“goodness, kindness, faithfulness”

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What does it mean to idly desert God’s mercy? I like to casually read the NIV Bible and recently the words of Jonah, yes the same man swallowed by a sea creature, jumped off the page…

Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God’s love for them. Jonah 2:8 NIV

Turn away from God’s love by clinging to the things of this earthly world? Why yes, I can see that happening to myself and all those around me. What a truth. God the loving Creator calls and I am distracted by an obsession with a new car, or a new boat, or chasing women, or wanting to resist the oppressive government, or wanting social justice. I turn way from God because I want to use my talents for the good of the culture. Jonah is speaking to me. I wanted a more literal translation than the NIV so as usual I turned to the ESV and the clarity became muddied somewhat.

Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love Jonah 2:8 ESV

The clarity of turning away from God’s love becomes forsaking hope of steadfast love. It is an interesting change in the translation. I like the direction of the NIV creating the image of worldly focused peoples turning away from God’s love that is so clearly present. The literal ESV translation however presents the image of a worldly focused people giving up the hope that God will love them. The ESV is a more realistic translation of the nature of people. Sure giving up the hope of love not yet experience is understandable and God’s love is not so clear and present as the NIV might make it sound. It is a subtle but striking difference.

The word Jonah used in this sentence from Hebrew חֶסֶד and means “goodness, kindness, faithfulness”. The context of this verse is that Jonah is fleeing from God. God has asked Jonah to warn the Assyrians that they need to repent of their sinful ways. Jonah is worried God’s mercy will be given to this murderous people. Jonah as a prophet has lived a called life. A life with a deep spirit filled relationship with a most good, kind, and faithful God. Jonah has witnessed firsthand God’s character and it is not a hope for him it is real and it is present. The NIV and ESV leaving me unsatisfied I continued on in my research and then I found clarity in the Wycliffe translation. Wycliffe is one of the first translations of the bible into English predating even the King James version.

They that keep vanities, forsake their mercy idly. (Those who worship idols, idly desert thy mercy.) Jonah 2:8 WYC

Wycliffe communicates the image of people who idly throw away without concern what God is ready to be to them… “Goodness, kindness, faithfulness”. Deserting his mercy we keep our own selfish vanities or idols of this world. We turn to the physical offerings of the here and now and idly fail to pursue the mercy of God. It is more complicated than making a conscious decision to turn a back on God, although some do come to that point. We are distracted by idols of money, fame, power, sex, and whatever makes one supposedly happy. In self-seeking such vanities people have no regard for their Creator. Jonah with wisdom from his relationship with God knows that many people have deserted God through ignorance, laziness, and the consuming distraction of physical pursuits in this life. Jonah also knows that given the opportunity of a confrontation by God they can be overwhelmed by God’s love because these earthly pursuits ultimately are empty, worthless, and loveless.

Here Jonah uses the same word for חֶסֶד “goodness, kindness, faithfulness” in his complaint to God that he has been asked to preach to this people.

He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Jonah 4:2 NIV

There is an opportunity here even for the enlightened and educated person. An opportunity for the wise of this age. Paul preaching to the philosophers, and those that think much like the western world of today, told them how God is still calling for peoples to repent of their obsession with the material pleasures. Paul is telling us, the modern reader, to repent. God has placed each of us in our country and in our time that we might find Him because He is not far away. God as Christ is near and ready to be involved in the life He has given.

26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27 that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, … 30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” Acts 17:26-27;30-31 ESV

Repent dear reader. God is near and he embodies what we need “goodness, kindness, faithfulness”.

Prana and Limitless Living

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The body is finite. It is temporary. No amount of pranic living or wishful thinking will change that. Without water a person might live two excruciatingly painful weeks? But air and sun are all a person needs according to Breatharians the hot new lifestyle that graced the pages of the New York Post recently.

Breatharians are nothing new. They claim to have reached a higher stage where they are able to draw nourishment and energy from the air and sun. Underlying this philosophy is the Hindu idea of prana which is a Sanskrit word for life giving force. These Breatharians claim that being free from earthly purists of hunger and that allows them to be limitless and live healthier lives. But this is nothing new it is a rehash of old Hindu ideals and leads one to the path of pantheist religions. Pantheism identifies god with the universe. Everything is god. A chair, a tree, an animal, the air, light, or a planet. Starwars promoting the Jedi force is pantheism. Jedi could live a pranic lifestyle. One assumes that a Jedi might prefer the Breatharian model of life. Who does not want those mind over matter kinds of ability? The ability to tap into a god that flows through everything is an interesting allure. This is an idea that takes many forms and is taught in many ways. It is an idea that mankind can rise above the limitations of this body. Maybe even live forever.

But these ideas, this spiritual “think good thoughts” and live limitless, are contrary to reality and the history of the Biblical Genesis all people are forced to deal with. The Creator God confirms that these bodies for both men and women are finite, constrained, and broken. People, all people, including the pantheist trying to live a pranic life, are cursed and doomed to the limitations of a finite physical existence.

…cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; 18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Genesis 3:17b-19 ESV

God put limits on the human condition. He promised his creation that it would not be physically immortal like some undead zombie or evil vampire. Now there is a curious truth about God that further proves the point and at the same time gives perfect hope in the future that God has for His creation.

That truth is the nature of who Jesus is and what he accomplished on earth. First is the nature of Jesus to understand who is this Jesus. Unlike the pantheist drawing energy from the air and sun the Christian follower of Christ embraces reality of the temporary nature of life. Christians follow Jesus and Jesus is no ordinary man. Jesus is the living incarnation of the creator God himself. Does that shock? Is that a surprise? Jesus is God and Jesus claimed to be God. Not a god or someone who tapped into the god spirit of the universe. Jesus is the one true God.

58 Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” John 8:58 ESV

Speaking to the Hebrew religious audience Jesus tells them before Abraham the first Hebrew was born that Jesus himself existed. This claim was taken as blasphemy by the audience. This claim is the excuse and the how for Jesus ending up dead on a cross. Look at the very next verse at the reaction to Jesus claiming divinity.

So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple. John 8:59 ESV

This is the nature of Jesus. It answers the “Who” question. He is God in the flesh. God taking on the limitations of a human body. God come to man for reconciliation and restoration of the curse given to men at the dawn of creation. Understanding the nature of Jesus, who is God, now we can look at what he accomplished and how that accomplishment flies in the face of anyone, like the breatharians, trying to live infinite limitless lives in a finite limited world.

Jesus, who is God, is well known for fasting and focused times of prayer. Jesus clearly states that he and the Father are one because Jesus is God.

I and the Father are one. The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. John 10:30-31 ESV

Jesus who is God, that is his nature, is also finite and limited. Jesus is constrained by the body he has taken. God limited himself when he took the form of a man. Jesus in accomplishing the restoring and relational ends of his ministry had to leave. He was on earth for a short season and then returned to his own house. Living forever without food or without limitations on this earth is not possible for people. Doing so is outside of God’s plans and is contrary to the curse given to our forefather at the beginning. Jesus was not limitless so how can any other person break that constraint?

7 Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. John 16:7 ESV

Jesus told his followers, the disciples, that he would go away so that the Helper would come to them. Jesus, who is God, is limited by the constraints of flesh and time. Jesus, who is God, in the form of a man is limited. He cannot speak with all people or be in place to comfort every soul. What is needed for this is the Holy Spirit the third person of the trinity. The Holy Spirit is not bound by time, food, or physical constraints. The Holy Spirit moves among men in all places always.

17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. Romans 14:17-18 ESV

Jesus then demonstrates the limited nature of man by first doing what we could not do for ourselves. That is paying the cost of sin by death on the cross and reconciling those following after him to God. And second by returning to the Father and providing the infinite Helper to those followers. The one Holy Spirit that moves among us at all times and all places even while we individually are constrained to the limitations of nature.

If being free from the constrains of this world are in your heart then repent of your rebellion and turn toward Jesus who reconciles the temporary broken people of creation to the endless perfect Creator.

Robot Preacher

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A church in Germany has created some international headlines with an experiment in robotic “blessings”. Below is a video of the creation and how it works. This robot has a touch screen set of buttons where you answer a series of questions like what language, male for female voice, and would you like a printed copy. Once the input is selected the robot raises robotic hands from which light shines forth and then the robot blesses those standing in front of it.

News articles focus on robots replacing the clergy or on how the church feels about using technology in the church. While this robot is not exactly cutting edge and it is just a little bit silly the idea is interesting in this technological world. What if instead of the Terminator and Skynet destroying mankind robots became apologist fuelled by big data to speak life with reasonable answers to a world with questions about Christ and the cross.

Gutenberg invented the printing press and revolutionized the world by allowing the written words of God to be placed into the hands of every person on earth. That technology strengthens the church. What if now an Azure platformed chat bot could provide theologically sound and consistent answers to anyone in the world at any time? Said bot could even direct the questioner to a local church where relationships might be found the way God intends.

Cultural Appropriation

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The concept of Cultural Appropriation is an idea that is more mainstream and has now reached the latest front in the culture wars. Recently two entrepreneurial women started a food truck that was well received in a community of Portland Oregon. In an interview about their inspiration and success the women tell a story about visiting Mexico and learning all they could about the tortilla making process. Once the puff piece hit the local news there was a backlash from the community to such an extent that the owners closed the food truck and shut down the Facebook page associated with the business. The backlash was because the women, who appear to be white, were accused of stealing tortilla making intellectual property from the poor of Mexico for their own benefit. The reaction is understandable even if misguided when looking at the world from the eyes of those that objected. To understand the reaction, one must understand the history coming to light of real theft that happened to black individuals throughout the history of America. Take for example the article published, ironically, by Shaun King in multiple publications last year on the history of Jack Daniels. This history tells the story of how a black slave owned by a white preacher taught the future owners of the Jack Daniels brand how to make the iconic whiskey. This story neatly sums up the idea of appropriation and theft of intellectual property without compensation to the slave and his descendants. That is not the American dream and it is a truly unfair and unjust evil. Seeing the world from this prism it is logical then to decry these two women for stealing from another culture for their own financial benefit.

While the reaction to the food truck is exactly the conclusion many want it is flawed. There is a problem with this world view that wants to equate the food truck to the evils of the slavery era. The flaw, the result, means we as an American people, regardless of background, cannot blend and intermarry to become one people. It means that culture can only flow in a single direction from majority to minority but never minority to majority. Those steeped in this world view see nothing wrong with proclaiming safe spaces for people of color or even more boldly demand a day without white people.

This is simply the conclusion, the logical end, of cultural appropriation defined in such a way that these two women were inappropriate in their business model and intellectual property.

Take music for example. If I listen to rap music, a music that is not native to my cultural upbringing in majority white suburbia, I will internalize it and make it part of my culture and my home. My kids who are musically talented might like that genre and take it up as their own. They might even perform their own version of said music publicly one day. Would that be acceptable to the arbiters holding the keys of what is appropriate and what is not in regard to cultural appropriation?

While there was and still are evil appropriations that must be acknowledged does society really want to swing this concept out so far to the fringes that the color of one’s skin determines what food or music might be used in life? If so it is a depressing path of isolation and separation of peoples I am afraid.

Gift’s are for God’s Glory

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I have taken many kinds of strength profiles, and career assessment tools over the years. There are two that stand out. The first is the one I took through the high school. What stood out in this skills assessment that was given to all of the students were the results. It provided job and career ideas related to the category one fit within. I remember this because one of the job suggestions was Mineralogist. I was the only person that got this recommendation. I did not even know how to get into this field or what it would involve. It is certainly not something that any high school person I knew wanted to grow up to be. The second profile test that I remember was in college. The pastor of my church was taking the smaller Wednesday night crowed through a biblically based spiritual gifts assessment and to my surprise “teacher” was on the top of the list. At that time teacher was the last job that made up my passions. I showed the results to the pastor and told him the test was broken. Every person is given skills and gifts. The science behind tests like these can be informative about our personality and what we might be good at and bad at in life. Both of those tests were not wrong in their suggestions even if I was unaware of my own self at that time. We all have gifts and skills the question is to what end will we use these gifts?

In some Church cultures, there is a powerful desire to speak in tongues or speak prophecy. These miraculous type gifts are elevated to a high standing and become a mark of someone who has attained significant favor from God. While these gifts are included in the Biblical narrative and may be true in contemporary society the real question I want to know is to what end are these gifts sought and used? Paul clearly states that the Holy Spirit gives gifts for the good of the Body of Christ so that the Church will be equipped to carry out God’s will.

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 1 Corinthians 12:4-7 ESV

Whatever gifts the Spirit has given whoever God has created an individual to be then in turn Christians must not be proud about that strength and one should not seek visible gifts for status or control. Just a few lines later Paul gets specific to warn the Corinthians about the role of these gifts.

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 ESV

Those who are saved and part of the body have a purpose in the Church. The Holy Spirit will gives a desire and skill to accomplish that roll. These gifts work together to accomplish God’s plans. When people attempt to use them in the strength of man or for a selfish purpose then how does God get the glory for what is accomplished? Lecrae in his song Chase That speaks of the worst type of sin and that is the sin of selfish ambition while claiming to do it for God.

[the Devil] lies to us all, told Adam he could ball
“why you following God when you can go get it all?”
I tell you what’s better, or better yet worse.
chasing your own glory while doing the Lord’s work,
so holla if it hurts, but we were made for greater
our greatest satisfaction is making His name famous

The mark of someone serving God is Love. They have a love for God and a love for their fellow man.

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love 1 Corinthians 13:13 ESV

Love makes the gift useful. Service inside the body with Faith, Hope, and most importantly Love is used by God for His purpose. Do you love God? Are you broken to love others more than yourself? If so then go and obey what God has placed on your heart for His Glory.

* Revised and Edited. Originally published on Human Effort May 2014.

Here I am! Send Me.

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If God is the same today as he was yesterday then he is constant never changing. If God changed something from wrong to right then he would not be God and he would not be perfect. God can’t change and God will not change.

God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it? Numbers 23:19 ESV

The consistency of God is a blessing because the rules are set. The goal posts are not moving. The anger of sports fans when the officials are inconsistent is real and justified. Much of political discourse boils down to pointing out the person on the other side that did the same immoral behavior without consequence. Everyone wants consistent rules to play by and God is the perfect law giver and sustainer of those rules in life.

There are people who want to bend the rules to benefit themselves. This raw selfishness is the stuff of life and it takes ugly form in injustice. Those in power pull the ladder up after themselves. They pass rules that prevent others from the benefits of wealth they themselves enjoy. Politicians rig the system in favor of certain elites. Dictators take from the innocent to give to those with blood on their hands. In Israel before exile Isaiah warned the leaders that God would not tolerate breaking the rules.

21 Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight! 22 Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine, and valiant men in mixing strong drink, 23 who acquit the guilty for a bribe, and deprive the innocent of his right! Isaiah 5:21-23 ESV

Justice is a hot topic today. Supporting a business because of their social justice cause is popular and makes one feel good about themselves. Asking people to affirm the life styles of others is a fashionable way to root out bigotry and a wonderful way to make sure everyone knows what side of humanity one lives. The most current craze in this trend are teens and pre-teens who are telling the world they are not male or female, straight or gay, in their gender and sexual orientation (see Miley Cyrus being “pansexual”).

 In his book, the Benedict Option, Rod Dreher quotes from a poster to his blog “There’s nothing like having your twelve-year-old come home from school and start ticking off which of her classmates are bi, the reader said, “I told my daughter it was statistically impossible for there to be that many bisexual students in her class, and that for most girls – and they were all girls – seventh grade was entirely too early to make pronouncements on their sexuality. In return, I got a lot of babble about gender being fluid and nonbinary.” This is what children are being taught is true and they are aware of the shaming of anyone who does not celebrate the new norms.

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Isaiah 5:20 ESV

When I was younger the argument was “I was born this way”. Today such limiting options are not sustainable because everyone wants to be included in the celebration of the movement. Now born this way is irrelevant. Gender and sexual preference are “fluid” moving in whatever direction society wants it to move. God however has set boundaries and rules. Isaiah warned the people of his time “Woe to those” who break and bend the set rules of God the creator. Life lived contrary to God’s perfect law is not sustainable.

What is the “Woe” that Isaiah was warning about? What are the ramifications of ignoring God’s perfect plan? In Isaiah’s day, the woe was an incoming army that would destroy society. Israel as a nation was destroyed ending the rules they had set for themselves. It is hard to sustain rebellion against God when life becomes only about survival and death.

24 Therefore, as the tongue of fire devours the stubble, and as dry grass sinks down in the flame, so their root will be as rottenness, and their blossom go up like dust; for they have rejected the law of the Lord of hosts, and have despised the word of the Holy One of Israel. 25 Therefore the anger of the Lord was kindled against his people, and he stretched out his hand against them and struck them, and the mountains quaked; and their corpses were as refuse in the midst of the streets. For all this his anger has not turned away, and his hand is stretched out still. 26 He will raise a signal for nations far away, and whistle for them from the ends of the earth; and behold, quickly, speedily they come! Isaiah 5:24-26 ESV

While that fate was pronounced on the nation of Israel in those generations what does such a “Woe” mean to the contemporary reader? First read into this a “Woe” on all the nations vs trying to tie it back to America. While God certainly could have America ruled by some other nation let the reader take a larger view of God’s intentions toward human kind of today. Second how does this Woe stand in relation to the revelation of Jesus Christ? In verse 24 above it states they have “rejected the law of the Lord of hosts, and have despised the word of the Holy One”. If the people and the society reject God and his Holy One, Christ, then what more can be done? Shall the game be continued to be played by these rules? Shall the creation say to the Creator “No more of you”? Christ has come to give life but if the people only want death then maybe his return is imminent.

36 “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. 37 For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, 39 and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Matthew 24:36-39 ESV

No more armies from a faraway land will be needed to restore a lawless society. Christ himself will come like a flood sweeping away the disorder and the sin that has overcome societies. Third and finally in this “Woe” is the commission of those who are saved by Christ.

5 And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” 6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” 8 And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” Isaiah 6:5-8 ESV

Reader know that you can have the guilt and the rebellion atoned for in Christ. God himself will restore people who are currently breaking every rule. Real life and relationship with the Creator is possible, real, and wonderful. God is calling “Whom shall I send” who will live truth over lies, right over wrong, and sweet over bitter? I pray the answer be “Here I am! Send me.”

The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher

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The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher is a controversial book and the overall premise is certainly timely considering the cultural pressure against traditional Christianity that exists in western societies. The church is being sidelined and accused of bigotry because of its long-term stance on sexual ethics. Jemar Tisby’s review of this book is accurate when he states that Dreher “wants to see Christians return to the practices that sustained the early church. He points to the Rule of St. Benedict, a set of disciplines composed by a monk in the 6th century, as his model. St. Benedict structured monastic life around simple yet powerful habits that included prayer, fasting, and simplicity. The Benedict Option presents the opportunity for Christians to preserve the faith by engaging in ancient counter-cultural habits.”

Tisby’s criticism of the book centers around the fact that Dreher went to 6th Century Europe for inspiration completely overlooking the example of the black church in America that historically has been shut out of the public square. The black church created a culture unto itself to sustain and support the Christian community of color. This argument seems reasonable and before reading The Benedict Option first hand I agreed with the assessment. The black church and communities have a tremendous amount of example and history that current Christian community at large will need to internalize and emulate in the future. It is my expectation that my own children will not be able to work in corporate America or government life without being purged for holding “bigoted” beliefs about marriage and gender. In fact, this purge is already happening at the leadership levels both in the private market and in the public square. Read here, here, and here for just a few examples.

What the reviewers of Dreher’s book seem to miss is the fact that Dreher is Greek Orthodox and this book is based on his faith tradition. Writing about other faith traditions that have lived in a hostile culture would have undermined the aim of this book. The reason why writing about the black church vs going back to Europe would not work for this book is because The Benedict Option is a low pressure sales presentation directed toward Evangelicals in the hope that some might convert to Greek Orthodox tradition.

The criticism of the church in America (very valid criticisms) laid out by Dreher are leveled at the typical protestant evangelical conservative church. Here are some examples…

  • “the church, which no longer forms souls but caters to selves” (Dreher, 9)
  • “I preferred to be a tourist at church – and was too spiritually immature to understand how harmful this was” (Dreher, 68)
  • “treating worship as a consumer activity, and allowing parishioners to function as unaccountable, atomized members” (Dreher, 102)
  • “she became Orthodox – a tradition that emphasizes [early church] writings and teachings. For this friend, the Christian faith amounted to the Bible as interpreted by the most popular Evangelical pastors of the day.” (Dreher, 103)
  • “Evangelicalism has historically been focused not on institution building but on revivalism” (Dreher, 110)

These themes are an invitation by Dreher to be more intentional, disciplined, and accountable to a church. While he is encouraging all evangelical churches to experiment in these areas he himself would most likely point to the solid foundation of his Orthodox tradition.

Personally, I am not Orthodox and I identify as part of the evangelical church tradition. However, I have enjoyed reading the book immensely. There are two aspects of this book that have something for an evangelical to dwell on.

The first section of the book is a dialog or an interview of Americans who joined the Benedict monastery in Italy. Dreher does an excellent job of communicating why they live a harsh rule based life. Monks are not a normal concept to Evangelicals. Living under such constraining and many times pointless rules is at its very nature not Evangelical. Dreher writes “even these seemingly arbitrary rules serve a spiritual purpose” (Dreher, 56) and he then goes on to help the evangelical with understanding the Monk’s perspective and why it is also important for the normal everyday Christian.

Second is Dreher’s accurate criticism of the evangelical church’s lack of culture. He lovingly states that the church will be unable to go out and impact the culture if they have no culture of their own. “We cannot give the world what we do not have. If the ancient Hebrews had been assimilated by the culture of Babylon, it would have ceased being a light to the world. So, it is with the church” (Dreher, 19) I think of this as the church being washed out and flooded by the existing culture. Appeasing the culture on sex, marriage, and gender contrary to God’s perfect standards effectively removes Christ from Christian. Dreher’s call in this book is for Christians to be more Orthodox regarding fasting, liturgy, church discipline, and all the other things evangelicals have abandoned to spotlight the stage and blow smoke through the concert hall on Sunday mornings. He is promoting disciplines that give the church culture and creates order that Christians will need to stand in the coming storm.

Being an outsider to the evangelical church Dreher brings a perspective that is needed. There is wisdom from the early church that the modern evangelical church should incorporate back into practice. All the more so as religious freedom is infringed upon and traditional Christian values are not welcome because they are defined as “hate” by the popular culture.

 

 

 

 

 

What Kind of Christian are You?

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An interesting idea passed through my reading list this week. The comment was that each person, denomination, tradition, or opinion sees God and scripture in their own image. The challenge the person put forth is that everyone reads into the scripture their own “interpretation” and there is no actual single Christian view of things. While true that different Christian traditions might form church government and worship services differently. And some traditions may disagree on some minor aspects of what is most important. What is not true is that a right “interpretation” of scripture is impossible to know. The reality is that most misunderstandings are basically ignorance because so few people spend time reading with their heart open to hear from God. Other wrong “interpretations” are based on purposeful manipulation out of a desire for something other than God. Jesus assumed that his teachings would be remembered and understood by those that followed him and Jesus is never wrong so we can know exactly what is true.

26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. John 14:26 ESV

And this is where the church comes in. If the leadership and those teaching are following Christ (not their own selfish ambitions) then they can guide parishioners on how to read and understand what Jesus taught.

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. James 3:1 ESV

Christianity also uniquely has the source text in Greek and Hebrew that any lay person can learn to read if they are so inclined. Even that is not necessary because of access to modern translations of nearly original letters. The apostles encouraged the churches to search these texts to confirm what they taught was true.

10 The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. 11 Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Acts 17:10-11 ESV

God is true and so all his words, actions, and calls in our life must be consistent with Himself. The Bible is that consistency given to humankind. God will never ask something of someone that a) he was has not already done himself and b) is contrary to his very nature. Scripture then is a baseline that even the greatest Christian teacher must work from. One well known Bible teacher once wrote that followers of Christ must teach and believe what the Bible states as true not what we want the Bible to say is true. I may not like or understand everything but that does not diminish God that only proves my lack of understanding in all things. God has the entire picture and he has proven himself trustworthy.

The last Chapter of Hebrews is the closing of the letter and the author runs through a liturgy of sorts that when lived out mark a Christian in this world. What kind of Christian are you? If you can’t say yes to everything in this list then you may want to reevaluate what kind of Christian you have been.

Let brotherly love continue. 2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. 3 Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. Hebrews 13:1-3 ESV

I agree in the Affirmative: Christians must not be self-seeking but be servants to those in need. Do you love your brothers and sisters in Christ? Are you ready to show hospitality to strangers in need? Do you remember and pray for Christians in prison or those mistreated because they are Christian? This is the type of person that Jesus has called you to be.

4 Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. Hebrews 13:4 ESV

I agree in the Affirmative: God did not create man and woman to be sexually promiscuous. He created man and woman to love each other and to honor the marriage bed. If you are living with someone outside of marriage, if you are having an affair, if you are a consumer of porn or lustful images of any kind, or you believe that whatever your preferences are regarding sex are more important than God’s perfect standards then you are not living the life that Jesus has called you to live. Make this right with God there is no other way.

5 Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” 6 So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” 16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. Hebrews 13:5-6; 16 ESV

I agree in the Affirmative: God never promises to make men rich. God does however promise that he will provide our daily bread. Do not fear living with limited money. The Lord is our helper and His resources are endless. If you do have anything be ready to share sacrificially because this pleases God. The type of person that Jesus called you to be is the person who is not in love with money and stuff.

7 Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. 9 Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them. 17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. Hebrews 13:7-9; 17 ESV

I agree in the Affirmative: God has called each Christian to serve and live within a Church that honors His word. Submit to the leaders of this church and look to their example to imitate. Confirm their example by finding it written about in the Bible. The leadership in your church has been given to you by God and they are accountable to God if they teach what is not true. Do not complain about the Church leadership but make their job a joy (remember they are only men and women like yourself). If you are not in a church or if you are not attending a physical church with real relationships then you are not following the desires of Christ. Jesus is a relational Creator and he never desires for his followers to operate in isolation.

18 Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things. Hebrews 13:18 ESV

I agree in the Affirmative: Followers of Christ act honorably in ALL things. These standards of God are not negotiable. He has saved us and he has died in our stead so we can live. Do you love Jesus, then in obedience set your dead self aside and find life that can only come from Christ.

What kind of Christian are you? If you are not answering affirmatively to the above with a desire to live it out real time then the answer to the question of what kind of Christian are you is either not at all or not much of one. Harsh I know. Sometimes the truth hurts but God has plainly laid out his standards even the parts we may not like.

The Hard Work of Discipline

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Discipline is a word that brings up the concept of short term pain for long term gain. No pain; no gain the adage goes. Discipline also brings up the idea of how to correct unruly behavior in children. To spank or not to spank? Spare the rod spoil the child. While these two views of discipline are similar they are not the same. And in our relationship with Christ both have implications. The Bible speaks of discipline a great deal. In modern translations like NIV or ESV one can find the word from 40 to 50 times. But in an older translation like the King James version it is only used once. The King James translation liked the word “chasten”. Whatever changes have occurred to the English language over time the idea of discipline has not become any less important.

Discipline #1: The engagement of the believer in Christ to organize life in such a way that the relationship and service to God is more effective.

Living a life that puts Christ and His priorities first is not easy. There are varying degrees of success in this endeavor. Some people have lived amazing miraculous lives that are examples to us all. Some have been called saints and some have died unknown and forgotten to all but God. But others seem to barely understand the Christ that saved them. Their lives seem undistinguished from the rest of the world. What separates these two extremes is discipline in Christ. Those who show Christ have lives marked by life of discipline that maximizes praying, reading, loving, serving, and sharing God with the world. They became intentional as some level and through discipline bent their desires to be subject to Christ. The power of this relationship becomes accelerated through the discipline and self-denial of one who is seeking Christ first.

11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Hebrews 12:11 ESV

The author of Hebrews states that in the moment discipline seems painful. The King James translation uses the word “chasten” which means a moderating and restraining effect. This kind of discipline is talking about how adults correct mistakes in their life and how they learn to curb the passions of life. Fasting is not fun. Serving others is a chore. Denying a life of hedonism does not seem all that wonderful to those who are young. But later on, from the other side of chasing Christ is a peace and comfort of a life lived as God intended.

Discipline #2: The act of a perfect Father correcting a child and training a child for the future.

God is no passive Creator that is only now watching his creation evolve. God became a man and died on a cross to reconcile people to Himself. God is actively involved in the life of every single person. For those whom God calls son or daughter he will correct and discipline. God has not left his children without a way or without his love.

19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. Revelation 3:19 ESV

The loving correction of a Father may produce tears in the child but this kind of correction sets a child on a path to a life well lived. God’s correction will set one to life eternal. God’s correction will draw one closer and will allow one to respect Him and His plans for life more. It is no accident that listed along with the types of sin that will destroy a man are those that are disobedient to their parents.

29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. Romans 1:29-32 ESV

If honoring parents made it into the 10 Commandments how much more so is the obedience of submitting to a heavenly father’s correction and discipline.

These two forms of discipline are vital. First is the loving correction of God to remove and cutout sinful behavior and second the effort and restraint where we choose to organize our lives around prayer, church, fasting, and serving to know him better. Together these disciplines done through Christ will draw us nearer to the prize of life in eternity.

24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 1 Corinthians 9:24-25 ESV

And now for the Payoff

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I watched a military leader of some stripe promoting a new book he had written called Make Your Bed and he had written it as a wisdom book about being successful in life. His wisdom being that making the bed first thing starts the day in the right direction. This act establishes discipline and therefore allows more accomplishment as the day moves on. Very sound wisdom… Maybe my life could be more successful if I become more disciplined? Success and being successful is a huge motivator for most people and that raises some questions for me on what it is we expect from this life.

A large percentage of people might agree with the following statement… “When I grow up and am done with this life I want all my arduous work and effort to payoff.” This is the heart of much advertising especially around sports. The problem is how many people start a work and never see it realized? How many have died before seeing their children grow? How many have been taken advantage of and lost everything they ever saved? How many refugees are forced to move because of war leaving behind everything including family? A wise man once complained of how evil it is that a stranger might enjoy the work of someone else’s toil and savvy.

There is an evil that I have seen under the sun, and it lies heavy on mankind: 2 a man to whom God gives wealth, possessions, and honor, so that he lacks nothing of all that he desires, yet God does not give him power to enjoy them, but a stranger enjoys them. This is vanity; it is a grievous evil. Ecclesiastes 6:1-2 ESV

What are you committed to right now? A sport? A way to become famous? What if you fail? What if all the work does not pay off? Is the work still worth it? If all that you have is taken by a government or lost in war is the life still worth living? These are questions that many people the world over have had to not only ponder but live out.

While coming up short on some major desire or plan for life might be a “grievous evil” what about the person who abandon’s everything to follow God’s call and God’s promise but never sees it fulfilled? In Hebrews, the chapter on faith, the author points out this problem that many of the Old Testament believers experienced first hand.

13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. Hebrews 11:13 ESV

God called them to live an unusual life, many times not a pleasant life, and showed them a future promise that they would not live to experience. Dear Reader would you tolerate such a situation? These men and women not only tolerated such a seeming disappointment they are commended for their faith and trust in God’s bigger picture. Note what it says they came to understand. That they were strangers and exiles on this earth and this life. They understood that this is not their home. Strive, work, make your bed, and be successful. However take stock in why and for what reason one desires success. In the statement “When I grow up and am done with this life I want all my arduous work and effort to payoff.” The real question is what is the payoff at the end of all that work and success?

12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. Ephesians 2:12 ESV

If the payoff is not God’s grace and the fellowship as a son or daughter through Christ in eternity then that successful life lived will be dedicated to an earth that is not home and will not last.