Saturday, May 08, 2010


I read this somewhere a long time ago: It seems that everyone has a vested interest in something, and consequently we will go to almost any extreme to avoid change. We expend a considerable amount of energy trying to keep things just the way they are. To confront change is to confront a threat to our place in life, to our self image. The tides of change lap at the foundations of our lives, eroding those things which are vital to our self understanding and our relationships with people and the world around us. We're committed to the proposition that the best way to do anything is to do it the way it has always been done. To do otherwise is to be lacking in compassion. It's unpatriotic, even treacherous. There's security in following the herd; being a part of it.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

A Life-Changing Experience

Recently a person mentioned a book that is currently a best seller. Her friend told her that reading the book was a life-changing experience. I read the book. It's a book about heaven. It's a good book, much too long, but it definitely is thought-provoking and worth reading.

What caught my attention was that reading of the book resulted in a life-changing experience. I immediately thought of other widely read best sellers that produce the same comment; reading the book was a life-changing experience. Then I tried to think of the last time, or any time for that matter, when I heard anyone say that they read the Bible and it was a life-changing experience. I could only remember the Gideons who came to our church each year and told stories about people whose lives had been transformed by reading bibles placed in hotels and motels. They were tremendously encouraging and inspiring stories about the power of God's Word to transform lives.

Then I wondered; is it possible that the Bible is so readily available, so common, especially if you are a churchgoer, that while we honor it as God's Word, we seldom read it? Reading the Bible is not very exciting is it? And we are all familiar with it, right? We've heard it all before, right? When we read a passage, or hear a passage read, we already know, "the rest of the story." So we need a current best seller to inject something new and exciting into our lives, something that will produce a life-changing experience, right?

When I talk with people about their Bible reading habits I usually hear the same comments. I know I should read the Bible, but I am so busy I just don't have time to do it. Or, the Bible is too long. I don't think I could ever read the whole thing. Or, to be honest, every time I begin reading the Bible I fall asleep. Or, I hate to admit it, but reading the Bible is just boring. I don't get anything out of it.

I have many books on the shelves at my house and many of them have enriched my life. But for me, the Bible is the book that has the greatest life-changing power. Still, I've fallen asleep while reading it. I have found parts of it boring to read. There are some passages that I don't fully understand. Sometimes I have neglected reading it because of a busy schedule. And there have been periods of time when I just didn't feel like reading it and consequently neglected it. But, I have experienced that with hot, best selling books too. I have started reading many of them only to set them aside after a few chapters. So the problem is not limited to bible reading.

So what to do? I can't make decisions for you, so the following comments are aimed at me. First, I will consciously acknowledge that the Bible is God's Word, and that the message contained in it is designed to enable me to understand who God is, and how this relates to my life. Second, I will read books designed to help me understand and apply the message of the Bible in my life, but I will never allow them to replace the Bible as my first source of spiritual truth. Third, I will be honest before God about how I treat the Bible. I will ask for the assistance of the Holy Spirit to develop in me a desire to read the Word and to read it prayerfully and consistently expecting the Holy Spirit to enable me to apply it in my life. Fourth, I will evaluate all other materials I read in relation to the truth in God's Word. Fifth, I will strive, with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, to understand what is true and never substitute personal experience for the truth of Scripture.

That's my response. What's yours?

Now, back to the best seller I read. It was just a few pages short of 500. That's not exactly a short read. I wonder if the person who had the life-changing experience actually read the whole book. My guess, and it's just a guess, is that while the opening chapters were interesting and exciting and "life-changing," she didn't read the whole book. Life-changing best sellers come and go, but the Word of God abides forever.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Last Words

Last words usually reveal a person's private thoughts and feelings. Just before being hanged Saddam Hussein expressed his anger toward his adversaries. “Down with the traitors, the Americans, the spies and the Persians.” He expressed strong feelings that served as a little window into his mind. Contrast Saddam's outburst with one of Jesus' final statements, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)

It's not difficult to understand why some people at the end of their lives express anger or even rage because of what happened during their lifetime. The Bible says we are all sinners, so hard feelings, anger, hatred in varying degrees come naturally to all of us. Following Jesus' example is a worthy objective that too often seems unrealistic, out of reach. Of course no matter what's cooking on the inside, we do our best to look good on the outside. To some extent we are all, at the same time, saints and sinners. And apart from God's grace and mercy we would all perish.

I'm reminded of King David. He was an oriental potentate like Saddam and there were a few occasions when he acted the way Saddam acted. The Bible says he raided villages, taking everything of value and killing the entire population so no one would know that he had done. (I Samuel 27:9) I'll bet many people were overwhelmed with terror when David and his men appeared on the scene. That's something that Saddam would understand. Yet, God says that He found in David a man after His own heart who would do all His will. (Acts 13:22)

David is portrayed in both a positive and negative light in the Bible. Words describing him include intelligent, strong, loyal, courageous, gentle. But he was also deceitful, cunning, unscrupulous, calculating, and murderous. Without question, he was a complex man.

David's last words are interesting. They flow from his relationship with Shimei, a Benjaminite. When Absalom, David's son, conspired to assume the king's throne, David fled from Jerusalem. Along the way he encountered Shimei who cursed him and threw stones at him and shouted at him, “Get out, get out, you man of blood, you worthless man!” (II Samuel 16:7) As an oriental king whose word was law, David could have done what he had done on other occasions and immediately order that Shimei be executed. One of his traveling companions offered to do the job on the spot, but David said to leave him alone. So David and his entourage proceeded on their way while Shimei followed and continued his rant. One commentator describes David's response as, “grace under pressure.” In view of future events it might be more accurate to consider his response as “revenge aroused.”

When the threat to David's authority ended and Absalom was dead, David once again took control of his kingdom and returned to Jerusalem. Guess what? Shimei and 1000 Benjamenites rushed to Jerusalem seeking pardon and begging for the king's forgiveness. “Let not my lord hold me guilty or remember how your servant did wrong on the day my lord the king left Jerusalem. For your servant knows that I have sinned.” (II Samuel 19:19) David generously responded with an oath, “You shall not die!” Sounds like Shimei was off the hook. Not so! This incident was just one more step along the way and could be described as “revenge delayed.” Some say protecting Shimei at this point gave David a political advantage with the Benjamenites.

A short time before David's death he appointed his son, Solomon, king. As David's time to die drew near he gave specific instructions to Solomon regarding Shimei. These were his last words, “I swore to him by the Lord saying, 'I will not put you to death with the sword.' Now therefore, do not hold him guiltless . . . You will know what you ought to do to him, and you shall bring his gray head down with blood to Sheol.” (I Kings 2:9) This might be described as “revenge arranged.”

After David's death Solomon commanded Shimei to live in Jerusalem and threatened him with death if he ever left the city. Three years later two of Shimei's servants ran away. Shimei left Jerusalem in pursuit. It was reported to Solomon and he ordered Shimei's death. Benaiah, Solomon's hit man, without hesitation, carried out the order. Perhaps this could be called, “revenge accomplished.”

Reading this story I get the impression that Shimei's untimely death was a foregone conclusion from the moment he cursed David and threw stones at him. Revenge aroused, revenge delayed, revenge arranged, revenge accomplished. Sweet revenge! And remember, David was a man after God's heart who would do all His will.

There is much about David and the Lord's relationship with him that I do not understand. But there are a few things that give me insight into why God could use a man like David. First, the Bible says that the Lord raised him up. Being the king of Israel wasn't David's idea. God is sovereign. He always accomplishes His will in His way. He is under no obligation to explain to me why He chose David.

Second, when David sinned, and it was brought to his attention, he acknowledged his sin and genuinely repented. That's important! The Psalms give us much insight into the mind of David and there is much there that is good, inspiring and worthy of emulation. For example, read Psalm 51.

Third, when I read the story about David I unconsciously think that he was a worse sinner than I am. In my mind David's sins were much greater, more extreme than mine. I look good compared to him. This is self deception and it's easy to ignore. It's easy to ignore with regard to many relationships in life. Is there any reason for me to think that I am in better condition, more worthy to be used by God than David or than some other person? I don't think so.

And this leads to the fourth point. If God can use a man like David, and He did in a mighty way, perhaps there's hope that He can use a guy like me. Thank God for His grace and mercy.

A person's last words reveal their private thoughts and motives. They reveal a person's character. So the question is, What will my last words be? What will they reveal about me? Will they be a curse or a blessing?

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Restoring Those Who Tumble

Once again the sexual sins of a major-league Christian leader have recently hit the headlines. Everyone was shocked. The sinner's family has been devastated. They will suffer the most as a result of his deliberate sin. A local church is suffering. The secular press has endlessly plumbed the depths of the man's hypocrisy. And the wider Christian community has been given a big black eye. The minister was immediately relieved of all leadership responsibilities. Credit the church governing board and others for acting swiftly. Now we're waiting to see how all of this will play out over time.

Several months ago a similar event happened at the church I attend. In this case it was a staff minister of music and worship caught in an adulterous relationship. It didn't receive the level of media attention as the above situation, but none-the-less it had a devastating impact on the man's wife and family, participants in the music ministry, church membership and attendees, and to some extent on the wider community. Sad! Sad! Sad! Discouraging, disheartening, disgusting, depressing.

Considering all of this, several thoughts popped into my mind:

First: Situations like this are not uncommon. It's a sad fact that through the years pastors and Christian leaders and many “ordinary Christians” have chosen to become involved in sexual sins with all of the horrendous consequences that result. We've seen it in the past. We will see it again in the future.

Second: I'm somewhat surprised that the revelations of sexual sin come as such a shock to people. Certainly we expect all professing Christians, and especially our leaders to live up to a high standard, and the overwhelming majority do. But the Bible is very clear and direct in informing us that we are all sinners saved by God's grace, and that includes our leaders.

We resist accepting the degree to which the Bible emphasizes human depravity. Check out Romans 3:9-18. Romans is the sixth book in the New Testament. Look it up and read the entire passage. There the Apostle Paul quotes passages from the Psalms that drive the point home. “All, both Jews and Greeks are under sin . . . None is righteous, no, not one.” Of course I like to think that this applies to other people and not to me. It's hyperbole, right? No, that passage applies to me and to you. HOW WE NEED A SAVIOR, A REDEEMER, someone who has a remedy for our sin! Even as redeemed people the potential to sin remains. So don't act so shocked. Instead, take a look inside. Check out your own situation and relationships to be sure you are not living in a place of condemnation.

And as you move about the community here's a suggestion. If you are ever in a situation where someone confronts you about a Christian in the church you attend who has brought shame on the name of Jesus Christ due to sexual sin, or any sin for that matter, just smile, and admit what has happened. Then inform them that while the situation breaks your heart, your church is a place where sinners are welcome because it's a place where sin is confronted, where repentance is common, and people's lives are changed because the truth that Jesus Christ paid the penalty for their sin has life-transforming power. The church is where sinners find forgiveness, cleansing and restoration, and encouragement to get on with their lives in a way that brings glory to God and helps others to trust Him and live in a way that honors Him.

Third: The impact sexual sin has within a family is always devastating. My guess is that no matter how much counseling is endured, how much prayer is offered, how much positive progress is achieved in reestablishing love, trust and intimacy, there remains some degree of damage that is never repaired in this life. Life together – if a couple remains together – will never be what it could have been. The tragic results of deliberate sin linger on. And with regard to the first situation mentioned, how does a wife ever recover when she learns her husband is attracted to other men as much as he is attracted to her. (“Where's my snub-nose 38?” she cried.)

Fourth: We have got to overcome the tendency to worship our leaders. I'll bet the church in Colorado will ultimately look for another pastor just like the last one. They have an empty pedestal. I'll bet instead of tearing it down they will find a new leader they can hoist back on to it. It's likely that their whole approach to ministry requires a charismatic leader whom they can follow. We need to avoid that trap. We need to pray for our pastors and leaders, we need to encourage them, and we need to keep an eye on them.

Fifth: How do you restore someone who has fallen? How long does it take? In the first situation there are several high-powered religious leaders who have accepted the challenge of assisting in the restoration process. I pray that with God's help they will be successful. So now an intensive and extended process of counseling will be undertaken. Some have predicted it could take three to five years to complete. Maybe so.

I'm no expert, and while there probably are issues that require attention over many years, I believe the fundamental job of recovery can be accomplished promptly. This is where many, if not most people will strongly disagree with me. Here's my bias. In my estimation our evangelical culture tends to be a bit soft and effeminate when it comes to dealing with this kind of issue. We need a more direct, masculine approach that gets people more quickly back on the track of obedience.

Regarding the first situation, instead of choosing counselors primarily from ones own circle of mentors, choose a qualified person from another group. Let me get right to it. In stead of placing him under the care of someone like Jack Hayford (a wonderful, capable Christian pastor), I think the “client” would make more rapid progress in recovery under the supervision of someone like Jerry Falwell. The process would focus more directly and intensely on the issue at hand with less chance for subjective elements to muddy the counseling waters and unnecessarily extend the process. Too often the counseling process mandates the, “This process will take many years,” approach. Sometimes it even deteriorates into a kind of “flesh management program” that never ends. (See Romans 7)

Sure, we want to get at the root of the problem, and perhaps you have to muck around in the dark corners of the human psyche to do some of it, but the fundamental goal should be three-fold: Achieving a clear recognition of the sin committed, coming to the point of true repentance, and the gaining of some reasonable assurance that the “client” will never do it again. If you can accomplish those three major objectives – and it doesn't take forever to do it - you can safely release the counselee to resurface and function in public, and then deal with the remaining issues over the short or long term as necessary.

Now that you are totally disgusted with my crude, superficial, unenlightened, uninformed comments, please restrain yourself as best you can because I am about to reveal my true barbarian inclinations. Let me suggest a direct, effective initial path toward restoration with regard to the worship leader. I think three or four of the elders should have taken him out behind the church, in back of the dumpster, and beat the crap (you know with I really mean!) out of him with an intensity that would forever impress on him the significance and magnitude and unacceptability of what he had done. On second thought, recruiting a few of the guys on the parking crew would have been more effective. They have extensive experience dealing with the more raw, objective expressions of human perversity as they attempt to fulfill their traffic directing duties. They would be better prepared psychologically and physically to do what needed to be done.

It's amazing the power such an experience has to focus the mind and enable a fellow to grasp the enormity and gravity of the situation in which he finds himself. A person usually straightens up fast, and then, with a clear mind and in cooperation with counselors, professionally trained and certified and credentialed of course, they can iron out the remaining more delicate aspects of their situation over time.

Sad to say, the direct approach to behavior modification I'm suggesting is probably not feasible, in fact, it's probably against the law, so I am not recommending it. Shoot! Guess we'll have to get along with the, “This process will take many years.” approach.

I remember an incident many years ago when I was in the military. One fellow found it nearly impossible to take showers. His behavior developed into a major social problem within the community of G.I.'s. Subtle comments and gently offered suggestions were tried, but the offending guy ignored them. So one evening he experienced the direct approach. Yes he did! Several fellows grabbed him and, in spite of his strenuous efforts to escape he was dragged kicking and screaming into the gang shower, stripped of all his clothes and scrubbed down with a big brown-bristle brush and a bar of Fels Naptha soap.

After removing a couple of layers of his epidermis he was rinsed off, handed a towel and counseled that it would be a good idea for him to take showers on his own in the future. Guess, what? No more problem. From that time on he was Mr. Clean. He may have had other psychological problems needing attention, but the immediate problem was quickly and satisfactorily taken care. Oh, yes, there's nothing quite so effective as the direct approach.

Perhaps it's against our laws to be too direct in attempting behavior modification, but it seems to me the Lord does it. Remember Jonah's three days in the stinkin' belly of the big fish? Could the Lord be charged with evangelist abuse? The direct approach sure got Jonah to do what he needed to do. Sure, his attitude needed longer term attention, but his behavior sure changed fast. And for society at large that's what is most important. You can delve into his relationship with his mother, or the effect that his bed wetting experiences in high school had on him, but that's, as I like to put it, is something to consider after business hours.

And remember Jacob wrestling with the angel. The angel gave him a whack on the hip and Jacob walked with a limp for the rest of his life. Was that direct or what? A life-changing experience. Would you consider it patriarch abuse?

Peter denied the Lord three times, once with a curse. Now I know adultery is the mother of all sins, but denying the Lord, and that with a curse, is not something to brush aside. How long did that restoration process take? The Lord LOOKED at Peter, and Peter was crushed. Fifty days later, on the Day of Pentecost, he was the headline evangelist at one of the most important evangelistic crusades in history. He got THE LOOK and he never again denied the Lord.

I've never physically seen Jesus, but in the process of reading the Bible on several occasions by the Spirit of God I have gotten THE LOOK. Life is never the same after THE LOOK! You simply can't go back to your old way of living.

I'm in favor of repentance and restoration, and I prefer that it be sooner rather than later. I can think of a few who have experienced it. Sandi Patti's journey was not easy. It took some time, but she is back on the concert circuit. Three cheers for her. So is Michael English. And Jim Bakker is back on TV raising funds for a new international ministry center. So I expect to see a minister of music restored, and I don't think it should take a decade to do it and I want to know how it is progressing.

So what to do in the meantime? It troubles me that after a big Sunday expose, months go by with no mention of how he and his wife and family are progressing in the restoration process -if there is one. I haven't even been able to scratch up a morsel of gossip. If I could find out where he is working, if he is working, I might “bushwhack” him. I've had jobs where I sometimes had to take extreme measures to make my pitch to a prospect. So on a few occasions I just showed up unannounced at their place of work hoping I would get in to make my pitch. Sometimes it worked.

So I thought if I could find out where he works, someday I'd just march in and try to see him. If successful I'd tell him that I missed his ministry, that I thought his behavior was disgusting, that I hoped he was truly repentant, that he was making good progress in the restoration process, and that someday he would find a new place in ministry. Then I'd just ask how it was going. Maybe some day I'll do that, for my own satisfaction if for no other reason. Since I'm not getting any information through the church, maybe I should just take direct action myself and go to the source to find out what's happening.

In-the-meantime I have a three part prayer that I pray everyday. Assuming and believing that he is truly repentant, first I pray that he makes very positive and rapid progress in restoring the best relationships possible with his wife and family. Second, I pray that he makes very positive and sooner-than-later progress toward new opportunities for future Christian ministry to whatever extent the Lord has that planned for him. Third, that if he is not repentant but is continuing to walk in disobedience, that the Lord will beat the you-know-what out of him, and do it by delegating the job to a few husky members of the parking crew, or by whatever means He considers most appropriate.

I think that about covers it. It's time for me to take my medication and lie down for a little nap.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006


Surprise – Sex is a big deal among Evangelical Christians. Of course that's no surprise because our culture is saturated with sex. MSNBC has posted a series of articles by columnist Brian Alexander in its America Unzipped, Sexploration series which brings us up to date on current trends in sexual behavior. Much of the information and the quotes in this blog were taken from his reports. You can find them at

You won't be surprised, in fact you probably already know that stores offering adult products are going mainstream. No more dimly lit, seedy looking establishments on the interstate service road. Now they're popping up in shopping areas alongside Target and Walmart.

In Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, Alexander reports, you can shop at the 11,000 sq. ft. Fascinations romance superstore, one of its fourteen stores, where you can purchase erotic goods of every conceivable type; sex toys, lotions, lingerie, porn, bondage gear, dildos, and even adjustable nipple clamps. Customer service is emphasized. Sales personnel, many of who are under the age of 25, are “romance consultants.” Sixty-four percent of the customers are women. Business is booming. Adam and Eve, a mail order business, has plans to open 27 stores, so there should be at least one adult superstore in your neighborhood in the near future.

Initially there was opposition to these stores, but the establishments have proved to be good members of the community. There's no stigma attached to shopping there. One woman commented, “I shop at Sex World about twice a year. Being a single mother, toys are safe. My toy won't give me a disease, knock me up, cheat on me or leave me. Also I can replace it without strings attached.” Can't be more forthright and practical and liberated than that.

You will not be surprised to know that women-only, passion parties are rapidly gaining in popularity. Perhaps you have already attended one. These are Tupperware style, multi-level marketing home parties that sell exotic adult products. One salesperson who is a rep for Passion Parties, based in Las Vegas, earned a personal income of $100,000 in 2005 from party sales in small towns and rural areas in eastern Kansas and western Missouri. Nationwide the company does more than 128,000 parties a year racking up about $100 million in sales.

Passion Parties and other companies are seeing double-digit growth. As one salesperson puts it, “These women want the same excitement, orgasms and variations as the women they see on Sex and the City, and they are surprisingly tolerant of the ways others might seek the same.” Since they meet in homes they have no worry about what anyone else might think. One woman responded, “I think searching for self-satisfaction is just another means for fulfilling the great void that one is missing within their life.”

The adult superstores and home passion parties may not surprise you, but the ministry of pastor Joe Beam, founder of Family Dynamics, in Franklin, TN, might surprise you. Joe believes married Christians ought to be having more – and hotter – sex. He is working diligently to liberate evangelical Christians from the debilitating effects of negative sexual inhibitions.

Joe is participating in a growing trend, “to bring sex out of the shadows, educate believers, and relieve their guilt.” Apparently there are a lot of folks who appreciate what he's doing. He argues, “If the Bible does not forbid it, you can do it.” He enthusiastically endorses everything from oral sex, to phone sex, to sex toys. He'll even include anal sex, as long as it does not result in physical injury.

His presentations on oral sex include a mock demonstration with suggestions about how men can adjust their diet to improve the taste of their semen. Wow! “His presentations seem to have a liberating effect on these couples,” says columnist Alexander.

Are you surprised now?

Here's the deal. We live in a culture where everything is sexualized. It is reflected in every component of life; movies, television, food and beverages, the cars we drive, the way we dress – everything. This is a natural outgrowth of the post-Christian philosophy that dominates our culture that says, there is no truth, only truths; there are no rules, only individual choices; there is no God, the individual is responsible and capable of determining his or her own destiny. So its no wonder that we are dominated by a “grab the gusto” approach to living.

The Christian world view stands in sharp contrast, even opposition to the secular mindset. Christians believe there is one God, the Creator of everything, the Redeemer through the blood of Jesus Christ of all who trust in Him. He orders their lives according to His standards which are revealed in the Bible. Even a slow-witted person like me immediately realizes that the Christian and the secular world views are incompatible.

According to the secular world view uninhibited sexual activity is a liberating force, one that reflects the free choices people make that affirm individuality and enhance personal relationships. But the talk of enhancing relationships is just a cover for what is really the never-ending quest for self gratification. In the secular world of sex you don't even need a partner, a vibrator will do.

From the Christian perspective, sexual activity is anchored in the marriage relationship. The ideal is one man and one woman for one lifetime. And the concept of sacrifice and nurture, that is, seeking the benefit of someone else first, is a defining characteristic of a Christian sexual relationship. That's why the Bible says, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” And the Bible also teaches us that love is patient and kind and does not insist on its own way.

But today many Christians strive to live in both worlds. They want to maintain the high ideal of mutually-satisfying sacrificial, nurturing, God-honoring sexual expression in marriage, but at the same time experience an exotic, immediate sexual self-gratification like what they see when watching Sex and the City, or Desperate Housewives.

But the world views are incompatible. A choice must be made. Choose to emulate Christ's love for the church in your sexual relations and you will find true satisfaction that includes unlimited ways to show love and enjoy pleasure. Choose to emulate the secular world's striving for self-gratification and you will be running on an endless treadmill of struggling to achieve ever higher levels of erotic excitement that never produces meaningful, lasting satisfaction.

Let's face it, this trend in “relationship enhancement” or “freedom of sexual expression” is bogus. It's simply another example of the influence of the self-centeredness, and self-gratification dominating the secular culture seeping into the lives of professing Christians. You get the impression that most Christians are imprisoned in a world of sexual repression, overwhelmed with guilt, convinced that sex is bad, desperately seeking to be liberated. The truth is that the greatest potential for sexual satisfaction will be found in a marriage relationshp between a man and a woman whose mutual desire is to honor Jesus Christ and one another in every aspect of their lives.

And when did semen achieve a spot on the food pyramid? Is it a gourmet item, like escargot or perhaps it is similar to an after-dinner Drambuie? This is insane! And I hate to bring it up . . . but women especially should be aware of the “gag” factor. Seems for many women oral sex causes them to gag. So it is with liberation; it comes at a price and does not always lead to immediate bliss. Perhaps oral sex is like Scotch, it's an acquired taste. My guess is that most women would choose not to participate in it. Those who do, do so because their husbands, or worse, their boyfriends insist on it. I can hear it now, “Honey, please perform oral sex. Once you overcome the gag factor the experience will enhance our relationship. It will enable you to truly be the woman Christ wants you to be. “ I don't think so!

And Joe's Bean's willingness to include anal intercourse in the evangelicals menagerie of sexual practices is ludicrous. Consider this: The rectum was not made for intercourse. Its at the wrong angle. It's the wrong size. It doesn't have the tough lining the vagina has. It is anatomically incorrect not only because the rectum is too narrow, but it also has a sphincter muscle that is not lubricated and which is open to contamination by feces and parasites and can result in a dilation with subsequent leakage. In contrast, male and female sexual organs are complementary in form and natural lubrication. So Joe, don't tell me that anal intercourse is simply satisfying a God-given desire within a life-enhancing relationship.” It's nuts!

I am no expert in sexual matters and I have no intention of trying to dictate how people should behave sexually, but give me a break, is there no limit to the nonsense that's being spewed about today?

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Is Witnessing Like Selling Insurance?

Many people are irritated or offended when people begin telling them about their personal religious beliefs or begin “preaching at them.” Well, they can relax. The odds that anyone will preach at them in any direct, confrontational manner, is very slim. That's because most of the people who worship in places where the sharing of one's faith is encouraged, don't do much of it.

It's not that they are unwilling to do it. It's just that they think their knowledge of what they believe is limited, they are not sure how to express themselves and so they are afraid they won't do it correctly. Consequently they think they will not say the right things, they will be incapable of answering questions that might come up and they will run the risk of unnecessarily offending someone. So there's a big gap between their perceived ability to witness and what they believe their leaders expect of them.

To close the gap classes and seminars are offered where methods of evangelism are presented. Sometimes they are boiled down to three or four steps (a mini sales presentation) to lead someone to make a commitment to Jesus Christ. Often the methods are helpful and effective. Still, the gap remains. Why?

Too often witnessing is approached like selling insurance. And too often those who respond to the message do so like they're buying insurance. The witness presents the problem; your sin with the certainty of judgment to come. Then the solution; Jesus Christ died for your sins. Believe in Him and your sins will be forgiven, you will receive the gift of eternal life and gain heaven when your life on earth ends. Then the press for a decision; Trust in Him now. Those who do are “covered.”

But witnessing is not like selling insurance. Certainly the problem, the solution and the decision are components in any response to the gospel, but witnessing is more like telling a story. It includes the facts, and calls for a response, but it also includes the feelings. If I may say so, there's an element of romance in it. After all, the Church – all believers in Jesus Christ – is the bride of Christ. So when Christians witness the objective is to do more than just get people “covered.”

Witnessing is inviting friends and neighbors to enter into a life-long relationship with a person, Jesus Christ. For too many people, becoming a Christian is like buying a product that offers benefits, rather than entering into a life-long personal relationship with the living God. Both elements are essential; the facts concerning the gospel, and the personal relationship to which they lead.

Let me explain it this way. I have an auto insurance policy. I'm covered. But I don't have a personal relationship with my policy, or even with my insurance agent whom I found on the Internet.

I recently submitted an accident claim. Rough gravel falling off an oncoming truck damaged the hood of my car. I reported the accident to my insurance agent. She asked what happened. I told her rocks came flying through the air and damaged my car. She said, “Good. If the rocks are 'flying' you're covered. If they are not flying you are not covered.” I was unaware of that distinction, but I didn't care because in this case I was covered. The insurance company paid the bill and my car looks like new.

If I have to file another claim someday, so be it. In the meantime I don't feel any need to spend time reading my insurance policy or getting to know my insurance salesperson better. I'm confident I'm covered, or at least I think I'm covered. That's all I care about. One thing I can say for sure. I never want to be in a situation where I am called upon to explain the benefits of my policy to another person, much less to attempt to persuade him or her to get the policy I have. I'm glad I'm covered, but don't expect me to sell my policy to someone else.

Telling someone about my faith in Jesus Christ is not at all like selling an insurance policy. It's more like telling someone the story about my new car. No one has ever knocked on your front door or sashayed up to you in the mall and said, “Let me tell you about my insurance policy.” But if your neighbor gets a new car he or she will tell you more than you want to know about it and about the great deal they got.

I don't know everything about my car, but I know a little, and what's more, I am emotionally connected to it. My car means something to me, maybe more than it should. It's a 2.0 turbo, goes like a rocket, tracks as straight as a laser, gets 32 mpg on the road and has a nice big comfortable seat with 6-way power. How's that for a quick testimony? And I haven't attended a dealer sponsored seminar about, “How to tell my neighbor about my new car.”

Since purchasing the car I have spent some time reading the owner's manual. So over time I have learned how to set the clock, load CD's, and lower all the windows using the ignition key. I read the owners manual to learn how to take good care of the car so I can enjoy it for a long time. The longer I own the car, and the more I learn from the owners manual the more things I have to talk about. It's what I know about the car and my personal connection with it that is the key to talking about it.

Many years ago a high school age Sunday school class I taught asked for some lessons about sharing their faith with other people. They wanted to learn how to witness. At the beginning of the first class I asked them what they wanted to share with other people. They said, “That Jesus died for their sins.” I asked, “How do you know that?” They said, “It's in the Bible.” I asked, “Where?” They fumbled around a little and then someone quoted John 3:16, “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son so that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

Good answer! But it didn't take long until we all realized that beyond quoting John 3:16 they didn't have much to say. They were true believers in Jesus Christ, no doubt about that, but they had been under the influence of the insurance method of witnessing. They thought they were required to sell the gospel. Their knowledge and level of maturity were limited so they felt inadequate to “explain the details of the policy.”

So we shifted the direction of the class. We began by studying what the Bible has to say about Jesus Christ and what's involved in trusting in Him. Then I encouraged them to talk about their relationship with Jesus Christ in their own words, emphasizing that there is not just one way to do it, and that what they say represents their present level of spiritual understanding and maturity, and that's ok. Then I encouraged then to study the Bible on a regular basis so they would grow in their faith in Jesus Christ and consequently become more capable of sharing their faith with others in greater depth.

I encourage you to do that. Forget attempting to sell the gospel. Rather, look for opportunities to introduce your friends and neighbors to your Lord and Savior and Friend, Jesus Christ. And in your own words, tell them the story of how you met Him, and why He means so much to you. It's as easy and natural and satisfying as telling your neighbor about your new car.

Several years ago I was ready to trade cars. I went for a ride with a friend in his new car. I had already decided what I was going to buy and I hadn't given any consideration to the car he bought. I was impressed with the look and ride of his car. He described some of the features and explained what he liked about it. He didn't try to talk me into buying one. We just went for a ride and he explained what he liked about his car. Two weeks later I bought a car just like his. I never expected to do that. It was a great car!

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Religion Is Like Soap

I grew up in a religious tradition that believes Jesus Christ paid the penalty for our sins when He died on the cross, and that He was raised from the dead to demonstrate that He accomplished His mission. Trust in Him as your Savior and your sins will be forgiven. In a nutshell, Jesus Christ offers forgiveness of sins as a gift for which He has paid the price in advance. That's good news! If the message is true it is certainly something worth sharing with other people. Indeed, the folks I hang around with are constantly reminded that the good news is not only worth sharing, but we have a responsibility to do so. We must tell people what Jesus Christ has accomplished for us and freely made available for all who will trust in Him.

The process of doing this is called witnessing or evangelism. Evangelism is accomplished through a variety of methods. A Billy Graham Crusade is one example. Some participate in door-to-door evangelism. Occasionally you will see someone standing on a street corner preaching to the people passing by. Pastors and church leaders do it during regularly scheduled church services. Much evangelism is accomplished one-on-one, friend-to-friend, neighbor-to-neighbor. According to my tradition it doesn't matter how you do it, just that you do it.

Many people are offended with the very concept of evangelism of any kind. For them religion is . . . well, it's like bath soap. It doesn't make much difference what brand you use. Religions are basically all the same so any brand will do. You'll get scrubbed up, you'll look a little better, and you'll smell a whole lot better. (A friend once told me that the difference between us was that after he took a shower he looked beautiful again, and that after I took a shower I looked the same. Ya, he was a friend.)

These folks believe its wrong to say that one brand is superior to another. It's offensive, divisive, arrogant behavior. Common sense should rule. You'll never hear anyone say, “Wow, I switched to Dial and it changed my life. You should switch too and it will change your life.” That would be tacky, imposing your soap views on others. And you'll never hear anyone say that soap is true. It's just soap. The same goes for religion. We don't ask if it's true, we just want to use it to meet our needs.

What troubles me about the, religion is like soap, idea and the corollary that no one should ever share their personal beliefs with someone else, is that it makes religious faith weak and meaningless. It's not worth sharing. Like a half used bar of soap. You'll never find me going around the neighborhood offering to share it with my neighbors.

But lets assume that there is substance to religious faith. Would I not be a selfish person if I had a faith that was very meaningful to me, and helpful to me in living my life but I kept it to myself and was unwilling to share it with someone who might benefit from it? “What I believe is profoundly meaningful, but it wouldn't be of any value to you.” What?

I think our culture at large has accepted, and become very comfortable with schizophrenic, irrational thinking. We are comfortable living with contradictions. We are convinced that all religions are the same, yet if you study their basic concepts as stated by their founders, you will find that they are superficially similar but substantially different. We reject the idea of absolutes and affirm the idea that things are not true or false, just different, and that it is unacceptable to make value judgments. But when it comes to the actual living of life we constantly rely on absolutes and make value judgments every day. For example, if your employer pays the guy next to you more money for doing the same job you are doing you say it's unfair, not just different. Yes, we have learned to be comfortable living with contradictions. So with conviction we say, “There are no absolutes,” thus using an absolute to deny absolutes. No problem. Everyone does it. It's embedded in our culture.

Believe it or not, there are still a few people around who cling to the idea that there is truth and there are absolutes. Here's what I mean. There is broad acceptance among people around the world that Jesus Christ is, or was a great prophet and moral teacher. But have you ever read the words attributed to him in the New Testament? He made some outrageous claims! Take a look in the Gospel of John. It's the fourth book in the New Testament. There Jesus is quoted as saying, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Is that outrageous or what?

But there's more. On another occasion he said, “Truly, truly I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” (5:24) That's the best news I've ever heard. The classic statement is found in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

There are many other verses that could be quoted which are outrageous by any standard. It seems obvious to me that anyone who considers Jesus a great prophet and teacher hasn't read His words. “I am the way!” That's it, “I am the way. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Is it possible to make a more focused, absolute statement than that? “Perhaps”, you say, “the words were placed in his mouth by his disciples and are not reliable.” Unfortunately the New Testament is the only record we have of his words. If it's unreliable then any understanding of Jesus taken from the NT is just a figment of someones imagination. It means we have no idea about what kind of person he was. And we have no basis on which to state that he's a great prophet or teacher.

But, if the New Testament record is reliable, if it accurately records what Jesus said, and if what he said is true, then it just might make sense to pay close attention to him and to his words. Maybe there's something to it, this trusting in Jesus, something of eternal significance for me, and something of eternal significance worth sharing with others.

I can't end this without mentioning another passage. It's in Matthew's gospel. Matthew is the first book in the New Testament. There Jesus says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Mt. 11:28-30) Isn't that encouraging? And it is true!

Gotta wrap this up. Time to run a few errands. Wow, the list includes a stop at Walgreen's. They have Dial soap on sale and my wife has a coupon. We'll stock up. I think Dial is the best . . . Oh, Sorry! I almost forgot. You might be offended if I try to persuade you that Dial is superior to other brands. I would never knowingly do that, at least not with Dial.

(Scripture verses are from the English Standard Version of the Bible.)