God and Guns

(Just a short note on how difficult this article has been to write. I started out with a much different approach. I had intended to research the arguments for both sides, and present the Biblical stand for the ‘right side’ of the argument. After six weeks of research, I concluded that there is very little incontestable research or statistics for either side, and almost NONE address either moral or spiritual issues. While I do have a definite opinion about the issue, I’ve come to realize that very devout and sincere Christians can legitimately voice the other side.)

Since the last school shooting, I’ve seen a lot of rhetoric, polemics, and even vitriol spewed from Christians on both sides of the “gun control” issue. I’ve been asked both “how can a Christian not support restricting civilian firearm access in order to protect children?” and “how can a Christian advocate denying the right to protect our families most effectively in potentially lethal situations?”

I’m going to take a bit of a different approach towards addressing the issue. I am not going to trot out the Biblical proof texts to support either side, or cite the loads of statistics and studies used to prove that one side or the other is the only reasonable solution.

What I am going to do is look at the Bible as a whole, lay out some basic facts, and show how we as disciples of Christ should go about deciding where we stand. While dealing specifically with regulation of firearms in the United States, the principles used apply to any contentious debate.

Here are the basic facts:

-) While the majority of advocates on either side take their position out of concern for the safety of innocents, there are a significant number of “leaders” of the position that are using it primarily for political or monetary gain. We must be aware that not everything either side says or accuses the opposition of is factual. We MUST be willing to do some rather in depth research into the topic.

-) Taken as a whole, the Bible clearly states that we are to, at the least, choose violence as a very last resort when dealing with other people.

-) As conceived by the founders of our country, the Constitution as amended is the basic legal document from which ALL other Federal and State laws derive, and any law enacted cannot legally contradict or exceed the authority derived from it.

-) The founders crafted the second amendment (“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”) as a safeguard for the people to protect themselves from harm. The Supreme Court has affirmed that although the right to bear arms is an individual right, certain “reasonable” restrictions are acceptable.

-) Looking at the context of the entire Bible, Scripture clearly teaches that protecting and caring for the physical as well as spiritual well-being of first our families and then for other innocents should be one of a Christian’s primary duties.

-) In the majority of homicides involving firearms in the United States, the firearm used was obtained illegally, and many of those as a result of lax enforcement of existing regulations.

-) Almost all of the ‘mass shootings’ in the U.S. in the last 30 years have been perpetrated by people either mentally unstable (and not treated) or by a person on psychoactive medications that have known side effects that include homicidal and suicidal tendencies.

-) The majority of massl shooters are from broken homes, members of violent gangs (including Jihadist groups), or are heavily involved in drug use or sales (or a combination thereof).

These are the basic facts that are agreed upon by both sides of the debate. Notice that I did not include two of the most popular ‘facts’ cited: That most ‘mass shooters’ use ‘assault rifles’, and that all of the ‘mass shootings’ in the last 30 years have occurred in gun-free zones.

They are not included because both sides define “mass shooting” in a way that supports their side, and do the same with ‘gun free zone’. Both positions are true or false entirely dependent upon by whom and how the terms are defined!

Now, with the minimal facts established, let’s take a look at how most Christians approach the the gun control debate – and how we should.

However, before I start, I want to make it clear that when I talk about how people think about the issue, I am referring to those of us who look at it from the perspective of a concerned citizen, and am deliberately excluding the leaders of the various organizations, many of whom have a politically ideological agenda that they are using this issue to advance.

Having said that, let’s first take a look at the reasons why many support highly restricting or outright banishment of civilian firearm ownership.

Most follow the popular line of thinking that since the primary purpose of a firearm is to kill things, that restricting access to them is not only the best solution to protecting innocents, but no other solution will work as well, if at all. Some acknowledge that use of firearms for hunting or personal defense is probably acceptable, but “military style” firearms are totally unnecessary and should be banned.

Christians who support this view will cite God’s love, Christ’s instructions to ‘turn the other cheek’ and ‘love our neighbor’ and other passages encouraging non-violence as refutation of the self-defense argument, and will defend their support of ‘gun control’ by pointing out that banning or tighter restrictions on firearm ownership will certainly prevent the deaths of countless innocent lives, so doing so is obviously the correct Christian stand in this debate.

Those brothers and sisters that oppose more restrictions cite the Constitution, and point out that the Second Amendment prohibits the government from bans or undue restrictions on possession of firearms. Often, they will point out that most criteria given for ‘reasonable’ restrictions are arbitrary or cosmetic and are therefore invalid, and that many more lives have been saved by use of these firearms than have been taken.

Christians who support this view usually cite passages in which we as God’s people are instructed to protect and care for the poor, the downtrodden, and innocent victims, and that those who do not provide for and protect their families are worse than unbelievers. The conclusion is that to deny citizens the tools necessary to stop violent crimes against others and self is to deny them not only a natural right, but the means to fulfill God-given commands. To oppose restricting access to firearms, which are primarily self-defense tools, is obviously the correct Christian stand in this debate.

There are three things we need to keep in mind in order to maintain a position on the ‘gun control’ debate that is consistently Christ-centered:

1. Our Biblical mandate is to show God’s character in both attitude and deed. There is NO place for denigrating or belittling those who disagree with us.

2. As disciples of Christ we are called to stand for truth. As much as possible (we all can make research mistakes), we must graciously, firmly, and consistently show no tolerance for untruth on either side of the debate.

3. As Christians we are called to obey the laws of the land as long as they do not cause us to deny our faith or disobey God’s clear commands in Scripture.

So, having said all of that, it is imperative for us to keep in mind that the issue here isn’t primarily about firearms, and because of that REGARDLESS OF WHERE WE STAND on ‘gun control’, we MUST be gracious and respectful towards our brothers and sisters who may take the opposite view.

I propose that since the legal document that supposedly supersedes all other laws of the U.S.A. – the Constitution – explicitly recognizes the right of citizens to both keep and carry firearms, here is the real question:

“Does the current cultural, political, and spiritual state of the nation make it necessary to either ignore or repeal the second amendment to the Constitution of the United States in order to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, live consistently under His authority, and protect innocent lives?”

How you answer that question will determine your view of ‘gun control’. How you follow your Savior will determine whether you show compassion and mercy to those who disagree, or whether you will follow the present ruler of this age in shoddy research, name-calling, and using both logical and factual fallacies to support your position.

May we all choose the former. Amen.

Trophy or Tool?

How do you view your relationship to God? Do you see yourself as one of many prize ‘catches’ that God has rescued from the masses of rebellious humans to show the world how wonderful He is?  Perhaps, like many of the misguided television “evangelists”, you see yourself as an example of how wonderful and (materially) prosperous God can make people if they just have enough faith and follow the prosperity formula. Or maybe you see yourself as one of God’s unique instruments to advance His kingdom by living and proclaiming His good news to a lost and dying world.

I suggest that no matter how you choose to articulate it, you see yourself in one of two ways. Either, like in the first two examples, as one of God’s trophies, or, as in the third example, as one of God’s tools.

Make no mistake, whether you view yourself as a Trophy, or a Tool will determine not only how you serve (or don’t serve) your Maker, Savior, and God but how you view and relate to other Christians as well.

“Trophy” Christians tend to have one or more of the following general attitudes toward God:

-) Jesus has chosen and saved me. I’ve got my fire insurance, and God is my friend so I can do whatever I want because God wants me to be happy.

-) Yep – I’m gonna be in Fat City now! After all, God wants me to PROSPER and the more wealth I can ‘name and claim’ the better!

-) I’ve chosen to follow Jesus, and now my job is to get as many more trophies for God as I can by whatever means or manipulation possible. The more ‘notches’ on my Bible for souls saved, the more God loves me!

 

Note that of those three general views, the last is the only one that has any remotely Scriptural basis. However, the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20) doesn’t command us to get people to recite ‘the sinner’s prayer’, go forward at a crusade, or any of those “once and done” declarations – we are told to make disciples. And, guess what? Discipleship doesn’t look anything like those views!

Well then, what does a disciple look like?

Before I answer that, I need to define what a disciple is: A disciple is a follower of a leader (teacher, mentor, boss, etc.) who studies that leader’s words, actions, and writings (if any) in order to emulate that leader as closely as possible.

Therefore, a disciple of Christ will do whatever he or she can to emulate Him (including His commands) – after all “Christian” literally means “little Christ”.

So, how do we do that?

There really isn’t any “step by step, 12 point manual” – we each image YHWH in unique ways, but there are some minimal practices and traits common to all disciples of Christ, in no particular order:

-) Prayer and meditation (specifically meditation on the Word).

Throughout the letters (epistles in church speak) we are instructed to pray, and consistent prayer is modeled in almost every chapter of Acts. Jesus himself said “When you pray”, not “If you pray”. If, as I do, you view prayer as talking to God and meditation upon Scripture as listening to God, what better way to learn how the one to whom you are discipled thinks and speaks than by listening and inquiring of Him?

-) Worship.

Make no mistake every human being WILL worship something or someone, whether it is self, celebrity, sports, idol, Satan, or the Creator of the Universe. We are commanded to worship YHWH only, and we do that by acknowledging His rule, grace, and goodness, and by serving him rather than ANY other. (Ex. 20:1-6)

-) Bible reading and study.

Briefly, the Bible contains the inspired words of God; if we want to know and be like Him, we need to know and understand what He has said to the best of our ability. Think of it as your Commanding Officer’s mission instructions. (Rom. 15:4, 2 Tim. 2:15, Psalm 1:1-3)

-) Christian Fellowship.

There is a reason that Paul told the Corinthians to not neglect assembling together. Throughout Scripture, even in those rare occasions when God called an individual out to serve Him, He quickly either included that individual’s family or sent them to proclaim His Word and glory to a larger group of people. Contrary to the popular American “it’s just between me and Jesus” heresy, YHWH has ALWAYS called us to a corporate as well as personal faith and practice. (Hebrews 10:23-25)

-) Service.

Commonly referred to in “Christianspeak” as “good works”, we as disciples of Christ are repeatedly throughout Scripture instructed to pray for and care for our fellow believers and then others who are in need. (Gal. 6:10, Heb. 10:24, James 2:14-20, John 15:8, Rom. 2:13)

That’s a quick summary of the minimal requirements to be an effective tool of God’s mercy and grace rather than a dusty, useless trophy on a shelf. I’ll elaborate on these minimum requirements in future articles, but for now, prayerfully and thoughtfully ask yourself, “am I a trophy, or a tool?”.

Music Wars

There is a conflict within many church congregations in North America (and Europe to some extent) that has been going on for about 30 years now that I find not only very disturbing, but rather shallow and silly as well.

I’m referring to the “music wars” – the divide between those who think only their favored style of music is the ONLY acceptable form of music to be used during a worship service. It is usually presented as a choice between ‘traditional’ hymnody and ‘contemporary worship music’.

Now, before I continue, I will warn you that you will almost certainly disagree with my analysis of the subject, and some of you might even be offended by my conclusion. I challenge you to find a godly, gracious, and Biblical foundation for your stand!

First, a very brief generalization of the two views, beginning with the “traditional hymns only” side. The basic argument for using ONLY traditional hymns is that the contemporary music is theologically deficient, and is more performance art than worshipful. It encourages ‘spectator worship music’ rather than participation, and does little or nothing to reinforce sound doctrine. I’ve even heard more than one church leader equate the use of contemporary worship music with sin!

On the other hand, there’s the ‘contemporary only’ side. They argue that traditional hymns are dull, boring, and put young people to sleep. Not only that, but many of them have SO MANY verses and all those weird words that nobody understands. They want catchy tunes that make them feel good and lets them “feel the Spirit”. In the words of one Christian artist, “I don’t want no funeral marches – I ain’t dead yet”!

The sad thing about this is that I’ve seen more than one church split with the battle over style of music as the excuse, and even more churches that have essentially two completely different congregations (with little to no interaction between them) with the only difference being the style of music.

But here’s the thing. Once I start asking questions and listening to what people are saying (and not saying), I’ve come to the conclusion that it is rarely, if ever, really about the music. More on that later, but first let’s take a look at the problems with the arguments on either side.

I’ll start with the contemporary side first. Almost all of the objections to traditional hymns come from younger (as in 40 or less) people and boil down to this: They want catchy tunes that make them feel good, and lyrics that are easy to understand and talk about what God is doing for them. Traditional hymns are too slow, and all those ‘thees and thous’ and strange words are just too difficult to deal with. I often hear from them “I can’t worship to that kind of music. I need something that relates to me.”

My response to that usually falls on deaf ears, but here it is anyway. Worship isn’t about you or what kind of music you prefer. Worship isn’t about the style of music. Worship is about GOD! Every hymn or song sung in a worship service should focus our attention on God, His nature, His work in the world and our lives, and our adoration and loyalty to Him. The style is secondary, and if you have trouble with the words, then you need to decide whether you are willing to be disciplined enough to expand your vocabulary or not.

Now for the traditionalists. Most of them are older, and their arguments are variations of “the old hymns are rich and have meaning, and this new stuff is just shallow glitz and needless noise. I can’t worship to that sinful rock and roll wannabe noise. I want content”!

My response to that usually falls on deaf ears, but here it is anyway. Worship isn’t about you or what kind of music you prefer. Worship isn’t about the style of music. Worship is about GOD! Every hymn or song sung in a worship service should focus our attention on God, His nature, His work in the world and our lives, and our adoration and loyalty to Him. People of different ages and different cultures express themselves musically in different ways; they will prefer the style of music that is comfortable to them. Keep in mind that EVERY hymn ever written was ‘contemporary’ at one time. Many lyrics were set to the tunes of popular drinking (as in tavern) songs. How is that less ‘sinful’ than a song with an original tune in a popular style? Granted, many of the contemporary songs are rather shallow and repetitive, but you can find the same thing in a significant number of hymns as well.

I think you should be able to see my point by this time. It isn’t about the music, and it isn’t about us. It is about whether we are willing to put up with something we don’t prefer in order to show love to our brothers and sisters in Christ and to worship Christ in both Spirit and Truth. I really think that the Music Wars are nothing more than a symptom of our self-centered, sinful, and silly attempts to make worship all about ‘me’ rather than Him.

Having said that, I want to make it clear that there is nothing wrong with preferring any particular style of music; the error is in insisting that that is the ONLY legitimate style. What i’m saying is that if you’re congregation is struggling with the traditional vs. contemporary music conundrum, perhaps it would be best to thoughtfully and prayerfully consider whether it is one style of music that will help the church better serve and worship our Lord, or maybe we should be finding some kind of middle ground.

There are some practical ways in which we can bridge the gap between traditional and contemporary music styles. If you would like to know more about them, email curly@wofblogs.org and I’ll either reply privately, or if there are enough inquiries, post them here on the blog.

A Warrior’s Prayer

(My wife has been reading A Table In The Presence by Lt. Carey H. Cash, a U.S. Marine Chaplain. It is “the dramatic account of how a U.S. Marine battalion experienced God’s presence amidst the chaos of the war in Iraq”. I highly recommend this book to all.   — Curly)

In it, Lt. Cash quotes the following from the official Marine Corps Field Devotional Book :

O God, for another day, another morning, another minute, another chance to live to serve you I am truly grateful.

Do this day free me:
from all free of the future
from all anxiety about tomorrow
from all bitterness towards any one,
from all cowardice in the face of danger
from all laziness in the face of work
from all failure before opportunity
from all weakness when your power is at hand.
But fill me
with love that knows no barrier
with Sympathy that reaches all
with Courage that cannot be shaken
with Faith strong enough for the darkness
with Strength sufficient for my tasks
witth Loyalty to your Kingdom’s goal
with Wisdom to meet life’s complexities
with Power to lift me to You
Be with me for another day and use me as you will.
Amen

What’s the Best Bible Translation?

About once a month, I get asked two questions, which are really the same:

“What is the best english language Bible translation?”
and
“What is your favorite translation?”

My answers are that the best translation is the one you will actually read, and I don’t have a favorite translation; what translation(s) I’m using depends on what I’m reading the Bible for – devotions, personal study, sermon or article prep, dramatic readings, etc.

Having said that, I’ll elaborate on the three different kinds of translations. Each has both strengths and weaknesses:

— “Formal equivalent” translations try, as much as possible, to give an accurate word-for-word translation from the best available original language source manuscripts.

These translations tend to work well for english readers who want translations as close as possible to the original languages. They give much more precise translations than other methods. While all translations depend on the biases and interpretations of the translators, formal equivalent translations minimize this as much as possible. Most modern FE translations further minimize translator bias by using a number of translators rather than one or just a few; 40 or more is not uncommon.

However, FE translations tend to be difficult to read, and many of the idioms of the original language are hard to understand when translated word-for-word.

— “Dynamic equivalent” translations attempt to give the best english wording of the thoughts of the source manuscripts.

These translations are usually easier to read, and idiomatic passages are much easier to understand than FE translations. They give a better sense of the overall meaning of a passage than a word-for-word translation.

However, in order to do so, DE translations sacrifice clarity and precision. They also are as much a reflection of the translator’s bias and interpretation as they are of the original text itself.

Before I move on to paraphrases, I should note that most modern translations are a mix of FE and DE translations. The New International Version is a fairly good example of a translation that attempts to combine both methods.

— Paraphrases rewrite the source materiel into the author’s own words, usually with the intent of making it easier to read or understand. Some of the most popular paraphrases don’t even use the original languages as source material and merely reword english translations.

The most popular english language paraphrase highlights both the advantages and disadvantages best. This is The Living Bible.

The Living Bible is based on the American Standard Version and was written by Kenneth Taylor. It is easy to read, and was designed for about an 8th grade reading level. Very popular during the “Jesus People” movement, it was the first Bible of many new Christians at that time.

However, it was so badly regarded by scholars because of its doctrinal bias and inaccurate renderings (termed by detractors as “the gosple according to Ken Taylor”) that it was replaced by The New Living Translation in 1996, which attempted to correct these blatant errors without changing the style by going back to original language documents.

And that is the problem with paraphrases. Remember that I said that DE translations sacrifice precision for sense of meaning? Paraphrases go one step further, and sacrifice accuracy for ease of reading. I do not recommend a paraphrase for anything other than a light read through.

So what is my favorite translation? I’m sure you won’t be surprised when I tell you that I don’t have one, and I’m equally sure you can guess the reason.

I use different translations for different purposes, and for study I use at least two (usually more) at any given time. Here’s a brief breakdown of what I use and why:

At my home church, I use the English Standard Version simply because that is the version used for readings during worship and is the “pew Bible” used there.

When visiting other churches, I use either the New International Version or the King James Version because those are the two most commonly used in Protestant churches today.

For family reading, I use either the New American Standard, New International, or ESV, depending on which print version I have handy.

— For study, I use the NIV, NASB, ESV, Amplified Bible, and New King James as well as some others.

As you can see, I use a mix of FE and DE translations. This is because EVERY english translation will have passages that are difficult to understand because of the problems inherent in the translation process, and having multiple viewpoints on such passages can both give clarity to the meaning AND point out places where there is doubt about the original meaning.

NO TRANSLATION is “the” translation, but the BEST translation is the one you actually read. God used imperfect people to write Scripture, He can certainly use imperfect translations to give us doctrine, correction, and instruction in righteousness!

Below are some links to charts and articles about Bible translations and methods.

————

Bible Study Tools has a brief description of the most popular translations at
http://www.biblestudytools.com/bible-versions/

Mardel is an online vendor that has a good chart showing the translation philosophy and distinct attributes of almost all the available English translations.

A similar guide at All Bibles (another vendor) includes information about approximate reading levels.

For a more detailed article about the different translation philosophies, here’s an article at
EvangelicalBible.com

A Statement of Faith

Disclaimer: The following video is not the official Warrior of Faith statement of faith – it is, however, one of the best written brief universal statements of Christian belief and practice I’ve ever seen. 

Thanks to Pongo for granting permission to post this version of a faith statement presented at a recent worship service. Also, thanks for providing the location and equipment to make the recording.

May you all be blessed and encouraged by it!

“Peace on Earth’ – Really?

The passage in Luke 2:8-14 is one of the most often quoted Christmas passages, particularly verse 14. “Peace on earth, goodwill toward men” is plastered on countless Christmas cards, sung is some of our most popular carols, and is the topic of many holiday specials and sermons every year.

And yet, many observant people, Christian and non-Christian alike, point out that rather than “peace on earth, goodwill toward men”, we see wars, riots, violent protests, terrorist attacks, and much stress, strife in personal relationships as well. What’s up with that, if the Bible is true and God can be trusted?

Continue reading

What John Said

I’ve been working on this topic for quite a few weeks now, trying to present a hard truth without sounding like “you guys better shape up or else” or coming across like I’ve got it all together and y’all need to catch up.

You see, the reason is that I DON’T have it ‘all together’ – not by a long shot, and I need to ‘shape up’ at LEAST as much as everyone else in the Church and most likely more so.

So, I’ve written this post in the form of an open letter to Curly. Read it carefully and prayerfully (especially pray for me) and apply it to yourself if appropriate. Hopefully, some of it will make you examine your own life, and some of it will make you want to be at least a little more gracious to your fellow followers of Christ. Some of it might make you angry; if so, ask yourself why.

Continue reading

Verses Out of Context #5 : Philippians 4:13

Phil 4:3 “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (English Standard Version)

I can’t count how many times I’ve heard people (sometimes even preachers) say things like,

“I just know I can win that marathon without any preparation. After all, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!”

or

“You can have that (car, house, whatever) because you can do all things through Christ!”

or even a parent telling a child

“Honey, even though you’ve got Type 1 diabetes, if you just trust God you can be a Navy Seal when you grow up – you can do all things through Him.

Makes me want to shout “get a clue” every time I hear something like that! Continue reading

An Inconvenient Faith

I’ve noticed lately that a lot of self-proclaimed Christians in North America practice what I call ‘convenient faith’ – probably because God has been pointing out how often I do so myself!

I define a convenient faith as “a professed belief and trust in Christ as long as it doesn’t require stepping out of one’s comfort zone”. For example, we are practicing a convenient faith when we have attitudes similar to the following:

Continue reading