Thursday, May 23, 2013

Mother Nature

Tsunami's, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods,, Mother Nature has been harsh lately.

Who in the world is Mother Nature anyway?

I find it fascinating this idea of "Mother Nature." While the reason for this post is not to analyze the name or concept of Mother Nature as much as it is to speak to the events we call natural disasters, please indulge me for a moment.

First of all, Mother implies a maternal female. So, a softer, gentler kind of image, no? Nature. The forces that swirl all around us and if not reigned in by this softer, feminine Mother capable of destroying us all.

Yet, here is the rub, no one ever really gets mad at Mother Nature. I mean we love it when she is kind and we are slightly amazed and sad when she is destructive but nobody ever really gets mad at her. I mean she's a mom could we?


What if it wasn't Mother Nature who dictates the weather patterns of the world? What then?

So, now for the meat of this post.

If the natural disasters of the world aren't caused by Mother Nature, then, what/who is the cause? I mean isn't that an important question? If we knew the cause, then, maybe somehow and in someway, we could alleviate the happenings of these disasters and live in a much more peaceful world.

*I'm not sure anyone actually believes that by the way, but it is kinda like an unspoken false hope.

And for those on the backside of a disaster it would answer the why question.

The options:

1) God does it.
2) Satan does it.
3) Because of pollution, population. and technology, humanity does it.
4) Total randomness with no rhyme or reason brought about by the evolutionary process.

So, what is the Biblical option?

I have heard many people defend option #1. EX: "Hurricane Katrina was God's judgement on a corrupt and offensive New Orleans." Sound familiar?

I have heard option #2. EX: "Satan is the ruler of this world, so until Jesus comes back he will destroy as he sees fit using the elements. This view can be held with or without a view on the sovereignty of God over Satan right now.

I certainly have heard #3. Just turn on NPR the week after a big natural disaster and you will hear it.

I have also certainly heard #4. Just do the same as #3.

But where is the truth? Is it really the judgement of God every time one of these disasters happens? Does Satan really have that much power in the world today and that every bad storm is a destructive tool of his? Have we really ruined the world so much through our living on the planet and our inventions that these things happen? Is it really all just completely random?

I say none of these options by themselves but shadings from each...shadings.

Does God use natural disasters as tools of judgment? Sure He does. You don't have to go too far into Genesis to get to the global flood during the days of Noah (Genesis chapters 6-9). God swallowed the Egyptian army in the red sea (Exodus chapter 14). He opened up the earth and swallowed up Korah and 250 other for their pride and rebellion (Numbers chapter 16). And that is just within the first four books of the Bible. The book of Job details that God is the master of all things in the natural world. The book of Psalms detail His dominion and control over the elements. Jesus demonstrated that he could calm a storm with three small words (The Gospel of Mark, chapter 4, verses 35-41). Revelation tells of the end of the world and the judgments that will fall some of which will be as natural disasters.

There are many others I could list but this just illustrates that, yes, God uses natural disasters because He has total dominion to do as He sees fit.

Does Satan use natural disasters to bring about death and destruction? I would land on the side of yes even though the direct examples from Scripture are not as specific. What we do know is that Satan is called the "Ruler of this World (the Gospel of John, chapter 12, verse 31)" and "The Prince of the Power of the Air (Letter to the Ephesians chapter 2, verse 2)." 2 Corinthians even calls Satan "the God of this World" in chapter 4, verse 4. We also know from the Gospel of John, chapter 10, verse 10, that Satan "has come to kill, steal, and destroy." So, yes, I believe some natural disasters are brought about by the hand of Satan himself as the Lord grants Him sway to do so.

What about the presence of humanity and our "toys"? Without a doubt, I believe that we have done some damage to the world in which we live. We have not been the stewards that God called us to be at creation in the "tending of the garden" and have instead done exactly what we please in our focus on "subduing creation." There are some things we have done which can not be undone. Ex: extinct animals and overusing certain natural resources.

What about the #4? I believe there is a certain random-ness to some disasters today in as much as it depends on our point of view. As the Lord has said, "For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. (The Gospel of Matthew, chapter 5, verse 45), " so I believe some things just happen in this world of ours. I do not believe in macro-evolution so the end part of number 4 is a non-issue for me and would be a completely separate discussion.

But while there is validity in each of these, it is the common factor that drives my post. What is it that unifys all four of these options?


1) God does it.
- because of sin
2) Satan does it.
-because of sin
3) Because of pollution, population. and technology, humanity does it.
-because of sin
4) Total randomness with no rhyme or reason brought about by the evolutionary process.
 -because of sin

You see, the great answer (by great I mean big not fantastic) to the great question of why did Katrina happen? or Why did the tornado destroy parts OK just this last week? or Why did the tsunami kill thousands of people? should not be answered by trying to decide if it was God, the Devil, humanity, or mere chance's fault. All of those reasons, while partially valid in their own right, when used to answer the why question, are simply creating a scapegoat like we, as humanity, have been doing from the beginning in the days of Adam and Eve. It was Adam that said, "The woman whom You (God) gave to me... (the book of Genesis, chapter 3, verse 12) and by doing so tried to take the blame off of himself and put it onto God.

The answer to the why of natural disasters is actually very simple. Humanity rebelled against God and by doing so sinned. The effects of that sin and the punishment God brought upon the earth (Genesis chapter 3, verses 17-19) have been felt in ripples ever since. So, the answer to the why question is sin. No one is to ultimately be blamed or scapegoated other than us because we are the cause of it all, you and me and the sin I was born with, the sin you were born with, and the sin we have each committed throughout our lives times billions and billions of people.

Does God use natural disaters as a form of judgement? Yes. Sometimes. Because of our sin.
Does Satan use natural disasters as a form of seeking to kill, steal, and destroy? Yes. Sometimes. Because He hates us and he reviles in our sin.
Have we, by our lives and our toys, added to the reality of natural disasters? Yes. Sometimes. Because of our pride and selfishness, both of which are sins.
Are some of the disasters "just because" events? Yes. Sometimes. Because this world was cursed and is fallen because of our rebellion and sin.

When we focus on the why did this happen question, we miss the bigger and more important question.

Why don't natural disasters happen more frequently given the total mass of sin living in the humanity of the world today?

And that question is answered by only one great and glorious answer:


It is His patience, His love, His goodness, His grace, His kindness, His compassion, and His mercy that stops all that we truly deserve from coming upon us.

So as we watch a horrible thing like what happened in OK happen in front of our eyes we should think two things:

1) I was a part of why that happened to those people. My sin contributed to that horrific event.
2) I am so overwhelmingly thankful that the Lord is good to us and that we haven't all been wiped out yet. Thank you God for staying your Holy hand from judging us all, right at this very moment.

Natural disasters are hard things to understand. But we shouldn't be shocked when they happen.

 And please, please....stop pretending as if "Mother Nature" had anything to do with anything. It is time to grow up and start taking responsibility. Adam and Eve would have served us all well if they had done that from the very beginning. Let's not follow in those footsteps.


Friday, May 17, 2013

The Coming Lightening Rod

So far in my ramblings, I have tackled politics and equality and a couple of side growth issues.

I know that all of you (whoever you are) are excitedly wondering, "What is this renowned scholar/blogger going to write on next????" :-) Well, the answer is The Order Salutis.

Why on earth am I picking that? Well, over the last few months, as is reflected in my blog, I have been working through some really healthy concepts of what does Biblical communication of the Gospel look like to those around me. Obviously, since I am a pastor, I see it through that lens, but I have had great conversations about the same thing through the lens of regular "Joe Christian" engaging the world around us.

I decided to revisit the Order (I haven't thought much about it since my ordination) because I'd like to try to communicate each part of the Order, through the medium of a blog, with the goal being to be as clear and straightforward as I can, while communicating grace and speaking truth in love.

Many of you, I imagine, have never even heard of the Order before (unless you just Googled it and read Wikipedia's version) and so this will be a good opportunity for me to communicate foundational Christian stuff to an audience who is unfamiliar some or all the parts of it.

As our culture moves more and more towards pragmatism, syncretism, and tolerance there has been an overwhelming backlash against truth, consistency, and doctrine. I am greatly troubled by two things:

1) The ongoing confusion/lack of distinction between theology and doctrine within Christian circles.
2) The abandoning of and irrelevance towards doctrine in an effort to get away from the divisions caused by theology within Christian circles.

I am greatly disturbed by this because if Christians abandon doctrine then:
1) there is no truth to communicate to the dying world around us.
2) there are no safeguards in place to distinguish between truth and error.
3) there are no distinctives to be held up between faiths, religions, and/or spiritual worldviews.

So, I thought I would spend some time looking at The Order to show the dividing lines between doctrine and theology, to highlight why we need doctrine and must allow grace in theology, and to show the distinctiveness of authentic Biblical Christianity.

Please remember that I am intentionally writing my blog with two main goals in mind. 1) to work out my own views on certain things...kinda like an online journal 2) to communicate as if everyone reading this blog does not know Jesus but is willing to read a Christian's ramblings and see if He is worth believing in.

Lastly, please allow me to detail how I view myself when it comes to faith:

Christian (Defined by Biblical Doctrine)
-  Evangelical (Shaped by Biblical Doctrine)
--- Protestant (Came about to appeal for [protest for] Biblical Doctrine)
----- Reformed (a theology that flows out of Biblical Doctrine)
------- Presbyterian (a form of church government and theology that flows out of Reformed theology that flows out of Biblical Doctrine)
--------- Evangelical Presbyterian ( a denominational partnering that flows out of a form of church government and theology that flows out of Reformed theology that flows out of Biblical Doctrine)

Even as I finish writing the above flow chart, I can imagine different people from different viewpoints taking issue with different parts. It is my hope that, as we journey through The Order together, you will begin to see why this is how I view myself. I am not saying that I am 100% right in this view or that I am above changing  it some at some point but this is where I am right now. The items at the top are shaped by Biblical Doctrine and are thus much more important than the ones at the bottom.

So, for those that are interested, let's explore The Order together. I'm looking forward to it.


Equality #5

I, Jesus, am unchanging in my stance.

This last statement is simply a reflection of the Churches long held understanding that Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

As it relates to equality, I am simply stating that as much as our culture, society, government, or even institutions of faith feel like there is some wiggle room and an ability to change as it relates to certain issues, Jesus remains UNchanging.

Would it make things easier if we could just give a little on certain issues sometimes? Well, I supposed it depends on what you mean by easier.

If by easier you mean more comfortable, then, yes, I suppose it would. But we are not called to be a people of comfort. There was nothing comfortable about what Jesus dealt with on the cross. Nothing comfortable about the lives the apostles lived. Nothing comfortable about the life and ministry of Paul. Nothing comfortable about what the early Church went through. Nothing comfortable about the lives the countless martyrs have given for the spreading of the Gospel of Jesus. No. We are not called to be comfortable.

If by easier you mean that people might be more open to what we say if we weren't so rigid and could give some, then, yes, I suppose that might happen. But let me ask you, "Where would the giving stop?" See, by buying into the idea that we can just "give a little," we open ourselves up to the false idea that truth can bend and adapt. That, my friends, is simply not true. Methods. Methods can bend and adapt but the message and goal of those methods can never bend or the very message or goal we were seeking to communicate becomes like sand instead of rock.

Wavering truth is no truth at all.

So, in reality, the idea that "giving a little" on the truth surrounding certain issues would make things easier is simply not true. It would lead to a lifestyle contrary to the call of Jesus and to a system of truth that is no longer truth at all.

No, we must take our example from Jesus who was unwavering in what he taught and lived out. He is indeed the same yesterday, today, and forever. And if He were not...He would not be true and thus not worth serving and living for.

Equality is something Jesus brought forward as a virtue, but it must remain in its rightful place or it will become distorted and corrupted. We, as followers of Jesus, must be clear and consistent in how we communicate to the hurting world around us. The tone of the equality debate has slipped away from the tone Jesus would have us use. But with that said, we must not lose or waver on the truth of the debate. For if we do that, we help no one...not ourselves, not our neighbors, not the Church, and not the cause of Christ.

May we endeavor to hear the Spirit before we speak and then, once hearing, speak carefully, confidently, and lovingly in truthfulness.


Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Equality #4

I, Jesus, am a big fan of meaning what I say and saying what I mean.

The commitment to "say what we mean and mean what we say" has served my wife and I well over the course of our marriage and as we are learning what it means to be consistent parents.

It was handed down to us by a very wise man and his wife of many, many years the Harvins. Since the night we heard it, we began to try and apply it to our marriage and then to our parenting. As time has gone by, I see more and more clearly that, while Dr. Harvin is indeed a very wise man, it was God who first demonstrated the virtue of meaning what you say and saying what you mean.

As it relates to equality and God's plan for marriage specifically, the God of the Bible has been abundantly clear. Marriage runs the full course of the Scriptures from Genesis chapters 1&2 where God created humanity and instituted marriage between the first man and first woman to Jesus and His affirming of marriage in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 19, to Paul's imagery of Christ and the Church in his letter to the Ephesians, chapter 5, to the final scene of eternity in the book of Revelation, chapter 21.

Of course there are many other places you could point to in Scripture to prove that God has been consistent when it comes to marriage. Despite what the critics say, marriage, the kind of the Bible, the kind of a holy covenant between persons, has always supposed to have been between one man and one woman. Not multiple women. Not two women. Not two men. Not humans and animals. Not between a man and a child. Not between a woman and a child. God has never strayed from this desire for man because "it is not good for man to be alone" and because it points to the relationship we have and will one day forever day (I just made that means for eternity :-) ) with God as we, the Church, are His bride and Jesus is the bridegroom.

Do we find examples of such variants in the Scriptures? Of course! We have an honest Bible full of real people that lived real lives and some of those lives and/or some parts of those lives were in direct opposition to the commands and desires of God. Does that make God a flip flopper or inconsistent? No. It makes us, as members of humanity, inconsistent, sinful, and fallen.

Perspective is everything when it comes to some things. For some, the fact that God does not in any way condone a variation on the relationship He created and called marriage makes God a tyrant. A bigot. A hater of certain people. A being to be rejected and dismissed as irrelevant and old-fashioned.


It could also be said that God is the one true constant in all of creation. He and He alone does not waver. Does not change. Does not live in inconsistencies. And, that my dear friends, should give us peace. Hope. Joy. Comfort. Security. Confidence.

There is one and only one in all that is that is firm and unmoving. He is the one who says what He means and means what He says. I for one will throw my hat in with that one. I mean...who can compare to Him?


Thursday, May 2, 2013

Equality #3

3) I, Jesus, am a big fan of equality but not at the expense of a covenant relationship between one man and one woman which I created and instituted.

So, this is the post bound to be the most divisive in the opinions of those who read it.There are obviously so many ways to take this statement. As I have already laid out, Jesus is indeed a big fan of equality. In fact, if not for Jesus, equality would not be what it is in the world today. We then looked at how the very design of creation itself calls for both equality and diversity. We looked at how promoting equality above all other virtues is actually a diminishing of this great virtue instead of a promotion. And thus we get to the topic of our day.

In our culture today, the battle over "traditional" marriage is being lost, hijacked, stolen, abused, trampled, etc. depending on your personal leanings. For others, marriage is finally becoming and moving towards what it should have been all along: a place for anyone and everyone to enter into a loving relationship with the person they love.

As a seminary friend of mine pointed out, this war over "traditional" marriage stems from the government's involvement in the issue. What was a religious ordinance has become a governmental swamp. I agree, but this is only part of the problem. You see, wrapped up in this whole topic of "equality in who has the right to get married" are a whole list of issues. Let me point out the ones I am mindful of:

1) The word marriage itself. Christians lay claim to it (via God's instituting of it) and they should have the right to define it and defend it.
2) The religious vs. governmental rights and benefits of "marriage."
3) If those who oppose anything but one man + one woman = marriage back off that stance then they are in effect giving a nod to all those other types of "marriage" as OK.
4) If you are a Christian, #3 is a major problem because not only are you giving ground on the Biblical definition of marriage (Genesis 2), but you are allowing numerous possibilities for different forms of relationships that the Bible calls sin to now fall under the definition of marriage (#1).

I realize that there are probably many other shading of the issues and problems that I am not even aware of but for the purposes of this post those are the ones that strike me as important. So what are the solutions?

1) Everyone who has a problem with anything other than the 1 man/1 woman definition of marriage can simply give up. Let it be defined however society decides and just keep your head down and focus on other issues. * Let equality win the day*
2) Argue for and legislate for a separation of religious and governmental marital status. Thus allowing religious people to keep their definitions and the government to have its definition. *Let equality have its day at the governmental level but not the religious.*
3) Keep fighting and hope to sway the mind of the culture. *Hold the position that this is not an area for equality to take prominence.*
4) Any one of the first 3 options and also try to focus on making the marriages that are between one man and one woman as loving and vibrant as possible.
5) Something else?

Problems with the solutions:

1) Societies definition of marriage will become the standard of the day and anyone who opposes or speaks out against it will be labeled as hateful, intolerant, and could possibly face legal and/or financial repercussions down the road. In other words, we can't simply agree to disagree. People will have to agree or pay for it one way or another.
2) While this sounds good and would the be option I would want to see happen, the ramifications to this are staggering. If we take our rosy colored glasses off, we would see that this option would lead to all kinds of chaos at all levels. Imagine 12 people walk into a church on Sunday. Now imagine that all twelve SAY they are married. One man and one woman, two women, two men,  and one man and five women. We are already heading down this road. Doesn't this type of scenario cause chaos and confusion? And that doesn't even begin to describe how messed up it would be at the governmental level.
3) The way this national conversation is going does not show love. It simply doesn't. The tone is wrong. The arguments are wrong. The methods are wrong. And the generations coming up are noticing. Thus the younger generations are more pro-non-traditional marriage than ever before.
4) The second half of this option is essential but the problems with the first half are listed above.
5) ?

So, even though this post is already really long, I simply don't have a great answer. I believe that because God's Word is true and because we are called to stand upon it that the only real option we have is #3 BUT we have got to change the tone of the conversation. We must explain marriage rather than defend it. We must support marriage rather than fight a war for it. We must encourage love according to God's definition of it rather than being seen as haters of those who simply want to love a certain person.

Marriage is not something that can be equalized OR diversified for whomever in whatever way they see fit. God created marriage not for marriage sake but for His creation to understand the type of relationship He wants to have with us and will have with us when time has ended. Marriage is more than a relationship. More than a promise. More than a commitment. It is a covenant. It is deeply spiritual and eternally foreshadowing. It is a gift and a promise of what could be and what is to come.

I must be promoted as a glorious good not a limiting OK (as it often is in Christian circles). People should marvel at marriage not mock it. The Church is losing this issue because we have been lazy in the conversation. Now, we have an up hill battle to convince not only those outside the Church of the place of marriage but also those within the Church of its wonder.

So, that is why I believe Jesus would say he is for equality but not at the expense of marriage. May God use His Church to demonstrate His love for the world through the covenant of marriage.


Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Protecting the sheep or stoning the shepard?

You know...I'm just getting plain, flat out tired of all the bashing that Christians do towards each other.

Surely, I am not alone. Surely, there are more people in the family of God out there than just myself who feel this way. Why must it be that almost every time I scroll through FB, check my email, or simply talk to people at any given moment that I read or hear some bashing comment about this Christian or that Christian, this pastor or that pastor, this ministry or that ministry. I am just getting worn down with it all.

Where in the world is Jesus in all of that? "And they shall know you are my disciples as you love one another."

Oh wait, I know why it is is because we are protecting the sheep. I mean, someone has to call out the warning. Someone has to sound the alarm. Someone has to point out the false teachers. Well, in my observations there seems to be a whole lot of "someones" out there doing all the warning and not too many proven disciples doing the loving.

As a pastor, I get the protecting the flock thing. I really do. In fact, I do it! But, what I am saying is that most of the posts, comments, and conversations I hear aren't really about protecting anybody. They are quite simply gossipy, judging, and condemning communications which are doing more harm within the Body of Christ then protecting it.

I think all the snide comments should cease. The presumptive judgmental attitudes should cease. The divisive, pointless differences of opinion should cease.

The World (our culture and society) already attacks the Church on a regular basis as it is. Do we really need to be just like them in the way we talk about each other?

Finally, let me just say that for all the so-called "protecting, warning, and pointing out" that self-appointed prophets of the Church are doing, what if....just what if you are wrong?

What if the person you are raking over the holier than thou coals is actually a part of the family of God? What if they end up being right in front of you at the judgement one day? What if one day you stop being so "holy" and start really hearing? Maybe then you will see the pain your comments have caused. The confusion your comments have created. The division your comments have wrought.

It ought not to be so. Public media forums are not the place for thoughtless quips about people we don't really know but have only heard, read, or seen a soundbite about. That is not warning people. It is putting yourself as judge over another person's heart, mind and actions.

And that my dear reader, none of us have the right to do. For we are not our Creator.

And this concludes a blog entry to myself. For I have been the chief of sinners in this area. I have stumbled badly in the area. I have led by example in the worst possible way in this area. I am the audience of this post. I am one who must change.

May I love as Jesus loved, warn as Jesus warned, and listen to the Spirit with ears to hear the difference.

Protecting the sheep...but not stoning the shepherd.