Friday, August 31, 2007

Bread & Circuses

In the last year I joined a new health club that opened across from my office. It's called Lifetime Fitness and its truly one of the nicest 'gyms' I've ever belonged to. They have everything, squash, two pools indoor and outdoor, personal training, all kinds of equipment, all kinds of lessons from ballet to marshal arts and even a restaurant. The building is large and modern, the atmosphere upbeat and designed to appeal to the senses of the upscale community in which the gym was built. Greeters are at the front as you enter to call you by name and wish you a 'good workout'. I've enjoyed exercising there very much.

One day last week it dawned on me as I was walking out of the gym after being told to 'have a nice week' by the man who works in the locker room that the only thing Lifetime Fitness is missing is a worship service on Sunday. Add that one thing and you'd never know the difference between it and any number of 'evangelical' churches across America today.

Of course, I don't expect to see a worship service added to the menu of options at Lifetime any time soon. They seem to understand their calling. Would that that was true of many in the church today as well.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Pro Libertate: The Highway to Serfdom

"No person shall be...deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation." United States Constitution, Amendment 5.


Pro Libertate: The Highway to Serfdom

Saturday, August 25, 2007

A SIMPLE PLAN by Scott Smith

“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” I Timothy 6:10 (ESV)

I rarely read fiction but recently I picked up a copy of A Simple Plan by Scott Smith after having being intrigued by the description of the plot. It revolves around three men who find a downed airplane in the woods containing a dead pilot and $4.5 million in cash. One of the men, the main character, comes up with ‘a simple plan’ that will allow them to keep the money, later splitting it among themselves. However, the plan quickly proves to be anything but simple.

What I found most interesting was the insight the author gives us into human nature. The first thing we see is that the characters are not as ‘good’ as they might have thought when their stated beliefs are put to the test. It’s very easy for example for the other two men to talk the main character into trying to find a way to keep the money after his initial feeling was that they should turn the money in. Even more telling is his interaction with his wife about the money. He begins with a hypothetical story about finding a large sum of money and she responds that of course it should be turned in to the ‘authorities’. However, when he produces the huge bag of cash and reveals that the story is not hypothetical, she begins to justify keeping the money with, in the end, her only criteria being can it be done without them getting caught. Absolute standards of right and wrong go out the window in the face of incredible wealth, showing that in reality these standards were not ‘absolute’ in the character’s minds to begin with.

Secondly, the author does an excellent job of showing that once one of our standards of morality has succumbed to pragmatism, it becomes much easier to cross other, more serious boundaries of morality. Before the story is over, the main character ends up murdering several people, including his own brother, in an attempt to keep the money and avoid apprehension. His decent from mild mannered accountant and “good” family man to serial killer is swift and gruesome, almost unrealistically so at times.

Finally, we see the almost unlimited capacity of human beings to justify themselves in the face of their wickedness. The protagonist and his wife end up convincing themselves that since everything they did was to avoid getting caught, they were really acting in self-defense. They didn’t want to do those evil things of course, but they had to, they were forced into it by circumstances beyond their control.

I don’t know if Scott Smith is a believer or not. However, he certainly has an accurate insight into the wickedness of man’s heart. I’m sure everyone reading this book myself included, likes to think they would not compromise their beliefs to this degree for $4.5 million. However, if we’re honest with ourselves, we must admit that that kind of evil lurks within all our hearts. It is only because of the grace of God through Jesus Christ that we are not all murderers and thieves or any number of other things.

The book definitely has some gruesome moments as well as a couple of sexual situations that I felt were unnecessary for the plot so I cannot give it an unqualified recommendation. Keeping that in mind, if you are looking for a book of fiction that not only has an intriguing plot but presents an accurate picture of the potential for evil lurking in the human heart, you may find A Simple Plan worth reading.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Separation of Church & State?

When is it OK for the Church to be an arm of the government? Apparently when we're being stripped of our civil liberties. I found this video quite disturbing.

I've been meaning for quite a while to read Hitlers Cross by Irwin Lutzer which outlines how the cooperation of the German church helped smooth the way for Fascism in Germany. Now seems like a good time to move it to the top of my reading list!

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Isaiah Chapter 30 - The More Things Change, The More They Stay the Same

I'm continuing my study of Isaiah using the Allan Harman commentary: Isaiah; A Covenant to Be Kept for the Sake of the Church and this week my reading was Chapter 30. This, chapter, like Chapter 5 that I posted on earlier, has much to say to the church today. It is a wonderful picture of man's rebellion and God's redemption.

The chapter begins with Isaiah's description of the people's rebellion. Verses 1-11 reveal a pattern of rebellion common down through the ages and into our own day. In verse 1 Isaiah reveals that the rebellious take council from sources other than God and seek from the things of the world the protection they should be seeking from the Lord. In the case of Judah, this took the form of seeking an alliance with the nation of Egypt.

Harman says of this:
What Judah wanted from Egypt was 'refuge' and 'shade', two of the words often used to describe God's protection of His people. Judah is attempting to find in Pharaoh what she should have continued to find in the Lord.
How much like those of our own generation this is! Even inside the church today we're often seeking to do God's work by relying on the methods of the world or we are seeking our security in the material realm rather than in our relationship with Christ.

In verse 10, Isaiah further expounds on Judah's rebellion. He says they tell the prophets only to give them pleasant news, to stop bringing before them the 'Holy One of Israel'. Commenting on this Harmon says:
The people don't want what is true. Instead they would rather have fantasies and illusions
Or as Paul puts it in II Timothy 4:3-4 hundreds of years later, the people have 'itching ears' and turn away from the truth in favor of 'myths'. This seems to be a universal condition for those in rebellion against God.

Today 'fantasies and illusions' fill up churches far faster than the simple preaching of the Word. Cultivating a church membership in the multiple thousands that meets in a sports arena is really just a matter 'preaching' nothing but upbeat positive messages that tell people how to have a better life in the here and now. Few and far between today is the preacher more concerned about preaching the whole counsel of God than he is about filling a giant 'worship center' with lots of warm bodies; the preacher who views success in terms of adherence to the Truth of the Word rather than in numbers of members or baptisms.

Isaiah goes on to tell the people of Judah that because of their rebellion, they will face the judgment of God. However, all is not lost, for beyond the judgment of God will come His redemption. Isaiah makes it clear in verse 15 that salvation comes through trusting in the Lord and resting on His promises, not in the things of this world. By removing the things the people were trusting in, the Lord will bring them to a place of trust in Him.

Through adversity God will grant them the ability to hear His truth and take it to heart (Vv. 20-21). As a result of their repentance, the people will destroy the idols they've been worshiping saying to them "be gone!" (V. 22). Harman points out that "repentance will inevitably bring a new attitude towards idols." This is, in fact, one of the signs of true repentance, a desire to put away our idols. If I'm trying to hold my idols in one hand and Christ in the other, that's a sign that I've not been given true repentance. Just as the converts in Ephesus enthusiastically burned their occultic books (Acts 19:18-20) the truly repentant person will withhold nothing from the fire that served in the place of God in his previous life.

Isaiah finishes the chapter with the surety of God's deliverance of His people from those who oppose them and His coming judgment on the wicked.

This chapter both blessed and convicted me. It also made me realize, as the title of the post suggests, that the more things change the more they stay the same. The same kinds of things that plagued the people of Judah thousands of years ago, plague us today. Fallen man has changed not a whit. However, the good news is God has not changed either. He is still in control, still righteous and holy and willing to save sinners who turn to Him in faith.

Ron Paul on Just War

Monday, August 6, 2007

The Theology of the Orthodox Church

Having traveled to Moldova on several occasions in the last few years for missions work, I’ve become interested in the beliefs and teachings of the Orthodox Church. The picture attached to this post is one I took of the beautiful Orthodox Cathedral in Chisinau, Moldova. Many people who consider themselves Christians in Eastern Europe belong to the Orthodox Church so knowledge of its teachings is essential to missions work there. Sadly too, some of the persecution aimed at evangelical Christians in this part of the world comes from the Orthodox Church as well. I was therefore intrigued when I recently came across a theological website written from an Orthodox perspective. The site is called Orthodoxwiki and is set up along the same lines as Wikipedia and Theopedia.

The site was founded by a gentleman named Father John who’s a priest in the Orthodox Church in America out of Chicago.

Like the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church claims to be the one true Church, descended directly from the Apostles and founded on the Day of Pentecost.

My first foray into the site was a search using the word ‘salvation’. This brought up a page devoted to Orthodox soteriology. I knew already that Orthodox Christianity teaches salvation to be a process rather than an event and that one can never be sure of having been converted. Salvation is more a journey in Orthodox teaching, the goal of which is something called ‘theosis’. This site reinforced that teaching providing an explanation that was very clear and concise. In part it says:

“Salvation is the goal of Christianity, and the purpose of the Church. The theology of salvation is called soteriology. Orthodox Christianity strongly believes that God became man, so that man may become like God. This concept of theosis, rejects that salvation is a positive result to a legalistic dilemma, but a healing process. Orthodoxy views our inclination to sin as a symptom of a malady that needs treatment, not just a transgression that requires retribution.”

Needless to say the ways in which this paragraph is at odds with Reformed Christianity are many. The same page goes on to say of the final judgment:

“Christ will judge all people exclusively on the basis of how they have served him by serving each other, the least of the brethren.”

Next I did a search for ‘justification’ and received the following response:

There is no page titled "justification".

Now, to be fair, it could be that the information on justification has not yet been posted, however, given the way salvation is defined, the more likely scenario is that the concept of justification simply does not exist in Orthodox theology. Like Roman Catholicism, they confuse justification and sanctification. In fact, when I input the word ‘sanctification’ into the search function on the site, I was taken to the page on ‘theosis’ which the Orthodox see as the end state of the salvation process.

This coupled with their belief that the dead are judged on the merits of their service to God rather than on the righteousness of Jesus Christ leads one to the conclusion that Orthodox Christianity is ‘another gospel’, a gospel of works where man’s salvation is, if not totally dependent upon him, at least unattainable without his help and cooperation.

What a belief system teaches about the Gospel is fundamental to understanding the other teachings they espouse. I plan to delve further into the teachings of the Orthodox Church on other theological topics in future posts.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Hindu Redux

Note to Harry Reid: Perhaps next time you can just have the Hindu priest dismember himself or sacrifice a rooster in the Senate chamber. Imagine the fun that will be when the PETA folks show up!

Man Cuts Off Hand for Hindu Goddess Offering