Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Tithing vs Giving

The practise of tithing is quite interesting to me. I find it interesting partly because I was brought up in a tradition that did not practise it, but also because as I understand scripture, tithing is only a requirement if you are Jewish and are living under the Mosaic covenant. Yet tithing is big in so many churches, particularly of the pentecostal persausion.

Old Testament References to Tithing
In the Pentateuch, Gen 14:20, 28:22; Lev 27:30-32; Num 18:21-28 and Deut 12:6-17, 14:22-28, 26:1-12 deal with tithing or giving of a tenth. The Gen 14:20 passage refers to when Abraham gave Melchizedek a tenth "of everything". The Gen 28:22 passage refers to when Jacob said "if God blesses me then I will give Him a tenth". However the majority of the treatment of the Pentateuch on tithing is in Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, and this is where God states tithing as a requirement for His people when they have come into the promised land. At this point in the Old Testament, there was no King in Israel other than God, and the Mosaic Law was how God intended His people, the state of Israel to live. The law formed part of the covenant that God had with the state of Israel, which is different from the covenant He has with us.

According to Lev/Num/Deut the purpose of the tithe was as the inheritance of the Levites as they were not alloted any land in Israel (Num 18:21-28). It seems in some of these passages that the tithe of grain and meat was actually eaten by the giver in the presence of God (Deut 12:17, 14:22-28). Every three years the tithe was collected and given to the Levite, the fatherless and the widow (Deut 26:1-12).

There are further references to the practise in the historical and prophetic writings of the Old Testament; 2 Chron 31:5-6, 12; Neh 10:37-38, 12:44, 13:5-12; Amos 4:4; Malachi 3:8-10. The 2 Chronicles passage shows that no only was the tithe in the law it was practised by the Israelites. Nehemiah 10 records the renewal of the covenant between God and His people after the rebuilding of the wall in Jerusalem, so is a restatement of the Mosaic Law. Nehemiah 12 records the rededication of the temple, at which point people presented tithes and offerings. Nehemiah 13 records Nehemiah's final reforms. During a period of absence, Tobiah the Ammonite had moved into one of the rooms in the temple, such that the offerings could not be stored in the temple which had driven the Levites back into the fields to provide for themselves. The Nehemiah references really reinforce the covenant that God made between Himself and the Jews, and also shows some of the implications for the Jews when the Law was not obeyed in this regard. The Amos passage is a call for His people to return to God, as is the Malachi passage. The book of Malachi is about how the people of Israel have failed to meet God's requirements and have passed off blemished sacrifices, the teachers have failed to teach God's word, Judah has been unfaithful, and broken covenant with God.

New Testament References to Tithing
In the New Testament tithing is referred to in three places Matt 23:23; Luke 11:42; and Heb 7:2-9. In the Matthew and Luke passages Jesus is rebuking the Pharisees for being legalistic and tithing even down to their "mint, dill and cumin" but neglecting the weightier matters of the Law "justice, mercy and faithfulness". Now this passage is often used to prove that Jesus approved of tithing, however it is interpreted out of context. Jesus was speaking to the Pharisees, who were under the Law and as such definitely should have been tithing. But note that Jesus' concern is more that there are more important matters of Law that they neglect, justice, mercy and faithfulness.

The Hebrews passage goes back over the Abraham and Melchizedek incident recorded in Gen 14:20. It does not state an opinion on whether tithing is required for Christians, but rather recounts an historical event to prove another point, which is that the priesthood of Jesus is superior to that of the Levites (because the Levites paid their tithe through Abraham to Melchizedek, and Melchizedek is a type of Christ.)

What is a New Testament view on Christians obeying Mosaic Law?
The issue of whether Christians should have to obey the Mosaic Law came up early in the years following Pentecost. This particularly came to a head when Gentiles started to become Christians. Many Jewish Christians felt that the Gentiles had to follow the law in addition to believing in Jesus to be saved, so they pushed for Gentile Christians to be circumcised. This all came to a head at the
Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15:1-29. A decision had to be made as to whether the Gentile Chritians should be circumcised and made to follow the Law. The determination of the Council was that "It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things." (v28-29). This does not mention tithing or almsgiving.

The issue of circumcision was a biggie in Galatia, and Paul deals with it very strongly at one point in chapter five encouraging them that if they like circumcision so much, why not go the whole way and emasculate themselves. (Ouch!). Gal 3:3-5,18,29 is illustrative. The problem with the whole circumcision thing (and I would argue tithing) is that it shifts people from a position where their relationship with God is based on Grace to one of Law and works. Paul says to them, "After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?" And that is what I see happening with the current teaching on tithing, is this idea that the blessings of God are attached to how much you give, which is to say on our "human effort" not the Spirit. Verses 18 and 29 are clear, the inheritance that God gave Abraham was before the Law, it is dependent on God's promise, and we are heirs of Abraham if we belong to Christ. The blessings of God are ours not because we obey the Law, not because we give our tithes, but because He has promised them to us freely and of His grace.

Galatians 5 goes on to tell us that we are free in Christ and we shouldn't let ourselves be reburdened by a "yoke of slavery", by which Paul is referring to obedience to the Law. So we don't have to tithe, but does this mean we shouldn't give? Galatians 5:13 says, "You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love." Serving one another in love is the basis from which our giving should spring...

So how should a Christian Give?
It is interesting that although there is not continuity of teaching from the Old Testament to the New Testament on tithing, there is on giving. There is reoccuring teaching on genorosity and on caring for the poor, widows and orphans throughout both the Old and New Testament. I think this is really God's heart, and I'm reminded of Jesus' rebuke of the Pharisees, "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness..." Mt 23:23. They have forgotten why God wanted the tithe, which as discussed earlier was to care for the Levites, the poor, the widows and orphans. I think this is really the transition point from the Law of Tithing, to the Spirit of Giving. Generosity is encouraged, beyond 10%. Jesus commends the giving of a glass of water, and instructs rich people to sell all they have and give it to the poor. Paul commends the church in Macedonia for giving beyond their means.

Some key passages on Giving:
Old Testament -
Deut 15:10-11; Prov 11:24, 21:26, 25:21, 28:27
Gospels - Matt 5:42, 10:42, 19:21, 25:34-46; Mark 9:41, 10:21; Luke 6:30,35,38, 12:33, 14:12-13, 18:22
Pauline - 2 Cor 8:1-15, 9:1-15; 1 Tim 6:17-19

Some key passages on the Poor:
Pentateuch -
Lev 23:22, 25:25,35,39; Deut 15:1-11, 24:10-15
Wisdom Literature - Pro 14:31, 17:5, 19:17, 21:13, 22:9,16,22, 28:27, 29:7
Prophetic - Isa 3:14-15, 10:1-2, 14:30, 25:4, 32:7, 41:17, 58:7, 61:1; Jer 5:28, 22:16-17; Eze 18:12, 22:29; Amos 2:7, 4:1, 5:11-12, 8:4-6; Zec 7:10
Gospels - Matt 19:21; Mark 10:21, 12:42-43; Luke 4:18, 7:22, 11:40-42, 12:33, 14:13, 18:22, 19:8, 21:2-3
Epistles - Ro 15:26; Gal 2:10; James 2:2-6
Other NT - Acts 10:5,31, 24:17; Rev 3:17

The other aspect of this is support of ministries. This one is pretty clear, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:1-14 that those who preach the gospel should earn their living from it, although Paul himself chose to work as well so that he would not be a burden on those to whom he was ministering.

So practically what does all this mean?
Well it means give as the Spirit leads you, out of a sense of love (1 Cor 13:3). We should be generous and willing to share, this should come out of a love for God and our neighbours, not out of a sense of compulsion or legalism. The key issue here is one of the heart, are we giving out of freedom and gratitude for all that God has given us, or fear that if we don't He won't look after us? Jesus gave us the answer for that; seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things (food, clothing etc) will be given to us as well (
Matt 6:25-33)

God bless,

Biblical Illiteracy

I've been challenged a bit recently on the topic of biblical literacy. I have been reading Jerry Bridge's The Practice of Godliness which discusses how we can develop godly character. One of the key methods he suggests, and uses himself is scripture memorisation. He suggests the memorisation of key pieces of scripture that deal with specific godly characteristics that we need to develop. This is helpful in two ways; to facilitate meditation on scripture, and because the Holy Spirit reminds us of pertinent bits of scripture that we have memorised at times when we need it.

This memorisation thing is a key challenge for me, I have always really hated rote learning. I still do not know my times tables because in primary school I refused to apply myself to it because it required rote learning. Similarly, in high school French, I lost interest as soon as we started having to memorise verb conjugations. I do not know my home telephone number (and I've lived here for nearly 18 months) because I hate memorising things.

With scripture, I read it everyday, and lots of it. But the idea of specifically trying to memorise a bit of scripture (let alone the whole Torah like the Jews used to!!!) makes me feel like running for the hills. Now I find this weird, because the bits of scripture that I do remember (sometimes bits just stick) I love having in my head. But if I quote something it'll sound something like "You know that bit (in 2 Corinthians I think) that says.... No temptation has seized you except that which is common to man, and God is faithful He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear, He will provide a way out".

I was reading an interesting
blog post today which has the text of Clinton Arnold's paper, "Early Church Catechesis and New Christians' Classes in Contemporary Evangelicalism" included in it. Now it is a bit of a read, and I know talk about a riveting title, but it made some very interesting points and is definitely worth it. It discusses how the early church went about bringing new believers into the fold, compared with today's approach.

A key practise of the early church was that each new christian underwent three years of specific teaching before they were baptised and admitted into communion with the rest of the fellowship. The three years included:
  • An immersion in the Word of God
  • Learning about central doctrines of the Faith
  • Being mentored in Spiritual and Moral Formation
  • Deliverance Ministry

All of which are fascinating, but I'll concentrate on the immersion in the Word of God! Arnold's early church sources show that the immersion in the Word included:

  • The reading of vast portions of the text aloud
  • The exposition of the text being read
  • The surveying of the entire bible in order to understand "salvation history"

He goes on to ask how many Christians nowadays would have read the majority of the bible in the first three years of their walk with Christ. One of my personal bugbears is that I don't hear a lot of expository teaching. When I do hear an expository sermon, it is like a good steak dinner, I feel FAT on the Word! Well back in the early church to be allowed to be baptised and become part of the Christian community EVERY CHRISTIAN had to have heard vast amounts of the bible READ and EXPOSITED. Man, I was SO born in the wrong century!!!!! Three years of expository teaching, I'd be spiritually the size of the good year blimp!! Yeah, bring it on!!! :)

In our day and age, in western cultures there is now a general literacy level such that most people can read. We also have access to many different translations. And yet, to get this level of education in the Word is for a select few, those who choose to go to bible college, or attend bible study groups like BSF (as distinct from bible studies that feature the "what does it mean to you?" method - a nasty product of postmodernism.)

Now the three years of catechetical instruction does sound intense, and that's without going anywhere near looking at what they did regarding learning of doctrine, spiritual and moral formation and deliverance!! I would so love to see this kind of approach return. The benefits of a return to this kind of approach:

  • Christians would expect teaching that is of more depth
  • Christians would recognise shallow and false teaching more readily
  • Christians would be able to pick scripture that is being quoted out of context

So some practical things we can do to immerse ourselves in the Word and increase our biblical literacy:

  • Read scripture aloud
  • Read all of scripture (yes even Leviticus)
  • Memorise scripture (*gulp*)
  • Meditate on scripture
  • Find podcasts that feature expository teaching
  • Encourage our pastors when they do heavy teaching
  • Learn proper exegesis & hermeneutics
  • Don't quote or memorise verses out of context

God bless,

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Not another offering sermon!!!

Just to define the offering sermon if you have been lucky enough to have missed out on hearing one... In some churches (typically of the pentecostal bent) prior to taking up the offering, someone will get up and take some piece of scripture (usually out of context) and use it to try and prevail upon you to give. This is sometimes accompanied by some "Make room for God to bless you" teaching, which suggests that if you clear out space in your bank account God will make a suitable deposit to fill it.

I hate this with a passion and think it is straight from the pit of hell because:
  1. God gives to us out of His graciousness, and because He is a good father who delights to give good things to His children (Mt 7:11), NOT because we bribe Him. We need to get this straight, we love him, we give because He first loved us, first gave to us (1 Jn 4:19). We need to remember it was while we were sinners that He died for us (Ro 5:8), and having given us Christ He will also give us all things (Ro 8:32). He really is FOR US.
  2. If God gave to us because we gave to Him that would be a WORKS based relationship rather than GRACE (Eph 2:8, Gal 3:3). Our giving is a response to our experience of God's grace in our lives. It is one of the good works He has predestined us to do (Eph 2:10) but one we can do only because He first has "created us in Christ Jesus".
  3. God loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor 8:7), not one who is guilt-ridden and fearful that God won't bless them unless they give. Generosity comes out of "overflowing joy" (2 Cor 8:2).

We need to be really really careful about thinking that God blesses us because of what we do. Anything good we do is only because He has enabled us to, so we don't actually get any credit for it. It is His grace that enables us to do good, and His grace that gives to us so bountifully. Everything about the way He deals with us is GRACE.

To believe that God gives us good things because we give financially is analogous to Simon the Sorcerer's mistake. He tried to buy a blessing, the ability to give the Holy Spirit with the laying on hands. In Acts 8:20 Peter's response to this was, "May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money!"

In Isaiah 55 God describes His economy of blessing. It is an economy of grace, where we can come to Him and buy what we need "without money and without cost" (v1). This is an economy that makes no sense to us, but as God says, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways" (v8).

I think a biblical stance on this issue is:

  1. God doesn't need our money, the whole earth is His (Ps 50:9-12)
  2. Give because God has already given to us, He provides well for us (Mt 6:25).
  3. Give as a way of loving our neighbour as ourselves (Mt 22:39)
  4. Budget for it (1 Cor 16:2)
  5. Be aware that money can become an idol in our lives, and that we need to make sure that we are serving God not money (Lk 16:13)
  6. Be generous and share (1 Tim 6:18)
  7. Place our hope in God not in finances (1 Tim 6:17)
  8. Remember that all we have is on trust from God to build the Kingdom, we are accountable to Him for 100% of it, not just 10% (Lk 19:12-27).

I would really recommend 1 Timothy 6:3-10, 17-19 on this whole topic of money and giving. And in that context we need to remember that as we live in the West we count as "rich" in comparison with the majority of the world's population.

This whole issue of giving needs to be framed in terms of love for God and love for our neighbours. Love not compulsion.

God bless,

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Corporate Prayers of Confession

I grew up in the Anglican church, but of recent years have been attending Baptist and Pentecostal churches. I'm not even sure what you'd call me now! Anglibaptacostal???? LOL. I do know I love Jesus, and I'm probably more evangelical than pente.

As a rebellious 16 year old I remember really really hating the set liturgy. I could say the words easily enough but the connection between my heart/head and mouth was uncertain. But it struck me yesterday that prayer-wise I'm a bit illiterate. I have feelings about stuff, but not always the words to express them to God in prayer. And the words of one of the ol' prayers of confession came back to me, and I saw in them the words that expressed what I needed to say to God, and had so much theological richness:

Merciful God, our maker and our judge,
we have sinned against you in thought, word and deed:
we have not loved you with our whole heart,
we have not loved our neighbours as ourselves;
we repent, and are sorry for all our sins.
Father, forgive us.
Strengthen us to love and obey you in newness of life;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
(An Australian Prayer Book, 1978: page 137)

There is another form that I also really liked:

Most merciful God, we humbly admit that we need your help.
We confess that we have wandered from your way:
we have done wrong, and we have failed to do what is right.
You alone can save us.
Have mercy on us: wipe out our sins and teach us to forgive others.
Bring forth in us the fruit of the Spirit that we may live as disciples of Christ.
This we ask in the name of Jesus our Saviour. Amen.
(An Australian Prayer Book, 1978, page 39)

I liked the following points from these:
  • We are affirming who God is
  • We are admitting that our sin is thought, word and deed
  • We are admitting that we've sinned also by what we have omitted to do
  • We are admitting that we haven't loved God as we should
  • We are admitting that we haven't loved our neighbours as we should
  • We are confessing and asking forgiveness (ala 1 Jn 1:8-10)
  • We are admitting that we are dependent on Him to live godly lives
  • We are taking seriously His word that He will forgive us as we forgive others

Generally I had the following thoughts about corporate prayers of confession:
  1. I haven't heard sin talked about like this in church for ages, we focus so much on "triumphant living" and ideas like "the best is yet to come" that I fail to have succinct words that express all that these prayers of confession say.
  2. Despite what I thought when I was 16, set liturgy isn't evil. It might just be a valuable tool for teaching people how to pray Monday to Saturday.
  3. It is good to corporately admit sin, as we are the body of Christ, not just individuals in relationship to Christ. And it reaffirms that idea in Rm 3:23 "All have sinned", places us all equally at the foot of the cross together.

God bless,

Adam vs Jesus: The Temptation Showdown

Don't you love it when quite accidentally you read two bible passages on the same day that teach you about the same thing?? I had that this morning. My normal quiet time habit is to read a chapter of two of the OT and a chapter or two of the NT each morning, and work my way through sequentially each testament in parallel. Last year that meant I got through the OT once and the NT twice. Since the end of last year up until yesterday I'd had a bit of a break by just working through the epistles, reading each in one go where I had time. Yesterday I restarted the OT/NT reading pattern. So this morning I read Genesis 3 and Matthew 4.

Genesis 3 is the story of the Fall of Humanity. Matthew 4 is an account of Jesus' temptation in the desert after His baptism. Both look at the ways we can approach temptation.

In both cases there is DESIRE. Eve was made with a desire to eat and a desire to gain wisdom. Jesus had been fasting for 40 days and 40 nights so He had a desire to eat. In and of themselves these desires are not wrong, they are healthy.

Next the devil comes along and introduces the LIE. He questions Eve, "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?" This manipulates her into a response that will highlight not the 99 the trees that she can eat from but the 1 she can't. Her response also falsely exagerates how 'forbidden' it is, "we can't even touch the tree". The devil lies more, appealing to her desire to gain wisdom. Then she saw that "the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom" and so they ate. The LIES here include, what God told you was wrong, He is mean and is trying to hold you back from something that is good. The lies the devil uses do two things, questions the truth about a situation, and questions the loving, good and faithful character of God. When the devil tempted Jesus he raised questions about whether Jesus really was the Son of God, and tried to use Jesus' desire to fulfil His role as the Son of God, and His desire to eat to try and tempt Him. Each time Jesus responded with TRUTH and He did not sin.

This suggests to me the following:


This is the point where the two stories diverge. For Adam & Eve there was a descent into SHAME. This manifested itself in two behaviours HIDING and REFUSAL TO TAKE RESPONSIBILITY. After they had sinned they realised what they had done, and first of all tried to hide their nakedness (which had not previously been a source of shame between them) from each other, and then when they hear God walking in the Garden they try to hide from Him too. When God calls them out, and asks them if they have eaten the fruit they pass the buck, they refuse to take responsibility for their behaviour. Adam says "The woman you put here with me" - so it was God's fault for giving him "the woman" and "the woman's" fault. Eve says it was the serpent's fault.

As a result of this there are a number of CONSEQUENCES of that sin. Pain in childbirth, desire for the husband who will rule over the woman, the ground is cursed, and death. Ick... Not good. But God also says some other stuff. In verse 15 when God is talking to the serpent about what he has done, God makes the first messianic promise, His PROMISE OF DELIVERANCE. He foretells when one of the offspring of Eve will crush Satan's head. God also has GRACE on them and provides them with better coverings than the fig leaves they had sewed together, by providing animal skins. In this way demonstrating that the shedding of blood is required for forgiveness.

In contrast after Jesus had stood against each of the devil's temptations, "...the devil left him, and angels came and attended him" (v. 11). God met Jesus' needs when the time was right. God is faithful, one of the lies the devil uses is that if we don't take care of ourselves in accordance with our perceived needs that God won't and nobody else will either.

I was thinking about each step in the Genesis 3 account and how good God has been to provide instruction on how to deal with each step or how God has already dealt with it:

I also noted with some interest that Jesus' temptation comes right after a SPIRITUAL HIGH for Him. At the end of Mt 3, Jesus is baptised and a voice is heard from heaven saying "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased." (v.17). This is interesting for a couple of reasons, firstly this temptation is not because God is displeased with Jesus, or that He didn't love Him. Secondly, was the temptation an attempt from the devil to undo the good that what God had said to Jesus had done in His life? This seems plausible as the first thing the devil says to Jesus is "If you are the Son of God...", he questions the very thing that God has just said to Jesus.

The other thing that was interesting contexually to the temptation story is that immediately following the temptation Jesus starts His public MINISTRY. In chapter 4, verses 12-17 he starts preaching, in verses 18-22 he calls His first disciples and in verses 23-25 he heals the sick. This leads me to wonder, what would have happened if Adam & Eve had not eaten the fruit, if they had withstood the temptation? What amazing things would God have done in their lives following that?

This lead me to: "For if, by the trespass of the one man [Adam], death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God's abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ. " Romans 5:17 and "The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven." 1 Corinthians 15:47-49.

So we've seen how to deal with lies, the devil and temptation through two examples; that of Adam & Eve and that of Jesus. I know which I think is the better way :-)

God bless,

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Why Mark Driscoll is my favourite preacher at the moment

OK, so we should love the word and the preacher is just a vessel for God to say what He wants to and all glory should go to God, but having said that I still have favourite preachers and writers who I hear God through that much clearer than others. Other favourite preacher/writers are Joseph Prince, Charlotte Scanlon-Gamble, Jerry Bridges, C. S. Lewis, Joyce Meyer, John Bevere, Lisa Bevere.

The first thing of Mark's that I heard was his Q&A session from 6 Jan where he answered questions about sex. Not easy questions either! Things like is masterbation an appropriate birth control method and is abortion after falling pregnant because of a rape ok. What I loved was that he dealt with it all with good humour, was not condemning but was really clear about the truth. His responses were clearly educated and his use of scripture was appropriate. He did not proof-text anything out of context. Subsequently, I watched his full sermon on the subject of birth control. I was very impressed by the depth of the research he had clearly done, and the grace-filled approach he took. Where there were ethical questions that were uncertain he said so and did not dogmatically impose a viewpoint. Where the ethical implications were clear but potentially unpopular he was true to scripture.

Last night I watched his sermon from 13 Jan on humour. It is part of Mars Hill's current "Religion saves + nine other misconceptions" series where he is dealing with questions that the congregation have raised (ala the way 1 Corinthians is a response to the questions the Corinthians asked Paul.) The question was whether humour is appropriate, is there humour in the bible, and is it ok to make fun of people. He started by doing a run through of some of the comedic high-points of the bible. A couple of my favourites are Aaron's response when asked by Moses about the golden calf, "What?? I just threw the gold in the fire, and the idol jumped out by itself!!!" and Paul's instruction to the Galatians that if they like circumcision so much why not go the whole way and emasculate themselves!!

I'm really excited about the rest of this sermon series. They are covering some real doozies. Next week is predestination, and why does God destine some people for glory and others for wrath. Definitely worth checking out, one thing to note however is that he does tend to talk for a while, so it's wise to allow an hour to watch the sermons:


God bless,

P.S. This is a late addition to this post (15 May 2008). I've noticed that I get a HEAP of hits on this particular blog post. My views on Mark Driscoll's teaching have changed somewhat from when I first posted this so I feel bound to add this comment. I still find his preaching engaging and well studied, but I have found after listening to more of his stuff that his position on gender roles is unbiblical. Everyone has weak points in their theology-- the gender stuff is Mark's. If you take that caveat, then there is much to learn and enjoy in his preaching, just don't be surprised when for instance his series on Ruth turns into a lesson in gender roles.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

References to oneself by implication in other blogs

It was a bit of a funny day today blog-wise. I made a comment on another blog where I made reference to some people who had a major influence on the beginning of my Christian walk (I didn't mention them by name). By coincidence one of those people on their blog mentioned in passing having read a comment that had referred to them by inference (they did not mention me by name either). Interestingly, this person has also referred to me in previous posts mostly without use of names.

Now I could mention names, but that doesn't seem to be in the spirit of things, so this post will continue only to refer to those persons by the use of the personal pronouns "they" and "them" :-)

I would like to say that I am very blessed to know them. That I am still years later so very grateful for the grace that they and their family showed me when I was at my worst. I think that as Christians it is easy to talk about grace as a theological concept, it is completely another thing to live it. These people lived that in a way that was exemplary and really caused me to understand for real that God is a God of unconditional love, and that His love and grace were for me, not because of who I am or what I've done, but because of who HE is and what HE has done. His grace has been so very real in my life since then. It is a continuing pleasure and joy to share my life with these people. And although God has been really good to me since that time showing me amazing grace, I have sensed recently that there is still wreckage, for that I am truly sorry. It is one of my most frequent and fervent prayers that the grace God has shown me will be even more abundant in what remains of the situation that needs to be healed for everyone who was involved.

I hope that as they read this they would know that I appreciate them so much and the incredible way that they chose to love me. I pray that the Lord would bless them and keep them, make his face to shine upon them and give them peace. They truly bring glory to God.

God bless,

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

On the world's doctrine of Tolerance

I just watched this clip from Mark Driscoll on YouTube. I found it refreshing to hear someone being honest about the concessions that have to be made if we are going to go with the worldly doctrine of tolerance, or "if you don't bug me, I won't bug you". Sometimes we have to say things people don't want to hear for the sake of the truth. It is more loving to speak the truth than to pander to people's itching ears.

God bless,

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Weight Loss as a Parable for Spiritual Transformation

It often strikes me that weight loss is a great parable for spiritual transformation. There are three types of people who try to lose weight, and these parallel the ways we try to deal with sin:

1. Fad Dieter
These are the people who want a quick fix, they don't want to change their habits, and who see minimal change as a result. They want a miracle fix, that will help them lose lots of weight really really quickly. They really love weight loss products/plans that promise that they can continue to eat everything they are currently eating, and that they will still end up a size 8. Most usually this approach does not work. It is psychologically comforting, however, because if you are taking some "miracle weight loss pills" you can make the excuse that you "are trying", despair and return to your old ways with the comfort that it's not as though you didn't try, it's just that it's too hard.

2. Starvation Protest Dieter
The starvation dieter decides that it isn't really their fault that they are overweight, it's the food's fault. As a result, war is declared against all food. All food is evil, it is the enemy and must be stopped at all costs. They either refuse to eat at all, or go the way of the bulimic. This results in massive weight loss, but not only does fat get broken down, so does muscle. In time they become emaciated and die.

3. Change-in-Lifestyle Dieter
The dieters that have the most success are those that understand that food is NOT evil, food is not the problem. The problem lies in their relationship TO food. They simply over-indulge in something that is by nature GOOD. They seek to change their lifestyle so that their relationship with food and exercise is a healthy one. They seek advice from doctors and other health experts. They organise a support group, so that they are encouraged to keep going, particularly when things get difficult. They do what their personal trainer tells them to do even when it hurts or doesn't make sense. Instead of worrying about what they SHOULDN'T eat, they make sure that they ARE eating the right things. They don't buy problem foods, they buy lots of fresh fruit and veg. Once they've got the 5 veg, 2 fruit, meat, legumes etc etc thing down, there is less room for the higher fat foods. Over time they begin to enjoy more and more healthy food, and not having the higher fat foods all the time becomes less of an issue. Because life is meant to be fun, they do have the occasional slice of cake or tim-tam, but because they are now not eating them constantly, the effect on their waist line is negligle or non-existant, and they do not desire to eat more than a healthy portion.

I think weight loss illustrates the following spiritual transformation principles:

  • Don't look for the latest fad or instant fix. Such change is unsustainable.
  • Don't look for the "New Idea" / "Woman's Day" solution. Such solutions are unrealistic.
  • Don't go on a starvation diet, cutting everything good out of life for fear that you may become corrupted by it. John 10:10, we are called to abundant life.
  • Focus on what you SHOULD be eating rather than what you SHOULDN'T. If you fill up on "The Bread of Life" you won't have room for unhealthy "spiritual foods".
  • Don't buy the "chocolate", if it isn't in the house, you can't eat it. Control the things you allow into your life that you know will later be a temptation. Win the battle at the "supermarket".
  • Don't try to do it on your own, get help from 'experts' like mature Christians, elders, pastors etc. Have a support group in place, people who will remind you of God's grace, and support you in prayer.
  • Follow your personal trainer's (Holy Spirit) instructions
  • Don't kick yourself if you have the occasional tim-tam, God's grace is sufficient, get up have another go.
  • Don't believe labels about yourself that define you in terms of your problem. You are not "Fat" or "a Loser" or "weak" because you struggle. Those labels are not from God. He labels you as "chosen", "redeemed", "accepted", "loved", "son/daughter of the King".

God bless,

Virtue vs. Innocence

I found the following quote a few months ago, I can't remember where, but it struck me at the time as being very insightful:

"There is a difference between virtue and innocence. Virtue has successfully passed a point of temptation. No one is a mature Christian until they have attained virtue--innocence is not enough." Anonymous

I hate temptation, I quite often pray that God will remove it. But as a good friend pointed out in his comment on my post about the Desert Fathers, according to James 1:2-4, the testing of our faith is a good thing, because persevering through trials and temptations brings us to maturity.

I was reading 2 Peter this morning. I really really love the first chapter, particularly verses 3-9. It also addresses this issue of growing in virtue. Peter lists a number of virtues that the Christian should add to their faith; goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness and love. Peter says if we possess these qualities in "increasing measure" we will be productive and effective in our knowledge of Christ. I think "increasing measure" indicates a process of growth, as the wording around the list of virtues does by use of the "and to this quality add that" phrasing.

What I think is particularly useful is verse 9. Sometimes when we are going through a season of temptation and are not seeing progress it can be difficult to see how we will ever move forward, and think will I always be this sinful?? Is this the area of my life that will never be sanctified this side of eternity. God's answer in verse 9, is that we are short-sighted to think like that, and that we "have forgotten that he has cleansed us from our past sins". I think this means we trust in Him to cleanse us again and again, we trust in the finished work of Christ.

So I think we keep at it, keep working to add those virtues, keep facing the temptations knowing that He is using them to work in us, and remember the cross, and that as much as we continue to fail He is still faithful to forgive us when we confess our sins.

God bless,

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Enchanted by 'Enchanted'

Last night we went and saw 'Enchanted', the lastest Disney flick. It was lots of fun, the heroine was so delightfully innocent, and the prince... Well the prince he did look good with puffy sleeves, but there wasn't much between his ears, if you catch my drift!! :) Susan Sarandon played an amazing Evil Step Mother. And her cronie was similarly wonderful.

I loved the following points that the movie made:

  1. Real love is romantic and fairytale-like


  2. Real love accepts the imperfection of the other person, and is rational about love

It's really easy to get caught up in one of two camps. The overly-romantic-hopelessly-naive camp which says as long as you love each other nothing else matters, that love will find a way, but is sketchy on details of HOW. Or the love-hurts-best-not-to-risk-it-all-based-on-feelings camp, these people have been hurt, and quite justifiably do not want to risk their hearts, when their heads tell them it's going to head in pain.

I think the balance position is right, we need to love with our hearts AND minds. It would be stupid (but how often do we do this) to run into a relationship with someone who we can quite plainly see is incompatible with us, or does not have the maturity to be in a relationship, or is not a Christian, or has a life controlling habit, or has completely different aims in life etc etc. So there should be a level where we check off the mental list of what we are/are not looking for in a life partner BEFORE letting our hearts run away with us.

My understanding is that God doesn't always reveal a specific person to whom He wishes us to marry. However, to my thinking if we ask Him to lead us in this, are diligent about following what He says in His word about choosing partners, and then He does say "Yes" about a particular person, that's as safe as you can get. As He is the only one who knows you perfectly and the other person perfectly, He is the only one who can say definitively whether you are compatible, sufficiently mature to be in a relationship, of similar grounding in the faith, etc etc. Probably worth testing what you are hearing though, just in case the flesh is speaking louder than His Spirit! :) (e.g. If you are rationalising about something, that isn't God)

If you do get the "Yes" from God, and it's confirmed by people who are mature in the faith and you respect, I reckon enjoy being in love for all it's worth!!! Be the hopeless romantic. Be the princess, and he the prince. Don't hold back in fear, in faith trust God's choice, and choose to love that person with all you've got. Not just in mushy feelings, but make the choices that say you love them too.

God knows best who is "made for us", so when He brings "Eve" to "Adam", say, "Woah! S/he's the one for me!" To hold back in fear, would be like if Adam had instead said, "meh, she's kinda pretty, but I think I like the elephant better".

God bless,

Monday, January 7, 2008

Some interesting thoughts from the Desert Fathers...

From The Desert Fathers: Sayings of the Early Christian Monks, Penguin Classics

On controlling the tongue
"They said of Agatho that for three years he kept a stone in his mouth in order to teach himself silence." (p20)

On temptation
"When Cyrus of Alexandria was asked about the temptation of lust, he said, 'If you are not tempted, you have no hope; if you are not tempted, it is because you are sinning. The man who does not fight sin at the stage of temptation is sinning already in his body. The man who is sinning in his flesh has no trouble from temptation.'" (p35)

"Poeman said, 'The character of the genuine monk only appears when he is tempted.'" (p63)

"A hermit said, 'We do not make progress because we do not realize how much we can do. We lose interest in the work we have begun, and we want to be good without even trying.'" (p66)

"A brother came to Poemen and said to him, 'Many thoughts come into my mind and put me in danger.' He sent him out into the open air, and said, 'Open your lungs and do not breathe.' He replied, 'I can't do that.' Then he said to him: 'Just as you can't stop air coming into your lungs, so you can't stop thoughts coming into your mind. Your part is to resist them.'" (p101)

"A hermit said, 'Satan has three powers, which lead to all the sins. The first is forgetfulness, the second negligence, the third selfish desire. If forgetfulness comes, it causes negligence, negligence is the mother of selfish desire, and by selfish desire we fall. If the mind is serious, it repels forgetfulness, negligence does not come, selfish desire finds no entry, and so with the help of Christ we shall never fall." (p127)

On Fasting & Humility
"Joseph asked Poemen, 'How should we fast?' Poemen said, 'I suggest that everyone should eat a little less than he wants, every day.'" (p99)

"Antony also said, 'I saw the devil's snares set all over the eart, and I groaned and said, "What can pass through them?" I heard a voice saying, "Humility".' (p148)

"Evagrius said, 'To go against self is the beginning of salvation.'" (p153)

On the Word of God
"John who had been exiled by the Emperor Marcion, said, 'One day we went into Syria to see Poemen for we wanted to ask him about hardness of heart. But he did not know Greek and we did not have an interpreter. When he saw we were embarassed, he began to speak in Greek saying, 'The nature of water is soft, the nature of stone is hard; but if a bottle is hung above a stone letting water drip down, it wears away the stone. It is like that with the word of God; it is soft and our heart is hard, but if a man hears the word of God often, it will break open his heart to the fear of God.'" (p191)

God bless,

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Pursuing Holiness

I've just finished reading a collection of sayings of the desert fathers. These dudes were intense! In the third century they moved off into the desert often on their own, some became hermits or lived in communities with other hermits/monks and dedicated themselves to putting their flesh to death.

It was very interesting. Partly, because the austerity of their way of living is SO in contrast to the way the average modern believer lives. I'm not entirely sure that they were completely right in the way they lived, my biggest objection being that it is hard to love your neighbour as yourself if you don't have any neighbours. Also hard to spread the gospel if you are not at all in contact with the world. However, I am really impressed with the intensity with which they desired and sought after holiness. OK, so some of it was probably in reliance upon themselves rather than God, but they definitely seemed to live that verse where Paul says, "I beat my body and make it my slave" (1 Cor 9:27). They fasted, they lived in seclusion, avoided women, kept vows of silence, subjected themselves to suffering for their sins. A couple of them went so far as to castrate themselves based on an overly literal interpretation of Jesus' statement, "If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off" (Mark 9:43) Ouch!!!

There were some bits that suggested to me that they were working on a works based theology rather than grace, but you could equally interpret their behaviour in light of James 2:14-26. Faith without deeds is dead. If we truly believe that He has redeemed us, and called us to live holy lives, then surely some degree of zealousness in pursuing holiness would be a sign of faith.

I was challenged by the desert fathers. Not to move into the desert, praise God! But to take more seriously the call to live a holy life. I think I need to stop making excuses to myself about the weakness of my nature, and be more determined to lean on God for the strength to make the hard choices that are needed in my life in order to overcome sin. God willing that won't be actual bodily amputation (although some days I think that physical bodily mutilation would be easier than dealing with the sinfulness of my heart). But I think it is wise to cut off opportunities for sin. Proverbs 5:8 is illuminating, and I think applies more broadly than just to the context of avoiding adultery, "Keep to a path far from her, do not go near the door of her house".

I want to learn better to follow the promptings of the Spirit, and work with Him better to live a life that is pleasing to God. I want to understand more fully the offensiveness of my sin to God, so that my desire to not sin will be more motivated out of a desire to please Him rather than a sense of guilt and condemnation that makes me feel bad. I do not want to presume on His grace, although I know that my entire existence presumes on His grace. I want to better understand Christ and what He did for me at Calvary. I want to walk free because He paid so dearly for my freedom. Mostly, I want to know Him better, more closely, more deeply, more intimately. I want to know Him better than I know myself.

God bless,

Thursday, January 3, 2008

The effects of pornography

Following on from my post yesterday about Rudd's clean feed policy the following article from The Age today is interesting:


If anyone doubts that the internet has meant that children are being exposed to sexually explicit material at an earlier age than in previous generations, then the statistic that 84% of boys and 60% of girls had been accidentally exposed to pornography on the net is illuminating. And as this article shows, much of the content is not only sexual but of a violent nature as well. If this is the material upon which young people are forming their values regarding what is right within a sexual relationship then we can expect to see a big rise in sexual violence. The sad part will be that as that behaviour is normalised in society people will become increasingly accepting of being used by each other in degrading and violent ways.

This to some extent is already true. There is already a culture that teaches young women that their value is in their looks, and in their ability to attract men. It teaches women that they need to be sexually available and if they do not want to participate in some sexual acts that they won't be able to get/keep a man. The disturbing thing is that this has all happened in such a way that women defend this sort of thinking and behaviour as "equality with men". The other attitude that can accompany this is a pleasure in the power that men's lust gives women over men.

All of this is SOOOOO far from what God intended. A relationship that is based on taking from each other, and manipulating each other by what each person can give/withhold from the other, and on various power-plays is sick and doomed to failure. There is no intimacy, no sharing of hearts & minds. This is slavery not freedom.

It is hugely important that as a society we do something about the proliferation of pornography. Since the advent of the internet, because of the increase ease of access, as an emotional, spiritual and pyschological threat it is like this threat has gone nuclear. It will destroy the lives and loves of children, teenagers, adults, men and women if something is not done. It destroys relationships, marriages, tears apart families. It hurts our relationship with God. It isn't just "a bit of fun".

What God wants for us all is SO much better. Mark Conner's Sacred Sex series was great on the topic of what God DOES intend sex to be. See especially the first part!

God bless,

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Rudd's Clean Feed (Internet Filtering) Policy

As a part of the recent election campaign, the Labor party promised to protect Australian children whilst online. The Labor policy is here: http://www.alp.org.au/download/now/labors_plan_for_cyber_safety.pdf

One important part of this policy is the promise of a "mandatory ‘clean feed’ internet service for all homes, schools and public computers that are used by Australian children". This filtering will be done at the Internet Service Provider (ISP) level NOT on the user's PC.

In light of the detail of the Labor policy (ie. ISP NOT PC Filtering) it is interesting that the NSW Council for Civil Liberties says that a computer saavy child will be able to get around the filters. Hmmm. Unlikely. To do that they would need access into the ISP's computer systems to tamper with the filtering software. The majority of children would not be capable of hacking their ISP. In fact if you read Labor's policy (as linked above) it is clear that the reason they have selected the 'clean feed' approach is that they understand that filtering inside the home IS simple to get around.

I rather think that this comment by the NSW Council for Civil Liberties is just a distracting tactic. I think later comments reflect more what their objection is, "adults would be restricted by the filters" and "Will there be some database of people who want to access adult pornography, which is legal in most democratic countries?" and "It has serious implications for freedom of expression. When you start filtering material on political grounds - even if the material is objectionable or quite awful - we're heading in the same direction as China and Singapore."

OK so there are really two points here, firstly adults will also be restricted in their access of pornographic material, which is seen to be undesirable because it "is legal in most democratic countries" and has "serious implications for freedom of expression".

There are some an interesting assumptions in this:
  1. Legality in democratic countries is a measure of what is moral or good
  2. Freedom of expression is an absolute ethic

The first statement is quite obviously false. There is of course the extreme example of Nazi Germany; where murder of Jews was legal and yet obviously not moral or good. Another less extreme example would be the way laws regarding smoking have been changing over the last 20 years. 20 years ago you could smoke anywhere, anytime pretty much. The laws have subsequently changed to protect others from passive smoking, such that now it is not legal to smoke in restaurants and pubs. One cannot say that at the time that smoking in restaurants and pubs was legal that it was GOOD. The law has changed, because that original law that allowed smoking in restaurants and pubs was not beneficial or constructive. I would say that it equally follows that just because it is legal for adults to view pornographic material that it is necessarily good.

The second statement that makes freedom of expression an absolute is naive. Freedom is good. It is wonderful to live in a country that allows me choice and freedom. But there is obviously a level of restriction that is good for us. For instance, one could view road laws as inflicting an unecessary level of restriction of freedom. However, I for one am GLAD that when I cross the road when the green man is blinking, that the freedom of drivers is restricted so that I may get to the other side without being run over. I am equally glad to have MY freedom restricted by not crossing the road until the green man blinks, because I know that it is for my good. The NSW Council for Civil Liberties comment that this moves us closer to China or Singapore is a scare tactic. It is common sense that our freedom can and should be restricted at times, and that this is good.

The other side of this is that what is ok for me is not necessarily ok for others. Even if one buys the argument that adults can safely view pornography without harming themselves, it does not necessarily follow that adults SHOULD view pornography knowing that having it accessible means that children may be exposed to it. In 1 Cor 10:23-24, Paul writes that everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial or constructive, and that we should seek the good of others not ourselves. We live in community. As much as our individualistic society tells us that each of us individually are the centre of the universe, the fact is that none of us are. We are responsible not just for feeding our own appetites but also for looking out for one another.

For this reason, even if instituting the clean feed policy means that adults are also restricted from viewing pornographic material, it should most definitely be implemented to protect the children in our community. Actually, I believe this policy is beneficial for adults as well. I think it will mean that fewer adolescents fall into sexual addictions. I think that it will mean less adults will develop unrealistic expectations about sex, and thus will be freed up to better enjoy what sex really IS rather than they imagine it is. I think it will also have a positive impact on women having realistic and positive body images. If the image of women that men desire is not distorted by pornography then the pressure to be a barbie-doll will diminish, and real beauty will be rediscovered.

So personally, I am EXCITED about the clean feed policy! It will protect our children, but also will provide an opportunity for us to rediscover real sex and real beauty. The real is always better than what is imagined, fantasies dry out and get boring with time. True contentment can only be found in appreciating what is real and true.

God bless,