Friday, December 23, 2011

"Held at bay by a vicious animal" option 3?

I had to call Animal Control in Wake County, North Carolina for reasons that are not worth repeating. What is interesting is their current outgoing phone message. It is a long message that gives callers the option of pressing various buttons on their phone for various needs. Before you even get to that part, however, there is a recitation of the holiday schedule. Then, finally, callers are told to "press one" for a long list of services related to the animal shelter, or to "press two" for complaints related to stray animals and other matters related to animal control. But it was option three that really got me. Callers are instructed to "press three" for emergency issues including being "held at bay by a vicious animal."

Shouldn't this third option be number one? If I'm being "held at bay by a vicious animal" I'm thinking I don't want to listen through the listing of the holiday schedule, the animal shelter services, and the stray animal/animal control option before being told how to get help. By the time I'm told the button to push to get assistance, the vicious animal may have done its damage. If a ferocious dog is snapping at my heels or a crazed bear is chasing me, I think I should be at the front of the line for help.

Maybe the outgoing phone message of Wake County, North Carolina Animal Control is a good reminder to all of us to get our priorities in order.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Misunderstood preparations

Last week Kieon Sharp, 18, of Charleston, West Virginia, applied for a job with a trucking company. On the same day that he filled out the application he saw one of the trucks of the company he hoped to work for parked on the street with the driver sitting inside. He decided to make some preparations for his potential new job by talking to the driver about the day-to-day routine of driving for this company.

Sharp approached the truck and knocked on the driver's window. The driver immediately called the police and Sharp was arrested. You see, Sharp had applied to Brinks Security and he was knocking on the window of one of their armored vehicles parked outside of a bank. The driver thought the young man had a gun and that he was attempting a robbery.

Sharp was held behind bars for several hours before the story was sorted out. The police were apparently impressed with his cooperation. Sharp was offered an application to the city's street department upon his release from jail.

Kieon Sharp was only trying to make preparations for something important in his life, but his preparations were misunderstood. The Advent season is all about making preparations for something important in our lives. We seek to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord. If our preparations are in keeping with the character of the arrival of Jesus then they could easily be misunderstood.

Great kings are supposed to arrive amid scenes of glory but Jesus, the King of kings, chose to enter the world in a lowly, even scandalous, way. A teen pregnancy out of wedlock to a peasant girl. A birth in a stable. His first clothes were rags and his first bed was a feed trough. Behold, your Savior.

According to the apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 8:9, Jesus made himself poor in coming to this world. His ambition was not for power and wealth, but for lowliness and poverty. As Mary said, he brought down the powerful and sent the rich away empty while he lifted up the lowly and filled the hungry with good things (Luke 1:51-53).

This whole approach upsets the ways of our world--our culture in particular. If we all operated this way, Black Friday would be a disaster and our economy would be wrecked. If our Advent preparations follow the original Christmas pattern then I can easily see our efforts causing considerable misunderstanding and concern.

But I hope we realize, to slightly paraphrase John's gospel, "the true light, which enlightens everyone, comes to the world" (1:9). And we need to help our world to see the true light. To do that our Advent prepartions must shine the true light on a new and different way--His way. We will be misunderstood ... at least at first. But if we are faithful to the ways of the one whose ambition was for poverty and lowliness then the wonder of the true light will transform our world in glorious ways.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Is history repeating itself?

Had the holding of slaves been a moral evil, it cannot be supposed, that the inspired Apostles, who feared not the faces of men, and were ready to lay down their lives in the cause of their God, would have tolerated it, for a moment, in the Christian Church.

Baptist hero Richard Furman wrote the words above in a document entitled "The Views of Baptists Relative to the Coloured Population of the United States." The first edition of this pamphlet was published in 1822 and a second edition was produced in 1838, some 13 years after Furman's death. For decades this biblical defense of slavery became the model for Bible-based arguments in favor of owning people in this country. Baptists and many other Southern evangelicals were just sure that there was nothing wrong with holding slaves and they adamantly claimed to have the Bible on their side. On the other hand, other Christians, mainly in other parts of the country, made biblical arguments against slavery.

These days we think Southern Christians were wrong to defend slavery back then and we are ashamed of the biblical arguments made by Furman and others. We repudiate their take on the scriptures as adamantly as they clung to it.

This bit of history is one thing that concerns me about the prevailing position of evangelicals regarding homosexuality. Most evangelicals, including most Baptists, say today that all homosexual behavior is wrong and they point to a handful of biblical passages to support this claim. But some other Christians interpret the scriptures in a more affirming way regarding homosexuality.

Is it possible that someday Christians will look back on the prevailing position of Baptists and other evangelicals on homosexuality today in much the same way that we look back on the position concerning slavery of Richard Furman and other Baptists of the 1800s? Whatever your answer to that question, we have got to learn to talk about this issue in a healthy way. We've got to figure out a way to discuss this important topic with a humility inherent to the realization that we see as through a glass darkly--we don't know it all.

And we've been wrong before.

Monday, November 7, 2011

A decline in spiritual vitality in churches

According to a recent survey, the percentage of U.S. congregations reporting high spiritual vitality declined from 43 percent in 2005 to 28 percent in 2010. Did those numbers sink in? That's a drop of 15 percentage points in five years.

The article linked above reporting this news also notes the unsurprising fact that, according to research, "spiritually alive churches are the most likely to grow." Even so, it appears that there has been a precipitous decline in spiritual vitality in churches of this country. Why?

I think one reason for this disturbing decline is that church folks are just too busy, and not necessarily with church work. Oh, there are some church folks who are certainly overworked in doing church work. But I fairly regularly have folks who do not hold many if any positions in the church who tell me that they are too busy to participate in events designed to promote spiritual vitality.

Because so many folks are time poor these days, here at Woodhaven Baptist, we just launched a non-event-based approach to encouraging spiritual vitality to supplement our event-based programs. In a nutshell, the new initiative involves pairing men and pairing women in the church who commit to gather once per week for prayer, fellowship and discussing a reading assignment. Each pair meets at a time and place of its choosing and decides on its own pace of reading. Furthermore, each person in each pair is encouraged to invite an unchurched friend, neighbor or co-worker to join the group. So each group is composed of a maximum of four men or four women, two of whom are church members and two of whom are not.

It is the most flexible plan for relationship building, communal prayer, and outreach that I can imagine. We will continue to hold various church events designed to foster greater spiritual vitality. But it is just getting harder and harder to find times for church events that many folks can attend beyond Sunday morning (and even Sunday morning is not as easy as it used to be it seems).

Will our new non-event-based approach to promoting spiritual vitality help in a time poor culture? We just launched the plan yesterday, so that remains to be seen. But if many folks say they are too busy even for a plan so flexible, then I see only one alternative: Encourage our people to simplify.

We should probably encourage simplification anyway.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Is Halloween evil?

As with Christmas and Easter, Halloween is a mixture of pagan and Christian traditions. It seems that about this time every year I hear about some Christian leader, local or national, getting upset about the pagan elements connected to the history of Halloween. Perhaps this concern should not be ignored, but I don’t get excited about the shady portion of Halloween history because the overwhelming majority of people in our culture know nothing about it.

For example, our modern practice of trick or treat is apparently connected to something that Christians did to replace the ancient Celtic practice of leaving out food and wine for roaming spirits. (That’s a long story for another day.) The Celts also wore masks to disguise themselves from the wandering spirits which may help to explain our practice of Halloween costumes.

As for our modern Halloween observances, I’ve never heard of anyone these days deliberately trying to keep alive the pagan, Celtic tradition. Have you heard anyone at Halloween time saying, “Honey, did you remember to put some food on the front steps to appease the wandering ghosts?” When is the last time that you told your children or grandchildren, “We’ve got to get you a Halloween costume so that the wandering spirits won’t recognize you.” In my experience there is no deliberate attempt to further pagan rituals on Halloween.

For the most part our observance of Halloween looks like an annual, huge costume party with some candy thrown in. If the evil in such a practice is measured by the motives of one’s heart, then I don’t see Halloween as predominantly evil. Certainly there are some folks who seem bent on getting drunk or violent or destructive on Halloween and these acts must be discouraged in any season. But most folks are just trying to have a little fun and exercise a little creativity on this day. Where’s the evil in that?

Of course, in many ways Christians continue to attempt to redeem Halloween for godly purposes. Many churches hold a “Fall Festival” that is largely for young people as an alternative to less positive Halloween activities. “Trunk or Treat” is another popular church Halloween tradition that involves decorating car trunks and filling them with goodies for young people. Christians frequently use Halloween as an opportunity for fellowship and outreach.

There is some Halloween ugliness every year and, again, this is to be discouraged. But, for the most part, this day is about harmless fun and, for many Christians, a chance for fellowship and outreach. So I don’t see the point in getting all worked up about some pagan Halloween roots that were largely forgotten long ago.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

James Madison and Baptists

Baptists in Virginia were fiercely persecuted by other Christians for a period of about 20 years beginning around 1760. The Anglican Church was the official state church and the Anglican establishment did not look kindly on other faith groups. Baptists were singled out for sometimes brutal assaults because they were a fast growing group that often challenged the uniting of church and state. They were the victims of mob violence, their marriages not recognized by the state, they were fined and they were jailed. Indeed, from 1768 to 1774, more than half of the Baptist ministers in Virginia were imprisoned at some time for preaching.

On this Independence Day weekend I decided to take a look at the way the persecution of Virginia Baptists influence one of the founders of this nation: James Madison. Previously I have written about one legendary account in which the connection between Baptists and Madison played an important role in the establishment of the Bill of Rights. Today I will set that story aside in order to underscore the way Baptists impacted the father of the Constitution more generally.

As a young man Madison was utterly appalled by the persecution of Virginia Baptists. He graduated from Princeton (then called the College of New Jersey) in 1771 but stayed an additional six months in part because of ill health but also to study Hebrew and other subjects. From 1772-1775, Madison stayed at the family estate, Montpelier, which is north of Charlottesville, Virginia. Perhaps he heard about the ill treatment of Baptists from his father who, as a vestryman in the Anglican Church, was charged with enforcing laws against religious dissenters. The young Madison’s outrage is clear in a letter dated January 24, 1774 that he sent to his college friend, William Bradford:

That diabolical Hell conceived principle of persecution rages among some and to their eternal Infamy the Clergy can furnish their Quota of Imps for such business. This vexes me the most of any thing whatever. There are at this [time?] in the adjacent County not less than 5 or 6 well meaning men in close [jail] for publishing their religious Sentiments which in the main are very orthodox.

The jailed men to which Madison referred were six Baptist preachers incarcerated in Culpeper County in early 1774.

Concerning the abuse of Baptists, Madison notes in the same letter that he had “squabbled and scolded abused and ridiculed so long about it, to so little purpose that [he was] without common patience.” The degree to which the future President of the United States intervened on behalf of persecuted Baptists is unclear. Joseph Loconte states that Madison visited the six jailed preachers in Culpeper County. Joseph Martin Dawson cites a few lines from the New Universal Cyclopaedia, published in 1876, that indicate Madison repeatedly appeared in “the Court of his own county to defend the Baptists.” When he was over 80, Madison himself wrote that he “spared no exertion to save [Baptists] from imprisonment [and] to promote their release from it.” While it is unclear whether Madison visited jailed Baptists or defended them in court, his writings leave no doubt that he was infuriated by their imprisonment and that he made his views known. Richard Labunski affirms the difficulty in determining the extent of Madison’s efforts on behalf of Virginia Baptists, but he concludes that, in the setting of Anglican dominated Virginia, Madison was courageous to criticize the persecution of Baptists.

Robert Alley and Lance Banning see the mistreatment of Virginia Baptists as the factor that drove James Madison, later the father of the Constitution of the United States, to get into politics. This view is strengthened by the fact that Madison’s zeal for the subject was undiminished when he again wrote his friend, Bradford, in April, 1774 to inform him that the Virginia legislature would soon meet to consider petitions from “Dissenters” including those of “Persecuted Baptists.” In the same letter his keen interest is evident in a careful assessment of the political landscape confronting dissenters as they sought “greater liberty in matters of Religion.”

Beyond the role that the persecution of Virginia Baptists played in Madison’s initial decision to enter politics, it appears that the oppression of Baptists was important to his future advocacy of republican government. In Federalist Paper Ten, Madison explains that pure democracy can be its own form of tyranny in which strict majority rule can infringe on the fundamental rights of a minority. He does not explicitly mention the jailed Baptists, but they appear to have been on his mind nonetheless. Madison thought the basic rights of a "minor party" may be imperiled by "the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority." He wrote that "zeal for different opinions concerning religion … have … divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other … " He warned that this “strong … propensity” has been “sufficient to kindle … unfriendly passions and excite … violent conflicts." Therefore Madison proposed a representative republic as the solution to the oppressive tendencies of pure democracy. His language is not conclusive but it appears likely that personal experience with an “overbearing majority” may have weighed on the father of the Constitution as he pressed for a republican form of government.

Garrett Ward Sheldon attributes Madison’s desire for a representative republic to a “Calvinist suspicion about the motives of sinful” humans that he learned in his culture in general and particularly under John Witherspoon at Princeton. There is no question that Madison’s education at Princeton, with its emphasis on Calvinism, was a major influence in all aspects of his life including his political philosophy. Madison biographer Irving Brant sees “the germ” of Madison’s dedication to religious liberty in his 1769 choice to enroll in Princeton rather than William and Mary. At that time the president of William and Mary College “was the head of a powerful group seeking to establish an American Episcopate with himself as the head.” On the other hand, an observer of Princeton wrote in 1769 that the school would be “a bulwark against the Episcopacy.” Brant concludes, “There is more reason to believe that hostility to church establishment led Madison to Princeton, than that the choice of a school fixed his principles.” While Brant is correct that Madison’s choice of Princeton probably provides a clue to his developing views on religious liberty, Sheldon is no doubt accurate in his contention that Madison’s Calvinism-steeped studies influenced the political philosophy of the future president.

However, the obvious passion excited in Madison with the imprisonment of Virginia Baptists made an indelible mark on the father of the Constitution. As mentioned above, he was still writing about “the persecution instituted in his County … against the preachers belonging to the sect of Baptists” when he was beyond 80 years of age. Some of the language of Federalist Paper Ten seems to betray personal experience with a tyrannical majority that could easily be connected to Madison’s rage against the oppression of Baptists. It is fair to conclude that, more than theoretical classroom discussions, the real life example of human depravity seen in the mistreatment of Baptists inspired Madison’s dedication to a form of government that avoided the despotic dangers of pure democracy.

Brant considers Madison’s experience with persecuted Baptists a significant factor in his “lifelong zeal for religious freedom.” For Robert Rutland, Madison’s Princeton experience coupled with his discussions with his father about the oppression of Baptists shaped “a lifelong aversion to religious bigotry” in the mind of the father of the Constitution. So it was that oppression at the hands of the religious establishment inspired not only Baptist dedication to religious liberty but that of one of the most noted founders of the United States. It appears that James Madison, outraged by the mistreatment of Baptists, was serious when he requested that his friend, William Bradford, “[P]ity me and pray for Liberty of conscience. . .” And Baptists had a lot to do with that passion.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Content in any and every situation?

We are holding our regular, quarterly church business meeting this evening. Earlier I was looking over the financial statement that will be presented tonight and thanked God for some really good news. We are halfway through the 2010-11 church year and our General Fund contributions are up by a little over 20%. For the second quarter, General Fund donations were up 20.49% and, for the first six months of the church year, they were up 20.37%. That's just jaw-dropping.

Actually, our General fund contributions had begun to increase in the 2009-10 church year, but not by 20%. Prior to about halfway through the 2009-10 church year we had a string of quarters in which General Fund donations kept going down. The recession took it's toll on church giving for a while. Looking at financial statements prior to a business meeting was, frankly, kind of depressing when contributions were down.

But, for more than a year, we have seen significant improvement in church finances. So, earlier today, I was looking at the numbers and I was thanking God when God spoke to me. Oh, God didn't speak to me out loud, because God knows I'm a Baptist and so I wouldn't be able to handle that. But I sensed that God said to me, "Did you have less reason to be thankful when contributions were down?"

Oh, but God didn't stop there. On the heels of the word above whispered in my soul, I remembered this passage:

I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. (Philippians 4:11-12, TNIV)

Have I really learned the secret of being content in any and every circumstance? Have you? Do the followers of Christ have fewer reasons to be thankful in lean times? Is the wholeness that is ours in Christ diminished in a recession? In churches, should we thank God less when the financial statement is weak (according to our definition) than when it is strong?

Can we learn to be content (content!) in any and every situation?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

"... in any manner whatever ..."

I suppose Monday was a pretty busy news day, but the Supreme Court yesterday handed down a disturbing and somewhat unnoticed ruling. In a 5-4 decision, the High Court ruled against an Establishment Clause challenge to an Arizona tax credit program, holding that the plaintiffs lacked standing to sue. The tax credit applies to donations to organizations that provide scholarships to students who attend private schools, including private religious schools.

This ruling is distressing on several fronts. First of all, the Court did not consider the substance of the suit, which is ultimately about government aid to religious institutions. I know what a thorny area this is, especially when it comes to private religious schools. But if the issue is to be decided by what the founders of this country had in mind with the language of the First Amendment, then there seems to be little room for debate.

One year after it approved the Bill of Rights, the same congress took up a matter connected to the census. In the discussion, James Madison explained why the census must not include a question of what citizens do for a living. He noted that it would be wrong for the government to list religious professionals because “the general government is proscribed from interfering, in any manner whatever, in matters respecting religion; and it may be thought to do this, in ascertaining who [are] and who are not ministers of the gospel” (emphasis mine). No one argued with Madison’s reasoning.

Note this sweeping interpretation of the First Amendment by the very founders who adopted it. Because it is “proscribed from interfering, in any manner whatever, in matters respecting religion,” the government could not even ask people what they do for a living because the question might be posed to a religious professional. The prohibited government action of asking people what they do for a living is a far smaller government involvement in religion than offering tax credits for religious schools.

Even more disturbing is the High Court’s ruling that the plaintiffs lacked the standing to sue. The suit was brought by taxpayers who claimed their rights under the Establishment Clause were violated by the Arizona law. In her dissent, Justice Elena Kagan said, “The court’s opinion offers a road map — more truly, just a one-step instruction — to any government that wishes to insulate its financing of religious activity from legal challenge.” Kagan goes on to list numerous powerful and troubling examples of the can of worms opened by this decision that you can read here. But Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty General Counsel K. Hollyn Hollman sums up the problem nicely when she notes that this ruling “denies citizens the right to fight for strong protections against a governmental establishment of religion.”

Finally, this ruling is disturbing because Jesus’ rejection of the temptation to use the power of government to accomplish his mission argues strongly for a separateness between church and state. He died not with the sword of government in his hand, but with the spear of government in his side. Christ’s followers do well to be leery of government efforts to be involved in religion "in any manner whatever."

Friday, April 1, 2011

Getting Charlie of the toilet

"Christ ... is at the right hand of God ... interceding for us." (Romans 8:34, TNIV)

"... the Spirit ... intercedes for us ..." (Romans 8:26, TNIV)

"I have food to eat that you know nothing about." (John 4:32, TNIV)

I had an experience last night that I won't describe to protect the confidentiality of others involved. But it reminded me of a similar experience of several years ago. In both instances I had got a chance to help someone.

Some years back I got a call at about 11:30 at night. A close friend of Charlie (not his real name) was at his house helping to take care of him. Charlie is dead now. He died several months after the night that I received this call. He was a church member and he was in very poor health. Charlie was on the toilet and he was so weak that he couldn't get up, I was told. I said that I was on my way. As I went to my car, I called Mike (not his real name), another church member and a deacon. Charlie was a very big man--over 300 pounds. I knew that I wouldn't be able to get him off the toilet by myself.

At Charlie's house, Mike and I could see that this would be no simple operation. The bathroom that Charlie was trapped in was very small and there was no room for two guys to get in there and left him. But something else was apparent. It wasn't just that Charlie was weak, he was suffering some sort of episode. He was out of it. I called 911.

When the paramedics arrived they were also at a loss as to how to get Charlie off the toilet. After a few moments, I developed a strategy of positioning a bed sheet in a certain way under Charlie such that it would support his weight, allowing four of us to lift him, two on each side. We tried it and it worked. Moments later, Charlie was in the rescue squad and on his way to the hospital.

It never was determined what sort of episode Charlie was having that night. The next day in the hospital he was lucid again. He had no memory of the experience of the night before but his friend told him about what Mike and I did. Charlie thanked me profusely and he said that Mike and I were working for Jesus when we lifted him off that toilet.

This morning I read today's selection in Oswald Chambers' classic daily devotional, My Utmost for His Highest. In the reading Chambers connects intercession with worship. Using the two verses from Romans above he makes the case that, because intercession is continual act of Jesus and of the Spirit, it should be a vital part of the life of Christ-followers.

Intercession is typically linked to prayer. But is prayer the only way that we intercede for others in the name of the Lord? Is service on behalf of those in need a form of intercession?

Last Sunday I preached on the the account of Jesus' conversation with the woman at the well in John 4. Christ helped the woman at the well--he served her. After the experience he indicated to the disciples that this act of service fed his soul (John 4:32).

Acts of service are seldom convenient. Regularly we cannot see the positive results of service immediately as in the case of successfully lifting a weak man from a toilet and onto a gurney. Sometimes those we serve are not thankful like Charlie was. But, no matter the circumstances, when we fail to intercede in service to assist others I think we miss wonderful opportunities to feed our souls.

Monday, March 21, 2011

It's about accuracy

Well, it's happening again. The International Bible Society (IBS), which holds the copyright on the New International Version (NIV) of the Bible, has released a revision and some groups and individuals are complaining about it. Why are they complaining? The NIV of 2011 uses more gender inclusive language than the NIV of 1984, the previous revision. There was a time in English language usage when the noun "man" and the pronouns "he" and "him" were used in the generic sense to refer to males and females. For decades now English teachers have been instructing writers to avoid generic usages of male nouns and pronouns. When I was in college more than 20 years ago, I was taught to use gender inclusive expressions and if I lapsed into generic usages of "he," "him," or "man," then the professor marked my writing as incorrect. Gender inclusive Bible translation is about taking into account this change in English usage. Here is one example related to the current controversy connected with the new NIV:

  • Mark 8:36, NIV 1984:"What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?"

  • Mark 8:36, NIV 2011: "What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?"
According to the article linked above, some are complaining that the gender inclusive language in the new NIV distorts the Bible in various ways. I disagree. It seems clear that failing to use gender inclusive translation is likely to result in misunderstandings of the biblical message. The NIV is a thought-for-thought translation. It seeks to convey the thought of the original language in the clearest possible terms according to current English usage. It is a simple fact that writers of our culture have been taught for a long time that they should not employ generic male nouns or pronouns to refer to both males and females. My children, who are all adults, were never instructed to use "he" or "man" in the generic sense. From the beginning they were taught to use gender inclusive language in their writing. English translations of the Bible that do not use gender inclusive language are just not as accurate according to English usage of today, plain and simple. Those who scream "scripture distortion" due to the gender language in the new NIV are guilty of their own brand of distortion by failing to recognize that the English language has changed in this area and that change has been in place for a long time. Gender inclusive translation, generally speaking, results in greater precision in conveying the thought of the original language of the text. Having said all that, I have concerns about the NIV 2011. Back in 2005, the IBS released the Today's New International Version (TNIV), a separate translation very similar to the NIV 1984. However, the TNIV utilized gender inclusive language. I have not read very much of the NIV 2011, but it appears that it is less gender inclusive than the TNIV. For example, it appears the NIV 2011 does not shy away from the term "mankind." The TNIV does not use "mankind." Here is one example:

  • 1 Tim. 2:5, NIV 2011: "For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus ..."

  • 1 Tim. 2:5, TNIV: "For there is one God and one mediator between God and human beings, Christ Jesus, himself human ..."

I was taught to use other gender inclusive phrases rather including the term "mankind" in my writing. In at least this respect, the NIV 2011 seems to take a step backward in gender inclusive translation. Making matters worse, the article linked above indicates that the IBS is replacing both the TNIV and the NIV 1984 with the new NIV 2011. So it appears that a scenario has been established in which some may reject the NIV 2011 because it goes too far with gender inclusive translation and others may reject it because it does not go far enough in this regard.

I like the TNIV. It is the version of the Pew Bibles that we use here. I'm sorry to see it go.

This is the third time that the IBS has been at the center of an inclusive language controversy. In 1996 a gender inclusive version of the NIV was released in the United Kingdom, which caused a stir here in the United States. When the TNIV was released in 2005 some complained about its gender inclusive language. And now the NIV 2011 is creating the same sort of debate once again.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Movie Mulling: The Adjustment Bureau

I don't see too many movies in the theater but the previews of The Adjustment Bureau, starring Matt Damon and Emily Blunt, intrigued me. Based on the trailers it appeared that maybe the story was about an old biblical argument: How much of your life is planned for you by God and how much do you decide for yourself? My wife, Terri, and I went to see it last night and that's exactly what The Adjustment Bureau is about. But the theoretical/philosophical explorations of the movie are wrapped in a story that it is one part romance and one part suspense.

David Norris (Damon) is an ambitious senate candidate who meets a beautiful dancer named Elise Sellas (Blunt). The two fall hard and fast for each other. But there is something or someone trying to keep them apart. David accidentally discovers the forces arrayed against him in his efforts to find and woo the woman of his dreams. Then the stage is set for a struggle between David's will and the will of the Adjustment Bureau.

Whose will would prevail? You'll have have to go see the movie to find out, but I'll clue you in on this much ... It might not really be an either/or proposition in the end.

Underneath a pretty good story of love and suspense, The Adjustment Bureau gives viewers a lot to think about. I'm going to be pondering the implications of this flick for a while. But if you are interested in a good tale that will keep you thinking after the credits begin to roll, then go see The Adjustment Bureau.

Friday, March 4, 2011

We may have to stop reading altogether

Oh no! What are we going to do? Lifeway bookstores, a chain connected to the Southern Baptist Convention, will no longer warn us about books that might contain heresy. They had this labelling program through which certain books were branded as follows: "This book may contain thoughts, ideas, or concepts that could be considered inconsistent with historical evangelical theology. Therefore we encourage you to read it with extra discernment." Now Lifeway has ended that program.

Isn't that scary? Without this service from Lifeway, how will we ever figure out when to read books with "extra discernment" versus ... um ... normal discernment or maybe no discernment? How will we know which books might contain radical and dangerous ideas and which ones don't? Does Lifeway honestly think we can figure this stuff out on our own? What were they thinking?

Please contact Lifeway right away and demand that they reinstate their warning labels. If they don't, we may have to stop reading altogether.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Jesus: "Let nothing be wasted."

In doing some Bible reading early this morning I was struck by this simple command of Jesus: "Let nothing be wasted" (John 6:12, TNIV). The context was the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 in which Christ feed thousands of people with five pieces of bread and two small fish. After everyone had eaten, Jesus told the disciples to gather up the leftovers and that's when the Lord expressed his desire that none of that food should be wasted.

What do you think? Should the Lord's desire be our desire in this regard? If so, then we Americans do not typically do a very good job in the area of not wasting food. I poked around a little online and found one nearly eight-year old report saying more than 350 billion pounds of food is wasted each year in the United States. That's a lot of wasted food.

I saw another article about Project MANA of Incline Village, Nevada that last year rescued more than 65,000 pounds of food bound for dumpsters. They collect food from area markets that has nearly expired "best if used by" dates stamped on it and distribute it to those in need. The Loaves and Fishes Community Food Pantry housed here at Brunswick Islands Baptist Church does the same thing in this area. Such efforts by many food pantries across the nation are wonderful missions to heed our Lord's command not to waste food.

Despite the efforts of many food pantries to let nothing be wasted, I wonder how much food ends up in dumpsters in this country? How much food do we waste in in our homes? What steps can we take to better conform to our Lord's desire?

In the context of gathering leftover food, our Lord said, "Let nothing be wasted."

[I turned in my final project report for my DMin work earlier this week, so I plan to get back to blogging bit more now. I still have to defend the report in a few weeks and then I will likely have to make some revisions. But, you should be seeing the number of entries increase, especially after graduation on May 13.]

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Back soon

I have taken a break from blogging while making the final push in finishing my Doctor of Ministry (DMin) work. In fact, for at least the last year I haven't been blogging much because of my studies. But, if all goes well, I'll graduate in May. I hope to have a completed draft of my final project in ministry report by Sunday evening (it's due by March 1). So, for my many readers out there, keep checking. I hope to be back soon.