What to Give, What to Give...

Deciding what to give someone else isn't just a challenge at Christmas time or on birthdays. For the Christian, deciding what to give to the Lord's work is an ongoing challenge. As a pastor I've had numerous people inquire over the years into what the Bible actually teaches about our giving. "But wait," we might say, "that's not a difficult decision at all. God specified in the Bible exactly what we're supposed to give: 10% of our gross income." That's true, the Bible did say that. However, it's not quite that simple.

Different Day, Different Law
The Bible taught God's people to give 10% of their gross income to the Lord in Leviticus 27:30-32. Notice, that's Leviticus: the law for God's people under the Old Covenant. But we're under the New Covenant now. Leviticus is the same book that also taught God's people to avoid eating pork and to bring an animal to the priest and have it killed for their sin. But we don't do those things anymore. I'm quite the fan of good, thick-cut bacon, and in almost a dozen years of full time pastoring I have (thankfully!!) never seen anyone bring a goat to church on a Sunday morning so I could slaughter it for them.

You see, part of the reason people have asked me over the years what the Bible teaches about giving is that they hear "you should give 10%; it's in the Bible," regularly, but they sense that something is amiss because that's Old Testament Law. And they're right. Sometimes I think evangelical teachers & preachers might be guilty of cherry-picking the pieces of the Law of Moses which suit our purposes, and leaving aside the rest.

Now, the question of how to correctly and consistently apply the Law of Moses to Christians today may need another post by itself (perhaps some thoughts on that should be the next post?). But for now, the important thing to note is that the strict 10% giving law is one we're no longer under. 2 Corinthians 9:7 says that we should give "not under compulsion", so it's clear that being forced to give a certain amount is not the Biblical ideal. That doesn't mean the 10% standard is meaningless (more below), but it does mean it's not our rote obligation.

The Good and Bad with Law
And that's a good thing. In fact we usually like the idea of a law going away; of personal freedom, and of making our own choice. But let's be honest, a strict law in the Bible does have some advantages. For one thing, I know exactly where I stand with God! Did I give 10%? Then I'm good with God. Clearly defined lines provide a ready answer to the question 'am I giving enough?', and as such they provide a sense of security.

But there's a downside too: clearly defined lines also provide a limit on personal growth. After all, if I knew that God required me to, say, read my Bible three times per week, would I have incentive to read it more than that? Likewise, if I'm supposed to give exactly 10% and I do so, the result is that an "I've done my part" mentality sets in, and this actually de-motivates me from further growth.

New Testament Giving
So then, we're back to the question: how much does God want me to give?

Rather than specifying a specific amount of money to give, the New Testament provides 4 principles which every Christian should use to evaluate - and plan - their giving. All 4 principles can be found in 2 Corinthians 8 & 9, as well as throughout the New Testament. My suggestion is to give your giving plan some concerted thought at least once per year, and let these principles shape your giving plan.

Principle #1 - Generosity
2 Corinthians 8:3-7 tells us to excel in the grace of giving, up to and even pushing the limits of our means. Clearly, we're to give generously. But how much is "generous"? God leaves that to each individual to determine. But that's not as undefined as it might sound at first. After all, we know generosity when we see it, don't we? We also know its opposite - stinginess - when we see it too. When a man who earns $200,000 per year gives $100 to a local charity, we don't call that generous. Nice maybe, but not generous. He can afford it. But when a family of 6 living on $25,000 per year scrimps and saves so they can give the same $100, we rightly say 'wow, that's generous!' In the same way, as you look at your income, your spending, and your giving, would an honest, third-party observer look at what you give and call it "generous"?

Principle #2 - Cheerfulness
2 Corinthians 9:7 tells us that whatever amount we give, the giving is to be done "cheerfully". This isn't really about how much I give, but rather about how I feel about the act of giving. Does my money leave my hand reluctantly? Does my heart sigh when I write that check to my church because I think of all the things I could do with that money for myself? Does giving feel like a burden? Or is it a joy? God cares very much about where our hearts are at in the giving process. In 2 Corinthians 8:3-4 Paul lauds the Macedonian churches because they literally begged to give. It was not a burden, but a joy! That's what God wants from us.

Principle #3 - The Precedent
I mentioned above that the Old testament 10% tithing law still has some relevance for today: it serves as a precedent. God no longer stipulates a specific amount that his followers must give, but when he did he specified 10%. So based on that precedent, if I give less than 10% now, it is not likely that my giving would be considered by God as being "generous".

I've heard the 10% giving standard referred to as God's "training wheels" for giving. I think that's a good metaphor. With a bicycle, the point of taking the training wheels off is not so that you will ride you bike even slower, but that you would really take off and go much farther and faster than the training wheels allow you to. So it is with giving. God once stipulated 10%, and now he takes that mandate off of us and says "give cheerfully and generously!" with the goal being that we would delight in doing much more than that.

Principle #4 - Reward
Some Christians are uncomfortable with the Biblical doctrine of eternal rewards, but we shouldn't be. 2 Corinthians 9:6 makes the point clearly and forcefully: if you give a lot now, you'll enjoy a bigger reward for all eternity. Why does God tell us this? To motivate us to fund his kingdom now. It's difficult to get excited about giving more when it feels like a loss. But it's far easier to get excited about it when we realize that the more we give, the more we gain in eternity. Biblical giving isn't a net loss, it's a net gain.

But this requires having an eternal perspective; that is, living this life in light of the next. When I sit down to plan my giving, am I thinking only about this year, this month, or this week? Am I 100% focused on the needs and expenses I have right now, and how much I can afford to let go of today? Or is part of my thought process focused on eternity, and how much of God's kingdom I want to have made happen when I stand before God? Remembering that today's sacrifices = much bigger reward later is a powerful motivator to give.

Give Like Eternity Depends On It
These 4 principles...



shape the Christian understanding of giving. When we fully embrace what Christ has done for us, and when we become captivated by his future plan for a redeemed life on the New Earth full of God's goodness and glory, giving takes on a whole new meaning. The reasons we give change, and consequently the amounts we give do as well. As we fund the expansion of God's kingdom rather than of our own little kingdoms, more and more people come to understand who Christ is and experience his forgiveness. But if God's people become too fixated on life here and now, others may miss out on the gospel of Christ.

God wants us to give like eternity depends on it. Because it does!

A little girl becomes a young woman

Tomorrow my amazing daughter turns 13. Thirteen!

Elizabeth, I can't believe that many years have gone by since I held you in one arm, tightly wrapped is a blanket just minutes after your birth. They say that a newborn infant's eyes can't completely focus right away, but I find that difficult to believe. As I stared into your pink face and deep brown eyes I was pierced to my soul by how intently your eyes gazed back. You weren't just dazzled by the lights of this new world. Rather, your eyes met mine and you were intent on my face, peering into my eyes with all your might and even trying to life your head to get closer. That moment forever marked me.

And it is a fantastic picture of your character. From your earliest moments you have been energetic, outgoing, and focused on people. You have learned the right meaning of compassion, of determination, of beauty, and of worship. All by 13. And that makes you a remarkable human being.

You have brought a brightness to my heart, like a fresh mountain breeze in the sunshine. Whether we're fishing, hiking, playing Wii games, singing, or even just driving to school in silence, I value every moment I have with you. I'm proud of the dedicated, hard-working, level-headed, compassionate woman you're fast becoming. You just keep doing what you're doing - there's no limit to the ways that God will use you.

I love you more than words can say,


A tribute to my teenage daughter!

Endowed... By Whom?

President Obama recently slipped up while quoting the Declaration of Independence. Not once, mind you, but twice. Both times he committed the same error, stating that "all men are created equal and endowed with certain inalienable rights..." Notice what's missing? Three simple words: "by their Creator."

Is it merely coincidence that a president who is known for his intelligence and public speaking acumen would commit the same simple error on two separate occasions, merely a month apart? Perhaps. Perhaps not.

Either way, this all got me thinking about something that's far more important than Barack Obama, or any other president for that matter. It got me thinking about the importance of those words, "by their Creator." Why were they put in the Declaration of Independence in the first place? And what happens if you take them away? All sorts of bad things happen, unfortunately.

The Declaration of Independence gave moral justification to America's separation from England by basing it in "nature and nature's God." At the time it was written, one didn't have to be a dedicated Christian in order to embrace that document. "Nature's God" could be understood in a number of ways, Christian, Deist, or otherwise. The same is true today: One doesn't have to be an evangelical Christian like I am in order to support the Declaration.

But one does have to acknowledge the same "self-evident truth": that the fundamental equality of all men, which is what ensures our liberty, derives from the Creator. The consequences of failing to acknowledge this, as many people (including our president) seem wont to do these days, are potentially disastrous. I flesh this out a bit in a recent article at the Colson Center, in which I ask Do We Still Hold These Truths?

Polishing Diamonds

Ever notice how cool and exciting things eventually become mundane? You know, something that you were so excited about once is now just a ho-hum part of your everyday life.

I'll never forget how excited I was in the weeks leading up to the purchase of our first house. We'd been married for 5 years, all of which had been spent living in rented apartments. Our daughter was 18 months old, Amy was not working, and I was in graduate school and working a full time job at City Hall for a mediocre salary. So our home-buying hopes were not high. But then the real estate swell started really picking up steam (yes it led to the infamous big crash of 2008, but this was before all that) and we suddenly were able to not only qualify for, but to actually afford to buy a house.

I was so excited about our first little house! Big yard for the kids, no walls shared with noisy neighbors, a piece of ground we could call our own. I was flying high the whole day we moved in, and waking up that first morning in our own house was just cool.

But over time the euphoria, predictably, declined. A year after we moved in, waking up in our own house was just... waking up. I no longer felt pleasure at having my own walls. And while the yard was still nice for the kids to play in, it was also a lot of work to mow each week! Don't get me wrong: we were happy with our house. But the early sense of excitement we'd had had diminished, because the comparison with what we'd had before had been long forgotten.

This happens in our relationship with God as well. One of the reasons we may feel less than enthusiastic about him is that we've forgotten just what we have in Christ. And maybe remembering how great a thing he is, and how great a life and future he's secured for us, is the path to appreciating him more fully rather than taking him for granted.

Sometimes a diamond shines better after it's been scrubbed and polished. And sometimes our appreciation for the beauty of Christ increases when we scrub off layers of accumulated familiarity. That's the subject of an article I wrote, which was inspired by a trip Amy and I took to Astoria a few years ago. You can read it at the Colson Center: Appreciating Magnificence

It Isn't Ours To Change

I've been thinking a lot lately about truth. Biblical truth to be exact, in this truth-allergic age.

I just finished another edition of the comparative worldviews course I teach at George Fox University, and this group of adult students was interesting. They were a very bright and active group and they had a wide variety of beliefs. And just like a lot of people these days, this group really struggled with the idea of truth. I mean, really struggled. Many of them just couldn't get their heads around the idea that any one way of looking at the world might be more accurate than the other ways. In other words, these intelligent and hard working people just couldn't understand how one view of life - any view - could be true.

But many Christians seem to be in the same boat. Truth just doesn't compute these days, and maybe that's what so many evangelical Christians are responding to. There seems to be this all out rush to redefine Christianity; to get our truth-allergic world to see Christianity as not "truthy." We're pouring forth a nearly endless stream of books, blogs, and videos proclaiming "Hey! Check us out! Jesus is allergic to truth as well!"

Increasingly, Christians are down on the church, down on doctrine, and down on religion (even though that's what following Jesus is, contrary to popular opinion). These days we love questions, but we hate answers. We celebrate ignorance (mistaking it for humility), and despise knowledge. We're up on the journey, but down on the destination. In fact, it is now so popular to bash religion within Christian circles that one of the quickest ways to become influential with today's Christian generation is to write criticisms of theology, church, and Christianity itself.

What is this all about? Christians working hard to define themselves as not Christian? This isn't crazy, we're assured. In fact we're told that Jesus himself was down on truth and religion. We have drunk deeply at the well of this idea. for example, I recently saw a Christian describe their faith by saying "I rejected Christianity in order to follow Jesus."

Huh? Respectfully friends, I think we're confused.

It's one thing to critique how we run our churches, do our theology, and practice our religion. There is much to critique, as I've written here and here for example. To a point this is healthy - even necessary. But often I think we're identifying the wrong problem. Whatever the church's faults, being the church and standing for revealed truth are not among them. We're constantly taught the value of truth (Proverbs 23:23), of sound doctrine (Titus 2:1), and of the word of God (Matthew 5:17-18). And we're taught that Jesus is the Lord and head of the church (Ephesians 4:15-16), so apparently whatever its faults, it means something to him.

And that's what I'm really driving at, and what I think so many Christians these days are missing. To follow Jesus means to follow him his way. To be a part of his kingdom means he is the king. He makes the rules, calls the shots, and determines what matters. Being his follower means learning to accept this from him whether we like it or not. Actually, it means more than that: it means learning to like it too.

Our efforts to redefine Jesus as non-truthy and following him as non-religious are not only misguided, they are also overstepping our bounds. We're not free to change Christianity. It is the Way of Jesus. It is living life by his rules, traveling the road he marked out, for his glory. If we abandon this road, we have abandoned him.

We can't change Christianity. It isn't ours to change.

Why We Read

Are You Listening To Me?
Ever had the experience of talking with someone who isn't really listening to you? You know, they hear your words just long enough to form their own thought or their own idea, and at that point they disengage from what you're saying and just wait for a chance to jump in and talk about their thing. And of course you know they weren't really listening to you. They weren't interested in trying to follow your train of thought, or connect with your heart or your mind. They're only interested in making public the private goings-on of their own little mental space.

Amy and I talked about this just the other day, and we've had similar conversations with a Filipino friend named Lidj who writes a reflective, heartfelt blog called Crown of Beauty. There are those who listen just long enough to look for an opportunity to make their own point, or to get a quick shot of inspiration themselves. They hear only in order to speak, not in order to listen. On the other hand there are those who listen in order to connect with the heart of the speaker. They invest themselves in following another's flow of thought, and seek to get out of their own shoes as best they can to walk in the speaker's shoes. I have learned the value of this from people like my bride and our friend Lidj.

You know, I find it telling that ours is a world full of lonely people. And at the same time it is also a world full of people who are not great listeners. Coincidence? I think not.

Blowing Out Mental Cobwebs
C.S. Lewis applied the same thinking to what - and how - we read. He once wrote that we should all make sure that we read some old books; books that were written in a totally different time period than our own. The benefit is that these books can help us not get stuck in the thinking of our own time. Old books, Lewis wrote, are like "the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds." Reading books from people who lived long before us, and who saw the world differently, gives us perspective and stretches our understanding. In this way, old books help us grow as people and allow us to see things we wouldn't have seen if our thinking was limited only to the vantage point of our own times.

What Lewis was getting at is a problem common to all people: we're comfortable with what we already know. Because of this we're often not terribly interested in entertaining new thoughts or new ideas. After all, being stretched or challenged takes energy, work, and the willingness to tolerate a bit of discomfort. Left to ourselves, we sometimes feel very little incentive to want to change.

What Did He Say?
I find it telling that ours is a world full of people who increasingly know no perspective but their own. And at the same time it is also a world full of people who do not read for an author's meaning. Coincidence? I think not.

When we read, we tend to read for what we want to get out of it. Does it inspire me? Intrigue me? Entertain me? If so, I call it good writing. If not, I don't. In either case the author's intent has not registered as something of significance. We're focused on what we received, not necessarily on what the writer was saying. After all, if it doesn't inspire or benefit me in some immediate way, why should I care what an author wants to say?

Understand First, React Second
When I teach Christian Worldview to adult undergraduate students, I tell them that if they want a good grade from me they have to do two things on every assignment in the following order: first, understand what the author/speaker is saying. Comprehend his flow of thought well enough that you can give it back to me in your own words accurately. Then, and only then, may you move on to the next step, which is to evaluate what he is saying and agree or disagree.

Why do I make such a point of this? Because it doesn't come naturally to us. We tend to quickly get wind of where an author or speaker is going, and we immediately begin making judgments about it before we've even heard him out. We know what we're comfortable with and we have little interest in being stretched beyond it. So we prejudge what others say before they've even finished saying it, which is a defense mechanism of sorts in that it gives us permission to stay comfortable, and to prevent new thoughts from challenging us.

The challenge for the students is a difficult one. I issue this challenge in part to get non-Christian students to at least understand Christianity on its own terms, not just some popular misconception of it. But you know what? The Christian students in my classes are just as bad at this as everyone else. Throughout the course we look at some non-Christian worldviews too and I tell them the same thing: learn it first, fairly and accurately. Then you may respond. But this is hard for many of them to do. The moment they get wind that an idea came from somewhere other than the Bible, their brains shut down and all the emotional defenses go up.

The students who do take me up on the challenge all end up saying the same thing, whether they're Christians or not. They tell me the class was informative, challenging, and they'd never thought about their beliefs in this way before. Many of them go so far as to say they weren't even aware that they could think about their beliefs this way. Because they accepted my challenge to understand first, they leave the class with a whole new set of tools to process what they believe and why. They're better people for having been stretched. For having listened.

Sacred Stretching

And all of this affects our relationship with God. Too often, I think, Christians approach the Bible or the Sunday morning sermon with exactly the same mentality. How often do we open the Bible looking for good advice, looking for a nugget of truth to carry us through our day, or looking for feelings of inspiration, pure and simple? We come to the Bible with our questions, with our felt needs. We come with our agenda. And we may not be listening.

But what of God? What is his agenda? What's he trying to say? What did a Biblical author have in mind when he was writing the text we're looking at? What was his point, what was he trying to get across? Do such questions even occur to us?

God has given us his word to increase our understanding. He does not merely offer us comfort, inspiration, and warm feelings (though these things are sometimes part of the package). Rather, the Ancient of Days beckons us to his throne so that he can teach us, stretch us, and make us new creatures. He does not intend to increase our comfort with who we are. He intends to unmake who we are, so he can remake us in the image of his Son.

The Old Book
So I think CS Lewis was right: we should read old books to expand our perspective and broaden our horizons. But as Lewis himself pointed out, this only works if we read for the author's meaning; if we view the reading of a book the same way we would view a tour through a museum, in which we go to learn and a docent instructs us in things we did not know. Authors of good old books are docents of knowledge. Let them teach you.

And perhaps we should read The Old Book with the same idea in mind. Perhaps we should avoid approaching the Bible firmly ensconced in our existing, limited point of view, determined to find something that fits who we already are. Rather, let us come to the Scripture as the storehouse of the knowledge of the Holy One, and let his Holy Spirit be the Docent of Things High and Lofty.

These things may indeed be too high for us now. But if we let him have his way we'll find that he will re-make us so thoroughly that we will be able to bear them. If only we'll open ourselves up to the adventure.

Learning to listen - to read for understanding of the author rather than just for affirmation of what I already know - is a priceless skill. When this discipline takes root in us it actually changes our character. It makes us good listeners, good friends, good people. And most important of all, it makes us good followers of Jesus Christ.

As Jesus himself said, "he who has ears, let him hear."

Relentless Love

Whenever the Colson Center publishes something I write I provide a link to it from this blog. But more than just linking to it, I also like to write some of the "back story" here: to reveal some of my own thoughts and feelings that went into the article, which you won't get just from the article itself.

Recently the Colson Center has offered a lot of content on the subject of marriage, so I set out to write on that topic. That was an easy decision to make because I just preached a sermon (audio mp3 here) on that topic, so I had done some study already. Seemed an easy enough task.

But I've found that nothing is ever just "easy" when I really start thinking about God's words. I started my study, naturally enough, in Ephesians 5:22-33 which is probably one of the best known New Testament passages on marriage. I noticed, as I have previously, how effortlessly Paul moves between talking about the husband/wife relationship and the Christ/church relationship. In fact he doesn't really move between them as much as he blends them together. The point is, the main purpose of marriage is to reflect God's love for us.

Then I really started thinking about that. I mean really thinking.

What kind of love is God's love? It is fierce love, love that never quits. It is love that jealous of the beloved, and it tolerates no rivals. It is love that persists long after the beloved has ceased to deserve it. It is relentless love.

And this is the love my marriage is supposed to put on display for the world. Fierce, persisting, devoted. Relentless.

As I let that sink in I found my thoughts drifting to Hosea, that sad and pained prophet. God gave him the unenviable job of not only speaking his message, but living it via his marriage. God told Hosea to marry a prostitute so that we would know how God feels about our faithlessness. And to show us what relentless love looks like.

Many of us have very different circumstances from those God appointed for Hosea. But still, I started wondering how relentless my love is for my own wife. She has been the most dedicated companion I could have hoped for, and together we've faced our share of difficulties. From chronic health challenges to special needs to unfulfilled plans and desires, our path through life thus far has been different than what we thought it would be. Isn't everyone's?

But writing this article helped remind me of the larger reality of our marriage, and that perspective puts the "daily grind" of life in a different light. In the end it isn't about our plans, our pains, or our prosperity. It is about love. Not our love for one another, but God's love for us. It is about Relentless Love.

Christianity Ceased Being A Religion... When Exactly?

We've all heard it before, probably hundreds of times:

"Christianity isn't a religion, it's a relationship!"

OK, honest confession time: that phrase bugs the snot out of me, and I cringe every time I hear it.

Now give me a minute before you chew me out or write me off! Surely many of us have said this ourselves, and you may feel there's an important truth behind those words. So let me say right off that there is. I get that. And I agree with it.

What many Christians are trying to say when they make that statement is that the Gospel of Jesus is not a man-made attempt to earn God's favor by being sufficiently good. And they're saying that when we try to be good enough for God, what we end up with is cold and lifeless legalism, which is not Christianity. And they're right. (image source)

But I don't think substituting "relationship" for "religion" is the right way to communicate that truth. Here's why.

Welcome to Me-World
We're living in the Postmodern era. You know, that worldview that insists that no one has access to truth as it really is, but instead all we have is our own perspective. Since no one can know real truth, all I can know is "truth for me," or what seems to be true from my perspective.

So to many people nowadays, life is a highly individual, customized journey of discovering what will be true and meaningful to them, and them alone. It is a way of seeing life that begins and ends in one place: me.

Relationships in Me-World
And what happens to relationships when life is seen this way? They exist for, well... me! We want the freedom to enter and exit relationships as we see fit. We want to move from relationship to relationship as freely as we move from job to job. That's why increasingly we're just skipping that whole get married thing altogether. After all, what's the point? We'll be with him or her as long as we both choose to be together.

Relationships in Me-World make fewer and fewer demands on us. For example, I once worked with a never-married 40-something lady who had been living with her boyfriend (she referred to him as her "partner") for several years, and insisted that they were quite happy together. I innocently asked her if they had any plans to get married. Ooops. Wrong question. She snorted (literally) with disdain at the thought of marriage and replied, "Why would we? I don't want the state to be able to tell me what to do." She felt the relationship might become less satisfying at some future point. And if it did she wanted to have the freedom to just grab her stuff and move out without having to go through all the legal hassles of a divorce. (image source)

And The Gospel?
Such is the reality of relationships in our beloved Me-World. So what happens when an innocent, well-meaning Christian, who has been involved in church and studying the Bible for years, proudly and emphatically claims that Christianity is really just a relationship? Mr. Christian is probably trying to say that it's not a legalistic, works-driven way to earn favor with God.

But is that what the citizens of Me-World actually hear? Or do they hear an entirely different message? "Christianity isn't a religion..." Well, to Mr. Me-World "religion" usually means someone like God (or in reality the church) telling me what to do and how to live my life. Me-World is allergic to anyone telling us what to do!

But "relationship"? Ah, we know what relationships are! They're those voluntary associations we enter into with others for mutual benefit and pleasure, but over which we still exert final control. And Mr. Christian is telling me that Christianity really just a "relationship" with Jesus? Fantastic! I'll go to church or whatever and Jesus will love me? Sounds great. But let's not have any of this talk of theology, sin, atonement, hell, election, sovereignty, wrath, or anything else that makes it sound like God actually rules the roost here. That's not a relationship.

God Most High
Well, it's not according to Mr. Me-World. But Christianity is exactly that according to the Bible. God is the Lord of Hosts, the Maker of heaven and earth before whom mountains tremble, and in who's presence the prophet Isaiah fell down as one dead and cried out "Woe is me, for I am a man of unclean lips!" (Isaiah 6:5) He is the Ancient of Days, the Lion of Judah who calls all men to repent and demands from his people that we be holy for he is holy.

We are not in a relationship with this God because we chose to enter into a non-binding contract for mutual benefit. We know God only because he broke into human history and revealed himself to us, and has summoned us to be his people by his means, on his terms, and for his glory. The God who by his supremacy and authority commands all men everywhere to repent is the God who loves his people fiercely as a husband. (image source)

Mixed Messages
Do you now see why I cringe? This is Biblical Christianity! But none of this comes across to the ears of Me-World when we use the term "relationship." And when we reject the term "religion" we think we're rejecting dead legalism, but Mr. Me-World probably hears us rejecting any notion of God as One who is above, supreme, over us, and who places legitimate demands on our lives.

So my plea to my fellow believers is, stop distancing the Christian faith from the idea of "religion." If the Bible doesn't (James 1:26-27) then neither should we. If we continue to do so, we'll likely distance Christianity from the very sovereignty and transcendence of God, and his claims to define what is true and authoritative for us.

A New Label?
Now, when I said all this at a recent staff meeting one of my colleagues rightly pointed out that the word "religion" is a loaded term for so many both inside the church and outside, that we shouldn't try to rehabilitate it. I actually agree with her, and I'm not suggesting we use the word "religion." Just that we stop disparaging it.

Perhaps we need a new term. One that adequately captures and honors the "other-ness" of God, that communicates his status as the High King of Heaven, and the one to whom all glory is due. I do not know what this term should be, and I'm accepting suggestions. I'm advertising for a new label! Suggestions are welcome in the comment section. :)

But please, brothers and sisters, let us be sure that the Messiah we are putting before the citizens of Me-World is the Messiah of the Bible: the one sent from the God of the universe, who commands our allegiance, our lives, and our destiny. (image source)

The one who came to earth to die for us, motivated by his unstoppable love, and who now sets the terms by which we rebels must surrender and devote ourselves utterly, completely, and irrevocably to his glorious self.

Lead me to the cross where Your blood poured out,
Bring me to my knees, Lord I lay me down
Rid me of myself, I belong to You,
Lead me, lead me to the cross.


I'm captured by Your holy calling
Set me apart, I know You're drawing me to Yourself
Lead me Lord I pray

Take me, mold me, use me, fill me
I give my life to the Potter's hand
Hold me, guide me, lead me, walk beside me
I give my life to the Potter's hand

Faith & Science: Where Angels Fear To Tread

Some of you may know that I studied Physics for 2 years as an undergraduate at Cal, and once even entertained the notion that I would spend my life as a professional astrophysicist. Well I didn't get along too well with higher mathematics, so I eventually realized my calling in life was probably not to be a scientist!

But while I'm hardly a science expert I do still have an interest in the sciences, and this interest came up again recently. I've been writing a series of brief articles which look at life from the perspective of a Biblical worldview. In wrapping that series up (links to the whole series can be found here) I found myself pondering the long-running tension between science and faith.

I've thought a fair bit about this tension over the years, and about the way science is understood by those who have made a career of it, as well as those who haven't. Questions such as:

  • Do we have to rule out the idea of God in order to do science effectively?
  • For a Christian, do the findings of science represent what the Bible calls "man's wisdom" (which, in the Bible, is bad) vs. "God's wisdom"?
  • While it will probably always be a challenge to figure out how faith & science relate to one another, are they actually opposed to one another?
In asking these questions I know I'm getting into deep waters; waters that have been sailed in by people smarter than me! But they are important questions to ask if we're going to see all of life through the lens of the Bible. After all, science and technology are a big part of "all of life." With that in mind, here are some of my thoughts on the topic including what I think is the real culprit in the tension between faith & science. I'd be interested in your thoughts too.

(Image above of the Eagle Nebula courtesy of NASA)

Global Caring

In Sunday morning's message at church I described the New Age movement, and how many New Age ideas enter the thinking of many Americans without them even realizing it. One example I gave was people pushing environmental concerns. It's one thing to encourage people to recycle and use "green" energy, but often this is accompanied with a view that the earth is our "mother." The idea that the planet is a living being which gives us life comes from ancient pantheism, and is a common element of contemporary New Age thinking which Biblically-grounded Christians naturally resist.

But this raises another question: should Christians resist concern for the environment altogether? Or just the New Age ideas that get smuggled into some environmentalism? How do we separate the two? Should we even try?

I wrote a few thoughts on a Biblical view of environmental stewardship -- as opposed to the enviro-hysteria that's all too common these days -- at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. I'd love to hear your thoughts too!

Why Strength Exists

I recently spoke at our church's monthly Men's Breakfast (and for the record, Rod Talley and Tony Dugan grill up some seriously outstanding bacon!). We were wrapping up a year of such gatherings which has been guided by Micah 6:8, where God says he doesn't want external obedience to religious standards, but rather he wants followers who have hearts characterized by 3 things: doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God.

My summary for tying these ideas together is captured in the title of this post. Why does strength exist, from God's perspective? Why did he make it, and for what purpose does he bestow it on people? I think what the Bible is saying is that strength exists for the nurture and defense of the weak.

That's what the Micah passage is getting at:

  • "Do justice" refers to the many commands in the Bible to care for the poor, to deal honestly in business, to protect foreigners who have a lesser legal standing, etc. It is the call to create a just society - one in which the powerful don't dominate the weak.
  • "Love mercy" means that deep down in my heart I am passionate about serving, protecting, and providing for those around me who are in a position of relative weakness. This includes employees if I'm a boss, kids if I'm an adult, the poor if I'm wealthy, and outsiders if I'm an established member of a group.
  • "Walking humbly with God" means living in a way that reflects the simple fact that God is God and I am not. His values hold sway.
In all of this, the plight of those in a position of relative weakness is the issue for those in a position of strength. Strength exists for the defense and nurture of the weak.

In our day and age this is as radical and counter-cultural a point as ever. What is a life worth? And how can you tell? These questions become acutely important especially when we deal with the weak: the ill, elderly, disabled, etc. These folks often consume more resources than the average person, and can typically generate fewer resources. But is that how we should measure the worth of their lives?

I developed a short Bible study (which can be downloaded here) that explores the Scripture's answer to those questions, What Is A Life Worth? I hope you'll take a few moments, perhaps with the aid of this brief study, to reflect on what a life is worth and how we should express that in myriads of different ways.

What strength do you have? How can it be put to use for the benefit of those in a position of relative weakness?

Loving Racket

Everyone knows life never fully measures up to what we want it to be. And we all have ways of responding to it when it doesn't. Noise may be one of them.

Here's what I mean: ever feel like you can't turn off the TV, radio, or other media even when you're not actually listening/watching? I noticed this years ago when I had to commute to work in the car. Even on days when I wasn't really paying much attention to the radio, or when I wasn't really that interested in what was being said or played, I had to have it on. It was like turning it off made me uncomfortable - I couldn't handle the silence.

Why, I wondered? Maybe because I didn't want to be alone with my thoughts. Perhaps if I was alone with them they would wander to the chronic pain in my home, or the goals Amy and I (mostly I) had set that didn't get achieved in our time frame. Maybe the constant background noise was a way of crowding out serious reflection and thinking.

Maybe I wanted it that way.

But perhaps that's not the Biblical way of seeing life's disappointments. Maybe there's a healthier, more God-honoring way of responding to them. That's where the following quote from John Wesley, which I found just recently, really struck me. Wesley talks about what it means to really submit to the kingship of Jesus in our lives. He writes:

Whether it be higher or lower, a prosperous or afflicted state: be content that Christ should both choose your work, and choose your condition; that he should have the command of you, and the disposal of you: make me what you will, Lord, and set me where you will…I put myself wholly into your hands: put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will; put me to doing, put me to suffering, let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you, exalted for you, or trodden under foot for you; let me be full, let me be empty, let me have all things, let me have nothing, I freely and heartily resign all to your pleasure and disposal
There it is: a whole different perspective on life's disappointments. Not something to be crowded out by noise, but something to be embraced as the road our Lord has ordained for us. But I cannot think this way, not truly, unless I have embraced the kingship of Jesus deeply.

So I wrote a short devotional Bible study for the Colson Center, based on this quote from Wesley, that draws us in to the Scriptures and what they say about living a Prostrate Life. I hope you find it as meaningful as I have.

The Difference A Biblical Worldview Makes

I've been doing a lot of writing lately, but almost all of it has been at the Colson Center web site rather than here on my own blog. However, my cute wife just chewed me out big time, pointing out that just because I wrote elsewhere doesn't mean I can't link to it - and she's right!

At Harvest Church right now I'm teaching through a series of messages explaining what a Biblical worldview is, and how it affects everyday life. I've also been writing articles on the same subject. In fact I've just finished a series of 8 short articles that describe how to live Biblically in 8 major areas of life:

1. Relationships - Community In A Box

2. Money /Possessions - Materializing The Kingdom

3. Education - Justification For Higher Education

4. Politics & Government - Hollow Power

5. Religion / Spirituality - My Way Or The Higher Way

6. Culture & Entertainment - A Truly Special Effect

7. Environment / Creation Care - Global Caring

8. Science & Technology - Supervised And Personal

Worship Is...

Our church staff recently examined what Jesus meant in John 4:24 when he told us to worship in "spirit and truth." In that passage of Scripture, worshiping "in spirit" was a direct contrast to worshiping at an external location (either the Jewish temple in Jerusalem or the Samaritan holy site on Mt.Gerizim ). Jesus is saying worship involves the soul, the inner being. Worship, we might say, comes from the heart.But he also said to worship "in truth." In context, this is a reference to himself as the Messiah, the fulfillment of God's plan as expressed in the Bible. His words, his revelation of his plan - in short, his truth - are to guide our worship.

“Worshipping God isn’t just singing, it’s much more than that.” Ever hear something like that? I have, many times. And I agree. But of course that raises the question: if that’s what worship isn’t, then what is real worship? What makes an act of genuine worship… well, genuine?

Passages like John 4:24 lead me to the definition of worship that I’ve gone back to over and over again throughout the years: genuine worship of God is the response of our hearts to seeing God clearly. This makes accurate information about God (in other words, good theology) absolutely essential to genuine worship. The mind is fully engaged in the worshipful act, guiding our hearts in response. When we see God clearly for who he is we have something to respond to. The more I know of God, the more deeply, accurately, and authentically I can worship him.

I like this definition because it encompasses the whole person; heart, as well as mind and will. I think this provides at least two important benefits. First, it helps us understand what makes an act – potentially any act – worshipful. Second, it adds depth and helps us avoid shallowness in worship.

Any action can be an act of worship. For example, we recognize it as an act of love when I spend money on something my wife loves on her birthday. It is the same when our love for God and our appreciation for how richly he’s blessed us makes us take pleasure in giving to the church or to those in need. Our heart is responding to him, and out of gratitude and love we spend money on the things that matter to him. That makes generous and cheerful giving an act of worship.

The same idea applies to any area of life. Taking time to study my Bible, serving people or the church, obedience to God’s moral standards, etc., these can (and should!) all be responses to who God is. And when they are, that makes them a form of worship.

This also helps prevent worship from devolving into mere sentimentality. Worship isn’t so much about creating an experience or an emotional moment. It’s about helping worshipers see more and more clearly who God is and what he’s done, and then providing opportunity for people to respond to that from the heart.

So the question becomes, how can I live my ordinary life in a worshipful way? How do I do laundry, raise children, pay bills, go to work... as a response to who God is and what he's called me to do?

How easy do you find it to live all of life as an act of worship? What have you found helpful in doing so?

Community: Now Only $14.95 Per Person!

I’ve been thinking a lot about community lately. And I’m not the only one; community is high on the priority list for most people who attend a church in America today. But while community is important to almost everyone, that’s about where the commonality ends.

It seems there are as many different opinions of what church community should look like as there are people. The church I pastor, like many other churches, is made up of all sorts of different people. We have different church and denominational backgrounds (including many with none at all), different personalities, and different life experiences. This can lead to different ideas about how “community” should function.

With so many different opinions, how do we experience community at church? In fact, what is God’s ideal for church community? Interestingly, the Biblical phrase most frequently used to describes community is “one another.” As in pray for one another, bear one another’s burdens, encourage one another, be kind to one another, exhort one another, teach one another, admonish one another, be patient with one another, and love one another. Two things stand out in my mind as I examine this Biblical list of “one-anothers.”

First, Biblical community is all about, well, one another! Community does not mean a few insiders reaching out to the masses. It isn’t mainly about the few pastors or elders of a church pursuing each member, which would make community a top-down thing; something done to us. Rather, the Bible is describing community as all of us reaching out to all of us. Biblical community is a delightfully organic thing, engaging every person in a thriving dance of giving and receiving. Because community is not a one-way thing, the person who walks in to a church, sits down, and waits for community to happen to them is going to be waiting a long time. And the person who goes from church to church doing this, evaluating each one on how relational the church is will almost assuredly never find what they're looking for.

Which leads me to the second thing: a direct implication of the “one-another” language in the Bible is that community is not something you find. Community is something you help make. Many people bounce from church to church looking for community the way we might hop from store to store in search of just the right plasma TV. But because of its one-another nature, community can’t be boxed and put on a shelf for discovery. Community is not something we find at church; community is something we bring with us to church.

Community happens when I determine to be a one-anothering kind of person,
and I seek opportunities to share love, grace, patience, encouragement, and burden-bearing with those around me. It does not require me to have a socially outgoing personality. Rather, it requires me to spend enough time getting to know people that I know what needs they have, and what will encourage them. Then it requires me to take a little risk, by stepping out and meeting that need.

At that moment, you’re touching another person’s life powerfully. You become Jesus to them, you begin a strong relationship, and you make God’s church a little bit more like what he wants it to be.

And that’s way better than anything you can get from a store.

A Dawning Realization, Which I'd Rather Not Admit...

...is that God changes me most, and makes me a far better, more Christ-like person through pain. There, I said it. Yuck. Not a huge fan of pain.

But it's true. There's something about being stretched to a breaking point by stress and difficulty that stretches and expands your character as well - if you let it. I'm coming to see this ever more clearly, through experience. When I come out of really challenging times, depleted and drained, I find myself strangely more empathetic; more sensitized to other people. I tend to sympathize more easily with their pains, and I also tend to appreciate other people who are naturally compassionate more readily. In other words, I'm a bit more compassionate myself for having been stretched.

I got to thinking about all this recently as we worked through a particularly intractable pain issue with Amy. We've learned how to cope with chronic stuff for the most part, which is good because like most guys I do NOT appreciate the feeling of not having full control over my circumstances. I also find that difficulty in my bride's life is much harder for me to handle than in anyone else's life, including my own. She's something of an Achilles' Heel, you might say. So this recent bout really frustrated me.

As always, God provided some answers and the ability for us to act on them. So we're "through it" for the time being. But I was just telling her that now, on the other side of it, I find myself changed. Why is it, I wondered aloud, that God has to use pain to change me? (And why does she get the unlucky task of being the main way for God to get my attention? What a lousy lot... sorry babe.) Most likely, pain is the road to change because under normal circumstances my life is pretty good. I'm generally in control and generally happy with the results. At such times I fall easily into a self-satisfied state, and lose my focus on the big picture. It is then that the worst of my nature can take over, and I can find myself task-oriented and not sufficiently engaged with other people.

That reminded me of a saying that a friend shared with me years ago - I don't know where it originated - and he asked me what I thought of it: "God cannot use someone greatly until he has wounded them deeply." I wasn't sure whether I agreed with it back then, and I'm still not entirely wild about the way it's worded. But I think it may be on to something. If that statement is saying that pain and difficulty can stretch our capacity to care for others, and that we thus become more like Christ when we walk through dark times, then I'm increasingly inclined to agree.

At the very least, I know that for this task- and intellectually-oriented person the times that strain me most are the times that increase my capacity for love the most. First of all for God and the future, unshakable kingdom he's promised us in Hebrews 12:28-29. And because of that, greater compassion and empathy for other people, whom he loves.

Whether I'd like to admit it or not.

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