Archives For Clint Archer

flagWhat the Supreme Court of the United States did last week was simply play catch-up with the many other countries that were ahead of it in the headlong pursuit of institutionalized ungodliness. South Africa’s constitution, for one sad example, protects not only same-sex marriage but also polygamy and late-term abortion.

Many other “enlightened” nations have come full circle. Having previously embraced Christian morality, and enjoyed centuries of resultant civil, educational, and legal progress, they have now begun to pine for the leeks and onions of their Egyptian slave masters who at least didn’t tell them who they could marry.

Denmark, the Netherlands, and other post-reformation societies have shrugged off the fuddy-duddy conservatisms of their puritanical forefathers and have lapped up regurgitated libertarianism artificially flavored as avant-garde progressiveness.

The USA is like a body guard of the Church. The problem is that when America shows up at the party, that means there is no one left outside to guard the door.

I can’t improve on the insight of John Piper’s jeremiad when he laments,

My sense is that we do not realize what a calamity is happening around us. The new thing — new for America, and new for history — is not homosexuality. … What’s new is not even the celebration and approval of homosexual sin. Homosexual behavior has been exploited, and revelled in, and celebrated in art, for millennia. What’s new is normalization and institutionalization. This is the new calamity.”

It isn’t easy for Christians to identify a silver lining to Friday’s ruling that is worth celebration; unless you’re a premillennialist.

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Augustus GloopOliver Twist could hardly be accused of gluttony when he voiced his politely audacious request, “Please sir, I want some more.” But an identical demand from the overstuffed mouth of young Augustus Gloop, the obese candy addict in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, would elicit a call for temperance from any dietician worth her salt.

Gluttony is not that peckish sensation of wanting seconds when you haven’t had enough food to satisfy your hunger; it’s the sin of unrestrained overconsumption. Gluttony is thus the kissing cousin of drunkenness.

Proverbs 23:20-21 Be not among drunkards or among gluttonous eaters of meat, for the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty, and slumber will clothe them with rags.

A temperate enjoyment of food and fermented beverage is heartily commended in Scripture (see Deut 14:26; Eccl 9:7; 1 Tim 4:3-4). However, Scripture decries dissolute overindulgence of any sort as a sub-Christian, feckless deficiency in self-control (Eph 5:18; 1 Tim 3:8; Titus 1:12).

What makes gluttony such a difficult topic to fit into our theology, is that identifying the sin is not as obvious as one might expect. It seems axiomatic that the corpulence of a person’s waistline is inversely proportional to their self-control—the less you can curb your appetite the more holes on your belt you’ll need to bypass. And it likewise seems as plain as a pikestaff that a thin person must possess unwavering gastronomic discipline. But this rudimentary “eyeballing it” assessment can actually prove quite misleading.

A metabolically fortunate individual may imbibe calories like a vacuum cleaner, while a person endowed with the metabolism of a hibernating bear turns asparagus into cellulite without breaking a sweat. Thyroid malfunction is another common cause of unavoidable weight gain, while myriad diseases incite unwanted weight loss. There simply is no universal visible indicator of the sin of overindulgence. Or you might say, there is no test that’s one-size-fits-all.

A glutton could be thin, and a nil-per-mouth could be portly. The people of Jesus’ day understood this. The Pharisees accused him of being a glutton and a drunkard (Matt 11:19), presumably despite his physical appearance, not because of it. It is highly doubtful that Jesus was a man of girth—it would have taken a long while to simply recover from his emaciating forty day fast, especially in light of his exceedingly ambulant itinerary.

That said, there is also a hefty probability that many Christians in our churches are succumbing to the temptation of intemperance in their eating habits. Pastor Rick Warren recently admitted that the idea for his enormously popular dieting program, The Daniel Diet, came to him while baptizing an exhaustingly long line of inordinately corpulent congregants. (We’ll overlook that Daniel’s diet made him fatter, not thinner. See Dan 1:15).

The sin of gluttony is invisible in our churches in that we intentionally ignore it.

Here are five possible reasons why:

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racetrackIn November 2012, 530 runners were poised on the starting line for the Heaton Harriers 10km race through Newcastle, England. As is customary a cyclist familiar with the route—or “rabbit” as it is quaintly known—was employed to ride just ahead of the frontrunners to lead them. The rabbit, wearing a conspicuously fluorescent yellow top, pedalled ahead moments before the starting pistol sounded.

At the bang the racers charged off enthusiastically. However, shortly after the rabbit and a small pack of frontrunners crested a blind rise and turned left, a local cyclist who perchance was donned in a fluorescent yellow cycling top pedalled briefly onto the route and then turned right.

The obliging runners dutifully followed him on a meandering, seemingly random route through Newcastle until the biker serendipitously crossed the actual route again, having taken what was in effect a substantial shortcut.

The man who thought he was winning the race, one Ian Hudspith, suddenly found himself being bested by a straggling group of bemused slowcoaches.

The organizers soon realized what had happened and promptly called everyone back to restart the race.

Les Venmore, one of the organizers, confessed it “wouldn’t have looked particularly good” if the race had been won by someone who had never won a race before because of an unintentional shortcut. It appears most of the runners took the incident in good cheer and there was much jocularity about the mistake.

And laughter is the appropriate response to something as inconsequential as a foot race. But imagine at the end of your life you appeared before the judgment seat of Christ and instead of hearing the words, “Well done my good and faithful servant,” you heard the words “Well tried my misguided and silly servant, you ran aimlessly for a good eighty years, pouring your time and energy into some pretty insubstantial pursuits.”

Paul warns against this disconcerting eventuality in a letter he addressed to the somewhat misguided church in Corinth.

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“Houston, we have a problem.” What Apollo 13 Commander Jim Lovell didn’t fully appreciate at 9:07pm on April 13th (of course), 1970, while shunting at full speed 205,000 miles from Earth, was that they didn’t have problem; they had several problems. Each item on the lengthy and unnerving list of problems they would have to overcome in the next few hours of their precarious lives was urgent, complicated, and indisputably life-threatening. But there was one that—the moment it was discovered—shot immediately to the top of the list of priorities.astronaut

Since the crew was now forced to remain in the Lunar Module instead of the Command Module, they were faced with a shortage of compatible lithium hydroxide canisters, which were needed to remove carbon dioxide from their air supply. In short, the crew was running out of breathable air at a rapid rate.

Obviously, no other mechanical challenge to a safe landing of the craft was as significant as the need to keep the astronauts breathing. Every other rescue manoeuvre would become moot if there was no one left alive to rescue. The NASA engineers on the ground accomplished an ingenious workaround that was virtually as impressive as if they had conjured SCUBA tanks ex nihilo. And only then did they get back to working on the remaining issues, since they now had breathing astronauts to carry out the plans.

In the frenetic pace of our lives we are all daily presented with urgent, important problems to navigate. Work demands, family responsibilities, health requirements, time constraints, and innumerable other forces are constantly foisted onto our cluttered priority list. And the grind is positively Sisyphean in its inevitable recurrence.

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In honor of the Comrades Marathon, the world’s premier ultra-marathon (that made church impossible yesterday!) I have posted this excerpt from Holding the Rope: Short-Term Missions Long-Term Impact.comrades route closed

Spiritual Carbo-loading

The short-term missions (STM) trip is such a potent shot of spiritual adrenalin that the testimonies of those returning often sound like an over-zealous infomercial for how life-changing the trip will be. This may lead those you are waning in their zeal for the work of the Lord to think that going on this type of life-changing trip will make them more godly. Perhaps your spiritual walk with the Lord has slowed to a lethargic amble, or maybe your quiet time feels like a car that is puttering along haltingly in need of a tune-up. You see the STM trip as the spiritual recharging station.

In many cases the trip might be an event that escalates the seriousness about your faith like a quickened pulse, but that is not the reason we go on STM trips. I always told our STMers that the trip is not the time to get godly but to be godly. All STM trips are fraught with trip-wires to your godliness. You need to be on the alert, prepared for every temptation that might entangle you and trip up the ministry. If you find yourself cruising blithely on a plateau of apathy, the solution is to prepare your heart for the trip. You could memorize verses about dying to self and serving others. You should be in prayer for your own soul as well as for the other team members and those you will encounter in the field.

The church I serve in sits precisely on the route of the world’s most prestigious ultramarathon, the Comrades Marathon. Several members of our congregation have successfully completed the ninety-two-km race within the eleven-hour time limit [increased to twelve hours in 2003]. Besides the gruesome details they share with me about how the race affects the body (loss of toenails is the first one that comes to mind), they also share their secrets of preparation for going the distance. Any endurance athlete knows the importance of “carbo-loading.”

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I like to pack light, even for extended journeys. And I mean really light: one small carry-on backpack no matter how long the trip or how many climate zones I’ll traverse. My wife calls it oddball asceticism, but I call it biblical minimalism.backpack

My penchant for paring down luggage belies my other, contradictory, tendency: hoarding. My overstuffed closets and erupting junk drawers evoke feelings of buyer’s remorse from innumerable impulse purchases.

The one-bag exercise is a therapeutic routine to remind myself that what I need is exponentially less than what I own.

The average American house contains over 300,000 items. The community of modern minimalists I stumbled upon while researching efficient packing strategies strives to prune its inventory of possessions to three digits at most.

Minimalism is a revenant philosophy that was practiced by Spartans, Stoics, Buddhists, Piper, and our own grandparents who still wash their aluminum foil as a holdover from the imposed frugality of the Great Depression.

This quirky community is not into austerity or deprivation for its own sake. A minimalist may own an expensive possession, but only if adds value to his or her life. It’s more about deliberate and intentional purchases versus the unbridled consumerism of keeping up with the Kardashians and getting an iPhone 6 when the 5 still works.

khakisOne minimalist I read confessed that he owns a $100 pair of jeans (label torn off), but notes that it is his only pair of long pants. I, on the other hand, have a stock of jeans that collectively amounts to more than $100, and yet the only one I consistently wear is my favorite (which, ironically is a second hand pair I was given). I also maintain an array of 50 shades of khaki pants like a washed-out rainbow in my crammed closet.

The media thrives on a following. It likes to tell us what is normal, whether that is a movie trying to normalize deviant sexual behavior, or a commercial inciting a craving for conformity to the latest fashion. Minimalism is a way of opting out of what the mass media dictates, and rather making choices intentionally.

 

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Parenting provides an ever ready laboratory for experimenting with theology’s application to real life.

Doctrine is designed to seep deeply into the substance of life. If truth isn’t changing your workaday decisions about everything from toothpaste (why do you want whiter teeth?) to diet (for whom are you losing weight?) to what you order on Netflix (do you need a rating to tell you nakedness isn’t entertainment?), then you are in danger of being a subtle type of hypocrite.josh waitzkin

Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for their attention to gnat-sized detail when it came to the law of Moses, while simultaneously ingesting camel-sized indulgence when it came to caring for the people the law was meant to protect and the God the law was meant to honor. Likewise, some Christians can dot the “I” in TULIP with great dexterity, but they struggle to apply the doctrine of irresistible grace to say, their attitude toward their recalcitrant teenager.

Recently I encountered a parenting conundrum that required the oil of doctrine to help turn the cogs of everyday life.

Think through this with me. A caring, Christian dad comes to you with this question: which sport should my seven year old boy play? Our family only has time and money to permit one sport for each of our children. This particular son is extraordinarily gifted at chess. (for the sake of the illustration let’s concede that chess is a sport). Let’s call the boy Josh (homage to chess prodigy Josh Waitzkin, whose father faced a similar dilemma, which he wrote about in his memoire, Searching for Bobby Fischer).

Our little Josh could possibly become one of the great chess masters of his generation, or at least his school league, if he devoted himself to the pursuit of excellence. He’d need to read a lot of books, have private coaching, and travel all over the country to gain exposure to tournament level competition in his age group. There’s only one problem: he doesn’t want to.

Josh wants to play a team sport at school, like soccer. Oh, there’s another problem: Josh is not that gifted at soccer. His school coach, who is content to have him play the occasional B team game, has made it clear that Josh will not be the next Lionel Messi, though “messy” is an apt adjective for his playing style.

Josh loves watching soccer, knows all the soccer players’ stats, and looks forward all week to his matches, even if simply cheering his teammates from the bench. If he had private coaching and spent hours of extra practice, he might make the A team someday. But he’s ebullient when playing on any team, as long as he’s with his friends, and outside in the sun.

How would you counsel Josh’s dad?

Here are some doctrinal principles to apply to the situation:

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fire rescueI have no doubt that you remember last week’s Part 1 post covering the first two types of doubters. Jude said to have mercy on them (Jude 22) as there are genuine believers who may for one reason or another momentarily think like a unbeliever.

1. Cautious Believer

Doubting Thomas is the poster-boy for this demographic. These are genuine believers who buy into the overall package of what Scripture says about life, the universe, and everything, but find it difficult to swallow a particular point of doctrine. (Granted the resurrection is a crucial point to choke on, but Thomas was only demanding what the other disciples already had).

2. Confused Believer

John the Baptist wasn’t living up to his moniker when he expressed a flickering doubt as to whether Jesus was the Messiah or not. But his confusion is understandable in the absence of dispensationalists’ charts and study Bibles. He didn’t even know of the second coming. But his doubts were easily dispelled by a simple reassurance.

The final three categories venture onto the darker shades of the spectrum of doubt, “shading into unbelief” (as B. B. Warfield explained).

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Hamlet said it eloquently:doubting the truth

Doubt thou the stars are fire,

Doubt that the sun doth move,

Doubt truth to be a liar,

But never doubt I love.”

 

It’s not great theology, but makes a pretty rhyme. And the poem touches on a universal theme: what can we really believe for certain?

Doubt is a haunting reality in the lives of many churchgoers. Perhaps they are uncertain of  their salvation, or they question the veracity of Scripture, or maybe even at times doubt that there is a God. Are these doubters saved? Isn’t the definition of a Christian one who trusts in Jesus? Can a person be a believer while maintaining disbelief or unbelief?

I find it helpful to distinguish between the variegated species of doubt that lurk in our hearts. B. B. Warfield acknowledged that when discussing doubt there are…

…shades of meaning expressed by our words: perplexity, suspense, distractions, hesitation, questioning, skepticism, shading down into unbelief.”

Let’s meet five doubters.

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The news in South Africa last week has read like a macabre sequel to Alan Paton’s haunting novel Cry, the Beloved xenophobia graphicCountry. Paton, in 1948, portrayed a disturbing dystopia of incipient segregation between Whites and Blacks in South Africa that would burgeon into the institutionalised racism of Apartheid.

What is unfolding today is the beating, robbing, and execution of immigrants from other African countries.

The news headlines call it xenophobia. That is a misnomer. Xenopobia, which connotes a benign fear of diversity, is defined as “the dislike of, or prejudice against, foreigners.” It’s a sub-category of racism because it is hatred by some (albeit a minority) of Black South African citizens of Black foreigners.

But what is happening in Johannesburg and Durban should more accurately be called xenocide.

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