Archive for May, 2010

Good Sex, Bad Sex: What Is Permissible for Christians?

Monday, May 24th, 2010 by Wolfgang Vondey

Sex has a bad reputation these days in Christian circles. No wonder, with a church plagued by sex scandals, pornography, soaring divorce rates, teen pregnancies, and increasing social pressures, one might almost be tempted to reject sex as inherently evil–the hissing snake destroying the harmony of the garden of Eden, the rotten fruit in a life of bliss that opened human eyes to each other’s nakedness. In response, the answers are often sought in a life of abstinence and celibacy.  But sex in itself is not bad. The tempter in the garden did not introduce sex to humankind but the knowledge of good and evil. And as the story shows, both dimensions apply immediately to human sexuality.

The apostle Paul offers some advice in 1 Cor. 10:23-33 on discerning the good or evil in the context of eating meat bought in the market place. The options are either that no such meat should be eaten, since it may have been from a sacrifice made to idols, or that all meat can be eaten, since the manner of its use is of no significance. In response, Paul provides an important answer: meat itself is neither good not bad; what matters is the manner in which we engage it in relation to our neighbor! “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God” (v. 31). In using this analogy, I am deliberately reducing human sexuality to the idea of the flesh—-at least for a moment. As far as our bodies are concerned, no part of our flesh is bad. We are at liberty to have sex as long as it is for the glory of God. Read the rest of this entry »

The Home of God is Among Mortals

Saturday, May 22nd, 2010 by Jason Wermuth

Many Christians in the world today believe that the end of the Christian journey is escaping this hell-filled world at which time we will live in the spiritual realm called heaven for eternity with God in an idyllic paradise. Many go as far as to make heaven a world of self-fulfillment where we get to do and be whatever it is that tickles our innards. Football stars will have green football fields as far as the eye can see, computer nerds will have every Apple product known to the angels. This is a wonderfully giddifying idea, but, is this really what the bible says about life after death?

In the New Testament (and the Old for that matter) the goal of life with God seems far less about leaving here (although some will leave, 1 Thess 4:13-17) and going to heaven but with God and heaven coming here to earth. Jesus’ whole message was centered around the idea that the kingdom of God was coming to earth just like it is in heaven, not the other way around. This idea has been articulated magnificently by N. T. Wright in Surprise by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection and the Mission of the Church. In this book, Wright argues that for far too long Christian’s have focused on escaping earth and going to heaven. This focus, however, leaves out a whole lot of the gospel.

So if heaven isn’t the point, what is?
Read the rest of this entry »

“Discerning” the Spirit of the Charismatic Movement

Friday, May 21st, 2010 by Dale M. Coulter

David Neff’s recent article on the 50th anniversary of the charismatic movement offers a two-fold assessment. Neff claims that the movement did not fade so much as become integrated with the rest of Christianity and that its lasting legacy may be in reminding the churches of the need to balance order and ardor. For a short, popular piece, I think Neff largely gets it right. While a lot happens in the pentecostal-charismatic world that is difficult to defend (and what form of Christianity is without its “embarrassments”), it has prompted the many streams of Christian tradition to “drink from their own wells” afresh, to borrow a phrase from Bernard of Clairvaux.

At the same time, some Christians remain a little hostile to it. Since ”discernment of spirits” (diakriseis pneumaton) is a gift in 1 Cor. 12:10, maybe we should attempt to exercise such discerning judgment (diakrisis) to see how we might evaluate the movement. Part of the challenge is that when persons talk about “discernment,” they assume it is a private affair rather than a communal one. As Heb. 5:14 makes clear, “discerning judgment (diakrisis) between good and evil” results from a training process in which the believer matures in the context of the church and her life. Neff’s article invites readers to discern the mind of the Spirit on the charismatic movement by thinking with the church through the ages. When one “thinks with the church,” the pentecostal-charismatic movement comes across as another form of genuine renewal that returns Christians to the sources (ad fontes). Read the rest of this entry »

God-given Dreams: A Brief Reflection on the Narrative of Joseph in Genesis 37

Thursday, May 20th, 2010 by Antipas Harris

As I reflect on a biblical passage that is dear to me– Genesis 37, I am interested in the role that “dreams” play in the narrative of Joseph. What could this story imply or teach us regarding dreams?

It is common in the Hebrew Bible that God gives a dream and the meaning of the dream proves true in lived reality. Certainly, all of our nocturnal dreams today do not bear the same validity as the ones that we see in scripture. Fantasies, chocolate, Bad pizza and horror movies are to blame for some of the crazy dreams we have– good dreams and bad ones. I have had dreams– day dreams and nocturnal dreams– that I wish would come to past. Also, as with most people, I have dreams that I am glad to awake from. For example, the other night I dreamt that I lost my voice completely. In the dream I was working my mouth and trying to make a sound but could not. When I woke-up, I was so happy that it was only a dream! That nocturnal dream was the most miserable one that I have had in a while. I pray that that was one of those dreams resulting from a deep rooted fear, bad food or something.

Yet, Genesis 37 teaches us that God does deal in dreams and all dreams– whether day-dreams or nocturnal dreams– are not a result of what we ate, human fears, or passionate fantasies. While I can not articulate clearly a discernment between the dreams that God gives and the ones that seem to have little or no meaning, I am convinced that God still gives dreams and God’s dreams do come to pass.

Divine dreams are not merely ideas dangling in the periphery of the corridors of our imaginations. Rather, these dreams are revelations of our “divine purpose-by-design” or a message from God. Dreams could be an avenue through which God shares God’s ideas with us.

These God-given dreams are sometimes hard to understand. If we take seriously Joseph’s dream in the Genesis passage for its implications on God-given dreams, we notice that God’s dreams seem too wonderful for our current situations. God’s dreams often leave us shaking in our knees. We think, “Where in the world does this come from?” And, “How in the world could this be true?”

But God’s dreams are not about where we are now. God’s dreams are about where God intends for us to go or what will happen despite of where we are. Again, Joseph’s story teaches us that God does not just look at who we are but God looks at who we were born to become!

It is important to note in Joseph’s story that God’s dreams for for him provoke his brothers to jealousy. Could this mean that God’s dreams for us might provoke others to jealousy as well? Joseph’s brothers become perturbed and participate in conspiracy to castigate Joseph. Does this explain why when people do not understand God’s dreams for us sometimes become envious, criticize and consign our dreams to the grave?

Let us be encouraged that when God gives a dream, God is able to bring the dream to past. Let God work the dream into reality as we simply obey God. The narrative of Joseph teaches us that whatever we do, let us hold on to our relationship with God; hold on to our godly character and hold on to the God-given dream. Problems will come. Strange predicaments will occur. Pain will interfere. And the pit might be our dwelling place for s season. But a pastor friend put it this way, “Don’t let these P’s get us down. These P’s serve as a process to get to our divine promise.”

Our God-given dreams shall surely come to pass!

Spirituality and Leadership

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010 by Diane Chandler

In my blog last week, I addressed how a leader’s background informs his or her adult leadership style.  From the Hebrew Bible, I contrasted David’s secure attachment to God (forged early in his life) with the ongoing anxious attachment style evidenced by Saul.  Saul’s uncontrollable jealousy and rage are ample indications of the insecurity that infiltrated Saul’s life and leadership. 

The contrasting lives of David and Saul become classrooms for understanding leadership and spirituality ~ specifically how their relationship with God informed (or in Saul’s case, did not inform) their leadership.  The contrast could not be more glaring!

As I read the Psalms attributed to David, one prominent observation concerns David’s utter dependence upon God through the leadership trials he encountered.  And he encountered many ~ namely death threats, opposition, criticism, rejection, mutiny, and troubles of his own making, including ethical breaches and moral failures.

What sustained David through these times?

From a careful reading of the Psalms, what sustained David was his dependence upon the love (Heb. hesed) of God. The Psalms attributed to David are replete with thanks to God for his hesed for past deliverance and cries for God’s unfailing love to continue to deliver and restore him.  See Psalms 6, 13, 17, 18, 21, 23, 25, 26, 31, 36, 40, 51, 52, 57, 60, 61, 63, 96, 70, 86, 101, 103, 108, 138, 143, and 145.  [Also refer to Dale Coulter’s blog of May 14th, which assessed translations of hesed.]  

David learned how to bed himself in the palm of God’s unfailing love as an automatic default when in crisis. 

Although difficult to translate into English, the meaning of hesed has been shown to connect with God’s covenantal relationship to those who “belong to him” (Claus Westermann, Praise and Lament in the Psalms, 1981, pp. 120-21).  In his book Hesed in the Bible, Nelson Glueck further defines hesed: “To him [David], for whom communion with God is the greatest good, God’s hesed, His love for His followers, is comparable to God’s goodness” (1975, p. 95). Gordon R. Clark notes that hesed includes grace, mercy, compassion, faithfulness, reliability, confidence, and love; yet is much broader than any of these combined (The Word Hesed in the Hebrew Bible, 1993, pp. 267-68).

David’s spirituality informed his leadership with all of its successes and failures because his automatic reflex was to cast himself upon the hesed of God. Saul evidences little to none of this kind of dependence upon or trust in God’s mercy and loving-kindness.

Often when leadership trials come, we might conclude that God is not with us.  Yet David’s spiritual default to leadership crises was to dive headlong into God’s presence, crying out for his loving kindness.  He pressed in boldly.  How can our spirituality inform our leadership with this kind of trust?

Nibbled to Death by Ducks?

Tuesday, May 18th, 2010 by James Flynn

Did you know that the ministry hazardous occupations can be hazardous to your health?  Dr. Gwen Halaas notes that in 1980, a study of 28,000 Protestant ministers from the 1950s showed that in every diagnostic category ministers lived longer than the average male, including those from other professions. A 1999 report of death certificates for ministers who died between 1982 and 1992 showed that ministers were in the top ten occupations to die from heart disease! In recent times, the high stress life and death issues that ministers face, coupled with complex leadership and relational problems, mixed with long hours and a sedentary lifestyle, have created a ticking health time bomb for ministers that can go off at anytime.

 Dr. Daniel Spaite specializes in the physical, mental, and spiritual dimensions of ministry and pastoral burnout. The underlying thought patterns that can lead to pastoral burnout are often related to a blatantly Gnostic concept of our humanity. The Gnostics drew a false distinction between the human body and spirit, treating the body as evil and the spirit as good. This concept disintegrates human beings into parts, rather than viewing them holistically. These Gnostic assumptions have crept into our Christian mindset for self care, often emphasizing the care of the spirit while diminishing the need to care for the body or soul as though they were somehow disintegrated from a person’s spiritual welfare, or worse, somehow sinful. 

The logical end of this kind of reasoning can be a neglect of physical well being in favor of spiritual pursuits. With this mindset, bodily neglect can actually become a virtue.  The “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” mentality we have in the West only compounds the problem.  In the West, health is viewed as “the absence of disease.”  This kind of reactive model waits for something to “break” and then prescribes a cure to attempt to “fix it.” Most people would not adopt this kind of model for their car, believing preventive maintenance and proactive care to be a better way to preserve their investment. The reactive Western model of health works well with a Gnostic philosophy because it justifies concentration on spiritual things when the human body is not “broken.” A reactive mentality and lack of preventive maintenance eventually takes its toll by the lack of exercise, poor eating and sleeping habits common to ministers in their high stress profession. 

In the end, it is not usually the big things that take their toll on ministers, but rather the accumulated little stressors.   Robert H. Ramey (2000) calls this “being nibbled to death by ducks.”  Ducks don’t have teeth – all they can do is nip at you and annoy you. You feel the pinch, but it doesn’t usually break the skin.  Like ducks, the stress is a cumulative thing, and in ministry, there are an abundance of small stressful things that cumulatively exert a powerful and often deadly amount of stress on ministers and their families.

Iraneus said “The glory of God is a human being fully alive”.  Robert Barron asserts “At the heart of the original sin is the refusal to accept God’s rhythm for us”. When ministers abandon normal rhythms of physical life and willingly embrace impossible schedules that prohibit physical exercise, proper sleep, and enforce poor dietary habits, they set themselves up for personal, relational and professional disaster. Don’t live like a modern day Gnostic – respect your body and its needs.  Sort out what God is asking you to do, and what you are doing – you may find that His list is a lot shorter than your list.  Remember that Jesus already died for the church so unless He specifically asks you to do so, He already has that taken care of.