One man's view of theology, sports, politics, and whatever else in life that happens to interest me. A little bit about me.

Friday, April 25, 2014

What Does Perfection Look Like?

So I’m studying Mark 3 this week for Sunday Sch… LifeStages, and I can’t help but be struck by how strange this chapter feels. Those people who say the Gospels present an uncritical, whitewashed view of Jesus’ life never read this chapter. As I was reading the chapter I couldn’t help but think of Michael Card’s song “God’s Own Fool.” It is obvious to me that he had this chapter in mind when he wrote the song, and he puts it forth in powerful poetry, communicating it better than I ever could (I added some links to scripture verses that illustrate the points in the song):
It seems I’ve imagined Him all of my life
As the wisest of all of mankind.
But if God’s holy wisdom is foolish to man,
He must have seemed out of His mind.
But God in the form of this angry young man
Could not have seemed perfectly sane.
Below is a video of the song so you can hear the music. It's not his best song, as far as I am concerned, but I love how he weaves scripture into his music.

What does all that mean? I’m really not entirely sure. I do know for sure that we as believers often forget that Jesus was fully human as well as fully God. What does perfection look like? We all have our ideas, but Jesus is the only one who ever actually lived a perfect life, and the Jesus of Mark 3 certainly doesn’t fit what I think of when I think of perfection. When I think of perfection I think no controversy, no struggle, no opposition. Who could oppose perfection? That’s not what Jesus’ perfection looked like.
We do ourselves, each other and God a disservice when we treat manifestations of humanity as evil or sinful. Too often we are guilty of simply looking at people who do things differently than we do as somehow wrong rather than different. Jesus was so different that His family was coming to take Him away by the end of this chapter. Not away as in home, but away as in the crazy house. God makes each of us unique, and society tries to make us all alike. There’s nothing wrong with adopting cultural norms: all of us do at some level. But we need to recognize them for what they are: culture, not perfection.

Why do we feel guilty when we cry? Even at times of genuine grief, our American tough guy society tells us crying is bad. It’s not a sin to cry. It is certainly a sin to hold on to our grief when God tells us to place our burdens on Him, but a reaction of grief at the death of a loved one is human, not sinful. It’s no more sinful to weep at a funeral than it is to swing and miss at a baseball. Both are human. Those are just two examples. There are plenty more. The point is that a cultural faux pas may not be sinful, even though society tells us it’s wrong. The opposite is also true. There are certainly things accepted by culture that are sinful. Let’s do the best we can to make our standard for right and wrong closer to God’s standard rather than society’s.

And think about Jesus today. And don't be surprised to encounter someone who defies your expectations. Jesus certainly did that while on earth and He continues to do that to this day.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

ListMania: Body, Soul and Spirit

This is the fourth of a series. For the introduction to the series, click here.
For most of my life I was taught that man is a three-part being – body, soul and spirit. When I went to college, I was exposed to the other main viewpoint, that man is a two-part being – flesh and spirit. I took hold of the second one because it made more sense than the first, but now I am not so sure. I think both are lacking. My main purpose today is not to outline a different explanation but to show how a wrong view of Paul’s lists leads people astray in this area, as we have discussed in the previous posts.
Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. (I Thessalonians 5:23)
Did you know that this one verse is the only place in the Bible where the words “body,” “soul” and “spirit” are found together in the Bible? I was never taught that either when I was growing up. Compare this verse with I Corinthians 6:20: “For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.” Is Paul telling us we don’t have to glorify God in our souls because he leaves it out? Hardly. Once again, in both of these verses Paul is just giving us examples, not a be-all, end-all list.
Man is a spiritual being.  The Bible is very clear on that. Genesis tells us that God breathed the breath of life into man, and he became a living soul. We are made in God’s image and will one day stand before Him in judgment. That has to be our starting point when we discuss the nature of man.
The trichotomist (three-part) view of man (or at least the way I learned it) is flawed, mainly because of the terminology involved, which is forced upon the view because most of its adherents (that I have heard teach) base it on that one verse. The idea that the body is evil is a false idea that arises from Gnosticism, an ancient lie that the apostles Paul and John address at length in their epistles. When we sin, it is not our body that sins, it is our rebellious spiritual nature that is against God. Let me illustrate. God made our bodies to desire food and drink in order to live. It is man’s wicked nature that causes him to commit the sins of gluttony and drunkenness to ostensibly meet those needs. God created man with a desire to reproduce. It is not the body but the sinful spiritual part of man that chooses to meet those desires with adultery, prostitution and other sexual sins. It is more helpful and more Biblically correct to think of the physical body as a morally neutral casing through which spiritual deeds, either good or bad, are carried out.
It is fair to point out, however, that Paul does frequently use the word “flesh” to describe our sinful nature. We as believers know from the Scriptures and from experience that not all of our being is made new when we are born again. We have to understand there are two senses of the word “flesh.” It’s the same word both in English and Greek, but it is clearly describing two different concepts. Let’s look at a couple of passages from Romans 8: “For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (verses 3-4) Let’s compare that with verse 8: “So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” (NKJV)
There's a lot in verses 3 and 4, and I don't pretend to understand it all, but there's one thing that's clear: God was pleased with Christ's birth, life and death. Christ took on a physical body like ours, lived on earth, died in our place, then rose to life again. He had a physical body, but He was not a sinner. Gnosticism is a direct attack on Christ's substitutionary redemption, and we as believers should be very careful in our terminology to keep such ideas out of our teaching.

Like I said at the beginning, I’m not really sure what to believe about the different parts of the nature of man. I’m OK with that. I don’t pretend to have everything figured out. The main problem I have is when people take the one verse in Thessalonians listed above and build a theology around that, especially when they include the gnostic concepts of man’s physical body being the source of his evil nature. That’s a teaching we need to avoid.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Real Problem with the Nevada Cattle Story

By now I am sure you are aware of the issues surrounding the Nevada farmer and his standoff with the Bureau of Land Management. It was quite the cause du jour among right-wing types, as they came to offer moral and in a few cases physical armed support in his fight to keep his cattle on public land. There were also accusations of Sen. Harry Reid and his family involved in nefarious shenanigans with the land.
I don’t know enough of the details to make a definitive statement. Would I be surprised if a powerful senator used his influence to broker a deal to benefit himself and his family? No. Do I think the Federal Government is capable of abusing true justice in the name of upholding the law? Certainly. That has been the case in all governments at all times in all of human history. Do I believe Mr. Bundy is just a simple man minding his own business who accidentally ran afoul of the overbearing authorities? No, I don’t believe that one either. Only someone looking to score political points views one side as absolutely right and the other as absolutely wrong.
But let’s look at the big picture. The reality in our country today is that the cattle herd is not big enough to keep up with the demand for beef. Meat prices continue to skyrocket, and cattle prices are at an all-time high. Were these things happening in a vacuum, now would be a great time to get involved in the cattle business.
But this is not happening in a vacuum. Overzealous government policies are forcing cattle ranchers out of business all over the country. This is true in the West, where hundreds of other farmers have been trying to stay afloat while abiding by the law and paying usage fees. This is true in other parts of the country, like my native Missouri. I have personally heard horror stories of farmers who have raised cattle on their land for generations only to be told their cattle are now polluting the streams at unacceptable levels according to the National Park Service or the Army Corps of Engineers. They have found high levels of pollutants in the water downstream. The water was acceptable 10, 20, 30 years ago. The cattle were there then. Maybe there are other reasons for the higher pollution, but those aren’t being addressed, at least not publicly.
Cattle need water to live. Lots of water. Most of the farmers, like my parents and grandparents, do not have the resources or infrastructure to provide water by digging wells and maintaining the supply every day. They have relied on the streams for generations to provide water. And so quietly, one at a time, cattle farmers all over the country have quit. Sold the cattle off, moved into town and got a 9-5 job, or just retired on their farm, leaving dozens and hundreds of acres unproductive. I’ve seen it personally, and there is plenty of evidence that this is happening all over.
And that brings us to the situation where we are now. I’m sure it’s difficult for government officials to do their jobs in this regard. They have to balance the needs of the people directly affected by their decisions with the policies put in place by people above them, who have to balance all sorts of competing interests in their decisions. Unfortunately the balance they have struck has tipped the balance against small-time farmers.
It’s getting to the point where the cattle industry will go the way of other meat industries: the dreaded CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation). Have you ever been to a CAFO? I have been to a pork CAFO. They are a disgusting mess. You see similar operations in the poultry industry. There are hundreds of animals kept in tiny pens. The stench is unbearable, and the waste is so toxic has to be treated in an on-site facility before it can be returned to the water supply. But the farmers who own the land sign deals with big meat companies like Smithfield or Hormel. The big companies’ legal teams are in bed with the federal and state regulators and get their farmers the proper permits. For many farmers who run CAFOs, it was either set one of these up or quit.
Practically everyone involved in the food industry agrees that animals kept in appropriate, humane conditions produce higher quality meat that is better for everyone. Animals kept in small pens and fed food mechanically, regardless of the quality of the food, produce meat that is higher in fat and contains dangerous chemicals that naturally result from inactivity on the part of the animal.
All of America, it seems, is on an anti-obesity campaign. You can’t turn on your TV or radio without hearing reminders to be active and eat healthy. Experts all over decry the poor quality of food, particularly meat products, found in fast food restaurants and mainstream grocery stores. To them, especially to the government agencies involved, I say you can’t have it both ways. You can’t have environmental and land management policies that work to the detriment of raising healthy livestock and then complain that the food available is of poor quality. Well you can, but you’re a hypocrite.
The big food conglomerates – ConAgra, Kraft, etc. – aren’t going to do anything about it. They like the system where the farmers are beholden to their contracts with them. They have paid tidy sums to lobbyists and regulators to perpetuate this system. The big meat industry boards don’t speak for individual farmers either. They’ve bought into the crony capitalist system as well.
If the government wants healthy meat products on the American table at an affordable price, a good place to start would be easing up on farmers. I don’t deny there are idiots out there who are seriously polluting and leaving a mess for others to clean up. There are also farmers who unethically feed their animals dangerous compounds that grow huge animals but leave behind scary byproducts in the meat. There is a place for common sense clean water and air regulations and safe meat standards, and those should be enforced fairly without regard for political connections. I am not opposed to reasonable fees for letting cattle run on public land. The taxpayers shouldn’t have to pick up the tab for you while your cattle get fat and ready for market. But the system we have now is falling apart, and it’s only going to get worse until a lot of people start applying common sense to how our government and culture treats farmers and ranchers.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

What's With the Name?

Some of you might be wondering what the inspiration is for the name of the blog. The name “Mutineer” is based on a line from one of my favorite movies, Dr. Strangelove. The line is spoken by a clueless Army colonel who is stunned to be told to invade a nearby Air Force base only to find that the officer in charge is English. The line always struck me as hilarious. The best way to summarize the movie is that it is a comedy about the world ending in nuclear annihilation. That sounds pretty preposterous, but it works, amazingly well. It's the kind of comedy where it's not necessarily the funny lines or ridiculous stunts, but it's just crazy people caught up in a wild situation. Their personalities are what makes the movie funny. For a movie that barely clocks over 90 minutes, the character development is amazing. The movie features Peter Sellers in three roles and also features George C. Scott; Slim Pickens; Sterling Hayden, who is as underrated an actor as there has ever been in Hollywood movies; and Keenan Wynn, who plays the colonel who utters the “mutiny” line. Interestingly enough the movie also features the screen debut of James Earl Jones. He doesn’t have many lines, but that voice is impossible to miss.
The movie is not for little kids, but most kids I know wouldn’t be interested in a black-and-white, dialogue-driven movie anyway. The clip below includes the “mutiny” line and more.

Monday, April 14, 2014

ListMania: Fruit of the Spirit

Third in a series. For the introduction to this series, click here.

Anybody who has been a Christian for any length of time has heard about the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5. That’s one of the most common topics for sermons, Bible studies, and Sunday School lessons in all of Christianity. It’s also a popular theme for bulletin boards, children’s activities and the like. I even remember singing a song in church about the fruit of the Spirit when I was a kid.
My problem is not with the list itself but with the way people apply it. If your focus is on the individual characteristics Paul lists in that passage then you are missing the whole thrust of Paul’s message to the Galatians. You have fallen into the trap of treating Paul’s lists as exhaustive rather than exemplary.
First of all, let’s look at Paul’s list. It’s a great list. All of us would love to have our lives exhibit those traits all the time. But are these the only things the Spirit produces in our lives? What about honesty or integrity? It’s hard to say that the Spirit will not bring about those in our lives. The list could go on forever, and that’s my point. To limit the work of the Spirit to nine things is to severely limit God’s work in our life. It’s not that Paul’s list is incomplete – he never intended the list to be any more than some helpful examples of how God’s work in our lives is revealed.
More importantly, though, let’s look at the whole passage in context. Then we will hopefully see what Paul is really telling the Galatians, and of course, us as well:
I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 

Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. (Galatians 5:16-25, NKJV)
The book of Galatians is all about the work of the Spirit versus the work of the flesh. The churches in Galatia had fallen into a serious error: that God wanted them to follow the Jewish law in order to grow. They saw justification (coming to faith in Christ) and glorification (being brought to heaven) as the work of God but they saw sanctification (our progress as a Christian in this life) as their work. Paul utterly destroys this line of thinking in the letter he sent to them. In Chapter 3 he flat-out tells them that growth for the Christian is just as much a work of God as justification and glorification are.
In Chapter 5 Paul gets into some more practical aspects of what it means to grow without putting forth fleshly effort. Ultimately it all boils down to walking in the Spirit, as verse 16 reads. Notice Paul’s words that follow very carefully. He describes the works of the flesh in verses 19-21. Most of us understand that this list is exemplary. We can name lots more sins. Then Paul lists fruit of the Spirit in verses 22-23.
What is fruit? That might be a dumb question, but the way Paul uses the word is very important. Fruit is something that naturally occurs because of the processes that are happening inside the tree or bush or vine or whatever. A plant doesn’t have to work to produce fruit – fruit happens when the plant is healthy and functioning properly. That’s Paul’s point. Fruit in the life of the believer is not something that we have to work up by our own effort. The fruit of the Spirit occurs naturally when we live empowered by the Spirit.
Am I saying that everybody who focuses on the things in Paul’s list is teaching false doctrine? No. Is it wrong to study the individual traits? No. But I am suggesting that focusing on the list is missing the point of the passage. Studying the nine things and teaching people to work on developing them in their lives runs completely counterintuitive to the point Paul was making. Here’s the point: we can’t develop these traits on our own. As fallen humans we do not have enough willpower, enough discipline, enough of whatever else it takes to live lives that please God. We have to have the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives in order to exhibit these traits.

Friday, April 11, 2014

ListMania: Gifts

Second in a series. For the introduction to this series, click here.
Let’s start off with a big one: spiritual gifts.
There are two primary passages in Paul’s writing that deal with gifts: I Corinthians chapters 12-14 and Romans 12:3-8. Modern evangelicals put the I Corinthians passage on the back burner since it deals with gifts of tongues, healing and other miracles, which most evangelicals believe are not manifest today. Obviously the various stripes of Pentecostals would disagree, but for our purposes we are not dealing with them. Evangelicals would point to Paul’s masterpiece on love in chapter 13 and Paul’s very strict and implicit instructions for operating the gifts in the church in chapter 14 to say that those gifts were intended for a particular time – the time of the apostles – and not for succeeding generations of the church.
The Romans 12 passage, however, lists what might be more properly called in context gifts of grace:
For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith. For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness. (Romans 12:3-8 NKJV)
These gifts are taken very seriously by many in the Evangelical world, so much so that some have developed an entire theology around them. Let me give you an illustration that outlines what I believe to be the wrong approach to this passage. When she was about 20 years old, my wife was given a “gift profile test,” basically a personality test to determine which of the seven gifts listed here she had. When her results were graded she was told that her test was invalid because she tested positive for two gifts that cannot coexist in the same person.
Who said that God’s gifts can be determined by an amateur personality test, the kind that people take to determine “Which Disney Princess are you?” and then post to Facebook? Shouldn’t a work of God in a person’s life be more obvious than that? Secondly, who determined the personality types that went along with certain gifts, and why are there some that contradict each other? Is any of that stated or even remotely implied in what Paul wrote above?
My answer is no. This passage and I Peter 4:10-11 certainly indicate that God does bring certain people into a congregation so that His work can best be done. That is a completely fair way to deal with these texts. It’s not wrong to say that God provides supernatural enablement to some people more than others to handle certain necessary jobs in the church. Peter certainly implies that in his epistle. As long as you limit your teaching to this, you are certainly within the bounds of Scripture. I know others who teach that the time for all the gifts has passed. I disagree, but I certainly respect the position, since I held it not that long ago.
But to treat the seven-part list that Paul gives us in Romans as the entire spectrum of gifts God gives to people in the church, and to build assumptions upon that treatment that cannot be justified from Scripture, is another matter altogether. I’m not saying that this view of gifts violates the cardinal doctrines of the Church. Obviously it does not. But it does represent to me a poor approach to Scripture, a lazy approach that is more interested in novel applications rather than simply proclaiming the whole counsel of God.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

ListMania: Exemplary vs. Exhaustive

First in a series

If you have ever read Paul's epistles (and if you haven't, go here, start reading and don't stop) you know that Paul loves lists. He uses them in practically every epistle. Some of his lists are single words, some are phrases, some are entire verses. Some of Paul's lists are among of the most familiar passages in scripture: "Love is patient, Love is kind...;" the armor of God and the fruit of the Spirit are some examples that jump readily to mind.

But I have noticed as I have studied multiple ones that Paul rarely, if ever, intends for them to be an exhaustive treatment of the subject at hand. For example, there are many more good things one could say about love than one finds in the thirteen verses of I Corinthians 13, although you will be hard pressed to find any text that describes love more beautifully. There are plenty more works of the flesh than one finds in this passage. For most of these lists, we understand this fact.

The problem arises when folks try to make a particular list the final word on the subject. They view the things in the list as exhaustive, the only possible instances that could possibly be addressed. When this happens, they leap to conclusions that Paul never intended for his readers to arrive at. This is a potentially dangerous way to handle the Word of God, and something that we should avoid.

Over the next few days, weeks, whatever, I intend to look at some of Paul's lists I believe are mishandled in this fashion. We will come across a couple where Paul gives us two different lists to describe the same thing. Feel free to comment and ask questions. Hopefully my postings will inspire some good discussion and maybe help you (and me) look at Scripture in a new light.