Saturday, February 24, 2007

May the Lord Find Us Faithful

In 1 Corinthians 4:2, the Bible says that stewards are to be found faithful. All Christians have received something from the manifold grace of God (1 Pet 4:10) and we need to faithfully exercise those gifts. The interesting thing about faith, though, is that you don’t exercise faith in regard to what you see but in what you don’t see. Otherwise it wouldn’t be faith. That is the point of Romans 8:24, “who hopes for what he already sees?” So, faithfulness requires us to do what God has for us to do, to exercise our spiritual gifts, even when we don’t see the happy results. Those results are the hope that is still unseen.

So, why stay faithful when you don’t see the results that you think you should? Why stay faithful when things seem to be getting worse rather than better? Why stay faithful when it is hard to believe? The simple answer is found in 2 Timothy 2:13, “If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself.” Ultimately, it is Christ’s faithfulness that grounds, establishes, and legitimatizes our faithfulness. We know that He cannot deny Himself, and so we can stay faithful, even when things seem to be falling apart all around us. We may not be able to see the results of our faithfulness, but with the eye of faith, and knowing the faithfulness of Christ, we can stay true to what God has called us to do.

William Tyndale is someone who had to display faith in the exercise of his spiritual gifts and calling. Tyndale, as many of you know, was the first to translate the Bible from the original Greek into English. In his life, he translated the entire New Testament and half of the Old Testament before he was viciously betrayed and eventually burned at the stake. As David Daniell says in his book, The Bible in English, “Every one of the thousands of English version round the world goes back to Tyndale’s fundamental work in Worms and Antwerp.” Now, you might think that someone, whose work was so successful in bringing the English Bible to the masses, and so influential in serving as the foundation for every new English translation, could die with the satisfaction of seeing something of that achievement, but that is evidently not how it happened. Again, let me quote Professor Daniell:

Tyndale had given the English people two New Testaments and a Pentateuch in pocket-sized English books. He had left in manuscript in the English House in Antwerp his English translation of the fourteen Old Testament historical books, printed after his death. He had heard seven years before that most of his 1526 New Testament volumes had been burned and denounced by Erasmus’s friend, Cuthbert Tunstall. The new Bishop of London, John Stokesley, was far harsher, and had restarted the policy of burning heretics, not just their books.

Even before his arrest he would not have had any guarantee that his work was getting through. A heavy curtain hung before him, through which he could see little or nothing. English-speaking Christians look back with rejoicing at the miracle of the English Bible. Every one of the thousands of English version round the world goes back to Tyndale’s fundamental work in Worms and Antwerp. His was a dazzling achievement. Of its success he knew nothing. He worked in faith, the existential faith which is the business of get up and doing it. As he noted in the Prologue to The Obedience of a Christian Man, faith in the God of the Bible is huge in its effects.
We may never know the extent of what we accomplish on Earth for the Lord. Rarely is that for us to know. And though most of us will not achieve the influence of a Tyndale, that is not the point. The point is to stay faithful because we know that God is faithful. It will be worth it all when we see Him. So, come what may in this life, may the Lord find us faithful.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

My Son's Sunday School Rant

At the dinner table after church today, my seven year old son, JD, went off on a rant about his Sunday School class:

"Dad, why doesn’t my SS class ever teach me about the Song of Solomon?"

"We never have lessons on it. We never have sword drills on it. They never ask us to look up a verse in Song of Solomon. Why don’t they ever say anything about the Song of Solomon!"

"Dad, what is the Song of Solomon about anyway?"

How would you answer that question? :)

I said, “Love.”

BTW, props to my son for wanting the whole counsel of God taught in church!

Saturday, February 17, 2007

How have we despised your name?

In Fundamentalism today, those who hold to a strict non-CCM standard within their churches are becoming more and more rare. Indeed, it is quite common for self-proclaimed Fundamentalist to openly embrace many of the popular CCM artists and groups of our day. It doesn’t take long surfing through Fundamentalist blogdom to find positive references to Casting Crowns, Third Day, Chris Tomlin, etc. Even among those in our ranks who oppose CCM, the trend is to treat this development as not a big deal. These contemporary worship styles are just different “varieties of ice cream” -- nothing to get worked up over and certainly nothing to separate over. We are talking about preferences here and there are lots of good Christians who worship differently than we do, or so they say.

I will admit that some differences in worship style are really no more significant than one’s favorite flavor of ice cream. And while it may not always be easy to tell when a particular group or song has crossed the line, I think we need to be careful not to dismiss this subject area by trivializing the issues involved. I think we will find, if we study it out, that God takes deviant worship very seriously. Recently, I took a quick look at what God had to say about polluted offerings in the book of Malachi. Here’s what I found:

Primarily, God’s wants worshipers to give Him the honor and fear that His name deserves. The priests were despising God’s name by offering polluted sacrifices and He asks, “Where is my honor?…where is my fear?” (1:6-7) It wasn’t there and in case anyone thinks this is not a big deal to God, consider His reaction -- it is stunning. Verse 1:10 says that (1) God has no pleasure in such worshipers; (2) God will not accept such worship; and (3) it would be better to bar the door and shut down the worship service! That certainly sounds like separation to me.

Some may say, however, that Malachi is Old Testament and with the coming of Christ New Testament believers are free to worship God without such OT worries. While it is true that Christ has made us free from the law and these OT ceremonial worship patterns, it is not true that these OT warnings no longer apply in any way to our worship today. In fact, after the author of the book of Hebrews spends almost his entire time explaining the superiority of Christ and how His coming does away with the ineffectual old covenant and its sacrificial system, he nevertheless says that NT believers do have an altar and we do have sacrifices to perform (Heb. 13: 10, 15). How can that be?

Well, the conclusion of the author’s argument is that our inheritance (which we need to faithfully strive after) includes or consummates in a kingdom that cannot be shaken. Thus we need to be grateful and offer to God acceptable worship with reverence and awe (Heb 12:28). That word “worship” is used in Hebrews to describe the service of the priests under the old covenant sacrificial system. Old Testament priests were to worship/serve God with honor and fear (Mal 1:6) and so are New Testament believer priests (Heb 12:28).

It is interesting to observe the parallels between the opening chapters of Malachi and the closing verses of Hebrews. In both books the primary issue is the honor of God’s name (cf., Mal. 1:6, 11; Heb. 13:15). Besides polluted worship, Malachi will go on to identify several other issues that also appear in Hebrews, namely improper instruction (cf., Mal. 2:1-9; Heb. 13:7), impure worshipers (cf., Mal. 2:13-16; Heb. 13:4), and lovers of money (cf., Mal. 3:6-12; Heb. 13:5). Hebrews refers to God as a consuming fire (Heb. 12:29), while Malachi refers to the day when the Lord that will set the arrogant and evildoers ablaze (Mal. 4:1). It is almost as if the author of Hebrews had Malachi in mind as he was finishing his exhortation.

So, when the author of Hebrews says that we need to worship God with reverence and awe (12:28), when he says that we should offer a sacrifice of praise to God to acknowledge His name (13:15, using the technical term for an OT sacrifice), I think it would behoove us to consider, from the OT in general and Malachi in particular, what that means and how not to despise God’s great name. And if deviant worship resulted in God separating from the worshipers in Malachi’s day, what would be His reaction be to deviant worship today? It seems to me that we in Fundamentalism ought to be much more concerned about the ramifications of polluted offerings in our churches today.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Children and the Internet

I mentioned in my last post that I was in San Francisco last week for the RSA Security Conference. Organizers estimate that there were over 15,000 security professionals in attendance. For those who don’t know, RSA stands for Ron Rivest, Adi Shamir, and Leonard Adleman, the three MIT mathematicians who in 1977 invented what is known as the RSA public-key encryption algorithm. Unless you have an interest in mathematical cryptography, that fact probably doesn’t mean much to you, but for those interested in network security, those guys are legends in their field and it is very interesting to listen to them and others of the same caliber talk security.

While most of my readers could probably care less about cryptography, they should be very interested in one of the general sessions that took place at this year’s conference. On the second day, they had a panel discussion called, Pandora's Box: Youth and the Internet. During that session, the moderator and panelist revealed several startling statistics. Perhaps you have seen stats like this before, but I think you will agree they bear repeating:

The number of children between the ages of 10 and 17 who have received an unwanted sexual solicitation over the Internet is 1 in 7. Think about that ratio in conjunction with the number of children at your church or school.

The percentage of those children who report that solicitation to their parents is only 27%. So, just because they are not saying anything about this does not mean nothing bad has happened.

The average age a child first sees pornography on the Internet is age 11.

This last one is hard to believe but the moderator claimed that research says that children are the largest audience for pornography on the Internet.

As someone who has a seven year old boy, these are shocking and sobering statistics. My son can already open a browser and type in – all on his own. He can surf the site and find the Bionicle section without any problem. If we were to let him play on the computer without restraint, I’m sure he could accidentally surf to any number of inappropriate web sites. We would all do well as parents to closely supervise our children’s Internet usage.

When kids get older, new online communities present additional hazards. One of the panelists talked about how registered sex offenders use to target young children and teens. Parents, you need to know who your children’s MySpace friends are and what sort of pictures they are posting.

Also, according to the panel, teens tend to let their guard down and are often much less reserved on the Internet. It is not uncommon for straight-laced, honor students to be downright sleazy in their online persona. Remember, these are not uptight fundamentalists talking; these are the observations of secular professionals who have studied the phenomenon. If pastors and church leaders fall in this area, and they do, how much more concerned should we be with our children?

Friday, February 09, 2007

First English Bibles in America

If you had asked me a month ago, when and where did the first English Bible make its way to America, I would have guessed on the Mayflower in 1620, or perhaps on an earlier expedition to Jamestown (1607) or with Sir Walter Raleigh in 1584 when he landed on the coast of North Carolina. It turns out, however, that I may not have even guessed the right coast correctly. David Daniell in his book, The Bible in English, suggests that the correct answer is 1579 by Sir Francis Drake on his famous around-the-world voyage. Drake was looking for a North-West passage back to England but Canada got in his way. He turned back south and found a port, perhaps in San Francisco Bay, to overhaul his ship in preparation for his return journey. Drakes tells of his men reading from their Bibles and singing Psalms in response to the pagan worship ceremonies performed by the native Indians. The Geneva Bible was published in 1560 and it very well could have been that Bible that those sailors had in their possession on that famous voyage.

Now here is the interesting thing. I am currently in California for the RSA Security Conference and this trip has given me the opportunity to do a lot of reading in David Daniell's book. I just read the chapter about English Bibles in America on this trip. Here's the kicker: I am staying in downtown San Francisco at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel!