Category Archives: Growth and Discipleship

The loss of Christian consciousness in the US, is it public schools?

Periodically, I see the following meme circulating around on facebook, or something like it as quite a number of folks are detecting things are amiss.

school lamb

Being it was a battle between Christians that brought about state supreme court rulings keeping the scriptures out of schools, I’m not sure how having the govt taking care of Jesus words in Matthew 28 (making disciples / teaching them to pray) would play out across a diverse body of Christ.

Beyond that, I find it especially interesting, that the pivotal state supreme court ruling which removed the scriptures from the public school (which has been referenced a whole multitude of times in faith and school legal proceedings over the last 100+ years) included the following from one of the judges.

The priceless truths of the Bible are best taught to our youth in the church, the Sabbath and parochial schools, the social religious meetings, and,
above all, by parents in the home circle. There, these truths may be explained and enforced, the spiritual welfare of the child guarded and protected, and his spiritual nature directed and cultivated, in accordance with the dictates of the parental conscience. The Constitution does not interfere with such teaching and culture. It only banishes theological polemics from the district schools.

And yet, many persist in blaming public schools for societies ills… I just saw this one today.

washer

Out of the 15,000 secular hours, which appears is on the high side of things for most states (6.5 hours a day, for 180 days a year, for 12 years), how much of it truly is ungodly? I mean, math, art, English, history, science etc are neither Godly or ungodly, they are mere tools to prepare the young to go out in the world. Perhaps even more so, the focus on critical thinking in many of the common core standards is exceedingly beneficial in an individuals faith walk… albeit perhaps less so in a pastor-centric theology as contrasted with a Biblical one.

Granted, for those who ascribe to a young earth view, the teaching of evolution will be problematic, but that is is only a very small part of the 15,000 hours, perhaps 300-400 hours tops in general science and biology classes.

And for those who feel anything other than abstinence-only sex ed is ungodly, less than 20 hours on average are devoted to sex ed over the entire K12 curricula.

Literature can be an area of concern for some Christians, but again, we’re talking about a relatively small percentage of hours, as controversial literature generally doesn’t show up until the later years. As such, I’d estimate this at 200-300 hours tops.

Bottom line, out of 15,000 hours of secular education, there is at best 750 hours of instruction where some Christians might consider such ungodly.

During that same 12 year interval, said students will be exposed to 30 plus weeks of Sunday school at one hour a week for 360 hours of instruction. 52 hours per year of Sunday services which equates to 624 hours, plus if the parents are committed to Christian ed at home to the tune of 2 hours a week, another 1200 hours of home study.

Now, if said students are only coloring pictures of Noah’s ark, or in later years just watching videos in Sunday school, then yes they are sort of doomed before they start…. but that is the fault of the church, not the public school.

The only area where public schools and Christianity seriously run into one another is in the arena of extracurricular scheduling and the loss of Christian privilege. It used to be that Wednesday or Thursday was a designated church night, and schools would avoid stepping on the churches toes. Today, in many locations, kids programs run every day of the week, including Sunday during worship time. I often remember seeing the soccer fields jammed to capacity on my travels from church to church on Sunday morning… but parents can drive school schedules if they desire, or they can place Sunday church as a higher priority than soccer, or they can engage with worship on Saturday, or some other day as well.

 

The lost of Christian Consciousness in the US

Christian morality has been a driver of public policy since the days of Constantine, but I think somehow we are loosing collective Christian consciousness. Granted, history is filled with Christianity doing crash and burns… but I tend to think as Shaun Grove stated, something has changed.

A friend of mine with Mennonite roots was pondering along that line of thinking a while back too. He suggests that the last 2 generations of Christians have presented worldviews where:

Forgiveness is replaced by Vengeance

Peace is replaced with anger.

Love is replaced with mean-spiritedness

Faith is replaced with Fear

I’ve observed the same, and I’ve also noticed situations where folks talk about Judeo Christian values, except that when queried, said values often reflect recent traditions of men or pop psychology, rather than the words of Jesus. I think about the sentiments expressed in a couple recently anti-beatitude songs by U2 .

Blessed are the arrogant,
For theirs is the kingdom of their own company.
Blessed are the superstars,
For the magnificence in their light
We understand better our own insignificance.
Blessed are the filthy rich,
For you can only truly own what you give away,
Like your pain.
Blessed are the bullies,
For one day they will have to stand up to themselves.
Blessed are the liars,
For the truth can be awkward.

As I stated earlier, history is filled with Christianity going off the rails. As little as 50 years ago, Christians took over zoning boards in many US cities and played the discrimination game with housing, intentionally excluding Jews, Muslims, and those of other faiths, or of no faith, to say nothing of matters of class and race. Going back further, consider how Christians have treated native Americans over the years, words in the treaties were rarely worth the paper they were printed on. If we roll back to the time of the Puritans, its almost a replay of the parable of the forgiven debtor. The Puritans left England to pursue religious freedom, only to turn around upon arrival here to persecute the Quakers. And it’s not just an American thing, Calvin had Servais killed, the Catholic church had the crusades… pretty much, if there was a moral high ground held out in the scriptures, Christians throughout the centuries downplayed it in the pursuit of other things.

In today’s world, the words of Jesus about greed and coveting are truly hard to hear as they impact most everyone, as contrasted with ear-tickling morality that rarely rings explicitly personal. As Pastor Shane Holden of First Free says, the Bible mentions greed and caring for the poor many thousands of times, and yet Christianity is not known for its preaching against greed and covetousness. Add in the folks on radio and tv avoiding the same, and is it any wonder that the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus gets buried in the noise, to say nothing about Jesus words about lovings one’s neighbor.

And yet despite the moral failings of Christians, a form of Christian consciousness has always streamed from the pulpit, albeit not without difficulty. I remember a pastor friend told me about preaching about the rich young ruler… with the result that 2-3 wealthy families including a congressman left his church never to return. Another pastor friend of mine got chewed out for being too political when he brought up Matthew 25 in his sermon.

Consider the atheist Bertam Russels words about Ghandi.

“It is doubtful that the efforts of the Mahatma would have succeeded except that he was appealing to the conscience of a Christianized people”

His approach of non-violence ran smack into Christian consciousness… had it not, he likely would have been killed and the status quo would have remained.

But where is this Christian consciousness in today’s world? If its presence is iffy now, will it exist in the future? Consider generation Z and their views of Christianity — from a Barna survey.

For Gen Z, “atheist” is no longer a dirty word: The percentage of teens who identify as such is double that of the general population (13% vs. 6% of all adults). The proportion that identifies as Christian likewise drops from generation to generation.

More than half of Gen Z says church involvement is either “not too” (27%) or “not at all” important (27%). Only one in five says attending church is “very important” to them (20%), the least popular of the four options.

 

Thinking about Willow Creek

Its really disheartening to learn of what happened at Willow Creek. One would think that a church culture which has an egalitarian approach to the scriptures would not run into trouble as much as a highly partriarchal/complementarian one. Sadly Willow Creek crashed and burned. And granted, any given individual, pastor, lay person, Christian, or not can have moral failings… but what is so surprising, is that Willow Creek followed the all too typical #churchfail model, and started judging the situation favorably to their leader and mission prior to a serious investigation.

As Scott Mcknight writes:
” “My guess is that three things will happen soon.” First, Hybels and Willow would deny the accusations. Second, more stories would likely to come to the surface. Third, Hybels and Willow would admit improprieties and Willow would have a huge challenge on how to support as well as either defend or discipline their incomparable founder and pastor.

I also said my biggest fear was that Willow’s leadership and Hybels would handle it in the worst possible way and make life difficult for Willow Creek Community Church, for the women, and for all of us.”

Granted, no one wants to believe that a beloved and respected leader just shy of retirement has had moral failings. Likewise, no church wants to compromise its mission, and thus when situations come about where one must protect the victim or protect the mission, far too often the victim is the one that suffers.

I’ve seen that mission first mentality play out in a whole ton of ways over the years… with many a church, or group of church people working as hard as possible to keep things in the shadows, such that the light could not directly illuminate #churchfail. The problem of course is that activities to eliminate or redirect the light, often bring additional pain onto the victims, to say nothing of said activities tendency to spiral out of control, thus making a damaging situation even worse.

The mission first model isn’t just a protect the institutions bank account or protect the leaders jobs thing either. When #churchfail occurs, it often times throws a major wrench into the lifes of those initially seeking or those young in their faith. It can also send any number of folks from the young to the old into the realms of spiritual crisis… which is a very sad deal. Otoh, light has a tendency to eventually shine into pretty much all dark corners… which I’ll argue can present an even greater spiritual risk to folks, then to let light shine where it may and roll with the punches, even if it means a given church or ministry may fall into the no longer a viable concern category.

The reason? Ministries and churches have finite lifespans, it could be a change in leadership, demographics, natural disaster, or plain and simple human nature, that the grass is always greener elsewhere. Bottom line, just because a ministry or church ceases to function, doesn’t mean the Gospel goes by the wayside. Jesus will always be there, and the church / ministry gap will be filled with new wine, for which it too will present a finite lifespan and the circle of ministry continues.

I saw this first hand as a young guy, a 300 kid youth ministry I worked with was destroyed… and folks scattered. It was a pretty painful experience, I remember thinking, how could God let this happen, when I should have been thinking, what safeguards were missed, what did the elders and church leadership miss that could have prevented this. What about all the kids new in their faith, or who were seekers, who just walked away? And yet, in decades of hindsight, the elders made the right, albeit painful call at the time. It would have been way too easy to slide things under the carpet to go for success and growth, rather than pretty much killing it.

Boundaries, Hints of Impurity, and the Appearance of Evil

1 Thessalonians 5:22 was often used to bring about some really crazy making forms of legalism a few decades back. Consider the KJV translation

Abstain from all appearance of evil.

Certainly avoiding the appearance of evil in accordance with the scriptures is a good thing… but when it comes to matters of faith, corruption is often waiting right around the door, and it showed up in spades with the misapplication of this verse.

Consider the following from Mansfield’s “Everything I Learned About Theology” This often leads to stringent rules, cultural traditions and behavior that have little to do with authentic Christianity, sometimes humorously categorized as “I don’t drink, I don’t chew, and I don’t go out with girls that do.”

The absurdity of misapplying the verse even made it into a movie.

Insert Footloose Trailer here

And of course, even if you couldn’t dance, drink, or chew, it was perfectly ok to practice racial or gender discrimination, throw the big deal aspects of Matthew 25 under the bus, or lie, cheat and steal in one’s business affairs.

Thus, lots of folks looked to the Greek and took a close look as to whether “appearance” was truly the right word to use or not.

Consider the following article:

https://www.padfield.com/1996/all-appearance-of-evil.html

The apostle Paul wrote “some things hard to understand, which those who are untaught and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:16). Sometimes people “twist” the Scriptures because they have an evil heart and do not really care what God has said—they will twist the Scriptures to justify their own evil actions. Other people will unknowingly “twist” the Scriptures—usually as a result of a lack of Bible study.

If I were to make a list of the most abused (or “twisted”) passages in the Bible, I think that 1 Thessalonians 5:22 would be near the head of the list. In the King James Version of the Bible this passage simply commands us to “abstain from all appearance of evil.” This verse is explained by many folks to mean that if some act “appears” to be evil then we must abstain from it. Of course, the person explaining the passage gets to determine what “appears” evil and what doesn’t. If they don’t like going to the movie theater then you can’t go either—it “appears” to be evil. If they don’t like playing cards then you can’t play either—it “appears” to be evil. If they don’t like vanilla ice cream then you can’t eat it either—it “appears” to be evil.

The entire article is pretty profound and makes a lot of sense… and likely similar arguments were used in newer translations such as the ESV since appearance is no longer used.

Despite this, one can see compelling arguments to translate the Greek eidos as appearance, despite the aforementioned problems. Consider the following:

Abstain From All Appearance of Evil

A pure heart avoids the appearance of evil. “Abstain from all show of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:22). A pure heart avoids that which may be interpreted as evil. He that is loyal to his prince not only forbears to have his hand in treason, but he takes heed of that which has a show of treason. A gracious heart is shy of that which looks like sin. When Joseph’s mistress took hold of him and said, “Lie with me,” he left his garment in her hand and fled from her (Genesis 39:12). He avoided the appearance of evil. He would not be seen in her company. Thus a pure heart avoids whatever may have the suspicion of sin….

And yet… Jesus hung out with prostitutes, and was considered a drunkard and a glutton. Along with that line of thought, far too many ministry opportunities are left by the wayside, for fear of what the religious people may think. Ie, the proverbial little old lady who watches out her window 24/7 just waiting to pounce lest anyone cross her “interesting” morality.

joshharris

The thing is, 1 Thess 5:22 is not the only verse that talks about this sort of thing… Ephesians 5:3 hits on it as well, and its a lot more explicit. Bear in mind, lots of folks only look at the sex aspect, as after all, sex sells… but greed and impurity are equally important, or perhaps in our culture, even more important.

But among you, there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.

Bottom line, I don’t think the translation, whether it be to the appearance of, or form of, or something related is anywhere near as neat and tidy as many would like it to be. Overall, I tend to think what Paul is pointing toward is a form of boundary not right at the good vs evil line, but shifted towards the good side such that when things take a serious header, when the dust settles, there is no question as to which side one is on.

I think of this fellow I knew way back when. He had a massive heart for God, and I remember him taking a hardcore stance of avoiding the appearance of evil. He did not want anything to get in the way of folks coming to Jesus so he held to some really high ideals on the finance side of things… but those ideals really limited expansion, so when he retired and his kids took over….

They hired some lawyers and it appears they made the call to operate as close to breaking the law as possible, such that they could massively expand, and accomplish much good for the kingdom. And like a lot of things, bad stuff happens from time to time and things really blew up. The son ended up being accused of fraud, and of course the board of directors and the family came back with, well pop put this stuff in place, so the son is totally innocent, it’s a rogue atheist attorney out to get him. Until of course one reads the court proceedings… and now the whole lot of them have egg on their face and the son is in jail.

Ponderings on Pascal’s Wager

Pascal argued that if we do not know whether God exists or not, we should play it safe and believe, rather than risk being sorry. In his time and culture, that was likely a reasonable stance… but in the day’s of Apostle Paul, taking such a position seems pretty counterproductive. Consider what he said in 1 Cor 15:19

If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.

I remember reading this way back when and often thought, what on earth was Paul talking about. Did he secretly think that approaching life with an eat drink and be merry today for tomorrow we die attitude was better? Was he so enamored with getting rich, that the costs of following Jesus were just too high? Or maybe he had held a high degree of bloodlust such that exacting his own form of justice on others was so much better than letting God take care of things.

It just didn’t add up… until one considers Christianity in Paul’s time was very small in scope and easily overpowered by the Romans in their might makes right approach. In a related vein, you had the Roman’s saying, follow our laws, worship our King or die, you had the Jews looking for any deviations of their purity codes to squash, you had folks looking for easy marks, ie those who followed the beatitudes and/or the golden rule to take advantage of. Christian’s were often discriminated against, persecuted, tortured or killed… so in that respect, following Jesus was fraught with peril. Thus, if there was no God, if there was no resurrection, then followers of Jesus subjected themselves to persecution and death for no reason.

Pascal’s era and culture were vastly different than Paul’s though, likely not all that different than when cultural Christianity reigned in the US. Ie, when you needed to be a Christian church member in good standing to be eligible for promotions at work, to run for public office, to be eligible to become a well thought of pillar of the community, and in some locations, to even buy real estate or conduct trade. In other words, not only was there an eternal issue to be concerned with, there was an earthly one too. The costs of believing were pretty limited in scope and in some cases, it may well have been quite costly to not do so.

And this makes things messy… likely not all that different than the day after the feeding of the 5000. Folks returned and Jesus sort of called them on the carpet in John 6:26

“Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled.

Such is where the dangers of semi-Pelagianism wrt to Pascal’s wager come to rise, ie that we on our own power can choose to believe, in contrast with what Jesus had to say a couple times in John 6.

44. No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.

and 63-65
It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was that would betray Him. And He was saying, “For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.”

Asylum Seekers, Immigration, Natural Law, Matthew 25, and Faith/Works

I recently heard Cardinal Dolan talking about natural law (Romans 2:14-15). with respect to children being separated from their parents in US immigration and asylum seeking cases. For sure, it is a complicated mess with many factors at play and a host of unintended consequences… but at the very bottom of it, tearing families seeking asylum apart, is not only counter to the words of Jesus, its also counter to basic human decency, ie natural law. And yet… it seems there are some Christian’s that miss this entirely. I’m not quite sure what to make of this.

Beyond the natural law aspect, we have Jesus words in Matthew 25…

Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’

Such words are pretty hard to hear, as they ring of salvation by works, and seemingly could negate once saved always saved theology which some sectors of Christianity ascribe too… so apparently, they need to be toned down somehow. One way to tone down Matthew 25 is to narrow up the definition of brothers, perhaps to only include those within one’s immediate local Christian tribe… certainly it is possible to define brothers this way with some scriptures in isolation, but one must also ponder what Jesus was getting at when he said whoever does the will of his Father in heaven is his brother in Matthew 12:50.

Another way to tone things down is to look at the entire chapter of Matthew 25 and ponder whom Jesus is referring to as the sheep and the goats. He talks of the righteous being the sheep, so if we are justified by faith, we must be included in the sheep group, those who took care of the least of these… and the unrighteous the goats, those without faith, or rejected faith. But this doesn’t pass the smell test if the stranger is not welcomed, nor the hungry fed etc. James 2:15-17 may be instructive in this:

If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

And this is a sticking point for some… they consider taking care of the least of these much less important than telling folks about Jesus, or perhaps that His commands in this could be ignored. Imho, a form of gnostic dualism, where the needs of the flesh are to be put aside for the eternal. Such beliefs have dogged Christianity for centuries often leading to disastrous consequences. Consider the writings of Frederick Douglass .

“We have men-stealers for ministers, women-whippers for missionaries, and cradle-plunderers for church members. The man who wields the blood-clotted cowskin during the week fills the pulpit on Sunday, and claims to be a minister of the meek and lowly Jesus.”

“Revivals of religion and revivals in the slave-trade go hand in hand together. The slave prison and the church stand near each other. The clanking of fetters and the rattling of chains in the prison, and the pious psalm and solemn prayer in the church, may be heard at the same time. The dealers in the bodies of men erect their stand in the presence of the pulpit, and they mutually help each other. The dealer gives his blood-stained gold to support the pulpit, and the pulpit, in return, covers his infernal business with the garb of Christianity.”

And lots of “Christian” churches, even those who did not like slavery did not want to split the church… so many pulpits remained silent considering it a disputable matter. Rather, the works many chose to focus on, were the veneers of personal piety, the masks to make a dark heart look good amongst ones tribe, at least in public that is.

I wonder if the legacy of the veneers of personal piety, rather than the works of taking care of the least of these is a contributory factor as to why the outrage as to separating families is missing or subdued among some Christians? Veneers are pretty easy to show… we all know, or knew at one time a dickwad pastor or respected elder, who was great in the church, and an absolute nightmare elsewhere. Stats seem to bear this out too, at least in the marriage domain, with over 50% of born again Christians viewing porn monthly, and over 30% of the same demographic engaging in an affair while married.

Another thing I ponder is the human tendency to pursue works apart from faith, in some cases, a laudible goal, in others a form legalism. Its relatively easy to do veneer wise, as it comes down to acting and sales skills, and the con game works for a while, perhaps even a long while for some folks. Its harder to do sustainably over the long haul, without some form of corruption entering in. The temptation to do a little evil so good may come is often present, and has led to the crash and burn of many an org, even Christian faith based ones. The tail end of Romans 9 continuing into chapter 10 is instructive in this.

…That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone….

Ultimately, with respect to the faith and works issue, we know from Ephesians 2:8-9, that we are saved by grace through faith, but in our zeal to avoid the hazards of legalism, we mustn’t loose track of Ephesians 2:10 either.

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

And despite all the noise… I noticed many a conservative Christian, far beyond just Cardinal Dolan condemning the actions of the US govt tearing families apart. The US has a really sordid past in how it handled immigration and asylum seekers, going back decades if not centuries… the light of Christ is illuminating the country’s failures, perhaps this will spur congress to truly fix this once and for all.

Healing the Paralytic at Bethesda, Consent, Victim Blaming, and a Missing Verse

So someone ate John 5:4 in the ESV… alas, we can find it in the KJV.

For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had.

The story of this is that the later manuscripts which were used by the KJV translators have this verse, where in it is absent in much older manuscripts. Without this verse, one might reason that some form of water therapy took place. That there were a limited number of sessions per day , and the paralytic having no help, got hung out to dry, as others who could walk, got in ahead of hum.

But the reasoning to get the above doesn’t really jibe with angels or the first come first only served healing thing in the KJV… Perhaps it made sense to the scribe to fill in the blanks so as to limit how much one might read into said text? Alas its later addition is interesting.

Speaking of reading into the text, one can have a field day with John 5:6  When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?”

So why did Jesus ask this?

On first pass reading of this, it seems Jesus upholds the humanity of the paralytic man, and asked for consent. Certainly after being paralyzed for 38 years, and after coming to the healing pool at Bethesda, one can infer with high certainty the man desires healing… and still Jesus asks him. I tend to think this is more for our education, as to how critical consent is, than it was for the time and place of the event itself.

And yet, the question does open the door to the victim blamer types. To the “you are not healed because you have some unrepentant in in your life”. To the “You are not healed, as you don’t really want to be healed. You enjoy lying by the pool as part of your daily routine, you don’t want to change…. as if you prayed enough, God would have healed you long ago”.

And yet, there is no mention of sin, no mention of repentance, or even faith on the part of the man. Even more interestingly, as Jesus heals him, he tells also him to sin, at least sin as defined by the culture of the day.

This may well be yet another key teaching of Jesus… to be wary of cultural definitions of sin, consider the teachings of some groups that Christian’s don’t drink alcohol, dance, or go to movies. Can you imagine how it might fly with the temperance folks if Jesus told the guy to get up, and go grab a beer?

And yet later on in John 5:15, Jesus meets up with the guy, and tells him to sin no more… it makes me wonder if the dude had tempted God in his youth, jumped off a cliff, and crashed and broke his neck or something which brought about his paralysis. Certainly, the dude could have kicked the bucket the first time out… giving it another go would be pretty unwise.

Unanswered Prayer

Ravi Zacharius brought up an interesting thought on prayer on his radio show last month. He was talking about unanswered prayer and the examples given by Jesus in the new testament. Consider how Jesus prayed for unity, and that there is no unity in a single church, much less is there any unity across some 34,000 denominations. Likewise, Jesus prayer in the garden where he asked the cup be taken from him and yet it was not….

So, would this be the case as some well meaning Christian’s say that Jesus had a sin problem, and if he only quit sinning that God would fullfill his requests? Would this be a case where in if only Jesus had used the right magic words, perhaps the name it and claim it thing that His prayer would have been answered? Perhaps had Jesus given more seed money to the temple priests that he would reap ten fold or more and His problems would be solved? And then what about the bit where Jesus himself says you do not have because you do not ask and yet His own prayer requests were not fullfilled? And yet, all through the scriptures, we see how God answers the prayers of his people.

So what gives with this? Might we in the above examples be trying to force God to conform to our views as to what he is and what he should do, rather than letting Him be Him as Jesus did? This is not an easy thing to ponder. Certainly a rabbits foot god model is not a good thing, but going to extremes the other way, (cynicism, open theism, and gnosticism) isn’t good either.

I think back to the prayers I made during my late wifes last days in the hospital. Up until I had to sign off on the cesation of curative medicine, I fully believed that God would heal her… and yet before nightfall she was gone. Over our 21 years together, prayers were often answered, in many cases with outcomes far surpassing our expectations, and yet, the answer was different at the end. The thing is, God’s presence was never more obvious than during her last days and hours… perhaps an answer to prayer in and of itself.

Pondering the Interpretation of the Scriptures and History

Wesley states that scriptural interpretation is driven by the scriptures themselves, traditions, reason, and experience. Beyond this, we may also look to what the experiences of the writers was as to when a given text was written. However, when we try to look at the scriptures in isolation, things can go sideways pretty fast.

The agrarian parables as viewed in a non agrarian society present a good example of this. Consider how Jesus talked about sheep… if one isolates this parable by verse, we might think of sheep following their shephard around, except that they really don’t do this. They will wander all over the place, unless they hear the voice of their shepherd calling them. Granted, the scriptures have this covered… but if one gets too narrow in the selection of said scriptures, its very easy to miss this.

Another parable to ponder is where Jesus talks about a camel going through the eye of a needle. I mean get real, a camel is this huge animal, the eye of a needle is necessarily tiny, being its used for purposes of sewing. Thus if we only look at the scriptures, we think ok, Jesus is being creative with the use of a really far out there metaphor. However, if we add geography into the mix, along with the scriptures, and see that there is a location known as the eye of the needle… and while it would be near impossible to get a camel through said pass, the parable now makes a whole lot more sense.

And thats the thing, there are sayings of Jesus that are very hard, ones which we’d just as like to cast aside or at a minimun downplay especially when we don’t have any easily accessible context to work with. Add in our own biases, desires, and human logics ease of creating workarounds, and it becomes really easy to miss the point entirely.

I think back a couple years ago, where I ran into a Christian from South America debating with a bunch of US evangelicals. It was a situation involving taking God’s word at face value in combiation with centuries of history, or looking to the use of logic and experience to limit the srciptures in order to provide for a more comfortable moral view. And self deception being what it is, comfort will win out if a way can be found to bend things that way… and if one adds in a generation or two of this, all of a sudden comfortable morality becomes a near absolute truth.

And yet, just as Jesus stated so many times in the semon on the mount, It has been said… but I say to you…

Those words of Jesus do not return void, even if it takes some time, possibly a generation or two. Lots of young folks are reading the scriptures, lots of folks are using the internet for historical interpretations, or interpretations from a whole multitude of pastors rather than merely receiving their local churches teaching as an absolute.

It is often stated that its important to study history so we do not make the mistakes of the past… and young folks are seeing this play out first hand. It is a wonderful thing indeed!!!

Getting Discipleship Wrong

82% of Americans believe God helps those who helped themselves. A good chunk of Christians believe what goes around, comes around. Some have said that the sermon on the mount was originally preached by Billy Graham. Significant numbers of Christians can only recall 5 out of the 10 commandments

And yet 88% of households own at least one Bible and the average number of Bibles her household is 4.7… so thats a lot of Bibles. Alas, having access to the scriptures is one thing, reading them is another, and taking them to heart and living them out is a whole other story.

And there in lies a problem with big problem with how we do discipleship. For sure gathering for worship is a good thing, running soup kitchens is a good thing, and doing service projects are a good thing too… but the above examples suggest those approaches alone don’t go very far when it comes to making disciples.

Lets ponder some ways of identifying disciples…

Disciples live the fruits of the spirit:   Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control don’t get a whole lot of airplay. I totally get that they are counter-cultural… but imagine if Christians at large were known for those rather than rather than judgment, anger, and hate.

Disciples have character: Imagine what a witness would be if folks took the message preached on Sunday, and lived it out the rest of the week. Imagine if instead of embracing the old Adam on Monday morning, one tried to follow Jesus in all of his ways the whole week long? Imagine if instead of just memorizing the scriptures, we did what they said?

Disciples are not perfect: The old Adam will be with us unto death, but at the same time we are a new creation in Christ. We will fall, that is inevitable, but how we fall and recover is what the world will see. Its very tempting to put up a veneer / mask of righteousness to avoid scandalizing the church… but should the veneer fail, the results are often much worse, than had the fall been left open for all to see in the first place.

Disciples have competence: The proverbial “Preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary use words.” crashes and burns in this. Words are almost always necessary. Consider the selection of folks to serve widows and orphans in Acts 6…  Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task. Works are great in and of themselves, I think of the various church work projects I’ve been involved with over the years… and its a mixed bag from a discipleship competence point of view. Sometimes it ends up being little different than a secular construction crew, albeit with a bit less cussing. In other cases, its almost like Sunday school on steroids in between blows of the framing hammer.

Disciples have a mission focus: I originally was going to say this and then I went NO. In aviation, we view a mission focus as a dangerous thing, as the mission itself can easily become too large a factor in aeronautical decision making as contrasted with the safety factors related to the aircraft, weather, and pilot.  The folks at the vergenetwork draw some parallels to that:

The problem comes when we desire and push toward a movement more than we desire and push people toward Jesus. Our language begins to emphasize the activity we must do rather than the intimacy with God we must enjoy. Our language begins to sound more like a scorched-earth movement that moves fast and accomplishes things quickly, but leaves people hurting and helpless in its wake.

The great problem with movement language is that it becomes more about the movement than about Jesus.

Rather, it should be said that:

Disciples make disciples: