Dluxe's World

Monday, July 31

A dubious beginning

I'll have the 2nd part of the post on Deuteronomy up later tonight. In the meantime, I thought I'd explain the lag.

Eva, the kids, and I all travelled to Maine this weekend to attend a memorial service for Eva's grandfather, Roy Beane. Shortly after Roy passed away, Eva mentioned that my mother-in-law and Roy's wife wanted me to say a prayer at the funeral... I guess I've become known as the 'religious one'. As it turns out, what they actually wanted me to do was officiate the whole funeral. Not something you like to find out 1 minute before you are expected to start talking.

A few thoughts, having come back to the world after that surprise.
  • Death truly is the great leveller of mankind. As I stood looking at the people who had come for Roy's service, it occurred to me how very different they all were. Our family and Eva's mother represented typical, 'middle-class' Americans while many of the others were somewhat lower on the socio-economic scale. Please understand that I mean no offense in this... It just struck me that we could've been there to put the richest man in the world or the poorest one into the ground. It really makes no difference... We're all dust, and our lives will all be snuffed out.
  • What will your legacy be? I stood and listened, with a heart that alternated between deep grief and anger, to the recollection of a life which consisted of little more than "good fishin' stories". Obviously, here was a person who was deeply loved by many (myself included) but the things that live on past him are fleeting recollections of pleasure. Please don't misunderstand... I want my son and daughter to remember wrestling, fishing, and all those kinds of things when I'm gone, too! Those fun memories are important. But more than that, I hope they remember my faith, the character I struggled maintain (succeeding only in my better moments), my deep love for them and their Mom, and that life is more than people, places, and things.
  • What a difference the Cross of Christ makes! We are beyond grateful to God that Roy acknowledged Christ before slipping away from us. As a result, we have peace and comfort even in the midst of the pain of his passing. We know where Roy is and have the glorious hope of that future for ourselves. For so many gathered around that headstone this weekend, hope was just a notion and comfort could be found only in empty platitudes about "[Roy's] pain being over".
  • It's difficult to tell the line between polite self-censorship and timidity. There were so many things I wanted to say to the people there... I think I said them, but I know that I took the edge off consciously so I wouldn't ruin my already tenuous relationship with my in-law family. I stayed up a long time last night wondering if I really had been loving or weak. Perhaps for the first time in my life, I felt the full, very real weight of what disturbed Paul:
    For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God's word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ. (1 Cor 2:15-17, ESV)

    I hope that God was honored in what I said. But I know in my heart that I can never say the same things again.
Just to end on a lighter note: I hope that having my first official act the supervision of a funeral is not going to somehow define the rest of my ministry. On a related note, I did a good enough job that one member of the extended family "just had to tell me that [he thought] I should become a God-damned preacher".

Of all the types of ministry I had been considering, that certainly wasn't one of them.

Tuesday, July 25

Under Attack - Deuteronomy 22:13-21

Alright… I think I’ve mentally worked out a formula for these posts that seems to make sense. As we dive into these touchy passages of Scripture, we’ll do the following:
  • Quote the passage in its entirety
  • Restate the passage in ‘plain-er’ English terms
  • Outline and respond to the major objections, one at a time
  • Attempt to answer the key question “What does this mean to me today?”
I'd also caution that this first series deals with some adult themes which are not appropriate for our younger readers. If you're under 18, call you mom, confess your sin, and go read the Rebelution (which is certainly not a punishment!)... With those things in mind, a big dose of prayer, and apologies for length... I say, "Away we go!"

Original Passage (in a Modern Translation)
We’re starting by taking a look at Deuteronomy 22:13-21. We’ll tackle the remainder of chapter 22 in the next post. In the ESV, our 'target' passage reads as follows:
"If any man takes a wife and goes in to her and then hates her and accuses her of misconduct and brings a bad name upon her, saying, ‘I took this woman, and when I came near her, I did not find in her evidence of virginity,’ then the father of the young woman and her mother shall take and bring out the evidence of her virginity to the elders of the city in the gate.

And the father of the young woman shall say to the elders, ‘I gave my daughter to this man to marry, and he hates her; and behold, he has accused her of misconduct, saying, “I did not find in your daughter evidence of virginity.” And yet this is the evidence of my daughter's virginity.’ And they shall spread the cloak before the elders of the city.

Then the elders of that city shall take the man and whip him, and they shall fine him a hundred shekels of silver and give them to the father of the young woman, because he has brought a bad name upon a virgin of Israel. And she shall be his wife. He may not divorce her all his days.

But if the thing is true, that evidence of virginity was not found in the young woman, then they shall bring out the young woman to the door of her father's house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death with stones, because she has done an outrageous thing in Israel by whoring in her father's house. So you shall purge the evil from your midst."
In Plain English
A man accuses his wife of not being a virgin at the time of their marriage - a very serious charge. In her defense, her father can present evidence of her virginity to the elders of the city who would serve as judges over the dispute. If she is proven to have been a virgin, the man is punished with the whip, the father is compensated, and the daughter remains married. If her purity had been violated prior to her marriage, she is executed.

I never said these passages were comfortable! Likewise, you can probably imagine more objections than I can handle here. Nonetheless, I’ll try to respond to the big ones in order…

What’s the big deal, anyway? Is it such a big deal that she’s not a virgin?

To God it is… Marriage was established by God as the union of one man and one woman. God proclaimed after creating woman that she and the man would “become one flesh” - almost literally becoming one, unified being out of two. That union of soul and body is perhaps most vividly experienced in the sexual act. I think that if we’re honest, we’d admit that part of sex’s power is the emotional/spiritual connection that happens between two lovers.

Practically speaking, that’s why chastity is such a big deal and is the entire point of the passage. Every time we engage in sex outside of God’s plan we’re polluting our potential connection to a future spouse and thumbing our noses at God's plan/authority. I’ve talked with several men who’ve had “colorful” sexual histories and later gotten married. The amount of sexual frustration and temptation they often feel is amazing. The reason is that they can’t help but compare and contrast their spouse with the memories of previous partners (“She had great legs, that one was very sensual, etc.”).

Pornography, as numerous studies have shown, has a similar effect by causing us to create a Playboy mistress in our heads that with whom our wives must unknowingly compete. More insidiously, our lust becomes so enflamed that almost any woman can become a sexual object in our mind’s eye.

So, sexual purity is important both as a practical virtue and as honoring to God’s model for the family and for our lives.

GROSS! You mean they kept evidence? What evidence could there be?

What is clear is that the father of the accused girl was reasonably expected to have some evidence of his daughter’s virginity. The specific nature of the evidence is not as clear. The most popular guess seems to be that the parents of the daughter were presented with the sheets from the marriage bed (which would show some blood).

While this grosses us out, we mustn’t simply discard this because of our modern sensibilities… Again, the honor of the new wife and her family was at stake in her pure status at marriage. As a result, the exchange of some symbol of that purity would be sensible. I’ve read that in some cultures the first night a couple spends together is attended by the matriarchs of both families. The women guide and instruct the young couple in their consummation of the marriage. I’m not saying this doesn’t weird me out, but that’s my socio-cultural perspective rather than something objective.

You might say that, in a modern context, the bloody sheets would be a bad indicator of purity anyway. Many young girls today rupture their hymen though normal physical activity before they ever engage in intercourse. Remember, however, remember that girls often married younger in days of old and were not usually engaged in the same kinds of physical play/work that our teenagers are.

Ok… Enough of the icky stuff.

So, the man gets whipped and the girl has to stay married to him. Is that really fair?

In asking this question, you’re missing the overarching point of the passage. The issue here is the high value of purity. In our example, the purity of the young woman has been effectively compromised - by her husband on their wedding night.

The young man’s offense is perhaps worthy of death… But if they kill him, who will take care of the young (then widowed) woman? While she might find another husband, it’s not likely. Her father will only be able to care for her until his passing. And she wouldn’t be able to have any children which, although we view them as optional now, were a key part of her self-image and identity in her culture.

So, the young man is beaten (and Jewish commentaries seem to indicate this was pretty severe) and forced to care and provide for the wife he tried to wrong as long as he lives. In the end, this seemingly contradictory statement is actually intended to be a very loving provision.

So, the guy gets to live, but the girl gets stoned. Why can’t she just get a whipping?

Two possibilities here, both of which I think have some validity.
1) To assume that she should be (only) whipped implies that the husband’s sin is not also deserving of death. As we noted above, if he had falsely accused her it is likely that he would face execution except that his death would leave the young widow in dire circumstances. Who would care for her and provide for her? So while both sins are equal, differing punishments are handed down to protect the wronged wife’s life and well-being.

If the wife lied and concealed her prior fornication, she is subject to the same sentence. However, her execution will not negatively impact her husband’s well-being… Therefore, the humanitarian restraint show above is voided and the full punishment for the sin is felt.

2) Perhaps hers is the greater sin. Though this sounds harsh, there is at least some basis to make the case. In verse 28 of the same chapter, we read that an unbetrothed woman could have sexual relations with a man and it is not a capital offense. In this case, one might infer that he issue isn’t really that she had sex before marriage. While that is dishonorable and a punishable crime, it isn’t deserving of the death penalty.

Her execution would seem to be because she knowingly engaged in prohibited sexual conduct and hid the fact from both her new husband and her father.

Matthew Henry, one of the few commentators with the stones to muck around in these passages says the following:
This gave a powerful caution to young women to flee fornication, since, however concealed before, so as not to mar their marriage, it would very likely be discovered afterwards, to their perpetual infamy and utter ruin. [Likewise,] it is intimated to parents that they must by all means possible preserve their children's chastity, by giving them good advice and admonition, setting them good examples, keeping them from bad company, praying for them, and laying them under needful restraints, because, if the children committed lewdness, the parents must have the grief and shame of the execution at their own door.

John Calvin states that the issue is fraud:
If the punishment should seem to anybody to be somewhat too severe, let him reflect that no kind of fraud is more intolerable. A false sale of a field or a house shall be accounted a crime, as also the utterance of false money; and, therefore, she who abuses the sacred name of marriage for deception, and offers an unchaste body instead of a chaste one, much less deserves to be pardoned. The cause of severity, however, which is expressly mentioned, is much more extensive, i.e., because she hath wrought wickedness, or filthiness in Israel.

Either way, “Yipes”.

Why are passages like this in the Bible? There are many people who wish so strongly that they weren’t! We often feel like Christianity would be “so easy to sell” if we could just market the message without these things tripping us up.

But these passages are speaking to us - yes, even today - as well. Personally, I think the following points are particularly applicable:

1) God’s condescension to us - Everything we’re discussing in Deuteronomy 22 is essentially an exposition and unpacking of a couple of the Ten Commandments.

It’s kinda like a can of white, latex paint that says “Do not substitute for mayonnaise”… Whenever we see warnings like that, we just stop to imagine what idiotic behavior called for that warning or attorney was covering all his bases.

The Lord graciously discuessed even minute, deviations from the norm and how to have them handled. God could’ve chosen to just smoke the offenders, but instead graciously laid out the rules so we all knew them in detail.

2) God’s zeal for the family - God created the first family and He declared it good. This institution is precious to Him and should be to us. In marriage, we find wonderful joy and see a reflection of God’s own nature - the interweaving of two people into one unit being like the relation of the Father, Son, and Spirit

3) The prize of purity - Our sexual purity displays itself as both honor and virtue. By remaining pure, we effectively love and honor our spouse before we ever meet them. Similarly, we honor God by holding to the standard that He has set for us. We take care of those things that are dear to us and ensure that the real treasures are carefully preserved. Our bodies are not our own, they belong to both God and our spouses… What greater gift do we have?

4) The need for discipline - A while ago, I got in a discussion with someone re: church discipline and whether or not we should ‘break fellowship’ with Christians who are living in sin. I think this passage supports the case that we should. Israel was a covenant community, living in submission to God and seeking to obey His Law. When the laws were transgressed, there were penalties (up to, and including, death). In a similar way, when we enter the covenant community of a church, we are making the same statement: We want to live for God, in submission to His Laws, in community with His people. If we fail to ‘purge the evil from our midst’, we do a disservice to everyone involved.

Don’t misread me… I think that stonings fall from fashionable is something we should be happy about. But we need to call sin for what it is, and deal with it.

5) The wickedness of man - I think we can agree that it takes a pretty despicable person to attempt to knowingly dishonor someone he claims to have loved. In this case by challenging his wife’s chastity, the husband scorns the girl and her family at best. At worst, he puts her very life in danger. As extreme as this is, the wickedness in the heart that would dare to do such a thing is present in all of us.

The key phrase here, which will become more obvious in the coming verses, is the end of verse 21: “So you shall purge the evil from your midst.” But more on that next post (on the rest of the chapter)…


Monday, July 24

Muddling and Miscellany

Here is the short route to insanity and productivity gridlock:
I've come within minutes of finishing my post on Deuteronomy 22:13-30 about four times over the course of the weekend. Each time, I've written a large swath of the post, started to proof it, and then decide something or other didn't flow right. The content is fine and isn't really getting changed, but I'm trying to work out the best way to present the objections, my position, and rationale while adding (developing?) some trademark Dluxe swerve... So, while this has delayed the first post, I think all these struggles will make the rest of the series flow quickly!

Though there's no real fire and brimstone coming today, you need not fear! I pass onto you, dear reader(s), a couple interesting things for your linkity goodness.

Frist: This is the first Bible that I've ever truly coveted. I think that's just wrong. We wants it, my precious!

Second: If you haven't heard it yet, check out the story of Abraham Cherrix. The Rebelution has continuing coverage of the story, and Al Mohler wrote a great little article today. As Dr. Mohler notes, this gives me the chilly-willies.

Third: Check out LetUsRun, a new blog by a friend... Of course, being linked here seems to be the kiss-of-death for most blogs. The last two that got 'Welcome to the Blogosphere' props from me have ended up rusting out on the roadside.

Lastly: Long-time readers know that I regularly lament the lack of people (under the age of 80) who know how to play bridge. Best efforts of the ACBL notwithstanding, something needs to happen to inject some mojo into the game. I think that might finally happen with the introcution of aBRIDGEd... The publisher, Out of the Box Games, marketed the mega-hit Apples to Apples. With any luck, aBRIDGEd will take off and get people playing cards again.

Thursday, July 20

Under Attack - A prologue

It usually starts like this: "Oh, really? You really believe that the Bible is true? Well, then I suppose you think [insert one of several outrageous statements here]... It says that in the Bible, you know."

If you've had one of these conversations before, I imagine that the headache has already started to creep into your skull. It's time to go round and round with someone whose primary source of information on Christianity is the Skeptics Annotated Bible (SAB). You bounce from one odd, anti-biblical attack to another. Any statement you make to explain the so-called skeptic's misunderstanding is quickly diverted by another, often wackier, objection.

I've had enough of these conversations in the past months that I thought I'd do something about it. I want to take several of the typical 'attack passages' I've had thrown at me and attempt to explain them here. The truth is that these explanations still won't say what some people would like them to say. Nonetheless, I hope we can let scripture speak for itself through honestly evaluating what it says. If the message is still not palatable, at least we will disagree over the real message for once.

Before diving in, it strikes me that there are three things worth lopping off at the top.

First: Would you say we know more about ancient Egyptian culture today than we knew in the 1600s? Similarly, if you wanted to accurate information about what day-to-day life in Egypt was really like, would you rather read an Egyptian scribe's letter to his mother from 2300BC or a fifth-grader's paper from 1984?

The answers are obvious... Our modern, increased understanding comes from two simple benefits - more time and more resources. We've taken the knowledge of those before us and added 400+ years of scholarship on top of it. Every generation uses the knowledge of the one before as a launchpad to taller buildings, stronger textiles, a richer knowledge of history, and louder music.

But we also have found better sources of information. Over the course of the last 100 years, we have continued to find more and more original documents of increasing age. Using those, we can construct an ever clearer picture of language, culture, and history by letting the past whisper to us (rather than theorizing and guessing).

The same thing applies to Biblical studies. We have uncovered more and older source texts than the generations before us. Additionally, the level of scholarship has risen so that we are able to understand those documents better than we could in years past. With this in mind, I intend to set aside the King James Version of the Bible for the purposes of this discussion. Though it is the translation of choice for the SAB and other KJVO-fundies, it has some well known issues and is difficult (at best) for most modern readers to process. I'll probably alternate between the ESV and NASB translations as we move along.

Second point: Consider the following sentence:
Manute Bol, standing near his steed, called to everyone's mind such majestic images as Washington kneeling at Valley Forge.

Now, if you've actually seen Manute Bol, especially near a horse, you'd know that this statement could only be intended humorously or sarcastically. No one in their right mind, and I mean no one, would take this seriously. So, context and tone matter. In this case, proper context demands that you have knowledge of Manute Bol, a definition of the word 'majestic', and a mental picture/impression of George Washington. Tone would be indicated both by how the sentence is framed, the rest of the article (if any), and by applying your contextualized understanding to the sentence.

In this case, you would figure out our little sentence about dear Manute is meant to be a joke. In a similar way, taking any sentence of any book out of context and 'literally' can lead you down a rocky road. To use a Biblical example, consider the words of Paul to the Corinthians in chapter 4. Paul tells them:
Already you [Corinthians] have all you want! Already you have become rich! Without us [apostles] you have become kings! And would that you did reign, so that we might share the rule with you! For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ's sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. vv8-10, ESV

Did the Corinthians really have everything they wanted? Were they rich? Or was Paul jabbing them with a sarcastic stick. Try reading the whole passage and see what you think.

Or what about this quote that someone laid on me:
guess who else in the bible liked to order the murder of people[?] [J]esus. looks like he learned a thing or two from his old man.

luke 19:27 [KJV] "But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me." dont believe in my rule? my goons will bash your head in with a big [f-ruity] rock! doesnt that sound a bit too much like saddam hussein?

First of all, Luke 19:11-27 is part of a parable, as verse 11 clearly says. We use such illustrative metaphors and similies all the time to explain things. "Well, it's kinda like this..." Thus, equating Christ's parable to either a mob hit or the reprehensible conduct of a dictator is just over-the-top. If we're going to apply that level of 'literal interpretation' to the Bible, then you will be interested to know the Pharisees were blind camel-eaters who strangely crapped out gnats (albeit with some struggle).

So, when we tackle these passages we're going to read the text (plainly), honestly look at the mode of communication (narrative, illustration, hyperbole, analogy, etc), and synthesize meaning in light of both through the use of our brains. We do this every day when we speak, so it shouldn't be that hard.

Lastly: The person who provided that previous quote did make one very good point... These passages are often avoided by Christians. Pastors don't preach on them and so the average Joe probably doesn't know these things are even in the Bible. At face value they're intimidating, so often we avoid them purposely only to have them thrown in our faces at awkward moments.

I tend to like to be challenged, so I figure why not jump in with both feet? So, I'm tackling these versus instead of Romans or Galatians or some other passage that any number of good pastors have covered for me. Perhaps I'm in over my head, but I'm more than confident that God's Word can stand up to the honest scrutiny of anyone. I just pray I don't malign the Word but instead would do justice to it, by God's grace. I hope you'll pray that too.

Since there isn't a lot out there on some of these passages, I will be treading s-l-o-w-ly and carefully. The lag is not about wordsmithing or shaping meaning to suit my purpose. Instead, I'm just trying to do (in part of my time, largely untrained, only by God's grace) the responsible work that a that real pastor would do with in a 40hr work week with 3 years of schooling behind him.

So, bear with me... Be patient, and be prayerful. And let's see if together we can peer through the fog and see the truth.

Holy Spirit, make it so for Your name's sake! Amen.


Tuesday, July 18

Wrap-up: The Joshua Generation (Farris)

Hardly a minute goes by during the average American's day during which we aren't subjected to some form of propaganda or another. Whether it's the particular spin of a news story by a media outlet (one way or the other), an advertisement telling us why last year's car is outdated, or the clothing of someone passing by, our values and perceptions are constantly being shaped.

Some would say that one mark of maturity is the ability to objectively gather data and process it to form one's own opinion. But if we're honest with ourselves, I think we'd all admit that there are times we find ourselves buying into the rationalizations of the world around us with less scrutiny than perhaps is deserved.

It is this idea, in part, that serves as the launching point for Michael Farris in his book The Joshua Generation. Looking at homeschooling families, Farris notes bright trends in areas of acedemic excellence, community/civic involvement, and overall character of their students. While some choose to homeschool for these reasons alone, it is almost certain that a majority of Christian homeschoolers see their choice as a way to protect their children from 'negative' influences in the secular educational culture. For example, Farris cites research by the Barna Group which indicates how similar the opinions of 'born-again' teens with those of the general population.
We have to ask ourselves: "Why do born again teenagers think so much like teens in general? What ideological sources do they have in common, and what sources are different?"
The common ideological sources shared by born-again teens with teens in general are public education and the media. The numbers reveal which are more powerful: born-again parents and born-again churches versus public schools and entertainment sources. Most born again teens have the same values as our secular culture, not the values of their parents and churches. (p.7)

So, you've made the decision to homeschool in order to provide a solid education to your child and give you the maximum chance to influence their values positively. Great. Now, what happens when they get ready to go to college? Assuming they want a top-flite education (read, Ivy League), aren't we admittedly sending them into the lion's den? I think few would argue that the general values held by most academic institutions - particularly towards Christianity - are out of step with what these same parents sought to instill in their children.
It is common for Christians to look at this situation through rose-colored glasses. We think it is a good idea for Christian students to be sent into secular institutions to do intellectual battles with secularist professors and act as good witnesses to their fellow students. While some students will do this, is this typical? Should we blindly believe that most Christian young people will be stalwarts of the faith in such a setting? (pp.17-18)
Elite academic education is the proven path toward leadership in most spheres of cultural influence. But where is it leading us? And should Christians follow this path? (p.21)

Noting that college is "more about philosophy and worldview than it is about the transmission of factoids" (p.23), Farris launches into a scathing presentation of the religious and 'political' climates at most major American universities. As someone who has works in the ivory towers of academia and who has considered further schooling at various points in the past, I can assure you that Farris is not off the mark in his criticism.

It's already been established on this blog that I am a right-wing, fundie wacko. As a result, I've read a lot of books that outline the blah blah effects of liberalism on modern American culture, schools, and government. If you've read any of these books, particularly focused on colleges, you'll find there's nothing in The Joshua Generation. Farris spends easily 2/3 of the book rehashing the numerous facts about progressive socialism on campus. If you haven't read a ton of other titles, I have no doubt that the case presented will be fun reading and eye-opening. However, for many people it will just be rehashed tidbits.

The book is driving at the following conclusion: If one considers the 'glory days' of American colleges (c1750 thru 1860ish), one finds that the elite academic institutions were overwhelmingly Christian - missionary oriented at that - and the curriculum blossomed out of an attitude of 'intellectual worship'. Farris pronouces that "[i]f Christians could produce the top colleges in the early 1800s, surely we could do the same thing in the 2000s" (p.156).

The goal, Farris hopes, is to stimulate Christians to establish and support institutions like his own Patrick Henry College or Wheaton. These institutions are drawing Christian students who compete academically for admission to other elite schools and continuing to build into them with a Godly worldview. Oddly, this argument is rather weakly outlined and presented only briefly. Rather than presenting a convincing list of merits, Farris seems to expect you to choose the Christian alternative simply because the secular system is 'so bad'. While that may be true, it really doesn't strike me as compelling... "Hey, I'm almost ok and those guys really suck! Come join my team!"

For me, some questions came out of reading the book... I'm not sure that I can buy the theory that Farris is presenting. To some degree, the marketplace will determine the 'elite' status of any Ivy-League-esque Christian college. If we are boldly countercultural (as I believe we might need to be), are our graduates going to be competitive? Or will the establishment simply discriminate against students with degrees from schools like Wheaton and lock them out of the very influential positions we'd like them to attain?

I'm not trying to sound defeated - since that isn't at all how I feel. I just think that the challenge of building elite academic credibility will take a lot more work and a ton more students than Mr. Farris seems to indicate.

If you're considering homeschooling or have a Christian teenager preparing for college, I think there is a lot in this book that will get you thinking. However, if you've been reading any similar titles, I wouldn't spend the cash on The Joshua Generation since it will be largely review.


Monday, July 17

Only the good stuff...

I have learned that 'borrowing' bandwidth from neighbors while we wait for our cable to get hooked up is less than reliable. After getting good connection speeds the first couple nights, everything went downhill.

I'll have the Joshua Generation review up in the next day or so... In the meantime, I promised Bible stuff early this week, so I'll deliver!

First, check out Deef's neat unpacking of an often misunderstood passage in Matthew 17. It's stuff like this that makes me so grateful for good, Godly friends.

Once you're done reading that, check out this sermon for a good, swift kick (the registration can be bypassed). Paul Washer is a missionary who runs HeartCry Missionary Society... And in this message, he really lays the rubber into a group of teens at a youth conference. I wonder if this message grips us the way it should?

More later. Thanks for sticking around!

Tuesday, July 11

Leaning further to the right

Many of my earliest, clear memories come from right around 1980 - particularly the '80 election race. I recall listening to Ronald Reagan as he was stumping here and there through the year. Something about him was just riveting to me... I can remember that my (paternal) Grandmom - an ol' dyed-in-the-wool southern democrat - was almost apoplectic that Carter would be handing over the nuclear keys to Reagan.

By the time the mid-80s rolled around, I was old enough to start actually thinking about things. Even before Family Ties hit the air, I was carrying a briefcase to school and trumpeting the supposed merits of 'trickle-down economics'. So, you see that my overwhelming nerdiness has been a long-standing thing.

As I started to form my own opinions, I found I agreed with Reagan and liked him. I owe a lot to my parents who happily played Plato's Advocate with me over countless dinner table discussions. I wonder if it scared them to watch their happy child morph, little by little, into a Right Wing Loony Tune? (As an aside: It's interesting that, to this day, I know little about how my father thinks or how he votes. He talks capably on both sides of almost every issue.)

Fast-forward to today: Am I still proud to call myself a Republican? I can't say that I am. When I voted for Bush in 2000, I was voting for education reform, the development of a viable domestic energy policy, social security (and other entitlement) reform, and preservation of traditional morality especially in re: issues like abortion/gay marriage.

In 2004, I was much more cynical. I voted for Bush because Kerry was a terrible candidate who lacked even a shred of integrity, the election was going to be close, and because I figured we'd at least get a couple conservative Supreme Court Justices out of the deal. Well, Roberts and Alito don't really cut it for me... And Harriet Miers? What the heck was that!?!? I feel like the victim of a good ol' bait-n-switch manuver. Every issue that was important to me has either been left unaddressed or solved with a hammer and duct tape solution... And these weren't obscure side issues in the elections, either.

So, I believe my principles are correct... And though the Republican party has a right-wingish platform its heart seems to be decidedly in the center. For me, personally, the center is somewhere I can't really follow. Well, what's a fellow to do?

This will probably be the year I actually vote for a third-party candidate. And if I do, the odds are pretty strong that I'll be voting for the Constitutional Party candidate... That is not a choice without some challenges...
  • First of all, I find a fair amount of their foreign policy platform to be over the top. I'm all for a significant lessening of our role abroad, but I don't think we can be quite as isolated as these people seem to believe.
  • I personally think there needs to be major Social Security reform... That said, I think the CATO Institutes 6.2% Solution is the best option out there. I'm not sure it goes far enough for it to fit in the CP's platform statement.
  • While I don't like the idea of a draft, I think it is an 'option of last resort' that needs to be kept on the table. As such, the CP's position on conscription is a little more than I can handle.
Still, I'm fairly close to these guys all around. Since I'm in Vermont, this really isn't anything I need to rush to figure out. There's not a chance of any of the mid-term elections swinging towards anyone near conservative enough for me.

Interesting Vermont anecdote that I just stumbled across: In 2004, Cris Ericson ran for Governor of our happy state representing the Marijuana Party. Her campaign imagery was something to behold, as you can see to the left. Now it seems that she's cleaned up (imagery) and intends on running as a Republican for Senate. I find this highly amusing... Same platform, different look/party.

What's even more frightening is that probably a number of uninformed Republicans will see her party affiliation on election day and throw a vote her way. *sigh* Ok... Enough of this stuff.

We're getting ready for a small getaway this coming weekend. Before we disappear, I'll get the review of The Joshua Generation up for everyone's edification. From there, we'll dive into the Bible next week - starting with Deuteronomy 22:13-endish.


Monday, July 10

Lean to the right. Good, now lean further...

I'm a fairly conservative person in my moral and political thoughts.

**That hacking sound you hear is people who actually know me choking on their coffee because of the use of the word 'fairly'.

Ok, ok. The truth is that I'm a full member of the 'Vast, Card-Carrying, Right-Wing, Religious Nutjob Conspiracy' league. If people awarded merit badges for conservatism, the only one I'd be missing is the 'Concealed Carry Permit'. I have fired fully-automatic firearms behind some redneck's farm a few times... I just never filled out the form.

It's a midterm election year and my wife is probably thrilled that there's been so much other stuff going on in our lives right now. Otherwise, I'd have started my typical over-obsessive analysis of all things political months ago. As it is, I'm behind - so it's time to start catching up!

Every election year I direct a handful of people to the World's Smallest Political Quiz and try (mostly unsuccessfully) to get them to share their results. I don't want to argue - I'm just interested in where other people lie. You can see my result to the right.

Given a couple shifts in my mood I'm either as Conservative as you get or I'm a fringy Libertarian. Anyone care to share their leanings with me? Leave a comment.

Where is this political rambling going, you ask? First, consider this a long preface to a post on my growing dissatisfaction with the Republican Party and mainstream conservatism in general.

Second, I just wanted to tell people that I saw Bernie Sanders this past weekend. If you're outside of New England politics, you may not know the lofty and venerable Bernie. Congressman Sanders has served as the Representative for the State of Vermont since '91. He ran as an Independent, I presume because the word 'Socialist' still had enough negative connotations that it would ensure failure in an election. Then again, this is Vermont we're talking about...

Anyway, let's just say I can find about two things Bernie and I would agree on. One is the importance of regular breathing - both in and out. However, even when we agree we find ourselves in strict opposition over the reason why something should be a certain way.

Seeing him walking in the Windsor Heritage Days parade was enough to shock me back to reality that this is an even-numbered year. It also made my eyes water and caused an odd hissing, frothing fit according to those seated next to me.


Friday, July 7

Wrap-up: Outgrowing the Ingrown Church (Miller)

With the moving, phone hassles, post office struggles (thanks to the supposed Jack Russell attack dog next door), and other assorted mess, I'm long overdue for a book review.

C. John Miller's book, Outgrowing the Ingrown Church, is a good example of a solid book that was published 'before its time'. Focusing on healthy, Bible-centered church growth, Miller's short volume is practically lost in the swirling flood of modern-day manuals telling you how to fling the doors open and fill the pews.

Early in the book, Miller lays his core message:
Church growth that is not inspired by faith in Christ's power to tranform lives is dangerous. Ultimately, I believe, it will prove to be as displeasing to the Head of the church as numerical stagnation. The congregation that is secularized and adds secularized members to its rolls is simply confirming itseld in its indifference to the will of the Lord. (p. 18)

When he was writing (c1986), Miller saw that churches had lost the missionary zeal that comes from being really confronted with and transformed by the Gospel of Christ. His observation was that such churches "give lip service to missions and evangelism, but inwardly they have given up - quit - having lost confidence in their being used by the Lord." (p.17)

What's really interesting to me is that recent trends are much different... Looking around today, we see tons of churches that are outwardly focused and actively engaged with the culture around them. The problem is that they are engaging culture with specific methodologies and strategies while allowing the message to fall to the gutter. Some modern growth experts are encouraging and 'ends justify the means' approach to bringing people into church. Instead of the gospel, we've come to rely on gimmicks and desires to be seen as cool/hip/trendy.

So, how do we rightly seek to grow a congregation and reach the communities around us? Outgrowing advocates a 4 step process for leaders seeking to renew the church's vision (rightly noting that renewal is a strictly a work of the Holy Spirit in the leader and the congregation):
  1. Develop an openness to God's vision for the local church - "What will emerge from such reflection, I believe, will be a vision of the church and its worship as a doxological fellowship, with praise leading the members of the church to go forth boldly with the gospel to the world." (p.73)
  2. Work to develop an honesty about your sins and weaknesses that lead to change - "I really do not come to every message with the thought that it will be hell for me if Jesus is not glorified in my proclamation of the Word... So honesty requires us to begin where we are, to confess forthrightly that we have sinned and fallen short of the divine glory." (p.74-75)
  3. Personalize your relationship with Christ - "It is the personalizing of the glory of Christ that motivated Stephen's unflinching courage [Acts 6 - 7] and made him a compassionate but effective confronter of his hearers... Stephen had no fear whatever of those who stand before him. Man and his stones meant little to him." (p.76)
  4. Commit yourself to express God's glory in every part of your life and service - "As my spirit more and more celebrated the power of the resurrected Lord, and as my faltering lips cried out for mercy from the Father, I began to meet God in a new way in worship, and so did other people." (p.78)
With the pacesetter's (Miller's term for the energized leader) priorities in order, Miller lays out a program of discipleship intended to pass the fire and tools onto the congregants. For the pastor, this primarily consists of the regular instruction and preaching of the gospel. Miller says:
Our preaching of the gospel is what builds people's faith in God and fills them with the assurance of His love, freeing them to witness to the world. The gospel of grace is to be clearly seen as the basis on which all exhortations to duty and pacesetting obedience rest. It is to be taught in the pulpit, in counseling sessions, during prayer meetings, at church planting meetings, in the sick rooms, and in cases of church discipline. As we embrace the message of the Cross in the presence of our sins and weaknesses, it becomes to us "the word of faith" living in our hearts and sounding from our lips (Rom. 10:6-10). (p.143)

Miller's book reminded me a lot of D.A. Carson's The Cross and Christian Ministry, which I read a few years ago (and am looking forward to re-reading soon). While growing churches is all the buzz nowadays, it's crucial that we consider what is responsible for the new butts in the pews. If we are bringing in people with a dog-and-pony show, we're really not accomplishing anything that the travelling circus doesn't manage when it comes to town. On the other hand, we have a promise from the Lord that He will grow and sustain the church that faithfully handles the Gospel.

I'm not saying methods, hip music, or any such thing are absolutely bad... However, when they become the means of 'converting' people as a substitute for the clear proclamation of God's grace in Christ, we have a problem.

If you're a pastor or layperson in a church just 'going through the motions', this book is for you. Thriving churches would would do well to look at Miller's book and challenge their methods with biblical scrutiny.

In closing, this quote from John Piper (at the recent T4G conference) sums up the point well:
Beholding the glory of the Lord, we are transformed from one degree of glory to another. This is God’s way of changing people. And if you say to me, "Doesn't work!" then I think you should keep on doing it anyway... People are changed the way God wants them to change, not the way you want them to change. Suppose you do find another way that works, have you produced what God wants - namely, glory-seeing driven change? And if you produce another kind of change, He may not be interested... There are people in the category of the perishing who will never see. Are you going to let your failure with them alter your method?


Wednesday, July 5

The new day finally dawns...

I remember that some Saturdays, if I was particularly 'up-ity', I'd wake up early for cartoons and have the priviledge of watching 10mins or so of ye olde pre-broadcast test patterns. I remember well that glorious moment where the sustained beep of the test screen would give way to a pleasant "Good morning!", the Star Spangled Banner, and then the opening strains of Mighty Mouse.

Consider this post to be the analogous, yet somewhat less worthwhile, moment on this blog.

The move is complete, the email is whittled down, and the blogging will begin soon! Thanks for waiting around!