Category Archives: Faith

How Will I Testify?

They all shouted, “So, are you claiming to be the Son of God?” And he replied, “You say that I am.” “Why do we need other witnesses?” they said. “We ourselves heard him say it.” (Luke 22:70-71)

I will probably never stand in a formal court to answer for my faith. But, as I read the account of Jesus before the Sanhedrin court, I am reminded that I have the opportunity to stand in the court of public perception every single day to stand up and say “I AM HIS.”

How will I testify…

  • when I am cut off in traffic? Do I respond by tailgaiting, flashing my headlights, waving a fist, or maybe even a little sign language?
  • when a cashier is rude and impatient with me?  Do I respond in kind?
  • when I am tempted to engage in gossip? (Do I even recognize gossip when I hear it? It’s pretty subtle sometimes.)
  • when someone frustrates me by disrespecting my schedule or my plans?
  • when someone else takes credit for my work, or blames me for their mistakes?
  • when I am called out for my own mistakes and sin?
  • when I am tempted to spend time on Facebook (or WordPress) instead of with my family or my Lord and His Word?
  • when I am tempted by my own private sin (and the temptation to avoid confessing that sin in public)?
  • when someone challenges my tradition and my theology?
  • to people who openly and proudly engage in coarse talk and sinful lifestyles?
  • to people in need of prayer or encouragement or physical help or financial assistance?

Does my life testify that I have been filled with love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control?

In the court of public perception, will I be found guilty of following my Savior’s example and proudly proclaiming His message?

Does my testimony say “I am His”?

Will the court say “Why do we need other witnesses? We ourselves heard him say it.”?

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Mistaken Identity

I’m not who I thought I was, and neither is the Church.

I still struggle with an appropriate response to God’s love (nothing I can come up with is enough), and I’m realizing that I have expended much effort on rule-following even when I thought I wasn’t.

Some time ago our elders held a series of classes on church history and passed out a book called “Distant Voices” by C. Leonard Allen.  (Used copies at Amazon for a dollar – what have you got to lose?)  I’m no authority on the Stone-Campbell restoration movement, but reading this book has really challenged who I thought the Church was and is.  I thought that even though the Church of Christ doesn’t have a central governing body, we all pretty much agreed on the same central issues and that Alexander Campbell and Barton Stone came together to reform and restore the Church into the pattern of the New Testament Church.

Turns out that not only was that not their intent, they didn’t even agree on some of the basic principles I thought we all agreed on.  They did not agree on baptism as a measure of fellowship (ch 6, p.39), and they had significant differences of opinion on “the dynamics of conversion, the Spirit’s work, and the Trinity.  They differed on the nature of Christ’s atoning death,  fellowship with the unimmersed, and the Christian’s relationship to government.  And they differed over the nature and demands of discipleship, the possibility of present-day miracles, the earthly reign of Christ, and other doctrinal matters.” (pp. 173-4)

I also thought that the Church of Christ has existed since Jesus died on the cross.  While His Church has existed since then, what we know today as the Church of Christ doesn’t look much like the Church did in the first century. And that’s okay.

In a recent post titled “Lessons from the Churches of Christ,” Adam Wood lamented some of the changes in our musical tradition that he thought were degrading the quality of our worship.  I find it curious that as a Catholic, he’d be worried about the quality of music in a Church of Christ worship service that he never participates in.  But, aside from his thoughts on our musical traditions, he did make what I think are some very astute observations about us (or maybe astute observations about human nature), observations that further challenge my thoughts on my identity as a Christian.

The heart of the Church of Christ’s congregational orientation – a theology of community derived from the Acts of the Apostles – has been reduced in common practice to a mere legalism: “No musical instruments.” Once a theological proposition has been reduced to a legalism, there are two inevitable consequences: circumnavigation and abandonment. Circumnavigation happens when the question becomes, “How can we do whatever we wanted to do anyway, without ‘technically’ breaking the rules?” Abandonment happens when the pretense of technicality is dropped and the rule is simply ignored or removed.

There are two typical ways of reacting to this seemingly inevitable evolution from law to legalism to disregard. Most people go along with whatever trend is currently in vogue, whether actively supporting the change or simply allowing it to happen without comment or resistance. A small minority oppose the change, but usually for spurious reasons having to do with legalism and habit.

Philistines and Pharisees. Progressives and Prudes.

Adam cites some examples of how we have disregarded and abandoned the rules, but all his examples are music related.  There are others.  We have rules about how to conduct a worship service, but we don’t spend a lot of time evangelizing outside of the church building.  We have rules about how and when to hold a weekly communion service, but we don’t actively go house-to-house daily breaking bread with our brothers and sisters.  I have seen people show up at worship, and leave immediately after taking communion so they can make it to another engagement – as if taking communion were a “ticket punch” for showing that you worshiped this week.   I know we don’t pick-and-choose which “rules” to follow and which ones to ignore, but I also know we, as humans, simply cannot get it all right all the time.

Even among the most conservative Churches of Christ who all agree on the role of baptism, a cappella music, regular weekly communion services, and women’s roles, there are differences of opinion on what’s allowable and what isn’t (one cup or multiple cups for communion; break the bread before the prayer or after?; paid preachers or not?; institutional support (orphanages, universities, etc.), and so on).

We like rules.  They make it clear to us what is allowable and what isn’t.  Who is right and who is wrong.  But, it’s just not possible for us to “follow the rules.” Hebrews reminds us that the entire experience of the Israelites made it clear that we cannot.

I know there are some of my friends and family who think I’ve drifted away from the old paths, slipped away from holding to the Truth, and begun to engage in popularism.  But I have begun to recognize that as much as like to be a rule follower, it’s just not possible for me to have all the answers, to know what is absolutely right and what isn’t.  But I can pursue a personal relationship with God, read his Word daily, talk to Him regularly, and let Him show me His Way.

What I’ve come to understand is this:

  • God is the creator
  • Jesus is the Son of God
  • Jesus is The Way, The Truth, and The Life (there is no other path to God)
  • Adult baptism by immersion is essential
  • Regular meeting with the Saints and regular Bible reading is essential to your relationship with Christ.

Everything else is open for discussion.


Prayerful, Joyful, Thankful

During the month of November, many of us posted, on Facebook, something we were thankful for each day.  Just before Thanksgiving day, Patrick Mead posted this comment:

Happy Thanksgiving to all my friends. Remember: you have to conscientiously practice joy and thankfulness to get good at them. Ready, set, go!

I had already been reflecting on the impact that posting a thanks giving note each day had made me more conscious of the gifts I’ve been given, and it made me more thoughtful each day of those gifts.  I found myself thinking of them throughout the day, and not just when I was on Facebook.

At the beginning of this year, our congregation began reading the chronological daily Bible together, and I re-discovered that being a faithful daily reader significantly reduced the impact of Satan’s temptations on me.  (duh!)

As we neared the end of November, and the end of our thanks giving posts, I started thinking about the impending Christmas season.  I know a lot of people (including me) want to hold off on celebrating Christmas until Thanksgiving is over.  But it occurred to me that these two celebrations really are inextricably bound together.  How can you spend an entire month giving thanks, and ignore the fact that we are about to celebrate the birth of the One to Whom all our thanks is due?

When Patrick Mead posted his note, one of his friends commented

I have 3 words written on my mirror to remind me… “prayerful, joyful, and thankful.” The reminder to practice has helped me a lot. The results of doing each of these is very noticeable.

That made me start thinking.  If I get back to being a diligent daily Bible reader (and the chronological Bible is a huge help with that), and I strive to post something on Facebook each day that is either prayerful, joyful, or thankful, there is just no telling what impact that could have on my life.

I’m a bit afraid to commit to you that I will post something every single day*, but I am willing to commit that every day I do post something on Facebook, I will endeavor to make it prayerful, joyful, or thankful.  For the month of December, I’ll try to focus on praise to Christ.  Thereafter, I’ll just go with whatever is praiseworthy.  Who’s with me?

*(Committing to a daily post is difficult for a few of reasons: (a) I’m terrible at daily commitments, (b) I don’t typically log in every day when I’m travelling, and (c) once in a while I do try to practice an electronic fast and get away from this thing.)


Killing The Giants

When the Israelite spies came to report back to Moses all they had seen in the land that God had promised them, in addition to the descriptions of milk and honey and fruits of all kinds, they also reported that the land was full of giants.

But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw descendants of Anak there. (Numbers 13:28)

After God led them on a wilderness trek, the descendants of these spies were then ready to take the land of Canaan, just as God had promised to their ancestors so long ago.  As they prepared to go into the land, He gave them instructions.  While these instructions were directed at the Israelites, and intended to provide a guide for their success in taking the promised land, they also seem to me to be good instructions for Christians today as we go out and face the giants who would tear down our faith.

…if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land, those you allow to remain will become barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides. They will give you trouble in the land where you will live. (Numbers 33:55)

I once read a quote attributed to Søren Kierkegaard that went something like this:

No one who plants a garden saves a corner of the plot for growing weeds.

It seems harsh to us that God would tell the Israelites to plunder and kill all the inhabitants of the land they were about to take.  But, He knows there are giants out there who would tear you down.  There are minor temptations  you will want to keep in your life.  But you must not be daunted by the giants, and you must drive out every little thing that stands in the way of your relationship with Christ.

Every.  Little. Thing.

And if you don’t, it will become “barbs in your eyes, thorns in your sides, and will give you trouble in the land where you live.”


Scientists and Preachers

John Clayton is a pretty well informed scientist.  And he’s a pretty well informed apologist of the Gospel, as well.  Not a combination you find very often.  I like most of his information on the evidence of a Creator (I disagree with his old earth theory, but that’s another blog), and I really like the way he defines the battle between creationists and evolutionists:

It’s scientists vs. preachers.  Not science vs. the Bible.

Makes perfect sense, right?  Yet, you would be surprised how often people use the terms “science” and “scientists” interchangeably.  (And they also use “the Bible” and “preachers” – or Christians, or some other such term – interchangeably.)

Case in point:  the radio show Science Friday had a piece today titled “If Science Takes a Wrong Turn, Who Rights It?”  The opening line quoted on their website states

Science is often idealized as a self-correcting system. But how often–and how quickly–is bad science set straight? Ira Flatow and guests discuss recent cases of scientific fraud that have led to retractions of journal studies, and whether human study volunteers have been harmed by bogus science.

In order for this to be a proper description of the issue, I believe they need to switch out the word “science” with “scientists.”  There are, in fact, numerous examples of scientists who have committed fraud, misrepresented their data, intentionally misled others, and published outright lies in order to support their positions.  (Google Andrew Wakefield for recent, stunning example – not only of the fraud pawned off on you, but on the fierce debate it has created in the scientific community).

Lest you think that I believe the “preacher” side of this debate has got it all in the bag, let me share this thought with you.  Patrick Mead, one of the greatest preaching scientists I know, has recently completed a series of blog posts at his Tentpegs blog on God’s knowledge of the future (if there is a future – you’ll have to read his blogs to understand that).  He wrapped up the series with this quote.

… remember that we are saved by our faith in Jesus, by grace, and not by having our doctrine correct in every detail.

We are woefully inadequate to understand every detail of the Scripture that Our Creator has shared with us.  And we should be careful not to be so arrogant that we think we’ve got all the answers.  But, at the same time, if and when you get into a discussion with a scientist over the validity of the Scripture, don’t be intimidated by the idea that they’ve got science on their side and “all you have” is faith.  You can have both.  And both can be corrupted and abused.

Science and Scripture are not at odds with each other.  Our collective understanding of each, however, is subject to some serious second-guessing.  Pray for understanding and wisdom.


I Met The Pilot!

In the last post, I mentioned that last week I took my first helicopter ride.  I gotta tell ya, I was pretty apprehensive about it.  I am, and always have been, afraid of heights.  My first memory of this is at Six Flags Over Texas.  We took the elevator to the top deck of the big oil derrick, I stepped off the elevator and stuck to the wall – did NOT go to the edge and look over.  It’s listed at 300 feet tall.

Coker Structure

Because of my job requirements, I’ve gotten better at dealing with this – I can take the elevator to the top deck of the coker and stand out next to the handrail, but I’m still a bit uneasy about it.  And I do NOT like climbing down that little ladder through the hole in the floor to get to the nuclear gauge.  And I do NOT ride roller coasters.

So, you can imagine I was a bit anxious about this helicopter thing.  I usually sleep like a rock in hotel rooms.  Not this time.  Dreamed about going out to an oil rig, only we went in a boat that almost sank.  I’m thinking there must be a connection.

EC135 Helicopter

Anyway – my boss and I arrived at the heliport Wednesday morning at 6:45, and checked in.  Had to wait around for all the other flights to leave, and then watch the orientation film (we were the only newbies flying that day, so we had to go last).  After the film, the boss asked if he could ride in the front seat.  (It was a small helicopter, with room for the pilot, one front passenger seat, and three rear passenger seats).  “YES” – of course you can have the front seat.

In his sermon on Sunday, Kin Ellis said that airplane passengers have a lot in common with church-goers.  They just want to get in, sit down, do the deed, and get out.  Most of us don’t want to meet the Pilot personally and develop an intimate relationship.  We don’t want anything fancy or exciting, we just want to get on with the show and get out of here.  That was me on this helicopter flight.

As we took off, my boss was asking the pilot a few questions.  I was busy checking my heart rate – but, surprisingly, it was calm.  The whole experience was very unlike climbing the side of the ash silo at the biotreater (which is VERY un-nerving, let me tell ya).  At 120 knots and 1300 feet in the air, there is hardly any sensation of movement.   So I started listening in on the pilot’s explanation of all the instruments and how to fly this contraption.  After half-an-hour, I had learned a bit about flying, a little about the pilot, and found the whole experience much more interesting than it would have been if it had gone as I planned – get in, sit down, get it over with quick.

And I’ve been reminded that if all I’m doing with God is checking in on Sunday mornings, and I’m not really pursuing an intimate relationship with Him, I will miss out on a LOT of great stuff He has planned for me.  What about you?  Are you trying to get to know the Pilot?  Or just checking in?


Gained in Translation

There are probably hundreds of examples of words, phrases, and concepts that don’t translate well from one language to another.  And certainly when you try to talk to someone who doesn’t speak your native tongue, you can lose a lot of unspoken information.

A few years ago, my job required regular travel to Puerto Rico (I really miss that), and I started trying to learn Spanish.  I got a Spanish-English Bible to help me have something to read on a regular basis and keep it fresh.  When I stopped travelling to Puerto Rico, I stopped trying to keep up with the regular study – but I still use the Spanish-English Bible, and still try to read the Spanish side once in a while.  And often when I do, I find some real gems in there.  Sometimes, the Spanish words open a whole new meaning to a passage for me.

For example:

Did you know that when the Old Testament refers to a burnt offering, the Spanish version uses the word “holocausto”?  I’m not sure I can even express how that hits me – but it hits hard.

There is a mountain range in Colorado called the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.  Just rolls off the tongue without much thought.  I was told once, however, that the name originates from a Spanish explorer who declared that the mountains were as beautiful as the blood of Christ.  Have you ever thought something was as beautiful as that?

Back to Scripture translations.  Hebrews 13:6 says “The Lord is my Helper.  I will not be afraid of what man can do to me.”  The Spanish version uses the term “simple mortal” in place of man (I’m guessing that is pronounced simplay morTAL).  It’s not just people I am free from.  It’s a bunch of simple mortals who have no power on this earth (apart from God).  (Oh, and I am also nothing but a simple mortal, apart from God.)

This week I noticed that in Hebrews 9:1, where the word “worship” appears, the Spanish version uses the word “el culto.”  I’m not a linguist by any stretch, but that threw me.  I’ve looked up the origin of the words cult and worship.    TheFreeDictionary.com gives some word origins, and I don’t see a connection.  BUT, I do see that cult originates from

Latin cultusworship, from past participle of colereto cultivate

The part I find intriguing is that when we worship, we are cultivating our relationship with the one we worship.  So, the question is – Who are you worshiping today?