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The 2018 Maury County Fair Survey

Friday, September 28, 2018

Here is the survey that we distributed at the 2018 Maury County Fair.

Opinion Survey:  KEYS TO A SUCCESSFUL FAMILY
 

  1.  I think communication is a key to successful families

    Not Important                   1              2              3              4              5              Highly Important
     
  2.  I think expressions of love and appreciation are key to successful families

    Not Important                   1              2              3              4              5              Highly Important
     
  3.  I think financial compatibility is key to a successful family

    Not Important                   1              2              3              4              5              Highly Important
     
  4.  Successful families often attend church together

    Strongly Disagree             1              2              3              4              5              Strongly Agree
     
  5.  The greatest challenge to marriage is:    (Circle your top 3)

 

                         Communication                                                  Spiritual Intimacy
 

                         Financial                                                                 Time/Busyness
 

                         Affection/Attention                                         Respect/Admiration
 

                         Sexual                                                                     Other


 

This evaluation form was completed by:   Husband                          Wife                        Neither
 

We will send you the results of the survey!   Email address or phone number: 

Quantifying Christianity

Thursday, September 27, 2018

 

In the qualifications of the elder in 1 Timothy 3:1-7, Paul lists 15 (-ish, depending on how one counts) qualities.  The similar list in Titus 1:5-9 contains 16 (also -ish).  However, brethren commonly take this list and reduce it down to (replace it with?) two questions.  Is the man married?  Are his children faithful Christians?

In practice, this spiritual shortcut easily can lead to the appointment of men who are unqualified, yet it remains powerfully appealing.  Much of the appeal comes from the apparent opportunity it offers to reduce complicated judgment calls to questions that can be quantified.  Is the man above reproach?  Well, we could debate what that means and whether it applies for days.  Does he have children who are Christians in good standing?  There they are, sitting on the pews!  Count ‘em!

We like simplicity.  We like bright-line, black-and-white rules.  Sometimes, God gives us what we like.  At other times, though, he requires us to use our judgment.  He presents us with a question that does not have an obvious, objective answer and asks us to think about it.

Consider, for instance, the subject of worship.  I, along with everyone else who was “raised in the church”, was taught that there are five acts of worship:  singing, prayer, preaching/teaching, partaking of the Lord’s Supper, and giving of our means.  In some ways, this list is useful, but it is hardly a comprehensive exploration of the topic.  What makes preaching an act of worship and appointing elders, for instance, not an act of worship? 

Additionally, it fails to capture the essence of the subject.  Worship is not a series of outward behaviors that can be reduced to five items on a checklist.  It is entirely possible for somebody to go through the motions, check off the checklist, and never have worshiped once.  Instead, worship is an inward prostration of the heart before God.  It may express itself in one of those forms or take no outward expression at all (consider, for instance, Hannah’s prayer in 1 Samuel 1:9-13).

However, though checking off five items on a list is easy, seeking to worship in spirit and truth is difficult.  We can’t ever say, “I have arrived as a worshiper!” because true worship isn’t an off/on yes/no thing.  Instead, worship (like love, and for much the same reasons as love) is a spiritual discipline in which we grow for as long as we are alive, and growth is always uncomfortable.  We also have to ask, “Where do I need to grow as a worshiper?”, and to answer the question, we must rely on our own judgment, which also makes many Christians uncomfortable.

As a result, it’s awfully tempting to retreat to the security of one wife, 2.4 children, five acts of worship, and all the other lists that appear to confirm that we’re doing a good job.  However, lists are no substitute for the word of God, nor is checking off check boxes a substitute for discipleship.  Instead, we must embrace the whole counsel of God, with its ambiguities, difficulties, and paradoxes, and accept that it is the path we are called to walk.  It isn’t easy, nor is it safe, but it is the only path that will lead us to be conformed to the image of Christ. 

Baptized for the Dead?

Friday, September 21, 2018

 

Last month, the Jackson Heights church had a tent at the Maury County Fair.  Coincidentally, the tent across the walkway was manned by the Mormons.  One of our workers was feeling frisky, so he crossed the lane and started talking Bible with them.  However, they took him aback when they asked him about 1 Corinthians 15:29, which reads, “Otherwise, what will those do who are baptized for the dead?  If the dead are not raised at all, why then are they baptized for them?”

This is one of the Mormons’ favorite texts because they, unlike (nearly?) everybody else, practice baptism for the dead.  They think that if you baptize a live person as a proxy for someone who has died, the dead person will benefit spiritually.  Among other things, this explains the Mormons’ interest in genealogy (Ancestry.com, for instance, is Mormon-owned).  They want to make sure that they know who their ancestors are so that they can get baptized for them.

When we take 1 Corinthians 15:29 by itself, this interpretation appears reasonable, even though it creates difficulties with other texts.  If the dead can be saved because we’re baptized on their behalf, what happens to the requirement that we must believe in Jesus in order to be saved?  This sort of problem alone should cause us to return to 1 Corinthians 15 to make sure that we understand baptism for the dead properly.

In fact, a reading of 15:29 in context reveals that Paul is talking about something else entirely.  Throughout the entire chapter, he’s addressing the claim by some know-it-all Corinthians that there is no resurrection of the dead.  The Stoics and the Epicureans, for instance, denied the possibility of resurrection, and their unbelief apparently seeped into the Corinthian church along with Gentile converts.

Paul argues against this worldly philosophy by pointing to the example of Christ.  His resurrection affirms our hope that someday we will be resurrected too.  Conversely, as Paul argues in 15:13, “But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.”  From there, he reasons that if Christ has not been raised (and therefore remains dead), the entire Christian faith falls apart.

Verse 29 is an extension of this same argument.  If the dead are not raised, then even Christ is dead, and all of us who have been baptized because of Jesus have been baptized because of a dead man.  This would make baptism pointless.

After all, as Paul shows in Romans 6:1-11, baptism has spiritual value because it unites us with the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.  As he writes in Romans 6:4, “We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”  If Christ was not raised from the dead (because there is no resurrection), nobody who has been baptized has risen to walk in newness of life either.

Rather than being an introduction of some bizarre new doctrine, then, 1 Corinthians 15:29 is a reaffirmation of one of the most important elements of our faith.  If Christ is dead, baptism is meaningless.  However, if He has risen from the dead, we now can know that baptism gives us life as the Father gave Him life.

Workers at Home

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

 

A few weeks ago, I was asked to lead a study on gender roles in 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus.  I admit that I received the assignment with some amount of fear and trembling (There are a few opinions on 1 Timothy 2 in the brotherhood.  A few.), but the study itself went well.  However, the discussion was so involved that we didn’t get to any of the material I had prepared on Titus, particularly the instructions to young women in Titus 2:4-5. 

Of the attributes listed in those two verses, “working at home” (the ESV rendering) especially caught my attention.  Many Christians read this phrase (more specifically, the KJV rendering of “keepers at home”) as defining the woman of God’s station in life.  Though she may be forced by circumstances to work outside the home, ideally the home is where she should remain.  She is to be a stay-at-home.  A house-keeper.  According to this way of thinking, when Christian women could do this but choose not to, there’s something spiritually suspect about their decision.

Though I would never criticize a sister for choosing to devote herself to domestic pursuits (indeed, my own wife is a stay-at-home mom who homeschools our children), I don’t think the text requires her to do so.  First of all, there’s a slight translation issue here.  The ESV and KJV readings are based on different Greek words from different Greek manuscripts.  The KJV’s “keepers at home” comes from the Greek oikouros, which does indeed mean “housekeeper”.    However, manuscript evidence points to the conclusion that Paul’s original letter used oikourgos, “worker at home”. 

These are two related but different ideas.  A housekeeper’s function is exclusive.  However, the home-worker’s function is not.  I work at the church building, but I don’t spend all my time here (though my wife may disagree!).  Oikourgos thus leaves more rhetorical space for other pursuits.

Similarly, I think it’s important to pay attention to context.  Paul reveals why he thinks it’s important for a woman to be a worker at home.  It’s the same reason as for every other instruction he gives to young Christian women—so that the word of God won’t be reviled. 

This is a common preoccupation in the Pastoral Epistles.  Paul is concerned with the impression that Christians are making on the communities around them.  He wants to make sure that disciples have a good reputation so that they will be able to share the gospel with others.

When we read “working at home” in this light, a slightly different picture emerges.  So that she doesn’t bring discredit on the cause of Christ, the Christian woman should maintain her home and its inhabitants in a way that meets the standards of society.  The front yard of her house shouldn’t be filled with toys and trash.  When her children go off to school, they should be clean, fed, and with provisions for lunch in hand.  Even if her house won’t always pass a white-glove inspection, she shouldn’t feel afraid to invite in unexpected visitors.  We know the rules.  Basically, don’t do the things that will get the neighbors talking about you behind your back.

This doesn’t have a whole lot to do with whether a woman works outside the home or not.  I know sisters who hold down full-time jobs yet manage to keep their domestic economy running smoothly.  On the other hand, I know some stay-at-home Christian moms whose lifestyle I can only describe as slatternly.  Certainly, more time makes it easier to keep on top of the household, but if a woman can balance work and home responsibilities, more power to her!

Checking the cultural check-boxes is important, but I think our analysis should go deeper still.  As with our word “home”, the Greek oikos is about more than a physical structure.  It relates as much to a family as it does to the place where they live.  A woman of God who is an oikourgos, then, isn’t merely a worker at home.  She’s also a worker at family. 

Obviously, the physical needs of husbands and children are important, but their emotional and spiritual needs are no less important.  A woman who cares for the body without tending to the soul isn’t running a home.  She’s operating a hotel. 

Instead, part of her charge must be to make her house a home.  This starts with the other items on the Titus 2 list.  She must love her husband and her children, and they must know that they are loved.  She must govern her body and her passions, lest she find herself in the position of the foolish woman of Proverbs 14:1.  She must be kind.  She must honor her husband as the head of her family, especially when she doesn’t want to.

However, as with all Scriptural lists of virtues, this one is far from exhaustive.  Instead, the woman of God must seek out all the things that will help her family to flourish (including working outside the home if that’s what’s best for the family).  This includes the laborious task of teaching children to be self-sufficient.  Paradoxically, it is the children’s ability to leave a home and thrive that shows that a mother’s work in that home was successful.

This is a universal activity.  There have been homes and families and mothers since the beginning.  However, simply because it is common does not mean that it is low.  Jesus Himself knelt to wash feet, and even if the world might look down on a family-first woman (just as family men are sneered at), her humility and willingness to serve will win for her a lofty status in the kingdom.

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