Archive for July, 2008

17
Jul
08

My Thoughts on Sodomy

Ha!  No, no, no — it’s not that kind of post.  In my morning devotions recently I’ve been studying Matthew and came to this text:

If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that house or town.   I assure you: It will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town. Matthew 10:14-15

While I was considering this text, Ezekiel’s comments on Sodom came to mind, and I found myself much more impacted by the Lord’s commentary on Sodom on that morning than on his statements about the woeful state of those who refuse to listen to the Gospel.   Here we go:

“As I live”-the declaration of the Lord God-“your sister Sodom and her daughters have not behaved as you and your daughters have. Now this was the iniquity of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, plenty of food, and comfortable security, but didn’t support the poor and needy.  They were haughty and did detestable things before Me, so I removed them when I saw this. Ezekiel 16:48-50

Now, I read these verses and cannot help but think of my own situation and how I would matchup by God’s standards here.  We traditionally think of God’s problem with Sodom as being homosexuality, and I think that is part of it.  I’ve heard liberals interpret this verse to say that Sodom’s big problem was a lack of hospitality and I do not see that.  But let’s take God’s indictment here, charge by charge.

Proud

Now this was the iniquity of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had prideOK.  Now, this is a huge subject.  In my own limited reading, theologians from C.S. Lewis to John Piper have laid out pride as the basic root of all sin, in one way or another.  At the end of the day, pride is basically a distortion of the universe:  it is realigning all of creation to revolve around me.  When Jesus laid out the two great commandments as love God with all you have, and love your neighbor as yourself (Luke 10:27), he was laying out a worldview that ends pride.   There simply is no room for pride if your foci are on loving God and loving neighbor.   A life that is devoted to care for self, to caring for one’s own, is a life dominated by pride.

When I consider my own life, where do I find pride?  It can be pretty subtle.  I find pride when I choose to do something for myself rather than for my neighbor; when I find a reason to complain about how somebody is doing things rather than helping them do it better; when I put my own opinions above the opinions of others; when I want to come home and just be a vegetable instead of being interested in the lives of my children.  I reviewed George Mueller’s Biography a few weeks back, and one of his principles was, as much as it was in his power, to never let people see him tired.  How often do I whine about being exhausted from work, perhaps seeing the pity or admiration of others?

Well-fed

…she and her daughters had pride, plenty of foodOK.  Now I think this is something that the typical American can understand pretty plainly.  There is such an industry for fitness and weight loss in this nation, and as I heard a man once say, “You don’t get this big just looking at food.”  There are riots happening in the world over the price of rice.  We (mankind) are just not making enough food right now.  Does this lead us in America to slow down?  Do we go to a restaurant and say “you know, one entre is really enough to feed my family – can we just do that?”  I know that doesn’t happen with my family.   There is certainly no question that the vast majority of us in America are well-fed, and I count myself in that number.

Secure

…had pride, plenty of food, and comfortable security…. This is another one that I think should land on Americans pretty forcefully.  Do we really have much to fear here?  Sure we have the occassional nut who goes on a killing rampage, and every few years a major terrorism event.  But we have to be honest here – the reason these displays of undiluted evil land so hard on us is because they are so rare here.  There is not an army on earth with a desire to challenge us militarily.  I tuck my daughters into their beds at night and don’t have to worry if something will happen to them (or me) in the night.

Selfish

…pride, plenty of food, and comfortable security, but didn’t support the poor and needy. This one I find particularly stark.  Having seen my own reflection in the first three charges – knowing the blessing that God has poured out on me, that word “but” is just devastating.  A large part of this, I think, is the way our cities have grown, where in the suburbs here I can keep the poor and needy pretty safely out of view.  There is a very delapidated looking trailer park in the three miles between my house and church, but really, I don’t have to look over there and see them.  My neighborhood has a lot of rental houses with very ugly cars in the driveway, but luckily those folks are never outside for me to talk to. It’s just not that hard to claim out of sight, out of mind. Will God buy that excuse?

Self-Exalting and Detestable

They were haughty and did detestable things before Me… OK, so the first thing we need here is a working definition of haughty, because to my mind they are very similar.  Here are the Bible dictionary’s definitions for “haughty” and “pride” used in these verses.  Haughty seems to be the idea of self-exaltation.  It’s the pride that wants to crown yourself king.  The other uses of it in the OT are words like “exalted” and “high”.  The people of Sodom were very full of themselves.  They had an arrogance and a total disregard for others that even extended to demanding to rape angels that came to visit Lot.

God also says they “did detestable things”.  As much as the liberal wants to say this text is saying Sodom is off the hook for homosexuality, I don’t think that flies.  The KJV word for detestable things here is “abomination”.   It is the exact same word God uses when he says:

Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination. Leviticus 18:22 (KJV)

Now, it’s true that this could mean other things, but when one considers the actual story of Sodom it certainly seems that this is what is in view here.

That said, we must be very careful here about what we excuse ourselves from.  The commercials on your average college football broadcast contain plenty of stuff that would seem to be a blatant violation of God’s commands to a pure thought-life.

Judgment

…so I removed them when I saw this. And there it is.  Judgment fell.  Now, let’s take all of this in context.  The people were proud, well-fed, and secure.  They had no reasons to be selfish, and yet they were utterly selfish, and did not pay any attention to the poor around them.  They were haughty.  They were depraved.

Let’s also not forget Abraham’s negotiation with God, the world’s first used car sales-pitch.  At the end of the day, Sodom faced judgment as we all must.  If there had been any righteous in Sodom, it would have been spared.  But this really is not so different from the Flood, where God judged the world and saved the small pocket of the righteous.

God certainly paints plainly for us his concern for the poor.  I won’t belabor that point, except to say that in conservative Christendom, that is very much under-emphasized.  God cares for the poor and needy, and that was a major charge that He had against Sodom.  Would we rather be identified for our likeness to Sodom, or our likeness to Peter, Paul, John, and Jesus?

03
Jul
08

Rest in peace, Sandy

Yesterday, we saw our friend Sandy Baudier laid to rest. It’s a little spooky that when I was writing last week, I was almost exactly right:

It’s very strange to be writing about something like this, knowing that the person you are writing about – a real living person who has laughed and cried and loved and suffered in this real world for a long time – could be breathing her last at this very minute.

I was writing that at just about the same time she was in fact dying.  This is a much harder thing for Kim and her parents, who have known Sandy for decades.  My main interaction with her was at Christmas when Kim’s family would make a full Christmas dinner and take it across the street to the Baudier house, where they had also made a full Christmas dinner.  There would be an insane amount of food and always delightful conversation.  The thing that I will remember most about Sandy was how Christmas Eve dinner always had a birthday cake for Jesus.  I thought that was a remarkably simple and yet poignant reminder of what the night was about.  It was a great way to bring theology into real life, in a far more visceral way than putting a “Jesus is the reason for the season” sign in your front yard.

The funeral was a very small graveside affair – perhaps 15 people in attendance, as Vic Baudier desired.  Kim’s aunt Margaret Ashby (an ELCA pastor) led the service.  I was struck again by what a hard job pastors have.  This time the challenge was trying to give a meaningful funeral address to somebody you don’t know.  Perhaps she had met Sandy in passing when visiting Kim’s parents, but at a time when you are trying to summarize the significance of a life, how hard it is even if you really know the person!

One of the scripture texts that was read in the funeral was from Colossians, which we just finished studying in a sermon series at our church.

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Colossians 1:9-14

For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how orderly you are and how firm your faith in Christ is. So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. Colossians 2:5-8

Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.  These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. Colossians 2:16-17

I know that’s a pretty long read for a blog.  The thing that I found so interesting in this is that this is not a text that I would think of turning to for particular comfort in a time of trial, and yet I thought the three sections actually were very appropriate.

Col 1:9-14 reminds us that Jesus has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light … an awesome truth.  We have great assurance in the Lord, and it starts by considering our worth only in respect to Christ.  That qualification will never be taken away.  The text reminds those of us who are still living to live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way. This is the hope of Sandy, of course.  To be in the presence of Jesus now, what greater desire could she have than to wish that those she loves would join her!

Colossians 2:5-8 talks about Paul being absent from his hearers in the body, which hits you really hard when you hear it seated 15 feet from a coffin, and the request to continue to live in him is all the more powerful, along with the warnings to not stray far from the truth.

Colossians 2:16-17 seems a little out of place, doesn’t it?  Don’t let anyone deceive you into believing that you can be saved by legalism, because the things we are pursuing in legalism are just shadows of the reality that is freely available to us in Christ.  Why is this relevant at a funeral?  Because right now, she is seeing the reality instead of the shadows!

Like I said, Colossians isn’t a book that I would usually think about turning to in a time of grief, but perhaps I should.  The promises of God are indeed sweet, and anywhere we can find them we get a powerful glimpse into just how heavenly Heaven is, and will be.

01
Jul
08

Book Review: The Autobiography of George Müller

This month’s review is The Autobiography of George Müller, a man who demonstrated a radical dependency on God.  The book shifts several times from Müller writing narrative and commentary and long tracts of excepts from his journal.  To tell the truth, I found this book a little intimidating. My faith felt about 1 inch tall compared to the George Müller Eiffel Tower. He really demonstrated this in three ways: his attitude toward prayer, his attitude toward preaching, and his attitude toward finances.

Prayer

The greatest single attribute of George Müller was his dependence on prayer.  He spoke repeatedly of how he had not had enough prayer time lately and it was wearing on his spirit.  After getting a change to get back to prayer, he felt refreshed, strengthened.  In my experience, this is very true.  I am much more likely to be angry, frustrated, or ungracious when I’ve missed my prayer time recently.  There is simply no substitute for time with God, and Müller demonstrated that over and over.  It’s an encouragement to see that a man who was mightily used by God struggled in the same ways I do.

An amazing part of Müller’s testimony is that he kept track of every answer to prayer.  He frequently points out that he was not surprised when God answered his prayer.  He fully expected as much.  This is a point where he and I part company; I never feel like I have the kind of success rate in prayer that Müller did.

One thing that I found very interesting was how Müller seemed to be led by special revelation – direct, personal promptings by God.  Now, he was very deliberate to check these against Scripture and to pray for confirmations of them, but he definitely talked all the time about being led by God.  He was not entirely clear how this works.  I don’t think he was saying that he hears an audible voice, but rather that he finds something on his heart.  I can relate to times when I’ve been praying and I’ve had great insights into Scriptures, or other verses will come to mind that relate to what I’m praying about.  I certainly accept that the Holy Spirit works in this way, and I presume that is what Müller is getting at.

Preaching

As a pastor, Müller led his flock entirely by example.  He encouraged his congregation to a radical dependency on prayer and to wait on God.  He decided that he would give up commentaries and the like and rely only on the Bible text for understanding.  I still like commentaries, but I prefer to read them the day after I have meditated on the text, as a way of getting back into the context.

Perhaps the most interesting illustration of Müller’s approach to preaching was an anecdote he related in which he was getting up to preach and decided it felt like he was preaching in his own power rather than God’s, so he stopped his sermon and asked the church to pray.  After a while he tried again and still did not feel God’s power, so he just stopped preaching and they spent the rest of the service in just worship.  I don’t know that I’ve ever known a pastor that I think would seriously do that.  Do you?

Finances

Probably the thing that most people know about George Müller is his approach to finances.  He lived totally without an income and ran his ministry – a Bible school, Bible distribution ministry, and a string of orphanages – totally without a regular budget.  He would pray for his needs and then wait for God to come through.  This is a part of the book that I liked a lot better after the fact than during it.  While I was reading it, it was a little tedious as he kept saying “this is the greatest hour of poverty we have ever known.”  And yet by seeing that total absence of funds and his refusal to ask anybody but God for help year after year after year, it is stunning.  It might be one thing to imagine doing this for a brief time, like between jobs, but what a huge step of faith to live this way for decades, and to know that the fate of so many orphans in your care really depends on God coming through.  (Of course it does anyway, right?)

He doesn’t expect everybody to adopt that mentality, but he does challenge us to look at what we have and be in earnest prayer about what we should do with the finances we have.  Repeatedly, people came to him with money and he would try to talk them out of giving it to him, but they were utterly convinced by God that they needed to give Müller the money.  Is that something that happens in a vacuum?  No, these are people who were honestly asking the Lord about their finances and were sensitive to what he had to say about it.   What a challenge to us, to realize those around us who are living in dependence on God and our responsibility to be prayerful with the finances we have.

Conclusion

This was a powerful little book, and it really gives a new perspective on the life of faith.  This brought some words of Paul to mind:

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. Romans 12:3

God has given each of us a certain amount of faith.  It may well be that Müller was given faith from the largest scoop the Lord has ever used.  We are not to compare ourselves to men, even a man who was so faithful as Müller.  We compare ourselves to Christ alone.  That said, it is a huge encouragement to see how dramatically God can use a man for his purposes, and I am grateful that Müller took the time to put this down in book form for us to see.