Friday, August 31, 2012

The End of a Hard Week

This is always the week that I look forward to least in the whole year.  Why?  Because it's the week my wife goes back to working full time.  She's a teacher, so she gets the summer's off, and I get spoiled by having my help mate around the house full time, taking care of the home and the kids.  It's not only quite a shock when she goes back in the fall, but it's also much more difficult for the both of us to pick up the slack that's left over when she's working full time.

Our financial obligations at this time don't afford us the luxury (and it really is a luxury) of having her stay home with the kids, even though that's what she'd prefer to do.  We bought our house at the climax of the housing market, right before it crashed.  At the time, we got what we considered to be a deal on this house.  Now it's worth a bit more than half of what we paid for it.  We refinanced the mortgage, but it just didn't save us enough money.  So off we go to work.

We've never wanted to put our kids into daycare, so our mothers have graciously picked up some time caring for the kids each week, but that's not an ideal situation.  We want to spend time raising our kids, not have someone else do it - even our mothers.  Don't get me wrong, we're very appreciate of the time, effort, and love they put into our kids, but there's no substitute for being around your own parents.

By the time we all get home from work and play, we're tired, frustrated, and our tempers are short.  Sometimes it seems like the only time I get with my kids is spent yelling at them because I'm tired after work.  To top it all off, our oldest is beginning preschool this year, which is a prospect that is enough to cause young parents to worry.

For now we're looking for ways to make it through this school year while we consider ways that we can at least minimize Betsy's hours at work and increase her time at home.  Whether this means a different job (or preferably no job), we've got some thinking and praying to do.  I've personally been feeling God pull us this way (toward having Betsy stay at home) for more than a year now.  I guess now I just need God to show us how to do it!

God certainly knew what he was doing when he created men and women, and how perfectly they work together when their roles are clearly understood and adhered to.  Things just work better when men can be men, women can be women, dads can be dads, and moms can be moms.  It's the way God designed it, and it works.  Our family is slowly moving toward this picture, but in the mean time, it's tough making it through.

Till then, I'll just appreciate my wife and all she does for our household, and trust in God.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Main Character of Bible Stories

A few years ago, toward the beginning of my time in my current position, I set to evaluating some of the children's curriculum at Riverview, specifically the Group Hands On curriculum that we used in our Children's Church ministry.  What I found was not encouraging; in fact, it was downright bad teaching.

Many Christians and Christian curriculums have, in large part - at least when it comes to teaching children about the Bible and God - diminished the presence of God as the main character of Bible stories, and have instead replaced him with the human characters around which the stories are told.  In other words, a lot of focus is placed on teaching how the human characters in Bible stories reacted in certain situations, what they did or did not do, and what happened as a result of what they did.  Very little attention is given to the God who directs and sustains all life (including the human so-called heroes of Bible stories).

Here's an example: the way most children's curriculums ("curricula?" I never know which word to use when referring to the plural) teach the story of David and Goliath in such a way as to make the application something like "we can be brave when we trust in God."  Is this true?  Yes, indeed.  Trust in God can certainly help us take bold steps when we know he is on our side.  But if this is the lesson we learn from the story of David and Goliath, we are completely missing the point of that story.  The point is to show that God is greater than everyone and everything - even the most powerful armies, and their 9 foot tall giants.  Nobody is stronger than God.  Nobody can ever defeat God.  He will always have victory over his enemies.  In the story of David and Goliath, we learn these lessons by observing how God used a human being (David) to prove these things.  The story isn't about David, bravery, trusting God, or anything else.  The main point is to display the glory and power of a great God.  We can certainly learn things about David, being brave, and trusting in God from the story, but these are secondary lessons.

Another lesson I came across when reviewing our curriculum a few years ago was that of Jesus calming the storm.  The curriculum asserted that the lesson of this story for children to learn was that "Jesus keeps my family safe."  So kids were supposed to hear how Jesus calms the storm, and then apply that to their families safety and rest assured that "Jesus keeps my family safe."  While this is not only clearly not the point of the story of Jesus calming the storm, it's blatantly false.  Jesus does not necessarily keep everyone's family safe.  What if, after having learned that lesson, a child's family was killed on the way home from church that afternoon?  What would that kid then think of Jesus?  Jesus is a liar, and he absolutely cannot keep my family safe, because they just died.

Cut to this article on The Cripplegate that I linked to from Tim Challies' blog.  They make some great points about the main point of the story of Daniel in the lion's den.  What do we see in that story?  We see Daniel, a man of great faith and great bravery - certainly an example for all Christians to emulate.  But these aspects of the story are not the main point.  As the article points out, the main point of the story is Daniel's God.  How do we know this?  Because of what King Darius said as he left the lion's den that day: "I make a decree, that in all my royal dominion people are to tremble and fear before the God of Daniel, for he is the living God, enduring forever; his kingdom shall never be destroyed, and his dominion shall be to the end."

Was King Darius impressed by Daniel's faith and courage?  Maybe.  But not nearly as much as he was impressed with Daniel's God.  God is the main point of every story in the Bible, and it's time to start teaching that to our children (and adults, for that matter).  At Riverview we've switched to a curriculum that is much more God-centered and exalts him for who he is, and how he uses people throughout scripture to declare his glory.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Why Limiting the Freedom to Marry is a Good Thing

There have been quite a few yard signs like the one you see on the right that have been popping up in my neighborhood.  The sign says: "Vote NO.  Don't limit the freedom to marry."  The sentiment on the sign speaks to the upcoming Marriage Amendment to the Minnesota state constitution, which seeks to define marriage as between one man and one woman.  The occasion of these signs popping up in my neighborhood, along with my continual pondering of what I consider to be the most important article in the homosexual marriage conversation (which I've been looking for an excuse to repost), has led me to think more about the idea of "limiting the freedom to marry" and why doing so is actually a good thing.

The trick here is the use of the word "freedom," and the idea the yard sign is communicating is that limiting freedom to marry is a bad thing.  Nobody wants to be accused of taking away the rights of another group of people.  But if you think about it for longer than a second or two, the government already limits the freedom to marry in several ways - not even including the current prohibition on gay marriage.  For example, a married man does not have the freedom to marry another woman and take a second wife.  His freedom to marry is limited.  Furthermore, a man does not have the right to marry a sister, cousin, or other close relation.  His freedom is likewise limited.  The same is true for someone who wants to marry an animal.  We have limited a person's freedom to marry out of species.  Children are not allowed to marry.  Their freedom to marry is limited.  So the notion that "limiting the freedom to marry" is an inherently bad thing doesn't hold water.  Furthermore, it can and should be argued that limiting the freedom to marry in matters of polygamy, bestiality, and incest is a good and positive thing.

This is what makes Voddie Baucham's article on why homosexuality is not a civil right all the more important.  Gay marriage is not an issue of civil rights or freedom.  It simply isn't.  That would be like saying that incest and bestiality are civil rights issues.  No one would ever say that a prohibition of marriage to animals is an infringement of rights.  Or that it is unjust to forbid a man to marry his sister. (Note that I am not equating homosexuality to incest or bestiality here - I'm simply making the point that homosexual marriage is not a civil rights issue and so homosexuals aren't having freedom stripped from them by way of a constitutional prohibition of gay marriage in the same way that polygamists don't have their freedom to marry several women stripped from them when polygamy is outlawed.)

The next question I have, and one that is for another posting, is whether or not we as Christians (or just American people) should have ever given the government such power in the arena of marriage.  In other words, why is the government involved in the marriage business at all?  If the government were completely out of marriage, and if marriage were left solely to religious institutions, I don't think we'd have any of the hubbub we do now.  Even when it comes to all of the deviant forms of marriage I've listed above.  For example, no church in their right mind would marry two women to one man.  The same is true for marrying one man and one animal.  If the religious institutions were allowed to define marriage, we wouldn't have all of this political stuff going on right now.  Homosexuals could still be together and co-habitate.  Even people with sick desires to marry their sister or an animal could have a relationship with that person - they just couldn't be married for the simple reason that no one would be around to marry them.  I really like the idea of the government getting out of marriage completely and leaving marriage up to religious institutions.  Till that happens (which it most likely won't), I'm all in favor of limiting the freedom to marry.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

63 Questions for People Who are Pro-Abortion

Yep.  63 of 'em.  And they all come from Kevin DeYoung.  To be honest, I think 63 questions is actually on the low side.  I can think of a few others that Kevin didn't ask.  Anyway, they're still good to think about.  Here they are.

What shall we call the unborn in the womb?

If the entity is a living thing, is it not a life? If your person began as a single cell, how can that fertilized egg be something other than a human being? Isn't it more accurate to say you were an embryo than that you simply came from one?
So when does a human being have a right to life?
Shall we say size matters? Is the unborn child too small to deserve our protection? Are big people more valuable than little people? Are men more human than woman? Do offensive linemen have more rights than jockeys? Is the life in the womb of no account because you can't hold him in our arms, or put him in your hands, or only see her on a screen?
Shall we make intellectual development and mental capacity the measure of our worth? Are three year-old children less valuable than thirteen year-olds? Is the unborn child less than fully human because he cannot speak or count or be self-aware? Does the cooing infant in the crib have to smile or shake your hand or recite the alphabet before she deserves another day? If an expression of basic mental acuity is necessary to be a full-fledged member of the human community, what shall do with the comatose, the very old, or the fifty year-old mom with Alzheimer's? And what about all of us who sleep?
Shall we deny the unborn child's right to life because of where he lives? Can environment give us value or take it away? Are we worth less inside than outside? Can we be justly killed when we swim under water? Does where we are determine who we are? Does the eight inch journey down the birth canal make us human? Does this change of scenery turn "its" into persons? Is love a condition of location?
Shall we reserve human dignity only for those humans who are not dependent on others? Do we deserve to live only when we can live on our own? Is the four-month old fetus less than human because she needs her mom for life? Is the four-month old infant less than human when she still needs her mom for life? What if you depend on dialysis or insulin or a breathing apparatus? Is value a product of fully-functioning vitality? Is independence a prerequisite for human identity? Are we worth only what we can think, accomplish, and do on our own?
If the unborn life is human life, what can justify snuffing it out? Would it be right to take the life of your child on his first birthday because he came to you through sad and tragic circumstances? Would you push an 18 month old into traffic because she makes our life difficult? Does a three year-old deserve to die because we think we deserve a choice?
What do you deserve now? What are your rights as a human person? Did you have those same rights five years ago? What about before you could drive? Or when you used training wheels? Were you less than fully human when you played in the sandbox? When you wore a bib? When you nursed at your mother's breast? When your dad cut your cord? When you tumbled in that watery mess and kicked against that funny wall? When your heart pounded on the monitor for the first time? When you grew your first fingernails? When you grew your first cells?
What shall we call the child in the womb? A fetus? A mystery? A mistake? A wedge issue? What if science and Scripture and commonsense would have us call it a person? What if the unborn child, the messy infant, the wobbly toddler, the rambunctious teenager, the college freshman, the blushing bride, the first-time mother, the working woman, the proud grammy, and the demented old friend differ not in kind but only in degree? Where in the progression does our humanity begin and end? Where does life become valuable? When are we worth something? When do human rights become our rights? What if Dr. Seuss was right and a person's a person no matter how small?
Why celebrate the right to kill what you once were? Why deny the rights of the little one who is what you are?

Monday, August 27, 2012

When God Burps

My son James is in a fun phase right now where he points out how God is either bigger, stronger, or better than any and everything he sees.  For example, tonight we went to a Twins game at Target Field and were seated rather high up in the stands.  Jamie exclaimed, "Wow, we're pretty high!  But we're not as high up as God."  Earlier today he told me that Goliath was strong, but he wasn't as strong as God.

This has been going on for some time.  If he sees a tall building, he'll remark that it's not as tall as God.  If he has a good idea, he'll follow it up by saying that he's not as smart as God.

Tonight at the Twins game, I got a couple root beers for the family.  We were drinking them together, and as root beer tends to make one do, I burped.  Jamie had a chuckle over it, then said, "Hey Dad, that was a big burp, but you know what?  It's not nearly as big as one of God's burps."

Sunday, August 26, 2012

So You Still Think Homosexuality is Sinful? Yes. I Do.

Here are three things you may or may not know about me:

1. I believe homosexuality is clearly portrayed in the Bible as a morally impermissible style of life.
2. I like graphs, flowcharts, and especially infographics as a means of communicating information.
3. I think George Takei is a very funny fellow.

The first item is easily observable from other posts on this blog.  The second item you may have realized after you read this post.  The third item is a lesser known fact about me.  I peruse George Takei's Facebook page on a regular basis because he quite frequently posts amusing pictures (especially ones pertaining to nerdy sci-fi stuff) on his page.  It's also no secret that Mr. Sulu is an outspoken homosexual who advocates for gay rights constantly.  Be that as it may, I like his sense of humor most of the time.

So what do those three tidbits about me have to do with one another?  Well, as I was perusing the images on Takei's page this evening, I came across the flow chart you see below.  It's a chart that supposedly details why all of the reasons for a biblical view of marriage are not logically viable for standing against homosexuality in general, and gay marriage in specific.  I've said before on this blog that the Christian argument against the homosexual lifestyle and for the sanctity of marriage needs to begin and end with the word of God.  We are not pragmatists.  Quoting statistics and citing studies will not "win the day" in this conversation.  Because as soon as we cite a study or statistic, a different study will be published whose findings will contradict ours.  There needs to be an objective standard that we can appeal to - one that appeals to a higher authority than social or political science.  In other words, when it comes to this issue (and all issues, actually), we need to ask the question, "What does God say?"

The chart below attempts to counter "what God says" by attempting to show that "what God says" is not good enough, or is out of date, or is meant for another time and another place.  The problem with this chart is that whoever created it lacks an understanding of biblical hermeneutics.  It's ripe with misinterpretations and misunderstandings of how biblical interpretation works.  It's important for Christians, then, to be able to utilize good hermeneutics (the art and science of biblical interpretation) in order to be able to explain why the reasons expressed by this chart are not an accurate representation of what the Bible says.  I'd like to break this chart down piece by piece.  So get to the chart already!  OK, here it is (click to enlarge):

The chart asks, "So you still think homosexuality is sinful?" and then breaks the answer to the question down to two possible answers: "Yes" and "No."  If the answer is "Yes," then there's a follow up question: "Why?" followed by several supposed possible biblical justifications as to why a person might believe homosexuality is sinful according to the Bible.  So let's break these down.  I'll address each of the (errant) "Why" answers.

Reason: Because Jesus said so!
Chart Response: Not true.  Jesus never uttered a word about same-sex relationships.
My Response: Is it true that "Jesus never uttered a word about same-sex relationships"?  I suppose so.  But this response is painfully unaware of what Jesus said about marriage relationships in general.  In fact, Jesus affirms that marriage is between one man and one woman (Matthew 19.3-9).  How did the creator of this chart not know about this passage?  It clearly identifies Jesus' understanding of marriage as being between one man and one woman, and not two people of the same gender.  Also, it could be argued that Jesus did in fact say all kinds of things about same-sex marriages, if we want to argue that he inspired the words of all scripture (which we should).  Therefore, although you won't find any red letters that state that homosexuality is a sin, you will find plenty of black ones.  And those ones were authored by God.  Which Jesus is.  So in a roundabout way, he did say quite a bit about homosexuality.

Reason: Because the Old Testament said so!
Chart Response: The OT also says it's sinful to eat shell fish, to wear clothes woven with different fabrics, and to eat pork.  Should we still live by OT laws?
My Response: No, we shouldn't live by Old Testament laws.  Those laws were given to a specific group of people, in a certain time and place, who were living within the bounds of a certain covenant with God (a different covenant than we live in today, which is very important to understand).  The laws that were given to the people in the OT reflect all of these different elements of their relationship with God listed above.  The prohibition against homosexuality is not just an Old Testament one, however (as we'll see in a minute), and frankly, arguing for moral standards from the Old Testament law is unwise for the exact reasons I've just listed - they don't apply to us because they weren't given to us.  They were given to ancient Israel.  In the Old Testament we can see how God relates to people in general, and we can learn much about God and ourselves from it, but we can't apply Old Testament laws to our modern day situations.  This is a bad argument and should not be used in the homosexuality/gay marriage dialogue.

Reason: Because the New Testament says so!
Chart Response: The original language of the NT actually refers to male prostitution, molestation, or promiscuity, not committed same-sex relationships.  Paul may have spoken against homosexuality, but he also said that women should be silent and never assume authority over a man.  Shall modern-day churches live by all of Paul's values?
My Response: First of all, this response is self-refuting.  The Chartmaker says that the original language of the NT does not speak directly about homosexuality, but then says "Paul may have spoken against homosexuality, but..."  Well which is it?  Did he speak against homosexuality or didn't he?  You can't tell from this response.  My position is that Paul did indeed speak against homosexuality multiple times (see here and here for a couple examples).  I find it laughable that the maker of this chart would imply that these instances refer to other behaviors than homosexuality.  Even by the Chartmaker's own admission, the original word used may refer to male prostitution.  Who usually hires male prostitutes?  Women?  Nope.  It's men.  Last time I checked, men hiring male prostitutes was...homosexuality.  The second part of his objection is that Paul's values are supposedly patriarchal and out of date.  When properly understood, and when considering cultural differences between us and Paul and his audience, however, we get a much different picture than what the Chartmaker wants you to think.  He has obviously not consulted the whole testimony of scripture to gain a proper understanding of what Paul meant by these statements (see this post for more information on a biblical understanding of gender roles).  Moreover, even if Paul was a patriarchal chauvinist, that doesn't necessarily mean that what he has said about homosexuality is untrue (at least from a point of view that does not hold the Bible to be the inspired word of God).  In other words, just because he's (supposedly) wrong about one thing doesn't make him necessarily wrong about another.  You need to show how he is wrong about that issue independently, which the Chartmaker's response does not.  This is what's known as a logical fallacy.

Reason: Because God made Adan and Eve, not Adam and Steve!
Chart Response: That was when the earth wasn't populated.  There are now 6.79 billion people. Breeding clearly isn't an issue anymore!
My Response: Apparently the Chartmaker is referring to an objection that asserts that the human race will suffer from a lack of procreation as a result of homosexuality.  He says this isn't a concern, since there are almost seven billion people on the planet.  OK, fair enough.  But that misses the point.  God created male and female in order to adequately reflect his image.  Moreover, scripture teaches that the relationship that takes place between a man and a woman in marriage images the relationship between Christ and his church.  Again, gender roles are significant in the Bible, and in life.  In order for marriage to "work" and do what it was designed to do, according to the Bible it must be between a man and a woman (Ephesians 5.22-33).

Reason: Because the Bible clearly defines marriage as one-man-one-woman!
Chart Response: Wrong.  The Bible also defines marriage as one man many women, one man many wives and concubines, a rapist and his victim, and a conquering soldier and female prisoner of war.
My Response: This argument is tired and old, and of the arguments listed on this chart, this one most significantly reveals the Chartmaker's lack of an understanding of how to interpret the Bible.  So listen close: just because the Bible relays stories of people who had many wives, or kings who had hundreds of wives, or rapists who took their victim as a wife, it does not mean that these models are God's preferred or "designed" model for marriage.  In fact, we could say that each of these people were sinning in their marital activities, and that God was not pleased with them.  I've dealt with this objection before, when it was unfortunately leveled by a professor of mine at a Baptist seminary, so I won't go into it in length here.  Moreover, what is often misunderstood is that instances where men took women as a wife as a result of a war, a death of a relative, or even as a result of rape, was an act of mercy.  In the place and time that biblical history occurred, a single woman was not able to provide for herself without the care of a male (it's just a fact, not a social commentary).  So if a conquering soldier came across a woman who was dispossessed by the battle, it was an act of mercy for him to take her as a wife.  Even a victim of rape, because of her status of having been raped, would have been shunned by society.  Forcing the man to take her as a wife is an act of mercy.  Does this excuse the rapist?  By no means.  There were certainly measures of justice in place for sexual sin in biblical history.  I know it might sound strange, and maybe even a bit hard to accept, but when interpreting scripture we need to remember the time, place, and setting in which the stories occurred and the laws were given.

Reason: Because it just disgusts me, dangit!
Chart Response: Props for being honest.  However, a whole population of people shouldn't have their families discriminated against just because you think gay sex is icky.  Grow up!
My Response:  A couple thoughts here: 1) The Chartmaker is correct in asserting that this is not an adequate reason for being against the homosexual agenda.  It's obviously not natural (anatomically speaking), but we need to face reality: some people prefer same-sex relationships.  Saying that it's gross, deviant, or unnatural is ultimately no reason to condemn it.  This is why we need to begin and end this conversation with the word of God and nothing else.  Although the Chartmaker will apparently give you "props" for being honest.  2) I'm continually flabbergasted by the gay community's insistence that disagreement with their agenda and lifestyle is discrimination.  This is a scary notion for anyone who believes the Bible, as Christians will be continually and more aggressively referred to as being discriminatory and hateful.  More unfortunately is that this does nothing for the propagation of civilized conversation about this issue.  The moment we accuse each other of hate, "intolerance," and discrimination, the conversation is over.  I've dealt with the "Tolerance Buzzsaw" on this site before, here, here, and here.

So those are the responses offered by the chart, and my responses, hopefully showing how the Chartmaker's responses do not represent an accurate interpretation of what the Bible says.  It should also be noted that the chart is designed in a logically fallacious way, in that the only two options left to those who would progress through it are either an endorsement of the homosexual agenda, or to be characterized as a knuckle-dragging buffoon that loves to oppress women, discriminate against people willy-nilly, and is living in the dark ages.  Really?  Are those really the only two options?  I think not.

To conclude, the conversation about the gay agenda needs to begin and end with the word of God.  But, as we have seen with this chart and with other conversations in the mainstream media and in culture, it's also becoming a hermeneutical battle as well.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Fun at Family Camp

This past week my family was graciously treated to a week of Family Camp at Village Creek Bible Camp.  This was the first Family Camp I had attended since I was probably eight years old.  We had a blast - Dad, Mom, and kids.  Below are some links to videos that we took of our time at camp (all of the kids, of course).

While I was camp pastoring at Junior 2, the camp asked me to introduce a Bible verse song (basically a verse from the Bible set to music).  I chose 1 Timothy 6.12 by The Rizers.  We sang it at Family Camp too, although this time my kids wanted to help "lead" it.  Here it is.

Jamie and I had the opportunity to build a model rocket and then launch it on the last day of camp.  He chose to build "The Zinger," a small one-stage rocket that flies up to 600 feet in the air.  We called it "The Flight of the Zinger."  There was a minor hangup that you can sort of see in the video, in that the rocket's parachute cord wrapped around the fins, preventing it from opening.  This meant that the rocket dropped like a rock back to earth.  Thankfully a nearby staff member caught the plummeting rocket in his hat, softening the blow.  Jamie loved the whole process of building and launching the rocket.  We built the rocket early in the week, but didn't launch it till the last day.  Every day between building and launching it, Jamie had to check on it several times.  He'd simply go into the craft room to make sure that it was still where he left it.

A couple times during the week they invited kids to the front of the room to do some dancing.  It's amazing how when funky music gets played, kids just can't help but dance.  It's also interesting how no one has to teach them how to dance - they just do it.  Must be instinctual.  Ferg and Han jumped right in and got funky.  

Jamie loves archery, or as he calls it, "Archery Arrows."  It's become his favorite thing to do at camp.  The other two times we were there this summer we only got to do it for about 10 minutes in between rotations when no campers were around.  This time, however, we participated in a whole archery instruction hour.  This meant Jamie could shoot arrows for a full 60 minutes.  I never figured he'd keep an interest in it for that long, but to my surprise, he just kept shooting and shooting.  The incredible thing is that he missed the target almost every time, but he kept wanting to shoot and shoot.  He probably shot somewhere around 75 arrows.  6 landed on the target, and each one was like a present at Christmas.  It was fun to watch.

While the adults were in chapel, youth volunteers were teaching the young'ns to memorize Ephesians 6.10-13.  Some people don't think that young kids can memorize scripture.  I've shown this to be untrue here and here.  For some reason I can't get the video of the kids reciting the verses to upload to Youtube, so you'll have to take my word for it.  They did a great job.

From the Archives

This week I'm working on wrapping up our intergenerational Sunday School class, "The Righteous Shall Live By Faith."  It's a study on the 10 Commandments that's masterfully written so as to engage adults and children alike.  I was looking through some of my notes from this past summer and came upon what you see below.  It's a blog post that I meant to post back in June, but forgot to do.  For what it's worth, here's what I was thinking about one day last June as I was preparing a Sunday School lesson.

I have had the privilege of teaching the 5th and 6th grade Sunday School class at Riverview for the past two years now, and I look forward to teaching it again this year, beginning in September.  I also have the privilege of teaching Riverview's intergenerational class this summer, along with my mom.

We usually have somewhat of an unwritten policy at the church that states that volunteers who teach during the school year (September through May) don't teach during the summer so as to give them a break.  After all, they put in approximately 40 weeks of lesson preparation and presentation during the year.  My mom is also one of our regular Sunday School teachers, and she was due for a summer off.  This year, however, I asked my mom to help me teach the intergenerational class during the summer, which meant that neither she nor I would get a break (although I don't usually get a break - I'm always teaching something somewhere, which I am usually more than happy to do).  

Anywho, we got to talking while we were working on our lesson prep for the summer intergenerational class.  I was a bit bummed that I had to get my mom to teach the class with me.  This is not to imply that my mom's a bad teacher, or that I didn't want to do it with her, but more of a lament that it is often times difficult to find and recruit "fresh blood" for church ministries, especially Sunday School teachers, and that the usual people tend to end up getting asked again and again, and sometimes have to give up the summer break that they would usually enjoy in order to fill a volunteer ministry role, which was exactly what my mom was doing by helping me teach Summer Sunday School.

It suddenly dawned on me, however, that my mom is probably coming toward the end of her Sunday School teaching career.  That put my thoughts into a whole different perspective: since my mom is a gifted teacher and enjoys teaching, and especially sins she probably won't be teaching for too much longer (in the grand scheme of things, at least) then we should get everything we can out of her now! That is, if she won't be around for forever, let's utilize her God-given gifts and talents in teaching as much as we can in the present, while she is still physically able to do so. Not to do so would be a waste. 

Then I got to thinking about myself.  It sure would be nice to have a three month break where I didn't have to teach Sunday School, volunteer for such and such ministry do this, do that, etc.  But then again, I don't have "much" time left either.  In other words, my time as a Sunday School teacher has an end date - a shelf life, if you will.  And the thought of me not teaching Sunday School while I can, especially in light of the fact that my time and ability to teach has an expiration date, gave me a sense of urgency that I want to hold on to.

I don't have much time.  I need to be doing what God has called me to do, which right now is teaching Sunday School.  Even if it means I have to put some more time into my weeks during the summer preparing Sunday School lessons when I could be vacationing, taking it easy during the week, or just relaxing.  There's plenty of time for that throughout the rest of my life.  But who knows how much longer I'll be able to teach Sunday School (my ministry role might change, someone else might step forward, I might be unable to because of some change in my physical condition, etc.)?  Sure, I'm "only" 31 years old, but who knows what tomorrow will bring?  I only have a certain amount of time left (even if it's a long time, I've still got an end date), and I want to make the most of it.

I pray that God will continue to give me this urgency in my life and ministry.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Born a Ramblin' Man

This has been a long summer.  In it, I've done the most traveling during a three month period than I ever have before in my life.  Since June 2, I've traveled more than 4,300 miles.  I'm looking forward to more than two full weeks in town and in my own bed.  Here's the breakdown:
June 2-7: Village Creek Bible Camp, Lansing, Iowa
June 24-27: Village Creek Bible Camp, Lansing, Iowa
July 3-10: NAB Triennial Conference, Orlando, Florida
July 22-29: Vacation, Turtle Lake, Wisconsin
August 19-23: Village Creek Bible Camp, Lansing, Iowa
I'm pretty sure I'm missing at least one other trip in there somewhere, but I can't remember where or what it was.  So much traveling I can't even remember what I did.  All in all, I've spent more than thirty days away from home this summer - one out of every three.  Thankfully most of these trips taken were with my family, so I haven't had to be away from them.  It has made my summer work schedule a bit tight, however!

Here's to hoping things will slow down in the fall.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Back to Church Sunday

If you've ever needed a real life example of how screwed up our concept of what the church actually is, here it is for you.  You probably didn't know it, but "National Back to Church Sunday" is scheduled for September 16.  What is "National Back to Church Sunday" (NBTCS)?  It's a date when supposedly all Christians are supposed to invite all of their friends and family members "back to church."  They've even made a cheesy rap song to try and make it cool and "relevant."  The site declares that NBTCS is "the single largest annual community outreach in the nation."  I have a few issues with this.

1. There are two interesting words in the name of this event, the first being "back."  This refers to the calling back of those who have left the church and have sought meaning in life elsewhere.  Calling someone to church - specifically "back" to church makes me wonder why they were ever there in the first place.  It can't be that they used to go because they were genuinely converted and then backslid.  No, scripture says that believers congregate with other believers.  Maybe not in the traditional Sunday morning way, but they do have fellowship with other believers.  In fact, they must.  So let's get our ideas straight: we're not calling Christians back to church, we're calling unbelievers to church.  If they had been before but stopped going, they're still unbelievers.  We're not inviting darkness to have fellowship with light, because it can't.  I wonder if the event organizers have thought through this.

The other word that I find to be interesting in the title of this event is "Sunday."  The site states that churches who participated in the event last year saw an average increase of 26% on NBTCS.  Hmm.  I wonder what the attendance was the week after?  Getting people, especially goats, to come to church for one week is nothing to brag about, nor do I think it's a victory.  In fact, church pews are lined with unbelievers every week - why have an annual Sunday for them?  It's not hard to draw a crowd for a Sunday.  It's much harder, and requires much more prayer and dedication to preach the unpopular message of the gospel over and over again, sometimes seeing no results, calling all men everywhere to repent and believe the gospel.

2. The church needs to rethink the concept of outreach.  The website claims that this week is the single biggest national outreach event in the country.  When did inviting people to come in to church become outreach?  Shouldn't "outreach" have a decidedly outward moving feel to it?  I would think outreach would be more like taking the gospel to the streets, rather than taking the people to a show disguised as a church.

3. This event is nothing more than a marketing gimmick, and since when does the church rely on gimmicks (OK, the modern church relies on them quite a bit, to its shame)?  In commenting on this event on his Facebook page, Voddie Baucham said this is really nothing more than "Cheesy marketing of the Church of the Living God."  He's right on, and his emphasis is on the nose.  We serve the living God, whose glorious deeds are recorded in scripture, not to mention who sent his Son as a sacrifice for the salvation of all who would believe through repentance and faith.  But apparently that's not enough.  That's not enticing enough to draw the crowds.  And it really isn't.  In fact, the Bible says the gospel is foolishness to those who are perishing.  Why do we expect them to fill our churches?  Moreover, if the perishing are filling our churches, then we might want to step back and reexamine what we're doing.  Because what are they drawn to?  It certainly isn't the gospel (Romans 3.10-11, 1 Corinthians 1.18).

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Rahab's Baggage

The fam and I are down at Village Creek Bible Camp this week, participating in "Family 4."  This is the first Family Camp I've been to in probably the last twenty years or so.  It's been a very fun week so far, and we're thinking about making a family camp experience a regular part of our summers.

The camp pastor for the week (sorry, can't remember his name!) has been doing a series a character studies from Hebrews 11.  They've been very interesting so far, and I've appreciated his messages quite a bit.

Today's message was on Rahab, a character that has always confounded me a bit.  I'm not so much confounded over her profession (lady of the evening), or even that God used Rahab in the lineage of Christ.  I'm certainly enough of a sinner myself to know what God can do with dirty things, so the fact that God is able to use a prostitute for his purposes does not come as much of a surprise.  After all, that's what God does!

What has troubled me is the way Rahab lied about the spies being hidden on her roof.  Why did she do that?  Was it OK for her to lie in that instance, or did the lie betray her confidence in God's power?  She is mentioned not only in Hebrews 11 (the "Hall of Faith") but is also commended by James as an example of how someone demonstrates the existence of faith through works (she believed God, thus she hid the spies).  So how are we to handle the fact that Rahab used deception - an action that is clearly prohibited in scripture?  Does she come out of her situation squeaky clean?  The story of Rahab is something that Bible scholars and theologians have wrestled with for many years, and I probably won't add anything new to the conversation, but nevertheless, here's my take.

It's interesting to note that Rahab is motivated to help the spies because of what she has already seen and heard about the God of the Israelites.  News of their success has reached the city of Jericho, and Rahab wisely realizes that her city is next on the chopping block.  But her willingness to hide the spies is not born out of a desire to live (although that certainly is part of it), rather she has heard about the One True God, and she has come to fear him through faith.  Therefore, instead of fighting against God, she wants to join his side, as it were.  Through faith, she comes to believe in the God of the Israelites, and is therefore motivated to help them in their cause.

The king gets word that Israel has dispatched spies into his land and sends men to question Rahab.  When asked, she lies and says that they were never there, when in fact they were hiding on her roof at her own insistence.  So why did Rahab lie?  Obviously, she feared for her life, as she would have been condemned a traitor and perhaps even executed on the spot.  One positive outcome from this lie is that the Israelite spies were not discovered and were able to report back to Joshua, and the Israelites eventually took the city as a result of the "Battle of Jericho."

So what do we do with someone who lies on account of wanting to "help God?"  What do we do with lying?  Is it OK to lie to evil people (as the Jerichoites certainly were)? The answer to both questions is "No."  God is a God of truth, and he values all truth and wants his people to be like him, and to always speak the truth.  So here's what I think happened.

Although Rahab had heard of the deeds of the Lord through the Israelites, causing her to come to faith in the One True God, her knowledge, for whatever reason, was not applied to her own situation.  Yes, she had heard how God brought the Israelites out of Egypt, conquered their foes, and so on and so forth, but for whatever reason, she was not able to believe that that same God could come through for her in the matter of hiding spies.  God parted the Red Sea, for crying out loud - I think he'd be able to help her hide some spies in a way that kept her from lying.  Although she knew what God was capable of, she failed to believe that he could affect her situation.  This led her to put her trust in herself - her own strengths and abilities.  And trusting in herself led her to lying about the situation with the spies.

What would have happened if Rahab had told the truth and said, "Yes, I have seen some Israelite spies.  In fact, they're up on my roof as we speak"?  I don't know, but I know God would have taken care of it.  He would have made the spies invisible, or blinded the guards, or whatever.  Or maybe he would have delivered Rahab and the spies over to be executed, bringing them home to eternal glory.  Then he'd have to find another way to get Jericho into Israel's hands.  The point is, God always knows what he's doing, and God never wants people to lie.  Never.  Nor is it good or morally permissible to lie.  Ever.  Remember, Rahab is commended in Hebrews 11 and James 2 for believing God, not for hiding spies with lies.

So then how do we work around the fact that someone who doubted God long enough to tell a lie is commended in scripture for faith?  That's easy: she was a human being.  Nobody's perfect, and everybody comes to faith with their own set of baggage.  God doesn't save good and perfect people - he saves bad people who come with a lot of issues.  That was Rahab, and that's me, and it's you too.

Think about it: how many times have I heard about the glorious deeds of the Lord (in scripture and through my own life experiences) yet fail to trust in him to do great and powerful things in my life?  All the time.  This is not a commendable trait, to be sure.  It's part of my baggage that God is working on in me.  But God can and still does use me despite my baggage.  He can work with my baggage.  He certainly worked with Rahab's baggage.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Sin Doesn't Do Well In the Light

Challies has a great post on his sight about the communal nature of growing in holiness (a spiritual process for which the big word is "sanctification").  That is, growing in Christ-likeness - growing in holiness - takes place most efficiently in the context of relationships with other people.  This is a rather foreign idea to us in the West (and it even grates on me a bit as I write it here, in fact).  It's something that doesn't come naturally to us.  Why not?  Because we are independent people.  There's nothing standing in the way of what we want to achieve other than ourselves.  We can do anything we put our minds to.  We live in a very individualistic society, so when we talk about other people being instrumental to our spiritual growth process, it's not an easy thing to consider.

Earlier this summer I preached a three week series on the biblical concept of fellowship.  One of the key points I tried to make in those sermons was that fellowship - and all of the benefits of fellowship - always happen in the context of relationships.  One cannot have Christian fellowship with oneself.  It just doesn't work that way.  And the Bible is clear that fellowship with other believers is a necessity for Christians.  You can't be a Christian and live outside of Christian fellowship.

Challies quotes a speaker he recently heard who had this helpful thought regarding spiritual growth in the context of a community: "Sin doesn't do well in the light."  The point here is that when our sins are exposed to other people we are held accountable for our actions, and can therefore repair the damage done to our relationships (temporal and spiritual) when our sin is exposed.  The key here is that you have to be in community with other people in order for your sin to be exposed.  You don't expose your sin to yourself - you already know what it is.  The Holy Spirit does indeed expose sin to the believer, but it's difficult to be held accountable to righteousness and to mortifying those sins on our own.  This is why we need other people "doing" physical and spiritual life alongside us: because sin doesn't do well in the light.  The more we have people examining us in light of scripture (and vice versa, of course), and the more we have people holding us accountable to what we've put forward in those relationships, the more power we will have in conquering that sin.

Challies makes another great point that I had pondered before, but hadn't thought of in the same way he presents it.  He argues that my spiritual growth is not only good for me, but it's also good for the community - the church; the group of people I'm doing life with.  Why is it important to people in my community that I am growing spiritually?  Because the more I am able to conquer sin, the more I can help them do the same; the more I grow, the more I can encourage others in their growth; the more I come to serve God and others, the more they can do so as well.

When you boil it down, it's almost like a a symbiotic relationship.  The more I grow, the more you grow.  The more you grow, the more I grow, and so on and so forth.  Living in community with other people is not just a primer for spiritual growth, it is the lifeblood.

Friday, August 17, 2012

A Baptist Catechism

When I was a kid I would tell all my friends about the cool stuff we did at my church on Wednesday nights.  All the boys gathered together for what we called "Boy's Brigade."  It was a psuedo military themed Christian program for boys that involved order, instruction, and fun and games.  To most of the kids I hung out with, this was a foreign idea.  For them (those who were Catholics and Lutherans), Wednesday nights meant some kind of confirmation or catechism class.  I had no idea what a catechism was, and I probably never knew what it was until my early twenties.  Since my childhood I've had a chance to read some catechisms, and part of me wishes that I had gone through some sort of catechistic training when I was a kid.

A few years ago I ran across "A Baptist Catechism" by John Piper.  I was excited when I found it, and read through it quickly, becoming all the more excited with ideas of how this would be a great thing to do with my kids.  Piper acknowledges that catechisms are not something that are particularly Baptist, per se, but notes the value in doing training in such a manner.  He did not write this catechism, but instead adapted it from an earlier Baptist Catechism, which itself was patterned after the famous Westminster Catechism.

And then just today I saw on the Desiring God site that DG has revised Piper's version of the catechism and reformatted it in a handy book form, available for free download.  I quickly got myself a copy, and I suggest you do the same.  It's not just something that can be done with kids, but an incredible amount of theology and doctrine can be learned by anyone who is willing to read through it.

Why use a catechism?  Piper offers these five reasons:

1. We are required to "continue in the faith, stable and steadfast" (Colossians 1.23).
2. We are urged to "attain to the unity of the... knowledge of the Son of that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about by every wind of doctrine" (Ephesians 4.13-14).
3. There are many deceivers (1 John 2.26).
4. There are difficult doctrines "which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction (2 Peter 3.16).
5. Leaders must be raised up who can "give instruction in sound doctrine and also confute those who contradict it" (Titus 1.9)

In addition to these reasons, I think using a catechism in Christian education could be an incredibly beneficial thing, if for no other reason than that it could be used as a convenient springboard for parents to delve into spiritual topics with their children.  There's another catechism resource that could be beneficial to parents in the form of a family devotional book that covers catechism questions.

That being said, I think there's a certain danger that comes along with learning a catechism, and it's this danger that has probably made catechism teaching somewhat unpopular in Baptist circles.  The danger is this: we do not want a child's (or anyone) spiritual knowledge and formation to become a process that is rote.  In other words, a kid can learn the answers to all the catechism questions and still be an unregenerate heathen.  Simply knowing answers - even the right and true answers - to questions does not a genuine believer make.  I think it almost goes without saying that this has to be communicated to anyone going through catechism training.  It needs to be made clear that just because a person knows what to say and how to answer questions about theology and doctrine, it doesn't necessarily mean that anything of value has actually taken place in the heart.  Catechisms must be used with care and discernment (which, when it comes down to it, is true of any and all methods of Christian education).

A crazy part of me wants to develop a curriculum for this "Baptist Catechism" and teach it to our kids at Riverview on Wednesday nights.  We'll see where that goes.  I do have a lot more free time these days being out of school.

Machine Gun Preacher: A Lesson In Pragmatism

I recently heard about this movie called "Machine Gun Preacher."  What caught my attention immediately was the provocative title, and I was even more curious when I heard that the movie was based on a true story about a lay-minister named Sam Childers who went to Africa to start an orphanage for endangered Sudanese children under threat from the now infamous Joseph Kony.  What can I say, my curiosity was piqued.  I put the movie in my Blockbuster online queue (which is empty most of the time), and waited for it to arrive.  Turns out the seemingly oxymoronic title gives the viewer a good clue about what he is about to see.

The movie, and the story that it is inspired by, while interesting, provide little to no redeeming qualities to be admired.  Childers starts out life as a convicted felon and continuing criminal.  While away in prison, his wife reveals that she "found Jesus," and has subsequently quit her job as a topless dancer.  Childers' life continues to spiral downward until he finally asks his wife for help, for which she points him to the church.  The film shows him attending church with his family until one day he undergoes the waters of baptism.  This process is portrayed incredibly poorly in the film.  Whether or not it accurately portrays Childers' actual alleged conversion experience is unknown to me, but if it does portray it accurately, it would certainly explain his lapse of faith later in life - more on that in a minute.  Childers' professed conversion leads him to clean his life up, love his family, and begin attending church regularly.

After some time, a missionary from Sudan visits the church and talks about the ministry happening there.  Childers is inspired and commits to a short term missions trip to the area.  While there he witnesses several of the brutal realities of life in Sudan, especially those atrocities committed by the Lord's Resistance Army, led by Joseph Kony, against children and their families.  Childers returns from his trip, inspired to return to Sudan and build an orphanage, and the film documents this process.

As time goes on, however, Childers is increasingly obsessed with the orphanage and pours every waking moment of his life into it, and every penny he owns, most times at the expense of his wife and child.  He berates his friends, family members, and fellow church members with guilt trips and even vitriol for their supposed lack of dedication to the cause of Christ, mostly because they don't share his ever increasing devotion to the cause of the children of Sudan.

While in Sudan, he becomes increasingly militant and even goes on offensive strikes against LRA soldiers in order to rescue children from their grasp.  By the end of the movie, he has renounced his faith, parted ways with his family, and dedicated himself to the militant task of saving children in Sudan.

Being that movies are never absolutely true to actual stories, I'm not sure how much of Childers' story as portrayed in this film to believe as fact and how much to acknowledge as being included for entertainment purposes.  The movie is replete with over top profanity and blasphemy, even from the "regenerated" Childers, and quite a bit of sensuality, which is presumably why the movie received an "R" rating.  The conveying of the story in the film would not have suffered without all the bad language and sensuality.  Although, if that's how Childers really speaks and acts, there's no point in painting him in a better light.  Childers has released an autobiography.  No doubt that would be a better place to get firm facts regarding his story.  

If the movie has accurately portrayed Childers' story (and I can only assume that it has, at least in large measure, considering that Childers promotes it on his website and even went on a North American tour promoting the movie), there is absolutely nothing biblical or Christian about Childers and his violently obsessive war against the LRA.  While the man's own insistence that he is "done with the Lord," should be enough of a clue that he never was a genuine believer, there were several other clues that screamed out the reality that Childers has never truly understood the gospel.  He cannot forgive, he continues in wanton sin, he manipulates and coerces people to get his way, he resorts to violence at the drop of a hat, and so on and so forth.

At the end of the movie, however, during the credits, there is a clip of Childers - the real Childers - speaking to the camera, and he offers this scenario: "If your child or brother or sister were abducted, and I told you I could get them back, would it matter how I did it?"

The resounding answer to this question is "Yes.  Yes it does matter how you do it."  And the answer resounds so loudly and is seemingly so obvious, that it's a wonder that Childers hasn't thought through it for half a second to realize the error in his thinking.

What Childers offers is pragmatism, plain and simple.  In other words, he is asserting that the ends justify the means - that it doesn't matter what must be done in order to achieve X result, as long as X result is indeed achieved.  Or, put another way, it is right that it doesn't matter what must be done to get an abducted child back as long as the child is indeed brought back.  You don't need to run this type of thinking through too many hypothetical scenarios before you see how this logic is fallacious.  For example, Childers' scenario suggests that it doesn't matter how he rescues a child as long as the child is rescued.  But, what if, in order to rescue a child, Childers must kill 10 other children.  Does it matter then?  Of course it does, and even he should be able to see the error in this thinking.

This pragmatic way of thinking shows how Childers erred in his faith and in the rest of his dealings with people and in life in general.  If, for him, the ends justified the means, then he is perfectly justified for mistreating his family in order to "save children."  According to his thinking, being abusive to and abandoning his family is worth it, as long as it saves a child (to be fair, Childers has reconciled with his wife and daughter).

This way of thinking also reveals the error in Childers' dealings with faith and scripture.  In a sense, Childers' professed faith was the means by which he achieved his end: saving children.  As the film portrays it, however, there are significant times in Childers' life when his faith doesn't "work;" in other words, his faith doesn't achieve the ends he wants.  In the pragmatic way of thinking, if a certain means doesn't achieve the desired goal, then it needs to be abandoned and a more effective means of achieving the goal needs to be discovered.  It's no wonder, then, that Childers' abandons his faith as a means of achieving his end, and seeks out another, supposedly more effective means.  For Childers, this means is violence.  He takes up violence as a means of achieving his desired results.  I have no idea what Childers' current spiritual status is.  His website is devoid of any spiritual content, save for a small link in the upper right hand corner that leads you to this frustratingly difficult to navigate website.

To top it all off, a quick Google search reveals that there are many (including several Sudanese Christian and military groups) who believe that Childers is doing significantly more harm than good in Sudan and other parts of Africa where children are being abducted and murdered (see here and here for just a couple examples).

Much more could be said about Childers and the movie, but in the end, I think it's at least safe to say that the words "machine gun" and "preacher" should never go together.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A Good Word From a Grace Gem

Do you get Grace Gems?  If you don't, you should.  They're just short devotionals, usually written by Puritans hundreds of years ago, delivered to your inbox daily.  They're always biblical and always relevant.  Today's was particularly poignant for me, given my frustration this week with an illness that is still lingering.  From Puritan John Newton:
Our peace and spiritual progress do not depend upon our outward circumstances - but the inward frame of our hearts and minds.  If the heart is right - a humble and broken spirit, obedient to the Lord's precepts, submissive to his will, devoted to please him, and depending upon his faithful word - we may be happy in a prison; and otherwise, we must be unhappy in a palace!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Kids Make Dad Smile

This has been a rough week.  I've been sick and mostly out of commission since Saturday, and this is one of the busiest weeks of my year.  Next week I'll be at camp for almost the whole week, so needless to say, there's lots of work to be done.  I've had to work weird hours so as to not infect my coworkers while still be able to actually get some things done.  I haven't been home much, and I feel continually ill.  Ugh.  Like I said, a rough week.

Cut to tonight.  I get home from my meeting, and I found the following video, made for me by my wife and kids.

I've got a great family.

Understanding the Old Testament

I have a relatively new love for the Old Testament.  Like most people, I tended toward the New Testament for my Bible reading because it seemed more straight to the point to me; it was teaching instead of stories (a lot of which seemed to be repeated over and over).  And like most people, this was due to an improper understanding of what the Old Testament actually is.  The New Testament is full of propositions and logical arguments that, while maybe not easy to interpret per se, seem to "hit home" more than obscure Old Testament passages that are steeped in culture and history.  This is absolutely not true, and is due mostly to not understanding the way the Old Testament is to be read.

Before I get ahead of myself, I need to direct you to this very short and helpful article that details 10 principles for reading the Old Testament, particularly narrative portions of the OT.  The 10 principles are as follows, with my comments:

1. A narrative usually does not directly teach a doctrine but rather illustrates a doctrine or doctrines taught propositionally elsewhere.  This basically means that the Old Testament doesn't tell you theology in direct statements, such as "God is love."  You won't find that in the OT.  But what you will find are stories that illustrate this truth.  A great study to do to see how this works is one on the names of God.  There is tons of theology in the names of God, and the way God communicates those portions of his character and nature are by stories of his interactions with people.

2. A narrative records simply what happened, not necessarily what should have happened or what should happen every time.  This is important to understand when reading the OT.  What we read is simply history.  It's a detailed retelling of events.  Maybe things didn't go as planned, or as God commanded them to go, but the author is retelling an event.  More on this below.

3. We're not always told at the end of the narrative what was good and bad; narratives invite reflection and thoughtful pondering based on other teachings.  This is incredibly important to get a grasp of.  Just because someone did something doesn't make a particular action good, profitable, or even godly.  This is one reason the argument that the Bible doesn't have a definition of marriage because the pattern for biblical marriage, especially in the OT, is polygamy.  While this may be true, it doesn't mean that that's the pattern for marriage that God endorses.  Again, the author is simply reporting the facts, not adding commentary.

4. The things that happen in a narrative are not necessarily a positive example for us, even if the person is a positive figure by and large.  To see the truth of this, just read the stories of Abraham, Jacob, David, Solomon, etc.  Guess what: people are sinners!  And they were sinners in the OT as well.  David was "a man after God's own heart" but committed terrible sins.  Does this nullify his status as being a man who was vehemently pursuing God?  No.

5. Most people are far from perfection; so are their actions.  This is very similar to the above point.  Just because people in the OT sinned, sometimes in grand ways, it doesn't mean they weren't one of God's people.

6. All narratives are incomplete and selective in details; sometimes what is left out is as important as what is included (what is important is that we know everything the inspired author intended us to know).  I would add to this that we know what the Holy Spirit wants us to know from what the author wrote or didn't write.  The point is, though, that when we read narratives, we need to realize that the author is writing with a purpose in mind, and what he chooses to include or not include is based on his purpose in recounting the story.

7. A narrative is not written to answer all our theological questions and they are misinterpreted if we come with our questions, rather than the questions the narrator wants to answer.  This is basic hermeneutics: letting the text do the talking while limiting the influence of our personal preunderstandings and presuppositions as much as possible.

8. God is the real "good" character and hero of all biblical narrative; he is the only one always worthy of emulation.  This is incredibly important, and is a lesson I learned while evaluating children's Sunday School curriculum for Riverview.  We tend to treat OT Bible stories as character examinations of the people in them without ever looking at the real star of the story: God.  In other words, in the story of David and Goliath, I am not to learn how to be brave from David's example; rather, I am to learn that God is a great God who can and does defeat all his enemies - no one is stronger than him.  God is the main character and hero of every story in the OT.

9. The historical narratives are always to be interpreted by the teaching material.  This is another basic lesson in hermeneutics: scripture interprets scripture.  This means that what we learn about God in the OT stories we interpret through propositional statements and teachings found elsewhere in scripture.

10. Always remember that Jesus told us the story is about him; you haven't finished understanding the narrative as a Christian until you see how it helps you to understand and know and love him.  This is made apparent when Jesus meets the two travelers after his resurrection.  He shows them how all of the scriptures (which was only the OT at the time) pointed to him.  Unless we are looking for Jesus in the OT (and he's there, in every verse), we are missing something.

Like I said at the beginning of this post, I have grown to love the OT.  And for all of its supposed weirdness that I used to think it had, I actually find the OT easier to interpret and understand now than I do the New Testament!  I love stories, and I love learning from stories.  That's basically what a large part of the OT actually is: asking ourselves, what does this story tell us about God, and what does it tell us about me?

Monday, August 13, 2012

Being Sick Is Frustrating

A few days ago I posted about my unique red eye that wouldn't open all the way due to some kind of infection.  The eye doctor told me that it was most likely passed on to me from my kids after they spent five days with fevers.  The virus just chose to attack my eye, he said.  The eye stuff started on Wednesday.  I saw the doctor on Friday.  By Saturday I had a fever, swollen glands, a pounding headache, and a soar throat.  That continued through Sunday, and now into today.  And to top it all off my eye, although it is improving, is still tearing up like crazy.

Being sick is a pain in the rear for sure, if for no other reason than the misery of the physical condition it leaves one in.  It's not fun feeling flushed and having pain every time you swallow.  But what is more frustrating for me is the time lost by having to rest, take it easy, and heal from the disease.

I was so mad when I woke up on Sunday morning and was feverish.  Skipping church due to being sick is just not an option, so I struggled through it and went home early, and then proceeded to take a nap for pretty much the rest of the day.  That made it hard to sleep on Sunday night, so I couldn't fall asleep until after 2 AM.  I woke up at 7 AM, determined to go to a meeting that I had scheduled the week before, even though I still felt sick.  I pushed through the meeting, went to staff meeting at church, and the came home and took another 2 hour nap.  This is not efficient, as I'll be at camp next week, and I essentially have to do two weeks worth of work this week to make up for it.  After I woke up, I did as much work as I could from home, then went into church at 8:30 tonight to do some stuff I couldn't do from home.  What a pain.

I've been very frustrated all day.  I need to get stuff done!  I need to work!  I want to be with my family and kids!  This sick stuff is not fitting into my schedule.  A couple times today I thought about Paul's "thorn int he flesh" and how he asked God to take it away from him.  God's response, of course, was that his grace was sufficient for Paul, and that he should rest in that even in the face of affliction.  While I believe this, it's not easy to do.

I can definitely see that God is doing something in this particular illness.  Late August, among other times, is one of my busiest times of the year.  All of the fall ministries are ramping up, and there's a lot of stuff that needs to get done in order for them to kick off, and most of that stuff falls onto my plate.  I've put in a lot of extra hours, felt some anxiety, and sacrificed some family time in order to get things done.  I think it's a very real possibility that God is telling me to slow down, rest in his grace, and get a grip!  Again, although I know this is the message, it's harder to accept and apply it.

Looking forward to a good night's sleep tonight, and hopefully I can get a hold of what's going on in my life right now, turning that frustration into praise.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Jamaica and the Olympics

I think I saw the most exciting event in the whole Olympics tonight.  It was the 4 X 100 meter relay race.  The race was dead even between the U.S. and Jamaica all the way up until the last leg of the race, when Usain Bolt took the baton.  He and the American runner (I can't remember his name, ironically) were running stride for stride at the beginning of their leg, but then Bolt showed his superiority and pulled ahead, proving yet again that he is without a doubt the fastest man to have ever walked the face of the earth.

I have a soft spot in my heart for Jamaica.  I've spent two months of my life in that small country over the span of four years.  I made a lot of friends there, including one good friend that I still talk to today, who encourages me all the time in my spiritual walk.  My time spent in Jamaica has been significantly formative for me, emotionally and spiritually (and even physically, as I have a two inch long scar on the back of my head after cracking my head open on a flight of stairs during one of my trips...but that's another story).  I could fill a separate blog with stories and reflections from my time in Jamaica.  That's how big it was for me.

I also have a special appreciation for the preeminence of the Olympic games in the hearts and minds of the Jamaican people.  The people of Jamaica don't have national sports or teams like we do in the U.S. (although now that I think about it, they might have a cricket team), so when they get a shot at the international spotlight, the whole country takes notice.  Literally.  Ever seen the movie "Cool Runnings"?  That movie does a great job of accurately portraying how important the olympics are to Jamaicans.

During my first trip to Jamaica in 1996 the Olympics were being held in Atlanta, Georgia.  I remember sitting on the couch of Gerald Brown and watching some of the track races with him.  He was eating popcorn and staring intently at the TV as his countrymen represented him and his country.  He was sitting on the edge of his seat the entire time.  During one race, he actually stood up and jumped up and down several times while shouting, "Go Jamaica, go Jamaica, go Jamaica!" several times.  Put simply, Jamaicans love the Olympics.

I was really delighted four years ago to see Usain Bolt break records and win races, if for no other reason than that I knew the Jamaican people were going crazy.  I don't think anyone medaled when I was in Jamaica in 96, and the atmosphere was electric then.  I can only imagine what it was like in 2008, and now in 2012, as I think Jamaica has actually done better this year than they did in Bei Jing.

Only one thing bugs me, though, and that is that Bolt seems to be somewhat of an arrogant athlete with a huge head.  He's the best, and he'll tell you that to your face, as he's done several times throughout this Olympics.  As Bob Costas said tonight, "Nobody thinks more highly of Usain Bolt than he does of himself."  It got me reflecting on James 4.6, which is never a bad thing.  We just read through this passage last night in our small group.

Anyway, here's to the people of Jamaica and the celebration they've been having for the past two weeks.

ByBC Highlights

Here are some video highlights of Riverview's recent 2012 Backyard Bible Club ministry: The Call of God.  Three families from the church hosted clubs in their homes, serving more than 50 children and their families.

Don't It Make My Green Eyes Red?

Last week, right after my family returned from our yearly cabin retreat, both of our kids took ill with fevers.  It was a very strange bout of illness for the kids, as their body temperatures fluctuated up and down several times a day for five days.  We'd check their temp and it would be at 98.6.  Check it again, three hours later, and it would be 103.  Three hours later, back to normal.  That's the way it went for several days.  We even brought the kids into the doctor.  Their diagnosis: it's a virus.  Medicate with Tylenol and ride it out.  So that's what we did.

Cut to Wednesday of this week: my left eye began to water at some point in time during the day, I don't quite remember exactly when.  I didn't think too much of it, as sometimes my eyes water for whatever reason.  I'm a long-time contact lens wearer, so I'm used to some minor eye irritation from time to time.  But it got more strange as the day went on, in that the watering didn't stop.  In fact, about every two minutes I had to wipe a tear from my eye.  I still didn't think too much about it.

Thursday morning I woke up, and my eye was still tearing up like crazy.  And there was a new symptom: tenderness and redness.  My eye was turning a little red, and when I touched the top or bottom eyelid, there was just the slightest throb.  I still didn't think too much about it, and went about my busy day of Backyard Bible Club leading and planning, in addition to my regular work (it was a long day that started at about 9 AM and ended about 9 PM).  By the end of the day, it seemed like the tearing had ratcheted up a notch.  It was getting to be quite a pain in the butt.  My vision kept blurring from the tears, and I constantly had to wipe away the tears from my eye.

By the time I woke up on Friday morning (this morning) things had deteriorated significantly.  My eye went from being slightly red to mostly red, and there was more pain, both to the touch and if I scrunched my eye shut.  The tearing was still going strong, and by this time my eyeball had swollen up, and it was as though I could feel it bulging out of my face.  This caused my eyelid to not be able to open up as far as my right eyelid, giving me a bit of a weird look (in more ways than one), as you can see in the picture.

I decided that it was finally time to be seen by a professional, but being that it was the last day of Backyard Bible club, and that it was our closing day with a lot of extra stuff planned, I did not want to have to miss anything in order to go to the doctor.  The local eye clinic had no openings during the day, however, except at 10:40, which was right during the heart of the ByBC meeting.  I turned it down.  I then called four other clinics looking for the latest possible appointment time I could find.  The best I could do was 11:10 at the Bandana Square clinic.  Less than ideal, but it was the best I could do.  I certainly didn't want to live with this thing all weekend.

The eye doctor determined it was an infection.  After I told him that my kids were just sick with a virus last week, he determined that I had the same virus.  When I protested by telling him that my kids only had fevers and not eye problems (Jamie had a red eye for about a day - nothing nearly as bad as what I've got), he told me it didn't matter - the same virus attacked my eye.  He prescribed some drops, which I've used several times this evening.  As I type, my eye is very sticky, still swollen, and still tearing.  I guess the medicine hasn't totally kicked in yet.

This whole experience, along with several others throughout this week of ByBC has got me thinking about what God is either doing, or allowing to happen, in regards to some particular details of ByBC (more on that some other time).  In other words, there's something spiritual going on in all this.  Now to think about what that is.  I'm just glad the condition with my eye is contained and is treatable.  Thanks be to God for that, and that'll do for now.