Tuesday, April 21, 2015

WHY I BELIEVE IN TRADITIONAL MARRIAGE

I think weddings are wonderful! I've lost count of the number of weddings I've officiated or attended, but safe to say, weddings are among the most joyous of human passages.

I believe in traditional marriage, but I had never really thought through what that means from a Bible point of view. So I looked up various combinations of husband, wife, bride, bridegroom, man and woman, marry, and marriage to see what I could learn.  What I found took 40 plus pages to print. At first, I thought I'd be a smart-alec and just print the list, but you would probably tune out at about the 25th or 26th verse (plus why should I cheat you out of the fun of looking them up yourself?)  So I picked a few and categorized them.

So with much joy (and in celebration next month of 33 years of marriage!), I present "Why I Believe in Traditional Marriage."

1. Viva la difference:
  • Creation: It all started in the beginning: "So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them." (Genesis 1:27)
  • Compatibility: In the zoom lens account in Genesis 2, we're given the details of this creation: "And the Lord God said, "It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him." (2:18). After Adam names the animals, the account states, "But for Adam there was not found a helper comparable to him." What kind of companion, what kind of helper was compatible with Adam? The answer came after history's first surgical procedure: "And the Lord caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, and he slept; and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh in its place. Then the rib which the Lord God had taken from man He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man." (verses 21-22).  In verse 23, Adam responds by saying, "This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, for she was taken out of man." I've been told by a few Hebrew scholars that Adams' reaction was one of enthusiasm. This was it!
  • Commentary: In bringing the Woman to the Man, God offers this commentary: "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be  joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh." (verse 24). Jesus reaffirmed this pattern in Matthew 19:5, while the apostle Paul reaffirmed it in Ephesians 5:31. If it's in the Old Testament, if it's in a New Testament letter, and if it's spoken by Jesus Himself, it must be a valid commentary!

2.  Getting to know you
  • The act: Almost immediately, we read that "Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived...." (Genesis 4:4). As most students of the Scripture are aware of, the word "know" means "have sexual relations with." This is not surprising, since one of the reasons for marriage is reproduction: "Then God blessed them, and God said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply..."(Genesis 1:28). Notice that reproduction is one of the reasons, not the only reason or even necessarily the main reason for sex. But nobody would argue that it's irrelevant, because without it, the human race would have ended with Adam and Eve!
  • The fact: Not to get too far into Biology 101 (or worse, the dreaded "birds and the bees" talk!), but the Man and the Woman are uniquely equipped for the sexual act. And if we were to get into the conversation about reproduction, it is a biological fact that a man's sperm and a woman's egg are required to create a new life. So we see the constant reference in Scripture: "he knew his wife and she conceived."  "He knew his wife and she conceived." "He knew his wife and she conceived."
    God invented sex and He intended for the Man and Woman to enjoy it, and, through it, keep producing the human race. What a great command to keep!

3.  Famous examples
  • Ruth and Boaz (the line of which produced the Messiah!)
  • Song of Solomon--yeah, I know, the man Solomon blew it and later had a bunch of wives and porcupines, but this erotic romance ballad is a tribute to the love of a man and a woman (and has also served as an allegory of the relationship between Israel and God and later, Christ and the Church).
  • Zechariah and Elizabeth, the parents of John the Baptizer, faithfully married for years without a child, until one day, Zechariah enters the Temple....
  • Mary and Joseph
  • The apostles. It seems that many of the apostles had wives. Reference is made to Peter's mother-in-law (Mark 1:30) and 1 Corinthians 9:5 alludes to the right of Paul to travel with a wife, "as do also the other apostles."

4.  Let me illustrate
  • Marriage is used to describe the union between Israel and God. There are a few examples in the Old Testament, both negative and positive, but one of my favorites is in Isaiah 62, which describes the restoration of Israel. In verse 5, we read, "For as a young man marries a virgin, so shall your sons marry you; and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you."
  • Marriage is used to describe the union between the Church and Christ. After a description of the relationship of husbands and wives in Ephesians 5, Paul concludes by saying, "This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church." (verse 32).
  • Marriage is used to describe the descent of the New Jerusalem. Regardless of your eschatological leanings, this is a beautiful picture: "Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband." (Revelation 21:2)It's no wonder the bride's arrival at a wedding is accompanied by such pomp and majesty! Every wedding is a royal wedding!
As always, I welcome your comments, but please be respectful. Rudeness, name-calling, foul language, and so on will cause your comment to be removed.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

EVERYTHING YOU KNOW IS WRONG (part 1)

It was parody song genius Weird Al Yankovich who said it best:

"All you need to understand is everything you know is wrong."

I've always been one to stand for his beliefs while respecting other opinions. I honestly do not mind if someone challenges my philosophy, because a) the truth has nothing to fear and b) I might just learn something I do not know, thus giving me the opportunity to adjust my beliefs and be the better for it.  Mostly, I could hold to my views because I knew there were like-minded people who also held the same views.

But there is a phenomenon sweeping through American Christianity that has more in common with Weird Al's song than my own stand on the truth. For lack of a better term, it's the "Everything You Know Is Wrong Syndrome." And what is surprising is its source. We as Bible-believing Christians expect our beliefs to be put down by the atheist, the skeptic, or the far-left theological/social liberal, but many of today's contrary voices are coming from within the evangelical culture itself. Otherwise good, knowledgeable, legitimate proponents of conservative Christianity are taking up positions contrary to what is often believed within those circles.

"OH, come on, Timotheous!" you may say. "There have always been various views on, say, the rapture. What makes your view right and all the others wrong?"

That's a very good question.  And if those who want to discuss the rapture, whether it's pre-trib, mid-trib, post-trib or even if there is a trib or if everything is post-millennial, want to sit down with their Bibles and notes and discuss it, I'm all for it. Over the years, I have enjoyed, yeah and verily thrived, on such dialogues. In the end, I never changed my esteemed colleagues' views, nor did they change mine. But we both gained a greater understanding and appreciation of the other's position.

But within the "Everything You Know is Wrong Syndrome," the rapture debate goes something like this: "The pre-trib rapture is a late invention of the church and not a single reputable Bible scholar holds to it."  In other words, you may be in one of those churches where you were taught that there was a pre-trib rapture, but...everything you know is wrong!" End of discussion, debate, dialogue, examination, and so on.

Another example is origins. For some time, it was pretty much a given that evangelical Christians believed in the Genesis account of creation as opposed to evolution. Even those who adopted "accommodation" views (gap theory, day-age theory, and so on) were still convinced that it was God, not random chance, that ultimately brought the universe into existence. But lately, the buzz is that reading an actual week-long creation into the first chapter of the Bible is actually inconsistent with what the Bible really says. Genesis 1 and 2 is simply a metaphorical story that really has nothing to do with origins. You may believe that God created the world in six days, but...everything you know is wrong! While we're used to the secular scientific community and media saying that to evangelicals, it's a little disheartening to hear evangelicals saying it to other evangelicals.

Theological issues, moral issues, and even practical issues are all being summarily dismissed under the syndrome. For example, if you are a pastor, you may think that part of your calling is to bring a sermon. But, according to some very good people I admire and respect,...everything you know is wrong! The sermon is irrelevant, outmoded, and dead (open mic Q & A, anyone?).

So why is there this growing shift among church people to revise long held stands? I think in the case of the sermon, it's an honest and sincere attempt to help equip God's people more effectively. I don't think eliminating the sermon is the way to do it, but at least we can agree on the need and the goal. We can discuss the matter at length, but if the attitude is "everything you know is wrong," then the dialogue ceases.

In some instances, particularly with moral issues, the world has been successful with brow-beating Christians with labels such as "ignorant," "narrow-minded," and even "bigoted."  So who really wants to be stuck with those labels? I want my worldly friends to say, "Yeah, he's a Christian, but he's so open-minded and tolerant."  I want to sit with the cool kids, so I'm going to adopt their point-of-view, even if it means cutting down my fellow believers.

There are other reasons for the "Everything You Know is Wrong Syndrome."  Sadly, some Christians are lazy and uninformed (yeah, that's harsh) and so they don't know enough about their own belief systems to take a stand.  I think other evangelicals are just tired of fighting. I think in this case, the critics are right: we've sometimes fought the wrong battles in the wrong way. In our quest to hate the sin and love the sinner, we've ended up being against everything and not figuring out just what it means to love.. We've come up with pat answers to hard questions and left some hurt people in our wake. And when those who struggle with sin, wrestle with doubt, or suffer with issues leave the church, we react in surprise.  So in our quest to not hurt anybody or not offend anybody or not diminish anybody, we allow ourselves a way out and end up abandoning the views we've long held.

There's got to be another way. I'm going to periodically address some of these issues, not as an "expert," but as a fellow traveler.  But my motivation is a simple one: can someone maintain an evangelical, Bible-believing Christian faith and still engage the issues which so many categorize as "everything you know is wrong?" I'm going to try. And I may end up ticking everyone off. But if I can get people talking again, maybe we can figure some of this out together.

I have a list of items, and I would like to hear your suggestions as well, plus any comments as we go along. But as always, please remember to keep your comments respectful and clean, or else I will exercise the power of the delete button!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

YEAH...I'M A WRITER

You may not know this, but I'm a writer.  Of course, that may be obvious, since I'm writing this blog. But I've written many other things, published things, and even got paid, which, I guess, makes me a professional.

But up until this year, I've never felt comfortable calling myself a writer. I've said that I like writing, but writing and being a writer imply two different things. I don't know why, they just do. There is no pressure in writing, because a lot of people do it.  It's a pastime, a hobby, a diversion. But to be a writer, the stakes go up. For instance, many of you are now looking at this post to find every grammatical, spelling, and punctuation error in order to make judgments on my abilities. "He split the infinitive and he calls himself a writer?"

When you identify yourself as a writer, people want to know two things: what have you written and what are you writing? As far as the first question goes:
  • Besides a semi-regular blog which has been highlighted on web aggregate sites and ministry networks, most of my stuff has been unpublished short stories, plot lines for television shows, skits and plays.
  • Two collections of original, serialized super hero stories (kind of like Marvel and DC, without pictures).  I still have them (The O'Neill Factor Serials and The World of Galactic G) and if a major publisher wants to take the characters and basic plots off my hands, give me a call.
  • An almost finished novel that is trapped on the floppies from a dedicated word processor. Sadly, the processor is obsolete and its proprietary software is not readable by modern computers, so I cannot retrieve the masterpiece (and the fact that some of you don't know what a "floppy" is pains me).
  • In high school, my friend and I wrote a short story that was to be the foundation of gospel publishing empire. A friend who owned a printing press gave us a deal on 100 copies. We gave them away and...that was the end of that.
  • A critical thinking workbook for the college where I was an instructor. I got paid for this, but sadly, the cover designers spelled "college" as "collage," which makes me cringe to this day.
So what am I writing now? A novel. I've let a a few people in on the plot, mostly to get their expert advice in their fields.  They will get a free copy of the book.  I'll even autograph it. But I'm not too open to share at this point because it is a work in progress. The basic plot is the same, but its execution has shifted gears several times since I started writing it. I have no prospects for publishers. I have no extra money for independent publishing. I don't know when I will finish and I don't know when you'll be able to pick it up from Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

I've been working on this novel for several years. But up until now, writing has been a diversion, a hobby, a pastime. But now it's different. Things have changed.

Now...I'm a writer.

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Tuesday, January 06, 2015

MAKING A LIST (BLOG 2015)

Let's see...decorations put away, check. 

Desk organized for maximum efficiency, ummm...in progress.

List of resolutions for 2015, started (paper on clipboard with heading "List of resolutions for 2015".  Rest of page is blank).

Blogging subjects for new year, in progress. Let's see, what am I thinking so far for 2015 posts:
  • Encouraging and instructional posts related to ministry in general and children's ministry in particular.
  • Bible related mini-thoughts (positive)
  • Bible related deeper subjects and controversies (gasp)
  • Thoughts on the "everything you thought you knew was wrong" trend
  • Trivia, commentary, and observations from pop culture and current events
  • Glimpses into my life and travels
  • Maybe subjects suggested by blog readers.  I love looking stuff up that I don't know, just for the fun of it.
Yeah, some of what I usually do, mixed in with stuff from which I usually shy away.  Might make for a good blog.  Check.

Write blog post about future blog posts.

Check.

Oh...Happy New Year!


Monday, December 01, 2014

BE A SCROOGE AND GRINCH!

What do Ebenezer Scrooge and the Grinch have in common?

They are shining examples of the Christmas spirit!  No, seriously, they are!

Don't believe me?  Read the books:

"It was always said of him (Scrooge) that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge." (A Christmas Carol). I can't imagine a more sterling reputation.

In How the Grinch Stole Christmas, it is implied that the Grinch is an honored guest at the Who Feast on Christmas.  What a truly festive figure in the annals of Whoville.

Of course, the Grinch and Mr. Scrooge have something else in common:  they are two characters who
have been defined by their sin.

Sadly, there are many believers today who are in the same situation. They or others around them define themselves in terms related to their former lives.  But listen to 1 Corinthians 6:9-11:

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, 10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.
Pay close attention to verse 11.  After listing all these manifestations of unrighteousness, the apostle says, "And such WERE some of you."  In other words, all these bad things that used to define you are in the past. If you have trusted Jesus as your Lord and Savior, you have a new identity. You are a Christian, a believer, a child of God.  You have a brand new life, so why be identified with what you were before?

Of course, this doesn't mean we will never sin again. Nor does it mean that we get to skip all of the natural, societal, or legal consequences of our actions. Nor does it mean that we should put ourselves in the same situations that would lead us to commit the same sins.  If you were an embezzler before you got saved, you may still need to answer for your crimes. And the church board will not let you help count the offering.

But with those caveats firmly in mind, I would encourage you to quit defining yourself in terms of your former life. It may take work and discipline--energized by the Holy Spirit, of course!--but you can be and act like the new person you are, to the point that people will see it. 

Okay, Grinch and Scrooge: what are the last few lines in your book?

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

WHY SHOULD YOU GO TO A CONFERENCE?

Over the years, I have read many articles about revitalizing your ministry.  And among the principles listed is this one sage piece of advice: attend conferences.

I wholeheartedly affirm this.  If you have an opportunity to attend a local children's ministry conference, by all means go.  If you have an opportunity to attend a larger conference outside your area, do it.  And if you have the chance to go to one of the humongous national conferences (like the Children's Pastors' Conference), you will not regret it. Getting together with people outside your current ministry and learning from experts will only help and challenge you...and maybe even change your whole life and ministry.

That's what happened to me.

It was the late 90's. I didn't know what CPC was.  I was an unpaid children's pastor (the leadership didn't even call it that at first) and I was at the end of my proverbial rope. Although I have had other times in my ministry when I felt like quitting, this particular time was one of the darker times I remember. I didn't sense the leadership had any kind of vision for children's ministries.  I was having a hard time getting volunteers. I was under stress, lonely, and feeling like I had exhausted my internal resources and getting no results.

Every year, we took a group to our local children's ministry network conference. It was a one day session, with workshops and a few vendor tables, and usually a nationally known speaker.  I always got a lot out of these conferences.  But this particular one was different.  After the conference ended, I planned to hand in my resignation.

I don't remember who was leading our worship time.  But one of the songs he delivered was "I Am Child" by Mr. J.  I had never heard of Mr. J, but this song hit me hard.  It talked about something I had always known, but maybe never comprehended; namely, that children have the same power of the King in them as do adults.  I listened....and gulped...and fought back tears. The ministry to children was more than just the children's program at the church...it was vitally, deeply, eternally important!

And then came the keynote speaker. I won't tell you who it was (msg me if you really want to know), but even though I had heard other speakers through the years, this one approached children's ministry like it was not only the most important ministry in the world, but the most fun.  I laughed, I cried, I scribbled notes, and felt I couldn't breathe.  This man was articulating all the reasons I enjoyed children's ministries, plus all the ways that children's ministry could be so much more than a Sunday morning program.

I didn't resign.  Instead, God used that conference to rip into my being and pull out a fire for children's ministry.

I've had other low times.  I've also been to other conferences, including CPC (don't get me started...if you can, you have to go!). I'm no longer the children's pastor (another long post), but the Lord has allowed me to teach some children's ministry workshops.  And to think I almost walked away from one of the greatest adventures of all.

Why do I think you ought to go to conferences?  Because our God can use it to provide the turning point in your ministry. 

That's what happened to me.


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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

AN OPEN LETTER TO CARTOON NETWORK

Dear Cartoon Network:

Many years ago, I heard that one of the perks of basic cable was this channel that ran many of the classic cartoons I grew up with. Sadly, by the time I joined the 21st century and got hooked up, many of the "oldies but goodies" had been replaced with more modern stories and original programming. My visits to Cartoon Network became very scarce. Then came the programming block known as "Adult Swim." My periodic visits to CN slowed to none.

So imagine my surprise--well, not "surprise", more like "oh really?"--when I heard about Black Jesus, described as a hard drinking, weed smoking, obscenity spewing take on the Savior of the world.  I watched the trailer for the series, complete with bleeped parts, and wondered, "did anybody at Cartoon Network think this through?"

I mean, seriously!  After my initial revulsion, and after reading some articles and comments about the show, I understand the premise.  The title character is not intended to be the real Jesus (as if anybody would mistake him for the genuine article). Instead, he is a crazy homeless man who thinks he's Jesus.  I get it.  The plot line of someone thinking he is the Son of God has been done in books, plays, tvs, and movies.  When done well, the device can call attention to the role of religion and identity, the plights of the mentally ill, and society's reactions to those who are different.  But based on the trailer, I feel as though Black Jesus totally misses the opportunity to explore these weightier issues.

I haven't seen every representation of "disturbed man thinks he's Jesus," but in the ones I have seen and remember, the deluded individuals tend to almost out-Jesus Jesus. In other words, they take the meek, quiet, loving stereotype of Jesus to the nth degree, making him almost super meek, super quiet, super loving and gentle, with pious platitudes and all.   Black Jesus, on the other hand, is crude and foul mouthed and violent.  Aside from self-identifying himself as "Jesus," there is nothing in his actions, attitudes, or speech that would identify him as Jesus. Little kids certainly are not going to want to be around him. He is a stereotype, not of the Lord, but of a hardened gang banger or street thug. The opportunity to comment on bigger issues is lost.

Is Black Jesus satire or parody?  I don't know. I have seen some excellent and amusing sketches about Christians, Christianity, and even Jesus. I've also seen a lot that fall flat with Christian audiences. Why? Because the writers of these comedies go for the quick laugh by trying to make fun of a caricature.  They rely on exaggerated claims, half-truths, and prejudices and play these things for chuckles.  It works for audiences who don't really know the subject of the parody, but comes across as cheap and even mean to those who do. You may have the noble goal of lampooning society's attitude toward those who are different.  You may even believe that your interpretation of Jesus sticks it to church hypocrites. But unless you make it very clear that the "Jesus" of this show is a crazy, homeless man, it's just going to fall flat as "cutting edge" social satire or parody or even plain comedy.

Why use Jesus? My sneaking suspicion is that the writers and producers got together and somebody meekly raised his hand and asked, "Excuse me, but won't this offend Christians?" To which the head echelon chuckled and said, "Golly, gosh, yeah it will." I've already seen comments from supporters of the series lauding the show and chiding the faithful for their objections.  Cartoon Network appears to say, "Yeah, we're taking potshots at your Lord and Savior.  You got a problem with that?"

So, Cartoon Network, here's the thing: based on the trailer and the initial comments, I think Black Jesus fails as social commentary, fails as satire, and only succeeds in being deliberately offensive to the Christian community. I don't know your demographics to know how many evangelical, Bible-believing Christians tune in to Adult Swim. I'm sure the born again market won't be watching Black Jesus. I will not be watching and I will not recommend it to my friends. There will be an audience, but I doubt you will win any converts.

Sincerely,

Timotheous