Saturday, October 30, 2010

Dry Springs

In stark contrast to the perpetually annoying chorus of voices within the church today that urge us to play patty-cake with false teachers, to 'engage in open dialogue' and 'learn from each other', we have the book of 2 Peter. Well, we actually have a whole lot of scripture, but 2 Peter is what I just read, so here we are. This short letter displays the difference between true and false teachers, and pulls no punches in condemning those who pervert or undermine the gospel. The next time someone urges you to 'hear out' a rank heretic like Brian McLaren, take a quick look at 2 Peter 2 instead.

This chapter contains a few colorful descriptions of false teachers that just caught my eye this last time through. The metastasizing heretics are "waterless springs and mists driven by a storm". These descriptions are a bit more vivid for me after having been to Israel and other parts of the Middle East, places where it's largely dry. The south of Israel is a barren wasteland, and much of the rest of the region only gets rain a few times a year. A good source of water can mean the difference between life and death. A reliable spring (such as En Gedi) in the middle of the desert is resource precious beyond words. Throughout the region, cisterns holding thousands or even tens of millions of gallons catch as much rain as possible, not wanting to waste a drop of the rain that may not return for a year or more. In that part of the world perhaps more than any other, water equals life.

So imagine you're a traveling through one of the deserts, and as is to be expected, you're getting thirsty. As the miles add up with no sign of water, you're getting increasingly desperate and think this might be it. But then you see off in the distance a big sign for the "En Bell" desert spring and oasis. At last, water! You turn off the road and divert towards the oasis, expecting to find refreshment and nourishment to save your life. As you draw near you see the green plants all around it, and you believe your prayers have been answered. But then you get to the spring and go to drink, and find nothing but dust. The spring is completely dry! Just then you look around and see that the plants are all plastic. There's no actual life here - just a big, phony display meant to make you think there is. Whoever set this up sucked you into his trap, and by now it may be too late for you to get back to the road and find the actual water supply.

Or imagine you're a farmer, and you desperately need the rain to come or all of your crops will die - and possibly your family as well. Off in the distance you see the clouds forming, and they're big! Huge black thunderheads hundreds of miles wide are header your way (the local weatherman calls it the "El Osteen" phenomenon). Finally, water is coming! The clouds get closer, the lightning gets brighter, the thunder is deafening - it's going to be a big one for sure. The crops will be watered, and the cisterns will be full enough to last for several years. But when this huge storm passes over, not a single drop of rain falls. It's all lightning and thunder, all pomp and show, but none of the life-giving substance.

And that's how Peter describes false teachers. Their fate is well-deserved. Those who intentionally deceive, who promise life and give false hope while spectacularly failing to deliver - have nothing to do with them. Find a good church where the life-giving Word is preached without compromise and lived out without fear. And don't be cowed by the PC police into giving a platform to those who scripture explicitly condemns. If they preach a false gospel, treat them accordingly. Love the church (and yourself) enough to take a stand.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Workplace Safety and Response to Correction

This morning I was walking through a jobsite with the site superintendent when we saw one of the dumbest things I can ever remember seeing. At this site, they've cut several shafts for new stairways and elevators, and of course they have guardrails up all around them. One of the ironworkers on the 4th floor was trying to get some equipment to a guy on a lower floor, so he had tied it to a rope and was trying to swing it down to him. When it didn't work well, he stepped out through the guardrails, and was leaning out over the unprotected elevator shaft, swinging this heavy equipment at the end of the rope, with no fall protection at all. Yeah, what could possibly go wrong?

The superintendent saw this guy narrowly escaping a 50-foot plunge to his death and persisting in his stupidity, and of course went over to talk some sense into him (i.e. if I see anything that stupid again, you're getting kicked off all our sites forever). And of course the guy was thrilled that someone cared enough to warn him about how dangerous his situation was, and expressed tremendous gratitude to the superintendent for correcting him rather than letting him fall to his death. Not only that, the ironworkers' manager came over a few minutes later to express how grateful he was that one of his workers had been spared the consequences of his stupidity, and to declare how excited he was to be working on a jobsite where they care enough about worker safety to take corrective measures.

Nah, just kidding.

You know what happened. The worker responded to the rebuke with indignation, declaring that he was perfectly fine as he was, merely a gentle breeze away from a plunge to his death. He complained to his manager, who registered his disgust at all the [many, many expletives] rules on this site that keep anything from getting done, and threatened to take his company off the site if things didn't change (an offer that was very nearly accepted). No gratitude for likely saving the dude's life, but anger at the oppressive rules.

How much can you relate to that? If you care enough to warn someone about the dangers of their perversion, greed, hatred, unwillingness to forgive, indifference to the things of God, persistent disobedience, refusal to do the good they know they should do, or any of other sins, how often does he thank you for caring more about his life (both here and eternally) than he cares for himself? Or is it more likely that you'll be the bad guy, the judgmental one, derided as the holier-than-thou jerk who butts in where he doesn't belong?

It reminds me of the image of the spider lowering itself into a bonfire. A caring person sees it happening, and grabs the spider to save it and put it onto good ground. The spider, far from being grateful for this intervention, lashes out in anger and bites the hand that's trying to save it.

Of course, this is nothing new. We see this same type of reaction throughout scripture. God rebukes his people to get their attention and turn them back from their self-destructive ways, and rather than being thankful for the call back to the right path, they are angry and rebel even more. A frequent complaint God registers through the prophets is Israel's terrible response to judgment. As Isaiah says, "The people did not turn to him who struck them, nor inquire of the LORD of hosts" (Isa 9:13). Or consider this lament of Amos:

"I gave you cleanness of teeth in all your cities,
   and lack of bread in all your places,
yet you did not return to me,"
         declares the LORD.
"I also(C) withheld the rain from you
   when there were yet three months to the harvest;
I would send rain on one city,
   and send no rain on another city;
one field would have rain,
   and the field on which it did not rain would wither;
so two or three cities would wander to another city
   to drink water, and would not be satisfied;
yet you did not return to me,"
         declares the LORD.

"I struck you with blight and mildew;
   your many gardens and your vineyards,
   your fig trees and your olive trees the locust devoured;
yet you did not return to me,"
         declares the LORD.

"I sent among you a pestilence after the manner of Egypt;
   I killed your young men with the sword,
and carried away your horses,
   and I made the stench of your camp go up into your nostrils;
yet you did not return to me,"
         declares the LORD.

"I overthrew some of you,
   as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah,
   and you were as a brand plucked out of the burning;
yet you did not return to me,"
         declares the LORD. (Amos 4:6-11)

Or as Hebrews begins a discussion of this issue, "My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him."

Two takeaways from this:
1) When rebuked, take it seriously and learn what you need from it. Be thankful for the brother who loves you enough to risk losing your friendship by putting himself between you and the sin you love.
2) If you're on the other end, care enough that you risk the spite. Remember the end of James: "My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins." People are stepping outside the guardrails and dangling over the precipice. Love them enough to tell them to come back.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Agreement in Principle

Commenting on John 20:24-29, Don Carson offers this:

We must also reflect on the repeated little word "my". Thomas does not say, "Our Lord and our God," as if he were reciting some sort of liturgical slogan. His confession is intensely personal: "My Lord and my God!" It is never enough merely to confess the truth of something that is out there in the public arena. Even the Devil himself could affirm, however begrudgingly, that Jesus is both Lord and God. But a true child of God is making more than a public statement about a public truth. The Christian is not simply affirming that Jesus Christ is the Lord and God of the universe but that in the most intimate sense he is the Christian's Lord and God. The confession is intensely personal. If you cannot utter the words of this confession with similar deeply personal commitment, you have no part of Jesus and the salvation that flows from his death and resurrection. Your heart and mind must confess with wonder, "My Lord and my God!" (Scandalous, 163)

This morning in church, the sermon was on Exodus 4, where Moses agrees in principle that delivering Israel from slavery and back to the promised land is a good thing, but has no end of lame excuses for not wanting to be involved personally. The point was made: Beware of agreeing with God in general, but denying in reality.

Evangelism? Yeah, it's a great thing to do. How long has it been since I've actually done it? Umm.....
Knowing the Word? Of course it's a worthwhile pursuit. For someone else, right?
Forgiving? Forgiveness is a wonderful, blessed thing! Until I have something to forgive, that is.
Husbands loving their wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her? Oh, how much better of a place the world would be if more men did that! What, me? Well, I, uh...
Caring for the alien, the fatherless, and the widow? Yeah, I think the church should do something about that. Or the government should tax evil rich people to take care of that. Yeah, that'll do it.
Keeping myself from even a hint of sexual immorality? Oh, that would be great if that could happen! What, it's not supposed to really happen, is it?
World missions and loving our enemies? Great! Who, me?

And on and on we could go. There's a lot in scripture that we - I -might think is a great idea. But am I willing to actually own it and do it? It starts with submitting to Jesus as Lord and God, and continues through all the dozens of implications of his Lordship. Do I personally not just acknowledge that Jesus is Lord and Savior, but submit to his lordship and embrace his salvation? Am I genuinely saved, and do I live like it? How about you?

Friday, October 8, 2010

Samson and Biologos

I recently was reading through the story of Samson again, and one incident in particular stood out this time. I've always found this vignette a little puzzling:

Samson went to Gaza, and there he saw a prostitute, and he went in to her. The Gazites were told, "Samson has come here." And they surrounded the place and set an ambush for him all night at the gate of the city. They kept quiet all night, saying, "Let us wait till the light of the morning; then we will kill him." But Samson lay till midnight, and at midnight he arose and took hold of the doors of the gate of the city and the two posts, and pulled them up, bar and all, and put them on his shoulders and carried them to the top of the hill that is in front of Hebron. (Judges 16:1-3)

What exactly is the point of this story? To illustrate Samson's great strength? Check that - supernatural strength. The gates of a walled city of that era would have weighed many tons. To rip them out of the wall and carry them miles away and up a hill - I don't know that any modern construction equipment could even do that! So if the author wanted to describe God's empowering of Samson, and tearing a lion apart by hand or single-handedly killing 1000 Philistines with a jawbone didn't get the point across, this would certainly hammer it home.

But there's much more than that going on here. More than just bragging about his God-given strength, this passage is a lament over how pointlessly he squandered it. Samson's God-ordained, angelically-announced mission in life was to kill Philistines, and as this an many other incidents from his life show, God had thoroughly equipped him for the task. He was given physical strength like nothing the world has seen before or since, and he should have been using it to fight for God's people and against God's enemies. Instead, we see over and over again throughout Samson's life that he wanted to be buddies with the Philistines, wanted to marry one even. Instead of fighting them, he was constantly trying to win their approval.

Consider the absurdity of this situation. Samson went to Gaza, one of the chief Philistine cities. To fight? No, to shack up with a Philistine prostitute. When the Philistines figure out he's there, they send a bunch of soldiers to set an ambush for him. When Samson wakes up, what does he do? Go out and kill them? No, he uses his supernatural strength to do tricks for them! As he rips the gates out of the city wall, it's hard not to picture him acting like a 5th grader trying to impress the cool high school kids. "Hey guys, look at what I can do! Please like me!" Instead of using his divine gift to fight God's enemies, he uses it to try to win their approval.

And for some reason, it seems awfully similar to what they're doing at Biologos.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Wisdom and Knowledge

Sometimes when you read multiple sections of the Bible concurrently, unexpected connections jump out at you that you hadn't made before. For example, one day last week I was reading the beginnings of Proverbs and Ephesians. Now in the first section of Proverbs, we are implored over and over and over to seek wisdom and knowledge and understanding. In the first few verses of chapter 2, we are implored to receive, treasure, make our ears attentive, incline our hearts, call out, raise our voices, seek, and search like treasure for wisdom. At the risk of understatement, it's really, really, really, really, really mega-important.

Then in 2:6ff we find the source of wisdom. Where should we go with all our seeking, searching, treasuring, calling out for wisdom? "For the LORD* gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding; he stores up sound wisdom for the upright...". Which makes sense - if you truly want wisdom, go to the only wise God.

Anyway, later I was reading the first few chapters of Ephesians. Towards the end of chapter 1, we read Paul's great prayer for the Ephesian church, "that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him...."

Whoa! That's just what I had been implored over and over to seek with tremendous urgency. Having just read of how vitally important it is to seek wisdom, and that it ultimately comes from God alone, it caught my eye (much more than usual) that Paul here beseeches God to grant the Ephesians wisdom. Just made it stand out a bit, you know? But Paul's prayer doesn't end there - he defines the wisdom that he prays unceasingly for God to grant this church:

"...that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all."

That is, true wisdom consists of the gospel of the glory of Jesus Christ. If you want to be wise, know the gospel. Any 'wisdom' and 'knowledge' and 'understanding' that doesn't point to Jesus is tragically deficient. Above all else, know Jesus.