Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Ant and the Grasshopper

A new version...a little different from Aesop's

OLD VERSION: The ant works hard in the withering heat all summer long, building his house and laying up supplies for the winter.

The grasshopper thinks the ant is a fool and laughs and dances and plays the summer away.

Come winter, the ant is warm and well fed.

The grasshopper has no food or shelter, so he dies out in the cold.

MORAL OF THE STORY: Be responsible for yourself

MODERN VERSION: The ant works hard in the withering heat all summer long, building his house and laying up supplies for the winter.

The grasshopper thinks the ant is a fool and laughs and dances and plays the summer away.

Come winter, the shivering grasshopper calls a press conference and demands to know why the ant should be allowed to be warm and well fed while others are cold and starving.

CBS, NBC, PBS, CNN, and ABC show up to provide pictures of the shivering grasshopper next to a video of the ant in his comfortable home with a table filled with food. America is stunned by the sharp contrast.

How can this be, that in a country of such wealth, this poor grasshopper is allowed to suffer so?

Kermit the Frog appears on Oprah with the grasshopper and everybody cries when they sing, 'It's Not Easy Being Green.'

Acorn stages a demonstration in front of the ant 's house where the news stations film the group singing, 'We shall overcome.' Rev. Jeremiah Wright then has the group kneel down to pray to God for the grasshopper's sake.

Nancy Pelosi & Harry Reid exclaim in an interview with Larry King that the ant has gotten rich off the back of the grasshopper, and both call for an immediate tax hike on the ant to make him pay his fair share.

Finally, the EEOC drafts the Economic Equity & Anti-Grasshopper Act retroactive to the beginning of the summer.

The ant is fined for failing to hire a proportionate number of green bugs and, having nothing left to pay his retroactive taxes, his home is confiscated by the Government Green Czar.

The story ends as we see the grasshopper finishing up the last bits of the ants food while the government house he is in, which just happens to be the ant's old house, crumbles around him because he doesn't maintain it.

The ant has disappeared in the snow.

The grasshopper is found dead in a drug related incident and the house, now abandoned, is taken over by a gang of spiders who terrorize the once peaceful neighborhood.

MORAL OF THE STORY: Be careful how you vote in 2010

Monday, September 28, 2009

Recent Survey Indicates Downward Trend Among Churches

The ARIS 2008 survey was carried out during February-November 2008 and collected answers from 54,461 respondents who were questioned in English or Spanish.

The American population self-identifies as predominantly Christian but Americans are slowly becoming less Christian.

• 86% of American adults identified as Christians in 1990 and 76% in 2008.

• The historic Mainline churches and denominations have experienced the steepest declines while the non-denominational Christian identity has been trending upward particularly since 2001.

• The challenge to Christianity in the U.S. does not come from other religions but rather from a rejection of all forms of organized religion.

34% of American adults considered themselves “Born Again or Evangelical Christians” in 2008.
The U. S. population continues to show signs of becoming less religious, with one out of every five Americans failing to indicate a religious identity in 2008.

• The “Nones” (no stated religious preference, atheist, or agnostic) continue to grow, though at a much slower pace than in the 1990s, from 8.2% in 1990, to 14.1% in 2001, to 15.0% in 2008.

• Asian Americans are substantially more likely to indicate no religious identity than other racial or ethnic groups.

One sign of the lack of attachment of Americans to religion is that 27% do not expect a religious funeral at their death.

Based on their stated beliefs rather than their religious identification in 2008, 70% of Americans believe in a personal God, roughly 12% of Americans are atheist (no God) or agnostic (unknowable or unsure), and another 12% are deistic (a higher power but no personal God).

America’s religious geography has been transformed since 1990. Religious switching along with Hispanic immigration has significantly changed the religious profile of some states and regions. Between 1990 and 2008, the Catholic population proportion of the New England states fell from 50% to 36% and in New York it fell from 44% to 37%, while it rose in California from 29% to 37% and in Texas from 23% to 32%.

Overall the 1990-2008 ARIS time series shows that changes in religious self-identification in the first decade of the 21st century have been moderate in comparison to the 1990s, which was a period of significant shifts in the religious composition of the United States.

So what do we make of these statistics? While people may be fleeing traditional churches, it also appears that they are not embracing atheism or agnosticism, but still claim to hold to a belief in God. Many of these people apparently find it permissible to worship God as they please without any formalized religious affiliation at all. What are the causes of disaffection from traditional churches? Why do others believe they can worship God and reject any form of church?

In addition to addressing the basic meaning of the born again experience, John Piper addresses these sorts of questions, and the trends in American religious life, in his new book Finally Alive. Among many good arguments, Piper draws on The Barna Research group and some of their questions to draw distinctions.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Are You Sharing Your Faith?

“What is the most important thing that has ever happened to you?” “What is therefore the most important thing you can do for someone else?” Living for what is important is what the Great Commission is all about.

The first and last thing Jesus said to a disciple was to share their faith.

Matt. 4:1 says "And He said to them, 'Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.'" And Matt. 28:18-20 records, “And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, 'All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.'"

These words apply to all Christians. Nonetheless, statistics reveal that only 2 percent of believers actively share their faith. There is clearly a discrepancy between our public pronouncements regarding the priority of The Great Commission of our Lord and our actions. But “Actions speak louder than words.”

Monday, September 21, 2009

Relationship of Genesis 1:28 and 2:25 to Culture

How does the contemporary church derive its responsibility to develop all levels of cuture to the glory of God from an ancient command to rule over the animals? There are three ways.

I. Historical development. Man’s stewardship would eventually lead him from his humble agrarian beginnings to develop all the earth’s resources as a means to advance worldwide civilizations. For example, a man needs to harvest his wheat. But to do so he needs a plow. To make a plow he needs other tools that he makes from the earth’s resources. To help him make his tools he needs workers. To care for his workers he must pay them. His ability to pay them is based largely on economic conditions, which leads him to theorize on the relationship of economics with politics, social ethics, and religion. This leads him to form cultural and educational institutions that seek a synthesis of such ideas.

II. Grammatical relationship. In Gen. 2:15 the Hebrew word translated “cultivate” is ‘awbad’, which means “to work or serve.” The English word “cultivate” comes from the Latin root, colere, meaning cultivator or planter. The Latin root, colere is also the root of the word “culture,” which is a general term that describes the ways and customs of a people-group or civilization. Consequently, the work of the dominion mandate is an all-inclusive concept that extends to every sphere of life.

III. Biblical Theology. Although the Cultural Mandate was given to the first man its scope extends through the covenants God made with his people in the Old and New Testaments. This continuity is seen in the language of the covenants (Gen. 9:1-17; Gen. 12:1-3; Gen. 15:1-17; Gen. 17:1-22, Ex. 19:5; 2 Sam. 23:5; 1 Kings 8) in the Old Testament.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Gun Rights

Had a brief email correspondence today with a very old and dear Christian friend who for many years has fought for American's 2nd Amendment rights. The chat jogged my memory of another Christian man who, years ago, quipped to me, "You can't defend gun rights from the Bible. Where is the word 'gun' in the Bible?"

I responded, "Oh it's there. It's called 'liberty.'"

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Different Views on Culture Between Paganism and Christianity

Escape from our responsibility to society is not new. 1st and 2nd century paganism held that the material world is bad, but the spiritual world is good. Therefore, many ancients believed that true spirituality was achieved by separation from the material world through knowledge and passage to the new.

Wherever pagan dualism touched people it created shallow indifference to government, marriage, procreation, and and work. Parts of Ephesians, Colossians, and 1 Corinthians were written to combat this vile threat.

For Paul, and for the rest of the biblical writers, the difference between first century Christianity and the pagans of their day was not that Christianity affirmed the existence of a spiritual world, but that it affirmed the material world as good and as a viable forum for life and ministry.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Obama Healthcare

In listening to President Obama's speech on Healthcare last evening, this thought came to mind.

"He who controls your healthcare, controls your body, and he who controls your body, controls you?"

An overstatement? Perhaps a bit. But maybe it can provide a little more food for fodder.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Creation/Redemption

I. There is no escaping the fact that the work of the Son finds its principle expression in the great dual motif of creation/redemption.

A. Creation. While the Father and the Spirit perform important jobs in the creation of the heavens and the earth, John ultimately recognizes the pre-existent Word, the second person of the Triune God, as the Creator.

1. John 1:1-3, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being, that has not come into being” Colossians 1:16, “For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on the earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities –all things have been created through Him and for Him”

B. Redemption. Colossians 1:16, 12-22, “For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins…And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach.”

1. Thus, the Lord of creation is the King of redemption. Biblically, the creation (from which culture is crafted) is no less important in God’s grand scheme than is spiritual experience. Christians are to live “embodied” lives in the concrete world.

II. The Role of Nature in the “Good News.”

A. The ability of creation to serve as metaphor for spiritual truth is replete in scripture.
1. Isa. 40:10. Isaiah’s prophecy of John’s ministry is followed by a reference to the creation that in striking terms is also called to get itself ready for the anticipated arrival of the King. “Let every valley be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low, and let the rough ground become a plain, and the rugged terrain a broad valley” (v. 4).

2. Psalm 42:1-2. The psalmist regularly appeals to the workings of the creation to illustrate a myriad of spiritual truths, including his own need for God. “As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” Further, God’s Sabbath rest from all His work in creating the heavens and the earth serves as the basis for man’s spiritual rest in Christ alone for salvation (cf. Hebrews 4).

3. Jesus’ ministry. He demonstrates mastery over the creation, making the winds and the seas obey Him at His beckoned command. The message is that just as Jesus can still the storm on the outside, He can still the storm on the inside of the heart of man (cf. Matthew 14:17f).

III. The creation as an object of God’s saving intent.
A.In addition to the shifting movement of the creation serving as vivid metaphor of the living hope enjoyed by God’s people, it is more than that. The creation is also an object of the Messiah’s saving intent.

1. Gen. 1:2, Through the sheer act of creation God redeems the world from darkness, makes life to appear, and causes His temple to dwell in the midst of His creation.

2. In God’s covenant with Noah he pledges never again to destroy the earth with a flood, but to delay judgment by regulating the seasons and preserving life according to his purposes. God does not just covenant with Noah and his family, but also with “every living creature on earth” (9:10). Classic theology calls this covenant the Covenant with Nature or the Universal Covenant. This covenant, though it infers God’s eventual judgment upon the earth in fire, also serves as a redeeming action until the final judgment. Galatians 3:17 modern believers have a share in God’s covenant with Noah’s family.

3. See Romans 8.

4. To this point: These facts assume a mutual response: every part of the creation serves and recognizes the Lord’s redemption while redemption includes every part of the creation. Consequently, the creation/redemption are not parallel themes, but demonstrate one, Divine purpose applied to both the natural and the spiritual realms.

IV. The Cosmic Scope of the Gospel

A. Colossians 1:16, “For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities –all things have been created by Him and for Him” (Romans 11:36.

1. Nonetheless, since Adam’s transgression the world at large has been full of people, trends, ideas, and institutions that refuse to acknowledge the Son’s supremacy in everything. The gospel seeks to change that.

2. Colossians 1:19-20, Paul writes, “For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven” Note that Paul does not say that God reconciled only the elect to Himself at the cross, but rather He reconciled “all things” to Himself (see also Ephesians 1:22).

3. People tend to restrict Christ’s death to a payment for the sins of His people at Calvary, but what his blood also purchased is a new creation where all sin, misery, death, and evil will be put asunder. God will renew the lower parts of the creation because Christ paid the price of its redemption. The cross is the fount from which all God’s saving objectives find expression.

4. The comprehensive nature of Christ’s redeeming work directly challenges the narrow perception of the gospel as articulated in the typical, modern-day evangelistic encounter that seeks to tap into people’s dissatisfaction with things generally or life in particular.

B. 1 Corinthians 15. “Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand” (15:1).

1. The common evangelical understanding of the gospel focuses on the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But Paul’s powerful teaching does not end at the resurrection of Christ. Vss. 20-28.

2. New Testament scholar, N. T. Wright, observes of Paul’s gospel presentation, “He [Paul] is emphasizing the universal scope of God’s reconciling purposes; nothing less than a total new creation is envisaged.” Through the remarkable event of the crucifixion all things were delivered over to Christ. It is as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:19, “God was reconciling the world to Himself.” Because Christ created the cosmos for his purposes and glory his blood supplies nothing less than the foundation for cosmic redemption. It is within Christ’s reconciling purpose for the Universe that the individual finds significance and purpose.

3. Those that claim to minister the gospel yet are loath to apply its meaning to the tangible progression of history simply do not understand the full import of the gospel for all of life.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Are Christians to Submit to Government...Always?

"Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer" (Romans 13:1-4).

Paul’s teaching in Romans 13:1-4 regarding Christian submission to government must be seen in light of the whole of the Bible’s teaching. The Bible says that believers are to be in submission to civil government, but also those who govern are to be in submission to God (c.f. Psalm 2, Daniel 4:34-35). No government can say it rose to power on its own (c.f. John 19:11). God has established governing authorities to reward those who do good and to be an “avenger” upon those who do evil. Biblically there is no double standard for good and evil. All nations must honor God’s law or be brought to an end. (Daniel 2:31-35).

The Bible is clear that the magistrate is not free to create and enforce his own arbitrary set of laws to serve his own ignoble ends (c.f. Isaiah 5:20). To do so would be a license for tyranny, something Jesus opposed (c.f. Luke 22:25-26). As a “minister of God,” the civil government is charged with upholding God’s justice, not man’s quest for totalitarian control over others. Nations that throw off God’s law face severe punishment. The blessings and curses that relate to the Law given to Israel apply equally to all nations of the world (c.f. Psalm 82:7).

Therefore, Paul is not giving carte blanche to all governmental actions. Rather, he is pointing to God’s intended design for government. He is mainly concerned with submission to the principle of authority – the function that God has appointed the magistrate to fulfill.

Gary DeMar writes, “Paul is describing what a ruler’s proper function is. The apostle is not making a moral judgment about any particular ruler or political party. Rather, his words describe what civil governments ought to be and ought to do."

The context of Romans 13 reveals that there is no basis to conclude that Paul was encouraging Christians to submit to political oppression. His main concern is submission to the principle of authority as it comes from God.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

What is Culture?

Leon G. Wencelius remarked, “Culture is the fulfillment of purposive molding of nature in execution of the creative will of God.”

T. S. Eliot observed, “the manifestations that we have in society, the way we relate to each other, the way we do business, the way we transact our regular rituals in community, are necessarily drawn from cult or from faith.”

G. K. Chesterton said, “A culture is the accumulation of ritual, traditions, symbols, and habits. Those things which grow out of a people’s perception of what matters most. In other words, a culture is a legacy of faith."

And then there is Ken Meyer’s all-inclusive answer in which culture sounds like everything. "Culture is a dynamic pattern and ever-changing matrix of objects, artifacts, sounds, institutions, philosophies, fashions, enthusiasms, myths, prejudices, relationships, attitudes, tastes, rituals, habits, colors, and loves, all embodied in individual people, in groups and collectives and associations of people (many of whom do not know they are associated), in books, in buildings, in the use of time and space, in wars, in jokes, and in food."

How do I define culture? I am reminded that the Church is married to Christ (Matthew 9:15, 25:1, Revelation 21:9). There are many prescriptive indicators that help define the health of a marriage. A man or a woman may say, “I love you.” But if what they have said is not followed by works, their words are meaningless. Let me apply this reasoning to the marriage of Christ and the Church and argue that if the Church is called to love Christ with her whole heart, mind, soul, and strength, then culture is the condition of our marriage. There is indeed much work to do.