Random thoughts on race

These thoughts are in no particular order. Just some things racing through my mind.

  1. I have come to wince whenever I read a blog or a comment that begins with “First, I want to say that I condemn all racism; and white supremacy is bad and wicked.” I have found that whenever a comment begins that way, invariably the writer is about to say something horrible.
  2. I applaud this business for firing this openly racist employee.
  3. I wonder if the others who paraded the Nazi symbol and shouted inflammatory hate speech were immediately excommunicated from their congregations as soon as they returned. Something tells me not.
  4. God told Abraham that in his seed (who is Jesus Christ) all the families of the earth would be blessed. You cannot then shout curses at the families of the earth and have any part in Christ.
  5. God forbade the making of images to worship him. Images are powerful. When a statue becomes more important to you than peace and love, or even the lives of men and women in God’s image, you might have a worship problem.
  6. You might say to yourself, “It isn’t the statue, it’s what it represents.” This is exactly what Jeroboam would have said.
  7. If you are more committed to defending the confederacy than the proclamation of the gospel and the advancement of the kingdom of God, you have a worship problem.
  8. #7 can apply to any ideology or any nation.
  9. The kingdom of God is not the United States, the confederate states, or any nation under the sun. The color of your skin is not the criteria of membership in the kingdom of God, but faith in Jesus Christ.
  10. If your fear of other people causes you to take part in or support hate rallies, then you fear the wrong thing.
  11. “Well, the other side does it too!” is the argument of a 2 year old. Eventually, someone has to act like an adult.
  12. My heart breaks for the family and friends of the young woman who was killed. May God’s peace be upon them and may they find comfort in Christ.
  13. #12 has no “but”. Only that.
  14. The Scripture condemns all racism, idolatry, hatred, bigotry, and murder. There is no “but”.
  15. To my Presbyterian friends, something to think about: When you publicly defend the “good things” that Dabney wrote, you immediately alienate half of the country. I don’t understand why you do this.
  16. That’s all for now. I’m going to retreat. This kills me.

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I Love Your Church, O God

At times it is discouraging. At times, it feels as if God has forsaken her. At times, you wonder how many pastors will fall into scandal, how many children will be abused in her day care centers, how many wives will suffer at her hands, how many husbands will have nowhere to go.

At times, you watch evil men soar away in their 60 million dollar jets paid for out of the pensions of widows they have defrauded and abused.

How many times will the sheep be driven away to make room for the wolves? You find them huddled at home, in caves, barred from the communion of the saints – and you wonder, “Has God forsaken the church?”

I understand the voices of those who have declared that they are done with the organization, that they will never join a church again. I hear the stories and I understand. It makes me sad, though. The church is the bride of Christ, the fellowship of the saints is precious. The preaching and the sacraments are indispensable means of grace. So I understand, but I cannot agree with cutting yourself away from the body of Christ. So perhaps this will help.

Please hear me closely, and think about this, especially if you have been driven away from your church by wolves. My goal is not to throw stones at those who have been greatly hurt. I long for your healing. My goal is only to be faithful in my calling and point you to Christ. Christ still loves his bride and still calls you to fellowship with the saints. So think about this: Were you truly driven from the church? Or were you delivered from a synagogue of Satan?

I was thinking this through as I was preparing a Bible study on King Jeroboam.

The Book of the Kings of Judah and Israel (1 and 2 Kings) opens with King Solomon. Solomon is given a great kingdom, promised the blessing and favor of God, and has been granted the privilege and responsibility to build the great Temple of Jehovah in Jerusalem.

The Temple is where God had chosen to place his name. He revealed himself there, accepted the sacrifices and the worship of his people there, atoned for sin there, and there he communed with his people.

But Solomon rebelled against God towards the end of his life, and God divided the kingdom. The ten tribes in the north rejected their allegiance to the house of David in the days of Solomon’s successor, Rehoboam. The northern tribes established their own king. His name was Jeroboam.

Jeroboam made a crucial and deadly theological error. Jeroboam believed that God, whatever he might be named, was an indifferent or hostile being that could be manipulated and controlled through religious ceremonies.Religion, to Jeroboam, was for the purpose of gaining control of the favor and blessings of God, or the gods. The most important thing to Jeroboam was the establishment of his own kingdom, not the fellowship of the one true God.

If Jeroboam had understood the truth, he never would have built for himself temples and calves at Dan and Bethel. God cannot be manipulated or controlled by men. The distance between God and man is so great and profound that it can only be crossed by God himself. Man cannot reach up to God; God must reveal himself to man.

The Westminster Confession puts it like this:

The distance between God and the creature is so great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience unto Him as their Creator, yet they could never have any fruition of Him as their blessedness and reward, but by some voluntary condescension on God’s part, which He hath been pleased to express by way of covenant. (Westminster Confession of Faith, 7:1)

Men don’t manipulate, control, or coerce God. God said to Job,

11 Who has first given to me, that I should repay him? Whatever is under the whole heaven is mine. (Job 41:11 ESV)

But God, who was under no necessity and no compulsion, chose freely to condescend to reveal himself to men. This is what we mean by the word “covenant”. He made a covenant with David, that David’s house would be established forever. Eventually, that would be fulfilled in David’s greater son, Jesus. Through David’s house, the usurpation of the devil would finally be overthrown and the kingdom of God established. This was pictured in the kingdom of David and Solomon, but not fulfilled until the King of Kings was raised up on a cross, to finally crush the power of death by his resurrection.

God chose the tribe of Levi to mediate the sacrifices, pointing to Christ who would be the Great High Priest as well as the flawless Lamb of God. God chose the Temple in Jerusalem to picture his own throne in heaven, where we now have perfect access to the God of Mercy because of our true great High Priest, Jesus Christ. Jesus is the Word of God made flesh, for us and for our salvation. Outside of David’s Seed, through the covenant made to the house of David, there is no salvation. There is no fellowship with God apart from God’s covenant with David.

But Jeroboam was a true pluralist. He believed that there are many ways to God. He offered sacrifices because he thought that God perhaps was hungry or needed something from him. He made his worship huge and magnificent, and devised it from his own heart, thinking that God would be impressed and be forced to bless him. Look at how the bible describes what he did:

26 And Jeroboam said in his heart, “Now the kingdom will return to the house of David.
  27 “If this people go up to offer sacrifices in the house of the LORD at Jerusalem, then the heart of this people will return to their lord, even to Rehoboam king of Judah; and they will kill me and return to Rehoboam king of Judah.”
  28 So the king consulted, and made two golden calves, and he said to them, “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem; behold your gods, O Israel, that brought you up from the land of Egypt.”
  29 And he set one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan.
  30 Now this thing became a sin, for the people went to worship before the one as far as Dan.
  31 And he made houses on high places, and made priests from among all the people who were not of the sons of Levi.
  32 And Jeroboam instituted a feast in the eighth month on the fifteenth day of the month, like the feast which is in Judah, and he went up to the altar; thus he did in Bethel, sacrificing to the calves which he had made. And he stationed in Bethel the priests of the high places which he had made.
  33 Then he went up to the altar which he had made in Bethel on the fifteenth day in the eighth month, even in the month which he had devised in his own heart; and he instituted a feast for the sons of Israel, and went up to the altar to burn incense.
  (1Ki 12:26-33 NASB)

He wanted to establish his own kingdom. He had no interest in obedience and in trusting Jehovah for salvation. He wanted nothing to do with restored fellowship with God. He wanted money and power.

So he appointed his own priests, he devised his own theology, he created his own worship days, he chose his own place and his own architecture. Notice how many times the Scripture says, “which he had made”.

I imagine him as the first Frank Sinatra, singing in his heart as he ascended the steps of the altar,

“I planned each charted course
Each careful step along the byway
And more, much more than this
I did it my way.”

But God had commanded him to do the exact opposite:

38 ‘Then it will be, that if you listen to all that I command you and walk in My ways, and do what is right in My sight by observing My statutes and My commandments, as My servant David did, then I will be with you and build you an enduring house as I built for David, and I will give Israel to you. (1Ki 11:38 NASB)

The inauguration day of new form of worship at Bethel arrives. The faithful, including the Levites and a few from the other tribes, have narrowly escaped and fled to Judah. The rest of the people (so, so many of them) gathered around the new calf at Bethel. It was magnificent. All the movers and shakers were there. All the singers and wise men and famous people in Israel were there. And Jeroboam solemnly ascends the stairs to the great and wonderful altar – that he devised out of his own heart.

But suddenly from the crowd, there is one voice calling out the Word of the Lord:

“O altar, altar, thus says the LORD, ‘Behold, a son shall be born to the house of David, Josiah by name; and on you he shall sacrifice the priests of the high places who burn incense on you, and human bones shall be burned on you.'” (1Ki 13:2 NASB)

Jeroboam reacts as expected. He throws out his arm and commands “Arrest that man!”

There is much more to say here and wonderful truths to be meditated on. But there is really only one thing I would like to talk about here (blogs can’t address everything):

The man of God wasn’t persecuted by the Church of God. He was persecuted by a usurper, an enemy of the cross of Christ, and an enemy of God masquerading as a religious leader.

Jeroboam devised his own theology, created his own worship, ordained his own priests according to his own criteria, chose his own days of worship, and built his own temple according to the plan of his own mind. And he did it all for only one reason: to establish his own kingdom. It was all about money and power.

The same issue arises frequently in the church. Money and power are powerful aphrodisiacs. This is why Jesus said, “You cannot serve God and Mammon.”

500 years ago, the whole church was under the bondage of the papacy. They faced the same questions while the faithful were driven away from the church, locked in prisons, beaten, and burned alive as criminals. We will soon approach the 500th anniversary of Luther’s bold stand.

And they struggled with the same question: We know that Jesus loves his church, but I am separated from the church because I confessed the truth. Am I schismatic? Am I guilty of dividing the body of Christ?

And the wise pastors of that day realized something. There is a true church and a false church. There is a difference between the two. We know that Christ loves his bride. We know that Jesus commanded us to never forsake the gathering of ourselves together. The apostles commanded the faithful to submit to the pastors and elders of the church.

Does that mean that those who have been driven away from the church are sinning in God’s eyes for not submitting to the wolves in power?

This is why it is so important to learn how to distinguish the true church from the false. The old confession of faith of Reformed Churches summarizes the teaching of scripture this way:

ARTICLE 29 of the BELGIC CONFESSION

THE MARKS OF THE TRUE CHURCH, AND WHEREIN IT DIFFERS FROM THE FALSE CHURCH

We believe that we ought diligently and circumspectly to discern from the Word of God which is the true Church, since all sects which are in the world assume to themselves the name of the Church. But we speak not here of hypocrites, who are mixed in the Church with the good, yet are not of the Church, though externally in it; but we say that the body and communion of the true Church must be distinguished from all sects that call themselves the Church. The marks by which the true Church is known are these: If the pure doctrine of the gospel is preached therein; if it maintains the pure administration of the sacraments as instituted by Christ; if church discipline is exercised in chastening of sin; in short, if all things are managed according to the pure Word of God, all things contrary thereto rejected, and Jesus Christ acknowledged as the only Head of the Church. Hereby the true Church may certainly be known, from which no man has a right to separate himself.
With respect to those who are members of the Church, they may be known by the marks of Christians; namely, by faith, and when, having received Jesus Christ the only Savior, they avoid sin, follow after righteousness, love the true God and their neighbor, neither turn aside to the right or left, and crucify the flesh with the works thereof. But this is not to be understood as if there did not remain in them great infirmities; but they fight against them through the Spirit all the days of their life, continually taking their refuge in the blood, death, passion, and obedience of our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom they have remission of sins, through faith in Him. As for the false Church, it ascribes more power and authority to itself and its ordinances than to the Word of God, and will not submit itself to the yoke of Christ. Neither does it administer the sacraments as appointed by Christ in His Word, but adds to and takes from them, as it thinks proper; it relies more upon men than upon Christ; and persecutes those who live holily according to the Word of God and rebuke it for its errors, covetousness, and idolatry. These two Churches are easily known and distinguished from each other.

I know it is long, but I trust it will be helpful for you. Notice the three marks: first, is the gospel preached purely? Do you know who Jesus is and what he has done. Does the pastor preach what he has been commissioned to preach? Has he been called and set apart according to the command of Christ (1 Timothy 3, Titus 1, many other passages) or is he self-appointed? Remember that Paul said, “How can they preach unless they are sent?” They might be doing something up there in something that looks like a pulpit, but if he is  not qualified and not properly called and set apart, it isn’t preaching, and there is no voice of God there.

How much pain and suffering could be avoided if we insisted that those who fill our pulpits have the qualifications that God commands us to look for!

What does he preach? What is his confession? What does he believe? Is the church about money and power, or about the exaltation of Jesus Christ. Usually those churches that exalt Christ are small, struggling, and insignificant in the eyes of the world. The reason this is so is that Jesus will never give his glory to another. He is most glorified when men are weak and insignificant and small.

Are the sacraments administered faithfully, or do the church leaders think that they know better than Jesus and invent rites and ceremonies out of their own hearts? Is Jesus worshiped purely according to the scriptures, or is the worship invented by the cunning of the hearts of men?

What about discipline? Are the wolves praised and sheep driven away? This does not simply mean “do they practice excommunication?” for the popes practiced excommunication. So did Jeroboam, Jezebel, Ahab, Sennacherib, Nebuchadnezzar. Their excommunications were particularly brutal, as is always the case with the children of the devil. What the scripture speaks of is not that, but of wicked men, children of the devil, driven away no matter how much money and power they have. Are the littlest ones protected? Does the church seek to imitate Jesus, who said,

42 “And whoever causes one of these little ones who believe to stumble, it would be better for him if, with a heavy millstone hung around his neck, he had been cast into the sea. (Mar 9:42 NASB)

And here:

11 Sing praises to the LORD, who dwells in Zion; Declare among the peoples His deeds.
  12 For He who requires blood remembers them; He does not forget the cry of the afflicted. (Psa 9:11-12 NASB)

This is what we should be looking for. When you visit a church, look for these things. Does the church seek to be faithful to the marks of Christ? Or do they cover up sin and deny affliction and oppression? Are they too busy throwing arrows at far away places that they cannot cleanse the filth in their own nest? Are their pastors self-appointed and self-ordained? Are they accountable?

I love the church of God. I love the communion of the saints. I long for her houses to be full of the saints of God. But I fear that what mostly passes for the church in this day is closer to the calves at Bethel than the temple in Jerusalem. Don’t look for the programs, the money, the entertainment, or where all the popular kids go. Look for the marks of the church, and join with them.

I know that there are times when God’s people are exiled from the temple. I know David fled for years – but he longed for the day when he again would walk on the streets of Jerusalem. This was where God chose to place his name.

Today God still reveals himself. But not in the synagogues of Satan. He reveals himself in the still, small voices of mostly forgotten and insignificant men proclaiming his word to the few faithful in the pews. It isn’t in the flash and show. It isn’t in the money and power. These guys aren’t getting invitations to the White House. They are building the kingdom of God one soul at a time, so they don’t make headlines.

But their names are written in heaven. The Lamb knows those who are his.

For another post on the same topic, see here.

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The Humility of Caleb

“But My servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit in him and has followed Me fully, I will bring into the land where he went, and his descendants shall inherit it. (Num 14:24 NKJ)

I’ve been thinking about Caleb lately. Caleb was a slave in Egypt and saw the plagues that God brought on them. He cheered when the Red Sea covered Pharaoh. He sang Miriam’s song of Redemption. He watched his nation under the watchful hand of God travel through the wilderness. How he longed to receive his inheritance!

When the congregation came to the border, ready to invade and take their inheritance, they rebelled. They were afraid of the giants in the land.

And Caleb’s hopes fell. His desire and expectation crushed. And then God spoke to Moses. “Caleb will enter. He was faithful.”

But he had to wait for 40 years. And the worst thing about it was that there was nothing he could do about it.

The other thing that I’ve been thinking about is humility.

Humility is learning that the world is about God’s glory, not your own. Humility is understanding that without the positive decree of God, you won’t take your next breath. Humility is knowing that our God is in the heavens, and does whatever he pleases.

Without humility, no one sees the Lord, for he will not give his glory to another. God resists the proud, but gives strength to the humble (1 Peter 5:5).

But having a theoretical knowledge of humility isn’t enough. Humility must be experienced and learned. For pride is so deeply engrained that we don’t even know it is there. Since God loves us and has promised us the inheritance, he has ways of showing us our pride and calling us to repent of it. And one of the sneakiest forms of pride is revealed when God brings something into our lives that is bitter and difficult, and there is nothing we can do about it.

When we are faced with giants, mountains, Pharaohs, armies; when the dark valleys and black clouds cover everything; when the hurt is too deep, we want to fix it. We want it to stop.

Most of the time, we can find a solution. Most of the time, we can find comfort and peace. Most of the time, there is something that we can do. We get hungry, we eat. We get thirsty, we drink. We get hot, we go swimming. We get cold, we put on a jacket or start a fire.

But we don’t learn humility that way. Humility comes when we are hungry, thirsty, cold, tired, and there is nothing to do about it. Humility comes when the black clouds and giant soldiers block the inheritance and we aren’t strong enough. Humility comes when difficulty becomes unbearable, and there is no solution.

That’s when we go to our knees and cry out to God.

But what about those times when God seems to be silent. What about those times when we know the promises of the Scripture, but we don’t see them anywhere on the earth. What about the times when God’s providence tells us to wait?

This is where Caleb and humility cross paths. Job is known for patience; Elijah for prayers; Samson for strength; Solomon for wisdom.

Caleb should be known for humility. He knew that he didn’t have the strength to overcome the giants, but he knew that God could. His humility gave him courage. But when everything collapsed, and God told him to wait, he waited. His humility was then tempered in the wilderness for forty more years.

We see his character revealed again, forty years later. He said to Joshua, who was now the leader:

7 “I was forty years old when Moses the servant of the LORD sent me from Kadesh Barnea to spy out the land, and I brought back word to him as it was in my heart.
8 “Nevertheless my brethren who went up with me made the heart of the people melt, but I wholly followed the LORD my God.
9 “So Moses swore on that day, saying,`Surely the land where your foot has trodden shall be your inheritance and your children’s forever, because you have wholly followed the LORD my God.’
10 “And now, behold, the LORD has kept me alive, as He said, these forty-five years, ever since the LORD spoke this word to Moses while Israel wandered in the wilderness; and now, here I am this day, eighty-five years old.
11 “As yet I am as strong this day as on the day that Moses sent me; just as my strength was then, so now is my strength for war, both for going out and for coming in.
12 “Now therefore, give me this mountain of which the LORD spoke in that day; for you heard in that day how the Anakim were there, and that the cities were great and fortified. It may be that the LORD will be with me, and I shall be able to drive them out as the LORD said.” (Jos 14:7-12 NKJ)

He was ready. He was 80 years old, and ready to drive out the giants. The Anakim were the biggest and baddest of them all, but Caleb was ready. For forty years, he didn’t rail against God. He didn’t become angry towards his brethren, but still called them brethren. He told the truth about them, but held no hatred in his heart. He waited patiently for the Lord’s time and when God said “now”, Caleb was ready and eager. Did I mention that he was 80 years old?

This is the humility of Caleb. What do we do when faced with a tremendous trial and our hope is deferred? What do we do when that which we long for seems so far away? What do we do when there is nothing that we can do except endure the pain? What do we do when we have exhausted everything that we know to do, when we have said all that there is to say, done everything there is to do? What do we do then?

Wait. You can’t fix it, but you can join Caleb and lift up your eyes to heaven where Christ already is. The inheritance is certain because God promised it. The inheritance is certain because God cannot lie. The inheritance is certain because Jesus died for us and rose again and is even now at the right hand of the Father.

But on this earth, everything is still under the curse. The tears aren’t wiped away until he comes again. The whirlwind still rages all around us. Do what you can, but know this: you can’t fix the curse. You don’t understand the power of sin. You can’t change a heart. You can’t even change your own heart. But you can pray and wait and love. That’s humility and it is only learned the hard way.

You who fear the Lord, trust in the Lord. He is their help and their shield (Psalm 115:11).

A proud man thinks he can fix anything. Humility is learned when the giants come, and God says, “Not now.”

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Thoughts on Psalm 68:11

The Lord gave the word: great was the company of those that published it. (Psa 68:11 KJV)

The context of this Psalm is holy warfare. God goes with the armies of Israel and achieves the victory. When the enemy kings flee, the good news is announced at home. God is indeed a mighty conqueror and defender of His people!

Unfortunately, the traditional translations of this text miss something very important. The first three words are indisputably translated “The Lord gave the word.”

The next three words are rich with meaning. The first word is based on the Hebrew root that means “to announce good news.” The Greek equivalent of that word is “euangelion”. We get our word “evangelism” from that. It means also, “to announce good news.”

The form of the word is a participle – which in Hebrew is a verbal adjective, here used as a noun. There is no noun that it modifies. So it would be translated “Those who announce the good news” – in the context, it is the good news of God’s victory over the armies of the enemy.

The next two words are the word for “army” or “host”, and the word for “many” or “multitude”. Added with the first word, the sentence would translate thus: “Those who announce the good news (are) a great army”. So far, so good.

But here’s the tricky bit.  The participle (“those who announce the good news”) is feminine plural. This is not a grammatical feminine gender, but an actual feminine suffix taking the place of a feminine pronoun. English distinguishes between feminine and masculine pronouns in the 3rd person singular (“he” or “she”), but there is no distinction in the plural. “They” can be either. But Hebrew DOES distinguish, and the participle is clearly feminine plural. The only possible translation is “Those (the women) who announce good news”.

These translations get it right:

The Lord gives the word; the women who announce the news are a great host: (Psa 68:11 ESV)

The Lord gives the command; The women who proclaim the good tidings are a great host: (Psa 68:11 NAS)

The King James follows the Greek translation, which inexplicably translates the feminine participle with a Greek masculine participle. It shows how necessary it is for Bible interpreters to learn the original languages. Translations, even old, established ones, err.

So what does this mean? I have simply given you a grammar lesson so far, but it shows at least that the inspired word of God does not expect women to keep their mouths shut. Miriam sang of God’s victory over Pharaoh. Deborah sang a song of victory over Sisera.

The good news of Jesus, David’s greater son, is to be proclaimed to all, by everyone who confesses his name. He has conquered Satan and death and sin and misery by his death and resurrection. The joyful tidings are to be sung and proclaimed and announced throughout the world, and the women ALSO are to make the proclamation!

I once knew a man that refused to sing any hymns by Fanny Crosby because he viewed it as a woman teaching in the church. God clearly doesn’t have the same view.

I do not believe that this has any bearing on the New Testament offices of the church – pastors, elders, or deacons – and I know that there are those who disagree with me. But I DO think this has a great deal to do with the dignity, worth, and value of the women in the congregations. There is no hint here of the women proclaiming the good news ONLY to other women. They are simply said to “announce the good news.” I think this has to do with the universal office of every believer. The Lord gives the word. The women, a mighty army, proclaim it.

Tell your neighbors, sing the songs, proclaim the good news to all. When churches leave the task of evangelism to the ordained offices, the church withers and dies. Go into all the world and proclaim the news! Satan is conquered. Death’s sting is vanquished. The armies of the enemies have fled! This is good news indeed!

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“Christians” who revile

In preparing for Sunday’s sermon, I have been meditating on this verse:

But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he should be an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler– not even to eat with such a one.
(1Co 5:11 NAS)

It seems so clear to me, but the implications are profound. There are those who go about calling themselves Christians. And yet their lives are marked with sexual immorality, greed, love of money, and hatred.

One word in particular strikes me – a reviler. A reviler is one who is deliberately abusive in their speech. A reviler is one who uses speech to vomit out their anger, to tear down and destroy, and to belittle and condemn. A reviler doesn’t leave physical bruises, but seeks to silence and degrade the image of God in their target.

The church at Corinth was being rebuked by the Apostle for being too proud to remove the corrupt leaven.

So here is my question: How can we refuse to allow divorce from a reviler (or any of the other crimes on this list), when the scripture forbids us from even eating with a so-called brother who is a reviler?

Doesn’t this involve us in hopeless contradiction? If the trumpet blows an uncertain sound, who will prepare for battle?

So, for all who think that if there aren’t bruises there can’t be divorce, answer me this. What are you wanting to happen? A man systematically tears down his wife for years with his words. He doesn’t use fists, for he is skilled at destructive speech. He comes to church every Sunday and professes Christ. According to this text, he is a reviler, who calls himself a brother. So, what does this passage say? “Don’t even eat with this guy. He will corrupt the whole church.”

But then you force his wife and children to live with him. “He didn’t leave any bruises. You aren’t really in danger. You have no grounds for divorce.”

Can you explain this to me? I’m trying to understand, and coming up empty.

Are you willing to excommunicate the victim for obeying the command of the Lord in this passage? Or is it your contention that she should still continue the intimacy of marriage, but perhaps eat separately? I’m having a hard time understanding this position.

Perhaps this is why the church today has become so corrupted. We have been tolerating corrupt leaven. I say it is time we stop, and start obeying the Lord. You can be a reviler, or you can be a Christian. You can’t be both. In fact, according to this text, a reviler who calls himself a brother is far, far worse than an outright unbeliever. A reviler who is allowed to call himself a brother will corrupt the whole church. That isn’t me saying that. That’s God Himself.

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How Shame Drives Us From Christ

This story came up in my newsfeed today. I am taking a sick day today, but there is so much wrong here, and it is so prevalent, that I wanted to make a few comments.

For some reason, Evangelical America has decided that shame is an effective way to battle sin. My whole life, I have heard that “Israel forgot how to blush” (Jer. 6:15) which led to their destruction. Therefore (so it is taught) when we catch someone in some kind of sin, the best thing we can do for them is publicly shame them so that they won’t sin any more.

This is actually practiced in so many churches, but it seems to always be selectively applied. The only people I have ever heard of being publicly shamed like this – forced to stand before the whole church, or the whole school, and confess their sins – are teenage girls who are found to be pregnant. I find it abhorrent, and contrary to the gospel of  Christ. And yet, it still seems to be the consistent practice of Evangelical America.

The article linked above does an excellent job in its critique and how it actually encourages abortion. But there are a few theological issues as well.

First, to clarify the Jeremiah passage, the prophet was not addressing those with tender consciences who needed comfort and hope, already plagued with guilt. He was speaking to the hardened, oppressive, idolatrous leaders who were casting their children into the fire, crushing the poor and the widows, and abusing and destroying without any twinges of conscience whatsoever. Jeremiah is rebuking their hardness of heart and was not expecting any repentance from them. It was not written to teach us that shame is an appropriate corrective to sin but to warn us of those with “seared consciences”. There are those who can do the most horrific things and feel no pains of guilt whatever. To apply this passage solely to teenagers found pregnant is simply abusive.

There is no biblical warrant for public confession of private sins. And, no, sex before marriage is not a sin against the whole school – or the whole church, for that matter.

Even in the Old Covenant, before the Gospel of Jesus Christ was fully revealed, two kids who got pregnant before marriage was not considered the worst imaginable sin that must be publicly exposed and shamed. The boy was either to provide a dowry and marry the girl. Or if the father thought that marriage was a bad idea, the boy was to provide a dowry and leave town.  Neither one was stoned or publicly shamed.

That being said, it might be good for us to remember our first parents after their first sin. Shame drove them into the bushes, hiding from the face of God. It was the voice of God that lovingly drew them out of the bushes. “Adam, where are you?”

They didn’t die. God told them the truth, but he didn’t shame them. Rather, he provided for them coverings, pointing to the perfect sacrifice of His Son, to be revealed in due time. Now that the gospel has been revealed to us, we know that the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ covers our sin and our shame and brings us out of hiding. That is what being a Christian is. We live openly and honestly, not seeking to cover our shame by shaming others, but by coming again and again to the cross. Why an organization that calls itself Christian would drive sinners into the bushes is beyond my understanding.

The kind of “Christianity” practiced by so many, which publically shames young girls for sin, is not the Christianity of the Bible. Shame is intolerable to the human spirit and must be covered. We have only two options: Cover with fig leaves of our own making, or come to Christ for what he has offered us. When we come to Christ, shame is taken away so that we might stand before God and one another. When we try to cover our own shame, we increase it. We may temporarily feel better, but eventually, the shame returns.

The worst part of what happened to this young woman is that she learned about a false Christ – a Jesus who shames sinners, who turns an angry and harsh face on those who confess and repent, who demands his pound of flesh before he offers peace. She was taught that Jesus first ridicules and gleefully watches us weep before he grudgingly offers forgiveness. She was taught that even after she goes through all of that, Jesus is still ashamed to be seen in public with her. She was taught that Jesus was ashamed to be her God, ashamed of her and her baby!

No wonder the young people are leaving the church in droves! They aren’t leaving the Church of Jesus Christ, they are leaving the Church of the Blind Leaders of the Blind.

Jesus came to call us out of hiding. To offer covering for our shame by taking it upon himself. He came, not to ridicule and mock us, but to bear all of that shame and guilt and take it out of the way, nailing it to the cross.

For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers, (Heb 2:11 ESV)

Jesus offers salvation, not shame, to all who come to him in faith. Shame is reserved for those who refuse to come, who refuse to repent. Shame is reserved for the Day of Judgment, but it has no place in the Gospel.

How should the church respond then when a young girl is found to be pregnant?

First, reach out with love and support. Do not pretend that sin is not sin, but respond to it honestly according to scripture. I would hope that the pastor and elders have forged an open relationship with this girl before this happened, so that she will feel safe with them, because there are some important questions. Was this assault? Who is the father? Did she feel compelled? Was there a power imbalance?

If this is simply a boyfriend/girlfriend situation that got out of hand, they will need counseling and help to deal with the shame and guilt that they already feel. Otherwise, if they get married, they will carry that shame and guilt into their marriage bed, which will be damaging to the “one-flesh” relationship. But those are topics that are far bigger than can be addressed here.

But more importantly than all of this, they need to know again the gospel of Jesus Christ. He offers his perfect righteousness without shame, without reproach, without grudging, to all who come to him. No strings, no penance, no public ridicule. This is what the free offer of the gospel IS. It’s about time we got it right.

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Too Filthy to Serve?

From the archives, for friends who need this today.

My Only Comfort

And he shewed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him.
2 And the LORD said unto Satan, The LORD rebuke thee, O Satan; even the LORD that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee: is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?
3 Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments, and stood before the angel.
4 And he answered and spake unto those that stood before him, saying, Take away the filthy garments from him. And unto him he said, Behold, I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I will clothe thee with change of raiment.
5 And I said, Let them set a fair mitre upon his head. So they set a fair mitre upon his head, and clothed him with garments. (Zec 3:1-5 KJV)

Have you ever believed that you…

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You weren’t there

Dear Pastor James (and any other pastor who will listen), You said to me in your letter, “it is about you and John learning to understand one another.” LISTEN. Please, for once, stop talking. Stop spouting parts of Scripture passages and trite “Christian” expressions. Stop trying to fix this. Stop trying to fight for “marriage” above […]

via You Weren’t There — a letter to pastors from a survivor of domestic abuse — A Cry For Justice

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Billy Graham Rule Follow-up

I recently wrote a blog to correct the misinterpretation of 1 Thessalonians 5:22. You can find it here. I am certainly aware that in terms of the age of internet news, Mike Pence and the Billy Graham rule are the equivalent of 200 years ago, but I can’t seem to let bad theology go, especially when it harms the sheep.

I also know that most readers skim, so please – before you skim, read this paragraph: I have nothing against Mike Pence and his love for his wife and his desire to protect himself as a famous politician with a great deal of power. It seems like a wise thing to do, given his position in our country. So PLEASE don’t think that this post is about that. Also, I don’t know anything about Billy Graham or his rule, having never read his biography. How Billy Graham does things rarely enters my mind.

What this post is about is the bad theology that has surfaced in the aftermath of the discussion. I find it concerning and harmful.

The whole discussion seems to center around whether or not a pastor should be alone with a woman who is a member of his congregation. Apparently, the only danger is if the woman is attractive, because that seems to be the word attached to “young woman” every time she is spoken of.

As a disclaimer, I would never meet with a woman alone in my office with the door shut. I wrote in my previous blog that I could think of valid reasons to not meet with a woman alone. Here are a few.

  1. My wife is a very skilled counselor herself and has remarkable empathy and understanding, especially when it comes to counseling women. She is almost always with me.
  2. There are times when a woman wishes to meet with her pastor to discuss childhood sexual abuse, assault, domestic violence and other attacks on her person. The worst thing a pastor can do is to make her feel vulnerable and threatened. Meeting alone in a closed space does not tend to make a parishioner feel very safe.
  3. There are other times when a meeting alone in a closed space would not be good for the comfort and peace of the woman for other reasons, and as a pastor it is my calling to be sensitive to that.
  4. If it is necessary to meet alone, an open door or an open place takes away the feeling of being trapped, this is very important when counseling. You are seeking to reestablish the counselee as a person who matters, who can make choices, who can take power back in her life. Trapping her with a closed door seems to me to defeat that purpose .

So I would like everyone to understand me. I am not at all against acting in wisdom, walking circumspectly and being above reproach.

That being said, there are others who practice the so-called “Billy Graham Rule” but for reasons I reject completely. Here are some of those reasons.

First: “All it takes is one accusation to ruin a ministry.” This might be true, but are not our calling and reputation in the hands of God? It seems to me that our calling is to be faithful stewards and submit ourselves to the sovereign hand of God, doing what we are commanded to do and leaving the rest in His hands. We are simply farmhands in God’s field, workers in God’s vineyard. It isn’t our ministry to begin with.

I also can’t think of one example where someone’s ministry was ruined by one false accusation. Every one of the “destroyed ministries” that I can think of were destroyed because of accusations that were backed up with stacks of evidence, multiple witnesses, over many, many years. When it comes to famous celebrity pastors, one accusation is almost never believed. It usually takes mountains and evidence and years and years of time. Even then, the celebrity pastor generally just goes away for a few months and then starts again. So it is a false objection to begin with.

But suppose it is true, and a reputation is destroyed because a pastor met alone with a woman who was a sinner. Isn’t that exactly what Jesus did?

Jesus “made himself of no reputation” when he saved us from our sins. The Bible tells us that this way of thinking is to be also in us (Phil. 2:5-12). Meditate on these verses for a while. Jesus, in order to save us from our sins, allowed himself to be viewed and treated as a sinner. He despised the shame of the cross, so great was his love for us. He came down from the glory of heaven and sunk right into our filth and mire and corruption in order to save our stinking rotten corpses. He healed our sicknesses and did it on the Sabbath day, knowing that it would “ruin his reputation”. In fact, this is specifically why they hated him.

I honestly cannot fathom why a Christian would not help one in need for fear that someone might ruin the reputation of his ministry. If this is your thinking, then the ministry that you have is truly yours, for it bears no resemblance to the ministry of Christ. Would it not be more pleasing to God to bear joyfully the reproach of Christ while helping those who need you?

This is the point of the account of the Good Samaritan. The priest and the Levite were on their way to Jerusalem when they saw the broken and bloodied man. They had no idea if he were dead or not. If they helped, and he turned out to be dead, they would have been defiled for touching a dead body. If they were defiled, they would have been unable to fulfill their ministry in Jerusalem. So they protected their ministry, and “passed by on the other side.” Their ministry was more important to them than the life of a man.

The Good Samaritan was already ceremonially defiled, being a Samaritan, so he had nothing to lose.

And Jesus said, “Go and do likewise.” We are  to consider ourselves already defiled, so that we might love others as Christ loved the church. Take up your cross with him; despise the shame. Make yourself of no reputation. “Let this mind be in you, that was also in Christ Jesus.”

Perhaps it is time that we start thinking about love, rather than reputation.

Second: “You need to be aware of the temptations of the flesh and put no confidence in it. You never know what will happen if you allow yourself to get too close.”

Really? Think about this one for a while. This one is so common it’s frightening. It’s almost as if fornication is like the flu, and you accidently catch it if you happen to be close to a woman. “Here I was, minding my own business, when all of the sudden! BLAM! I caught adultery. I couldn’t help it. Her knees were exposed.”

Sorry, guys. This one is on you. Pastors who commit adultery commit adultery because they want to. They take one step after another because they want to.

They start by complaining about how their wives never understood them. Because they want to.

They let a church member linger in their thoughts, and dance through their fantasies. Because they want to.

They hold hands a little too long, hug just a little extra, and let their imaginations flit. Because they want to.

Then it progresses to trying to find time alone – and here they use the excuse of pastoral counseling. “I’m just ministering to her.”

Now, at this point please use discernment and follow me. Elders and wives, if the pastor is insisting on counseling a particular women alone in a closed study, there’s a reason for it and it usually isn’t a good one. It’s is perhaps wise at this point to ask some questions. BUT the problem is the HEART, NOT because he was left alone with a woman. We have to get that straight.

The reason that we have to get it straight is because the Bible insists on it. Sanctification does not come because we have hedged ourselves about with extra rules. Sanctification is the work of the Spirit in the heart which comes through the gospel, not the law. You can make a rule about pastors counseling alone in their studies after hours, and maybe you should to protect your sheep, but the rule will never change the man’s heart!

39 “You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is these that bear witness of Me; (John 5:39 NAS)

The Pharisees searched the scriptures looking for rules that would fix whatever problem they were having, and they missed Christ. When we search for rules to protect us from catching adultery, we also miss Christ.

Adultery begins in the heart: in the will, and the reasoning, and the emotions and the desires. It starts with the idolatry that we were born with and progresses from there. We say in our hearts, “I will be as God and everyone will serve me.” This is what must be put to death. And the only way to deal with it is on your knees in confession, putting to death the old man with the lusts thereof and making alive the new man. And this can only come through the gospel. It only comes through Christ. You must be born again by the Spirit of God.

Finally, and this to me is the biggest problem. If you make the rule about never being alone with a woman because you are afraid of “catching adultery”, then your view of women is devilish and wicked, and you must repent of it. It is the same reason that non-Christian religions try to avoid fornication by covering up a woman from head to toe. It’s wicked, oppressive and wrong.

Let me explain. According to Scripture, a woman is a child of God, a firstborn son (Gal. 3:28-4:7), the image of God (Gen. 1:27), fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14), with gifts and abilities and personhood, filled with the Spirit, and thus the Temple of God (1 Corinthians 3:16-17).

The devil hates that and seeks to destroy it. One very effective weapon is through sexual assault, domestic abuse, rape and sexual harassment. The effects of sexual assault are that a woman is “reduced” in her mind and in the mind of the assailant, to a body to be despised and used and discarded.

And now she comes to the pastor for help and she is told that she can’t meet alone because the pastor might “catch adultery” from her.

I can see telling her that you would love to meet with her outside on the picnic table. Or with your wife who is very gentle and kind. Or in a place that isn’t nearly as threatening as alone in the pastors study. All of these I can see.

But to say that you won’t meet with her because you need to guard the heart is to confirm her worst fears: There is something wrong with her. She’s just a body to be gawked at and used. She has no worth other than sexually. She has to cover herself up and take responsibility for the pastor’s corruption. And this is the message that she is receiving from her pastor. It breaks my heart.

We should be restoring her to the image of God in Christ, giving her back her voice, her dignity, her worth. We should be talking to her as a whole person, in whom dwells the Holy Spirit of God. But instead, we are worrying about “catching adultery.”

25 percent of your congregation has been sexually assaulted. And this is how we respond. We may have a problem in our churches.

Perhaps I overreact. But I don’t know what else to think when I read comments that say, “So you would meet alone with an attractive woman in your study? Isn’t this an appearance of evil?”

I don’t know how else to take it. Let’s break it down. “Attractiveness” is apparently determined by the pastor. The fear is apparently that this woman would arouse so much lust in the pastor against his will that he will be unable to control himself. So really, it would be her fault – and his, by implication, for not hedging himself about with anti-adultery rules. If they get too close for too long, BAM – he catches adultery.

This rule also applies if she is in the car with him, walking down the sidewalk, or wearing a skirt a little to short. The solution, then, is burkas and isolation…wait a minute…

Do you see where this leads?

I believe that the Bible teaches another way. When we cast off the old man and put on the new, we start to learn to love our neighbor – men and women alike. This means that we MUST repent and flee from our fleshly tendency to view others as objects designed to give us what we want. Through the gospel, we are to reach out to humans AS HUMANS, made in God’s image. We must learn to see our sisters in Christ as sisters (1 Tim. 5:2), with thoughts, longings, dreams, hopes, fears. They also long for the marriage supper of the lamb. They also long to be closer to God. They long to be healed, just as we all do.

They long for a name, for significance and worth, for dignity – because they are in God’s image. We as Christians should begin to see one another as fellow-pilgrims, not as objects to be used and discarded. Cross the road and help the one in the ditch. Bear the reproach of Christ with joy.

Adultery starts when we reduce women to objects of possession, a collection of body parts, rather than sisters in Christ. This is where repentance must take place.

Please don’t use Joseph and Potiphar’s wife as an example. Joseph fled from her, not because he was afraid of “catching adultery”, but because he was a slave with no rights and was being sexually assaulted by someone in power.

We will never be effective pastors as long as we are afraid of the women in the congregation. When Paul said to have no confidence in the flesh, he meant that adding rules to protect yourself from sin would do absolutely nothing in the war against sin. Hedging the law with stacks of rules is exactly the “flesh” that Paul had no confidence in. Read all of Philippians 3 in the context to see what I mean. Paul was the expert in all the rules. A Pharisee of the Pharisees. THIS was exactly what he learned to have no confidence in. He counted it all dung, that he might know Christ.

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Every Appearance of Evil, and the Billy Graham Rule

I’ve been gone and out of the loop for a while. The debate over the so-called “Billy Graham” rule, in light of the comments of Mike Pence, went on without me. That was probably a good thing.

But every generation renews its battle with the horrible interpretation of 1 Thessalonians 5:22. You have probably heard it:

22 Abstain from all appearance of evil. (1Th 5:22 KJV)

This is generally interpreted by small-minded men as an excuse to avoid interacting for good in the lives of others. When the passage is poorly translated, and taken out of context, it appears as if it is saying that one should avoid doing anything that someone else might take as being evil. Thus, lazy and guilt-ridden men can avoid interaction with “undesireables” and still pretend to take the high ground.

For example, I heard one man say that if he were driving alone down the road and saw a beautiful woman stranded with car trouble, he wouldn’t stop to help, but would call someone at the next town. He wouldn’t want the neighbors to think evil of him being alone with a beautiful woman. And, as he said, the Bible says, “Avoid every appearance of evil.” (This rule only applies to beautiful women, apparently.)

Another man told me once that he couldn’t be seen with a troubled teen who appeared to be “effeminate” (I hate that word), for fear that someone might think evil of him. I just can’t even…

I do not wish to judge the heart of Billy Graham. I simply don’t know enough about the situation, and God did not assign to me the task of being everyone’s conscience. I only wish to make one point. Is dining alone with a member of the opposite sex an “appearance of evil” and thus forbidden by 1 Thessalonians 5:22?

If that is the case, then Jesus himself broke the rule. He spoke with women one on one, alone. He even dined with publicans and sinners.

Further, Paul wrote that we should not seek to please men, but to please God (Gal.1:10), and Jesus commanded us not to judge according to appearance (John 7:24). So does the Bible have contradictions? Certainly not!

A quick look at the historical and grammatical context of 1 Thessalonians 5:22 will sort out the issues, if one wishes to have eyes to see.

The historical context is this: Remember that the Thessalonians were real people with real problems, and Paul knew them.  Paul preached at Thessalonica and the conversions there caused the Jews to respond with furious envy (Acts 17). The believers in that city had to send Paul away quickly to spare his life, and Paul went from there to Berea, where they were “more noble”, since they searched the scriptures daily to “see if these things be so.…”

Paul, then, is very concerned about the new church in Thessalonica. He left them suddenly without new leadership in place. This in turn left them open to various itinerate preachers. Some were good and some were not so good.

This is the historical context of 1 Thessalonians.

Here is the grammatical context:

19 Quench not the Spirit.
20 Despise not prophesyings.
21 Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.
22 Abstain from all appearance of evil.
(1Th 5:19-22 KJV)

As you can see, what Paul is saying is this. “When you hear the word of God preached to you, don’t despise it. But at the same time, don’t swallow everything you hear. Test it according to the scriptures (like the Bereans do). If it is good, grapple it unto your soul with hoops of steel. If it is evil, shun it strongly and completely, no matter what appearance it takes.”

When evil comes, don’t be fooled by the mask. Shun it, no matter what mask it wears.

So, in the context, if someone comes to you and says, “Don’t do good to others because someone might think you are doing evil”, perhaps we should apply 1 Thessalonians 5:22 and reject that counsel as bad. This is, after all, what the scripture tells us to do.

Let’s be discerning in what we hear. If what we hear is good, embrace it. If it is evil, reject it – no matter how pretty one makes it sound. It is only the scripture that determines what is pleasing to God, not the envious and self-righteous judgments of passersby.

There may be all sorts of valid reasons to try to avoid getting into a situation alone with a member of the opposite sex, but the “appearance of evil” is not one of them.

You can see my follow-up post here.

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