Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Children Learn Most Before Age Five?

I’ve heard it said that 90% of what a person will learn in his lifetime he learns before he turns age five. I figure that statement is just one of those things that someone threw out there to highlight the importance of teaching young children rather than having much basis in fact. Even if someone attempted to back up this claim with a scientific study, the big question is what you consider to be learning. Young children learn a lot. They learn to talk. They learn to walk. They learn to dress themselves. They learn to draw and paint. Some may learn to cook. They learn to play together and share. They learn to turn on their favorite television shows. They learn all of this before they turn five.

But people learn throughout much of their lives. Whether we realize it or not, we’re learning something new every day. Look at all the people who can talk coherently about which professional athletes will have a good season or why a trade is going to ruin a team’s chances. It’s debatable how valuable that information is, but people retain that information. If they retain it, it is learning.

In many ways, adults are better able to learn than young children are. I work with kids in Awana, trying to help them learn memory verses. I find it much easier to remember the verses than they do. Even with a verse I haven’t seen hundreds of times, because I understand the verse, I can often learn the verse as well as they would need to know it to pass the section having only looked at it once or twice. But children don’t have that ability.

So, while I agree that it is very important to teach young children and to get them headed in the right direction, I’m not ready to give up on adults just yet. They can still be taught. We might have to unlearn them on a few things, but they’re still learning.

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Humble Author

Last week, I alluded to the fact that pride looks for one’s own success at the expense of others, while humility seeks the success of others. I was speaking primarily about authors because authors struggle over the issue of praising their own work. Looking at my own work, the two non-fiction books are very clearly books that are designed to help other people. But it’s never so clear when we look at novels. If our goal should be to help others, what should a novelist be doing?

The traditionally published author can say he’s helping the publisher’s employees put bread on the table. But even the most haughty author can make that claim. We would hope that there would be something significantly different between the haughty author and the humble author. If the author puts aside pride and takes on humility, we would like to see some change that takes place in the way he does things.

With novels, it’s all about the story, so any difference will show up there. I think the difference between the proud and the humble is that the proud author will write the story he wants to write, but looking for things that will cause the readers to praise him for his work. The humble approach would be to consider the problems the readers face and look for a story that could help the readers as they face that problem. Novels are more about emotions and feelings than they are about teaching. Novels give the reader the ability to experience things that he can’t do or it would be better if he didn’t in real life. The spy novel puts a man behind enemy lines while he remains safe in his own home. The mystery novel lets a woman catch a killer, without placing herself in danger. But what people learn from those experiences apply to real life. The humble author looks for the best experience he can give his readers through the story he tells.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Pride and Humility for Authors

If you want to get God upset with you—and I mean really upset—take credit for the things he has done. That’s pride. Isaiah 42:8 says, “I am the Lord; that is my name. And my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images.” When we lift ourselves up with pride, we try to take God’s glory. The Bible gives many examples of blessings lost because of pride.

Recently in some writer circles, the topic of pride and humility came up. Some writers are opposed to false humility, referring that people would just say what they really think of their work. Honest pride seems better than dishonest humility. And when you consider how the publishing industry is structured, I can understand that feeling. Writers who are trying to succeed have to promote their work. But some people have the idea that it isn’t pride if we let others validate our work rather than just saying we think it is good.

Look at what happened to Herod in Acts 12. He gave a great speech to some visitors and they shouted, “It is the voice of a god, and not of man!” The angel of the Lord smote him on the spot. He was eaten with worms and died because he didn’t give God the glory.

On the other hand, look at James 4:10, “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He shall lift you up.”

The publishing industry is what it is. The author who wants to sell books must tell people they will enjoy the book. But that alone isn’t pride. When Paul looked back no his life, he wrote about how he had finished the course. The author of a book about widget painting, knows that the reader looking for information how to paint widgets will learn something from his book. The romance author knows her story well enough to know if it matches what a reader says she wants. And to some extent, a writer is able to compare his book to those of other writers.

Pride often carries with it a sense of entitlement, “my book is better than a lot of the stuff in the stores, so why can’t I get a publisher?” Humility would say, “it’s the publisher’s money, so it’s their business whether they give me a contract or not.” Pride looks at success and says, “See? I told you my book was good.” Humility looks at success and says, “What I did doesn’t seem worthy of this much success, so I need to work harder if I want to keep this up.” Pride says, “If you want to keep making money, you’ll treat me better.” Humility asks, “What can I do to help you?” Pride says, “I would never write a bad book.” Humility says, “Whatever ability I have is a gift from God.” Pride says, “This is the best novel since Pilgrims’ Progress.” Humility says, “This novel is some of my best work.”

Pride is much too easy and humility is hard. We set our eyes on the prize and it seems like the easiest way to get there is to shove other people out of our way. But humility causes us to look at it differently. The humble person isn’t bothered by those who do better than him. More than that, he looks for ways to help them be better than him. The humble person may enjoy the appreciation of others, but it isn’t the measurement of his success. Success is measured by how he is able to help others.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

You've Got To Be For Me

Author Jeremie Kubicek recently stated on Michael Hyatt’s blog that if you are a leader, your followers will be asking “Are you for me, against me, or for yourself?” I agree with what he says, to a point, but it seems to me that it may not just be your followers who ask that and how they answer that question may determine whether they are willing to follow you or not. In any case, that is certainly true with books. If you are an author, one thing you want to know is why people aren’t reading your books.

I visit the forums on Amazon.com occasionally. I participate until the conversation gets old and then I stay away for a few months. One of the things I’ve noticed is that people on the forums hate authors who self promote their books, even to the point that some become angry if an author even mentions he has a book. If we look at this as a moral issue, there’s nothing wrong with an author self-promoting a book on Amazon.com. The whole reason Amazon.com provides a forum is to sell stuff, and yet, people don’t like it. Why?

The question that Jeremie Kubicek says people ask is probably the answer. The author who self-promotes may not be against me, but it is clear he is for himself. “Go buy my book,” is his cry. He posts links to his book everywhere and doesn’t take part in the conversation. So not only is he for himself, he isn’t for me. Contrast that with someone who posts, “I read the best book the other day. I’d never read this author before, but it was really good.” Such a person appears to be looking to help those on the forum and the author, not herself.

For authors, self-promotion is part of the game. It isn’t fun, but necessary. Authors can’t remove the fact that book sales is good for us, but what authors should do is to look for ways to help the potential reader. This is why some books are easier to sell than others. Take my first book, Church Website Design: A step-by-step approach as an example. It has been relatively easy to sell. I don’t think anyone who buys it is going to say that by selling this book I’m not for me, but for that very select group of people who are looking to develop a church website, they can say that the book was written to help them. On the other hand, anyone who falls outside that group will see nothing about the book that is to help them, so they won’t buy the book. If I try too hard to convince them, they will assume I’m only in it for myself.

No one expects an author to be completely selfless, but what people are looking for are books that will help them. The classic example is the how-to book. If an author can teach people how to do something they want to do, they’ll be happy for the author to succeed. But even with novels, readers are looking for how the book helps them. If it doesn’t help them, they too will see the author as nothing more than self-serving. The difference is that what readers see as helpful in a novel is different than what they see as helpful in other books. In a novel, what is helpful is a story that the reader enjoys.

So, success with books is like success with leadership. When people can see how you are helping them, they will be pleased. But if they can’t see how you‘re helping them or if they see you as the opposition, they aren’t going to like you.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

When Students Aren't Engaged

Recently, Michael Hyatt blogs about The Benefits of Playing Full Out. In that post, he begins by saying, “I attend a lot of conferences and meetings. I have noticed that most people play it safe in these settings. They are reserved—arms crossed and skeptical—or simply distracted, hunched over their smart phone. Precious few take the plunge and play full out.”

But rather than focus on what attendees ought to be doing, I’m more interested in the question of what we can do when we are speaking to a crowd like that. We can’t send the audience to a conference attendee training session before we start and yet, a speaker’s success requires that the audience learn.

The crossed arms and skepticism, as well as playing with the smart phone, are protective mechanisms. Instead of faulting the attendees for fearing things we think they ought not fear, if we want to engage the audience, we must become the protection.

One thing people fear is the dunce cap. In a room full of people they don’t know but would like to make a good impression on, they fear that the instructor will make them look silly or stupid. So, they cross their arms. “Don’t come near me.” Crossed arms can also be what they do when they aren’t sure what else to do. The same is true about playing the smart phone. They have a room full of people who may be watching them and they don’t know what to do with their hands, so they cross their arms or they look at Facebook on the smart phone or they fidget with their pen. Skepticism comes from people doubting the speaker’s ability to teach them. It isn’t that they don’t want to learn or that they want the speaker to fail—quite the opposite—but experience has given them reason to doubt the speaker’s ability.

The audience will uncross their arms and put away their smart phones if you give them something to do with their hands. One mistake that is easy to make is to think that we have to wait until all of the class has arrived before we start. A better approach is to begin the moment the first student arrives. Give him something to do. For example, you might hand out questionnaires as the class members come in. When it is time to start, a few minutes discussing the answers will help determine what the students already know.

Never ask a student a question that he can’t answer. Nothing is ever gained by making a student feel dumb. Instead, look for ways the student can readily apply the material you are teaching. If you ask a question and the students aren’t sure what you’re asking, something is wrong with the question. Reword the question so that they will be able to answer it. And avoid questions with one word answers. Look for questions that spur discussion.

Skepticism often comes in a couple of forms. Either the student doubts you can teach him, or he fears you’re just going to dump a bunch of material on him that he doesn’t care about and certainly won’t remember. For such a student, you need to show him why you believe the subject is important and how you have put the material to use. In so doing, you will also help him see why it is important to him and how he might be able to put the material to use in what he needs to do.

People have attended enough boring classes to have an expectation that any class they attend will be boring. They come prepared to get through the time without too much mental anguish, but what they would really like is for the instructor to engage them in the material. Even in situations where the student is required to attend, the student desires this be a good use of his time, since he has to be there anyway. But no amount of “playing full out” on the part of the students will save a bad class. Students have very little power in that regard, but the instructor can do much to turn a class into an enjoyable learning experience.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


Woodrow Kroll coined a word which he used on Back to the Bible, oughtness. He used it in relationship to prayer, in that we ought to pray. He defined oughtness as "that inner sense of obligation to obedience that many Christians find annoying and therefore unheeded." In the context of prayer, we sometimes find it difficult to pray because we pray and it seems like nothing is happening or we feel like we don’t have time. But we ought to do it.

One of the things that stood out from what Woodrow Kroll said is that he made a distinction between oughtness and legalism. It would be easy enough for us to make this into a legal requirement for religious practice. We might tell people, pray three times a day or God won’t bless you. But it isn’t a legal requirement. It is just something we ought to do.

But oughtness applies to more than prayer. There are a number of things that I see church people doing or not doing that bother me. Some of it is things clearly defined in the Bible and other things are just practices that have proven to be helpful over the years. I find myself wanting to say something about what is going on, but I question whether I’m just making a stink about something that doesn’t really matter. I wonder if I’m being legalistic by saying things should be done a certain way. Oughtness seems to be a very fitting word for this. There isn’t a law that says things must be done this way no matter what, but there is an oughtness. We ought to do things this way because it will help things run better and potentially avoid problems in the future.

Some people don’t want to be bothered with learning how things should be done, but they ought to. The world won’t come to an end if we violate some of these things. It isn’t written in stone and we might not be able to call some of these things a sin, but we ought to do things a certain way. There is a way that is better than other ways, and we ought to look for it.

Monday, May 23, 2011

God Isn't Really Just, Is He?

How can salvation possibly be just? When we as Christians attempt to share the gospel with those around us, one of the issues we may encounter is that a person may question why a loving God would send anyone to hell. It is simple enough to say it is because the Lord is just. The Bible describes him as just also. “The just Lord is in the midst thereof; He will not do iniquity: Every morning doth he bring his judgment to light, he faileth no.” (Zaphaniah 3:5a) But how do we then explain salvation? If he saves us because he loves us, does that mean he saves everyone? Or maybe as Calvinists believe, he loves the world, but the world isn’t really the whole world, just the elect? But even if that were true, how can salvation possibly be called justice? Is there something about us that makes us worthy of salvation? That would imply works for salvation. Looking at what we have to offer, none of us deserve salvation and yet the Lord has offered it to us anyway. How can he be called just if he doesn’t give us justice?

Or maybe we look at this question a different way. Why was it necessary for Jesus to suffer and die? He didn’t sin; we did. Wouldn’t it make more sense for us to suffer some for what we did and then God extend grace to us? That’s kind of the idea behind the Catholic doctrine of purgatory. We also see it somewhat in some of their other doctrines. The idea is that when you sin, you must do something which pleases God and he forgives you. But is that justice? If I were to put your eye out and a judge gave me a twenty dollar fine, would you see that as justice? No, justice would be if I lost my eye and that doesn’t even begin to consider restitution. The penalty for sin is very clear in the Bible. Even before Adam sinned, God told him that if he ate of the tree he would die. We look at the law of Moses and time after time we see the proscribed penalty is death. If the God of the Bible is just, then by the law he wrote, he must punish sin with death. Even if we don’t understand why sin produces death, God defined justice for sin as death. It then can’t be just for him to just arbitrarily choose to kill some and others to let live.

It would be a mistake for us to think that God just looks at our sin, smiles and says, “I realize you couldn’t help but sin and I love you too much to let you suffer in hell, so I’m just going to forget this ever happened.” That isn’t justice. But suppose you got traffic ticket for some reason. It was your fault and you know it, but you don’t have the money to pay it. You mention it to a friend because it really worries you. Your friend pulls out a checkbook and writes you a check for the amount of the ticket. You take the money and pay the fine. Is that justice? It may not seem like it, but the law considers that justice. You paid the fine; the law doesn’t care that you got the money as a gift. Your debt is paid.

That is what Jesus did for us and what we see in the sacrifices of the Old Testament. If God is just, he can’t just wipe the debt off the books. The price has to be paid. Only a life can pay the debt of sin, but our death means eternal separation from God in hell. But God is love. He didn’t want us to go to hell, so he gave us a solution that gives us life and paid the penalty that justice demands. Jesus died. The law demanded a life in order to spare ours.

So, while we didn’t get what we deserve, as far as the Law is concerned, the death of Jesus for our sins meets the requirement of justice. God loves us and was willing to pay the debt required by justice in order that he could have a relationship with us while still remaining who he is.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

On the Last Day of the World

Is this you last day on planet earth? Some people think it is. The rest of us are just making bad jokes about those people. We know that Harold Camping is wrong because his predictions are against the Bible that he claims to have gotten them from. The Bible tells us that no man knows the day nor the hour. It also says it is not for us to know the times or the seasons concerning Christ’s return. And if that isn’t enough, Camping is predicting the total annihilation of the world too soon. The Bible tells us that there will be a seven-year tribulation period. That hasn’t happened yet, so the world isn’t going to be wiped clean later this year. The Bible also tells us that there will be a 1,000 year reign of Christ before the world is destroyed. So, Camping is at least 1,000 years off in his prediction—which he would know if he had read the Bible instead of trying to use it as some kind of code.

The sad thing is that many people will point to Harold Camping’s mistake as yet more proof that the Lord isn’t coming back. The Bible tells us about those people too. The thing is, the Lord is coming back. It probably won’t be today, but he is coming back. Besides that, any day could be your last day on earth. Does it make any difference whether today is your last day because the world ends or because someone failed to stop for a red light? Either way, your time to fast the judge of this world may be upon you. What will you say if Jesus were to ask you why he should let you into heaven?

Would you answer that it is because you were baptized? Would you answer that you went to church almost every Sunday? Would you answer that you were mostly a good person? If those are your answers, you aren’t getting in. For us to get into heaven, we’ve got to be just as righteous as Jesus. The Bible tells us that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. In other words, none of us are good enough to get into heaven. If you don’t have the righteousness of Jesus applied to you, you aren’t getting into heaven.

I’ve read some of the comments about this Camping thing and many people talk about the rapture in terms of all the good people will be taken away and the ordinary people will be left to suffer. While that’s not completely wrong, the impression I get is that these people see the righteous as a bunch of snobs. It’s sad that we come across that way because John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” It isn’t that God just loves us snobs who go to church. No, God loves the whole world. He sent his son to die for the whole world. All he asks is that we put our trust in him. God wants the whole world to be saved. He wants you to be saved. He sent his son to die for you. Harold Camping is a false prophet, but that shouldn’t keep you from going to heaven. What you need is a savior.

Friday, May 20, 2011

How to Study the Bible (Part 5)

When we have trouble understanding what a passage is saying just from what the writer wrote in the verses around it, we must look elsewhere. It’s at this point that many people turn to commentaries, to see what other people think it means, but then we’re forced to rely on the opinion of others. The great thing about the Bible is that it is all true. If we have one passage that is difficult to understand in one book, we can look at what other books say on related subjects. Our understanding of a passage can only be correct if it doesn’t require something else the Bible says to be incorrect. For example, if John had said a coin was black and Peter had said it was white, it would be valid to think that it is black on one side and white on the other. It is rare that thing work that well, but you get the idea.

To understand 1 Timothy 2:12, it is helpful to consider 1 Corinthians 14:34, 35. “Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but [they are commanded] to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.”

So this gives us more that we would like to understand about just how silent women should be in the church, but it may be helpful in our understanding of 1 Timothy 2:12. First, notice that Paul says the women being silent is part of the law. We saw him mention the law in 1 Timothy 1, so even it this doesn’t give direct support of the idea that Paul was countering those who were misapplying the law by keeping the women out, it doesn’t hurt it any. He mentions learning again, but here, he talks about them asking their husbands at home. So, 1 Timothy 2:11 can’t be talking about them learning in silence at home. That seems to support the idea that 1 Timothy 2:12 applies to the church setting.

Of course, now, you may want to know more about what 1 Corinthians 14 is talking about. You can apply the same techniques we used for 1 Timothy 2:12, but what if you want to know what the word “silent” means or to find similar passages? It isn’t as hard as you might think. A copy of Strong’s Concordance is an invaluable tool. There is also a free online version at http://www.blueletterbible.org. Find the scripture, then click the “C” button and it will show you ever word in the verse with links to other verses with that word and the meaning of the Greek or Hebrew word. Why settle for what other people say God says when you can study his word and read it for yourself?


Thursday, May 19, 2011

How to Study the Bible (Part 4)

In coming to an understanding of 1 Timothy 2:12 we need to understand how it fits in the whole of the letter Paul wrote to Timothy. To understand the purpose of First Timothy, it helps to read the first chapter. What we find there is that Paul is encouraging Timothy to continue to teach people to teach sound doctrine, which is why he left him at Ephesus in the first place. He also warns him of those who would compel the believers to keep the law without understanding the purpose of the law.

So, the first thing Paul tells Timothy should be done is to pray for our governmental leaders. If we understand this letter to be telling Timothy what he should be doing to encourage teaching sound doctrine, the call for men to pray is the first task Paul gives Timothy. As we noted before, that leads into the instruction concerning women:
In like manner also, that women should adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobermindedness, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly array, but, as becometh women professing godliness, with good works. Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived; but the woman, being deceived, was in the transgression. Notwithstanding, she shall be saved in childbearing if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobermindedness.
So, it doesn’t clearly say that this applies only to the assembly or only at home. What we can say is that it may have something to do with promoting the teaching of sound doctrine and it may have something to do with the law. Considering the women of the old testament were not permitted to serve in the tabernacle in the way the men were, It is possible that those who were trying to apply the law to Christianity were calling for the women to be excluded from the listening to the teaching in the assembly. If that is the case, then verse eleven takes on a very different meaning. Instead of Paul putting the emphasis on them being silent, the emphasis would be on allowing the women to learn. “Let the woman learn…”

If we run with that idea, what then does verse twelve mean? If the point Paul was trying to get across is that the women should be allowed to learn, then verse twelve seems to be saying, “but let’s not go too far. If they aren’t disruptive, let them learn, but don’t permit them to teach or usurp authority over the man.” In that case, the application can only be to the assembly, since the law wouldn’t be made to tell the woman not to talk at home.

But we still don’t have enough to be certain. The statement about Adam being formed first almost implies it deals with husband and wife, though at the time Adam was the only man and Eve the only woman. The statement about the woman being deceived while Adam wasn’t seems to imply that part of the reason Paul is saying the woman shouldn’t teach is that there is something in the nature of women that may make them more prone to latch onto doctrinal error. But if that’s the case, then women probably shouldn’t be teaching doctrine at all. So next time we’ll look at how we can resolve some of these questions when we may not have enough in this passage to resolve them.

<<Prev - Next>>

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

How to Study the Bible (Part 3)

We began by trying to understand what 1 Timothy 2:12 means. To do that we pulled together the verse that form the paragraph around it. But that paragraph begins with a backwards reference to the previous paragraph, “in like manner.” Looking at the previous verses, we see that Paul is talking about the need to pray for our leaders. It appears he could be talking about both men and women praying until he gets to verse eight, “It is my will therefore that men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands without wrath and doubting.”

It is my opinion that Paul is drawing a connection between the men “lifting up holy hands without wrath and doubting” and the women being modest, shamefaced and soberminded. I don’t think he is saying that men should pray and not do good works or that women should do good works and not pray, but it appears the emphasis is on the men praying and the women doing good works.

In like manner also, that women should adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobermindedness, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly array, but, as becometh women professing godliness, with good works. Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived; but the woman, being deceived, was in the transgression. Notwithstanding, she shall be saved in childbearing if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobermindedness.

As we look at this paragraph again, we begin to see that there is a linkage between the modesty Paul mentions and the offending verse eleven and twelve. In fact, verse eleven, “Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection,” can be taken to have similar wording. The word translated as “silence” here is used also to refer to one who stays at home doing his work rather than being a busybody or “quietness” (2 Thessalonians 3:12). So now we’re beginning to run into more questions that we need to answer before we can understand what 1 Timothy 2:12 means. Like, what does “silence” actually mean here? In what environment is this silent learning to take place? Is it in the assembly? Is it at home? Is it both? Is “the woman” the wife or any woman?

These are questions that we’re not going to answer from just looking at this paragraph. A good question to ask at this point is why Paul was writing this letter to Timothy. If we understand what Paul was trying to get Timothy to do, maybe we can understand how this paragraph is needed in order to allow Timothy to do that.

Once again, that discussion will have to wait until tomorrow, but as an activity you can go back and read the first chapter of First Timothy to look for the purpose of the letter. Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments.

<<Prev - Next>>

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

How to Study the Bible (Part 2)

Last time I asked you to consider what you want 1 Timothy 2:12 to mean. Depending on what you’ve been taught, here are a few things you might want it to mean:
  • Women can’t preach or teach in the church.
  • Women can’t argue with their husbands.
  • Women shouldn’t disagree with their husbands at church.
  • Women can teach, but only women and children.
  • Women can teach men, as long as their husbands aren’t in the class.
  • Paul just found it painful to listen to women teach.
  • This has nothing to do with women today.
  • This deals with the home and not the church.
I’m sure there are many others, but the important thing is that you don’t try to force this passage to mean what you want it to. It may mean what you want it to, but be open to the possibility that you are wrong.

A good place to start with understanding a verse is to look for the complete thought. The verse and chapter markings are not part of scripture. They are there to aid us in finding passages, but they often create breaks in paragraphs and even sentences. Paul wrote this as a letter to Timothy. It would be better if we were to look at it in paragraph form without verse and chapter divisions. To understand verse twelve, look at the verse around it and see if you can figure out which sentences should be included in the same paragraph. In a pinch, you can look for the paragraph markings in your Bible.

A likely paragraph division would be between 1 Timothy 2:8 and 1 Timothy 2:9. Verse nine continues the thought of verse eight, but it switches from talking about the men to talking about the women. Paul continues his discussion of the women all the way to the end of chapter two, but then he changes topics. That gives us the following in the 21st Century King James version:
In like manner also, that women should adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobermindedness, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly array, but, as becometh women professing godliness, with good works. Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived; but the woman, being deceived, was in the transgression. Notwithstanding, she shall be saved in childbearing if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobermindedness.
At this point, we have the relevant paragraph, but notice how this paragraph points back to the previous paragraph with the phrase, “in like manner.” In like manner or in the same fashion as what? We’ll discuss that tomorrow, but as an activity for today, see if you can figure out what Paul is referring back to. What in the previous paragraph is the modest apparel and such of women similar to? If you feel so compelled, please leave your thoughts on the subject in the comments.

<<Prev - Next>>

Monday, May 16, 2011

How to Study the Bible (Part 1)

Bible study sounds like a good thing to do, but how many people do it well? For many people, the extent of their Bible study is that they read the Bible. There are various plans to read the Bible through in a year. That’s a good thing to do, but there is a risk that a person will read the words in an effort to meet the daily quota without understanding the passage. Some people don’t even do that much. For some people, the limit of their Bible study is that they have a few favorite passages they read from time to time. They may have memorized these passages, but we often find that they use them out of context. My favorite example of this is when people mention that the Bible says “where there is no vision the people perish” just before they talk about the need for a leader to cast a vision. In context, that verse has nothing to do with a leader casting his vision.

And the worst form of Bible study is to listen only to what the preacher says. Preaching is good, but preachers can be wrong. I mentioned something about which day Jesus was crucified on Michael Hyatt’s blog, to which he disagreed with me by saying “I will choose to side with almost the whole of Christendom…” I chose not to take up that argument because the only basis we have for determining the truth is what God says in his word, not the majority opinion of men.

But how are we to know what the Bible says? If we take up a controversial verse like 1 Timothy 2:12, there are many different opinions about what it really means. You remember that verse. It is the one that begins, “But I suffer not a woman to teach…” The different opinions run anywhere from women should never teach to Paul talking about some disruptive women in Timothy’s church and it has nothing to do with today.

I think the first thing we should ask when looking at a verse like this is, “what is it that I want this verse to mean?” Often, we want to make a verse mean what our church has traditionally taught. As long as it means whatever we want it to mean, we don’t have to change. On the other hand, if it means something other than what we want it to mean, it could change our view of scripture. It could call for us to change our habits. It could cause us to question the teachings of our denomination, as is the case of Martin Luther when he saw that the scripture teaches salvation by grace and not by works. If we can figure out what we want it to say, it will be easier for us to spot the assumptions we’re making that aren’t supported by scripture. Maybe our understanding is correct, but to fully understand what scripture is saying, we need to prove our assumptions.

There isn’t room to discuss this topic more today, but next time we’ll begin to look closer at how to determine what this passage really means.


Friday, May 13, 2011

Amazement in a Tiny Package

Sometimes it is easy to forget just how amazing God’s creation is. I planted some seeds the other day. I looked online to see how long it would take for them to come up. What I saw indicated that it could take from two to four weeks—a whole month. Why does it have to take so long? I wondered. But when you think about it, seeds are an amazing thing.

A seed can lie dormant for weeks, months, or even years. It doesn’t do much, it just sits there. We pack them in little envelopes and ship them around the country. They sit on store shelves, waiting for someone to pay a couple bucks for the package. And then we put them in the ground. We may add water or wait for God to, but that’s about all we do. Then from that tiny little speck comes a green shoot. Some will grow several inches in a day. Roots form. Leaves unfold. The plant continues to grow and branches form. Before long, the plant has flowers, beautiful in their detail, that form. Then as the flower withers, fruit begins to form and inside are seeds that are ready to begin the whole process again.

We humans struggle to produce things. We design them to be exactly alike so that they are easy to make. But plants begin with a single seed. Cells divide so that they can grow, but the cells aren’t exactly alike. They don’t communicate, and yet the organism functions as if they do. I cut all the limbs off of a tree a few weeks ago. The leaves were gone. The buds were gone. All that was left was the trunk. It looked dead, but then a single shoot came from that trunk and then another. Somehow, several cells in that tree knew that when they reproduced they need to grow leaves instead of growing bark like they would’ve done, had I not removed the limbs. Now the tree has many leaves on it. That is amazing!

A plant doesn’t just grow one long shoot, it grows until it needs more energy. Then it stops and grows a leaf to absorb more light. But the leaves aren’t oddly shaped and random, they all have a similar shape. They’re all different, but the same. It is obvious that plants are designed, but they each is different. That isn’t an easy thing to accomplish. For engineers to accomplish something similar, it would take billions of dollars and the machines required would take up a large amount of space. But when we look at a simple little seed, it contains all the information it needs to produce a plant millions of times its size. It is small enough that we can store millions of them. And it is inexpensive enough that we eat them, feed them to the birds, or throw them away. God is amazing.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Following is More Important Than Leadership

We often think of leadership in terms of who has the authority to tell other people what to do. This probably develops from childhood. Parents are the leaders of their families. Children who don’t respect that leadership may receive a few good swats on the backside. But authority isn’t always so clearly defined. There are many cases in which a group of equals choose to follow a leader. Consider the case of a church choir. We could correctly make the claim that the choir director derives his authority from the church, since the church elected him, but the choir is voluntary. Its members don’t have to participate and yet they show up and look to the director for leadership. Maybe a better example would be a small group Bible study. Five or six people decide to get to get together for a Bible study. They are all equals, but one of them leads. That one person may set the time they will meet. He will control the format of the Bible study. He may choose which section of the Bible they will study.

For some reason, that fascinates me. The natural thing is for a leader to be chosen and once that leader is chosen people will follow him. But some people rebel against that leadership, asking the question, “Who gave you the authority over me?” In a way, it is a valid question, but the heart of it is that the person wants the leadership position for himself. We see that question sometimes in reference to the home.” If men and women are equal, what gives the man the right to have authority over the woman?” From the Christian perspective, God gives the man that right. From a more worldly perspective, the woman gives the man that right when she chooses to marry him. In some cultures and even in the marriage tradition of giving the bride away, her parents are passing their authority over her to her husband. But if we ignore that for a moment, for two people to get along well, one of them has to be willing to let the other lead.

Imagine a choir in which everyone wanted to do he own thing. Someone would suggest a practice time, but someone else would change it because it wasn’t good for him. Someone would suggest a song, but someone else would choose something else. If a singer didn’t like how high the notes were, he would transpose the music to suit his voice, but everyone else would sing in a different key. We talk about the need for leadership, but unity requires followers who are willing to submit to the leadership. That leadership may be one man or it may be the democratic choice of the body, but without the individuals choosing to submit, there can be no unity.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Satan Isn't Stupid

Satan isn’t stupid. He may be a lot of things, but he isn’t that. God created Satan as a beautiful creature, one of his angels, but Satan turned against God and was cast from heaven along with those who followed him. I’ve often wondered how a being like Satan could stand in the presence of God and still imagine himself to be God. Though I suppose it is not unlike those of us who see how amazing this world is but reject the God who created it.

Another thing I’ve often wondered about is Satan’s role in the crucifixion of Jesus. Did Satan not understand what was happening? Was Satan like many of the leaders of that time who thought Jesus was setting himself up to declare himself king of the Jews? Jesus died at the time of Passover. I can’t help but wonder if the leaders feared that Jesus would follow in the steps of Moses and attempt to lead the people out from under Roman rule at the end of Passover. But is that what Satan thought?

And what of the end of the world? We know that Satan reads the Bible, but some of what the Old Testament says about the crucifixion isn’t clear until we compare what happened on the cross to it. Even the Apostles didn’t understand until they saw how the crucifixion fulfilled the prophecies of the Old Testament. But the end time prophecies have Satan’s name written all over them. Don’t you think that if God told you that you would do something and fail that you would try to avoid doing that thing? Maybe try a different approach? But Satan will go through with it.

There are two possibilities that I have considered. One is that God has hidden a portion of the prophecies from Satan. I’ve pretty much rejected that idea because God spoke directly to Satan back in the garden when he prophesied about what Jesus would do to Satan. The other possibility is that Satan believes he can win. He knows what the prophesies say and he has studied them well, but he thinks he has a way to prevent them from taking place. It wouldn’t take much. If he could just get one of them to fail, that would be enough. If one thing that God says will happen doesn’t, that would make God a liar and no better than Satan. Since Satan isn’t stupid, I think this is most likely his plan.

We might ask why Satan didn’t try harder to prevent the crucifixion, since so much rests on it. Why didn’t he put a stop to Judas betraying Christ? Satan isn’t stupid, but he isn’t all-knowing either. I think Satan’s plan was to convince Jesus to come down off the cross. We see a similar tactic in the wilderness temptation. The cross is God's greatest work, but it is also when he was the most vulnerable. Jesus sweat drops of blood before he went to the cross because he didn’t want to go through it. With God at his weakest point, Satan must have thought there was a chance to defeat him.

I don’t know Satan’s plans from here on out. We’re told part of them and he hasn’t given up. It is possible he is in the mode of just trying to take as many people to hell with him as he can, but I think he still believes he can win. Following the rapture will be Satan’s best opportunity to be the god of this world. Without the Christians here to oppose him, he has the opportunity to get everyone to follow him. He knows that God is predicting his demise, but at no other time has he had such a large percentage of people who have rejected Christ. If he can turn them to his will and get them to follow him as their god, he wins. If he can bring lasting peace to the middle east, he wins. He isn’t afraid to walk in the path of prophecy because that is his best chance of winning. Satan thinks he can do it. God says otherwise. On which side do you put your trust?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A Formula Guaranteed to Sell Books

Despite the claims of some people, there isn’t much people can do to guarantee that a book will be a bestseller. You can dump a bunch of money into it and that might produce more sales, but the sales may not be enough to recover the cost. But consider the book Heaven is for Real from Thomas Nelson, which has recently had a quick climb up the bestseller lists and compare it to The Shack, which had a similar climb a few months ago. They are so alike that we could almost classify them as a genre. Both books handle the unknown. The Shack paints a picture of God, while Heaven is for Real paints a picture of heaven. They are both written by Bible scholars. They both have an emotional draw that makes the general reader feel good about the topic. They both disregard the clear teaching of the Bible concerning the topics they discuss.

If you scan the Google search results for these books, what you’ll find is a fairly even distribution between those readers who are impressed with the book and those Bible scholars who are frustrated because people are so quick to ignore what the Bible says in favor of made up doctrine. It gives you two camps. One thinks everyone should read the book. The other thinks everyone should know better. The two sides end up arguing against each other, fueling each other’s fire. One says you should read it, so another counters that to say you shouldn’t, and then another counters to say you should. The result is that a lot of people know about the book and will purchase the book just to see what it’s about. If there is a formula guaranteed to sell books, this is it.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Preach the Gospel and Use Words

The saying “Preach the gospel at all times; use words if necessary,” is often attributed to Giovanni Francesco di Bernardone (Francis of Assisi), though no one seems to be able to find any evidence that he actually said this. No matter who coined the saying, it grits the gourd of some folks. The saying itself sounds rather profound because of the irony built into it. When we hear someone talking about preaching the gospel, we immediately think of someone using the spoken word, since that is what preaching is, but then it turns it around to imply that words may not be necessary. In a way, that sounds good because it is very important that our actions reveal the love of God. We can also think of the sermons people preach and the lessons they teach, and we can see ways in which they might get the point across better if they would show us what they mean rather than just lecturing.

The problem with this statement is that words are always necessary. What we do to show the love of God through our actions is important, but they are temporary fixes if we don’t use words to preach the gospel. Have you ever had someone come up to you and say, “I’ve been watching how you live your life and now I know what I need for salvation”? I don’t know about you, but that would make me nervous. I’d be saying, “No, you don’t understand. Good works won’t get you into heaven.”

Many people believe that if they are good enough they will get into heaven. They imagine that they will show up at the gates of heaven one day and Peter will be there with the book of their life in his hand. He’ll scan down through the book. “I see you kicked the cat when you were five. That wasn’t good. You cut off your sister’s pigtail with you were six.” He’ll keep reading. “Wow! You haven’t missed a day of church since you were fifteen. You gave money to that church in Africa. You looked after your neighbor lady next door. You raised your children well, and you never killed anyone. You’re the kind of person we want to have in heaven. Come on in!”

From the human perspective, that sounds logical. We figure that since no one is good all the time, if there is anyone who will get to heaven it will be those that are mostly good people. But that’s not what the Bible says. The Bible says that none of us are good enough (Romans 3:10). We have all sinned. But before you say that you know you’ve sinned but you did good to make up for it (sort of like planting a tree to make up for driving a Hummer), the Bible tells us that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).

Think about that for a moment. If you have a job and you did ten hours worth of work, but then for the rest of the week you decided not to show up for work. The boss gets tired of it and fires you. He still owes you for the ten hours you worked, even though you slacked off the rest of the week. If you sin and then go do good things, you are still owed death for the sin you committed. Those are your wages. Just because you don’t want you wages and just because you were good part of the time doesn’t mean that you aren’t owed payment for what you’ve done.

God always pays his debts. If we are owed death, it will be paid. But dead people aren’t allowed into heaven. One of the things God told the children of Israel was unclean was a dead body. God isn’t going to allow something unclean into heaven. So, only those whose debt Jesus has paid will make it into heaven. Only those who are willing to accept the death of Jesus as the payment for the wages they are owed will be saved.

Without words, many people will go right on thinking that there is something in good works that can redeem them. But God gave us words so that we can know the truth and teach it to others.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

On Mothers

Moms are great. They come in all shapes and sizes. There are big moms, little moms, fat moms, and skinny moms. There are good moms and bad moms. There are gentle moms and mean moms. There are smart moms and dumb moms. There are pretty moms and ugly moms. But whatever they are, they are our moms and most of us are pretty happy with that.

Moms are special. It’s an odd sort of thing that no matter how a mother might treat her children, there’s always that bond. Some children wish their mothers were better people. Some children don’t get along with their mother. Some children don’t see their mother for years, but she’s still their mother. I can only thank God that I don’t have a mother like that, but even if she were, I would love her.

And then there are those mothers who came to motherhood in an odd sort of way. I suppose I have a fascination with mothers who adopt children. I wrote two books about mothers like that. (Searching for Mom and Mother Not Wanted) You kind of think that a mother who gives birth is supposed to love her children, but a mother who adopts is making a choice. But that’s not completely true. They both have made a choice and they both ought to love their children.

Today is Mother’s Day, here in the US, in Australia, in Canada, and in New Zealand. It is a day we celebrate this wonderful thing called motherhood that has been passed down from mother to daughter since the time of Eve. It’s also a good excuse to take your mother to church with you, if she lives nearby. Mine lives in another state, but I know she’ll be going to church anyway. I’ll be calling her today to make sure of it. But the rest of you should call your mother up and say, “let’s go to church.”

But you know, I can’t help but feel a sense of sadness. Some women have never had children. For some, it just hasn’t happened yet, but for others it is something that will never happen. I realize that some churches will try to celebrate all women on Mother’s Day, but I can’t help but think of how they must feel, realizing that the church is making some kind of special accommodation for them because they’ve never had children. So can I make a suggestion? Don’t make a fuss about the non-mothers. Leave them be.

As for your mom, whether she is fat or skinny, tall or short, good or bad, rich or poor, pretty or ugly, make her feel special. She’s the only mom you’ve got.

Friday, May 6, 2011

How is this a good thing?

Earlier this week, I said that there is some confusion among Baptists concerning the tradition of dancing. Some have pointed to verses in the Bible (and rightly so) that tell us to praise the Lord with dance and have suggested that the tradition itself is wrong. God calls for dancing, so let’s dance, they say. Then there are those who don’t know why Baptists don’t dance, but that’s the way grandma taught it, so let’s keep those feet still. Then there are those who say that as long as we’re not dancing in the church building, it’s alright. You get the picture. It isn’t as clear as it was when everyone said that Baptists don’t dance.

In the Bible, we find dancing that is appropriate and dancing that is inappropriate. (Ecclesiastes 3:4) That sounds simple enough, but how do we draw the line between the two? Psalm 149:3 and Psalm 150:4 appear to be talking about appropriate dancing in praise to God. When you look at the Second Baptist Houston video, it wouldn’t be hard to argue both ways, depending on your personal opinion concerning dancing. The thing is, turn off the sound and it looks like a bunch of people out doing exercises. Rather than making a judgment call on what Second Baptist is doing, take a look at the photos shown here.

Courtesy of (c)istockphoto/baytchev

Courtesy of (c)istockphoto/pobytov

Courtesy of (c)istockphoto/leggnet

Courtesy of (c)istockphoto/konstantin32

I picked these images because ballet and ballroom dancing are two styles of dancing that many people consider to be pretty much okay. Sadly, these images are not the exception but are very typical. There are church people who think nothing of taking their children to ballet lessons. There are other forms of dancing that aren’t good, they think, but these must surely be okay. Let me ask you fathers, is this how you want your daughters to dress? You know as well as anyone what goes through the heads of young men when they are placed in a situation like this. 2 Timothy 2:22 tells us to run away from these temptations.

When we look at some of the clothing some of these praise dance teams are wearing in church, they might be more modest than the images above, but that doesn’t mean they are as modest as they should be. The reason for the Baptist tradition of prohibiting dance is that the nature of modern dance (as John R. Rice called it) draws attention to the dancer’s body, often promoting thoughts of things that we would be better off if we didn’t think about. To add to that, drunkenness and dancing often go hand in hand. When was the last time you saw a picture of people doing a country line dance that didn’t have beer sign somewhere in the picture? It takes more than a beer sign to get drunk, and aside from their jeans being too tight, country line dancing is relatively modest, but can we not say that if country line dancing promotes drinking then they pretty much all do? Modern dancing also promotes adultery and other sins. It was because of lust following a dance that John the Baptist lost his head.

And yet, the Bible tells us to praise the Lord in dance. How do we resolve this?

One thing to consider is that dance encompasses much more than just the structured dances that we think of today. When we look at ballet and professional ballroom dancing, these dances are designed for show. Much of what churches are calling praise dances are designed in much the same way. The dancers spend long hours putting together their performance. The night of the performance comes and they all get on stage and put on the show. Contrast that with what David did when the Ark was brought back. He threw off his robes, ran out into the street and danced, much to the displeasure of his wife. This wasn’t a practiced thing that took place on a stage. He was just so excited that he felt like dancing.

Dances that take place on stage are about communication, not praise. That’s not to say that communication is wrong, but if we really want praise dancing, we should look at what’s taking place in the pews. That guy back there who is tapping his foot—he’s dancing. That woman swaying back and forth—she’s dancing. That guy lifting his hands in praise—he’s dancing. Some churches are a lot freer with their movement as they sing praise than others. And look at the musicians. They may not have a choreographed dance, but the guy with the sax is moving around quite a bit. Those violins seem to be going up and down. And that guitar player is all over the place.

The thing is, it is possible to praise the Lord in dance without putting on a provocative show. Just as praising him with singing doesn’t require us to sing a solo, we can dance without drawing attention to ourselves. But it might not be what so many people think of as dancing. Modern dancing, whether in the bar or in the church, isn’t about our praise to God, but it’s about encouraging people to look at the dancer’s body. The Bible may not go into much detail about what kind of dancing is appropriate and what is not, but is has a lot to say about appropriate dress, things that are inappropriate to see, and inappropriate thoughts and actions. If it isn’t appropriate for a man to touch a woman in a certain way when the music isn’t playing, it isn’t appropriate when it is, no matter what the choreography might call for. If it isn’t appropriate for a woman to dress provocatively, what makes her think she can stand on stage and lift her leg over her head because the Bible says to praise him in the dance? When it comes to many forms of dancing, we wouldn’t be wrong in holding to the tradition against it because they are designed to encourage inappropriate thoughts. They aren’t appropriate in our church or out in the world either. The problem we face today isn't that our churches have forgotten how to dance but that too many churches are becoming too worldly. If there is any doubt, just take a look at those images above and tell me how this is a good thing.


Thursday, May 5, 2011

Tradition in Churches

Yesterday, we looked at tradition in meetings. In that situation, relying on tradition can be useful because it allows the meeting to run smoothly even when there are people involved who haven’t spent a lot of time planning for the meeting. This is especially important when the president is elected at the beginning of the meeting, as sometimes happens. But churches also have traditions. Once again, some traditions are good, while others make us wonder why we’re still doing them.

I grew up in a small church. Like many churches, we would take up the offering just before the preaching service. That tradition was good in that we needed to take up the offering sometime and we might as well do it when people were expecting it. The church was small enough that they only needed one usher. He would carry the plate around to the various people, then he would place it on the table in front of the pulpit. Finally, he would cover it with a smaller offering plate we had. If he couldn’t find that, he would pick up a large print adult Sunday school quarterly and cover it with that before he went back to his seat. Why?

It turns out that even though the building is now air conditioned, there were many years in which the only means of cooling the building in the summer was to open the windows. At some point, they installed a large fan at the back of the building. In those days, the breeze coming through the windows was enough to blow the money around, so rather than go chasing the money during the sermon, they would cover the plate. The need is no longer there, but the tradition remained.

Many churches have the tradition of spending a few minutes before the first song greeting each other. If it’s truly a tradition, this may have been going on for several generations of church leaders and no one knows who started it or why. The great thing about this activity is that it serves as an icebreaker. It ensures that people greet those who are visiting in the services. It also helps with the problem of overcrowded pews. A person might not like it if someone comes in and has to sit right next to him, because it invades his personal space. But get them to shake hands and speak to each other and that personal space shrinks because now they are friends.

Churches also have traditions they pass down in doctrine. We’ll look specifically at the dancing tradition tomorrow, but there are many doctrines that churches members are taught to the point that they know what the church teaches, but they may not know why. One example is the issue of open or closed communion. The Bible does give us reason to oppose one and support the other, but many church members are unable to relay the reasons their church believes what it does. The same is true of things like baptism or why we accept baptism from some churches but not others. Church members may know what we do because they’ve seen it happen, but not all have taken enough interest in the subject to understand the why of the tradition. So tomorrow, when we get back to the topic of dancing, which is what started this discussion of tradition, we’ll be looking specifically at why Baptist churches have opposed dancing.

<<Prev | Next>>

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Tradition in Meetings

When I attended the BMAA annual meeting, the president of the association preached on the first night. The president’s message has become a tradition in recent years. There has always been an annual message. That is also traditional. But on the first night, one of the vice-presidents got up and did another traditional thing. He expressed the appreciation of the association for the sermon. It is traditional for someone to be asked to get up in front of the association after a sermon, shake the preacher’s hand and express gratitude for the sermon, usually summarizing the message as he does. There is also a tradition of someone getting up to introduce the speaker before the sermon. I’m not sure how these traditions got started, but they have become a part of nearly every church association I’ve been involved with.

At the meeting, a group of us were sitting around discussing a few things and one of the things that came up was the level of planning of the worship services. Considering the type of meeting it is, there isn’t that much and yet the worship services seem to go off pretty well, year after year. Why is that? In a word, tradition.

When we consider an organization like the BMAA, there is the potential of great variety in those who are chosen to lead the association. Some may come from large churches and have experience putting together large structured worship services. On the other hand, it is possible that those leading may be from small churches that don’t plan in much detail. This is one of the places where tradition truly shines. I’ve been in smaller association meetings where the president of the association came up to me right at time to start and said, “Can you lead a couple of songs?” About all you can do at that point is to grab a hymnal, as you look around the room for a piano player, and thumb through the book to find a song. It may not be the best situation, but those worship services looked planned because of tradition calls for congregational singing to occur first, then comes the annual message.

It is good to follow tradition in meetings because it frees us to focus our attention on other things rather than trying to come up with some new plan for the meeting. But as with all tradition, it is sometimes good to reevaluate the need for some of the traditions we follow. That's not because all tradition is bad, but because the tradition may cause us to do things that no longer need to be done.


Tuesday, May 3, 2011

What is Tradition?

The idea that our Baptist predecessors might have been wrong in prohibiting dancing doesn’t bother me as much as how much it seems like people have such a disdain for tradition these days. I’ve heard of music directors who refuse to use any song in the church worship service that is older than ten years old. There are preachers who refuse to wear a suit and tie because they see it as steeped in tradition or they’re trying to impress “the young people” and yet, if you turn on the television, many of the actors on shows and the show hosts are wearing suits and ties. Some are even wearing vests with their suits. But I’m not trying to argue that every pastor should wear a suit and tie, just that not wearing one to break with tradition isn’t a great reason.

What is tradition? The word itself might bring to mind the Thanksgiving turkey or opening gifts on Christmas morning or a bride wearing a white dress. But if we really think about it, tradition is society’s way of passing down a way of doing things. The story is told of a woman who was cooking a roast. Her daughter was watching as she cut the roast in half and put it in the pot. “Why do you always cut the roast in half?” the girl asked. “That’s the way your grandmother taught me to do it,” the woman said. “I suppose it makes it cook better.” Curious about what the girl asked, the woman called her mother. “Why do you always cut the roast in half before you cook it?” Her mother responded, “I don’t know. That just the way your grandmother always did it.” So the woman visited her grandmother in the nursing home and asked, “why did you always cut the roast in half before you cooked it?” Her grandmother said, “that was the only way I could get it to fit in the pot.”

Tradition passes down how we do things, but it frequently fails to pass down why we do those things. Tradition can be either good or bad. In the example of the roast, the tradition required an action that wasn’t necessary, so that isn’t good, but on the other hand, if the reason for the tradition remains, passing down a tradition allows for the reason to be taken care of without the need for us to reevaluate how to handle the situation each time it comes up. For example, tradition calls for the playing of the national anthem of the winning country at the Olympics. The tradition serves the purpose of giving the winners special recognition, but each host country doesn’t have to spend time thinking up a new and innovative way to give recognition to the athletes. It works, so use it and focus on other things.

Killing the tradition of something just because it is traditional is ill advised because we may also be killing the benefit received from following the tradition. We will be looking at more of this during the rest of this week.

<<Prev | Next>>

Monday, May 2, 2011

Dancing Baptists and Tradition

A few days ago, someone posted a video on Facebook of 2,000 people from Second Baptist Church in Houston, Texas dancing. In the comments, Roger Bennett (I don’t know him either.) said, “I remember when Baptists didn't dance in front of other Baptists.” His comment made me think about just how much has changed in just the past few years. He has a point. It wasn’t that long ago that Baptist frowned at dancing and now many of them use it as part of their worship services. It wasn’t that long ago that every preacher had a copy of John R. Rice’s “What’s Wrong With the Dance?” on his bookshelf and would preach against dancing from the pulpit with fire in his eyes. These days, many pulpits have been replaced with barstools and the sermons hardly call anything wrong. But what I’m seeing is confusion among the church members. One church includes dancing in their worship and yet I heard someone say just the other day that dancing is okay as long as it isn’t in the church building. But if dancing isn’t wrong, then why did so many Baptist preachers spend so much time speaking out against it?

At first, I sat down to answer that question through this blog, but I quickly discovered that I couldn’t adequately cover the topic in the five hundred words I attempt to limit these posts to. I’ll be discussing that question later this week, but I’ve decided that I would expand that discussion to a broader topic over several days this week. Instead of just discussing Baptists and dancing, I decided to discuss the topic of tradition. The two topics are related because The Baptist prohibition of dancing is one that has been passed down through tradition. On the subject of divorce, we can turn to the Bible and show that God hates divorce. On the subject of drinking, we can turn to the Bible and while not having a commandment not to drink we can show why it is a bad idea. But we can’t ignore verses like Psalm 150:4 which says, “Praise him with the timbrel and dance. Praise him with the stringed instruments and organs.” That one really gets some people because they’re against dancing and drums, but here they are both together in the Bible.

With that verse in mind, I had a couple of things to consider. Either more than 100 years of tradition is wrong and Baptists never should have said anything against dancing, or we need to handle this more carefully before we throw the baby out with the bathwater. So, this week I am going to discuss the topic of tradition, what it is, tradition in meetings, tradition in church, and finally the thing that started this, the doctrinal tradition of dancing. I hope you’ll come back here each day for the rest of the week so you can get the full picture.