Archive for September, 2013

Reading Ramblings – October 6, 2013

September 29, 2013

Reading
Ramblings

Date: October 6, 2013 –
Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost; St. Michael & All Angels Sunday

Texts: Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4;
Psalm 62; 2Timothy 1:1-14; Luke 17:1-10

Context: We return to the
regular lectionary cycle after last week’s festival readings.

Habakkuk 1:1-4m 2:1-4: Habakkuk
is structured as two complaints from Habakkuk to the Lord, each
followed by the Lord’s response, and the book ends with a prayer of
faith. Little is known of Habakkuk personally, although he is
referred to in a non-canonical added ‘ending’ to the book of Daniel
called Bel and the Dragon. We assume that he is writing right
around 600 BC, after the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel, and
before the fall of the southern kingdom, Judea.

The first part of our reading includes
Habakkuk’s first complaint – that the Lord is slow to respond to
the cries of his people for help. The Lord’s response (which is not
included in our reading) is that He is about to do something powerful
and amazing, leading Habakkuk towards patience and faithfulness. The
second portion indicates that Habakkuk is going to watch carefully
for what the Lord has promised, and then transitions into the Lord
enjoining Habakkuk to write down the revelation the Lord is giving
him, emphasizing the importance of living by faithfulness and not
just what our eyes perceive.

Psalm 62: This psalm exhorts the
speaker to trust in God. The first two verses express this calmly,
but it rapidly becomes clear that things are anything but calm!
Verses 3-4 outline treachery from what are likely former friends or
associates (who speak well but plot in their hearts, v.4). Verses
5-8 once again reassert the theme of trust in the Lord. With trust
in the Lord, what is the worst that can be done to the speaker?
Certainly we can think of plenty of terrible things, yet verses 9 and
10 contextualize those fears. Life is brief whether rich or poor,
whether the victim of treachery or the perpetrator of it. The worst
things we can imagine are but a blip in history, over almost before
they even appear on the screen. As such, we are led in verses 11 and
12 to reassert trust in God, who has true power, not the temporary
power we sometimes exert over one another. Moreover, God possesses
not just power, but unfailing love. These two attributes will ensure
that those who put their trust in him are not disappointed.

2Timothy 1:1-14: Paul begins his
second letter to his protege, Timothy, giving thanks for his faith –
the faith he received from his mother and grandmother. But this
faith must be nurtured – fanned into flame. It is not a passive
faith but an active one, and the act of fanning the flame of faith
enables us to stand strong in times of persecution. Regardless of
what the world says about us or our message, or does to us as
messengers, is nothing compared to the greater hope we carry within
us, glowing sometimes dimly and other times flaring up into
surprising beauty and strength. What we receive in faith we nurture
and guard, because the world is bent on stealing away that hope, that
flame, or dousing it until the last bit of warmth and light is gone.

Luke 17:1-10: Jesus acknowledges
the challenges of the life of faith, and warns his disciples to be
careful of their conduct. They should be sources of encouragement,
springs of forgiveness – not stumbling blocks through their words
or actions. People will watch and listen to them, and they need to
be strong enough to conduct themselves appropriately.

This means not only abstaining from bad
behavior, but engaging actively in good behavior – even to the
point of pain and suffering. How many of us would consider it
reasonable to forgive someone seven times in a single day –
probably for the same offense? How many of us would be inclined
after the second time to claim that the person doesn’t really mean it
and therefore our forgiveness is not required? But forgiveness is
not contingent on the sincerity or the ability of the offender. As
God forgives us generously and constantly, we must be prepared to
forgive others generously and constantly.

The disciples react with incredulity,
as you and I do. Jesus counters that it is not the quantity of faith
that is the issue, but rather the application of that faith. What
seems impossible without a massive amount of faith can, by the grace
of God the Holy Spirit, be accomplished with what we would consider
almost no faith at all.

If this leads us towards spiritual
pride, we must be cautious. Conducting ourselves so as not to be a
stumbling block to others, but rather being examples of humility and
forgiveness, is not some sort of extraordinary act. It is the basic
requirement of the Christian life. As such, if we expect to be given
special commendation by the world or by our Lord when we actually do
forgive someone who hurts us, we are mistaken. In doing so, we are
only doing what we are called to do. Rather than grow prideful in
our isolated successes (which themselves are empowered by the Holy
Spirit!), we should rather recognize that far more often we fail. We
remember this in order to maintain a proper perspective, to guard
against spiritual pride or against the false notion that we somehow
have done or are doing enough. Our work is not finished until our
Savior returns or we are called to glory.

The active living out of our faith
enables us to confess with the psalmist that what the world might do
to us is nothing compared to what awaits us. It is easy to say that
our treasure is in heaven, but it is infinitely harder to live like
it is, without getting caught up in the drama of rises and falls of
fortune whether personal, familial, or national. But focusing on not
causing others to stumble, and focusing on being active sources of
blessing in the lives of others helps give our faith strength. It
takes it out of the realm of the theoretical and gives it very real
traction with the world around us.

Being engaged in this sort of work
helps us to wait patiently on the Lord’s timing. We develop
spiritual callouses, as it were, that enable us to hold on in
faithfulness regardless of the circumstances that currently surround
us. We can even learn to say that whether we live or die is
immaterial. If we live, we continue to serve our Lord by loving our
neighbor, awaiting our Lord’s return. And if we die, we go to be
with our Lord, with the one who created us and redeemed us and will
make us perfect. Without the actual discipline of applied, daily
Christian living, these nice sounding phrases are apt to fall apart
when our world does.

The Christian faith is not for wimps!
Praise be to the God who enables us to stand strong by his Spirit!

Advertisements

Tsunami

September 29, 2013

“Let’s go to the beach!”

We cried.  And you smiled and 
Said with your mouth that you were happy to go
And your eyes did not move.

“Isn’t the water beautiful?”
We cried.  And you smiled and 
Said with your mouth that it was so very beautiful
And your eyes clouded in the bright summer sun.

“Come into the water with us!  The beautiful, cool water!”
We cried.  And you smiled and
Said that the water was beautiful indeed
With your toes tautly anchored in the shifting sand.

“Come ride the waves with us!”
We cried.  And you smiled and 
Said that you wanted to try
As you clutched yourself in the rising surf.

“The water is so very cold!”
You cried.  And we smiled at your winter-white skin 
Wondering why the water was so cold for you
Only for you.

“The water is so very cold!”
You cried.  And we smiled as you withdrew 
From the water’s embrace,
Retreating under t-shirts and sweaters and shorts and towels and sunglasses and hats
Far from the water’s edge.

Perhaps for you the water will always forever be cold.  
Perhaps for you the water will always be treacherous.

You flung yourself from your island home across the ocean
Gasping and panting for air on our shores, breathing language so different from your own.
Never far from the ocean that ravaged your own shores
And ravages them still in your dreams so that you fall asleep only with the light on.

Perhaps you will always be watching the ocean.
Perhaps you will always wonder when it will return for the rest of you.

Not Saying Enough

September 27, 2013

Today is a day that ends in Y, so it must be time for another article about how Christians aren’t Christian if they don’t back the government’s attempt to usurp the Christian (and Muslim, and Jewish, and Buddhist, and Hindu) concept of charity.

Today’s article is courtesy of Amanda Marcotte and Salon.  Once again the charge is that arguing against Obamacare or Food Stamps or any of our government’s efforts to alleviate human suffering is de facto contrary to the words and work of Jesus.  Christians who insist that these government programs – which while helping many people have also been repeatedly demonstrated to be rife with abuse and misuse – must therefore be acting inconsistently with their faith.  
Unlike other articles, Ms. Marcotte does go on to offer an explanation for this puzzling behavior, explaining it through the psychological terminology of rationalization or motivated reasoning – pointing out that all of us are inclined to seek out defenses of our preferred ways of thinking and acting.  I agree that all of us are guilty of this in various ways, some more egregiously than others.  While it could be an explanation for why some Christians think that their positions on any number of issues are Biblical when they really aren’t.  Unfortunately for Ms. Marcotte this exact same phenomenon, utilized as she does in this article, calls her entire premise and line of reasoning into doubt as well.  She could just as easily be a victim of her own rationalization as the Christians she wishes to denigrate.  
Whoops.
But, that being said, she does have a point, though I don’t think it’s the point that she intends to make or necessarily even cares to make.  Christians who decry government poverty programs don’t tend to say enough to make it clear what they ought to mean about these things, which in turn can lead to a lot of confusion.  Politically or economically or socially, those who insist that these programs need to be overhauled or curtailed or even eliminated all together should continue on to say that the poor should be cared for by local and individual programs, rather than by a Federal program.  This should allow for better control and attention to detail, more of an assurance that assistance is going to people who actually need it and are using it for the correct purposes, thereby cutting down on waste and fraud.  This should also – hypothetically – assist such programs and efforts to move people towards self-sustaining lifestyles, rather than allowing people to remain on the dole for generations.  
But that’s a lot to say, and in an age of hyper-short attention spans (are you actually still reading this?  I didn’t think so.), you have to catch people’s attention.  You shorthand things.  What this can easily lead to is communicating the wrong message.  Rather than saying individuals need to be more individually responsible for the care of their neighbor, politicians simply say ‘cut government spending‘, ‘kick the lazy off food stamps‘.  These are highly charged statements that may convey the idea that the goal of such efforts is to put more money back in the pocket of the average taxpayer.  So it can be assumed by some, or inferred by others, that the goal of any criticism of government programs is to make sure I have a few more bucks in my pocket at the end of the day – and who cares who else suffers because of that.  
If a politician wishes to capitalize on Jesus and the Bible to advance their personal and public agendas, they need to say more.  Otherwise, I suspect that Jesus is going to have some harsh words for them when they meet face to face.  The Biblical way to articulate a position against government sponsored programs would sound more like this:
God wants you to take care of your neighbor.  Really.  Seriously.  The widow down the street who can’t keep her grass mowed.  The family the next apartment down who skips meals each day because they don’t have enough money.  The kids at your kids’ school that get made fun of because their clothes don’t match or fit.  The people with different colored skin and who speak a different language or have a strong accent – yeah, those people, too.  Not just the citizen but the foreigner in your midst.  It’s your job to help care for them.  

Jesus fed the poor and had others do the same thing.  Personally.  Not every meal of every day, mind you.  But there was feeding going on, and when his disciples wanted to pass off that responsibility to someone else, he suggested that since they were part of the reason there was a need, they ought to be involved with the solution (Matthew 14:13-17, loosely interpreted).  Caring for your neighbor is always a personal matter, and we do not have the luxury of outsourcing it even though this is our immediate inclination because of expediency and convenience and efficiency and a host of other very impressive sounding excuses.  They’re just that – excuses.  It’s your job, not somebody elses.

Your job.  Personally.  Not simply cutting a check to somebody else to do it because you don’t want to be bothered.  Not trusting it to the tax dollars that you try to minimize as much as possible in the first place, and that you have very little control over the spending of, and which your neighbor may not be able to access because of legal issues or ignorance or fear.  It is your job personally because whether or not you perform this job or not says a lot about how you are being shaped and formed, and God is very concerned with shaping and forming you for eternity.

Food Stamps supported by your Federal or state tax dollars are not the fulfillment of the Biblical mandate to love your neighbor as yourself.  These programs are not an expression of your faith life, regardless of how fervently you might believe in them.  These programs do not relieve you of your personal responsibility to care for those around you.  They may serve as supplements.  They may be defended on a variety of reasons ethically and practically.  But you aren’t off the hook.

I believe we should overhaul/curtail/eliminate Federal programs AND we need to take up the slack personally and locally.  That means that you and I need to figure out how we are going to help make a difference in these people’s lives once the checks stop coming from Uncle Sam.  How is our church going to do it, and how am I directly going to support that effort?  How are the people on our street or in our apartment complex going to do it, and how am I going to support that effort?  

I am not suggesting that we eliminate government programs to make me richer or you richer.  I suggest that we eliminate these programs so that we take a closer, harder look at those around us.  Those we don’t talk to because they dress differently or talk differently or cook differently.  Those we prefer not to make eye contact with on the street corner or the freeway offramp.  This is our Christian duty, and anything (and anyone) that offers to do this on our behalf so we don’t have to get our hands dirty or spend our time acting on it is ultimately doing a disservice.  To the people in need.  To you and I.  And to the Savior we claim to serve.
I want a government that does not reward laziness.  Not just my perceived or suspected laziness in others, but the actual laziness in myself regarding my neighbors.  Ultimately Christians who wish to make political arguments for social change based on their faith should admit and accept that this is going to create a lot more work for themselves – and that’s a good thing!  Not an easy thing, not even a fun thing, but a necessary thing.  That’s how we get shaped more like our Savior.  That’s how we remember our responsibility to love our neighbor as ourself rather than getting soft and lazy about it because they can get their help from Uncle Sam.  
Thanks to Ms. Marcotte for helping me remember that I am not being honest if I demand social or political change based on my faith, but don’t keep talking about (and working towards) how my faith is going to fill the gap that will be created.  

Kid Poster

September 26, 2013

My kids don’t have a lot of posters up in their room.  Is it wrong of me to think of getting them this one?  It’s a graphical summary of the major logical fallacies.  Seems like a cool way to start getting the kids thinking about how to think!  

Back to School

September 26, 2013

Thanks to Becky for sharing the notes that she took from a webinar recently.  The presenter was a professor of mine from Concordia seminary in St. Louis, Dr. Joel Biermann.  He teaches in the systematics department, which focuses on doctrine – what we believe, why we believe it, how it relates to other beliefs, etc.  His topic was the Top Ten Things You Need to Know Before Going to College (in reverse order).  I’ve included my comments and thoughts in italics after her notes on his presentation.  

Ten top Things you Need to Know Before Going to College (in reverse order)
10.  Those who teach beyond high school are referred to as “the Academy” so these are college 
professors wherever they teach.  They hold the “majority viewpoint” which is the worldview today 
of schools of higher learning.  (we’re living in the post-church era right now, also referred to as postmodernism).  
This can sound intimidating and scary, but it is just a way of describing the philosophical climate of today.  Modernism was a philosophical mindset that placed trust in systems and institutions and by and large viewed the world as a puzzle that we would be able to sort out with the right combination of tools.  World peace, for example, would be inevitable as education and standard of living increased.  However the 20th century demonstrated soundly that this is not the case, leading to frustration and disillusionment with systems and institutions of all kinds (the church included).  Post-modernism is defined in part by a lack of trust in systems and institutions and external authority, and a much more personalized description of truth.  Truth is seen as relative, not absolute, and is largely determined by personal experience rather than the assurances of authority or institutions.  Which ironic, if you think about it, since academia is built upon the idea of conferring knowledge and attitudes based on the inherent authority vested in the institution and those who teach there!
(Don’t be intimidated by professors; they don’t know everything, and they’re only human.  They may know a lot in their particular field, but other than that, they’re just “dudes”.)

Hugely true!  You will encounter skeptics as well as outright belligerents against any form of religion (but particularly Christianity) in both secular universities and even some universities that are nominally Christian.  Remember also though that university is based at some level on the exchange of ideas.  If the class is designed to allow for such an exchange, don’t be afraid to speak your view respectfully (and as articulately as possible!).  
9.  What is being taught today is that God is no longer relevant…and that religion is only a sociological phenomenon.   Professors may be interested in looking at religion from a sociological viewpoint but hold a dismissive attitude toward those who believe.  (“Expect to be treated w/ patronizing condescension).  
This is one of the hardest things, being viewed as silly, foolish, or childish at that point in your life where you are finally expecting to be treated as an adult.  Yet this social pressure is what is more often brought to bear against Christian values and beliefs, rather than hard data and evidence that proves such beliefs and values incorrect (see #6 below).  Being able to discern when someone is using pressure on you rather than presenting evidence is an integral part of critical thinking.  If you have the opportunity, take a class on critical thinking skills and logic as soon as you can!  
8.  People reject faith for a variety of reasons, not just out of ignorance.
Remember that people have histories and experiences that help to shape who they are and what they believe.  Empathy can be a powerful means of building relationship through which the Gospel might be shared.  
7.  Our worldview is that there is a God, a Father who is all-powerful, all-knowing and loves us.  He also created us and sent Jesus to earth to pay for the things we do wrong (sins).   Mostly those in academia (professors) have a different worldview.  Mostly they do not believe in a God. (A worldview is the way you look at things.) Their view is a scientific world view that is dominant in our culture today.
Defining terms is very important when discussing theology.  Believing in ‘God’ may not mean believing in the Biblical triune God.  It may not mean believing in Jesus as both true man and truly divine.  It may not mean believing in creation, or in the resurrection.  Be careful to clarify what someone actually believes before assuming that because they believe in ‘God’ they should be trusted implicitly.

The scientific worldview posits, in part, that everything occurred through ‘natural’ (explainable) causes.  There is no need for God and God is seen as a weak attempt to offer explanation for complicated things.  What we don’t understand now, we will someday as science and technology improves.  Everything is a matter of cause and effect.  Yet even with the scientific worldview, faith is required at some point.  Those who believe that certain things must have happened a certain way but don’t have hard evidence that proves this operate on faith.  Like Christians, they may not see this as such, but it’s true.    
6.  Academia will be critical of those who believe in faith in a God.  They will have all sorts of reasons why it is stupid or doesn’t make sense.  But there isn’t even one attack on the Christian faith to which there isn’t an answer.  There are plenty of good resources out there by Christian authors who have stood for the faith and have answers to the questions and unkind remarks made to believers. (one award winning journalist – Lee Strobel – investigated the faith and through his study became a Christian).  Don’t feel like a fool for hanging on to your faith. AND, you do not have to make an argument to do so.  You don’t have to defend it; you don’t have to have an answer to everything.

One logical fallacy (something you’ll learn in a good critical thinking or logic class) is sometimes called the burden of proof fallacy.  It falsely asserts that if you can’t refute an assertion, the assertion must be true.  Many Christians are intimidated because they are unable to answer, personally, the various claims made against the truth of Scripture or the Christian faith.  Someone who brings up a point or an argument that you can’t refute has not just destroyed the credibility of Scripture or the Christian faith.  What they have done is given you food for thought, and the appropriate response would be to investigate the issue further, not to agree that they must be right and you must be wrong.

Another fallacy says that if you make a poor argument, your opponent wins the argument by virtue of demonstrating what a poor argument you’ve made.  Truth is not dependent on your ability to express it.  Obviously, you want to be able to articulate the very good reasons you believe what you believe.  But you are not required to discard your belief just because in a moment of surprise or anxiety you made a poor argument, or offered up a premise that was easily dismantled by the person you’re talking to.  Take a deep breath!

There is nothing wrong with simply saying ‘I don’t know’, or ‘I’ll have to look into that further’.  It demonstrates your humility and willingness to investigate things and apply the mind God gave you to the mysteries of the world and of the faith.
5.  It is never good to argue with a professor during class; it can do more damage than good.
Very true.  There is a time and a place for everything.  However, if the format of the class allows for or encourages dialog and argument, don’t shrink from it out of fear.  I’ll never forget the freshman honors humanity course I took.  The professor was very matter of factly dismissing the Christian faith on the basis that a God who created something as flawed as our world could not possibly be called a god.  I restated what the Bible asserts – that God created something good and gave that creation the ability to either maintain that goodness or abandon it.  I offered a very simple analogy (in hindsight!) that completely took the professor off-guard.  He had no response to it, no way to refute it.  The exchange was respectful and appropriate based on the nature of the class, and it clearly demonstrated to everyone in the class that things were not necessarily exactly as the professor insisted they must be.  Don’t be afraid to question, but do it appropriately and always with respect.  Your professor has earned that respect through a great deal of study and education, and they are entitled to respect even if what they are teaching you is not necessarily true.  \
Coincidentally, even non-professors are entitled to respect – it’s a good idea to cultivate the willingness and ability to engage everyone around you respectfully, even if you need to disagree with them strongly!
4.  Cultivate your faith.  Jesus says he is the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except 
through him.  Do not be surprised if your professors do not believe in absolute truth.
There is a lot in the academy that seems to make sense.  It will be taught that Christianity has caused more bad than good.
Hugely important.  There are good reasons you believe what you believe.  Good reasons your parents and pastors and friends and relatives taught you to believe those things.  Good reasons why they believed them as well.  Once again, their inability to explain those reasons to you (or even their complete ignorance of those very good reasons) does not mean that what they believe and taught you is not true.  

Get involved in a campus ministry where you will hear the word preached.  Many universities have Christian student groups that focus on apologetics and learning about the intellectual groundings and defenses of the faith.  Here you’ll find out that a ton of hugely intelligent people have given the faith a lot of thought.  While faith is just that – something that you must trust because it cannot be empirically proven – it doesn’t mean that there aren’t really good reasons for believing as we do.  Learn them.  You’ll definitely be presented with critiques and attacks of the Bible and Christianity.  Good scholarship should require you to personally (since you likely won’t get it in your coursework!) seek out the responses to those critiques and attacks.  
3.  A worldview is less chosen than absorbed.   In the Academy you’ll be encouraged to embrace 
diversity.  Be aware of new ways of thinking that will creep in that go against your core beliefs.  You will be encouraged to be open minded and that’s fine as long as you have convictions.  You don’t need to be afraid; don’t be easily persuaded.  You can say, “No, I’m not close minded; I just choose …..”
Many inroads against the historic and traditional Christian faith and the Bible come with very reasonable and desirable sounding labels such as  “Diversity”, “Tolerance”, “Open-mindedness”.  Many times the faith is described using terrible sounding words like “Mysoginistic”, “Closed-minded”, “Intolerant”, or “Bullying”.  These are very loaded words, culturally.  They tend to shut-down discussion, and often function as short-cuts to eliminate discussion rather than facilitate it.  

The Bible celebrates diversity and tolerance and open-mindedness, but within an appropriate context, and a context that more and more differs from what our culture demands.  Culture may claim that it has no context, that it is truly tolerant and diverse and open-minded.  Yet what you’ll find is that tolerance and diversity and open-mindedness often mean the rejection and repression of anything that challenges them or suggests limits that they don’t like.  There are always limits.  The issue is who is defining them and why.  Don’t assume heavy-handed slogans and catch-words automatically have the moral high ground.  Ask questions.
2.  Talk to someone you trust before you reject the truths you’ve learned about your faith.  You can talk to your parents,  your pastor, or a youth leader so that you can get some perspective.
Or you might not be able to talk to your parents.  Or your pastor may not be very helpful.  Or your youth leader may not be able to handle such a discussion.  Find someone who you can trust.  Find someone who truly believes the historic teachings of Scripture and the Christian church and ask them to talk with you.  Share your doubts.  Share your misgivings.  And listen.  Give them time to talk with you.  Examine your motives.  Why are you willing to discard your faith now?  Is it strictly a matter of intellectual honesty?  Does it have something to do with other things that your friends want you to join them in, and that are really enticing?  Be honest with yourself as well as honest with someone you can trust.  
1.  MOST IMPORTANT – Cultivate your faith by worshiping regularly at your church.  Join a Bible class on campus or at your home church.
Again, as with number 4, if you’re going off to college it’s very possible that you’re going off with a Sunday School level faith.  You’re about to encounter collegiate doubt and disagreement, from people who have had many years or even a lifetime to cultivate their tactics, approaches, arguments, words, etc.  If you’re surprised to be caught off-guard and without an answer, don’t be surprised.  You didn’t go off to college intending to have your faith challenged, but many professors see it as their duty to do exactly that, and they’re very convincing.  

You must ground yourself in Christian worship and study.  Having spent almost 20 years in a campus ministry, I know how many young folks show up at church on Sunday with their parents in tow, never to be seen again once the parents go home.  If you’re a college student, be an adult and act like one in regards to your faith.

If you’re a parent, be involved with your son or daughter regarding their worship life.  Talk about the importance of this in the years and months leading up to their departure.  Work actively with them in advance to identify potential places for worship.  Contact pastors and youth workers in these congregations ahead of time to establish a relationship.  Spend time finding these places and mapping out bus routes or other means of reaching them.  Don’t be afraid to ask these congregations if someone would be willing to come and pick up your s
on or daughter.  Ask what they’re learning in church – or if they’re going!  Get the pastor’s name and ask them how your child is doing.  You have a role to play!  You can’t force your child to maintain the faith, but you don’t have to abandon them to sort it out for themselves completely.  There should be a healthy role to play, and find what that healthy role is and play it vigorously!
Thanks again to Becky for sharing her notes, and to Dr. Biermann for giving good food for thought to students & their families.

Looking Closer

September 23, 2013

A common assertion you’ll hear against religion is that religion is the major cause of wars.  More wars have been fought over religion than over any other cause, leading to more deaths, more damage, more disruption of the world and life in general than any other issue.  The conclusion implict here is that religion is a bad thing and we either need to neuter it by refusing to acknowledge any potential truth in a religion, or eliminate it all together.  

But what if the premise itself isn’t true?  What if religions aren’t really the cause of all or even most of the wars and conflicts in human history?  
According to at least one source, this assertion is false.  Religion is not to blame for all or even most human conflicts.  
Being naturally skeptical, I went to look up the source on Amazon.  I learned:
1.  It is expensive and I am not likely going to invest in a set any time soon!
2.  It has been out for almost ten years yet the only Amazon review disparages it simply because it utilizes the newer BCE/CE dating terminology instead of the traditional BC/AD terminology.
3.  The publisher doesn’t appear to be Christian, which eliminates a conflict of interest that might be alleged (someone claiming that the data is skewed because of a religious bias, for example).

Reading Ramblings – September 29th, 2013

September 22, 2013

Reading
Ramblings

Date: September 29th, 2013 –
Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost; St. Michael & All Angels
Sunday

Texts: Daniel 10:10-14; 12:1-3;
Psalm 91; Revelation 12:7-12; Luke 10:17-20

Context: September 29 is
historically the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels, and has been
observed as such since at least the eighth and ninth centuries.
Michael is one of only two angels we are given names for in Scripture
– Michael, Gabriel (the angel Raphael is named in the disputed book
of Tobias, part of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Scriptural canons
but not Protestant). Michael is often associated with power,
spiritual battle, and judgment, as his role in today’s reading
demonstrate. We are told of his might and power, restrained power
that is finally set free in the resurrection and ascension of Jesus
Christ to throw Satan from heaven.

Culturally angels have waxed and waned
in popularity, and another surge was noticeable 20 years or so when
they appeared on bumper stickers and dangling from rear view mirrors,
often as enticing females. They appeal to our culture because they
are interpreted as beings of blessing and protection, but without any
duty or obedience required on our part. As such, they subvert the
worship due to God and become a source of comfort and ease. The
powerful description in Daniel 10 makes it clear that this is not
the sort of creature we are to imagine!

Daniel 10:10-14, 121-3: Daniel
is enabled to see a powerful angel who comes to him, unseen by those
around Daniel but palpable to them in a fearful way that causes them
to run off and Daniel himself to black out. The angel indicates that
he has been sent specifically to Daniel, and has arrived only after a
powerful struggle against and victory over demonic powers seeking to
keep him out. Michael – one of two angels that are named in
Scripture is referenced here as coming to the aid of this angel to
ensure that he is able to come to Daniel. The angel speaking to
Daniel is often assumed to be Gabriel, as Gabriel is mentioned in
earlier chapters in Daniel and is associated with being a messenger,
but Chapter 10 does not require us to assign this identity.

The emphasis is on the powerful nature
of this angel, who has been detained by evil powers. What amazing
power must be required to restrain such a being! How dangerous and
real is the spiritual battle that rages in this world unseen, the
effects of which we are at best dimly aware of! Praise to Jesus
Christ for his victory through death and resurrection over all of
these evil powers, even their leader Satan himself!

Psalm 91: A psalm of promise and
encouragement to the people of God. We need not fear the dangers and
tribulations of this world and this life! We have on our side a
savior who has freed us from all worry. Angels figure into the psalm
starting at verse 11. Angels are obedient to God, not only
glorifying him but serving to protect God’s people from harm. 91:12
is quoted to Jesus by Satan during Jesus’ temptation in the
wilderness following his baptism, eliciting Jesus’ clarification of
the verse. While angels attend the Son of God, it is ultimately
obedience to God the Father that is most important. In an age where
having a retinue of friends and followers – whether in person or
online as Facebook friends or other digital contacts – is seen as a
matter of status and prestige, we are reminded that our glory lies
not in the angels that surround us, but in the Son of God who
delivers us.

Revelation 12: We are given a
glimpse with St. John of heaven itself, but particular events that
play out in heaven as well. The Son of God has been delivered into
the world, fulfilled his duty, and has returned to the Father. The
restrained power of Michael and the angels is then unleashed against
Satan and his followers, who had been tolerated to remain in heaven,
acting as accusers against the people of God (v. 10b, but also
consider Job 1:9, 2:4-5). No more will the lies of Satan stand
against us – he has been thrown down, and now the Son of God who is
our intercessor and mediator stands at the right hand of God.
Judgment against Satan and evil has been completed, and the beginning
of sentencing has begun. Heaven is purged, but the defeated and
mortally wounded enemy of God has become our enemy, seeking to waylay
and snatch as many as possible before his eventual consignment to
hell. Victory is assured in Christ – our task is to remain
faithful until death, even if our death is for our faith in Christ
(v.11).

Luke 10:17-20: Humanity is
obsessed with power. The ability to control our environment, our
neighbors, our children, our spouse, our vocation, our finances, our
safety and our very fate is part of the sinful fibers woven into our
very being. We envy those with power even as we decry them. We
condemn those who blatantly seek out control even as we try to gain
control in smaller ways in our own lives. The ability to manifest
power and control, to demonstrate to the world our influence and
power through how many YouTube views we can collect or Facebook likes
we can amass or whether we have cubicle walls or real walls and a
real door on our office – these evidences of power and control
dominate the thinking of many people.

But power and control is not to
dominate our thinking. We, who have been given freedom and authority
over evil spirits, are not to relish our power. Rather, we are to
relish the source of that power – our faith in Jesus Christ as the
Son of God which inscribes our names in the Book of Life for
eternity. Our power is not our own, and the glory associated with
that power is not our own, but belongs to the source of that power,
the Son of God. Consider Simon the Sorceror in Acts 8 – he was
interested in the power he saw Peter and John and Philip
demonstrating. He wanted to purchase this power for his own benefit
and glory, a move that nearly cost him his life!

What matters most to every person in
this world is whether they see Jesus of Nazareth as the incarnate Son
of God, who lived and died and rose again to bring each of us
forgiveness and hope. Nothing else matters. We should not obsess
about the powerful freedom we enjoy in Christ, as though it is in
itself anything. Neither should we obsess about the angels, beings
we are told so little about and yet have repeatedly in history become
the focal point for many people. We do not concern ourselves with
what we can’t know, and focus on what we do – Christ crucified and
resurrected.  

Do Not Live in Fear

September 22, 2013

Thanks to Becky for a comment she made to me after Bible Study last week.  I’ve been grappling with the implications for the congregation in terms of how we are to use our facility.  We’ve been blessed by the Holy Spirit through the faithful giving and work of generations of people with a wonderful facility.  It is beautiful, in very good condition, and provides a great deal more space than we currently need.  

Congregations in similar situations frequently have turned to allowing other groups to use their facilities.  However in the rapidly changing American culture, this could conceivably put congregations in a position where they are sued because they let some groups use their facilities but not others.  If we treat our facilities much as we might a multi-purpose facility, allowing uses by groups that have no direct relationship either with the congregation or our ministry efforts, conceivably this could be used to force us to open our doors even to groups we disagree with theologically or otherwise.  
More and more I see the solution as ceasing to allow outside groups to utilize church facilities.  I think that this does multiple things, including clarifying for a group of Christians who they are, what their ministries are, and where to focus.  
But as Becky pointed out last week, it is also a response based in fear.  Fear of exposing ourselves to risk of lawsuit by groups or individuals who are less concerned about our facility and more concerned about destroying congregations.  Fear of watering down and diluting a congregation’s purpose.  
I don’t like operating in fear.
I’m not sure still whether allowing outside groups to use our facility is a good idea or not.  But I appreciate being reminded that fearfulness is a bad motivation.  Thanks, Becky, for giving me a lot to think & pray about this past week.

A New Samaritan…

September 21, 2013

Some time ago, I indicated that I was seriously considering ditching traditional health insurance.  With the agreement of my wife, we’ve finally decided to make the change.  

We’re going to be enrolling with Samaritan Ministries International (SMI).  This is not health care insurance, it is a Christian cost-sharing association.  Members voluntarily promise to assist one another with health care costs.  Because it is not insurance, there are no premiums.  Rather, each month we will be directed as to where to send our share for the month.  We send that money to an individual – not to the Ministry.  We send it along with a personal note of support and encouragement, and along with our prayers.
The program is only for Biblical Christians, and they have a series of requirements that determine that this is the case.  Covered medical expenses over $300 are submitted to SMI, who validates that the claim is covered under their policies.  They then engage the services of a firm that negotiates directly with doctors and hospitals to arrange for more favorable charges since the costs will be paid in cash rather than having to go through insurance reimbursements.  Then the outstanding balance of the need is published to the general membership, and specific members are directed to send their monthly share directly to the person(s) with need.  Incident expenses up to $250,000 can be submitted for cost-sharing, and there is an optional program to participate in if you wish to be covered for possible issues above $250,000.  
Health care sharing programs are specifically exempt from the new Federal requirements for mandatory insurance.  
Why go this route?
1.  I do not wish to participate in a mandatory insurance program where part of my money is being used to fund abortions.
2.  I do not believe that our government is right in demanding health-care insurance of everyone, or that is capable of creating a program that will respect my individual religious freedoms and rights.
3.  I like the theology of this kind of cost-sharing program.  While it is not Biblical, it is more Biblical than insurance programs, in my opinion.
4.  I believe that while it is more economical to join a cost-sharing network right now, the costs for people who purchase their own health insurance (which is what we were doing) are likely to skyrocket once the Federal program kicks in.  
5.  I hate the paranoia and fear which drives the insurance industry.  I hate the feeling of vulnerability because our health care system no longer functions in a healthy manner.
This particular group has been around since 1991, and I haven’t been able to find any tangible negative press about them (or any other Christian cost-sharing program for that matter).  Most negative comments are about the fact that ‘coverage’ is not guaranteed.  There is no guarantee that my bills will be covered by the other members’ sharing.  I remain responsible for my own bills.  But in talking with people who have used this or other programs, I’ve yet to meet someone that was left holding the bag alone for their bills.  
I’ll let you know how it goes, but I’m looking forward to this.  I trust you’ll weigh in if you have experiences or concerns that maybe I haven’t heard about!

The Wrong Authority

September 19, 2013

How do you attempt to keep kids safe from the devastating impact of pervasive cyber-bullying?  

I would presume that it involves building lifelong healthy relationships with your kids, which includes teaching them about the both the dangers and benefits of online presence and how to interact healthily online, including setting boundaries in terms of both what you disclose and when you are on.  
Or, your school district could hire an outside firm to monitor your kids’ public online activity.
A search of the school district’s web site produced only a brief mention in the minutes of a meeting of this arrangement.  No definition is given for the nature of the services to be provided, what sorts of information will warrant being flagged, how that information will be shared with the school district, how it will be stored and for how long, and who will have access to it.  If the monitoring is going on only for students over the age of 13 (according to the news article) then parents needn’t even be made aware of this.  No mention in the district handbook would give any indication that it was occurring.  
Monitoring should occur.  But monitoring is the responsibility of the parents, not the school.  Parents have the best ability to interpret and contextualize what they see their child doing and saying online.  There is no indication of how this information might be used to further educate or reprimand a student.  
Kids need guidance, and that requires involvement and oversight, among many other things.  But they need these most from the people God gave them to provide it – their parents.