on others and their thoughts about Christians and Christianity. The only way some people may know what God or Jesus is like is though us, our speech, the way we react to difficult issues, the way we face sin, and work on reconciling people with God, and so yes, our boycotts and support rallies might be done with the best of intentions, and they might be done with good attitudes, but those things don't always make an action right. I'm not saying that the support rally or any boycott was sinful, not at all, but that we should at least be willing to take the time to consider how the side we're trying to reach out to will react to what we're doing, and be patient enough to wait if we don't have a perfect way to handle something right when it comes up. Don't take the easy way out.

      I'm all for boycotting simplicity. I don't always do it perfectly, but I'm all for it. For dealing with people instead of sin. For trying to win souls instead of the culture war. For using the free speech that Jesus won for me, rather than the free speech a man thought up for me. It isn't easy at all, but Jesus called us to take up a cross, not a pillow, and follow him.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Heroes of the Faith

            Early this week, two souls were added to the body of Christ. On Monday evening, Ladarius Adams was added to the body of Christ. Though he is young, he was determined to follow Jesus from his youth, and be an example to his friends. Certainly anytime a young soul obeys the Lord, we are, or at least should be, inspired and encouraged in our faithfulness as well. While we don’t want to downplay any baptism, the baptism is Ms. Louise Jay was certainly one that I will never forget.

            Our sister Jay is 72 years old. That seems rare enough, someone advanced in their age obeying the Gospel of Christ. Not only is she older than most who obey, but Ms. Jay also suffers from Parkinson’s disease to the extent that she is wheelchair bound. She can barely stand on her own, and walking alone is out of the question, but still she wanted to study. Our sister Sue Calloway took up the task of studying with her off and on over a period of two years, and sister Jay finally was decided she needed to be baptized for the remission of her sins.

            The nursing home she lives in has a tub that we were hoping she could be immersed in for simplicity’s sake but we were out of luck with that, so to the church building it was. When we arrived at the building, sister Jay was ready to go. We got her to the steps that led up to the baptistery, and with the help of Jeremy Smith and Curt Porter we started moving her up the steps. Sister Jay can walk a bit with help and railing, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen her move like she did. We were all trying to get her to slow down, take a break, sit down on Curt’s knee and rest, but she refused and kept going. She finally made it to the top of the steps and sat down so she could scoot down into the water. She made her confession and we slid her into the water. With the three of us holding her, she was under and up quickly, but it was a life changing moment, for her, but also for me.

           A lot of us tend to be like Moses when faced with doing the work of God. We like to make excuses about why we can’t do it. “People won’t accept me” or “I’m too nervous” or “It’s just too much to ask of someone like me.” I have to wonder if those things went through sister Jay’s mind? Certainly she understood there was danger in climbing up those steps, of being immersed in water given her condition, of trying to get back down the steps wet, and yet she was determined to be immersed. Certainly there is much we can learn from her.

        She reminded me of the Ethiopian Eunuch of Acts 8, when he asked, “See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?” In like sense, sister Jay understood that if the means to obey were available, then she was going to obey. The means WERE available, and she DID obey. So today we need to ask ourselves, “What’s my excuse? If a 72 year old who is wheelchair bound can obey the Lord, what’s keeping me from doing it?” Thank the Lord for people like our sister Louise Jay.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

You Didn't Build That!

             There has been a lot of talk in the past few weeks dealing with just how responsible one is for something they create. A speech was made noting that people don’t ever get to where they are alone and surrounding the quote those is a note of thankfulness for those who helped make it happen, whether it be from teachers, parents, and sometimes government help. One may feel differently about individual cases, but if we consider the thought behind the quote, we can make some astute spiritual observations.

The reaction to the above quote seems to reflect a great deal of America’s individualism. I work hard, I create something, I don’t owe anyone anything. Certainly that might sound nice, but, at least by a Biblical standard, it isn’t a lifestyle or mindset that a Christian should ever maintain. Christianity is a religion that demands humbleness, less of a sense of myself, and a greater sense of others. Consider the farmer who built bigger barns found in Luke 12:13-21. Just in verses 17-19, the personal pronouns “my” and “I” appear eleven times. Throughout his inner dialogue, he had the mindset of “I DID build that.” In that train of thought, he seemed to come to the conclusion that because it was all of his work, then what was produced was his to do with as he pleased. What was it that he forgot though? Someone taught him how to farm. Someone taught him how to build barns. Someone provided him with seeds. Ultimately he forgot that ALL that he had came from God, and thus, all that he had came with the responsibility to use in a way that served God. Regardless of what one has today, they had help from someone getting there, and above all else, all of us are able to prosper because of God and His creative power.  Sometimes one just has to wonder how often God looks upon His creation being misused, abused, hoarded, and treated selfishly, and says to Himself, “Hey, you didn’t build that!”

               While we need make sure we have a humble approach in the world, it’s important to do so within the Lord’s church as well. It can be easy for us to approach God and His church like the Pharisee, who prayed, “God, I thank You that I am not like other men--extortioners unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess” (Lk 18:11-12). He speaks of himself, and all that he’s accomplished, but he is compared to a publican who “beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!'” (Lk 18:13). The publican realized that he could not build himself up, but that he was reliant on God to do so.  We can easily be like Diotrephes, who loved to have preeminence (3 John 1:9), while forgetting that it is Jesus who has the preeminence in our lives (Col 1:18). We can gain the idea that the things we do build up the church, and that the church just can’t function without me, and yet Paul constantly too the approach that while he and others planted and watered, it was God who deserved the credit because He was who gave the increase (1 Cor 3:6). When Paul returned to Antioch with his missionary team, “they reported all that God had done with them, and that He had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles” (Acts 14:27).

                It is beyond easy to have the attitude of, “I did that!” or, “I built that!” and yet there is no place for that in the Christian lifestyle. If all that we did is guided by God, as it should be, then we certainly do our part, but credit goes to God. In all things that we do and accomplish as servants of God, let us keep a mindset, not of “I did that!” but instead a remembrance that, “God did that!” God created us and this world. God sent His son to die for us. God built His church through His son. God is the one that give the increase through our actions and His providence. God is the one who is preparing an eternal home. In what part do we have the right to say, “I built that”?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A Review of "A Faith Not Worth Fighting For"

       I have not posted anything in quite a while, so I figured what better way to possibly start back than with a book review for a book I just finished. This book is titled, "A Faith Not Worth Fighting For," and it is a collection of essays dealing with difficult questions that come alone with holding a position of Christian pacifism, written by various pacifists including one of our brethren in the church of Christ. Before we get into a review of the book, I'd like to give a little bit of a set up about how I came across this book, and why I chose to read it.

          Before reading this book, I was not a pacifist. So you don't get distracted, I'm not saying I am one now or that I am not, just that before reading this book, I was not a pacifist. Growing up I had little thought of war, and after 9/11, when the set up to invade Iraq was taking place, I was in support of it, and did support that war for a good many years. Over time and study of the events that lead to the war, along with examining myself, and the act of war in general, I came to the conclusion that I could not support the Iraq war, or any other war that has spawned because of it for various reasons, but logically and religiously. That didn't mean that I was against war altogether, but in this situation, with this war and it's background, I did not feel that I could support it. Basically speaking, I was a holder and advocate for the Just-War position, believing that war should not be sought after, yet in a time after we have been attacked and needed to defend ourselves, war could possibly be justified. I could not believe that the constant, what I believe to be, war mongering done by politicians and upheld by citizens on both sides of the political spectrum was justified though, whether it be about Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, or Iran. I had a Christian Facebook friend who is a very strong pacifist though, and a mutual friend of his recommended this book, hoping the pacifist friend could give feed back. In seeing what this book was about, I knew I had to read it. I had been struggling with a lot of tough questions that this book promised to touch on, and the Kindle sample I read sealed the deal. I thought it might also be helpful in getting a review from, not only a pacifist who would already hold such positions, but from a non-pacifist who might be changed one way or another by reading this book, and thus I began to read.

       This book is not a book that makes a basic case for pacifism. Those involved in writing for this book assume that you are already a pacifist, or that you understand the position fairly well, and understand some of the difficulties that come along with that position. Before we get into the meat of this review, here are the chapters of the book:

Foreword -Stanley Hauerwas
Introduction: Why Refusing to Kill Matters for Christian Discipleship -Justin Bronson Barringer & Tripp York
Chapter One: Isn’t Pacifism Passive? -C. Rosalee Velloso Ewell 
Chapter Two: What About the Protection of Third-Party Innocents? On Letting Your Neighbors Die - D. Stephen Long
Chapter Three: What Would You Do If Someone was Attacking a Loved One? -Amy Laura Hall & Kara Slade
Chapter Four: What About Hitler? -Robert Brimlow
Chapter Five: Does Christian Pacifism Entail the Rejection of a Police Force? -Gerald W. Schlabach
Chapter Six: What about those men and women who gave up their lives so 
that you and I could be free? On Killing for Freedom -Justin Bronson Barringer
Chapter Seven: Does God Expect Nations to Turn the Other Cheek? -Gregory A. Boyd
Chapter Eight: What About War and Violence in the Old Testament? -Ingrid Lilly
Chapter Nine: What About Romans 13? ‘Let Every Soul Be Subject’ -Lee C. Camp
Chapter Ten: Didn’t Jesus Say He Came Not to Bring Peace, but a Sword? -Samuel Wells
Chapter Eleven: What About the Centurion? A Roman Soldier’s Faith and Christian Pacifism  -Andy Alexis-Baker
Chapter Twelve: Didn’t Jesus Overturn Tables and Chase People Out of the Temple with a Whip? -John Dear
Chapter Thirteen: What About the Warrior Jesus in Revelation 19? He Has Trampled out the Vintage -J. Nelson Kraybill
Conclusion: A Faith Worth Dying For: A Tradition of Martyrs Not Heroes -Tripp York
Afterword -Shane Claiborne

        As you can see, these are mostly topics that are very complicated, and can be very offensive depending on the answer given, and the tact used in the answer. In fact, I'm sure my review will end up being offensive to some, just noting some of the contents and conclusions of the chapters, as well as my thoughts on the book, so let's go ahead and get into it.

       Outside of the Bible, this book has been one of the most challenging books I've read in a long time. While I don't know anyone that is an outright fan of violence, and violent methods, it did help me to notice how quick many seem to be to seek violent solutions, or imagine that a violent act is the best method of dealing with an issue while still proclaiming Jesus as the Prince of Peace and Christianity as a religion of peace. Many seem just as ready to pick up a gun as they are a bomb. Many seem just as willing to drop a bomb on enemies of America as they are to drop food on the needy of the country. One note was constantly made throughout the book that Christians seem to be some of the only people that don't take Jesus' call to turn the other cheek, never seek vengeance, or bless and feed an enemy as literal, constantly trying to find situations where one can get around that call. We all seem to believe that pacifism is passive, and thus to take action, it could easily lead to violence and thus violent act is justified. The book really begins though, with proving that pacifism is not at all passive. Passiveness is not doing anything at all, yet Christian non-violence not only suggests, but demands that we stand up and take action, but that we do so in a way that doesn't result in violence. One may suggest that this wouldn't work, and might even lead to death, and I would echo the authors of this book as well as the early Christians and Jesus himself and say, "Exactly." It is shown that the early Christian, up until the time of Constantine and the acceptation of Christianity, that the early church was strongly non-violent, noting that they could not be Christians and violent, not only in times of persecution upon the church, but at any time. In fact, quite often, if one was part of the Roman army, they were expected to quit that service due to the fact that it would command them to kill their enemies, and that was not acceptable for a follower of Christ. While one could remain in the army, they would most likely soon be booted out due to their unwillingness to practice violence against any enemy. 

      The book is very honest too. Many oppose Christian pacifism because it entails sometimes that the conclusion of an event might not only lead to the death of oneself, but also to the deaths of innocent people involved. While this is a very good argument that is very emotionally charged, it is one that goes both ways. Even in acts of violence, innocents can and do get harmed and even die. Because of the fact that evil exists in the world, bad things happen, and so the main question to be asked is not about which one might produce a certain end result, but which one is more faithful to following after Jesus and the life he showed us as recorded in the scriptures? This book is open about their own struggles though as well. Many have friends and family that serve in the military, or on the police force, so how does one go about handling that in a way that isn't destructive. How can one show appreciate for those acting if one does not approve of the actions they are doing, if that can be done at all? Thankfully, these authors are willing to admit that they don't have all of the answers for all of the questions. In the chapter about Christians taking advantage of the police force, or even being part of a police force, the conclusion is more of a vague ending, noting that there isn't always a clear answer, and one must use their own conscience, a similar ending given to chapter six concerning those who give their life for the civic freedoms of this country. They are willing to admit that it isn't a clear cut position, just as is with a Just-War theory, though they still hold to the belief that a Christian should never engage in violent acts.

     One issue that I was very thankful for was addressing the issue of Romans 12 and Romans 13, that is, the role of the secular government in comparison to expectations of the Kingdom of God. This is handled primarily in chapters 4, 7, and 9. One position I've always been taught, and always held onto, was that Romans 13 was a sanction and approval for the government to use violent force when needed, and that because Christians are to be subject to the government, they can thus take part in the offices of the secular government and are thus approved to use violence in what they feel are justifiable situations, that is, for good.  It is noted though, that the end of Romans 12 could very well set up for a scenario where Paul is noting that Christians are expected to act in a certain way, never seeking vengeance, not repaying evil with evil, blessing and feeding their enemies, while Romans 13 notes that that secular governments operate in a manner entirely different from God's Kingdom, yet God can still order or arrange them, to be his tool of vengeance, that is, to accomplish good and to be a terror to those who do evil. It does not mean that God approves of their actions, but can very well providentially use them to accomplish his means. This is something we see occurring in the Old Testament through and through, were God used the Israelites to destroy nations, and even later, God used evil nations and their violent spirits, to punish Israel, only to later destroy them as well. It never meant that God approved of their violent natures, but certainly he was capable of arranging them, using them as they were, to carry out his will. As we noted though, this follows a chapter that ends with the description of the Christian life, where one seeks peace and sacrifice. Paul wrote, "
Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary,“if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Rom 12:17-21). 

    Now this is not all said without noting that the book does have a few problems, at least in my opinion. Some of the chapters were left wanting severely. For instance, chapter three dealt with what one would do if someone was attacking their loved one. The author barely actually dealt with that issue, gave Biblical backing or thought to her writing, or really gave any idea of what one should do. Instead it seemed almost like she used her space to write about her feelings on the powerful white-male culture in dealing with rape and race relations. To me, this chapter seemed utterly useless. Chapter eight felt like a let down in dealing with violence in the Old Testament. This was a big question for me, and still is, yet the authors solution for this issue was basically to believe that the Old Testament was a collection of stories formed later to tell of Israel's history, and so the very violent sections just didn't really happen. Instead of Joshua being true, it's said that Israel really took the Promised Land in a form shown in Judges, of basically slipping in unnoticed, and taking over bit by bit until they had it all. It seemed as if the author was basically trying to ignore the violence of the Old Testament instead of dealing with it. Finally, chapters 10-13 seemed a bit overly complex concerning the topics at hand. It felt like the solution should have been simple, but the authors needed to fill space and so they took the overly complex route to a pretty good conclusion. Certainly there was good material in there, and I learned a few new things, but the chapters could have been much shorter while being more edifying and hard hitting as well.

    To try and conclude, am I pacifist now? I don't know. I'm not any more in support of violent actions, and certainly have moved closer to a position of Christian pacifism, but I've yet to really meditate on these issues, pray to God for wisdom, and deeply search the scriptures myself for what Jesus says about such things. If you were to ask me who should read this book though, I would passionately respond with a strong, "Everyone!" Regardless of your political position, thoughts on war, thoughts on self-defense, thoughts on the army, or anything else that may involve someone having to act in a violent way, if you are a Christian, you need to read this book. Despite some of the above mentioned weaknesses, when it does hit, which is more often than not, it hits heard, and forces you to deeply examine your devotion to Jesus, your walk in following him, and how you react to situations. In the end, their conviction to stay non-violent in all situations is strengthened by the fact of the resurrection. We have no concern about what our enemies can do to us here because the end of this life, is not the end our the Christian's life. Never underestimate the power of peaceful approach, but even if it does end in death, it isn't the end of you.