Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Workers of the Home

I was invited to teach on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood to one of our women's bible studies last week. It was a rather broad and sweeping look at the biblical and theological importance of the whole topic, so I labored long as I often try to do on this rather 'touchy' issue to establish the fundamental principles that we may gather from Scripture. It is then important to set them in their proper theological framework, and then try and make some more 'practical' applications within our contemporary and personal contexts.

Here is a summary statement of the broad testimony of Scripture to Manhood and Womanhood:
God made man male and female in his image. As such, men and women are equal as image bearers. Though equal in essence, or 'ontology' (being), they are nonetheless distinctly different in a variety of ways. These differences, reaching beyond biology and physiology, are God ordained and good. With such 'functional' differences, men and women are the natural and necessary compliments of one another. These functional differences call men to lead and serve as 'heads' of their homes, churches, and even in society at large. The functional differences call women to submit to the biblical headship of their husbands, pastors, and leaders in society. These differences display the glory of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. These differences display the glorious and mysterious relationship of Christ the bridegroom and His Church the bride.

Some questions of practical application might be:
What does headship and submission look like on a daily level?
What do we do with abuses of headship? What do we do with the neglect of submission?
What about societal and cultural moves toward an increasingly secular and egalitarian framework for all of life and its implications in the life of the believer and a believing family (from girls wrestling boys at our local high school, to women serving in the armed forces, to the question of women leading the country- which is fast approaching with the real possibility of a female speaker and a female president)?

All good questions. And those who have any biblical and spiritual fortitude should step up and try to answer them honestly. The answers are not inconsequential. Sadly, biblical fortitude is a commodity in scarce supply these days.

The question I often get has to do with women working outside the home. Can or should a woman with children (or without children even) work outside the home? The question, lest you think me a chauvinist dinosaur, finds its impetus in Scripture:

1 Timothy 5:14 So I counsel younger widows to marry, to have children, to manage their homes and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander.
Titus 2:3 Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. 4 Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, 5 to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.

I believe there is room to be biblically faithful to godly womanhood presented in these exhortations in a variety of ways in the given context of your life. I try to counsel folks asking the above question by presenting the principles and biblical foundation, so that each can form godly convictions and apply them rightly in their unique situation. Each one of us will stand before the Lord and answer to Him as stewards of his . I won't answer for you, and you will not answer for me. I think that it is safe to say that many of our decisions surrounding these issues are driven more by worldly concerns and personal desires than by the convictions we have formed based on Scripture.

I'd like to lay down some basic principles that seem to be at the heart of the matter in these letters and throughout the Scriptural call to biblical womanhood. First, let me make an important preliminary point.

Both of these verses are found in what are commonly referred to as the 'pastoral epistles'. The context of these letters are from the Apostle Paul to two young pastors dealing with the struggles, concerns, and issues that face the church (Timothy in Ephesus and Titus in Crete). It simply will not do to write off these passages as 'cultural' and therefore not applicable today. This sort of answer to the 'problem' (as some see it) of Paul's rather archaic notion of good housekeeping is a rather torturous hermeneutic, and I see it thrown around willy nilly on this issue. There are two passages in the NT that Paul calls Timothy to directly exhort women in the church- the widows, and of course, single women are exhorted to marry and 'work in the home'. The older women are to give themselves to teaching and discipling the younger women to be 'rulers' or 'managers' of the home. We must mark well that nowhere in these crucial letters (or in the New Testament) does Paul call women to work outside the home, to pursue vocation outside the home, to find an 'identity' outside the home. He could have done this. It was culturally acceptable in both Ephesus and Crete for women, especially Greek and Roman women, to pursue a 'life' outside the home. But, in fact, Paul does not exhort them to pursue a vocation outside the home, nor does he exhort them regarding how they should labor outside the home if indeed pursue this. It is reasonable to think that his exhortations are rooted in the reality that women were indeed forsaking the home for some other area of labor, ministry, or perhaps just laziness. He explicitly calls women to the care of the home. I have heard more than once someone say rather accusingly, "Pastor Erik, you don't believe a woman should work outside the home." That may or may not be true (for the most part, especially where young children are in the home, or where there are not significant financial exigencies, it is true). The question is of not fundamental importance if I believe this or that (of course in a secondary sense it is important, me being a pastor and all). Of fundamental importance is whether you believe this or that, and whether or not that belief is founded on God's Word.

Here are some basic principles that we might glean from these passages, in the broader context of the whole of Scripture dealing with biblical manhood and womanhood:

1. These passages establish that the 'home' is crucial.

The home is a place that needs labor and care so that it provides a healthy arena for godly marriages, the proper nurture of children, and the work of ministry.. We live in a culture that is calling us all - men, women, and children - away from the home and into the world. God saw the 'home' as a place so vitally important that there should be one giving a 'full time' vocational interest in its maintenance and order. I am taking 'home' to mean more than the physical structure, or 'house'. The 'home' is the laboratory of health and development of so many aspects of our lives, especially for our little ones. The exhortation, you'll observe, is to the younger women, those who have the needs of children before them, or those who should be considering the blessing of children and family.

2. The vocation of 'home making' is noble.

The work and management of the home is a lofty and high calling. The nurture of chidren in the context of a believing home is of inestimable value to the kingdom of God and the blessing of culture and society. We should be careful not to denigrate this calling and duty as ignoble, not worthwhile, or demeaning. Recently a young woman told me that she doesn't want to just have babies, change diapers, and make dinner for a husband. I hear this sentiment a lot. I often try to graciously point out how grateful I am that my mother carried me for nine months and did not abort me, changed my diapers and did not let me sit in poop and pee all day long, and made the dinner table a place of good food, good fellowship, and love rather than a fast food drive-thru. As lowly and mundane as these duties may seem from our perspective, the care and grace of a mother in the doing of them is so important to our little ones and our homes.

3. The home and its work should be a priority for both men and women.

It should be a priority for men as they work hard to provide for the financial and material needs of the home. It should be a priority for men as they balance the demands of their work in provision with the emotional and spiritual needs of their wives and children that is also their calling to provide. So, do not forsake the material needs of the home- work hard and pay the mortgage. Do not forsake the spiritual needs of the home- work hard, but come home and wrestle with the kids, (and, of course, wrestle with your wife later on in the evening- can I get an Amen?), lead devotions at the table, and do the dishes . This is a hard line to walk. But, men, walk it we must.

It should be a priority for women as they receive the unique gifting and calling of God to bear and nurture children. God created women with the ability to bear children. Women are uniquely gifted to nurture children in those most crucial stages of childhood development (the natural ability that Tori has to soothe and feed our babies from her own body is a gift of God to our children and to her). In these passages it is the women who are called to be 'workers' and 'managers' of the home, not the men. This is worth noting. This vocation is given by God to women, naturally through childbirth, early nurturing, and general inclinations to care giving that seem to be 'hard wired' into women by God. The reversal of this calling- from women to men, which is increasingly common today, is generally not healthy for children, is generally not natural to biblical masculinity, and finds little to no warrant in Scripture.

[Another more distinctly theological argument may be made which would assert that to reverse these roles in the home is also a refusal to deal redemptively and faithfully with the curse of the fall (cf. Genesis 3:16-19). Pain and abor outside the home - in the field in the ancient near eastern context, in the office in our contemporary context- is part of the curse that MEN bear. Pain and labor in childbirth and in the raising of children is part of the curse that WOMEN bear. We must be careful not to shirk our responsibilities in these areas and so refuse the blessing that God brings in our faithfulness to His redemptive plan as we bear the burden of the curse. In many homes we have infinite frustration as two partners bear the burden of the curse upon men- while our children languish as no one bears the curse that would bring them blessing. This could take more fleshing out, but I'll leave it at that for now.]

4. The home is the domain of the woman.

The passage in Titus 2 says that the woman should be the the 'oikourgous'- the worker of the home. The passage in 1 Timothy 5 says that the woman is to be the 'oikodespotein'- the ruler of the house. A great picture in Scripture of the woman who 'rules her house' is in Proverbs 31:10-31. The 'home making' enterprise may reach, in fact should reach, much farther than the walls of her house. It is an entrepeneurial enterprise. It takes great wisdom, skill, grace, care, strength, and love. Proverbs 31, along with these passages of the Pastoral Epistles, reveal that the woman is divinely called to this labor, and the women of God in the church should be laboring to call, equip, and encourage other women in this vocation of 'seeing well to the needs of her home'. The wise husband, though bearing ultimately the responsibility for his family, marriage, his children, and his home, will charge his wife to take control of the home, and move aside so she may do it. Tori runs our budget, she gives me 'honey-do' lists, fixes the calendar of our family life, keeps me accountable in the spiritual duties I bear in our family and marriage. I gladly surrender this domain to her and marvel at her manifold gifts, talents, and hard work in accepting the call.

5. The home and its life is of critical importance to the Church and its life.

It is a dangerous thing for a pastor to meddle in such things. I write all this with fear and trembling. I know that many will be angry with me and think me a fool. I know that there are many folks who struggle with these decisions with great anxiety and pain due to the nature of their circumstances. I know that for many to take heed to these passages would mean to change the whole trajectory of their plans and dreams regarding their lives. I know that these aren't 'black and white' issues. There is a good bit of grey here. What about single women? What about married women without children? What about single moms? What about families with great financial burdens that need two incomes to survive? What about women with grown children?
I believe that there are answers to such questions. But they must be answered in the context of careful study of the Word, with wise and experienced counsel, with prayer and petitions, and with great caution and care. The Apostle sees these issues as important enough to exhort Pastor Timothy and Pastor Titus to get into it with their people.

Why is this? Because the health of the church is wrapped up in the health of the home. Paul is very concerned with the home life of the leaders of the church over in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. The decisions, labors, and care of a man in his home will be indicative of the decisions, labors and care of a man in his church, 'the family of God' (1 Timothy 3:4-5). In the New Testament, the home and the family are the main sphere of ministry and outreach. The local churches met in homes (Rom.16:5;1 Cor. 16:19;Col.4:15;Phile 1:2). The bulk of pastoral care and teaching was from 'home to home' (Acts 2:46-47; 20:20). The attack of Satan would come as false teachers proceed from 'home to home' (2 Tim. 3:6-7; Acts 8:3). As the home is the cornerstone of any healthy society, so is the spiritual health of the home the cornerstone of the spiritual health of the church.

We cannot ignore the immense secular forces at work in our culture today that are challenging the biblical call to build healthy and godly marriages, families, and churches. These forces are by and large calling men and women to the altars of personal reputation, vocational identity, opulence, comfort, and power. There is a push toward a secular, radical feminism on many fronts in our culture- our homes, our schools, the workplace, and sadly the church. The sacrifices we must offer up to the gods of this age are often those things that God's Word calls us to pursue and press toward for His glory and our good. There is a duty of pastors, elders, godly older women, and the whole assembly of God's people to fight the impulses and forces of the age and continually return to the standard of God's Word. Let's fight that fleshly, worldly, and dare I say, Satanic desire to ask, "Hath God really said?" and rather embrace the design of God for our marriages, our homes, our churches, and our very lives.

Soli Deo Gloria

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Monday, February 26, 2007

Leprosy, Doeg the Edomite, and an Unjust Manager.

What is a disease you might really want to steer clear of, a terrible name for your next child, and the dude you worked for at McDonalds your sophomore year of high school?

If you are doing a 'thru the bible' reading plan, you might be wading through Leviticus right now. Today I read Leviticus 14, which bears the scintillating title: "Laws for Cleansing Lepers" in the ESV. [By the way, I picked up a pretty cool ESV journaling bible-
It has nice wide margins for notes, with a bible reading plan in the back.]

Leviticus 14 is one of those chapters in the Bible that, upon first read, makes most of us scratch our head (in bewilderment, hopefully not because of a nasty leprous scalp condition) and inquire of God as to what He was thinking in giving such laws and requirements. And not only this, He then inspired Moses by the Spirit to put them down in Scripture to confound modern enlightened folk such as you and me. I took a peek at tomorrow, where it only gets better: "Laws about Bodily Discharge". File under , "Sermons Never Preached at Willow Creek Community Church".

We must ask, however cautiously and reverently, 'What is the deal, Lord?'

Let me just throw out some thoughts, blog out my ruminations, and lead you into some deeper thoughts about a hard, dare I say, weird passage such as Leviticus 14 (and 15). First, I'll give you a handful of verses from this rather intriquing passage,

14:1 The LORD said to Moses, 2 "These are the regulations for the diseased person at the time of his ceremonial cleansing, when he is brought to the priest: 3 The priest is to go outside the camp and examine him. If the person has been healed of his infectious skin disease, 4 the priest shall order that two live clean birds and some cedar wood, scarlet yarn and hyssop be brought for the one to be cleansed. 5 Then the priest shall order that one of the birds be killed over fresh water in a clay pot. 6 He is then to take the live bird and dip it, together with the cedar wood, the scarlet yarn and the hyssop, into the blood of the bird that was killed over the fresh water. 7 Seven times he shall sprinkle the one to be cleansed of the infectious disease and pronounce him clean. Then he is to release the live bird in the open fields.

This passage is dealing with sin and its consequences. It deals with our sin, our uncleanness. Yet, it also deals with the means by which God graciously provides atonement (at-one-ment, covering of sin for the sake of communion and fellowship). If we are going to talk about grace and mercy, we must first talk about the need for grace and mercy (whether it is grace in the form of answered prayer, grace in the form of a healed affliction, grace in the form of a ritual sacrifice pointing to the atoning work of Christ, or grace, the ultimate grace, in the atoning work of Christ). Because of our sin, we are dependent, utterly dependent, upon God's grace to provide atonement.

Now, you might ask, is a disease like leprosy the consequence of sin? Yes. Of course. Was there leprosy in the garden before the fall? Is leprosy a disease that kills, especially in the Ancient Near Eastern world? Yes. Aren't the wages of sin death? Yes. This is a passage that addresses, very acutely, the reality that we are, in our sin, unclean. Of course, I do not mean to say that all evils, such as disease, afflictions, various crises and disasters are necessarily a direct consequence of our own sin. Jesus addressed this over in John 9 when his disciples asked why a certain man was born blind. Jesus says the man was born blind to bring glory to God (specifically through the healing power of Jesus giving him sight), not as any immediate consequence of his own sin or the sin of his parents.

But, Jesus is not speaking absolutely about all disease, afflictions, and evils. There are many examples where we may say that diseases or afflictions are the direct consequence, or wage, of our own or another's sin (the planes that crashed into the Twin Towers; a baby born with fetal alchohol syndrome; the ravages of drug addiction). However much we love to go the way of our culture and avoid dealing with our sin and its consequences by removing any and all personal culpability and responsibility for our choices and our actions, we cannot escape the reality of our lives and our predicament. We are sinners and we need atonement. We are unclean, dying, sick, aging, weak; for some the leprosy is painfully evident upon the skin, but for all of us it is deep down in the heart. God has displayed our sin to us, and he has displayed his righteousness to us in his law. But, he has also, in his law, displayed his mercy, his atoning, forgiving power that is in a shadowy way held forth in the sacrifice of a bird (or a ram, or a goat) to cover sin, and the release of another bird (or goat- cf. Lev. 14:7 and 16:6-10) to point to deliverance and freedom through a substitutionary sacrifice.

And so, we read a hard, or at least culturally dissonant, passage like Leviticus 14 and 15 and are able to see how it points us to our own sin, our own need, and the gracious means for atonement that God provided in the Law to point to the mediating work of Christ. We stand this side of the cross, and we read the Law and see it as, "a shadow of the good things that are coming-- not the realities themselves" (Heb. 10:1), the reality being the person and work of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29).

What does Doeg the Edomite and the Unjust Manager have to do with all this? Like I said above, I was reading Leviticus 14 in the context of my daily reading plan. On the same day we read of the 'Laws for Cleansing Lepers' we read as well from Psalm 52. The introductory 'superscription' for this psalm gives us this historical context, "To the choirmaster. A Maskil of David, when Doeg the Edomite came and told Saul, "David has come to the house of Ahimelech". You can read more about this scene over in 1 Samuel 21 and 22. In a nutshell, Saul is still King of Israel, and David is fleeing from Saul's designs to kill him. David comes to a place called Nob, where we find a company of priests in the house of Ahimelech. Ahimelech gives safe haven to David, due mostly to David's falsification of the reason for his visit. David and his men are given provisions from the table of consecrated bread. 2 Samuel 21 tells us that the chief of Saul's herdsmen, named Doeg, from Edom, is in the wings and later reports to Saul that David found refuge from the house of Ahimelech. By Saul's command, Doeg the Edomite kills Ahimelech and 84 other priests who served the Lord at Nob. Doeg then proceeded to 'put the city to the sword, woman, child,infant, ox, donkey, and sheep'. Doeg, and indeed Saul, were bloodthirsty and cruel men, chasing with great hate and wrath the future king of Israel, wantonly killing all who stand in their way.

With this historical context, we read Psalm 52: 6-9:
The righteous will see and fear; they will laugh at him, saying, 7 "Here now is the man who did not make God his stronghold but trusted in his great wealth and grew strong by destroying others!"8 But I am like an olive tree flourishing in the house of God; I trust in God's unfailing love for ever and ever. 9 I will praise you forever for what you have done; in your name I will hope, for your name is good. I will praise you in the presence of your saints.

What I love about reading through the bible with an Old Testament passage from the Law, the Historical books, or the propthets, along with a chapter from the Psalms, and then a chapter from the New Testament is that we are able to catch glimpses of what Paul called 'the whole counsel of God' over in Acts 20:27. In Leviticus we find the promise of healing and atonement through the mediation of the priest, the substitute of the sacrifice, the portrait of redemption in the rituals of cleanness. We find that we are sinners and God has made a way for sinners to be cleansed and redeemed. In Psalm 52 we find that in the face of bloodthirsty men, in an age of sin and destruction, God will provide refuge and vindication for those who hope in Him and not in themselves.

Over in Luke 16, the New Testament passage for the day, we are told the parable of the Unjust Manager by Jesus. The story is told and then Jesus gives us this summary sentence, "No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money" (Luke 16:13). In the next passage we find further context for this story, "The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. And he said to them, "You are those who justify yourselves befor men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God" (vv. 14-15).

Don't trust in your bodies. Don't trust in your power and the strength of the sword. Don't trust in your riches. Don't trust in that which is exalted in this world. Trust only in God and lean only on his grace and mercy. Whether you're a leper, a fleeing king, a powerhungry tyrant, a priest under the sword of a wicked man, an unjust manager, or a money loving pharisee, there is only one way for you to be saved. There is only one refuge for your soul, and it is God's grace and the work of Christ on the cross.

That is the story of redemption, it is the 'whole counsel of God' from Leviticus to Psalms to Luke. From Genesis chapter one to Revelation chapter twenty two.

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Confessions of a Drowning Man

[Blogger Note: What follows is another insightful, stirring, and, dare I say, prophetic post from our snowy pated theologian in residence, pastor emeritus, elder statesman, most right [winged] reverend, all around nice guy, warrior and solemn keeper of low-mid-high-folk-fine-and funk culture, Mike Braun - known more importantly to me and four others as Dad, to 12 little ones {lucky 13 is on the way!} as Grandpa.]

A flood of questions and impressions have rushed through my mind since the execution of Saddam Hussein. Saddam's departure took place on the first day of Eid al-Adha on the Sunni calendar. Eid al-Adha is a feast that commemorates Abraham's attempt to sacrifice his illegitimate son Ishmael, an attempt thwarted by divine intervention so states the Koran. Actually the ancient record of Moses recorded that the son in question was not Ishmael but Isaac. But Muhammad, the author of the Koran, rarely bothered himself with such trivial historical accuracies. It appears Saddam Hussein was not favored by divine intervention at his moment of truth, but I digress.

Was it wise to sully a "holy day" with an execution? It is not necessarily a problem. Mr. Hussein, as the NY Times often referred to him, died on the day before Eid al-Adha according to the Shi'ite calendar though all Sunnis know Shi'ite calendars are not worth the paper they're printed on. Thus while many Sunnis were busy concluding their pre-feast pilgrimage by casting seven stones at Satan, the Shi'ites were free to turn their attentions elsewhere, namely to the very non-symbolic hanging of Saddam, a real live devil, if there ever was one. By the way, it is not that Muslims really stone Satan, Islamic apologists are quick to explain, it is more a symbolic renunciation of the devil. One is mindful of the touching act of faith performed by Michael Corleone who renounced the works of the devil at his godson's baptism. Much like the Godfather, many Muslims celebrated their holy day plotting the slow and painful deaths of their enemies, particularly Jews, while ceremonially rejecting the works of Satan. Renouncing Satan while embracing the wholesale slaughter of infidels, particularly Jews, is quite harmonious with the religion of The Prophet.

It seems fitting to me for Shiites to get the privilege of supervising the execution of Saddam since the only charge the Iraqis could make stick on the old tyrant was the murder of a relatively few number of Shi'ites, 148 to be exact. (A mere drop in the Iraqi bucket!) Those unfortunate Shi'ites, all 148 of them, were few in comparison to the millions of Kurds Saddam poisoned, bombed, starved and/or shot. The capital charge also seemed light compared to the violence inflicted upon those Mr. Hussein strangled with his bare hands for exercise and the others tortured to death by his sons for his and their mutual entertainment.

Amid the necrotic predilections of Iraqi politics and religion stands Moqtada Al Sadr, whose name was heard repeatedly shouted by Saddam's executioners over the infamous cell phone recording of the event. Sadr appears to be the Shi'ite of choice in Iraq these days. He would undoubtedly be seen in vodka ads on the pages of the Iraqi equivalents to Time Magazine and G.Q. were he only to allow himself an indulgence in the finer spirits. But no, Sadr prefers Jihad, the death of all Jews, and the occasional militia kidnapping and beheading to the ingestion of liquid intoxicants. Such abstinence befits a young Ayatolah on the move. One lesson stands out in the dispatch of Saddam Hussein to his alloted virgins or plotted damnations, depending on your religious inclinations. The coalition government of Nouri Maliki may lack the muscle to put Saddam to death but Moqtada Al Sadr did not. But hey, we can't expect everything from the new government of Iraq, can we? I mean, they do, after all, with the encouragement of our State Department, promise in their new constitution universal health care for all Iraqis. And, if any nation ever needed such a benefit, it is that one whose citizens take life and limb in hand each time they walk down the streets of Baghdad.

And so, in the Tsunami of my thoughts, amid the flotsam and jetsam swirling about me, such conundrums rise up briefly then plunge mercifully downward seeking solace, it seems, in my subconscious mind. The insanity of the Islamic world meets the insipidity of the liberal Western world! The Times, the BBC, The French and all other champions of the dying West lament the barbarity of capital punishment even the well deserved hanging of Saddam. (They never miss a trick do they?) It’s hard to keep your head above water when those about you bewail the death of an evil tyrant as the obscenity of choice for the day. Even Charles Krauthammer was ringing his hands. Frankly, Charles, I'm just glad he's dead! Hang how uncivilized the ceremony was! No pun intended. I was ready to cheer lustily when Saddam finally sank from sight beneath the trap door but then CNN, NBC, et. al. began making waves over the "tragedy" of Saddam's execution. Why, Katie Couric was near to tears! I almost choked. The moaning over Saddam's execution, like the crocodile tears shed for the abused terrorists in Guantanamo, like the moral indignation for the 3,000 young heroes who have fallen in battle for their country in Iraq, has a faint odor of mendacity about it, to quote Big Daddy in Williams' "Cat On A Hot Tin Roof." That odor is starting to collectively stink to high heaven. When will enough be enough?

There was a time in our country when certain things were worth dying for. There was a time when our society used to firmly and rightly defend the Biblical judgment: "Whosoever sheds man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed." But no longer, it seems, are such things politically correct. What is going to happen when a culture who delights in cruel, indiscriminate death collides with a culture who can no longer take a solemn pride in the death of its heroes and carry out a death sentence on the wicked? Before the battle of Tours in the face of an advancing Islam, men called on God for deliverance and laid down their lives for their families and country. Again, they cried to heaven and took a costly but successful stand at the gates of Vienna against the Turks. Apparently their prayers were heard and each time the Moslem invader was turned back. I fear we can expect little divine favor for our cause today now that the West has become more civilized than its God.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Life Flight

The other night I watched a show on The Learning Channel or The Discovery Channel, or some such cable t.v. drivel merchant about people suffering from terminal illnesses awaiting an organ donor match and life saving transplant. It was indeed heartbreaking to watch as people wasted away while a seemingly cruel providence taunted them with this or that hope for survival.

The money, technology, knowledge, expertise, and hopes that were cast into each of these transplant efforts was a thing to behold. The camera team captured one team of doctors and nurses as they acted with skillful precision to extract the digestive system of one recently deceased. There was a rush via medical and police escort to a helipad at a nearby hospital. There was a life flight on a state of the art helicopter, the arrival to another hospital in another state with no little fanfare. There was the rather elaborate hand off of the treasured cooler of one woman's insides to an equally skilled team that brought the elaborate transplant operation to its eager, hopeful, and barely living recipient for a lifesaving conclusion. Like I said, it was impressive.

But the whole heroic process got me thinking.

It got me thinking about Terri Schiavo. A woman who was slowly starved to death by a team of doctors and nurses while her family begged for her life. It got me thinking of the thousands like Terri who will slowly starve to death, yet have no family to beg for their lives, or none who care to.

It got me thinking about the thousands of babies that would die this very day. Babies with every right to life as you or I or the mothers who carry them or the doctors who stand watch over their death. Deaths made possible by the perverse logic of a corrupted legal system, with approval of the counsel of our nation's highest court, and the tacit approval of a self serving and comfort driven populace. Deaths made possible by medical progress. The quiet, albeit violent, procedure of sucking little human parts out of their mother's womb, the home that God made with sovereign intricacy to nestle their budding lives.

There is in one corner a desperate, no holds barred fight for life at all costs.

There is in another corner a desperate, no holds barred flight from life at all costs.

All this gets me thinking. Does it get you thinking?

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Monday, February 12, 2007

More On Moore

It seems that my comments on Beth Moore, buried in my recent post on Ted Haggard, have raised the ire and at least the concern of some. Interestingly, the Democrat ran a rather lengthy article in last Saturday's religion section singing Moore's praises and noting her significant popularity and influence in the Christian community. It seems my rather offhand comments were either timely or untimely, depending on your perspective.

The concerns have variously been, as voiced to me: I am against Beth Moore; I think she is a bad teacher; I don't think that women should be in a Beth Moore study and I don't think women should be leading a Beth Moore study.

Let me address each one of these concerns as best I can while making some further comments of my own.

1. I am not against Beth Moore. I simply voice what I think, at least I hope, are ultimately helpful and healthy biblical concerns and criticisms regarding the method of study she presents, some of the content of these studies, and the sort of sway she has within local churches. This is my role as a pastor, whether you like the way I voice such concerns (which I have done in a variety of ways) is one thing, but dismissing the point is another. I'll grant you that I am not the most 'irenic' of sorts, it's a general weakness of mine, sometimes it is a strength- I'm working on it. I would express such concerns about anyone who served such an influential teaching role in the church. If we offered two John MacArthur studies this Spring for the men, or two R.C. Sproul studies, or two studies by (fill in the blank), I would offer concerns and criticisms, and try my best to bring these outside teaching ministries under the authority and leadership of the elders and pastors of the church.

Let me say some affirming and encouraging things about Moore:

  • She has called women to bible study and has led a very revolutionary move back to God's Word.
  • She is a compelling and gifted teacher and communicator.
  • She is, by what I can see, a godly woman who loves the Lord wholeheartedly.
  • She clearly points everyone to the ultimate authority and trustworthiness of the Bible.
  • She is, by all accounts, very evangelical in solid in many of her doctrinal convictions.
  • God has obviously used her greatly to encourage and build up women through her teaching of the Word.

2. I do not think that Beth Moore is a 'bad' teacher. I actually think she is a very gifted and able teacher/communicator. I have said that I do have concerns that her style can be fairly 'unexpositional'- I have read through a lot of her studies and sometimes have a difficult time understanding where she gets some of her points and application directly from the text at hand. I also am concerned that while many of her studies are 'biblical' studies, they are often very much centered on and marketed around her. Sometimes I am not so sure as I talk to women who are greatly influenced by Moore that it is a great love for the Word they are drawn to, but rather a great love for Moore. These are always dangers and we should always be careful of this sort of 'cult of personality' in our evangelical subculture. This was my point in the previous post- we should be careful of the 'celebrity-ism' that infiltrates our churches. I do wish that Moore presented a more enduring 'inductive' method centering on the Word, rather than a more distinctly 'leading' study. It's the whole 'give a man a fish and you'll feed him today; teach a man to fish and you'll feed him for a lifetime' principle.

3. I am fine with women being in a Beth Moore study, and I am fine with women leading Beth Moore studies. If this were not so, we wouldn't offer them at Four Oaks (we offer two now). I simply want us to recognize that we have a duty to study and teach the Word to one another- and the New Testament paradigm ( as I see it, and I might be wrong) is one of appointing those with wisdom, biblical maturity, and time in preparation from our midst to do the work of teaching and equipping in our local churches. We should try our best to not be so heavily reliant on outside, and relatively unknown sources for our teaching and doctrinal input. I believe that ministries like Moore's should essentially be in the business of calling women in the church to study God's Word and use their gifts in the local church, and this should ultimately put such 'distance ed' ministries out of business.

I also think we should be very careful to submit our lives, our understanding and application of Scripture, and our doctrinal commitments to the elders and pastors called to shepherd us. So, if you are in a Moore study, be sure that you are also under the teaching of a pastor and under the leadership of a local church. If you are leading a Moore study, be sure to submit the study to the leadership and be sensitive to the commitments of your church and how the study might be in disharmony with your own leaders (a good example of this I have seen in the Moore studies have been some of her more distinctly 'Arminian' convictions that I, and many more reformed pastors would take issue with). But this should be the rule with any video study under any 'outside' teacher, or book study outside the bible that you go through in a small group, fellowship group, or men/women's study.

As with so many things I say, I hope I perhaps resolve some of your concerns, though I'm sure I might be raising more. And so it goes...

The best I can say to encourage all of you is to love and glorify God, live for the gospel, stay constantly in the Word, be faithful in prayer, be committed-submitted-connected to your local church, and grow in grace. And all God's peeps said, "AMEN!"

Soli Deo Gloria

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Thursday, February 08, 2007

Death and Calvinism

Read this interview with Al Mohler, a leading reformer in the Southern Baptist Denomination and president of Southern Seminary, after his recent near fatal illness and his abiding hope in the sovereignty of God:,8599,1583921,00.html


Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Some thoughts on Haggard

Well, Haggard has broken his silence! Inquiring minds that must know can read the Denver post article: If you must NOT know- good for you and go on about your bidness in peace.

The verdict is in! Ted isn't 20% gay, he's not 40% bisexual, he's not 18% transgendered...


Now we can all relax, breathe a big sigh of relief, and go back to our normal, 75-99% heterosexual lives.

What do I think about all this? Not too much, as you all know, I rarely have an opinion in such matters and even rarer is my voicing of any such opinion. And if you believe that, I've got a few acres of prime church property down in Crawdadville for you to take a looksie at.

Here's a few things we need to keep in mind as we see this tragedy play out and as we will no doubt see more of this in the future:

1. We should be very careful about our little evangelical 'cults of personality'. This is not the way the bible calls us to heed and follow our teachers/pastors/leaders. When we prop up 'talking heads' in our lives that are outside the bounds of local church accountability, we open ourselves up to danger and abuse. I have few people that I entrust my time and energy to as my 'teachers' in this capacity. You have heard me speak highly of Pastor John Piper's ministry and influence in my life- but much of this influence is because I know that John is committed to the local church, to open accountability with his elders and people, and his public ministry outside of Bethlehem Baptist is secondary to his ministry to his own flock there. This is one of my criticisms of Beth Moore and our adoration and commitment to her teachings around the country and the world. We should be careful in getting the bulk of our teaching and service in the Word via video and workbook of a woman we have never met and have little to no personal knowledge of. One reason I have a greater respect for Kay Arthur's ministry through Precept is because the studies are primarily driven by an inductive method of examining in the text, with her teaching being secondary in the process. This is not so in the Moore studies. Our primary reception of the Word should come through the living and personal ministry of elders and pastors in our local bodies (it is just a gentle criticism, no need to freak out...I'm not telling you to drop out of your Beth Moore study...I just offer it as an example. The same can be said for a whole host of other evangelical teaching ministries).

2. We should be careful about 'cults of personality' in our local churches. We should recognize leadership and gifting for the sake of the edification of the church without building a church upon the leadership and gifting of one man. We are an entertainment driven culture, and we desire entertaining and charismatic leaders on Sunday morning as much as on television and the big screen. This is dangerous stuff. There is a tension here- and I feel it in my ministry at Four Oaks- teachers and preachers are often powerful and charismatic sorts of people. We need not deny this reality. But, the Scriptures call for a plurality of leadership, and a very real accountability for these leaders in the church to hold their influence, power, and egos in check. I am a powerful personality- no question. But let me assure you that I have a pastoral team and a group of elders who lead and rule this church and will take absolutely no crap from me whatsoever (pardon my French). When you've got a guy spending a great deal of time in hotels, buying hundreds of dollars of meth, and spending hundreds more on sexual trysts with gay prostitutes- there has been a major accountability glitch. We must guard against this force in our personality driven megachurch age. I hope that the leadership of New Life Church has repented of such a failure on their part and are establishing biblical safeguards against this for the future of that church.

3. Sin is sin. Homosexuality is sin. Promiscuity is sin. Drug abuse is sin. I really do not understand why we buy into the silly language that is forced upon us by the 'gay' community and the world. What do Ted, and his 'counselors', mean when they say he is 'completely heterosexual'? He is a man, made in God's image, and he is called to obey and glorify God with marital sexual expression and intimacy with his wife. Anything outside of this is sin. It isn't being gay, either 5% gay, or 90% gay, or 'completely gay'. Being gay is not an identity. It isn't who you are. The compulsion towards sexually aberrant behavior might be very strong, it most often comes from a variety of realities and struggles, it is not 'simple' to overcome, and most certainly powerfully manifested in our lives. But it isn't who we are.

Furthermore, I'm confused- how many hours, days, weeks of therapeutic nonsense did Ted go through to come to this conclusion? And whose idea was it to remove him from those to whom his life and ministry are accountable? And should we be comforted that Ted will not be going back into public pulpit ministry, but will be getting a degree in and presumably practicing psychology? Fitting that he would leave the priesthood of megachurch gurus and vector via his falling into the other sacred order of priests in America- counselors and psychologists.

I suggest he sell vacuums, love and care for his wife and kids, sit in the third row from the front at church, and maybe help clean up after potluck. I think that he could receive more grace from such a common life of faith and fellowship than twenty degrees in psychology or theology, ten books on forgiveness and being a wounded healer, and thousands of hours of counseling from Dobson, Campolo, MacDonald, or whoever else.

Take a moment and pray for your pastors and elders. Pray for accountability, pray for purity, and pray for humility. "Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall".

God, keep us close to your Word, full of your grace, and in fellowship with your Spirit and one another. For your sake, and not ours, sustain us and keep us. Amen.

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Friday, February 02, 2007

Speech isn't 'free' in Hollywood...

It'll cost you a great deal. Your career, your identity, or at the very least, some serious time and money spent in high profile therapy with an approved tinsel town shrink.

Just ask Mel Gibson, Michael Richards, and the latest heinous offender, Isaiah Washington (from Greys Anatomy). Mel hates Jews, Michael Richards hates blacks, and Isaiah Washington hates homosexuals.

That is, if we buy into the notion that drunken slurs are tantamount to wholesale hatred. Or that an awful, angry, and really weird tirade on stage is tantamount to wholesale hatred. Or a comment calling someone a bad name in a heated discussion is tantamount to wholesale hatred. Is it? Should we all have our lives destroyed because of such indiscretions in speech, thought, or even philosophy? Really? Who, then, could stand? Only those with a savvy PR team and plenty of cash for 'diversity training'.

Wait a minute. Did I say 'indiscretion'? You must admit it is a bit funny to see the moral outrage of Hollywood. And the question is valid: is what these guys did or said wrong? If so, who says? By what standard? Whose arbitrary morality is standing judge in Hollywood? Now listen, before you scream bloody hate crime, I really do believe wholeheartedly that what Mel said was wrong. But I judge such things by the fixed moral standards of Scripture. I didn't read the latest Gallup findings on whether or not Jew hating is a cultural no no. There is a good biblical word for what Mel, Michael, and Isaiah did: sin. It isn't all that hard to see it for what it is. But, if we refuse to see it, we'll pay Dr. Phil the going rate to root out the real cause of our indescretions. The Scriptures call us to account to God, and one another, for our speech and actions. And these three guys should be held accountable. The Scriptures call us to confess, repent, and seek forgiveness. These men should apologize. They should write letters of contrition. Their careers as public 'personalities' should rightfully suffer for their pathetic public behavior. Thankfully, the moral standard that I operate under, the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, call us all to love and forgiveness, they tell us that 'mercy triumphs over judgment'. But, sadly, while there are many standing on the moral high ground of Hollywood in these circumstances, few will wallow in the valleys of forgiveness.

Does anyone else see the fly in the ointment here?

I really must ask: where are our first Ammendment freedom fighters backing up Isaiah? Where is George 'good night and good luck' Clooney? It fascinates me that now at The Laugh Factory (the comedy club where Michael Richards apparently lost his mind) you can say anything - anything, no matter how sick, twisted, and vile - you could possibly think to say. Except the 'N' word. If you can't see some irony in that, I'm afraid you've been drinking the P.C. Kool-Aid by the gallon jug. If that isn't an example of the pressure and power of the Hollywood thought police, I don't know what is. We have decided that there is now a word that shall never be uttered, no matter the intent, no matter the circumstances. It should disturb us when license is everywhere exercised to the most perverse degree, yet the stong arm of the media elite bears down with furious anger at its own whim. We should not be afraid of a drunken anti-semite (if we should call someone an anti-semite on that basis), an angry comedian with a personality disorder, or a slighted TV personality. We should be afraid of the creeping tyranny represented in the latest 'moral outrage' we hear from our distinguished Hollywood purveyors of truth and virtue.

Racism is ugly. It is an offense against God who made all men. It is a sin against men made in the image of God and bearing dignity. Prejudice against Jewish people and black people is wrong , treating a homosexual with contempt and mockery is wrong, and should be opposed and fought in the arena of free speech and free ideas.

It should not be fought with PR stunts to boost ratings and destroy a career. Or maybe it should. But that is the glory of a free society. How pathetic that such battles are fought with compulsory 'anger management' courses, 'diversity training' (lest Alec Baldwin, Ted Turner, and so many other Hollywood darlings suffer under such tyranny for their constant hateful remarks about Christians) or whatever other therapeutic reprogramming is being offered over at the counseling center. In this free republic we all have the freedom to despise what someone might say or believe, but we should fight with our lives their right to say or believe it.

Or, we might just pop in a sensitivity training DVD and bully each other into submission.

And we'll all pretend that it actually works. We'll all pretend that we're getting somewhere.

"Why is this on your blog, Pastor Erik?" you might ask. Good question. Because this has significant implications for Christians, churches, and anyone anywhere who believes there is to be an open and honest discussion of ideas. Let's remember that it is now a 'hate crime' in parts of the world to speak of homosexuality as sin. Christian student groups are being banned from campus' across our nation because of their biblical commitments. When the speech, ideas, philosophies, or convictions of one (however misguided, wrong, or 'emotionally' or 'socially' hurtful we think them to be) are censored in such a fashion, we are all susceptible.

'Tolerance', the buzzword in a pluralistic society, lest we forget, is a Christian and distinctly biblical virtue. Tolerance, in the Christian sense is not the forcing of all to forego conviction and live in a constant state of blind neutrality save in the narrow space of one's 'private' world. It is the belief, and even the cornerstone of a free society, that another has a right to convictions, beliefs, and cultural practices apart from your own as long as they are embraced lawfully and peacefully. It is rooted in the biblical ethic that God is the judge of all men and will indeed bring all to account. Therefore, we dare not act as God over the conscience and convictions of another, but rather love them and live in peace with them. This biblical 'tolerance' is being replaced by the loss, or at the very least, severe limitation of public discourse on the issues and ideas that matter most. And in their place are the secular boundaries of a 'private' and 'public' morality, set by the cultural power brokers, the arbiters of correct speech, ideas, and action. And the arena of 'free speech' is filled instead with all things trivial and banal at their best, and perverse and destructive at their worst.

Speech is never really 'free'. It will always cost you. And it seems to be taking its toll on an increasingly godless America.

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