Thursday, April 28, 2016

Why We Do Baby Dedications

Three families from Riverview brought
their children to be dedicated on 4.24.16.
This past Sunday at Riverview, three families from our congregation brought their newly-born children to be dedicated in front of our church.  To me, this is a serious, yet joyful, celebration that acknowledges the sovereignty of God over the lives of parents and children, and affords parents an opportunity to publicly dedicate themselves to raising their children in the fear and discipline of the Lord.  I think it is a great practice, and it is one that we will continue to observe at Riverview for the foreseeable future.

This week, however, I providentially read an article by Andrew Wilson entitled "The Problem with Baby Dedications."  In this article, Wilson lightheartedly outlines what he perceives as four potential problems with the practice of baby dedication ceremonies in evangelical churches (it should be noted that while Wilson finds the practice of child dedication problematic, he readily admits that both of his children have been dedicated, and he has performed dedication ceremonies as well).  I find myself partially in agreement with him, but mostly not.  In large part, Wilson's main point of contention seems to be the use of the word "dedication," in that he believes it is a misunderstood term.  This may be, and perhaps it would be wise to change our terminology in what we are actually doing in a baby dedication (more on that below).  In light of this article and the fact that we just dedicated three babies at Riverview this past Sunday, I figured now would be as good a time as any to think publicly about why we do baby dedications at our church.  In what follows, I hope to respond to some of Wilson's concerns, and make an argument for why baby dedication ceremonies are a good practice for the church.

1. Wilson asserts that there is no biblical precedent for baby dedications, and he cites Jesus' dedication at the temple after his birth as an instance that is not parallel to our present-day baby dedications.  This may be true, but there are several practices, traditions, and symbols within the church today that do not find their source from the pages of scripture.  The church is free to institute practices and traditions that are God-honoring, edifying, and in accordance with the principles of scripture.  In other words, the lack of biblical precedence for baby dedication ceremonies does not forbid their presence in the modern church.

2. Moreover, there is precedent of people bring their children to others in order to receive a verbal blessing.  Sometimes these blessings had a prophetic element to them (see Genesis 48-49, for example), and we would not have that as our intention in the dedication of children.  Rather, we would have the same intention for our children that Jesus had in Mark 10.13-16: that of prayer and verbal blessing for children.  These verses describe parents who brought their children to Jesus so that he might pray for them and offer them a verbal blessing, and that is a noble and right process for the church (as representatives of Christ) to duplicate with children in our day.  There is power and significance in verbal blessings and the church is free to follow Jesus in his example in blessing children. (David Michael has argued well for the benefit and power of verbal blessing in this book.  Also, the power of a verbal blessing is important enough for the church to incorporate a benediction - blessing - at the conclusion of its service.)  It is in this sense that perhaps the term "baby dedication" is unhelpful if what we are doing is praying for and blessing children and parents.

3. Wilson also argues that, theologically speaking, "to dedicate something or someone is to set apart something as holy to the Lord.  To dedicate a baby, then, is to act as if the baby is already holy..." Here I think Wilson potentially misunderstands what it means to "set apart something as holy to the Lord" in the context of infant dedication, both in ancient Israel and in modern evangelicalism.  The dedication of firstborn children and animals was a common - and commanded - practice in ancient Israel, whose primary purpose was - I believe - to symbolically remind the people of their dependence upon God, and how everything they had came from him.  For this reason, they would set apart their firstborn children and animals as "holy to the Lord" (the word "holy" means "separate").  Certainly there were thousands of Israelite children who were dedicated to the Lord, but did not live up to the dedication made for them by their parents on their behalf.  Their dedication didn't make them holy or separate in a spiritual sense, and they proved that by not obeying God.  The same is true with modern baby dedications.  I think it is good and right for parents to make a declaration that they are making their child holy to the Lord (separating them for a specific purpose) in that they intend to raise that child in the fear and admonition of the Lord.  If, as that child grows and departs from the instruction of his parents, that has no bearing on what happened at the dedication in their infancy.

To be fair, Wilson's main point with this argument is to guard against making baby dedications akin to infant baptism, which is a valid concern, and one that I share.  Indeed, I am aware of one family at Riverview who declined to have their children dedicate out of a concern that their children would regard their dedication as a means of grace, or as having accomplished something for them spiritually.  This is certainly not the message we want to send through our baby dedication ceremonies, and it is right to guard against it, and if a father and mother decides against it for that reason, I would be supportive of them (although I wouldn't agree with them).  Rather, the dedication of a child to the Lord is simply, I think, a commitment to set oneself and one's child apart for the service of the Lord in all aspects in life.

4. It is in this sense that, for me, the primary focus of a baby dedication ceremony is not so much the infant, but the parents.  The parents are the ones who must dedicate themselves.  To what?  First, to an acknowledgement of God's sovereignty over the child.  Second, to profess their dependence upon God in the rearing of their children.  Third, to dedicate themselves to do their best, by God's help, to raise the child in the fear and discipline of the Lord (Ephesians 6.4).  Moreover, this dedication of parents to these things is done in front of the church.  In other words, parents have accountability for what they have dedicated themselves to, and the church is there to hold them accountable and love and support them in the process.  I see much value in this, especially in the sense that we are one body, and we love and support each other in all ares, including the rearing of children.  It is in this sense, that perhaps we should change the name of the ceremony to "Parent Dedication" rather than baby dedication!

The Bible is clear that children are a gift from God (Psalm 127.3-5), and there is much to be gained in acknowledging this fact through the dedication of our children to the Lord.  Let us praise God for the wonderful gift that children are, and let us commit ourselves to showing them his glory and worth as often as possible (Deuteronomy 6.7-9)

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Shape of Things to Come: Unanswered Questions

On April 24 Riverview Baptist Church held a panel discussion on the doctrine of last things called “The Shape of Things to Come.”  You can listen to this discussion here.  As part of the panel discussion we invited questions from the audience.  Many of the questions submitted, however, were not answered due to time constraints.  Pastor Levi and myself provide written responses to the questions that weren’t addressed during the discussion, below. 
“Do you suppose that as you grow older (much like a few of us) your perspective on the end times (etc.) may change?”
Joel’s answer: It is a natural distinction of human life that our views on certain issues evolve with time.  The more perspective that we have and wisdom that we have gained affords us a better view on life issues, and more experience upon which to draw.  And as we learn more about and from the word of God over time, it seems only natural that our views about certain theological subjects would progress accordingly.   Eschatological (end times) views are certainly subject to this kind of evolution.  It should be noted, however, that this kind of change must be a result of responding to the truth of God’s word, rather than as a form of sentimentality or an emotional response to aging or changing culture (e.g. “Back in my day…”).  In other words, we want our views on the end times to evolve because we are coming to know God’s truth better and more thoroughly, rather than because we are sentimentally looking backwards or forwards toward an idea that appeals to us emotionally.  
“Levi, what does the ‘gift of tongues,’ as you mentioned, have to do with the last days since the gift of tongues has ceased? (1 Cor. 13:8)”
Levi’s answer: This is a good question. There is considerable debate as to whether or not the gift of tongues has ceased or not. But that has little to do with what I was referencing when it comes to the gift of tongues being a sign for the end times. I was not referencing the modern charismatic idea of tongues; rather, I was referencing the first occurrence of tongues at Pentecost in Acts 2. Peter in his sermon at Pentecost points back to Joel 2:28-32 where the pouring out of the Holy Spirit was an promised for the last days. So Peter makes the argument that he was in the last days because Joel 2:28-32 was fulfilled at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was poured out and the disciples spoke in tongues. Since Pentecost happened all the way back in the first century and since Peter said that those tongues were evidence of the last days, we are therefore in the last days whether or not tongues continue for us today. That was the point I was trying to make. 
“Do you believe the days of Noah, just before the flood, are as bad as today?”
Levi’s answer: I believe there is a constant reality throughout human history after the fall—man is sinful and he pursues that sin as best he can. It is in that way we live in the same reality as Noah did at his time. With that being said, I believe this question is built off of what Jesus says in Matthew 24:37-39, “For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 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, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.”
This passage is sometimes interpreted that the end times will be like Noah’s day in that they will be similar in evil. I do not think that is what the context is getting at. What the passage is saying is the world will not see the judgment of God coming just as it did not see it coming during the days of Noah. Hence why they were still “marrying” and they were “unaware until the flood came and swept them all away”. This is how they will be similar. That is the parallel Jesus is getting at, not an attempt to equate the evil of those two timeframes, but to equate the cluelessness of the world in both situations that judgment was coming from God.
“The Bible gives us what it gives us.”  Does that mean we should or should not take the Bible literally?”
Joel’s answer: This question was raised in response to a sentiment expressed in the panel discussion, namely that the Bible is intentionally ambiguous when it comes to specific details of the end times process.  The point of the sentiment expressed in the seminar is that we are to be satisfied with what the Bible tells us about the end of all things, and we should regard the message of the Bible on the end times as sufficient.  A trap that many Christians have fallen into is to be discontent with the limited information the Bible gives us, and they have sought answers to their questions from other (uninspired) sources.  This is a practice that Christians must stop.  Looking for answers beyond those provided in scripture implies that the answers provided by the Bible are insufficient, and most – if not all – the answers provided by extra-biblical sources are erroneous.  That being said, the Bible gives us the information it gives us – nor more, no less – and we should be satisfied with that.  And of those things that it does tell us, we should absolutely take it its meaning and message literally.  (It should be noted, however, that this is a different question from how we are to interpretbiblical texts that speak on the end times.  Literal and/or figurative interpretive methods of significant biblical texts are integral to the formulation of the various millennial views.)
“What about replacement theology, do you support it?”
Levi’s answer: The term “replacement theology” is a derogatory term some dispensationalists use to describe those who believe in Covenant theology. It should be noted that Covenant theologians would reject such a term. The term is often linked to anti-Semitism, but the almost all Covenant theologians are not anti-Semitic. For this reason I do not like using the term “replacement theology” because it is more a political word used to put down someone’s opponent and to label them as guilty by association. Really this debate revolves around the difference in how dispensationalists and covenant theologians understand Scripture.
The key difference between Covenant and Dispensational theologians is how they understand the relationship between the covenants (old and new). Dispensationalists see mostly disunity between the old and new covenants. They believe, for the most part, that the individual covenants stand-alone by themselves.
Contrary to this, Covenant theologians see a lot of unity between the old and the new covenants. Covenant theologians believe that since the Fall all of the covenants are the same outworking of what they call the “covenant of grace.” So they often see a one-for-one correspondence between the new covenant and the old covenant. Baptism and circumcision would be one such example. They view these two as being in essence the same thing.
The difference between dispensationalism and covenantal theology is most plainly seen in their views of Israel. Dispensationals believe that Israel and the Church are two separate entities with different plans of inheritance in the new creation. Covenant theology believes that the Church is the one-for-one substitute for Israel—the church (which they define as all believers both Jew and Gentile) is Israel in that they are the people of God. This is why dispensationalists label that view as “replacement theology.”
I disagree with both of these larger theologies. I believe there is both unity and disunity between the covenants. In other words, I think all of the covenants work together and they progress as they move toward their fulfillment in the new covenant work of Jesus Christ. I do not believe the church is Israel, so I disagree with Covenant theologians. I also do not believe that God has two different plans of inheritance or salvation, one for Jews and one for Gentiles, therefore I also disagree with dispensationalists. So no, I do not support “replacement theology,” rather I believe that the Church is a new creation, something totally new which has no one-for-one equivalent in the Old Testament. In Christ, everything is fulfilled as he is the substance of the shadows found it the Old Testament. I believe the focal point to understanding Scripture is Jesus Christ and that in him mankind is made new because he is the true Israel. In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek (Gal. 3.28) because all who have faith are now equal in him.
“Does the Bible say there will be a “Millennium?”  Why do all the theories use this word?  Will the Millennium be a physical reign on our present earth?  Only Premillennialism seems to embrace a 1,000 year period.” 
Joel’s answerRevelation 20.1-6 describes a 1,000 year period of time in which Satan is bound and Christ reigns.  While the word does not appear in scripture, this 1,000 year period of time is commonly referred to by Christians as the Millennium.  The three main views of the process of the end times each regard the Millennium described in Revelation 20.1-6 differently.  Premillennialism asserts that Jesus will return to the earth, and that his return will inaugurate his 1,000 year reign on the present earth (meaning that the events of Revelation 20.1-6 begin at Jesus’ return).  Postmillenialism asserts that the Millennium refers to a “golden age” – which may or may not last 1,000 years – in which the world and the people therein operate under biblical principles and the truth of the gospel. 
This “golden age,” Postmillennialists say, will be ushered in by the proliferation of the gospel throughout the world.  At the end of this “golden age,” Jesus returns to earth.  In this sense, the Millennium of Postmillennialism is not necessarily a 1,000 year period of time, although in this view the “golden age” does take place on the present earth.  Finally, Amillennialism asserts that the 1,000 year period referenced in Revelation 20.1-6 is symbolic of a present reality – that of dead saints reigning with Christ in heaven right now.  In this sense, Amillennialists don’t believe in a literal 1,000 year reign of Christ on this earth.  In summary, only two views (Premillennialism and Postmillennialism) interpret the Millennium as taking place on the present earth, and only one view (Premillennialism) interprets the Millennium as lasting a literal 1,000 years.  
“Jesus said, “When you see the abomination of desolation… standing where it ought not be….flee.’ What would one see?”
Levi’s Answer: Jesus’ discussion of the end in both Matthew 24 and Mark 13 is one of the more difficult passages to understand in the gospels. Where you align yourself (amillennial, premillennial, or postmillennial) will largely determine how you understand this passage. For example, a postmillennialist would understand this prophesy to have been fulfilled completely when Jerusalem fell to Rome in 70 AD. So for them they would say when the temple was destroyed by Rome that was the abomination of desolation which the Israelites saw.
Conversely, if you are a dispensational premillennialist you would see most or all of Jesus’ discussion in these passages as yet to be fulfilled in the future 7-year Great tribulation. They would say the temple will be rebuilt and when that happens the Antichrist will perform another abomination of desolation in the newly built temple.
For me, I think in Matthew 24 and Mark 13 Jesus is constantly going back and forth between what is past for us and will come in the future. As far as the abomination of desolation I believe the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD was an initial fulfillment (or foreshadow)  of that prophecy but that there is still a final fulfillment to come when the antichrist will be standing in the new temple of God. I do not believe this to be a physical temple in Jerusalem, rather the temple in the New Testament is the Church (Ephesians 2-3). So the abomination of desolation will have to do with some evil Satan will bring about against God’s new temple—the church. That I think is the best way to understand it, but I hold that understanding loosely. 
“What do you believe about persecution coming to America while believers are still here?”
Joel’s answer: This question presupposes a Premillennial Dispensationalist view in which believers are raptured.  Moreover, it presupposes the persecution of Christians in America as a sort of “sign of the times.”  In making these presuppositions, this question perhaps puts proverbial cart before the horse.  Throughout the gospels, Jesus warns his followers that they will experience difficulty as a result of following him (John 15.18, 16.33.).  Additionally, the Apostles warn of a general discontinuity between the Christian worldview and the worldview of those living in the world that will create discomfort for Christians, mostly manifested as persecution (1 John 3.13).  This means that the persecution of believers has been a part of the normal Christian life since the first century.  It further means that all believers at some point or another will undergo persecution regardless of their geographical location or time in history.  In fact, we could safely say that persecution of some variety is a defining mark of true believers.  It is in this sense, then, that we should be careful about interpreting the persecution of American Christians – or the perceived increase of persecution of American Christians – as a “sign of the times.”  Indeed, persecution is promised, not as a sign of the times, but as a part of the normal Christian life.  On the other hand, one clear message of the Bible is that societal conditions will decay and grow increasingly morally impervious and increasingly hostile toward those who follow Jesus.  The degree and severity of this hostility, however, is undefined by the Bible, and we should be careful about coming to conclusions regarding the end times based on our own perceptions and interpretations of perceived signs of the times.  
“What about the ingathering of the Jews to Israel? That is a condition that wasn’t being met in the first century.”
Levi’s Answer: I must admit I am little confused by this question. If this question is about the Jews returning to their physical land which happened in 1948, I must say that I have no scriptural passage which I can think of that directly ties to that. As far as the first century is concerned, until 70 AD, the Jews did live in Israel, but they did so under Roman rule. Remember, the Jews expected a Messiah who would free them from the Romans, but instead they got Jesus who was there to free them from their sins. It was not that Jesus was not what God had promised, he was. Rather, the majority of the Jews at that time had misunderstood who and what their Messiah was going to be—the suffering servant of Isaiah 53. In other words, the majority of Jews in the first century looked for a type of ingathering to their land and in the process they missed their Messiah.
If instead this question is meant to be about Romans 11 which appears to speak of a massive amount of Jews repenting and becoming Christians before the end then I would respond differently. I believe that before the end, many Jews will come to Christ, but I also believe that was to an extent happening in the first century. The Christian church was built by Jews who converted. Now I anticipate that there will be more conversions before the end as I believe that is what Paul is talking about in Romans 11
“What is the importance of Israel to understanding the end times? In May 1948 Israel became a nation. Israel was often referred to as the fig tree and Jesus said when the fig tree begins to blossom ‘look up for your redemption is draweth nigh.’ Does May 1948 begin the countdown, so to speak?”
Levi’s Answer: This question comes from Luke 21:29-31, “And he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees.  As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.”  It is true the fig tree was often used as a symbol for Israel, we see this plainly when Jesus curses the fig tree (Mark 11.12-25), but I do not believe in this instance there is any special connection to Israel. Why? First, Jesus lists not only the fig tree but also “all the trees” so this parable is hardly limited to or focused on just a fig tree representing Israel. Second, the focus of this parable is that we can tell the changes in the seasons as these trees begin to blossom. Third, Jesus then brings the analogy home by saying, “when you see these things taking place” then we will know what the seasons of this world are changing. What are “these things” Jesus says are signs of the changing of the seasons? This statement comes at the end of Jesus describing a lot of signs which will occur before the end so it best to take “these things” to include all of what Jesus had to say about the end in this passage. The blooming of the fig tree then is nothing more than an analogy saying we need to be able to read the seasons and thus it is not about the Jews returning to the land.
So no, I do not believe that May 1948 set the clock in motion. Many dispensationalists have made that argument in the past and have thus incorrectly predicted the end of the world several times based on that belief. I believe that such a reading of Luke 21:29-31 stretches the text beyond what Jesus intended it to mean. So no, the Jews returning to Israel did not set the clock in motion, rather Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection has brought us into the last days (Acts 2:17) and thus the clock has been ticking for about two-thousand years. Nonetheless we must continue to pay attention and to pray, “Lord come quickly!”

Monday, April 18, 2016

What Carnival Games Teach Us About Knowing the Truth

When I was a kid, my favorite part of any fair or carnival was the Midway.  I was enraptured by the allure of the potential of winning an over-sized stuffed animal from a seemingly simple game.  My parents, however, wouldn't give me any money to play the games - I had to save up and use my own.  So off to the Midway I went whenever my family visited the Minnesota State Fair, usually with about $10.00 of my own hard-earned money burning a hole in my pocket.  Usually, all it took was about 5 minutes and a few failed attempts at achieving over-sized-stuffed-animal-glory for my money to be gone.  When this happened, I remember always feeling flabbergasted that I couldn't win the game.  After all, the game operators made it look and sound so easy - what gives?

The problem was, of course, that I was being deceived (plus I'm not any good at carnival games).  The game operators were assuring me that winning the game was easy, and that I could certainly be successful at it if I just put my money down and gave it my best shot.  Of course, they didn't actually believe that, but that's what they told me to draw me in.  Once in a while, one of them would even complete the task of the game as an example of how easy it was.  The truth, however, was quite different: those games are not easy, and they are mostly rigged to create losers rather than winners.  I was duped.  I believed the lie that I could win the game and achieve over-sized stuffed animal greatness.

Don't get me wrong: it was nobody's fault but mine that I got suckered in to shelling out my lawn-mowing money for no return.  I should have known better.  I should have learned from all of the empty hands and wallets of other Midway goers that the dream of being a King of the Midway was not easily fulfilled.  But when you're a kid with money in his pocket and no over-sized stuffed animal waiting for you at home, it's hard to tell a lie from the truth.

This is similar to the challenge that we face as Christians in navigating all of the truth claims that are perpetuated by our society.  We are constantly assaulted with various, and some times conflicting, truth claims.  And just like the promise of an over-sized stuffed animal will entice a 10 year old boy to believe the lie that winning the carnival game is easy, the truth claims offered by our society and other religious systems are often attractive and appealing - even if they aren't true.  It can be hard to see the truth through all the lies.

The same was true for the church to which the Apostle John wrote the first letter that bears his name.  There were false teachers influencing the church and teaching doctrines that did not accord with Christ and the gospel.  In order to help them know what was true and what was false, John instructed his readers to "test the spirits." (1 John 4.1)  By "spirits" John means "truth claims."  If you want to know what is true, you just can't accept something on its face.  Its veracity needs to be tested and verified before you should believe it.  John gives his readers a two-part rubric for testing truth claims, and some counsel as to how they can overcome false truth claims in their lives.  This text was the focus of our message at Riverview this past week.  Check it out here.

In John's day there were several false teachers who denied certain things about the humanity and divinity of Jesus.  You had some false teachers who claimed that Jesus never came in the flesh.  His body wasn't real - it was just a mirage.  And you had other false teachers who claimed that Jesus was not fully God, or that he wasn't actually divine at all - he was just a man.  Because of these false teachings, John instructs his readers to evaluate the truth claims of those who would purport to be teachers by asking this question: "Did Jesus Christ come in the flesh?" (1 John 4.2)  The answer to this question, John says, will help his readers and early Christians to evaluate the truthfulness of the claims made by the teachers in their day.  While the question may have changed a bit here and there between John's day and our own, the principle is the same: when someone makes a truth claim, find out what they believe about Jesus.  What they believe about him will either authenticate or disqualify other spiritual truth claims they make.

A second test that John instructs his readers to perform is to ask the question: "Will they listen to us?" (1 John 4.6)  By "us" John means "the church."  In other words, if someone comes along teaching about spiritual things, will that person submit his teaching and himself to the authority of the church?  God has given the church the authority to stand in judgment over theological truth claims.  Those who would make such claims will willingly submit themselves and their teachings to the authority of the church and the word of God.  The messages and claims of those who will not submit to this authority are to be rejected.  In these ways, John says that we can "test the spirits" in order to know the Spirit of God.

In addition to the two tests that John gives, the early church began to develop other ways that they could test truth claims - especially truth claims about spiritual things - namely, creeds.  A creed is a solid, stated position of doctrine and beliefs - the foundational parts of the Christian faith.  The early church developed creeds as a way of knowing and standing upon the foundations of the faith - those things they knew for sure to be true.  This way, when someone came along with a new idea or teaching, that idea or teaching was compared to the creeds.  If the new idea or teaching matched the core beliefs of the church as expressed in the creeds, it was accepted.  If not, it was rejected.  Creeds were essential for early Christians to be able to know truth from falsehood.  Throughout church history, several creeds were developed in order to help the church "test the spirits." (For a deeper exposition on the various elements of the Apostle's Creed, see here.)

The Apostle's Creed - the earliest known creed of the church (which we recited together at Riverview this past week) - was in use as early as the fourth century A.D., but was probably written much earlier than that.  Other creeds, such as the Nicene Creed and the Athanasian Creed have helped the church identify false teachings and teachers and protect the truth of God throughout the church's history.

Creeds are still used in the church today, although more as a liturgical act of worship than as a defense of the faith or as an aid for determining the truth of various claims and worldviews that circulate in our world.  Instead, we now have access to the greatest truth-filter of all time: the word of God.  If we are knowing the word and what it says about the story of God through Christ, we will be able to navigate the truth claims that we encounter in this life.  That being said, we still affirm much of what is written in the creeds of church history, and there is value to knowing them.

This world provides us with a multitude of different truth claims and worldviews that challenge what we believe and how we see the world, and many of them are false, yet are hard to identify as being so.  The world is very good at making lies look good, and at convincing us to believe things that are simply not true.  Thankfully, God has given us a timeless standard through his word to be able to "test the spirits" and know him in truth.

Monday, April 11, 2016

The Power of a Shared Meal

1 John 3.11-24 is a section of scripture that details the love that Christians are to have for one another.  All of us would affirm that love for brothers and sisters is an integral part of the Christian life, however knowing how to express that love can be more difficult, especially in our individualistic and autonomous society.  We have grown to be accustomed to staying within our bubbles and not venturing out unless we know that it is safe, and retreating quickly back inside the bubble when things are new or different.  While many of us find this mode of operation as familiar and comfortable, it severely inhibits our ability to come alongside our brothers and sisters and show them the love the New Testament talks about.

Most of the time, it's not that we don't want to be loving toward others, but simply that we infrequently have the occasion to do so.  We're busy, and getting to know new people takes time and effort - time and effort that we usually don't have.  Thankfully, there's a very practical way to show love to brothers and sisters in Christ, and to do so through a very simple way that's already a part of our daily routines: eating.

Believe it or not, the act eating meals plays a significant role in the gospels.  Jesus is recorded in the gospels as sharing several meals with all different sorts of people.  Some scholars have even referred to this trend as Jesus "eating his way through the gospels." (For a handy chart of meals that Jesus shared with others in the gospel of Luke, for example, see here.  For a more in-depth treatment of Jesus' use of the shared meal in his ministry, see this book.)  Indeed, quite frequently, Jesus can be founding munching and snacking with people within his sphere of influence.  Each of these shared meals afforded him an opportunity to enter into the lives of the people with whom he was eating.  Many of the meals that Jesus is recorded as eating in the gospels are also accompanied by times of teaching, healing, or other such miraculous work.  Put simply, there is power in the time of a shared meal.  How so?

1. You get to know people you otherwise wouldn't.  Several times Jesus ate with people who were "off limits" or out of bounds for him to be eating with.  Consider the sinful woman of Luke 7.36-50.  She was considered a cultural taboo because of her unnamed sin.  A meal afforded Jesus the opportunity to meet her, get to know her, see past the pre-conceived notion of her, and speak into her situation.  Who do you know (that you don't really know) that you could get to know better through a shared meal?

2. You get to know people you otherwise wouldn't.  Beyond just a surface knowledge of someone, like the kind of relationship you have with a casual acquaintance, a shared meal allows you to go deeper.  Consider the meal that Jesus shared with Zacchaeus in Luke 19.  After Jesus' initial interaction with Zacchaeus, Jesus invited himself to Zacchaeus' house for supper.  Presumably, during that time, Jesus "went deeper" with Zacchaues through the conversation afforded by a shared meal.  This deeper level of intimacy led Zacchaeus to significant life-change.

3. You get to encourage people in Christ.  In Mark 2 Jesus is eating with the newly converted Levi (Matthew) and his friends (tax collectors and sinners).  These were people who were in a bad place in life and needed encouragement.  In fact, Jesus says that's why he was there (verse 17).  Who do you know who might benefit from some encouragement over a shared meal?

4. You get to know how you can serve and pray for people.  When Jesus celebrated passover with his disciples for the last time, the evening began with him washing their feet - a debased task reserved for the lowest of slaves.  Although the disciples didn't realize it, this is exactly the kind of service they needed at the time (John 13.7-8).  Getting to know someone over a shared meal exposes how you can serve them in practical ways and pray for them on a regular basis.

5. You get to know what people are dealing with in their lives.  Several of the meals Jesus shared with people dealt with some potentially hard subjects (see Luke 7.36-70, 10.38-42, and 14.1-24, for example).  Sharing a meal with someone - and the conversation that comes as a result - can lead to walls coming down and people dropping their guard.  In these times, we can open up to each other and discover what's going on beneath the surface, even when it exposes difficult situations and circumstances.  These times can afford us the opportunity to insert ourselves into the lives of others and see how we can help, support, love, and maybe even correct them during the hard times.

6. You get to celebrate the things you have in common.  One of the most joyful meals recorded in the gospels must surely come in Luke 24, when Jesus shares a meal with his disciples after his resurrection.  In that meal, all participants rejoiced in the commonality they had in the risen Savior.  When we share a meal with our brothers and sisters in Christ, we are able to celebrate our commonality in Christ, even if we have nothing else in common.  Followers of Christ are united in their commonality through him.  Because of this, the conversation at a meal shared between believers never lags.

These are just some of the trends that we see taking place when Jesus shares a meal with someone in the gospels.  There are certainly many other benefits to sharing a meal with someone.  For instance, it's a good time to catch up with old friends, tell stories, tell jokes, laugh, and of course, enjoy good food.  Sharing a meal with someone is probably the most basic and simple - yet practical and effective - way that we can show love to our brothers and sisters.  Indeed, there is power in a shared meal.  Invite someone over to your house tonight and find out for yourself.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Hymnals and Hyrnals

So, a few months ago a new website popped up called the Babylon Bee.  The Bee is a Christian satirical news site that posts fake, satirical versions of news stories, very similar to The Onion, but from a Christian perspective.  Needless to say, the stories produced at the Babylon Bee are hilarious and incredibly creative.  Some of my favorite stories from the Bee are here, here, and here.  And, as all good satire does, some of the stories have made me squirm a bit before I could chuckle at them.  Take, for example, this article, and this article.  Admittedly, you have to be a part of the Christian subculture to really appreciate the stories, but trust me: they're spot on.

The Babylon Bee also accepts reader submissions, so one night about a month ago, when I didn't have anything better to do, I thought I'd try my hand at a satirical article.  I typed it up and sent it into their submissions department, and that was that.  The submissions page on their website states that if they're going to use your submitted article, they'll contact you.  If they're not going to use your article, you won't hear back from them.  Time went by, and I never heard back from them, so I assumed they weren't going to use my article.

But then, this morning, I received an email in my inbox from the Babylon Bee with the message, "You're up" in the body of the email with a link to my article on the Bee site.  Have a look for yourself.

The Bee published my article on their Facebook and Twitter pages right away this morning.  This goofy, made up, satirical article is by far the most widely read thing I've ever written - including anything I've ever written on this blog.  In fact, if you counted up the views for all of the things I've ever written on this blog, that's still probably less than the number of people who have read my article at the Bee today.  After all, they have 27,000 followers on Facebook and about 7,500 on Twitter.  As I write this, the article has received 1,700 "likes" on Facebook and almost 500 shares, while on Twitter it has been retweeted almost 50 times.  The comments on the article on Facebook (of which their are 124) have been fun to watch unfold, as some people riffed on the article and made some more jokes, while others are horrified because they have yet to learn that the article is satirical.

So thanks to the Babylon Bee for publishing my article and making this an interesting day, as I've been able to watch people enjoy my article in real time.  Now that I've broken the ice on satirical Christian writing, I think I might try my hand at a few more.