10 Things I Want You to Know about the Church

  1.        Church is Jesus’ idea. In Matthew 16:18, Jesus says, “I will build my Church.” (He says He will build it on Peter, the Rock, which leads to a bunch of other questions Protestants and Catholics disagree about…questions for another time and place). If Jesus is the builder of the Church, then we ought to care about His blueprints.
  2.       Church is people (not a building). The Greek word for church, ekklesia, basically means an assembly of people (if you’ve heard “called out people of God,” that’s close enough, but fussy Greek professors would have objections…). You never really “go to church.” You might go to be with your church. Your church might have a really predictable meeting place with doors and a steeple. But the church is people. It is God’s people.
  3.        Church is simple (kind of). The earliest church did four things: studied the teaching of the Apostles, fellowshipped together, broke bread together (nutritionally and ritually), and prayed together (Acts 2:42, read all the way to 47, it’s good stuff). They didn’t have an awesome rock band, they didn’t have power points, they didn’t have cool lighting. They shared life together, learning about God, eating, and praying.
  4.        Church has places. In the Bible, many of the times churches are mentioned, they have a city associated with them. There’s the Church in Jerusalem, the Church in Ephesus, the Church in Berea, the Church Antioch, the Church in (tum, du du, tum) Rome. If you didn’t bump into somebody at Church this Sunday…You weren’t with the church.  I don’t care if you heard a great sermon, or sang a great song. The church is people, and it has places, it gathers.
  5.        The Church is the body of Christ (Colossians 1:18). Therefore, the Church has armpits. Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12 talk about the Church as a human body, with many parts. (1 Cor 12:14-17) 14 Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part. 15 If the foot says, “I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,” that does not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear says, “I am not part of the body because I am not an eye,” would that make it any less a part of the body? 17 If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything? If your church doesn’t have stinky people, or people that are mean, or people that sing bad, or people that annoy the hell (yes, if you can’t live with them on earth, and they’re going to heaven, you only have one alternative) out of you, you need to find a worse church. A church made up of only people with great minds and voices is not going anywhere (no legs).
  6.        The Church is the Bride of Christ. In Ephesians 5:25, husbands are told to love their wives the way Christ loves the Church. The consuming obsession a good husband has for his adored wife is the same passion that Christ has for the Church. Frankly I don’t care what you think of me, you diss my bride, you face my wrath. Christ feels the same way about his Church. In 2 Corinthians 11:2, Paul views himself as the chaperone of the church in Corinth, whose purity he was to protect for the honor of Christ. We ought to share the same passion for the purity of the Church.
                    “Praise the Lord!
    For the Lord our God,the Almighty, reigns.
                            7 Let us be glad and rejoice,
    and let us give honor to him.
    For the time has come for the wedding feast of the Lamb,
    and his bride has prepared herself.
                            8 She has been given the finest of pure white linen to wear.”
    For the fine linen represents the good deeds of God’s holy people.
    (Revelation 19:6-9)
  7.        The Church kicks people out! What? That’s mean. In Matthew 18:17, the all loving, ever forgiving, most merciful Lord and Savior Jesus Christ warned His disciples that if a brother or sister would not repent of sin when confronted by the Church, they should be regarded as “heathen”. In 1 Corinthians 5:5, Paul said the Church needed to cast out a man proud of his sexual sin. Why? “That his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” What was the big deal? “A little leaven (yeast) leavens (raises) the whole loaf (of bread)” (verse 7). Once a little bit of sin is excused, the whole church is infected. Better not even to eat with such a person. And not just the sexually immoral. Stay away from “Christians” who are greedy, idol worshippers, swindlers, revilers, or drunkards (verse 11). [Just don’t forget get that you were that too. No boasting allowed.]
  8.        The Church is Christ’s Body.I know I already said that. But I wanted to remind you that Christ gave two essential and awesome pictures to teach us about what that means: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. In Baptism, we are united to Christ’s body (Romans 6:3-4, Galatians 3:27, Colossians 2:12). That is how we are visibly added to the Church (Acts 2:38, Acts 2:41). You wouldn’t sign a contract with the Detroit Red Wings and not wear the jersey, would you? (As a “Baptist,” I have to add that putting on the jersey doesn’t mean you’re on the team).
    You are what you eat. Christ said to enter the Kingdom we must eat His flesh and drink His blood (John 6:53). When we take communion, not only do we eat His Body, we are His Body (1 Corinthians 10:16). And lest you think I’m getting off topic here, Paul instructs us that the Lord’s Supper is for “when you [in this case, the Corinthian church] meet together (1 Corinthians 11:20),” and that “when you gather for the Lord’s Supper, wait for each other (1 Corinthians 11:33).”
  9.        You need the Church needs you. Am I back on this “body” thing again? Yes! Romans 12:5 says, “We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other.” 1 Corinthians 12:12 says, “The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ.” Later, in verse 27 Paul says, “All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it.” Colossians 3:15 says, “And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace.”
  10.    Christ died for the Church. Back to Ephesians 5. 25 For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her 26 to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word.27 He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault. 28 In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as they love their own bodies. For a man who loves his wife actually shows love for himself. 29 No one hates his own body but feeds and cares for it, just as Christ cares for the church. 30 And we are members of his body.
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You got “legal”, what happened to “safe”?

Abortion is legal in every state.  Why, why, why, why, why is regulation always opposed as an attack on women’s health?  Health?  Lies.

http://abclocal.go.com/wpvi/video?id=9059275

http://www.woodtv.com/dpp/news/local/muskegon_county/photos-show-muskegon-abortion-clinic-code-violations?ref=scroller&categoryId=10001&status=true

http://www.nbcphiladelphia.com/news/local/Gosnell-Abortion-Clinic-Trial-Unlicensed-Doctor-Chaos-201515061.html

This is 2013!  We demand accountability, we demand regulation!

Hail, Mary, Full of Grace…

A Baptist’s reflection on the Blessed Mother of Our Lord.

[[How a Baptist should regard Mary from Scripture: That is, more highly admired than any other woman]]

For those of you who are ignorant of the Church’s Calendar, today is the Roman Catholic feast day remembering the Immaculate Conception of Mary.  As an heir of the reformation, I do not pretend to subscribe to each of the dogmas of Mariology.  Yet, for a tradition that holds such figures as Abraham, David, Peter, and Paul in such high regard, we should not withhold from Mary the high honor she is due.

Consider, first of all, the marvelous truth that she conceived, bore, and raised the incarnate, Eternal Creator of the Universe, the Alpha and Omega, the great I AM.  God the Father trusted her to nurture and admonish and guide His Son as He grew in wisdom and stature in the Father’s own sight and the sight of humanity (Luke 2:51-52).

Consider also the encounter between Mary and Gabriel.  Gabriel, a glorious angel who walks in the heavenly presence of the Triune God, greets this young woman, as “Full of grace.” (Luke 1:28-29, ‘Favored’, but compare with Eph 1:6 for the weight of this term).  Gabriel observes that the Lord is with her.  Gabriel would know.  Notice how she responds with complete humility, “I am the Lord’s servant” (Luke 1:38).  She didn’t object to the word of the angel, she simply acknowledge her lowly position and marveled at what sounded impossible, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34)

Consider Elizabeth’s high praise of Mary, “Blessed are you among women [which can be read as a superlative], and blessed is the child you will bear [pretty sure that’s a superlative]. But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord [what Lord did Elizabeth know but YHWH?] should come to meet me?  Blessed is she who has believed what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!” (Luke 1:42-45)

Notice what is found in her beautiful prayer, “…he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations shall call me blessed.” (Luke 1:48). This young woman child who has been greeted by an angel from heaven can only marvel at God’s amazing grace that He would choose one so lowly.  When was the last time you called Mary “blessed”?

Consider the hour of our Lord’s death.  While many of His friends had fled in fear, Mary fulfilled her maternal obligations and lovingly suffered the pain of watching her son be tortured and murdered. To His last breath, Mary remained faithful to her Son.  (Matt 27:56; Mark 15:40, 47; Luke 23:49; John 19:25).  Oh, how she must have prayed at the hour of His death.

Even after His death, Mary continued to honor her Son and Lord (Matt 27:61; Mark 16:1; Luke 23:55-56).  Though others were resigned to fear, she sought to serve God, even in His death.  As a result, she became one of the first preachers of the Gospel.  Mary preached the Gospel to the Apostles (Matt 28:1, 8-10; Mark 16:10 [read in harmony with the other Gospels placing Mary the mother of our Lord with Mary Magdalene]; Luke 24:10).

Returning to the cross for a moment, consider our Lord’s words to John, “Behold you mother.” (John 19:27)  While you could object that these words were only for John.  Consider how else Jesus could have entrusted the Church to His Mother.  There were no other representatives present.  To the one disciple, whom he loved, that was present, He says, “Behold your mother.”  And, as we would expect, the mother of the Church is soon seen praying for it after our Lord’s ascension (Acts 1:14).  There she is, with the apostles, praying constantly for gift of the Spirit.

[[I think the above paragraphs should be relatively uncontroversial.  Aside from the proposed reading of John 19:27, I basically was summarizing what the New Testament clearly says about Mary. The follow paragraphs are provocative proposals, which I would not consider set conclusions in my own mind.]]

Some of you who read this have from time to time asked me to pray for you.  Me.  An arrogant, sinful, foolish, distracted, doubter.  You could have prayed straight to God Himself, and yet you asked me to pray for you.  Certainly most of you have at one time or another asked for prayers from a pastor or spiritual leader.  You have asked for our intercessory prayers on your behalf.

If you are not a heretic, you also believe in the “communion of the saints” (See Apostles’ Creed, Heb 12:1, many passages on the unified body of Christ), which includes the cloud of witnesses who have gone on to heaven before us.  We know from Rev 5:8 that these saints are in prayer.  And unless you have an idiosyncratic view of the intermediate state, you believe in the consciousness of disembodied (i.e. ‘dead’) souls.

Now, if our communion with the saints is not broken by death.  And you ask living saints (small ‘s’) to pray for you, what prevents you from asking a saint in heaven to pray for you? I admit, I am not comfortable asking a dead saint to pray for me. But, I’m not sure there are good Biblical reasons not to do so.

[[If you read closely, the preceding three paragraphs are a proposed argument for asking the saints for intercession based on the doctrine of the communion of saints.  It is not an argument that we should do so, but that there are possible reasons for it.  Objections could be that the Scriptures do not explicitly say the saints are aware of our words or thoughts here on earth and the limits of the human being to listen to only a finite (and small) number of people at one time.  Arguments in either direction (for or against ‘prayers’ to the saints) are from silence.  Below is the application of the general idea of prayers to saints, to the specific case of Mary.]]

Now, if you ask me to pray for you because you think I have a mature faith and that God listens to you, wouldn’t you also want to ask a pastor, fully devoted to the ministry of the Church to pray for you?  And if you would ask a minister, who is encumbered with x number of other tasks, would you not ask a victorious (i.e. deceased) saint, who has nothing else to do (so to speak), to pray for you?  And if you will ask a victorious saint to pray for you (a big ‘if’ for most), would you not also want to ask the very mother of our Lord, who undoubtedly knows His soft spots, and undoubtedly has His ear, to pray for you?  She’s been known to get good results in the past (John 2:1-11).

[[So then, how would a Baptist understand prayers to Mary?  Keep in mind that much of this prayer is quoting scripture.]]

Hail Mary [if Gabriel greets her “Hail (‘rejoice’), why wouldn’t I?]
Full of grace [that’s what the Bible says]
Blessed are you among women [says her aunt]
And Blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus [can I suggest you not disagree with this line?]
Holy Mary [Don’t tell me you think you’re holy in Christ, but Mary is not.  Whatever you believe about her life, you must believe she has not sinned in the last 1950 years]
Mother of God [Don’t tell me Jesus isn’t God]
Pray for us sinners [you are a sinner]
now [You can join her if you’d like]
And in the hour of our death [okay, I guess this would keep her busy, but she certainly prayed for Christ in the hour of His death].

Behold your mother.

[[Of course I do not believe Scripture teaches we should pray to Mary.  I think it leaves open the possibility that we could at least ask her to pray for us.  Remember if you object that only Jesus can intercede for us, then you can never ask other people to pray for you.  Scripture clearly teaches that people should pray for each other.  The question largely comes down to whether the saints in Heaven are aware of our current struggles on Earth.  At the very least, you should have great admiration for the woman who humbly took the task of bearing, raising, and nurturing the Savior of the World.]]

Disturbia (Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault, Child Abuse)

Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault

Today I learned a name. Alfred Kinsey.

You can read about his life here: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/kinsey/timeline/index.html

He is described by wikipedia as one whose work has, “profoundly influenced social and cultural values in the United States and many other countries.”

You can read about an art exhibit in his honor here: http://www.indstate.edu/news/news.php?newsid=2410

You can purchase his popular text reprinted and promoted by the New England Journal of Medicine here (Named one of the “100 Best Books of the 20th Century” by Logos Magazine): http://www.amazon.com/Sexual-Behavior-Human-Alfred-Kinsey/dp/0253334128/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top

You can read how he developed a sliding scale between homosexual and heterosexual orientation here: http://www.plannedparenthood.org/health-topics/sexual-orientation-gender/sexual-orientation-26529.htm?__utma=1.1968113671.1346811535.1346811535.1346811535.1&__utmb=1.6.10.1346811535&__utmc=1&__utmx=-&__utmz=1.1346811535.1.1.utmcsr=google|utmccn=(organic)|utmcmd=organic|utmctr=planned%20parenthood&__utmv=-&__utmk=86168856

If you go back to the Amazon link, and look inside the book on page 178, you can read how a stop watch was used to measure the duration of orgasm in 188 subjects ranging from five months to “adolescent”. 

If you go to page 161 (not visible on the Amazon page), you can read how terrified boys “derive definite pleasure” when they are sexually assaulted.

And if you go to page 180 (not visible on the Amazon page, but can be found elsewhere on the web) you can read how a four year old child was brought to orgasm 26 time in 24 hours.

Now, those who continue to herald or even utilize his research claim that this information was collected from interviews from pedophiles in prison.  But, how many inmates keep detailed statistics on their victims in their cells?

How long would a Christian public leader’s career last if they even hinted that a woman enjoyed being assaulted?  Now, of course this is not the time for white, Republican men to play the victim card.  I only post this because I cannot believe that in the 21st Century anyone dares to defend this man or his research.  You can hate Joe Paterno all you want, but an enormous amount of righteous indignation should be reserved for any person or institution that defends the “legacy” of Alfred Kinsey.

Creation ungained.

“The sense of the holiness of life” is not compatible with an exploitive economy. You cannot know that life is holy if you are content to live from economic practices that daily destroy life and diminish its possibility. And many if not most Christian organizations now appear to be perfectly at peace with the military-industrial economy and its “scientific” destruction of life. Surely, if we are to remain free, and if we are to remain true to our religious inheritances, we must maintain a separation between church and state. But if we are to maintain any sense or coherence or meaning in our lives, we cannot tolerate the present utter disconnection between religion and economy. By “economy” I do not mean “economics,” which is the study of money-making, but rather the ways of human housekeeping, the ways by which the human household is situated and maintained within the household of Nature. To be uninterested in economy is to be uninterested in the practice of religion; it is to be uninterested in culture and in character. Probably the most urgent question now faced by people who would adhere to the Bible is this: What sort of economy would be responsible to the holiness of life? What, for Christians, would be the economy, the practices and the restraints, of “right livelihood”? I do not believe that organized Christianity now has any idea. I think its idea of a Christian economy is no more or less than the industrial economy–which is an economy firmly founded upon the seven deadly sins and the breaking of all ten of the Ten Commandments. Obviously, if Christianity is going to survive as more than a respecter and comforter of profitable iniquities, then Christians, regardless of their organizations, are going to have to interest themselves in economy–which is to say, in nature and in work. They are going to have to give workable answers to those who say we cannot live without this economy that is destroying us and our world, who see the murder of Creation as the only way of life.”

-Wendell Berry

Top Ten Crazy Things I Did on My Trip to Thailand

10. Broke up a street fight.
9. Rode for an hour in the open bed of a pick-up truck.
8. Went to a 100 decibel church service in Communist Lao(s).
7. Taught a Thai Science class osmosis and diffusion.
6. Ate bug.
5. Drank curious brown water on a coffee plantation in Lao(s). (not coffee)
4. Ate fruit from Mars. 
3.Went rock climbing over the Mekong River. 
2. Showed some Thai Takraw players how it’s done!
1. Ate raw cow intestine.  

Perspicuity

This summer, I have the immense privilege of co-teaching with Dr. Philip Bustrum and Stephen Lewis at the Mekong Bible Institute in Thailand.

After four years of undergraduate Bible training and Two years of master’s work on the Old Testament, I really thought lesson preparation would be easier.  

I am used to teaching in contexts where expectations are so low that as long as I give a devotional thought or reaffirm someone’s theological presuppositions I am “successful”. In Thailand, I will be ministering to pastors who have very little prior training, virtually no printed academic resources, and an unquenchable thirst for God’s Word. 

I will admit that it is terribly frightening to think that I may offer the most ‘authoritative’ commentary on Amos (for example) that they have ever heard.  They will take what they have learned in our classes and share that with their congregations from which will rise the future leaders of the Thai church.  gulp. 

In such a context, academic study of scripture becomes a bane and blessing.  Lacking age and experience, my academic training is the sole basis for my ‘authority’ to teach (and partially my status as a Westerner).  In college and seminary, I was trained to conduct historical and grammatical analysis of the biblical text.  Hermeneutics 101, to know the Bible, you’d better know the historical context and the biblical language.  Thailand 101, there are no Thai grammars for Hebrew or Greek and I think the Anchor Bible Dictionaries will be available in Thai in about never (for better or worse).  

Fortunately, both college and seminary taught me the importance of literary analysis of Biblical text (and to a lesser degree, canonical readings of biblical text).  For practical purposes, literary analysis requires less attention to historical contexts and can be conducted (less effectively) without access original languages.  I have been urged by elder saints to preach/teach the Bible “clear and straight”.  On the banks of the Mekong river, with naught but a Bible in hand, teaching the Bible “clear and straight” requires great attention to the text as text and a greater appreciation for the perspicuity of Scripture.  Seminarians are taught to confess, but never practice such a concept.  

Perhaps a concluding metaphor would be instructive.  (This just came to me)  When bowling, there is always the possibility of rolling the ball into the gutter.  Once in the gutter, you will miss your target (except, I should note, that one time when a lucky [dare I say, providential] bounce gave me a strike on a gutter ball).  Ideally though, you will roll it straight (unless you’re fancy) and hit the pins without going into the gutter.  Historical and grammatical analysis of Biblical texts play an important role in keeping interpreters on the straight and narrow.  They’re like bumpers, keeping you from getting off target, but they’re not the main point and not always necessary.  

So… that said, I’m expecting a letter from Cornerstone revoking my degree.  But who needs a degree in Bible anyway?