Wednesday, April 30, 2008

New Church Website

Well I finally got around to registering a domain name for the church website. I went though ($17/year; a bit more expensive than some, but I've been advised that they provide good service).

A friend is actually providing the hosting space, and has arranged for me to have a point-and-click interface for the site, using Joomla.

Setting up Joomla is requiring a large learning curve on my part, but once it's set up the way I want, I believe maintaining it will be a snap, and I will be able to turn the day-to-day upkeep of the site to the elders and preacher and office staff (adding articles, recordings, announcements, etc).

It's in a very rough format now (did I mention a steep learning curve?), but I'm hoping to have it in reasonable form for demonstrating to the men at the Men's Breakfast this Saturday. (Yes, I'm "hoping", but I don't really have expectation that my learning will get me there by then. Bummer. Any Joomla experts out there that want to lend a hand?)

The site can be visited at: .

Monday, April 28, 2008

Emulate King Jehoshaphat

I like the way the Holman Christian Standard Bible renders 1 Chronicles 17:6 (except for it deliberately changing God's word and hiding God's name for the sake of tradition, as do many versions; I have fixed that in the quote below). It spoke to my spirit when I read it the other night, and made me want to emulate King Jehoshaphat in this regard.
His mind rejoiced in YHWH's ways....

Friday, April 25, 2008

The Acts 15 Conference

In Acts 15 we read about the conference that addressed the conversion of Gentiles. Up until this time, the church was exclusively Jewish, and it is doubtful that any Christians had really absorbed into their psyche that any of the "nations", the Gentiles, could be part of God's people unless they converted to Judaism.

The Jews did not, however, consign all Gentiles to being lost. Whereas the Jews believed they were under a special covenant with God, which included obedience to the 613 laws of the Mosaic Covenant, they believed that "good" Gentiles who obeyed the seven laws of the Noahic Covenant would find a place in paradise. These seven laws, derived from the covenant God made with Noah after the Flood, applied to all Nations, whereas the 613 laws of the Mosaic Covenant only applied to the Jews.

The result of this conference in Acts 15 was that the Gentile believers did not need to submit to the Law of Moses the way the Jewish believers did, because the Gentiles were not converting to the Mosaic Covenant, which was ritualistic and for the Jews only, but rather to the Abrahamic Covenant, which was by faith and was for all nations, and which was fulfilled in Jesus.

Nevertheless, to keep social peace with the many Moses-observing Jews living in most cities, the Gentiles needed to adhere to the seven laws of the Noahic Covenant which are:

1) to establish courts of justice;
2) to not commit blasphemy;
3) to not commit idolatry;
4) to not commit incest and adultery;
5) to not commit bloodshed;
6) to not commit robbery; and
7) to not eat flesh cut from a living animal.

The instructions in Acts 15 were:

1) to abstain from food sacrificed to idols;
2) to abstain from blood;
3) to abstain from the meat of strangled animals; and
4) to abstain from sexual immorality.

I suspect that the Jerusalem Conference members felt that these four rules were sufficient to appease the Jews living amongst them as being "close enough" to the seven Noahic Laws. The reason these rules were given to the Gentiles is because "... Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath" (v21), and that the new Gentile Christians would "do well to avoid these things" (v 29).

You can read more about the Jewish conception of the Noahic Law for Gentiles here:

Baptism Was Not "Christian"

I think we Christians, so far separated from our Jewish roots, have the mistaken impression that immersion is a "new" Christian thing.

I can't speak about attitudes toward immersion among the Gentile believers, but it had long been a common practice amongst Jews. Mikveh, or Baptism, was practiced by certain sects on a daily basis, and was often used as a cleansing ritual before or after major events (like for a High Priest before conducting a Temple service, or for anyone after handling dead bodies, or after having sex). Herod's Temple had several baptistries (ever wonder where the Christians got baptized on the birthday of the church? in the Temple baptistries (mikvaot), most likely). (You can google for more info: a pretty good quick summary that I recommend you spend ten minutes reading can be found at'nai-Amen/MysticalImmersion.htm)

Of course, we don't have such practices in our culture, so immersion presents a much larger barrier to modern Westerners than it did to the Jews of the first century. Thus it has largely been forgotten in our modern world. I'm reminded of Naaman (2 Kings 5) who at first refused baptism, because it was "too simple". (Thankfully, his servant convinced him that he was being stupid, and Naaman did as he was told and was cleansed of his leprosy because of his obedience (not because his skin got wet).) Modern believers have gotten it in their heads that baptism is an "extra" that is not part of the core of the salvation process, and like Naaman at first, have rejected the examples and commands found over and over in the New Testament. The Apostles never told anyone to "pray the sinner's prayer" and to be baptized after they find a good church to join.

To convert to Judaism in the first century, a Gentile would have to undergo both immersion and circumcision. About fourteen or so years after the church was born, when Gentiles started becoming converts, the Jews expected the Gentiles to convert into Christian-flavored Judaism to be just like themselves (until that time, I don't think any Christian even began to think that the church was anything other than Judaism perfected, including the continued observance of, but not justification by, the Law of Moses), and they expected the Gentiles to be immersed and to be circumcised. This of course led to the conference we read about in Acts 15.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Six Things to Consider when Educating Your Child

A friend of mine has just about decided to send his child to private school. In looking over the school's associated web site, I found the following which I thought worthy of repeating here.
Big Ideas to Consider:

1. There are basically two kingdoms: a kingdom of light and a kingdom of darkness. It seems strange to have those who walk in darkness educate children of light. It doesn't fit.

2. If Jesus Christ is Lord, then He is Lord of all. We cannot divide things into secular and sacred.

3. All truth is God's truth, and God's Word sheds light on our path. Only in His light can we see light. Education is not focused on possibilities but on certainties found in God's Word.

4. Deuteronomy 6 tells parents that, in all they do, they should provide a godly education 24/7.

5. Three key institutions that shape a child are the home, the church and the school. Children are served best when all three institutions point them in the same direction.

6. Only an education that has the liberty to address the whole child -- social, intellectual, emotional, physical AND spiritual -- reaches the possibility of excellence.

7. The best preparation for effective service is to be well grounded in one's mind before direct engagement of the culture.

Sunday, April 20, 2008


A small group went to see the Ben Stein movie "Expelled" today after lunch, including my parents. I never would have expected them to want to see it, but Dad had actually tried on his own to go see it last Friday (but circumstances prevented it). He's not usually one to be interested in such things.

But the thing that spoke volumes to me about this film is what he said as we were leaving the theater:

"There are only a dozen of us here; there should have been a thousand."

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Prophets for the Modern-Day

In my church culture, it is popularly believed that miracles and the like, such as healings and prophecy, ceased shortly after the last of Jesus' original Apostles died. The thinking is that such capabilities were specially given to the Apostles, who could then pass on those abilities through the laying on of hands to other people, but that those recipients could not pass on the abilities.

I know the arguments for this position, and frankly, I find that the arguments are somewhat weak. It seems to me that we don't believe in miracles in the modern day because we do not personally experience them. We then take this belief, developed through our experience, and "reinterpret" the text so that it aligns with this belief.

But as one small data point in contradiction to this belief, I present a passage read last night at church, Ephesians 4:11-13:
It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
Taking this passage at face-value, it seems to me that it teaches that so long as there is need for evangelists and pastors and teachers, there is need for apostles and prophets. The alternative is to claim that the church has already reached "unity in the faith" and has already "become mature" and has already attained to the "whole measure of the fullness of Christ".

I'm not entirely sure what to do with this concept. But one thing I absolutely will not do is to simply dismiss the idea of modern-day apostles and prophets because it doesn't fit in with my preconceived theology.

Of course, the issue is much larger than this one passage and entire books have been written on it (I just finished Jack Deere's two-in-one book, "Surprised by the [Spirit | Voice of God]"). The point is, it's time to return to the attitude of reading what's in the text, rather than reading what you believe into the text.

Monday, April 07, 2008

We Made The Right Choice

I believe we've made the right choice in hiring the new preacher whom we did.

In yesterday's sermon, he had turned to a passage, and just when we thought he was going to read it, he stopped and said that he didn't want to disturb anyone, but that he liked to hear the Word read out loud, and would be calling on us members to do some reading. He then said, "What does the text say?"

I was just about to decide to read the text, when his son piped up and read the passage. It was sort of an antiphonal reading, with the son reading a phrase, and his father repeating it with some sort of emphasis, followed by the son reading a phrase, followed by the repeat.

This happened four or six times throughout the sermon. The son always was first to bat. (I suppose he was culturally acclimated to this sort of reading, whereas the rest of us were not, and therefore weren't quite prepared.)

I like this method. It involves the listeners rather than simply leaving them sitting passively. I asked several people after the sermon what they thought, and none could find a "scriptural reason" not to do it, none found "anything wrong with with it", none "objected" to it, but I don't recall now that anyone was particularly in favor of it. I'm in favor of it.

I was afraid that because it was "different", it would be looked on with suspicion. I was afraid that the elders might put a kibosh on it, speaking to the new preacher in private and letting him know "we don't do that sort of thing here". Of course, that's probably just my paranoia speaking.

But I found it interesting (if not a bit disturbing), that he did not do the same thing in the evening sermon. Anh, surely that was just a coincidence flaming my paranoia. It will be interesting to see if the practice continues in future sermons.


Another thing that encouraged me about this preacher, is that he pointed out that Hebrews 10:24-25 is about encouraging others. He did not use this as a "proof-text" that we had to go to church, but rather, he used it as a "proof-text" that we should be encouraging one another unto love and good works, which I believe is more consistent with the emphasis of the passage. What really encouraged me was when he pointed out the meaning of the word "provoke" ("And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works"); the word means to "stir up". He had always believed that stirring up was a bad thing, as in "stirring up trouble". But he said that the text uses it positively, to stir up each other. I'm not sure he said this exactly, but what I heard was that we should shake each other out of our comfort zones, but I may have been inserting into his speech ideas born out of my own experiences of being chastised for disturbing the church's comfort zone. (I nearly gave him a verbal "Amen", but that is too far out of my comfort zone to do that just yet. Maybe in the future.)


Still another thing that encouraged me about this preacher is that he seems to be well-versed in the Bible, including the Tanakh (Old Testament). He references the Tanakh a lot; I get the sense that he's more well-rounded in Bible knowledge than I was expecting.


Perhaps the most encouraging thing about this new preacher is that I sense that he is open; he doesn't have his mind made up. He's confident in what he believes, but he's humble enough to look at other sides of an issue when presented to him. That's a very hard process, as I'm sure we'll all admit, but I believe he's likely to be someone who makes a better effort at it than most.

His whole attitude seems refreshing to me; the sense I get is that he has a humility, and a willingness to learn, and a concern about the spiritual aspects of reverence and desire for God (rather than a letter-of-the-law approach that I'm more accustomed to witnessing in that environment). The more I see of this guy, the more my spirit raises from its doldrums, hesitant to become hopeful, and yet yearning to hope that finally, here is a man who may approach God in Spirit, and not just in Truth. Can it be? Can it be?


Finally, the last thing I want to mention about how the choice of this preacher encouraged me yesterday, is that he actually said something that was new to me, rather than repeating the same message I've heard in church since I was three years old.

He mentioned that we often say things like, "Son, I'm proud of you", which we tend to think of as a good thing. But he did a survey of the usage of the words "pride" and "proud" in the Bible (finding something like 47 and 48 uses, respectively), and found that every one of the uses was negative. Being "proud", Biblically, is a negative thing. Rather, the Biblical example is to be "pleased with you".

His wife pointed out (this was in class, not during the sermon) that perhaps the language has changed, and we don't use the phrase "I'm proud of you" with the same meaning of the term "proud". The general consensus of the class is that "pride", as used in the Bible, refers to self-importance, but as she indicated, and as I agree, to be proud of someone really does not refer to one's self, but to the other person.

So our modern-day usage of "I'm proud of you" really means "I'm pleased with you." In essence, the meaning of the preacher's point was weakened, but I was exceptionally pleased that his underlying motivation was to be careful with our language. To me, that was the more important issue, the main point he was trying to make; he just chose a weaker example than he at first thought.

But I had never considered the possibility that something as "good" as telling another person that you're proud of them might be an anti-Biblical way of interacting with that person. This preacher made me consider this possibility (and somewhat, but perhaps not entirely, reject it academically, although I suspect I'll stop using the phrase in practice), and encouraged me by this possibility to be aware of the language I use.

In other words, this class session affected me, which is really rare. Most sermons/classes don't affect me, don't change me. And I can't say that this one made a 180-degree turn in my thinking, but it may very well have made a 2-degree course correction in my life. (And as I believe I've probably mentioned before, few people can handle 180s, whereas almost everyone can handle a 2-degree course correction every once in a while, so this small-change method might be more effective in the long-run than a large-change method.) But the point is that this preacher's message affected me. I'm quite pleased by the possibilities here.


Only time will tell how things work out. I've prayed for several years now that God might make this church into a healthy church. Dare my spirit have hope that God is acting on those prayers now? (Ya ever notice how God seems to take his time in answering prayers, when we expect instant results? What's up with that?)


And as a final note, inspired by that last sentence: we have a woman at church with some serious diseases, and she's been given about 6 months maximum to live. I've also been praying for her, that God might heal her, and again, it seems that God has taken his time about answering those prayers favorably, or perhaps he's unable to hear me due to failures on my end, or perhaps he's unwilling to respond favorably for his own purposes. But for her sake, and for her husband's sake, and for the glory to God that it would surely point to in this church that doesn't believe God performs miracles in the present-day, I pray for her healing. I'm afraid that even a last-minute healing that can not be explained medically would not sway this church into believing that God was directly involved -- it would be explained away as God's "providence", which is to say, "unexplained natural causes, because God doesn't perform miracles Today". Still, I think this woman herself, and perhaps her husband, would be convinced that God acted, if he were to give her complete healing at this last minute. I would love to see God's action; I would also love to see this woman granted another 20 or 30 years of life, in a healthy fashion, free of the pain she's suffered for the past several years. Could my cultural training be overcome by such an action of God, so that I could exult in saying, "God did this!"? Or would my cultural training over-ride my own eyes, and leave me doubtful of God's action in the present, believing deep in my soul the way this church does, that it was merely "Providence"? I write this note here, publicly, so that if God does choose to act and save this woman from disease, I will have no excuse to deny his mighty power and his willingness to listen to us lowly sinners. God, please heal this woman of her disease, and heal this church, and myself, of our unbelief. Let us have this reason to praise you, and to believe in Jesus more than we've ever done before.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Serving God with the Wallet

I received some spam yesterday that pointed me to a talk-show. His points in his "sermon" seemed lacking to me. One of them was a rejection of the idea that Jesus was a "radical hippie", upsetting the political machinery with a counter-cultural emphasis on taking care of the poor; the speaker believed the major thrust of Jesus' message was "preaching the Gospel" and extending the borders of the Kingdom.

It seems that this speaker's concept of Jesus' message is similar to that which I had growing up. But in recent years I believe I've been more successful at reading the Bible with a more open mindset, being more willing to let the text challenge my paradigm and biases (not that I'm totally successful at this; just more than I used to be). In doing so, I find that a great deal of Jesus' emphasis, of his concept of the Kingdom, was indeed about taking care of the poor, and not on spreading "correct doctrine". Even John the Immerser, in Luke 3:10ff, when asked specifically what his message to repent meant for various groups of people, responded to each group with an economic instruction, not a doctrinal one. Much of Jesus' teaching followed suit.

We see much of the same emphasis from the prophet Amos. Thomas Cahill summarizes well:
And the truth---for eighth-century Samaria---was this: to serve God means to act with justice. One cannot pray and offer sacrifice while ignoring the poor, the beggars at the gates. But more radical still: if you have more than you need, you are a thief, for what you "own" is stolen from those who do not have enough. You are a murderer, who lives on the abundance that has been taken from the mouths of the starving. You are an idolator, for what you worship is not the true God. You are a whore, for you have bedded down with other gods, the gods of your own comfort and self-delusion, you who "cram [your] palaces with violence and extortion," who have "sold the upright for silver and the poor for a pair of sandals [from Gucci, no doubt]," who "have crushed the heads of the weak into the dust and thrust the rights of the oppressed to one side."
There is one area in which I believe Cahilll mis-speaks. He says this is the truth for eighth-century Samaria.

But I believe it's the truth for 21st century Kent.

And that's scary.

God, be merciful to me, a thief, murderer, and idolator, and give me your Spirit, to morph me into the man you'd have me be.

Oh, Save Us From the King!

Thomas Cahill, in his book "The Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels", brings up the interesting point that long before being oppressed by the Romans, the ancient Israelites were looking for an "anointed One", God's "true deputy come at last to save his people".

But why would the people be looking for a Messiah/Christ before Roman oppression?

Remember when the people clamored for a king, so they could be like the nations around them? Remember what God foretold? He said,
This is the way the kind of king you're talking about operates. He'll take your sons and make soldiers of them—chariotry, cavalry, infantry, regimented in battalions and squadrons. He'll put some to forced labor on his farms, plowing and harvesting, and others to making either weapons of war or chariots in which he can ride in luxury. He'll put your daughters to work as beauticians and waitresses and cooks. He'll conscript your best fields, vineyards, and orchards and hand them over to his special friends. He'll tax your harvests and vintage to support his extensive bureaucracy. Your prize workers and best animals he'll take for his own use. He'll lay a tax on your flocks and you'll end up no better than slaves. The day will come when you will cry in desperation because of this king you so much want for yourselves. But don't expect YHWH to answer. - 1 Samuel 8:11ff
But the people insisted, and God gave them a king. It wasn't long until the third king, Solomon, taxed the people into the PoorHouse, and conscripted them into laborers for building the nation's infrastructure. The fourth king just made it worse, and from there it went downhill.

It wouldn't take long for such a people, oppressed by their own government, to long for a righteous king, like David.

I find it interesting that the people's first longing for a Messiah was not to save them from a foreign oppressor, but rather from their own government which was oppressing them just as YHWH had predicted, predicated on their own insistence.

And I'm no better than those ancient Israelites in my stupidity and insistence on doing it "my way", even in the midst of believing that I'm being submissive to my God.

YHWH, have mercy on us stupid, rebellious people.