Sunday, March 30, 2008

Because I Don't Know Any Better I Want To

Sleeveless dresses? Who knew?

Peg and I signed up for, and went on, a mission trip in June 1970. Our first, and it was a lulu. It was to Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. When we arrived, the director of the trip told the ladies that they shouldn't wear any sleeveless dresses unless they were either covered up, or something with sleeves was worn underneath. It seems that a sleeveless dress was a sign of, shall we say, a slatternly woman in Haiti.

If I'd been a Baptist then, or hadn't known the director of the crusade, I'd have been all "freedom in Christ" oriented and would have pitched a fit (on behalf of all those oppressed females on the crusade); as it was, I didn't know the difference. And I was always a compliant child, anyway.

The crusade director was correct, of course. Our witness was important to them, and hopefully to the Haitians around, and we needed to adapt what we did in light of the Haitian standards (without, of course, compromising Scriptural standards).

When I read the Bible, and go back a couple thousand years, I wonder if the same sort of thing went on back then. And if so, would God's instructions to the people back then have been to take the societal context into consideration in what they did?

Would God have wanted Peg to put on a sleeveless dress in Haiti, and tell the locals to wise up and quit majoring on the minors?

I don't think so.


So why all this flap about women in the ministry? What's the deal?

Most of the controversy connects to Paul's statement to Timothy that HE (Paul) did not permit a woman to teach, or usurp authority over, a man. Well, I wonder why Paul would've said that. Perhaps the women around Paul, who would've been the ones teaching and/or usurping, weren't the sort of women of whom God would approve. Perhaps in that society, such would have been unthinkable. Perhaps that would have been the social equivalent of sleeveless dresses in Haiti.

I won't even broach the subject of why Paul didn't INSTRUCT Timothy not to let women teach. Nobody seems to want to even TOUCH that!

I am overwhelmed at the instances which reflect that women were "second-class" people back in biblical times. And the advent of Jesus wouldn't have immediately changed those views overnight, would they? Wouldn't the assembly of scripture and its dissemination have been required before a whole society would change its views?

WOW. With just a tiny bit of looking, I got more stuff than I can type in a month, so I'll just hit a few highlights.

  • Men could have all the wives they wanted, but women were not so free.
  • Sarah told Abraham he could have sex with her handmaiden Hagar, but doesn't seem to have consulted with Hagar about it. Care to try that with your wife or your maid today?
  • When the men of Sodom mobbed Lot's house and wanted the good-looking angels (men) to come out so they could "know" them (check the Adam & Eve story for the meaning of that little gem...), Lot offered his daughters to them, for sex, and was still considered an honorable man worthy of saving.
  • Men (who were presumably pigs, like we are today) could have all the concubines they wanted, but it seems to have been a no-no for a woman to have a lot of whatever the male equivalent of a concubine was.
  • Pharaoh ordered killing of the male children. Women didn't count, apparently.
  • The census seems to have counted men only. That even carried forward into the New Testament accounts of feeding 5000 with a small sack lunch. That was only the men!
  • The last commandment is not to covet a lot of stuff of your neighbor's, even his wife. She's apparently in the same class as his house, his servants (female AND MALE!), and his 1969 Z28 Camaro (that goes double for a ZL-1).
  • Slaves got to go free every 6 years. But only if they were men. If they'd married, the wife didn't get set free.
  • If a lady was expecting, and some guy hit her in the tummy and she miscarried, the malefactor had to pay a fine. TO HER HUSBAND!! What .. she didn't count?
  • A man who had sex with his neighbor's wife apparently committed a grievous offense against his neighbor. NOT against his own wife! I mean, hubbies could go visit prostitutes and apparently not offend their own wives.
I could go on, but Mr. C. (for Carpal) Tunnel is begging me to stop. But it's clear (to me, anyway) that THIS is the society into which Jesus was introduced, and I'm sure that a lot of what He taught was oriented at setting some of those things right. But as I said, that'd require the completion of Scripture.

And that was the society into which Paul told Timothy that HE didn't let a woman teach. Since he didn't tell Timothy not to do that, I presume there was reason, where Paul was, with the women in his presence, that Paul didn't do that.

**Edit Note** I knew I'd forget something, so let me add this: Check out Miriam, Huldah, Deborah, and Noadiah. They're referred to as Prophetesses. And that word [HT: Strong's] seems merely to be the feminine form of Prophet, and we know what their function was, I suppose. AND, God says Deborah judged Israel. Hmmmm.......

So I am forced to wonder .. did God make a mis..... a mis .... uuhhhhh ... uuhhhhh ...

NO, doggone it, I can't even say it. **End Edit**

Someone made a comment on a blog somewhere about "Let's be consistent". To that I say "Amen". So .... which is it going to be.......

____ Women are to be treated in accordance with all scripture, including the OT references alluded to above, or....

____ Women are to be granted honor as a fellow heir of the gift of life, and in accordance with the sovereign gifting and inheritance of God Himself.

You needn't actually cast a vote ... your actions will do that for you.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Integrity in Membership the Pastorate

Or, What I wish I'd said in San Antonio Last June



I think I just woke up to something; I seriously doubt that Tom Ascol's motion as to Church Integrity (or anybody's similar motion) is ever going to pass the SBC.

Any motion like that would have to be passed by a group that's primarily pastors. And the pastors are the people who, more than anyone, would look really bad if the group agreed there was anything wrong with membership the way it is. So it isn't about integrity in membership, it's about integrity among pastors.

When a pastor says they have this many or that many members, it seems OK to follow up by saying "..Of course, the FBI couldn't find 50% (or whatever the number) of them."

I told a preacher an old joke at the Convention in San Antonio. It was about the church with such an infestation of a rare breed of squirrel, that they couldn't use the church. When they tried catching them and taking them out to the forest, they simply came back. So, conventional methods aside, they called the local Baptist pastor who'd had the same problem the year before. When they asked him how they'd solved it, he remarked "Simple ... we voted them all in as members, gave them offering envelopes, and now we never see them any more."

Such a sad truth. But he and his wife laughed.

Laughed.

I've been pondering why the convention would, two years in a row, decline to vote on such a motion, and not even want to bring the motion out to the floor to vote it up or down. Then it finally hit me: this isn't about the SBC, it's about the pastors themselves. Admitting the need for such a motion would be admitting there's a problem, and if there is, it's not with the SBC. It's with the local church, and you know who heads the local church! So ...duuuh ... who can blame them?

I can think of Someone.

Anyway, what's the real embarrassment in all this? It's that the 16.5 million "members", the 8 million "members" we can even find, the 6+ million that are actually THERE on Sunday mornings, the 8.5 million "members" we CANNOT find .. they are all members of LOCAL CHURCHES. Pastored by local PASTORS. If there's a fault, it's with the local pastors, churches, and the system(s) in operation.

Like my Daddy use to say, what's EVERYBODY's fault, is NOBODY's fault.

I doubt that God agrees.

So where are we? Well, we have perhaps 8.5 million folks who probably think they're better off having their name on the membership roster at some Baptist church somewhere. And they think that, IMHO, because we've told them that. They think they're OK, because we've told them they're OK! They've walked the aisle, perhaps even said the prayer and taken the plunge, signed the card, and done it right there in front of those people. Done deal, right?

Just look at what we do now and then: we have "High Attendance Day", for one. I don't know about you, but my little SS class gets together once a week to feast on God's word, to hear personally from the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, and of our lives. We Ask the Holy Ghost to open our minds and let His light shine in and guide us as we attempt to live for, and serve, Him. But then, by the way, we have a really special reason for being there next Sunday; it's High Attendance Day!

Just how on earth do we make that a "special reason"? Isn't meeting with and hearing from God as special as it can get? I think the whole idea is an insult to God, myself. But heck, what do I know?

I've even heard of "Prove the Tithe" Sunday. When I read Malachi, I want to throw up when I hear of "Prove the Tithe"! That whole idea reminds me of a SS member who owns an auto repair shop. He says now and then their association suggests a "Do Your Best Work Day". He calls that stupid; EVERY DAY is "Do Your Best Work Day" at his shop.

Apparently his little profit making business has a higher aim than most churches!

So what's the normal reaction when attendance slips? The pastors beat the congregation over the head to do more of the stuff that built the church where half the members are Missing In Action; make some more calls and do some more begging to come back to the "House" of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

If you're a member of a Rotary International Club, chances are 90-95% that you were there last meeting day (every week), or that, if you were out of town, you went that week to another club. But if you're a member of an SBC church, chances are 63% you were NOT there last week, and NEVER make up. Isn't it something what we've accomplished? Making the fact of membership in a group allegedly following Jesus, LESS meaningful than a Civic Service Club?

I don't even want to THINK of the possibility that a big percentage of those MIA folks may actually NOT be saved. The norm in the SBC churches I'm familiar with is that, when someone walks down the aisle, tells the greeter they're a member of some other SBC church, and have been baptized, they're taken in to the local church without much question. If 3 or 4 couples do that on one Sunday, it's usually referred to as a "mighty move of God".

I was an Elder at a local Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, when we started the church. We purposely designed the membership requirement to include ONE method for joining: Come forward, express your desire, meet later with the Elders and share your testimony (this was an informal fellowship dessert at an Elder's home), and have the Elders ... those responsible for the spiritual health of the church ... agree as to the suitability of receiving that person into the fellowship. Bottom line: no "Letter from a Sister Church" deal.

See, at most of the SBC churches I've been in, we want whoever talks to the responder to wrap up his business with them during 3 or 4 stanzas of the invitation hymn and then announce the "decisions" to the congregation for the perfunctory "amen" which I suppose we feel is tantamount to a vote to admit to membership. How ludicrous.

I'm sure AT&T or General Motors or UPS hires people as employees that way, right?

I'd better stop. I'm getting upset. So I'll close with these 2 thoughts:

1) In a group that focuses on, and trumpets, priesthood of the believer, could it be that Pastors think they can pass off to the individual members, all responsibility for their own conditions? Can they blame the non-attendance of, and invisibility of, a big majority of their "members" on the members themselves? And make it stick? I don't think so. "Payday someday", anyone?

2) To Tom Ascol: Better not bring that motion up again this year. Or if you do, someone better keep me away from the microphones. If it comes up, so help me, I'll say all this stuff, along with all the other stuff I'm not saying here.

-30-

For now.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Aim Low, Boys, They're Ridin' Shetland Ponies

And that's where the feet are, anyway.

My younger son .. mid-40's ... was the technical services director for a computer software and networking company. Big folks. They got bought out and in an apparent "streamlining" move, my son's boss was let go.

They were good friends.

Management thought, with reference to my son, "He is in such an important position, and he & his boss were good friends, so he'll probably quit over the firing. We'd better move him to a less sensitive position." So they promoted (?) him to manager of some operations in remote states, and cut up my son's team of employees. As a result of the impossibility of managing the remote operations (run by people who needed supervision), my son quit and went to work elsewhere.

His former employers have shot themselves in the foot. They caused, by their own actions, what they feared.

When the devil beset Job, he shot himself in the foot. I mean, how many millions have gained strength by seeing God there, amidst all the tragedy?

When the devil prompted Pilate to mockingly paint "The King of the Jews" to put over Jesus' head on the cross, he shot himself in the foot. One of the thieves apparently saw the sign and realized Jesus was the King.

And when Jesus was crucified, the devil shot himself in the head.

You've read the bible. Fill in some more blanks if you need more evidence.

The SBC Powers Who Be Aren't are shooting themselves, as well as about 8 million** SBC'ers, in the collective foot. They seem unable to see (or perhaps to care about) that .

Do you HONESTLY thing God reveres the SBC highly enough to clean up the messes they've created? I don't. And one of the reasons I think that, is that the SBC and its entities have taken some, maybe a lot of, credit for the increase God has given, and that ONLY He can give ("The Crown Jewel in God's Evangelism Efforts", anybody?).

And, now that the Klouda suit was dismissed, I feel more certain than ever, of that. I am no prophet and don't pretend to be, but I cannot conceive that God is in how things were handled, and particularly not in the mistreatment and dismissal of Dr. Klouda. Absolutely not. And the lawsuit's dismissal tells me that God won't correct the course of the SBC by correcting the problems which caused Dr. Klouda to be so mistreated.

I think He's just letting those in positions of authority do what is right in their own sight, and I think the results, for the SBC, will be just as (eventually) dramatic as they were in the days of Noah.

And just as dramatic as they were for Israel, when they rejected and crucified Jesus. Only this time, I don't think there are 1878 years left in which to set things right.

**ps: I know the purported number of SBC members is 16.5 million, but I'm only counting the ones we can find.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

OK, Let's Go Win Some SOULS!!!!!!

Proverbs 11:30: "The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he who wins souls is wise". (NIV)

There are times in our handling of "soul-winning programs", that we sound like we're in the MLM business. At least that's the way I have seen too much of it, anyway. I don't claim to be right or anything. But this much I'm pretty sure of:

1) We don't win souls. Only Jesus can do that. We're talking about "natural" folks we're trying to reach (collectively) and they don't perceive things of the Spirit. So I'm guessing it's God .. in all His Persons .. that does the winning.

Not us.

2) I've heard we're supposed to be burdened for the lost. I must be a defeated Christian, by that standard, since I'm not. Go here for details.

3) It's widely conceded that the command to go and make disciples and baptize was given to the church. No Lone Ranger Charlie or Frank or Susan the Baptists need apply. And I can't really argue with that, as no one person .. particularly back when Jesus said it .. could go to all the world and witness to everybody. No more than Eve by herself could have had enough babies to fill the earth. So all the things necessary to get and keep the Body of Christ moving in commitment to the commission, need to be done. And we can, indeed, do our part.

SO ... what about this soul-winning thing I've heard preached for so many years? Well, I believe I'll tell you what I think.

I got to poking around in my computerized Bible to see what all those words mean. I confess I'm not a Greek or Hebrew (or even American English) scholar, but I can pick some other brains about it, I guess. So let's look at some words:

"He that wins": laqach: to take (in the widest variety of applications): KJV-- accept, bring, buy, carry away, drawn, fetch, get, infold.

Hmm .. that doesn't sound like a spiritual transaction, necessarily, to me. Sounds as if it's a matter of drawing, taking in, to some entity. Perhaps to one's self. Is there any support for that?

Well, this leads me to believe that Jesus would commend those who did good things for their neighbors (all right, all right, jump on that, all you theologians) and maintained good relationships with those around them. I mean, doing the Golden Rule thing and loving your neighbors will do that, won't they?

See, I'm not that big a fan of confrontational witnessing. I like to show forth the joy of the Lord and to always be ready to give a reason for the hope that's in us. And to be as open about my Savior as I am about my wife, my kids, and my friends. Hey, I'll tell you about any of them, unashamedly, at the drop of a hat.

Same for Jesus.

"Souls"? Calling on my computerized Strong's again, it tells me the word means "nephesh" ... a breathing creature, i.e. animal of (abstractly) vitality ...

Sounds like people to me.

So .. can it be said that, if I am winsome, helpful to my neighbors, loving etc., that might be an outgrowth of wisdom? And if that's the case, might those people listen to me when I give the reason for the hope that's in me? Might they be more prone to share their failing, their fears, with me? Their needs? And might they tend to believe me when I share the answers to what is obviously (to believers) a spiritual problem?

I think so. Certainly more so than the guy whose door gets knocked on at 7:00pm on Thursday night, and is apt to nod yes to get us out of his face before a certain TV show comes on at 8.

So I got to thinking .. what's happening in our churches, anyway? Divorce rate is as high in as out, abuse is not all that uncommon, even in the ministry itself, and we can't even find half or more of the folks who've joined our churches and are still on the books as members. What on earth is it, that's causing this to happen? I mean, I doubt seriously that a church Jesus built would produce such results. Maybe it's the system. Maybe it's all of what we've been doing. All of it. What we've been doing is what has produced what we have now. It'd be insanity for us to beat each other over the heads to do some more of the same, and expect any different results in the future.

I do know that the SBC isn't going to address it. The Cooperative Program is doing fine, thank you, and the folks in power aren't about to admit anything's wrong enough to require actually doing something different in response.

We're paying folks enough to have some problem-solving geniuses on board. Sure hope we've got some, and they actually decide to wake up and do something.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Maybe We're Missing Something

Before I start this, I'd better add my usual disclaimer right up front: I'm not a scholar or theologian, so: What do I know?

Paul Burleson recently pointed me to a book entitled "The Shack" by William P. Young. If he said I should read it, then I should read it. So I did.

Wow. He said it would affect me in ways that were almost impossible to explain, and it did just that. But I got one crystal clear and radical idea out of it, that I just can't shake. Oh, there were lots of others, too, but this one really grabs me, and for a lot of reasons.

Thinking over what it said, and in light of a SS lesson I was preparing last Sunday morning, I called up the following verses:

Philippians 2:5-8: "Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!"


Now, the idea that I had came from "The Shack", and as a result of something that's troubled me for years. And it was fueled by something I'd heard many times in sermons, namely that Jesus was "Fully God, as though He were not man at all, and fully man, as though He were not God at all". I've never agreed with that, for several reasons. I guess the main one is that, when He was on the cross, if He'd been fully God, He couldn't have died.

I don't think God, being the Self-Existent One, can die. Now don't yell one of those statements about something God cannot do ... like He can't make something so big He couldn't move it. Such things are exhibits of His unsearchable and unlimited power, and not a commentary on some non-existent inability to do something which cannot exist or occur. But what if it was the case, that Jesus chose not to "grasp" equality with God, did indeed make Himself nothing, a mere human, and then lived a sinless and perfect life, fitting for the required sacrifice? How then could you explain His miraculous powers and seemingly superhuman knowledge? Would that even be explainable?

I think so. His relationship with His Father was so close that all the Father had was available to Him. I can identify with that .. I know the extent I'd go to if and when my family needs something, and I'm sure Jesus' relationship with God was even closer than my sin-clouded self's with my sons & their wives & kids. Even than that with my wife.

And of course I hold to the doctrine of the Trinity. The Bible says Jesus is God. Period.

So ... when Jesus told disciples they could go out and chase demons away and cure illnesses, perhaps it was that the power came directly from His Heavenly Father. And the same thing for the other miracles He did, and the supernatural knowledge He displayed here and there. Maybe He was powerless (relatively) other than that which flowed from God.

Say, might that explain why He said things like this......

John 5:19: Jesus gave them this answer: "I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. (NIV)

Hmm ... I'm not a scholar but I've heard this thing about Okkam's Razor (oft paraphrased as "All other things being equal, the simplest solution is the best"), so let's apply it. Jesus said He couldn't to anything by Himself, so let's say that's absolutely true. If He was God (which I believe), then He must have voluntarily laid that aside ... did not grasp it ... and depended then on God to intervene when the humanly-impossible was called for. And He'd know when it was time for that, what with His lack of sin-induced blindness and all.

Is that thought affirmed anywhere else? I think so:

John 14:10: Don't you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. (NIV)

So when Jesus knew a certain Samaritan woman's marital history, when He tossed demons out of their fleshly home in that Gadarene guy, when He ended funerals by terminating someone's death, maybe it was God doing it through Him. Like .. I don't know .. but it seems .. well ... logical and all.

But doesn't that rub against conventional "He could do anything 'cuz He was God!" thinking"? Yup. But maybe we think conventionally because we're a lot more comfortable thinking there's little of that stuff that's going to happen now, so we don't need to believe God for that.

I've heard it said that Baptists believe in miraculous healing, as long as nobody's getting any better!

I've also heard it said that we're not afraid of failure. Most of us have had enough practice at failing, that we're used to it, anyway. No big deal any more. Well, some author I respect (I forget who .. hey .. I'm old .. I'm entitled .. I just never wanted to write about it until now, ok?) said that what we're really afraid of is success. And I agree.

God has done a miraculous thing here and there in my life. Healing, unexplainable knowledge, stuff like that. And it's not a warm fuzzy thing .. it's intimidating in the extreme. To be close up to a display of God's power is not comfortable. So yeah, there's a lot more comfort in same-old same-old religious practice, than there is in the faith-filled arena of the unexplainable.

So, what's the big deal? Maybe it's that those unexplainable things Jesus did were performed courtesy of the same God Who might just be standing ready to do that sort of thing today. Perhaps He'd give us unexplainable knowledge if we were as devoted to His service. And if we're not afraid of what others might think of that.

Say, wouldn't stuff like that disrupt our religious ceremonies and rituals and Bible studies and worship services?

I doubt that's (really) an oft-desired thing.

Now, lest someone think that might lead to egotism or self-aggrandizement, that's always a risk in the outworking of ANY Spiritual Gift, whether there's EVER any miraculous manifestation. Let one lesson be seriously blessed, and someone'll tell the SS teacher he's wonderful. Ditto for preaching. Or the exercise of any other gift. But I'm reminded that every gift tells you nothing about the recipient of the gift ... it only tells you about the Giver!

So. Every such manifestation, is a wonderful testimony to the purpose and the nature and the intent of our Heavenly Father, and His unfathomable love for His people.

Every Spiritual outpouring, even the ones we're afraid of.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

It's All About Grace

The picture over there, on the right, is the Album cover for a CD with the title shown above. Ironically, given the context here, the album was recorded by the long-gone musical group Truth, which was based in Mobile, Alabama (as my feeble memory claims, anyway). In fact, they performed in our church more than once.

There are 35 or 40 people out there who probably get the connection, already, so on the off chance someone else actually reads this, I'll 'splain:

I was privileged to attend the Exploratory meeting regarding the formation of the Antioch Network of Churches. Others more skillful at communicating will post about what it was about, and what happened, so I won't get into that, here. But I'll toss out a couple of observations.

The first one is that I sat among a group of about 38 people, roughly half white and half not. And I have to tell you, there's no group of people I'd rather have been with for those two days, than the ones I was with. It was an absolute blast. What makes it ironic to me, and what causes the grace to resonate so ringingly with me, is that I was the only one I saw there that wasn't in the ministry. The people there were pastors ... one was the wife of a pastor of a "Cowboy Church" and she was deeply involved in the work (and also a CPA) ... and the others were pastors or ministry assistants. Me, I'm a college flunk-out layman, and the only layman, non-church-staff dude there.

The Grace of God? The fact that I was a believer, and the fact that I was even there, are startling (to me) reminders of the unfathomable grace of God. And the respect and lack of condescension, the acceptance, and the interaction with others there showed me that living out the grace of God in their lives is important to these folks. One and all, and not just at meetings. If I have any sensitivity at all.

Wade Burleson shared thoughts about Grace and Truth in the first session. He referred to God's giving of "grace upon grace", and contrasted that with efforts at anything which is based on "truth upon truth".

Boot up your computer bible and search on "grace" some time and see the tremendous richness of what you find.

Truth simply exists. Sure, we'll never grasp spiritual truths unless the Spirit reveals it to us, but even that revelation is a matter of God's grace!

Ephesians 2:8-9, anyone?

I had breakfast with Paul Burleson yesterday. Wow. I don't recall having that much church, even in church, since this happened last December. See, Paul had talked the evening before about the form of prayer and how he and his wife thanked God, and blessed their food at meals, in a celebratory fashion by toasting The Lord and proclaiming His provision for them, heads up and eyes open and glasses raised. I must say, we got shoutin' happy thanking God shall we say enthusiastically. I just have to say, THANK YOU, Paul. Brother. Friend.

Anyway, back on point: the meeting was all about Grace, and manifesting that in our work in particular ways. If you want any more details about the purpose of the meeting, they are, and, I'm sure, will be, well set forth at Wade's Blog.

I'm reminded of the whole lengthy episode of Bill Murray, Madelyn Murray O'Hair's son. As I understand it, the lawsuit that got prayer tossed from schools was filed in his name, as he was the student. I remember that, and all the hatred lavished on him, expressed or unexpressed, and then his becoming a Christian and being called into the ministry.

One of God's elect, and he was likely crucified hundreds, or thousands, of times in people's minds.

If you want to go on a fault-finding expedition about the ANC, I suggest you make your words sweet and palatable. You may have to eat them.

I'm betting on it.

Ironic, huh? Truth singing about Grace?