Sunday, January 17, 2010

Haiti - A Way to Help

There's obviously a lot that could be said about Haiti now. For example, if I find the time, I'd like to look at why Pat Robertson is at the very least an idiot, or at Luke 13:1-5 and the context which leads to it, which in this instance the topics happen to overlap with the first point.

But for now, I just want to inform you of a way to help in Haiti. My pastor first wrote about his passion here, explaining (correctly) that the first priority in giving aid as Christians is to help our brethren. To that end, Harvest is partnering with Mars Hill out of Seattle in a new venture - Churches Helping Churches. Every penny that is donated will be passed through directly to churches in need in Haiti (or wherever the next disaster or persecution outburst strikes); Harvest and Mars Hill are eating all the administration costs to ensure that all gifts go to the intended recipients.

So please, give as you're able, and give as you're willing to sacrifice. God has blessed us materially beyond comprehension - let us use our blessings to bless our brothers in their time of need.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Complete and Discuss

OK, here's a new little challenge for you. I'll start a verse, see if you can complete it without looking it up. Then feel free to discuss the implications. We'll start with an easy one, something Jesus said. Ready?

"Those whom I love, I...."

Did you get it? What do you think?

Look here if you get stumped, or see the context here.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Unofficial TeamPyro Insane Comment Rant O' The Year Contest

I'd like to take a moment and announce a new semi-running feature: the insane comment thread rant contest, focusing on the comment threads over at TeamPyro. Those guys do a great job unapologetically expounding God's word, and of course whenever that happens it brings out some real wonderful responses, the type that deserve to be brought to light more than buried in a comment thread. The type that provides a great lesson on how not to argue if you wish to be taken seriously.

Every couple of weeks someone will just go on a rant which is completely devoid of coherent thought, or completely misrepresents scripture in a particularly amusing way, or otherwise was written on a typewriter in a shack in Montana. When that happens and I remember to get around to it, I'll reproduce it here for posterity and maybe add some comments on why it's so bad. Then if you want to be taken seriously, just don't write your comments like that. Think of it like How to Write Badly Well, only for theology comment threads.

Our first entry for 2010 comes just two days into the year. Well done. It's a response to this post by DJP, in which he lays out some basic theology on how our plans and God's sovereignty intersect. This prompted a beauty of a rant from (new?) commenter 'healtheland' which gets our year in insanity off to a strong start (at 9:29 AM, January 2!). Some of the great elements of a terrible comment that get squeezed into this one rant include:

1) Start off with a horrible interpretation of scripture, and a passage that's especially hard to misinterpret at that! Somehow the clear teaching of Matthew 6 becomes something opposed to "act wisely and trust God's sovereignty". Ooooookay.....
2) An appeal to "ethnocentric" issues, because somehow what God says is different based on where you live or something.
3) The horrible interpretation seems to become horrible application, as he insinuates that there's something holy about just wingin' it through life and/or living in abject poverty and stone age conditions. Shane Claiborne would be proud.
4) Politics! Can't have a good insane rant without bringing in completely-unrelated political issues now, can we?
5) Katrina (?!?)
6) R-rated Movies and Blackberries
7) A passive-aggressive accusation that all Christians in the West (except the author, of course) are worldly, syncretistic pagans

Wow. Not a bad start. I give it a 6 points for awful handling of scripture, +2 for the attempted appearance of political neutrality, +1 for being so Claiborne-esque, a solid 9. It'll be tough top that one, but I'm sure it'll be done. If nothing else, we'll have our monthly update from Russ the Reformed Charismatic, which is always nice, and I'm sure someone else out there will step up to the plate. The gauntlet has been thrown down, and the trolls are getting their keyboards ready. Let's rock.

First, I would have liked to see your analysis attempt to deal with Matthew 6:24-34. Also, there is an ethnocentric issue here, as the preoccupation with planning is far greater in modern western cultures than they are in other times and places, where people are much less likely to have the idea that they have very much control over their lives or circumstances, where lives do not move according to schedules (except for very rudimentary agricultural ones), and even their very concept of time is different. And yes, the culture that produced the Bible - one where wars, plagues, droughts, famines, etc. were very capable of altering best laid plans - is a lot closer to those than it is to our modern, technologically driven American culture. (Keep in mind: the very reason why paganism, animism and spiritism were such a snare to those in Biblical times was the FALSE promise of being able to impose a spiritual system of control over uncertain and chaotic lives. But where those cultures relied on the false gods of heathen religions, our culture has its own idols: our economic, political, military and technological systems. And yes, Christians are very much wedded to those. Witness the ferocious anger of so many Christians at Obama's threats to change our economic, military and cultural traditions. And yes, there was similar anger directed at George W. Bush.

A classic example is the "conspiracy theory" stuff. Rather than admitting the temporary, precarious nature of things, it is far more easier for one group of Christians with a foot in this world to believe that Obama is weakening our economy and throwing open the door to terrorists on purpose. And on the other hand, Christians of a different political stripe would rather believe that George Bush allowed black people to die in New Orleans because of some alleged racial animus rather than admit that there is only so much a government can do when a historic hurricane like Katrina strikes such a vulnerable area. While people may have legitimate grievances with the ideology and competence of Bush and Obama, the main point is how "the American way of life" is idolatry and how so many American Christians are heavily steeped in it.

Well, most of the Christians in the world cannot afford such delusions, because most Christians now live in the third world, with daily lives not much different from those who lived in Israel at the time of Jesus Christ. And while those Christians still have to deal with the very strong temptations of their traditional local primitive religions - especially when they are syncretized with Christianity - they do not have to deal with the temptations associated with Blackberries and daily planners and our own Tower of Babel-esque myths that we have so much power, influence and control within our own borders and exert it throughout the world.

Worldliness is a huge enemy, and in order to prevent being esnared by it, Matthew 6:24-34 and Romans 12:1-2 are vital. So many of us Christians view "worldliness" as listening to rock music or watching R-rated movies (or, as it were, patronizing "Christianized" versions of those forms of entertainment), but it really goes much further and deeper than that into a person's entire values and worldview.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Resolution Time

Round about this time, people make their resolutions for the upcoming year. Most likely by now you've seen people axing about it via facebook status, or you've been dragged into a "what's your resolution?" conversation. It's just the way we are - the promise of a new year holds out hope that things will change for the better. So we resolve to do things better this year than we had in years previous.

Many of us make resolutions about how we'll take care of our bodies. We resolve to eat better, to lose x pounds, to join a gym and work out four times a week. Some of us decide we're going to really focus on improving relationships - we resolve to spend more time with our kids, or pay attention to our spouses, or get to know the neighbors. Sometimes it's a resolve to finish that long-dormant project, to read certain books, to take work more seriously, to stop wasting so much time reading stupid blogs, whatever. This season provides a convenient opportunity to look back over the past year(s), see where we'd like to improve, and feel like we can get a fresh start. We resolve to do all sorts of things that we think will make us better people.

With this thought lurking in the background, something I read in the gospel of Luke grabbed my attention. Consider this rebuke Jesus laid on the Pharisees:

While Jesus was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to dine with him, so he went in and reclined at table. The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first wash before dinner. And the Lord said to him, "Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also? But give as alms those things that are within, and behold, everything is clean for you." (Luke 11:37-41)

The Pharisees would have been masters of the new years' resolution game. Frankly, we're nothing but rank amateurs compared to them. They followed the minutiae of the law and their traditions to the tiniest detail. As we see in this and numerous other examples, they fully believed that their observance of self-improvement rituals made them righteous, and they despised those who didn't live up to that standard. If there was something that could be done to make them look more holy, they'd do it, and condemn those who didn't.

And yet as Jesus rebukes them, we can see that they were missing the point entirely. They were living out their rules and ceremonies, yet were internally wicked, merciless, greedy, adulterous, idolatrous, wretched sinners. What they needed was not another ritual, another rule to follow, another behavior to improve. They needed to be changed from the inside out. They needed to be born again, to repent, to love God and fall on his mercy and rely on his grace and live in faith. They needed to repent of their sin and trust in Jesus alone as the sovereign creator and lord of all. If that interior change were to occur, if their self-righteous, prideful rebellion was transformed into humble faithful submission to God, their exterior actions would be truly holy.

I wonder how many of us fall into the same trap as the Pharisees. How many of our resolutions are based on the goal of making ourselves better people by improving our behavior - ignoring the fact that our hearts are stubbornly rebelling against our creator? How does it help us to lose twenty pounds, quit smoking, or limit our TV intake if we persist in rebellion against God, refuse to come to Jesus in faith, and fail to be so overwhelmed by his grace that it overflows in joy and love and mercy to our fellow man? Modifying a behavior does me precious little good if I am still dead in sin and condemned to forfeit my soul.

Behold, now is the time of the Lord's favor. Now is the time of salvation. Stop fooling around with things that are temporary, and pursue what is eternal. Lay aside the silly resolutions, and get right with God! Hear and respond to the blessed invitation God spoke through his prophet Isaiah:

Come, everyone who thirsts,
   come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
   come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
   without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
   and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
   and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
   hear, that your soul may live;
and I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
   my steadfast, sure love for David.
Behold, I made him a witness to the peoples,
   a leader and commander for the peoples.
Behold, you shall call a nation that you do not know,
   and a nation that did not know you shall run to you,
because of the LORD your God, and of the Holy One of Israel,
   for he has glorified you.

Seek the LORD while he may be found;
   call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake his way,
   and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him,
   and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
   neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
   so are my ways higher than your ways
   and my thoughts than your thoughts.

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
   and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
   giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
   it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
   and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

For you shall go out in joy
   and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
   shall break forth into singing,
   and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;
   instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;
and it shall make a name for the LORD,
   an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.