Labels, labels, labels

“I never call Christians or others ‘anti’s,’ ‘digressives, ‘ mossbacks,’ ‘tackies,’ or ‘trash.’ I concede to all, and accord to all, the same sincerity and courtesy I claim for myself, as the Golden Rule demands…” T.B. Larimore

As I’ve taken another look at Restoration History the last few years, I’ve become a fan of T. B Larimore. I’d love to be known as a man who refuses to take sides and who refuses to label others. It wasn’t until recently that I realized that the church where I grew up in San Angelo, Texas, was basically started through a one-month gospel meeting by T. B. Larimore. I guess some of his views were imparted to me from very young. One of those views is a deep-set distrust of labels.

Conservative. Liberal. Change agent. Anti. Progressive. Digressive… who wears what label depends on who is speaking. It’s rare that someone applies a label to himself. I’ve been called sectarian. I’ve been called liberal. I’ve been called a legalist. I’ve even been called evil (I’m sure that e-mail was sent in Christian love!). And all for expressing basically the same ideas. It just depends on where the other person is standing. In the big scheme of things, it really doesn’t matter what others say:“But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me.” (1 Cor 4:3-4) Still, I hate to see people resort to labels. There are several reasons why:

  1. When we resort to labels, we’ve stopped viewing the other person as an individual. We judge them in terms of other people, not according to what they actually think and believe.
  2. When we resort to labels, we stop listening. “Everything you’ve got to say, I’ve heard before from others just like you.”
  3. When we resort to labels, we tend to fall back on preset ways of reacting. “Post-modernists think this way, and here’s what I always say to them.” If I were to accept anything that a “post-modernist” says, I’d be accepting everyone else to whom I’ve given that label.

So here’s one suggestion for preserving the integrity of our Lord’s church: stop the labeling!

If you want to heal wounds in the Lord’s Church today,
Gather all of your labels and put them away.
If you have to use labels, I suggest these and few others:
Christians, fellow saints, disciples and brothers.

I Pledge Allegiance

Take a look at this, taken from an article on Pew Research entitled “42% – Christians First, Americans Second

Some people will look at this and worry about the Muslims being too fanatical. I look and worry that the citizens of the Kingdom of God don’t seem to know where their citizenship lies! Only the Nigerians seem to have a clue about this; is it any wonder that churches are multiplying in Africa while they stagnate and die here in the States?

I am a Christian. A citizen of heaven, a subject in the Kingdom of God. I was born in this country and admittedly love it, yet would be willing to see her pass away for the good of the Kingdom. The United States of America is not God’s chosen nation. My passport says that I am a citizen of this country, but it doesn’t tell the whole truth. I am an alien, living out my life away from my homeland. “This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through…”

Paul says that we are fellow-citizens with God’s people (Ephesians 2:19). He says that we are citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:20, written to the Philippians who would have been proud of the Roman citizenship that was theirs by birth). Peter wrote that we should live our lives as “aliens and strangers” (1 Peter 2:11). In fact, it’s always been that way for God’s people. Even when they were living in the Promised Land, they weren’t at home. God told them: “The land is mine and you are but aliens and my tenants.” (Leviticus 25:23) If the people who lived in the land that God had provided for them were supposed to view themselves as aliens in that land, how much moreso should we.

Yet we forget that and get far too comfortable in the land we live in. I lived 15 years in Argentina and came to be very at home there. Yet I was never truly Argentine. (And my accent always gave me away!) What a blessing that was for me, to live those years as an alien. It helps me remember that, even now that I’m back in Texas, I’m still an alien.

There’s an important passage in Hebrews 11. While discussing the men of faith from olden times, the writer says: “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.” (Hebrews 11:13-16) They recognized that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. And because they didn’t seek an earthly homeland God is not ashamed to be called their God! Does our speech make it clear that we are seeking a celestial homeland? Can everyone tell that we aren’t thinking of a land here on earth? Do we readily acknowledge that we are strangers and exiles? Or are we too busy being proud to be Americans?

The apostle Paul, in Philippians 3, writes about his heritage and his past, his identity as a Jew, a Benjaminite and a Pharisee. He then writes: “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:7-11) Does this sound like a man who would walk up and down the street waving a flag? He considered everything else as manure compared to his status in Christ. I hope one day to learn to do the same.

I am a Christian. First and foremost. Above all else. I have a national identity document from Argentina that identifies me as a resident alien. I should have one from the United States saying the same thing. My citizenship is in heaven.

I pledge allegiance to my God,
All else falls far behind.
No land, no piece of earthly sod,
Can my obedience bind.
May my love for this world and the kingdoms thereof,
Not make me forget what I read in the Word.
My citizenship lies not here but above.
My true loyalty belongs to my Lord.

Jonah: A Whale of a Story

Jonah didn’t want to go preach in Nineveh. So he tried to run from God. When God sent a storm that put in danger the ship Jonah was on, Jonah was tossed overboard and saved by a “great fish.” After the fish “deposited” Jonah on dry land, Jonah went to Nineveh and preached. Actually, he went and announced destruction. “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” The people of Nineveh repented, and God relented. He spared the city.

Jonah should have been thrilled. One of the most successful preachers of all time. But instead, he was furious. Mad at God. He said, “O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.”(Jonah 4:2)
And he was so angry that he asked God to kill him!

I see several important things in this story:

  1. We should expect God to be merciful and forgiving. God continually surprises with His grace, though those who know him well shouldn’t be surprised. It’s quite possible that in the final judgment God will once again prove Himself to be a God characterized by forgiveness and mercy.

  3. Even though we expect God to be merciful, our job is to preach the message that has been given to us. Jonah thought that it was quite possible that God would not destroy Nineveh, yet that’s not what he preached. He was given a message of destruction and preached what was given to him. (I think that’s why he was especially angry, because God had “made him look bad,” had allowed Jonah to announce something that didn’t happen)

  5. We need to learn to care for all people. There was an article on Time’s website which pointed out that Americans have a good idea of how many Americans have died in Iraq, but grossly underestimate how many Iraqi civilians have died. We tend to focus on “our boys” and forget that God respects no borders, no nationalities. Jonah couldn’t understand why God would love the Ninevites; let’s not be that shortsighted.

It’s a whale of a story!

Why I don’t support the “prayer in school” movement

The petitions come around every now and again, people wanting to get signatures to force the government to do something to “allow prayer in school.” And people are always shocked when I say that I don’t support that. “What? You don’t believe in prayer in school?” Of course, I do. I just don’t believe that prayer was ever taken out of school. And I don’t support any of the actions that government would take to try and “put it back.”

I don’t want the school system trying to teach my kids to pray. [There was a humorous article about this in John Clayton’s Does God Exist magazine (read it here).] The vast majority of teachers and administrators out there don’t believe as I do, and I don’t want them involved in the spiritual formation of my children. I will teach my kids to pray. We pray before they go to school. I teach them to pray at different times throughout the day. They need no permission from a teacher or anyone else to say a prayer. Believe me, as long as there are tests in school, there will be prayer in school!

I’m much more interested in getting prayer in our homes. If our families are praying with their kids (not just at mealtime!), if kids see their parents turn to God in times of crisis and in times of joy, there will be no need for a “moment of silence” at school. The kids will pray.

Forget the “prayer in school” movement. Let’s work on the “prayer at home” movement.

Teachers don’t bother to make my kids pray,
Their prayers will be there, can’t take them away.
Keep your Hail Marys and“Allah be blest”s
Our kids will be praying as long as there’s tests!

Aaron’s sons — what’s the point of Leviticus 10?

“Note then the kindness and the severity of God” (Romans 11:22)

This is the fourth in a series of lessons on Aaron’s sons. In the first post, I raised the question of why we in our fellowship have tended to focus so much on Aaron’s eldest sons while basically ignoring the other two. Since Nadab and Abihu are not mentioned in the New Testament nor are they ever held up as an example in the Bible, we need to take a long hard look at our fascination with them. We also need to look at why we don’t talk about Eleazar and Ithamar, even though the Bible talks about them more than their more famous brothers. As a “people of the book,” we should be concerned about such inconsistencies. In the second post, I talked about the forgotten sons, Eleazar and Ithamar. And in my third post, I looked at what happened to Nadab and Abihu.

I think that Leviticus 10 is a living example of what God says about himself in Exodus 34: 6-7 — “The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” God is first and foremost a loving and forgiving God. Yet He is also a God who punishes sin. God forgave Eleazar and Ithamar their disobedience yet punished Nadab and Abihu for their rebellion.

    Here are some conclusions that I’ve drawn from my study of Leviticus 10: 

  • The death of Nadab and Abihu is not a case of sincere, godly worshipers who made a mistake as to how they worshiped God. Theirs was irreverent rebellion. It was because of this that Aaron was silent after their death; he did not seek to defend them as he did Eleazar and Ithamar. Eleazar and Ithamar disobeyed God out of pure motives and their sin was forgiven. Nadab and Abihu did not recognize the holiness of God and died for their boldness.

  • This story shows us once again that God looks on the heart, looking at our motives when we fail to do what He has said and looking at our motives when we do what He has asked. Prideful rebellion against God will be punished as such. Yet God reserves the right to forgive failure to keep “the letter of the law,” because He and only He looks on the heart.

  • The sin of Nadab and Abihu was the failure to recognize the holiness of God. Theirs was the sin of Uzzah (2 Samuel 6:7) and the sin of Uzziah (2 Chronicles 26:16 and following). Theirs was the sin of Simon the magician (Acts 8) who sought to purchase the gifts of the Holy Spirit. God will be seen as holy by His people or they will not be His people.

And therein lies the main lesson for us. The holiness of God. The overwhelming characteristic of God, from what I can see, is holiness. Beings in His presence cry out “Holy, holy, holy.” His holiness overwhelms. We, as priests, enter into the Holy of Holies because of what Jesus did (“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” Hebrews 10:19-22) . He opened the way for us to do what Nadab and Abihu tried to do. We enter confidently (Hebrews 4:16), knowing that our entry is permitted where theirs was not. Yet we must not enter flippantly. We must be aware of the holiness of God. God is not my good buddy; He is the holy God. We fear Him, not in the sense of being afraid of Him, but as we fear electricity: we’re not afraid to be around it, but we’re not going to stick a fork in the socket, either. I remember William Barclay writing about a Jewish rabbi who began every prayer by saying “Lord, forgive me.” He says that this rabbi confessed his fear of dying after calling on the Lord and before asking forgiveness. I by no means advocate that kind of fear of God, but I think we need to recognize that, when we worship God, we are entering onto holy ground. We are entering into the same area where fire consumed Nadab and Abihu, consumed them because they were flippant about the holiness of God. If their story is to be a warning to us, surely that is the warning: “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:28-29) Acceptable worship has to do with the condition of our heart before God.

Our God, the Holy God, is a consuming fire. Let us draw near to Him with confidence; let us draw near to Him with reverence and awe.

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord!