As you are likely aware, Chuck Colson died on Saturday. There have already been many glowing eulogies written about the man from all corners of Christendom.

In slight contrast, a friend of mine remarked that it’s sad that most of the articles in the secular press focus on his Nixon/Watergate years. One such article even (essentially) admitted to having to consult Colson’s web site to see what the man had been up to for the last 35 years. In one sense, this is sad. But in another sense, it’s a good thing. Though Colson was a prominent figure in the “culture wars”, he apparently did his fighting in such a way that he was not the focus.

Put another way, when John Doe heard the name “Chuck Colson”, he had one of two responses — either (1) “who?” or (2) “oh yeah, that Watergate guy.” He didn’t respond with, “oh yeah, that bigoted, homophobic and misogynistic jerk.” What does that say about who (or should that be “Who”) was most obvious in Colson’s life?

OK, to be fair, one John Doe did have that response. But Franky Schaeffer has a history of selling entire books that bash on dead guys (like his own father) in order to prop up his own agenda. So one measly blog post is hardly noteworthy.

Outside of special cases like Schaeffer, the only people who seemed to have a major beef with Colson were from a segment of Protestantism that was far too uncomfortable with his work with Roman Catholics on ECT and the Manhattan Declaration. Now, it has been well established that Online Discernment [sic] Ministries [sic] are wildly Romophobic. So, I cynically asked some friends recently if they wanted to start a pool on which ODM would be first to dump on Colson for his associations with Catholics. After all, they have a history of using not-yet-cold dead guys to prop up their agenda, too.

Ya know what? As far as I can tell, none of them “went there”. Kudos to them.

So that’s all I have to say. I just wanted to praise the authors for not …

Wait …

What ?!?!?!

(And you thought this post was over ….)

There’s a very prominent Christian blogger out there — we’ll call him Tom.

As is my wont, I’m not giving his real name. My issue is with the actions/attitudes, not the person. Though I don’t have any real desire to give the person any Google juice either.

Several years ago — I think it was in a comment thread on iMonk’s blog — someone referred to Tom as being “irenic”. At first I thought that was a typo, but “ironic” didn’t fit the context, so I hit an online dictionary and found this definition for “irenic”.

favoring, conducive to, or operating toward peace, moderation, or conciliation

And I thought, “yeah, that’s a good description of Tom”.  While he had no “Randy Alcorn” moment of major reconciliation, Tom is (was?) a very even-keeled guy who would seek to get rid of the dividing lines in Christendom when they weren’t of primary theological importance. Further, while not specifically addressing their Romophobia, Tom had — on more than one occasion — spoken out against the ODMs for their tendency to wantonly bash their brothers and sisters in Christ.

Heck, he even once had a meal with Rick Warren and came to the conclusion that he is not the anti-Christ (contrary to what ODM authors seem to believe). Tom disagrees with Rick on several issues, but he did not let that stand in the way of genuine fellowship.

So it was rather surprising (and massively disappointing) to watch Tom throw that irenic nature out the window and go for Colson’s jugular. In his article, he expresses “surprise” that others’ remembrances of Colson are uniformly positive. While giving Colson some credit for some of his work, Tom then accuses him of working “against the Lord’s church”, laboring for “outright sinful causes” and “undermin[ing] the gospel”. All of his accusations revolve around Colson’s work and alliance with Roman Catholics and those of the Orthodox faith.

Sigh.

Now — ya want to take the irony up another few notches?  Another definition of “irenic” is:

a part of Christian theology concerned with reconciling different denominations and sects

Yeah, I think we can stop applying that word to Tom from now on.


UPDATE: Since I started writing this, one of the ODMs did “go there”. But it’s pretty obvious from the ODM article that Tom’s article was both the impetus and inspiration for the ODM article. So Tom still retains a good bit of his uniqueness.

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When I read how Rick Warren was misrepresented in the press I wondered how our old friends would react. I was not too surprised to see one of them twist the story (much like the original reporter did) into yet another opportunity to attack a brother.

On his blog, Wittenburg Church Door, Pastorboy takes Warren to task – again. What I found interesting was the headline – Rick Warren Retracts ‘Chrislam’ Statements made to OC Register.

I read several clarifications written by Rick Warren and none of them can be called a retraction. A retraction is a public statement, by the author of an earlier statement, that withdraws the original statement. This is not what Warren did. Warren did not say anything that needed to be withdrawn… and I believe Pastorboy knows this full well. Yet he posts a blog that implies that Warren promoted a synergism between Christianity and Islam.

In the blog post that precedes the one linked to above, Pastorboy makes blatantly false comments and accusations against Rick Warren, a brother in Christ. This shameful, it is deceptive and dishonest, but it is not unexpected.

The original article that began the controversy was wrong – either accidentally or otherwise. The same can be said of Pastorboy.

    UPDATE – May, 2012

In checking the links above I see the articles in question have been removed. It would have been better if Pastorboy posted an admission of the error and false treatments about a brother in Christ – but even his removing the false accusations and twisted gossip is better than I expected.

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Forward: Bono once wrote a song called The Wanderer. He didn’t sing it on the record because he thought it would sound pretentious if he did. Instead, he had Johnny Cash sing it. No pretense there. I don’t have Johnny Cash to write this post and remove all the pretense. Forgive me, please, in advance, if this sounds pretentious.

I do not know Rachel Held Evans except that some of the other writers here frequent her blog. I don’t know how involved they are except that every now and again we will talk privately about one of her posts. I do want you understand, however, that I am not writing this as a personal attack on Ms. Evans. Maybe it is unsolicited advice. Maybe it’s a parable. Maybe I’m just thinking aloud. That said, I am going to write.

I am sure that Ms Evans has had a difficult experience in the church (with a little ‘c’). I can tell after reading her post 15 Reasons I Left the Church. She cites a few others who have also written about their own reasons for leaving the church including someone who wrote an entire book about why people 18-29 have left the church. 18-29 is a tough age for anyone, but I suppose it is especially so for church folk who are looking for just the right place to call church-home. (It seriously does not require a book to expound the reasons why.)

I do not for a minute doubt the sincerity of Ms Evans’ post, but I confess it is a terribly depressing lot of reasons she gives for rejecting the local body of believers. She wrote, with what I presume to be as much angst as a 30-something can muster up, the following:

I left the church when I was twenty-seven. I am now thirty, and after trying unsuccessfully to start a house church, my husband and I are struggling to find a faith community in which we feel we belong.

There’s a lot of first person pronouns in that explanation.

As I am now 41, not so far removed from 30-something angst, allow me to say: Good luck!

I’d like to tell a story. Nearly 3 solid years ago, I was unceremoniously removed from the congregation I had loved and served for nearly 10 years. I was finishing a week of church camp with my beloved Junior High students from several area churches. It was Friday night, parents were picking up children, I was waiting on everyone to leave so that I, too, could go home and prepare for the sermon I was to preach two days later. It was in the midst of all this that I received a call from, not one of the elders nor one of the deacons, but from one of the church trustees–a man whom I baptized into the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He informed me that I needed to be at a meeting the following day.

At the meeting the next day, I was given an ultimatum: stay and we will fire you, give you two weeks’ salary; leave and we will give you six weeks’ salary. Ah, congregations know the way to a preacher’s heart. Of course I took the money. I have regretted it every day since July 12, 2009.

After the meeting, that same trustee informed me: “It’s nothing personal.” Seriously.

Making the matter more compelling is that less than a year before all this happened in July 2009, my wife and I, after 17.5 years of marriage, and 10 years with the same congregation, bought our first house. That six week’s worth of salary was not going to go far. Ah, churches, blessing upon blessing. (I will spare the details of what this episode did for the faith of my sons and my wife.)

Don’t get me wrong. Of the 15 reasons that Ms Evans gives in her post, I actually believe that six of them are solid complaints–serious problems that need to be addressed in the american version of the church, complaints that I, too, would have no problem echoing. Not least among them is her complaint about churches being involved in the politics of the world. I cannot tell you how sick to death I am of hearing preachers and christians staking the course of the christian faith upon the outcome of some god forsaken election. It makes me think that most christians put more faith in the election of conservative politicians than they do in the Lord Jesus. We christians place so much faith in the democratic way of electing leaders that Jesus could no longer say to Pilate, “You would have no power if not given to you from above.”

Pshaw!

OK, I’m off track…my point is that churches, in general, are full of nasty people. I have met them up close and personal–I can give you names, addresses, birthdays–the church is full of ugly things, ugly thoughts, ugly words, and ugly sinners. It’s a nightmare and when a preacher calls them on the fact that it has been so for the better part of their 40 year existence, he is summarily dismissed without so much as a farewell tea or carry-in dinner.

That is, churches are full of people like me. I know that.

For all the bitterness I have masticated the past three years, I also know that for the better part of 10 years I loved and was loved (at least by most). I don’t think we should fly by Ms Evans reason #10 too quickly.

Oh, there was this one time, when I was still in college, that I was filling the pulpit in a church somewhere in the Northwestern part of the state of Ohio. It took probably 4 hours to get there from Lansing, MI, and when I was done preaching, I was given a whopping $30 honorarium. Another time while doing pulpit supply in a church near Detroit, my wife accidentally sat in some old woman’s pew seat. You would have thought we killed her kittens and burned them before her eyes while feeding live bunnies to wolves. I’m serious. In my first church after college, I served for about a year and a half before the church decided that the money given to them by the atheist next door neighbor was more important than hearing the truth on Sundays.

And since I am on the preacher side of things, I could tell you about the ministries of several other preacher friends who have suffered the same or worse at the hands of power hungry elders (or their wives), tool-like trustees, or unhappy people who simply enjoyed eating preachers and their families for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and second dinner.You think it’s tough being a parishioner? Trying being a preacher. Try listening to the reasons why church members leave churches.

Yet I still belong to the church (with a little c). The church we worship with is anything but perfect. The people are sometimes as unfriendly to me as I am to them. Sometimes there is an air of conservative politics pervading the worship and overwhelming the presence of the Spirit. And worst of all, the pastor is a man! (Gasp!) I hold fast to the thought that american christians really have no clue how to define suffering. But, for all my complaints, I believe Jesus is among those people. I can tell because while they were losing their building to the Episcopal church, they were giving themselves away in ministry to local people. They could have took; instead they gave.

What I have learned is that no church is perfect and that, really, it takes faith to belong to the church with a little ‘c.’ It takes a lot of humility–something I confess I lack. It takes a lot of courage–especially when that church doesn’t always line up with your theological or political or biological expectations. It takes a lot of love–especially for gossipy old ladies whose favorite pastime is running down the preacher while getting their hair done and gossipy old men who do the same at McDonalds over coffee. It takes a lot of grace–after all, Jesus showed us that same grace when he welcomed us into his church, the church of which he is the charter member and the head. It’s not just that Jesus has something to do with the church, it’s that Jesus has never left the church. All these years. All that sin. All this ugliness. All the politics and compromise with the culture. Jesus is still here. With us. With the church.

Sometimes I think God allows the church to be as imperfect as it is precisely because there are people like me who have so many problems with the church, who have been mercilessly crushed time and time again by the church, who have been spoon fed to the devils and sifted in the wind, people like me who need to be humbled, and taught what grace really is. In other words, old ladies will always be old ladies, and never mothers, until I humble myself, forgive them, and love them as Jesus has loved me.

I’m not saying church is perfect.* I’m not saying there are never reasons to leave the church. I’m not saying I have it all figured out all the time. I’m not saying I haven’t been the reason other people have left the church. I’m certainly not saying that I am any better than Ms Evans; our lists are just different. I’m just saying that I am still there and that is so for one reason: Jesus is still there.

And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone ‘like a son of man…’ (Revelation 1:12-13a).

*Thanks to JM and BWW for crushing me one day with the problem I wasn’t seeing: I.

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[Note: I originally published this at my personal blog. I'm reposting here because I'm vain like that.]

I can still remember the day, back in 1988, when I was encouraged–along with my entire Senior government class–to register for the vote. There was an election that year. It was George H. W. Bush (R) versus Michael Dukakis (D). Our government teacher, Miss Lynch (and I have great respect for her, so this is not to disparage her in any way), helped us to get registered so we could vote in the primary. I was certain I would be voting Democrat. If I recall correctly, Jesse Jackson was also a Democrat primary candidate. I was loud enough in class to assure our teacher that I would vote for Jackson in the primary. I don’t remember if I voted in that primary or not (I graduated when I was 17 and I just do not remember.)

Several months later, there would be a presidential election. I was at Parris Island South Carolina, completing my training as a recruit in the USMC. I was one of two recruits during basic training who received absentee ballots. I recall very the very distinct and piercing voice of SSgt Aronhalt telling us, “If you still want to be allowed to carry a gun, you better vote for Bush.” I voted for Dukakis. Probably just to spite SSgt.

Here I am now, twenty some years later, and it is time for another presidential election. This past Sunday I was at worship. We were invited, as we are every Sunday, and as we are commanded in Scripture, to pray for our nation’s leaders. Someone prayed something to the effect of, “Lord, please send us the right candidates.” It struck a raw nerve with me. It’s one thing to pray for leaders, generically; it is quite something else to pray for the ‘right candidates.’ I gnashed my teeth. I have no right to feel that way about someone else’s prayer to God. But I did, and I do. Four days later, that prayer is still bothering me.

I grew up idolizing my grandfather. He had strong political ideas that mostly revolved around Democrat politics. He was a politician and perhaps could have done more with his political ambitions had he not also had ideas that mostly revolved around Miller beer. I knew, from a very early age, that Democrat was the only way that I would ever vote. Die-Hard Democrat: “Democrats stand for the working people; Republicans for the Rich” was the story he told me. With wide, saucer-like eyes, I listened in awe. Of course I voted for Dukakis–as much out of respect for my grandfather as to spite Ssgt Senior Drill Instructor Aronhalt.

I never missed an election cycle–local, state, federal for twenty years. Ever since Miss Lynch encouraged us to register. Voting was my right, responsibility, and privilege. People had ‘died so that I could vote’ or ‘voting freely is what makes America great and unique’ are the mantras I grew up listening to in classrooms and around cans of beer.

Here I am twenty years later and I just do not care any more. My conviction is born out of a heart that has come to the conclusion that it simply does not matter what I do inside that small curtained room. It’s like there’s a giant floating head hovering above us, clothed with smoke and fire, shouting to the candidates, “Don’t pay any attention to that man behind the curtain.” Word. That’s how I feel every time I go to the church building where the polling stations are set up. Ironic, I know, but true nonetheless.

Frankly, I think my conviction is born mostly out of my faith. On the one hand, I have no faith in the ’system’ (I wish I never had any to begin with, but that’s another story) any longer–I’m not so young and naive any longer; my grandfather is dead; I haven’t seen SSgt Aronhalt since November 9, 1988; and Miss Lynch can no longer issue me a detention slip. On the other hand, my faith compels me to neglect the handing of power to the power brokers, power mongers, power feeders, power graspers, power (insert favorite verb)  of this world. Since voting no longer matters, and since I no longer care, I’m not doing it again this year. Not one of those people running for office speaks for me, represents my view, or hopes to accomplish things in the way they should be accomplished. All they can do is throw more money at problems. They do not have in mind the Kingdom of God; they have in mind power: “The rulers of the Gentiles lord it over their subjects.” Indeed.

In every way imaginable, in every conceivable way, government is the antithesis of the Kingdom of God whose King Jesus is.

My conviction is that I will live with those who are chosen to lead, but I will have no part whatsoever in pushing them into power. I will not live in fear of those whose political opinions are diametrically opposed to mine and I will not worship at the throne of those who happen to share similar views. This is faith: that politics carries as much weight as we give them and I refuse to give politics any credibility at all. I refuse to invest my time in their power–it’s bad enough they get my money. I will endeavor to do my best to ignore them, their promises, their threats, their speeches about hope and unity and a ‘better America,’ or, worse, ‘a better tomorrow.’ Frankly, I do not want the sort of hope that is provided by politicians and government. Their hope is no hope at all. They can keep it, and I’ll keep my vote, my money, and myself.

But the worst part of all this? I know when I go to worship on Sunday I will hear something about this insipid political game we play every couple of years–does anyone ever even consider how much damage politics have done, how it destroys the unity of the body of Christ–and precisely because we are invited to pray for our leaders? (Prayers are never so unbiased as to avoid a short sermon or two in between thanking God for our daily bread and delivering us from evil.) I’m waiting for that one sermon that reminds me of what politicians are really like, what they are really about, and what they really hope to accomplish with their power: “But when John rebuked Herod the tetrarch because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and all the other evil things he had done, Herod added this to them all: He locked John up in prison” (Luke 3:19-20).

Politicians do not have the best interests of anyone in mind but themselves. Their life and their work is to preserve the continuity of power in the hands of a few. I will no longer play a nice part in the perpetuation and consolidation of power. The Scripture says, “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Colossians 2:15). So if Jesus disarmed the powers and authorities, what on earth could compel me to pick up those arms and willingly hand them back to the power-hungry leaders of this world?

I think the most Christian thing I can do in America right now is NOT vote in the upcoming presidential election.

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Shawn & BrendtMeet Shawn. Shawn was my best friend in high school.  (That’s him on the left at his graduation, and me still looking 12 after my first year of college.) When we were in our fundy Christian high school together, Shawn was planning on being a pastor. He even preached a few times in our weekly chapel service. We lost touch a couple years after this picture, but I caught up with him on the phone about 5 years after college. When I asked what he was doing (work-wise), he hemmed and hawed a bit before finally “admitting” that he was a social worker in the county where he lived. He was happily surprised that I wasn’t disappointed (in him) that he wasn’t a pastor.

I asked if he was doing what he believed God wanted him to do and he affirmed excitedly that he was and gave me a couple of recent examples in which he had seen God working through him at his job. Then I noted to him that being a pastor was a logical choice back when we were kids, given the environment that we were in. Back then, it was made clear to us (caught, if not necessarily taught) that a man who wished to truly follow God’s will for his life — and Shawn did want that — would be in “full-time Christian service”. This pretty much limited the options to (1) preacher, (2) missionary, or (3) Christian school teacher. A woman had the options of #2 or #3 or (better yet) the spouse of any of those options. There was lip-service paid to the legitimacy of the “Christian businessman”, but the overall influence showed that it was merely lip-service to the guy who actually paid the bills, er um, tithes.

In short, if you weren’t one of the big three, you were a second-class Christian.

Fast-forward to today. I saw a video whose overall theme still has me a bit puzzled, but it had a particular thought in it that conjured up the same tired old images of second-class Christianity. In addressing the Christian viewer about having heard and believed the gospel, the speaker threw a frickin’ bone to those who may have heard it differently than he did:

even if it’s a gospel that a guy like Barnabas would preach, as opposed to an apostle like Paul

Say what? When did Barnabas get ranked below Paul in anything?

If anything, in those days, Barnabas had a better grasp on grace than Paul did (Acts 15:36-39), something of which Paul apparently later repented (2 Timothy 4:11). But I digress.

I was so confused that I felt like I had to keep listening, in the desperate hope that he’d explain that gem.

The speaker’s text was Acts 11:19-26. I’m going to divide the passage into a few pieces so as to comment on the story as it progresses.

Now those who were scattered after the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to no one but the Jews only. But some of them were men from Cyprus and Cyrene, who, when they had come to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord.

OK, so we’ve got unnamed guys (”from Cyprus and Cyrene”) who were preaching Jesus and leading people to the Lord.

Then news of these things came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent out Barnabas to go as far as Antioch.

Hey, this sounds pretty cool. Go check it out, Barney.

When he came and had seen the grace of God, he was glad, and encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord. For he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord.

Barney confirms that it is way cool. And he encourages them in their faith.  A few good things are recorded about him, and apparently his influence led to others finding Jesus, too.

Then Barnabas departed for Tarsus to seek Saul. And when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people. And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.

Hey, Paul, you gotta see this! And so Paul comes and the two of them stay there for a whole year, teaching.

So, we’ve got a movement of the Spirit that starts with guys that the Bible doesn’t even bother to name, then Barnabas gets to throw in, and then Paul does too. It definitely seems that this whole thing is all about God, both from just the general gist of the story and that whole “the hand of the Lord was with them” thing in verse 21.

BZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ !!!! Wrong !!! Thanks for playing.

This isn’t about God. This is about Paul. You see, according to the speaker, the reason that Barnabas went for Paul was because the people at Antioch wanted to know more than Barnabas could teach them. And Paul knew the Scripture better than Barnabas and had actually had a (brief) physical encounter with Jesus.

Yeah, I’m not sure what bodily orifice the speaker got that one out of, either. Is it possible that there was such a need/desire and that Paul could better fulfill it? Sure. But nowhere near with the factual certainty that the speaker classified it.

Oh, and the disciples in Antioch being called “Christians” — that was a direct result of Paul teaching them.  (See previous bodily orifice reference.)

When it comes to doctrine, Paul could kick anyone’s asterisk-dollarsign-dollarsign. So it’s really a toss-up as to whether this junk is Paul-olatry or doctrine-olatry. Either way, though, it ain’t good.

In short, Barnabas was (in the speaker’s mind) a second-class Christian. I guess the unnamed guys were third-class. So brush up on your doctrine, boys and girls. Otherwise, you’re disappointing God.

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[Note: I am slowly working my way back into the blog world and this post marks the first in a series of posts I will be doing called "Curiosity". All I hope to accomplish is to provoke conversation about Jesus and the Scripture and discipleship.--jerry]

I am curious about a great many things that are found in the Bible. I find myself more and more curious about them the older and older I get. And the more and more I become detached from American Churchianity and become more and more attached to the Jesus of the Bible, the more I find myself curious about this Jesus I read of in the Bible. He was strange and did things that were very un-Christian-like—well, at least if American Christianity is any sort of guide as to what it means to be Jesus.

It’s an old cliché, but I’m sure if Jesus applied to be the pastor of a local church he wouldn’t even get the courtesy of a rejection letter. The good church folk would take one look at his cover letter, read something like, “Oh, and I think it is the essence of Christianity that the people of God take part in the practice of holiness…and participate in bringing healing to the sick and afflicted.” Or, “Someday you will reign with me and partake of the tree of life—whose leaves are for the healing of the nations” (Revelation 22:2, 5). Oh, the wise old elders would have a field day with that—and once the old ladies got a hold of it, well….I choose not to think of Jesus’ resume in the hands of old ladies considering that I know what some of them have done to Jesus himself.

So this is my curiosity for today: Revelation 22 clearly pictures a time when things are not the same as they are now—at least not entirely. It clearly pictures a time when we—or someone—has re-entered the garden of Eden and are living in the presence of God. But something is strange about what is going on in that land of bliss: “And the leaves are for the healing of the nations.” Well, I don’t understand. If Revelation 21 says there is a new heaven and a new earth, a new Jerusalem, no more death, no more mourning, no more crying or pain for the old order has passed away (21:1-4), and Revelation 22 says there is no more night, no more curse and that someone (we?) is living in the presence of God (22:1-5), then what does this sentence mean, “And the leaves are for the healing of the nations.”

What nations? What needs healed? I mean, if God is ‘making everything new’ (21:5), then what healing remains that can be, should be, will be cured by the leaves on the tree of life?  I am curious as to what this might mean—and please spare me the ready-made, wrapped with a bow, answers from commentaries or the Left Behind books. I’m serious. After God makes all things new are we to expect that there might still be work to do in this new heavens and new earth? What do you think? Who exactly are these nations that need healing in this place God has created where ‘there is no more death’? And what role will we play?

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…the way Christ loves the church.

Don’t you just hate those controversial titles that sound absolutely shocking and horrible and then you go to see what it’s all about and it’s nothing? I sure do, but I usually pay attention anyway. Why? The same reason writers write them. It’s a good hook, an easy way to draw in a reader. We want to know what’s behind the statement and in the end we are often disappointed because there was nothing to it (which is probably why the shock value is added in the first place). But the thing about my statement above is that it should be shocking even with the rest of the statement. We like to show ourselves grace by saying that we aren’t perfect and God doesn’t really expect us to actually be able to do these things He commands in Scripture. We’re wrong when we do that. God gives us grace and helps us to show grace to others, but He also expects us to grow, to mature, and to transform into the likeness of His son.

And for husbands, that means sacrificing of ourselves so that we can provide for, take care of, and even better our wives. “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.” Ephesians 5:25-28

Our leadership at home can have a tremendous impact on the well being of our spouses. Unfortunately, far too often I expect my wife to be available for my needs and wishes. I expect her to give up of her own desires and to sacrifice of herself so that I can have more time for fun, better food, freedom for work and for projects, and rest. This dynamic has a negative impact on her spiritual development. Although every person is responsible for their own faith, husbands are responsible to provide for the spiritual development of their wives. This means that you consider her needs, her growth, her holiness, her transformation into the likeness of Christ and you make adjustments to your schedule and your priorities. Not because Valentine’s Day is coming, but because Christ set the example and we are called to follow.

I need to also say this: Despite my shortcomings, when my wife loves, supports, encourages, and even follows my leading during these times, I am a better father, husband, and friend because of her.

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Lost in the furor over hell (primarily) and heaven (secondarily) in last year’s Love Wins, by Rob Bell, (and its excellent companion volume) was the underlying thesis about God’s love, and its primary quality evident in man: libertarian free will.  What differentiated man from the angels, and the primary evidence of God’s love for man in His creation of him was the true gift of free will: the permission/ability given to man by God to choose whether or not to accept or reject Him.

As Paul writes:

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

Throughout the Christian Scriptures, Jesus and his Apostles make clear the fundamental difference between the Law and the Spirit.  Jesus’ primary beef with the Pharisee party was that it had built up a series of regulations, or “hedges”, around the law to prevent anyone from possibly breaking it.  Yet, in doing so, even though they followed the letter of the law, their hearts were not changed.  The Law, itself, was not evil, but it could not change the hearts of men.  Jesus’ teaching on the importance of loving God with all of oneself, and loving their neighbor was one of freedom, not coercion.  Later, Paul noted that what we eat does not make us sinful, but if we abuse our freedom in a way that hurts others, we are sinning – not against a law, but against God’s desire.

And so, we have freedom – liberty.

It is God’s desire that we should love Him, but we can also reject Him.

It is God’s desire that we should care for the poor, but we can insulate ourselves and never even meet them – or, at best, send them a check.

It is God’s desire that we should be generous, but we can keep our blessings for ourselves.

It is God’s desire that we should have joy and contentment in Him, but we can be dissatisfied with what we have and covet.

It is God’s desire that we should be open and honest, but we can be insular, closed and secret.

It is God’s desire that we should care for our earthly bodies, but we can abuse them, to our own detriment.

It is God’s desire that we should love our neighbor, but we can despise them because they are different that we are.

The aim of God’s desire cannot be legislated, because the heart cannot be changed by a law.  Compliance is not acceptance.

America the Free?

For all of the things they got wrong, the founders of America got at least one primary concept right – an underlying principle that eventually eroded the most glaring error of those fathers: the allowance of slavery

That principle was this: Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is Liberty

The only rights held by men were those given by God, not the government.  The purpose of the government was to protect those rights, not to grant them.  Those rights, given by God, would allow free men to choose whether to do good or to do ill.   The laws of the land only existed to prevent people from depriving other people of those God given rights:

Freedom of expression – whether in support of God or against Him.

Freedom to worship God – or to reject Him.

Freedom to associate with anyone else – or to reject them.

Freedom to own property – whether or not one was a godly steward with it.

Freedom to live and to work – or to be lazy and die.  The freedom to succeed, or to fail.

These freedoms, given by God, as we all should know from our own experience, do not guarantee outcomes.  An evil person may prosper and a good person may suffer.  Even so, it is the freedom, itself, that is a gift and is a reflection of the Spirit of the Lord.

Pharisee Nation

Recently, I’ve read The Tragedy of American Compassion, by Marvin Olasky, which traces the roots of charity in America and its drifting from its original purpose (to help those in poverty to help themselves in escaping those conditions) to its present manifestation (which actually enslaves those it desires to “help”).  Olasky points out that charity is shared, personal, one-to-one suffering with those who are in need, not blind handouts, and that for almost a century and a half, the church managed the care for the poor far more effectively that the government could do, or has done since.

One of the things most clear to me, in reading it, is that many of us have shifted our reliance on God as the source of rights to reliance on the government to secure our rights.  While the Spirit of the Lord only guarantees us freedom, government seeks to guarantee our success and to outlaw failure.  In doing so, it has enslaved many – even in the church – and is doomed to fail, in the name of “compassion”.

We have taken the words of the Psalmist:

I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from?  My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.

And we have altered them to be:

I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from?  My help comes from Washington, the righter of wrongs.

And we now suffer for it.

The church used to care for the poor and the sick and the needy.  (How many hospitals are named after various Saints?)  Now we don’t need to, because Washington has it taken care of.

The church used to care for widows and orphans, but now the government has it taken care of.

The church used to care for the elderly (and to instruct families to care for their parents and grandparents), but now we’ve got Social Security and Medicare to take care of that for us.

The church used to help those who suffered from failure.  Now we have Uncle Sam to bail us out:

Banks fail, but don’t worry, Washington will bail them out.

Car companies fail because they churn out crap cars with overpriced labor governed by byzantine rules, but don’t worry, Washington will bail them out.

People who bought houses they couldn’t afford with money they didn’t have go bankrupt, and we cry out to Washington to bail them out, as well.

All in the name of “compassion”.

But really, now, let’s get a clue.  There is absolutely no such thing as government “charity” – Charity is something freely given in direct accordance and relationship with the person receiving it.  Taking money from Peter, under coercion, for the sake of “compassion” on Paul is an abomination that sets up the agent of “compassion” as the true god of those who support it.  At that point, God is no longer the guarantor of rights.  He is now absent from the transaction.

And we all suffer for it.

But the church can’t handle the need is a cop out and an utter lack of faith in a God who parted the seas, ruptured the grave, fed the masses and rescued the lost.  It is the voice of despair from the acolytes of the church of man in support of a system that is doomed to failure.  “But the church can’t handle the need” is the cry of the Baal worshiper in the face of Elijah.   It is a story nearly as old as the Bible, like the prophet of God, Balaam, who sold out to His enemies because he thought he was choosing the winning side.

We have become a Pharisee nation, where we feel we must regulate the hearts of men, lest they make a bad decision.

Smoking is bad for you, so we must ban you from smoking.

Trans-fat is bad for you, so we must ban you from eating it.

Wearing a seat belt is good for you, so we must require you to do it.

Health insurance is good for you, so we must require you to buy it.

And on and on.

The only help the church and the people of America need from Washington is for it to become utterly inconsequential in their lives.  Allow the church to become the church and stop trying to regulate away failure and legislate the hears of men.  It won’t work, so stop trying.

I don’t believe that God chose you, and blessed you so that you could heap those blessings up upon yourself. I believe God chose you, and you, and you, and every one of you others because He wants to make a difference in this world. And you know what? what I think is scary about God is He didn’t come up with any ‘Plan B.’ That He left the Church here, and the Church is the only group of people, and the Church is the only institution in the world that can bring about a change. This government cannot do it, so stop depending on the government. Educational systems cannot do it, so stop trusting educational systems. The Church was chosen by God to make a difference. – Rich Mullins

Amen.

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On Febraury 11, 2010, the Rapture Ready bulletin board banned me for two years (apparently for dragging God into a conversation) and informed me that I am not saved.

If you’re reading this, that means that the world has not ended yet, and I am over there renewing my membership and finding out from those gracious people how to be saved before I’m eternally damned.

And if you believe that last line, when I return from RR, I want to talk to you about a bridge in New York that I can sell you for a really good price.

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I wrote a post about parenting. I’ve been having a lot of conversations about it lately. I thought I’d pass the fun.

Here’s the thing: Parenting isn’t about the parents. I know this post is going to get me in trouble. I know it’s going to have people angry with me at this point, let alone after they read what’s coming. I know people are going to de-friend me and gnash their teeth at me. I even know that some people are going to decide to not come see me as a counselor, which will cost me money.I do not care. This is too important.Parenting is about the kids. It is about what is best for the kids. It’s not about the parents happiness. It’s not about the parents social life, or how fulfilled they feel. It doesn’t matter that most of our life someone has lied to us and told us a lie that we can do whatever we want and that having a kid greatly limits that.Now hear me out, please. It is important that parents take care of themselves. It is important that parents be well developed and emotionally mature people. So that they can model that for their children.

You can read the rest here.

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