Monday, December 30, 2013

Thoughts on Mark 16: Ending the gospel

I'm not sure any scholar is absolutely sure how Mark is supposed to end in its original version.  Most agree through verse 8 of chapter 16, but not everyone agrees on what, if anything that follows is authentic.

For purposes of this post, I'm going to assume that only the first 8 verses are authentic.  This means Mark ended the book in a very odd way for a first century writer.  He ended with women finding out about the resurrection, and then dropped the story.  First of all, that isn't much of a conclusion.  Second, the special people at the end are women (something you didn't do back then).  Women were given this place of extreme religious honor.  In essence, Mark gave the version of the story that would be least believable to most readers.

Perhaps that was the point.  This gospel wasn't written as an apologetic treatise.  He starts off with Jesus violating a lot of societal norms early in his ministry.  Then he ends the gospel by breaking societal norms.  It seems like he was trying to make a point.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Thoughts on Mark 15: Beware of religious leaders

One of the things that strikes me in Mark 15 is the level of influence the religious leaders had over the masses.  When Pilate offered the people the chance to free Jesus or a murderer, the religious leaders convinced the crowd to have the murderer released. 

I'm not sure how this happened, but it isn't the only time something like this has happened in the history of the world.  Religious leaders can be very good at convincing people to do bad things.  Modern dictators take this lesson and create their own "fake religion" to stir up followers into a religious fervor.  (Think Hitler in Nazi Germany.)

As Christians, we need to beware of such things.  Paul admonishes us to be sober minded in all things.  I wonder if some sober minded people in the crowd could have talked down the mob mentality that spared a murderer at the expense of one who had no guilt.  Perhaps not, but at least those sober minded individuals would not have guilt of their own.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Thoughts on Mark 14: The poor you will always have with you

There is a lot in Mark 14.  Things far more important than what I will talk about today.  But, for some reason, I feel drawn to address this.  In verse 7 it says
For you will always have the poor with you, and you can do good for them whenever you want. But you will not always have me!
It sort of disgusts me every time I hear this verse misconstrued.  I've heard many argue that because, "you will always have the poor with you," that nothing should be done to work toward the elimination of poverty.   That is not what Jesus was getting at in any way, shape, or form.  This should be obvious from the rest of the sentence, "and you can do good for them whenever you want."  Jesus was not calling for the end of helping the poor.  Rather, his focus was on prioritizing.

This is where other groups really disgust me.  Those who place the primary importance on helping the poor and tend to ignore other important things, like the role of Christ's sacrifice.  I am saying this as someone who works at a nonprofit whose primary objective is to help the poor.  I also attend a church where that is a major focus.  However, it cannot be the primary focus of the Church or of individual believers.  It is important, but there are more important things.  Most notably, sharing the Gospel.  Both should be done and they are not mutually exclusive.  I just wish the idea of mutual exclusivity wasn't so prevalent in US churches today.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Thoughts on Mark 13: Stay alert for the unpleasant

During my rather pathetic walk through Revelation, I repeated frequently that I tried to avoid eschatology because I really don't know what I'm talking about.  Well, here, in the middle of arguably the most pragmatic of the gospels, is a chapter full of eschatology.  I still don't know what to make of it. 

Here is sort of a theme I get.  Whatever it was Jesus was talking about, it won't be pleasant. Jesus calls his listeners to remain alert for these unpleasant times.  This, I think, is good advice for all times.  We shouldn't let unpleasant times turn us away from the faith.  Questioning God is perfectly understandable, but just because hard times come, we shouldn't interpret it as God turning His back on us.  After all, he warned us that it was coming.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Thoughts on Mark 12: Trying to trap Jesus

Every time I read Mark 12, I can't help but being a bit amused.  Yep, I get to see the guy I follow outsmarting all the scholars and thinkers of his day.  I love it when I get to see stuff like that.  Of course, I'm also a nerd with a degree in philosophy, so I tend to geek out on things like that.

But when I think only along those lines, I miss out on some important points.  As a thinker, I am too often guilty of trying to trap Jesus in my own sophistry.  As a teenager, I tried to convince myself that I was too intelligent to be a Christian (which probably had something to do with the fact that I didn't have any intelligent Christian role models).  As an adult I tried to justify actions (even those not necessarily wrong) through complex logical models rather than simply putting my focus on God's will. 

How God deals with me when I act like this is very interesting.  Sometimes I am able to reason my way to truth.  More often, though, God makes himself real to me in a way that I can no longer deny Him and His will.  But I wonder that if Jesus was with me in physical form, if he would just make me look like an idiot like he made the thinkers of his day.  I would certainly deserve it.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Thoughts on Mark 11: The meek Jesus?

Too many theologians try to present Jesus as this meek figure who never stood up and fought.  While there are certainly times this was the case, it was not always, as is apparent from Mark 11.  In this chapter, Mark describes a very bold, arguably militant, Jesus.  From something as simple as cursing a fig tree to overturning the temple commercial system, Jesus demonstrated a boldness and fighting spirit most modern Christians lack.

What marks the difference in circumstances between the meek and fighting Jesus?  To be honest, I'm not sure.  One can make an argument for righteous indignation with people making money off of worship in the temple courts.  Or perhaps it was a social justice fight.  But cursing a fig tree for not bearing figs when it wasn't fig season?  I've encountered a lot of theories about what that was about, but I haven't been satisfied by any of them. 

What lesson can we then learn about when it's appropriate to fight and when it is better to be meek?  I'll have to think more about that one.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Thoughts on Mark 10: They walked away sad

In chapter ten, Mark tells us of a rich young man who came to Jesus asking what was necessary to inherit eternal life.  Jesus responded that he must sell all his possessions, give to the poor, and follow him.  The young man walked away sad.

Later John and James requested to sit at Christ's left and right in heaven.  Jesus responded that the position was not his to give.  The brothers walked away sad.  (Okay, I don't actually know that.  It's just what I picture.)

How often do we walk away sad when we hear something hard from God?  We don't want to face the truth--to give up something in our lives or something to which we aspire, and walk away sad. 

Note that the young man and the disciples did not even ask something inherently bad.  The young man wanted eternal life.  James and John wanted to be next to Christ for eternity.  These are even admirable in their convoluted ways.  Jesus did not deny either of their wishes.  He simply told them the truth about the realities of their situations.  The rich young man had to give up what was most important to him.  The disciples had to adhere to orders beyond their control. 

Thoughts on Mark 9: Glimpse of heaven--realities of earth

Mark 9 is a chapter of sharp contrasts.  On the one hand we see the transfiguration, arguably the one point in the gospels where the deity of Jesus is most on display.  On the other hand, we see Jesus frustrated with the lack of faith he finds among those who surround him.  There is a glimpse of heaven and the realities of dealing with humans on earth.

But in the midst of the frustration with a lack of faith in this chapter, Jesus finds ways to help those around him with their faith.  He helps the father's unbelief.  He helps the disciples understand why they were unable to cast out a demon.

I wonder how often God gets frustrated with our unbelief and helps us get past that so we can get on with our lives and ministry.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Thoughts on Mark 8: Peter gets it right and wrong

Among the interesting things in Mark 8, one finds Peter's confession that Jesus is the Christ and a few verses later Jesus telling Peter to "get behind me Satan".  Peter recognized Jesus as Christ, but did not understand what it meant to be Christ.  He probably had in mind that which was common among his people in that day that Christ would come and destroy all of Israel's oppressors.  When Peter heard Jesus say that he was going to die, Peter rebuked him.  (What an odd thought...You go from saying someone is the Christ to rebuking him.)  Peter clearly didn't get what the job of the Christ was (or at least in a proper timeline).

So Peter, who was the first to really declare faith in Jesus as Messiah, was soon after rebuked for not accepting what that entailed.  I wonder how often we try to place our own picture of who Christ is supposed to be in our little box and then try to rebuke him when we find out our picture was wrong.  How many of us deserve to be rebuked just like Peter was.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Thoughts on Mark 7: Uncleanness and dogs

From a Jewish perspective, this may be the most challenging chapter in Mark.  Here Jesus clearly overruled the law of Moses by declaring all foods clean.  He then exorcised a demon from a "gentile dog", indicating that the Jews no longer had exclusive rights to God's power. 

Both of these would be major blows to 1st century practicing Jews.  The law set them apart as God's chosen people.  If the law was being changed the person who changed them gave equal (or nearly equal) treatment to gentiles when Jews were present, that would be offensive.  More than offensive, if one was a follower of Jesus, it could be disruptive to ones self-identity because Jesus just took away the thing that make your people unique.  The floodgates to the rest of the world were just opened.

This may seem odd to hear from a 21st century gentile perspective, but we should not belittle the paradigm shift this was to its audience. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Thoughts on Mark 6: The model of discipleship

One of the many things one finds in Mark 6 is Jesus's idea of discipleship.  For the previous few chapters he allowed them to follow him around and observe.  He taught them and modeled ministry for them.  Then he sent them out to copy his ministry.  After a time they came back and reported what had happened.

It's a very simple model.  It's so simple that I sometimes wonder why the church so often doesn't use it.  Some churches view discipleship as more mature Christians hanging out with newer Christians.  Some view it as going through a workbook.  Some view it as a ministry apprenticeship.  None of these are intrinsically bad (I actually think they are generally good, but it might depend on the workbook).  My concern is that they are not holistic enough.  Each model gets at part of discipleship, but misses other things.  I think an important question to ask in any discipleship is how effectively we are equipping new people for ministry.  Both for the act of ministry and for the spiritual depth required for effective and proper ministry.  If we aren't preparing the next generation, then what are we doing?

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Thoughts on Mark 5: Jesus's priorities

In chapter 5, Mark spends an unusually large amount of time (for him, at least) on two stories.  The first is when Jesus cast out a legion of demons from a single person and into a herd of pigs.  The second was Jesus healing the daughter of a local religious leader.

In the first story, Jesus does several things one would not expect a good first century Jewish man to do.  He made a stop in gentile territory.  He interacted with a man who was clearly demon possessed and who had extraordinary strength.  He cast out the demons into a herd of pigs.  And then he instructed the healed man not to follow him, but rather to tell the townspeople about him (and how he destroyed a significant portion of their income).  In taking these actions, Jesus flaunted both Jewish tradition and gentile economics.  Besides the healed man, I don't know who would have been happy with his actions.

In the second story, while going to the religious leader's house to heal his daughter, he is distracted by a woman who healed herself by touching Jesus's clothes.  Jesus stops to find out who touched him.  Normally, someone would rush to the religious leader's home because he was clearly the more important person.  But Jesus stopped to encounter a poor woman who demonstrated enough faith to force a healing.  This delay was enough for the leader's daughter to die.  But, Jesus goes anyway and raises her from the dead. Again, not what people would have expected.

One of the lessons I take from this is that Jesus does not have the same priorities that we do.  He looks at things at a different perspective from us.  I think it's valuable to try to see his perspective in reading through the gospels and asking ourselves how different we are and what we need to change.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Thoughts on Mark 4: Jesus was not as clear as we try to make him

Oftentimes in evangelical Christianity we make it sound like the Gospel is the easiest thing in the world to understand.  Well, it isn't.  Millions of people around the world don't get it every day.  I'm not even sure the Gospel is supposed to be easy.  I'm taking my cue from Mark 4, where Jesus explains why he teaches in parables.  He is essentially trying to not be understood by a majority of the people. 

So, if this is the case, what does it mean for us?  For one, I think we should stop over-simplifying the gospel message.  Yes, there can be a "kids version", but most adults are not satisfied with that.  (I think we can even do a more sophisticated "kids version" where they can grasp holiness and separation from God better than the standard thing I've seen in most curriculum...)  Most adults understand that restitution with a holy God can't be that easy.  That's why they are so tempted to earn their salvation through works.  That's why my Hindu in-laws really do not get why my wife and I can be Christians.  They see relationship with god (or "the gods", depending on which one you speak with) as being dependent on pleasing them.  They are sort of right on that, but they still don't get the concept of holiness.  That we can never be good enough to approach God through our own works. 

Jesus did not provide a simple gospel.  He provided deep teachings that spoke of an expanding Kingdom and of some refusing to enter it.  This isn't the easy gospel of modern evangelicalism.  It's much deeper and more profound than that.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Thoughts on Mark 3: Jesus chose his own family

In Mark 3 we see Jesus choosing those with whom he will closely associate.  He effectively rejects his biological family (unless you adhere to the Roman Catholic position on Mary's virginity, in which case he rejected his step-brothers) and chooses 12 men to be his close followers.  And some of these 12 were odd choices.  For instance, one was a tax collector--someone who essentially sold out his Jewishness in order to make money from the Romans.  Then Jesus selected someone who was described as a "zealot".  Although we aren't certain about this, Simon the Zealot was probably a militaristic pro-Israel, anti-Rome guy (which would have made hanging out with Matthew the tax collector quite interesting).  Then we have a few fishermen, someone best known for doubting him after the resurrection, and some guys who never seemed to make a major mark.  On, and we can't forget that the one who seemed to have the most going for him, Judas, was the one who ended up turning on Jesus.  So, yeah, this was an odd group of people Jesus had following him around.  But, it must have sent a message, especially in the dismissive way he treated his family.

Let me emphasize that this is not the end result of Jesus' family relations.  Before his death, he instructed John to take care of his mother.  At least two of his brothers became prominent in the Jerusalem church.  There appeared to be a family reconciliation.  But, for his ministry years, Jesus chose his own, eclectic family through whom he would eventually reach the world.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Thoughts on Mark 2: Jesus violated "proper theology"

In my discussion of Mark 1, I talked about how odd Jesus must been in his day, in that he did not meet expectations.  We see that even more in chapter 2, except here he flaunts expectations.  He is accused of blasphemy, cavorting with sinners, and breaking the Sabbath.  With each of these, Jesus proclaims himself superior to the religious leaders of the day.  None of them would consider forgiving someones sins, dining with sinners, or doing anything resembling work on the Sabbath.  But Jesus did all of these, and he did them fairly early in his ministry. 

At this point, I imagine the religious leaders went from thinking, "Who is this odd man?" to "Who does this man think he is?"  They recognized some of the actions in chapter two (forgiving sins and breaking the Sabbath) as being the prerogative of God alone.  But, he obviously couldn't be God in the flesh because he was cavorting with sinners, who God wouldn't be able to stand in his presence.  To be honest, I think this would have been my reaction as well.  It's simply proper theology.

But Jesus violated "proper theology".    The Holy God came down to earth and started interacting with people in ways before unimaginable.  He forgave sins and then started hanging around with those committing them.  Then He broke the letter of his own law.  It doesn't make sense in a stringent theological framework. 

I think it's good, then, for us to have our theology match God's revelation of himself rather than try to force God into our own "proper theology".

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Thoughts on Mark 1: Not meeting expectations

First, since this is the first set of thoughts on Mark, I want to lay out a few foundational thoughts.  Much more than the other gospels, Mark doesn't beat around the bush.  He skips the birth of Christ and jumps right into the baptism and ministry.  Mark is somewhat non-stop.  One theory behind this is that Mark recorded the memories of Peter.

In the first chapter, Mark describes a Jesus who jumps right into controversy.  He starts with a simple message to fishermen (rather than the religious elite) and then goes into the synagogue (where the religious elite thought he should have started) and spoke "as one who has authority" (much more than religious elite).  He then breaks the law by healing lepers, and throws it into the face of the religious elite by then following the law and having the leper present himself to the religious elite.  Scattered throughout this narrative Jesus repeatedly orders demons not to tell people who he is.

It's a whirlwind of a narrative.  It's almost a shame to tackle all of it in one sitting.  But here it goes:

Jesus was not what people expected the Messiah to be.  He doesn't go out of his way to fit the model of the religious elite.  Rather, he flaunts the ways in which he does not match norms. 

I fear Christians today might miss Jesus if he showed up today as well.  In what ways would he flaunt modern religious expectations if he walked among us today?  I would be more surprised if I was not surprised by his actions than if he met expectations. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

Thoughts on Revelation 22: What is "soon"?

At the end of this complex book is the repeated theme that the events described in it are coming "soon".  Well, it's 2000+ years later and most theologians of all stripes would agree that at least chapter 21 hasn't happened yet.

So, what does "soon" mean?  One of the nice things about being an anonymous blogger rather than an established Bible teacher is that I don't need to have answers.  That's good, because I definitely don't have one.  My best guess (and let me emphasize that it is a guess) is that God wanted to create a sense of expectation.  If we continually think that the events described in Revelation are "soon", then it might impact how we live our lives.  How do we live differently if we believe judgement and Christ's return is around the corner?  Do we clean up our actions?  Do we evangelize more?  Do we focus more on God?

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Thoughts on Revelation 21: The New Jerusalem

Every time I read the description of the New Jerusalem, I find it very interesting.  I'm not one to dissect the meaning of every gemstone, etc.  Rather, what I find interesting is that it seems to merge traditional Judaism with Christianity.  For example, there is no temple, which fits with Christianity, but the rationale is almost Jewish--because there is no need for a special place for God to dwell.  There are twelve gates for each tribe of Israel, but twelve foundations for each of the apostles.

All of this makes me wonder about the long-term importance of Israel.  Not in an eschatological sense, but more in the sense of whether God ever really abandoned His people after they abandoned Him. 

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Thoughts on Revelation 20: Wait, you let him out?

There are many things in the Bible that confuse me.  The events of this chapter are one of them.  In the previous chapters, we have God soundly defeating the dragon, who is identified as Satan.  In the beginning of the chapter he is locked up for a thousand years, and then is let out.

Wait a sec...God let Satan out of prison to wreak havoc again?  I really don't get it.  I don't.

To make it worse, even after God's thousand year reign, Satan is able to deceive the nations of the earth to fight against God.  This indicates to me just how screwed up people are.  They get to experience rule under God and then are quickly deceived into fighting against Him. 

I won't get into the chronology debates that go along with this chapter.  I want to focus on what I learn about God.  First, even with Scripture, I do not understand everything God does or His reasons behind them.  Second, those calling for rule by Christians seem to be deluded about the long-term positive impacts.  Here we have God ruling for an extended period of time and the people still, when given the chance, rebel.  What good will it do to have Christians rule if the hearts of those being ruled are not regenerate?

Friday, December 6, 2013

Thoughts on Revelation 19: Party in heaven

Chapter 19 of Revelation describes the party in heaven after the beast and the dragon are defeated.  You have some of what modern readers might expect: creatures in heaven praising God, a great banquet...  Then there was something my modern Western eyes did not expect.  Twice in this chapter there is reference to birds gorging themselves on the flesh of the slain enemies of God.  That is part of the party.  Getting to enjoy something I personally find gruesome.  I'm not sure what to do with this, but I do think it shows me an aspect of God that I don't normally think about.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Thoughts on Revelation 18: Come out of her, my people

Chapter 18 is sort of a gloat over the destruction of the powerful Babylon (which is probably metaphorical and not actually Babylon).  It describes all those who will be upset at its fall--mostly capitalists who made money off of it.

God calls on the saints to come out of this wicked city.  In the city they are surrounded by sin and will be susceptible to any punishment it receives.

This always makes me think.  What is the balance between being a light in a dark place and coming out of evil surroundings (and therefore letting it to it's own demise).  I definitely prefer living in the country, but for various reasons I have lived in the heart of cities for the past 16 years. 

I think that if all Christians abandoned cities to their ways, they would culturally self-destruct (at least in the U.S.).  Based on the whole of Scripture, this doesn't seem to be what is meant.  The Revelation 18 admonition to "come out of her" seems to be a specific admonition for a specific situation.  In this case, God is about to reign judgement down on her, so the people had best come out of her while they can.

While I think this is the primary point, there is also the consideration of those Christians who can't handle the temptations of the specific set of sins that one finds in the cities.  If you are in a city and you find yourself unable to resist certain temptations, then perhaps moving is appropriate.  Keep in mind, though, that many of those sins are just as available elsewhere, they are just more frowned upon culturally.  It is better to surround yourself with Believers who will keep you accountable.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Thoughts on Revelation 17: A call for interpretive humility

I'm not really sure what to make of Revelation 17.  It speaks of a prostitute who apparently represents Rome.  It speaks of a beast who could be any number of things (including Rome).  I've seen too many eschatologies built off of dogmatic interpretations of this chapter (not all of which can be correct).  I've seen the beast referred to as the Holy Roman Empire, as the Roman Catholic Church, as the European Union, as Iraq, as Iran, as Russia, and as NATO.  I'm sure there are a lot more.

It is entirely possible that one of these interpretations is correct.  It's also possible (or probable) that none are.  Hebrew scholars who studied the Old Testament prophets played similar games to what Christians play with Revelation.  The vast majority of them totally missed the true nature of Christ.  I fear modern Christians are making the same mistakes and might even miss real events as they come.  I just pray God gives us the wisdom to truly see what we need to see when we need to.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Thoughts on Revelation 16: Egypt's lessons redeux

As Moses tries to lead Israel out of Egypt, God sends seven plagues on Egypt, but Pharaoh does not relent and allow the people to go.  In a parallel, God sends plagues on the world in Revelation.  As happened with Egypt, the leaders of the world did not repent and the plagues kept coming.  This continues until a final military confrontation.

What does this tell us about the stubbornness of the human spirit?  We see in this Revelation passage that the people recognized the plagues came from God, yet they not only refused to repent, but they rather blasphemed God. 

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Thoughts on Revelation 15: Too late to come to our spiritual senses

In the end, everyone will know who God is and worship Him in some way.  This may be hard to see now, but eventually everyone will have to acknowledge the truth and respond accordingly. 

Unfortunately, the circumstances when this comes about may not be pleasant.  In the midst of a discussion of seven final plagues, those who survived the rule of the beasts sing a song about how God will conquer. 

My interpretation of this (which I hope is wrong) is that everyone will recognize who God is after it is too late for them to respond in faith.  I don't think the whole world becomes believers.  Rather, it appears that evil gets conquered and people will then realize that they were evil and have no choice but to acknowledge God. 

This makes me think about the importance of reaching out to our lost loved ones now.  God will eventually make it so everyone recognizes Him.  But that may not be the best time to finally come to our spiritual senses.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Thought on Revelation 14: You have questions; God has answers

What a contrast between chapters 13 and 14.  In chapter 13 we had two beasts running amuck on the earth, terrorizing the saints.  In chapter 14 we have the picture of heaven of the rejoicing of the saints and God preparing for His final victory.  Many of the questions that may arise out of the previous chapter are answered in this one.  God is waiting for the proper moment to make all things right again.

On a side, and completely irrelevant note, we hear a lot about the 144,000 in religious circles.  Based on this passage, I think most of what I have heard is incorrect.  They are described as blameless virgins.  I don't think any major religious or eschatological position has taken this seriously.  Think about that next time you hear someone spouting off about the 144,000.  Ask yourself if they are ignoring one of the few pieces of information we have about this group.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thoughts on Revelation 13: "Because I said so"

Revelation 13 is somewhat upsetting.  It describes two beasts who God allows to roam the earth and do damage.  God even granted one of the beasts "ruling authority", with which he persecuted the saints.

I cannot give a reason for why God would let this happen.  I really don't know.  I do know that God does allow things like this.  After reading all of Job, I also know that God won't always give us a "good reason" for these things. Often, the only answer God gives us is something like we might have heard from our parents as young children, "Because I said so".  In those circumstances, we just have to take it and trust that God knows what He is doing.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Thoughts on Revelation 12: Satan loses but keeps fighting

In chapter 12, Satan is pictured as a dragon.  He wages a war against God's heavenly host and is defeated under the leadership of the Arch Angel Michael.  He is forced to the earth where, in vengeance, he seeks to destroy the Church.

I see a couple lessons here:
  1. God can and has defeated Satan.  
  2. Satan will come after the Church and its members.
  3. God will protect his Church.
I think these are things we need to remember when dealing with the spiritual realm.  Many Christians tend to ignore the power and role of Satan.  Or pretend that he doesn't exist. That would be a mistake.

Another mistake would be being so afraid of Satan that you are paralyzed.  We must remember that God will always win.  It doesn't mean things will be easy, but it does mean we can have ultimate confidence.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Thoughts on Revelation 11: Their corpses will lie in the street

I am not going to venture a guess about who the two witnesses are.  Suffice it to say that they are God's specially selected servants who demonstrate great power.  Then they are killed and their corpses will rot in the street.

Please note that these are God's faithful servants.  Note that they were not popular in society.  Note that they are killed and God lets it happen.  Note that God lets their bodies lie exposed in the street. 

When you are God's servant, things won't always be great.  The greater your role, the greater the probability that you will suffer greatly.  Just a thought.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Thoughts on Revelation 10: Sweet and bitter

In chapter 10 we see something interesting.  The Revelator is instructed to eat a scroll.  He describes it as tasting sweet but leaving a bitter feel in his stomach.  I won't pretend to know the exact meaning of this.  My guess is that it is something that we called out for, but may make us nauseous when we get it. (Again, let me emphasize that this is my guess.)

In the early persecuted Church, I would imagine there were many calls for punishment for their enemies.  This would mimic the message in many of the Psalms.  But I often wonder if we truly appreciate how awful (in the true meaning of the word "awful") God's wrath is.  When we actually see what God does to punish those who cause us pain, how will our stomachs respond?  Will our empathy make observing that wrath unbearable? 

I really don't know.  These are just some thoughts.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Thoughts on Revelation 8: God punishes for reasons

While God is decimating the earth in Revalation 7 and 8, it is important to note that it isn't just for fun.  The people of earth were incredibly wicked.  Verses 20-21 spell out this wickedness.  Even after all this judgment, these people continued in worshipping demons, idolatry, murder, sorcery, sexual immorality, or thievery.  God didn't punish the people for being righteous. 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Thoughts on Revelation 8: God is the same in the Old and New Testaments

In chapter 8 of Revelation we get the first four trumpets of judgement.  I think the eagle in verse 13 sums up the message well: "Woe, woe, to those who live on the earth..."  In great swaths God sends destruction on the earth. 

This is not a warm, fuzzy thought.  I'm not sure you can read Revelation and think of God as warm and fuzzy.  This is more like the God of wrath that many mistakenly claim is the realm of the Old Testament.  I think what people fail to remember is that the period of most of the New Testament was about 70 years.  How much of God's wrath did one expect to see in a 70 year period.  One didn't see all that much wrath in any given 70 year period in the Old Testament.  Revelation is a prophesy of what was to come (I'm not going to guess as to when).  It takes a longer view over a longer period than the description of current events in the New Testament.  So, in that regard, Revelation is much more like the Old Testament.  This, I believe, indicates that God did not change from the OT to the NT.  Rather, the NT focuses on a brief time period of particular generosity and grace.  We find those in the OT as well, we just get a more complete picture in the OT.  Revelation also provides this more complete picture.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Thoughts on Revelation 7: God ultimately protects His people

In the midst of the destruction in the previous chapter, we get an interlude.  Rather than destruction, we see protection.  God protects 144,000 from what is still to come.  We also see a multitude being protected from the "great tribulation". 

Note that all these people did have to go through levels of suffering.  But, at a certain point, God spared them of anything further.  God will not put us through more than we can handle.  It's important to remember that as I go through my relatively minor suffering.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Thoughts on Revelation 6: God and Christ brought about the destruction

As I mention often in these posts, I am going to do my best to avoid eschatological interpretations.  When discussing Revelation, that gets very hard, so my habit has been to find a theme rather than trying to understand what each passage means.

In that light, I will not try to explain the seals on the scroll, when they happen, or how literal to take them.  Rather, I want to highlight the picture.  We have a picture of God on a throne and of Christ, in the form of a slaughtered lamb, being declared worthy to break the seals of this scroll.  As most of the seals are broken, some calamity happens on earth.

You can argue about whether God caused the calamity, allowed it, or both all you want.  What I would find hard to dispute is that Christ was the only one found worthy to break the seals on the scroll and the calamities happened as the seals were broken.  Christ played an active role in these calamities coming about.  Surely God knew these things would happen. 

Passages like this do make me wonder about calamities and God's will.  God can prevent anything from happening.  He could have prevented Hurricane Katrina or "Super Storm Sandy". But he didn't.  Was this punishment?  Was there some greater plan we just don't understand?

I don't know the answers to these questions, but I do believe they are valid questions.  I think shutting down someone who dares to ask them is theologically naive. 

Friday, November 15, 2013

Thoughts on Revelation 5: Only Christ is worthy

After picturing God in his glory who is worthy of praise, we come to a vision of Christ being the only one who is worthy to open a scroll.  (I'm not going to venture a guess about what the scroll is exactly.)

This is an interesting picture.  It is a slain lamb who is then honored as one who not only sacrificed, but also who is worthy
to receive power and wealth
and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and praise!
I don't know about you, but when I look at a lamb, I don't think of these attributes.  I certainly don't think of a killed lamb as having these attributes.  Yet this paradox is who Christ is.  Both the slaughtered innocent and one worthy of praise due to his attributes.  With these conflicting pictures, it is hard to put Christ into a box.  But that is too often what I do, and I imagine I am not alone.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Thoughts on Revelation 4: Thinking about who God really is

The fourth chapter or Revelation provides us with what appears to be a physical manifestation of God.  I imagine that if you ask most professing Christians who don't have this passage in mind what God is like, you would get a fluffy picture of a loving deity.  While this is not necessarily wrong, it is certainly incomplete.

God is not your grandfather.  God is holy.  That is something we should think about more.  God is holy.  God is set apart.  God is utterly different from us.  God is fully worthy of reverence.  God doesn't need us. God is all-powerful.  God created everything.  Apart from Him, nothing exists.

These are things we should all dwell on more to get a fuller, although still incomplete, picture of God.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Thougths on Revelation 3: Ancient churches and modern problems

It's a little harder for me to draw a comparison of the church in Sardis to modern churches because the message to them is somewhat vague.  I don't know if the "deeds" are good works or if they are personal actions.  So, my best parallel is to the modern mega-church.  These churches have a lot of influence and resources.  They are perceived as "alive".  My question is always, what are these churches doing with their resources? What percentage of the congregation is actually living the Christian life?  What is the church doing to improve their community and bring their community to Christ?  I know a lot of mega-church pastors struggle with these issues, but I wish all of them did.

The church in Philadelphia reminds me (somewhat) of very small churches that struggle to remain faithful when surrounded by things that make it difficult.  It is a big challenge for small churches to remain faithful and not get discouraged.  The promises made to the Philadelphia church are what I find most interesting.  He promises to spare them from the coming turmoil and to make their oppressors acknowledge that God loves them.  I'm not sure what to make of these promises, but I do find them interesting.

First a little bit of a geography lesson to help better understand the message.  Laodicea probably was near a medicinal hot spring.  It was also near a cold river.  The river was refreshing for drinking.  The hot spring was good for health.  When the river ran into the hot spring, it turned lukewarm and good for neither refreshment nor health.

With that out of the way, Laodicea reminds me of too many modern suburban churches in the US.  They have great wealth, but they don't do anything with it.  They follow a script designed not to make anyone too uncomfortable in the services.  They host extra programs for different groups in the church to make the members feel more comfortable.  Overall, the churches are very comfortable.  But, what does that actually mean?  Are they refreshing for people in need of refreshment?  Do they heal spiritual wounds?  No.  That would make some people uncomfortable.  You can't make people uncomfortable.  Therefore, you should just remain in your church bubble and spend time with others who are comfortably like you and not do anything to rock the boat.  And God will vomit you out of His mouth.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Thoughts on Revelation 2: Ancient churches, modern issues

In these chapters of Revelation where there are mini-letters to the churches, I will treat each separately.  There are many ways to look at these messages to churches.  I'm going to try something that I haven't seen before (although I have no doubt that it's been done).  I'm going to compare the church in the letter to a type of church I see today and see if we can pull out some applications. Note that I am not claiming that the actual recipients of these letters are modern churches.
The church in Ephesus reminds me of a lot of "theological churches" I see today.  These are churches that are so focused on correct theology that they tend to forget other (and frequently more important) aspects of the faith.  One church in particular I think of started essentially as a mission for unwed mothers.  They provided a place to live, shared the Gospel in both words and deeds, and provided other much-needed support for these women.  Fast forward 20 years and the church is best known for its strident theological  adherence.  You can attend this church and get a seminary-level education on the Bible.  That is not a bad thing.  The teaching there is phenomenal.  I also don't need to worry about them being corrupted by false teachers.  But, they have abandoned their love and service to the poor and those in need.  I can see a similar letter being written to them.

The church in Smyrna reminds me of the situation faced by modern Christians in many parts of the world.  Persecuted with the expectation of suffering.  I have been privileged to not experience real persecution.  Sure, I have been ridiculed for my faith, but that is not real persecution.  I have it lucky. 

I find in interesting that God's only expectation for this church is that they endure.  They aren't commanded to do any more than that.  It is a reminder that God will not expect more of us than we can handle.  It is also a reminder that more is expected of us who do not go through this type of suffering.  Finally, it's a reminder to me that I need to do a better job of praying and using my influence to help the persecuted church.

The church in Pergamum reminds me of some churches in certain cities.  They are trying to remain faithful in the midst of rampant and open sin.  In the fight to stay strong and relevant, they sacrifice some of their integrity.  They tolerate very sketchy teachings that sound good and attract people to the church, but that do not fit with the Gospel of grace.  Lots of open sin is also tolerated, or, to put it more properly, ignored.  Such things, I believe, actually weaken the power of the church.  It becomes more of a social club than a beacon of light in a very dark world.

The church in Thyatira reminds me of some "social gospel" churches.  These are churches that focus almost exclusively on doing good works.  As long as the church is doing good in the community, then anything else goes.  "False teaching? Fine.  Sexual immorality?  God loves us anyway.  And, after all, we are doing God's work in the world.  Why would He care about anything else?"  But in most of these churches there are individuals who seek to have a proper personal relationship with God.  They appreciate (rightly) the good works of the church, and try to ignore the other problems.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Thoughts on Revelation 1: Christ in His glory

I'm going to be honest.  I don't understand most of Revelation and I don't try that hard to do so.  I've seen too many false teachers base their theology on a certain interpretation of this book and it becomes the lens through which they look at the rest of the Bible.  If you are looking for an exposition of Revelation, you will need to look elsewhere.

What I will try to provide are some thoughts on overall themes as we read.  Some posts will probably be sparse.  I'll do what I can, but these are just some thoughts.  Now to the first chapter.
We have in these verses a very unique look at the resurrected Christ in his glory.  It is not a meek picture.  The figure described is powerful.  The figure is in control.  The figure is a ruler.

This is on the Christ on the cross.  It is the Christ in his natural state.  It is a Christ who Roman and Jewish authorities would not mess with.  It is a Christ who Judas wouldn't even consider betraying.  It is a Christ who people couldn't help but bow down to worship.

Perhaps we need to take a second look at this Christ, since this Christ is the one who intercedes on our behalf with the Father.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Thoughts on Jude: Reminding us who God is

As is fairly obvious to anyone who reads both books, Jude and II Peter have a lot of common themes (and sometimes common words).

To me, the thing that most distinguishes Jude, is arguably the most beautiful benediction ever, anywhere.  It reminds me, not only of who God is, but of what He has done for us.  I will let the words speak for themselves.

Now to the one who is able to keep you from falling, and to cause you to stand, rejoicing, without blemish before his glorious presence, to the only God our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority, before all time, and now, and for all eternity. Amen.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Thoughts on II Peter 3: Patience and holding firm

II Peter is not the easiest book for me to read.  There's a lot I just don't get.  I find it ironic that Peter sort of apologizes for how confusing Paul is, but he writes this masterpiece...

One of the lessons I do get from this chapter is that we should be patient because we don't always understand God's timing or His ways.  Given our misunderstandings, we must be patient and careful.  It is easy to be misled, especially if we assume we know the mind of God and are disappointed when we realize we were wrong.  This is one of many reasons I am skeptical of most eschatological views.  If you expect Christ to return at a certain date, and He doesn't, we are likely to be disillusioned or to fall for something even more sketchy.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Thoughts on II Peter 2: Things I don't understand

I'm going to be honest.  The second chapter of II Peter contains a lot that I don't understand, either intellectually or in my gut.

Intellectually, for example, I don't understand the nature of the false teachers that Peter rails against.  I don't understand the slanderous judgement.  What is "the way of righteousness" that these teachers knew and abandoned?

My gut doesn't understand how Lot, who gave up his daughters to be raped, could be considered a "righteous man". 

With all I don't understand from this chapter, what do I get?  False teachers are very bad and we should take this problem far more seriously than we do.  In the name of Christian unity we tolerate far more than we should.  Peter would say that tolerating such false teachers is not a matter of Christian unity because these teachers are not Christians.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Thoughts on II Peter 1: Make your election sure

First of all, let me emphasize that this post will not take a position on whether a Christian can lose her/his salvation.  I do have thoughts on the matter, but I don't know that my thoughts would promote a useful discussion.  Additionally, they are so nuanced (or complicated), I'm not sure I could adequately explain them in a brief time.

What I do want to focus on is the idea the true Christianity cannot be about "easy believism".  It cannot be an issue of praying a prayer and being done for the rest of your life.  In my youth I used to present that position in my ministry to children.  Then I started actually studying the Bible and realized that it couldn't be the case.

Christianity is more than a one-time decision.  It is a continual decision that guides ones life. 

Please don't confuse this with salvation by works.  Rather, salvation is going to transform us in such a way that we become conscious of living for God.  If we do not have that conscientiousness, then that is perhaps the time to seek to make our calling and election sure.  We should examine ourselves.  The good news is that if we are worried about these issues, then we are probably fine, or at least on the path to being fine.

How does one travel on this path?  Although I can't give a guideline for every individual circumstance, Peter does highlight a general route for us.  Start with faith, without which you won't have salvation.  Add to that "excellence".  (I don't have my Greek handy, but I think the Greek word here is dikaiosune, which roughly means "flourishing".  In Greek and Hebrew thought, this probably means living a life of moral virtue, as is commonly found in the philosophers at the time.) After excellence, you go to knowledge--knowledge of God and His word.  This chain continues, ending in versions of love.  I need to make my wife lunch now, so I have to go, but I encourage you to think through vv 5-7 yourself.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Thoughts on I Peter 5: God will exalt you in due time

I grew up hearing I Peter 5:6 repeatedly.  We even sang a song at church that was taken from this verse.  I have read the verse countless times.  It is therefore embarrassing for me to admit that only now have I figured out the context.

Peter, after giving instructions to elders, gave instructions to the young.  They were to subject themselves to the elders and not give into pride.  Then, if they humbled themselves, they would be exalted in due time.  It was about the young not jumping the gun into church leadership.

Perhaps I only noticed this now, as I am getting older, because I didn't want to hear the message.  Perhaps it is simply evidence that I definitely was not ready to be an elder.  But I think the message is important.  Too often the young (myself included when I was young), are impatient for change and want to push issues before the appropriate time.  The youthful enthusiasm is good, and an important part of the church.  The wise elder will listen attentively to the issues of the young.  But, that enthusiasm also frequently leads to the young not really thinking things through in their decision-making.  Also, unfortunately, it is the more "confident" young people who make the biggest splashes.  It is also the most "confident" who are the most prideful.  Assuming church leadership is selected well, these are not the individuals who will become elders, unless they also humble themselves under the mighty hand of God so that He will exalt them in due time.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Thoughts on I Peter 4: Suffer for the right reasons

For Christians, not all suffering is created equal.  I used to be involved with prison ministry and I was always surprised when I heard some prison ministers, and more often the prisoners themselves, argue that they were suffering for Jesus.  I suppose it is possible that they were put in prison for serving God, but I sort of doubt it.  In chapter four, Peter clarifies, "But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or thief, or criminal, or troublemaker." Suffering is only rewarded by God when it is done for being Godly.  And when you are suffering for being Godly, you can trust God to reward you when the time comes.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Thoughts on I Peter 3: It is better to suffer for doing good

People don't like suffering.  That's quite understandable.  But the reality is that suffering is going to happen.  If we live godly lives, we are going to suffer.  It's unavoidable as long as we live in the world.

A lot of Christians try to avoid suffering by creating a small enclave of like-minded Christians in which to hide.  But, as Peter points out, how are you going to do that and still "be ready to give an answer for the hope that is in you"?  A lot of people take that verse out of context and provide it as justification for starting arguments.  That is not what Peter is saying.  He is saying that if you live a godly life, other will see it and challenge you on it.  If you look at verse 16, your answer is to be given with "courtesy and respect" so that others will not be turned off by your message.

Too often I see Christians, when they feel uncomfortable, going out of their way to make a spectacle of their faith.  They are obnoxious and in their obnoxiousness they think they are following God's command.  They aren't.  The purpose of the command is to provide an explanation for why you allow yourself to suffer due to your godly lifestyle.  It isn't to force others to make it so you don't suffer anymore.  God uses our suffering.  We shouldn't be so eager to remove the suffering from our lives.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Thoughts on I Peter 2: Submission to authorities

I am an academic who is supposedly an expert on religion and politics.  As a Christian who is occasionally asked to speak in public on such issues, I've been asked to address the second half of I Peter 2 a lot.  Honestly, I do get tired of talking about it. At the same time, most of the time when I give this talk, what I say surprises the listeners.  I suppose this is a good thing, so I keep agreeing to give these talks.

It seems that most Christians, at least in the US, want to explain away the message of vv 13-20.  They don't want it to say what it says, especially if someone they don't like happens to be running the government at the time.  They don't like the idea of submitting to authorities with whom they disagree.  I suppose this is a very Protestant way of thinking.  The Protestant movement started by breaking away from authorities and it has been doing so on a regular basis since.

That is not the message of the Bible, though.  The message of the Bible is to submit to authorities unless they instruct you to do something that is blatantly contrary to God's teachings.  I don't see any way you can get around this interpretation of this and similar passages (and believe me, I've tried).  So perhaps it's more important to understand the rationale behind submitting to authorities.

The rationale Peter gives for submission to authorities in this passage is twofold: 1) You need to set  a good example; and 2) Christ suffered and you should expect the same.

Many years ago I wrote a short essay entitled "People are watching".  The point was that once people know you are a Christian, they are watching you very carefully and judging the faith by what they see.  How does it look if Christians do not obey authority just because they don't like the instructions or (worse) the source of the instructions?  If Christians disobey authorities, they had better have a good reason that they can clearly articulate to the world.  Otherwise we are actually harming the cause of the Gospel.

Secondly, Peter points out that Christ suffered, so we should expect no less.  Think about it.  Who nailed Christ to the cross?  The government.  Could he have stopped it?  Yes.  Did he? No. Are we better than Christ?  It has always bothered me that Christians (especially in the US) somehow think that they are special and therefore immune to suffering.  We aren't.  In fact, if you read the New Testament, we find that we should actually expect it.  If the government does something that makes our lives hard, we should submit to it.  That doesn't mean we can't act to change the government (within the bounds of submission), but we shouldn't do so out of a feeling of entitlement that we shouldn't have to suffer.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Thoughts on I Peter 1: Set your hope completely on grace

Peter is probably writing this letter to a group of people who are suffering--who are scattered from their homes and not comfortable in the world in which they live.  And, I think, for those who are not scattered, it was perhaps even harder because they are Christians, trying to live holy lives, in the midst of people they know who find them odd or worse.

I do know this feeling.  When I was applying to colleges, I insisted on two things.  First, I wanted to go someplace where there was a strong Christian presence.  Second, I wanted to go someplace far away from where I was from.  I hated high school (and junior high, and elementary school...).  At my high school I was one of maybe two dozen openly practicing Christians at a high school of 1200 students.  We were outcasts and frequently treated as such.  When I went to college, I wanted to get as far away from that as I could.

Peter's instructions for living as a Christian outsider are not for the faint of heart.  He instructs us to be holy.  He tells us to set our hope completely on the grace given to us by God so that we can reject worldly things.  In essence, he instructs Christians to run counter to peer pressure by placing our focus on obedience to God.  For most people I would venture to guess that is easier said than done. 

These instructions are difficult, but not impossible.  As Peter reminds us, we have something in addition to mere flesh and blood.  We have a new birth, an imperishable seed, and the enduring word of God.  That's definitely a good start.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Thoughts on Titus 3: We were once like that

Throughout Paul's letter to Titus, he gives Titus instructions on how to deal with his congregation that has been corrupted by it's society and was therefore having difficulty practicing the Christian faith.  In this third chapter Paul provides a couple of reminders that are helpful for us all to remember.

First, he reminds Titus that, before coming to faith, we were all negatively influenced by our society.  God didn't save us because we were good.  He saved us in spite of our being corrupt. 

Second, Paul reminds Titus that the appropriate focus for Christians is good works.  These are beneficial for all people and help keep us from getting distracted by other things.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Thoughts on Titus 2: Dealing with a troubled church

It is apparent from reading through the book of Titus that Paul is not a big fan of the people in the church at Crete.  He is very blunt in his advice to Titus.  So, how, practically, do you deal with a church full of less than savory characters?  You remind each group what their role is and why.  My impression is that Paul's view of the people at this church isn't that they are simply corrupt, but rather that they have been so poorly influenced by society that they don't know how they are supposed to act.  So Paul goes through each major demographic and tells Titus what areas to focus on.

I think there are a lot of churches today that could use this type of advice.  It isn't that the members of the congregation are inherently evil.  Rather, society has corrupted what they think is appropriate.

A few years ago I was at an inner-city church and having lunch with a young man who did not grow up in the church.  It somehow came out that I was a virgin, and he was stunned and promised to not tell anyone my secret.  My being a virgin wasn't a secret.  I didn't go around pronouncing it on the rooftops, but it's not something I kept hidden either.  But this young man thought there was something wrong with being a virgin.  In his culture, that was the ultimate insult.  He just didn't fully understand that Christians were supposed to abstain from sex before marriage.  It took a while to explain to him what the Bible says on the topic (and I'm still not sure he got it).

It would be an interesting exercise to go from church to church and figure out what instructions Paul would give the leaders on things to focus on with their congregations.  I am sure every church has some areas of cultural blind spots.  Hopefully the leaders won't have the same blind spots.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Thoughts on Titus 1: Paul, the blunt

“Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.”  

Quoting an ancient poet, this is part of what Paul said in his instructions to Titus on how to deal with the people of Crete.  Can you imagine a contemporary church leader saying that to a pastor in the city where he serves?  I used to live in New Orleans, and there are lots of "interesting" things I could say in general about the people there (who I also love, oddly enough), but I'm not sure I would actually say it to a pastor serving there, especially in matters of guidance.

But there is something to be said for blunt honesty in dealing with ministry.  If you aren't honest about the issues your people face, it's awfully hard to adequately serve them.  If the people of Crete were actually evil, lazy, liars and you acted as if they were hardworking, honest people, you might have some difficulty in serving them.  They would be taking advantage of you left and right and you would never really be serving their needs.  So perhaps there is something to be said for bluntness in ministry.  But we should be cautious in who we say blunt things to.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Thoughts on II Timothy 4: But the Lord strengthened me

When I was 16 (maybe 15) I did my first summer of full-time ministry.  In my opinion, half of the team I was on should not have been in ministry at all, as they seemed to do it out of boredom and seeking fun rather than serving God.  Two guys in particular drove me nuts.  They were very stereotypical male teenagers, and I emphatically was not one. I was miserable most of the time that summer.

I mentioned this in a letter to one of my friends and a mutual acquaintance (who I really wish I had gotten to know better when we were in high school) wrote me one of the most valuable letters I have ever received.  It was simple, but included II Timothy 4:16-17.  I wasn't sure at the time what struck me so much about those words, but they carried me through the rest of the summer.

Looking back, with 23 years of perspective, I can now see it was the emphasis on the Lord strengthening me.  I'm not very strong.  I never have been, either physically or emotionally.  I am very fearful.  My dream life is that of a hermit, where I can just be alone and do the things I love, without having to face the odd turmoil that comes from being around people.  But I don't get to live that life.  I need to get strength from somewhere.  There doesn't seem to be a better source of strength than the Lord.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Thoughts on II Timothy 3: Avoid charlatans and evil people

Paul goes on at great length warning Timothy on how to deal with false teachers.  He describes them a charlatans that trick people through smoothe talk and false promises.  Their teachings lead to destruction

So, how is one to avert the snares of these slicksters?  Pay attention to known truth.  In this case, Paul instructs Timothy to compare what they say to the teachings in which he was brought up and the Scriptures.  If they don't match, have nothing to do with the slickster.  The Scriptures are also useful in training followers in righteousness and good works.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Thoughts on II Timothy 2: Don't wrangle over words

As I was struggling through a complex theological issue (eternal security) back when I was in high school, I cam across this passage, which has been deeply influential in the tone of my theological conversations ever since.

In vv. 11-13 Paul quotes what looks to be a poem to discuss the eternal security of the believer.  Honestly, the verses can be easily interpreted in either direction.  But what struck me was the verses immediately following this.  Timothy is instructed to remind the people of these things (the deep theological message) and to not wrangle over words as such wrangling can lead to ruin.

Here's what I take from that.  It's appropriate to discuss complex theological issues.  At times it is beneficial.  However, when it turns into wrangling over words rather than trying to understand God's nature and our relationship with Him, it has negative consequences. 

Too often I see theological discussions turn into "us vs. them" fights.  If you don't agree with my interpretation, then you are a heretic. Too often the "theology police" are too quick to find people guilty without giving them a fair hearing. This leads to unnecessary dissension within the Body of Christ. (Note: I am not saying all interpretations are equal or that there aren't heresies.  Rather, we should discern the difference between false doctrine and complex issues that are open to interpretation.) 

Paul was obviously very concerned with false teaching.  He instructs Timothy several times to stand up against it.  But there is a difference between false teaching and presenting differing views on complex theological questions.  We need to use discernment to figure out where that dividing line is.  To be honest, this is something I still struggle with, 20 some years later. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

Thoughts on II Timothy 1: Paul's lonliness

When reading II Timothy, one gets a sense of Paul, the man.  It is probable that Paul is old and in prison when he writes this letter to his protege, who is carrying on his work while he can't.  Paul is lonely.  The only person he gives credit for being there for him in prison is Onesiphorous.  I don't know who this person is, except that Paul prays that God blesses his family for his kindness.

So, what does Paul, in his lonely state, want to share with Timothy?  He wants Timothy to be bold in sharing the Gospel.  One gets the impression that Timothy was an impressive young man, but sort of timid.  He was able to start his ministry being the assistant to Paul and Silas, two who were very bold in the faith.  He was able to play the important background role.  But then he got sent on his own as the "church straightener"--Paul's representative to help out struggling churches.  Then, when Paul was imprisoned, he seemed to take on the mantle of chief evangelist (although I am not sure about this).  Timothy was one of the leaders, although probably younger and less of a "natural leaders" than many who wanted to usurp his authority.  So, Paul encourages Timothy to be bold in utilizing his spiritual gifts and to not let others be swayed by false teachers.

What does this tell us about lonely Paul?  He didn't beg Timothy to come back to him.  He encouraged Timothy to continue his work.  This is not to say that he didn't want Timothy to return (see the last few verses of the book), but rather that Paul understood that what Timothy was doing was more important.  Lonely Paul was selfless enough to sacrifice his own happiness for the well being of the Church.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Thoughts on I Timothy 6: Godliness and contentment

In the middle of chapter 6, Paul has an interesting discussion on seeking after wealth.  In brief, Timothy shouldn't pursue wealth and should encourage others to follow his lead.  In this passage comes the famous line, "The love of money is the root of all evils." (By the way, although not a Greek expert, I do think this is the correct translation.  I do not see anything in the original that can be legitimately translated as "all kids of".)  But before this is what I believe is the far more important line, "Now godliness combined with contentment brings great profit."

Ancient Greek philosophers had a term that I think might be beneficial for modern Christians: eudaimonia.  The rough translation is "flourishing", or to put it differently, being the best you that you can be.  The idea is that everything has a purpose and that thing is only as good as it achieves that purpose.

The eudaimonia of the Christian is to serve God.  It isn't to become rich.  It isn't to own a big house.  It isn't to have a lot of stuff.  These things can get in the way of serving God.  Wealth can be used to advance the Kingdom.  This isn't to say that making money is inherently bad.  I have a friend who I think is a model for this.  He owns a highly successful internet business.  He only needs four employees to run the whole thing and he pays them well.  The profits he makes go into growing the business and ministry.  He himself lives in a 900 square foot cabin.  He doesn't splurge on anything, but rather lives simply.  After giving money to ministry, he makes $30,000 per year. (I don't know the details, but he gives away a lot more than that.)  He devotes 20 hours a week to ministry.  This, I believe, is an example of living a life of godliness combined with contentment.  And he flourishes, in the true sense of the term.  He is highly fulfilled with his life, mostly because he is content and feels like he is serving God.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Thoughts on I Timothy 5: Practical advice for the Church

In chapter 5, Paul gives Timothy a lot of tips for handling situations in the church.  Today I will just focus on the handling of widows.

Perhaps contrary to what a lot of people might think today, Paul did not call for the universal helping of the poor.  He believed it was the responsibility of the church to help those who truly needed it.  In his day, the primary case was widows.  Paul instructed Timothy to only help widows who did not have family to care for them.  If someone refused to care for their elderly family members, they were to be shunned. (Boy, do we have a different mentality today in the US...) 

If the widow was young enough to remarry she should, so that she could be taken care of and the church could focus on those "truly in need".  I think the modern corollary is that people who are young enough to still work should be expected to do so and not be taken care of by the church.  This is something the church in the US used to do well.  If someone could work, the church would help them find work, even if that meant cleaning up the church and doing yard work for elderly parishioners.  With the advent of the welfare state, there is both less expectation of the church to help and greater expectation that when the church does help, that it does so without regard to the capabilities of the recipient.  Both mentalities are wrong, but it is very hard, given today's circumstances, to escape either one.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Thoughts on I Timothy 4: Don't neglect your gifts

When I was younger, vv. 12-16 of the fourth chapter were some of the most important to me in the Bible.  Now I am middle aged and not quite sure what to do with them.

When I was in high school and college, I did receive confirmation of my spiritual gifts through prophesy.  I never had a blueprint for what I was supposed to do with these gifts, so I spent my early adulthood doing things that I thought would put myself in a position to both fine-tune the gifts and give myself more credibility.  I earned a master's degree in philosophy and a Ph.D. in government.  I served in the churches I was in and did gain credibility within those churches. 

Then I got married.  My criteria for getting married for as long as I can remember is that I should be able to better serve God with my wife than without my wife.  I found a woman who had strengths in my areas of weakness and we married.  I have since found that I am serving God less effectively.  The marriage drains my energy and I am constantly doing things to fix things for her because she has glaring weaknesses in my areas of strength.  But it saps up all of my energy and I am no longer serving God.  In addition, my spiritual gifts have been neglected and I feel like they are weakening.

That's primarily why I am doing these "thoughts on" posts.  I am trying to exercise some of my spiritual gifts and get them back into shape so that hopefully I can get back to serving God and live up to the potential He gave me.  I'm not even remotely close to being there yet.  I look back on some of my older writing and listen to some of my old talks and am in wonder of what I was once able to do.  Now I just feel tired and hopeless that I can never get back to where I once was, let alone to where I know I should be.  I neglected my gifts and now I feel the consequences of that neglect.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Thoughts on I Timothy 3: Choosing Elders and Deacons

I have never been an elder or a deacon myself.  I have been influential in choosing both positions at two different churches, though.  I can also tell you that I have high standards for both positions and certain individuals did not receive appointments because of walking through this chapter with church leadership.

It is good to be both an elder and a deacon.  Having said that, though, I am very cautious about those who think they are ready for the job--who strongly believe they are qualified.  That indicates an arrogance that I think might indicate a lack of qualification. 

In my opinion, most churches need to be more careful in their selection of deacons and elders.  I've seen too many problems pop up from the choice of a "big name" who then become arrogant and leads the church in an unhealthy direction.  I think part of the lack of cautiousness largely comes from two problems:
  1. The church is thinking too much like the world in the selection of leaders.  A good business or political leader, for example, does not necessarily make a good church leader.
  2. Many churches have church constitutions or charters which mandate the number of elders and deacons that are to serve there.  But what happens when there are too few truly qualified candidates in a church?

Friday, October 11, 2013

Thoughts on I Timothy 2: Pray for everyone

Pray for everyone.  Not just the people you like.  Not just your family.  Not just for those close to you.  Pray for everyone.  Pray for those who do you wrong.  Pray for those you've never encountered. 

When teaching a politics class, I often refer to a something studied in social psychology.  Unfortunately, I am blanking out on the technical term, so I will just describe it.  We tend to favor those who we see ourselves associated with.  If a member of my family is in dispute with a neighbor, I side with the family member.  If my neighbor argues with someone across town, I side with my neighbor.  If someone from across town argues with someone from a different town, I side with the person from my town.  We naturally favor those with whom we identify.  This has both positive and negative consequences.

In terms of prayer, it means it is much easier for us to pray for those with whom we identify.  I don't do a good job of praying for those in South America.  I don't have any affinity with that part of the world.  I don't bother to see what their needs might be.

A few years ago I had a book that was essentially a guide for praying for every country in the world.  I got it at a missions conference, and, although it had some flaws (including factual errors), it did at least give me a broader perspective.  I was able to see needs outside myself and outside those with whom I identify.  I was better able to (although not perfectly able to) pray for everyone.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Thoughts on I Timothy 1: Keep the main thing the main thing

As a teacher, it is very easy to get distracted.  Students (at least at the college level) also love to distract you.  They often want to get into heated discussions about something they find interesting rather than focusing on the content that they are supposed to learn.  There seems to be something about human nature that drags us away from focusing on what is good for us so that we can ponder irrelevant things.

Paul warns Timothy in the beginning of this letter to be careful of such things, and to watch out for those who are trying to distract from the central themes of the gospel.  I don't know the specifics of these distractions, but I imagine it is similar to those today who focus so much on an obscure piece of theology and end up ignoring the larger picture.

How does one not get distracted?  By keeping the main thing the main thing.  I am a sinner.  God saved me.  Now He wants a good relationship with me.  God wants the same for you. 

Discussing other things can be valuable when done in certain ways and in certain contexts, but only when done in proper perspective.  Our relationship with God should always be the focus and the purpose for all of our discussions.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Thoughts on II Thessalonians 3: We must work

Paul, in one of his more blunt moments, says, "If anyone is not willing to work, then he should not eat."  In context, it is clear that Paul is not speaking of the disabled or those who honestly cannot find work.  Rather, he is aiming his blunt weapon on those "teachers" who claim that they don't need to work because they are servants of God.  Although we know from Paul's other writings that God's servants are worthy of wages, but that doesn't give license for laziness.

This principle should be applied more broadly though.  Help shouldn't be given for those who are not willing to work.  Work, however, should be interpreted broadly, I believe.  A single mother with five kids is working by raising five kids.  I think if she multi-tasks in whatever breaks she had from child-rearing (such as "nap time") and does other work, she should receive help from the Church.  Even if this means something as simple as stuffing envelopes (something that can easily be done at home to ease in child care).  As a church, we should also be willing to help those who are willing to work.  The principle goes both ways.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Thoughts on II Thessalonians 2: Fooled by imposters

Based on reading Paul's two letters to them, the church in Thessalonica seemed to be very concerned about the Lord's return, arguably in an unhealthy way.  Here Paul has to warn them about false teachers who are trying to tell them that they missed it and are now stuck like Chuck in the muck (to quote one of my former pastors).   He also wants to warn them about an actual sign that the Lord's return is near, that the man of lawlessness takes the seat of honor in the temple.

I'm not going to try to dissect what all this means.  I do think it is important to note that Paul cautions about imposters.  We have needed that warning ever since as there have been a lot of imposters over the centuries.  How do you avoid being fooled by imposters?  In verse 15 Paul admonishes his readers to hold firm to the traditions they were taught.  I think it is safe to translate these traditions to modern readers as the Bible.  (In my view, the original traditions have been so corrupted, we aren't sure what they were beyond what has been laid out for us in the Bible.)  The Bible is where we have preserved the original teachings of the Christ and the early Church leaders.  So, when we hear something new, we should test it.

Thoughts on II Thessalonians 1: The Myth of the Passive New Testament God

So many times I have heard the God of the Old Testament described as wrathful and angry where in the New Testament God is loving and peaceful.  Whenever I hear this, I have to wonder if the speaker has actually read the whole Bible.  Throughout, God is clearly both loving and wrathful.

In the first chapter of II Thessalonians we get a small taste of both the love and the wrath.  Those who follow Him, although afflicted now, will find peace.  Those who do not follow him now will find eternal punishment, separated from God's glory.  What I find interesting about both of these positions is that it seems people are getting what they want.  Followers are receiving rest in His glory.  Non-followers get to find out what absence from His glory is all about. 

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Thought on I Thessalonians 5:17: Pray More

A couple years ago I was in a rather diverse Bible study.  Represented were at least three different ethnic groups.  There were three individuals with Ph.D.s (myself included), two ordained ministers, three pastor's kids (myself included), and about five adults who grew up outside the church and who had not yet graduated from high school.  Yep, diverse group.

The leader asked us to write down a summary of I Thessalonians 5:12-22.  Those of us highly educated "churchy" people went about on our exegesis and none of us came up with anything particularly profound.  When we got to verse 17 the leader asked what one of the guys who hadn't graduated from high school and who did not grow up in the church to explain vs. 17.  He said simply, "Pray more".  The room fell silent as we thought about how profound those two simple words were. No one in the room has forgotten and I always think of that every time I read I Thessalonians 5.  And it humbles me because I know that I need to pray more.

It also reminds me that I shouldn't always over-analyze the texts.  Sometimes simple is far more profound.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Thoughts on I Thessalonians 4 & 5: What we do know about the end

I have no idea what I'm going to say when this devotional blog gets to the book of Revelations.  I really don't know what most of it means and therefore have very few thoughts on the matter.  The only thing I come close to certainty on is that what I hear most teachers on the "end times" say is probably wrong.

With that in mind, we come to the second half of chapter 4 and the second half of chapter 5, where Paul gives his readers a glimpse into what is to come.  Those who are already dead will rise when the Lord returns and those alive will meet them in the air.  When this happens seems to be unknown as it will "come as a thief in the night".  But we should not live as if we are in the night, but should be aware of what is going on as one who lives in the day.

Does this mean, since we are in the day, that we will clearly be able to tell when the end has come?  Based on my reading of church history and hearing too much Christian talk radio over the past thirty years, I sort of doubt it will be that obvious.  How many times have we heard predictions that the end was right around the corner?  The following are a list of "anti-Christs" I have heard in my relatively short lifetime: Reagan, Gorbachev, G.H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, three different popes, Saddam Hussein, Ayatollah...and the list just keeps going.  My impression is that we really don't know what's going on.

Is it possible that when the end actually comes that it will truly be obvious to most Christians?  Maybe.  But I tend to think that living in the day is meant to motivate us to live as if the end might be near because, frankly, we don't know.  So, what does it mean to live as if the end is near?  That is a good question and is worthy of some intense thought.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Thoughts on I Thessalonians 3: Caring about what matters most

In this third chapter, Paul expresses the concern he felt for the church in his absence.  He was concerned enough to send his trusted colleague Timothy to check up on them.  When Paul received the positive report, he "felt alive again". 

This is true care.  And it is valuable, I think, to see what drove the care.  He was concerned far more about their spiritual well being than anything else.  In fact, nothing else really gets mentioned.  This is, I believe, because their spiritual well being is what Paul thought was most important.

In the past few years I've been more involved with what I'll call the "Evangelical social justice movement".  The participants in this are quite varied, but what they share is a belief that Evangelical Christians in the US have, over the past few decades, ignored the importance of social justice as part of holistic Christian ministry.  I wholeheartedly agree with this.  My concern is that in focusing so much on social justice, the more important things have fallen to the wayside--namely spiritual health.  So, in the emphasis on creating a more holistic ministry, too many of these leaders ended up replacing on gap for another.  In their zeal to return to practicing social justice, they ignored spiritual health.  If one of the two has to be chosen (and I don't believe that to be the case), then Paul would focus on spiritual health.

Thoughts on I Thessalonians 2: Being worthy of immitation

In the first chapter, Paul emphasized the importance of the church imitating good sources so they could be a good example to others.  In the second chapter Paul spells out some of what is involved in being worthy of imitation.  To save time, I'm going to simply list a few things in the chapter that are worthy of imitation:
  1. Not being slick salespeople.
  2. Not being glory hounds.
  3. Caring for others with the nurturing love of the mother of a newborn
  4. Hard work in sharing the Gospel
  5. Hard work in caring for their own physical needs
  6. Living blamelessly before others
  7. Suffering for Christ
That is quite the list, and, when I think about it, a hard one to emulate. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Thoughts on I Thessalonians 1: Become an example by learning to imitate

In the first chapter of this interesting letter, Paul comes out with what I imagine was an intentionally odd thought: Become imitated by first imitating others.  In this case, the believers in Thessalonica became an example for other believers in Macedonia and Achaia (v. 7).  They were able to accomplish this because they imitated Paul, other spiritual leaders, and the Lord.

In the modern (at least Western) world, there is so much emphasis on being unique.  Children are encouraged to become their own persons (although I would argue that the encouragement is not consistent, especially among those most vociferous about it).  In academia, you are rewarded for being original, sometimes even if the original thing you say is ridiculous.  You see this in many areas of life.

But, there's a problem.  For a large percentage of the time, being original doesn't actually work.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that being original frequently hinders progress.  Why would you try to invent something new for every task when there are proven ways to complete that task already in place?  Isn't it smarter to simply imitate what has done before?

Now, I freely admit that there are problems with my argument when taken all the way and applied to all circumstances.  However, this passage does not apply to technological advancement, for example.  It applies to spiritual growth.  Why would you try to create a new way of doing things spiritually?  Well, it depends, I guess, on your motivation.  Is your motivation to please God or to please yourself?  If your motivation is to please God, it makes perfect sense to imitate those who have pleased God previously.  This is not an area where one wants to re-invent the wheel.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Thoughts on James 5: Rich and Poor

James, in characteristic fashion, chews out the rich.  It is tempting to say he chews out the rich for being rich, but a closer reading of the text indicates that he is chewing them out for how they became rich and what they do with their riches.  They became rich by abusing their employees and now that they are rich, they don't do any good with their riches.  This leads me to believe that it is possible to be  both rich and godly.  It also leads me to believe that the vast majority of the rich aren't godly.  It is simple economics.  To accumulate money, you need to sell more than it costs you to produce what you are selling.  In a competitive marketplace there is the additional pressure to have lower costs in order to sell more of your product.  One of the easiest ways to lower costs is to reduce the cost of labor--that is, pay your employees less.  If you don't do this, depending on your specific market, you are likely to not make much money and not become rich in the first place.  So, it is far easier to become rich if you behave in a fashion that James objects to.  It isn't impossible, but it is much harder. 

So, what does one do in a capitalistic society as a Christian?  I guess we shouldn't focus on getting rich.  If God blesses us with wealth through our ethical behavior, then we should continue our ethical behavior and do good with that blessing. 

But the reality is that most Christians who live according to Christian principles will not be wealthy.  Most of us will be abused by our employers and suffer from unjust social structures.  (This is more true in the non-western world.)  For believers in those circumstances, James encourages us to keep our mind on the end game.  Earth isn't our home and it isn't where we will be rewarded.  Grumbling about the current world, especially against fellow believers, won't actually do any good.  There are ways to appropriately fight injustice, but that isn't the same as grumbling. 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Thoughts on James 4: When to call others out

James is blunt.  He does not mince words. 
  • If you vacillate between your love of God and love of the world, you are an adulterer.  
  • Weep in repentance for being double-minded.  
  • Your life is nothing but a puff of smoke.  
  • If you don't know do what you know the good thing is, you sin.
It is interesting that the same author who warns his readers about guarding their tongues is so forthright in his admonitions.  Apparently guarding ones tongue does not necessarily mean refraining from offending others.  James surely offended some of his readers.  But then in v.11 he admonishes not to speak against other believers.  So perhaps the conclusion here is that one can state principles bluntly, but not call individuals out on those principles?  Perhaps calling out individuals (in public, private is okay--see 5:19-20) is where one crosses the line because tearing someone down in public stems from personal internal passions (v.1)? I'm really not sure.

 What I do know is that James wants our focus to be on internal issues.  When we see pride in ourselves, we ought to "grieve, mourn, and weep" in humbling ourselves before God.  God, then, can lift us up.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Thoughts on James 3: Not many should be teachers

For the past 23 years I have been a teacher in some capacity or another.  The past few months I think is the longest stretch where I haven't taught since I was a teenager.  So, every time I read James 3:1, it makes me cringe a little.  I don't cringe because I don't want to believe it.  I cringe because I know just how true it is.  You not only face the daunting task of taming your tongue, but everything you say is magnified due to a forced audience.

I get queasy every time I think about the various improper things I have said in front of my students.  I regret a lot and am often on the verge of despising myself for all of my many mistakes. 

And yet, as I write this, I also know that I am actually a pretty good teacher.  I do have a gift for explaining complex things in ways that others find easier to understand.  But, I also know that I don't want to teach right now.  I don't think I am in a place mentally or spiritually where I can adequately guard my tongue.  I think this is the point of James 3:1.  As a teacher, all the normal damage that can be done with your tongue is amplified. 

So, what should be coming out of our mouth?  I think the attributes of wisdom that James expresses in vv. 13-18 is a good start.  I want to attain that kind of wisdom before I get back in front of a class of any kind.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Thoughts on James 2: Showing favortism in the church

I have far too many thoughts for the amount of time I have to write today.  In fact, I am in the early stages of writing a book based on vv. 1-9.  So, yes, I have a lot of thoughts.

Many of these thoughts were triggered by my first experience being at a church where I wasn't known by the credentials of my father and grandfather (both pastors).  I grew up doing ministry.  For me, that was always what it meant to be part of a church.  I couldn't really envision being a part of a church without being active in ministry.  Then I started going to a church while attending graduate school.  I was treated as a second-hand citizen, probably due to a combination of being single and being socially awkward.  I received snide remarks from members.  Even the well-intentioned ones acted in ways that belittled me.  This church wanted to start a new ministry in an area where I had experience starting and running a similar one.  I offered my services.  The pastors rejected them. This left a mark on me and it still hurts to think about it.

Upon thinking about it further over the years, I have been on both sides of the favoritism scale in churches.  I grew up being the favorite and receiving special treatment.  I never realized this until I was on the other side. 

I our churches, we need to be very careful about these things.  It is hard enough for a stranger to walk into a church.  How much harder is it for the stranger to be on the losing end of blatant favoritism?  Will that person enter back into those doors?  What type of long-term damage will be done?  Are we hindering people from entering the Kingdom?  For now, these are just some thoughts.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Thoughts on James 1: Looking in the mirror

James is a very dense book.  Dense in that there are several take-away points in every chapter.  The first chapter is no exception.  A few years ago, when I was attending a small church, the pastor went on a brief sabbatical and I filled in for five weeks behind the pulpit.  I pulled five sermons out of the first chapter of James, and I could have easily done more than that.

Right now I am going to focus on vv. 19-27 (and will probably do the rest of the chapter in future years as I hopefully remain faithful to this blog and continue to revise my chapter-by-chapter thoughts), mostly because those are the verses most applicable to my own life at the moment. 

One of the primary reasons I made the commitment to write thoughts several days a week on a chapter of the Bible was that I found myself slacking in my own study.  I would do the reading, but it wouldn't seep in.  I was looking in the mirror and then forgetting what I looked like.  It was affecting my life.  I was becoming bitter with my life circumstances.  Since I started this practice, I do recognize a shift in my mindset.  While I can't say that I'm joyful with my life circumstances yet, I'm not bitter now either.  It has significantly helped my marriage.

Perhaps the biggest struggle for me was guarding my tongue.  As James points out in v. 26, my religion became futile.  Considering that most of my human interaction since my wife and I moved is with my Hindu in-laws, this was a problem.  I generally reserve speaking about living with Asperger's to my other blog, but I think this verse is particularly important with those of us who profess Christ living on the autism spectrum.  Neurologically, we have a propensity to not hold our tongue.  We tend to speak whatever is on our mind and offend people while doing it.  We then use our neurological framework as an excuse.  That isn't what God wants.  We are as responsible for holding our tongues as anyone else is.  Just because it is harder for us, doesn't mean we shouldn't do it.  Those not on the spectrum generally have a harder time neurologically following rules than we do, but that doesn't mean that they don't have to follow rules.  Holding our tongue is the hard part for us, but we are still responsible for doing it. 

We all need to take an honest look at ourselves in the mirror and, in the light of Scripture, evaluate where we are and where we need to be.