Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Do Christians ever grow up and "do it themselves?"

One of the most powerful concepts in Scripture is the image of God as our Father. But a good human Father wants his children to learn to do things for themselves and eventually outgrow their need for his constant supervision. Is this an abuse of the metaphor, or does God want us to grow up and become independent in the way we want our children to do? To what extent is the impulse to want to do-it-yourself, a mark of healthy maturing for a child, a mark of healthy maturing for a Christian?

TOD 08.29.07: I’ve never been much of a “do-it-yourselfer.” The idea of watching people repair things on television is a bit like suggesting I watch Court TV: I won’t enjoy the experience, and I start to suspect there’s something wrong with people who do. But perhaps I’ve judged prematurely. Oh, don’t worry, I still have no interest in doing home repairs, but I do love to do many other things for myself, such as cook. My son forced me to think about this recently when he wanted to “help” me by learning how to break eggs. He now demands that no eggs be broken without his participation, and his newest request, of course, is, “I want to do it all by myself,” which means yolks full of toddler thumbs. But all this seems perfectly natural. I want my son to grow up and do many things for himself. The question is, to what degree does God want the same thing for us, His children? Some would say this impulse to “do-it-ourselves” has absolutely no place when it comes to theology and salvation, but I have to wonder whether something so clearly universal in man’s design should be so quickly dismissed as a defect.

Elizabeth wrote: What is it that the do it yourself impetus points to? What might God want us to do for ourselves? DIY often expresses a desire for self-sufficiency. Are we to make ourselves independent of God?

Andrew wrote: I think that's the question that doesn't get discussed. Generally speaking, people either presume that everything is DIY or else nothing is. I think something must be and some things must not be. (Observe that my son clearly needs my help with many things as the other lesson.) The question is whether we ever "grow up" in Christianity or not. My job is to make myself unnecessary to my son. To what degree does this tell us anything about God's plan for us? I'm not answering the questions. I'm simply saying it's premature to define them as unworthy of asking. I want to explore the question, not treat it as a locked door into which we may not peer.

Elizabeth wrote: Well, it might be a bit presumptuous to say "everyone." I guess I'm just at a loss for anything that would really be diy. In what are we supposed to be self-sufficient? That seems more to be the antithesis of our purpose, more that most of us need to realize that without God, we can do nothing, we are nothing. In every moment of every day we should be asking for God's aid, thanking God for his gifts, and seeking His will. Not an ounce of diy. Though a question to which the answer is "no" can still be a very good question in deed. I just feel like I missing something, so I ask. I'm thinking and thinking and spinning my wheels ...

Andrew wrote: I agree with you about the feeling at a loss part, but I suspect that's because we've been trained to think of any possible answer as a mistake. There may be none, but then we're left trying to explain both the "do it yourself" tendency and also the "grow up and don't depend on your parents anymore" objective so widespread in humanity. Sin? Could be. Indicator of some deep truth that we're overlooking? Could be. Here's a trivial example. My son once needed me to spoon feed him. Then, for a while, we shared the task. Now, I require him to do it for himself when I can. Surely I'm supposed to feed myself independently of God, right? Well, there's these food restrictions and there's health concerns. Right. And once we grasp those, we don't need to pray for God that He guide us in using our forks efficiently. What about things more substantial? Probably a good show topic.

Post-show thoughts: There are two errors: Thinking that we aren’t supposed to do anything ourselves and thinking that we are supposed to do everything ourselves. Our relationship with God is a complex blend of both acquiring and implementing what He has given us and depending upon Him at every moment. If my son asks me to help him with something he's not yet able to do for himself, that's good. If my son asks me to help him with something he should be able to do for himself, that's not good. God gives us gifts, and we must always use them His way for His glory, but that does not mean that we must beg him daily for our allotment of the ability to use the gift He's already given.

Who's responsible for feeding "mature" Christians?

Willow Creek church recently conducted a survey of how satisfied it’s congregants were with what they were receiving at the church. There was no surprise that new Christians were very satisfied. Some would also say there was no surprise that older Christians were very dissatisfied, thinking that the church wasn’t doing enough to feed them. Willow Creek’s response? New programs teaching older Christians how to be self-feeding. Is the mature Christian, whatever that means, supposed to be fed by the local church in the same way as the new believer? If not, who is responsible for feeding him? Put a different way, what is the role of the local church in relation to the believer who has been one for awhile?
Post-show thoughts: Ephesians 4 says quite clearly that the office of pastor (and others) has been given for the perfecting and maturity of the Body. Hence, there is a role to play continually. The real issue is whether the Sunday service (or any "official" service) is meant to supply all the needs of anyone, and the answer is an emphatic, "No!" Particularly for more knowledgeable Christians, these needs will be better met in private study or in group study with similarly advanced others, just as a high school student doesn't learn math with the second graders. But, as with the old single-room schoolhouse concept, the high schoolers learn by helping to teach the second graders. One concern I have is that many Christians know a lot but then aren't being given good opportunities to teach what they know. My other concern is that many Christians who know a lot may not be doing a lot with it. And knowing without doing will frustrate anyone. So should this Christian be doing more or should the church leaders be aware enough to create ways of helping them do more and holdin them accountable to that? Yes.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Is Halloween for Christians?

Some well-meaning Christians are convinced that any involvement with Halloween is completely wrong and probably even prohibited by the Bible. Other well-meaning Christians are convinced that this is much ado about nothing. And yet a third group of (hopefully) well-meaning Christians believes that we should use this opportunity to reach out to those children who will be coming to our houses for one night of the year. Who is correct?
Post-show thoughts: We participate in Halloween. Our kids dress up. We go around and give great joy to lots of other people. At our home, we give out candy with inoffensive, age-appropriate information about Christ on it. Our goal is to be a blessing and to redeem something which does not inherently glorify God. Since Jesus loves little children and dressing up is fun, it's hard to comprehend why so many Christians oppose this event. Whatever murky origins it may have, and no one knows for sure, the reality of it today is entirely benign. If we hide in our houses, we have either no influence or anti-influence for Christ. If we participate, we have postitive influence both in relationships and in bringing joy to others. I think most Christians opposed to Halloween are terribly inconsistent about their opposition. Hiding inside your home is not loving if this thing is evil. Explaining that evil to others while they are doing it would be the correct course of action. But the reluctance to do so is exactly from the recognition that it's not nearly as bad as you make out. If we are supposed to be salt and light in this world, it's hard to see how that is accomplished by turning out our porch lights and hiding behind dark windows. Nonetheless, if your own personal conscience is troubled by participation in this, I would never tell you to participate. My concern is that Christians eager to find another reason to be hostile to the culture have propagated the notion that this is a key identifier of true Christian holiness. With as much respect as I can muster, I disagree vehemently. If we're going to take a stand and look like weirdos and expend our social capital on something, we'd better be really sure it's worth doing. Halloween as it exists and is practiced in 2007 in the United States is not that something.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

WW--Churches Shouldn't Use Technology

  • If they didn’t need it in Acts, why do we need it today?
  • The Bible was good enough for a very long time.
  • Um, like, it’s really expensive.
  • We are supposed to adorn ourselves with virtue, not technological make-up.
  • Why do we think we need to lower ourselves to competition with the world.
  • How can you tell a teenage girl that she shouldn’t wear a mini-skirt to entice the boys when you use projection screens and rock bands to entice the lost?
  • If you’re going to move in this direction, why even bother preaching in person? Why not produce a preaching movie and use the best lighting, effects, and sound elements to enhance it to the maximum degree? The point is that the current church service is just a borrowed art form from Roman drama, which any average movie does far more effectively than the most multi-media church service ever will.
  • The distinction between platform and content is false. The medium is the message, and certain media interact with people differently than the historic Christian faith has been doing for centuries.
  • The power is in the blood and the word. Why do you need to doll it all up to convey that power?
  • I miss hymnals that I can take home and reproduce worship with my children.
  • A $300,000 media system or $300,000 to the homeless and hungry orphans?
  • Dennis Prager uses the Sabbath as a time for freedom from technology. How ironic that we would clutter up the church assembly with such encroachments.
  • Rock concerts fixate you upon the performers. Likewise, church concert services fixate you upon the band or the preacher rather than upon Christ.
  • Doesn’t the idea of learning from MTV and advertising strike anybody as particularly heinous?
  • Are we trusting the technique or the Holy Spirit.
  • Is evangelism worth the cost in reverence?
  • We already worship the television screen in our homes, do we really need to do so in church as well?
  • You shouldn’t have children under the age of 2 exposed to television anyhow.
  • Did Christianity not grow before there was multimedia?
  • I miss hymnals, which allowed me to create worship services at home with my kids. How can I do that with the modern church?

Post-show thoughts: "People under 50 don't remember what they hear. They remember what they see. If you look at a church that's dying, they have nothing for the eye," says Doug Adams, Director of the Center for Arts, Religion, and Education at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. You can lament that this is the case, or you can recognize that this is the case and work to act wisely as a result of your recognition. Not all technology cultivates relationship and reverence. But neither does all technology hinder it. The question is not whether to use technology, but which technology in what ways and to what degree for what purpose. There are certainly traditional churches aplenty. Let them continue their way, and let others seek to reach those who will not be reached in the older way. This is really no different than a missionary learning to speak the language. Americans don't speak English anymore. They speak images. Churches that are serious will have worship pastors, teaching pastors, children's pastors, etc. Churches that are serious about reaching 2007 America will begin to have media pastors so that the worship service can become the work of interactive art it is supposed to be. Just always remember that the purpose is not primarily to reach the people in the pews, but to allow the people in the pews to participate in something that reaches God.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Is Halo 3 Good Soulbait For Youths?

In what has become a minor sunburst of an issue, some church youth groups have decided to use the new X-Box 360 game, Halo 3, as an evangelistic tool. The game is rated M, which is comparable to an R rating in movies, for blood and gore, mild language, and violence 17+. Needless to say, teens (and adults) are playing the game a lot. But because the game is rated this way and because it is a first-person shooter game that teaches force and violence as the solution to mankind’s alien problem, others are very concerned that you can’t build a Christian youth group on such a sandy foundation, even if you attract higher numbers with the game.

Post-show thoughts: There are a lot of things to say about this, but the essence of it all is this: a youth group is a particular sort of church. And the purpose of church is to give people the experience of Christ and Christian living. If a youth group is regularly giving kids the experience of Christ and Christian activity, it will find itself growing in both numbers and maturity. If it does not, then every effort to apply make-up to that endeavor with things like video games will produce very little worth producing. The issue should not be whether to entice kids with Halo 3 or not. The issue should be whether the experience of youth group itself is worthy enough for kids to desire it. We need to stop assuming that a sermon and some music is the best way for kids to have their lives transformed. I know this is easy for me, a non-youth pastor, to say, but the key is to create an experience so full of Christ that Halo 3 pales by comparison. The church should be a place of such unique experience that we don't feel the need to give kids more of the familiar in order to get them there. After all, that's really why they come. They want what we aren't giving them.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

WW--It doesn't matter whether you believe in God

  • Many who do believe live as if they don’t, and many who don’t believe live as if they do.
  • Even Jesus taught that the good son was the one who said, “No,” and then went and obeyed the father rather than the one who said, “Yes,” and then disobeyed him. (Matthew 21)
  • Judge the tree by the fruit rather than the lips.
  • If a person lives a life of service and generosity and patience and joy, but doesn’t express any opinions one way or the other about God, how can you possibly say that person isn’t a good person?
  • It doesn’t take God to be decent. If you think it does, then you haven’t met enough Buddhists, Hindus or atheists, quite frankly.
  • Most of what you believe is determined by what you are exposed to. There is very little free will involved in any of our beliefs, let alone the religious ones.

Post-show thoughts: "The just shall live by faith." "Without faith it is impossible to please God." "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart...." But it is still true that many who do not believe act as if they do and many who do believe act as if they do not. This is tragic. But the question of whether it matters whether we believe is solved quite simply. Aside from mattering to our own salvation, it matters greatly to God, and pleasing God is more important than being saved. So, if God desires us to believe in Him, then that is the best answer to the question, regardless of how we behave. Although surely it is true that God is much more pleased by us believing AND acting accordingly. The tree shall be known by it's fruit. But just as believing has an impact on other people because we show our example to them and lead them to believe as we do, so also does disbelief impact other people in the same way. The believer leads others to heaven, but the disbeliever leads others to hell. So, far from being merely a private issue, the choice to believe or not carries consequences for others as well....a sobering consideration for those who are willing to risk their own souls but may well pause at the idea of risking the souls of the others they claim to love.

WW--Christians Shouldn't Be Sports Fans

  • Sports causes division over things that do not matter and distraction from things that do matter.
  • A $200 jersey or sponsoring 6 kids for a month in a third world country?
  • Has anyone ever gotten angry or frustrated watching sports?
  • If you ever find yourself booing another human because he wears the wrong jersey, something has bone horribly wrong.
  • We aren’t supposed to be attached to the things of this world.
  • Have you ever listened to a sports commentary show and thought to yourself, “My, those boys are sure some devoted Christians?”
  • The first shall be last, but we don’t exactly honor the Tampa Bay Devil Rays do we?
  • You cannot serve two masters.
  • Do you cheer for Jesus the way you cheer for your team?
  • Your heart should jump and weep over the lost and sin rather than over points on some electronic board in a stadium of drunks somewhere.
  • The people in sports are valued for the wrong reasons: athletic prowess rather than character.
  • Tell me how sports isn’t an idol.

Post-show thoughts (responses). Sports is good if you keep it in its proper place. The answer to temptation (as in to anger or judgment) is not to avoid temptation but to allow the Holy Spirit to teach you how to overcome it. Sports also offers many benefits to us fans. It teaches us to practice patience, unconditional love, loyalty, forgiveness, mercy, and hope. Also, sports reinforces a worldview based on rules, consequences, authority, and judges. Besides, if Christians abandon sports, then sports will be just another arena we have conceded to the enemy. Besides, if Christians can play sports (and they clearly do), then it sure is weird to say that the rest of us Christians cannot be fans of those who are playing. Also be sure to read the articles posted on the ATS resources links page.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Do works matter?

Works are deeds done in accordance with Scripture such as serving the needy, giving alms, avoiding sin, studying Scripture, or attending fellowship with other believers. They are usually presented in contrast with faith and grace. Faith which means deep belief and confidence in Christ, and grace which means the unearned favor or blessing of God. When Evangelicals approach this question, we are usually motivated primarily by wanting to avoid any conclusion which indicates that people can deserve heaven or come to salvation on their own without the atoning work of Christ. Therefore, an emphasis on faith and grace as opposed to works emerges.

Clearly, Christianity holds that no person can be saved without faith and grace. The question is whether they are sufficient in the absence of any external evidence or behavior. So, do works matter? There are four ways of answering this question.
  1. Works do not matter at all. They count for nothing here or later because Christ did it all.
  2. Works matter only for rewards in heaven, not for salvation. You can get in without doing anything other than accepting Christ.
  3. Works matter for more than heavenly rewards, but they aren't technically necessary for salvation. They are tremendously important, but lacking them won't keep you out of heaven.
  4. Works are necessary for salvation. Without works that show the power of Christ in you, it simply cannot be the case that you have truly accepted Him into your life. Christ is not impotent. If He is in you, it can't not show.

All four of these views are held by born-again Christians. View 1 is probably fairly rare, but also Views 3 and 4 are more rare. But, as I spent two hours tonight explaining, I lean strongly in the direction of View 3 or 4 being the Biblical one. This despite ten years of being the sort of Evangelical who believed and taught that works are purely about rewards in heaven and unnecessary in any way for salvation. After reading the verses below, I have a different view. In short, fruitless faith is not faith at all. And if we aren't living a life that really shows Christ, it's likely because we don't have Him.

People often want to emphasize that we can't deserve our salvation, and of course I agree. We are constantly dependent upon Christ. But that's the point. It's not that I'm powerful enough to do good things and impress God. It's that the true Spirit of Christ is so powerful that once He is in me, I can't stop Him coming out. Unless I'm not really submitted to Him and He isn't really in me. In which case, the lack of external evidence of my salvation is easily explained. The mistake isn't in thinking that people are saved by works. The mistake is thinking that real faith can be separated from real works. It cannot. They are simply not two things necessary for salvation. They are one thing. But please feel free to read your Bible and explain your own perspective on this very challenging issue.

I know this is not an exhaustive list, but here are some Bible verses I found helpful in formulating my (still developing) view on this subject: Psalm 62:9-12, Prov 24:12, Matt 7:15-29, Matt 13:1-23, Matt 16:24-28, Matt 19:16-28, Matt 28:19-20, Mark 4:1-23, Luke 3:7-8, Luke 8:4-15, Luke 11:27-28, John 8:37-40, John 14:12-24, John 15:10-24, Acts 5:27-32, Acts 16:4, Rom 2:1-16, Rom 14:10-13, 1 Cor 3:1-17, 2 Cor 5:10, 2Cor 11:15, Gal 5:5-8, Eph 2:8-10, Eph 5:11, Eph 6:5-8, Phil 2:12-16, Col 3:22-4:6, 2 Thess 1:6-8, 2Tim 3:16-17, 2Tim 4:14, Titus 1:15-16, Heb 5:8-10, Heb 11, James 2:17-26, 1 Peter 1:14-19, 1 Peter 2:11-20, 1 John 2:1-6, 1 John 3:21-24, 1 John 5:1-5, Rev 2:20-23, Rev 14:12, Rev 18:6, Rev 20:11-15, Rev 22:10-15

Ethics: Ahmadinejad and Columbia

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran was allowed to speak at Columbia University last week. This decision was both applauded and criticized loudly. He denies that the holocaust happened, his government sponsors terrorism, his government is one of the most repressive of human rights in the world, and he has vowed to wipe Israel off the map. So, were they wrong to let him speak? Supporters say that free speech and the allowing of every view to have a fair hearing is part of the reason, but another part is that he is newsworthy as the leader of a country we may well go to war against. But the same Columbia doesn’t allow ROTC to recruit on campus and it withdrew its invitation to a Minutemen spokesman just as it was allowing this speech.

Post-show thoughts: Ethical evaluations of the decisions others make fall into three categories. First, choices that are so obviously good that everyone can affirm anyone in the situation should make them. Second, choices that are so obviously bad that everyone can affirm that anyone in the situation should not make them. Third, choices that fall somewhere between these two extremes. Within this latter category, we may well have our own thoughts, but it's vital to remember that we are outsiders looking in on the decision made by someone else who is actually in the position with the authority to make it and who will be held responsible for the decision. Since I can't come to the conclusion that this decision was in either category one or two, I believe in deferring to the judgment of Columbia President Lee Bollinger who both has the authority and the responsibility for this decision. Sure, Ahmadinejad is a nut, but one of the best ways to prove nuttiness is to give someone a stage. And he hit a home run on that account. If we do wind up going to war with Iran, no one will be able to dispute who he is.

On the other hand, it's pretty clear that Columbia has been highly selective about to whom it extends its vaunted forum for the free expression of unusual and minority views. Just last month, they rescinded the offer for the founder of the Minutemen to come speak again after his experience last year of being shouted off the stage by angry student protesters. Couple that with the fact that Columbia doesn't allow ROTC to recruit on campus, and you certainly aren't left with the impression that they are suffering from a glut of consistency at the University.

Teaching Theology Using Desk Items/Office Supplies

If you had to give a short sermon or theological illustration using only items likely to be found on a desk or in an office; what would you use, and what would you say? Here are some items to consider: Glue, Pens, Pencil sharpener, Three-hole punch, Stapler, Scissors, Permanent marker, Printer, Copier, Computer, Calendar, Paper clips, Binder clips, Three ring binders, Rolodex, Coffee maker, Ruler, Pushpins, Tape, Business cards, Paper, Staple remover, Highlighter, White out, File folders, Fax machine, Phone, Stamper, File Cabinet, Letter opener, Chair, Desk, Glue stick, Stacking files, Clipboard, Mouse, Mousepad, Rubber bands, Superglue, Pencil, Crayon, Post-its, Planner, Blotter, Eraser, Paper cutter, Hole punch, Exacto knife ,Phone book, Typewriter, Fridge, Garbage can ,Shredder, Creamer, Sugar, Calculator, Hand lotion ,Door, String, Whiteboard, Dry erase board/markers, and a Bulletin board. Have fun.