“President/Owner”

July 20, 2018

Computers are wonderful machines, but one of their less desirable traits is the ability to generate tones of supposedly “personalized” mail. We recently received an envelope with the following:

PRESIDENT/OWNER
GRANDVILLE CHURCH OF CHRIST

No doubt we were on a mailing lists mainly of businesses for which the addressee of President/Owner was more appropriate, but with that title staring me in the face, I couldn’t help but think.

In a sense we do have a “President/Owner,” although the more familiar and biblical terms are “Lord” and “head of the church.” (Ephesians 1:22, 5:23) God is in fact the sole owner. No stocks were sold; no shareholders were invited to participate in the financing. Christ alone gave His life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28). That should say something about the kind of allegiance we owe him.

He has even given us inter-office memos and memorandums to follow. We call them the New Testament. He has set up an organization to provide for the proper training of people. “ And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…” (Ephesians 4:11–12, ESV). And he has even been known to threaten closing down a “branch office” when it failed to live up to the task. “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent” (Revelation 2:5, ESV).

We are conditioned to give due respect to presidents, urgent memos, job training, and the like. When we turn from the world of business to the church, let us not loose reverence for our Lord, urgency for His word, dedication to his training, and respect for His warnings. He is after all our “President/Owner.”


Why Not Me?

July 13, 2018

A tragedy or calamity can be difficult to take. In my own case, that difficulty has been the diagnosis of multiple myeloma. Admittedly, there is stress and adjustment that must come. And with it comes a very human question: why me?

But I’ve not allowed myself to dwell on this question. I have felt it one that should be immediately dismissed. The problem with the question is that it is unanswerable, and it leads to self-pity. The question presupposes that calamities should not come into the life of the questioner.

Dismissing the question has meant reflecting on the wisdom literature of the Old Testament. Proverbs 3:16 says this about wisdom:

Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor. (Proverbs 3:16, ESV)

The Book of Proverbs presents general truths. In other words, a person who lives according to God’s wisdom is more likely to live longer, be able to take care of material needs, and have a good reputation. Yet we all know that good people die young, that natural calamities can destroy wealth, and that evil people can steal and slander good people. The rest of the wisdom literature helps us nuance these general truths.

The Book of Job lets us know that the righteous person may suffer. Job suffers from the acts of lawless Sabeans, natural calamities, bereavement, and illness. The conflict in the book surrounds Job’s friends’ attempts to convince him that his troubles are the consequence of his own wickedness. The Book of Job confirms that the good person may suffer. But the end of the book doesn’t so much answer our questions as say God knows how to run the creation. Trust him.

Ecclesiastes has its characteristic lament: vanity of vanities. The Hebrew word is hevel which means breath or vapor. The phrase emphasizes that life for all of us is transitory, and it suggests that it can be enigmatic — vapor, think of the fog in a morning, can obscure things from our view. We do not have God’s viewpoint.

Ecclesiastes also reminds us we don’t know why good things come to some and miss others.

Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all. (Ecclesiastes 9:11, ESV)

We don’t know why certain people are in the wrong place at the wrong time. “But time and chance happen to them all.” In Ecclesiastes 8:14, we find that sometimes the righteous seem to get what the wicked deserve, and the wicked receive what we think the righteous should get. Ecclesiastes in the end asks us to trust God: “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecclesiastes 12:13, ESV).

For the Christian, the problem of this life is that we live in between the perfection of the Garden of Eden and the perfection of the New Jerusalem when God will wipe away all tears and make everything new. In this in-between time, death, disease, calamities, accidents, and evil deeds happen. And they can happen to all kinds of people: both the good and the bad.

In ministry I’ve been with people as they experienced the most terrible struggles of their lives. I’ve seen people of great faith face the challenges of this in-between time. I’ve witnessed their faith and hope. The interesting thing about difficulties is that people of God often find within these difficulties God’s providential care. So, as I face my own challenges, I’ve come to realize that “Why me?” is the wrong question. Rather the challenge must be faced with faith and hope. If it can happen to the people of faith I know, why not me?


The Uzzah Fallacy

July 6, 2018

David desired to bring the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem. The ark had been left at the house of Abinadad for decades since its return by the Philistines (1 Samuel 7:1). They approached this task with great joy and sincerity (2 Samuel 6:5). A new cart was acquired for this purpose. Two men, Uzzah and Ahio, took pains to see that it was properly guided, but the whole enterprise ended in tragedy:

And when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah, and God struck him down there because of his error, and he died there beside the ark of God. (2 Samuel 6:6–7, ESV)

David frightened and angry returned to Jerusalem without the ark. But David doesn’t remain dejected. Something wonderful took place — the scriptures were searched, and a valuable lesson was learned. When the Levites were prepared for the second attempt to get the ark, David shared the painful truth he had learned.

Because you did not carry it the first time, the LORD our God broke out against us, because we did not seek him according to the rule. (1 Chronicles 15:13, ESV)

Amazingly, David and his associates had either failed to read the regulations concerning the transport of the ark (Exodus 25:10-22, 37:1-9, Numbers 4:15-20, 7:9) or failed to obey them. The death of Uzzah was avoidable and in a sense predictable.

What is bothersome about this episode is that we know the king was commanded to have his own copy of the law that “he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes” (Deuteronomy 17:19, ESV). The priest was “to teach the people of Israel all the statutes that the LORD has spoken” (Lev 10:11, ESV). Both failed. The second time they transport the ark it is a different story.

And the Levites carried the ark of God on their shoulders with the poles, as Moses had commanded according to the word of the LORD (1 Chronicles 15:15, ESV).

Uzzah is a warning example to our confused and confusing religious world. Many seem to commit the Uzzah fallacy. They approach religious faith with enthusiasm but fail to take seriously the question: how does the Lord want this to be done? Let us remember to inquire of God for what he would have us to do.


We Can’t Afford Silence

June 29, 2018

Steven Carter in his book, The Culture of Disbelief, notes the tendency to keep religion out of public discourse. “Separation of church and state” has been twisted from its original intent as a limitation on what government could do and is frequently used to limit what citizens can do. In the beginning of our nation, religious values were viewed as important to good government and a healthy society. In fact, James Madison, a framer of the Constitution, wrote:

We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not upon the power of government, far from it. We have staked the future of all of our political institutions upon the capacity of mankind for self-government; upon the capacity of each and all of us to government ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.

Studies indicate that religion plays a role in the well-being of society.

  • Churchgoers are more likely to be married, less likely to be divorced or single.
  • Churchgoers are more likely to indicate high levels of satisfaction in marriage.
  • Church attendance is the most important predictor of marital stability and happiness.
  • The regular practice of religion helps poor people escape poverty. For example, regular church attendance is instrumental in helping young people escape the poverty of inner-city life.
  • Religious belief and practice contribute substantially to the formation of personal morality and sound moral judgment.
  • Regular religious practice generally protects people from a number of social problems, including suicide, drug abuse, out-of-wedlock births, crime, and divorce.
  • The regular practice of religion also benefits mental health in less depression (a modern epidemic), more self-esteem, and greater family and marital happiness.
  • In repairing damage caused by alcoholism, drug addiction, and marital breakdown, religious belief and practice are a major source of strength and recovery.
  • Regular practice of religion is good for personal physical health. It increases longevity, improves one’s chances of recovery from illness, and lessens the incidence of many killer diseases.*

Moral decadence leads to a society’s downfall. We need to be “salt” and “light” in our daily life and as citizens. Our country needs God-fearing leaders, who will have a positive moral influence, and that only happens when God-fearing people speak up. Our country needs a revival of moral values, and that only happens when we share the good news in our daily life. People’s salvation and society’s health depends on the proclamation of God’s word. The world may attempt to intimidate us, but we can’t afford silence.

*William D. Watkins, The New Absolutes, p. 233.


More Than Entertainment

June 22, 2018

Speeches can be divided into two categories. Some speeches are given merely to entertain. When heard, they are in a sense consumed at that moment. Nothing lasting is expected from them. The after-dinner speech is a good example of this type. We enjoy it, but nothing further is expected from us as listeners.

The second kind of speech is the one that intends to make a lasting impression. This speech is designed to inform or motivate the listener. The lecture of a teacher is a good example of this type. The final exam always involves more than simply: were you there when the lecture was given.

It is perilous for the listener when he confuses the second kind of speech with the first. Merely consuming and enjoying a lesson intended to inform or motivate is to fail as a listener. The consequences depend on what kinds of lessons are being ignored.

Such was the situation in the days of Ezekiel. He ministered to the Jews in captivity in the years before and after the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC. The people enjoyed hearing him, but they were approaching his words in the wrong way. God says to Ezekiel:

As for you, son of man, your people who talk together about you by the walls and at the doors of the houses, say to one another, each to his brother, ‘Come, and hear what the word is that comes from the LORD.’ And they come to you as people come, and they sit before you as my people, and they hear what you say but they will not do it; for with lustful talk in their mouths they act; their heart is set on their gain. And behold, you are to them like one who sings lustful songs with a beautiful voice and plays well on an instrument, for they hear what you say, but they will not do it. Ezekiel 33:30–32, ESV

The people could give Ezekiel compliments for the enjoyment of his lessons, but they failed as listeners. They failed to put into practice God’s message.

This raises an interesting question for the church. The goal of those who teach and preach is in the words of Peter: “whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God” (1 Peter 4:11, ESV). The goal for teachers and preachers is to present the content God’s message not their own. The question we must ask is: can we fall into the same trap as the people of Ezekiel’s day? Can we view those who speak to us as “singers of beautiful songs” and then fail to be doers of the word we have heard (see James 1:22-25)? Each must search his own heart, but the message from the book of Ezekiel is clear. As listeners, hearing God’s word must be more than entertainment.


The Best Job

June 15, 2018

We often ask a little boy or girl, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” My childhood answers included cowboy and fireman. As you get older, it is easy to entertain many job and career paths, but we eventually choose. Work is honorable and God-given. Work existed even in the Garden of Eden. “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15, ESV).

When I was making career choices, my thoughts were not on fatherhood. In the back of mind, of course, there was the idea that someday I would marry, and we would have children. I even took a college course, “Marriage and the Christian Home,” just in case. But job was foremost in my mind.

Work is rewarding. At the bare minimum, there is a paycheck. We may feel satisfaction in creating, producing, growing, or problem solving. (And yes, every job has its drudgery. It is part of the curse on the ground, Genesis 3: 17-19). Employers may reward years of service or ideas to a suggestion box. Although I have personally found work satisfying, how do the rewards compare to fatherhood?

Certainly, fatherhood like everything in life has aspects that don’t seem quite like reward: dirty diapers, crying children in the middle of the night, a defiant three-year-old, or an angry teenager. Yet despite some of the drudgery and struggles that life always brings, I reflect on fatherhood (and now being a grandfather) as the best job in the world.

I’ve witnessed two, wondrous births. Wonder is the right word for it. The stress of labor gives way to those first breaths and that little cry that announces to the world, “I’ve arrived.” A newborn is so small and helpless. You feel the responsibility but also the joy.

I’ve experienced the thrill of first steps and first words. The child begins to stand up alongside chairs and sofas, and then there are those first halting steps. Before you know it, you are racing to keep up. We repeat “Momma” and “Dada” hoping they will be first words. But there is even greater joy when hearing from your child for the first time: “I love you.”

Proud moments are found in sporting events, graduations, and first jobs. Joy is shared in weddings and the birth of grandchildren. But one of the most important and moving moments for me was my children’s baptisms.

Job is important. We spend a lot of time at work. But I’m convinced the best job of all is father and grandfather. It has the greatest joys. We live in a world that sometimes disparages the role of father. We have too many absent fathers. The world needs fatherhood as God intends. We need such fatherhood modeled. Much of society’s ills would find solution in fathers and mothers as God desires. Men need to catch this vision of fatherhood. It’s the best job in the world.

P.S. Yes, I know that mothers have the best job too.


The Household Baptisms

June 8, 2018

Jesus’ instructions in the Great Commission should settle an important issue about baptism. With the phrase “baptizing them” we have a pronoun. Pronouns in both Greek and English have referents. In this case, we go back to the immediate command: “them” refers to the people who are made disciples. Unless you have made someone a disciple of Jesus, Jesus has not authorized you to baptize them.

But those arguing for infant baptism often seek support for their practice in the household baptisms in Acts. This is an argument from silence, and therefore a very weak argument. Can we be certain that there are any infants? Examining the household baptisms exposes evidence counter to the infant baptism case.

However, if you are accustomed to looking at these household baptisms in such discussions, you may find a surprise in the ESV of Acts 16:34. The ESV reads:

And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God. (Acts 16:34, ESV)

The NASB represents the reading or meaning which is also found in the KJV, NKJV, and NIV.

… and rejoiced greatly, having believed in God with his whole household. (Acts 16:34, NASB)

The translation issue is the Greek adverb πανοικεί (panoikei, G3832) which is translated “with his whole/entire household.” What in Greek is an adverb is a prepositional phrase in English. Does this adverb modify the verb “he rejoiced,” the participle “having believed,” or both? Although the adverb occurs after “he rejoiced” and before “having believed,” most translations put it at the end of the sentence in English to indicate both. The ESV shows the position of the adverb, but Greek is not as sensitive to position within a sentence as English is. I would favor a translation like the NASB here, but even if we keep the ESV, a rejoicing household doesn’t help the infant baptism position.

What do we learn as we look through the accounts of the household baptisms?

  • The household feared God. Acts 10:2
  • The household heard the word of God. Acts 10:44
  • The household heard the word. Acts 16:32
  • The household rejoiced, believed, or both. Acts 16:34.
  • The household believed. Acts 18:8

These seem consistent with Jesus’ instructions in the Great Commission: baptize those who have been made disciples.