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Archive for the ‘Thinkers, Authors, Philosophers’ Category

The Reverend Paul T. McCain is a Lutheran Pastor in the Missouri Synod and is Publisher and Executive Director of the Editorial Department at Concordia Publishing House, working on the soon-to-be-released The Lutheran Study Bible.  Unfortunately, the hard work of the Concordia editors is being eclipsed a bit by the release of the Augsburg Lutheran Study Bible earlier this year.

The Augsburg “Bible” was passed out to pastors at every Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) synodical meeting this spring, partially in anticipation of the recent vote by the ELCA to ignore the Word of God and ordain homosexuals as Pastors.

The Concordia Bible, on the other hand, is the latest update in a long tradition – reaching back almost 500 years to Luther’s translation of the Scriptures.

The Augsburg Press’ tome has rampant misstatements and revisions of Christian history that are representative of the church’s unfortunate sad turn in leadership (a turn that strangely reflects a similar history that placed many of the Catholic church bishops in power that Martin Luther railed against in his day).

While I don’t always agree with all of the strongly held beliefs of the Missouri Synod, I present Rev. McCain’s blog post, explaining key differences between the two versions of a Lutheran study Bible:

In light of the release of The Lutheran Study Bible, I thought it would be a good time to re-run a blog post from several months ago, explaining the important differences between the ELCA’s new Bible, which their publishing company titled Lutheran Study Bible, and The Lutheran Study Bible. By the way, they titled it that knowing The Lutheran Study Bible was on its way. Go figure.

I encourage you to advise everyone you know that the ELCA Bible is not The Lutheran Study Bible by CPH. The two Bibles are quite different in content, style and purpose. Most significantly, the ELCA Bible takes a different approach on key doctrinal points than does The Lutheran Study Bible. So, please be aware, and spread the word, that The Lutheran Study Bible the ELCA Bible are something quite different from each. Be sure to point people to The Lutheran Study Bible web site, or its Facebook Group, or Twitter feed.

This post examines two issues in both Bibles as a way of illustrating the stark and dramatic contrast between these two Bibles. To distinguish between these two Bibles, they shall be referred to as The Lutheran Study Bible and the ELCA Bible. The two topics used to illustrate the stark difference between the two Bibles are: the Great Commission and the topic of homosexuality.

The Great Commission

The Lutheran Study Bible on the Great Commission

28:18–20 Though all God’s people are to bear witness to the Lord (cf Ps 145; Is 43:10), the focus here is on the apostles and their calling as leading witnesses and representatives of Jesus. (Compare to the authorization in Mt 10:1–7.)

28:18 “All authority.” Christ’s human nature, which had refrained from exercising the divine authority belonging to the person of Christ, now is fully exalted and given free use of divine authority (cf v 19). “He can also powerfully effect and do everything that He says and promises” (FC SD VII 43). “The Church’s authority and the State’s authority must not be confused. The Church’s authority has its own commission to teach the Gospel and to administer the Sacraments [Matthew 28:19–20]. Let it not break into the office of another. Let it not transfer the kingdoms of this world to itself. Let it not abolish the laws of civil rulers. Let it not abolish lawful obedience” (AC XXVIII 12–13).

28:19 “make disciples.” See note, 5:1. Jesus gives us the tools to make disciples: Baptism and His teaching. all nations. Not just the Jews, but Gentiles too (cf 10:5–6). baptizing them in the name. “Name” is singular, followed by the threefold naming of the divine persons. This illustrates the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. See p 0000. Those baptized in the name of the Father have God as their Father; baptized in the name of the Son, they receive all the benefits of the Son’s redeeming act; baptized in the name of the Spirit, they receive the life-giving, life-sustaining power and presence of the Spirit. Christian Baptism is founded on this institution. See note, Nu 6:22–27. baptizing. Washing with the water of new birth. “Baptism is no human plaything, but it is instituted by God Himself” (LC IV 6). “It is necessary to baptize little children, that the promise of salvation may be applied to them, according to Christ’s command to baptize all nations (Matthew 28:19). Just as in this passage salvation is offered to all, so Baptism is offered to all, to men, women, children, infants. It clearly follows, therefore, that infants are to be baptized, because salvation is offered with Baptism” (Ap IX 52).

28:20 “teaching.” Disciples are made not only through Baptism, but through the ongoing catechetical work of the Church. observe all. Christians are called to do more than “obey”; they are called to treasure God’s Word in their hearts. commanded. Not only Christ’s moral injunctions (the Law) but also His invitation to trust in Him (the Gospel). I am with you always. Not only in Spirit but also according to His human nature. See “be with,” p 0000. “He is present especially in His Church and congregation on earth as Mediator, Head, King, and High Priest. This presence is not a part, or only one half of Him. Christ’s entire person is present, to which both natures belong, the divine and the human—not only according to His divinity, but also according to, and with, His received human nature” (FC SD VIII 78). end of the age. When He returns visibly.

28:16–20 Christ commissions His disciples to go and make disciples of all nations through Baptism and teaching. Christ promises to be with us, and He is the one who makes disciples through our baptizing and teaching. Today, remember your Baptism and confirmation in the faith, which are precious blessings for the Lord’s disciples. His love and care are new for you every morning. • Send us, Lord, to make disciples in Your name in accordance with our callings in life. Amen.

The ELCA Bible on the Great Commission
28:16-20 the eleven disciples went to Galilee: The eleven meet Jesus on a mountain in Galilee. Even when the eleven see him, some doubt. Jesus’ resurrection returns to the question of his authority in 7:28-9:34; 21:23-32. Through the resurrection, God has given Jesus all authority in heaven and on earth. This does not mean that only now does Jesus have authority. It establishes his authority exercised throughout his life and ministry (28:20). The end of the Gospel sends the reader back to the beginning (4:12-9:34), and it gives God’s answer to the Pharisees’ charge (9:34). In contrast to 10:5-6, 23, Jesus now send the disciples to make disciples of all nations. That does not mean make everyone disciples. Most people who are helped by Jesus and believe in him never become disciples. Jesus includes in salvation people who do not believe in him or ever know about him (5:30; 25:31-45). Disciples are students, called for the sake of the world to learn from Jesus and to bear witness to the kingdom. They are salt and light (5:13-16). Jesus promises to be with them always as they carry out this mission. Previously, Jesus promised to be present in the exercise of forgiveness (18:18-20) and in the “least of these” who suffer (25:31-45). (p. 1658)

Homosexuality

Genesis 19:5 The account of Sodom

The Lutheran Study Bible
Genesis 19:5 know them. Have sex with them. Homosexual lust burned among many of the men of Sodom. Cf Lv 18:22; Rm 1:27.

The ELCA Bible
Genesis 19:1-11 This scene is an illustration of Sodom’s wickedness. The verb know refers to sexual activity. With every man involved, the result would have been gang rape (19:4-5). Sexual abuse of strangers demonstrated who was in charge (as in prisons). The sins of Sodom are most explicit in Ezekiel 16:49: pride, gluttony, prosperous ease and not aiding the poor and needy (compare with Matt. 10:14-15). That Lot would substitute his betrothed (engaged) daughters is another sign of Sodom’s immorality. In 19:30-38, Lot himself is sexually abused.

Leviticus 18:6-23: Prohibitions Against Homosexuality

The Lutheran Study Bible
Leviticus 18:6–23: Pointedly, God provides provisions for holiness in sexuality by addressing key issues of incest (vv 6–16), adultery (vv 17–18, 20), sacrificial idolatry (v 21), homosexuality (v 22), and bestiality (v 23). The Bible records Abraham’s intercourse with a servant (Gn 16:1–4), Lot’s incest (Gn 19:36), and Jacob’s marriage to his first cousins, who were also sisters (Gn 29), but it never promotes such relationships. God restates here that His original intent at creation was the ordered intimacy between one man and one woman. He makes plain that close intermarriage is now forbidden. See note, Gn 4:19.

Leviticus 18:22: Sexual intercourse was ordained by God for procreation (cf Gn 1:28) and must involve husband and wife, the “male and female” in Gn 1:27. abomination. See note, Pr 6:16.

The ELCA Bible
Leviticus 18:22-23: “you shall not lie with:” Prohibitions against sexual activity between men and between person and animal.

1 Samuel 18:1

The Lutheran Study Bible
18:1 knit. Same Hbr verb used in Gn 44:30 to express Jacob’s love for his son Benjamin. Jonathan initiates a friendship with David that blesses and hallows life. loved. Used of a covenant relationship; possesses political overtones. Never used of homosexual desire or activity. (OT uses the verb “to know” for sexual activity; see note, Gn 19:5. Latter verb is never used of David’s relationship with Jonathan.) The fact that Saul, too, loved David (16:21) prepares us for the later political use of the verb “love.”

The ELCA Bible
18:1 These two became inseparable and are so devoted that their very well-being is tied together. This same kind of devotion describes Jacob’s relationship with his youngest son, Benjamin. 18:3 These two are kindred spirits. Their friendship is about a covenant or promise of steadfast love and loyalty to each other. First, this is about personal affection.

Ezekiel 16:49-50

The Lutheran Study Bible
16:49–50: Sodom’s pride, gluttony, and neglect of the poor describes a decadent society in which gross immorality might easily thrive. an abomination. Probably refers to sodomy (Gn 19:1–22). At times, “abomination” is applied specifically to homosexual behavior (Lv 18:22; 20:13).

The ELCA Bible
16:44-58: Samaria and Sodom, two cities destroyed for their wickedness, are portrayed as sisters of Jerusalem and sinners like their mother, the Hittite. Samaria was the capital of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, which Assyria defeated in 721 B.C.E. Neither Samaria nor Sodom was as sinful as Jerusalem.

Romans 1:26

The Lutheran Study Bible
Romans 1:26 God gave them up. See note, v 24. dishonorable passions. Paul is not condemning all passion or sexual desire. Only the misuse of God’s gift of sexuality brings dishonor. exchanged. See note, v 23. Sin substitutes inferior things for God’s good gifts. contrary to nature. As God’s existence and character are seen in nature (vv 19–21), so His Law is also evident. Homosexual activity, referred to here, is a departure from the natural order.

The ELCA Bible
Romans 1:24, 26, 28 God gave them up: “In response to human sin, God handed over humanity to destructive behavior that alienated people from God, themselves, and others”

Romans 1:27

The Lutheran Study Bible
On Romans 1:27 As in v 26, homosexual activity exchanges a natural desire for the opposite sex for an unnatural lust for one’s own sex. shameless acts. Homosexual behavior. due penalty for their error. Participation in degrading, unnatural acts is, in itself, part of the judgment for sin. Paul’s candid discussion of homosexuality may surprise or offend some readers. The Greco-Roman world was generally open to homosexuality, though there were critics, including Jews, Christians, and some philosophers. Homosexuality is an example of how something that seems obvious from nature (the relation of two sexes; the body was not designed for homosexual activities) is exchanged for something unnatural. This is a further effect of exchanging the worship of God for the worship of idols. Luther: “Holy Scripture declares that sin came from the devil, whom, contrary to God’s Word, our parents obeyed. They became disobedient to God and thereby brought a terrible punishment upon themselves. For through this sin (of the Fall) not only our bodies have become so weakened that they have changed from immortal into mortal bodies, but the intellect, heart, mind, and will are entirely corrupted and turned evil (verboset). For man has lost the right and true knowledge of God. Moreover, his will is so entirely corrupted that he desires and wants nothing but that which is evil” (WLS § 4131).

The ELCA Bible
No comment.

1 Corinthians 6:9-11

The Lutheran Study Bible
1 Corinthians 6:9–10 unrighteous. Those perishing (1:18). inherit the kingdom. See note, 4:20. Paul lists habitual sins, which imply a life choice incompatible with the holiness of God’s kingdom. 6:11 such were some of you. God, in mercy, called the unrighteous into His kingdom. washed . . . sanctified . . . justified. Terms of salvation, used interchangeably. Baptism makes us new creatures, holy with Christ’s righteousness. “Whenever God’s Word is taught, preached, heard, read, or meditated upon, then the person, day, and work are sanctified. This is not because of the outward work, but because of the Word, which makes saints of us all. Therefore, I constantly say that all our life and work must be guided by God’s Word, if it is to be God-pleasing or holy” (LC I 92). in the name of the Lord Jesus . . . Spirit . . . God. Trinitarian, as is fitting with reference to Baptism.

From the textual note on verse 9, placed after the word “homosexuality” in the ESV text: The two Greek terms translated by this phrase refer to the passive and active partners in consensual homosexual acts.

The ELCA Bible
1 Corinthians 6:9-11: Ancient Christian writers listed specific vices to illustrate a more general evil. Two terms in the vice list have been mistranslated from the Greek in all modern versions, and this has caused needless pain in the church: malos (“soft,” that is, lacking self-control) and arsenokoites (literally, “one who beds a male”). Both terms are specific examples of injustice, the topic of the vice list in 6:9-11. The “soft” person (here translated: “male prostitute”) takes more than his or her due. The arsenokoites (translated as “sodomite”) rapes and shames other males to increase his reputation for power. The issue here is violence. Neither term pertains to homosexuality or to the lives of gay and lesbian people.

1 Timothy 1:9-10

The Lutheran Study Bible
1 Timothy 1:9–10 The list of sins shows how God’s Law is properly used, namely, to bring sinners to contrition and repentance. Each of the sins listed by Paul closely corresponds to God’s Law as found in the Ten Commandments (Ex 20:1–17). On Paul’s use of “law,” see p 0000. 1:9 law . . . for the lawless. “Yet this is not to be understood in a simplistic way, as though the justified are to live without Law. God’s Law has been written in their heart (Romans 2:15). Also a law was given to the first man immediately after his creation (Genesis 2:15–17): He was to conduct himself according to this law. What St. Paul means is that the curse of the Law cannot burden those who have been reconciled to God through Christ. Nor must the Law confuse the regenerate with its coercion, for they have pleasure in God’s Law in the inner man (Romans 7:22)” (FC SD VI 5). Bern: “The law promulgated in fear by a spirit of slavery is one thing, and that given sweetly and gently by the spirit of liberty is another” (SLSB, p 200). 1:10 enslavers. Kidnappers, involved in illegal slave trade.

The ELCA Bible
Note at 1 Timothy 1:10 “What is ‘the law’? Here ‘law’ refers to the Jewish Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament) or to additional Jewish laws based on the Torah. Paul called the law “holy and just and good” (Rom. 7:12, 16), but also taught that Christians ‘have died to the law’ (Rom. 7:4, 6) and are ‘free from the law of sin and death’ (Rom. 8:2). As God’s child, Martin Luther understood himself to be free from the law. As Lutherans, we understand ourselves to be free as well.

2 Peter 2:10

The Lutheran Study Bible
2 Peter 2:10 lust of defiling passion. Possible reference to homosexuality, the sin of the Sodomites (cf Gn 19:5). Luther: “ ‘To indulge in the lust of defiling passion’ is to live like an irrational beast according to one’s own notion and all lust” (AE 30:180). despise authority. Rejecting people God charged with faithfully attending to His Word and His work, be it His Son, His angels, His prophets, His pastors, or His teachers. Cf Jude 8–10; see note, Heb 13:17. they blaspheme the glorious ones. To speak against God’s angels or anything of God is to speak against God.

The ELCA Bible
No comment.

Additional materials on homosexuality in the two Bibles

From an article in The Lutheran Study Bible titled, “Divine Warfare,” an excerpt from the Concordia Commentary series on the Book of Joshua:

“The Christian Gospel in Word and Sacrament rescues the perishing from eternal destruction and fortifies them to do battle against the forces of evil within (the sinful flesh) and without (the devil and the world) that assail them. It is necessary for Christians to oppose detestable practices such as idolatry, sexual immorality, homosexuality, abortion, euthanasia, and occult practices, which correspond to the ancient abominations of the Canaanites. The church rightly prohibits God’s people from engaging in such practices. The church also rightly endeavors to persuade society at large to prohibit such evils, and to do so Christians work peacefully through lawful means, not by violence. . . .”

From an article in The Lutheran Study Bible titled, “Israel’s Identity Crisis”:

“We may find no appeal in the ancient gods of Canaan. There is no allure, no enticement. Yet, it was the Canaanite gods who caused many Israelites to be tempted away from the true God. Perhaps the Israelites wanted a god they could manipulate with rites and ceremonies, regardless of how inhumane their practice. We often seek gods we can manipulate as well. Even some Christians are enticed to worship such things as possessions, money, lust, greed, and power. Pornography causes some Christians to fall. Drug abuse, child abuse, homosexuality, and sexual, physical, and mental abuse cause others to fall. Sin causes us to forget that we are God’s temple (1Co 3:16). For the ancient Israelites, sin began innocently enough (it usually does in our lives too). Sadly, doubting God’s Word has eternal ramifications. As we fall into sin, we lose sight of the consequences—that “those who practice such things deserve to die” (Rm 1:32). Here are three personal questions to ask ourselves: (1) What idols have I set up in God’s place? (2) Is the god of self-indulgence, the god of promiscuous sex, or the god of child sacrifice (abortion) a part of my life? (3) Is the god of money and material possessions seeking to topple me into sin?”

From an article in The Lutheran Study Bible inserted at Roman 1, titled, “Homosexuality and Biblical Teaching”

“Marriage with God’s Blessing God created sex for the procreation of children and to strengthen the marital bond that supports those children (see note, Gn 1:28). Within the confines of marriage, sex is a wonderful blessing. Outside that relationship, it is idolatry—people rejecting God’s order, worshiping what is created rather than the Creator. Christians should abhor the sin of homosexual behavior as they abhor all sins. But at the same time, Christians should see homosexuals as people for whom Christ shed His precious blood. God wants us to recognize that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (3:23–24). A homosexual, like any other sinner, needs to hear God’s word of Law and Gospel applied to his or her life with the goal of repentance and faith.”

From the prefatory materials in The Lutheran Study Bible on the Book of Galatians:

“Genderless Christianity. Feminist interpreters and those influenced by feminism have radically altered the historic interpretation and application of Gal 3:28. They argue that gender and social order should have no influence on roles of service in Christianity. This interpretation has been forcefully used to encourage women’s ordination in liberal Protestant church bodies and has even been used to support the ordination of homosexuals.”

The ELCA Bible
No further comments or materials.

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5125BTSAllenInAct15DayLaceAPhilBeach2

Lacey Chabert, Allen Wolf, Phillip Winchester

I know I’ve been veering off the original topics of this blog recently, but that’s the beauty of owning the darn thing – I can use to promote other things on occasion, too.  I am far more than just a former financial adviser ad I think my readers are more than just folks who struggle with how to follow God with their finances.  One of my favorite quotes is from Franky Schaeffer, son of the famous Christian thinker – “…life cannot be compartmentalized.”

That said, I wanted to take a moment and highlight a good friend of mine’s new movie trailer.  From award-winning filmmaker Allen Wolf comes “In My Sleep”

Here’s a synopsis:

Marcus wakes up in the middle of a cemetery half naked and has no idea how he got there. Urgent questions pound inside his head. “Where was I last night? Who was I with?” Marcus suffers from parasomnia, a rare sleep disorder which causes him to do things in his sleep which he cannot remember the next day.

His situation takes a horrifying turn when Marcus wakes up covered in blood with a knife at his side. Then, the wife of his best friend is found stabbed to death. Marcus is terrified to put together the pieces – could he have murdered her in his sleep to hide a dark secret between them?

Mysterious phone calls make Marcus believe someone is watching him. He investigates his own nocturnal activities, desperate to figure out what happens after he goes to sleep at night. His journey to discover the truth ends in a shocking discovery.

Allen is a Christian whose faith informs and enhances his exploration of  the various themes in his movies.  “In My Sleep” is a hiugh-concept psychological thriller in the vein of Hitchcock.  The movie was finished a couple months back and recently debuted at the Cannes Film Festival to great reviews.  It stars Philip Winchester (Crusoe, Flyboys), Lacey Chabert (Lost in Space, Party of Five), Tim Draxl, Abagail Spencer, and Kelly Overton, with supporting roles from some great character actors you know but may not know by name, including The Practice‘s Michael Badalucco, My Name Is Earl‘s Beth Grant, Chuck‘s Tony Hale (also Arrested Development), JAG‘s Patrick Labyorteaux, Criminal Mind‘s Kirsten Vangsness, and Dollhouse‘s Kevin Kilner.  Oddly enough, a recent Dateline NBC story about a similar, but true situation may bring more folks in to see the fictitious story Allen wrote nearly 10 years ago.

Please take a moment to check out the trailer…

Michael Badalucco

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31g64e58wal_sl150_I just posted a number of new Christian books and music on my Amazon reseller site, including a rare Mylon LeFevre and Broken Heart cassette, “Crack the Sky,” still sealed in shrinkwrap.  I’m dating myself here, but I remember buying the album before it was commercially released, at their concert back in 1987, with the NewsBoys.  Boy have times changed.  Take a moment to check out my Amazon site if you’re looking for Christian music or books, old or vintage.  Thanks!


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Carl Emerson, over at Freedom Analysis, posted an extremely insightful article on the “stimulus” debate that I wanted to share with my readers.  Regardless of your political leanings, this is something you need to consider…

The Kool-Aid is flowing in Washington, D.C.

Sadly, lawmakers are actually batting around the notion of passing what is currently being estimated as an $800 Billion “stimulus” package.

First let me say that if we actually had $800 Billion “in the bank,” as it were, my opinion on this might be different. But the fact of the matter is that we are talking about borrowing this money… on top of all of the money we’ve already borrowed.

And before you write off my opinion as somehow “partisan” or otherwise neatly in support of one “side” or the other in this debate, let me hit you with a bit of common sense:

You can’t borrow your way out of debt.

This is a lesson learned the hard way. I’ve tried it. Let me tell you… it simply doesn’t work.

A National Addiction

We — as a nation — are addicted to debt. And so far we — as a nation — have not felt the sting of it. Sure… many families have learned that excessive borrowing against an asset which varies in value can land you in foreclosure.  That stings.  But as a nation, we’ve not yet faced the painful consequences of all the borrowing that we have done.

This is precisely why we continue to debate this bill as though it were actually a plausible solution.

Once you realize that you have a harmful addiction, you must do any and everything in your power to end the addiction. No matter how painful it may seem (or actually be).

But we — as a nation — have decided that more of our destructive vice is preferable to detox.

The fact is that it used to be a shame to “mortgage the farm.” It meant that you had managed things poorly. It meant that you had not planned well enough for the future. It meant that you weren’t planning well enough for your heirs.

Granted, in an agricultural enterprise, there are years (and sometimes series of years) where drought or other conditions affect the crops and things go badly. But everyone knows this and it’s all the more reason why shrewd farmers plan for it by storing things up.

But our pattern of handing off responsibility every few years and electing leaders — at the national or state level, in all branches of government — who are more concerned about short-term results, their approval ratings and their “legacies” than they are about the real impact of their decisions has made it all too easy to dig ourselves deeper and deeper into this devastating hole.

And whether it’s been done ignorantly or with complicity, we the people have enslaved ourselves through the actions of these leaders.

It’s been done by Republicans and Democrats alike. It’s been done by Independents and others. It’s all too easy to simply borrow more than it is to address the real issues. And as anyone who treated their home equity like an ATM machine during the real estate boom years can tell you, it’s all fine and good until you can’t borrow anymore.

And then the pain of dealing with the real issues is far greater because of the multiplied impact of the debt.

As the ancient proverb says:

The borrower is servant to the lender.

We have enslaved ourselves. And most of us don’t even know it yet. We’ll realize it one day when we wake up with the sting and the scars of the whip extracting its “pound of flesh.” And we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves.

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I wanted to repost this excellent review of a fantastic new book on Culture and how it shapes Christians and we shape it.  It comes from Trevin Wax at the new Discerning Reader.

culturemakingLet’s reclaim the culture for Christ!  We need to transform the culture!  Let’s redeem the culture!  We should resist the culture!

What do these phrases really mean?  What do we mean by “culture” when we talk about transforming it?  Is it our Christian calling to redeem “culture?”

Andy Crouch’s new book Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling is a landmark work that will create a new culture of its own within evangelicalism. Crouch points out the areas where evangelical thinking about culture-making has been counterproductive, and he charts a new path – one that would have evangelicals understand culture in more tangible ways.

Crouch points out the fallacious ways in which we conceive of “culture.” Christians too often think simplistically about “culture” – as if it were some nebulous, overarching thought system in our world. Crouch believes we are wrong to talk of “culture” in this way. Instead, we must start thinking of culture as specific cultural goods.

Culture is what human beings make of the world. And these things we make eventually affect the world we live in. We cannot withdraw or escape culture because it is what we were made to do.

Analyzing culture does not substitute for the creation of real cultural goods. “The only way to change culture is to create more of it,” Crouch says.

Crouch sees much of evangelicalism’s desire to “engage the culture” as well-intentioned but often misguided. We tend to take certain, appropriate gestures toward cultural artifacts and make them postures – our position towards all cultural artifacts. Crouch points out several ways that Christians relate to “culture:”

   1. Condemning
   2. Critiquing
   3. Copying
   4. Consuming.

Each of these may be appropriate positions to take toward certain cultural items. After all, there is nothing we can do with pornography except condemn it. There is also a place for strong critique of culture. Likewise, there are times when copying culture is appropriate. And of course, we can consume culture without any guilt at all when such action is glorifying to God.

But Crouch warns us against making these appropriate gestures into postures. When we turn gestures into postures, we assume a certain outlook regarding all culture. Crouch sets forth a different model. Instead of reacting to culture as it is, Christians should concentrate on creating and cultivating culture as we want it to be. We are to be artists and gardeners – creators and cultivators of cultural goods.

Crouch describes concrete ways that we can be creators of culture. He shows us how cultural artifacts change the culture. (There is a fascinating section on the difference between the river and the highway.)

Readers will discover that an emphasis on humility pervades the book. Crouch warns against thinking that we can change the world.

“Changing the world sounds grand, until you consider how poorly we do even at changing our own little lives… Indeed, I sometimes wonder if breathless rhetoric about changing the world is actually about changing the subject – from our own fitfully suppressed awareness that we did not ask to be brought into this world, have only vaguely succeeded at figuring it out, and will end our days in radical dependence on something or someone other than ourselves. Beware of world changers, they have not yet learned the true meaning of sin.”

Crouch bases his thoughts on culture-making within the creation narrative and the gospel story of redemption. He dodges the question of historicity of the creation accounts by talking about the importance of the story, not just the historical details. (I find this evasion most peculiar, because he treats the biblical text as fully accurate throughout his book.)

Crouch is right to show that heaven too will have a culture. “Culture is the furniture of heaven.” This leads us to the thought-provoking question about our cultural artifacts: Can we imagine this making it into the new Jerusalem?

Crouch critiques the emphasis that “worldview thinking” places upon analysis and thought. He believes we need less critics of cultural goods and more creators of cultural goods. But considering the fact that a great number of Christians simply consume culture without critically thinking about the messages of these goods convey, I believe we could use more creators and critics of cultural goods. It is true that too much analysis can keep us from purely “enjoying” art, but I’m not convinced that enjoyment and thinking critically are necessarily opposed to one another. I’m also concerned that some evangelicals might take these words from Culture Making as a free pass to watch or listen to whatever they want and to dismiss the idea of worldview-critique.

What I love most about Culture Making is the theme of hope. Crouch believes we can start creating culture in small spheres (our family, for example). He points out the importance of small groups. Culture is not always made by the large crowd. We can all get busy fulfilling the creation mandate to create and cultivate.

Culture Making is filled with grace. We recognize that our ability to create or cultivate culture is rooted in God’s grace. “Where are we called to create culture? At the intersection of grace and cross.”

Crouch’s conclusion?

“So do you want to make culture? Find a community, a small group who can lovingly fuel your dreams and puncture your illusions. Find friends and form a family who are willing to see grace at work in one another’s lives, who can discern together which gifts and which crosses each has been called to bear. Find people who have a holy respect for power and a holy willingness to spend their power alongside the powerless. Find some partners in the wild and wonderful world beyond church doors. And then, together, make something of the world.”

Amen. Now, let’s get busy!

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Reposting an insightful article from my friend Phil Cooke at The Change Revolution on how to be heard among the noise of life:

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Phil Cooke

Have you lost the ability to keep people’s attention?  Are you noticing that no one is paying much attention to what you have to say anymore?  Because of the barrage of media messages we’re subjected to each day, the pacing of normal conversations has increased.  Check it out – most of the people you speak to on a daily basis talk much faster than they did a few years ago, and it seems like the younger generation is talking faster than ever.  But along with that, comes the flood of “you know,” “like,” “and so,” plus other phrases that are used over an over – sometimes in every single sentence.  The problem is – if you’re one of those people, you need to understand that after the seventh “you know,” your listener starts tuning you out.  The repetition drives people crazy.  So how do you fix it?  How to you stop the racing conversation, and the repeated phrases, and become more articulate once again?

Here’s a few suggestions:

1)    Force yourself to speak more slowly.  In your haste to get your ideas across, your mouth is moving faster than your brain.  You feel like you need to be saying something, so you toss in meaningless phrases such as “you know” or “like” just to keep talking.  Slow it down.  Practice speaking more slowly so you have time to actually think about what you’re saying.

2)    When you finish the thought, stop talking.  I have a friend who just can’t seem to end a thought, so he inserts phrases like “…and so…” – letting the conversation drift off, rather than end.  When the thought is over, STOP.  Don’t keep engaging your mouth.  If there’s nothing left to say, then leave it.

3)    Learn to listen.  This is becoming a forgotten art.  Most people don’t actually listen, they’re just thinking of the next thing they want to say.  But if you force yourself to really listen, you’ll find yourself thinking of far better things to say, plus, it will give you time to organize that next thought.  You want to be more fascinating to people?  Then shut up and listen.  Trust me – for most people, letting them talk will make them think you’re the most interesting person in the world.

4)    Before you speak again, think about what you’re going to say.
  This will also help you slow down the conversation.  Actually consider the thought before you open your mouth.  Think it through before you engage your voice, and it will make a huge difference in how well you articulate the response.

5)    Stop interrupting.  Sure you have a great thought.  Sure you’re excited to share it.  But it’s the height of rudeness to interrupt someone.  Wait until they’ve finished before you jump in.  For serial interrupters, this will be tough – so be prepared to fight the impulse.

6)    Make notes.
  This will seem awkward unless you’re in a meeting with multiple people, but I use it even when talking to a single person.  When a thought comes to you, just jot down a word or two.  This will help keep you from interrupting, but keep you from forgetting the thought.  It will also force you to consider it, and help you articulate it better.  

While some of these suggestions may sound trivial – trust me – they really will help you stop these annoying habits, and get back on the road to articulating your thoughts – and once again, commanding people’s attention.

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On September 29, 2008, I had one of my best days ever on this website.  In fact, I had the second highest hit count ever.  The next two days following also had similarly high hit counts.  Why?  Because of an article I wrote back in April of 2007, titled, “Wachovia Looking Forward to Screwing Customers, Shareholders.”  You can utilize the link to read the whole article, but the gist is this, Wachovia purchased a company known as Golden West Financial Corp, which specialized in “creative financing,” vaulting Wachovia to the #2 slot as an owner/servicer of such wonderful mortgages as Option ARMs and Income-Stated loans.  I went on to predict that 2-4 years from then, that Wachovia shareholders and customers would feel a serious pinch.  Well, depending on who you talk to, whether it was inevitable or was accelerated by the media’s need for ‘forced panic,’ my prediction was about 6 to 24 months off.

Let me be the first to say this, cause I haven’t noticed anyone else pointing it out yet.  The terrorists won.  Go figure.  Let’s step back a few years to September 11, 2001.  If you’ll recall, almost everyone who predicts such things was claiming that the terrorists who flew the planes into the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon were doing it, for a large part, in an attempt to destabilize the United States economy.  What they did instead was rally Americans to stand beside each other and re-created the sense of community that many citizens had lost.  In fact, due to Americans coming together, the economy actually rose significantly.  Yes, the stock market fell, predictably, but it recovered a lot faster than such events in the past and things seemed very rosy for the American public and the American dream.

Flash-forward seven years and the economy is doing just what the terrorists hoped it would, crumbling under the weight of Capitalist greed.  You see, regardless of which political side you stand on, it’s hard to deny that there is one thing that got us into this mess – greed.  From the family who wants to buy a home larger than they can afford, to the mortgage broker who gets them that mortgage, knowing they’ll probably end up in the hole, but happy with his commission check, to the banks who approved such loans, looking for larger paydays, to government regulators and so-called watchdogs who turned a blind eye to such practices, to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac who bought the mortgages, knowing that they probably weren’t good investments, but assuring the investing public, that mortgage-based securities were the safest non-insured investments.

And now, we have an $811-Billion bailout package, approved by Congress and the President.  And no, I didn’t misquote that – pull out your calculator and do the math.  For that matter, who needs the bailout?  JP Morgan Chase had the wherewithal to purchase Washington Mutual, Citi grabbed Wachovia (or did they?) and Bank of America picked up Merrill Lynch and Countrywide.

Personally, I am of the opinion that this nation could use a revisit to the Great Depression reality check.  This bailout is not going to help in the long run, just delay things again a little more.  And if our legislators and Chief of State want to really help, they’d send the American public the money, in the form of individually-coded vouchers that they could only utilize to pay their mortgage or rent.  That way, the banks get bailed out, people get to keep their homes, and the economy has a chance of gently recovering.  Trust me, in the long run, the 11% interest they’ll charge the banks for the bailout cash won’t scratch the surface of the long-term effects of this action.

You may be wondering how even the Republicans can support this bailout.  The answer is easy.  You see, we don’t have a true Capitalist society here in the United States anymore.  We haven’t since – guess when – that’s right, the 1930’s, when our esteemed government tried to fix the last Great Depression.

You remember, when Congress and FDR passed “The New Deal” – various legislations creating Welfare, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, the FDIC, extending mortgages past seven year terms, the Agricultural Adjustment Act (which pays farmers NOT to grow crops), and most importantly, the Banking Act of 1933 (the second Glass-Steagall Act), which paved the way for the elimination of the Gold Standard.

For the uninitiated, the Gold Standard states that gold is the standard of value for a country’s currency.  In other words, a hundred dollar bill could be redeemed for $100 worth of gold.  You may recall your grandparents talking about gold certificates or silver certificates – those are currency, which, by definition, still fall under the gold standard.  What is most important about the Gold Standard is that it defined the value of our money by “hard currency.”  Without that definition, our money is barely worth the paper it is printed on – as many folks are now learning.  Nixon sealed the deal back in August of 1971, completely eliminating the gold standard, which has not been used by any country since then.  Instead, we use a Fiat money system, which means that our money is intrinsically useless; it is merely a medium of exchange.

From FDR’s own inaugural speech,

Practices of the unscrupulous money changers stand indicted in the court of public opinion, rejected by the hearts and minds of men.

True they have tried, but their efforts have been cast in the pattern of an outworn tradition. Faced by failure of credit they have proposed only the lending of more money. Stripped of the lure of profit by which to induce our people to follow their false leadership, they have resorted to exhortations, pleading tearfully for restored confidence. They know only the rules of a generation of self-seekers. They have no vision, and when there is no vision the people perish.

…there must be an end to a conduct in banking and in business which too often has given to a sacred trust the likeness of callous and selfish wrongdoing. Small wonder that confidence languishes, for it thrives only on honesty, on honor, on the sacredness of obligations, on faithful protection, on unselfish performance; without them it cannot live.

There must be a strict supervision of all banking and credits and investments. There must be an end to speculation with other people’s money. And there must be provision for an adequate but sound currency…”

So all we have to fear is fear itself?  Did I mention how much it cost the US government to finance the various aspects of Roosevelt’s New Deal?  Somewhere between $10 and $20-Billion, over a nine year period, ending with World War II.  Yes, that’s right, just in 1936 alone, the cost was $9-BILLION!  $9-Billion, in 1936! Taxes went up, up, up, needless to say.  Do I need mention that almost all of the programs FDR initiated that still exist today are already Billions of dollars in arrears?  Now we’ve initiated a single bank bailout program that will INITIALLY cost nearly 80-times the total payout for FDR’s programs over a 10-year period.  Hey, maybe we can get Germany to try and take over the world again.

In all seriousness, have we learned nothing from our grandparent’s generation who lived through this mess back in the 30’s?  Apparently not, since we’re on track to fall once more into the well.  Now, there were some really great things that came out of FDR’s reign in the White House.  For one, labor unions and other workforce reforms were put into place that are still in effect which have had a positive effect on our economy – although I would suggest that many of the labor unions have run their course at this point.

But back to the United States economic policies – since FDR’s New Deal, American capitalism has actually been a form of Socialized Capitalism.  Adam Smith would be rolling in his grave.  Again, this was not necessarily a bad thing, as it did help American workers get back on their feet and curtailed industrialist greed, at least temporarily.  In fact, John Maynard Keynes predicted that if the reforms were carried on to their logical conclusion, that we would be working shorter hours and earning more money in just a few decades.

Unfortunately, his theories did not fully anticipate the government’s attempts to siphon-off man hours to help fight the 1950’s Cold War with Russia.  Or the continued movement of women into the workforce that began in 1950 and rose significantly through the 70’s and 80’s.  Not to mention the fact that there is some evidence to suggest that longer working hours leads to sustained inflation, which leads to longer working hours, which leads to – well, you see my point.

So now that we have Socialized Capitalism, where we routinely bail out individuals – to a point where we need some sweeping reforms of the welfare and unemployment programs – so why not bail out corporate America when it gets greedy and overreaching?

This isn’t new news.  Larry Burkett predicted this back in 1991, in his classic, but now out of print book, The Coming Economic Earthquake.  The book includes a chapter that gives a fictionalized account of how things might play out in 1999, if Larry was right.  What’s scary is how very un-fictional much of his story sounds now.  Economic Journalists Neil Howe and Phillip Longman pointed out back in 1992 that government spending for entitlements was out of control and if not curtailed would eventually result in disaster.  Meanwhile Pastor Gary Keesee may have wished his latest book, Fixing the Money Thing, wherein he explains a number of the concept his Forward Financial Group have used to help people out of debt, had come out a few weeks later (or maybe a few months earlier).  In the early chapters, he lays the groundwork of what is happening in the country and also has vision of the future, which turns out to be a little more conservative, but still a horribly scary picture of what our next few months may look like.

And in the end, the terrorists have won.  No matter how this eventually plays out, they’ve proven that Americans are greedy, capitalist fiends.  What’s more, we’ve also managed to prove that our grand system of capitalism is a fraudulent, failed beast – after all, if it really worked, we’d let these banks flounder and recover on their own.  And neither candidate is willing to say which of their programs they may have to eliminate to help pay for this bailout.  My guess is, regardless of who gets elected, we aren’t going to see another personalized economic stimulus package, but rather, higher taxes across the board, for everything from income to foreign goods (tariffs) to telecommunications to tobacco and alcohol and sales – anything to help “stimulate” the economy by saving some bank CEOs’ butts.  The same banks that now charge fees for everything from using the ATM, to cashing a check, to talking to a teller or processing a payment over the phone or Internet.

The worst part is, the American people, as far as I can tell, are largely against the bailout, but the politicians, by and large, ignored literally thousands of calls to the switchboard – not by some artificial grassroots organizations, but from hundreds of actual citizens, taking an interest in the government, trying to let our elected officials know how they thought the bailout should be handled.  They were, unfortunately ignored.  Now, while I’m not usually one to jump on the bandwagon – I usually lean towards the idea that there may have been information that elected officials were privy to that the public is not – I think in this case, Congress and the President should have listened to the people.  And just in case you wondered, here are links to which people voted for and against the bailout – in the House and the Senate.  You might want to take that into account when you head to the polls later this year.

I wish I had more answers to offer, but I don’t, other than to offer a couple of words of wisdom from God’s Word, spoken to the Israelites, “What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the LORD our God is near us whenever we pray to him?  …Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.  Remember the day… if from there you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul.  When you are in distress and all these things have happened to you, then in later days you will return to the LORD your God and obey him.  For the LORD your God is a merciful God; he will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant with your forefathers, which he confirmed to them by oath.” (Deuteronomy 4: 7, 9, 29-31)

And, “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.  Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place.” (2 Chronicles 7:14-15)

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This past Sunday, I had the opportunity to present the message/sermon/homily for my church, Family of God in Cape Coral.  While the message isn’t strictly related to finances or stewardship, I thought I’d share it with my readers here anyways.  I hope you may draw some insight from it…

Good morning.  As you have probably already figured out, Pastor Rus isn’t here this morning.  He had the pleasure of doing a wedding for some old friends of his back in West Virginia and asked me if I would mind doing the message for this week.

We’ve been talking a lot over the past few weeks about the early church – the Christian community that formed following the resurrection and then Pentecost, the blessing of the Holy Spirit on these young believers.

Just a quick aside – do you realize that the term Pentecost is not strictly a Christian term?  Pentecost, translated from the Greek literally means ‘the Fiftieth Day,’ and is actually taken from the Jewish term Shavuot, which was the Feast of Weeks, taking place 50 days after the Passover and memorializing the time when Moses and the Israelites were given the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai.  It speaks volumes that this was also the day that God again gave his chosen people a gift – the greatest gift – his very spirit living inside them.  I could go a lot more into this, but I want to go a little bit further forward in time with you today, and take a look at another early Christian community that I think we can hopefully learn from.

But first, if you don’t mind, I’d like to have you take part in my brand new game show (drum roll)…

Is That in the Bible?

I hope you brought your Bibles.  I’m going to have a series of phrases up on the screen and I want you to vote with me whether they are from the Bible or not.

“Leopards don’t change their spots” Bible or non-Bible? (highlight hidden text for the answer)

Jeremiah 13:23 (New International Version)

Can the Ethiopian change his skin
or the leopard its spots?
Neither can you do good
who are accustomed to doing evil.

“God works in mysterious ways”

William Cowper,

“On The Loss of the Royal George”

“Money is the root of all evil”

1 Timothy 6:10 (New International Version)

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.

Some people, eager for money, have wandered from

the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

“Cleanliness is next to godliness”

Charles Wesley

Sermons, no 93,

‘On Dress’

“God helps those who help themselves”

Aesop

“The gods help them

that help themselves”

“Spare the rod and spoil the child”

Samuel Butler (Hudibras, 1664),

paraphrasing Proverbs 23:13 (New International Version)

Do not withhold discipline from a child;
if you punish him with the rod, he will not die.

Okay, hopefully you’ve learned a little bit today… A lot of what is attributed to the Bible, that is more traditional, in fact, has little or nothing to do with the Bible and Christian beliefs.  But believe me, we’re not the first ones to make this mistake.  I titled this message, “What Would Luther Say,” for an interesting reason.  If you look at Luther’s life, historically, you see that at the time he lived, very few people actually read the Bible.  Now, some of that could be attributed to the fact that it was in either Hebrew, Greek or Latin, and few could speak those languages.

In fact, if you know your Lutheran history, you know that was one of Luther’s major quests, was to translate the Bible into the German language so common folk could read and understand it.  But if you look even closer at the people of the time, you realize that even the priests themselves, who spoke Latin, Hebrew and Greek, did not read the Bible either.  It’s not too far different from what we know today, unfortunately.  As we just pointed out, there are a lot of misconceptions about what the Bible actually teaches, in the heart of many American churches, and I am sure that the European churches can’t boast much better.

I think, after all of his work, Luther would be appalled at the attitude in many churches today that people just don’t read the Bible.  Imagine from his perspective, as a priest, he didn’t read the New Testament until halfway through his career as a priest.  We know from history that he use to flagellate, or whip himself, forced himself to climb stairs on his knees and was constantly sure that he was not worthy of Christ’s favor.  Then he was encouraged to read the New Testament, and he discovered the letters of Paul, which opened his mind to the concept of salvation through grace by faith alone, a revolutionary idea to the people of his day.  In fact, Luther felt his rediscovery of that principle was so important, so revolutionary that the Devil himself would not be able to bear it and would rise up, bringing about the end of the world.

What’s interesting to note is that Luther was in the Augustinian order of the Catholic Church.  The Augustinian order followed the model of fraternity lived by the Apostles and found in the early Christian community. Augustine of Hippo himself wrote, “Before all else, live together in harmony, being of one soul and one heart seeking God.”  It also carried out the mandate of the Church to proclaim the good news of the Gospel – more on that in a moment.  From the beginning, the Augustinians tended toward a universal service to the needs of the Church.  Gregor Mendel, the monk considered the father of modern genetics, was an Augustinian, as was Myles Coverdale, who translated the first English Bible, under Henry the 8th.  Augustinian monasteries pattern themselves after the life of the early church, in Jerusalem, and also held strongly to the teachings of the Apostle Paul.

So traditionally, Augustinian monks held to the teachings of Paul.  Which makes you wonder why Luther was not familiar with them and found them so revolutionary.  To go one step further, there is another somewhat famous German Augustinian, a man by the name of Thomas á Kempis.  Just a generation before Luther, he wrote a treatise titled, The Imitation of Christ.  Within this book, he says that there are two things essential for human life – food and light – which in the spiritual realm is Communion and the Scriptures.

“Without these two I cannot live well, for the Word of God is the light of my soul, and this Sacrament is the bread of life.

“These two can be likened to two tables, set here and there in the spiritual treasure of the holy Church.  The one is the table of the holy altar, having the living Bread that is the precious Body of Christ; the other is the table of the laws of God, containing the holy doctrine which instructs man in the right faith and in the true belief and leads him into the sancta sanctorum, where the inward secrets of Scripture are hidden and contained.  I give you thanks, my Lord Jesus, the Brightness of eternal light, for this table of holy doctrine You have ministered to us by Your servants, the doctors, prophets, and Apostles.” – Thomas á Kempis, The Imitation of Christ

Just a generation before Luther, another German monk in his own order of the church wrote that men must know the scripture for the continuance of life.  And yet, 90 years later, Luther is nailing the 95 Theses on the church door in Wittenburg, having just rediscovered the scriptures.  I am thinking that this is NOT one of the grand Lutheran traditions to repeat over and over again throughout history.

And there is another reason to know the Scriptures, to read your Bible, to memorize passages and understand what they say.  In I Peter 3, the Apostle writes, “In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.”

Always be prepared to give an answer – a reason for the hope that you have.

When I was in high school, my best friend, Dave Rickards, was a PK – a pastor’s kid.  He was the son of a Baptist minister out on Pine Island, Pastor Tommy.  And as we spent our days going to classes at Cape High, we encountered a number of people of other beliefs and non-beliefs.  But the one most troubling was a girl that we were both good friends with, who we learned was a Jehovah’s Witness.  Now, I don’t really have time to go into everything that separates Jehovah’s Witnesses from mainline Christianity, so please take it at my word for the moment, that JW’s do not believe in the same Jesus as we do.  But, and it’s a big but… But they know their Scripture well – better than most folks who do believe in the same Jesus we do.  Imagine the frustration of being in an argument about religion – and we had a few here and there – two against one, and me and the pastor’s kid losing to this person who knew more about what we supposedly believed than we did.

What would Luther say?

In the church today, we have, in my opinion, abdicated too much of our responsibility of doing the work of God to those who are in leadership in the church.  Usually, it’s the pastor or priest that is most on the hook, followed by the lay leaders and church staff.  But all too often, once we leave the walls of the church, we don’t speak of our faith, we don’t live our faith and we don’t represent Christ to those around us.  It’s not uncommon to hear, “Well, that’s the pastor’s job.”

One of the things we’ve been talking about over the last 3 weeks is our mission to talk to the people around us – to invite them, not necessarily to church, although, that is definitely one of our pressing concerns around here lately, but to invite them to know Christ – to become a follower of His love and His truth.  To shine as believers in our respective workplaces and social lives.

You see, the thing is, it’s NOT the pastor’s job.  Is he called to do it?  Yes, but not alone.  Will we have a commune of believers like the early Jerusalem church?  No, probably not, but we are expected to do our part.

What would Luther say?

In 1520, in a paper written to the German Christians in government, in his day, of course, being the nobility, Luther proclaimed, “There is no true, basic difference between laymen and priests, princes and bishops, between religious and secular, except for the sake of office and work, but not for the sake of status. They are all of the spiritual estate, all are truly priests, bishops, and popes. But they do not all have the same work to do.”

A layman is you and me – normal folks with no particular religious training or scholarship.

Years later, during World War II, an English Bishop by the name of William Temple told his fellow church people that, “We are convinced that England will never be converted until the laity use the opportunities daily afforded by their various professions, crafts and occupations.”

When I worked full-time for the Sheriff’s Office, I got subpoenaed quite a bit to testify in court.  Here in Florida, prosecutors don’t do a lot of witness preparation, so while I didn’t always end up in court, I was told to take advantage of classes on being a witness.  The first rule of giving testimony is that you tell the truth and you only talk about what you know.  You give testimony on what you know for a fact and, in some cases, as an expert witness, what you are permitted to surmise from your work experience and training.  You’re told to address the jury, not the lawyers and are reminded time and time again to answer only the questions asked of you by either lawyer, especially when the defense attorney is questioning you.

I think what happens a lot in the church is people forget how to be a good witness.  A witness talks about what they know – they offer testimony about things that have happened in their lives, they tell the truth and they answer questions posed to them.  I couldn’t just walk into court and start spouting off my theories on who committed the crime.  But I think a lot of Christians are afraid that that is exactly what they are supposed to do when witnessing to people.  They think that witnessing and missions is telling people “You need to get saved” or “You need Jesus” or “Turn or burn!”  The fact is, none of that is true.  You’re only expected to answer the questions presented to you as you live your life to glorify God.

Always be prepared to give an answer – a reason for the hope you have

The Word of God is a light to my soul.

Always be prepared to give an answer – a reason for the hope you have

There is no difference between laymen and priests – they are all priests, bishops, popes.

Always be prepared to give an answer – a reason for the hope you have

Until the laity use the opportunities daily afforded by their various professions, crafts and occupations… this land will never be converted

Always be prepared to give an answer – a reason for the hope you have… Amen.

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This past weekend I attended a Stewardship training conference for the Lutheran churches in the Florida-Bahamas Synod.  I am the worship leader and stewardship chair for my church, Family of God in Cape Coral, FL, and I went with my pastor and another member of the church to this 1 day conference, hoping to learn something.  Sadly, all I really learned was how far out of step many in the church are.

The day began with prayer – always a good thing – then Pastor Rita, the pastor that serves as the Bishop’s right hand, er, person, did a demonstration of how stewardship works.  If you’ve been around business a while, you’ve probably seen this particular object lesson before – I believe Stephen Covey was the first to use it many years ago.

Pastor Rita pulled out a glass food storage jar and asked folks what kind of minor bills they had to pay – electric, cable, entertainment, food, etc… Then she filled a good portion of the jar with unpopped popcorn.  Turning to larger expenses, she placed pieces of fruit in the jar to indicate our mortgage, car payments, insurances, and finally, with a large grapefruit, our offerings to God.  Of course, the grapefruit stuck out considerably and the point was made – put first things first.  Which was good, and I agree – I always remind people that your tithe is specifically mentioned as coming from your First Fruits.  In fact, back when I was struggling with money, but still wanted to make Christ a priority, I forced myself into a physical discipline to reflect the spiritual discipline.  At the time, I was using a modified version of the envelope system and I forced myself, when I cashed my paycheck, to immediately take out the 10% I wanted to give back to God, so that I was reinforcing, in my mind if no where else, the First Fruits concept.

But I noticed something odd when Pastor Rita reversed the process.  She first added the grapefruit (tithes), then the mortgage fruit, the car payments fruit (a lime), then the insurances, then poured the popcorn over, leaving, about 1-1/2 inches of empty space at the top.  “And that,” she declared, “is the best example I’ve ever seen of how steawardship works.”  Well, this immediately bothered me and I got distracted trying to figure out why.  Then it hit me – here we were, at a church function, surrounded by a few dozen pastors, and NO ONE had mentioned Kingdom Finances.

You see, Pastor Rita’s example was fine – in fact it was a great explanation for the Pareto Principle, espoused by John Maxwell.  However, other than the admonition to put our commitment to God first, it really didn’t illustrate at all the Kingdom Economic principles.  After much thought, I determined what I think is the best way she could have continued the existing example, but bring God into it more:

Place the jar inside a 2″ deep baking pan.  Then take a pitcher of water and pour it over the entire container, filling up the remaining space within the jar and spilling out over into the pan.  You see, when you place God first in your finances, He responds to that – because He wants to, because He loves us – by filing us up to overflowing – providing not only for our needs, but blessing us with an abundance so that we may bless others.  Later in the seminar, during a question and answer session, I brought that up.  I asked, “I know we’re struggling in many churches just to get people to tithe (the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is ahead of the ballgame – 2.5% of their members tithe as opposed to the national average in all churches, 1.9%), but why are we not even discussing offerings – those gifts that go above the tithe?”

His response was sadly typical.  While he agreed with me that the tithe should be a floor, not a ceiling, he kind of danced around the fact that there was more of a fear mentality in the Lutheran church than one of looking to bless others – despite Martin Luther‘s personal stance on this issue.

Just to finish off, at the conclusion of the seminar, wherein they handed out materials to all of the attendees that they told us to use in our churches, I noticed that absolutely nothing had been said about teaching the children stewardship.  Maybe it’s just because we are in Florida, often joked about as “God’s waiting room,” but I thought it odd that we were not encouraged to teach our children stewardship, tithing and giving.  When I inquired, I was told that I could request materials via e-mail from the speaker and he would be happy to send them to me, yet no mention was made of this to the larger group.  Which wouldn’t be as big a deal if they hadn’t interrupted our discussion just a few minutes before to explain how to handle snowbirds & part-time residents.  Apparently, they are more important to this church than raising up their children (as few as they are) in the proper Christian beliefs and faith.

On a somewhat related, but different note, an interesting thing has been happening in my area of Southwest Florida recently.  A few short weeks ago, one of our officers at the Fort Myers Police Department was shot in the line of duty.  While I had only met Andy once, I have known his wife and her family for the better part of 25 years.  As part of the community coming together, a number of officers from all of our local police agencies volunteered to stand outside of various shopping centers and Wal-Marts, collecting donations for the family, who has three very young children.  The donations collected (and still being collected in some instances) amounted to well over $100,000.

Recently, some folks have expressed some confusion over why this family was singled out and received such a huge outpouring of community support.  Now, as a friend of the family and former law enforcement officer, I have my own strongly held personal opinions about why the Widman family should be blessed in this way (not to mention Andy took the job to raise money so he and Susanna could go overseas as missionaries), but the detractors raise an interesting point – one they seem willing to back up.  And in that I support them.  They rightly ask, “Where is all of the money for other widows, where is the community support,”  and they are making a lot of noise about starting a fund for those other widows, to which I respond, ABSOLUTELY.  And while you’re at it, let’s take care of the orphans as well.  I’m pretty sure that’s in the Bible…

Dueteronomy 10:17-18 “For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing.”

In fact, the book of Deuteronomy is replete with admonitions to leave behind a portion of your crops, for the fatherless and the widowed.  Twice in that book alone, the writer mentions that you should, “bring all the tithes of that year’s produce and store it in your towns, so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the aliens, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.”

You may recall my article last year, “Why Social Security, Welfare & Medicare Don’t Work – And Never Will,” where I talked about how the church and its people have abdicated their responsibility to care for the least of these to various government programs.  While the almost universal response I got from the people who read the article can be summed up in, “Well, that’s a nice thought, but it’ll never work,” its nice to see that some others – even those without a faith foundation to fall back on – are embracing the same principles.  Now why can’t we get the church involved?

Maybe that’s just too much Jesus for them.  Maybe we should review the words of the great reformer, Martin Luther:

“There is no true, basic difference between laymen and priests, princes and bishops, between religious and secular, except for the sake of office and work, but not for the sake of status. They are all of the spiritual estate, all are truly priests, bishops, and popes. But they do not all have the same work to do.” – Martin Luther, To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation (1520)

Now get out there and change the world.

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Since I started doing this teaching blog a little while ago, I have gotten a variety of responses from the readers, some as comments, some as personal e-mails, both positive and negative in their feedback.  One subject that seems to spur more controversy and general angst than any other is the subject of tithing.

There are two basic points of view about tithing in churches, and I never realized the huge gulf between the two concepts – in part, because there isn’t one, just a manufactured controversy that results from too many assumptions about the other party, and secondly because of the high emotional context that many non-tithing (often also known as free-will offering) teachers operate from.

It’ll probably be easier to understand if I give you some examples.  Most of the arguments people have given me consist of a few similarities.  I’ll summarize.

The first is, “Christ established a new covenant with his followers, especially the gentiles, and we should no longer serve the old Jewish/Old Testament edicts.”

The second is, “Churches and pastors have browbeat people into giving.  The teaching on tithing has been abused to build up some church leader’s egos and for building projects and to take advantage of the poor who have less than the rich.”  This one’s usually preceded by the phrase, “I’m mad.”

Often times, these arguments are bolstered and exacerbated by the many assumptions that are prevalent in the arguments.

Tithing teachers and followers often assume that their free-will offering counterparts are using their beliefs as a crutch to give less or not at all, because they haven’t felt the Spirit move them.

Free-Will Offering teachers and followers assume that their tithing friends are legalistic, mean and teach that God doesn’t bless those who don’t give 10%.  They also assume that many tithers use the 10% as a crutch to only give the barest minimum of what they have been blessed with, and feeling smug and secure.

There are a variety of other less-prevalent arguments and assumptions, but the ones I have presented here cover a majority of what I’ve heard.  One notable exception was a gentleman who explained to me in depth why tithing was a remnant of the Mosaic law and that we are under a new covenant and not Jews and should not be bound by the Mosaic laws, then proceeded to tell me that he believed that his stance on Free-Will Offering was established in the book of Deuteronomy (I’ll pause and let the irony sink in).

I said that the controversy was manufactured and I want to explain that, because I don’t want to leave any misunderstandings out there.  I also don’t want anyone to think that I am stating that one group or another manufactured the controversy.  That is not true.  Unfortunately, there is another presence in our world that likes to create things, especially things that mock the true creation, and I believe he is the source of this manufactured controversy.

In First Timothy 2:14-17, Paul explains this: “…Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen.  Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.  Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly.  Their teaching will spread like gangrene.”

I believe this is what has happened here – Satan has gotten in and subtly manipulated us, using some pastor’s all-too human failings, pride and greed, to establish a controversy and an argument between two viable bodies of Christ for no apparent reason other than the controversy itself.

Now follow me here, because this is the question I have for my free-will offering friends who don’t believe in the tithe.  First, “Why not?”  But before you answer that question, let me offer my proposal for how we can resolve all of the conflict and come into a unity with regards to expressing our stewardship by giving to the Lord. 

You see, once I understood the basic principles of Spirit-led free-will offering, the answer became obvious to me. 

First, we do not deny the tithe – it is a Biblically-expressed spiritual principle, tied to God’s spiritual laws.  However, the tithe is just a starting point.  As we mature and grow in our understanding and knowledge of Jesus Christ and how His kingdom economics work, we follow the Spirit’s leading (which we can hear and discern better now) and increase our giving, our free-will offering, as we are led.

Think of the tithe as the spiritual milk that babies eat and the free-will offering as the spiritual meat that adults transition to.  The two don’t have to be at odds with one another – it makes sense, spiritually, that they should compliment each other.  We are blessed by God, in part, due to the way we handle money, and giving new Christians a standard to judge themselves by only makes sense.

Through all of my praying and preparing for writing this, I have sought God’s wisdom in this matter, and through His divine intelligence, He has given me a phrase that I think just might revolutionize the way tithing is taught and understood by most of the church.

The phrase is this: “Tithing is not legalistic, it is opportunistic.”

Now, I’m not going to argue with the people who take offense that a spiritual concept might be ‘opportunistic.’  God is a God of opportunity – after all, it is He who gives us the ability to create wealth, so why would He then deny us that opportunity.  If you don’t agree, then you might as well head over to ChristaNet or Yahoo or whatever, cause this won’t make sense to you.

Instead, I’m going to explain why the tithe is opportunistic.

You see, I believe that there are three levels of blessing that God engages in.  The first is general blessing.  We all get the benefits of that, by the very fact that we live on the earth He created.  Jesus explains that in Matthew 5: “your Father in heaven… causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”

The second blessing is a believer’s blessing, which is similar to the blessing the Jewish people still hold.  Paul explains in Galatians 3:

“Just as no one can set aside or add to a human covenant that has been duly established, so it is in this case.  The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ.  What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise.  For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on a promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise.

What, then, was the purpose of the law? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come. The law was put into effect through angels by a mediator.  A mediator, however, does not represent just one party; but God is one.

Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law.  But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.

Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed.  So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith.  Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.

You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”

Paul even points out earlier in the chapter, that those who rely on observing the law are cursed.  I repeat that the Biblical tithe is not legalistic – otherwise, it would go against God’s promises.

Finally, the third blessing that God bestows is the blessing of obedience.  You see, we’re given free will.  Anyone can do anything he likes or doesn’t like.  God does not make a distinction.  Further, we can follow or turn away and we can be obedient or disobedient to God.  However, I don’t believe that God punishes us for that – not in the way that the world thinks, anyway.  God is not sitting up in heaven with a giant SMITE button on His captain’s chair, waiting for us to screw up so that He can take away our blessings.  No, the beauty of it is, being our Creator, He understands how we work, and knows that the consequences of our actions or inactions will be sufficient in most cases.  This is especially true of those who have believed in Jesus Christ, crucified, risen and ruling still.  But by that same token, those of us who are saved by faith, should also respond to that gift with love and obedience.  In fact, we have a higher responsibility, by nature of the gift we have been given.  Again, we could chose to ignore that responsibility and devalue that gift, but where would that leave us?

You see, the tithe is not legalistic – and God does not punish or penalize us for not following the tithe.  At the same time, He does not withhold His blessings from us, if we don’t tithe – and this is the most important thing – WE withhold those blessings from ourselves!

God is standing there, willing, able and longing, YES, LONGING, to bless us with more financial wealth, more relationship wealth and more spiritual wealth and power, but He chooses to follow the rules He himself has set up, because He knows His creation.

Luke 16: 9-11 – “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.  So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?”

I Peter 1: 14-15 – “As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance.  But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do;”

Why does God long to bless us financially, spiritually and relationally?  Because His desire is that we bring about a change in our world – a movement that glorifies Him and draws many many more to His promises and truth of the Gospel.

Just one more thing I’d like to point out, for the people who still object to my teaching on tithes.  I am not a pastor (in the traditional sense), nor do I represent a church.  I am a member of a church, and I have been a member of other churches.  At no point have I ever taught the tithe to raise money for myself or any church or ministry.  I teach the tithe, because I believe it is truly the way God wants us to behave, augmented by free-will offerings when the Spirit moves you.  No one should give out of obligation or fear and no one should ignore Biblical teaching because of someone else’s propensity for using the Word of God to elicit guilt or fear.  Sorry, that’s just the way it is.

As for this ministry/website/blog – everything here is paid for out of my own pocket.  When I do seminars, whether for churches or other organizations, I do not ask for any money.  I have been given money in the past, but not as a result of my request.  I don’t even have a button on here to support me voluntarily through PayPal or anything like that.  That said, I have posted a couple of flyers on the site that you can download to share with friends who are seeking Biblical teaching on finances. 

Dennis Peacocke, author of Doing Business God’s Way, points out that Paul often writes that we are given the resources necessary to fulfill our God-given calling.  In I Thessalonians 1:11-12, he writes, “With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith.  We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

2 Corinthians 9 expresses it this way:

God can pour on the blessings in astonishing ways so that you’re ready for anything and everything, more than just ready to do what needs to be done. As one psalmist puts it,
   He throws caution to the winds,
      giving to the needy in reckless abandon.
   His right-living, right-giving ways
      never run out, never wear out.
This most generous God who gives seed to the farmer that becomes bread for your meals is more than extravagant with you. He gives you something you can then give away, which grows into full-formed lives, robust in God, wealthy in every way, so that you can be generous in every way, producing with us great praise to God.

Carrying out this social relief work involves far more than helping meet the bare needs of poor Christians. It also produces abundant and bountiful thanksgivings to God. This relief offering is a prod to live at your very best, showing your gratitude to God by being openly obedient to the plain meaning of the Message of Christ. You show your gratitude through your generous offerings to your needy brothers and sisters, and really toward everyone. Meanwhile, moved by the extravagance of God in your lives, they’ll respond by praying for you in passionate intercession for whatever you need. Thank God for this gift, his gift. No language can praise it enough!”

(The Message)

May God bless you as you prayerfully consider the words I have written here.  And may you find the level of giving you are able to handle and allow God to grow you spiritually, financially and relationally into His perfect creation.
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