Archive for the 'In Tone and Character' Category

This is the third and final part of this series. You can find the first two articles here and here. I would appreciate it if you left a comment about how God has transformed you.

Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception.  Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes.  Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.

So stop telling lies. Let us tell our neighbors the truth, for we are all parts of the same body.  And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.” Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, for anger gives a foothold to the devil.

If you are a thief, quit stealing. Instead, use your hands for good hard work, and then give generously to others in need.  Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.

And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption.

Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.

Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children.  Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God.  - Ephesians 4:21-5:2

When I am with close friends, I usually don’t have to filter what I am going to say or plan how to say it. Even so, the people I know the best also have sensitive issues or areas in which I choose to be more careful with what I say and how I say it. There are times when I do not behave the way I should simply because I am comfortable. I’ve hurt other people because of that. So when I am more aware of those around me and thinking less of myself, I filter my conversations and actions.

In ministry, this is something that I refer to as being “on.” Other professions and other people experience similar things. For some people, being on means that they hide their true thoughts, their real feelings, who they really are. For the past few decades this kind of attitude and approach to life has led many a hurt individual to desire and expect authenticity from others, especially leaders. But this is not what I mean when I think of being on. I make every effort to be genuine, authentic, and consistent in every area of my life all the time. I try to be the same person when I write as I am when I preach as I am when I am at home with my family. This doesn’t mean that I’m always as well behaved in private as I am in public, but that I am honest in public about my private choices, failures, and weaknesses. (I don’t do this completely as there are still parts of my life that I hide, areas that I am ashamed of.)

So what does it mean to be “on?”

Recently I was approached by an active member in the congregation that I serve who told me that they were hurt, as was a friend of theirs, by my inaction or failure to strike up a conversation with the friend. First I must say that this member approached me very well (at a good time, in the right way, and with the right attitude). I listened. I asked clarifying questions. I asked for help. I committed to working on my end toward connecting.

It means that I produce smiles when I don’t have the energy to smile, or sympathy for their situation when I just feel like wallowing in self-pity… or when I don’t feel much of anything. It means actively listening (hearing, waiting, thinking, clarifying, probing) when I just want to spew my solutions or my own ideas. Sometimes it means keeping my mouth shut altogether, especially when I want to make excuses. It means praying for others, not about them. It means confronting others instead of letting the problems work themselves out. It means talking with anybody and everybody instead of sitting in my own little introspective world.

All of this is not to show others that I am perfect, that I am somebody I am not. Not to show them that I have it all together or that I know all the answers. I do this to love others as Christ has loved me, with genuine devotion and preference in honor. I do this to help when people are in need and to be hospitable at all times. I do this to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. And when somebody comes against me, hurts me, or even hates me? I do these things so that I can be a blessing to them, do good to and for them. I do this so that I can live in peace with everyone. None of this is easy for me. I have to work at it. Very hard.

This continued hard work is draining on me. My temptation is to seek out moments when I can live unfiltered, where I can say what I want, when I want, how I want. Where I don’t have to constantly evaluate my interactions and my relationships. I am tempted, but I don’t want that. When I am able to live unfiltered, I want it to be because Christ has so transformed my life that others see Him in me. Until then, He is my filter.

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Ephesians 5:21 NLT
And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

I Corinthians 16:15-16 NLT
You know that Stephanas and his household were the first of the harvest of believers in Greece, and they are spending their lives in service to God’s people. I urge you, dear brothers and sisters, to submit to them and others like them who serve with such devotion.

Hebrews 13:17 NLT
Obey your spiritual leaders, and do what they say. Their work is to watch over your souls, and they are accountable to God. Give them reason to do this with joy and not with sorrow. That would certainly not be for your benefit.

The issue of accountability has always been a no-brainer for me. I guess I owe my strong feelings about that value to my parents and in particular to my father who, despite his disagreements with the denomination he was in, chose to submit and stay accountable to them. Because of this I find it strange that Christians deny the necessity of accountability to one another and a leadership structure.

One area where accountability is sorely needed is the world of blogging and that has been said here and elsewhere a number of times. This issue of non-accountability seems to be more prevalent on discernment blogs where bloggers often criticize people supposedly knowing the will of God (in particular WoF/Prosperity preachers) and I think they are right about that most of the time. But then they in turn often claim to know the will/judgement of God about others in the same shaky way that those preachers do. When it comes to knowing or discerning the will of God I think we especially need to be accountable towards Christians around us.

It is then perplexing to me when I read something like the following:

There is a criticism – a protest, if you will – that discernment websites are accountable to no one but themselves. It depends on the context and what they mean by ‘accountable’, of course. On the one hand this is a self-refuting argument; calling out those that are perverting the simplicity of the Gospel to accountability of God’s word is by the same definition making oneself accountable to the word of God. On the other hand, to whom exactly should discernment ministries be accountable to? Should we institutionalize all these type of ministries under one banner and make them all sign some relevant decree? What happens if that institution itself becomes corrupt, then what? And if discernment ministries were accountable to an institution would false teachers take heed when warned? Of course not, it’s a dishonest criticism to begin with

It sounds to me like the author is excusing himself and other “discerners” from being accountable to other Christians. Be that as it may, it raised a  question with me that I would like to explore with all of you here:

  • Is there a point where we stop being accountable to one another or some leadership structure? What then?

Important Note: I realise that the values of submission and accountability can be abused by leaders like a lot of other good stuff. But I don’t think those abuses gives us the licence to throw these values away.

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There’s this dance that Christians like to do with each other that has two steps or movements to it:

Step 1: Place foot in mouth.
Step 2: Laugh.

It’s a really simple dance that we find ourselves doing quite often. It normally involves us making a joke of somebody else or something others might consider serious thus giving offense. A few years ago a family that we had been encouraging to attend finally came to church where I was preaching. This was a major step for them. One Sunday he wore some very colorful and bright suspenders which I made a joke about. I intended no offense and although the joke itself was not one of derision or even sarcasm, I apparently struck a nerve. If he got offended so easily, wouldn’t he have gotten just as offended over something else? Probably. But since I can’t control what others think and do, I’m left with choosing words and actions based on how they affect others.

Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. Ephesians 4:29

I know that that verse has been overused and abused, but we need to continually keep it in mind. In 1 Corinthians Paul calls the Christians in that community worldly and not spiritual because they are fighting over issues that are nothing in the Kingdom of God. Much of what Paul writes is in response to dysfunctional relationships and most of his commands are about what it looks like to love others. In fact later in 1 Corinthians Paul says that, “love edifies.” Few people can have a positive relationship where they bicker, complain, and tear each other down in joke like fashion. I must give the caveat that it can happen, I have one of those rare relationships with Tim Reed, a previous writer for this site. Maybe it’s cathartic for us but we can have that kind of relationship because we also encourage and edify when we need to do that. And quite frankly, what we say isn’t true and nobody thinks it is.

But for most of us, most of the time, we don’t know if that “joke” was actually a stab or just nothing. Or sometimes it seems that that “just kidding” line or smiley is just a mask for what we “know” to be a statement that person believes. (Of course we don’t know, but we like to assume.) There’s the classic jokes about how Southern women can get away with saying the most rude and awful comments about others as long as “bless their heart” immediately precedes or follows the comment. We do that up North with “Don’t get me wrong” or “I love them, but.” Or if what we are about to say is really mean we might combine the two.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love you all, but you all are turning into a bunch of mean spirited, antagonistic, backbiting jerks. Bless your hearts. Let’s start growing together toward maturity and seek to encourage, teach, pray for, mourn with, rejoice with, challenge, correct, and be corrected with love and humility.

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at least three times in the past couple days i have seen people take a quote, change the meaning, then argue against it. in all three cases the changing of meaning was in extent. a person made statement of possibility or probability or limited in scope. this was then turned into an all inclusive universal truth and argued against.

for example, the original comment may have gone something like this;
if you hike to the bottom of the grand canyon you may fall off a cliff and die

to which someone responds:
what do you mean hiking the canyon means i’ll die! i’ve known plenty of people who have hiked the canyon and lived…

i’m not sure why this happens. maybe it’s sloppiness and haste, maybe it’s just expecting the worst of people, maybe it’s just the heat of rhetorical battle, maybe it’s just easier to argue against absolutes as opposed to nuances.

the problems are:
it is disingenuous to change the meaning of someone’s comment by pouring obviously unintended meanings into them – then countering the argument no one made in the first place.

it serves to elevate the angst and anger as people try and point out the error… and tempers flare.

it also serves to foster needless tangential discussions.

so, for the sake of time, effort, peace, and accuracy… before responding in disgust or disbelief, please take a moment to discern that you have; a) accurately interpreted and quoted the source, and b) you are countering an argument someone actually made.

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(titled thusly so I don’t have to pay Jerry royalties for “Whaddaya Think?”)

I’m going to present a quote from a book review.  The reviewer is also an author.  I am omitting all names (including the reviewer) and the topic of the book, as many (all?) can be polarizing, and I want an honest reaction to the content, not the personalities. No fair googling the quotes before you respond.  (The omitted items are in italics.)

I was preparing for the worst when I read in the blurbs that this book “avoids the clamor for extremes” (name withheld), is “the first to be truly gracious” and is great “for any who are tired of straw man arguments and polarizations” (name withheld), and rises above “the usual shallow, facile critiques of [one of the primary topics of this book]” (name withheld).

Is it just me, or is it deeply troubling that the reviewer sees as contemptible (”I was preparing for the worst”) the ideas of avoiding clamor, employing clear logic, and (worst of all) the horrendous sin of being gracious?

Or maybe it’s something else.  The very next sentence in the review says:

I can’t help but assume that [my book on the same topic] is one of the “extreme”, “straw man”, “facile” critiques they’re thinking of.

Isn’t this like James-Cameron-level narcissism?  I keep hearing Carly Simon singing, “You’re so vain / I bet you think this blurb is about you”.

In the words of Linda Richman, “Discuss.”

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[The following is a post in which I am writing about Christian support for a doctrine of "Just War". Our friend, Rick Frueh, has written a similar post, in support of Biblical Pacifism.]

I am tired and sick of war. Its glory is all moonshine. It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, for vengeance, for desolation. War is hell. – William Tecumseh Sherman

We support and extend the ministry of the Church to those persons who conscientiously oppose all war, or any particular war, and who therefore refuse to serve in the armed forces or to cooperate with systems of military conscription. We also support and extend the Church’s ministry to those persons who conscientiously choose to serve in the armed forces or to accept alternative service. As Christians we are aware that neither the way of military action, nor the way of inaction is always righteous before God. – The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church, 2004

War and Peace[Please brace yourselves - this is going to be a long article. My dear friend, Rick Frueh, has requested that he and I write opposing papers on the acceptability of Christians supporting a doctrine of "Just War", with me supporting this doctrine, and him rejecting it. I would like to thank Rick for this 'challenge', and apologize in advance for so thoroughly trouncing him, here on the field of battle. :) ]

At Issue

Before embarking on this long road, I think it is probably best to indicate our areas of agreement and disagreement. Both Rick and I agree that war, in and of itself is abhorrent, and is something to be avoided. It is not something that we, as individuals should seek to cause, nor something that our nations should actively seek. Where we disagree, is whether or not acts of violence can be supported by Christians – on an individual or a national scale. Specifically, our disagreement is whether or not Christians should support their country in a war, or serve in that war.

Keeping this in mind, I will examine three basic concepts, which build upon one another, in regards to Christian and the use of deadly force: 1) Self-Defense; 2) Civil-defense; and 3) National-defense. As a backdrop to this, I will also quickly discuss the first century Jewish view of human life that Jesus supported, sometimes referred to as Pikuach Nefesh.

Before moving on to the meat of this article, I’d like to also make one more caveat: My purpose in laying out the case for the doctrine of just war is not to provide/denounce justification for any conflict unfolding in current events. Rather, it is to lay out the rational and theological underpinnings in such a way as to be able to have rational discussions and criteria on whether or not a conflict might be considered just or unjust.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Duct Tape - Use SomeThe accusation that somebody is telling a lie has been thrown around a lot lately.  You have likely seen it on TV between cable news channels, between politicians, between cable news and politicians (including the white house staff), on this website (by authors and commenters alike). Some of you have probably even seen it in church.

I started thinking about the validity of accusation of lies when my first child at the age of 4 began to realize that sometimes we would say one thing (often involving her getting something she wanted) and that thing not come to pass.  I can’t remember the events surrounding the first accusation, but I do remember her getting upset with her parents and pouting and telling us that we lied to her.  I made her come back into the room and calmly explained to her that we did not lie because besides the fact that getting upset and pouting about not getting your way is immature and that even at such a young age we try to teach her how to handle situations maturely, she was just plain wrong.  I believe that in that particular instance, the situation had changed preventing us from following through with our previous claim.

I think that most of the accusations flying around (here and “out there”) are wrong as well.  There’s a difference between telling a lie and being wrong/ignorant.  A lie has the intent to deceive.  Deceit is the thing which makes something that is false or untrue a lie.    Technically, Merriam Webster’s Dictionary does say that a lie can be “b. an untrue or inaccurate statement that may or may not be believed true by the speaker.”  But that is referring to the noun (the untruth itself) and not the accusation that a person is a liar or telling a lie.  In fact, the dictionary definition for the verb “lie” always contains the element of deceit.  But besides that, when personal accusations go flying, the people making the accusations rarely mean that the accused gave “an untrue or inaccurate statement… believed true by the speaker.”  If they thought that, they’d call them wrong, ignorant, stupid, etc.

For years people believed that the Sun revolved around the earth.  We don’t think of them as liars, just ignorant.  When you sign your tax return, you aren’t saying that there aren’t any errors, just that there aren’t any that you know of (you aren’t intentionally or consciously giving them false information).  We also don’t call out scientists as liars when they come out with a statement that something we’ve been teaching in 5th grade text books for 40 years is actually not true.*

When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.
But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!
Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. Let us not become conceited, or provoke one another, or be jealous of one another. (NLT Ga 5:19-26, Emphasis mine.)

*I considered siting references for all of my examples, but I realized that I would be doing it because I dislike ignorance, laziness, and false information almost as much as I dislike lying.  The point of this post is not to point out individual errors but to expose our immature penchant for accusations.

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[my apologies for the length... the more I read about these asinine objections to reconciliation the more my anger grew!]

I was enjoying some cheese and wanted a little whine to go with it, so I ventured over the Crosstalk blog where the lead headline is “Rick Warren Sponsors Forum with Emergent Heretic“  – accompanied with a picture of Miroslav Volf.  The headline led to an article.  The article led to a  radio broadcast. And of course, the radio program exposed the heretics.

It reminded me of the game called Six Degrees from Kevin Bacon.  It’s a whimsical variation on the “small-world” concept that says all humans are connected by no more than six degrees of separation.  And just to put a fine point on it – I can connect myself to Kevin Bacon in as few as four degrees.

Not to be outdone, Crosstalk appears to be able to connect any disliked Christian to a heretic in much the same manner.  The difference being – connection means guilt.

It goes like this:

Rick Warren sponsors a heretic. The heretic is Miroslav Volf… because he appeared with Tony Jones… at a conference with Jurgen Moltmann… who embraces C. W. F. Hegel.

Imagine my surprise to learn Volf was a heretic because he appeared with Tony Jones, who held a conference with… well you get it – six degrees of GBA.  Problem is – none of these blog connections showed what “doctrines of demons” Volf actaully teaches.  So I listened to the broadcast… until the “caller amen chorus” kicked in. The radio broadcast was hosted by Ingrid Schlueter with Chris Rosebrough as her guest.

Since the radio broadcast was also void of any specifics as to why Miroslav Volf should be considered a heretic who teaches the doctrines of demons (unless of course a hefty dose of GBA is proof enough) I decided to make a few observations of the program itself.

The host began by declaring she does not care about definitions or distinctions when it comes to  Emerging or Emergent.  This, of course, makes things a lot easier – particularly in the game of Six Degrees of GBA.  Ignoring distinctions allows one to paint with a much much much broader brush.  it also relieves one of the necessity to define what individual actually think, say, teach, or belive – just find a heretic and assume they are all unified.

The Guest mocked the Emergent for embracing seemingly contradictory beliefs – he said embracing contradictory concepts sounds crazy.  This made me think of other crazy contradictions like… three persons and one being (the Trinity) or wholly God and wholly man (the incarnation) or free will and… well you get the picture.  This was in the context of Hegel, who (and here I agree with the guest) carried the whole contradiction thing too far.  Yet, in mocking those who embrace contradictions, the guest embraced the hosts disregard for definitions and distinctions.

And of course Warren is guilty of wanting to promote social “reconciliation” and forgiveness between people, but outside of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Why is reconciliation in quotations?

What made me truly angry… What the show, the blog, the host, the guest completely ignored (I’d be surprised of they did enough research to even know) is the context from which Miroslav Volf speaks.  He is a Croatian (a member of the Evangelical Church of Croatia) whose country (and his family itself) suffered greatly in the resent Balkan wars.  He has a very vested and very personal interest in seeing religion used, not to exclude and promote violence, but used to embrace and promote reconciliation. Even if the parties are outside of Jesus Christ.

Forgive the person anecdote -  but it is relevant… several years ago I stood in the Muslim section of Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina.  A village absolutely devastated by the war.  On a mountain overlooking the city stands a very large cross.  Through a translator an elderly Muslim man said to me “They put their guns under the cross and shelled our children.”  The cemeteries in the town are full of graves – have you ever been in a cemetery where all the lives end within a two year span?  Those who shelled Mostar were Serbs and Croats — Christians.  Now of course we understand that they are not truly Christian – but (much like distinctions and ODM’s) that distinction is lost on the Muslims of Mostar.

So until the host or her guest have walked the streets of Mostar (pt. 1) and seen firsthand the devistation and violence done in the name of God and Country (as I have) – or – until such time as they have fled into the night because their neighborhood was being shelled (as Miroslav’s family did) – until such time I invite them both to shut up and quit their bitch’n about someone else who happens to think social “reconciliation” and forgiveness between people even if they are outside of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is a good thing.

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Since (in the eyes of those who apparently control such things) I’m going to hell anyway, let me add to my list of “transgressions” by saying that I agree with how a Roman Catholic handled an issue.

(insert profound gasp here)

You are probably aware of “Wafergate” by now.  If you aren’t, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, recently attended the funeral mass of former governor-general Romeo LeBlanc.  When communion was served, Harper allegedly pocketed the communion wafer rather than consuming it.

In Protestant circles, this action would have been inappropriate.  But Roman Catholics, because of their belief in transubstantiation, would consider it sacrilege.  The incident was captured on (stunningly inconclusive) video and immediately the outcries against Harper arose, including accusations of anti-Catholic behavior by the Protestant Harper.

Only one minor issue — he didn’t pocket the wafer; he consumed it.

One of the priests involved in the service, Father Arthur Bourgeois, confirmed what Harper asserted when the accusations started flying — that he did consume the wafer.

Technically, Harper did break Catholic church law by taking communion as a Protestant.  And Fr. Bourgeois did note this.  He also implied that Harper followed the spirit of the law, and so did not condemn him for his actions.  And, Fr. Bourgeois even advised Harper on proper protocol for a Protesant in a Catholic service, should such an occasion arise again.

In short, Fr. Bourgeois did not conceal or back off of his beliefs, but spoke the truth (as he understood it) in love.

Hmmm — speaking the truth in love — almost sounds like a Bible verse.

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Galatians 3:1 O foolish Galatians, who bewitched you not to obey the truth, to whom before your eyes Jesus Christ was written among you crucified?
:2 This only I would learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law, or by hearing of faith?
:3 Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, do you now perfect yourself in the flesh?
:4 Did you suffer so many things in vain, if indeed it is even in vain?
:5 Then He supplying the Spirit to you and working powerful works in you, is it by works of the law, or by hearing of faith?
:6 Even as Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness.
:7 Therefore know that those of faith, these are the sons of Abraham.

We have discussed the issue of salvation on this site many times and I can confidently say that we are in unity on this subject that salvation comes through faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ alone and that we are reborn by the Spirit. The works of righteousness that follows rebirth are a result of that what the Spirit has already done inside.

Now I have these questions for you:

  • Can any works of righteousness make us more righteous?
  • Or can any sin make us less righteous?

What do you say?

This guy seems to think he has the answer (does anybody else see the resemblance to Nooma here?):

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