On Homeschooling, Wheat Grinding, Child Vaccinations, Yoga, and Essential Oils

“And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, 4 and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” 1 Corinthians 2:2-5, ESV.

I’m disturbed by what I perceive to be a growing trend within American evangelicalism.

I’m not talking about anything heady or something only theologians worry about.

I’m talking about something very practical … something that touches the lives of us normal, everyday Christians.

I’d like to think that it’s merely a reflection of my social media stream, but conversations with others have confirmed my fears.

So what is it that is disturbing me?

That Christians are adamant about things we have no business being adamant about.

We are adamant that each couple have as many children as they can possibly manage, if not more.

We are adamant that everyone homeschool their children (which we currently do).

We are adamant that everyone grind their own wheat and make their own bread (which we often do).

We are adamant that the consumption of processed foods is sin (foods we don’t regularly choose first).

We are adamant that some, if not all, vaccinations are bad for our children (our shots are current).

We are adamant that our smoothie recipes are superior (I’ve got some good ones if you’re interested)

We are adamant that birthing moms at least consider a home birth (we’ve loved hospitals in the past).

We are adamant that there are essential oils for every ailment under the sun (we use these from time to time)

We are adamant that yoga is evil (which I do frequently).

We are adamant that everyone have an exercise routine (like I do).

And we are adamant about “arguing” over these things on social media.

We are adamant about many things, yet the one thing we must be adamant about, we are not. “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”

An adamant attitude is not one of weakness, fear and trembling: it’s one of brashness, overconfidence, and pride.

An adamant attitude does not exhibit itself in speech that is humble and exemplary of the Spirit’s power: it’s one of vitriol, self-righteousness, superiority.

An adamant attitude does not lead others to faith in the power of God; it leads to despair as others attempt to be as wise as you demand they be.

Brothers and sisters, let us be adamant about only one thing: “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”

Force not your preferences on others. Force not those things upon which the Spirit may be leading you to do yet not others. God did not call us to be evangelists for the secondary and tertiary things of our faith, but only our faith. Our good news is not the fruit of the gospel, but only the gospel.

Let us not be adamant about the things we have no business being adamant about.

Let us be adamant, but be adamant about the gospel.

Churches Atheists Love

“If you think about church, there’s very little that’s bad. It’s singing awesome songs, hearing interesting talks, thinking about improving yourself and helping other people — and doing that in a community with wonderful relationships. What part of that is not to like?”

That is the sentiment of British comedian and atheist Sanderson Jones, and his fuel for helping to start atheist congregations in England and in the United States.

His quote and the story I pulled it from serve as a powerful reminder of why the gospel must be preached on Sundays from the authority of God’s Word, rather than moralistic platitudes. From the article, I’ve pulled a list of traits or virtues that these atheists love, and they sound a lot like the virtues of the faith or characteristics of some church services.

  • Rousing music
  • Inspirational sermon
  • Time for reflection and reading
  • Challenge to improve yourself
  • Serving other people
  • Wonderful relationships with others
  • Charitable
  • Good citizens
  • Boisterous and funny services
  • Offerings
  • Coffee and pastries

If someone visited your congregation, would the content of the teaching be any different than what is taking place in these atheistic congregations? What distinguishes your congregation from the one described above, and is that clear every Sunday?

Do you see the danger in teaching the virtues of the faith apart from the gospel that produces those virtues?

Conviction – A Second Step for Engaging the Homosexual Community with the Gospel

In yesterday’s post, I talked about Jesus’ willingness to engage and converse with someone His people avoided and despised. Though the social norms for Jews in Jesus’ day called for them to avoid and hate Samaritans, Jesus not only engaged them on their turf, but chose a woman of ill-repute to speak with in broad daylight, and share a drink of water with!

Sometimes we fear engaging in these kinds of conversations, not because we are hateful or angry, but because we’re afraid of not being able to speak about our convictions without becoming emotional, or of losing our convictions in the midst of the conversation. We might also be afraid of hurting the person’s feelings in expressing our convictions. We might also be afraid of finding out that we really don’t believe them after all.

Jesus knew of no such fear in His conversation with the Samaritan woman. Look at the verses in John 4 where He clearly expresses the truth to this woman.

  • Verse 10 — Jesus replied, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.”
  • Verses 13-14 — “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.”
  • Verses 17-18 — “You don’t have a husband—for you have had five husbands, and you aren’t even married to the man you’re living with now.”
  • Verses 21-24 — “Believe me, dear woman, the time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem. You Samaritans know very little about the one you worship, while we Jews know all about him, for salvation comes through the Jews. But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way. For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.”
  • Verse 26 — “Then Jesus told her, “I Am the Messiah!”

This is not because the woman didn’t challenge Jesus. Verse 12 strongly implies that she thought Jesus was just a little too big for his undergarments: “Do you think you’re greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us this well? How can you offer better water than he and his sons and his animals enjoyed?”

So think of the obstacles Jesus faced.

  • His own people, even His disciples, openly questioned Him for passing through Samaria, much less stopping and conversing with someone.
  • The woman’s morality was sub-par at best, and Jesus was alone with her in a public place.
  • The woman had just enough pride to openly question Jesus.
  • Jesus’ worldview was completely different from hers.

These are all similar to the kinds of excuses we use when asked about talking about Jesus with the homosexual community. “My parents would go crazy.” “My church can’t handle this.” “If I was found with a group of gay people, others might suspect I am gay too.” “Have you ever tried talking with them? They are impossible to talk with.” “I don’t even know where to begin with them.”

Nevertheless, Jesus speaks His mind. He engaged in the conversation, and used the opportunity to speak truth to a lost woman, which included not only the truth of how to really worship God (“You Samaritans are wrong, technically speaking”), but also as to the woman’s sinful life.

So when the conversations allow, we must not be fearful of speaking the truth of the gospel. We must share our convictions.

But the spirit in which we deliver that truth must match the content of that truth.

I’ll talk about that spirit on Monday.

Joy is a Serious Business

Don’t you just love a good vacation? One where you truly escape from the realities of life? Where your responsibilities back home are truly … though temporarily … forgotten? I’ve taken a lot of vacations, but only 3 or 4 them were true escapes from reality.

The reason those vacations feel so good is because they are so necessary. One of the best ways to take life seriously is to take joy seriously. In order to truly understand the life’s earnestness, we have to escape and rest from it and refresh ourselves so that we can see our responsibilities with more clarity.

I love a good vacation. I love laughing, feasting, sleeping in, exercising, taking in the sites, reading a book, playing video games, watching movies, enjoying my family free of all but the most basic responsibilities … I LOVE a good vacation.

In other words, “Laughter is better than sorrow, for by laughter of face the heart is made glad.”


I also LOVE new baby smell.

They should market that. It’s so much better than new car smell (which I also LOVE).

We just had a baby, and one of the first things I did when I held her was put my nose to the crown of her head and take a long, deep breath full of new baby smell. It’s invigorating … inspiring … refreshing.

If I did that with my 9 year-old son, I’d pass out. The only market for pre-teen smell is for stuff to cover it up (a futile exercise, I might add).

And I love birthdays too. Cake, ice cream, magic tricks, candy, laughing children without any cares or responsibilities.

All of that to say, the day of birth is better than the day of death.


So you can understand my confusion when I came across Ecclesiastes 7 this week.

“By sadness of face the heart is made glad” (v. 3).

“The day of death than the day of birth” (v. 1).

So confident is the wisdom writer that the joyful life is a serious life, he goes on to suggest practical ways I can keep sadness and death in view, thus adding to my joy. For example, I should visit places of mourning (you know: funerals, sick wards, oncology units, assisted living homes, etc.) and accept criticism from those who have done just that and become wise in the process (everyone’s favorite exercise: being told how wrong and ignorant you are). We’re also encouraged to ponder the folly of living life like there’s no end in site. You know at least one person like this. Do you admire them for wisdom and true joy?

In the same way that a good reputation (character) is better than perfume (which just covers things up), it is better to keep the reality of life’s end (which is certainly coming) on the forefront of our minds rather than center our lives on vacations and escapes (which only bring joy in as much as they help us get a better perspective on the seriousness of life).

In other words, we should love the smell of the ER and a funeral home as much as that of a new baby.


 

Consider:

Have you ever attended a funeral that was particularly meaningful or that spoke to you about brevity or preciousness of life?

How is listening to rebuke or criticism from genuinely wise people similar to contemplating death?

In what ways are you most tempted to escape from the reality of life’s seriousness to the point where it’s harmful to your opportunity to have a truly joyful life like Ecclesiastes describes?

How might a deep understanding of life’s brevity help us in sharing the gospel with others?

How did Jesus experience the futility and meaninglessness of this world? How did He escape it? How do we escape it?

Trying is Failing

On Saturday I was leaving the parking lot of a local grocery store and strip mall when I very quickly came upon a minor conundrum.

A couple and their small child were nearly ready to cross from the parking lot to the store just in front of me and to my right, and another set of folks were nearly ready to cross from the store to the lot just in front of me and to my left. Additionally, there was a tie up of cars in an awkward position behind me, and only one car in front of me, and no one in front of him.

The conundrum was this: What’s the best thing for me to do to help everybody get what they need safely? (I realize not everybody thinks this way, but bear with me).

I decided to try and advance a car length quickly, as the person in front of me had started to go. If I succeeded, those wanting to cross could wait 3 seconds and cross safely behind me, while the mess behind me could clean up more easily with me out of the way.

It was a great plan and an honest attempt, but it failed miserably.

The car in front of me had other plans.

For whatever reason, the guy in front of me just stopped. Now, I was preventing either set of people from crossing AND contributing to the mess behind me. I even spilled coffee in the car. Rather than helping, I ended up annoying everyone and exacerbating the whole situation.

It was one of those situations where to try was to fail.

The experience served me as an illustration for how salvation does not work. Trying is failing. To see the need for salvation and to attempt to do anything inevitably leads to failure. We can do nothing to aid or contribute to the solution of the problem. To try is to fail.

So stop trying. Embrace the work by faith that’s been done for you in Christ.

Loving our Enemy, or Compromising the Gospel?

I am truly flummoxed with what to think about this story. Denny Burk explains.

The Oregon Department of Justice is investigating a complaint against a Christian baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex wedding. Here’s what happened in a nutshell. A woman and her daughter came into Aaron Klein’s store requesting a wedding cake. When they told Klein that the cake was for a wedding with two brides, he informed them that he does not serve same-sex weddings.

The woman and her daughter filed a complaint with the appropriate state agency. Now Klein is under investigation for breaking “The Oregon Equality Act of 2007,” which says business owners cannot deny public accommodations based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

In interviews afterward, Klein explained that he bases his views on what the Bible teaches about marriage. He quotes the text of Genesis 2:24 as his definition of marriage. Klein contends that the first amendment guarantees his right to practice his religion without interference from the government. In short, he believes that he shouldn’t have to violate his conscience by providing his services to a same-sex wedding. He claims that his Constitutional right to freedom of religion trumps Oregon state law. Klein says he has no problem serving homosexuals, and he does so regularly. He simply doesn’t want to bake cakes for same-sex weddings.

Here’s the video if you’d like to watch the news story.

I’m not flummoxed by the legal questions raised in this debate. It’s quite clear to me, though I doubt it will be as clear for Klein, the state of Oregon, and the Constitution.

I’m not confused by the biblical teaching of marriage between a man and a woman. Klein’s definition is an orthodox one.

What I am confused about is whether or not Klein made the right decision to refuse these people service. Would he have sinned by making a cake for a same-sex wedding because weddings should be male and female? As Burk explained, Klein says he has no problem serving homosexuals, and he does so regularly. He simply doesn’t want to bake cakes for same-sex weddings. Does making a cake for a same-sex couple’s wedding compromise Klein’s faith?

I just don’t think that Klein’s logic holds up here biblically.

When you remove the legal issues from this case (the US Constitution vs. Oregon law), and leave only the Gospel (including Klein’s understanding of marriage) and Klein’s business relationship with these people, what’s wrong with them eating his cake at their wedding? How does providing a cake pan out as an endorsement of same-sex marriage? Why not use the opportunity to be gracious, hospitable, and loving to two people who obviously need a shining example of Christian love? Why be more concerned about his religious freedoms than his Gospel witness?

I’m concerned that the Christian defense of the Constitution may lead to a compromise in the Gospel itself. I don’t think Christians can be more worried about their legal protections to practice their faith more than actually practicing their faith. Wouldn’t that be ironic: Christians losing influence by fighting more to protect their rights to influence?

 

Run Fools! Lessons from Gandalf the Grey

Shadow_And_FlameAfter reading the Hobbit with my boys (8 and 6), permission was granted to watch the Lord of the Rings trilogy as time allowed this winter. This past Friday, we finished the second installment, the Two Towers, and the boys can’t stop talking about Gandalf’s fall, battle, and transformation.

The extended version we were watching begins with a review of Gandalf’s destruction of the bridge in the mines of Moria. As Shadow-and-Flame falls, he is able to use his whip to pull Gandalf off the ledge. Clinging before he falls, Gandalf looks to his companions and says, “Run, fools!” And then he falls. Frodo is especially aggressive in his desire to rescue Gandalf somehow from his situation, but to no avail. Eventually, he obeys and runs to safety.

My boys were mind-boggled at why Gandalf told them to run. They understood that running was the right thing to do, but why did Gandalf offer instruction rather than ask for help? Why didn’t he say, “Give me a hand?” Why did he say, “Run, fools!” and then let go?

After a few open-ended discussion questions aimed at guiding them to a feasible answer, they arrived at this basic conclusion: Gandalf knew he had to fall, and that the others would want to help keep him from falling.

Precisely.

And exactly what Jesus was communicating to His disciples in Mark 8:27-38.

It’s in v. 29 that Peter confesses that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. And in the moment of that confession, Jesus sits His disciples down and explains in detail what’s to happen to Him because He is the Christ. Here’s the synopsis from “the Message.”

Jesus warned them to keep it quiet, not to breathe a word of it to anyone. He then began explaining things to them: “It is necessary that the Son of Man proceed to an ordeal of suffering, be tried and found guilty by the elders, high priests, and religion scholars, be killed, and after three days rise up alive.” He said this simply and clearly so they couldn’t miss it.

Like Frodo as Gandalf fell, Peter spoke up to Jesus in protest. But Jesus rebuked him and explained to everyone around him that, though they may not understand now, Jesus had to fall … and they would too. Here’s Mark 8:34-37 from “the Message.”

“Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for?

The Lord of the Rings is ripe with opportunities to see the Gospel, and I think its especially good for communicating it to budding young men. What elements of the Gospel have you seen in these films?