Monday, December 17, 2012

Thoughts on The Parable of the Prodigal Son


  • First, why do we call it the Parable of the Prodigal Son? The word "prodigal" is not found in the text itself (at least, not in the KJV, which is the version that would have set the usage in our culture). No one nowadays even knows what the word means ("wastefully extravagant"). If the average Joe knew what the word means, okay. But no one does. Maybe we should call it the Parable of the Wastefully Extravagant Son, or the Parable of the Squanderer.
  • The church song, "God is Calling the Prodigal", implies that the word "prodigal" means something other than "wastefully extravagant"; it implies a meaning closer to "lost hungry runaway". In doing so, the song contributes to misunderstanding.
  • Not only did the son waste the father's assets; he wasted the assets on prostitutes (Luke 15:30). I think this is indicative of both the disdain oriented toward prostitutes and their customers, and the acceptance of men visiting prostitutes if they have the money for it. I'm reminded of Judah in Genesis 38, who had no great problem with visiting a prostitute, although he wanted to keep it quiet, and then his judgmentalism (at first, until his own hypocrisy was pointed out to him) toward his daughter-in-law when he found out she had prostituted herself. I'm not entirely sure what my point is here, but I think it has something to do with humans being ... human.
  • The party included music and dancing. I was raised in a church culture that said "dancing is sin". I'm pretty sure that attitude had its origins in protecting young hormone-adled teens from too much body-to-body stimulation, which is good, but it turned into a "No, you can't participate in the square-dance exercise in your elementary school music class" ruling. I think Jesus, in relating this part of the story with apparent approval, indicates that there's a middle ground on the issue of "dancing". I think he presents that view a lot in his teaching, counteracting our tendency to make hard-and-fast, black-and-white rules which often go to one extreme or the other.
  • I've never quite understood the father's response to the older son. The younger son had indeed squandered the father's wealth, and yet, the father throws a party for him upon his return, and acts like he doesn't think a party needs to be thrown for the older son who has faithfully been a good son. But this time as I read it, something clicked a little for me. Pop is not saying that the younger son gets a start-over with a redistribution again of the wealth still left over; he's just saying, we're celebrating the younger son's renewal to life; the older son still has all the assets ("everything I have is yours"). The older son hasn't lost anything; he's not going to have to give up another half to the the younger son who has squandered all his wealth; it's just a celebration that the younger son is longer estranged from the family. In that light, the father's response makes more sense to me. The younger son still has to pay the price of losing his wealth, but he does now have a comfortable home, and is on good terms again with his dad (not because of what the younger son did - indeed, despite that - but because of the love the dad has for him).
  • The faithful child is jealous that the unfaithful child got to do what he wanted and is yet still accepted. I can't help but think of Paul's discussion in Romans 10:19 and c. Romans 11:11, wherein he talks about Israel, the "son who stayed home", being made jealous that the non-Israelites get to be saved too.
  • The younger son, after squandering his money, had to associate with pigs. For a Jew, that was a big no-no. This son was in the bottom rung of society at this point.
  • This story reminds me of the Benny Hester song,When God Ran.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Will Jesus Ever Set Foot on this Earth Again?

Will Jesus Ever Set Foot on this Earth Again?

As near as I can tell from the Scriptures, we're not told that he won't, and we're not told that he will.

1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 gives us some hints:
16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the archangel’s voice, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are still alive will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air and so we will always be with the Lord.
We know from this that he comes into the atmospheric region of the Earth, but we're not told that he will actually step on the surface again. We know we'll join with him in the air, and so be with him forever, but does that mean we'll be with him forever in the earth's atmosphere (unlikely, since the atmosphere is destined for fire), or does it simply mean we'll be with him forever, wherever he goes?

I have no problem saying we have no solid evidence that he will step onto the earth's surface again; I do have a problem saying that we know he won't.

As I understand it, the cosmos, along with Adam and Eve, were designed to be eternal. God walked on the Earth at that time (Gen 3:8). Then Adam sinned, and both he and the creation itself were subjected to corruption. Now, the creation itself is eagerly waiting to be set free from that corruption, just as we await the same redemption of our physical bodies. Here's the relevant text for this, from Romans 8:
19 For the creation eagerly waits with anticipation for God’s sons to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility—not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it—in the hope 21 that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage of corruption into the glorious freedom of God’s children. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together with labor pains until now. 23 And not only that, but we ourselves who have the Spirit as the firstfruits—we also groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.
Adam had an eternal physical body, but it was not subject to corruption.

Jesus' physical body was raised, and is now not subject to corruption (Acts 13:34), and he took it into heaven (Acts 1:9). He will return to Earth in a similar manner to that in which he left (Acts 1:11).

Our physical bodies, like the first-fruits body of Jesus, will be raised, and changed to be incorruptible (not replaced - changed). We will be like him.

Somehow or 'nuther in that, the current heavens and earth will be melted with fire (2 Peter 3:5-7, 10 12), in a similar manner to the destruction of the earth in the Flood (a destruction, but not an annihilation). Does this burning describe a consumption to nothing, or does it describe a metamorphosis, like a caterpillar melting into a jelly on its way to a butterfly?

As I understand it, the pre-Fall world, and the post-Return world, were, and will be, a "physi-spiritual" world, more physical than we tend to imagine, but without the corruption-capability we associate with the word "physical". It will be like the body of Jesus; his body was composed of flesh and bones (Luke 24:39), was able to eat (Luke 24:43), to be hugged (John 20:17; Matt 28:9), to walk (Luke 24:15), to cook (John 21:9), to holler (John 21:5, 8), to bear scars (John 20:24-27), but it was also able to pass through solid walls/doors (20:19, 26), change appearance (Mark 16:12; Luke 24:13ff) , teleport from one place to another (Luke 24:31), and float into the sky and into heaven with neither wings nor spacesuit (Acts 1:.9-10).

Will Jesus stand on a this earth again, after it's burned up and renewed, like he once walked in the garden? I don't know; the text only gives hints, without clarity. But I'm hesitant to claim I have the answer one way or the other.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Hypocritic

I think I just penned a word: hypocritic

It describes those controlling people who are never happy with what you do, like the people in Luke 7 who criticize if you do or if you don't, if you dance or if you don't dance, if you eat or if you don't eat, because you're not meeting their own personal expectations.
HCSB Luke 7:31 “To what then should I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? 32 They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to each other:
We played the flute for you,
but you didn’t dance;
we sang a lament,
but you didn’t weep!
33 For John the Baptist did not come eating bread or drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon!’ 34 The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ 35 Yet wisdom is vindicated by all her children.”

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Biblical Contradictions

I've talked about Biblical contradictions before, in writing about how context matters.

You're probably familiar with the story of the blind men and the elephant. Each blind man touches an elephant on a different part of its body (one touching a leg, another a tusk, another an ear, etc), and then describe what they felt, only to discover they were in complete disagreement about an elephant's description.

It's not the elephant that is at fault, but rather the reports given about the elephant.

I believe this applies to the Bible. The Bible often "contradicts" itself, but the fault is not in the book itself, but rather in our limited ability to perceive it.

For example, the Bible clearly states that a person will pay for his own sins, not that of his parents (Ezek 18:20), and yet, it also says that we bear the burden of our parents' sins (Jer 32:18; Lam 5:7).

It also implies that children are innocent of sin (Matt 18:3; 19:4), and yet also implies that we are born with sin (Gen 6:5; Ps 53:2-3; Rom 5:12ff).

It indicates that sin is something we do (1 John 3:4), and yet it indicates that sin is something that we have (Rom 7:17).

We humans don't like our holy books to have contradictions, so we expend lots of effort to explain away the contradictions. We usually do so by attacking the viewpoints opposing our own, finding an alternative explanation for that viewpoint.

There's nothing wrong with that; a certain amount of it is healthy, because Truth is worth searching for.

The problem is when we conclude that we have the Truth, and our opponents do not, because they don't have the same love for the truth that we ourselves have. What's worse, is when that attitude causes us to twist the scriptures to support our viewpoint. Worse even still, is when, after we've twisted the scriptures ourselves, we then accuse our opponents of twisting the scripture.

It might just be that our view of the elephant is limited by our blindness.

So what's my point?

My point is that maybe we don't have such a perfect understanding as we think we have. If the text has been argued about for centuries, by minds greater than our own, maybe we should be a little more humble in declaring we have the answer and they don't.

We often insist on unity in "the essentials". Maybe we should instead insist on unity in things that are clear. (And even then, is it really clear?) And on other things, don't judge, but let each servant stand before God on his own, for the Lord will make him stand (Rom 14:1-4).

Monday, December 03, 2012

Refusing the Obvious

My friend, Robert Blasingame, posts at his blog an interesting observation:

The chief priests, etc, who had Jesus arrested, tried, and executed, knew he had claimed that he would rise again, so much so that they posted guards at his tomb to prevent anyone from stealing the body so that they could claim he had arisen.

But then, when it actually happened, they had a first-hand account from those guards that angels, not humans, had opened the tomb, leading to the disappearance of Jesus' body. And still, despite the impeccable testimony, the chief priests refused to accept the obvious.

Talk about willful blindness.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Meeting Cassie

In the beginning we were just friends.

The main door to the hospital is a large revolving door. She was already inside the door, and the entrance gap was just about to close as I approached. I increased my pace to barely slip through the closing gap, and the door's sensor must've thought I was going to be hit, and the door suddenly stopped. The girl didn't, and she ran into the door on the opposite side which otherwise would have been out of her way by then. I apologized to her, and that was our first contact. I thought about her the rest of the evening, and until the morning. That was day one.

Back at the hospital, I saw her fighting with the vending machine. I asked her how her nose was, and made other small talk. I eventually wound up buying her a Sprite from the other, non-money-stealing vending machine. That led to an exchange of names; her name is Cassie. I definitely thought of her the rest of the evening, well into the morning. That was day two.

She gave me no indication of being interested in me, so I tried to curb my own interest in her. But when I saw her sitting in a Family Room, my heart expanded out to her. I wondered why she was in a Family Room instead of her mom's hospital room. Had something gone bad? I went in and sat with her. Turns out she was just using the room as a waiting room while her mom had relatively minor surgery. I sat with her for hours. We played Nickel Train with the room's domino set. I enjoyed her company, and I think she enjoyed mine. We played late, past evening, into the morning. That was day three.

Now, my question for you, Dear Reader: Do you get the sense, at all, that the days above are anything but 24-hour days?

No?

Then why do you try to force the days of Genesis 1, structured very similarly to the days in my fictional story above, into being something other than 24-hour days? I think it's because you're trying to force the text to fit your notions of what it should be, rather than letting it be what it is.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Languages of Love

According to Chapman and Campbell, there are five basic "languages" of love: physical touch, quality time, gifts, acts of service, and words of affirmation.

Different people "speak" different languages, and different people "hear" different languages.

One person may natively speak acts of service, and hear physical touch, while another speaks and hears quality time.

If you don't speak the language of love which is heard by the one you love, it is your responsibility to learn how to speak that language. It is a cop-out to say, "Well I'm just not good at touching people, but I really do love you. Can't you see that by the gifts I bring you?"

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Amos 4 in 35 Seconds

YHWH speaks to Israel: "You cows of Bashan! You women who oppress the poor and crush the needy, who nag your husbands, 'Bring me a drink!'

"Disaster is coming."

Verse 6 - "I sent famine. And you got hungry. But you didn't get hungry for me. You ignored me."

Verse 7 - "I sent drought. And you got thirsty. But you didn't get thirsty for me. You ignored me."

Next few verses - "I ruined your crops. I sent you plagues. I brought war to your doorstep. I overthrew some of your towns. And you ignored, ignored, ignored, ignored me."

Verse 12 - "So, prepare to meet your God!"


Saturday, September 08, 2012

Feeding the Puppies

Sad, that we get the wrong concept so often from badly translated passages in our mainstream Bible versions. For example, here's Mark 7:27 from a few different mainstream versions:

KJV - But Jesus said unto her, Let the children first be filled: for it is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it unto the dogs.

HCSV - He said to her, “Allow the children to be satisfied first, because it isn’t right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”

NIV (1984) - “First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.”

ESV - And he said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.”

and so on....

Of these versions, the NIV comes closest to the meaning. But these next three do the best job:

YLT - And Jesus said to her, `Suffer first the children to be filled, for it is not good to take the children's bread, and to cast [it] to the little dogs.'

Amp - And He said to her, First let the children be fed, for it is not becoming or proper or right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the [little house] dogs.

ISV - But he kept telling her, "First let the children be filled. It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the puppies."

When we read the first versions, we get in our mind an insult, that Jesus is referring to this woman's ethnic group as dogs. The mental image that arises is Jesus turning his back on her in a huff, throwing his nose up into the air, and saying, "Begone, Dog!"

But that's not what's going on. He's drawing a picture of a harried mom trying to get things done while the kids are at the breakfast table and she's focused on the wrong thing by feeding the household puppy dogs instead of feeding the kids.

And the woman to whom Jesus speaks replies, "Yes, but even when a good mom pays attention to her kids, where it's supposed to be, instead of to the puppies, the puppies still benefit from the spilled crumbs -- they don't go hungry. The mom does not actively prevent the pups from benefiting from what the kids drop."

That word "little" (such as seen in Young's Literal Translation) makes a substantial difference in how our brains draw up the picture, doesn't it?

For those who are curious, the Greek word is word #2951 in Strong's Concordance (http://concordances.org/greek/2952.htm):

kunarion: a little dog
Original Word: κυνάριον, ου, τό
Part of Speech: Noun, Neuter
Transliteration: kunarion
Phonetic Spelling: (koo-nar'-ee-on)
Short Definition: a little dog
Definition: a little dog, a house dog.

Cognate: 2952 kynárion – properly, puppy, a diminutive of 2965 /kýōn ("dog").

We would do well to be teaching Biblical Greek and Hebrew in our Sunday school classes, to our little ones who have the absorption capabilities to learn new languages. Within a generation, we'd have a church membership which is much more Biblically literate than our current crop of Christians.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Unalienable Rights

According to the Founders of our great and united States of America, our rights come from our Creator, not from Government, and they are unalienable ("not to be separated, given away, or taken away"). Further, our unalienable rights are not limited to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness, but rather these are just three examples amongst them.

When I was a kid, one of us might ask if we could do such-and-so, and another would answer, "It's a free country; do what you want." Nowadays, the answer is more likely to be, "You'll have to ask permission at the permit office. And pay a fee."

I don't own my land; if I did, I wouldn't have to ask the government permission to cut down a tree or put up a fence or build a house or risk losing the land if I don't pay the "protection money", er, I mean,  property tax.

I'm not arguing against all restrictions; some are necessary to avoid tromping on the rights of my neighbors; I'm just pointing out the change in mentality that has occurred in the past half-century which has ceded our freedoms to the "authorities" who are now responsible, no longer for guaranteeing those freedoms, but for dispensing them.

Many of our leaders (as well as many of the American sheeple) seem to be of the mentality that our certain unalienable rights are endowed to us by government. That conflicts with the Founders' viewpoint. It's an unAmerican position.

If you've never read the Declaration of Independence, give it a read, or at a bare minimum, the first two paragraphs; it's a short document:

    http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/declaration_transcript.html

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Elders, Pastors, Bishops, Shepherds, Part 2

In my previous post, I answered two questions asked on an email list (Church_of_Christ on Yahoo!Groups) from the questioner abotsipatrick. In this post, another email list member responds to the same questions.

---


"abotsipatrick" asks:
"Do the terms pastor, elder, bishop and overseer refer to the same office or different offices?"

Bishop and overseer both translate the exact same word from the Greek NT--"episkopos."  You'll find "bishop" used by English translations from more of the "high church" tradition in Php. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:1-2; Ti. 1:7 (cf. KJV, ASV, RSV, NKJV, NRSV).  In those very same passages, other English versions (particularly those prepared by a predominantly Evangelical committee), you'll find the term "overseer" in place of bishop (cf. ESV, NASB, NCV, NIV, NET).

Do we find in the NT the three terms ["pastor/shepherd" from poimaino, "elder/older" from presbuteros, "overseer" from episkopos] being used interchangeably for the same role in the NT church or for three separate roles?  Acts 20:17-28 has Paul sending for the "elders" of the church in Ephesus and telling those elders that the Holy Spirit has made them "overseers" in order to "pastor" (shepherd, care for) the church of God.  In 1 Pet. 5:1-2, Peter exhorts his fellow "elders" to "pastor" the flock of God, exercising "oversight" (verb form of episkopos).  Titus 1 uses overseer and elder for the same role Paul is describing, a role he uses overseer for in 1 Tim. 3.

An "elder" is who this person is--an older as opposed to younger individual, someone who has gained some practical wisdom through life experience over time.

"Overseer" is what this person is, what it is they do--care for the church, providing guidance, direction, protection.

"Shepherd" is how the this older person is to exercise oversight--like a shepherd with his sheep (see Ezek. 34 and Ps. 23).  They are to nurture, nourish, and protect the members of God's flock.

Side bar:  notice I have refrained from using the term "office," which is foreign to the text.  If we're going to import terminology into the text, I think "function" is superior to "office".  Elder/overseer/shepherd is not a string of titles but descriptions for a function within Christ's body the Church.  If one is not functioning as an overseer/shepherd, providing that nurturing, nourishment, and protection, then they aren't shepherds.  One can have a title and hold an office yet have no function.  Not so with elder/overseer/shepherd.

Abotsipatrick asks a second question:
"Does Eph. 4:11...teach that being a pastor is a gift from God that does not require the appointment or ordination of humans?"

No.  Yes, it teaches that the roles or functions of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher are gifts from God, just like service, generosity, exhortation, leadership, being merciful are gifts from God (Rom. 12:6-8).  It does not necessarily follow, however, that stepping in to the role of an apostle or evangelist or pastor does not require some form or recognition and affirmation of that gift by the Body of Christ through some appointment or ordination by humans.

Did not Paul and Barnabas (two humans) go through the congregations they had planted and appoint elders in each congregation (Ac. 14:23)?  Did not Paul, a human, leave Titus, another human, on the isle of Crete to appoint elders in every town as Paul directed him to do (Ti. 1:5)?  How was it Timothy became an evangelist?  Was it not through Paul's deliberate selection based in part upon the recommendation of the believers from Timothy's home congregation (Ac. 16:1-4), and did it not include the laying on of hands of an eldership (1 Tim. 4:14).  Was not Timothy himself, in being given instructions about what to look for in a prospective overseer or deacon (1 Tim. 3) cautioned not to "lay hands" (i.e. commission or ordain) on anyone too hastily (1 Tim. 5:22)?  Was not there direct human involvement in the selection of Judas' replacement to the role of apostle?  For it began with Peter addressing the need and setting out the parameters for the kind of person they were looking for.  The congregation narrowed the field down to two individuals.  After that, they asked God to make his choice of the two known through prayer and casting lots (Ac. 1:15-26)?  Human involvement working with Divine guidance.

The Lord save the church from self-appointed apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers.

Final observation:  Somehow, somewhere, we've picked up the notion that having a gift means permission to use that gift in any manner the gifted one seems fit.  But a gift is not a license to do as one pleases.  Bezalel and Oholiab were divinely gifted by God and filled with God's Spirit "with ability, intelligence, knowledge and craftmanship to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, bronze," etc. in order to construct the tabernacle (Ex. 31; 35:30-36:5).  Yet those gifts were only to be used within the boundaries established by God.  When God said to use almond blossoms for the menorah, for example, they did not have the artistic license to add or substitute cherry blossoms in the design.  Gifted artisans though they were, they were not at liberty to use those God-given gifts to construct an idol, or pornographic sculptures, etc.

Reception of a gift is not permission to then use it in any manner or fashion we please.  We must exercise our gifts within the parameters God has established.
Respectfully,
Stephen Lord

Elders, Pastors, Bishops, Shepherds

On an email list of which I'm a member, abotsipatrick asked the following:
Do the terms pastor, elder, bishop and overseer refer to the same office or different offices?
and
Secondly, does Ephesians 4:11 ("and some pastors and teachers") teach that being a pastor is a gift from God that does not require the appointment or ordination of humans?
In this post, I give my response. In my next post, I will give the response of another list member.

----

Let me encourage you to think in terms of "roles", or "services", first, and then apply that to the concept of "office".

pastor - I encourage you to mentally translate this word as "shepherd". The role of a shepherd is to care for a flock of dumb sheep, making sure they get fed, watered, and are safe, occasionally helping in the process of birthing or other medical service, etc. The shepherd is not a rule-maker, or a tyrant, or a business person, except only insofar as taking care of the business of flock-care requires.

elder - I encourage you to mentally translate this word as "older person". The older people in a group tend to be those who have been wizened by life-experience, and who thus have influence on the direction the group goes. They would tend to make or at least influence the making of whatever rules are needed for the flock's personal safety.

bishop, overseer - same word, different eras of language. I encourage you to mentally translate this word as "overseer", or "supervisor". This is a person who directs, takes charge, assigns tasks, makes sure things work according to the mission statement. They would would tend to make whatever rules are needed for the flock's communal safety.

An ideal, mature leader will have all of these characteristics, such that the roles overlap in one individual. I believe that in the New Testament, the ideal was that the local church leader[s] would fill all of these roles. However, when a leader recognizes that he's not suited to a particular task, he might delegate that task to another, such as how the leaders in the early church (Acts 6) delegated the shepherding role of of physically feeding the community to specially-designated servants, while they focused on the shepherding role of spiritually feeding the community.

Likewise, a local community of believers might have a leadership body containing one person who is very good at the business aspects of running the group - this person would most likely fill the role of bishop/overseer. Another person in the leadership might excel at dispensing wisdom, and might serve as the counselor who is sought out for his answers to life. A third person in the leadership might be an awesome teacher, filling the minds and spirits of the membership with God's food. Or perhaps each of the leaders excels in all three areas, or a mixture.

So to answer your question, yes, the terms all do refer to the same "office" - that of leadership, but they do not necessarily all refer to the same officeholder, the same leader. As Romans 12:4 says:

KJV For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office:
let us focus on using whatever gift God has given each of us, and let those with the gifts of shepherding and of wisdom-dispensing and of supervisory capabilities use their gifts to care for, lead, and take care of the community. And let us recognize that it will be rare to find one person with all these characteristics, which is part of the reason a leadership body might be better composed of multiple leaders with differing strengths rather than trying to force-fit a single leader into filling all the roles.


abotsipatrick's second question:

Secondly, does Ephesians 4:11 ("and some pastors and teachers") teach that being a pastor is a gift from God that does not require the appointment or ordination of humans?

Paul writes in Galatians 1:1 that he is "an apostle—not from men or by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father". The full text of the verse you reference is:

HCSB Eph 4:11 And He personally gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers,
Yes, being a pastor is a gift from God that does not require the appointment or ordination of humans. Compare Romans 12:

According to the grace given to us, we have different gifts: If prophecy,
use it according to the standard of one’s faith;
if service, in service;
if teaching, in teaching;
if exhorting, in exhortation;
giving, with generosity;
leading, with diligence;
showing mercy, with cheerfulness.
and 1 Corinthians 12:
Now there are different gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different ministries, but the same Lord. And there are different activities, but the same God activates each gift in each person. A demonstration of the Spirit is given to each person to produce what is beneficial:
to one is given a message of wisdom
through the Spirit,
to another, a message of knowledge
by the same Spirit,
to another, faith by the same Spirit,
to another, gifts of healing by the one Spirit,
10 to another, the performing of miracles,
to another, prophecy,
to another, distinguishing between spirits,
to another, different kinds of languages,
to another, interpretation of languages.
11 But one and the same Spirit is active in all these, distributing to each person as He wills.
and

27 Now you are the body of Christ, and individual members of it. 28 And God has placed these in the church:
first apostles, second prophets,
third teachers, next miracles,
then gifts of healing, helping,
managing, various kinds of languages.
29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets?
Are all teachers? Do all do miracles?
30 Do all have gifts of healing?
Do all speak in other languages?
Do all interpret?
31 But desire the greater gifts.
God gives each of us one or more gifts, to be used in building up the body. Some of them are miraculous; some are not. Some are given according to what God deems best; some are given according to what we desire (v 31 above) and pursue (1 Cor 14:1) and ask for (1 Cor 14:13).

However, just because a person has a gift, that does not necessarily mean he will be appointed within a particular community to exercise that gift. Paul instructed Titus to appoint people to serve as elders in each town; but he restricted those appointments to people who were suitable for the task. God gives the gift and the overall appointment; Man gives the local appointment.

Friday, August 31, 2012

What He Did

Lost in my mind, dark and unknown, i don't know what to do, i'm just so alone. I want to be let out and set free, But I don't know who I am or where I should be. I feel empty and hollow, I feel nothing but pain and sorrow. My world is spinning and i'm on the ground, Everyone is gone and I don't hear a sound. This monster inside my soul, It's taken over and left me in an empty hole. I want out, want to see the light, But something is there, blocking my sight. I scream for help and release, In my heart all i want is peace. I feel the blood run down my throat hot and thick, I know now the clock of life would no longer tick. My life was over and i was dead, Now only darkness filled my head. He killed me and took my life, I was gone, his love, his sacrifice. The monster silenced me with all his might, No longer would I live or see the beauty of the light.

-- anonymous

Held Captive

I lay still in my bed, hearing his footsteps:
terrified creaking down teh stairs I hear, seconds later the moment I
dread. I pretend to be sleeping with my eyes closed tight, my nightmare
has come all over again.
I hear you stop at the foot of my bed -- right about now I am wishing I
was dead! You move your hands over me as I drift to a place that does
not exist, a place where I am just a child, a place with no fear, a
place with no pain.
I feel your body as it presses into mine.
My breath is taken from my chest.
I am well aware this won't be the last.
You achieve your goals, then leave.
What have I done, I'm left all alone.
The tears roll down my face.
Please, please just get me outta this place.
The years have gone by and I wanna believe the monsters will never
hurt me again, I pray, and pray, never again, yet in one moment my guard
I let down once again. This familiar stranger, I let in, with my eyes
closed my nightmare begins. I know in my heart it's not gonna end.. His
hands are on me, my clothes on the floor. I cry and cry but I'm a scared
little coward who deserves much more. I've become his whore as his body
becomes one with mine. Something in me dies, this little girl will be
the same no more.
My mind holds a pile of memories that I wish I could burn. That will not
happen; it haunts me at night. Once my eyes close my nightmares begin.
My reality becomes misery, but I give it my all. I've been imprisoned,
the voices around me preach on and on "It's over, now time to move on",
trying to convince me there is no shame. I try to forget yet once again
the nightmares begin. It'll never be over; it'll simply start over again. 
 
-- anonymous

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Spock Talks Evolution

I watched the original series Star Trek episode "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield" tonight.

In this episode, Spock said, "The actual theory is that all life-forms evolved from the lower levels to the more advanced stages."

This highlights my scientific objection to Evolution; I see lots of "change" in life forms, in the fossil record, in everyday experience, in the lab, in historical records, but that change is overwhelmingly downward, somewhat lateral, and never unambiguously upward. Cave fish lose their eyes, serpents lose their legs, bacteria lose the ability to process a chemical which makes them less fit overall but allows them to survive in a weakened state in a small niche environment of antibiotic chemicals; finch beaks lengthen one year and shrink the next, only to lengthen again the next year, as weather/environmental conditions change from year to year; robust mutt dogs "evolve" into weaker but more specialized breeds, gaining perhaps a longer body suitable for digging mice out of mice-holes, but at the cost of weaker spines and shorter lives. When it can be demonstrated that some natural process (random genetic mutations, or hereditary passing of acquired characteristics, or whatever) can generate new, never-before-seen functions and organs and capabilities, not just on a "here's a possible candidate" rare exception basis, but on a "this is the rule rather than the exception" basis, then I'll be able to consider Evolution as a more viable concept.

Simply put, the evidence is lacking.

And the inability to distinguish between upward evolution and downward or lateral evolution, using the same term to describe all three phenomena, is what makes most people believe Evolution is true. The evolutionary proponents take advantage of this inability, "moving the goalposts" so to speak, by claiming in their books, documentaries, museum displays, etc, that "Evolution" (in the sense of upward progress) is a fact supported by a wealth of evidence, and then they trot at as evidence examples of lateral and/or downward "evolution".

Doing Our Best to Do The Best

Most of us do the best we know how, we just don't know to do the best.

-- wisdom from a friend, Sheri

Dr. Phil's Wisdom

I understand that Dr. Phil says that we teach people how to treat us.

I think that's astoundingly wise.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Making Health Care More Accessible

Health care - four basic biggies

Heart Attacks

Cancer

Other diseases

Trauma (stabs, car wrecks, falls, etc)

The problems we're having with health care are two-fold: 1) expense, and 2) lack of supply to meet the demand.

Both of these two problems can be addressed to a large extent with Do It Yourself (DIY) technology. There's no reason to wait two weeks to see a doctor, when some of the same information he can glean about your body is discernible using modern technology.

Trauma
For trauma issues, your best best is the Emergency Room; they're not called Trauma Centers for nothing.

Other Diseases
For diseases other than cancer and heart attacks, there's such a myriad of possibilities that there's not any one good solution. However, I've recently learned that for men, a quick, easy home test for prostate problems is a dollar-version of an Early Pregnancy Test (EPT) from the local Dollar Store - a positive result means you should seek medical care; a negative result means you're probably good until your next prostate exam. There are probably a host of little DIY tricks like this which could go a long way toward making the consumer of health-care more capable of being proactive in his/her own health.

There's probably not a medical professional alive who would go on-record suggesting an EPT for testing for prostate problems. If there was one case where the EPT failed to indicate prostate problems and someone developed serious complications from failure to seek professional help, that doctor would likely be ruined. So I doubt that the claim of EPT testing for prostrate problems can be verified as being a valid test. But assuming it is a valid test, how many other simple, cheap tests are available to address a lot of medical issues which are simply being buried by the current culture of medicine?

Cancer
Some cancers are detectable by blood tests; some are not. However, if we had a simple DIY blood test, available for home use, or perhaps at a $5/test kiosk at your local pharmacy or E.R., this could go a long way toward making early detection and treatment of many cancers a reality, which would save a lot of lives and lots of money.

I believe this is doable; all it would take is someone with the necessary knowledge to put it together, and then for some marketer/hospital to make it available to the masses on the cheap. This might cut into the profits of the health industry, but for those members of the industry whose mission is to provide care rather than to make money, it could be a means to fulfill their mission.

Heart Attack
One of the prime problems with heart attacks is the hesitancy to seek help. You lay in bed at 1am, wondering if this chest pain is a heart attack or just that last slice of pizza disagreeing with you. You could call an ambulance and rack up a multi-thousand dollar bill, and stay up all night in an uncomfortable trauma center room, only to find out it's just a pinched nerve, or you could lay there wondering until you die.

If we had a simple blood test to check for the markers of a heart attack, that'd go a long way toward getting people to the professionals when they're needed.

I had originally conceived of a self-serve kiosk at the local E.R. into which you put your $5 bill to pay for all the sticky-leads and etc of an EKG (ECG?) machine, but was recently told that a blood test is much more reliable than an EKG (ECG?). So how about a self-serve kiosk that lets you prick your finger like a blood-sugar test, put a few drops of blood onto a sampler, and presto, you have your results? "Yes, your blood markers indicate that you're having a heart attack. Seek medical help immediately." Or, "Your blood markers are normal. You're probably not having a heart attack, but it would be best to seek a professional's advice." If the blood test is really accurate, this would save a lot of lives, as well as money.

I wouldn't be surprised if a simple light-beam, or audio signal, etc, shone through the skin flap between one's fingers and into a receiver couldn't take the place of actual blood-letting for many blood tests, including that for blood-sugar levels. How many diabetics would appreciate that?

I think we can do this. Let's do it.

Friday, July 27, 2012

On Disturbing the Flock

Sometimes someone does something different in our church meetings, that while quite Biblical, is disturbing to the flock. For example, if a church is unaccustomed to kneeling, it might disturb some if a prayer-leader were to kneel before the congregation as he leads a public prayer, even though kneeling is one of the most common postures for prayer in the Bible.

This raises the question: Should we avoid doing things differently simply because they might disturb the brethren?

After all, disturbed brethren can stir up a lot of problems that would simply not happen if we were to simply stick with our perfectly-acceptable traditions.

Why stir the pot by doing things differently?

One of the best reasons to stir the pot is to encourage growth. One of the strongest enemies against growth is complacency, being too comfortable. Remember the Robin Williams movie, "Dead Poet's Society"? One of the things he did, as a teacher of high-school boys, was to have them stand on their desk; it gave them a different perspective of a room they thought they knew inside and out. We think we know the Bible inside-and-out; that is, until someone does something different that makes us ask, "Hmm, is that Biblical?" And before we know it, we know something we didn't even know we didn't know.

Another reason for doing things differently, even if it stirs the pot, is simply to follow the example of our great Example. Didn't Jesus stir the pot, often? (For those of you who can't answer this question, the answer is "Yes"; the habit eventually got him crucified.)

Isn't "doing things differently" the whole gist of God giving each person his own gift? Romans 12 talks about this very thing:
Now as we have many parts in one body, and all the parts do not have the same function..., According to the grace given to us, we have different gifts...".
Paul continues this thought in 1 Corinthians 7:
[E]ach has his own gift from God, one person in this way and another in that way."
And in chapter 12 of 1 Corinthians he talks about the different gifts as used in our assemblies:
Now there are different gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different ministries, but the same Lord. And there are different activities, but the same God activates each gift in each person. A demonstration of the Spirit is given to each person to produce what is beneficial.... If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But now God has placed each one of the parts in one body just as He wanted. And if they were all the same part, where would the body be? Now there are many parts, yet one body.
He continues in chapter 14:
Whenever you come together, each one has a psalm, a teaching, a revelation, another language, or an interpretation. All things must be done for edification. ... [Y]ou can all [exercise your gifts] one by one, so that everyone may learn and everyone may be encouraged. ... But everything must be done decently and in order.
God does not want our assemblies to be a one-size-fits-all meeting; he gives different gifts, and learning styles, and teaching styles, to everyone, so that everyone can reach and be reached according to the gifts they have. Some learn by listening to dry, technical lectures. Others learn by hands-on activities, such as building a scale-model of a wilderness tabernacle. Others learn by drama presentations (such as that presented by Agabus in Acts 21:10-11). Others learn by multimedia Power-Point presentations. Others learn by fill-in-the-blank paperwork. Others learn via music. Others learn via art.

We've limited our meetings to a cookie-cutter mentality, thinking that sermons are the Biblically-preferred teaching method, and defining "decently and in order" to mean "do things the way I and others like me are comfortable with".

What is decent and orderly for a loud, swaying, dancing rock-band concert (or a holy-roller Assembly of God service, or a football game) is different than what is decent and orderly for an attendee at a funeral, is different than what is decent and orderly for an audience at a stand-up comic routine. "Decently and in order" is not Biblically-defined as "sticking with the traditions we've had at our congregation for decades". It does not mean "sedate and staid and formal" (although that can certainly be decent and orderly); it simply means "appropriate for the venue". I, an old fuddy-duddy, would consider a club-scene "rave" to be chaos with its loud music and strobing lights and gyrating dancers; a cop comparing that same rave to a gunfight in the street would consider it decent and orderly. My point is that we need to be careful about defining "my" assembly as decent and orderly and "yours" as not.

If your congregation is not stirring the pot, if its members are not being disturbed and challenged, then I daresay your congregation is neither growing nor serving the needs of more than a subset of its members (or potential members). The insistence on one particular strand of traditional ways of doing things causes division; it runs off those who need a different style, to seek another congregation that provides that style. After a while, we have a bunch of congregations that don't look alike, who tend to think their way of doing things is right and Biblical and the way those other congregations do things is unBiblical, and we should therefore not fellowship with them. If each congregation had instead allowed variation within their own group, the various congregations would look alike, and be more united than they currently are. The Biblical model is for different gifts to be expressed within a congregation, so that each congregation is a melting pot (stirred), not to divide congregations into different pots, each containing a different gifting.

And perhaps the best reason for doing things differently, is to become more in line with the Biblical example. Take the previously-mentioned example of kneeling in prayer. If kneeling in prayer is the Biblical norm, then we are being Biblically abnormal to not kneel.

Or raising of hands; if Paul specifically tells the men to raise holy hands in prayer, why do we look askance at the men who take this command to heart?

I think it's time for our congregations to grow up, and stop being afraid of things simply because they're not the way Grandpa did them. What should matter more is how Jesus and his Twelve did them.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Safety in the Lion's Den

Daniel's life shows that the most righteous person may not escape being thrown into a lion's den,
but it also shows that you don't have to get out of the lion's den to be safe, as long as God is with you.

 -- the point of a sermon by "Pastor Gene Scott"

A Life Which is Right

It may be easier to choose to live a life that is not Right,
but it's easier to live a life that is Right.

-- inspired by Sheri Luckett

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Kirk Credits Christianity With Saving Worlds

On Netflix tonight I watched an episode from the original series of Star Trek, "Bread and Circuses". Although I had seen this episode before, somehow I had missed an important detail.

WARNING: Spoiler Alert!

The creator of the series, Gene Roddenberry, had a vision of the future that was built on several noble ideas, such as the brotherhood of all humans, and freedom and equality for all, no matter their race or color or gender, and respect for other cultures, and peace-seeking. The series often reflects that vision. In the middle of this episode, Kirk all but makes the claim that all men are brothers, just as was claimed by a certain religion in the episode, which Kirk thought was a primitive superstitious worship of the sun.

Later, at the end of the episode, Lt. Uhura explains to the bridge crew what was in plain sight but which they had missed: it was not the sun in the sky which this religion worshiped; rather, it was the Son of God which it worshiped.

Kirk is awed at Uhura's revelation, and realizes that just as Christianity, with its message of love and brotherhood and peace, ended the Roman Empire's despotism and slavery on Earth, it was beginning to do the same thing in this parallel culture on a similar but alien planet. In contrasting Caesar and Christ, Kirk gave credit to Christianity as being the driving force at ending slavery, hatred, murder, war, and at elevating peace, brotherhood, freedom, equality -- it is the foundation of the Roddenberry vision for the future.

Kirk essentially said that Christianity is what rescues worlds.

I was surprised. But quite pleased.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A Typical Assembly of Christians in the First Century

We tend to think of "going to church" in terms of 1950's ideology: get the family together on Sunday morning in their Sunday-go-to-meetin' duds, drive (or walk) to church, where the kids go off to their Bible class and the adults meet in an adult class, followed by a sermon-dominated "worship service" after everyone comes back into the assembly hall, where the main form of participation is singing the same songs everyone else is singing, bowing your head reverently in prayer, and listening attentively and quietly to the sermon, followed by a greeting and pat-on-the-back aimed at the preacher, finished up by a big Sunday lunch back home or at the restaurant, with just the immediate family, and maybe a few friends.

But if we're truly to be Biblical in our assemblies, we need to look at the assemblies we see in the New Testament.

Four of them come to mind:

Acts 20:7ff

The saints are assembling on the first day of the week to break bread.

We don't know if this is the Jewish first day (i.e. our Saturday night) or the Greek first day (i.e. our Sunday).

We don't know if this "breaking of the bread" is the Lord's Supper, a special meal that the church decided to gather for (either just because, or because it was a going-away supper for Paul), a regular weekly assembly for eating a regular meal just because the assembly is a family, the second Passover (for those who missed the first one), or what.

There is no mention of eating prior to midnight, but there is after midnight, which means that if it is the Lord's Supper, it took place on the second day of the week (if using Greek timing), or the intent of the assembly was to meet for eating on our Saturday night (if using Jewish timing).

So to make a "law" out of this example for us to eat the Lord's Supper on Sundays is to go beyond what the Scriptures reveal to us. All we really know is that the main emphasis for the meeting is to "break bread", to eat, either a normal meal, or the Lord's Supper "ritual", or perhaps a combined Lord's Supper "ritual" within the context of a full meal, which is most like the original, first Lord's Supper, being initiated within the context of a full meal.

Another thing we notice about this meeting is that Paul lectured a long time (v. 9 -- "discoursed"-ASV; "preached"-KJV; "talked still longer"-ESV), and bored a young man to literal death. It's interesting that after the young man was revived, Paul changed his format to "conversation" (v. 11 -- "talked with"-ASV; "conversed with"-ESV). Might we heed this Biblical warning against long one-sided sermons in favor of interactive discussions? (Keep this question in mind as you read the section below on 1 Cor 14.)

James 2:2-6

The word which James uses for "assembly" here is "synagogue" -- "If a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your synagogue, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in...".

So first off, we can see that the Christian assembly has been influenced by the Jewish assembly. This should be no surprise; the church was exclusively Jewish for the first fourteen or so years, and when non-Jews started being added to the church, there was a lot of pressure by the Jews to force the Gentiles to essentially become Jewish. Acts 15 speaks of the Jerusalem conference that settled this matter, deciding that Jews should be Christians in their distinctive Jewish ways (still keeping the Law of Moses, being circumcised, etc), but that Gentiles can be Christians without adopting the Jewish ways. Nevertheless, Christianity started out Jewish, so it's not surprising to see the Christian assembly as having its roots in the Jewish synagogue.

The main point of James' mentioning of the assembly is that we should show fairness to all, rich and poor alike, that there should be no distinctions based on socio-economic class.

Jude 12

Jude mentions the "love feasts", at which blasphemers feast with his readers. It would seem these "love feasts" are regular meals of some sort, although we don't have enough information to conclude much about them, not even if they are just ritualistic meals or real fill-your-belly meals.

1 Cor 11 - 14

We've already seen that eating seems to be a significant part of Christian assemblies. We see that again here in chapter 11 of 1 Corinthians.

Paul tells the Corinthians that they're not really eating the Lord's Supper when they come together (v. 20), because of their divisions (v. 18). This Lord's Supper is obviously not just a ritualistic tidbit of cracker and a sip of grape juice/wine, but a full-blown meal, in which some people have eaten all the food and imbibed to the point of drunkenness, having no concern that they've left nothing for the late-comers who then remain hungry.

Paul scolds these people, telling them that if the only reason they're at the Lord's Supper is to satisfy their hunger, they should eat at home. He then makes it clear that the purpose of the Lord's Supper is not to fill your belly, but to remember the Lord's death until he comes, saying that if you eat the bread or drink the cup without recognizing the body, even those who arrive late, you're eating and drinking condemnation to yourself (vv. 27-29). Therefore, when you come together for the purpose of eating, wait for one another (v. 33). If you can't wait, eat at home, so that you won't come under judgment (v. 34).

In this passage, we see that, like in Acts 20, the assembly is for the purpose of eating. The eating is not a simple ritualistic snack, but a full-blown meal, incorporating the remembrance of Jesus' death. And like in Jude 12, it's a feast in which love is to be shown to one another, by recognizing the body (i.e. by recognizing that this is a group activity); it's a full-blown meal in which you are to wait and share with one another, in remembrance of Jesus.

Earlier in this chapter, we've seen that the traditions delivered by Paul (v. 2), and the customs of the assemblies (v. 16), allow for both men and women to pray and prophesy (vv 4-5), provided certain hair-covering regulations are observed. (At first glance this seems to conflict later with chapter 14.) So it would seem that if a woman were to be asked to say the thanksgiving prayer for the meal, that would be acceptable so long as she does so within the societal norms of what is proper concerning her appearance (in that culture, it was shameful for a woman to have her hair cut short or uncovered - v. 6).

In chapter 12 of 1 Corinthians, we see that within the assembly, different Christians will exhibit different God-given gifts; not everyone is an eye; not everyone is an ear. God has made us different, giving us different gifts, for the benefit of the entire body. Some might be law-observing Jews, some might be non-Law-observing Gentiles (v. 13, with Acts 15, 21, esp 21:20-25). So we can have lots of variety within the body (artsy people vs mathy people? drama performance people vs scientific data people? book-worms vs jocks?, introverts vs extroverts? holy-roller "spirit-filled" people vs text-oriented scholars?), so long as we're unified.

Chapter 13 is a side-bar concerning the value of love as a gift over other spiritual gifts.

Then in chapter 14 we get a wider view of a Christian assembly. In Acts 20 we saw that the church assembly in Troas consisted of "breaking bread" and talking/discussing late into the night. In 1 Cor 11 we saw that the church assembly in Corinth consisted of eating a big meal together in remembrance of Jesus' death. Now in chapter 14 we see what else goes on in the Corinthian assembly.

Everyone in the assembly has a gift to exercise for the benefit of the group (1 Cor 12:7) - some have a psalm to sing, some have a teaching, some have a revelation, some have a tongue, some have an interpretation (1 Cor 14:26). But all things must be done for the benefit of, the building up of, the assembly (v. 26). Things must be done decently, and in order, not a free-for-all (v. 40); people must take turns in exercising their gifts, "one by one, so that everyone may learn and everyone may be encouraged" (v. 31). And it all must be done with understanding (v. 15), which means that speaking in tongues is to be discouraged unless there is an interpreter who can translate for the benefit of everyone else (v. 28), although it is not to be forbidden (v. 39). But the expectation is that the "whole church assembles together and all are speaking" (v. 23) in song, or in tongues, as an interpreter, in prophecy, or to evaluate what others have said (vv 26-29), all providing conviction and judgment as required (v 24).

What we do not see in this assembly is a passive sitting for an hour while one person lectures for a long period. We do see the lecture format in the beginning of the meeting in Acts 20, but even that changes after the lecture results in people going to sleep, into a more interactive conversational format.

Our church assemblies are centered on being mostly passive while listening to a lecture, with just a smattering of activity done in unison, exactly like everyone else is doing, with very few individuals addressing/contributing to others within the group. The New Testament assemblies seem to have been centered on everyone contributing to others in the group, for the good of the group, in conjunction with a common meal that focuses on one-another-ness in honor of Jesus' death.

Are we doing it wrong?

Thursday, July 05, 2012

What Are the Rules for Worship?

Contrary to what most of us have been taught and have believed all of our lives, we're not really given instructions as to how we're to worship, either individually, or as a group. We've taught for years that there are rules for corporate worship, but we've had to inductively reason those rules out using (fallible, I might add) human logic. Such rules include meeting on the first day of the week, to break br.., er, have the Lord's Supper, and to conduct Five Acts of Worship (and no more, so I guess immersion is not an act of worship or we wouldn't be doing it in our assemblies, or maybe we've just miscounted and there are Six Acts of Worship). Yet when you really sit down and look at these "approved Apostolic examples" or necessary inferences, you realize they're not commands given by God, but they're commands deduced by men, taught as doctrine. I suspect the Teachers of the Law in Jesus' day used similar human logic to arrive at their traditions. Jesus strongly condemned them for elevating their human-derived conclusions to the level of Command (Matt 15:1-9).

God has given us very few actual commands about how to worship; most of what we believe are God's Rules for Worship are actually rules we've derived using human logic, and poor logic at that sometimes. For example, are we 100% certain that Acts 20 implies a weekly gathering for the purpose of taking the Lord's Supper? Maybe it was just a going-away supper for Paul on the last night he planned to be there (having intended to leave on the morrow). Maybe it was the Jewish Second Passover for those who for whatever reason missed the first official one; the timing is pretty close. Maybe it was a weekly event, but not for the Lord's Supper, but just for an ordinary meal. Notice that if Luke was using Greek reckoning, if the disciples met on the first day, Paul didn't break bread until Monday, after midnight. If Luke was using Jewish reckoning, the disciples met on what we would consider Saturday night. Or maybe Paul's breaking bread after midnight wasn't the same as the breaking of bread for the purpose of the meeting. The point is we make assumptions, and then bind our conclusions as if they are God's commandments, when God has not really given us many commandments.

In fact, Paul specifically contrasts the old covenant, having many rules and regulations, with the new covenant, saying, "Why do you submit to regulations: 'Don't handle, don't taste, don't touch'? .. They are commands and doctrines of men, although they seem religiously valuable" (Col 2:20ff), adding, "Don't let anyone judge you about what you eat or drink, or what holy days you may or may not observe, including the Sabbath" (v 16).

Is it not odd that God clearly spelled out his instructions for worship under the old covenant, but then left it to the vagaries of human reasoning to figure out his instructions for worship in the new covenant based on hints and clues and a very few specifics? If how we "do" worship was so important in the old covenant that God spelled out the details, what does it say about how we "do" worship in the new covenant that he hasn't spelled out the details?

Most of us have grown up thinking we have rules for our "worship assembly", when in reality most of those rules are jigsaw-puzzled together using human logic, rather than being commands given by God.

Thus, as Paul argues in Romans 14, perhaps we should be a little less dogmatic about how "worship service" must be conducted.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

So, You're Glad You're White?

"I teach a class called Blacks in the Bible. I open up all these passages people have never thought about."

"What passages do you mean?"

"Well, for starters, Ephraim and Manasseh are two of the twelve tribes of Israel, right? According to Genesis 41, they were the sons of Joseph and an Ethiopian woman. They were 50 percent black. The fathers of two tribes of Israel were black. Ever seen that in the Bible story pictures?

"Jethro was a Midianite from Southern Arabia, which was occupied by Ethiopians. He was the father of Zipporah, wife of Moses, who was a Cushite, an Ethiopian--says so in Numbers 12. Jethro's family were believers, proselytes to the Jewish faith. Moses married this black woman, and when Miriam grumbled about this interracial marriage, God gave her leprosy to teach her a lesson.

"Or how about David...[who] easily had enough black blood that if he lived in America today he'd be called black.

"Solomon was David's son by a Hamitic woman Bathsheba, whose name means 'daughter of Sheba', an African. Zephaniah the prophet was a descendant of 'Cush', a black man.

"And look at the messianic line of Jesus. In his legal genealogy, through Joseph, four women are mentioned--Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba. ... All of them were black! Jesus' mother Mary was also a descendant of Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth. There may have been other Hamitic blood in Jesus too, but as far as we know, there was no Japhetic blood, no white blood. Those who teach that having black African blood in you puts you under a curse must believe Jesus was under a curse--that the whole messianic line was cursed! By American standards, Jesus had enough African blood to be called black."

Dominion, by Randy Alcorn, p388

And that doesn't include the black governmental official who is a prime example of conversion in Acts 8:26ff, or the black church prophet/leader/teacher, Simon the Black (Niger), or his co-worker Lucius, also from a black part of the world, in Acts 13:1, or the black Libyan, Simon the Cyrenian, who was forced to carry Jesus' cross, in Luke 23:26, or the black woman who is celebrated as loved in the Song of Solomon.

It wasn't long ago that white America scorned blacks as being sub-human and otherwise not of true human value, cursed by God. We've thought that being white made us better, and we would never approve of a "mixed marriage". I bet Miriam had a change of mind when she was turned "white as snow" with leprosy.

How blind we humans can be.

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Widow's Two Coins

You know the story; the widow gave all she had to God. What a wonderful example of dedication! Here's the text from Luke 21:
1[Jesus] looked up and saw the rich dropping their offerings into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow dropping in two tiny coins. “I tell you the truth,” He said. “This poor widow has put in more than all of them. For all these people have put in gifts out of their surplus, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.”
I read something the other day (don't remember where) which gave me a new perspective on this account of the widow's offering. I don't know that the perspective is accurate, but it's a thought that never occurred to me before.

If we include the paragraph just prior to this account in Luke 21:1ff, and the paragraph after, we have this construction:
  • "Beware of the scribes, who devour widows' houses." (Luke 20:46-47)
  • "This widow put everything she had to live on into the Temple treasury." (Luke 21:1-4)
  • "This Temple adorned with gifts dedicated to God? The day is coming when not one stone will be left on another." (Luke 21:5-6)
How do scribes devour widows' houses? Are they making mortgage loans to the widows, and then foreclosing on those loans? Maybe the scribes are romancing the widows, using them for their money until the money's all gone? Or is it a more subtle, psychological method? Maybe it's that the scribes are teaching from the pulpit that if you don't contribute to the church, you're cheating God?

Looked at in this light, it's less a praising of the woman's generosity (although it is that, too), than a condemnation of the Temple authorities' pressuring everyone, including those who can't afford it, to give what they can't afford in order to build up the meeting house which is gone tomorrow.

Is this an accurate understanding of this text? I don't know. But I thought it worth sharing.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Spiritual Gifts Today?

Most of us have not experienced any supernatural activity in our lives which would lead us to believe the Spirit's miraculous workings still occur. And as we tend to be very experience-influenced (it's natural to walk by sight, "unnatural" to walk by faith), we tend to think if we don't see it happening, it must not happen.

Totally understandable viewpoint.

But the question is not, "What do we experience?"; the question is, "What do the Scriptures say?".

The "Scriptural objections" that miraculous powers have ceased comes from three lines of reasoning:

1) We see that the purpose of miracles in the New Testament was to confirm the Word, which has since been completed and confirmed, thus ending the need for that purpose any more.

2) We see that miraculous powers were given by the laying on of the apostles' hands, and since the apostles have now all died out, that source of power is no longer available to us.

3) 1 Cor 13:8-13 says that miraculous powers will cease when the perfect knowledge/prophecy has arrived, and now that the Bible has been completed, that condition is fulfilled.

Let's look more closely at those three "Scriptural objections":

1) The Purpose of Miracles Has Been Fulfilled

Reason #1 is based on the false notion that the only purpose of miracles was to confirm the message of the apostles. Confirmation of the apostles' message is indeed a purpose of "signs and wonders":
HCSB Heb 2:3 how will we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was first spoken by the Lord and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him. 4 At the same time, God also testified by signs and wonders, various miracles, and distributions of gifts from the Holy Spirit according to His will.
 and
1 Cor 1:4 I always thank my God for you because of God’s grace given to you in Christ Jesus, 5 that by Him you were enriched in everything—in all speech and all knowledge. 6 In this way, the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you, 7 so that you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.
and
HCSB Mark 16:20 And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word by the accompanying signs.
In the above passages, we see that the Lord's message was established by the "mouth" of two witnesses (2 Cor 13:1):
 - that of the apostles, and
 - that of miraculous workings from God

However, confirmation of the apostles' message is not the only purpose of miraculous spiritual gifts. As is evident from the following passage, miraculous gifts were not merely for those who needed the word confirmed, but also for those who had already believed the word and no longer needed it confirmed:
HCSB 1 Cor 14:22 It follows that speaking in other languages is intended as a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers. But prophecy is not for unbelievers but for believers.
So we begin to see that there are other purposes for miracles other than only confirming the message of the apostles. What, then, are some of those purposes?
HCSB 1 Cor 14:3 But the person who prophesies speaks to people for edification, encouragement, and consolation.
In this passage above we see three additional purposes for prophecy (for a total of four, so far):
 - Building up (edification)
 - Encouragement
 - Consolation (I would think things such as healing a sick person, just for the sake of improving their life, would fit into this category)

Still another purpose for miracles is revealed by the following Scripture (bringing our total to five):
HCSB 1 Cor 14:24 But if all are prophesying and some unbeliever or uninformed person comes in, he is convicted by all and is judged by all. 25 The secrets of his heart will be revealed, and as a result he will fall facedown and worship God, proclaiming, “God is really among you.”
Here we see that prophecy is not a sign for confirmation of the word, but for convicting and judging an unbeliever of the secrets of his heart to lead to his praise of God.

And here's a sixth purpose given by Scripture:
HCSB Acts 11:28 Then one of them, named Agabus, stood up and predicted by the Spirit that there would be a severe famine throughout the Roman world. This took place during the time of Claudius. 29 So each of the disciples, according to his ability, determined to send relief to the brothers who lived in Judea.
and
HCSB Acts 21:10 While we were staying there many days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. 11 He came to us, took Paul’s belt, tied his own feet and hands, and said, “This is what the Holy Spirit says: ‘In this way the Jews in Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into Gentile hands.’”
Here in these two passages we see that a purpose of prophecy is to provide practical information to the church so that the believers might then take action based on that information.

So, using these Scriptures, we see that there are at least six purposes of miraculous Spiritual gifts:

 - confirming the message of the apostles
 - building up (edification)
 - encouraging
 - consolation
 - conviction/judgment of the unbeliever
 - practical information useful to the church

Of these six purposes, only one, that of confirming the apostles' message, is no longer necessary, since we no longer have apostles giving a message needing confirmation. We still have the other five needs however, so there may be room for miracles to fill those needs.

2) The Gifts are No Longer Available Because the Apostles Can No Longer Give the Gifts

Like Reason #1, this Reason #2 is also based on a false notion, that the only way to receive such Spiritual gifts is through the laying on of the Apostle's hands. But the Scriptures demonstrate that there are at least three methods for acquiring such Spiritual gifts:

 - through the laying on of the apostles' hands:
HCSB Acts 8:18 When Simon saw that the Holy Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give me this power too, so that anyone I lay hands on may receive the Holy Spirit.”
 - at God's whim:
HCSB Acts 10:44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came down on all those who heard the message. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. 46 For they heard them speaking in other languages and declaring the greatness of God.
 - by eager desire and prayer
HCSB 1 Cor 14:1 Pursue love and desire spiritual gifts, and above all that you may prophesy.  ...  13 Therefore the person who speaks in another language should pray that he can interpret.... 39 Therefore, my brothers, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in other languages.

3) 1 Cor 13 Says Miracles Will Cease When the Bible is Completed

As shown above, of the three purported "Scriptural objections" to miracles in the present day, the first two fail to stand up to scrutiny. This leaves 1 Corinthians 13:8-13 as the sole "Scriptural" objection to miracles in the present day.

It should be noted at the outset that this passage does not say, "Miracles will cease when the Bible is completed." That is a meaning placed upon the text which may or may not be there. I easily grant that some people understand this text to mean that, but it must be acknowledged that the text does not say that.

This passage has been interpreted as a prophecy of the end of prophecy. But looking at the context, that's not what Paul was trying to get at. What is the theme of his overall discussion in these few chapters?

His theme is Love, and it starts way back in chapter 11, when he discusses the abuses going on at their assemblies.

The Corinthians claimed to be meeting together to honor the Lord in the Lord's Supper, but Paul says that's not what they were actually doing (11:20). It seems that in the early days, the Lord's Supper was intertwined with a full meal, just as the Last Supper was an intertwining of specific parts of the Passover meal with the full meal of the Passover.

However, the Corinthians had lost sight of the fact that this meal was about honoring Jesus' death (11:23-26), and about being united (11:17-22; 33-34). They were selfishly filling up their plates and scarfing their food without concern for anyone behind them in line, which left some folks hungry while others were gorging and imbibing to the point of getting drunk (11:21).

Paul made it clear that this meal was not about satisfying your hunger; that can be done at home (11:22; 34). Instead, this meal is about honoring the death of Jesus (11:26), and recognizing that this is not an act designed for the individual, but for the whole body (11:21;33); if they eat and drink without recognizing the body, they're eating and drinking judgment to themselves (11:29). So they need to wait on one another, so that they won't come under judgment (11:33-34).

The focus here is love for each other, as opposed to selfishness.

Then we move to chapter 12, where we see hints that the same selfishness we saw in chapter 11 in regards to eating the Lord's Supper is also going on with spiritual gifts, with the members thinking "my gift is better than yours". Paul says there are different gifts, given to each person by the same Spirit according to the Spirit's will (12:4-11). Just because you're not an "eye", that doesn't mean you're not part of the body; you may be an "ear", serving just as valid of a role (12:16-21). And even the less-mentionable roles are needed (12:22-25). He starts to wind down this section by saying that God intended there to be no division in the body, but that each member would have the same concern for each other (12:25). He finalizes this section with an appeal to desire the greater gifts, but that the better way is yet to be explained (12:31).

In chapter 13, Paul explains that the better way is love. Some day, the "greater gifts" of prophecy and supernatural knowledge will cease (13:8-11), when we have all the answers (13:12), but even then, faith, hope, and love continues, with the greatest of these being love (12:13).

He then finishes up his discourse on Spiritual gifts by giving practical guidelines for how those gifts should be used (all of chapter 14), finishing up with a command to be eager for the types of gifts that better foster love such as prophecy, while not forbidding the other gifts such as speaking in tongues (14:39).

Throughout these chapters, love is Paul's overall theme.

Notice that Paul is not concerned with teaching his readers when prophecy and supernatural knowledge would cease. Instead, his concern is to say that our focus should not be on the gee-whiz special effects of Spiritual gifts like prophecy and supernatural knowledge, which will cease when they've finished their job, but rather on faith, hope, and love, which will remain, with love being the greatest.

The question is, have these special-effects gifts finished their job?

Many Christians would answer "Yes", equating the finishing of their job with the completion of the New Testament, largely based on their understanding of these gifts as only having the purpose of confirming the apostles' message which we now find in the New Testament.

But as mentioned above, that's not the only purpose for the gifts. We still have at least five other needs which would be enhanced via miraculous spiritual gifts.

Not to mention that I don't see clearly, face-to-face, knowing fully as I am fully known (1 Cor 13:12).

Conclusion

The arguments that miracles have ceased are two: 1) we don't witness them, making us think they must not happen, and 2) Scriptural objections.

Of the three recognized Scriptural objections, the first two are invalid, and the third is questionable.

In conjunction with the New Testament indicating that the Spirit gives gifts to each believer for the Spirit's purposes, it is reasonable to be cautious of using the questionable third objection to those gifts as being the final word on the matter.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

On (Not) Reading the Bible

Sheri writes:
I decided that I could not say that I valued God's Word if I haven't even bothered to read it all. In church, we read the same passages over and over again, which is why we can all recite them together. Join me..."I am not ashamed of the gospel...He that believeth and is baptized...And Peter said to them, 'Repent and be baptized every one of you...study to show thyself approved..." What about the rest of it?

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Excerpt from Timothy’s First Letter to Paul, and Paul's Response


Thinking about the role of women in Christianity, a friend of mine came up with the following hypothetical letter to Paul from Timothy, which letter we don't have a record of, and Paul's response.

Ephesus, where Timothy lived (1 Tim 1:3), was the headquarters of the cult of the Roman fertility goddess Diana (in Acts 19 it's the Greek "Artemis"), a town in which the women often dominated, especially in religious settings. In light of this, my friend's hypothetical letter below seems to make sense. Neither she nor I are saying that's how it was, but it's interesting enough I wanted to pass it on.

===

Excerpt from Timothy’s First Letter to Paul

Now, Paul, I need to ask you to address some problems we are having with the women in the congregation. I realize that we are all one in Christ, that there is no Jew or Gentile, no male or female, no slave or free. And I realize the Holy Spirit has given the gift of prophecy to women as well and that they are free to teach as they are being led. But we have some women in the congregation who are extremely outspoken about teachings that are contrary to Christ’s will and they refuse to submit to His truth, specifically with regards to the equality of men and women. Instead, it often becomes a screaming contest where the loudest woman “wins”. It is breaking down the congregation, not building it up. I understand the culture many of our women come out of, where temple prostitutes violently dominate men and degrade men for a living. Where the goddess is “worshiped” through sex and female domination and where children are aborted and pregnancy is a curse. This is what these women see every day in the street. Some of them even WERE temple prostitutes. But instead of turning away from this culture, some of the women are trying to bring this culture into our congregation! They not only teach violent domination of men, they also practice it, proudly and outspokenly! They try to degrade men all the time. They teach outright that Eve was formed first, then Adam and that Adam was the one who was deceived and sinned, not Eve. They also teach, as the temple prostitutes believe, that becoming pregnant and bearing and keeping your child condemns you to hell. Please help me untangle this mess. Maybe they will be more inclined to hear and submit to the truth if it comes directly from your pen.

Paul's Response, in 1  Tim 2:11-15

Dear Timothy,

Please find below my response to the issues you are dealing with.
Now, Paul, I need to ask you to address some problems we are having with the women in the congregation. I realise that we are all one in Christ, that there is no Jew or Gentile, no male or female, no slave or free. And I realise the Holy Spirit has given the gift of prophecy to women as well and that they are free to teach as they are being led. But we have some women in the congregation who are extremely outspoken about teachings that are contrary to Christ’s will and they refuse to submit to His truth, specifically with regards to the equality of men and women. Instead, it often becomes a screaming contest where the loudest woman “wins”. It is breaking down the congregation, not building it up. 
A woman should learn in quietness and full submission.
I understand the culture many of our women come out of, where temple prostitutes violently dominate men and degrade men for a living. Where the goddess is “worshipped” through sex and female domination and where children are aborted and pregnancy is a curse. This is what these women see every day in the street. Some of them even WERE temple prostitutes. But instead of turning away from this culture, some of the women are trying to bring this culture into our congregation! They not only teach violent domination of men, they also practice it, proudly and outspokenly! 
I do not permit a woman to teach [violent domination] or to practice violent domination* over a man; she must be silent.
They try to degrade men all the time. They teach outright that Eve was formed first, then Adam and that Adam was the one who was deceived and sinned, not Eve. 
For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.
They also teach, as the temple prostitutes believe, that becoming pregnant and bearing and keeping your child condems you to hell. Please help me untangle this mess. Maybe they will be more inclined to hear and submit to the truth if it comes directly from your pen.
But women will be saved through childbearing – if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.


*Noteworthy: the word used for “to have authority over” is “authentein” – can be translated as “domination [with a violent connotation]” as well as several other possible translations. It does not occur in any other place in the Bible.