Sunday, December 20, 2009

Hey, I’m back!

Yes, I have returned to the blog!

Okay, so here’s the deal:  broken hard drive (Down with Hitachi! Long live Western Digital!). I am happy to say, I replaced it myself via, saving myself a nice chunk of change. Problem is, now I’m re-installing all the software and Vista and Toshiba updates since March 2007. Wow. There are a LOT of them.

So here’s what I’ve learned (it’s what I knew all along, but…oh, well….):

Rule #1:  Buy the extended warranty. Of course. The “Longest Warranty You Can Afford” Rule. This holds true for any electronics, from your PC to your HDTV. Unless the price is negligibly low, as in (for instance) your GPX mp3 player(Confession:  Toshiba actually gave me the chance to do this, one year after I bought this Satellite; I turned it down, though I’d planned on doing this when I’d first bought the laptop).

Rule #2:  Buy a back-up external drive. One dedicated simply to backing up. Then USE it. It doesn’t have to be pricey, or bigger than your system’s hard drive; you could probably find a 250-gb drive on eBay for, what, $50 or $60 now?

Rule #3:  Use a USB thumb drive and PortableApps. You can find them at When I bought my USB thumb drive for my birthday, on the spur of the moment I installed Portable OpenOffice, Portable Thunderbird and Portable Firefox. Along with Chrome Portable. And, for good measure, OperaUSB. But the smartest thing I did was to download Portable KeePass, the password manager, which means I still have access to all my account passwords—and that, through the portable browsers, I still had access to any site or account that required a password. Such as cNet and the ever-popular Pandora. Also, just for the fun of it, I copied all my documents and most of my mp3s to the thumb drive—with an 8gigabyte drive, I used only 4gb for all this portable goodness.

Rule #4:  Get the Windows Install disks with your PC, because they will make life so much easier if (when) you have to replace or re-format your hard drive. Pop ‘em in, choose your “Restore to Factory Default” option or your maker’s equivalent, and let the genius of the OEM take it from there (God bless you, Toshiba!). And, if you’ve conscientiously backed up all your stuff (Remember Rule #3? I didn’t….), restoring files and programs is pretty simple.

Here’s Optional Rule #5:  Wubi. Just for the fun of it. Wubi is the Windows Ubuntu Installer. It won’t save your hard drive; won’t prevent crashes; won’t do a thing except painlessly install the Ubuntu OS on your PC, creating a dual-boot system so that you can choose either Windows or Ubuntu at start-up. Wubi is beautiful. Wubi is God’s gift to Open Source. Install it, and mess around with Ubuntu for a few weeks. Give yourself time to learn the basics (yes, there’s a learning curve). If you don’t like it, uninstall the whole thing through the Windows Uninstaller (or better yet, through Revo Uninstaller; there’s both a Free and a  Pro version). The nice thing about any dual-boot system is that, should something go wrong with Windows, you’ve got an option.

So, anyway, I’m back. Looking forward to more blogging. Blessings. I love it!

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Heading North

Today, Part Two of my birthday present has arrived. This is something I’ve been waiting for since, oh, last September. It’s a highly-coveted gift from two very good friends who surprised me completely with it. It is:  North! Or Be Eaten.



If, by the way, you wish to purchase it, you may find it here, at the author’s site. Or you may go to your local Christian bookstore and request it there. Try option 2 first, because your local Christian bookstore is probably desperately in need of your business. Try option 1 if you have no local Christian bookstore. If all else fails, well, there’s CBD.

North! is, in case you do not know, Book Two of the Wingfeather Saga (Book One is On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness). These are, well, children’s books—preteens on up. From one of my favorite singer/songwriters, Andrew Peterson, Proprietor of the Rabbit Room—one of my favorite blogs. His site, and his store, are worth checking out.

I first heard of Andrew Peterson after the death of Rich Mullins. Mullins was probably the greatest contemporary Christian songwriter of his decade, and anything I could say about him has already been said over and over again:  He wrote beautiful, lyrical songs; his verses were passionate and reasoned; they were grand and intimate at the same time. Mullins was something the world of CCM gets every now and then:  A writer who makes his own trail and compels everyone else to follow him. I remember hearing of his death at work, on the local Christian radio station; he died in a car crash about 40 miles from my town.

So when I heard about this guy who was the most original Christian songwriter since Mullins, I had to check him out. I had to dig, too, to hear him. AP has had a few CCM hits, like “Nothing to Say” and “Rise and Shine” and “The Chasing Song,” but most of his music doesn’t get a lot of airplay (I could go off on the Christian radio industry here—K Love, this means you, too—but I won’t—today).

Thankfully, AP has twice played in my area. The last concert was in September ‘08, when his beautiful Resurrection Letters Volume 2 album had just come out. He did the tour “on spec,” with no advance take or guaranteed appearance fees.


That was a special concert for me. It came a few days after one of my daughters had been admitted to a behavioral healthcare institute with clinical depression. I hurt. On the way to the concert, I chatted with the friends who were taking me; I made small talk; and I wondered silently why I was going, and what God was going to do, and whether I could get through the next few weeks, and what my daughter would face.... Anyone who’s been there knows what I thought. I had failed her; she needed help; I couldn’t help her. I couldn’t fix what was wrong. The truth is, I only went to the concert because my wife made me. Wise woman!

It wasn’t the music that made that night good. At least, not the music alone. It was Andrew’s story behind each song on the album. Nothing preachy, nothing heavy; AP’s a pretty low-key person. It was just story after story that reminded me:  God is great. God is love. God knows what he’s doing. His hands are gentle even when his voice is thundering. God will keep those I love, because he loves them a thousand times more.

So I’m looking forward to a few days of, well, rather light reading. I’m going to put Adolf Schlatter to the side for a while. I’m heading for adventure with the Igibys and Peet the Sock Man, going north to the Ice Praires just a few steps ahead of the dreaded Fangs of Dang. And if you want to come along, click the link.

(Images of cover of North! Or Be Eaten and of Andrew Peterson are from

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Politic Of Believers, By Believers, For—the People

Here’s what’s wrong with politics in the United States.
Joe Wilson does something outrageous, and it pays off politically. And it isn’t just Joe Wilson. Left and right, politicians know they can make points and score cash off of playing to the extremes.
Why be civil, and have actual give-and-take dialogue, when the real action is on the edges? Rough-and-tumble, no-holds-barred streetfighting gets news, gets money, gets votes. It just doesn’t get things done.
Where are Christians in all of this? Why are we not, first of all, holding politicians to account for reckless, disrespectful speech? Why are we not calling them out on lies and half-truths? Why are we not guarding our own words and emotions in the debate? Why are we playing this game?
One of the most powerful ways Christians can affect the culture is one of the least-observed:  Through gentleness and meekness as we confront sin (as in, “real sin,” not just opposing viewpoints). In order to do that, we need to follow a few simple steps:

  1. Agree on what real sin is. It’s not socialism, or nationalized healthcare (though I think neither is a good idea). Those things are politics.  Sin, as the New Testament defines it, includes hatred and anger and pride along with things like adultery, homosexuality, theft, lying, witchcraft.... We need a full and honest definition of sin.

  2. Confess and repent of “over-the-top” rhetoric. God will judge what we say as well as what we do. We can’t cop out with the excuse that our angry words were in the heat of the moment, for the cause.

  3. Make repentance both personal and public. It is personal when it is face-to-face, and New Testament reconciliation is always face-to-face. It isn’t a statement issued to the press, or my people giving a message to your people. It is me coming to you and confessing that I have sinned against you. How would politics change if one politician went to another and said:  “I sinned against you in the way I criticized you”? And it is public when the sin is confessed before the nation as sin. If the whole world knows you did it, then the whole world should know that you see you were wrong.

  4. Humbly hold all sides to account for this standard. I believe that if Christians did this one thing especially, we’d change the way politics is done in the nation. We could change the debate from what scores points to what is right and reasonable and effective. The world would see that we are willing to forego partisanship for Christlike conduct. And if we show this, those who hear us will take us seriously even when they disagree.

  5. Pray for all politicians, even when we think their politics is wrong. This is a Biblical must; it’s up there with “Do not lie, do not steal.” Paul ordered churches to put it into practice even for rulers who arrested and beggared the people he told to do it. If Roman Christians could pray for Nero, we can surely pray for our president, whatever his/her political party. And we have to.
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Tuesday, September 8, 2009

God of Wrath

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men….” (Romans 1:18, ESV).

I wrote that I was reading Adolf Schlatter’s commentary on Romans, and I was struck by his handling of this verse. I read his comments a few days ago, and then this morning, separately, read Romans 1 again. In the back of my mind were Schlatter’s comments, and as I read this morning, they made sense.

I used to take this verse, and the rest of the chapter, to mean that God was showing wrath towards humanity. This probably wouldn’t surprise most unbelievers,  because they think that’s what “fundamentalist” Christians believe; and when they use the label “fundamentalist” they throw in groups of people who are, in fact, not at all fundamentalists. But the churches I grew up in were gracious bodies led by gracious (and somewhat iconoclastic) pastors. They preached about wrath and hell and God’s final judgment; but this was balanced with preaching about the love of God for all humanity (in high school, I couldn’t figure out why we were stereotyped as Christ-haunted, Bible-thumping killjoys—the people I went to church with weren’t like that).

How has God revealed his wrath? I used to think (like most people) that it was in the “acts of God,” the  cataclysms and disasters that rocked the earth with no warning; and in wars and depressions—the man-made catastrophes. I would read these into Romans, as if I were instead reading Revelations—the “Revealing” there was the revealing here. Yet, at the same time, I came up against Jesus’ words to Nicodemus:  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but so that the world might be saved through him. This puts two things at odds:  Active judgment vs. active salvation. How can you have both?

The New Testament makes clear that, for the most part, God is not now actively judging the earth—that’s a future event. He is now at work saving rather than condemning humanity. Yet his wrath is also being revealed. What can that mean? If “the day of God’s wrath” is an unknown, future day—if Christ is not condemning, if God is not willing men to perish—if the time for judging the world of its sins has not yet come—then how is God’s wrath being revealed?

Paul, as it turns out, seems to have a somewhat different view of how God’s wrath acts now than I had. First, God’s wrath is shown in that God “gave [humanity] up . . . to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies. . . .” (Rom. 1:24). He further “gave them up to dishonorable passions” (1:26) and “to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done” (1:28). This isn’t just about sexual immorality, though that’s where Paul starts; a debased and dishonorable mind includes covetousness, malice, envy, murder, strife, deceit, slander, gossip, pride, ruthlessness—even disobedience to parents. When God took away his restraining hand and allowed us to wade (not sink; we were choosing to go there) deeper into sin, he revealed his wrath. And men and women received the natural—but also supernatural—fruit of their sins. In letting us have our own way, letting us give free rein to the cruelty and the greed that lurked in us, God was judging the world with a punishment greater than the natural calamities that we call “acts of God.”

But God was also showing his wrath toward unrighteousness in another way. He showed it at the Cross, through the death of his Son. There, God showed what he thinks of unrighteousness. He showed that he hates it; that he will do whatever it takes to get rid of it. The Triune God did not balk at taking sin upon himself (as the Son) so that he might deal it the blow that would kill it. This is the second, and the greatest, way in which God’s wrath was revealed from heaven against unrighteousness. Grace shows what God thinks of sin:  He hates it so much that he will do whatever it takes to save us from it. Any message about the wrath of God has to include the Cross as God’s act of wrath; a message that sees God’s wrath only as calamity now, and Hell in the afterlife, is telling only half the story.

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Tuesday, September 1, 2009

You Don’t Own Me (And Vice Versa)

The other day, I picked up my unread copy of Adolf Schlatter’s commentary on the Book of Romans:  Romans: The Righteousness of God, translated by Siegfried Schatzmann. It’s apparently hard to get, because when I tried to find a link to the book through either CBD ( or Amazon, I came up with. . . nothing. Out of print, perhaps? Check with Hendrickson Publishers, of Peabody, MA; there might be a spare copy lying around somewhere….

Anyway, I’ve had this commentary for about 6 years, since I read a brief intro to Schlatter’s theology in a class. Last week, I decided the time had come to delve into the book (some things take a little time getting around to….). It’s been a good read, though a bit stilted (this is a translation, after all).

Early on, I came across a little statement Schlatter slips in as he discusses Paul’s reasons for writing to the Roman church:  “From the Corinthian letters we gather how earnestly Paul refuted the notion of a Pauline church” (p. 12). This little sentence, slipped in as a little background fact while Schlatter is on his way to his main point, caught my attention because of what it implies about leadership, ministry, and (to a certain degree) ecclesiology.

In my notebook, I wrote this comment:

“This little statement says volumes about the church (local) and the Church (universal), and how we all, leaders and laypeople, are to look at the church/Church. The Corinthian assembly wasn’t Paul’s possession or work or ministry; it was Christ’s alone. Whatever put Paul’s (or Peter’s or Apollos’) own stamp on it was wrong. Whatever was a personal mark of ownership was wrong. This is different from saying:  ‘As an apostle, I know that Christ has ordered this; and I hold you to account to do this.’ There is a difference between the owner and the one delegated by the owner.

“No pastor or staff gives a church its form or its message or its mission. The most leaders can do is pass on to the body what Jesus Christ has commanded and what Jesus Christ has brought into being. If we shape the assembly into our own image, we desecrate it. If we proclaim Christ’s ownership of the body, and mean it, then we are trusting him to maintain it.”

It strikes me that a lot of the abuses I’ve seen in churches are simply because leaders think of the churches as theirs. The church is the group of people they are trying to influence in one way or another—for good, of course; that goes without saying. But the pastor’s job is not to make his mark on the body or to leave it imprinted with his stamp. His job is to preach the Gospel, and that means to proclaim Jesus Christ in all his fulness. The only mark that should be left on a body is the imprint of Jesus Christ; and only the Holy Spirit can make that mark.

We all want a sphere of influence. I want people to know my name and to quote me, and to think I’m wise and good. I want the chance to lead—in other words, to make people into me. I want to leave my mark on people. Don’t shake your head at me; I know you do, too. You’re not that different from me. Just as I’d shape you into my own image if I could, so you’d shape me into yours.

What’s the point of ecclesial leadership? All of Christianity—the work of the Cross, the Resurrection, the coming of the Spirit, the infilling of the Spirit, the ordination of the church—is about one thing only:  “Those God foreknew, he predestined to be conformed to the likeness of Christ, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” That’s the point of ecclesial leadership; that’s why there are pastors. If a leader sees anything else as the reason for ministry, that leader is being misled. That Christ be formed in us is why the gospel is preached and why the Spirit is given. Not that we be educated, relevant, influential, prominent, or counter-cultural. Only that Christ be formed in us.

There are plenty of tools for this—prayer, fellowship, the Scriptures—but there is only one agent who does the work. That agent isn’t the pastor, nor is it the believer. People don’t do this, not in others nor in ourselves. People are no more than tools in the hands of the one who does the work. If we look to people to do all this shaping, we’ll fail. If a pastor looks to him/herself to do the work, he/she will fail. Only the Spirit (“the presence of God on the Earth today,” as Gordon Fee wrote) can do the work.

Here’s what Schlatter’s little statement meant for me:  In a New Testament church, only God has ownership. A true leader sees this and emphatically rejects any notion that he/she owns the body or shapes the body. Only God shapes the body, in the person of the Holy Spirit who conforms us into the likeness of Christ. Leaders will be tempted to forget this, especially in a culture that thinks leadership is ownership and that ownership is proof of worth. But in God’s kingdom, it’s the humble whom he exalts…the ones who know who the owner is.

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Sunday, August 23, 2009

If You Get My Meaning

A friend called the other day to comment on my post about the Word of Faith movement. He didn’t post the comment; he wanted to talk to me personally. He and I have known each other through thin and thin; and in the Pentecostal “stream,” shall we call it, he’s seen up close, as a congregant and associate pastor, only the Word of Faith school.

By the way, I think this is one reason I’m a bit less bitter than so many ex-WoF folks:  I grew up in a true, classical Pentecostal denomination, with a doctrinal statement and a central government that kept the local churches accountable for what they taught and did. The churches that go into the Word of Faith movement, from what I’ve seen, have been bodies in fellowships or in associations and affiliations, or independent churches:  Local bodies whose pastors are really subject to no head, though they’ll tell you that “Christ is our head.” What that means in practice is that they can do what they wish and teach what they wish; and if they go off-kilter, no one is there to call them out. That’s a breeding ground for heresy.

My friend brought up one thing I hadn’t mentioned, but had meant to. He thinks (and I do agree) that part of the problem with Pentecostal (by which he really means “Word of Faith”) churches is the unique interpretations of Scripture, bits and pieces ripped out of place and used to buttress any new “revelation” that takes the fancy of the pastor/teacher. These are people who look for the “hidden meaning” of Scripture. What it plainly says isn’t enough; at least, it isn’t enough for them.

My friend thinks all this would be cured by good expository preaching. I think he has a point, up to a point. I strongly believe that one thing the WoF preachers and teachers need to repent of is giving new, out-of-context meaning to Scripture. The Bible says what it says, and the things written in it—all the stories and letters and commandments—had a specific meaning to the people who wrote them.

I once read that the rules for reading the Bible were really simple;  ask yourself these questions as you read:

  1. Who is speaking, and to what audience?
  2. What exactly is being said?
  3. What did it mean for them then?
  4. What (if anything) does it mean for me/us now?

The problem is that if we don’t do the third part—understanding what a message meant then, to the people who heard it then—we’ll mess up the fourth part. And sometimes, we go with the “everything in the Bible has meaning” mantra and come up with some really silly scenarios. Because everything in the Bible might very well have meaning; but not all of the meanings are explained.

Case in point:  When Elisha healed the dead son of the Shunamite woman (see 2 Kings 4:32-35), he stretched himself on the dead boy’s body and walked around and then stretched himself on the boy’s body again. As the boy came to life, he sneezed seven times. Now what’s that all about? What’s the meaning of those seven sneezes? Why is that in the Bible? Well, it’s in there because…the boy sneezed. That’s all the Bible says. And yet, somewhere, I’ll bet someone has given a message on the Seven Sneezes That Bring Life (try this link for something close—and, by the way, the writer is not Pentecostal). Where God says nothing, maybe we’d best shut up, too, rather than looking for something that isn’t there.

Will expository preaching solve the problem? No. Because the problem isn’t with how we teach; it’s with why we teach. For I have a sneaking suspicion that those folks who come up with new twists to the Gospel are teaching for the wrong reasons. They want fame. They want to justify sin. They want no one over them. They want authority. And one sure way to get all this is to say, “Everything you’ve ever been told before now is wrong. I, and I alone, have the thing you’re seeking. I know the true heart of God.” At the heart of false doctrines lies, not false methodology (as in, the wrong style of preaching), but a false heart. Most Word preachers I’ve heard have made much of the fact that they’ve had little training in theology. They are proud to know so little, and make much of being self-taught (God-taught, they will insist). It’s almost a class-warfare thing. They seem intent on proving something to the rest of the world:  I’m as good as you, if not better. That’s a heart issue. It’s a sin issue.

Here’s a sobering warning from James:  “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly” (James 3:1). We cannot preach to prove something to the world, or to show others up or to lift up ourselves. God will not put up with it. We may not reap the consequences of bad teaching on earth, but we will surely reap them in Heaven—or rather, in Hell.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Why Michael Vick doesn't deserve a second chance (and you don't either)

Michael Vick wants a second chance.

Bill Smith doesn't think Vick has earned one.

Everyone knows who Michael Vick is (at least, everyone in the US). Michael Vick is a notorious name now. Has been since 2007, when his Bad Newz Kennels dog-fighting operation was busted.

Bill Smith isn't so well known. He's the founder of Main Line Animal Rescue in Philadelphia, and he's angry that the Philadelphia Eagles have signed a contract with Vick. Sporting News Today quotes Smith as saying: "There are a lot of people out there who deserve second chances more than Michael Vick."

Here's something I'd like Bill Smith to consider—and Michael Vick's critics and defenders as well. Throughout the debate over Vick's reinstatement in the NFL (a reinstatement that still hasn't exactly happened, by the way), you hear "second chances" thrown around a lot, and by both sides. He deserves a second chance; we owe him that. No, he doesn't deserve a second chance; he hasn't earned one. And at the root of the discussion is the idea that a second chance is something you earn, and either Vick has earned one by pleading guilty and enduring prison or he hasn't earned one because, well, he just hasn't.

Here's something to think about: Michael Vick doesn't deserve a second chance. Because, in the end, no one "deserves" a second chance. But everyone needs a second chance.

You don't earn the right to start over. The most you can do is show that you take sincerely the gift of starting over. You can tell God and the world what you've done, how you've failed, where you've been wrong. That's confession. But confession doesn't earn a second chance. It's just being honest about yourself. It sets you up to receive a second chance; after all, if you don't admit you were wrong, how can you start over?

And after confession comes change. It's where you do things differently. You change the people you hang around, if you need to (and Michael Vick seems to have seen that he needs to). You change the way you think about yourself—the lies you tell yourself, that let you cut yourself a break, that let you excuse what you know can't be excused. That doesn't earn you a second chance, either. When you at last do what you know you should have done at first, you may earn someone's trust, but you aren't earning a second chance.

I became a Christian because I needed something I hadn't earned. I needed more than a second chance. I needed to have my past wiped out before God, even though I carry to this day some of the consequences of things past. And because I became a Christian at a very young age, I spent a lot of time failing and confessing and starting over. I needed more than a second chance; I needed scores of new starts, day after day. I didn't earn a single one of them. Nothing I do today wipes out what I did yesterday. Patience with my kids today doesn't erase (from their minds or mine) the hot words I spewed at them yesterday. A gift to my wife today doesn't change a promise I broke to her yesterday. An "I'm sorry—I was wrong" doesn't earn an "I forgive you." But I still need to be forgiven. I need it from God, from my family, from everyone around me. I haven't earned it, but I need it.

It may be a while before Michael Vick earns your trust (and mine, to be honest). I think he's taking the right steps, putting the right people in his life. He's got a ways to go. But as far as earning a second chance, that will never happen. He won't earn that. He needs one, though. He needs one as much as you and I and Bill Smith do. I hope he takes the gift God offers. I hope we see the evidence of it in his life. Just as I hope I see that same evidence in my own life.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

What I Wish for the Word of Faith Movement

I've blogged about some elements of the Word of Faith movement at times, so you know that I'm somewhat familiar with it.

Actually, I'm more than "somewhat familiar." I'm "Once bit, twice shy." And that's a problem. It's not an unusual problem; but it's a problem.

The posts that have gotten the most comments have dealt with "prosperity gospel" preaching, or some other aspect of WoF teachings (like, say, ecclesiology—as in "5-fold ministry"). Seems there are a few other folks with burnt fingers out there. You have my sympathies.

A little history here: I was in my mid-20s when a friend invited me to a small country church. It was different from the traditional Pentecostal churches I'd been raised in (by the way, “Pentecostal" does not mean "Word of Faith"). The style of worship was similar, but the preaching had a different slant. There was lots of prophecy, and prayer lines formed after every evening service. The churches I had gone to didn't usually have prayer lines. Altar calls, yes. Not prayer lines.

I stayed in that church. Made friends. Got the chance to preach. Got married. And through a series of setbacks, became disillusioned. When I left after about 10 years, I told my wife that I felt as if the rug had been pulled out from under my life. I would have left Christianity altogether, I said, except that I felt like Peter: "Where else will we go, Lord? Only you have the words of eternal life."

So, like thousands, I've seen the dark side of the Word of Faith message. Some friends from that church have been burned worse than I; one carries wounds to this day, though he's in the ministry himself—as a Baptist, not as a Pentecostal.

But I see the possibilities in the Word of Faith message. I wish the critics of the message could see that. I wish, for that matter, that most "Faith" preachers could see the possibilities. Not financial possibilities. That's where the message is, at the least, erroneous if not downright heretical (are you reading this, Paula White?). Twisting the Gospel into a message and a means of profit is simply fleshly, and it goes against the Gospel. You know--as in, "the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches." And touting a "special offering" or "special gift" as a means of entry into the presence of God (as I once heard the aforementioned P. White do) means that we don't really trust in Christ alone as our Priest, though Scripture plainly tells us that it is through Christ, and Christ alone, that we come into the presence of God.

But here's what I see: The Word of Faith message, if it were rightly and biblically applied, would be one of the greatest tools for transformation (both personal and corporate) in history. It returns us to a confession of the Scriptures, emphasizing the importance of the spoken word to believers.

This might seem silly or superstitious; the idea that we speak things into being, the twist that Word-of-Faith folks put on confessions, is frankly heretical. In the New Testament, the “confession of faith” is not on “speaking forth that which is not” but rather on speaking forth our faith in Jesus Christ. Confession brings salvation, not riches or healing or blessing. Any confession that is me-centered is heretical. Confession is meant to declare who Jesus is, and faith is about receiving what Jesus has provided.

Here’s my prescription:

  1. Repent of the greed. There’s no other word for turning the promises of the New Testament into selfish “gimme” prayers.
  2. Repent of the individualistic focus. In the Old and New Testaments, blessing is by and large corporate and not individual. Even the “blessing of Abraham” is corporate: It’s for an entire nation that will come from him, and the New Testament shows that nation is the gathering of people who confess Christ as Lord.
  3. Make confession about Christ, and emphasize transformation. We are not who we once were, and the Word of Faith people have a better grasp of this than the Reformed folks do (though I think the Orthodox, with their emphasis on theosis, might have a better grasp yet). I mean that Reformed theology says, in effect, that God plays something of a word-game. We are righteous because God declares us righteous; yet, in fact, we sin because we are still sinners. This leads to the slogan that we’re “sinners saved by grace.” The truth is that we are former sinners transformed into saints by the Spirit who lives in us. We have taken on a new nature, not just a new label (yes, this is an over-simplification, but I hope it makes the point).
  4. Stop excusing liars. If Apostle X and Prophet Y and Bishop Z have dynamic ministries but live large on the Gospel, they are hirelings and are fleecing the flock. It does not matter what gifts they display or how many folks say they've been healed or "touched" at so-and-so's meetings. "Word" people need to hold "Word" leaders to account for holy living. Jesus himself told the parable: "Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do mighty works in your name?" His reply: "I never knew you. Depart from me, you workers of lawlessness" (Matthew 7:22, 23).

I love what the Word of Faith movement could be. I love the idea of a proclamation of the Gospel that leads to uncompromising, transformed lives—of people filled with the power of God's Spirit who can turn the world upside down for God. What if God's people turned into a "can-do" people who saw their mission not as getting rich but as living holy lives, and discipling the whole world?

Friday, June 26, 2009

This One's for You, Mr. Letterman

I don't flatter myself that David Letterman reads my blog, knows my name, or cares for my thoughts. That doesn't matter. David Letterman crossed the line with his Bristol/Willow Palin joke and he doesn't get it. What's worse, apparently half of America doesn't get it either.

The joke is well-known, and so is Letterman's sort-of apology. Here's the joke Letterman told:  “Sarah Palin went to a Yankees game yesterday. There was one awkward moment during the seventh-inning stretch: her daughter was knocked up by Alex Rodriguez.” The Chicago Tribune's The Swamp blog discussed his apology, giving it in full in italics at the end of a long and useless article. It's useless because it frankly misses the most important point. So, for that matter, do most of the slanted comments. If you want a good take on the state of fair play and give-and-take and respect for opposing views, read the comments. If you can stomach them, you've done better than I did.

I know a father with a teen-age daughter whose life is a train wreck. The choices this young girl has made have devastated her parents. Those choices may yet ruin her life. Her father tells me he goes to work fearful of a call from home, wondering what bad news he'll hear and how he'll handle it. He tells me every poor decision he's made, thinking he's at fault for his daughter's choices and wondering what he can do to rescue her. And in the end, the worst thing is that he can't do a single thing. His conclusion? He's failed her.

If you were to point out that her choices are her own, he'd say yes, they are. Of course he knows that. But still, he worries. What if she becomes pregnant? Drops out of school? Runs away and ends up on the streets? And he dreads.

How in the world did it become morally defensible to use this as fodder for comedy?

Bristol Palin isn't on the streets. Does that make it okay? Her mother is a public figure. Does that make it okay? Her mother is even a (gasp!) Republican. Does that make it okay?

In the end, Mr. Letterman, you made a nasty joke about a young girl who chose to have sex with her boyfriend--a choice that carried a consequence. Not just the consequence of a baby. There's also the consequence of broken intimacy with someone who will, after all, not be her life partner. There's the consequence of pain in her family. Mr. Letterman, what gives you the right to make a joke of all this? Why do you not understand:  It was not a bad joke just because you got the wrong Palin, or because you had to explain it. It was a bad joke because it mocked a family's hardest trial. It used one of the most gut-wrenching events a mother, father, and daughter will ever endure--used that for a laugh.

No one should ever be treated that way. Preach if you want; sermonize; moralize. Don't ridicule. If you want to make light of your own pain, go ahead. Hands off the other person's pain. I'm not asking you to have a heart; just a sense of decency. And for all the Letterman fans:  Don't you dare try to defend the indefensible. He was wrong. Period.

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Monday, May 18, 2009

Prayer and Things

A friend asked me to write a few paragraphs for a book he's self-publishing. The book is about the transforming power of prayer. I have to admit that I wondered why he wanted me to do this. Maybe because I'm the only aspiring writer he knows, and have the best grammar...because I'm surely no expert on prayer.

Of course, why would I let that stop me?

But prayer...the transforming power of prayer? "Prayer changes things." That was the first thing I wrote, in quotes, as something I'd heard again and again. It's something all Christians believe, officially. In practice, though, maybe we don't. In practice, it might be more like "things change prayer."

I started to write about this and to point out that the New Testament believers knew better--that prayer really does change circumstances, that God really works miracles when people pray. But I began to think about what underlies prayer that transforms. Not faith, or at least not only faith. As important as faith is, faith alone doesn't make our prayers "work." There has to be something else that accompanies faith.

"If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, you will ask what you will and it shall be given you."

Jesus said that the night before his death. It was in a long discourse in which he opened his heart to his disciples, preparing them for his death and preparing them to wait for the Holy Spirit. It's intriguing that, as he is getting ready to leave, he tells them, and us, to "abide" in him. That means, in part, keeping his words in us. It means keeping his commands. It means loving Jesus.

It's the Father himself who has put us into this union. We didn't go up to heaven and work out a deal; the Godhead has come in the person of the Son and enacted a covenant with us, a covenant that God made and maintains. In fact, the New Covenant gives another piece to the puzzle of "abiding." Specifically, this is the New Covenant:
I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, "Know the Lord," because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more. (Hebrews 8:10b-12, quoting Jeremiah 31:31-34)

In this covenant, it's God who starts all the action. He dictates the terms and he puts and he writes; he forgives; and he remembers no more. We receive his actions--his laws in our minds and on our hearts. He puts something into us and we are changed because of that. All Jesus commands is that we remain with God's laws in our minds and our hearts, knowing God and sure of his forgiveness. That's "abiding."

And then we will pray prayers that change things.

The key to prayer that transforms is knowing that we ourselves have been transformed. I know this for a fact. See, I fail a lot. I don't really have a high opinion of myself most days. I snap at the kids. I growl at my wife. I grumble at work. I do these things over and over again, and then wonder: Have I really been changed? And my prayers are weak and pathetic.

But then there are the times (I wish they were more frequent!) when I think: All of this, my God, you have forgiven. You have taken this away and put something new into me. You have changed me by putting your words and your laws into me. Then I pray differently: humbly, joyfully, expectantly.

When prayer is the fruit, or the proof, of performance, then things (my performance) change prayer. When prayer is the fruit of God's transformation, then prayer changes things.