Revival is normal

If we want revival, the first requirement is to admit that we need revival. That we need more than we have now. Watchman Nee called it the Normal Christian Life. Revival is when people who have been experiencing the average Christian life or the typical Christian life begin to experience the normal Christian life. Continue reading “Revival is normal”

The Process of Justifying Yourself

“Especially among Christians in positions of wealth and power, the idea of reading the Gospels and keeping Jesus’ commandments as stated therein has been replaced by a curious process of logic. According to this process, people first declare themselves to be followers of Christ, and then they assume that whatever they say or do merits the adjective ‘Christian’”
― Wendell Berry, Blessed are the Peacemakers: Christ’s Teachings of Love, Compassion, and Forgiveness, via Relevant Magazine.

Ruins or foundation?

The whole matter of finding the true foundation is made all the more difficult because these defiant weeds which have sprung upon it are called the true foundation by many; they, pulling to themselves the growth on top of the house ruins, declare, “This is the foundation and the way, all should follow it.” And with many of them we see that their new foundation sinks into soft ground, the floor settling at different levels. This shows the difficulty of finding the true foundation…

— Peter Chelčický, The Net of Faith, 1440-1443

Wanting the Word, not what it gives

Sink down into the eternal Word and rest there, and not in any manifestation that proceeds from the Word, for it is the Word of the Lord that shall endure forever…

This eternal Word was before any manifestation. It is the Word the builders rejected that has become the head of the corner.

Reason not with flesh and blood, nor with the voice of the Serpent, for if you do, you will darken the council of God in yourselves, but in the power of the Lord shut him [the Serpent] out… Stand still and see the salvation of God, which is in the Light of his Covenant that will stretch forth the hand of his power, as he did to Peter when he feared the proud waves would prevail over him.

Cease thy mourning, thou weeping babe that mourns in secret for manifestations of thy beloved . . . for I can testify unto thee by experience, whosoever thou art in that state, that he is bringing thee nearer to him. That was but milk ith which he fed thee whilst thou wast weak. But now he will feed thee with the Word from whence that milk proceedeth. Live at home with Jacob, which is to retire daily into thy mind. Though the gadding, hunting Esau persecutes thee for it, thou shalt receive the blessing. . . . Oh the glorious day of the Lord God hasteth to be revealed to those who are kept faithful in his Word.

— Sarah Jones (17th century, England):

A thermometer does not improve your comfort

Changing your church’s spiritual temperature to match the world outside doesn’t make visitors any more comfortable than changing your church’s thermostat to match the weather outside.


“The early Christians rejoiced when they were deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the Church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society.”

— Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from the Birmingham Jail

Do you like what God is doing?

God, in these days, is uncovering the mask of all creatures and stripping them naked. . . . He is annihilating creatures and bringing them to spiritual death. He is laying low mountains . . . even to a loss and silence, confusion and darkness, so that now their light is darkness, their wisdom folly, their life death . . . and now they are made to wait in silence as I was also made to do.

— R. Wilkinson (17th century, England):

Love is like a fire.

The one that loves God with all his heart, mind, soul, and strength would rather die than continue, even for a little while, in senseless or unprofitable thought. He would rather be silent than bring dishonor to God’s name through words and works of no value… Love like this brings about what God wants done, and makes faith alive. The one that puts it to practice is born of God.

Continue reading “Love is like a fire.”

Blasphemy on Sunday morning

“The misuse of meaningful songs, or even only a lack of understanding and feeling in singing them communally, has a devastating effect. When we sing them in real community with the Holy Spirit, we sense something of innermost holiness. Such songs should be sung only at very special moments, only at times of God-given experiences. To suggest songs that were once written in the Spirit, with the idea of producing an atmosphere that does not exist, to sing ‘God is present with us!’ when no one feels that God really is present, to dare to sing ‘Lord of all, to Thee we bow’ when there is no real honoring of God’s greatness in the atmosphere of the meeting is a misuse that borders on the sin against the Holy Spirit.”

— Eberhard Arnold, God’s Revolution: Justice, Community, and the Coming Kingdom

False conversion

Baptists usually believe in eternal security or persistence of the saints. That is, once you are saved, you’re always saved. Yet a Baptist prison chaplain says that he finds the same percentage of Baptists in jail as out of jail. Same percentage of Methodists, same percentage of Catholics.

So what’s the problem? A Baptist preacher once said, “We’ve spent too many years telling people they can never lose what they never had.”
Continue reading “False conversion”

You paid too much for your salvation

If your grace is cheap, who paid for it? And how much did they pay? Everything that Jesus offers, he paid for with his life. If your salvation is cheap and ineffective, maybe you didn’t get it from him.

Getting used to the taste of sea water

Surely the reason we don’t think we need an expensive savior is because we don’t think we are in any danger. We have gotten used to floors that are constantly wet, water seeping through cracks in the walls, bulkheads bowing inward, strange rumblings below deck, and the taste of sea water. We can’t admit our need because it would cost us too much to fix it. Because the alternative is inconceivable. Or uncomfortable.

Cheap grace is like cheap termite control

To me, cheap grace doesn’t mean that it didn’t cost much, so much as it isn’t worth much. Still, sometimes there is a connection. The price of a car repair, or a surgical operation, is affected by how deep into the inner workings the professional will have to go. If you don’t believe you have a deep problem, or if you believe it’s already been fixed, you won’t pay the price needed to fix it. If your problem is termites and you won’t fix it, eventually you won’t have a house. If your problem is spiritual, you can patch over the holes, keep the telltale sawdust swept away, and ignore the swarms each spring. But in the end you’ll have no place to seek refuge from reality.

Redemption and lift, reconsidered

After reading my post Redemption and lift,
Tim McIntosh asked:

Has there ever been any empirical evidence that “redemption and lift” is a reality? There are many examples of poor sectors of countries that have had genuine revivals but no lift. The redemption and lift philosophy has been used to reject the idea of getting involved in holistic ministry.

Then what a bad use of the redemption and lift philosophy: to say that salvation has economic implications so we shouldn’t encourage them. That is, to paraphrase William Carey‘s critics, “If God wants to improve crop yields or reduce child abuse, he will do it without your help or ours.” If the Gospel affects the whole person, what kind of ministry is there besides holistic?

It turns out that in Donald McGavran’s Understanding Church Growth, one of the main points which he made in his chapter “Halting Due to Redemption and Lift” was negative, not positive: when poor people respond to the witness of the Gospel, they often want to leave the neighborhood, which leaves the neighborhood without their witness to the Gospel.

So I’m applying the term differently than McGavran did. However, you’re applying the term differently than I did. Notice that the examples I gave were on a personal/family level. When one man has more disposable income because he stops drinking, that doesn’t mean his whole community has more disposable income. However, if enough people stop drinking, some bars will go out of business, which affects the whole community. That happened in the 1905 Welsh Revival, documented by J. Edwin Orr.

Just a thought: you referred to “sectors of countries” but do the words “sector” or “country” (in our sense of those words) even appear in the New Testament mandates? The Gospel can transform sectors and countries, but it does that by transforming individuals, households, and people groups: all words which do appear in the New Testament mandates.

However, in the same way that lift can be promoted by redemption, lift can be thwarted by lack of redemption. If a “holistic ministry” focuses on fighting alcoholism among people who enjoy being drunk, that ministry is going to have some problems.

A million good atheists in New York City?

CNN reports that a coalition of non-religious organizations is running a atheist ad campaign in New York city subways, “designed to raise awareness about people who don’t believe in a god.”

The advertisements ask the question, written simply over an image of a blue sky with wispy white clouds: “A million New Yorkers are good without God. Are you?”

The ads are actually misleading. That 2008 survey cited by the sponsors, American Nones: The Profile of the No Religion Population, didn’t ask people if they were good. The word “good” doesn’t even appear in the report. It just asked about religious affiliation. True, the 15% who said they had no religious affiliation weren’t saying they were Christians who hadn’t found a good church, but they weren’t saying they were atheists either. Only 7% said they were atheists.

The most startling claim, of course, is that New York City has a million good people, period. I mean, I think the Chasidic Jews only estimate a dozen or two really good people worldwide. Maybe good people are naturally attracted to New York City. Still, if I were you, I would keep alert on the subway, and lock  my car.

But the ads ask a good question, even if they begin with an inaccurate statement. That is, they ask, “Are you good?” I suspect that, if they think about it, that question will make a lot of New Yorkers a little uncomfortable. I know it did that for me. And if the answer is no, there are organizations in New York City that can help. But I don’t think they’re atheist organizations.

The message of “The Matrix”

There are no limits, there are no rules, anything can happen – if you’re in the Matrix.

Of course, if you’re in the Matrix, nothing is really happening.

What is a swinger?

“The whole curse of the last century has been what is called the Swing of the Pendulum; that is, the idea that Man must go alternately from one extreme to the other. It is a shameful and even shocking fancy; it is the denial of the whole dignity of the mankind. When Man is alive he stands still. It is only when he is dead that he swings.”

G.K. Chesterton, “The New House” Alarms and Discursions

Everything is cheaper now.

“Comforts that were rare among our forefathers are now multiplied in factories and handed out wholesale; and indeed, nobody nowadays, so long as he is content to go without air, space, quiet, decency and good manners, need be without anything whatever that he wants; or at least a reasonably cheap imitation of it.”

G.K. Chesterton, Commonwealth, 1933

The cowardice of idealism

“Men invent new ideals because they dare not attempt old ideals. They look forward with enthusiasm, because they are afraid to look back.”

G.K. Chesterton, What’s Wrong With The World, 1910

Making the world old

“Progress should mean that we are always changing the world to fit the vision; instead we are always changing the vision.”

G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, 1908

Desperate optimists

“The person who is really in revolt is the optimist, who generally lives and dies in a desperate and suicidal effort to persuade other people how good they are.”

G.K. Chesterton, Introduction to The Defendant

Criticize yourself

“What embitters the world is not excess of criticism, but an absence of self-criticism.”

G.K. Chesterton, Sidelights on New London and Newer New York

Extreme repentance

The adjective extreme has become popular in recent years. People are proud of being extreme. They engage in extreme sports, listen to extreme music, and watch “Extreme Makeover.” Church youth groups even called themselves “Generation X-Treme,” which gives you an idea of how long the word has been popular in popular culture, since the oldest examples of Generation X are now over 40.

Continue reading “Extreme repentance”

Excusable disobedience

How many times have you heard a Christian say, “Well, I really shouldn’t, but…” We often say this about dessert. I’ve been thinking about a former church, whose members sometimes said this about dessert. Even though they never said it about the Bible, when I look back, I get the sense that if we just couldn’t manage to obey the Bible right now, that would have been okay in our church. Really, if we felt we wanted to do something, nothing could have constrained us. We said we wanted to obey God in everything, and prided ourselves in that. But we could leave our wives if we felt the Spirit prompting us. A few of us did.

Porn creep

Wikipedia says that porn creep is about sexually explicit content entering American pop culture. It was outrageous forty years ago, but we must not complain about it now, because we might sound prudish.

It reminds me of the common arguments for why society should allow anything that was banned until now, such as homosexuals or women in combat. The common argument is not that our society would be better and happier if we didn’t ban it. The common argument is that it’s been going on for a long time. For example, historians will tell you that some women and some homosexuals have served in early American battles. Pornography has been around for thousands of years, holding an important place in many dead civilizations.

By that reasoning, everything will creep. Everything will become acceptable, given enough time.

I don’t accept that reasoning. Time can’t turn wrong into right.

God would never make you uncomfortable.

Today’s heresy is related to my theory of proportional discipleship, that no Christian’s devotion to God should be more than one standard deviation above society in general. Today’s heresy suggests that God is bound by a similar rule. He will never say anything or ask you to do anything that’s more than one standard deviation outside your comfort zone. Your comfort zone is sacred and God will never violate it. Continue reading “God would never make you uncomfortable.”

Exhilaration

“The act of defending any of the cardinal virtues has today all the exhilaration of a vice.”

G.K. Chesterton, A Defense of Humilities, The Defendant, 1901

Defenseless Christians

Anabaptist is a name invented by the enemies of the Anabaptists. One of the names they used for themselves was “defenseless Christians.”

One of my goals is to be a defenseless Christian. All of society and most of the church spends much of its time defending itself. When we’re attacked, that’s our natural response. But I want God to be my only defense.

Unfortunately, I spend much of my time defending myself as well. But, I mean, I probably have to. What if God doesn’t come through for me? When I really need him. he might turn out to be sick or busy. Or maybe not.

Are you holier than God?

Why do we allow deliberate mistranslations of the word of God simply because we are too delicate and pure to read it?

When Isaiah says our human righteousness is like “filthy rags,” he wasn’t talking about anything you get when you change the oil in your car.

When Paul said that he counted his previous righteousness as “loss,” he wasn’t talking about anything you’ll find in the lost and found.

God has been relocated

“Where is Hollywood located? Chiefly between the ears. In that part of the American brain lately vacated by God.”

— Erica Jong, from How To Save Your Own Life

Where to find truth

You can only find truth with logic if you have already found truth without it.

– G. K. Chesterton

Pornography: the new minstrel show

Pornography, if it’s defended, is defended in the name of freedom of expression. The creators of pornography, it is argued, are making an artistic statement. Okay, few defenders of pornography are willing to call it art. But they claim that pornographic performers are proud of their bodies, free from sexual hang-ups, and eager to share their worldview with the rest of us.

That makes pornography the direct counterpart of the 19th century minstrel show. Both pornography and minstrelsy depict an idealized world that doesn’t really exist. And both involve the exploitation of the people they are supposed to be depicting.
Continue reading “Pornography: the new minstrel show”

Draw the line

Art, like morality, consists of drawing the line somewhere.

– G. K. Chesterton

Run to the light.

“God is not a hypothesis derived from logical assumptions, but an immediate insight, self-evident as light. He is not something to be sought in the darkness with the light of reason. He is the light.”

Abraham Joseph Heschel

In the hard times, God gives oatmeal

A missionary became seriously ill one month before she was to return home for her furlough. On top of it all, the monthly check from her home church didn’t arrive, so she had no money for food or medicine. All she had in her apartment was a 50-pound sack of oatmeal. So for thirty days, that was all she ate.

And as she ate her oatmeal every day for a month, she cried out to God. “Lord, here I’ve been serving you faithfully on the mission field for years, and you said you would supply all my needs. Why have you allowed this to happen to me? Why didn’t you send me any money? Why didn’t you give me real food? Even the poorest people in this city eat meat and vegetables. Is this how you treat your servants?”
Continue reading “In the hard times, God gives oatmeal”

Was Jesus mad?

“A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him, saying, ‘You are mad; you are not like us.'”

– Anthony the Great

Stoking the star-maker machinery behind the popular behind

We look down on entertainers and promoters who have sold their souls for success. But the forces they yielded to are pressing on our souls too.

American institutions such as the free enterprise system and representative democracy were not established by people who trusted other people. They were founded by people who didn’t. That’s the point. People will not naturally seek what’s best for society. They will naturally seek what’s best for them.
Continue reading “Stoking the star-maker machinery behind the popular behind”

Why won’t God heal atheists?

Courtesy of the New York Times, I ran across an atheist propaganda website, Why Does God Hate Amputees?. Basically, the author, Marshall Brain, argues that because God doesn’t act like atheists want him to, God can’t exist. Because he’s smarter than God and knows better. A funny response to his teachings can be found at Why Does God Hate Deputies?

Marshall Brain also challenges Christian leaders to read 30 embarrassing Bible verses on national television. Of course, they’re hand-picked by the atheist and they’re out of context.

So, in the spirit of good fun and fair play, here are some sentences from that atheist website, hand-picked by me and out of context:

The Bible is the book that contains the Ten Commandments, the revelation that Jesus is our resurrected savior and the story of our creation. This is God’s holy word to his children.

God seems to be interacting with our world and answering millions of prayers on planet Earth every day.

God’s power often can be quite dramatic.

Jesus is actually in our midst and God answers our prayers.

God is ready and willing to answer your prayers no matter how big or small.

“Dear God, almighty, all-powerful, all-loving creator of the universe, we pray to you to cure every case of cancer on this planet tonight.”

When a person says, “ask anything in my name, and I will do it,” what does he mean? Presumably, Jesus means that if you ask for anything, he will do it. What else could he possibly mean…?

If you are having a problem with unproductive behaviors, what you need to do is either educate or rehabilitate yourself. You would do that by talking with a counselor or seeing a therapist.

That is about as clear as mud, isn’t it?

Every biologist will tell you with certainty that all of life is a chemical reaction.

God has never taken over all the TV and radio stations and broadcast a message to mankind.

Every Christian should jump at the chance to spread God’s word on national television.

If God is real and if God inspired the Bible, then we should worship God as the Bible demands. We should certainly post the Ten Commandments in our courthouses and shopping centers, put “In God We Trust” on the money and pray in our schools. We should focus our society on God and his infallible Word because our everlasting souls hang in the balance.

What to do about a sinful world

“We neither have authority granted us by law to restrain sinners, nor, if it were, should we know how to use it, since God gives the crown to those who are kept from evil, not by force, but by choice.”

John Chrysostom

Keith Drury, humility, and Aspergers

I’ve decided my antisocial clumsiness is due to subclinical undiagnosed Asperger’s Syndrome. Nothing can be my fault. No, I’m not serious. Not about Asperger’s. Not about my blamelessness.

I wish I was. It would explains why I don’t pay enough attention when people engage me in conversation, including other bloggers. Maybe it’s humility, but I don’t think so. Because I was very interested when I read Leaving Munster (finally) and noticed favorable comments about my post on Islam and Christianity.

One comment said, “it was a real crackerjack. i saw it coming and loved every nanosecond. it reminded me of a keith drury post.”

Okay, so let’s take a look at some Keith Drury posts. A Wesleyan writer, backpacker, and professor with a historically Mennonite beard. Do you like? I do.

Lay down your burden.

“It is not death therefore that is burdensome, but the fear of death.”

– St. Ambrose

World of Farmcraft

Announcing the first massively multiplayer online role-playing game for Amish, Mennonites, and other historic peace churches:
World of Farmcraft

Don’t you see the chains?

“I freed thousands of slaves. I could have freed thousands more, if they had known they were slaves.”

– Harriet Tubman

Too busy to be conservative

I’m too busy following Jesus to spend much time being politically conservative. There is a difference between the two goals.

Feel free to have an opinion, even a strong opinion, about immigration and illegal aliens. But don’t call your opinion Christian if it’s not in the Bible. Leviticus, in fact, talks quite a bit about aliens. You could look there.

Don’t call your opinion about war Christian if it’s not in the Bible. Yes, many people in the past have called their war Christian, most famously the Crusaders. The Crusaders don’t count. They weren’t prophets or apostles. They weren’t inspired.

Some people believe the Kingdom of God can be advanced by killing Muslims. Some people believe it can’t. Accept it as a difference of opinion. Accept it as a difference in strategy.

The saying used to be, “What’s good for General Motors is good for America.” The saying among many conservatives is now, “What’s good for America is good for Jesus.”

The Jewish Right

Why do they call it the Christian Right when so many of its best spokespeople are Jewish? Syndicated columnist Don Feder, talk show host Dennis Prager, Rabbi Daniel Lapin, film critic Michael Medved, pornography researcher Judith Reisman: all these find common cause with conservative evangelicals.

And how about intellectuals Norman Podhoretz and Irving Kristol, or talk show host Laura Schlessinger, or journalist Charles Krauthammer? Other influential heroes of the Christian Right are Jewish converts: former abortionist and now pro-life advocate Bernard Nathanson and World Magazine editor Marvin Olasky.

And there’s another category of Jewish leaders that the Christian Right has been willing to follow: Douglas Feith, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, Lewis Libby, and Elliott Abrams. Several of them have not been convicted of any crimes, something which cannot be said for certain Christian ministers.

The moral is that right doesn’t always mean Christian. And perhaps, that Right doesn’t always mean right.

Do as you like.

“Love God, and do as you like, say the free spirits. Yes; but as long as you like anything contrary to God’s will, you do not love Him.”

Meister Eckhart

Theatrical illusion in the service of reality

The email appeared to be Christian spam, advertising a book and no personal greeting, but why did it come to me? I looked over the website it referred to, and then I could see why.

For thirty years Paul Kuritz was a respected (and atheistic) theater professor. Then, faced with personal crises and divine interventions, he found himself praying that God wouldn’t make him a born-again evangelical Christian. God did anyway, and Kuritz wrote more about his new perspective in the Porpoise Diving Life.

I wouldn’t agree with everything in the book The Fiery Serpent, which I haven’t read. For example, the email refers to the supposedly “undeniable truth: that Christian filmmaking and theatre… are having global impact on our world today.” I’ve already summarized my disappointing first-hand experience with imaginative conversions and Christian theater here. There really is a difference between drama and real life. You might also wonder how he can use Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Kazan’s On the Waterfront as examples in a book on Christian film and theater. But Kuritz is no wooly-minded, starry-eyed artiste. He doesn’t baptize the status-quo so much as he is calling for it to change. And he is calling for filmmakers and theater people to change.

Spreading the gospel of Jesus and American pharmaceuticals

Though American Christians may not believe that our culture is inspired, we often act like it. Some missionaries have actually helped reduce belief in the supernatural by teaching their Western worldview in contradiction to the Biblical worldview: “You don’t need to pray much about that, because we can give you a pill.”

I like what one village chieftain said when a Westerner explained that disease was not caused by evil spirits, but by germs that enter the body. He smiled and replied, “Okay, then what makes the germs enter the body?”

On a related note, some Bible teachers explain the Levitical test for an unfaithful wife by theorizing that a guilty person might be more likely to get sick.

In a real sense, the villagers had it right even before the missionaries arrived. Sickness is caused by spirits.

The Christian jihad

Most American Christians wouldn’t say they support the war in Iraq as a means of defending Christian beliefs. But certainly one of their main justifications for the war is to defend American beliefs. The Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition claimed exactly the same moral basis for their work that the Qu’ran claims for jihad (holy war) – to make our homeland safe for our faith. Now, I am not implying any other similarity between the Christian Right and Muslim jihadists. I realize that the Christian Right has not yet produced suicide bombers. But they are fighting for privileges that Jesus and Paul never had.

Not all Muslims and Christians are similar

My recent satire on the similarities between some Muslims and Christians seems to have been misunderstood. I’ve taken four graduate courses on the relationship between Islam and Christianity, and spent hundreds of hours talking with members of both religions. But I’m still learning how to write clearly.

No, I wasn’t saying that all Christians and Muslims have destructive beliefs and attitudes in common. Just many of them. More about that tomorrow.

Well, are you satisfied?

“He who is satisfied has never truly craved, and he who craves for the light of God neglects his ease for ardor, his life for love, knowing that contentment is the shadow not the light. The great yearning that sweeps eternity is a yearning to praise, a yearning to serve. And when the waves of that yearning swell in our souls all the barriers are pushed aside: the crust of callousness, the hysteria of vanity, the orgies of arrogance.”

Abraham Joshua Heschel, Man Is Not Alone

Sin will keep you from this book.

It’s a mistake to think that people choose their beliefs because of reason or revelation. Most people choose their beliefs for their own comfort.

B.F. Skinner remembers that his grandmother taught him about hell by showing him the glowing coals in the stove. He didn’t want to believe in a God like that, so he didn’t.

Mel White, who used to ghost-write for Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, is now a pro-homosexual activist. But according to his memoirs, the first step to his new career was not a renewed study of the Bible. It was his first sexual experience with a man, condoned by a Christian counselor. After that, somehow his beliefs seemed to change.

Other “Fundamentalists Anonymous”-type memoirs have a similar plot. Girl gets saved, girl joins evangelistic ministry, girl loses virginity, girl loses her faith. It was no crisis of faith, but a crisis of conscience. And faith lost.

John Bunyan wrote that the tempter often spoke to him, ‘”What, will you preach this? This condemns yourself; of this your own soul is guilty; wherefore preach not of this at all, or if you do, yet so mince it as to make way for your own escape; lest, instead of awakening others, you lay that guilt upon your own soul that you will never get from under.” But, I thank the Lord, I have been kept from consenting to these so horrid suggestions, and have rather, as Samson, bowed myself with all my might to condemn sin and transgression wherever I found it; yea, though therein also I did bring guilt upon my own conscience. Let me die, thought I, with the Philistines, Judg. 16: 30, rather than deal corruptly with the blessed word of God.’

Back to nature

Jolly Blogger makes several good points in his comments about Silent Spring, a book which helped to launch the environmental movement.

  • Believers should care more about the natural world than unbelievers do, because we know the one who made it
  • We should care about the natural world, not because it’s purer and superior to us, but because it’s fallen like us.

Outdated button

On a whim, I added a button to my sidebar. I have no right to – I was too young to have participated in Freedom Summer or the Freedom Rides. But I hope that I would have stood beside them if I could have. I’ve written about these people and their fruit before. I keep thinking that the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee was a kind of movement that we don’t see today.

  • They were hopeful.
  • They were peaceful.
  • They sought to love their enemies.
  • They did not love their lives unto death.

We don’t see that in churches much today either.

Islam and Christianity

Many of them cling to presuppositions such as these:

  1. They believe that God approves of waging war to defend their beliefs.
  2. Though their faith has spread throughout the world, they believe that one culture is divinely inspired.
  3. They see God’s will as unalterably predestined.
  4. They oppose theological interpretations that disagree with the established commentaries.

And so do many Muslims.

There is no god but God

Missionaries to Muslims (few though they be) sometimes argue over whether “Allah” is different from God. However…

  • “Allah” comes from the same Semitic root words as “elohim,” “El Elyon,” and “El Shaddai.”
  • Even before Muhammed came along, Arabic Christians (and they were not few) called God “Allah. They still do. I’ve heard them do it myself.
  • The Qu’ran says, “We believe in what has been sent down to us and in that which was sent down to you; our God and your God is One; and we are submitted to him”. Surah 29.46
  • To Muslims, “Allah” means the Creator of the universe. There is only one of those.

The problem is that Muslims talk about God in ways that we disagree with. But so do other Christians.

Sung’s Razor

Let’s call him Titus Sung. When I met him, he was a young student who had already spent a year in prison in his native China because of his Christian witness. Yet his face showed peace and joy that is rare among American Christians.

I’ve thought much about Titus’s background. Why was his faith stronger and more effective than almost anybody I’ve ever met in church? Did he attend a better Bible college? Had he seen better Christian videos? Listened to more anointed cassettes? Owned better worship CDs? Attended more conferences? Sat under a more gifted singles minister?

It caused me to formulate a principle I’ll call “Sung’s Razor,” a subset of Occam’s Razor.

Means of sanctification should not be multiplied beyond necessity.

That is, if the Chinese Church doesn’t need it to be like Jesus, why do you need it? If it doesn’t make the Chinese Church more like Jesus, is it possible that it doesn’t make us more like Jesus?

As William of Occam is supposed to have said, “It is vain to do with more that which can be done with less.”

Endless youth group

The typical American youth ministry of the baby boom generation resembled an animal feeder (or maybe an animal trap). It was attractive as long as the bait didn’t run out. It was assumed that youth wouldn’t follow God without bribery, and even then, that they wouldn’t follow God very far. In a youth-obsessed, youth-glorifying society, the youth ministry was a holding tank for large children, with the vague hope that they would grow up someday, probably, inexplicably. But not now.

The lesson of recent history, however, have shown that baby boomers do not necessarily grow up. They may become politicians or even parents, but that doesn’t mean they become disciples. After being taught to live for themselves, to give God his fair share, and to keep the rest, they continue to follow the teachings of their youth. The church has become an endless youth group.

Plague-proofing your city

“If the good Lord sent the ten plagues of Egypt on New York City, I don’t think New York would even notice.”

– From a Garrison Keillor sketch

Fly? Me? Who says I can fly?

Instead of showing the earthbound world that, through God, they can fly, the Church prefers to show that the world that the Church, like the world, can walk.

And so that’s as far as we ever get. The Church proves that it’s like the world. The world nods, yawns, and believes us. But the world doesn’t believe God. The Church doesn’t ever show them God.

The Josiah Generation

A generation is coming that will not follow the faith of their fathers. They will go beyond the faith of their fathers. Like King Josiah, they will look at the promise of God’s Word and the state of typical religion, and they will choose to follow God’s Word. They will strive to make God’s Word alive in their world. They will not seek to entertain themselves in their minds, but will entertain God in their homes and hearts. They will not compromise. They will not leave God’s work undone.

Calvin for Apostle

Many modern “New Testament” churches claim that “they only go by the Word of God,” that their authority is the New Testament. Except, for the actual New Testament church, their authority was Jesus. The New Testament hadn’t been written yet. Continue reading “Calvin for Apostle”

Jesus would be horrified.

Much is made in churches of the “good news” of the gospels. Less is said of the gospel’s bad news, which is that Jesus would have been horrified by just about every “Christian” government the world has ever seen. He would be horrified by our government and its works, and it would be horrified by him.

– Wendell Berry, Christianity and The Survival of Creation

What Would Jesus Build?

Let’s set aside for the moment the fact that the Son of Man had no place to lay his head. If Jesus was a carpenter, a contractor, what kind of church building would he create?

Maybe a white wooden church with a steeple, so that religious people would feel comfortable.

Maybe a large modern brick edifice, so that powerful people would feel comfortable.

Maybe a sprawling metal building, so that the budget committee would feel comfortable.

After all, we all know how important it was for Jesus to make people feel powerful, or religious, or frugal.

Or comfortable.

The Hidden Gospel of Indices

Forget about the secret and lost gospels of Thomas, Mary Magdalene, and Judas. If 1st century Christians thought they were God-inspired, they would have made more than one copy of them, no? (Thousands of early copies of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John have been preserved, in spite of official persecution from church and state).

No, there is another gospel, a different gospel with a greater appeal to conservative American Christians – and it’s even included in many editions of the Bible. Continue reading “The Hidden Gospel of Indices”

Ugly is the new beautiful

Amidst the call for artistic excellence in worship, we can easily reach standards that Jesus didn’t bother to strive for. Fellow Anabaptist blogger Graham pointed me toward Celtic blogger Carolyn and her composition The Ugly Song.

What would Jesus listen to?

What Would Jesus Listen To?

Not to miss any opportunity to squeeze Jesus Christ into the mold of American popular culture, let’s produce yet another intimate film of his life – and accompany each scene with a song from Christian radio. I’m sure we could make them all fit somehow.

Which scene in Jesus’s life would be enhanced by Christian hip hop? When was Jesus the most rebellious?

Which scene would be typified by gospel elevator music? When was Jesus the most passive?

Which scene should be accompanied by sweeping choral music? When was Jesus the most proud?

Okay, maybe this won’t work after all.

Pentecostal pacifism

“From the very beginning the movement has been characterized by Quaker principles. The laws of the Kingdom, laid down by our elder brother, Jesus Christ in His Sermon on the Mount, have been unqualifiedly adopted, consequently the movement has found itself opposed to the spilling of the blood of any man, or of offering resistance to any aggression. Every branch of the movement, whether in the United States, Canada, Great Britain or Germany, has held to this principle.”

— Stanley Frodsham, General Secretary of the Assemblies of God, 1917

Quoted in Historical and Theological Origins of Assemblies of God Pacifism by Paul Alexander

A note to Bob Parsons of GoDaddy

Bob,

Some say that sex drives the Internet, while others say it drives them away. True, sex sells. Nations have based their entire economies on what sells. One nation that comes to mind is Nauru. Which begs the question, Bob: what will you have left to sell when you have finished selling out?

Love our enemies or die

“In the face of all-annihilating weapons, the natural next step may be the use of no weapons. It may be the only possibly effective defense against the ultimate weapon is no weapon at all. It may be that the presence of nuclear weapons in the world serves notice that the command to love one another is an absolute practical necessity, such as we never dreamed it to be before, and that our choice is not to win or lose, but to love our enemies or die.”

— Wendell Berry, Property, Patriotism and National Defense

Six degrees of Bob Jones

  1. Bob Jones was a famous fundamentalist leader who believed you should separate yourself from believers who haven’t separated themselves from errant believers.
  2. Bob Jones once met C.S. Lewis, and is supposed to have said, “That man smokes a pipe, and that man drinks liquor – but I do believe he is a Christian!”
  3. Fellow professor J.R.R. Tolkien (and Roman Catholic) was a major influence in moving C.S. Lewis toward Christ.
  4. J.R.R. Tolkien wrote “The Lord of the Rings.”
  5. Ian McClellan had a prominent role in three films based on “The Lord of the Rings.”
  6. Ian McClellan is an avowed homosexual and is active in the call for gay rights.

There you have it… from Bob Jones to Rome to gay rights… in just six degrees.

Well, what do you know?

People talk about revelation, and say it has ceased; but what ignorance it bespeaks, when man knows not the least thing on earth without revelation.

— Elias Hicks

Jesus had an eye color.

When at 14, I first heard the claim that Jesus was the son of God (somehow my previous church had missed this teaching), I remember that I was most offended by the specificity of the claim, not by anything else.

I reasoned, “There are five major world religions. What are the odds that I just happened to be born into the right one?”
Continue reading “Jesus had an eye color.”

On being a doormat

God has a will and work for us to do, and it doesn’t really matter how we get treated by others along the way. But he doesn’t intend for his purpose to be replaced by someone turning us into a doormat. If I’m going to be a martyr, I want it to be because God commanded it. I have been known to turn the other cheek very belligerently: “I’m laying down my life for you because of what Jesus did for me, buster. This doesn’t mean you’ve won over him or over me.” But that’s not exactly the right attitude! Also, we can replace God’s compassion with human sympathy: “You know, if you really cared about your neighbors, you wouldn’t sleep until they had all been converted”… or until you were hospitalized with exhaustion.

Do you want to drive any more nails?

I’m thinking that the most important thing is to know where to take guilt. “Oh, I’m much worse than you think, worse than you accuse me of being. But I’m not depending on my own righteousness for my self-worth, and I’m not depending on my own strength to change. Is there anything else you’ve noticed about me that I should be aware of?” But it’s also important to discern when I need to repent and when the other person is mistaken.

All of us are artists

It is impossible to see how good work might be accomplished by people who think that our life in this world either signifies nothing or has only a negative significance…. If it is true that we are living souls and morally free, then all of us are artists. All of us makers, within mortal terms and limits, of our lives, of one another’s lives, of things we need and use.

— Wendell Berry, Christianity and The Survival of Creation

The case against politeness

When I say something, my goal should be to communicate. I should try to understand how my message will be received by the person I’m communicating with. The fact that they may not understand it should affect how I communicate my message. The fact that they do not receive it might affect how I communicate my message. But the fact that they may not like it should not affect my message itself. Continue reading “The case against politeness”

My house is God’s house

Christians are encouraged from childhood to think of the church building as “God’s house,” and most of them could think of their houses or farms or shops or factories as holy places only with great effort and embarrassment. It is understandably difficult for modern Americans to think of their dwellings and workplaces as holy, because most of these are, in fact, places of desecration, deeply involved in the ruin of Creation.

— Wendell Berry, Christianity and The Survival of Creation

Abortion is a guy thing

Why would we believe that women naturally kill their own children? Instead, throughout the history of the world, abortion and infanticide have been traditional tools for male exploitation of women. It’s simple. A guy gets a woman pregnant, then he wants to get rid of the evidence and responsibility. Continue reading “Abortion is a guy thing”

Jesus the Spy

The other night, it occurred to me how much the Christmas story is a tale of international intrigue. A head of state meets with visitors from another country and tries to co-opt them into providing sensitive information about a suspected security threat. But the conspirators are warned and escape to an African nation. Continue reading “Jesus the Spy”

Five signs of a cult

  1. A strong sense of group identity and community
  2. A belief that the group is somehow separate from the rest of society
  3. A strong sense of group destiny and purpose
  4. An unwavering adherence to the teachings of its founder, which may differ radically from the rest of society
  5. A total commitment to the goals of the movement which overrides personal goals and comfort

Are these signs true of your church?

If not, why not?

The word of God is a sword, not a vibrator.

Like a sword, the word of God is only powerful when it’s applied to a specific point, or along a specific line. Like a scalpel, its purpose is not to stimulate you generally, but to heal you precisely. It has to cut away something.

Compensating for deafness

Most American Christian activity is compensation for not actually having an intimate relationship with God. When you can’t hear his voice at every moment, you have to develop a theology that doesn’t require it. When you don’t have the power to do God’s will, even if you happened to know what it was, you have to make some adjustments.

Pyramid evangelism

Sometimes, personal evangelism reminds me of dubious multi-level marketing schemes, where the appeal is the desire for wealth without effort, not appreciation and enjoyment of a quality product. “Well no, it hasn’t worked for me yet, but if you can recruit people to sell it for you, think of where you’ll be someday!”

If you need to be coaxed into sharing your faith in Christ, maybe your faith isn’t worth sharing. Get a living faith and then you can’t help but share it.

Our Pops, who art in heaven

Jesus thought of God as “Abba”; literally, “Daddy.” When the early Christians called God “Daddy,” it was an intimacy born out of gratitude and honor.

The infinite, awesome God is honored when his children love him without fear. But we want to love him without awe.

We don’t come to him as a small dependent child would. We come to him jauntily, careless of our need, careless of what he would give us if we would come to him as our Daddy.

When Isaiah saw God high and lifted up, did he pray casually, as we do? Could you pray casually, if you saw God?

What do you see?

Imitation Me

I’m told that we learn to talk by imitating our mothers, and that disturbs me. I don’t think I sound much like my mother, nor do I want to. I thought I sounded like air naturally passing through my larynx and past my tongue and lips. Maybe that isn’t so.
Continue reading “Imitation Me”

Imaginative conversions

For years, I was involved with Christian theater. In fact, three of my acquaintances became Christians through evangelistic drama and films. Later, the first became a Marxist. The second became a Rotarian. The third murdered his wife.

Right makes might

Might without right creates wrong. Vengeful allies after World War I helped create Hitler. An autocratic Hitler helped create the alliance that defeated him. Corrupt colonizers helped create corrupt post-colonial rulers, who helped create the opponents who toppled them. Avenging Muslim fundamentalists helped create an avenging America, whose policies helped to create more avenging Muslims. Retribution creates only retribution.

Abraham Lincoln said it: “Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith, let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it.” He said it as an unannounced candidate for President under the banner of a party that had never won a presidency, before he had political might.

Compassionate Christianity

Somehow we decided that we don’t need to be like Jesus if we’re right. Or that if we’re right, we’re like Jesus. Or that if we’re right, we don’t need to be righteous. We got confused.

What Christians should always do before they kill people

Can you say, “I’m putting this bullet through your heart because I love you with the love of Jesus. Because God’s Word commands me to do this.”?

If you seriously think you can, if you ever feel the need to kill someone, call me first and let’s talk about it.

The case for discomfort

I don’t want to hire a river guide who’s just like me, a nice guy who knows the river as well as I do, who never tells me what to do.

I want a river guide who is wiser than me, who knows the river better than I do, who’s willing to tell me what I should do.

I want to hear about the river, not what I want to hear. Or I could drown.

I would rather be uncomfortable and find the truth, than be comfortable and find nothing.

How much will you take for that?

As Thomas Aquinas is supposed to have said, the Western church can no longer say “Silver and gold have I none” but neither can we say, “Rise up and walk.”

Great actors stick to the script.

In a previous article, I hinted about my background in the theater. Sometimes it was hard being a better playwright than actor. Faced with difficult lines, mediocre actors (like me?) are tempted to change them.

“I don’t understand what the line means”… but presumably the playwright does.

“That isn’t something I would have said”… but is it something the character would have said? How well do you know the character yet?

The great actors can perform great plays without changing the lines. Instead, they change their attitudes and understanding, trusting in the author’s intent.

Good advice for followers of Jesus as well.

Repenting as a bookkeeper

I worked in a bookkeeping department for about a year. Every week I had to make one large bank deposit. I totaled up the checks, recorded their bank routing numbers on the deposit slip, then totaled them up again.

My first day on the job, the two totals didn’t match. I was angry and frustrated. This isn’t fair, I thought to myself, this is somebody’s fault. Continue reading “Repenting as a bookkeeper”

Negativity of reform

It means very little to say that we need a new kind of church if we can’t show it to anyone. Otherwise, freedom from tradition becomes an excuse for freedom from obedience. Jesus came to empower us as well as to liberate us. Without his power, we aren’t free from anything. Until the church of Jesus is restored, we are in desperate straits, and desperation is appropriate.

What Satan wants to say

Satan desperately wants to say that God isn’t big enough. He can only redeem certain kinds of people. He can only fix problems with a certain degree of difficulty and no more.

Satan rejoices to see a church where only certain people feel welcome. If its members can handle only one kind of music, he likes that.

Satan enjoys it when Jews or Muslims or Buddhists or agnostics can convince themselves that Jesus isn’t for them. He enjoys it even more when Christians agree with them.

Satan is ecstatic when a church can’t provide healing for emotional or social hurts, and must send its members to experts who aren’t even part of the church.

Open your presents

Becoming defensive if someone questions your spiritual maturity is like becoming defensive if your parents tell you that you haven’t opened all your birthday presents. It’s a good thing, not a bad thing. God has more gifts for you. Open your presents.

The case against calmness

Calmness is common among those who are ignorant of impending disaster or approaching victory.

Calmness would be appropriate if there were nothing at stake.

Some Christians have said “faith is not a feeling” too many times. They mock spiritual passion and praise religious niceness.

Though the apostle Paul groaned, and all creation groans, we feel we don’t need to.

Calmness is appropriate for those who are not in love. Passion is appropriate for those who are in love.

American civil religion

Have you heard of something called American civil religion? It says that if you don’t do anything real bad, or if your good deeds outweigh your bad deeds, you go to heaven. We’re all familiar with its teachings, yet no church officially teaches them. Yet if you deny its teachings, people look at you funny, as if you’re being uncharitable or heretical. Continue reading “American civil religion”

The rock is falling.

A young Anabaptist named Javan Lapp wrote a poem Tame the Rock! You should read it.

He’s probably thinking of this Scripture:
“While you were watching, a rock was cut out, but not by human hands. It struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and smashed them… But the rock that struck the statue became a huge mountain and filled the whole earth” (Daniel 2:34-35)

And I’m thinking of this Scripture:
“He who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed” (Matthew 21:44).

And I want God to break me to pieces.

Going to New Ulm

My mother just called me, tearfully.

She told me that this morning in St. Louis, Missouri, my grandmother passed away.

You can read about her life in my book Pathway: A Family History and view pictures of her at Elva Online.

She will rest in New Ulm, Texas, where Christoph Ashorn settled more than 150 years ago. She was his oldest living descendant. She always talked about getting back to Texas someday.

What you can do, not what you can’t

The commands of the Bible tell us what we can do, not what we can’t do. If God commands it, he promises it. And that’s exciting. The commands of God are all promises.

Life away from Elva

During the past couple of years, caring for my grandmother became my most important priority. Later, my fiance also fell in love with my grandmother, and we continued to care for her after we were married in September 2005.

But soon after our wedding, my grandmother’s family and friends began taking over responsibility for her. At the beginning of March 2006, we informed them that we would be moving to Texas, closer to my family.

After we told Grandma, she kept saying with a smile, “I’m going to miss y’all. Y’all have spoiled me.” Now that we are gone, the family has hired other caregivers to come to Grandma’s home, at least until she decides on permanent arrangements.

We still believe that love triumphs over hate, that mercy triumphs over judgement, and that truth endures forever.

It bids me fly and gives me wings

“Run, John, run,” the law commands
But gives me neither feet nor hands.
Yet better news the gospel brings;
It bids me fly and gives me wings.

– After John Berridge (1716-1793)

Purity leads to power

We secretly mock those who want to be spiritually pure, but we penalize those who sell gasoline that isn’t purer.

Fire that doesn’t warm the cold

“Truth without enthusiasm, morality without emotion, ritual without soul, are things Christ unsparingly condemned. Destitute of fire, they are nothing more than a godless philosophy, an ethical system, and a superstition.”

Samuel Chadwick

How to run a church without God

“Revival and change are almost synonymous terms and both clearly cut across traditionalism. There is no way true revival can occur without major changes disrupting and reordering the life of the Church… God is no traditionalist. While God is orderly, He is always fresh and vital. If a church can run according to forms and traditions of men, it will run without the presence and power of God … Is it any wonder the love of tradition is an enemy to revival? Revival and new life go hand in hand … Let every church realize that the inordinate love of tradition is a great opponent to revival … When a church slays the love of tradition, a major obstacle to revival will be slain with it.”

Richard Owen Roberts

O Father God we glorify You

O Father God we glorify You
And praise Your goodness
That You have graciously manifested
Yourself to us anew,
And has led us together, Lord,
To admonish us through Your Word
Give us grace for this.

From the Ausbund, First Hymn

Excuses are disguises.

“How shall I feel at the judgment, if multitudes of missed opportunities pass before me in full review, and all my excuses prove to be disguises of my cowardice and pride?”

W. E. Sangster

Don’t buck the religious system

“It is a costly and a suffering thing to come up against the religious system that has ‘ settled down’ here. It is far more costly than coming up against the naked world itself. The religious system can be more ruthless and cruel and bitter; it can be actuated by all those mean things, contemptible things, prejudices and suspicions things that you will not even find in decent people in the world. It is costly to go on to the heavenlies, it is painful; but it is the way of the pioneer, and it has to be settled that that is how it is.”

T. Austin Sparks

Pioneering is a costly thing

“The whole history of the Church is one long story of this tendency to settle down on this earth and to become conformed to this world, to find acceptance and popularity here and to eliminate the element of conflict and of pilgrimage. That is the trend and the tendency of everything. Therefore outwardly, as well as inwardly, pioneering is a costly thing.”

T. Austin Sparks

More expensive than marble

My wife loves me so much, sometimes she scares me. The other night she kept looking at my hand, wondering if she could find an art student who could make a life-size marble sculpture of me. I protested that I don’t know anybody besides her who would want a marble sculpture of me, and that it would probably be incredibly expensive – thousands of dollars.

But there’s somebody who has already spent much more than thousands of dollars for me, and for you. He’s given his life, and spent my entire life, to make something beautiful of me, because he finds me that valuable.

God needs to respect our decorum

“With some men it would seem, if they could control God’s operations and manipulate His actions they might tolerate a revival; but to allow God a free hand, fills them with righteous indignation and horror. If only God would consent to become an ‘ecclesiastic’ and respect their dignity and decorum and beautiful order of service and ways of running the Church, they might condescend to have a revival.”

William P. Nicholson

Eating the menu

I’ve never read Rudolph Otto‘s 1917 book “The Idea of the Holy,” but it sounds like Western Christians have something to learn from him. Otto might say that much conventional orthodoxy and theology is like going to a restaurant and eating the menu. Otto pointed out that Christians tend to “flatten out” their faith, to make it more tame and manageable. Sounds to me like a religious shampoo/conditioner. Instead, Otto sought a mystical excitement in religious experience that was missing from 20th century Protestantism. It seems to be largely missing from 21st century Christianity as well. Would you like cardboard with that, sir?

The scariest worship service ever

For me, the scariest worship service is one where the congregation waits on God alone to speak and act. The minutes pass, and you can’t fill in your uneasiness by reading the bulletin, because there isn’t one. You can’t wait for the next part of the program to begin, because there is no program. Nothing at all happens unless God speaks, and you can’t break the tension by sharing your own pious or clever thoughts. It won’t work, because the leaders are mature enough to tell if it was God who spoke through you, or man.

Distant relationship with Jesus

I can’t understand people who seem to say that, because they talked to Jesus once when an evangelist asked them to, they now have a relationship with Jesus, with whom they hardly ever talk now.

We would have eaten you by now.

A young French anthopologist working in the South Pacific told a tribal chieftain reading the Bible, “Back in Europe nobody believes that old book of stories anymore.”

The old chieftain indulgently looked up from his Bible and told the young man, “Maybe so. But if it were not for that book of stories, we would have eaten you by now.”

Love will never come to nothing

Love will never come to nothing. Everything has an end but love. Love alone shall stand… Love clothes us for the wedding feast because God is love and love is God. He helps us out of all distress, and who shall take us far from him? Knowledge swells but love builds up. Everything done without love comes to ruin. Oh love! Oh love! Lead us with your hand and bind us together. False love is that which deceives us. Amen.

— Ludwig Haetzer, based on I Corinthians 13, Ausbund, 57:6-7

The world is guilty until proven innocent.

I’m skeptical about society. Most people in churches assume that the world is innocent until proven guilty. I believe it’s guilty until proven innocent. So most people consume most mass media, perhaps being cautious about some content, but asking few questions. But I assume that most television, film, advertising, and popular music were not created to glorify God, and I’m cautious about taking it into myself unless I feel good about a specific product. One reason I like international music is that it can get my feet moving without triggering sinful responses from my own culture.

The ornamental Christian

As a gardener, I’m notorious for only planting what can be eaten. My family, however, is fond of pear-less pear trees. They are called “ornamental pears.” They have nice white blossoms, but they have been carefully bred not to produce any fruit. Ornamental fruit trees have become quite popular. So have ornamental Christians.

O world, o treacherous sea

It was long enough, world, that I floated about in you, oh treacherous sea. You deceived me long enough. You detained me. While I was a slave to sin, and wronged God, you loved and honoured me. But now you hate me.

— Christoph Bauman, Switzerland, Ausbund 76

Salvation is a secular concept

Our culture is poorer for having segregated some useful ideas into a religious ghetto, isolated from society’s mainstream. One such concept is salvation. For most Westerners, the word “salvation” conjures up images of sweating American preachers in tent revivals. But “salvation” is simply the noun form of the verb “to save.” Continue reading “Salvation is a secular concept”

Getting to know yourself

It is difficult for the one who loves to talk to get to know himself. If he would think of who he is, he would not have so much to say. Look at yourself! Leave the rest.

— Othmar Roth, Sankt Gallen in Switzerland, 1532, Ausbund 58

On a more personal note…

Tuesday night I asked my best friend to marry me, and she said yes. She’s from southeast Illinois and works in international student ministry. My grandmother loves her too.

Just thought I should mention this. You don’t need to be as excited about it as I am.

Marionettes without a puppeteer

More than anyone else, I guess, I’m concerned for people who seem to have no motivating force in their lives. They remind me of marionettes without a puppeteer. In the hands of a master, nearly every string of a marionette is taut, ready for action, ready for movement. In the bottom of his box, every string of a marionette is slack, not only unmoving but unready to be moved. People who are empowered by the Holy Spirit seem ready to respond to their master’s slightest motion, without the slightest warning.

Now Lord, please don’t go to any trouble for me!

My 93-year-old, blind, deaf, arthritic grandmother hates to be helped. We finally learn to stop replying to comments such, “Don’t go to any trouble!” “I hate to have you wait on me,” “I’m just a lazy bum.” I wonder if, when she arrives at the gates of Heaven, she will say to Jesus, “Now Lord, please don’t go to any trouble for me! I can help myself.”

Having a map, not having arrived

My family heard about the gospel of salvation and the authority of the Bible around the same time. Like many evangelicals, we assumed that they always go together. Then I observed that people can be orthodox but lost. And I learned that in previous centuries of American history, almost everybody believed the Bible had authority and that Jesus was the Savior of the world. The Deists believed that too, but didn’t claim to have experienced personal conversion.

Confusing soul and spirit

One of the most transforming concepts for me is that people are body, soul and spirit, not just body and soul. The soul has been defined as the mind, emotion and will. The spirit is the part of us that related to the spiritual world. I don’t want to confuse emotion or intellect with the movement of the Spirit.

Do the powers of our soul compete with the spirit? Because they can compete, they do compete. If we have the skill to pretend to be spiritual or powerful when we’re not, we constantly have to refuse to do that.

How to be jolted

New perspectives help us to see our faith more clearly, and they are desperately needed. I find new perspectives from two sources. One is historical: people used to act like us and it didn’t work out, or people used to not act like us and it worked better. The other is cultural: Christians in China don’t do that/have that/need that and they do better than us.

Nailing Five Theses to the door of the church

A Christian friend who came from a non-Christian background explains some of the differences in that vantage point compared to people who were raised in church :

  1. Talking about God’s presence in a situation honors Him and recognizes His role.  It’s a privilege to recognize him.  vs. Let’s be quiet about our faith in Jesus because we don’t want to overwhelm people.  Why don’t people in the church want to talk about God?
  2. When we tell each other problems in the church, we should pray for each other.  vs. Why do these people tell me their problems?  I have enough garbage in my own life to deal with.  Why don’t they take responsibility & just pray about it?  Why don’t people pray for each other in person as problems come up?
  3. The church is the body of Christ.  vs.  Biological family is the main thing that holds people together in groups.  Why don’t people offer hospitality to one another and include others in their lives even if they aren’t related by blood?
  4. How can I be growing as a follower of Jesus Christ?  vs.  What, a daily quiet time?  I know I should, but the pastor is asking too much of my time this week.  I have so much to do.  Why is spending time with Jesus not a priority?
  5. How can we give glory to God with the spiritual gifts he has given us?  vs.  Why practice so hard to do the arts well?  It’s just for us, and we don’t care if it’s in tune or not.   Why does the church settle for mediocrity when it comes to the arts?

Any questions? Any answers?

Truth is not static.

In one sense, truth is static, written in heaven, but our understanding of it is imperfect so not static.

In another sense, truth is relational. What is good news will change depending on the needs of the hearer. The broken-hearted need mercy, and the unrepentant need law.

Art or craft?

Some Christian artists believe that anything done for God is acceptable, even if it’s artistically flawed, if it quotes enough scripture or something. And others confuse spirit and soul, and believe that as long as it stirs your aesthetic sensibilities, it’s acceptable as Christian art. One approach is to think of ourselves as craftsmen instead of artists. Our job is to make well what needs making. Our job isn’t to fit some stereotype of an artist, or to expose our inmost expressions (express our fascinating self) to the world. Continue reading “Art or craft?”

Mind of the Maker

All real art has a vision behind it. Characters take on a life of their own, paintings turn out differently than you planned. You can’t go against this vision without completely changing the work, and probably making the work less believable. Continue reading “Mind of the Maker”

Violence produces justice

People who turn the other cheek don’t get much respect. Oh, some admire us for our constancy. But if they really want to get something done, and done quickly, most people count on weaponry.

Before 1966, nearly all of the American civil rights movement was committed to Christian nonviolence. Then some young black leaders began calling for “black power.” They demanded to know how passive resistance could ever bring freedom to their people.

In spite of my non-resistant Anabaptist beliefs, I have to confess that they had a good point. Historically, violence has been one of the most powerful tools for spreading justice and righteousness. Don’t believe it? Read on. Continue reading “Violence produces justice”

Winning through nonintimidation

I just finished reading “The Children” by David Halberstam, about the nonviolent students who integrated lunch counters in Nashville. It gives me insight into what it’s really like to turn the other cheek, and how love is more powerful than hate. Some of these early leaders were young black fundamentalists, but unfortunately the book implies that nobody in those days had both a social conscience and a high view of the Bible.

What I like about that group is that most of them were motivated by their Christian faith and believed in nonviolence as a way of life, not just a temporary tactic. Even some who had lost their childhood faith seemed to be able to share in this fellowship. As if they had trouble believing the Christianity of their Sunday school but no trouble believing the Christianity of the civil rights movement. But by 1966 their organization, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, had been taken over by non-religious black power/black separatism advocates who wanted to abandon nonviolence.

Chinese water torture evangelism

So many Christians think they’re supposed to inject religious words into their conversation (“After all, he says his word will not return void!”) – the Chinese water torture method of evangelism. But I don’t think that bears any fruit. We’re supposed to not cast pearls before swine, to refrain from saying things that people wouldn’t understand or appreciate anyway. I like the times when an honest answer to their question unavoidably gives glory to God. When I really did trust God, not just was supposed to have trusted to God. “Well, you know, I just need to depend on God’s strength day by day” but I have to be careful to say that only when I do.

Choking in rules

Referring to religious traditions that forbid any practice not commanded in the New Testament, a friend of mine proposed a witty slogan: “If we wrapped ourselves up any tighter in rules, we’d likely choke.” But there can be humility to considering such rules. Or you can look at them from the cultural perspective I like to practice. If people experienced the power and authority of God while following certain rules, we don’t need to abandon those rules to experience God ourselves, and they may turn out to be more than just rules.

The unpleasantness of obedience

It’s so hard to minister to someone without being tempted to feel patronizing or holy, and others may not help much with resisting the temptation. Whenever somebody told me what a wonderful person I must be because I was a missionary or because I take care of my grandmother, I have tried to say Thank you and ignore their compliments. Why should people fawn over me for doing what I enjoy doing? Do they think that if you really obey God, it has to be unpleasant?

Wielding force in love

I’ve heard Christians defend war a lot, since San Antonio, where I come from, is such a military city (six bases). They might say they’re motivated by love for country or family or justice, things they interpret as being equivalent to God’s love. But other Christians would question whether, for the sake of God’s love for a man, someone could put a bullet into his head . They would hold to be the real criteria of legitimate Christian force: can you do it in love? I suppose that’s applies to any kind of compulsion: when is it the love of God that compells us to coerce someone else? Maybe parents experience God’s love in that way, sometimes. I know that many American soldiers returned to Asia as missionaries after World War II. But I don’t know how many of them felt they were acting in love as soldiers before they returned as missionaries, or whether they felt their Christian testimony was lacking as soldiers and now wanted to make up for it.

The world has always been post-Christian.

The UK-based Anabaptist Network announces the publication of a series of books, beginning with Post-Christendom: Church and Mission in a Strange New World by Stuart Murray. “This book explores what it means to be Christian in a world in which Christianity is no longer the dominant paradigm in our society.”

Except that Christians have always lived in a world in which Christianity is not the dominant paradigm. Maybe it used to be different in your society, but it’s always been this way for the vast majority of human beings throughout history. The Christians in China, India, and Africa know that. Ever since Adam and Eve left the Garden of Eden, we’ve been living in a “post-God” world. Continue reading “The world has always been post-Christian.”

Mr. Garrett Goes to Washington

Well, Daniel has just driven down the driveway on his way to his new job with the State Department. The first seven weeks of training will be the most intense, then he’ll spend some months in language study, depending on where he’s sent. He’s rented an apartment in Virginia, a short bike ride from the institute. He plans to visit us whenever he can. When he left, Grandma said, “Drive carefully and call us when you get settled.” She’s finishing her afternoon nap now.

We will all miss Daniel: his energy, his humor, his creativity. He says he’s confident I will continue to do a good job of caring for my grandmother.

Veritas Domina

“Truth is a glorious but hard mistress. She never consults, bargains or compromises.”

A.W. Tozer

Fifty years of Alzheimer’s

We think of Alzheimer’s disease as something that affects the brains of older people. Actually, half of older people are never affected by it, and many who have it will die naturally before the disease is even diagnosed. One of the most interesting, and influential, books about Alzheimer’s Disease is Aging with Grace: What the Nun Study Teaches Us About Leading Longer, Healthier, and More Meaningful Lives
by David Snowdon.

I’m fascinated by Dr. Snowden’s report that researchers have found Alzheimer’s structures (plaques and tangles) in the brains of 20-year-olds. Continue reading “Fifty years of Alzheimer’s”

Low-grade insanity

I don’t believe in mental illness, per se, even though it’s a common diagnosis in my family. Sometimes symptoms are caused by character or spiritual problems; often by physical or chemical problems. But it’s a mistake to consider it a disease that some people (i.e. other people) have. I see it as an extreme version of problems that all of us have. All of us can be irrational at times. Most of us can control it. But none of us think clearly or feel accurately all the time. We are mistaken if we take our own minds too seriously. Insanity is more common in ourselves than we think, and less common in others than we suppose.

My experience at playing God

I once rehearsed a play in which I served as the “voice of God” replying to a delightful little girl saying her bedtime prayers. I frustrated the director. “No, say that line more majestically.” “No, say it more warmly.”

I never got it right. I should have retorted, “What do you want me to be: both God and man?”

It’s rare to find someone who can do that successfully.

Reading is interpreting

Conservative preachers oppose going beyond what the Bible says. But everybody does. Even someone who simply reads the Bible aloud is interpreting the Bible, with his inflection, his volume, his speed, his tone. (People who read the Bible silently are also interpreting the Bible – we just can’t tell how they’re interpreting it). Reading the Bible in ponderous tones means you think that God is ponderous. Reading in casual tones means you think God is casual. Your inner theology determines your reading style, unless you have trouble reading out loud or trouble being honest about your theology. Pick a difficult passage of Scripture, such as one about the wrath of God. Try reading it aloud while incorporating all that you believe about it. I think it will bring you to your knees as you realize the limits of your faith.

Amateur prayer

“Some prayers are like a fire escape, used only in times of critical emergency — never very enjoyable, but used as a way of terrified escape from disaster. They do not represent the regular life of the one who offers them; rather are the unusual and uncommon acts of the spiritual amateur.”

A.W. Tozer

I am a deconstructionist.

Now that I think I understand a little about post-modernism, it’s transforming my thinking — but maybe not in the way you’d expect.
I realized that deconstructionism applies to deconstructionists too. That is, the writings of post-modern thinkers aren’t idealized, objective truth anymore than the writings they criticize. But it occurs to me that this concept can be applied much more broadly – though not as broadly as they would want. We can’t trust human wisdom, but there is another kind of wisdom. Continue reading “I am a deconstructionist.”

Instantly free

“Let a man set his heart only on doing the will of God and he is instantly free. No one can hinder him.”

A.W. Tozer

Who will dare?

“Who will now dare say that I have lost my age and years? Who will say that I have lost my courage?”

– Algerius, an imprisoned Italian student, to his fellow noblemen who urged him to renounce his faith, Martyrs Mirror, p. 570-573

Lead us not into decision.

“Too many of our religious convictions are negative. We act not from a positive conviction that something is right, but from a feeling that the opposite is wrong.”

A.W. Tozer

Could I interest you in some insurance?

“The image of God currently popular is that of a distracted Father, struggling in heartbroken desperation to get people to accept a Saviour of whom they feel no need and in whom they have very little interest. ”

A.W. Tozer

The true countenance of God has been revealed over my life.

“The accomplishments, arts, or gifts which God has given me, were at first pleasant companions and recreations; now they yield me holy fruits. It is true, I have sweated, suffered cold, and as much as I was able, watched night and day; but this labor has tended and redounded to make me more perfect; there never passed a day or hour without some improvement. Behold, the true countenance of God has been revealed over my life, and the Lord has caused me to experience great joy in my heart. In Him alone I shall rest in peace.”

– Algerius, Martyrs Mirror, p. 570-573

Worshipping our worship

How far are we willing to go to see God’s will be done? Are we willing to give up musical styles that only we appreciate? Are we willing to give up religious terminology that only we understand? Are we willing to give up Bible dialects that even we can’t fully comprehend? If our traditions cause innocent seekers to stumble and fall before they can enter the narrow gate, our traditions might as well be millstones around our necks. We might as well drown ourselves now.

Tortures not worth speaking of

“… There is but one remedy, one medicine, which can cure all their infirmities; and this remedy gives to me also strength, and life, and cheerfulness to suffer all these fears and afflictions, which are but momentary, and not worth speaking of; this is the hope which I have placed in heaven.”

– Algerius,Martyrs Mirror, p. 570-573

Civilized to distraction

“Modern civilization is so complex as to make the devotional life all but impossible. It wears us out by multiplying distractions and beats us down by destroying our solitude.”

A.W. Tozer

Secure, gated community – available now!

One day, as I watched the automatic gate close at my apartment complex, my mind wandered to other institutions that feature security gates. There is one in Huntsville, Texas, and one in Leavenworth, Kansas, for example. It helped me realize there is a difference between security and freedom. So I created a secure, gated community poster, to illustrate my point. I don’t live in a gated community anymore.

The Spirit desires a vacuum.

“The average Christian is so cold and so contented with His wretched condition that there is no vacuum of desire into which the blessed Spirit can rush in satisfying fullness.”

A.W. Tozer

You call that prayer in school?

Not meaning to offend anybody, but I’m not looking forward to the return of required prayer in school. For many young people, who don’t know God and don’t want to, being forced to pray to God is like being forced to kiss a maiden aunt. Like kissing, prayer is more satisfying when done willingly.

I acknowledge that a return to common moral values is necessary if America is to survive. But Continue reading “You call that prayer in school?”

Beyond congregationalism

The Christian leaders I’ve associated with have always said they want to be a New Testament church. But usually, they mean they want to be a New Testament congregation. Paul, however, clearly wrote about authority and involvement in multiple congregations. (Of course, maybe you believe that God put things in the Bible that don’t apply to us today). Continue reading “Beyond congregationalism”

Weight Watchers Sudan Ltd.

In America, as many as 80% of fourth-grade girls are on a diet, even though only one quarter of them are overweight. In other countries, many people would love to get their hands on some good high-calorie food. That was the inspiration for this Lose Weight Fast – Ask Me How poster. Of course, World Vision is not responsible for this attempt at humor, even though I put their phone number on the poster. Hmm, I wonder how much it would cost to open a Weight Watchers franchise in Sudan….

Trembling in church

“They will never accept grace until they tremble before a just and holy Law.”

— Charles Spurgeon

Christian Deconstructionism

The deconstructionist philosophy says you can’t know what’s true because everybody who talks to you about truth is biased. Well, that’s equally true of deconstructionists. They are also biased. Hence we can’t trust them either. Thank you for your time.

However, I know someone whom you can trust. Who? That’s for me to know and you to find out. Except that he says, “The heart is deceitfully wicked, who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9). Hmm, he must be a deconstructionist, you think?

Ready to be pardoned?

“One cannot intelligently and heartily ask or accept a pardon until he sees and feels the fact and justice of his condemnation. . . ”

–Charles Finney

Rolling somewhere

After listening to President Bush’s State of the Union address last night, my Methodist-Buddhist uncle said, “Jesus Christ would have rolled over in his grave if he could have heard that.”

Think about that. Think all about that.

Parousial Sanctification

Like practical universalism and proportional atonement, parousial sanctification is another doctrine I invented one night when I had nothing else to do. Well, actually I didn’t invent it. A lot of Christians seem to already be living in expectation of it. However, I have not yet found any Scriptural evidence for this doctrine. Parousial sanctification is the inward transformation of the soul that evidently occurs at the second coming of Jesus Christ (Gk. parousia), presumably during the Rapture.
Continue reading “Parousial Sanctification”

Making it to home

Practical universalism isn’t very practical. It doesn’t help people become godly, anymore than hiring blind umpires makes baseball more exciting. The umpire can’t grade on a curve. He has to decide if the runner arrived before the ball, or the ball before the runner. But if the runner never arrives, he doesn’t have to decide anything. The answer is obvious. It doesn’t matter how fast a baseball player ran from second to third, it doesn’t matter how sincerely. If he doesn’t make it to home plate, he doesn’t score. It doesn’t count. If you never become the kind of person who wants to spend eternity praising God, it doesn’t matter how close you got to it. You won’t be forced to spend eternity praising God.

Unutterably ashamed and confounded before the Lord

“[There must be] that kind of genuine and deep conviction which breaks the sinner and the backslider right down, and makes him unutterably ashamed and confounded before the Lord, until he is not only stripped of every excuse, but driven to go all lengths in justifying God and condemning himself.”

— Charles Finney

The cost of discipleship

“That is what we mean by cheap grace, the grace which amounts to the justification of sin without the justification of the repentant sinner who departs from sin and from whom sins departs. ”

— Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

Elvaisms #1

My grandmother’s first language is German, and she began speaking English when the world was very different than it is today. Here are some expressions she uses:

Well, I better hyphenate in my room and get out of your hair.

Hand me a bobbing pin, will you?

I think it’s good to be interesting in what’s happening in the world.

There you are, my little fuddy-duddle, my little cat.

See against whom you fight.

“Be sober, therefore, and awake, and open the eyes of your understanding, and see against whom you fight, that it is not against man, but against God.”

— Hans van Overdam, Martyrs Mirror

Holiness for its own sake

“The true convert prefers obedience for its own sake; he actually chooses it, and does it. The other purposes to be holy, because he knows that is the only way to be happy. The true saint chooses holiness for its own sake, and he is holy.”

— Charles Spurgeon, True and False Conversion

In defense of hypocrisy

First of all, hypocrisy is indefensible. Jesus criticized hypocrites, he didn’t criticize sinners. But we’re all hypocrites in one sense. We don’t live up to our ideals.

However, some ways of dealing with our hypocrisy are better than others. One way is to stop claiming to believe what we don’t practice. As in, I ain’t no hypocrite, I know I’m a sinner.

But something’s lacking there. The other way of dealing with our hypocrisy, much harder, is to stop practicing what we claim we don’t believe. Until I can do that, I’d rather be a hypocrite.

Do all the good you can.

“Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, to all the people you can, as long as you ever can.”

– John Wesley

The truth is red-hot

The truth is hot and hard to touch. Unless it has lost its power, it will sometimes hurt you. The truth is salt and you have wounds. Unless it has lost its savor, it will sometimes hurt you. You can avoid this pain at the cost of your soul, but not forever.

Do you think we run on uncertainties?

“Do you think we run on uncertainties? …We forsake our dear children, whom I would not forsake for the whole world, and we stake upon it all we have – should we run on uncertainties yet?”

– Claesken, Martyrs Mirror, p. 613

Maybe God will stop speaking.

It only takes a minute to form a tradition. Otherwise, we would have to face ourselves or our Master more directly. A tradition is like a callous, in that sense. As a callous makes it harder to feel, a tradition makes it harder to hear. You don’t need to hear or obey God if he no longer needs to speak. Then you can replace his word with your own ideas. The drive constantly pulls on us to control our own consciences and lives instead of letting God do it. Like the Pharisees, we have already acquired our own reward, and there is nothing left for Jesus to give us. For we believe we are some variety of saint, and he only came for sinners.

Time and eternity

“He who has no vision of eternity will never get a true hold of time.”

– Thomas Carlyle

Social conservation

What is our motivation for trying to change our government and our society? Woodrow Wilson said he was fighting World War I to make the world safe for democracy. Many liberals want to make the world safe for perversion. Many conservatives merely want to make the world safe for themselves.
Continue reading “Social conservation”

Let me introduce you to my deity.

Some people talk about God from personal experience. Others speak theoretically about God, as if they never expect to know for sure. The silliness of that approach becomes more obvious when you substitute your own name, or the name of your best friend, in place of God’s in these discussions. Do you “have faith” that your best friend is a Korean-American lawyer, or is your best friend really a Chinese-American lawyer? Philosophical beliefs about “your reality” won’t change the country his ancestors came from. Continue reading “Let me introduce you to my deity.”

Real Christians don’t dance.

“So is this it? This is what it comes down to: real Christians don’t dance? Moses parted the water for this? Rahab tucked the spies away in her closet for this? Jael drove a tent peg into the head of Sisera for this? Jesus died and rose again, martyrs were sawn in two, and the Church has prevailed for almost two thousand years against the gates of hell so that Christians today can live out this ever important testimony to a waiting, watching world: real Christians don’t dance? ” (more…)

— John Fischer, Real Christians Don’t Dance

The midwife of mercy

“Prayer is the midwife of mercy, that helps to bring it forth.”

– Matthew Henry

They are already too wise in themselves.

“They are already too wise in themselves, already helped, who so openly forsake Christ, in avarice which they style only industry, in pride which with them is only neatness, in adultery which they term only friendship.”

– Valerius Schoolmaster, Martyrs Mirror, p. 726-731

Practical Atheism 101

Most people, despite their religious beliefs, are practical atheists. They can make plans without him, meet their needs without him, live the essence of their lives without him. Their prayers give them away. They cheerfully talk to God as if they didn’t really need anything. They may pray for God to heal a sick friend, but in their hearts, prayer is secondary to medicine and not really important at all. When sickness strikes home and medicine doesn’t stop it, their actions may begin to line up with their doctrines. Then their prayers might become prayers of desperation, the kind God can answer. At last they mean what they pray.

Here I forsake all.

“Here I forsake wife and children, house and home, body and life, for the faith and the divine truth.”

– George Raeck, Martyrs Mirror, p. 646

All ye in come free

Religious people are accused of harping on fire, brimstone and damnation. They don’t usually. It’s rare to hear about such subjects in most religious gatherings. After all, talking about hell makes church people uncomfortable too, unless you’re talking about people going there whom they don’t know. They may believe in hell, theoretically, but it’s extremely rare to find anybody willing to apply such warnings to themselves. Everybody listening thinks they are already “in.”
Continue reading “All ye in come free”

Capitol worship

As Alexandr Solzhenitsyn said, our goal is not to move society to the left or the right, but to move upwards. The state should reward good and punish evil, allowing us to live quiet and peaceful lives. Many people expect more than that from the state, perhaps because they expect less from God. God wants to supply all our needs, not man, individual or corporate. What is the difference between praying to an idol for food and praying to the government for food, except that the idol ignores your worship and the state might be eager to receive it? Neither one is your God. God’s people may not care for you, but God does.

Having faced death makes life more fun.

Some of the most refreshing people to spend time with are converted murderers and recovered terminal patients. Someone who used to kill people has no illusions about what a nice guy he is, or what he would be like without God. Someone who was given six months to live has no illusions that he will live forever, or where his life comes from. Neither kind of person wastes as much time on themselves as the rest of us who haven’t yet come to the end of ourselves.

Always trust the men in the white (rain)coats.

In 1948, it was impossible to gather a valid sample of American male sexual practices (“Hello, I’d like to ask you a few questions about your lover”). It would be difficult today. And in 1948, just as now, it was difficult to gather ethical data about the sexual responses of baby boys. Weapon of Mass Distraction provides more information about exactly what Alfred Kinsey did instead. Continue reading “Always trust the men in the white (rain)coats.”

If God doesn’t exist, he should have told us before now.

Agnostics and others tell me that I need to be more open-minded about religion. Okay. Will this prayer help?

“O God, I praise you. Show me if you’re not there. Make your nonexistence real to me. Thank you, God. I love you.”

Practical Universalism

Universalism is the heretical teaching that everybody will go to heaven, even if they don’t want to. Practical universalism (a heresy I invented one night when I was bored) is stricter. It means that if you want to go to heaven, you have to be sincere or you have to be religious. But that’s okay because everybody is sincere or religious, aren’t we? Continue reading “Practical Universalism”

Oh, that I might have brought you up.

“I leave you here; Oh, that it had pleased the Lord, that I might have brought you up; I should so gladly have done my best with respect to it; but it seems that it is not the Lord’s will. ”

– Janneken Munstdorp to her daughter, Martyrs Mirror, p. 985

Seeing he had no enemies…

“…He declared that he did not feel free in his conscience, thus to row [into battle], seeing he had no enemies; they might deal with him according to their pleasure.”

– said about Jan Smit, Martyrs Mirror, p. 962

Can love be carried too far?

Consider this: if your fiancee loved you as much as you love God, would you break off the engagement? Soon God’s people will become his bride, though you don’t have to take part in that. Once the marriage takes place, if not before, his people will do nothing but worship him and praise him. Does that thought disturb you, of never ceasing to praise God? Do you have a hard time doing it now? Does the thought make heaven seem enslaving or boring? You don’t have to take part in that either. However, you may not like the alternative. There will be no alternative in heaven.

Only now do I feel within me…

“…For him that commits himself to the Lord, and is possessed of love, nothing is difficult; had I not experienced this myself, it would be impossible for me to know that it is so easy… Only now do I feel within me the inexpressible grace and mercy of God, and His love, and how we therefore ought to love Him in return.”

– Claesken, Martyrs Mirror, p. 615

I’m no Romeo.

Why worry about the state of your soul? Why seek more from God? Well, why seek more from your marriage? The Bible compares God’s loving relationship to his people to a husband’s relationship to his wife. However, since love for God and love for spouse have both grown cold, it becomes ever harder for us to understand what God meant, or to even care. For some couples, it’s hard to imagine wanting to die for each other. For some Christians, it’s hard to believe (as opposed to mentally assent) that Jesus wanted to die for them. But when you were first falling in love, was a visit to your loved one an obligation, or was it joy? Did Romeo spend regular time beneath Juliet’s window to keep her from getting mad at him, or because nothing could have kept him away? Continue reading “I’m no Romeo.”

Can I borrow your toothbrush for a second?

Did you know that your toothbrush is also an excellent tool for cleaning around the toilet? Except that once you use it that way, you’ll find it less effective and less pleasant in your mouth. That’s all that holiness really means. God wants to set you apart, sanctify you, make you holy (all mean the same thing) for his purposes. Yes, the mind, body and will that God made for his own purposes will also serve well for other purposes. God made them well. But, like a fine woodworker’s tools, the more you use them for something for which they weren’t intended, the more trouble you’ll have when you try to use them for the right purpose. A person who wants to be holy isn’t nitpicking or negative or arrogant or legalistic, any more than a person who wants to defend his toothbrush from me.

This way has no retreats.

“Behold, my children, this way has no retreats; there are also no byways, that lie on the right hand of the left… If you do what I write, you will see me again in great glory…”

– Maeyken van Deventer, Martyrs Mirror, p. 977-979

When you can’t see clearly

You can look through your glasses, but you can’t look at your glasses at the same time. Your perspective is the same way. Only God and your brothers and sisters can give you any different perspective. That’s why you don’t see your needs. We need community, a closer community than most have ever experienced, in order to break free and be healed. In most of our religious organizations, we don’t get close enough to really see each other’s needs, let alone really help them. It’s as if your cancer surgeon greeted you warmly, pointed to the tumor bulging through your skin, waved his scalpel with a smile, but never began operating. The scalpel has to get close enough to cut before it does any good.

Redemption and lift

Sociologists decry the weaknesses of single-parent families, but how many of them speak out against the socially-acceptable sins that made them common? Historically, repentance and conversion, not social programs, have been the only effective solution for a myriad of problems such as child abuse, child exploitation, poor working conditions, low incomes, high unemployment, alcohol and drug abuse and teen pregnancy. God helps a father to stop drinking and start working, God helps the father’s employer to provide job training and increase wages, God helps the employer’s teenaged daughter to seek love from himself instead of boys. Social scientists have even coined a term for the phenomenon: “redemption and lift.”

Cheap grace and false conversion

If I had cancer, I’d want to know in time. It wouldn’t be a kindness to wait until nothing could be done. Particularly when my soul is at stake. Nowadays few people think about their soul. As Jesus says, “What does it profit a man if he gain the world and lose his soul,” the world yawns. But the word “soul” means “mind, emotions and will.” As your “harmless sins” grind away at your unkept conscience, can you see that you lose your ability to think clearly, to feel deeply and to force yourself out of your rut into a decision?

Tempocentrism

Tempocentrism (thinking our own generation is always right) causes some of the same problems as ethnocentrism (thinking our own culture is always right). It makes the mistake of assuming that Bible teachers know more about God than Bible characters. Really. There are teachers who claim that Paul just didn’t get it, but that we know better now. All this without the inconvenience of being tested in Arabia, stoned, shipwrecked, flogged, or visited by the presence of Jesus.
Continue reading “Tempocentrism”

Found by few, walked by fewer

“This is the true way to eternal life, which is found by so few, and walked by a still smaller number; for it is too narrow for them, and would cause their flesh too much pain.”

– Jan Jans Brant, Martyrs Mirror, p. 617

Ethnocentrism

Ethnocentrism is the problem of thinking that your own sub-culture is right and that other sub-cultures are wrong. It’s a problem that leads to prejudice, bigotry, imperialism, even genocide. And it’s not completely avoidable. As much as you tell yourself that someone else acts differently because he was raised differently, you can’t always prevent feelings of impatience and judgementalism. And it’s even worse when you (and/or the other person) think you’re dealing with issues of absolute truth, not relative opinions, and won’t give in.
Continue reading “Ethnocentrism”

Our blood is much sought.

“It is not our way to ask each other: Where are you from? or what is your name? for we well know our blood is much sought.”

– Claes de Praet, Martyrs Mirror, p. 554-560

Has the age of reality passed away?

Many people believe the age of miracles (etc.) has passed away. Others insist it’s still here. There is often little practical difference in the lives of these two groups. We all agree that some things haven’t passed away, such as faith, hope and love. But we read the non-miraculous parts of the Book of Acts, and we still aren’t experiencing the same faith, power, joy, love, unity and holiness – the same spiritual reality – that the early Christians did. If believers in miracles read the miraculous parts with an honest heart, we will likewise admit that we don’t see many miracles in our lives, and we have no good excuse for it.

The fire is not big enough.

“I am ready any way, to put off this flesh, whether in the fire or in the water, before the hall of justice or here in this fire (the fire on the hearth); it is not big enough, make it bigger.”

– Joos Kindt, Martyrs Mirror, p. 545

Remodeling in Pompeii

Compared to the Kingdom of God and your part in it, does anything else you’re doing really matter? What should you do now? Should you turn off your computer? Weep? Repent? Click on a different link? Get a drink? We all have answers and goals. But most of the time, we’re answering the wrong questions, and reaching the wrong goals, like a Roman father in Pompeii who finishes remodeling the family room just before Mt. Vesuvius buries it in ashes. When we don’t know God’s will, we have to fill in the gaps with our own will and ideas. Or we can’t live. The alternative is to know God’s will.

Now, pretend you’re a heathen.

Try this experiment: read the Bible as if you were an outsider. Pretend that these scriptures belong to a now-extinct sect that many admire but nobody follows. Imagine that someone loaned them to you and that you have no claim of understanding or even believing them. For once, don’t assume that you have the right to be encouraged by every encouraging word within their covers.
Continue reading “Now, pretend you’re a heathen.”

About Michael

Maybe you want to know something about the creator of this website. When I began it, I was middle-aged, single, a writer and search engine marketer, caregiver for my elderly grandmother (1911-2006). I got married in 2005, moved back to Texas in 2006, and had a son in 2007.  I’m fifth-generation Methodist, descendant of circuit riding preachers in West Virginia, though my family left the Methodist church when I was 17. Since then, I’ve been part of churches with labels such as: Southern Baptist, Nazarene, charismatic, apostolic, Anabaptist, Assembly of God, Church of Christ, and (shudder!) Presbyterian. Hypocrite is another label that has been applied to me. Some aspects of my life I would rather not talk about. But I’d rather be inconsistent with my beliefs than to stop believing them.

 

Coming to God as an outsider

The Bible is most often read like a greeting card, whose only purpose is to warm the heart regardless of whether or not its sentiments apply to you. We bend the meaning of the Scripture to fit our own experience. When the Bible describes how God’s people must live, instead of asking, “Am I one of God’s people? Is that how I live?” we declare, “Since I am one of God’s people, that is how I live.” That we may not be part of God’s people is not considered a possibility.
Continue reading “Coming to God as an outsider”

Should Christians have special privileges?

David Nussbaum in Anabaptism Today gives British examples of how “Christendom” (the medieval concept of a political or geographical Christianity) still has governmental and cultural support. Many American Christians believe that it should. They teach that removing prayer from public schools and removing religious words from public buildings is a denial of a special covenant that God made with America.
Continue reading “Should Christians have special privileges?”

Automating life in the city

Man’s trust in himself has drawn him to the cities, where you can have food by paying for it without having to pray for rain, where you can ignore God’s judgment on you because you spend all your time with others who are ignoring the same thing. In the Third World, millions are moving from the country to the city, creating the world’s largest slums. Not that there’s more food in the city; after all, you can’t raise much wheat on concrete. Though in the Western world, many people are now moving from the city to the nearby country, it is not necessarily in repentance or dependence on God. They keep the city in their hearts even while God’s creation is before their eyes.

We must wake ourselves up!

“We must wake ourselves up! Or somebody else will take our place, and bear our cross, and thereby rob us of our crown.”

– William Booth

Dentistry is more frightening than death.

More people are afraid of dentists than they are of death. Maybe that’s because they believe dentists are more real than death. As much as possible, we want death to be handled by institutions such as hospitals and mortuaries. Otherwise we might have to face our own mortality.

Sickness is caused by spirits.

Ironically, after years of sending medical workers to developing regions to teach that sicknesses are not caused by spirits, the western world has to admit that its own medical problems are overwhelmingly caused by spirits. It is because of their spiritual needs that Westerners engage in destructive behavior such as the use of mood-altering drinks and drugs, or overeating or oversmoking, or sexual promiscuity or perversion, or acts of violence. Call the problem low spirits, high spirits, or evil spirits. It isn’t treatable medically.

Expensive grace

A friend of mine says, “I always thought grace meant you could do stuff.” As in, “It was hard to make it through, but God gave me grace.”

Cheap grace, on the other hand, means you can’t do stuff, but that it’s okay. It also means God can’t do stuff. It means that God can’t really change people, but He pretends that He has, and we call it grace because we don’t want to hurt His feelings.
Continue reading “Expensive grace”

Why I don’t vote

Traditionally my fellow Anabaptists made a clear distinction between the kingdoms of this world and the kingdom of the Lord. In fact, historians believe the Anabaptists originated the concepts of separation of church and state, and of freedom of religious conscience.
Continue reading “Why I don’t vote”

Being held by entertainment

Entertainment comes from the Latin words meaning “to hold between.” Do you really want someone to hold you between? No, you say, it’s not entertainment, it’s recreation. Then when will you be recreated and what will you do when you are? Or is it that God really has a purpose for only part of your time and you need to kill the rest, killing yourself as well? Did God give you too much time to keep your interest without artificial assistance? Do you want him to give you less time? Are you afraid that if you decide to serve him with your whole life, he won’t allow you enough rest to keep healthy and happy? Do you believe you need to steal breaks from him, as from an unreasonable boss who expects you to keep going until you collapse?

Bored to tears in heaven

“You’d be bored to tears in heaven, if you’re not ecstatic about God now.”

– Keith Green

Automated parenting systems

The professions of teaching and social work are respectable, but not because they can do a better job than parents. Like a dishwasher, they are useful as ways to automate parenting. An automatic dishwasher usually does an inferior job, but it works when a human dishwasher isn’t available. In the same way, no classroom, however well-equipped, can approach the student/teacher ratio, professional dedication or understanding of the students that a committed homeschooling parent can. Public schools stay in business because, like orphanages, they can do their work even without parents if necessary.

How to defend a lion

“Defend the Bible? I would just as soon defend a lion. Just
turn the Bible loose. It will defend itself.”

— Charles H. Spurgeon

Progress in which direction?

At root, many modern conveniences were not developed for people’s needs, but for the Industrial Age. Your automatic dishwasher was not designed for cleaner dishes, it was designed for automatic dishes. You have become used to washing the food off them before putting them in the dishwasher, precisely because it can’t clean dishes as well as you can.

True conversion is a rare thing.

“True conversion is a rare thing; but recovering from a false hope of conversion, after continuing in it for some time, is much more rare.”

– from Jonathan Edwards

Wanting to be noticed

I hadn’t been looking very carefully at the log files of homecomers.org, so I was unaware that my site was mentioned on the discussion boards of the New York Times and Beliefnet this year, as well as on Joe Kissell’s Interesting Thing of the Day. Probably it wasn’t my site that was so interesting — Joe was linking to the Anabaptist classic history Martyrs Mirror which I have been hosting for a couple of years.

As a new blogger, I’ve been submitting my site to the usual blog aggregators, directories, and search engines, such as Feedster and technorati. I have a problem with self-promotion, but I figure that if I have something to say, I shouldn’t make it too hard for people to find it and read it.

Wake up and give heed.

“Wake up, and give heed; you certainly see it is not in human power what the Lord enables us to do, that we can leave our dear children, yea, joyfully resign our lives, for the honor of God.”

– Claesken, Martyrs Mirror p. 611-616

Worship Tricks

An English Christian leader named Jonny Baker has compiled one hundred of what he calls “worship tricks.” Many of them require multimedia resources. Others resemble sophisticated object lessons, such as those used in children’s church, only these are for adults: music videos, mystical poems, spiritual labyrinths. One of them involves a flame-throwing sermon illustration — for the feast of Pentecost of course.
Continue reading “Worship Tricks”

You have escaped from prison.

“For when we consider that the world is rather a prison, we can perceive that you have rather escaped from than been committed to prison.”

– Tertullian’s consolation to the martyrs AD 200 , Martyrs Mirror, p. 1139-1141

The Purpose-Driven Boomer

In Michael Spencer’s article, A Contrarian Manifesto for the Church Growth Debate, he says, “I don’t care about the Purpose-Driven Church, the Emergent Church, the Seeker Church, The Church-Growth Church or any other trendy moniker. I’m into the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. If baby boomers want their own church, with everything done their way so they don’t have to share with the rest of Christianity, fine. Go have your play date. I’m hanging with the big dogs of Christian history and passing on the hot dogs of American evangelicalism.”

But any criticism cuts both directions. Continue reading “The Purpose-Driven Boomer”

How not to go to Helena, Montana

You can’t drive north by always driving south. It doesn’t matter how quickly or carefully you drive. You can’t drive both east and west. You can’t drive north by always driving west. The residents of Helena, Montana, would love to have you visit, but you won’t get there if you never take the road to Helena. If you sincerely want to visit Helena but drive 100 miles to the east of it, you won’t arrive where you want to go, and it’s nobody’s fault but your own. In the same way, God doesn’t want to lose you, but if you go everywhere but to him, you shouldn’t blame him for what eventually happens to you.

Feeding frenzy or feeding friends

James Ferrenberg, an Eastern Orthodox “sinner and extremist” who writes Paradosis, offers this personal story:

A couple of nights ago while praying over our meal, I flubbed the Lord’s Prayer:

“Give us this day our daily bread, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

It occurred to me later that I am going to starve.

Nowhere else to go

I have been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go.

– Abraham Lincoln

Talking Greek to me

When she received a touching story via email from her daughter, Elva said:

“You young people with your e-mails! (laughs) I’m elevated and happy that they can send such beautiful things. (laughs) When they talk about e-mails, I don’t understand what they’re talking about. They’re talking Greek to me.”

Listening to the talking lama

My Methodist-Buddhist uncle asked if I would watch my grandma for a few hours so he could go out tonight to hear a llama speak. I complimented him on his interest in Peruvian culture. I was teasing him. He meant a lama, a Tibetan lama. A talking lama.

As Ogden Nash once wrote,

A one-l lama, he’s a priest.
A two-l llama, he’s a beast.
And I will bet a silk pajama
There isn’t any three-l lllama.

Be that as it may, I personally have never heard a talking lama or a talking llama.

I cannot thank and praise the Lord sufficiently.

“I cannot thank and praise the Lord sufficiently, that He so comforts me in my tribulation, and that my mind is still fixed to fear the Lord with all my heart all the days of my life, according to my weak ability.”

– Clement Hendrickss, Martyrs Mirror, p. 834-841

Why I live with my grandmother

A couple of years ago, my youngest uncle moved back with my grandmother Elva, after her hip replacement surgery, having spent a decade driving to her house several times a day to check on her. It’s been hard to convince her that she could no longer live alone safely, but I think she understands it now. But, as a former worker in nursing homes (LVN), she never wants to live in one. She says she wants to live in her home until she “sprouts wings and flies away”.
Continue reading “Why I live with my grandmother”

Tantalizing if True?

In the 19th century, newspapers would sometimes flag articles “Important If True” when their information was potentially urgent but they didn’t have time to verify it before press-time. One wag wrote that churches should put the same sign over their doors.

Even when we don’t fully understand the truth about God and the world he created, even when we’re frustrated when we try to talk about these subjects (“No, that’s not it… what I meant to say was…”), we ought to know that truth really does exist. We might even find that it’s specific, practical, and relevant. And it’s not just important, it’s tantalizing, because it’s so different from the way we’ve been living all our lives. Is the Good News too good to be true? Not hardly.

Unlike most bloggers, I find myself constantly editing and re-editing my earlier posts, sharpening the point I want to make. We need to wake up. We’ve been dreaming.

About Elva

Elva is what my grandmother’s Texan-German relatives call her – short for Evangeline. She is more than 90 years old, and remembers bouncing on her Civil War veteran grandfather’s knee before 1914, while he called her “My little elf” (in German). She’s fifth-generation Texan, but was raised in a farming community where everybody spoke German, so she didn’t learn English until she started to school. She raised eight children while working in nursing and food service, first in Houston and later in St. Louis.
Continue reading “About Elva”

Desperate prayer

“The best style of prayer is that which cannot be called anything but a cry.”

– Charles Spurgeon

Beyond reality-based politics

‘The aide said that guys like me were “in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernable reality.”…’

‘ “That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities…” ‘

— Ron Suskind, quoting a senior advisor to President Bush, in the New York Times magazine, 10/17/2004

Subtract before adding

We think we need God to add, but instead, we need to subtract. We need to turn around, to go home, to go back to become the people we were meant to be. “Fill my cup, Lord,” we sing, except that we’ve already filled it ourselves. “Guide me, O thou great Jehovah,” we sing, except that we’re already guiding ourselves.

What is a homecomer?

“…The term “home-comer” has, of course, a religious connotation. For it takes a good deal of courage to say “no” to the fashions and fascinations of the age and to question the presuppositions of a civilisation which appears destined to conquer the whole world; the requisite strength can be derived only from deep convictions. If it were derived from nothing more than fear of the future, it would be likely to disappear at the decisive moment. The genuine “home-comer” does not have the best tunes, but he has the most exalted text, nothing less than the Gospels. For him, there could not be a more concise statement of his situation, of our situation, than the parable of the prodigal son.”

— E.F. Schumacher, Small is Beautiful, Harper and Row, 1973