Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Pharisees versus Freedom Freaks

There are two common approaches to issues of “Christian liberty”, both of which can be damaging. I term these two (1) Pharisees (not exactly original, I know), and (2) Freedom Freaks. Let me explain.

First, the “Freedom Freak”. This is commonly found in mainstream Evangelicalism but is practically nonexistent in Fundamentalism. The Freedom Freak does everything in excess and out loud. He is often unconcerned with how others might find some of his “liberties” offensive. For instance, it’s not enough for this guy to simply say that he cannot in good conscience support a tee-totaller view on alcoholic beverages based on what Scripture has to say on the subject: he feels compelled to proclaim his favorite beers and rate his top ten favorite mixed drinks on his Christian blog. It never occurs to him that there is a point where Christians might need to take advantage of the liberty they have to abstain from certain things in order to not violate the conscience of a fellow believer. This guy will draw no distinction between peripheral issues and truly contentious ones. In his mind, whether the subject is dress, hair length, music, alcohol, entertainment, language, worship style, or any number of other things, the answer is the same: “Those Pharisees aren’t going to squash my liberty”. The “Freedom Freak” usually understands that Christianity is about a relationship with Christ, but he often neglects to view Christ as a holy and mighty God, choosing instead to focus on the fact that Christ had relationships on earth with some “undesirable” people. They will often paint Christ as kind of a “happy go lucky” guy who would probably avoid most Christians in favor of hanging out at the local pub if He were on earth today.

Then there is the “Pharisee”. This guy is the antithesis of the “Freedom Freak” and is more commonly found in Fundamentalist circles. The “Pharisee” cannot process the idea that some people examine Scripture thoroughly and simply come to a different conclusion about certain things than he does. To the “Pharisee” the Christian life is about a fairly detailed list of do’s and don’ts. Even in matters in which scholars through the ages have differed, this guy sticks to his rules. After all, he probably knows better than some guy who lived 200 years ago and studied Scripture for his entire life in the languages in which they were originally written. The Pharisee tends to not engage in any sort of debate or conversation about the controversial issues. “It’s just wrong…you can see all through the Bible that it’s a sin!” is a summary of the best argument this guy will tend to lay out to defend some of his more difficult positions. The heart of the Pharisee tends to be on target…sort of. He has a desire toward righteousness…toward becoming more like Christ. However, in his zealous approach to sanctification, the Pharisee tends to relegate the Christian life to something that is more about a “look” and a “list” then it is about a relationship. Indeed, a relationship with Christ is more about reading the Bible every day than it is about anything else as far as this guy is concerned. The “Pharisee” tends to paint a horrible picture of God as some angry ogre in the sky who is going to punish you for any misstep you might make.

While there is plenty of good and bad to say about both the “Pharisee” and the “Freedom Freak”, they both tend to miss the mark. They both have an incomplete and, consequently, a distorted view of Christ. They also both have a horrid understanding of the liberty and freedom that we enjoy in Christ. One makes the Christian life impossible and the other makes it look no more difficult than eating a snow cone. Both are horribly selfish in that they ultimately make life about themselves. Both would do well to lock themselves up in a room for a month or two and carefully study Romans and 1 Corinthians.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Glorious Savior! Blessed Redeemer!

Battered and bruised, bloodied and bare
Ridiculed and shamed;
The Son of God bore all my sin.
Oh, praise His Blessed Name!

He became sin for us
Though no sin He knew.
He cloaked us in His righteousness;
He washed us white as snow.

The ugly mount called Calvary,
Wretched, vile, and stained,
Became a place of love and grace.
My sins were washed away!

Oh, glorious Savior, oh blessed Redeemer
We stand in awe of You!
You died for us. You live for us!
Your blood has made us new!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Slipping and Sliding...

The following rant brought to you courtesy of an unfortunate email exchange I recently endured. The subject matter of said email has been avoided in the rant below in order to avoid it being spilled out onto my blog…..

I absolutely abhor the “slippery slope” argument that some use to “prove” their point. The basic idea of the slippery slope argument is that if you take some liberty / engage in some activity, etc it will ultimately lead to something much more egregious and sinister. For instance, embracing certain music forms (such as Sovereign Grace Music) will eventually lead you to sympathizing with the most profane forms of music (just so long as the “message” is good) and ultimately to an complete abandonment of any discernable separation from worldliness. Obviously this form of argumentation is nuts. The inadvertent effect of one making the slippery slope argument is that the thing with which they disagree isn’t wrong, per se, it will just lead to some erroneous position down the road. Like I said…nuts!

While I fully support boundaries and rules, I think that often we attempt to make hard and fast rules where we don’t necessarily have to. I guess it’s easier to make a rule than it is to teach a biblical principle coupled with discernment in application. The application of the “slippery slope” argument caused my quite a bit of consternation during my childhood and young adult years: Listening to music with a pronounced beat would cause me to worship Satan. Holding hands with a girl would cause us to have sex. Wearing shorts would cause some innocent girl to lust after me – this would lead to premarital sex. A girl wearing pants would cause me to lust after her – this would lead to wicked thoughts and a broken relationship with God. Going to a “G” movie at the theatre would cause someone who saw me going in there to abandon Christianity. Not wearing a coat and tie to church would cause me to abandon all forms of separation from worldliness in my dress and conduct. One sip of wine would lead me to alcoholism. Missing one morning of personal devotions would cause all sorts of problems…God would punish me for it throughout the day until I got “back on track”…after all, if I didn’t have devotions this morning I was completely out of God’s will.

Not all of those examples necessarily fit the “slippery slope” mentality, but I was on a role! You get the point though….bizarre and unexplained leaps of logic to “prove” that you ought not do something that I don’t like. Recently I’ve heard more of these “slippery slope” arguments (although some are disguised). At times the argument is simply, “Embracing Calvinism is part of the slippery slope”. At times the argument goes more like, “The problem with Calvinism is that it eventually leads to a denial of the inerrancy of Scripture”. Either way, the slippery slope argument leaves out important details. In one form you aren’t told where the slippery slope lands you – you just know that you’re on it. In the other form you are told that “A” always leads to “B” without any explanation or proof….even if “A” and “B” seem to be completely incongruous!

In fundamentalism the slippery slope argument is almost always applied to matters of “personal liberty” or matters where the Bible is silent or vague. In most cases where the slippery slope card is tossed on the table a solid biblical principle will be the stake in the pot. Again, it’s the application (or misapplication) of said principle that is the issue.

To be completely honest, I’m willing to be corrected when I’m shown to be wrong. I’m willing to concede that my point of view might be incompatible with what the Bible has to say when I’m shown so. All I ask is that you demonstrate to me where I’m wrong. If you utter the words “slippery slope” you will lose me every time.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Lessons from 1 Corinthians: Part 4 (The End)

(Part 1 - Introduction)
(Part 2 - Characteristics 1 - 5)
(Part 3 - Characteristics 6 - 9)

We’ve been examining the characteristics of love as laid out for us in the first eight verses of 1 Corinthians 13. In the last few posts on this chapter we looked at the first nine characteristics. In this post we will conclude this series by examining the last 5 characteristics of love from this chapter.

10. Love bears all things
This is the second time that this concept is mentioned in this passage. The first time in vs. 4. The thought is the same - love provides a covering. No manner of evil - no amount of evil - should deter us from loving God and man. I think this is a difficult concept to catch hold of.

11. Love believes all things
This doesn't speak to being gullible; however, we are to “unsuspiciously” believe the best about people. Some people are always ready for somebody to fail. In Christianity, why did the news about Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Baker make such national news in the 80's? How about Ted Haggard a couple of years ago? In Fundamentalism, nearly everybody knows about Bob Gray - even those who didn't know the name before know it now. You can look at pop culture and see the same thing: Peewee Herman and Hugh Grant in the 90's - Brittney Spears a couple of years ago....and I could go on. There have been names through the years that nobody would know if they hadn't fallen. Why? People like a good car wreck!

Why don't many churches grow? In many cases I think that one could make the argument taht they are suspicious of outsiders. If somebody looks a certain way, we automatically assume the worse. This isn't love - it's just the opposite. It is a type of hateful legalism that has no place in Christ's Church.

12. Love hopes all things
This follows “believing all things”. Sometimes a person just treats us wrong. We love them, love them, and love them some more. In return, they take advantage of us again, and again, and again. Our reaction, even when there is no more room for assuming the best is to “hope”. Regardless of how low a friend or family member has sunk, we are NEVER to give up on them.

13. Love endures all things
In Job 13:15, Job proclaims, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him”. This idea of enduring all leaves us with the impression that regardless of the troubles that come our way - at the hands of God or man - our love is to remain steadfast. Stepping away from the Job passage for a moment…love has the capacity to never get “rocked” by whatever may happen. I’ve seen so many seemingly strong marriages end because the couple wasn’t able to “endure” some tragedy – the loss of a child, an accident that leaves a child or one of the spouses disabled, financial struggles…A biblical approach to love endures these things and comes out better for it!

14. Love never fails
As we “bear, believe, hope and endure all things” this love will remain steadfast. As Paul begins to draw comparisons to end this passage, we see that nothing else is as sure as love. And, although everything else might crumble and fail, this true, biblical, agape love will not.

A pastor friend once challenged me to read through this passage in I Corinthians 13 while substituting the name of Christ for the word “love” throughout the passage. The fact that God is love leaves us with good reason to believe that Christ perfectly demonstrated agape in His time on earth….let’s take a look at a few examples I’ve tossed together:

1. Jesus suffered long (I Peter 2:23)
2. Jesus was kind (Luke 8:40-56)
3. Jesus was not envious (Matthew 8:20) Jesus just accepted the fact that all his creation was taken care of, but He had nowhere to lay His head.
4. Jesus was humble. (Phil 2:5-8)
5. Jesus acted appropriately (Matthew 22 - render to Caesar)
6. Jesus was selfless (John 13 - he washed the feet of his creation – including those of the man whom He knew would betray Him later that night.)
7. Jesus was not easily provoked (The Passion)
8. Jesus didn't “keep score” (Praise the Lord for that!) (In Matthew 9:24, we hear the people laughing Him to scorn. In Mark 15:29-33 we hear the scoffers walking by a crucified, bloody mess of a man and saying – “come on! Save yourself! Look at you now! HA!” In John 10:20, we hear people saying, “Why would you listen to Him? He’s got a demon.” Yet, what does He say in Luke 23:34? “Father, forgive them…”
9. Jesus rejoiced only in that His Father was glorified (John 13-15)
10. Jesus covered our sins (I Peter 2:24)
11. Jesus forgets our transgressions (Psalm 103:12)
12. Jesus forgives us every time (I John 1:9) "Hopes" (Luke 7:37-46)
13. Jesus is never exasperated by us (I John 1:9 again)
14. Jesus never fails!

That concludes this series....I hope you received some good from it. It's certainly been an educational study for me!

Monday, July 6, 2009

The shame of it all....

I know a lot of things. I know about a lot of things as well. Frankly, there are a lot of things that I know that I wish I didn’t know. There are places, people, activities, entertainments, etc., about which I know many things that I wish I didn’t. I’ve seen things, heard things, said thing, and been to places that cause me shame. More importantly, these things have brought shame to name of my God. I have knowledge of things about which no child of God ought to have knowledge. I have said things, laughed at things, and viewed things over the years that ought to grate like sandpaper on my sensibilities, yet I have done these things without even blinking.

Five years ago or so I got to spend an afternoon with an old friend. I grew up with this man. He is currently a fairly well-known and public figure in a large Christian ministry. We grew up in the same church and attended the same school. We were both in single parent homes. We both attended Bible College. We have both been in leadership roles since our teenaged years. He’s a bit older than me and a man whom I’ve always respected and looked up to as a “big brother”. During this day we spent together some years ago I popped a joke without even thinking about it. My friend didn’t get it, as he had never heard one of the words before. As I was trying to explain the word to him I realized that it was something best left unsaid and I apologized for the joke. His ignorance about this matter truly stunned me. At the time I remember thinking to myself, “how can a man in his mid 30’s not know about that?” Recently however, I’ve gained a deeper respect for him in this area. The fact is that he has attempted to live a life separated to his God. His “ignorance” in this matter is more properly called “innocence”. There is a language that he doesn’t understand because, as a Christian, he has sought to live a life that is separated to holiness.

It seems to me that many of us – me included – have no qualms about defiling ourselves with the pervasive wickedness of this world. Speaking for myself, I have become so desensitized to sin that it doesn’t even give me pause at times. Some in Christendom have taken passages like Paul’s proclamation of “becoming all things to all men so that I might by all means save some” and perverted them to justify our own desires to look and smell a bit more like the world. Unfortunately it’s not too difficult to find someone who will help us to blur the lines between “light and darkness” either. For instance, there are well-known, orthodox, evangelical expositors who are willing to wallow in the filth of this world all in the name of “relevance”. I am a proponent of reaching the lost right where they sit, but the idea of sacrificing purity to appear “relevant” is twisted at best.

I think that we, too often, will drag the name of Christ along with us into places we ought not. Our eyes behold things that grieve our Savior. With our mouths we say things that bring shame to His name. The frightening part, at least for me, is that I can often do these things without a moment’s hesitation. At times I don’t even realize what I’ve done.

“Be ye holy; for I am holy”….grasping hold of what that phrase means should radically impact the way we live our lives….

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Lessons from 1 Corinthians 13: Part 3

(Part 1)
(Part 2)

In my last post I began examining the first 8 verses of 1 Corinthians 13. I looked at the first 5 attributes given in this passage of biblical, agape love. It is patient and kind. It is not envious or boastful. It is not arrogant or rude. In this post I will examine the next 4 attributes of love.

6. Love is not selfish
Galatians 6:2 commands us to “bear one another's burdens”. I Corinthians 12:25 gives us the formula for ensuring that there is no “schism” in the body of Christ – “care for one another”. This is the most descriptive attribute of love. It is not selfish. It is completely selfless. Philippians 2:3-4 reminds us to “esteem others higher (or better) than ourselves”. It's this type of selfless love that the Apostle John writes about in I John 3:16 where he writes, “hereby perceive we the love of God because he laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.”

In another recent post here I mentioned that this issue (selfishness) is at the root of all marital issues. Whether that selfishness manifests itself in a sexual affair with another person or in never thanking the marriage partner for their fidelity and for the things they do on a daily basis to demonstrate their love, the result of selfishness is often disastrous. When looking at how we deal with other people the same thing can be said.

7. Love is not provoked
The word “easily” that we find in the KJV is a bit misleading. The literal reading of this verse leaves us with the impression that we are NOT provoked to anger against another. James 1:19 reminds us to be “swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath”. To be able to listen selflessly requires love!

There is nothing wrong with debate. There is nothing wrong with disagreement. There is nothing wrong with anger. We are, however, cautioned to “be angry and sin not”. In my life I have seen too much infighting in the church as a whole (and have engaged myself in plenty of it). We get caught up in petty issues and preferences and end up deliberately offending people. We are ready to go to war over issues that we have had to read into the Bible, instead of humbly remaining silent where the Word of God is silent. Some will do anything they can to stifle an individuals Christian liberty, while others will do whatever they can to demonstrate their “liberty” - even if it offends another. This is one of the chief problems I see with the mindsets of many in Fundamentalism as well as her critics. When these sorts of attitudes are displayed, I believe that we grieve our Heavenly Father. Love in not easily provoked, nor is it provocative. If we were able to get our arms around this thing called love, many hostilities end.

8. Love does not keep score
This term “thinks no evil” is really an accounting term. At the risk of sounding a bit naive, I'll say this: love has amnesia! Can you imagine going into a conversation without preconceived opinions about somebody? How often have you decided you didn't like somebody because of something they did to you years ago? From that point on, we just keep track of all the “stupid things” they do! We question their motivation. We become haters. Again that cancer called bitterness has gotten hold of us. Have you ever been involved in an argument with somebody and one or both parties end up dragging up “ancient history” in order to make a stronger case? This attribute of love is closely tied in with several of the earlier ones.

9. Love rejoices not in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth
We are to never take pleasure in sin. When somebody does evil, or evil comes upon somebody, we are not to take pleasure in it. True love as expressed to our God leaves no room for laughter at sin. This could be displayed in the things we say and give audience to. It could also be displayed in the way we react to events. We should be grieved at sin - ours and others. We should be grieved when tragedy strikes others. Yet we should applaud and rejoice when Truth triumphs!

We’ve seen some tragic things in the last number of years. You can look at the events of 9/11 or, here in Kansas, some of the tornadoes of the last several years. Recently, making national news, was the murder of Dr. Tiller, the infamous abortionist. In all of these situations I’ve heard some Christians express something that I can only describe as joy, or at least some dangerous speculation. Last year a town that is just a few miles away from us was leveled by a tornado. I was present at a service where one preacher said (paraphrased), “I don’t know what’s going on in that town that it needed to be destroyed, but I hope they got the message that God is sending them”. I’ve heard several people express joy at the murder of Dr. Tiller…how can a Christian react like that?

I'll have one more post on this passage soon looking at the last 5 attributes of love from 1 Corinthians 13.