Archive for April, 2010

Do we really need to hang on to justification?

Friday, April 30th, 2010 by Dale M. Coulter

Not too long ago, in his commentary on Galatians,  J. Louis Martin, proposed to change the way the Greek term behind justification is translated to rectification. I think this is an interesting proposal and one we should seriously consider. Here’s why:

Photo courtesy of Juergen Kurlvink

One of the perennial problems with understanding justification is that the English word family does not correspond well to the Greek word family. As anyone who reads the Greek NT soon discovers, all Greek terms connected to justification stem from the same root (dikaiosunē). To convey the meaning in English we rely on two families of terms: justification and righteousness. Justification derives from Latin and is closely connected to justice (justificatio, justificare, justus) while righteousness, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, stems from the Saxon term rihtwis. Rihtwis is a compound term from right and wise that means upright or in a right manner (think about the use of wise in otherwise). The move to two English sets of terms obscures the close connection between righteousness and being set right.

So, maybe it’s time to fix this little mishap and choose an English term that allows one to stay in the same linguistic family. Read the rest of this entry »

What’s Happening to Christian Unity?

Thursday, April 29th, 2010 by Antipas Harris

January 2009, the Barna Group released an article stating, “By a three to one margin (71% to 26%) adults noted that they are personally more likely to develop their own set of religious beliefs than to accept a comprehensive set of beliefs taught by a particular church. Although born again Christians were among the segments least likely to adopt the a la carte approach to beliefs, a considerable majority even of born again adults (61%) has taken that route.” These statistics on religious isolation are staggering! It seems that people are losing sight on the power of religious unity. Also, does this contribute to or a result of the breakdown in the “family concept” in our world today? Hmmm. Just wondering…

Yesterday, Wednesday April 28th, my colleague Dale Coulter spoke at Regent University Chapel. His message addressed the value of the body and/or community. In part, his concern was that while Christians share the liberty of individual creativity and giftings, there is a fine line between unity in diversity and corruption of community. It is true that where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. There is freedom of expression, gifts, creativity, etc. Yet, (as Coulter explained) when the Jazz Ensemble frees the improvisationist to embellish the beauty of a piece with her own creativity, she must be careful that the liberty granted does not destroy the harmony of the whole.

In Galatians 5:13, Paul states, “For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters, only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another.” The message seems clear that while we have freedom to explore the wonders of God’s truth– all truth is God’s truth, our wondering must neither destroy the whole nor the power and harmony of the whole.

Individuals are increasingly unilateral or isolated in their religious pursuits, but so are churches. Recently, I learned that in Hampton Roads alone, there are approximately 3,000 churches. Each one attracts particular people for different reasons. There is certainly less and less separation by theological stance now than in the last century. Yet, the proliferation of churches continue for several reasons– some seem to be good reasons and others are questionable. These churches offer gifts to the community of Hampton Roads– gifts of various sorts.

I have noticed in my two year residence here and in my travels around the country that by in large the churches are increasingly divided. It is hard to get them together for any common cause. In Hampton Roads, I observed the seemingly impossible task to pull churches together for the purpose raising funds and soliciting relief help for Haiti after the recent earthquake.

Wyclef Jean did a better job pulling Hollywood together and pooling resources to assist Haiti in relief than the churches in this community. I call this a tragedy of disunity! With all of our freedom of worship and ecclesiological structures, there must be practical ways to unify or come together for common existential causes. Yet, I have not witnessed this as a reality. There is no wonder there is so much existential mayhem and decadence!

I have, furthermore, noticed that  many of these same churches cling to tragedies and existential challenges as opportunities to score ministry points for their own ministries. They raise funds for national and international tragedies, feed the hungry, pass out turkeys during Thanksgiving and gift baskets during Christmas. At their annual meetings, on their television shows, in their radio broadcasts and newsletters, they announce to their adherents how much they have done for the year. Their followers are excited to hear how many people their offerings fed last Thanksgiving and how many thousands of baskets they gave away at Christmas and how much money they raised for Haiti, Chili or China for relief.

Let’s reason together. How many people eat once a year? How many people need gifts once a year? And if one church can raise this amount of money for an international disaster, how much can we raise as a community of churches?

These are results of individualism that has crept into the churches. Both individual Christians and churches have left the foundation of Christ– Christ is one Body! Our creative giftings as individuals and separate communities interfere with the power of coming together and standing as one!

If we stand as one, our mark in the world for Christ would be more defined! If we stand as one, we can help rebuild local, national and international communities for Christ! If we come together as one, we can make demands in Congress pertaining our fractured world, existential depravity, gang violence, domestic abuse, economic stress, fatherlessness, poverty, communal pangs, and endless distress.

In conclusion, someone sent me an article from Fanhouse,. Sunday evening, April 18th, National Columnist for Fanhouse, David Whitley reports that the field was empty. Just a day earlier (Saturday), the BYU women’s rugby players had happily posed for a team photo under the stadium’s scoreboard. The lights said the Cougars had just beaten Wisconsin-Milwaukee 46-7.  Whitley quotes Coach Tom Waqa saying, “We won today. But the girls’ biggest opponent is tomorrow. That is adversity.” However, with a national championship in sight, the girls insisted to decline the opportunity. They refused to play Sunday because they acknowledge Sunday as the Sabbath. As part of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Later Day Saints, they believe that Sunday is the Sabbath holy and must be kept holy.

Having been raised as a Sabbath-keeping Pentecostal, I am aware that Sunday is not the biblical Sabbath. Saturday is more correctly the biblical Sabbath. However, I am attracted to the story above on two fronts: 1. The Cougars played together and defeated Milwaukee. One of these girls could not have won alone 2.) The Courgars made a stand together and insisted to keep the Sabbath holy. If only one of the girls stood, I would congratulate her but she might not have made the headlines. So, I might not know about it. However, the power of unity won against Milwaukee. And the power of unity is the force behind the headlines. A Whole team of uniquely gifted young ladies stood together and tied themselves to principles and standards pertaining Sabbath observance.  What a witness!

I am applying a self-evaluation– Where do I fit in these statistics? Am I caught up in my own ideas and intellectual gifts that I have lost hold of the power of a unified stand? What about you?

Standing together, we can change communities and the world!

Being Guided By God

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010 by Diane Chandler

Like you, I’ve had many times when I’ve needed to hear the clear voice of the Lord.  Decisions like whom to marry; what job to take; or how to navigate a relational challenge, crisis, or life transition confront us all.  Students may especially seek God’s guidance as they near graduation.

God has not provided a cookie-cutter formula for hearing His voice.  The starting place is positioning our hearts in order to earnestly seek him (Heb. 11:6) and pray (Eph. 6:18, Phil. 4:6).  These five simple biblical principles may be helpful.

First, God speaks through the Scriptures.  John wrote, “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17).  Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples” (John 8:31). When making an important decision, we must seek the Lord through His Word, believing that He will guide us.  The Christian music group, Mercy Me, expressed it well in their song “Word of God Speak” (click to listen).

Second, God speaks through circumstances. After graduating from a program several years ago, I sought God related to a job.  I sensed the Lord saying, “Try every door.”  So I applied for many teaching positions, believing that God would close all doors but one.  That is exactly what happened.  David’s unexpected circumstance of the Amalekites capturing their women and children drove him to God to know if he would be successful (1 Sam. 30:3-8).

Third, God speaks through the voice and/or the inner witness of the Holy Spirit.  When the Apostle Paul wanted to go into Bithynia, the Spirit of God prohibited him from entering but instead directed him in a dream to go to Macedonia (Acts 16:7-9).  The Holy Spirit also provides peace in the believer’s heart, something the devil cannot duplicate. Paul wrote to the Colossians, “Let the peace of God rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace” (Col. 3:15). That Greek word for peace literally means to function like an umpire.  Peace is like an umpire that settles our souls and affirms direction. 

Fourth, God speaks through the input of trusted others.  God uses human vessels to speak to us.  With wisdom, Jethro spoke to Moses about delegating his work to others (Exod. 18:17-23).  At the Council at Jerusalem, James wisely recommended minimal stipulations be applied to Gentile believers (Acts 15:19-20).  Having godly counsel is important in seeing a decision circumspectly.  I’ll never forget the time my father spoke into an important decision I had to make.  He provided the wisdom I need to move forward.

Fifth, God speaks through confirmation of any and all of the above.  God desires to bring confirmation to encourage us in moving forward.  Moses desperately needed an assurance of God’s presence before moving forward.  God responded by directing him to the cleft of the rock and causing His glory to pass by (Exod. 33:12-23). Moses received a double confirmation of God’s guidance.  In making important decisions, we often need multiple confirmations.

Are you in the midst of an important decision?  How has God guided you in the past?

Jesus, C.E.O.?

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010 by James Flynn

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus chose the words “salt” to describe His disciples.  Salt was used in Bible days to preserve food much like refrigeration does for us today.  But what happens when the refrigerator breaks or the salt “loses its savor.”  When refrigerators cease to cool and salt ceases to preserve or flavor, both become useless.  So it is with our Christian world.  When Christian churches, values, or culture become indistinguishable from the worlds culture and values, it is a sign that the salt is losing its savor.  I believe that is becoming true in the world of Christian leadership theory and practice.

God has a habit of reintroducing forgotten truth to His people.  One of the recent examples has been God’s reintroduction of the idea of leadership and leadership training as central to Christian ministry.  Starting in the 1990s, there was a growing emphasis placed on leadership, its theory, and its practice in ministry.  It is no coincidence that this mirrors the time when corporate America began to recognize the importance of leadership in business and secular culture.  One can see the proliferation of leadership books in the corporate world and in ministry during this time.  I remember reading a book called “Jesus, C.E.O” by Laurie Beth Jones in the mid-1990s.  At first, the title intrigued me.  Certainly there were lessons we can take away from seeing Jesus in ministry as a stellar leader.  At the same time there was also something a bit unsettling with the association of our precious savior with the title “C.E.O.”

Don’t get me wrong – I cut my pastoral teeth on leadership training and teach leadership in the School of Divinity here at Regent University.  I direct the Doctor of Ministry program in Leadership and Renewal.  I love this stuff, my concern is the subtle pride that has crept in under the guise of leadership training and infected many ministry leaders and their churches.  Like any disease, the infection has its symptoms.  Some of the symptoms that I see are an undue emphasis numbers and size as an indicator of success as well as the lavish lifestyles that seem to go with that “success.”  All of that is hard for me to reconcile with the values I see in the Scriptures. At the same time, an emphasis on “prosperity” and being ‘King’s kids” seems to have collided with the C.E.O. model of leadership to produce a mutant strain of leadership that no longer resembles the picture of Jesus I see in the Scriptures. Is it really  Jesus, C.E.O., or have we remade God in our image?

We have gleaned some wonderful results from the introduction of  leadership and leadership training to ministry, but the key is balance.  We tend to gravitate toward extremes in the Christian world as if it is all or nothing.  The church is both an organization and an organism – it must be viewed as both to prosper, and there is great danger if one or the other is overemphasized.  I was once exposed to a church where leadership training was the hallmark of its mission.  Everyone was trained to be a leader.  Everyone developed their own vision for their own ministry.  Then, when  everyone tried to recruit people in the church to follow their vision, there was no one left help, because they were too busy being leaders.  The church was “CEOed” to death within in short amount of time. It amounted to a bunch of mini-C.E.O types trying to assemble flowers to fulfill their vision.  The church’s focus quickly turned inward and it began to implode.  Could it be that it is most important to learn to be a leader by serving first, supporting the vision of another, and then once the character and heart of a servant has been formed, answer the calling to lead?

God made man in His image, but since that time, man has been remaking God in his image.  When we remake God in our own  image, the salt begins to lose its savor and becomes useless in doing its job..  Leader, it is time to get salty again.  It is time balance what we have learned about leadership with a healthy dose of humility and a servant’s heart.  The world doesn’t need another C.E.O. right now, but rather leaders that bleed for the lost and hurt to serve the needs of those around them.  Jesus, C.E.O.?  That is so 1990s..  Jesus, humble servant?  Now that’s a “salty” proposition!

Pornography … the Distortion of the Divine Image

Monday, April 26th, 2010 by Wolfgang Vondey

Few topics are as difficult to discuss in Christian circles as pornography. We may find an occasional sermon about the human body and perhaps a tract on sexuality in the church pews. But can you recall a sermon, a Sunday School lesson, college class discussion, or just your everyday conversation with other Christians to broach the subject of pornography? The reasons are all too obvious. Pornography is the silent addiction that holds many Christians to the unwanted reality of their carnal nature. We do not bring up the subject in conversation because we fear that the other might be involved in it or might think that we are. And perhaps both of those assumptions are true.

Pornography is an addiction. And as all addictions, it seeks to destroy us. Once the hidden secret of those who purchased the magazines tucked away in certain areas of book stores and newspaper stands, pornography is now available openly to everyone. We expose our toddlers to the bikini girls in the check-out lines, sex magazines have moved next to home and garden publications, invitations to pornographic sites clutter our junk email, and a simple click on the Internet takes our teenagers to the pages that know no secret. Yet even in this scenario, the reality of the pornographic addiction is passed on to others. Yes, indeed, our children and spouses are at risk. But let’s change the subject more clearly. Let’s stop pretending that pornography is like a rare disease that strikes only certain people, certain age groups, a certain cultural demographic, and a certain gender. Pornography is available to everyone. Everyone is exposed. We all are. You are. I am. We have made the means to become addicted accessible to apostles and prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. And as Christians, we have surprisingly little to say about it.

I have noted in an earlier post that the absence of thought about God in the sex life of Christians is symptomatic of the problem that we isolate God to only certain parts of our lives. Pornography is no exception. The world of glamour (and especially the not so glamorous depictions) leave no room for the glory of God. Don’t get me wrong, the human body is created by God and as such is beautiful in all its forms. The sharing of our nakedness in the marital relationship can be a means to reflect the glory and presence of God as it was shared by Adam and Eve in their unfallen condition. But the Fall immediately led to a distortion of the image of God in the other. Aware of each others nakedness, they began to cover their bodies. In a manner of speaking, the opening of their eyes (Gen. 3:7) is the biblical way of speaking about pornography. What is implied here is that their eyes should have been closed. Closed, at least, to the temptation of visual pleasures offered by the serpent. Instead, their eyes should have been open to the glory of God, the beauty, and splendor of God’s presence. But pornography had distorted the image of God.  The same distortion of the image of God in the lives of many Christians is real and dramatic. It is a sign that God has been left outside of the technological revolution, the success and attraction of the new (and old) media. As we switch on the power of our televisions, computers, monitors, cell phones, and electronic book readers, we turn off our thoughts about God.

Addiction is not easily broken. Those who are addicted often cannot free themselves. Those who are not addicted do not know how to engage the addicted person. More importantly, both sides often do not know why they should engage each other in the first place. We fail to see the theological consequences of pornography. What is exposed in graphic detail is not only the exploited body of the human being–it is the image of God (in us and the other). Our theology books offer no help here, no sermons admonish, no Sunday school lesson teach. What’s worse, many Christians simply condemn the activity. Those who have become aware of their own addiction are often left with overwhelming guilt. In the aftermath, they accuse themselves to have lost all power of the Christian life. In the midst of the act, the choice between turning off the power button and switching on God’s presence appears overwhelmingly difficult. And yet, it is there where we have to open our eyes to God’s presence: in the midst of our struggles, in the maelstrom of our addictions, God is not absent! The very thought of God in that situation is in fact a reflection of God’s longing for us. Theology needs to invade these areas of discussions, the problems, hardships, and addictions of the human life. We need to bring God into our most private, most personal, most intimate moments. What we will discover is that God is already there!

Can you imagine what Christians would have to say about pornography? About sexuality? About the physical reality of the human life? About the beauty of God and the reflection of the divine image in the human body? All of those questions are the subject matter of Christian theology. Why do we hesitate?

God’s Immunization Shot

Sunday, April 25th, 2010 by Towera Nyirenda

Hearing the voice of my seven week old nephew growing weaker because of having cried all day was heart wrenching. Watching my sister massage his little leg with a towel of warm water amidst his screams that would be translated, “please mommy stop, you are hurting me,” made me leave the house. I could not bear hearing his pain in his weak voice. You see, my nephew had just had his first immunization shot and his temperature was high, he was wrestles, and irritable.

I for one cannot remember my first immunization shot, or the pain that followed. I can, however, guarantee that I must have acted like my nephew. Today I enjoy the benefits of good health due to the shots I have received. Not to long ago, I went to visit another “distant nephew” in the hospital. He was five years old. Upon further inquiry of his illness, we found out he contracted tetanus because he had not been given his immunization shot. Unfortunately, there was no cure for him. He passed away a week after being hospitalized.

The two experiences made me contemplate! On one hand, my seven week old nephew endured his pain in order to live, while the other did not take his shot, and he died.

So how does this experience relate to our Christian walk?  Just like a doctor or nurse who has the bigger picture of why we need these shots, God has the bigger picture of why we go through “shots” in life. He wants to build our “immune system” so that when the “viruses” of life attack us, we do not succumb to death, but we are prepared to face the tests and live.  God allows shot such as a struggle with sickness, a failed marriage, unemployment-fill in the blanks. And for what reason? Paul has the answer:

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)

So with every scream we make thinking God does not care because His massage feels like murder or our temperature (attitude), is rising, just remember the reason why. Just like my nephew Nate, the shots are painful but necessary for survival.

The Psalmist reminds us of this one thing.  “I would have fainted unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. “ He then tells us to “Wait patiently for the Lord. Be brave and courageous! Yes wait patiently for the Lord.” (Psalm 27: 13-14).

So here we are. Are there shots we have been avoiding?  What are the consequences of our actions?