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The Disadvantage of Christianity in debate

I’ve recently been quite enamoured of facebook, and have been engaged in several discussions about those contraversial topics that I’m supposed to avoid because I’m polite.

One of those discussions is on the Great Canadian Wish group on facebook put together by the CBC. Now, the basis of the group is to ascertain some big wishes for the future of Canada (a great country by any count, though which promotes a holier than thou sense of passive-aggressive opposition to everything conservative). On the group, the number 1 wish is that abortion be abolished. I support that wish, and I am a proud and patriotic Canadian (despite the apparent oxymoron).

Noting the massive increase in anti-abortion supporters on the wish, some guy began to intimate that because many of the facebook accounts supporting the anti-abortion wish had no pictures, they must be false accounts. Now, i know for a FACT that several websites and e-mails have been circulated among neanderthal, knuckle-dragging biblically believing Christian cavemen instructing us on how to use facebook so that we can voice our opposition to government-sponsored infanticide. Many of those e-mails go to people who are a little less willing to put our contraversial opinions out there for fear of some enlightened noble intelligentsia explaining to us why we’re so stupid. These people feel strongly about abortion, and so create accounts with minimal contact information in order to voice their opposition.

The problem I have is that the first thing people jump to when it comes to any conservative position is the immediate need to call social conservatives either unthinking or evil. Either we are technically illiterate (thus not able to figure out the intricacies of pictures) or immoral (creating multiple accounts to skew a facebook group), or where conservative opinion turns out to be correct, to imagine that there is some nefarious conservative cabal working to usurp all that is good, right, noble and intelligent (like abortion, gay marriage, and nature-worshipping forms of conservation). It can’t possibly be that intelligent, undersatnding, and well-travelled people who have duly and open mindedly considered the evidence have come to an opinion diametrically opposed to them.

And see, I understand why. For me, this rant is far more insulting than should be acceptable for a Christian. It exposes my desire to feel more righteous than others, which is simply evil. I am called to believe that others are better than I am, and thus that my enemies may not have all of the evils that I know dwell within me. I will need to repent of this when I calm down.

This leaves Christians at a disadvantage though, as it should eliminate our ability to be unfair in debate. We have no right to assume that people are cheating in elections (though they may be), or caricaturing others unfairly (unless we have actual proof of that caricature, and even then we see it as an honest mistake on their part, not a nefarous desire to promote hatred. We cannot impugn motives based on circumstance or assume malfeasance outside of proof, and because of that we lose the single most powerful weapon in the arsenal of modern public debate, inneuendo.

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When Grace Becomes Pride

As some of you may know, I am now living in Nain, Labrador. It’s a community on the north coast of Labrador, where the only ways in are by airplane or boat (and since there’s ice off shore, just airplane at the moment).

It’s a community of about 1500 people nestled among mountains, with pristine lakes around, and large areas of wilderness around. It is gorgeous in the extreme.

Last Sunday, I went to church here. It was a small pentecostal congregation, one of three churches in the area. A few things about it surprised me though, as the offering was small, and the congregation (with a few exceptions) did not seem to express much interest in Jesus. There was no real love expressed for anything, save the gift of Jesus Christ in saving us from sin.

Don’t get me wrong, that’s a good reason to love Jesus, and we are right to praise Him for that, but it seemed to me that the great goal of the Church was personal salvation and wealth rather than communion with God through Jesus Christ.

It was for that reason that I ended up asking my brother why Church plants fail here. In his opinion, it is because most Churches here are seen as charities in search of people to give to, and so people simply receive without giving anything.

To me, the result is that Churches are simply places people go to get money, food, and even cigarettes, rather than a place people go to receive joy, peace, and salvation from God. This isn’t surprising, as when I think about it, that’s where my heart is sometimes. I see salvation as a minor thing, and keep demanding that I receive other lesser things like a career, a better body, or a girlfriend. The reason is pride, to be honest, as most times I think it is a small thing that God forgives me my sin and works to make me righteous even as the righteousness of Christ is imputed to me. What I receive seems minor since I believe I deserve to receive it. That seems to me to be pride.

The result is that grace ceases to really be grace, and what I claim to receive is actually owed me. The sheer audacity is staggering, but it is what cheap grace essentially leads to. This is why I honesly believe people still need to be convinced of their sinfulness…. because I DO. Without that, I fall easilly into believing what God gives me is mine because I have a right to it, and God is there to fulfill my needs (God does fulfill my needs, but for his own glory, not because I deserve it). God is there for no external reason and is glorious, I am here to praise him, but I reverse it by making God my welfare provider.

Oh God, that I might value you more!

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New Sermon: James 1:1-4

Here’s the text I prepared for it (though I deviated some). Hope y’all enjoy

James 1:1-4

James, a servant of God, and of the Lord Jesus Christ., to the twelve tribes of the dispersion, greetings
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This is the introduction to the letter. Most times, when I’m reading the Bible for daily devotions, I skip over these parts because I assume that there’s not much there for me to learn about God. That’s why it’s good to preach through a book, so I have to look at, pray about, and meditate on all of the scripture I’m looking at.

So what do we learn from this greeting? First we learn that this letter was written by James (in case we missed the title of the book, written in bold at the top of the page). Many scholars believe that this James is probably the same guy who led the Church of Jerusalem for most of the early years, a man who also happened to be Jesus’ half brother. We see him mentioned a couple of times in Scripture. He talks to Paul in Acts about the place of Gentiles in the Church (Acts 15, 21). Also when Paul speaks of the Jewish believers that led Peter to pretend he didn’t eat with Gentiles, he calls them people “from James” (Gal 2:12). We also know that since he was Jesus brother (Gal 1:19), he was probably one of those who thought Jesus was nuts and had to be restrained (Mark 3:21).

All of this makes it puzzling that this James now calls Jesus the “Lord Jesus Christ” in his greeting. James now knows Jesus to be a heck of a lot more important than his brother, and knows that he is not crazy. He calls Jesus “Christ”, meaning the anointed one or the messiah, and “Lord”, meaning the ruler. James has become convinced of the place that Jesus holds in the overall makeup of the universe, so his referring to Jesus like this is a good idea.

James calls himself a servant of God and Christ. Now, by modern thinking, this would be strange. James is going to start giving pastoral advice to Christians, and instead of using the fact that he is Jesus’ brother, he instead takes his authority from his role as a servant of Jesus. Here we have a man who has the ultimate family connection, and instead of using it as authority, he doesn’t even mention the connection and instead places himself beneath the authority of God.

Why? The lesson here is that this letter (as with all of the Bible) is about God, and about Jesus (who is God), and that the validity of the following words is in the authority of God, not the authority of the author. We listen to James, not because of James, but because of Jesus, just as we preach the Gospel, and live Christian lives, not because of ourselves, but because of Jesus.

The letter continues, “to the twelve tribes of the dispersion, greetings”. Now, if you’ve been reading your old testament diligently, you know that the majority of the twelve tribes were pretty much eradicated through the Babylonian captivity. The euphamism “twelve tribes” here refers to any Jew living outside of Israel, and in this case, probably to those Jewish believers dispersed, possibly by the persecution mentioned in Acts 11, after the stoning of Stephen.

So is this letter to those of us who are Gentile believers? Yes, Paul refers to us as people grafted into the tree of Israel (Romans 11:17), and points out that “In Christ there is no Jew or Gentile” (Gal 3:28).

(2-3) Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.

Now, if James calling his brother “Lord” was a little outside the norm for modern ears, this little sentence is downright weird. James opens his letter by commanding people to be joyful. Now, we can limit the idea of joy, and pretend that this is talking about a form of contentment rather like the effect you get when someone is given tranquilizers, or has mastered Buddhist meditation techniques, but that simply avoids the word. This is not contentment; it’s joy. Commanding joy sounds odd, but the Bible does it a lot.

Added to this weirdness is the context James commands his readers to be joyful in; namely, trials. It seems a little like saying “be happy when your wife leaves you, and people want you dead just because you believe in Jesus”.

Now the word for “trial” here is used two different ways in scripture. In the first place, it can refer to temptations that come from within. When I feel a desire to go look for free porn, and must overcome that so that I can remain pure, that’s a trial. It also refers to external persecution) . For my money, I’m happy to keep the meaning ambiguous, as then it deals with all opposition that the Christian meets in living the Christian life, from all of the 3 big enemies (our sin, the world, and the devil). I think this is what James intended.

I’d also limit the trials to which James is referring to those trials Christians get for being Christian. Notice that James moves from commanding joy in trials to saying that the “testing of your faith” produces steadfastness. This means that the trial is a trial because you have faith.

Luckily, James doesn’t leave us guessing about why we should count it all joy to face trials of various kinds. He continues in verse 4 to say that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.

Now there’s a blindingly obvious point that has to be made here. A trial of this sort has two ways of being dealt with. In the first place, you can persevere through it, and the second way is that you simply give in. The first is to “meet” (peripipto: to fall into the hands of; to strike; to face, be involved in ) a trial. You are moving along as in your faith, and something comes up that opposes you. You meet a trial. Now, you can run away from the trial, in which case you aren’t really meeting the trial, or you can face it. I don’t think that James would say that the former is going to produce steadfastness. It is the latter that develops steadfastness

Does that help you much? It doesn’t me. Steadfastness isn’t exactly a major good. In some sections of the modern world, steadfastness is even a bad thing. We call it closed minded, or stubborn. Indeed, in the world I live in, where the mantra seems to be “if it feels good, do it”, steadfastness in the face of something unenjoyable sounds a little, er, stupid. Is there a reason we should be looking for steadfastness?

James says yes.

And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

It’s nice to know I was right in saying that we need to actually face the trials. James says that we should let steadfastness have its full effect, meaning that we should milk the opportunity for all it’s worth. Do you face trials? Persevere in them, they’re doing good, so let them do their full good. Get as much steadfastness as you can!!!

Why? Because if steadfastness has its full effect, we will “be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing”.

Now, given the opening of the letter, this should cause us to question. Didn’t I say that James was being humble in the opening, lifting up Jesus as his authority, and not taking any himself? Glorifying Jesus above all else, naming himself a servant of God? Now he seems to be saying that we should be seeking our own perfection, and seeking that we should be hoping to “lack in nothing”. Seems an awfully self-centered reason to face the trials of various kinds. Is James validating selfishness? Of a sense, yes, and of a sense no.

I think that there is a missing premise here, one that James alludes to many times throughout his letter (as we shall see, God willing).

What is the most valuable thing? Christians know the answer to be God. When we are at our best, we love God with all our heart, soul mind, and strength. So if we are to be complete, and lacking in nothing, what is most important of the things we don’t want to lack?

We would be misreading scripture, and indeed blaspheming the value of God, if we seek all the things the world has, money, fame, power, a marriage, a career, etc. and still lack God. Indeed, if we have God, the creator and king of the entire universe, we have everything. God knows what it is we need, and will give it. As the motto of my province says (quoting Matt 6:33) “seek first the kingdom of God”, which in the Bible continues, “and all these things shall be added unto you”, referring to all the things people worry about.

So why the “perfect” thing? That is in response to a command of Jesus. “be perfect as my father is perfect” (Matt 5:48). In that context it refers to the many actions that a believer does from faith, but we’ll get to that in a later sermon. For now, it is enough to know that we who love Jesus (and if we love Jesus, we will do as he commands, John 14:15) are commanded to be perfect, and James gives us the way to get there, but the first step are “trials of various kinds”. No wonder we are to count it all joy. It gets us to God, it shows Jesus, and its what Jesus-lovers do.

So to be practical, what do these four verses mean for our lives?

There are two kinds of people really listening to this, people who are presently going through trials, and people who are not.

So for those going through trials, first and foremost rejoice in the way God is working in your life. Be happy that this is bringing you closer to God. That’s easier said than done, unless you already have a massive passion to be close to God. If you don’t have that, take the present opportunity to seek a high value for God, pray that God would give you a heart to love him above all else, and thus redeem the trials you’re going through. Take time digging into scriptures to see the all surpassing value of Jesus, and take the encouragement of fellow believers. Don’t give into the urge to take the easier route and forsake faith for the sake of less trial, but use it as reason to seek even more diligently after God

If you are not going through trials right now, look to those around you who are presently going through trials. Have some compassion, meaning “suffer with” your sisters and brothers going through it. Face the trial with them that you might also reap some benefit of it. Of a sense, seek to face trials (no, don’t go looking to suffer them yourself, they’ll come anyway), but be someone who shares in the trials of others. As the word says, bear one anothers’ burdens (Galatians 6:2)

But most importantly take the time now to learn and seek after God. Spend time with the Lord in prayer, read his word in order to learn more about how valuable God is. So all of us should take this opportunity to look to God, to learn of God, and to see more clearly the beauty of God, if He would be so gracious as to reveal it to us.

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Al Mohler, men

Growing Up

Again to reiterate my fundamentalist credentials, I was listening to the Albert Mohler show today, where he was talking about the general degradation of fatherhood in the modern west.

I have to say, I can see where he’s coming from, but I think he has missed one of the major constituents.

Last weekend we had a retreat, where I came to the conclusion that I am, for all intents and purposes a 32 year old boy, and I think that I am actually largely normal for society.

While many of my friends are married with kids, I think there’s a clear movement in society to a point where men are simply made to accept less responsibility. Honestly, there’s an attraction in being less responsible as it means I can have all the fun I want and avoid any pain.

I’m generally told by marketing that it is okay for me to keep buying more and more expensive toys, and waste my time on video games and sports fandom. I’m supposed to live with a girlfriend, maintaining my freedom to leave her if things get too messy, yet still have as much sex as I can. I’m even supposed to be willing to let my someday female partner become a primary breadwinner, in the interest of empowering women, of course.

that’s if I ever marry. I can remain a single man, simply getting and discarding female companionship as I need, but staying with a girl I like for as long as I like without actually comitting to her. (as an aside, this means marriage is in that sense a method of saying to her “I’m not ever leaving you, and I love you even when you aren’t lovable”. It’s difficult to imagine how my fickle heart could make such a promise stick without marriage.)

All of this means something very negative, though, if we fundies are right, and God created families to be difficult though profoundly joyful reflections of Christ. As a man, I am called to love a wife as Christ loved the Church (dying for her if necessary, being kind to her particularly when she doesn’t deserve it), and to raise children who love and feear the Lord. A very tall order, and a scary one, but one that promises incalculable joy.

But for that I need to grow up. I need to become a man that would be a good husband and father, even before I know the woman I marry (if God ever blesses me that way). If I am to reflect Christ in a marriage, I have to reflect him as a single man first, and it’s hard to imagine how I can do that while piddling with World of Warcraft and Battle for Middle Earth II (both quite good games in themselves)or spending every waking moment following the adventures of my favorite sports team. Those things are good in moderation, but if they get in the way of being a real man of God, they’re honestly bad.

It’s time I grew up, and I guess I need to sometimes repent of good things to attain better things.

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