Friday, February 29, 2008

Stepping Over the Edge

Apparently Luke Timothy Johnson has officially stepped over the edge. The professor at Emory University has made it known that he knows better than Scripture. In arguing for same-sex marriage, he stated:

I think it is important to state clearly that we do, in fact, reject the straightforward commands of Scripture, and appeal instead to another authority when we declare that same-sex unions can be holy and good. And what exactly is that authority? We appeal explicitly to the weight of our own experience and the experience thousands of others have witnessed to, which tells us that to claim our own sexual orientation is in fact to accept the way in which God has created us.

Pretty straightforward and honest, eh? The clear teachings of Scripture are jettisoned for our own experience.

Now I could spend another 47 posts arguing that we are all created with sin nature and that nature takes on various forms which would include homosexuality, but that's a discussion for another day.

What I want to call attention to instead is that a respected teacher at a respected school has said that at least on this one issue, we should chuck the Bible out the window and accept what we think as authoritative instead.

Are our feelings and experiences authoritative? Can we believe them as truth? I've had plenty of feelings which were no more than wishes and hopes. I've had a number of experiences which I thought was real but others with me said didn't happen. The Mormons believe in the Book of Mormon as divine because of a felt experience, despite the disagreements with the Old and New Testaments. How is it that because someone has a sexual attraction or preference for the same gender, that this means it is of God? I know people who have been greedy since they were greedy little kids.

The point being that the authority of Scripture is a standard. Make an exception once and you then have no reason not to make more exceptions. I have no problem with the study of scripture and textual criticism so that we can find out what the earthly authors of these books really meant to say. But to know what it says and reject that truth in favor of subjectivism steps over the edge.

A tip of the ol' ballcap to Dunker Journal.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Change - Fear or Fear Not?

OK, so I made a few changes around here. There are probably a few more changes on the way, but I have time. Still tweaking the blogrolls too. A lot of folks have given up blogging while others have picked it up again. I can't blame them. After all, look at my blogging record over the past year!

Change is just natural, unless you're talking about the church. There change is something to be fought against, feared, resisted at all costs. Well, not everybody feels that way about change in the church but there are days when I'm hard pressed to find the exceptions to the rule.

In the church, change is difficult because the truth we hold to is unchanging. In the eyes of many the unchanging Truth is too closely tied to the way things have always been done. As a result, even the most minor of changes is viewed with suspicion.

So would someone please explain to me how the country can get swept up in Obama-mania when the man's buzzword is "change"???

What I've been able to ascertain is that Obama is talking about changing some nebulous concept of what people perceive to be wrong with this country or our government. He cries for change and the listener picks that certain change he has always felt was needed and somehow the two ideas meld. Hey, I'd love a little change too, but I have my doubts if my ideas of what needs changed and Obama's ideas are very similar.

Still Obama has tapped into the positive aspect of change. There are things we think need to be changed. Can we tap into that thought process in the church? I don't mean that everyone comes up with an idea of what needs to be changed then argues about what is important and what isn't. What I mean is that we need to see the real point, the real (forgive the Warren-ism) purpose of what we are to do as a church and as individual believers. Then we can truly determine the best way to get there.

The truth is that unless we are truly reaching people for Christ and bringing people farther along in their walk with Christ, we are failing in our mission. And no matter how much we love singing The Old Rugged Cross and holding potlucks, if that is keeping us from doing what we are supposed to be doing, we need to rethink our efforts. You know... change.

But we love sharing beef and noodles and singing 200-year-old hymns. It's how we came to know Christ. Why shouldn't others come to know Him the same way?

Change. The world has changed. Culture has changed. Music has changed. Isn't it natural that the way we express our worship to the Unchanging One would change too?

But our natural instinct is not to change. And in the process, we lose touch with the world. How are we supposed to reach the world for Christ if we lose that contact?

Somewhere along the line we need to need to get back to Romans 12:1-2. We need to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. Then we can tell God's will from our own selfish desires, and with God's help, separate the chaff of empty tradition from the wheat of truth.

The new banner picture and color scheme are just window dressing for the actual content of this blog. The good looking suit and chants of "Change" are only slick politics alleviating the need for revealing Obama's specific policies until after the election. The music styles, carpet color and building architecture are only the shell of church. We must rediscover the Truth of the church's mission and seek to obey.

Monday, February 25, 2008


I caught myself the other day. I was driving my wife’s car. Like many two-car families around the country, my wife has the nicer, newer, better-smelling car of the family. Hers is fairly new-to-us. We bought it back in October as a long-awaited replacement for the family minivan.

I drive a full-size car from the early 1990s with over 150,000 miles, squeaky brakes, and a missing armrest, but it does have a strong heater. There has to be a saving grace.

My wife’s car has all sorts of bells and whistles and she loves it. Of course I don’t mind driving it either. There are all kinds of gadgets to play with, but the one that has captured me is the controls for the radio that are built into the steering wheel. On the right side is the all-important volume control. On the left is the channel selector and preset scan. I can thoroughly frustrate any radio listener just by letting my fingers dance along the underside of the wheel. Is the kids’ music too loud for my 46-year-old years? Tap, tap, tap. There. Am I tired of artists who make percussion sounds with their mouths? Boom.

But most of the time I’m in my car with my Sirius Satellite Radio and my manual volume controls. That’s always been good enough for me.

Then as I was tooling along in my sedan one day, there was that song I heard playing softly in the background behind the hum of the tires on wet pavement and the whistle of wind through the gap between the door frame and the window. I thought to myself that I should crank that tune up louder and relive some of the old glory days. Since I had been driving my wife’s car the day before, my right index finger instinctively began searching for the volume up button. But alas, I was piloting the 15-year-old gas hog without the magic of fingertip steering wheel control. So mentally I nixed the idea of turning up the volume and feeling 18 again and continued to listen to the song, straining to hear it through the noise of the road.

That was when I caught myself. I had actually written off doing something because I didn’t want to exert enough energy to lean over and manually twist a knob! I spent a minute or two tossing this whole event around in my mind, still seated comfortably in the drivers seat. I measured the distance between the place my finger was tapping and the knob awaiting adjustment. Nine inches. I couldn’t convince myself to lean forward and reach out my hand that extra nine inches! How spoiled had I become in my wife’s car! Am I really that lazy?

The simple answer I came to was, yes, I am that lazy. But I don’t think I’m alone in all this. I think the physics of the whole situation dictates that if a person is resting, he wants to stay resting, just as I can’t seem to pull myself out of the La-Z-Boy when I’m nice and comfortable. I believe that comfort is a strong pull on our actions.

I think this principle applies to the church as well. In many cases church members may seem to fear change. Or is it the larger issue? Is it that we are too lazy to change? Are we afraid of losing our cushy pew so we refuse to consider doing things differently?

We're going through a period in our church where we have to consider certain changes. The cosmetic changes we seem to be able to handle. We deal with more contemporary music and surface changes fine. But can we allow ourselves to be pulled off the recliner and make the real changes in our lives and in our hearts? That still remains to be seen.

Changing the window dressing is a bit stressful. Rebuilding the window is a full-blown ordeal. We have to make a real commitment. We have to actually change and not just go through the motions. When we realize what we should be doing for Christ and even what we want to be doing for Christ, will we actually put forth the effort to reach out an additional nine inches and act?

Or will we be content in our laziness, straining to hear God's voice above the noise of the world but too comfortable to act?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


It's snowing here. It's not a blizzard by any means, but it's coming down lightly. Sometimes I can't even see the flakes. But they are there, slowly but surely covering the ground. What yesterday was a disaster of frozen mud and brown grass is now a pure white. I really didn't notice the transformation. It happened while I wasn't paying close attention.

Isn't it funny that major changes can take place without any notice to the process? It works that way with lives sometimes. A hardened heart is slowly softened without fanfare or winter storm warning. An unrepentant attitude is eventually convicted. An unforgiving mindset slowly comes to peace.

Thank you, Lord, for those unheralded changes that make an impact just as the new-fallen snow turns a filthy backyard into a glistening white paradise.

Monday, February 11, 2008


Thinking about the whole Passion story today. It's good to have 40-plus days to focus on this portion of Scripture because there's just so much going on.

I played Judas in an after-high-school production of "Godspell," and one of the most emotionally-wrenching parts of that performance for me was figuring out what was going through Judas' mind at that time. At age 18, I had only given cursory study to the reasons behind the betrayal. All I could really figure out that would help me in my performance was that Judas must have had some sort of "don't do it" reflex going on in his head even while he was advancing toward the Master. Yet at the same time, Judas was determined to do what he was going to do. What an odd mix.

The way our performance was staged, I re-entered the auditorium as Judas from the rear doors and had to walk down the house steps, up the stage stairs at stage left, then walk all the way across the stage to where the actor playing Jesus was standing with the rest of the cast. My re-entrance was punctuated by my slamming of the door to the auditorium, which really got the attention of the audience. A spotlight hit me as I began that long walk to the stage through the silent auditorium.

My facial expression was the best I could do to represent this contradictory mix of motivations working in Judas. Tears were in my eyes, and I could feel one slide down my cheek each night. My expression was a combination of fear, determination, love, hatred, emptiness and anger. I don't know if I was biblically correct in my portrayal, but it made for good drama.

But the emotions I ignored in all this preparation were the emotions of Jesus. The actor portraying Jesus and I never lost eye contact during this long obstacle-strewn walk toward the betrayal scene. I'm not sure I could describe the look in his eyes because I was so focused on myself, but what struck me was the portrayal of peace. Jesus knew what was coming, knew it was necessary, and was at peace with His Father about doing it. The Bible tells us He even went out to meet His betrayer.

Of course, the backstory is that Jesus and Judas had spent the last three years together. Jesus trusted him with everything, and in the end Judas betrayed that trust. I wonder what would have happened had the relationship between Jesus and Judas continued after this point. (Yes, I realize that messes up the whole salvation timeline, but bear with me a minute.)

Could Jesus have trusted Judas again? Could that relationship ever have been the same again?

We do get a peek at how Jesus handles these relationship issues in the whole episode with Peter, which runs through the narrative next. "Jesus? Never heard of him." declared Peter, not once, but three times.

"Peter, are you standing with me or against me?"

"Against you. Against you. Against you," came the reply.

Then we see the dynamic between these two after the resurrection. There is restoration. There is forgiveness. Maybe that's the key in figuring out what Jesus felt about Judas. At the same time, maybe that's the key in dealing with those who betray us.

"Lord, when betrayals happen, give me the grace and strength to continue to forgive, to work at restoration, and to learn to trust once more."

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Now or Never

Aint no use in complainin'
When you got a job to do
Spent my evenings down at the drive-in
And that's when I met you
Standin' on your mama's porch
You told me that you'd wait forever
Oh and when you held my hand
I knew that it was now or never
Those were the best days of my life

I was listening to an old Bryan Adams song on the radio the other day. The one above. I've heard this song somewhere around 277,518 times before, but this time the lyrics hit me a little differently. This time I remembered that moment of "now or never."

I should clarify that I've had more than one "now or never" moment. I remember that moment with my wife -- before she was my wife, of course. We weren't standing on her mama's porch. We were actually standing outside her cousin's house where she was staying. It wasn't really the end of a "real" date. We had just hung out together and watched TV at her mama's house. Then I took her to her cousin's place. We stood awkwardly outside my Ponitac Grand Am. I knew it was now or never. But I hesitated and did a lot of stammering.

Meanwhile, my future wife realized it was now or never and I was blowing it. So she leaned over, kissed me, said good night and went in the house. I avoided the "never" only because my darling was good enough to bail me out.

I guess I must have been a real loser with the ladies because I remember a few other "now or never" moments where I choked also. There were a couple of girls were I didn't avoid the "never" aspect. Of course I remember another where I was ready for the "now" but that seemed to be about as long as the relationship lasted.

As long as I've been a Christian, I've been taught that a person can reject Christ all his life, but accept Him on his deathbed. For many that doesn't seem quite fair. That "now or never" moment can be a "now or later" marathon up until that last breath. But to be truthful, I'm not sure why that is considered unfair.

I don't know about you, but God has forgiven me for the same sin around 277,518 times. It wasn't a "now or never" deal, and it's a mighty good thing it wasn't.

Jesus said we are to forgive our brother 70 times 7 times (translation: more than 277,518), even if it's the same sin. Personally, that's what seems unfair to me. Why should I put up with my brother cheating me more than a quarter of a million times? I might further wonder why I would give him the opportunity to cheat me that many times. But forgive? Repeatedly? Shouldn't I give him a "now or never" to change his ways?

In the church we also have this attitude of "now or never" with some of our brothers, especially new believers. How dare they still listen to that evil rock and roll music instead of a steady diet of Gaither cassettes! How dare they continue to smoke those evil cigarettes after Christ has washed them whiter than snow! Shouldn't these people immediately conform to the ways of Christ, or more accurately to the ways of the church?

The only "now or never" moment for us with God seems to be at the time of that final breath. Unfair? Thankfully no.

Perhaps the church will be able to follow this teaching of Christ someday.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Class Ring

My 16-year-old son has had a mighty busy month. At one point, during a seven-day period, Mr. 16 received his drivers license, had his first real date, and got his class ring. Now his mother and I have our own thoughts about our oldest getting so much freedom so quickly, but the boy is in heaven with all the instant maturity.

The drivers license speaks for itself. Not that he has access to a new Ferrari or anything, but four wheels and a big front seat is a quick ticket to adulthood. Unfortunately for him, it's also a quick ticket to more responsibility. We're working on that.

The date caught his parents off guard. Mr. 16 has always been one of the "quiet ones" in social situations. I know he has an eye for the young ladies, but he lacks the nerve to do something about it. Or so we thought. To my mind that's all pretty stupid because he's a fine looking young man -- certainly better looking than his father was at age 16. He's just starting to come out of his social shell, but he still prefers to be at home or alone. I figure that'll end pretty soon.

His first date was pretty informal. It was a school dance after a basketball game. They met at the game and he drove her home afterward. (She lives less than a mile from the school. Not a lot of time to fake running out of gas or getting lost in our town of less than 1,000 people.)

But the third segment is a bit different. His mother ordered his class ring a couple of weeks ago. It showed up about three weeks before we expected it, and my son is trying to learn to adjust to wearing one. I think he likes it, but I remember when I tried to make that adjustment as a 16-year-old with a big chunk of gold and cubic zirconium on my third finger. I was forever beating the underside on desks and tables, forgetting that I was wearing jewelry.

When my son's ring was delivered, my wife told me to get my old class ring out of a case on her dresser. Frankly, I was a little surprised it was still around and in an obvious location. When I picked it up, I was immediately struck by how heavy it was. This was no skimpy little ring. Size 12. 14 karat gold. Big chunky blue zircon with a starburst on the top. High school name around the stone.

I put it on and tried to wear it for a day, but couldn't quite do it. I did have to put it on my pinkie for fear that it would never come off my ring finger, so that may have had something to do with it. Truth be told, I didn't wear it much while I was in high school. It spent most of three years swinging on a gold chain wrapped around the neck of my girlfriend, or dangling from her finger with the help of a big wad of yarn to keep it in place. It was my ring, but it was rarely on my own hand.

I started to think about the purpose of the class ring. Wedding rings are a symbol that you belong to another. I wear a wedding ring that isn't nearly as clunky as the old class ring, and it doesn't get beat around like that chunk of gold. But my wedding ring does signify my commitment to my beautiful wife in a love with no end. A few years ago I looked at my wedding ring and noticed that it has cracked and was actually broken. Talk about some bad symbolism for my marriage!

Rings have been used for centuries to show the relationship of belonging to another. Even biblical references mention rings and the symbolism involved. True, rings are also simply used for ornamentation, but often there is a deeper meaning.

The class ring doesn't exactly fit that mold. It signifies that one belongs to a group -- a group united around a particular year and a particular school. It's not that we belong to another as much as that we are part of a group. That holds true unless it's your significant other's class ring you are displaying, of course.

My 16-year-old's class ring signifies that he is a part of a class of around 70 youth who will share a graduation ceremony and a lot of class reunions. It shows that he is a part of something bigger than himself. Yet that ring is unique. It not only has the name of his school and his graduation year, it also has his name and insignias that display his love of music and baseball. No other ring is just like it. Color, design, size, and material set it apart despite its significance as defining the wearer as part of a particular group.

That class ring is a lot like my faith. It defines me as part of a group -- the family of God. My faith also is quite unique. I am not gifted like others. I share a church affiliation with a group of people, but we are all distinct individuals, for better or for worse. Although I am marked as a disciple of Christ, my faith shows me as someone who isn't a mirror image of everyone else in the church.

Most times I think non-Christians don't understand that concept. Christians are pigeonholed and broadbrushed as intolerant, hypocritical, prudish, snobs. I know a few believers like that, but not many. We are all different. Most Christians certainly understand that.

Or do we?

It's amazing how we Christians believe that we must all share more than just core beliefs. For many there is no room for differences in music, in ways to evangelize or to serve, or even translations of Scripture. It's sad that it is frowned upon to celebrate and utilize our own diversity at times.

But more than that, it's a shame that many choose not to wear their faith. Like my class ring, safely tucked away in a jewelry case, the faith of many people is taken out only for special occasions like Sunday mornings or Easter or spending a day in a surgical waiting room.

Of course the best use of faith is to share it, kind of like letting your class ring swing from a gold chain around the neck of someone else.

One more thought about class rings... a year or two after my high school graduation I knew a man who bought other people's class rings. He would carefully examine the ring of someone who had grown tired of the piece, determine its precious metal content and weight, then make an offer to the owner. Most times, the owner was more than willing to take around $100 for a piece of jewelry he no longer wanted.

After the seller left the store, the man would take a pair of pliers and grip the class ring between its jaws. Squeezing the pliers, the stone would pop out of the ring and the gold or silver would be crushed into an unwearable shape. The man would then take the shapeless metal to market and sell it. He told me that he never crushed the ring in front of the seller because it was too upsetting. But he always crushed it as soon as possible so the seller couldn't change his mind and try to get the ring back.

Without the stone and shape, the class ring held no symbolism. It was a lump of metal. Period. It wasn't the metal that made it special. It was the uniqueness and the sense of belonging to another or to a group.

My faith is useless unless I do something with it. It is a gift meant to be used by me as a unique person who is part of a group of fellow believers.

Friday, February 01, 2008

From my 6-year-old

My daughter brought this down to me this morning. She's been singing it off and on for the past few weeks.

My chans ar gon
av bin sat fre
my god my saverr
hase rassa me
and like a flad
hase mese gras
anindeg love
amaseg gras

OK, the spelling isn't perfect, but the thought is there. It's the chorus from Chris Tomlin's Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone).

My chains are gone
I've been set free,
My God, my Savior
Has ransomed me.
And like a flood
His mercy rains
Unending love
Amazing grace.

Indeed. Amazing grace that saved the wretch that I still am too often.