Thursday, April 24, 2008

Celtic Gospel

I recently heard someone contrast the Roman way of faith with the Celtic way of faith. The Roman way, said my friend, follows this progression: behave > believe > belong. People coming into the community of faith first have to clean up their act. They need to follow the rules and not offend the faithful. Then they can then listen to the gospel message about Jesus, and place their trust in him. Once they have accepted the tenets of the faith, they can finally belong.

The Celtic model, according to my friend, follows this progression: belong > believe > behave. With this understanding, people are welcomed into the community of faith, even before they believe. We model the acceptance of Jesus and let them experience God’s love. After all, God demonstrated his own love for us while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8). Having friendships helps people open up to hear the truth about Jesus. They can learn about his love in the Bible and see his love in practice among his people. The love opens people’s hearts so that they can trust and believe. Once they have placed their trust in Jesus, he helps them know how to behave. The Spirit living within helps every believer live rightly.

The truth is that we can have good outward behavior – at least for a while – without being changed on the inside. I think that such people are among the most miserable in the world. Eventually this fa├žade of goodness cracks, and the resentment of forced conformity comes pouring out.

Jesus welcomed people before they behaved. When they saw that he really cared about them, they listened to him. Once they came to believe in Jesus, they wanted to do what was right.

Jesus changes us from the inside out. That’s the good news!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Parental Rights and Wrongs

Authorities in Texas raided a religious compound recently and took into custody 416 children. They were responding to a call for help, allegedly from a 16-year-old girl in the compound who claimed that she was mistreated by her husband. There were other reports of abuse in the community.

The compound residents are part of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which broke away from the Mormon Church some time ago. They apparently split from the Mormon Church over the issue of polygamy. The leader of the sect was convicted in Utah last year as an accomplice to rape, for ordering the “marriage” of teenage girls to older men.

But to hear some of the wives from the Texas compound describe it, they lived in an idyllic environment. The children were all being raised to live moral, upstanding lives, they say.

At this point, it seems hard to know what was going on in there. No one denies that they practice polygamy, which I thought was illegal anyway. The children were housed in large dormitories, like barracks. It seems likely that the kids were not in a very good environment, but again, it depends on whose story you believe. At the very least, the religious teaching was not based on accurate interpretation of the Bible.

One question here is how far religious freedoms go. Should these men be allowed to take multiple wives? Should they be allowed to raise these hundreds of children as they please? Beyond physical harm, what constitutes child abuse?

Then I wonder, when is the state justified in stepping in? They have taken all these children away from their home, such as it was. It seems that their custody situations are unsettled at the moment.

It is scary to think that some social services case workers and bureaucrats can decide when parents are not doing a good enough job – if indeed the decision was made at that level. Authorities can then forcibly remove children from the custody of their parents.

Clearly there are many, many cases when such intervention is needed. I get sick every time I hear of a case of child abuse or neglect.

But good parenting doesn’t blow with the winds of political correctness. If current trends continue, parents could lose their rights to raise their children as they see fit.

Just last month a court in California ruled that parents could not homeschool their children in the high school years. Since no parent could be certified to teach every high school class, no parent is suited to teach his or her high school children at home, they said. Parents, then, would face criminal prosecution, unless they turn their children over to the state for education.

We need to keep a wary eye on those who think that raising children is the role of the state, not the parent. The Bible clearly teaches that raising and teaching children is the job of the parent.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

What's in Store

On Friday, my family had a real treat. We went shopping in Stokesdale’s very own Dollar General Store. Having lived in cities, I know what it is to take shopping for granted. But since 1988, I have lived off the beaten path.

So, stepping into the new Dollar General Store, a mere three miles from my house, seemed like a dream come true. No longer would we have to drive to Greensboro or Madison to find household items. Storage tubs, greeting cards, box fans, coolers, toiletries, socks, jeans, food: it’s all there.

My 14-year-old said that it was like stepping into Greensboro. My children have never lived in a city. We went from aisle to aisle, begging each other to come see what treasure we had found.

We also had a fun mission. A young man in our church just moved out on his own and needs the usual housekeeping items. Our church conspired to buy him lots of supplies and surprise him at our worship time on Sunday. So, in preparation for the great surprise, we browsed the isles at Dollar General saying, “Oh, let’s get him this. Oh, let’s get him that!” It was the most fun we’ve ever had buying brooms and flashlights.

I was glad to see such a heart for giving in my children.

Then on Sunday we surprised this young man with loads of towels, trash cans, utensils, food, etc., etc. It is hard to find this fellow speechless, but when he saw what we had done, he was. It was a blessing to me to see how the people of Crossroads got so fired up about helping this man. God has done a work in him, and we have seen it unfold over the years.

I believe this is Jesus wants his followers to do.

Friday, April 4, 2008


It’s that time of year again. I’m about to finish our taxes for this year.

How did I ever do this without TurboTax? I remember the primitive way. Two copies of all the forms. Oops, I still need the xyz-1876 form. Better go to the public library to get one – no two or three. Pencils with fat erasers all around my desk. A red pen to circle important information in the directions. They call those directions? Come on! Just say what you mean!

Change one figure on one form, and then half the lines on half the other forms are all incorrect. But which half? And is this my final copy or my draft?

Family interruptions become such a delight in the midst of these musings. What?! No, I’m not hungry! At least the interruption provides a great opportunity to blame someone. Where did you hide my box of receipts? Did you shuffle my papers while I wasn’t looking? Why are you making all that noise? Stop having fun while I’m working! Words spoken in love – love displayed by my commitment to slave away at this revenue matrix.

And of course there is a rule about working on taxes. You always start at 9 p.m. or later. That way you can stay up until 1 or 2 in the morning, working until you discover which essential slip of paper you misfiled. I know it came in the mail. I know I filed it here. How could it be gone? Then, with such sweet thoughts, you can lie in bed for another hour until you drift into fitful tossing and turning.

So now I can sing the praise of TurboTax. It speaks English, not the language of the IRS, whatever that is. It asks me for numbers and words, most of which I can find. It graciously changes all the figures on all the forms instantly whenever I make a change. It tells me how much I owe, with a running total.

But even with the super-slick software, I can still lose my receipts and yell at my family. I can still start at 9 o’clock. I can even lose sleep, worrying. But so far, I think I have missed out on most of that. At least my family is not avoiding me….Hey, I’m hungry!