God Is The One We Should Rely On: Lipscomb On Human Government

David Lipscomb was a very influential leader within Churches of Christ in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Lipscomb served as a minister, an educator (a co-founder of the Nashville Bible School, which exists today as Lipscomb University), and an editor of the very influential Gospel Advocate.

Lipscomb was also a pacifist, and in some sense, a Christian anarchist: he believed that Christians had no business interacting with government, including voting in elections or serving on juries. My own views on government are not as extreme as Lipscomb’s, but I do think his thoughts serve as a helpful corrective to what I see from a lot of people.

It has been distressing to me during this election cycle to see so many Christians who (based on their comments on Facebook or Twitter) seem to be placing so much of their hope for the betterment of our world in political candidates (regardless of which party they happen to support). To these folks, Lipscomb offers some helpful words:
“Everyone who honors and serves the human government and relies upon it, for good, more than he does upon the Divine government, worships and serves the creature more than he does the Creator.”

On Civil Government, p. 50
With all due respect to Lipscomb, I believe that it is appropriate for Christians to vote, and that ideally, Christians should use their vote to reinforce the values of the Kingdom. And sometimes it can be easy to get pretty wrapped up in the political process, because those values can mean a lot to us.

But I think he is right on the money about this: let us never think that the president we elect or the government we put into place is the ultimate source to which we should look for guidance, protection, or good. Those things come from God, and He still sits firmly on His throne, in control of all the things we debate and worry about.


A God Who Is Not Far From Us

St. Paul Preaching in Athens, by Raphael

In a well-known passage in Acts 17, Paul addresses the Areopagus in Athens:
“Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.”
The Greeks were a very religious people—I can remember studying in school about the various Greek gods and goddesses—and Athens was filled with temples, statues, and idols in honor of them. Apparently, in addition to these deities, they even worshipped an “unknown god”, I guess to make sure they didn’t leave anyone out.

But the point that Paul tries to make to them is that they did leave Someone out—the most important Someone of all—the God who made the world and everything in it. The Greeks were ignorant of this God…

Being ignorant of God—what He is like and what He desires of us—is a problem that was not specific to the Greeks. It’s a recurring problem that has appeared throughout history. And when it’s up to us to determine what God is like and what He wants, sometimes we end up in some pretty dark places.

Chichén Itzá was a pre-Coumbian Mayan cultural center located on the Northern Yucatán peninsula in modern day Mexico. Today it is a popular tourist attraction and every year thousands of people go and visit the ruins.

The Yucatán is a dry area with no rivers above ground, but despite this, Chichén Itzá was able to thrive as a major Mayan city because of the existence of a certain type of geological formation called a cenote. A cenote is a sinkhole which had formed in the limestone foundation and contained groundwater. There are several cenotes throughout the Yucatán, and at Chichén Itzá, there were two cenotes which were substantial in size and would likely have contained adequate drinking water year round for the people of the city.
Cenote Sagrado, believed to be the home of the Mayan rain god,  Chaac.
However, of the two cenotes, only one was used for drinking water, because one of them was believed to be the home of the Mayan rain god, Chaac. In order to keep Chaac happy and the rain plentiful (and plentiful rain was a big deal in such a dry area), the Mayan people would offer human sacrifices. These sacrifices, often children, would be weighted down with gold and silver jewelry and then tossed down into the cenote where Chaac was thought to live. Hundreds of years later, when the area was excavated by archaeologists, many tiny skeletons, as well as the treasure that dragged them to their deaths, were found.

Senseless deaths…sacrifices made in order to appease a god they didn’t understand, whose will they had to guess at.

We hear that and perhaps it’s easy for us to dismiss that example as being far removed from our own circumstances, but it’s not an isolated incident—people have often justified terrible actions because they thought they were doing what God wanted: fighting in the Crusades…buying and selling people based on the color of their skin…blowing up abortion clinics…flying airplanes into skyscrapers.

When it’s up to us to determine what God is like and what He wants, sometimes we end up in some pretty dark places.

But reading further in Acts 17, Paul says that it doesn’t have to be this way—we don’t have to be ignorant of God. He tells the people of Athens that God is “not far from each one of us”, and that we are His offspring.

And then, speaking of Jesus, Paul goes on to say that God “has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him [Jesus] from the dead.”

Paul’s claim that God is not far from us finds fuller expression in the classic passage on the Incarnation in John 1. There, in verse 14 we read, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”

A lot of times when speaking about the Incarnation, we talk about that first part: the Word becoming flesh. That’s certainly an important concept, but I want to focus on the second clause: the Word made his dwelling among us. Here John is using tabernacle language to explain how God came down to be among His people in a new and special way. A more literal translation would be something like, “He pitched His tent among us.”

In The Message, Eugene Peterson says that “the Word became flesh and moved into our neighborhood”, and I love that sentiment—through Jesus, God is no longer a mysterious stranger Whom we don’t understand, because He lives right down the street from us—we can see what God is like for ourselves! 

The wonderful news of the Incarnation is that the God who does not wish to be far from each of us put on flesh, and Jesus took up residence in our neighborhood. From there, He offers the gift of friendship, and as our Friend, we are never left to wonder what He is like, or what He wants from us.


Plowing Through The Semester

Ministers often get a day off during the week, and the thinking behind this is that Sunday is way too much work for a minister to be considered a part of a restful weekend. For the past few years, Monday has been my official day off, but unfortunately, this semester my work load has been such that I pretty much have to come in every Monday and work all day if I have any hope of finishing my work for the week.

The picture above shows the stack of books that I brought with me to the office today in an effort to prepare for my weekly Greek Readings quiz (technically they are quizzes, but the term quiz really doesn’t do them justice—they are tests), and to work on my Global Evangelism final which is due this Friday.

This all probably comes across as complaining, which isn’t really my intention. Certainly all of the work has provided me with an extra dose of stress, but it has also helped me to grow in my time management skills and my ministry. And perhaps most of all, I am developing perseverance: I continue to plow on through the semester (I like the word plow, because I think it accurately conveys the sense of hard work), but I am so looking forward to December 4, which is when my Christmas break officially begins.


Friday Summary Report, October 19

It’s been a slow week on the blog, mainly because I have been in Memphis all week at Harding School of Theology for a Global Evangelism class. The class has been really good, but it has been an exhausting week. Here’s a peek into my week:
  • Class meets every day from 8:15-5:00, with a two-hour break for chapel and lunch. That’s a long time to be in class each day.
  • Chapel is every day at 11:00 AM, and is a nice way to break up the day with worship and remind us all of why we are here. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to speak today.
  • Every morning we have quizzes over some of our reading for class, so at night after class, I generally have to do some reading and studying to prepare for them. In addition to that, I’ve had Greek homework to do as well as some other research, and altogether that means I’ve been spending a lot of my time after 5:00 PM working in the library. It makes for really long days.
  • I have stayed with Kevin and Linnea Burr this week, and they have been marvelous hosts all week. It’s always tough being away from my girls for a week, but the Burrs have done a ton to make me feel at home, including cooking for me each night and buying Coke in glass bottles for me (they know what I like!). Hospitality is a Christian virtue that we often neglect, and I have been humbled by how I have been treated all week.
Meanwhile, in the rest of the world…actually, I don’t really know what’s going on in the rest of the world because I’ve been super busy all week! Here’s hoping that I’ll be back to more regular blogging next week, but with a Greek quiz, a Global Evangelism final, and a sermon to prepare for, who knows?


So Long, Chipper

It has been a few days now since my beloved Atlanta Braves were bumped from the playoffs in the NL Wildcard game against the St. Louis Cardinals. I didn’t get to watch the whole game because I had to be at a wedding rehearsal during the same time, but in hindsight, that was probably a good thing. A couple of takeaways from the game:
  • The Braves didn’t deserve to win. Committed too many errors and left way too many men on base. 
  • Regardless of this, they still had a chance to win, which was negated by one of the worst calls in the history of Major League Baseball. Regardless of the fact that umpire Sam Holbrook stands by his call and other officials have closed ranks around him, it was a terrible call. Not only did it betray a fundamental lack of understanding of the word ‘ordinary’, it failed to take into account the whole line of reasoning behind the institution of the Infield Fly Rule in the first place—to protect the offensive team.
  • A one-game playoff between two wildcard teams is completely stupid, as it negates the 162 game regular season. Anything can happen in a baseball game, which is why we play series in the playoffs—to more accurately and less randomly determine the better team. Add this to MLB Commissioner Bud Selig’s loooonnngg list of baseball sins.
So yeah, I was bummed about the game. The biggest bummer of all though is that the loss represented the end of Chipper Jones’ Hall of Fame career. 

I have always been a big Chipper fan. At the height of my baseball fandom (when, in addition to just following the Braves I was also obsessively collecting baseball cards and playing baseball all the time myself), Chipper burst onto the scene in 1995 as the Braves’ star of the future. Atlanta won the World Series that year, Chipper should have won the NL Rookie of the Year Award, and it looked like the future was very bright.

And for Chipper, it definitely was—he’s a first ballot Hall of Famer for sure, as well as being in the top 3 all time in the following categories:
  • Switch-hitters: I’d actually put him at number 2, behind Mickey Mantle. In my opinion, definitely ahead of Eddie Murray.
  • Third basemen: I think you could make a case that he’s the best of all time, but I’d put him behind Mike Schmidt and ahead of George Brett.
  • Braves: Third best Brave ever, behind Hank Aaron and Warren Spahn (apologies to Tom Glavine…you really shouldn’t have signed with the Mets though).
You might disagree with where I have Chipper ranked within the top 3 of these categories, which is fine. You might also disagree that Chipper belongs in the top 3 of these categories, but you would be wrong.

Chipper played his entire career with the Braves, and as you’ve likely heard all season if you are a baseball fan, “he played the game the way it’s supposed to be played.” The degree to which he was respected around the league was evident this season as team after team honored him when he would make his last visit to play in their stadiums. 

Chipper’s retirement is poignant for me, because he represents the last link to the dominant Braves teams of my youth, who won 14 divisional titles in a row. That streak had already begun when Chipper broke into the big leagues, but he was there for its peak, when the Braves won the World Series in his rookie season in 1995. Probably no one would have believed that it would be his last, but as it turned out, the Braves of Chipper Jones were largely characterized by great pitching, a ton of regular season wins, and disappointment in the playoffs. 

That being said, looking ahead, it’s hard to be excited about the prospect of the Braves ascending to the top of the baseball world without their best player and longtime clubhouse leader around. Over the last few years, as his skills declined (slightly) and it became harder and harder for him to stay healthy, it also became increasingly obvious how important he was to the team: when Chipper was in the lineup, it always felt like the Braves had a chance to win. Without him, any victory seemed to be a lucky one.

He’s still a good player, and could probably still be productive for a couple more seasons, but he’s made it clear over and over again this season that he’s done, and there’s a lot to be said for going out well, rather than hanging on as long as you can and potentially tarnishing your legacy.

So so long to Chipper Jones, the best Brave of my lifetime. You will be missed.



Church Signs Revisited

I have previously shared my thoughts about church signs—you know, the ones where you can change the letters and put up (ideally) clever or inspirational messages.

Generally speaking, I’m not a big fan of them because I tend to think they have more influence in a negative sense than a positive one. In other words, people driving by are more likely to be turned off by a hokey saying on a church sign than they are encouraged by a thoughtful one.

Sometimes, though, a church sign goes beyond being hokey or lame and actually promotes bad theology. I saw an example of that this week. A church sign in my neck of the woods is currently displaying the following message:
This is yet another manifestation of a common theme that you hear these days, where people are desperately trying to divorce Jesus from the church, or separate being religious (which is supposedly a bad thing) from being spiritual (which is supposed to be the ideal). There was even a YouTube video on this topic that went viral a while back (see this article which has the video embedded along with an excellent response).

Here’s the key point though: the whole Religion vs. Jesus thing is a false dichotomy because you don’t have to (and in fact, can’t) choose between them. Jesus himself was very religious (and spiritual!). Furthermore, the church was purchased with his blood (Acts 20.28), so it has great, great value to him.

End of rant.


The Fall of Man and the Personal Consequences of Sin

As I discussed in the introduction to this series, Genesis 3 relates the story of the Fall of Man, where Adam and Eve commit sin in the Garden of Eden by eating fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil after God had specifically commanded them not to.

A whole host of negative effects befall Adam and Eve (and consequently, the rest of us) as a result of their disobedience, and the point of this series is to examine some of those effects in more detail. Basically, sin messes everything up.

In the last post, we focused on the theological consequences that came about as the result of Adam and Eve’s sin: our relationship with God is destroyed and we become slaves to sin instead.

Next, we want to turn our attention to the personal consequences of sin (which, as well shall see, are closely related to the theological consequences). Returning to our text in Genesis 3, this aspect of sin’s destructiveness is hinted at in Genesis 3.7, 10-11 where Adam and Eve realize they are naked, sew together fig leaves to make loincloths and then, because of their nakedness, hide from God when He enters the garden.

What was so bad about Adam and Eve being naked? After all, it was the way God had created them, so clearly He had no problem with it! The problem came from Adam and Eve themselves: after they sin by eating the forbidden fruit, they become self-conscious and immediately feel that there is something wrong with them, and they are ashamed of themselves.* Ever since then, men and women have felt the same way: we exist in a state of inner conflict, lacking the self-confidence and self-acceptance that we should have as God’s creatures.

Basically, the process looks something like this:
  1. Humans were created for the purpose of living in relationship with God.
  2. Sins distorts and destroys that relationship.
  3. Without a relationship with God, we are inherently unfulfilled, because we are not living out the purpose for which we were created.
  4. We feel bad about ourselves and follow all sorts of false avenues looking for fulfillment.
Just consider our world today. People desperately want to feel happy or significant or fulfilled, so they are willing to try anything: fame, fortune, career accomplishment, relationships, children, sex, drugs, sports, whatever. Why do you think the self-help industry generates billions of dollars each year? It’s because deep down, we all feel like there’s something wrong with us. We struggle with self-confidence and self-image, and we are convinced that we are deeply flawed.

And, biblically speaking, people are messed up; we are deeply flawed. But flatter abs, a more secure retirement, or a better relationship with your boyfriend won’t provide the answer. Oh sure, you might feel a little better about yourself for a while, but it won’t last. We were created to live in relationship with God, and only in the context of that relationship can we find the solution to our deep flaws.

*It is important to note that, according to the biblical account, Adam and Eve are ashamed of their nakedness, not of their sin (it should have been the other way around). Sin had fundamentally changed the way they viewed themselves.


Being An Introvert May Not Be What You Think

I recently came across this outstanding article by Carl King entitled, “10 Myths About Introverts.” It briefly discusses the hypothesis that the difference between introverts and extroverts lies in different neurotransmitter tendencies in the brain (specifically in regards to dopamine), and then goes on to discuss 10 popular misconceptions about introverts.

Here’s a taste:
Myth #1–Introverts don’t like to talk.
This is not true. Introverts just don’t like to talk unless they have something to say. They hate small talk. Get an introvert talking about something they are interested in, and they won’t shut up for days.

Myth #2–Introverts are shy.
Shyness has nothing to do with being an Introvert. Introverts are not necessarily afraid of people. What they need is a reason to interact. They don’t interact for the sake of interacting. If you want to talk to an Introvert, just start talking. Don’t worry about being polite.

Myth #3–Introverts are rude.
Introverts often don’t see a reason for beating around the bush with social pleasantries. They want everyone to just be real and honest. Unfortunately, this is not acceptable in most settings, so Introverts can feel a lot of pressure to fit in, which they find exhausting.

Myth #4–Introverts don’t like people.
On the contrary, Introverts intensely value the few friends they have. They can count their close friends on one hand. If you are lucky enough for an Introvert to consider you a friend, you probably have a loyal ally for life. Once you have earned their respect as being a person of substance, you’re in.
I don’t want to re-post King’s entire article, so click here to continue reading

I wasn’t entirely a fan of the tone of the article that leaked through at times (which almost made it sound like you should regard Introverts as being better than Extroverts…they’re not), but all in all, I thought the author made some excellent points, and about 8-9 of the characteristics he talks about describe me with an eery amount of accuracy.

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