Friday, March 30, 2012

The Lord's Prayer: My Rule of Life

Lord's Prayer

Over the last two days I have shared some thoughts about some things that we can take away from Christian Monasticism (Part 1 and Part 2). I think that their desire to remain radically obedient to Christ in a world that encouraged people to be Christian because it was part of being a good citizen is something that is still very important today. I also admire that they took enough thought in how they were going to live their lives in a God honoring way that they actually wrote down what they were going to do. On the one hand there seems to be an importance given to something when we put it into writing. Although it shouldn't be this way, written contracts always seem to carry more weight than a simple handshake. On the other hand a written New Year's resolution can be just as easy to break as unwritten one. What can make the difference is making written agreements known to others so that they can hold us accountable. It isn't just that the monks had written rules but that they all held one another accountable to them.

It might also seem a bit silly to put these things into writing when we have the written Word of God that tells us how we are to live our lives. But when you think about it every sermon that we listen to also does the same basic thing. Each sermon and each Biblical teaching takes (or at least they should) the written Word of God and puts it into a practical way. What is important for anyone adopting a rule of life is that it in no way can replace the Word of God. Rather it must always be looked at as a plan of how to put the Word of God into practical action on a daily basis. And this means that my rule of life will also be moldable to fit those things that God is convicting me to change within my life.

It might also seem that this smacks of legalism. As if it is just another set of rules that are put into place to try and work at holiness. And that is a very real issue. I can never have the attitude that if I follow this particular set of rules that I will be more holy. In all reality I could break every single rule and still live a God honoring life. And I could also keep every rule and live a life that does not honor God. Simply following rules does not equal Godliness. Yes our lives should be marked with obedience but they should also be marked with "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, [and] self-control." If following a rule of life ever takes you away from those things it needs to be abandoned immediately.

Finally I must state that God's Word is our "only infallible and sufficient rule for deciding issues of faith and practices that involve doctrines." God's Word alone has the ultimate authority in the life of Christians.

So with those caveats in place, let me share the rule of life that I have come up with. It is based upon the Lord's Prayer as found in Matthew 6:9-13.

"Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name"

Rule #1: Worship God with my whole life.

I will try to pause and see God in everything that I do. While I know that this will not be entirely possible at first, it is something that I will be working towards. I will also take time to worship God in song by playing worship songs on my guitar. There will be the urge to spend too much time playing but I will need to be disciplined in order to accomplish everything else that I need to do.

"Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."

Rule #2: Focus on being ministry work rather than doing ministry work.

I do not want to focus too much on the educational aspects of ministry work and not enough on the transformational aspects. I also do not want this to be the case in my own personal life. This means that I must always be the "First Listener" to any of my teaching. And that teaching should always be focused on transforming me into a more Christ-like person.

"Give us this day our daily bread."

Rule #3: Spend time with God reading his word.

I will spend 1 hour a day meditating on God’s word for my own personal growth. During this time I will focus on trying to learn who God wants me to be as well as what God wants me to learn.

Rule #4: Be intentionally healthy in relationships.

The first and most important relationship in my life is with my wife. I will be intentional about setting aside time for my wife. This time with her will take precedent regardless of how busy I get with other things. I will also be intentional about being who I need to be for my wife.

Next are the relationships with my family. I will be intentional about being more consistent in my connection with them.

I will also be more intentional in communicating with my friends. Many of my relationships suffered during my schooling and my fear is that the trend will continue during my ministry life as well.

Rule #5: Be intentional about physical health.

I will work with my wife to create a healthier eating lifestyle through making better choices. We will focus on eating more natural and healthy choices. I will also exercise a minimum of 3 times a week to start with the goal of increasing the duration and frequency of exercise.

"And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors."

Rule #6: Be humble.

Because at times I can struggle with being humble, I will strive to be more humble. In my daily Bible reading I will try and see where humility breaks into the passage that I am reading. I will also take time to ask God for humility in my daily time of prayer.

Rule #7: Be forgiving.

Because at times I can struggle with being forgiving, I will strive to be more of a forgiving person. In my daily Bible reading I will try and see where forgiveness breaks into the passage that I am reading. I will also take time to ask God for forgiveness in my daily time of prayer.

"And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil."

Rule #8: Rely on God in the good times.

I will take time to focus on thanking God for what he has given me in my time of prayer.

Rule #9: Do not make life harder than it needs to be.

It can be very easy to make my week more difficult than it needs to be. I will therefore commit to a basic Monday through Friday schedule in order to complete all of the things that I need to complete for the week, with the understanding that this schedule will need to change based upon the needs of the day. Saturday belongs to my wife. Sunday belongs to God and church.

Rule #10: Rely on God in the bad times.

I will take time to focus on asking God for strength and wisdom to face life's challenges.


By the way...somewhere out there Dr. Chase is laughing.


Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.



Thursday, March 29, 2012

More Monkeying around.

Monk's Loneliness La soledad del monje

Yesterday I shared how I admired the passion and reasons that some of those in early Christianity had for becoming monks. Their desire to remain pure and obedient to God in a world that was making Christianity a social and political thing is admirable. Again, I want to be clear that I don't necessarily agree with all of their methods. For one I am not going to run off and live a life of solitude in the desert. And I don't know if I could ever go with the bowl cut and brown robe look. But there are some things that us mondern non-monastic Christians can learn from them.

One of the things that developed over time in monastic communities is a "Rule of Life." Each community would come up with a step-by-step plan of how they were going to live. For example the rule that St. Benedict came up with is 73 chapters. Within it are the rules that Benedict came up with that cover both worship and life in the monastery. An analysis of the rule shows us that:

"Of the seventy-three chapters comprising the Rule, nine treat of the duties of the abbot, thirteen regulate the worship of God, twenty-nine are concerned with discipline and the penal code, ten refer to the internal administration of the monastery, and the remaining twelve consist of miscellaneous regulations."

What I find interesting is that Benedict tried to make the Word of God less theoretical and more practical. I don't know that I would want a rule that specified how I was to sleep (yes Benedict had a rule about how the monks were supposed to sleep) but there is something about trying to set a daily routine or a daily way of life that centers around God. It makes me pause and wonder about how many things I do in a day that are not centered around God.

For a seminary assignment we were to write our own "Rule of Life" but it was just assignment. But the assignment did drive home one important idea. We should have a plan of how we are going to stay grounded in our faith. Some of the easiest things to identify as essential (reading the Bible and praying on a daily basis for example) can sometimes be the hardest things to do if we don't have a concrete plan to do them. And that is where a "Rule of Life" come in to play. It is merely setting down our plan for doing these things on paper and then sharing that plan with others so that they can hold us accountable.

I pulled that assignment out and have been working to update it. Tomorrow I will share it.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Do the Monks of old have anything to teach us today?

St. Francis of Assisi

Trends in the church can often arise as a reaction to some sort of behavior that some find questionable or objectionable. Modern worship music is a great example of one of those reactions. It is a younger generation's reaction to what they found to be a stoic and boring form of worshiping God through song. Then there were the resulting "Worship Wars" when the Traditional camp reacted to what they saw as a shallow and irreverent form of worship. And many other trends that we see today are these same types of reactions. Whole denominations and Christian movements have been (and continue to be) formed based on these reactions. It really isn't a new phenomena within the church.

One of the groups of people within the greater church that I never really understood were monks. The image I had whenever I thought of monks was the scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail where the monks were chanting and hitting themselves over the head with boards. But then a funny thing happened while I was studying early church history. I started to view Monasticism–the formal name for living as a monk–as a movement as a reaction to objectionable behavior.

Christianity was basically illegal in the Roman Empire until the year 313 A.D. It was at this point that Constantine signed an Edict that allowed for other religions to be legal within the Empire. Then in the year 380 A.D. Theodosius made Christianity the official religion of the Empire. It was within this environment that Christian Monasticism started to flourish as a movement within the church.

To be sure, Monasticism in general and Christian Monasticism existed prior to this date. But prior to this time it was mostly made up of individuals that went off to live on their own. Many combined this with taking the radically obedient steps of giving up the comforts of life and living at a subsistence level. They wanted to fully devote their time to doing ministry work. But now there was a flood of new people into the church because Christianity is suddenly the official religion it led to a very serious set of issues within the church. Justo González gets right at the heart of the matter:

"When the church joins the powers of the world, when luxury and ostentation take hold of Christian altars, when the whole of society is intent on turning the narrow path into a wide avenue, how is one to resist the enormous temptations of the times? How is one to witness to the Crucified Lord, to the One who had nowhere to lay his head, at a time when many leaders of the church live in costly homes, and when the Ultimate witness of martyrdom is no longer possible? How to overcome Satan, who is constantly tempting the faithful with the new honors that society offers?"*

And in many ways these questions are not only valid today but they may in fact be more relevant for those of us in the modern Western Church.

González goes on to point out that many people ended up leaving everything behind and taking up a life of solitude. Soon we see a whole Christian Monastic movement that takes hold and starts to resemble what we think of today when we think of monks and nuns living in a monastery. These people were reacting against Christianity becoming an institution of the government and people converting because they thought they should in order to be good citizens rather than because they found the truth in Christianity. While I might disagree with their methods, I do greatly admire their reasons and passions to separate themselves from the world. That passion is something that we still need today in the church. And those questions that González identifies as being important to the Monastics back in the 300s are ones that we should be continually asking of ourselves today.


*Justo L. González, The Story of Christianity: Volume 1: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation (Peabody, MA: Prince Press, 1984), 136-7.


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Hunger Games

My wife and I went to see The Hunger Games this weekend. We had seen a trailer for the movie a while back and thought that it might be something that we would enjoy. I usually don't like to see movies that are going to be popular on their opening weekend because I don't find sitting in a crowded theater enjoyable. But we went anyway.

I didn't know much about the story going in. I knew that it was a book and I suspected that it was a series of books. I knew that there was some bad things going on in the book where people were involved in some sort of battle to the death. But I really didn't know anything beyond that. Just as a spoiler alert about how well our movie viewing experience went–I have since read the book.

I started to get skeptical of the movie during the first fifteen to twenty minutes because the director decided to use shaky camera work. Very shaky camera work. I started to feel pretty nauseous and wondered how I was going to make it through two hours. I even leaned over and whispered my concern to my wife. (I really don't know why movie makers overuse this effect. It is one thing to add the effect in action scenes but the first bit of this film isn't filled with actions scenes. It just isn't fun to watch people sitting on a chair with the camera shaking as if it were rolling down a hill.) But the story was compelling right from the start and it just built from there.

One of the most captivating things about this story (for both the film but especially the book) is that the subject matter is so dark but done in a very engaging way. The premise of the story is that the Capitol of Panem (the result of a post apocalyptic United States) faced a rebellion from it's 13 districts. As a punishment for that rebellion the Capitol held the "Hunger Games" every year. The 12 remaining districts (District 13 was wiped out in the civil war) have to sent one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 to participate in the "Hunger Games." The contestants fight to the death until there is just one victor. Then that person is sent back to their district and lavished with great riches. Most of the districts are extremely poor and the more a person relies on the Capitol for food the more times their name is entered into the lottery. The story is compelling and you are sucked in to the point where it is very easy to forget that the story is really about kids forced to kill other kids for the entertainment of the people of the Capitol.

Everyone in Panem is forced to watch but what is a punishment for the districts is a gala event for the Capitol.

The parallels to the games in the Roman Coliseum are unmistakable. However the parallels to modern reality shows are frightening. While reality shows are not about people killing one another they are filled with character assassination. Viewers might want to object by saying that these shows are more scripted than reality or that the actors know that being involved in conflict will get them more face time. But the fact of the matter is that the entertainment industry has made billions of dollars showing people trying to destroy one another under the pretense of being reality. We have become consumers of the destruction of human beings. When you also consider the popularity of the ultra-violent fighting of the MMA it just begs the question of how long until we find ourselves back in the Roman Coliseum?

Both the film and the book are worth watching and reading. The shaky camera work lessens and the film stays very true to the spirit of the book. But like most film adaptations the book is far better. Film just has too many limitations that make it impossible to capture everything. The book is obviously written towards young adults but I found the book to be nearly impossible to put down. The film is aimed equally at young adults and older adults but because of the subject matter and violence it would be very questionable for those younger than junior high age.

Get the book and read it. Then go and see the film. You won't be sorry.

Photo courtesy of

Monday, March 26, 2012

God Spares the Guilty

I once again had the privilege of preaching at Faith Community Reformed Church this past Sunday. The sermon is based on 1 Samuel 24 where David spares King Saul's life.

One of the important lessons that I learned was the importance of having water handy. My mouth was dry and a had a bit of a tickle in my throat.

Friday, March 23, 2012

NCAA Tourney Time

It's that time of year when people that never follow college sports suddenly think that they are experts. I am one of those people. This year is very different than in years past. I actually am on quite the role. I have missed only one game so far...I really should have bet the farm. But I am not really the betting type. So while we are in the middle of the Sweet Sixteen I thought that I would do my bracket review.

Starting with the South:

It is in the South that I made my one mistake. I picked VCU over Wichita State (the state of Kansas is only allotted so many tourney wins in one year and they get used up elsewhere); I even had Colorado over UNLV but really who honestly guessed Lehigh over Duke?

But all is well that ends well. I had Xavier beating Duke anyway. It's just really fun to write Xavier. My brother wants to name his kid Xavier–at least for a middle name. I mean how cool is having X as your middle initial. It can turn the most mundane name into the coolest name. Just think about "John X. Smith." Now that is cool. As you can see I have Kentucky making it to the Final Four.


Moving to the West:

Yes I had Norfolk over Missouri. It hasn't been a good spring for the state of Missouri. The only other "upset" for the region was St. Louis over Memphis but is a 9 beating an 8 really an upset?

Norfolk's win opened the door for Florida to make it to the Elite Eight but that is it. I figured Michigan State to win a couple of games but let's be often does a Big Ten team actually do well? Especially when they are a number one seed. I almost picked LIU-Brooklyn to win but that would have been silly to pick a 16 over a 1. So I resisted. The confidence that Louisville picked up from their win will help.


Over to the East:

The first round in this one was fairly easy. Everyone held chalk. The first upset was Cincy over Florida State which set up the intrastate rival with Ohio State. Although I don't know how much Ohio State thought it was a rivalry.

The Big Ten does fairly well in the East. But just like Big Ten teams are wont to do they can't get past the big game. They end up playing like the Small Ten.

Syracuse knocks off two of those Small Ten teams on their way to the Final Four. They are the second number 1 to make it to the Final Four.


The Great Midwest:

Here is the second great pick that I made: South Florida over Temple. I figured one play in team had to win a game and couple of 12 seeds win their first game as well. So this was the logical pick.

I have not been impressed with Michigan this year so I figured they would come up short.

I am thinking that a North Carolina vs. NC State battle to get into the Final Four is going to be the game to watch in the Elite Eight. It might not be the best game from a basketball standpoint but it will be filled with bad blood.


And the Final Four:

So the Final Four ends up with three number 1 seeds. That seems almost impossible but it will happen. The Louisville vs. Kentucky game will be just as compelling as the NC/NC St. game.

I figure that two number 1 teams are not going to make it to the finals so that only leaves Louisville. Their win over MSU and then Kentucky will have them riding high. This coupled with the fact that I actually rooted for Syracuse back when Dwayne "Pearl" Washington was playing means that Louisville will end up winning.

And there you have it.


All picks are for entertainment purposes only which means don't use any of my insight to bet because I filled in my bracket this morning and still picked the Duke/Lehigh game wrong.


Thursday, March 22, 2012

John 14, Part 3

The final part of Brad Kautz's reflection on John 14. I hope you have enjoyed it as much as I have.

John 14, Part 3 – Brad Kautz

A week ago I gave a lecture for my local Bible study on John 14. In this third, and concluding, post of the series I want to share the things I learned from John 14 and taught to the class. (Here are the links to Part 1 and Part 2.)

If you have missed the first two parts, or to review for those of you who have read them, John 14 is the beginning of Jesus’ farewell to his disciples. They are gathered in the Upper Room and have shared a meal, shared in the Lord’s Supper and experienced the foot-washing. Judas has left the group, putting in place the process of Jesus’ betrayal. Chapters 14, 15 and 16 make up Jesus’ final teaching session for those who have walked so closely with him for three years.

The broad theme I believe is present in chapter 14 is that it was Jesus intent to prepare his disciples for the time when he would be absent from them by giving them a firm sense of hope and assurance in their future. He wanted to give the disciples a perspective that looked beyond the present and cast their vision on eternity. And I believe that this same intent is true for us as we read and study John 14.

Chapter 14 briefly considers Jesus’ teaching on six different topics. In Part 1, I talked about Heaven and God, the Father. In Part 2, I reviewed Prayer and the Holy Spirit. In the last part of the chapter Jesus talks about the Father’s love and God’s peace. He then closes with an enigmatic, but meaningful phrase.

In verses 19 through 24 Jesus talks about the love that God, the Father, has for the disciples. Verse 21 says,

"Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father and I will love him and manifest myself to him."

Despite the way it may sound here, I don’t believe that Jesus is teaching that the presence of God’s love in their lives is dependent on their keeping the commandments. Instead, Jesus is teaching them that God’s love is present to them because they love Jesus.

The disciples grew up and lived in a culture where there was a precisely calculated system of sacrifice and atonement in order for one to experience forgiveness by God. But even with the performance of the sacrifices I don’t think that a Jew would claim to know God personally, or to experience God’s love intimately.

But in these verses Jesus is teaching a radical truth. He is teaching them that God’s love is known personally by them in the very presence of Jesus.

We can take great comfort in this too, because we can’t possibly be perfect in living within God’s commandments. The radical truth is that God loves us nonetheless. He has promised to love us no matter what the circumstances of our lives may be.

There may be times when God seems distant, and in my experience these are times when the distance has been due to my own bad choices in relation to godly living. And the misery I may know at these times is actually God’s merciful action towards me, driving me back to him, where in repentance I clearly know his presence and love.

The last thing that Jesus assures his disciples of, in verses 25 through 31, is that they will experience God’s peace. In verse 27 he says,

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”

Throughout chapter 14 Jesus has been preparing his disciples for the time when he will no longer be with them, a time that he knows is very close. But while he will be physically absent he wants to assure them that they will know peace, a deep and true peace. The world’s peace is transient and imperfect but the disciples will know God’s peace, which is perfect.

God’s peace is something that they are hearing about in the Upper Room but that they won’t be able to really grasp until he is gone and they are living without him. It is a peace in which they will have no reason to be troubled or to have fear.

The disciples will experience persecution, but they won’t experience it on their own. They will have the Holy Spirit and the deep comfort of God’s peace. IN the presence of persecution they will have full faith in God’s promises.

In the book of Acts we see something of the violent persecution of the church by Saul. But later, writing as Paul, he tells the church at Philippi that God’s peace is one that surpasses all understanding.

We, too, will know times of struggle. Physical struggle. Emotional struggle. Spiritual struggle. Struggles that can take us to our breaking point. But we can go through those struggles knowing that in each and every circumstance of life we have the promise of God’s peace.

Jesus has given his disciples assurance of God’s promises and hope for their future. It may not have been fully known in the short-term but it is certainly true in the long-term, when they cast their vision on eternity.

And eternity is where we should cast our vision as well. John 1:4 says,

“In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

We will certainly see and know periods of darkness but God’s light, in Jesus, has already overcome darkness and shines eternally.

John 14 ends with the phrase “Rise, let us go from here.” The curious thing is that there is no action that follows the phrase, as chapter 15 begins with Jesus continuing to talk, something that lasts through chapter 17.

This phrase is something that biblical scholars have differing views on, with some believing it to have been added in error, while others completely ignore it.

Because my lecture was only on chapter 14 I believed that it was of significance for our study, because it reminds us that the reason we study God’s word is not merely to learn it more deeply, but to live by it in the world.

We were gathered in a Bible study and were fed on God’s word. And being nourished we were then sent out by him to serve him faithfully and to make his glory known through acts large and small in the places we live our daily lives. In our homes. In our places of work. Through our recreational activities. Through the seemingly chance encounters that occur each day.

And this is true each and every time we draw from God’s word.

So let us rise, and go from here, out into the world, making the glory of God known wherever we are.


Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


Copyright Brad Kautz 2012. Used with permission.


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

John 14, Part 2

Once again I would like to share my friend Brad Kautz's reflections on John 14. I found it to be a very interesting and inspiring look at some of Jesus' final teaching.

John 14, Part 2 – By Brad Kautz

In the first post of this series I shared some thoughts I had on John 14 from a lecture I gave on that chapter at a local Bible study. To briefly review, the setting of chapter 14 is in the Upper Room. Jesus has shared a meal with his disciples. There has been the foot-washing and the Lord’s Supper. Given that no Gospel includes both of those activities we don’t know in which order they happened. Judas has left the group to arrange Jesus’ betrayal. The remaining disciples are receiving their final teaching from him, a teaching that includes this chapter, along with chapters 15 and 16.

For the purposes of my lecture I found six key teachings collected under the broader intent of Jesus to provide his disciples with assurance and a firm hope in their future as he prepared them to go on without him. In the first post I talked about Heaven and God, the Father. Today I’ll discuss the next two points, and the series will conclude with a final post on the two remaining points and a thought on how the entire chapter calls us to serve God today.

After teaching about God the Father Jesus then moves to a brief discussion of prayer in verses 12 through 15. Broadly speaking, prayer is conversation with God. We speak with God and God speaks with us. I think that many of us are better at speaking to God than listening to what he may have to say to us. A teacher I have learned a great deal from has often equated prayer with breathing, because as constant breathing is necessary to sustain life, constant prayer is also needed to sustain spiritual life. Perhaps this is why in writing to the Thessalonians Paul encouraged them to “pray without ceasing.”

In the three years Jesus has spent with his disciples he has given them a model of a prayer-filled life. They have seen him give thanks to God as he has done miracles, such as feeding the five thousand. The disciples have seen him go off by himself to pray. Jesus has also given them a model of prayer in the form of the Lord’s Prayer.

Now Jesus teaches the disciples something about the power contained in prayer. In verse 13 he says,

“Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.”

I believe there are two things to be mindful about prayer within this verse. The first has to do with the idea of asking “in my name.” I don’t believe that Jesus is teaching that our prayers have to be structured in a specific manner, containing the phrase “in Jesus name I/we pray,” as if that was an incantation or formula that makes the prayer acceptable before God.

To pray in Jesus’ name does mean that we have to have the mind of Jesus as we pray, i.e. that in making our requests to God they should be the types of things that Jesus would ask of God.

As an example, I could pray that God would make me prosperous in my work. And while that may seem like a good thing to pray for I have serious doubts that it is the type of thing God would want us to ask of him, or that Jesus would pray to the Father for. A better example would be that God would lead me to use whatever prosperity I experience in my work to serve him well. This latter example combines both parts of Jesus’ teaching, that the prayers are the kinds of things Jesus would pray for and that God is glorified through their fulfillment.

One thing Jesus doesn’t talk about is the connection between our prayers and when they maybe fulfilled. It could be that our prayers are for things we would consider to be very appropriate, such as that someone dear to us would come into a saving relationship with God. And while we ardently pray for such things we have to be mindful that our knowledge is always incomplete. Our prayer, as heartfelt and sincere as it may be, may not be a part of God’s greater purposes and plan. I think the best thing we can do at such times is to remain faithful in our prayers and to leave the results in God’s hands.

In verses 15 through 18 Jesus assures the disciples that even though he will be absent they will not be left alone. In verses 16 and 17 he says,

"And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you."

Jesus tells his disciples that, through the Father, he will provide an eternal presence to be with them.

In the ESV the word “Helper” is used. The NIV translates this as “Counselor” and other translations use “Advocate.” We know this presence more clearly as the Holy Spirit. The word that John uses in the Greek doesn’t translate easily, hence the variations, but it does clearly teach us that one the purposes of the third person of the Trinity sustain us in God’s truth.

The world may tell them, and us, that Jesus is an ordinary man. The world may say that Jesus was a good teacher. The word may say that in death Jesus was a misguided martyr.

The disciples are learning a different truth about Jesus. They are learning that Jesus is God, alive in the world and alive in them, for the purpose of bringing a people into eternal fellowship with him.

And there are the same truths that we need to be reminded of again today. God has touched us and healed us. God is with us, and we will never be the same. Thanks be to God.


Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


Copyright Brad Kautz 2012. Used with permission.



Tuesday, March 20, 2012

John 14, Part 1

My friend Brad Kautz and I graduated from seminary together and now we are also fellow bloggers. Over the weekend we both shared our thoughts on Supreme Sacrifice Day. You can find his thoughts here and my thoughts here. I really enjoy reading his blog and wanted to share some of it here. I was particularly grabbed by his series on John 14. I hope you enjoy:

John 14, Part 1 – By Brad Kautz

This week I had the privilege of giving a lecture on John 14 for the local class of Community Bible Study (CBS). CBS is a non-denominational Bible study with this goal:

“To make disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ in our communities through caring, in-depth Bible study, available to all.”

Our class meets weekly, roughly following the calendar for the school year. After a short devotional time we spend time in small groups, discussing a lesson that we have studied during the previous week. Then we gather as a class to hear a lecture on the week’s Bible passage. And as we leave we receive a written commentary on that same passage, along with questions to consider as we study the passage for the next week.

My history with CBS goes back about 10 years. I started in 2001 and for three years I was a member of a small group. Then for 5 years I was a small group leader. The leaders met together once a week as their own small group and those years in leadership were a time of much growth for me spiritually. Not only did we review the week’s lesson but we also spent time in devotion and prayer. As a part of the leadership I took advantage of the opportunity to lead the devotional time for our leader’s group study, and also about once a year I led the devotional time for the larger class.

I took two years off from CBS when we adopted Kat and this year I was able to return. We are studying the Gospel of John. There was a need for someone to substitute for the regular lead teacher and provide a lecture on John 14. I was asked to do so and now want to share, over several posts, some of the things that I think that are going on in that chapter and the meaning they have for us today.

The setting of John 14 is in the Upper Room. It is after the disciples have shared a meal and instituted what we now know as the Lord’s Supper in the accounts of Matthew, Markand Luke, and after the foot-washing of John’s Gospel. It is after Judas has been identified as Jesus’ betrayer, and he has left the room.

This is the time of Jesus last teaching opportunity with the disciples as a group, a teaching that is spread out over chapters 14, 15 and 16. Soon he will be leaving his disciples and the “teaching” that will occur then will be as they witness his arrest, trial, crucifixion and resurrection. This chapter has 31 verses and includes many verses and ideas that are very familiar to many Christians. A preacher can draw deeply from the material here and one pastor whose work I admire, James Montgomery Boice, preached 17 sermons as he worked his way through the chapter.

I was provided with about 20 minutes for my lecture, so I gave an overview of what I felt to be six key ideas in the chapter, all of them collected around the theme that Jesus primary purpose is to prepare his disciples for his departure by giving them hope and assurance for their future, both in the short-term and eternally.

The first thing Jesus talks about, in verses 1 through 6, is heaven. Jesus doesn’t tell them specifically what heaven will look like. He doesn’t given them visual images. He does tell them that in order for them to go to heaven that he will have to leave them and go there first to “prepare a place,” saying in verse 3,

“And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”

Jesus gives the disciples assurance that heaven exists, that he will prepare a place for them there, and that he will return to take them there. And that seems to be all that Jesus thinks the disciples need to know about heaven.

The Bible gives us other images of heaven, particularly in Revelation, and I love those descriptions, particularly the images of vast multitudes of people engaged in worship of God. But the relatively sparse information found in John 14 is really enough. Heaven exists, God prepares our place, and one day God will take us there.

The chapter then shifts to the topic of God the Father, in verses 7 through 11. While the disciples, particularly Philip, take Jesus’ talk of God the Father very literally, and ask to be able to see him, Jesus tells them something radically different. He tells his disciples that his identity and the identity of the Father are intertwined. In verses 10 and 11 he says,

“Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.”

All the things Jesus has said and done are not on his authority as a human, or as the Son of Man, but are because he and the Father are ‘in each other,’ or as he said earlier in John 10:30,

“I and the Father are one.”

When I think about the culture that Jesus and his disciples lived I imagine that this claim of unity with the Father must have shocked their senses. They lived in a culture where the very name of God was considered too holy to speak aloud or write. It was only made known in their worship through allusion. They knew the circumstances where the word “Adonai” was being used because the more correct name for God, “Yahweh,” was too holy, too sacred, to even speak. For them to speak the name of God was considered a violation of the commandment to “Not take the name of the Lord God in vain.”

Yet here they were, in the very presence of one who bore that most holy name in his own person. The name that was too holy to speak was in a body and speaking to them. And he speaks to us today.

And because he speaks to us we can know his presence and his love as deeply as the disciples who walked with him for three years. Like the disciples we feast with him at his table, in the Lord’s Supper. And as with his first disciples, we who follow in the footsteps of Jesus, our Lord and Savior, have the same assurance that he is who he says he is and that one day he will carry us to the place he has already prepared for us, our eternal home with him.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


Copyright Brad Kautz 2012. Used with permission.


Monday, March 19, 2012

Supreme Sacrifice Day

Apparently March 18 is "Supreme Sacrifice Day." At least that is what my friend Brad Kautz told me. He found out through his monthly cultural diversity newsletter at his work. And included within the newsletter was a link explaining the day. According to it is an annual holiday to celebrate:

"the ultimate sacrifice made by some for the good of others. History is filled with examples of people who offered the supreme sacrifice for other people."

And they offer these examples:

  • "Jesus Christ gave the supreme sacrifice when he died on the cross for us.
  • "Soldiers in battle gave their lives to protect our freedom, our way of life, and to keep us safe.
  • "Fireman and police officers have given their lives in the line of duty, while saving and/or protecting people.
  • "More often than you think, a young man or a young women caught up in a love triangle, gave up the chase for the sake of their loved one."

Wait...what? Ok, I get the first one. I even get the next two. But not the last one. I realize that giving up on "love" can seem like the end of the world. But is backing out of a "love triangle" really on the same level as the first three? Does that constitute a supreme sacrifice? So just what is sacrifice from a Christian perspective?

Paul had something to say about sacrifice from a Christian perspective in Romans 5:6-8:

"For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person–though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die–but God show his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Paul is saying that there are occasions when someone will give their life for another when they think that they are a righteous or a good person. We do see this in life and in the above list the soldiers, firemen and police officers are giving up their lives for what they see as a group of good people. These men and women give up their lives so that the people in our country can go on living. That is quite a sacrifice to pay and they pay it because they see our way of life–at least generally–as important enough for them to give up their own lives. It is the whole "truth, justice and the American Way" thing.

And it is also true for someone that gives up on their own hopes for someone else that they care about deeply. When we love someone else we are willing–or at least are supposed to be willing–to give up our own selfish desires in order to do what is best for both people in the relationship. So from that perspective I can sort of see how someone backing out of a "love triangle" can be considered a sacrifice.

But neither of these types of sacrifices even come close to the sacrifice that Christ paid. He is the only one that paid the Supreme Sacrifice. Paul makes it clear that Christ died for us when we we were still sinners. We might want to try and make the argument that are good people. But from God's perspective of being perfect are not good and we are most assuredly not righteous. When we sin we are rebelling against God. We are God's enemies. But Christ died for us anyway.

That means the only Supreme Sacrifice Day worth "celebrating" will fall on April 6. That is Good Friday. It is the day that Christ died for us. And what is even better is that we get to the real celebration three days later. Not only did Christ give up his life to pay for our sins but he also returned from the dead and is willing to give us eternal life. We just need to repent from our rebellion against God and to put our faith in Christ. Then Easter morning and the resurrection of Christ is our real celebration of the Supreme Sacrifice.

For more on Supreme Sacrifice Day you can read Brad's thoughts here.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Is El Paso limiting the free speech of Christians?

I came across this article last week and thought that it would be good to share. Apparently El Paso Mayor John Cook and some of the city council members decided to ignore a ballot initiative vote. The ballot initiative was voted on and passed which established a city ordinance limiting domestic partner benefits.

The action of the mayor and city council caused an uproar and led to recall petitions being circulated and signed. This led to further actions:

"The mayor subsequently sued Tom Brown Ministries, Word of Life Church of El Paso, El Pasoans for Traditional Family Values and other local citizens who circulated recall petitions. He cited a Texas election law, arguing that it prohibits churches from circulating a petition.

"While ADF attorneys have filed a separate federal suit against the law to have it declared unconstitutional on First Amendment grounds, a state judge denied Cook’s request to order the election halted.

"Then the Court of Appeals for the 8th District took up the mayor’s cause and ordered the election stopped and the petition signatures decertified. Almost immediately, El Paso District Attorney Jaime Esparza subpoenaed the petitions and convened a grand jury to proceed with possible criminal indictment of those behind the petition effort."

While I am not familiar with the Texas law that is in question I do know something regarding the Johnson Amendment of 1954. It wasn't always illegal for a church to engage in political speech. And technically on a federal level it is still not illegal. The only limit is a loss of tax exempt status if a church or other 501(c)(3) organization actively engages in political campaigning for or against a particular candidate. The actions of the churches circulating the recall petitions may violate the IRS tax code in question. But should they be considered criminal in nature?

That is the question that is apparently going to be decided surrounding the Texas election law and may have serious ramifications on what a church can and cannot say.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

I love the hypocritical church

I have been writing about the church quite a bit lately and in doing so I find that it has created an internal tension. There is tension in saying that the church is made up of the individual people but then writing in a theoretical way that seems to view the church as an organization rather than as real people. Yes it is both things...sort of. But it becomes easy to speak of the church in an idealized way. I have spoken about how a church should be and let's face it–no church will ever live up to that perfect standard. And this isn't due to the nature of the church. It isn't due to an inherent problem with the church. At least is isn't from an organizational or structural standpoint. Rather the church is an inherently flawed organization because the individual people that make up the church are inherently flawed.

And that fact cannot be lost whenever we engage in any discussion of the church.

Every church that I have ever been involved in has been filled with people that are selfish, hypocritical, liars, hypocritical, divisive, hypocritical, thieves, hypocritical, sexually impure, hypocritical, angry, hypocritical, calous, hypocritical, decietful, hypocritical, self-righteous and hypocritical. Did I mention that the church is filled with hypocrites?

And the good news is that there is always room for one more hypocrite.

We are all sinners. We all have flaws. And while the idealized church should be perfect it won't ever be that way in this life. A good church is not a perfect church. A good church is an imperfect church that knows that it is imperfect and still tries to love one another anyway. Paul wrote a couple of letters to the very imperfect church at Corinth. You could make quite the laundry list from those two letters regarding all of the things that the Corinthians did wrong. But Paul said something very interesting in 2 Corinthians 2:5-11:

"Now if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but in some measure-not to put it too severely-to all of you. For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him. For this is why I wrote, that I might test you and know whether you are obedient in everything. Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. Indeed, what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs."

Paul wrote the Corinthians and asked them to forgive someone that had repented of his sins. Churches have been filled with imperfect people from the very beginning. They have also been called to forgive those imperfections as well. Yes, every church I have ever been involved with has been filled with all kinds of unsavory and hypocritical characters. And fortunately every church I have ever been involved with has also been forgiving of me for being one of those unsavory and hypocritical characters.

And because the hypocritical church has love me–a hypocrite–is why I love the hypocritical church.


Previous Posts on the Church:

What is the Church?

Why do we need the Church?

Authority and the Church

Authority and the Church Part 2

Final Thoughts on Authority and the Church


Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Aldi Shopping Cart Experience

My wife and I both enjoy fresh fruit. So we went crazy when she saw an incredible deal at Aldi on blackberries. We ended up buying 8-6oz containers for 69¢. Normally we pay almost $3 for that size container. We do most of our grocery shopping at either Aldi or Walmart and It usually just depends on what we are looking for. Walmart has a greater selection but Aldi's prices on certain staples cannot be beat.

If you have ever been to both Aldi and Walmart you know that there is a vast difference between the two shopping experiences. But there was a subtle difference that caught my attention this past Sunday.

All of the Aldi stores I have ever been to have a peculiarity when it comes to the shopping carts. All of the carts are chained together and you have to put a quarter into a lockbox on the cart in order to use the cart. I have an "Aldi quarter" that I keep in our car just for the occasion. I can say with great certainty that the quarter that is in the car right now is not the same quarter that I originally put in there. Yes there have been times that I have used it for extra change but it is more than that. And it is due to the subtle–yet maybe the greatest–difference between shopping at Aldi and Walmart.

There is a sense of community in the Aldi parking lot that is very different than at any other shopping mall or plaza. When most people approach the shopping cart corral–either to get a cart or to return a cart–they are looking for other people approaching the carts. It is easier to simply hand someone a quarter for their cart than to go through the process of unchaining or re-chaining the cart. My experience has been that people are genuinely happy and grateful to either hand over their cart or their quarter. It is just a minor way that people can help one another out. It is a little thing but it really changes the shopping experience.

As I handed over my cart to a woman on Sunday, I received a very genuine sounding "thank you." And that is when it struck me that doing the little things for others really can go a long way.

Matthew 25:31-40 tells us that Jesus said:

"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.' Then the righteous will answer him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?' And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'"

Let me be clear that this passage is not teaching us that if we do good things that we will make it to heaven. Rather what Jesus is saying is that when we are truly his followers then we will not neglect the small ways of helping people in life. Giving someone my cart in the Aldi parking lot did a good job of reminding me of this fact. As followers of Jesus we should be looking for the small ways to serve others.


Further Reading:

Faith & Works: Paul vs. James by Greg Koukl is a great article regarding how faith and works fit together.


Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


Monday, March 12, 2012

Why do we need the Church?

A few weeks ago I started to look at the Church. I started off by defining the Church:

"The Church–quite simply–is the Body of Christ. It is the fullness of all those that believe in and put their faith in Jesus Christ as their savior, meaning all such people for all time."

Just a quick note about the terminology that I am going to use in this post. I am differentiating between the Church and the church. When I use the term Church with a capital "C" I am referring to the overall Body of Christ as defined above. When I use church with a lower-case "c" I am referring to the organization of a local congregation or even larger denomination. This is to say that there is a Spiritual Church and an organizational church.

What is important to keep in mind is that we do not put ourselves into the Body of Christ; we do not put ourselves into the Church. It is God, through the work of the Holy Spirit that we are placed into the Church. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:13 being a part of the Church is not an option for us:

"For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body–Jews or Greeks, slaves or free–and all were made to drink of one Spirit."

If we are placed into the global Church by God does that mean that we are required to be a part of a local congregation? In other words can someone be a Christian and not go to a church on a regular basis?

While there is no "church membership" requirement, I believe that Paul's full use of the body metaphor tells us something. I think that it means that Paul never envisioned individual Christians living apart from one another and not being an active member of a local church. The author of Hebrews echoes the same sentiment in 10:24-25:

"And let us consider how to stir one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near."

I know that I am covering much of the same ground that I covered previously. But I think that it is essential to reiterate the fact that we are supposed to meet together as a local congregation and we are to function as a body. It can be very easy to condemn those that do not regularly attend church and to ignore when we are not functioning as a healthy body should. Quite simply this is due to the fact that it is much easier to see when someone is not physically in the building. It is much harder to see when there is a problem within the body.

When I start to get a headache and a sore throat I will often say that I am getting sick. In reality I am not getting sick; I am already sick. Once symptoms of an illness start to appear it means that the illness has already taken root.

When we meet together we are to encourage one another to love and good works. When these things aren't happening on a regular basis then we are seeing the early signs of an illness within the body. If left unchecked then the question of "Why do we need the church?" starts to take on a whole new meaning.




Thursday, March 08, 2012

Pray for Nigeria

I live in the United States where I live a persecution free life. Crimes against Christians in America are very minimal when looked at in the grand scheme of life. I have posted (here and here) on the topics of how the civil liberties of Christians are being debated in the U.S. Court system before. These things are so minor compared to the lives that Christians live elsewhere in the world. Christianity in the United States of America does not really cost me anything and it can be very easy to forget that. This doesn't mean that we ignore the issues we face here. It means that we cannot forget–as it can so easily be done–our brothers and sisters in Christ that face life and death struggles. It means that we need to do something about it.

I came across an article about the persecution of Christians the other day. To be perfectly honest it was the type of article that I would usually skim. I would think about the situation being awful and say a quick prayer for those suffering. But this article caught my eye. It was about Nigeria. My wife was born in Nigeria and I have often thought about how it would be nice to take a trip to see where she was born. I have even taken time to find the small little town in which she was born. The push pin on the map below is her birth town of Onyadama.

While her being born in Nigeria brings this story a little closer to home it is still so far away geographically, culturally and politically:

"Reports coming out of Nigeria over the past several days show that the group whose name means 'Western education is evil' is launching a new terror campaign aimed at killing Christians and Jews in northern Nigeria.

"Human-rights group International Christian Concern’s Jonathan Racho confirms the reports and says the news is 'alarming.'

"'The reports indicate that members of Boko Haram recently declared a war on Christians in northern Nigeria. The group vowed to eradicate Christians from certain areas in Nigeria,' Racho said.

"'The spokesman for the group (Boko Haram) say the group will launch a number of attacks targeting Christians,' Racho said. 'So there are alarming developments even as we speak.'

"Estimates put the casualties in Boko Haram’s campaign at more than 100 dead since Christmas."

Prayer is a great first start but there are other avenues that are available. While organizations do need donations in order to be able to advocate for the persecuted; we can also put pressure on our politicians to put pressure on Nigeria to protect those that are being persecuted. We are the church and we have a duty to do whatever we can to protect our fellow Christians whether they live next door or around the world.


Further action:

International Christian Concern

Voice of the Martyrs



Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Final Thoughts on Authority and the Church

The word "submit" may be the most emotionally charged word in the Bible. And this emotional charge makes discussions of certain verses very difficult. It can be very easy to have a preconception of what a person is saying whenever there is a discussion around verses that have the word "submit" in them. I understood that this would be the case when looking at the authority in the church and the command to submit to our leaders found in Hebrews 13:17.

I think that Justin Taylor's summary of a John Piper sermon on submission is helpful. Dr. Piper's sermon is based on 1 Peter 3:1-7 and is specifically regarding submission between husband and wife. But Mr. Taylor's summary also applies when it comes to submitting to church leadership. Briefly the main points adapted for church leadership are:

  1. Submission does not mean agreeing with everything your Elders say.
  2. Submission does not mean leaving your brain or your will at the front door of the church.
  3. Submission does not mean you avoid holding your Elders accountable when necessary.
  4. Submission does not mean putting the will of the Elders before the will of Christ.
  5. Submission does not mean that you get your spiritual strength or faith from your Elders.
  6. Submission does not mean that you should fear your Elders.

Biblical submission is something that we are told to do willingly. Yes that seems like an oxymoron. How can we do something willingly if we are told to do it. But that is always the case with God. He allows us to choose between being obedient and being disobedient. Of course there are very different consequences for the two. Last week I shared some of the qualifications for an Elder. I also shared how the motivation for being a leader is important. Someone should never be an Elder for selfish gain but rather they should be willingly serving God. But what does that look like? What does it look like for an Elder to be willingly serving God?

Jesus gave us a great example in John 13. Jesus is eating what we now call the Last Supper and he knows that he is going to suffer and die on the cross for us. Even though Jesus was already on his way to paying the ultimate price for us, he paused and did something that his disciples thought was well beneath him:

"Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, 'Lord, do you wash my feet?' Jesus answered him, 'What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.' Peter said to him, 'You shall never wash my feet.' Jesus answered him, 'If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.' Simon Peter said to him, 'Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!' Jesus said to him, 'The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.' For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, 'Not all of you are clean.'

"When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, 'Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.'"

Jesus bending down and washing the feet of the disciples was an act of very humble service. While I am not saying that the Elders need to literally wash the feet of the church they should be very willing to perform other acts of service for the people of the church. If there is ever a need within the church the Elders are the ones that should be trying to figure out how best to take care of that need. But there is always the risk that we respond to the Elders the same way that Peter responded to Christ. The Elders are not there to serve our every need and desire.

Submitting to our Elders is a two way street. The Elders need to be people worthy of submitting to and congregation needs to be people that allow the Elders to serve joyfully.


Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.



Tuesday, March 06, 2012

77% of all statistics are either misleading or made up

I heard a news story on the radio this morning that made me stop and think. The story reported that a new study showed that African-American students in the Chicago Public Schools system are more likely to receive harsher discipline than other students. The reporter went on to quote some statistics from the study. It was at this point that I paused. Did the statistics actually report what the study say they reported? Here are the statistics taken from the Chicago Tribune version of the story:

"African-American students (approximately 45 percent of students) comprised three-quarters (approximately 75 percent) of school suspensions in 2009-10, the year data was collected for the national civil rights survey. Latino students made up 42 percent of CPS' enrollment but 20 percent of the suspensions. White students, who represented less than 10 percent of district enrollment, made up 3 percent of suspensions."

Statistics showing that 45 percent of the students getting 75 percent of the punishment seems to validate the studies findings. But is that what those statistics actually tell us? Hearing a quick story on the radio or even reading a brief summary from the newspaper don't always give us all the facts. So my next step was to look at the original study to see what other factors were looked at. But unfortunately the source website is down for maintenance which means that we can only deal with the statistics at hand. So do the reported statistics actually tell us that African-American students in the CPS are more likely to receive harsher discipline than other students? Are there limitations to what statistics can tell us?

Yes there are limitations and no–as reported–the statistics do not tell us what the news reports are saying that they are telling us. Let me take a moment and be very clear. I am not commenting on whether or not African-American students are more or less likely to receive harsher discipline than their fellow students of other ethnic/racial backgrounds. My only comment is on whether or not the statistics–as reported–determine either a correlation or a causation.

In other words these statistics cannot show that African-American students are being subjected to harsher punishments because they are African-American students. The only thing that they actually show is that about 75 percent of the students that are being suspended are African-American which is a different percentage than the total population makeup of the schools. This means that African-American students are more likely to be suspended. In order to make the judgement that African-American students are being subjected to harsher punishments we would need to look at the punishments being given out for various misbehaviors.

This is one of the great problems with simply quoting statistics. We always need to look at statistics with a critical eye and ask if they are actually saying what we are being told that they are saying. Then we need to do the hard work of asking why these statistics are the way that they are. It is only then that we can get at the underlying problems.

There is no doubt in my mind that the educational system in Chicago is not functioning as best as it can. It seems to me that African-American students being more likely to be suspended is no less of an issue than African-American students being subjected to harsher discipline. The real question is why are they being suspended at a greater rate?


Monday, March 05, 2012

Still on the Road to Emmaus

Luke 24:13-35:

"That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, 'What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?' And they stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, 'Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?' And he said to them, 'What things?' And they said to him, 'Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.' And he said to them, 'O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?' And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

"So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, but they urged him strongly, saying, 'Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.' So he went in to stay with them. When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, 'Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?' And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, saying, 'The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!' Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread."

May the Word of the Lord still burn within our hearts as we continue to gain understanding through careful study.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Friday, March 02, 2012

What if I make a bad decision?

I came across this video last week and it fits well with the topic of God's Plan for my life. It tackles the question regarding our decision-making and how that fits into God's Plan. What happens if I make a bad decision and screw up God's plan for my life?

Previous Posts:

Does God have a specific plan for our lives? Part 1, Part 2 & Part 3

Freedom in Christ

Source: Strawberry-Rhubarb Theology via Tim Challies



Thursday, March 01, 2012

Authority and the Church Part 2

Yesterday in my post about the source of authority in the church I stated:

"Church leadership does not follow the same exact pattern as our government. Church leaders are not answerable to the people of the church in the same exact way. (This doesn't mean that the Elders are not subject to church discipline like everyone else in the church.) What it does mean is that we run into problems when we start picking our church leaders because we like the way that they run the church. Rather the questions that we should be asking when we choose leaders is whether or not they meet the Biblical requirements for church leadership and whether or not they are going to do a good job leading us in the ways of God. We must remember that because we are sinful human beings that we may not always like it when the Elders do a good job of leading us in the ways of God. And that is not a good reason to challenge their authority."

One of the more common and well known passages about the Biblical requirements for Elder come from Paul in 1 Timothy 3:

"The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil."

Paul gives a slightly different list of requirements in Titus 1:

"This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you–if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God's steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it."

There is a third passage that I would also like to bring to mind. 1 Peter 5:1-5 says:

"So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for 'God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.'"

This third passage is not a list of qualifications per se. But it does speak to how we know whether or not an elder is doing a good job in leading us in the ways of God. The Elders should be someone that is in a position of leadership because they are willingly following God and not because the nominating committee has done a good job of convincing them to serve. An Elder also needs to have the right motivation for serving. Being in a position of authority can be very attractive for the wrong reasons. Peter tells us that Elders should not be looking for "shameful gain." And while is a warning against "doing it for the money" there are many other ways to realize a "shameful gain" that have nothing to do with money.

There are all sorts of glory and accolades that come with being in a position of authority and we can lust after those in the same exact way we lust after money. When we lust after the glory that we receive from men we can very easily fall into the trap of domineering over others. But the glory that Peter tells us to seek after is not the glory that we receive from men but rather the glory that we receive from God for having done a good and Godly job.

When we run into an Elder that is obviously doing their job for selfish reasons and is domineering over the church, then that Elder is subject to the same discipline as every other Christian. This does not mean that we can openly and disrespectfully challenge the authority of every Elder we disagree with. We are still bound by the discipline rules that Christ laid out in Matthew 18:15-20. When an Elder truly meets the requirements for being an Elder, they should be easily approachable when you have an issue. It might be hard to muster the courage to talk to them but your conversation should be well worth the effort.


Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.