Sunday, December 31, 2006

Raising an Elder for the Church

Although our son, Christopher, is 3 years old, Janet and I have talked about our goals for him. We do not know how his interests will change over the years. Will he grow up to be a firefighter? A police officer? A mail carrier? A missionary? A politician? An athelete? Who knows?

We do not know what his career may be, but we know what kind of man we would like to see him become. We want him to internalize the qualities of an elder described in the New Testament. We want him to be a genuine follower of Jesus Christ who is "above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination," not " arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined." We want Christopher to "hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound (healthy) doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it" (Titus 1:6-9, ESV).

We will pray and teach and model our lives in such a way that those characteristics will be nurtured in Christopher. No matter what career he may choose, where he may live, or how much money he may earn, we look forward to seeing our son become a godly man.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

How to Handle the Bible

I found this passage from the devotional The Strength of a Man by David Roper. It is titled "Bible", and can be found on pages 70-71.

Present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15)

Most of us are biblically educated beyond our character, perhaps because we confuse the means with the end. We falsely assume that the purpose of Bible study is mere learning, a fallacy particularly characteristic of those of us who take the Bible straight.

But mere orthodoxy is never enough. Even the demons are orthodox (James 2:19). They study the Bible too. They make their own prophetic charts and draw their own theological lines, but the Book doesn't alter their behavior. They're devilish to the end.

In Paul's second letter to Timothy, he encouraged his young friend to be an approved workman "who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15).

The word here translated "who correctly handles" means "one who goes for a goal." Classical Greek writers used the word of road builders who cut their way straight through a forest to a predetermined location. The Septuagint (the first Greek translation of the Old Testament) used the word in the last phrase of Proverbs 3:6. "In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight (direct you to the goal)."

Paul contrasted good Bible study with the flawed methods of those who were "quarreling about words," which he said, "is of no value, and only ruins those who listen" (2:14). Further, "godless chatter" ---mere discussion of the Bible without the goal of godliness---will make one become "more and more ungodly" (2:16). Ironically, God's Word, when misused, can make us less and less like God!

Paul therefore warns Timothy to "flee the evil desires of youth" (2:22), a command that in context has little or nothing to do with youthful sexual desires. Paul rather had in mind the wrong-headed passion of the young and the immature to argue about meaning---"word-fight" is the term he coins. Those who mishandle God's word in this way are workmen who ought to be ashamed.

Instead of arguing about meaning, Timothy was to "pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart" (2:22). In other words, he was to seek God and his goodness through the Book. To do so is to handle the Word correctly---to go straight to the goal.

The purpose of Bible study is clear. It ought to produce worship and make us more and more like our Lord. To the extent that we read the Scriptures for that reason our Bible reading is valid; to the extent that we do not, it's nonproductive. Worse, it's counterproductive, making us less and less like our Lord. Thus the hymnist prayed:

Beyond the sacred page, I seek Thee, Lord,
My spirit pants for Thee, O living Word.

It's humbling to think about the many times that I have jumped into counterproductive arguments about the Bible. While it is necessary to defend the faith at times, I do not want to walk around with a chip on my shoulder, eager for a "word-fight." It's such an unhealthy and unattractive way to live! Jesus deserves better from me, and I am determined to do better in this area.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Love Greets People Outside Our Group

I have been reading through "What Jesus Demands from the World" by John Piper, a book that Janet gave me for my birthday last month. She knows how much I like John Piper's writings.

This is a paragraph from page 233.

Loving our enemy includes those who are hard to love, whether a hostile stranger or a bad-tempered spouse. And therefore the ways of love that Jesus demands are as varied as self-sacrifice at the one end of the spectrum and a simple greeting at the other end. It is remarkable that in the context of enemy-love Jesus says something as ordinary as, "If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?" (Matt. 5:47). People concerned with global suffering and international injustices might think this is ridiculously individualistic and insignificant. Greetings? Does it really matter in a world like ours whom we say hello to on the street? Jesus knows that the true condition of our heart is revealed not just by the global causes we espouse, but by the daily acts of courtesy we show. Relentlessly he pursues the transformation of our hearts, not just the alteration of our social agendas.

What a needed word! It is so easy to "love humanity" without actually loving people. I want (and need) to do both.

Friday, December 08, 2006

The Nativity Story

Our family saw "The Nativity Story" at a local movie theater on Sunday afternoon. The story about the birth of Jesus Christ is told in a very compelling way. We get a little insight into the culture and times of Jesus' mother and adoptive father. The town of Nazareth is portrayed as a dirty and poor community in which people take God seriously and children enjoy their lives. The Roman Empire rules without mercy, and King Herod is a duplicitous and paranoid politician who is obsessed about messianic prophesies from the Jewish scriptures.

"Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God" (Luke 6:20, NIV).

"But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort" (Luke 6:24, NIV).

Those two verses came to mind as we saw the contrasts between King Herod and Jesus' family.

In Mary, we saw a young woman who made a quick transition from being a girl to a responsible woman when she became engaged to Joseph. Although she struggled with the idea of being married to Joseph, she came to love and respect him as she saw his exceptional qualities lived out. Mary came across as a firm believer, even though nearly everyone (except her much older cousin Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist) doubted the supernatural origin of her pregnancy.

The Bible describes Joseph as "a righteous man" (Matthew 1:19, NIV). In the movie, we get a good idea why. When confronted with Mary's unexpected pregnancy, he is heart-broken. He had chosen to marry her because he had always viewed her as a young woman of noble character. To think that she may have committed sexual immorality tore him up. He said that he had always pursued honor in his life, but it becomes obvious that he did not care to be honored by people so much as to live honorably before his God. He took Mary as his wife and Jesus as his son despite the negative opinions of his friends, neighbors, and others. In marrying Mary, he allowed himself to be thought of as having committed sexual immorality with her.

We saw Joseph secretly return a donkey to his future father-in-law, who had lost it to tax collectors. After paying the taxes for Mary's father, he returned the donkey without letting him know that he had paid the taxes for him. Later, when their donkey was becoming weak on the long trip to Bethlehem, Joseph attempted to share his meal with the donkey secretly so that it would have the strength to continue carrying Mary. ( He never knew that Mary saw him trying to take care of her in that way.) I was reminded of Jesus' words, "Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven" (Matthew 6:1, NIV).

The scenes with the shepherds were the most touching of the movie. We saw how God showed special favor to some men who viewed themselves as far from special.

The magi were interesting, but their scenes may have been the least accurate. For some reason, they were not warned in a dream against returning to see Herod, but they seemed to figure out on their own that it was a bad idea. On the other hand, I liked that they were portrayed as astronomers rather than astrologers.

The Nativity Story may be the best biblical movie ever made. The character development made it the most thoughtful biblical movie that I have ever seen. I hope that others will enjoy it as much as I did. I'm looking forward to getting it on DVD.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

National Adoption Awareness Month

November is National Adoption Awareness Month in the United States. According to the Oklahoma Eagle newspaper, "As of November 1, there are 1962 children in the custody of the Oklahoma Department of Human Services who have been identified with a goal of adoption. There is an overwhelming increase in the number of waiting children between the ages of 0-5 years; 889 compared to 449 at this time last year" ("November is National Adoption Awareness Month nationwide," Oklahoma Eagle, November 17, 2006, p.1).

For the last week, the radio program FamilyLife Today has been advocating for churches to become involved in adoption and orphan care. As pointed out on the program, at the center of pure religion is a concern for children without parents (James 1:27). God is concerned about orphans, and he calls his people to share his concern.

Dennis and Barbara Rainey of FamilyLife pointed out that the church has been known as being pro-life, but that we have not been as pro-adoption. However, the two should go hand-in-hand. The early church made a difference in the first few centuries by adopting children who had been disgarded in the culture and left to die. We can do the same today. If a couple from each Church of Christ in the state were to adopt a child from state custody, the Church of Christ alone could probably empty the foster care system of waiting children within the next year. If the Christians of Oklahoma were to dramatically increase adoptions, the argument of some that abortion is needed because children are unwanted would ring hollow. If American Christians were to adopt increasing numbers of international children, how many of the world's 140 million orphans would have a future? How many would grow up to know the stability of a loving mother and father as well as the ultimate Father of the fatherless? The evangelistic impact could be huge.

Of course, not every family can adopt a child. However, everyone can do something. We can pray. We can support adoption agencies like Christian Services of Oklahoma. We can encourage adoptive families, love adopted children, and appreciate birth parents who place their children with adoptive parents. We can sponsor children internationally through the Christian Relief Fund. We can be foster parents. We can support children's homes for troubled children. (The December issue of the Christian Chronicle contains several good articles about this type of ministry, written by Bobby and Tammy Ross and Harold Shank.) A small group from Jenks Church supports an orphanage in a former Soviet republic. Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis provides the money for any family in their congregation who wants to adopt a minority child or a child from another country. (Some of the larger Churches of Christ could do the same.) The possibilities are nearly endless, as are the opportunities.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Genesis 3

The fall of Adam and Eve seems so innocent compared to the sins that would be committed by their descendents. They broke God's command to not eat fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The rest of Genesis tells the story of envy, murder, sexual immorality ( including rape and homosexuality), hatred, deceit, and numerous other sins among the family of Adam and Eve. The saga continues in today's newspaper.

Why did their simple act of disobedience unleash a world of sin? Perhaps part of the answer lies in the insecurity of a broken relationship with God. Would we even be tempted to commit such sins if we were living in the Garden of Eden with an absolutely secure relationship with our Creator? Could our sins be rooted in a deep need for God? Is our "flesh" or "sinful nature" simply (or at least partially) a psychological deficiency that has scarred humanity since the fall?

Could that be why the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is so important? We need the healing presence of God in order to be made whole again.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Image of God

"So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them" (Genesis 1:27, NIV).

What does it mean to be created in the image of God? Whatever else it means, it must mean that people are special to God. He cares about plants, animals, and the environment. In fact, he has charged humanity with taking care of them, managing them, and "ruling" over them. However, they were not created in his image. Men, women, boys, and girls have a special place in God's heart because they bear his image.

The image of God has been believed to have been many things over the years: intelligence, the ability to communicate, creativity, and many other attributes. However, can the image of God be equated with abilities? While some animals may have a higher IQ than a severely mentally disabled child or a comatose man, the person would still bear the image of God lacking in animals. Intelligent men have no more of the image of God than simple men. The deaf and mute Helen Keller bore the image of God as much as the great communicator Ronald Reagan. An artist and a musician have the same image of God as a paralyzed woman in a hospice.

God's image must be linked to a spiritual component within us.

Since people have been created in the image of God, anyone who respects God must respect those who bear his image. This is especially important to remember when interacting with people who differ from me in language, culture, temperment, religion, and choice of sins. We may be different, but I must remember our common Creator.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Psalm 103

I am grateful that God has revealed his identity. Through his creation, we would have known that some kind of deity existed, but what kind? We would have been clueless.

The Bible points to a God "who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things." He "works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed." He is "compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love."

God has a character worth worshiping. When I notice his qualities in people, I admire those people. When I consider where those qualities originate, I worship.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

In the Beginning

"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." The Bible starts with a profound statement, but how else could it begin? If anything exists, something (or someone) must have always existed. In the natural world, something does not come from nothing. The material universe does not appear to be eternal. It seems to be expanding from some point of origin, and it seems to be subject to decay (which indicates an end to everything at some point in the future). For the natural universe to exist at all appears to call for a supernatural origin. This fits well with the first verse of the Bible.

So where did God come from? How long has he existed? How could I possibly understand any answer to those questions? Those are natural questions with supernatural answers. Unless God created himself (and that would be the ultimate paradox), he must have always existed. If so, the concept of time is nearly irrelevant to God. I could ask God, "What were you doing 10 trillion years ago? 100 trillion years ago? 10 billion trillion years ago?" But I could never come to a time when he would not have existed.

Furthermore, when I have been with God 10 billion trillion years, I will still not be close to his age. He will continue to be infinately older than I am.

In so many ways, Genesis 1:1 is humbling to me. I see God as so far above me that words cannot be found to describe the expanse. As the song states, "I stand to praise you, but I fall to my knees."