31 March, 2006

Metamorphosis and Contraction - 4

Thank you to all who have read M & C's 1-3. I have literally been afraid to broach this subject to myself, and having someone listening as I thought through these things has been a genuine blessing. I owe all of you something, so if you can think of any way I could repay you, feel free to collect!

I don't know whether it will come across in these few more pages how far I have moved since starting this blog, and since writing the first post of this series. I can assure you that Codepoke a la 1987 would have written a dirge mourning the shipwreck that is Codepoke 2006 after reading this post. I'm pretty sure that my current, advanced age would not given me much pause. ;-)

FWIW, this M & C - 4 is not about dreaming up castles in the sky, or a holy wish list. What I describe here I will either find somewhere or I will try to build it. This is no game for me, no mental exercise. I lost 15 years of my life because I got this wrong once already. If I have 30 years left, I might have 2 more tries left in me. That's not much. I cannot allow myself to waste that time sitting in a place that cannot do the work of the kingdom.

Conclusions, 3/31/2006

What does a church look like that can do the good works God has prepared beforehand for them?

The church will know their goals.
Goals differ from Purpose. The purpose of the church is to show the multifaceted wisdom of God. The goals of a church, though, are profoundly smaller. Think of them as milestones along the path. They are things to which you and I can contribute. Here are 6.

- To be the right size
Fewer than 50 people is almost unworkable. More than 500 I cannot imagine. Maybe I'm wrong on this; I have no experience of a church with more than 300 people. I am imagining a church of 100 - 300 people as I write these things. I have heard told that the human brain is hardwired to know 150 people on sight, so I think there's a limit to how big a church should be.

- To have a stable leadership
This matters. When the people don't know who will be leading them over the next months, they are afraid to reach out and try things. Stability is more important than superstar talent.

- To have a broad leadership
There should be a leader for every 5-20 people. Think of a mother/father hen more than a bible scholar. I cannot imagine a church of 200 with fewer than a dozen leaders, though I can easily imagine it with 40. The lower the leader is in the feeding chain, the easier it is to talk to him or her. Yes, I said "her". I do not believe that the church works without women in leadership, but feel free to tune out my mentions of "her" in leadership if you must.

Broad leadership will not work if it remains overly centralized. As long as the church is run by businessmen who see it as a CEO/Pastor plus a Board of Directors/Elders, we are out of luck. Each little group needs to be responsible for their own decisions and their own actions, and that will be hard to teach at first.

- To spread the labor as deeply as possible
Now that the church has leaders running out of their ears, let's get them busy. Specifically, let's get them busy keeping their people busy. Give them meaningful work, and make sure everyone gets recognition when good work is done.

- To find meaningful labor
Here is the key goal. If everyone has enough to do, and if what they have to do is necessary work, any group will be knitted together. Do you wonder why men are underrepresented in the church? They don't have anything meaningful to do. If you take a man, give him a rifle and teach him how to be a soldier all day every day, you had better give him something meaningful to do or you are going to have a morale problem soon. Give a man a bible and 52 weeks of every year teach him how he would use it if he were doing anything meaningful, and that man is soon to be gone.

Work draws men, and hard work draws strong men. Guess what. I bet it draws strong women too.

Meaningful work comes in thousands of shapes and sizes. There is work toward God, work toward each other, and work toward the people around us. We could stay busy for lifetimes, if only someone were there to tell us what to do. But God doesn't work like that. He gives us some talents and leaves us alone. It is ours to figure out how to invest those talents, and that is why I emphasize finding the work that is to be done. Sometimes it reaches out and bites us, but usually finding the right work is the most important work of all.

Listening to the Word and worshipping are necessary bits of work, but everyone is already doing them. There's other work out there that needs doing, too.

- To sow meaningful holiness
I mean three things here. Holiness should be grown, not policed. It should focus on things that make a real difference, not the little things that are so easy to measure. And, holiness should be a drawing near to God, and only incidentally a pulling away from the world.

The church should sow holiness, not enforce secondary standards. Enforce the ten commandments, sure. Don't let everyone start drinking blood, yeah. But don't try to tell people how much beer is unholy. Instead, plant the seeds of holy lust for eternal communion with the Lord Who bought us.

There is a lot of meaningless holiness in church history (not so much in modern America, it seems.) Abstaining from a hundred tiny pleasures may not be a bad thing, but that is not holiness. Such abstinence is discipline. Discipline is good when used with wisdom, and I encourage it. But the church needs to plant, water and reap something a little more substantial.

Holiness is more than sinlessness, even. Holiness is a separation toward God. Separating from worldly things is not bad, but it is not necessarily effective, either. Separating from movies might only join you to books, for example. Separate toward God, and you should find that movies and books both end up in their proper places.

The church will be local
I cannot see any way around this. You can try to pull a church together from all over the city, but I don't think it will ever reach as high as one grown from a single neighborhood. Forget the fact that it cannot happen for just a second, please. Imagine that you could see every house of the 10 people you labored with in the church. Imagine that you knew each other well enough that it would be freaky if no one knocked on your door all week. I've lived it, and after experiencing it, I believe it is why we are here on this planet.

For the first month of trying this, a church should take as their first labor "meal sharing." Everyone should know who their block leader is, and who is in their little group. The block leader will help coordinate the meals so that everyone has at least two church dinners each week. Each person has someone different from the little group over and goes over to someone else's for dinner. After 4 weeks, everyone would have had 4 singles/couples/families over at their house and been in 4 other houses for dinner. What's even more cool is that if there are 15 groups, then all 15 groups are doing the same thing, but each group is having their own individual experience. There will be lots of stories to share when you get together!

We need to get comfortable in each other's homes. It is a foundational labor. For most of us, the Lord is already a big part of our homes, but the church simply isn't. The church in some other place, and we have to drive to them. The church needs to be people we have sitting on our futons. We need to know each other in real ways before we can love each other in real ways.

The local neighborhood will know its church for its good works
I cannot be the only person who interprets Rev 22:2b as describing the church's relationship to the world around her.

And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.

The tree here is the Lord plus His church. He is the Vine, and we are the branches. The fruit of the tree is given for the Lord and for the church. The leaves of the tree, though, are for the healing of the nations. And so history shows it. Nations that have embraced the church have done so to their great profit. Literacy, equality, compassion, justice, democracy, mercy, and even wealth have followed the church wherever we are welcomed. This is no totem of superstitious coincidence. The health of the nations is helped by the blessings of God and by the natural effects of living in closer harmony with the design of the universe.

The church should extend her leaves to the neighborhood. We should care for those around us who need care. We should be a voice of reason in the PTA dogfights. We should make the parks nice places for everyone to be. We should be in tune to what's happening in local government, and even contribute there.

Our little church should bring healing to our little neighborhood.

Preaching and Teaching may be central, but they will not be the center
The center of the church is "Thou shalt love the Lord they God," and "love thy neighbor as thyself."

Love here is a verb involving the heart, mind, soul and strength. Preaching should put us in the way of doing that, but sitting under preaching is not loving God and it is not loving my neighbor.

If the church can apply itself to loving God, each other and the neighborhood, something amazing will happen. We will begin to fail at things. Failing is a good, good thing! When we finally begin to fail, it will prove that we are no longer sitting on our thumbs. Failure trumps boredom any day, too! Not to mention that it softens our hearts for instruction. Nothing better could happen for a teacher than to have a class full of students who suddenly care about the lesson at hand. Preaching becomes fascinating when it applies to something everyone is experiencing together!

To be always learning, and never coming to the application of the truth is not a good thing. I know that we each go home and apply each of the sermon's truths individually, but applying them as a church is so much stronger.

People will disagree on doctrine
This is a treasure, not a burden.

Tennis analogy again. I hit a one-handed backhand. Most of my friends hit a two-hander. It gives us something to talk about! We get to look at the relative advantages of each style and see them in action. Kids joining our team get to hear both sides of the argument and choose intelligently. If we split into different tennis denominations, then I have to drive to Lower Slobovia to find 12 decent one-handers to make a team (we are a rare breed any more) and my life gets that little bit more boring. Why do that to myself?

I now disagree with almost every biggish doctrine my first church gave me. So what? I was a child of the Lord then every bit as much then as now - I just hadn't made many mistakes yet. Should Codepoke a la 2006 disfellowship Codepoke 1976? Both '76 and '06 subscribe to the Nicene Creed, and I think that's good enough. But the issue is not the doctrines, but the life inside. Life is drawn to true doctrine. Flesh is drawn to false. Who shall deliver me from the doctrine of this death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Think of the arrogant pride I might never have learned had I been able to fellowship with people who believed both what I believed then and what I believe now? I could not have believed that just because 'my church' said it, it was God's own truth. I would have had to understand a doctrine before pontificating upon it. And when I picked a side, I would have chosen it knowing that Johnny over there is respected by everyone, even though he has the nerve to disagree with me.

Please, please, please, end this curse of denomination.

The church will worship with variety
This is important.

Corn, rice, and hamburger patties make a good meal. Corn, rice, and hamburger patties for 10 years, though, will kill a man. Not to mention how unpleasant that 520th meal will be. Our palattes take joy in variety because our bodies a variety of nutrition to survive. We need different veggies, meats, and starches to keep all the little organs working at full capacity.

When there is so much variety in the Lord, why are we satisfied to hear a different sermon than last week? Why are satisfied when the songs are a little faster this week than last? It's like putting barbeque sauce on the hamburger instead of salt and pepper. Sure, it's a little different, but it's not variety. It's not healthy. Cast the sermon into the outer darkness for a month. Let the church share testimonies instead. Instead of singing 3 hymns, have 3 people pick and present 3 psalms. Let everyone read them together. Hey, just try turning off the stupid loudspeakers so the people can hear themselves sing! You might be surprised. Try "holler-back" praise. Let the people on one side of the room declare something, and the people on the other echo it.

Variety is hard. It's work, but it's worthy work.

Church will take time
There has to be a balance in all things, but in this one we are currently light on the "work" side. We complain that we are sucked into the world's attractions, but we don't backfill the vacuum that leaving the world's amusements creates. The world often works to draw us away from the Lord by entertainment, and sometimes the church tries to answer with holy entertainment. Bzzzzt.

The correct answer is work.

Work gives a feeling of satisfaction that entertainment cannot match. Really. The world loses this battle when it is properly engaged. The 2 keys are to seldom work alone, and to seldom do "busy work." If most of the time, you are working with someone you enjoy, doing something that you know matters, you are not going to miss that TV.

Notice, though, that I have the church taking its time from our "entertainment" time, not our family time. The church should seldom take time away from family. It is foolishness to think that if we serve the church with all our might our families will be the better for it. I would also say that the church should not take 100% of our entertainment time (or when would I play tennis?)

Us fanatical nutcases need to be reminded of these things.

There will be a building.
The cathedrals of Europe are an offense to me. I despise them. They exist because men with evil hearts chose to make something beautiful to gratify themselves. They sat down with their abacii and worked out how to stir dread in the hearts of all who came to God, then built those monstrosities on the blood of the people. May the Lord repay them.

Every now and again, I just have to say that out loud. I know it is a minority position.

I have learned that my despite for cathedrals is not a good reason to reject the idea of buildings dedicated to the Lord's work. That building has the potential to be a really useful thing. I don't believe the majority of church buildings are used well, but they could be. Besides, if the churches were suddenly to be transformed into building-clasts, they would flood the market selling their buildings anyway, so there's no point trying that plan. ;-)


Alright, I think I have said enough.

I doubt any of you is as surprised at some of the things you found here as I. I am shocked by a number of them. I never thought I would say anything nice about church buildings, for example. I never thought I would say anything positive about the church encouraging holiness. I was converted and raised legalist (and I was a natural at it) so I tend to fear of a police church.

If there is an area of practical church implementation that I skipped, please point it out. (Except money. I did not talk about that here because I am still not ready. Maybe some day.)

This was fun. Thank you, again.

Tennis - The Spirit of a Warrior

I really don't cry every time I see someone drop hat, but I wept at last night's tennis match.

There have been a couple of discussions out there about competition and whether it is is a Christian kind of a thing. One was over at The Realm and the other at Three Hierarchies. I come down fanatically on side of competition as a reason to live, and that Christians should compete as whole-heartedly as anyone.

Last night's match was a brilliant, glowing display of true competition.

Tatiana Golovin (no, I didn't know her either, but she's number 11 in the world) was pitted against Maria Sharapova. She was meekly being led to the slaughter at 3-6 and 1-5 when she decided she wanted to win. All night she had looked like someone who should be in the lead. She carried herself well, and hit the ball like she meant it, but she was being put to sleep without a fight. I could not tell why. Her game is similar to Sharapova's (translation: boring) so I had drifted over to the computer and was watching highlights from Federer.

Sharapova was up match point, so I pulled myself away from the computer to watch the end.

Honestly, Golovin still didn't look like someone waiting for the curtain to fall and free her from the match. She was looking for that serve. She was going to jump on it. And she did.

She staved off match point.

Then another.

Then another.

She had come from love-40 to deuce. Pretty cool.

What was cooler was that Sharapova had not made a single error. She had not lost 1 mph off her serve or groundstroke. She had not lost heart. Golovin had won each of those points after a long and nerve-tearing rally.

Sharapova served again, and faulted. Golovin was going to get a second serve.

She shanked it.


Everyone go back to sleep.

Except Golovin. Sharapova came on strong at deuce, but Golovin came on stronger.

Deuce. Ad Golovin. Deuce. Ad Golovin. Game Golovin.


Now it's 2-5. There's still a huge hill to be climbed, but she looks like she might do it.

Every game is tight. The rallies were unconscious. Both players were hitting from that deep well that every player dreams about at night. They were in the zone, and taking gambles that they might never try on a practice court and hitting them. 3 and 4 times per rally there was a miracle shot, and the rallies were 10 and 15 hits long. Mind you, I hate this style of tennis, but they were playing at the tops of their games.

The crowd was on their feet, shouting, cheering, and running up and down the stairwells.

And Golovin was winning.

I watched Mary Jo Fernandez come back from 1-6, 1-5 against Gabriella Sabatini. I watched someone come back against Mary Pierce from 1-5. Those matches were nothing like this one. In those matches the person in the lead folded. Sharapova did not fold here. Her dignity, her strokes, and her resolve never never flagged.

Golovin goes to 5-5. She drops to 5-6. She serves to stay in the match. 6-6. Go to the tiebreak.

In the tiebreak, Golovin trailed by 1-2, 2-3, and 4-5. Eventually she made it to 6-5. Set point - Golovin. After 16 strokes, Sharapova wimped out and tried a drop shot. That's almost always a desparate measure in that situation, employed by the exhausted, but Golovin had just used it to get to 6-5. Golovin got to Sharapova's shot in time for the easy put-away. Then she drove the ball into the net cord! It went straight up from the cord but over - and landed on the back line. Sharapova even challenged the call to no avail. These women were holding nothing back. Golovin took the second set.

At this point, I had to go to bed. It was not easy, but being mortal and all....

I checked the highlights this afternoon.

At 3-4 in the third set, Golovin went to retrieve a solidly hit forehand and rolled her ankle. I mean well and truly rolled it. She tore something badly, I'm sure. As they gave us the close-up on it, you could see the bruising already extending all the way down to her toes.

They taped that puppy up, and she stood up and played the next point.

It was only after missing that point that she finally bent over and started crying.

Me too.

When she got to the net to shake Sharapova's hand, she had a smile on her face.

I don't know what I can add to this. Tennis may not be your thing, and you may believe there are more important things in the world than sport in general. I understand. But to feel everything in your being come together for an hour, and to utterly drain yourself against a worthy opponent and win is about as wonderful a feeling as you can have. To spend yourself and lose a close match is one of the worst. But I love that bad feeling much more than not playing. I will come back for it again and again.

Just let me play with the heart Golovin had last night, and I will walk away happy.

30 March, 2006

About the Greek

For those of you who wish you could look under the hood of the translation process, The Better Bibles Blog is a good place to hang out.

Out there, Right Now, AS I TYPE!....

...Suzanne McCarthy is looking at 2 Tim. 2:15: Orthotomeo. This is the word the KJV guys decided to translate "rightly dividing" the Word of Truth. She just posted the fifth article in the series, and there's no sign of it getting boring yet! She's taken us to Thucydides, Herodotus, Plato, Plutarch, Proverbs, lexicons, and all sorts of cool stuff. There's been talk of war and road building. There have been translations to German and Latin, and even unicode has played a part.

Mostly, it's just cool hearing how little about our translations is really known. We know that 1+1=2, and we know that a "shortcut" in english can be a bad thing as easily as a good one. But when Paul wrote orthotomeo, it is really not plain what he meant. An awful lot of research goes into taking your best guess.

Thanks, Suzanne.

(Here is an experiment with their trackback doohickey.)

29 March, 2006

James - A Jealous God

James 4 TNIV
5 Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us?


James 4 ESV
Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”?


James 4 KJV
Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy?


James 4 Darby
Think ye that the scripture speaks in vain? Does the Spirit which has taken his abode in us desire enviously?


I have seldom seen so many different meanings for a single verse. I read it first in the ESV, and it really makes the most sense there so far as I am concerned, but once again I find myself jealous of everyone who knows how to tease out a meaning from the Greek. Praise the Lord for teachers!

Whatever the verse may exactly say, or not say, God is jealous over us! He is jealous for our holiness. He is jealous for our joy. And the two can never be separated.

26 March, 2006

My Good Friday Assignment - I Thirst

I have been given the opportunity to share 5 minutes on Jesus' 6th word from the cross, "I thirst." Here is what I will share (After all suggestions, additions and corrections . :-)

Psalm 22

2 My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest.
3 Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the praise of Israel.
12 Many bulls surround me; strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.
13 Roaring lions that tear their prey open their mouths wide against me.
14 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted within me.
15 My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death.

Psalm 69
3 I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched. My eyes fail, looking for my God.
4 Those who hate me without reason outnumber the hairs of my head; many are my enemies without cause, those who seek to destroy me. I am forced to restore what I did not steal.
19 You know how I am scorned, disgraced and shamed; all my enemies are before you.
20 Scorn has broken my heart and has left me helpless; I looked for sympathy, but there was none, for comforters, but I found none.
21 They put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst.

John 19
28 Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, "I am thirsty."
29 A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus' lips.

The Lord of Creation, and the Savior of all the earth is stretched beyond measure. His strength, His Life, is poured out before their eyes. He is spent and desparate. Every bone out of joint, He looks down from the cursed tree to those who hate Him without cause and asks that His thirst be relieved. Like the rich man in Hades, the holy Son of Man is roasting upon the Father's wrath, and He asks for a drop of water to be placed upon His tongue.

These soldiers, these bulls of Bashan surrounding the Son of Man, with jaws open wide to tear their prey, find their hearts softened. They decide to extend mercy to this condemned Man. The vinegar that the Roman soldiers gave to the condemned may have contained a kind of pain reliever. So, they extended to Him a gift.

Jesus received of them vinegar and gall. On top of all the cruelty, even the mercy extended by man to the Holy Lamb was acid and bitterness.

The Son of Man took this drink. To His thirst He added bitterness, and in taking it He overcame it. The bitterness entered His mouth, but it never made it to His heart. The Friend of Sinners remained a Lover of God and of us, the ungodly, in His hour of weakest need and unjust attack.

He suffered this for us. He suffered so that we would never thirst. The Eternal Fountain was parched so that Water would be given to us.

John 7
37 Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, "Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink.
38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them."

Because Jesus suffered, He is now glorified, and because He is glorified, the Spirit is given to us. The Spirit lives within us, and flows out from us to one another. Because the Holy One thirsted, we never need to.

But there are those among us who thirst, those who are parched. The brother working overtime to support his family, the sister working all the time to care for that family, the single parent doing both, the senior working on after strength has gone, the saint who just needs a shoulder to cry on.

Because Jesus was parched, we need never be. We can release the Water of consolation and love to each other. When a saint is in the middle of the fiery trial, we can give them the sweet water of how Christ suffered for them. We can come alongside, and bear their burden with them. We can shower on to the saints the Love we have received from the Lover of our souls. And when we do, we will be giving water to the Lord Himself.

One day, because of the precious work of the Lamb, and because His church learned how to let the Spirit flow out from them, Jesus will be able to look at His sheep and say,

Matthew 25
40 Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.
34 Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.
35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink,

Church - A Moving Experience?

Back in M & C - 3, CT asked,

It's more comfortable to change churches if your job moves you. People understand that. But I wonder how many job changes are as a result of dissatisfaction with a church.

This question intrigues me.

Does it interest anyone else? Have you moved jobs because of your church?

All 3 of my job changes have been church-related.

I moved my family across the country to be a part of the home church I described in M & C - 2. The job I took there was adequate. I was working graveyard 13 hours a day, but I was a rookie mechanic. I could hope for no more.

Then one day they moved me to swing shift. I gave them two weeks to move me back to graveyeard, and they would not. Graveyard was cool because I could be at all the meetings. I slept when everyone worked and worked when everyone slept. I was missing nothing. Swing, though, is a living nightmare. I worked when everyone was playing, slept when everyone was working, and played alone. Ick.

So, I changed jobs again. I'm counting that as number 2, and hoping CT agrees with the reasoning.

The third job change was when we decided we had to get away from that home church. We picked the place in the country where there were the most jobs available in my skillset, and applied up here. I found a company willing to pay to move me, and they had a contract lined up ... voila.

So, I have moved to be in a church, to have more time in a church, and to get away from a church.


I'm all ears.

Recipes - Desert

OK, this one is just lazy. It takes about 2 minutes to prepare. The glory of it is that it is as good as most ice creams.

1 qt Plain Organic Yogurt - with the Cream - that milk fat makes all the difference!
1/3 cup of sugar
1 tablespoon of vanilla.
1 lb frozen fruit.

Just mix it all together and let it sit long enough to let the fruit thaw until it is enjoyable. If you time it right, the frozen yogurt effect is really cool.

If you get low-fat yogurt, you deserve the suffering you inflict on yourself and all involved!

25 March, 2006

Vox Apologia - Scholars disagree?

The question on Vox Apologia this week is here.

There are really a couple of questions in this question, but the fun starts like this:

Suppose two biblical scholars (Or scholars of any other religious material for that matter) disagree in a mutually exclusive manner...

What happens? Well obviously they argue, start a flamewar, define lines of disagreement and demand that everyone they know pick one side or the other of those lines, then start a new denomination or two.

But I suppose the question of what should happen could be more interesting.

DarkSyde goes on to clarify the question:
Does it or does it not make sense, in those cases where it is possible, to consider empirical when trying to decide which case appears the more likely? I'm thinking for example of the estimated age of the universe or the earth, the geometry of the solar system, or the shape of the earth, all of which have been argued about from various perspectives throughout history based mostly on personal interpretation of religious text.

Going with the first example, the universe cannot both be nearly 14 billion years old and also be fewer than 10,000 years old. Since there are Christians on both sides of this argument, you can ask what those theologians do.

The specific question is whether the apologists will look at empirical evidence. The answer to that is a hearty, "Yes." And both will interpret that empirical evidence in some way that supports their positions. Then both will use that evidence to draw lines in the sand, and ask everyone to pick sides. In some rare and remarkable situations, empirical evidence will even lead one of those theologians to change his position.

Copernicus and Galileo were discomfitted a long time ago. The old techniques employed to bully people into disbelieving their own eyes were both unsuccessful and wrong. They are largely gone now.

The shoe seems now to be on the other foot. A lot of noise is being made these days regarding Intelligent Design theory. The media is now attempting to bully some very intelligent people into disbelieving their own eyes on that subject. Their accusation is that the Christians ignore all the empirical evidence, preferring to accept uninformed assertions in our sacred text. The truth is more complex than that. I have read a couple of William Dembski's books, and he cannot honestly be accused of ignoring the empirical evidence. He interprets it differently than the secular scientist, but he is definitely taking the empirical to heart.

Given the remarkable track record of the bible against a slew of enthused opponents, it makes sense to me to consider its assertions before choosing between unclear interpretations of empirical evidence. That understood, the days of ignorance about the world are gone, and the world and theologians are both the better for it.

What seems more interesting to me is what should happen between two theologians when they disagree, but that's another question.


Ah, the beauty of being a former mechanic.

I can decide to address the funny sound the front right corner of the car is making, look up the specs on wheel bearing end play, yank the front tire, set the end play with a dial indicator, get it all put back together, and be cleaned up in less than an hour.

Of course, the car is still making the same noise, but ....

24 March, 2006

Metamorphosis and Contraction - The Sing Along

So, what do you think?


Late breaking!

Danny Kaye begins what looks to be a really cool journey answering this question, with his first post:
The Perfect Church


I have put extensive notes out here on what I think is right about both the home church and the steeple church. Next, I hope to write what I think the perfect church would look like (and yes, I have heard, "If you find the perfect church, don't join it. You'll just ruin it." I'll take that risk.) I would like to hear what you think the perfect church should be.

I don't know whether I have said it here, but I believe that the last frontier of theology is ecclesiology, the study of the church. In the Progress of Dogma, James Orr looks at the history of the church as a giant, chronological walking out of systematic theology. First the church was confronted by errors in the doctrine of God, then of the Trinity, then of the Son of Man, then of salvation, etc, etc. I forget most of his conclusions, but it's a great thought.

The church has walked every doctrine out, except itself. Like the Shulamite, the church has tended to other gardens and her own has suffered. When Constantine filled the ranks of the Christian church with recently converted pagan priests, he liked to have killed it. Soon, we had a full-blown Catholic church and the scriptures themselves were hidden from us regular Joe's. We could not defend ourselves from a misled priesthood, and a thousand years of relative darkness ensued. It took Gutenburg to free us from that, but I believe we still missed some critical points.

What about you?

If anyone else would like to post on the perfect church, I will gladly link all the posts here. I would really like to hear what each of you thinks is important in a church, and what our lives should be like as members thereof.

Once again, I hope to do the Vox Apologia question this week (DarkSyde asks how Christians should reconcile doctrinal differences - cool question), so it will probably next week before I am done with M & C - 4.

See you soon,

23 March, 2006

Metamorphosis and Contraction - 3

Seriously, in about a month I will have some clue what I am really trying to say with all this, and I will write a readable, succinct post that actually has meaning. This post is an admission of 25 years worth of errors, but even at that it follows no meaningful path. I can almost promise that there is nothing edifying in the next several hundred words. My apologies if this does not stop you.

Post 2 was the good stuff from the home church. That was an easy sell (to myself, anyway.) Post 3 here is going to be the bad stuff, the stuff I sincerely hope never have to deal with again.

Please have mercy should I seem to insult a brother or sister.

The brothers and sisters with whom I fellowshipped were lovely, even if we did push each other beyond the limits of our tolerance from time to time. This post will be a criticism of things that some of them still believe, and that will be hard for me. My intent is to criticize my past, not theirs, but they were there too. I can assure you that many of them strongly believe that I was the biggest problem in their church.

Without further ado:

THE big issue for me is ecstatic wordless prayer. I hope I never have to endure another hour of silence, puncuated by meaningful sighs - or failing that, that I finally begin to understand whatever everyone else was so in love with.

Charismatics speak in tongues. My little group spoke in silences. In both cases, the experience was an ecstatic one. I was raised Assemblies of God, and I recognize ecstacy when I see it.

We were taught that because the Father and Son were in fellowship in our spirits, we could center ourselves there and enter into their experience. I misunderstood this teaching from day one. I thought our founder was teaching us to silently meditate on the Lord as a precursor to expressing ourselves in intelligible praise. In fact, if I had the stomach to go back and buy his old tapes, I'm pretty sure I would find that this really is what used to say. By the time I left it was decidedly not what he was saying.

As things in that church evolved from a kind of pew-less Baptist feel to an American Quietist feel, they lost me. We started in 1990 with 15 people. We grew to 30 by 1994, and died back to 8 by 1996. By 1998 we were back up to almost 30 again. Somewhere in all that growth and death a lot was lost. The group and the leader both seemed to become much more attracted to the ecstatic.

The focus seemed wrong to me, and it seemed that the lives of the brothers bore out that appearance. Brothers that I knew to be in sharp division with another brother would sigh in wordless testimony to a deep experience they were having with the Lord. Apparently achieving spiritual union with God while in open discord with other brothers was just ugly. It drove me away. I could not trust brothers like that.

I will not lie to you. Many times I sought (and easily found) the refuge of sleep during those meetings. To be clearer, many of those brothers believed with all their hearts that I was the problem, and I leave it to the Lord to reveal the truth in the last day. I surely don't know whether my perceptions are false. I am telling things I never want to do again, not whether those brothers were right.

At any rate, I left the church because of this and the character of the leader - it turned out that he had less character than I was willing accept in a leader.

Everything else I will list in this post is stuff that the steeple church has that our home church lacked. I can live without these other things I will list. But, I cannot live with ecstatic experience outside of concrete evidence of growth, or with leaders who demonstrate an unacceptable lack of character. These two things are show stoppers.


I find myself in a steeple church now.

It is everything I wish it weren't.

So, why have I not left?

There are a number of common reasons. After 7 years of never being around anyone who rejoiced at the Name of the Lord, it was an unspeakable joy the day I got to sit in my first Christian service again. As I sat in this little church, I wept repeatedly for 3 weeks. Just to hear the Name of the Lord praised was unfathomable.

Psalm 42:4 TNIV
These things I remember
as I pour out my soul:
how I used to go to the house of God
under the protection of the Mighty One [a]
with shouts of joy and praise
among the festive throng.

I also go because I need some kind of social contact outside of work. I go to hear the Word of God. I go to sing with believers. I go because it is a joy to at least hope to use my gifts for the Lord in some way, even if it is slow going getting started.

But, like I said, these are all common reasons. I could have these needs met just as easily in a home church (and there is one just 3 miles away) as in this one. Why am I not off crusading in that home church? I could be living my dream of 1982 there. Why am I still under this steeple?

To be clear. As I sit here typing these words, I do not know the answer to that question. I am doubting myself even now, wondering whether I ought not to just go ahead and sign up over at that home church. But, I know that I don't want to. Why? In light of all I believe, why?

The steeple church offers a couple things that I think are really critical.

Stability. There is no stability in a home church. People come and go, doctrines come and go, and plans come and go. About 20 years ago, I thought that was the coolest thing ever. I wanted to get me some of that!

Today, I have not changed much, but I work with 15 people who do "change management" for a living. It is almost frightening to me how much change bothers them. I am pretty much OK with change if it is the right thing to do right now. These people, though, are not at all like that. They need to know that someone has looked at every detail. They need to have the ability to say, "No," if they don't like the change, and they need most of all for this not to happen to them too very often.

Working with these people has been a huge eye-opener for me.

I learned that the kind of church that draws me, repels them. I have learned that the majority of Christians would not survive in a highly fluid church environment for long. The church simply cannot be highly fluid. Period end of statement. It must be stable.

The next thing the steeple church has is a very open heart.

Honestly, my home church had its nose up in the air. There was a certain standard to which everyone had to rise to belong. It was a level of commitment that everyone had to reach. You had to be willing to give up a certain amount of your life, and that really sounded good on paper.

The first barricade was that you had to live in the neighborhood in which the church was started. We intentionally picked a neighborhood that had a high turn-over rate for homes, and that was reasonably priced. When the neighborhood priced itself out of our reach, we moved to another, more affordable, neighborhood.

A number of us had moved from across the country to be there, so that was easy for us. A few of us had not. The ones who were native to the city did not last long. They had extended family and friends and a whole lot of things imposing on their time that the rest of us didn't have. Pretty soon, all of us immigrants wore them out. We had nothing and no one to distract us from being with each other day in and day out. Within 2 years, all the natives were gone.

We should have known something was wrong with that, but we were young and gung-ho.

As people would visit, and decide whether to move to join us, we let them know what they were joining. You didn't move into our church unless you really, really wanted to.

We were really proud of that fact. One of the brothers was fond of repeating that, "We have a REALLY small front door, and a REALLY large back door." He meant that it was hard to get in, and very easy to get out of our church. We would fork over money to help people move away. We gave open hearts and open hands as they left, but anyone was more than free to go.

We just didn't have openness to anyone who was less than insanely committed.

It almost went without saying that none of our neighbors was going to be able to keep up with us. The odds that anyone who coincidentally lived in the neighborhood we had chosen was in love enough with the Lord to fit in with us approached zero. In consequence, we never did reach out to our neighbors meaningfully.

Jesus would not quench a smoking flax, but we would almost dowse water on a bonfire to make sure it was genuinely hot.

Again, we should have known that something was wrong with that, but elitism is not a new thing to the Christian church.

The next thing the steeple church has that we lacked is leadership.

We lived for 10 years essentially without leaders. Our founder promised us that one day elders would organically arise from within our midst in the Spirit's time, but every time one seemed to rise he was cut down in his prime. So, we lived with the entire church as the responsible party for everything.

When something went wrong, it was everyone's fault, not anyone's in particular. Those of you are leaders know that did not work. If anyone is partially responsible for anything, it means they are not responsible for anything. The hard jobs went undone. When the affair started in the church, there was no one to stand up and do something about it. It cost everyone.

We spent months deciding things that a leader or two could have decided in a week. There were just too many of us working in the stew. We allowed things to fester that a grown man should just have handled. We allowed people to hurt who should have been helped much sooner. It was a bad idea.

It also goes back to the idea of stability. When you know Fred is there and looking out for you, it makes a world of difference. You may whine about Fred as a poor leader, but him being there is a great comfort.

The next thing we lacked is smarts.

Oh, I know, that's almost redundant after everything else I've said. :-)

We had a lot of people with above average intelligence, but precious little training in the Word. Our founder was there to set us straight if we wandered into error, and he preached to us about 8 times a year, but we actually rejected the idea behind doctrine.

This was huge for me. Of all the things that kept me from fitting in, the fact that I cared about doctrine was probably highest on the list. I know there are home churches that are all about doctrine, but our was not. Ours was all about the sin of trying to systematize the beautiful story the Lord had given us. I was considered the last vestige of a dying machination because I actually knew what soteriology was.

Across a large portion of the home church movement, the college-like place you go to learn doctrine is called a Semetery. Our ignorance was viewed as virtue, but it also cost us deeply.

I have always said that doctrine is important, without being central. Knowing Jesus, and knowing each other is central. But sound doctrine makes both of those things go much better. To analogize to tennis, loving the brothers is critical. If you fail to love your brothers, you lose points, games, sets, and matches. Doctrine, though, is like style in tennis. If you hold the racket upside down you can still score points and win, but it will be really hard and you are likely to injure yourself trying it.

For example, most of us are legalists for a while. We love God and love our brothers, but we are doing it in a very painful way - painful for them and for us. Life gets much easier and much more effective when we learn how grace extends to all of life. The same is true of soteriology, eschatology, and all those other big words. If we have our heads screwed on straight, we tend to go in the right direction more easily.

Anyway, my home church failed sadly in doctrine, and several of the group suffered unnecessarily for it.

The steeple church does a lot more preaching than 8 times a year, of course. This is neither here nor there to me. I don't count this as a mark in it's favor, but I am not really against it either. Assuming the preaching is of high quality, frequent preaching is hardly a bad thing. On the other hand, I don't stay in a church for the preaching. Books do a much better job for me than a preacher.

I'm running out of things to list, but money comes to mind. I cannot say that either the home church or the steeple church has money right. Other than this one little statement, though, I will leave that subject untouched.

That's really about it, as far as I can tell. Those are the things that the steeple church I attend has over my home church.

You may note that my heart does not soar as I list these strong points of the steeple church. These things are all human necessities, rather like grocery shopping. We need stability, openness, leadership, and doctrine, but they aren't the highest peaks of romantic spirituality.

The brother who started all this angst with his tough questioning of my dreams is still living right where I was in 1997. He has not lost his romantic fervor. He still sees a glorious church living without a plan on ecstatic prayer, and being led immediately and directly by the Spirit. I can produce a number of scriptures to support his view over against my current direction, too.

That's hard.

It is a very frightening thing to let go of a dream I started dreaming almost 25 years ago. I am pragmatist, so I believe that I can, but it is even harder when a respected, older brother questions my need to see something physical to believe God is moving. Between the lines, I hear him asking how I could be turning back to the elemental things of hierarchicalism and Nicolaitanism. I hear the question, "Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?"

Are these things of the visible church not flesh?

But the plain evidence of my eyes and heart is that we need these things. When the church is built without them, she fails. The church has survived 2000 years because of these things. How should she survive without them? Should she survive without them, or are they God-ordained?

Again, I apologize for the wandering nature of these posts, and for how little of value is in them. It is helping me to say these things out loud, and I REALLY appreciate all the encouragement I have gotten in the comments. That includes the negative encouragement, too!

Post #4 hopes to draw what I think a complete church might look like. I still have no idea even where to start, so no promises.

Thanks for listening.

21 March, 2006

If Brevity is the Soul of Wit....

... then I am a half-wit.

My verbosity is legendary, and my output from the last week is more in keeping with my natural character than I would like to admit. You can always tell when I have no clue what I'm talking about. It takes me pages and pages to say it.

I want to make it clear that I am not neglecting my family to blog at this great length. My family is neglecting me.

If you ever have the opportunity to single-parent through the late teen years, go ahead and pass. I have free time for the first time in a decade or two, but at the price of near constant rejection. Doing that without someone in the house to say I am not a complete loser gets old.

My daughter has actually quit spending 50% of her time here (and who can blame her - that split life thing is awful) to go live with her mom. It is much harder than it may sound, as it seems to me that she mostly did it following her mom's example. Her mom rejected the Lord a few years before leaving.

My son is fully engaged in prepping for SAT and AP Exams. I see him for about 2 minutes a night, some nights, and maybe an hour on weekends. We did not even have time to rock-climb together, which is a usual Tuesday/Friday night thing for us. When we are together, though, things are good.

Mostly, though, these years are ALL about proving to themselves that they can think for themselves. That involves mountains of finding things to disagree about. It wears, baby. It wears. Were I the confident type, or as mature and secure as my four decades might suggest, it would roll off my back. Unfortunately, I don't think there is an animal in nature that I am less like than a duck.

Anyway, I'm pretty confused by the whole M & C series of posts, so they will probably be written in "verbose mode". I will try to go back to "blog-length" posts after that. Indulging in 1300-word explorations is just plain rude. ;-)

(This post: ~330 words.)

20 March, 2006

Metamorphosis and Contraction - 2

A sincere case for the Church as I knew it in 1997. Go with me on this.

Before the beginning of time, the Father, the Son, and the Spirit existed in perfect, blessed, and eternal fellowship.

Sure, that is a propositional truth, but it's much more. That is the foundation of the universe itself. That fellowship defines everything the universe was ever meant to be. We cannot understand why grass grows, why people love, or why the church exists until we apprehend the fellowship of the Father, the Son and the Spirit.

Whatever it is they are doing, is what we are meant to do.

Understanding the eternal fellowship of the Godhead presents a little bit of a difficulty because it's utterly beyond us, but not as much as you might expect. The divine fellowship is still going on, and with a little bit of care we can watch it. We can watch it because where it is happening is in the secret of our own spirits. Right now, the Father, the Son, the Spirit and you are fellowshipping in the depths of your heart. You may not be participating much in that fellowship, but it is there.

1Jo 1:3 That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship [is] with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.

That fellowship is the cause and purpose of the church.

Eph 3:9 And to make all [men] see what [is] the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ:

The purpose of the church is not evangelism. It is not discipleship. It is not the great commision. The purpose of the church is to enter into that fellowship with God, and to demonstrate to the world what it means to partake in the divine.

Eph 3:10 - 11, & 18 - 19
To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly [places] might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord: ... May be able to comprehend with all saints what [is] the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.

The church is all about Christ.

Christ is her Source, and her Destination. Christ is her Experience and her Knowledge. We are to know the Love which passes knowledge. The purpose of the church is eternal, because the relationship Christ is building with her is eternal. Evangelism, discipleship, missions, and bible study (hours and hours of bible study) are all good things. We should do good things. But we must not let the good get in the way of the goal. The eternal is superior to the temporal, though the temporal is great.


The most important theological question is, "So what?"

Well, "So what? What about my world will change, if I should accept that the purpose of the church is to know Christ?"

Your faith is going to have to become experimental. I mean that in both senses. Practice is going to outweigh doctrine, and you are going to have to "hang it out there" a bit in your practice. You're going to have to experiment with doing things differently to see what works. More than that, what worked yesterday is not necessarily going to work tomorrow. Variety is going to become important.

If you make a new friend, one with whom you hope to work and play a great deal, you get past going to lunch together. You try meals other than lunch. You try sports, movies, reading, walking, music. You help each other out, and try working together. You find differences in your beliefs, and see how disagreement feels. You listen for things that matter to each other, and float out odd thoughts to see whether they fly.

But when you meet the Lord, you go to church 3 times a week until you die. I was saved 34 years ago, people! I have seen enough of the inside of a church building, thank you very much!

Daily devotions. Books. Christian music. All these things (yes, even the inside of a steepled building) are good, and a blessing. That doesn't make it right to drop all curiosity and adventure! If you and your new friend decide that lunch 3 times a week, and sharing journals is the sum total of your futures, how long will you keep going back?

I should not have to argue this point, but I will just a little longer. God made countless varieties of flowers, animals, even dirt. He made a world that connected all this variety by a variety of senses, too. Smell is a huge part of every experience we have. How many churches have decided to alter the smell of a service? How many times have you changed the lighting? Had a service about touch? Taste?

The Son left us an entire sacrament dedicated to taste, and we extend ourselves to deciding whether to taste dry crackers and grape juice, or unleavened bread and wine, but that was a post from last week so I will not belabor it here.

No, our entire experience of the gospel is hearing. We sing, and we preach. Well, most of us listen as we are sung to by loudspeakers, and preached to by a man who dearly loves the Lord. Give me hymns! Give me sermons! I am against neither, but give me something else, too. I want to move beyond lunch and journaling!

Expository is my favorite kind of preaching . Dig into the eternal Word, and reveal the depths of glory that God has shown of His Son. But, when you are done, let us do something with it. Let us celebrate the love of a Father for the prodigal with a welcome home party by proxy. Let us turn out the lights long after the sun has hidden itself , and in the darkness remember the separation of the Son at that deadly moment. Let us shoot off bottle rockets to praise the Lord for the ascension. Let us answer back to the Lord and to the sermons. Let us live.

Preaching is too easy. In a church of 200, at 40 hours per person per week, it requires less than .5% of the church's work week to prepare a sermon. The church is 99.5% idling! Let all 200 of us plan a meeting, then see what we can come up with. If everyone puts in 2 hours per week preparing for a meeting, that's 10 times as much total effort and the effort has the variety of 200 hearts.

In my experience, given this chance, a large minority of people will do nothing, but a minority nonetheless. The majority will blow you away with how hard they work, and how much treasure they have to offer.

And if you try this, your pastor might just have a little time to shepherd.

And a little break from the expository preaching just might let him come back to the subject fresh.

He might even be inspired by some of the things the children of the Lord share when they are allowed to function as a body.

(I'm just guessing here. We never had a pastor, and it cost us, but that is M & C - 3.)

I have lived this kind of a church, and I want to live it again. I want to live again in a place where every member of the body shares in the work. Where every member brings a song or a praise or a prophecy. Where every member has a voice.

I'm hungry.

Now they're talking!

Over at Three Hierarchies, CPA references a NYTimes article about the debate team at Libery College. The post is called, "Betcha Didn't Know That About Jerry Falwell," and odds are he's right!

CPA picks the high points from the article, but I enjoyed the whole thing too.

I have advocated debate here, for the same reason that I hope to keep participating in the Vox Apologia symposium. Knowing that my ideas will be tested by someone and rejected if weak makes me study that little bit harder. It sharpens me, and I appreciate that.

All that said, I am NOT advocating the kind of debate on which this article focuses be practiced here.

I have judged at one home-school debate weekend. These kids were very serious about their debating, and I got to judge 4 matches. It was really, really tough. I mean, it was not fun at all. I needed to make judgements over and over, and then defend my positions to these kids who knew what they were doing much better than I did. After it was over, though, I loved having had the experience. I would definitely do it again, but not without experience on the other side of the table.

The subject of this article is competitive debate, and it is a pure sport - not in any way dedicated to finding the truth. It is even athletic. The competitors speak at 350+ words per minute, and breathing becomes an issue. The judge must know the subject inside and out to understand the arguments. And for 92 minutes, the competitors must listen flawlessly, take brief but accurate notes, adjust their arguments based on those notes, perform confirming research under stiff time pressure, and after all that speak on their feet while running in their minds - 5 times a day for 2 or 3 days.

That's an 8 hour marathon a day, burning every brain cell they've ever had.

Anyway, CPA ends the article with some great questions. My answers are in red.
  • Is the entrepreneurial instinct rampant in evangelicalism good?
  • This sounds like an ongoing discussion about which I am in the dark. On the whole, though, we should play the game from the soles of our feet to the last hair on our heads. The guy who plays with his head will do well, but it's not enough. You've got to play with heart and sweat, too. Entrepreneurial efforts sound like a good thing to me. Now, if CPA means advertising, marketing, and organizing the church like a business, then that's horrid.
  • Should Jerry Falwell feel proud or ashamed of _____________ ? [You ought to have to read this to find out what it is] ;-)
  • I tell about my ________ story. What's the fun in being ashamed?
  • Should Christians in their vocations play the game like everyone else?
  • Yes, or you don't belong in the game. I work for a company that trades energy (think Enron, but in Ohio.) Moving electricity with paper is a crime, and Enron went down for it. The answer for the Christian trader in 2000 was not to stay with the company and fail to trade as much electricity as everyone else. The answer was to call the ethics line and/or quit. Every large company has an ethics line, ombudsman kind of a position. But if it's ethical, then play to win.
  • Should they want to win as much the world wants to win?
  • Yep. It is one of the many joys of life as given by God.
  • Are Christians team players, or individuals?
  • Christians are people, with human failings. On a debate team you MUST be a team player, or you are useless. If the kids at Liberty are winning like this, they are team players.
  • Will playing with the secular schools cause you to lose your faith?
  • This is a large issue in the article. I would answer that most Christians are given such a weak founding in their faith that yes, this is a risk. We pitty-pat around the difficulties of our philosophy, instead of facing them head on, early on. This costs us.
  • Do you have to have a theology of glory to train "champions for Christ"?
  • ? What is a theology of glory?
  • "Champions for Christ" does not mean anything to me, either. No debate victory can bring glory to Christ. It is a sporting event (especially the way they play). A Christian might bring glory to Christ while debating, but it won't be by winning. It will be by living out divine Love. Unrelated to competition.

Funniest line in the article:

There are building sites all over campus, including the recently dedicated LaHaye Ice Center, a hockey arena donated by Beverly and Tim LaHaye, an author of the "Left Behind" novels. Considering LaHaye's apocalyptic beliefs and Falwell's own eschatology, this focus on the future is reassuring.

I would love to get a chance to debate some day, but this kind of sport debate does not jazz me. I am probably too deliberate a person to do well at it anyway. Still, it is a fabulous builder of character and intellect in my opinion. Those kids profit from their time behind the table, I'm sure.

It's infinitely more valuable than football (in the same way that money is more valuable than debt.)

19 March, 2006

Vox Apologia - Forgiveness with a cost?

At Vox Apologia they are running a symposium, answering questions suggested by people who have trouble with Christianity. I have never done this before, but it sounds profitable. I hope to learn a good bit here.

In order for someone to be forgiven why must there be punishment at all? (Note that the question is a good page long if you follow the link.)

There are questions that I do not understand, and the more deeply I dig into this one, the less I understand it. The preliminary assumption of this question is that God has a right, or maybe even a responsibility, to punish me and that He should foreswear that right. The question of whether or not substitutionary atonement is valid has already been asked and answered, so the purpose of this question grows even murkier for me.

The question assumes that there is a God, that He has been sinned against and that the sin is truly against Him. This is unquestionably true from scripture, so I will assume it as well.

The question then asks why God is not "big" enough to absorb the evil that man commits against Him and just forgive it.

The quick answer is that He cannot just forgive sin, but must forgive it justly. Purity ceases to be pure with the slightest admixture, and God's will not corrupt His own justice to make way for His mercy. The two will both be satisfied. God would not be glorified in overlooking evil. The answer also has something important to do with being hidden in Christ. We are in Christ as He dies and rises, and He is in us now.

The Analogies from Human Forgiveness in the Question:

Jesus tells the chief parable of forgiveness in Matthew 18:21-35. In it a man who is forgiven a debt of 10,000 bags of gold refuses to forgive another man a debt of 100 pieces of silver.

There are a lot of implications in this parable.

When one man sins against another, the debt incurred is real, and of a similar nature to that which we incur against God. So, using the analogies presented in the question is valid to a degree. Yes, if I am stolen from, humiliated, and struck, I should forgive. The analogy, however, is flawed in 2 things.

  1. Why I forgive: Contrary to the assumption of the question, I do not forgive because I am a forgiving person. I forgive because I have been forgiven, and forgiven far more than I have ever been offended. The root cause of my forgiving is not my goodness, but God Himself. Since God has no meta-God who has forgiven Him 1,000,000 bags of platinum, using examples of human forgiveness to understand God's fails.
  2. Degree: Attempting to analogize from one human who owes 99 pieces of silver forgiving another who owes 101 pieces of silver does not compare to God. God owes none, is owed 10,000 bags of gold by each of us, and yet forgives. Our greatest act of forgiveness is trivial, so to ask why God does not simply copy us makes no sense.

So, what about when those who have not been forgiven by God forgive? Atheists forgive, and they do not forgive in humble acknowledgement of God's greater act?

When the atheist who still owes God 10,000 bags of gold (though perhaps unknowingly) forgives another a debt of 100 pieces of silver, he is not forgiving at all. He is overlooking sin, and this is in itself a sin.

Justice is not optional.

There is no permission in scripture for forgiving outside of the forgiveness given by God. God Himself declares that He will by no means clear the guilty.

Nahum 1:3 The LORD is slow to anger but great in power; the LORD will not leave the guilty unpunished.

The new testament and old testament agree that God will not be patient forever, though the agreement can be confusing. Rom 3:25 defines the difference as the revelation of the atonement.

Rom 3:25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, [a] through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—

In the old testament, God's forebearance was not explained. God appeared to grant mercy at the expense of His justice. In the new, it is clear that God's mercy was founded all along upon the sacrifice of His Son even before that sacrifice was manifested. (Though it was manifested about 2000 years ago, the sacrifice of the Lamb happened before the universe was founded.)

Human forgiveness fails to satisfy justice, so again the analogy to human forgiveness fails. The failure this time is that we sin even as we forgive, because we do so unjustly. God will by no means clear the guilty.

What is it God is really forgiving?

If we leave behind the analogy, we come to the reality of what it is God chooses to forgive. God concerns Himself with our sins against each other, and with our our transgressions of His holy law, but those are only shadows of our true sin. They are visible signs of the invisible crime that incurs our 10,000 bag of gold debt.

The command is to love the Lord with all my heart, soul, mind and strength. The command is given because that is how God loves me. He has earned the right to lay that command upon me. God loves me wholly, and has committed Himself to me.

Marriage, the joining of purpose, body and heart, is a picture given by God of how He would relate to us. God would be joined to us down to the very marrow of our spirits. He would be one with us in His Son, sharing the bounty of His infinite life and boundless love with us - and we have rejected Him. To make His goal possible He has already given us many gifts, and would give us many more, but we have have rejected perfect Love.

Instead, I have placed my trust in my own ability. I have placed my trust in society, and idols, and science, and art, and my own indomitable will. I have sought love from creatures like myself, and security from things I have because He has created them. I have rejected One Who both loves me, and Who has truly earned my love.

I was created in physical debt to the One Who gave me life, and I have added to that debt the spiritual one of rejecting Him.

The magnitude of a crime is defined by its victim. It is a crime to kill an animal, but the penalty is less than for killing a human. When we transgress against the perfectly merciful and loving God as He extends the offer of His love to us, our crime is one of complete evil.

The crime this question asks God to overlook is of infinite magnitude, and infinitely personal.

Yet, God has made a way to forgive even this evil.

Finally, to the question: Why must forgiveness cost?

It is the glory of a judge to mete out righteous punishment. It is a shame to the judge when he corrupts judgement, and the evil go free.

God bears the responsibility of ensuring justice is done in His creation.

Jer 5:28&29 ... and have grown fat and sleek. Their evil deeds have no limit; they do not seek justice. They do not promote the case of the fatherless; they do not defend the just cause of the poor. Should I not punish them for this?" declares the LORD. "Should I not avenge myself on such a nation as this?

When the Son came to earth and was rejected by men and killed, the guilt of all mankind was exposed. Those Jews and Romans who conspired to rid themselves of the Son of God were foreknown by Him. In His parable of the vineyard leased out to unjust tenants, Jesus allows the audience to describe the fate of those tenants, "He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others."

Those few Jews and Romans who physically killed the Lord were not uniquely guilty among mankind. They expressed with their hands and hammers the sin of which we are all guilty. We despised the gift of God. We hated the Lord Who loved us. In our hearts, we strick Him down as much as they did.

Justice cannot overlook that crime.

Justice cannot overlook the murder of the innocent Son of Man, and justice cannot overlook the hatred of humanity for the Lord Who gave them life. The Judge of all creation must avenge Himself on such a people as this.

And yet there is forgiveness

Justice and mercy appear together in scripture many times, and it is only there that they can. To be just is to be merciless. To give mercy is to deny justice. With humans it is not possible be both completely just and completely merciful. With God alone is this thing possible.

God satisfies both in Christ.

Lev 17:11 For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one's life.

1 John 5:11 And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son

The life that we are given is Life that has been killed and raised again. I do not wish to completely reopen the subject of atonement, but the atonement goes vastly deeper than mere penal transfer. Jesus does not merely pay the price of our crimes. The price of our crimes is exacted on Christ, but it is His Life that is in turn given to us. We have been crucified with Christ, and the life that we now live is not our own, but Christ lives in us. In a real, if incomprehensible, sense we were there when our crimes were punished.

God satisfies His own justice completely because He executes His justice upon us in Christ, and in Christ we rise again. Christ rises again, and we rise again in Him.

The important transfer is not that of penalty to Christ, but of Life to us.

The question rejected

How could I wish God to overlook my sin?

If God overlooks my sin, maybe I go to some place called heaven, but it would be just be hell with air conditioning. If Christ is not crucified, then I am not in Him. His Life is never transferred to me. It is no longer Christ Who lives in me, but me alone and hoping that God overlooks me.

When your child violates your rules, and you overlook the violation, you devalue that child as a person. In effect you say that they are too insignificant to inflict pain upon you, so you can just ignore it. (Hence the devastation of passive-aggression in marriage.)

When God is offended by my sin, He makes me significant. Though His wrath was justly upon me, His Mercy extends to my case. When He dies both to atone for my sin and to place His Life in me, He glorifies me beyond comprehension.

How could I wish to be overlooked?

18 March, 2006

A Glorious Day

Just a wonderful day. So dang'd happy about it, I thought I would say so.

Blogged the morning away. I was right. Trying to answer the
Vox Apologia question was really fun. I have no idea whether it is right or good, but zipping around the scriptures, and thinking about all the Lord did for us was just great.

Then I cleared the way to garden some day in the future. The distant future. The unwanted future. I'm sorry, but gardening is simply beyond me. I don't enjoy it much, and when I do try it the discouragement of seeing all those innocent plants die under my loving care tends to offset any slight joy that the labor might have brought. But, I like clearing stuff. If anyone thought bare patches of earth were cool, I'd be set!


Ah, then....

The air has warmed to a sultry 45+ degrees, and the sun was out, AND I have a new hitting partner. On the USTA scale from 1 - 7, I play tennis at a 3.5 - 4.0 level. That means I can make the ball go where I want, and make it go in when I hit it with all my strength. Nate is a 4.5 - 5.0 player. That means he can make the ball go where he wants when he hits it with all this strength. (5.0 - 6.0 means he can make the ball do things that are not physically possible when he hits it, and 7.0 means that he can make the ball put money in his bank account when he hits it.)

So, yes, for all my gibberish, I play tennis barely well enough to hang out at a club if I were willing to pay $32 an hour to knock that silly ball around.

Anyway, I played Nate 2 weeks ago and scored a perfectly respectable 1-6, 1-6 loss. I call that respectable because he said we would play again. That means I did not bore him! Wow! Totally pumped.

I could not beat myself up for losing so badly too him. I have NEVER had to return a serve like his, and probably only twice in my life have I ever tried to return a big topspin forehand like he hits. He just ate me up.

I cannot begin to describe how happy that makes me.

He threw away a lot of points, but when he put up a weak ball I was able to punish him for it. I was able to send back his solid hits, and I was able to scramble for his hard shots. It was the couple dozen winners that were new to me.

I guess it was enough to keep him taking my phone calls, because we hit again today.

And today I lost 6-7(3-7).

Before I go on to brag about what I did differently, he was wearing running shoes instead of tennis shoes, and was slightly hung over. Take those two factors away, and I probably don't push him to a tie-break today. But I learned a lot!

I learned to back up 12 feet for his serve. Sure I look like a girlie-man standing a dozen feet behind the baseline, but I returned probably 15 of his serves, and a couple of them convincingly. I also learned to really pick on his backhand. Backhand to backhand, I think I am nearly his equal. Forehand to forehand, I had better hit it to his backhand ;-)

If I had a dream, it would be to always play people I can almost beat.

Anyway, to finish the day I even managed to leave the courts in time to get home and get dinner on the table at 6:00 as promised, and it was good, too!

What's that, 4 successes? How often does that happen?!

Thank you, Lord.

17 March, 2006

Patrick - The Annual Rant

This article over at Wikipedia tells a good bit about Patrick, though their picture of a statue of him is revolting.

That the Catholics have co-opted about as protestant a brother as ever lived aggravates me every year. Patrick was a man of tremendous integrity and courage, not some lucky charm of the Catholic church that whistled a bunch of snakes away.


16 March, 2006

Metamorphosis and Contraction - 1

Year - About 1997

Time - 6:00 AM
Brothers and sisters filter into the living room. Each slips in silently, and takes a seat. Some sit in the comfortable couches, others in reasonably comfortable floor-level chairs. As each person sits, they close their eyes and begin a centering meditation. The room is utterly quiet.

After about 20 minutes, a brother reads the first line of the 23rd Psalm, but not verbatim. He changes the words a little bit so that it is not a declaration to an audience, but rather a prayer praising the Shepherd. There are a few sighs and a little more silence. A sister across the room reads another line. She carries on in the same vein of prayer, deepening it if she can, but praying something to which she can relate. After a half hour or so, they have finished the Psalm. Most of the people in the room have contributed a line or two to the prayer, and everyone feels refreshed. They have told the Lord how wonderful a Shepherd He is, and thanked Him for His eternal care.

One by one brothers and sisters file back out. Hardly a word was said outside of the few lines of actual prayer.

Time - 7:00 PM
Brothers and sisters file into a different living room. Everyone is talking. Some of them are carrying their dinners, and eating as they take any old seat that will work. The atmosphere is positively raucous. By 7:45, everyone figures out that no one else is coming, and most of the people are done with dinner, so it must be time to start. The stories of how the kids acted up today, and how much work was just like yesterday end, and everyone gets down to business.

They pick up songbooks. Someone calls out #52. You are usually not allowed to call out song numbers, but this is not a "meeting". This is a "song-learning meeting." Everyone has come together for the express purpose of learning new songs to use during regular meetings. During a regular meeting, the person who wants to start a song is responsible to start it by singing it, and someone else (anyone else) is responsible to call out the song number as soon as they figure it out. Usually, 90% of the people in the room can sing the song by heart, anyway, so this works most of the time.

Tonight, though, everyone is here to learn songs, and #52 is going to be the first one. Two people know the song, so they teach it to everyone else. Special attention is paid to the first line of each verse. If you learn the first line of each verse, you can usually sing the whole song, because the rest of the lines flow one after the other. There's a lot of laughter, and there are a lot of mistakes. Somebody tries to teach the harmony (they never learn), and after a few solid failures they go back to singing the song straight again.

At about 9:00 everyone is tired, and with 4 new songs under their belts, they go home (or out for coffee, but that is another story.)

Time - 3:00 PM on a Saturday.
3 brothers and 2 sisters get together out at a park while the kids play.

The date of the next "big meeting" has been announced, and it is 6 weeks away. The theme will be the Son of God accepting the mission the Father has appointed to Him just before the first Word of creation is spoken. There are 5 groups, and each group is going to have 30 minutes of the meeting to share something about that moment before time.

They brainstorm for a while about what they will do for their 30 minutes. Skits are popular. Songs are pretty cool (even more so because if it is a good song, everyone will sing it for the next year.) They could take a scripture, and turn it into a dramatic reading. They could put together a responsive reading for everyone to do. They could serve a meal that would relate somehow. They could mix and mingle existing songs, and create a kind of a song-skit. They could focus on the treasure for which the Son was willing to die, and make a kind of a treasure hunt. They could act the whole thing out using Weebles (Weebles wobble but they don't say No.)

Eventually, things get a little silly, and have to be brought back on topic. After an hour or two they have a plan, and everyone knows what to do next, and when they will meet again. They go home, and over the next week do their parts to get ready for the "big meeting."


I suspect that not everyone reading this would be comfortable calling those little meetings church. That's OK, I am not comfortable under the steeple where I currently meet either. ;-)

I could keep listing simple, quick little meetings like that for pages. In a 3 month cycle we might do anywhere from 24 to 80 meetings. It depended what we were trying to accomplish. In the church I currently attend, we will do 36 meetings in those same 3 months. 36. Exactly. {{{Shiver!}}} Oh well.

I like variety. A lot. I think nature proves that God is partial to variety as well, but that's just me.

None of that is the subject of this post. (Though with just a little niggling, it could be the subject of numerous posts another day.)

The subject of this post is a painful phone call I had with a dear brother the other day. He knows whence I have come, and he had read this blog. He is not impressed.

I cannot say I blame him.

I left that church in 1998. Being in it changed me forever, and so has leaving it.

I cannot capture in a blog post the difference between the way that listening to a sermon stirs the heart, and the way that sharing from the Spirit freely with brothers and sisters stirs the heart. I could not capture the difference for my brother on the phone, either. He and I could not get on the same wavelength during that call. I am learning Romanian, and I would have done better to try to speak Romanian to him, than to try to explain why I am now meeting in a steeple church.

He had preached for a number of years, before he laid that burden down. He is shooting higher now, much higher. He knows that I too once shot for the same target as he, and what he reads from me here is very different from the things I was writing 8 years ago.

He was obviously disappointed.

The awful truth is that I do not know whether I have metamorphosized forward, or whether I have let go of the plow and am looking back. I don't know whether I have been damaged and have given up, or whether I have been broken and am finally moving toward the real goal in humility. I know I have been crippled, but is it the crippling of Jacob/Israel or the crippling of a million other children of the Lord who never grow again.

This is why I like "Thomas Covenant, The Chronicles of the Unbeliever" so much better than the "Lord of the Rings". I'm not Frodo. I am headed somewhere, but I don't know whether it's to the Crack of Doom to save the world, or just to some deserted, rocky beach somewhere to wander into the ocean. I'm just Thomas Covenant, a scared leper in a world he does not understand.

That phone call has been on my heart for two weeks now, and I have no answer for that brother. I think it highly likely that I will post a few times on the perspectives that oppose themselves in my head.

Hopefully, in following posts I will move beyond existential whinings. Thanks for bearing with me.


15 March, 2006

Still thinking about Thank you's

A (non-blogging) friend of mine actually might take me up on my offer to write a letter to their pastor on this subject, so here goes.

Dear Brother,

I believe the saints in your church would like to spend more time helping each other with their day-to-day needs, but they need your help.

I'm sure you remind them from the Word that they are to bear each other's burdens, but I think I can suggest a way of encouraging them that will supplement what you are doing. This would be a "carrot" approach, and I think it will line up well with the outreach efforts that you are working on now.

It's as easy as adding an insert to your weekly bulletin. It would start like this:

Thank you's
These anonymous thank you's are sent from one member of the church to another to let the church know how much their help with the little things was appreciated.
After this heading would follow a dozen or so anonymized thank you notes from one member of your church to another. Maybe someone watched a single mom's kids so she could shop alone one day, or maybe someone mowed a lawn or changed a headlight, or some other small but important thing. We all could use a little help from time to time, and some of us need it more than others. No matter the case, the body needs to be helping each other all the time.
On the other side of the insert would appear contact information for anyone who wanted to volunteer to serve others in the church, and for anyone who had a need that they wanted to share. There would also be a place to write a quick thank you note, and slip it into the offering plate for next week's bulletin.
Seeing the things that members of the body are doing for each other will encourage others to serve as well. It will serve to warm relationships between believers, and caring for each other will strengthen the bonds between their hearts. The whole atmosphere of the church should be warmed a little bit.
The last piece of the picture is a little team to match helpers with helpees. This little thank you team will have to be brothers and sisters cut from the mold of Acts 6.
"3 Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them 4 and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word."

That's it. No big deal. Just a chance for brothers and sisters to serve each other and to thank each other in a public, but anonymous way. If the idea seems to have merit to you, then share it wherever you can.
May the Lord continue to bless His work through your church.

14 March, 2006

Bag of Hammers 5, Purrsey, 0

I inherited 4 cats in the divorce. I was tickled to keep the kids, but the cats were just one of those responsibilities that you step up for. Oh well.

I managed to give one away to a good home. I check on her from time to time, and she is happy. I had no choice. She had to move out. Our first cat had decided that she was the perfect squeaky toy. This poor little being was falling apart, collapsing under the feline version of post traumatic stress disorder, as cat #1 tried to chase the stuffing out of her every time she was bored. She is safe and happy now.

I love the first cat. She bonded with me the moment she walked in the door, and I would be hard pressed to put her out. The last cat is cute enough to make up for most of her hateful habits.

But the middle cat.

Daily he gives me new examples of why he is actually dumber than a bag of hammers. I have had some hammers, and even in bag-sized quantities, they only have ZERO intelligence.

This cat is well into the negative numbers.


  • I have never seen a bag of hammers poke itself in the eye while rubbing up against my ankle.
  • I have never seen a bag of hammers beg to be let outside, and upon arriving there take the mathematically minimum number of steps to get to the window to beg to be let back in. If 7 steps is the minimum distance to the window, he takes 6 steps to my window and commences to screaming.
  • When I push him away from the door so that he won't get out (and make himself miserable) I use my foot. For the next 3 days, he will be afraid of my foot. Anywhere and everywhere in the house, he will flee from the foot of death. I have never seen a bag of hammers afraid of things that never wanted to hurt it.
  • I have never seen a bag of hammers go 2 hours with no food in its dish, panic, get fed, eat until it pukes, and go back for more.
  • And, I have never seen a bag of hammers fall off my lap for no reason.

But, Monday night he set a new standard.

He actually ran into the living room after eating too much food, and puked in my shoe. Well, actually he puked all over the shoe-rug, and I cleaned it up Monday morning. It was not until tonight that I found out he had deposited most of his treasure in my shoe, and yes, I found it out in Murphy's way.

So, why?

("Why what?" you ask?)

Why is he sitting in my lap as I type this!


11 March, 2006

The Czar of Thank You's

About 2 months ago, Weekend Fisher posted on Christians in Action, listing some Heroes in Service. Her post made me think, but I could not think of what to do with it. Maybe I have finally thought of something. The discussion after the post on lonely faith was convicting, and after some cogitation I hope I have come up with a practical answer.

As always, this is an idea, not a tested plan. Feel free to improve upon it willy-nilly.

I would like to see one more bulletin added to the weekly flier - one more page. At the top, it would say this:

Thank you's
These anonymous thank you's are sent from one member of the church to another to let the church know how much their help with the little things was appreciated.
This page would be in the bulletin every week, and be filled with little notes of thanks from member to another for mowing a lawn, picking up some kids, making a dinner, or looking at a car. The thanker and the thankee would both be anonymous, but a couple little details of the help rendered would be included.
I think it would encourage everyone to look for opportunities to care for each other. I think it would also serve as a barometer of the church's internal weather. It might even warm that weather up a little bit.
But a little flier page cannot stand alone.

Acts 6:1 TNIV
In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews [a] among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.

We are not the first people to have this problem. The first and most exciting church in history had this problem even while the Spirit was moving with power, even while they were living in their honeymoon, and even while they were all in one neighborhood so to speak. (At least this problem is "scriptural".)

They addressed the problem by throwing men at it.

Acts 6:3 TNIV
Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them

The work of making sure everyone is cared for in the church is a high calling. The apostles were called to the Word, and would not abandon it, but they required that the men who would oversee this ministry be filled with the Spirit and wise. I bet that wisdom was tried something fierce, too! Communism is always hard on the flesh.

Anyway, with that little flier added to the weekly bulletin, I believe there must be added a "Thank You Czar." (I also believe there must be a Czarina, but I know that everyone may not be ready to go there.) The Czar of Thank You's would be the contact person both for everyone who wanted to help, but was too bashful, forgetful, or thoughtless to succeed at it, and for everyone who needed help but was not sure how or who to ask.

(I know that there will never be a "Czar" of anything in any normal church, but I can not resist typing the name!)

At the bottom of the flier, after a couple pages of thank you's will appear the relevant contact information:
  • To submit a "Thank you," just fill out the form at the back of the sanctuary or email a note to ty@church.com
  • To volunteer your services or to let us know about opportunities to serve, see Czar Tom or Czarina Jane or email helping_each_other@church.com
  • Or just go for it! Your brothers and sisters will thank you.
I don't believe that anyone wanted the Greek-speaking widows in Jerusalem to suffer, but unless someone stepped up it was going to continue. Maybe it happened because they were looked down upon, or maybe because they did not speak Hebrew well enough to look out for themselves, or maybe just by bad luck. Who knows. Whatever it was, the solution (oddly enough) was to do something about it.

The "something" I am proposing is pretty small, but I think that is a virtue. Silly ideas often work, and if they don't they are easy to discard or improve. This idea just might be small enough to actually happen somewhere, without a committee being appointed to discuss it until the problem (or the church) is gone.

The smallness of this idea also makes it disposable when the time comes. The church should run on relationships, not fliers. I believe that we just need a little kick-start. When we have matured enough in love, I hope we won't need to be reminded and encouraged like this. After I have actually helped most of the people in my church more than once, I will be better at asking what needs doing, and they will be better at telling me. Maybe I'll even learn to ask for help. :-)