Feb 202017
 

And then there were 11…

The CCA website tonight is absent two more pictures of council members as the photos of Wayne Taylor and Skip Heitzig have been absorbed into the ether.

What started with 24 men (allegedly) chosen by God and Chuck is now down to 11.

No explanations have been given, no hint of thank you notes or nice parting gifts for playing.

I do not know tonight why Heitzig decided to leave, but I surmise Taylor was finally forced out.

We’ll update as we know more…

Feb 202017
 

I was in email correspondence with a friend.

We were discussing matters of Church polity, practice and doctrine. He made the comment that many of his views had changed since his early days as a Christian. “It’s natural, I’m a different person than I was back then. I’ve matured a bit, I’ve learned, I’ve developed and I don’t think the Holy Spirit is through with me yet, I’m still learning who I am and what I’m supposed to be, but I’m not quite sure how to describe myself these days…”

Reading this, I could do nothing but agree. We take it as a matter of course that as we grow older we change. Yes, we still have the “inner core” of who we are, but we also refine our thought process, our judgements and, hopefully, we recognize our innate prejudices and seek to temper them accordingly.

This is especially true, I think, when it comes to the issue of identity. As we develop, it is a continuing search for “self-description”.

For instance, in a recent discussion, we tried to define the term “evangelical” (a term which many apply to themselves) and found it to be a difficult task. There are few clear markers that all might agree upon. Secular survey companies come up with an essentially sociological/political definition. Denominations who claim the term, place it within their own particular set of self-defining statements of faith. So called “online discernment ministries” set the term within a narrow definition of their own making, surrounded by the paranoia that is symptomatic of the deluded who believe that they alone know the truth. Some, who actually carry many of the distinctions associated with the term “evangelical” – high view of Scripture, conversion, mission oriented, substitutionary atonement – still reject the term out of hand as not being descriptive of their faith.

Now, if this is the case with the term, “evangelical”, how much more difficult is it to deal with the far more basic description, “Christian”? As an adjective, it’s used with all the abandon of ketchup at a roadside diner… you can put it on everything. So now we have “Christian radio”, “Christian movies”, “Christian books”, “Christian music”, “Christian counseling”, “Christian festivals”, “Christian social action”… you name it and we can add the adjective. Rather than helping to define the term, however, its diffusion has only added to the confusion of what it really means. In politics these days, you often hear that America is a “Christian nation” founded on “Christian values” (never mind that most of the Founding Fathers were actually enlightenment Deists). Then again, on the other side of the divide are those who claim the name “Christian” in arguing for a more inclusive approach to LGBTQ rights (in the Church and society at large) along with a whole host of other social issues upon which there are widely diverging opinions.

Try as we might, however, it seems we cannot claim the description as exclusively our own.

Scripture indicates (Acts 26:11) that believers first acquired the designation in Antioch. Interestingly enough, however, it does not seem to be an appellation that they claimed for themselves. We are simply told that it was first in Antioch that they were “called Christians” – that is, others applied the term to them; they didn’t take it on themselves. The term literally means “follower of Christ”. Something about the life, teaching and conduct of this small group of Jews and Gentiles was extraordinary enough that those who knew of them simply called them, “followers of Christ”.

Maybe, however, that is the point – It’s not about us, it’s about who we follow.

In the mid to late second century, a Christian named Mathetes, sent a letter to Diognetus (possibly the tutor of the emperor, Marcus Aurelius) in which he gave a description of what he understood it meant to bear the appellation, “Christian”. In our current day and age, we might do well to give it consideration…

“For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity. The course of conduct which they follow has not been devised by any speculation or deliberation of inquisitive men; nor do they, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of any merely human doctrines. But, inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities, according as the lot of each of them has determined, and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life. They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all [others]; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death, and restored to life. They are poor, yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all; they are dishonored, and yet in their very dishonor are glorified. They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honor; they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life; they are assailed by the Jews as foreigners, and are persecuted by the Greeks; yet those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their hatred.

To sum up all in one word–what the soul is in the body, that are Christians in the world. The soul is dispersed through all the members of the body, and Christians are scattered through all the cities of the world. The soul dwells in the body, yet is not of the body; and Christians dwell in the world, yet are not of the world. The invisible soul is guarded by the visible body, and Christians are known indeed to be in the world, but their godliness remains invisible. The flesh hates the soul, and wars against it, though itself suffering no injury, because it is prevented from enjoying pleasures; the world also hates the Christians, though in nowise injured, because they abjure pleasures. The soul loves the flesh that hates it, and [loves also] the members; Christians likewise love those that hate them. The soul is imprisoned in the body, yet preserves that very body; and Christians are confined in the world as in a prison, and yet they are the preservers of the world. The immortal soul dwells in a mortal tabernacle; and Christians dwell as sojourners in corruptible [bodies], looking for an incorruptible dwelling in the heavens. The soul, when but ill-provided with food and drink, becomes better; in like manner, the Christians, though subjected day by day to punishment, increase the more in number. God has assigned them this illustrious position…”
Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD
The Project

Feb 182017
 

May you be blessed forever, Lord for not abandoning me when I abandoned you.

May you be blessed forever, Lord, for offering your hand of love in my darkest, most lonely moment.

May you be blessed forever, Lord, for putting up with such a stubborn soul as mine.

May you be blessed forever, Lord, for loving me more than I love myself.

May you be blessed forever, Lord, for continuing to pour out your blessing upon me, even though I respond so poorly. …

May you be blessed forever, Lord, for repaying our sin with your love. 

May you be blessed forever, Lord, for being constant and unchanging, amidst all the changes of the world.

May you be blessed forever, Lord, for your countless blessings on me and on all your creatures.

TERESA OF AVILA, Spanish nun (1515–1582) [BHE, 126 PD]

Bjorklund, Kurt (2011-09-27). Prayers for Today (Kindle Locations 889-896). Moody Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

Feb 182017
 

Matthew 17:1-13

The Transfiguration

1And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.

  • The inner circle
  • God has his people on the mountain – mountains are huge in OT theology, and we see Jesus make use of them in the Gospels.

And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.

  • Transfigured = changed
  • What does this mean transfigured? How was Jesus changed?
  • How about this – his divinity is leaking out all over the place.
  • He is now truly who Peter confessed him to be.

And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.

  • Sitting around talking – How would you like to be in on that conversation.
  • Luke tells us what they were talking about – His Exodus. (9:30-31)
  • “Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. 31 They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem.”
  • Matt 16:21 ff Jesus describes his exodus – his suffering – death & resurrection.

And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.”

  • Jesus has laid Peter low and now he takes him up on mountain top.
  • Peter likes it here – let’s stay – we can build some condos.
  • We can really build a church now from this spiritual high – Peter is back to “step aside Jesus, I can do this now.”
  • Peter is the original meme – “hold my beer and watch this!”

He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”

  • Peter was still speaking … as always, when he gets cut off.
  • A bright cloud – OT = God’s presence.
  • The cloud in the OT was Mt. Sinai on Wheels.
  • God was with his people in the cloud by day and the pillar of fire at night.
  • When does the cloud first show up?… In the exodus.
  • According to Luke, they are discussing his exodus.
  • “whom I am well pleased” Why is God well pleased? Because Jesus is going to do a Good Friday.
  • Hence the preaching – the same voice we heard at the baptism.
  • And it is the same message – “listen to him”
  • Let his word have the prominent place.

When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified.

  • There was no doubt – the disciples knew who was speaking.

But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.”

  • Rise is the resurrection word.

And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.

  • Now when they look up Moses & Elijah are gone. Why?
  • Because now they are to listen to Jesus only
  • Again – the OT done & gone.

And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.”

  • What do they think of this comment?
  • “until” = Matthew 28
  • Not until = Because this was the conversation – Jesus’ departure.

10 And the disciples asked him, “Then why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?”

  • This is difficult – we will see that this is about John the Baptist, but … Elijah did just come in the transfiguration.

11 He answered, “Elijah does come, and he will restore all things.

  • So, is this speaking of reincarnation? Or is this types?
  • How about the fact that Elijah never died?
  • Luke 17:1 = and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”

12 But I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man will certainly suffer at their hands.”

  • If they did this to John the B, how much more to the one who claimed deity?
  • John is the forerunner here also.

13 Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist.

  • Oh! Now we get it …huh??

 

Feb 172017
 

I have spent most of my life in the faith deeply concerned about the doctrines of the faith.

I invested vast amounts of time and money into learning about God and God was supposed to be found in the pages of all those books that talked about Him.

Those books told you what scholars had decided about His attributes, His attitudes, and how He dealt with man and creation.

It was a lot of information about Him.

I’m sure some of it was even true.

It left me unsatisfied.

It turns out that all that knowledge about Him, though valuable, also created a wall that separated me from the one true and living God.

You have to name the name…His name is Jesus.

When you center your attention on Jesus instead of doctrines about God and books about God things get crazy.

He makes a mess of your library…books cannot contain Him.

He blows up any comfort zone you think you have with astounding demands to follow Him.

Following Him means not following anyone else…even when people you want to be with are chasing after other leaders.

He goes about your life loving people you don’t and then waits for you to do the same.

He says we must love our enemies even if they are enemies of Him as well.

Most of the religious that claim Him try to tame Him…so He rattles their cages until they want to kill Him….and His followers.

He’s a political radical who claims to be King over a kingdom that supersedes all earthly ones.

He expects you to follow His “constitution” when it contradicts any laws of men.

He calls us to live by faith, when we think we need the certainty of currency.

He demands that you reject the ways of the world when the ways of the world are the only way you know how to survive.

Unfortunately, survival isn’t high on His priority list…He always talks about losing this life to find the one He offers.

Reading about Him is easier than following Him.

Following Him can terrifying and fraught with risk .

He is alive and active, demanding and forgiving, consoling and rebuking, holy and awesome.

He is utterly unique, utterly wondrous, utterly God.

I love my books, but I am learning to love Him more.

The risk has proven to be worth it.

Only He satisfies.

Make your own application…

Feb 162017
 

With God All Things Are Possible!

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ So the last will be first, and the first last.” (Matt 20:1-16)

This parable was another gut check for the disciples. Jesus had been chipping away at their vision of His kingdom ever since one of them asked Him: “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (Matt 18:1) The disciples evidently thought that by personal ambition, dedication and hard work the cream would rise to the top. If that is how discipleship worked in the schools of the Pharisees, why would it not work for Jesus’ followers?

But when if the cream falls to the bottom in Christ’s kingdom? When if men must become like little children? When if the last are first, and the first are last? If that is the case, then Jesus must extinguish the disciples’ ambition and dreams of achieving greatness, rewards and status, so they can persevere, and He can work through them.

“So the last will be first, and the first last.” (Matt 20:16)

Two weeks ago I described the Christian life as being a blessed beggar before God. Jesus himself gave that blessing: “Blessed are the poor in spirit…” (Matt 5:3). But that nullifies our personal spiritual and holiness aspirations. Jesus humbles the exalted, and exalts the humbled (Matt 23:12)

As disciples of Jesus, we want to follow Him; we want to please Him. But because of our experience in the world, we do not know what pleases Him. We wonder: “Lord, how am I doing?” “Lord, am I growing?” “Lord, am I making it?”

Some of us are overachievers. We want to know: “Who is the greatest…?” (Matt 18:1) or “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” (Matt 20:21)

Some of us just want a passing grade. We want to know: “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?” (Matt 18:21a) or “What do I still lack?” (Matt 19:20b)

How often do we look around to compare ourselves with our brothers and sisters? We want to know why: “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.” (Matt 20:11) or “When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, ‘Lord, what about this man?’ ” (John 21:21)

“Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 18:3-4)

To the chagrin of the disciples, Jesus says that entering the kingdom of heaven and being His disciple is not our project. It is not a class. We are not graded. We do not progress from one year to the next. Discipleship is actually God’s work of (1) extinguishing our personal zeal for glory, status, rewards and honor and (2) giving us child-like faith in Christ.

Little children are not self-conscious about status. You never hear a toddler ask his mother: Do you love me? What must I do to be your son? Did you spend more money on my sister’s Christmas present than you did on mine? On the other hand, toddlers look solely to their parents for all their needs. Toddlers are completely dependent on the largess of their parents. Toddlers trust that their parents will feed, shelter, clothe and protect them.

“And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ ” (Matt 20:6-7)

After 11 hours of a 12 hour shift, what was left to do that day in the vineyard? Probably not much, but those men who no one else hired still had to eat and probably had families to feed. So out of sheer mercy the master sent them into his vineyard. There was nothing special about that last group, other than they were men in need who happened to bump into a gracious master who would not pass them by.

But the folks who worked a full day became livid when they found out that these last ones received the same pay. They remind us of the older brother in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. They are more fixated on how the master is merciful to someone else than thankful for the grace the master has shown them. So they grumble.

“Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’ ” (Matt 19:25-26)

So, who are we in the Parable of the Vineyard? As Christians we oscillate between the first group and the last group. Sometimes we are the first group, puffed up at our holiness, envious of our brother, or ticked off that our hard work and pious living are not showing results. To the first group Jesus says: Repent! The first will be last.

But when His Law has humbled us and brought us down, then His Gospel raises us up: “You go into the vineyard too.” Now we are the last group, called into His kingdom by His grace and mercy, like little children who live “by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt 4:4). The last will be first. “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

 “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” (Rom 8:3-4) Amen.

Feb 152017
 

Saeed Abedini was sentenced to community service after receiving a suspended sentence for violating a restraining order to keep him away from his (almost former) wife, Naghmah Abedini.

 

 

Had the judge not suspended the 180 day jail sentence there were no plans to run another “Free Saeed” campaign…though I would have been tempted to run a “Keep Saeed” movement.

Abedini maintains his innocence which he will detail in a forthcoming book.

Hopefully, he will also address all the other questions about his time in Iran…but don’t count on it.

 

 

Feb 152017
 

Outside of sports, I usually don’t watch much tv.  For many years now, there really have been no shows that I watch with close to any kind of regularity, with one exception.

That exception is 24.  

It has been my guilty pleasure. 

 Now with the show re-launching a new season, I am already hooked again after just two episodes, even without Jack Bauer to save day.

For those unfamiliar with 24, it is an action packed, suspense driven, often political thriller of a show where there is almost always a race against the clock to diffuse some catastrophic terrorist plot (often multiple ones at the same time) that is about to go down and threatens thousands, if not even millions of people.  Often chock full with conspiracy theories with some bad guy(s) always working from the inside, one is never sure who to trust (except Jack, we can always trust Jack), each week is left with a cliff hanger as disaster is perilously close to happening.

Obviously there is much drama built into the show as last second aversions (and failures to avert) of disaster and political conspiracies add much suspense and intrigue and help draw in and keep viewers.  How much of the show reflects what reality is actually like in regards to terrorist threats for government and top government defense and security agencies, I don’t really know.  One would probably have to be a legitimately pertinent government insider who is plugged in to some top secrets to really know how much of the show reflects some measure of reality and how much is just Hollywood sensationalism.

Since the show revolves around fighting terrorism, the antagonists are most often Muslims and/or Middle Easterners.  This gives the show an air of reality as we recognize in our world that most terrorist attacks, especially the larger and more intricate ones, are carried out by radical Muslims and/or people of Middle Eastern descent.  It does give picture to the very real danger that we face in this world by a radical Islam that believes it is righteously and triumphantly killing anyone it views as an infidel.

Which leads me to think about the refugee issue.  Now, my intent is not to make this a debate about refugees and/or President Trump’s executive order, although the discussion can easily end up going that way and there’s probably not much I can do about it.  But I want to reflect on a few different thoughts or aspects akin to the issue.

First, I echo Michael’s thoughts that he gave in last week’s Calvin’s Corner podcast (At the time of this writing, I haven’t yet listened to this week’s podcast so I can’t speak to anything additional there).  Those thoughts being that this is a complicated issue and it’s not nearly as simple as being for or against refugees.  That there are competing considerations between loving the refugee and showing mercy and compassion to them and also loving your family and neighbor and showing love to them by protecting them from potential harm.  Moreover, although this is a state issue as far as deciding who or how many or where from that we allow refugees into our country, as Christians we can always work to try to influence our governmental leaders to do what we believe is the right thing to do.

From a personal standpoint, I have thought through the issue and have come to the conclusion that Trump’s executive order is in the wrong and is the un-Christian thing to do.  Again, I am not trying to start a debate about it, and so I am not going to argue or detail all reasons which have brought me to such a conclusion.  However, this is what I believe on the issue and my belief was primarily informed by my faith.

Which brings me to how people react to either myself or many others saying that their Christian faith has helped bring them to such a judgment.  It is an interesting juxtaposition of sorts.  In many different instances, when a theologically conservative Christian says a political view is informed by their faith, there are cries from political liberals, some who even are Christians, that they should be keeping their faith out of politics or out of the government.  Sometimes the words of cultism or extremism are even thrown out there.  This often happens on issues like abortion or gay marriage or religious freedom.

But then when one states that their Christian faith was integral in their decision to oppose Trump’s executive order on refugees and immigration, or to support environmental issues, or to support the same religious freedoms for Muslims, there are frequently similar cries about wrongfully applying faith to political issues, except this time they come from the opposite camp – those who are political conservatives, some who even are Christians.  Some who will so strongly fight against abortion or for Christian religious freedom with their faith driving their fight, will now say that you’re mixing up church and state issues and you should keep your faith out of this one.  Or there will be the condescending remarks of, “Oh now you want to apply your faith to a political issue.”

We cannot expect different from those who aren’t Christians.  We can try to appeal to them, but we should not be surprised if they choose not to accept or even respect our religious convictions.  But we could and should expect more from our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.  We are free to disagree with political conclusions and the reasoning that led to them, but we should be the last ones telling other Christians to not allow their faith to inform their political beliefs and actions.  Sadly, it seems in our increasingly political divide, we much too often allow our political inclinations to override how we should rightly treat each other, including even those who share our faith.

I am not advocating for a type of Christian nationalism where we should work as Christians to take over the government and remove any line between church and state.  But what I am saying is, especially within our own Christian brethren, we should be respectful and even encouraging of people to allow their faith to illuminate how they think and act on the political issues of the day that surround them.  We should even be respectful of those who aren’t applying a Christian faith, but are still thinking and acting and expressing their political beliefs with some modicum of reason and care.  Just maybe if we were successful in accomplishing this, it could be a significant spark in helping to heal the unhealthy division we have in this country.  Just maybe the church could set a good example for the rest of our citizenship by acting like Christians should.  

Just maybe it could even help to heal some of the unhealthy division we have in the church. 

It sure wouldn’t hurt to try. 

Feb 142017
 

Why the Bible isn’t enough for abuse victims…

On being a civil Christian…

The scandal of the church in America…

The scandal of the church in America, Part 2…

What is an evangelical?

A new process of evangelism…

The fruit of a culture that worships individualism is loneliness…

The washerwoman evangelist…

Seven things the Bible teaches about love and romance…

Ignite Conference features abusive role models…

Evangelical leaders oppose travel ban…

Does your heart break like a Samaritan?

What tech should my church get?

The coffee cups…

When the one you love is wayward…

Billy Graham’s political lesson…

A Bible of paradox…

Building a communal church…

Why the 5 “solas ” matter today…

Does God have to love me?

Why we can’t stay out of politics…

Nine big myths about forgiveness…

When does nationalism override our allegiance to God?

Green card holders in the City of Man…

Is grace too good to be true?

Movie rips the prosperity gospel…

Fake news and other traps damaging the church…

Huge thanks as always to EricL for the link help. Support his businesses at top right…

 

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