Monday, March 30, 2009

Balaam: A Model for Preaching?

A few days ago in my private devotions I was reading through Numbers and encountered once again the character of Balaam (22-24). But something new stuck out to me. I found in Balaam admirable qualities. Now I did not expect to find anything like this. I usually wrestle with the theological question of how Balaam could know and use the covenant name of God, how this pagan outside the people of Israel would know and relate to God, or about the unusual account of the donkey speaking. But this time was different. I found two ways that Balaam could specifically be a model for preachers and for all who seek to communicate Christian truth.

First - Balaam spoke only what God had spoken. He faced the great temptation of saying what Balak wanted to hear, to say only what would create smooth paths for him, and he refused. He had been asked to come and curse Israel yet he warned them that, "Have I now any power of my own to speak anything? The word that God puts in my mouth, that must I speak" Numbers 22:38. What the Lord put in his mouth that he must speak, how many have that conviction? How many are determined to speak only the words of God? Our age (like most ages) is full of those who speak what pleases the hearers. We speak what the experts tell us will grow churches or what will appeal to postmoderns or baby boomers or we speak only to the felt needs of the congregation. Balaam by example teaches us that our hearers must not determine the content of the message, God alone has that authority and He has commanded us to "preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching" 2 Tim 4.2.

Second - Balaam feared God instead of man. Balaam had been brought to do the cursing by Balak a King who feared Israel. Balak had the power to have Balaam killed if he did not do as he wished. Yet opportunity after opportunity Balaam chose to bless Israel as God commanded rather than curse them as Balak commanded. I found this to be really challenging. We worry about offending people in our day. The last thing we want to be in these postmodern, politically correct days is to be offensive. So many are timid, failing to preach the Gospel with fire and conviction for fear of being offensive. We shy away from difficult controversial truths. Yet the people we meet and speak to have only the power to be offended and perhaps hurt us with words. Or if things get particularly bad in a church we could get fired. But Balaam stood with courage and spoke what God spoke when his death was a real possibility. We must fear God rather than man.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Christianity in the Old Christian Empire

I want to challenge you to read the article linked above and then do two things.

1) Ponder whether this is the direction that we are heading in here in the U. S.

2) Pray for Britain and her Christians.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Inspiration from Soul Survivor

I just finished reading Philip Yancey’s Soul Survivor and instead of writing a normal book review (I have taken a book review hiatus, I will eventually write more) I will instead take his advice in the epilogue and reflect on those God has used to guide me in my journey in pursuing Christ.

Yancey has some odd mentors in his book that initially caused some worry on my part, but after he tells his story about growing up in a hate-filled fundamentalist church (not all fit this category but his certainly did) he struggled to trust the church or even God. We all have struggles and obstacles to faith. These may come from the rebellious nature of our own hearts or from the suffering that results from living in a fallen world or even from the enemy of our souls. Yet the journey is often confusing and with every believer it is unique and tangled, so bear with me for a few paragraphs while I take Yancey’s advice and reflect on my mentors in the faith.

First I must acknowledge the influence of my parents - Mom taught me to love - she thinks that she’s not very good at expressing love. Yet all of her sons have felt loved and learned from Mom how to share love in meaningful ways. Dad taught me how to be a man - that manhood doesn’t consist of grunting and spitting but rather is fundamentally about taking responsibility and being willing to sacrifice for others (in Dad’s case sometimes to a fault, sorry Dad but its true).

Second I would point to J.R.R. Tolkien. When I was in the sixth grade I stumbled across the Hobbit and was immediately hooked. I then went on to read the Lord of the Rings of course. What I learned from Tolkien was from his portrayal of heroes. Throughout my younger years (and to this day) my understanding of what a hero was came from Tolkien, one who courageously does what is necessary even when it means a great deal of suffering by one for others. This was what really captivated me. Seeing poor little Frodo suffering alone to save all of middle earth, that is epic heroism. Repentant Boromir fighting to the death so the little one’s can escape. I didn’t know it at the time but these are Christ-like heroes. In shaping my understanding of a hero, in some measure, Tolkien softened my heart to hear about the work of Christ.

Third (bear with me) is the Dalai Llama. In my junior year of high school I was once again prowling through the library (boy I was a nerd) and came across a book by the Dalai Llama where in very basic terms he explained what Buddhism was. I began reading there in the aisle and was captivated. He was answering questions from his perspective that I had never once thought to ask. I checked out the book and checked it out repeatedly for the next year. To a few friends I declared myself a Buddhist (sorry Mom and Dad). The positive that came out of this deception (for I became convinced that Buddhism is not true and actually does a very poor job of answering the big questions) was that I began thinking about spiritual things. I don’t think that before that moment I had ever had a spiritual thought in my life. So it was a kind of back-handed blessing, good coming out of darkness.

Fourth was John Lucas. John was the first person ever to invite me to any kind of Christian function. I had never been invited to church or BSU or anything like it in my life. Yet John took me to these meetings and shared the Gospel with me and after I became a Christian (and to this day) John has served as a guide and mentor to me as I strive to follow my crucified savior.

Paul Badgett was important for the biggest reason that it was under his preaching that I came to faith in Christ. But also Paul was faithful to proclaim the beautiful gospel simply and clearly week after week. Thank you Paul for feeding me the gospel.

Erwin Lutzer’s book Doctrine’s that Divide was the book that showed me that theology really does matter. That what we believe really does matter. This was the book that God used to kill all the post-modernism left in me.

Now I want to close with a few honorable mentions. Josh Owen allowed me to watch him be a pastor, husband, father, and theologian. He showed me that we can be all these things without neglecting our churches or our families, thank you Josh. Francis Schaeffer showed me that the Christian faith was intellectually beautiful and extremely logical, that we are not leaping into the dark. Mark Helton has shown me how to suffer with grace. My matchless wife has shown me the power of forgiveness and love (she has had much to forgive and little to find worthy of love).

PS - Yancey's book is a great read. His writing ability made this book hard to put down. But most of all the strange path that God used in bringing him safely into the fold was captivating. A worthy read and I've been inspired to read more by Yancey.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Being Right Without Sounding Crazy

Sometimes I think about who I spend my time with and I wonder if it really is pleasing to my King. While He was here during His incarnation He spent His time with either the world's nobodies or the religious world's outcasts. His disciples were nobodies and He spent an awful lot of time hanging out with tax collector's. He was scandalously friendly with people known to be sexually immoral. Jesus only had so much time to spend with people here and He chose to invest in these people.

Reflecting on this I am embarrassed to think on the mistakes made by the church in the past. Times of compromise and foolishness. And even times of hatred. Yet we are called to be much different than this. Especially when we are certain of being right. We must be right with compassion and love. Remember Jesus not only taught us to love the outcast and the immoral through His actions He absolutely commanded it when He told us to love our neighbor. Immoral people and people who are wrong are still our neighbors.

There is also the issue of the image of God. The fact that all humans are made in the image of God should drive us to respect and cherish every living human, whether they share our convictions or not. As Francis Schaeffer said there are 'no little people.'

So who do I have in mind particularly - I am thinking specifically of how we as Evangelicals have interacted with homosexuals. I recently was exposed to two different ways of responding to our culture's embrace of homosexuality. One was a man was denouncing homosexuality as an awful sin that deserved hell and that they shouldn't talk about some gay gene, because people choose to be that way. Then I heard another Evangelical (that I respect and appreciate a great deal) say that in a few decades we are going to be sorry for not embracing homosexuality in the same way the southern church should be embarrassed for supporting a racist society.

I found them both distasteful for different reasons. The first man for his lack of compassion and willingness to show grace. The second man for listening to culture rather than the clear truth of scripture. We must find a balance.

I want to say clearly that I believe that the Bible teaches that homosexuality is sinful. I also believe that it is destructive to individuals and families. I also fear that it is a particularly enslaving sin that it is difficult to escape once begun. I also believe that there is a distinct possibility that there is some sort of genetic proclivity toward homosexual attraction (like some people are born with addictive personalities or struggle with chemical depression). But I also think that homosexuals are still our neighbors, that they are made in the Image of God and therefore have inherent dignity and should be treated with respect.

We need to learn to be understanding, to acknowledge the difficulty of escaping this lifestyle. Be willing to acknowledge that some people will always struggle with same-sex attraction. To show mercy and grace. To develop real friendships with homosexuals. And at the same time be clear that even as we love homosexuals we are still opposed to their sin.

We must learn to be right with compassion and grace.

PS - I bet Jesus would have been friends with homosexuals and still told them to leave their sin.