Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Where's the Persecution?

Some have asked, "Why aren't we persecuted like we were in the past?"

Persecution is rampant throughout the world-- especially in Muslim countries, China and other places. And persecution should not be limited to martyrdoms-- Jesus described persecution as any type of neglect or act of hatred done due to being connected to Him (luke 6).

Is there persecution in the West? Certainly. There is a university near my house where a professor used to (don't know if he still does) target Christians in his class and holds them up to ridicule throughout the semester. Persecution happens, just like it happens to Muslims and Hindus and Buddhists.

I guess the real question is, "Why aren't I being persecuted?" I think the biblical answer to that is that persecution is related to evangelism. Matthew 10 specifically connects persecution following evangelism, as done as Jesus said. Even so, the more one is involved in evangelism, the more one is persecuted. The more you tell the truth-- even in a gentle, culturally sensisitve way-- the more you will be persecuted.

Why are they being more persecuted in other countries? Because they clearly see what we do not see in our nations-- our belief in Jesus is the antithesis of the moral values and hopes and economic goals of the society we live in. The more we live differently than the world-- like the Amish-- the more we will be ridiculed. So let's be different and tell others how we are different. Then we will be persecuted. For sure.

Are Women Intimidating?

To talk to the other sex is a cross-cultural experience, like talking to someone from another country. We can be attracted to the other person, but we know that they are fundamentally different. I think that this is what God intended all along. For us to understand what it means to love beyond ourselves, we must be attracted to those who are foundationaly unlike ourselves. Sexual attraction and falling in love is the basis for us to understand The Other, the Stranger.

So how does one understand the other sex? By open communication, by talking about the differences, by really listening. My wife and I understood each other much more by reading the book Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus. This is not because the book understands people so well-- in fact, he's somewhat off the target with women-- but because we read it together and used it as a basis to understand each other's experience. From that time we understood how we needed to communicate our own perspective, and how different our thinking was than our partner's. So we've been working on it ever since.

There are many differences between Diane and I in general, and some of them are related to differences in our sex, and some not:

-I tend to think categorically, while she thinks holistically. This means easy retrieval of information for me, but she can make unique connections.

-She uses talking as purging, as a way to process, while I think of talking as just communication. This is why many women (and men) keep talking when it seems there is nothing they are saying, because they are actually thinking aloud. Many men (and women) keep silent until they've finished their processing.

-Women are not more "emotional" than men, they just express it more openly in close relationships.

And like any cultural differences, women and men have different social mores and ethics. This is why many women find men to be "disgusting" or "horrible", because they were taught different ethics by their peers. We tend to learn what is right and wrong as much from our peers as from our parents or authority figures. And since, in our early years, our peers are segregated sexually, then there is a "female" culture and a "male" culture.

The different kinds of thinking come from how we develop differently. Men, during puberty, receive an acid bath in their brain, which severes some of the connections between the sides of the brain. I suspect this is why most men are categorical thinkers and most women holistic.

Christian Cops?

Can a christian (some one who is actively seeking Christ, and wants to please him) be a Cop (Constable On Patrol)? If so, what does a christian cop look like. How would he maintain his Christ likeness, while on duty?

Of course a Christian can be a police officer. Many cops are. It is difficult to be faithful in that occupation, as many secular occupations, but it is possible.

One of the difficulties is that cops are enforcing a different law than the Law of Christ. Sometimes-- although rarely-- you have to punish people who were only doing what they were doing because they were loving their neighbor. You often have to punish people for disobeying a law apart from Christ's law (such as ticketing a person for not wearing a seat belt).

Another issue is that the way officers are trained to enforce is different than Jesus'. Jesus taught us to love our enemies, and to sacrifice ourselves for the sake of the other. Cops are trained to protect themselves at the cost of the "bad guys". For this reason there are unjust police shootings. These unjust shootings are not so much the fault of the cops as their training. They are trained to attack people who run away from them or who act violently in any way. As Christians, we are taught (although not trained) to accept violence in order not to harm others, or to protect others. Jesus' way of approaching "bad guys" is radically different than enforcement agencies.

But I know that cops can be both faithful Christians and good cops. Actually, I think that a faithful Christian-- who is willing to sacrifice himself for others, who is gentle with everyone, who assists the poor as well as the middle class, who tries to understand the other instead of making an enemy out of them-- makes a better cop than others.I also think that police officers are different than the army. The purpose of the army is to kill and destroy. The purpose of cops is to preserve. I don't think that a faithful Christian can really be a part of a system whose goal is to kill the enemy-- which is just the opposite of Jesus' command. But a faithful Christian can be a part of a preservation system, although they would have to act with a different attitude than is the norm.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

What Does It Mean To Love God?


What does it mean to truly, Love God? I fear God (though not completely). I have been walking on and off with God for twenty years, and I have never seriously thought about this. How do I love God, with my whole heart, and mind and stregth?


It has taken me a long time to reply to this, I'm not sure why.

Biblically, to love God is emotional, but the emotional is only the tip of the iceburg. It is like a marriage-- yes there is intimacy there, but that is only a surface expression for deep communication, trust and support. To be emotional for God is the surface reaction to a deep life in God, which includes:

1. Fear of GodThis is the recognition of who God is, that He is all-powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, and ultimately has our fate in His hands, whether for good or for bad.

2. Association with God
This is being connected with God in all our lives, understanding our lives to be a reflection of the presence of God.

3. Devotion to God
This is our basic faith in God, willing to connect to God, honor Him and worship Him only, no matter what the cost.

4. Submission to God
This is our willingness to listen to and obey God in every way.

5. Gratefulness to God
We recognize and remember all that God has done for us and we thank Him for His love and action for us.

6. Emotionally attached to God
Based on all the above, we see God as our lover, our intimate, our closest friend, our support when we are in crisis, the healer of our soul, the one we cry to and surrender to.

To say that this love is done with "all your heart, soul, mind, strength" is to say that every part of our existence is oriented to this love of God. We surrender our actions, our thoughts, our emotions, our intellect and our will to God. This love isn't just to be a once-a-week experience, or even a daily one. God is to be our focus at all times, in all places, in all situations.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Worship and War

Hey Steve,

How are you? I am doing well. God is good. At jpusa, Thursday nights, I am part a group called, Discipleship Ministries. At this group we basically sit around in a circle to pray and sing worship songs. Its a very cool seen and I look forward to it. The leaders, of D.M. have ask every one on the group to come with other ideas for worship that we can all do together. For example, a prayer walk. So, my question to you is, what would do with 50 people, who wanted to worship the God of the universe(within a two hour time frame)?

Okay, now for a more serious question, what is the Christians stance on on war and violence? Is it okay to protect some one else? We may have gone over this before(i am not sure).


I'm doing okay, but really busy now. Please pray for me that I truly worship God and not just get caught up in busy-ness.

What would I do with 50 people? First of all, I would teach them to recite the Shema (Deut. 6:4-5) and the Lord's Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) daily.

But that's not really answering your question. I guess, if it was just a one-time thing, I would do a Taize thing-- repetative, worshipful singing leading to silent prayer. For instance, I would teach the song, "speak to me" by Rebecca St. James, sing that for five minutes and then encourage people to listen to the Lord for another ten minutes. For people who are not used to listening to the Lord ten or fifteen minutes is the outermost limit.

As far as war and violence, I'll give you the short answer:
Jesus said, "Love your enemies" He also opposed love and destroying another (so you can't destroy a person and say, "But I loved them in my heart as I was torturing them for my country").

Does this mean you can't protect others? Of course you can. The problem is thinking that destroying another is the only, or even close to the best way of protecting.

Let's look at the war in Iraq. It was started to protect the West against terrorists and against Sadaam's "weapons". Not only was it later discovered that Sadaam wasn't supporting terrorists, nor did he have the weapons we feared, but it is now a rallying cry for Muslims around the world-- another example of the oppression of the West. Thus, violence is shown again to be a bad answer to a bad problem.

This is the same in the personal example. Are you really protecting your family by attacking an attacker in your home? All you are probably doing is killing yourself. But even that is okay, if you do not destroy your enemy. You can keep your enemy at bay, restrain him, even put him unconcious and still love him, even as you can spank your children and love them. So the problem isn't violence (even surgery is violence!), but the intent. Are you intending to destroy-- no matter what the reason-- or are you intending to help. And your actions will demonstrate that.

War is always an attempt to destroy, to kill. No Christian should participate in it. We should participate in prayer, and call God to our defense, Who will do a much better job at defending us than George Bush's strategy could ever do.

Is Trinitarianism Essential?


What can you tell me of the history of the doctrine of the trinity? When did the word, trinity, first became part of our vocabulary (christianeese, that is)? Did the early church fathers teach on it? Can it be supported biblically?

Thank you for your time.


Ah, Gordon, you open up such cans of worms.

Let's go through it in chronological order.

There are hints in the OT as to the plurality of God, but it is unclear as to whether it is speaking of different persons who are God, or there are a multiple of powerful spirit beings ('gods') that Yahweh is always the head of. I personally believe in the second one. This would explain that the word for "god" is plural, why the "angel of Yahweh" speaks directly as God (because he is a full representative of Yahweh), and the "we" language in the early chapters of Genesis.

In the NT, there are a couple passages that clearly and without qualification call Jesus "God", especially in the book of John. When it says "the Word was God", and "there was nothing made that was not made by him" it seems as clear as possible. The problem I have is that in the first century Moses was also called "god" by many people. So the statement "Moses was God" would be marginally uncontroversial in the first century. But it wouldn't mean that Moses is of the same being as Yahweh. It would mean that he is a powerful spirit being.In the NT, the following is clear about Jesus:
a. Jesus existed before he was born of a virgin.
b. Jesus originally came from heaven-- i.e. was a spirit being.
c. Jesus participated in the creation of the universe.
d. Jesus shares in the power of Yahweh
e. Jesus is submitted completely to the Father's will
f. Jesus shares in the worship and titles of Yahweh

In the NT, the Spirit is given importance in practical matters, but the metaphysical properties of the Spirit just aren't discussed. In Acts 5, the Spirit is mentioned as God, but it isn't clear as to whether he is acting as a full representative or a sharer in the nature of God. The "clearest" Trinitarian text is Matthew 28, which has us being baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But all that is mentioned is the names, not the relationship between them.

After the NT was finished, there was much speculation as to the nature of the Son and the Spirit, especially at the time of Constantine. Greek philosophy, especially Platonism was significant in the Roman Empire at the time (around the early 4th century), and all theology was being relegated to a postscript of Plato. Plato changed everything. Because of him, most people think of the "spirit" as ethreal, instead of an alternative physical; because of him and Aristotle, they think of God in philosophical terms-- omnipresent, the "prime mover", etc-- instead of a person. And the most interesting philosophical problem in Christian theology is the divine nature of Jesus-- a subject which the NT ignored.

Origin and Tertullian paved the way, but it was Arius and Athenatius (sp?) that created the famous debate that would create many heresies and kill many people. Arius was a teacher in a theology school in Alexandria, and he taught that Jesus was "god" in the sense of any of the other pagan gods. That he was a powerful spiritual being, that he was significant in the creation of the world and that he was the full representative of Yahweh, the king of all gods. But, he said, Jesus was NOT of the same nature as Yahweh-- that this isn't what the NT means when it says "god". Arius' bishop was named Alexander and he strongly disagreed. Alexander said that Jesus was fully God and had all the divine characteristics. So he told Arius to stop teaching his heresy. Arius refused.

Because of Arius' refusal to obey his bishop, it became a world argument. Churches all over the world discussed the theological argument and Arius' rebellion. It was said that every butcher and bread maker on the streets were hotly arguing the nature of the Son. Athenatius became the prime charismatic theologian on the other side, and promoted Trinitarianism-- that Jesus had exactly the same nature as the Father, but they were different persons, using language that was created by Tertullian. And so the debate became even hotter, because Athenatius was a popular fiery preacher.

This is where Constantine comes in. He was a believer in paganism that used his army to unite the Roman Empire, and did so by melding his worship of the Sun with Christianity. He changed the Christian worship to the first day of the week ('Sun' day) so the sun worshippers and Christians would worship on the same day. He also promoted a symbol-- called the "Chi Rho", which was a symbol that would both represent Christ and the Rising Sun. In Rome, they promoted Christmas on the same day as an important Sun holiday-- "The Day of the Ascending Sun", on the winter solstice.

Christian unity was a great interest of Constantine, because he wanted to unify the Roman Empire and fully a third of his empire was Christian. So when he saw this debate tearing apart Christian unity, he had to do something about it. So he arranged for the bishops to call a synod about the issue and he arranged for himself to be the moderator of the synod. So it was held in Nyssia, which was only a short distance from where he lived in Constantinople. The debate was as political as well as theological, and dealt with the rebellion of Arius as well as the theology that he promoted.

In the end, Arius was disciplined, not because of his theology, but because of his refusal to obey his bishop. And there is a famous creed that came out of this debate, called the Nyssian Creed.We need to remember that the creed was supposed to unite the dividing church, not take sides. So almost all of the language we would be in agreement with all the theology of Athenatius and of Arius, except one word "esse", which means "essence". Arius would agree that Jesus is by nature divine and that he created the world, but he would disagree that the Son was of the same basic essence or nature of the Father. But this is what the creed stated. The creed was acclaimed by most of the bishops, although many people of the Arian camp disagreed.

This debate did not by any means end with the creed. Depending on which theology was on top, either Arius or Athenatius were exiled at various times over the next 40 years. There were wars fought over this debate.

But I want to make it clear-- the nature of Jesus is not clearly taught in the NT. One can either be Trinitarian or Arian and still hold to the text. I don't believe that one can be Unitarian, since they deny the pre-existence of Jesus, but there is a well respected Bible scholar who came to that conclusion from the text, although I do not find his arguments persuasive. But to demand that one cannot be saved unless we have a Trinitarian understanding of the text is not biblical. Rather, we need to look at this debate as Romans 14 and 15 would have us do-- let us not judge the other party, but hold to our own convictions without destroying the other brother.