Saturday, October 31, 2009

Can Halloween Be Kosher?

My position has always been YES, it's perfectly fine, both in terms of doctrine and praxis, to let your kids go Trick or Treating - provided we are not talking about any satanic or occultic costumes, and the kiddies are not compromising their witness by whipping eggs at the neighbor's houses.

Traditionally, the Jews have always gotten their crazy 'dress-up and act silly' day on Purim; why shouldn't we goys get in on the action? It's not as hard to "redeem" Halloween as our IFB brethren would have us believe.

"Whatever you it all to the glory of God." (1 Corinthians 10:31). Don't think you can observe this traditionally dark eve while glorifying Christ? I beg to differ.

Rule numero uno is - be generous with the candy. Let no one bring a bad witness against you or profane the Name of Christ by aledging that Christians are stingy.

Secondly, while you are handing out teeth-rotting sweets, be sure and slip the Gospel in there as well. What more golden opportunity to witness to your neighbors than Halloween?? They're coming to YOU, hands open. Don't pass up this opportunity. However, a word of caution: make sure that the tract you are distributing is doctrinally sound, and presnets the whole Gospel (repentance and all). Avoid ATS (American Tract Society) like the plague -- their publications are so watered down they make Hillsong look good. One I recommend is "God's Bridge to Eternal Life", written by the Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary and distributed by

It should go without saying that you needn't waste your hard-earned money on those morbid, kitchy Halloween lawn decorations. God would probably prefer you save it so you can sponsor an Angel Tree child next month in celebration of His Son's birth.

Another way Halloween can be redeemed is by the simple act of greeting your neighbors - good, old fashioned friendliness as you make the rounds with your adorably-dressed tykes. (I am convinced we are actually doing our neighbors a great service by trotting out our costumed youngsters - they genuinely enjoy seeing them. This is especially true of elderly folks who don't get many visitors). John Macarthar discusses this in an extremely balanced, common-sense sermon entitled "The Christian Response to Halloween".

Have fun, and Happy Reformation Day to all you Milk-Dud loving believers!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Prayerlessness and the (my) Carnal Nature

The other night, I was reflecting on why, exactly, I've been finding it so hard to pray these last few months. I mentally ran through the possible excuses rationales reasons, and came to the earth-shaking conclusion that it's due to my inherently self-centered nature.

None of my pre-packaged excuses held up under scrutiny:

Rationale #1: I'm too busy. True, I work outside the home on average 3 days per week; regularly drive over 100 miles round-trip and am raising four children. It's also true that I co-lead a Bible study and have written a book for the Christian market (for which I am courting publishers), but all of that stuff depends on a dynamic prayer life. So....what am I saying to God? I can function and do "His work" independently of Him?

Rationale #2 (related to #1): There's just not enough hours in the day. Partially true; maybe that's why Jesus got up to pray in seclusion "while it was still dark outside" (Mark 1:35).

Rationale #3: I don't feel His presence. Right. Which is why we're told to pray by faith. A corollary of this is the fact that God's blessing and presence in our lives is conditional upon our obedience, which assumes a committed prayer life.

Rationale #4: I'm still scarred from my "journey into charismania" experience. It's been nearly three years now. Get over it already.

The real reason, or at least part of it which surprised me a bit, boiled down to self-interest. I'm not thinking as much as I should about praising and worshiping God because He is holy and has commanded it; I figure He's so great, distant and occupied that it doesn't matter much to Him if I pray or not.

Think about it. He's got over 6 billion people on earth, perhaps a billion of whom have been born again and thus can truly be considered His people. (That's an estimate; obviously I don't know the actual numbers). Does He really notice, much less care, if one inconsequential person like myself bothers with prayer?

Do I honestly think my spending time with Him does anything for Jesus?

I am trying to articulate the general impressions that I hold in my heart - of course I have never specifically reasoned it out so cynically, but this is the logical end result of my apathy. It's all about me. Why should I invest time with a God Who has so many other people to keep track of - I'm never going to be "special" to Him. Just a face in the crowd.

But do I not know Him? Doesn't my Father know the number of hairs on my head, and want me to know fellowship with Himself, the Spirit, and the Son (1 John)?

Several years ago, when I first started interpreting for Beth Israel Deaconess Med Center, I was required to attend new employee orientation. The CEO of the hospital, Paul Levy, attended the closing to warmly address us. Levy is a pretty famous dude in Boston - he's on the news all the time, and is very popular for managing to avoid staff layoffs at BIDMC. He shook our hands and said something like "welcome aboard" before we all went down the hall to get coffee and bagels. He's the big boss and technically I can say I've met him, but if I ran into Paul in the cafeteria or on Longwood Avenue, I guarantee you he would not know me from a hole in the wall. If I told him, "I work for you - I'm your hospital's only Bulgarian interpreter", that would certainly put it into context for him, and he might even recall seeing me hanging out in hematology on occasion. But that's about the extent of the interpersonal connection we would have.

Although it's a poor analogy, that's how I've been viewing God lately. I have this weird idea that heaven is going to be like this: I'm in the intake office filling out the admissions paperwork for what seems an eternity - there are so many people ahead of me. God is making the rounds, saying "hi" to His familiar servants; much like our friendly CEO often does. He sees me, and it takes Him a second, but He recalls my name.

Yipes. I can get so apathetic and cynical sometimes that I scare myself. Where is the flame that once burned so bright?

The point of prayer is to adore the God Who created and adopted us; to confess our sin, which disrupts our fellowship; to continuously thank and praise Him for Who He is and what He's done; and to intercede for others and present our petitions in Jesus' Name. I have gotten so off-track by making it all about me that I need to spend time in prayer just repenting - how is it that I often give up in prayer because I don't know what to talk about? Pretty obvious, if my eyes are on myself.

In "The Hidden Life of Prayer", David MacIntyre writes: "And yet, instinctive as is our dependence upon God, no duty is more earnestly impressed upon us in Scripture than the duty of continual communion with Him. The main reason for this unceasing insistence is the arduousness of prayer. In its nature it is a laborious undertaking, and in our endeavor to maintain the spirit of prayer we are called to wrestle against principalities and powers of darkness...there are times when even the soldiers of Christ become heedless of their trust, and no longer guard with vigiliance the gift of prayer. Should any one who reads these pages be conscious of loss of power in intercession, lack of joy in communion, hardness and impenitence in confession, "Remember from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works." (Emphasis mine).

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Taking Comfort in Betrayal and Dying to Self

There is so much that can be said on the subject of pain, betrayal, and wounds that come our way, especially from a fellow Christian. Sometimes, I allow old hurts to affect my relationship with God, because the twin sins of self-pity and unforgiveness get in the way. We know that true humility means no thought of self; all in our lives is to be only for God's glory....which is easy enough when things are going great.

Why do problems with a stubborn child sap my spiritual strength?

Why is it so hard to forgive wounds inflicted in childhood, from non-Christian and unrepentant parents?

Why is it that my husband has yelled at me more frequently since starting "The Exemplary Husband" Bible study than ever before?

Why do I feel guilty even trying to talk to God about these burdens?

God's main concern for us is that we be conformed more closely to the image of Christ, not that we experience temporal happiness or have an easy life. The joy He offers through obedience is so much more than that, but it is so incredibly difficult to see when we're in the valley and just want to cry "fix it!"

Sheila Walsh writes,

"We always feel more comfortable believing that pain comes only from the hand of an enemy. It makes sense because it's what we would expect from an enemy. When a friend, particularly another Christian, inflicts pain, we feel as if we have been stabbed in the back, and it has pierced our hearts. But to take it further than that, to suggest that God Himself, our loving Father, our first and last defense against the world, could be the One Who allowed it and will use it to make us the women that we want to be? That is hard for us to welcome, but I do believe that God loves us so much that He wants us to be free from feeling like victims in this world and offer all of our lives, the joy and the pain, to Him.

I don't mean to make light of your pain or the betrayal you have suffered, but if for a moment you could take your eyes off the one whom you believe put you in this place and receive it as an opportunity to let God work in the deepest place of your heart, it will free you. One thief continued to curse, but the man who saw Christ told him to be quiet. He understood the bigger picture.

The mark of a true crucifixion is that it is never mentioned again. Gene Edwards points out that after the Resurrection, Christ never referred to the cross or the pain again. There were no words of vengeance, no regret, or no cutting words - just life, forgiveness, and love. Crucifixion is God's invitation to resurrection, to a new life where the old is dead and buried.

After His resurrection, Jesus never said to Peter, "I told you that you'd denyt Me!"

He never said to the disciples, "So where were you while I was dying?"

Jesus never sought out the soldier who drove the sword into His side or Pilate or any of the players on the stage of His death.

Thy will be done!

Your heart may be broken and your hands nail pierced, but will you bow down and worship and say, "Father, I welcome this crucifixion so that I might share in your resurrection"?

-- Sheila Walsh, "The Heartache No One Sees", pp. 165; 167.

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:2-3)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Hermeneutics in Everyday Life (Humor)

Being the astute student of hermeneutics that I am, I thought this was hilarious (and surprisingly spot-on!):

The Meaning of “STOP”

Hermeneutics in Everyday Life
by Tim Perry, Durham University.

Suppose you’re traveling to work and you see a stop sign. What do you do? That depends on how you exegete the stop sign.

1. A postmodernist deconstructs the sign (knocks it over with his car), ending forever the tyranny of the north-south traffic over the east-west traffic.

2. Similarly, a Marxist refuses to stop because he sees the stop sign as an instrument of class conflict. He concludes that the bourgeois use the north-south road and obstruct the progress of the workers in the east-west road.

3. A serious and educated Catholic rolls through the intersection because he believes he cannot understand the stop sign apart from its interpretive community and tradition.

Observing that the interpretive community doesn’t take it too seriously, he doesn’t feel obligated to take it too seriously either.

4. An average Catholic (or Orthodox or Coptic or Anglican or Methodist or Presbyterian or whatever) doesn’t bother to read the sign but he’ll stop if the car in front of him does.

5. A fundamentalist, taking the text very literally, stops at the stop sign and waits for it to tell him to go.

6. A seminary-educated evangelical preacher might look up “STOP” in his lexicons of English and discover that it can mean:

1) something which prevents motion, such as a plug for a drain, or a block of wood that prevents a door from closing;

2) location where a train or bus lets off passengers. The main point of his sermon the following Sunday on this text is: when you see a stop sign, it is a place where traffic is naturally clogged, so it is a good place to let off passengers from your car.

7. An orthodox Jew does one of two things:

a) Take another route to work that doesn’t have a stop sign so that he doesn’t run the risk of disobeying the Law;

b) Stop at the sign, say “Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, king of the universe, who
hast given us thy commandment to stop,” wait 3 seconds according to his watch, and then proceed.

Incidentally, the Talmud has the following comments on this passage: Rabbi Meir says: He who does not stop shall not live long. R. Hillel says: Cursed is he who does not count to three before proceeding. R. Simon ben Yudah says: Why three? Because the Holy One, blessed be He, gave us the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. R. ben Issac says: Because of the three patriarchs. R. Yehuda says: Why bless the Lord at a stop sign? Because it says, “Be still and know that I am God.” R. Hezekiel says: When Jephthah returned from defeating the Ammonites, the Holy One, blessed be He, knew that a donkey would run out of the house and overtake his daughter, but Jephthah did not stop at the stop sign, and the donkey did not have time to come out. For this reason he saw his daughter first and lost her. Thus he was judged for his transgression at the stop sign. R. Gamaliel says: R. Hillel, when he was a baby, never spoke a word, though his parents tried to teach him by speaking and showing him the words on a scroll. One day his father was driving through town and did not stop at the sign. Young Hillel called out: “Stop, father!” In this way, he began reading and speaking at the same time. Thus it is written: “Out of the mouths of babes.” R. ben Jacob says: Where did the stop sign come from? Out of the sky, for it is written: “Forever, O Lord, your word is fixed in the heavens.” R. Ben Nathan says: Where were the stop signs created? On the fourth day, for it is written: “Let them serve as signs.” R. Yeshuah says….[continues for three more pages]

8. A Lubavitcher rabbi (Pharisee) does the same thing as an orthodox Jew, except that he waits 10 seconds instead of 3. He also replaces his brake lights with 1000 watt searchlights and connects his horn so that it is activated whenever he touches the brake pedal. He also works out the gematria of shin-tav-pey (S-T-(O)-P) and takes it to mean that the Rebbe Schneersohn, of blessed memory, will be resurrected as the Messiah after he has stopped at this intersection 780 times.

9. A scholar from the Jesus Seminar concludes that the passage “STOP” undoubtably was never uttered by Jesus himself because being the progressive Jew that He was, He would never have wanted to stifle peoples’ progress. Therefore, STOP must be a textual insertion belonging entirely to stage III of the gospel tradition, when the church was first confronted by traffic in its parking lot.

10. A NT scholar notices that there is no stop sign on Mark street but there is one on Matthew and Luke streets, and concludes that the ones on Luke and Matthew streets are both copied from a sign on a street no one has ever seen called “Q” Street. There is an excellent 300 page doctoral dissertation on the origin of these stop signs and the differences between stop signs on Matthew and Luke street in the scholar’s commentary on the passage. There is an unfortunate omission in the dissertation, however; it doesn’t explain the meaning of the text!

11. An OT scholar points out that there are a number of stylistic differences between the first and second half of the passage “STOP.” For example, “ST” contains no enclosed areas and 5 line endings, whereas “OP” contains two enclosed areas and only one line termination. He concludes that the author for the second part is different from the author of the first part and probably lived hundreds of years later. Later scholars determine that the second half is itself actually written by two separate authors because of similar stylistic differences between the “O” and the “P”.

12. Another prominent OT scholar notes in his commentary that the stop sign would fit better into the context three streets back. (Unfortunately, he neglected to explain why in his commentary.) Clearly it was moved to its present location by a later redactor. He thus exegetes the intersection as though the sign were not there.

13. Because of the difficulties in interpretation, another OT scholar amends the text, changing the “T” to “H”. “SHOP” is much easier to understand in context than “STOP” because of the multiplicity of stores in the area. The textual corruption probably occurred because “SHOP” is so similar to “STOP” on the sign several streets back, that it is a natural mistake for a scribe to make. Thus the sign should be interpreted to announce the existence of a shopping area. If this is true, it could indicate that both meanings are valid, thus making the thrust of the message “STOP (AND) SHOP.”

14. A “prophetic” preacher notices that the square root of the sum of the numeric representations of the letters S-T-O-P (sigma-tau-omicron-pi in the Greek alphabet), multiplied by 40 (the number of testing), and divided by four (the number of the world–north, south, east, and west), equals 666. Therefore, he concludes that stop signs are the dreaded “mark of the beast,” a harbinger of divine judgment upon the world, and must be avoided at all costs.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

"In Christ" Does Not Mean Seeking One's "Identity"

I have not written much these past few weeks, as I have been trying to wrap my mind around understanding where my view of God is flawed. He brought some correction through the constructive criticism of a well-known author and biblical counselor, who I contacted about writing the foreword to my book. She requested I send her the chapter entitled "Your Identity in Christ: What the Believer is Worth and Why" (which I posted here), suspecting we might have some "differences".

We did. She suggested I read a particular chapter from one of her books, entitled "Psychologized Man Most High", which covered the same ground as my own writing on the false assumptions of Sigmund Freud and Abraham Maslow (who invented the man-based "Hierarchy of Needs"). Confident that my thinking remained purely biblical and uninfluenced by secular psychology, I completely affirm her statements about the man-centered, humanistic basis of psychology and the myth that a Christian must "love him/herself in order to love others" (which I've heard in several women's Bible studies). Then, implicating "Christian" psychology, she wrote: "A Christianized psychological version of a self-actualized man would be described as a mature Christian who is confident of his worth "in Christ" or who loves himself so that he can, in turn, love others."

I was stopped in my tracks.

The first part of the sentence is what grabbed my attention - the "worth in Christ" part. Loving one's self is antithetical to the Gospel, and I have always upheld this view. However, it had been my belief that understanding one's personal "worth" in God's eyes, and realizing one's "identity in Christ" were key components in overcoming sin and fulfilling His calling on one's life. The problem here is the whole emphasis: on man, rather than on God, where it belongs. Unbeknownst to me, the "identity needs" philosophy was developed by Freudian psychoanalyst Erik Erikson. By tacking on the suffix "in Christ", integrationist Christian counselors have sought to legitimize this thinking - that we somehow need to develop an "identity", and seek a source of "value" or "worth".

How this man-centered twist to a biblical truth (we ARE "in Christ") snuck into the Church is a reflection on our me-centered, narcissistic society. The Bible does not uphold the notion that we need to validate ourselves by seeking our "identity"; rather, we are to seek ONLY God's glory and ascribe all honor to Him.

The author explains:

"Erikson's theory of personality development is also the Christian psychologist's model for teaching that your "identity" is in Christ. If we can just understand who we are in Christ, we will realize our identity and no longer be depressed or anxious or feel badly about ourselves....this is a perversion of the true biblical teaching that Christians are "in Christ". Our union with Christ is a precious truth. We should love it and believe it, but not twist it into something God never intended - a formula to solve emotional problems or make man feel worthy."
I can't say "oops" emphatically enough. Although I certainly wouldn't have phrased it that bluntly, this feelings-based, sanctified "I'm okay; you're okay" rubbish is the trap I was falling into.

(Cool graphic courtesy of the Pyro dudes).

We Were NOT "Worth So Much that Christ Died for Us"

"We frequently hear Maslow's hierarchy of needs "Christianized" through sermons and books that tell us "God loves you, you're special, you're worthy - your significance is in Christ. If you were the only one, Christ loved you so much He would have died for you. Once you understand that your identity is in Him, you will feel better about yourself."
This morning, I saw the following from a fellow Christian on Facebook:

"Jesus knows our flaws, but He also knows we were worth dying for...choosing to love and see the beauty in every flawed, unique, amazing, worth-dying-for person."

I cringed...not because the bottomless love of Christ is in question, but because the whole view is upside-down. He loves because HE is all-loving and all-worthy; infinitely compassionate and abounding in mercy. NOT because we people are "worth dying for" (we most certainly are not). Human beings are valuable because we are made in the image of God; not because we have any intrinsic value of our own.

So what does it mean, then, to be "in Christ"? The author provides this definition, taken directly from Scripture:

"To be "in Christ" means literally to be "in union with Christ." "...just as he chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him (Ephesians 1:4). This is a supernatural union that takes place at the moment of is not because we were so special, worthy, and valuable or because salvation makes us so special, so worthy, and so valuable that Christ died for us. Prior to salvation, we were "dead in our trespasses and sin" (Ephesians 2:1) and were considered "enemies of God" (James 4:4, Romans 5:10).....Our sin was, and still is, far worse than we realize. God is the One Who is special and worthy. We should not even think in terms of how wonderful, special or worthy we are. Certainly all of God's creation, including mankind, is magnificently wonderful because God, the creator, is wonderful. The focus, however, must be on God. Christ died to vindicate "the worth and glory of His Father", not the worth of sinful man. It is blasphemous and dishonoring to God and Christ's atoning work on the cross to attempt to elevate man to a "Most High" status. Only our holy God is "Most High".

I know these verses and what she is saying here is so plain as to be common sense. Yet somehow, even in our worship (as has been pointed out many times in analysis of modern "worship" songs), what we are really saying to God is not "I love You", but rather "I love me, and since You love me, that's great!"

Next, I read 1 John to note how often the term "in Christ" (or some variant thereof) occurs. This helped me solidify the correct understanding - everywhere John uses the description, it is in reference to obedience (vs. 3:24; 2:28; several others). Needless to say, John is not talking about viewing our position as a way to meet our emotional needs. What I'm thinking is that "identity in Christ" is sort of a loaded term - I need to strike it from my vocabulary because of this man-centered thinking associated with it. "In Christ" refers to our justified position, and carries with it the implication of obedience and being conformed to the character of Christ - not seeking to find "meaning" or personal fulfillment. That makes sense.

Naturally, now I will have to go back and re-write that entire chapter in my book, but I'm not quite sure how to go about it.I am on solid ground with discussing the fact that, if we are truly "in Christ" (regenerated by Him), we are not slaves to sin any longer, yet still must battle daily with the old nature. The mistake some make of essentially trying to "redeem themselves to the Redeemer" is futile, and sanctification is an ongoing process. But everything I wrote about our having worth because Christ died to redeem us is problematic.

What I really wanted to get across in this chapter to the eating-disordered reader is that God deeply loves her. The parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15 is precious to any Christian struggling with addictive sin, because it reveals the Father to be longing for her return - with outstretched arms and a kiss for the repentant sinner.I want to dispel the notion that God is disgusted with her, and the mental image of Him with crossed arms and clenched jaw (metaphorically speaking), waiting to punish her shameful behavior (and no doubt, it IS shameful and He IS to pure to countenance such evil). The bulimic is typically so demoralized by her own sin that she's afraid to bring it to God, and many (if not most) of the women I've counseled fear that they have lost their salvation. Consequently, I have tried to hammer home the fact that she is loved and cherished by the Father and, I suppose, there is a sense in which the Lord Jesus would have died for her alone if she were the only sinner on earth (Spurgeon has a great sermon in this).

Since His love is infinite, it extends to her individually. However, I've inadvertently gone too far the other way - I cannot say, 'you are a worthless sinner' as she (the reader) will then give up hope. As I wrote in the book, Romans 2:4 has deep personal meaning to me: it truly was God's kindness that lead me to repentance. I realized the grievous nature of my sin, and it crushed me - but it wasn't fear of hell that made me change. It was His love. Once you're tasted that love, you can't help but be changed by you know, you don't want your sin anymore, because it grieves and offends the One Who created and died for you.

But does this great truth give us "value" or make us "worth" something? No. This is what I'm learning. It says NOTHING about us - it says EVERYTHING about Christ. HE is the One Who is worthy, beyond value, with infinite compassion, mercy, and love. Why He would condescend to redeem and even love worthless creatures like us in unfathomable - and He does it with an infinite love that surpasses our understanding. It is not grudging or conditional. But we must be careful in not thinking that His love gives us worth or makes us lovable. To Him alone belongs all honor and glory; not to the creation.

Digesting this correct understanding of our position before God has been a bit difficult, not only because I've had to "unlearn" some of my thinking and have more work yet to do on my book, but because it's allowed old doubts to re-surface and again twist a correct understanding of God. "If I'm not special to Him, what's the point of praying? If I'm worthless, why should He want me around?" If I pursue this (equally unbalanced) line of thinking, it causes me to view God as distant and impersonal. Repeatedly in Scripture, we are affirmed of His closeness and intimate fellowship with the believer (which He desires - again, see 1 John and John 14). God's love is a constant, and we need to consider it a settled matter.

The reason doubting this is sin is because, quite simply, we're not taking God at His Word when we ask such questions and struggle with unbelief. (Come to think of it, Spurgeon has a hard-hitting message on that, too). Even a cursory reading of the Bible should clear the matter up for us - God chooses to love us. End of story. (I've been thinking and praying about this a lot lately; it's not a new idea, but setting it up against the introspection many books throw at us is helpful in pinning down exactly what the proper view of God is). Furthermore, the seeking affirmation from Him and requesting assurance that He loves us personally is a way in which we try to use Him to "meet our emotional needs". It should never be necessary - "Does God love me" shouldn't cross our minds; or it's corollary: "Is God mad at me?" I think asking ourselves if we have grieved God is a fair question (and a necessary one, in order to confess our sin to Him), but "Is God mad at me?" is not - the focus is still on "self" and it leads to another sin - self-pity.

The problem with the phrase "identity in Christ" isn't the "in Christ" part; it's the implication that we should be seeking our "identity needs" to be met. Our true needs - for forgiveness and salvation - were completely met at the Cross.