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The Bible…I’m Not So Sure It Means What You Think It Means

” [Scripture] has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter.  It reveals the principles by which God judges us; and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried. ”

So says the Baptist Faith and Message about the Bible…all three versions–1925, 1963 and 2000.  Even the much debated rewrite of this section in 2000 didn’t change this core description of the Scriptures.  There was much to quibble over in 2000 among Baptists, of whose number I was among then.  Was the Bible “God’s revelation” or “the record of God’s revelation” of himself to humankind?  Was Christ merely the “focus of divine revelation”  or was he the “criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted?”  Quite frankly, since I no longer have a dog in the fight, it’s fun to kick those thoughts around now and again, but that’s not my point here.

It seems Scripture references have been bandied about quite a bit in recent days and weeks as the election season his full song and everyone wants to try to moralize his or her candidate’s position vis-à-vis the “Christian foundations” this nation is based on.  Right.  Anyway, everybody wants the Bible (and Jesus) on their side.  Whether trying to cast Jesus as a socialist or justifying free markets on personal responsibility, everyone wants to be able to say they have the Bible on their side because, let’s face it, God is a pretty heavy hitter.  I mean, an endorsement from the Most High would go a long way in swaying American voters, right?

This is ridiculous.  When the whole of Scripture is viewed as a cohesive unit (as it should be) it is not a history book, or a science book, or an economics book, or even an ethics book.  There are elements of those topics and then some in the Scriptures but that’s because they are a natural part of our human existence, not because they are exhaustively addressed there.  The Scriptures are about God reconciling a fallen world to himself through Jesus Christ.  Period.  Consider:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.  We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors,as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin[a] for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5.17-21)

On its face, this is what the BF&M seems to be getting at but, having been written by Baptists who take pride in autonomy and not having to agree even to disagree I don’t know what they would say about it now.  While the author was undoubtedly thinking of his own work, I believe the closing statement of St. John’s Gospel could be applied to the entire canon of Scripture: “But these [things] are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

May God have mercy on our souls for using the precious gift of his Word as a bludgeon for political battles instead of a balm of healing for those who desperately need reconciliation.

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You Didn’t Build That…Reimagined…

“Look, if you’ve gotten a doctoral degree, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own,” Obama repeated.

“I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart.  There are a lot of smart people out there.  It must be because I worked harder than everybody else.  Let me tell you something — there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.

“If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help.  There was a great teacher somewhere in your life who taught you to read and write.  There was a great professor who spurred your curiosity.  Somebody helped to create this American education system that we have that allowed you to thrive.  Somebody invested in libraries and university buildings.  If you’ve got a Ph.D. or Ed.D. or the like, you didn’t make that.  Somebody else made that happen.”

 

NB: This is NOT what Obama actually said but simply my application of his speech to an area other than business (and applicable to the President himself since he has a J.D.) Please see http://didntbuildthat.com/ for some hilarious memes with the “you didn’t build that” motif.

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Apparently Islam is as Christian as Mormonism…

My wife and I are fans of the TLC show “Sister Wives.”  I like the show on a variety of levels, from entertainment to social commentary.  The family depicted in the show, the Browns, is a part of a fundamentalist sect of Mormonism and practice polygamy.  However, they are not affiliated with and vehemently reject Warren Jeffs and his ilk.

While watching the show, I got to thinking about how Mormonism is hitting the mainstream with the nomination of Mitt Romney as GOP candidate for President of the United States.  Interestingly, November promises to pit the first black President against the first Mormon nominee for President.

With the former being the Democrat and the latter the Republican in the race, this proves to be quite a conundrum for Evangelicals who have any concern whatsoever about being consistent in their politics and their beliefs.  Perhaps we should lay out the case first.

On the one hand, if I’ve heard it once I’ve heard it a thousand times that Obama is a Muslim.  He was actually a member of the (ultra-liberal) Christian denomination “United Churches of Christ.”  (Whether he is still, I don’t know.)  On the other hand, Romney, a Mormon, is part of a religious group that is not unlike Islam.  Richard Land, head of the Southern Baptist Convention‘s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said in February of this year that “perhaps the best way to describe Mormonism, perhaps the most charitable way to describe Mormonism, is that it’s a fourth Abrahamic religion, with Joseph Smith playing the role that Muhammad plays in Islam and the Book of Mormon playing the role that the Quran plays in Islam. It’s based upon the Christian faith and the Jewish faith but it goes beyond them and it contradicts them.  Islam is not a Christian faith. Mormonism is not a Christian faith.”

The Mormon Puzzle – a Southern Baptist study on Mormonism and how to witness to Mormons

With as much as I hear conservatives moan about how the US of A needs to get back to its “Christian roots” and be a “Christian nation,” I just don’t see what they are going to do in November if they want to hold true to making America a “Christian nation once again.”

Apparently, Land isn’t too concerned about this problem and is willing to tie his cart to Romney’s horse in this case.  His concern is that the news media, which “by and large is in the tank for Mr. Obama,” will focus on Romney’s religion as a wedge issue to try to swing independent voters to Obama’s side.  I’m sure this is somehow different that Land’s use of religion to try to sway voters to Rick Santorum during the GOP primaries.It will be interesting to see if Southern Baptists make any statements about religion or Mormonism or the like that could be construed as tacit endorsements at their annual convention this month.

 

(Full disclosure – I was Baptist for over 30 years, “was” being the operative word.)

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Does Ministry Take More Brains Than Guts?*

So…you’ve decided to go into the ministry.  Fantastic! Wait, what? Oh…you were “called” into the ministry.  Yes, yes, that’s nice.  I’m not going to quibble over that.  Fine…I’ll use “call” then.

Anyway, having been “called” (as you say) at one time myself, I thought I would share some of the things I learned along the way that might have kept me “called,” so to speak.  Here are some do’s and don’t’s that I think can help you along the way, especially early on.

DO…stay involved in your daily life.  (The corollary of which is “Don’t let church activities consume your time.”)  If you restrict yourself to church activities and church friends and church events and church conversations and—well you get the point—you will have an ivory tower mentality that will make it impossible for you to ever really reach people outside the walls of the church (who live in “the real world”), not to mention it will eventually make you miserable.

DON’T…talk it over with people serving in ministry.  Yes this seems odd but it’s true.  Ask them what they do on a typical day or in a typical week.  Ask them what they think about ministry—what it is and (maybe) what it should be.  But do not ask them if you should  think about going into the ministry.  We all want people to think we’re just absolutely overjoyed to be doing what we’re doing for a living.  Now, we may be thrilled to have a job (especially in today’s economy) but that is not the same as loving what we’re doing.  You need candor, not a sales pitch.

DO…tell your family.  Every family is different so you’ll have to consider the best way to approach it.  Some will be disappointed while others will be overjoyed.  Many families will have a mixture of the two or myriad other responses.  In any case, they’re often the ones who know you best and their feedback can be invaluable.  Just because they discourage going into the ministry doesn’t mean it’s not the right thing to do.  On the other hand, if your family is all excited about you “becoming a preacher” it may not be the right direction for you.  Either way, your family can give you a lot of insight into yourself before you make the final decision, uh, I mean, before you follow through on your “call”.

DON’T…tell your pastor/clergy about it immediately.  This sounds almost counterintuitive, I know.  I put “immediately” for a reason.  Only when you’re absolutely certain about your decision, uh, “call” should you tell your clergy.  The simple reason being that, if you tell them immediately, you will be offered as much to do as can possibly be given to you, little of which may be particularly relevant.  You’ll become the intern that gets coffee, runs errands, does computer work, etc.  Now these are all a part of “church work” (especially in a smaller congregation) but do you really need to learn this kind of thing in that setting?  Do you not know how to make coffee or run to the bank or store?  If you’re still considering whether to go into the ministry or not…I mean, considering your “call”…this kind of thing can quickly turn you against it.

DON’T…enroll in college as a religion major (or go immediately to seminary if you’re already a college graduate).  This is particularly true in denominations that don’t require any kind of formal training (e.g. Baptists).  As a high school student looking at college, choose something besides religion—economics, history, political science, biology, anything.  As an undergraduate, don’t change your major…stick with what you’re in (or change to another non-religion major if you like).  It will help you relate to people because you’ll have (potentially) a point of contact (and something to fall back on when…er, um…if ministry doesn’t pan out).  If you’re already out of college, don’t just jump right into a seminary program because it’s close to you (I’m looking at you bazillions of extension programs across the country).  Take the time to search for a seminary that is the right fit for you, academically and spiritually, even if it means moving to attend there (and avoid an extension program if you can help it at all).

DON’T…think that “doing” ministry is saving the world.  Somebody lived over 2,000 years ago that already did that.  He doesn’t need your help; he allows you to work for him.  Your job is no more important than the janitor who cleans the church or the cashier at the grocery store or the owner of the local bank.  People may tell you, “If you’re called to be a servant of the King, don’t stoop to be president. ”  Every believer is (or should be) a servant of the King, not just clergy.  The sooner you get over yourself, the sooner you can actually do ministry.

DO…everything you possibly can to avoid the “call.”  If you can do anything else, do it.  Especially if you’re going to half-ass it.  There are enough lousy to mediocre ministers in the world.  Don’t add to their ranks.  Better to be a mediocre garbage collector than a lousy minister.  (I’m pretty sure God has never called anyone to be a half-ass minister…I’m just sayin’.)

Finally, DON’T…stay in an unhealthy congregation.  This should go for almost anyone but especially if you’re considering going into the ministry…I mean, considering a “call” into ministry.  Toxic churches breed toxic ministers and toxic ministers create more toxic churches.  If there is a power struggle or if there is an abuse of power (either clergy or lay leaders) or any other leadership problems, get out before you go any further in going into the ministry.

Basically, when it comes down to it: DO…think; DON’T…go with your gut!

* – This is satire (sort of).  Like all satire (both good and bad) there is truth in it, but don’t read it too literally.

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Freedom from Freedom

A thought experiment…

Al is faced with financial difficulties.  This month is particularly hard trying to keep up with regular monthly expenses in addition to trying to pay for the bills that are still piled up from Christmas.  One of his neighbors, Frank, is a deacon at Relevant Christian Church.  RCC is well-known in the community for two things–their community outreach and their very conservative doctrine.  RCC sponsors soup kitchens, clothes closets, children’s programs, basic medical screenings, adult education programs and a host of other ministries.  RCC is also known for stating their explicit opposition for all kinds of “vices” from gambling to smoking to alcohol to dancing and many activities in between that they deem to be “sinful.”

Al would like to talk to Frank about getting help for this month’s groceries from RCC.  Beyond the embarrassment of having to ask for help in the first place, Al is somewhat turned off by RCC’s judgmental attitude toward activities he enjoys from time to time, including a cold beer after a long day at work and an occasional wager when he has a little extra money.  It’s one thing to be looked down on for his financial hardship (which Al is sure is temporary…2 months, tops), but Al really has trouble being judged for personal decisions.  In spite of his reservations, Al decides to talk to Frank.

Frank lets Al know that RCC would be glad to help him and that, while the church does screen applicants for assistance, his lifestyle choices will not be a factor in reviewing his application.  Al contacts the administrator of the food assistance program and she takes Al’s information and does not inquire about any of the things that Al had been concerned about (just like Frank said).  She promises to call Al back the next day.

The next day, Al receives a call from RCC.  He’s been approved and the church has a gift certificate to a local grocery store for him to pick up at the church’s office.  The $150 is about $25 more than Al’s family really needs but the church insists they use it because it may help them prepare for next month.

Al’s wife goes shopping the next day and fills her buggy with the food she thought they would be going without this month.  When she has calculated how much it will be she realizes she has $20 left over.  For the kids she gets the new cereal they saw on TV and had been asking for (but she knew was too expensive before).  She buys herself a cheap bottle of White Zinfandel and, as a special gesture, she gets a six-pack of a new beer her husband had wanted to try (but, again, was not in their budget).

Once the cashier has scanned all of her groceries her total comes to $126.04.  No problem, she has change for the difference.  She hands over the gift certificate from the church and $1.05 in change.  The cashier’s face becomes flush and with a sheepish tone in her voice she says, “I’m sorry but we’re not allowed to sell alcohol on these gift certificates. RCC made a deal with out managers that we would make the certificates available but with the stipulation that no alcohol, tobacco or playing cards would be allowed to be purchased using them.  I’m sorry.”

Embarrassed and shocked, Al’s wife accepts the situation.  The cashier writes the remaining amount on the certificate and returns it to Al’s wife.  Later that night Al is furious.  “They gave that certificate to us!  If they wanted to dictate what we bought they should have just given us the groceries themselves!  They gave us a gift certificate.”  Al vows to remedy the situation, wondering how many other had been equally embarrassed and turned away from perfectly legal purchases because of the “conscience” of this church.

Al finds the situation is fairly widespread and he’s not the first to run into this.  In fact, he finds out there is a new law just passed that makes it so that a church like RCC cannot tell people how to spend any assistance they give out.  In fact, the new law specifies what the church must give out, regardless of their “conscience,” or face stiff penalties.  Al is glad to see this new law in place.  After all, churches shouldn’t be forcing their religious principles on people.

Is Al correct?  Why or why not?  Whose freedoms are abridged in the story above and in the new laws Al supports?

This story is obviously fictitious, but the idea behind it is far too real.

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Sue for a Cure (or “Litigation, not Medication”)

A big news story today is the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s decision to reverse course on an earlier announcement that they were no longer going to give money to Planned Parenthood.  The hubbub stems from several issues ranging from Planned Parenthood’s support of abortion to allegations that PP had mismanaged federal funds.  We can argue until we’re blue in the face over whether or not providing funding to PP is acceptable or not.  (Out of curiosity, how much of the money that we donate to places do were really know where it goes? And we certainly don’t know where the money our governments forcibly take from us goes.  People seem to have no qualms about drones murdering thousands of civilians in the “war on terror,” so why the killing of the unborn is an issue is beyond contradictory.  But…I digress.)

What is atrocious to me about the Susan G. Komen Foundation is not that they support PP (or don’t support them…I guess depending on the day) but that they are a big business, plain and simple (albeit set up as a “non-profit”).  In their quest “for a cure,” they spend about $1,000,000 a year in legal fees suing much smaller charities who happen to use the term “for the cure,” “for a cure” or simply the word “cure.”  That’s $1,000,000 in donations they’re spending there.  Instead of finding a cure for cancer, that cool million goes to finding a cure for “competition.” (Maybe the band The Cure should look into suing Susan G. Komen Foundation, eh?)

We probably all know someone close to us who has dealt with breast cancer (either in our family, like I have, or a close friend).  Breast cancer awareness and prevention is very important to me.  But there are other kinds of cancer that are all deadly and of which the public needs to be aware.  Percentage-wise, twice as many people who contract colon/rectal cancer will die as those with breast cancer.  Lung cancer will develop in about the same number of patients as breast cancer but the mortality rate for lung cancer is almost four times greater than breast cancer.

I’m not saying breast cancer awareness/prevention isn’t important.  It is important.  I am saying that if breast cancer is an issue close to your heart and you want to help with that specific kind of research and awareness, please be aware that there are other charities besides Susan G. Komen that you can donate to (research the ones you find most compelling to find out as much as you can about them).

 

See also Commercializing Cancer.  Apparently only about 19% of funds actually go to “cancer research”.  Pathetic.

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Blocked…

I did something this week that I never thought possible.  I was booted and blocked from Newt Gingrich’s Facebook page.  Seriously.  Now, if you’re familiar with political figures’ Facebook pages, you know that all of them have proponents and opponents posting and commenting on them.  People are always debating the candidates and the issues on those pages.  It’s just the way it is.  But today, a friend on Facebook had commented on something on Gingrich’s page and I had never seen it come up in my news feed.  I went to the page and, sure enough, I couldn’t comment on any posts.  I tried to “re-like” it and when I did I could only read the posts, not comment on them.

Now there are still tons of people who oppose Gingrich still posting on on his wall.  Sure, a lot of people talk about his affairs and divorces and the timing of the second divorce/third wife, but that’s not really of concern to me.  (Nor is is apparently a concern to tons of Republican “values voters” who hated Bill Clinton.  Some values.)  Gingrich’s positions on the issues should be enough to disqualify him from consideration from conservatives, especially the “Tea Party” types.  Instead, in South Carolina, Gingrich scored about 45% of the vote of people who support the “Tea Party” movement.  Issues like the health care mandate, TARP, foreign policy, and the drug war are debated, discussed and cussed ad nauseam, mostly because we like to harp on them all.  So what on earth would get me kicked off of Gingrich’s page?

My most recent activity included linking this video (or at least one of the various other videos like it), which is apparently nearly kryptonite for Gingrich in his quest to dupe conservatives into thinking he is one of them:

Off all of the issues on the table and of all the history there is to observe with Gingrich’s time in various offices and as an influence peddler, it’s a video that points out Gingrich’s Progressivism that gets me booted and blocked.  I’m not the biggest Glenn Beck fan–oftentimes he’s been looking way too much for black helicopters–but as far as “conservatives” and “tea party” supporters go, this video should be reason enough for any true conservative to seek elsewhere for a nominee.  It’s obviously a sore spot for the Gingrich campaign.

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