Meaningless Fireworks of the 4th

Fireworks are funny.  I remember them being awesome when I was a boy, watching the sky light up from my seat in a packed football stadium. Now, they are still probably awesome, but I don’t care for them much.  At this point in life, they accomplish two things: cause our dogs to act like skittish mice.  Loud, barking mice.

And then there’s the risk of them waking up my baby daughter. I’m sure that my interest and appreciation for fireworks will rise in parallel to her own interest and wonder.

But to me, they will always be just pretty lights in the sky, no matter how they draw my attention.

The official date given for the colonies’ secession from the House of Hanover is July 4th, 1776.  They reacted to a form of tyranny. The independent colonists were sensitive to that sort of thing. Nowadays, we are kept on a steady injection of Novocain.  Sometimes we even push in the plunger of the syringe ourselves, and don’t squirm when our “benefactors” try to find the best place to stick us.

For comparison, compare the list of offenses given against King George III in the Declaration of Independence. If you’re not familiar, you can brush up on them here. Go ahead.  I’ll wait.

Just 85 years after the signing of this document, President Lincoln committed every single one of those offenses, in some form or another.  Against the North.  That doesn’t even take into account the kind of devastation wrought on the South. Just 85 years.

The Founders knew that no man, not even Americans, could be trusted with power. And they sought to contain it.  God must have a sense of humor, because the so-called checks and balances devised by some of the wisest of men only lasted 85 years.

And yet, the offenses listed in the Declaration, the ones that caused men to fight and die, are tepid compared to the furnace we undergo now. King George III, in his wildest imagination, could not have dreamed of the power the Federal government wields today. Our benevolent overlords impact virtually every area of our personal lives, from housing to light bulbs to food to the raising of our children, and oversee a hegemony of foreign influence far greater than the British empire of old. Compared to today, George was a very soft tyrant.

So think about that while you are celebrating this 4th. What are we really celebrating? Jumping out of the frying pan and into a deep pit of vipers? The lowering of our collective standards?

Appreciate the fireworks for what they are: pretty, loud, and sometimes impressive displays of light and creativity.  But know that beyond this, they are meaningless. Or, if anything, they represent the raising of our tolerance for evil.

Thank God for what you have, and for the vestiges left over from the American experiment. Thank Him for the prosperity he still allows us to have, even though we spit at the heavens. Thank Him for the wide eyes your child will get the first time they really notice fireworks. Thank Him that you are an American, rather than anything else, because he has certainly blessed this country.

And perhaps thank Him for the original spirit of freedom held by the signers of the Declaration, and then ask to at least be infused with the dregs for the fights in our modern era.

So happy 4th of July.  Happy Secession Day.

Legalism – Making Them Jump the Fence

“Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Cor 3:17)

We like to reverse this and say “Where the Lord is, there is a crushing millstone of Law to hang around your neck.” We tend to think that if the doors are left open, sin will just waltz on through.

The church is called to be holy, a light to the world, and the moral behavior of its members is one of the ways it can do this. There is a difference, however, between moral principles and legalism. One helps in fostering life and fellowship.  The latter tears down and separates. The latter lifts one up at the expense of others.  The latter crushes the spirit under a weight of guilt. “The letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life.” (2 Cor. 3:6) Worst of all, legalism destroys unity with arbitrary rules of supposed holiness, separating the light into smaller and smaller candles, and content to enjoy the warm glow under the bushel.

Legalism takes good principles and attempts to stomp out sin by imposing additional regulations that are nowhere found in Scripture, and then pretends that fulfilling these regulations actually fulfills the full council of God. But often, they are just the external trappings, whitewashed tombs. They never reach the heart, and because of that, they have no real value to curbing the lusts of the flesh.

Christians should love the standard, and not be caught up in loving the external appearances of the standard.

Confusing the Externals

Here are some examples to show the difference:

1. Modesty in dress. The principle in Scripture is laid out in the following verses, mostly directed at women.

likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works. (1 Tim. 2:9,10)(ESV)

Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. (1 Pet. 3:3-4)(ESV)

And then there is the general thinking of not being conformed to this world, and not being a snare of lust for fellow brothers.

The person who loves the standard of Scripture will keep these things in her heart as she chooses a wardrobe, always dressing with discernment. This may mean different apparel for different occasions.  There probably won’t be hard and fast rules. If in doubt, they will ask older women of the congregation. (Titus 2:3-5, )The advice she receives will vary.

The legalist comes along and says:

  • Don’t wear pants at church.
  • Only wear shorts if they are below the knee.
  • No tank tops.

The list goes on.  And if you do these things, you will be modest in my eyes.

While these might be wise and prudent measures, they are no where found in Scripture. And what’s more, following all of these rules doesn’t even mean one is being modest. Pretending that that’s the case just distracts from the real point of the passages: to not be distracted from having internal beauty and to be clothed with good works

2. Forsaking the assembly.

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Heb 10:24,25)(ESV)

The legalist steps in and says that if you miss any scheduled service of your local church, for any reason other than sickness or uncontrollable circumstances, you are violating this passage. On the flip side, if you do attend these services, you are just fine, and are healthy spiritually.

Even though there are no details given.  This is not referring to some special, definitive “assembly.”  Using it in this way also stretches the word “forsake” into realms that make no sense. If I miss dinner a few times per month, does that mean I am forsaking the practice of eating?

The verse is simply talking about getting together with other believers.  Legalizing around the principle (treating attendance at official church meeting times as a measure of spirituality) distracts from the principle. 100% attendance doesn’t really say anything about the heart.

Let’s take a typical church that has two Sunday services with Bible study, and then one meeting time midweek. That’s about four hours.  There are 168 hours in a week. Take out 56 hours to account for sleep, and all the assemblies make up only 3.6% of your time.

So if you are only assembling during the established church meeting times, what are you doing with the other 94% of your time? Maybe only assembling 3.6% of the time is “forsaking the assembling of yourselves together.”

The one who loves the standard will love meeting with other Christians, and yes, that probably includes the scheduled times of the local church. But it also includes so much more.

3. What goes into a man’s mouth.

There really is nothing new under the sun.  Despite much Scripture that says the contrary, people still decide to determine the level of someone’s faith and standing with God based on what they eat and drink.  The most obvious illustration are attitudes toward alcoholic beverages. It can also be seen when looking down on people who don’t partake of only “fair trade” goods or organic food, or don’t eat only “free-range” meat that hasn’t been sacrificed to the idols of American mass consumerism. These are the same quarrels.

Paul calls this worldly thinking, and the Scripture against it is numerous and clear.

If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations—  “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” ( referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. (Col. 2:20-23)(ESV)

For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer. (1 Tim. 4:4,5)(ESV)

it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person. (Matt. 15:11)(ESV)

And there is the entirety of Romans 14.  It also deals with abstaining for the love of a brother, and that is important, but an entirely different issue.  Choosing to voluntarily abstain out of love is a far cry from looking on another in condemnation because they don’t abstain from what you abstain from.

Again, you can make an argument that abstaining from something might be wise and prudent.  But, based on Scripture, you cannot make it a hard and fast rule, nor a basis of fellowship or dis-fellowship. Who are you to judge another man’s servant?

Besides, it’s always possible to out legalize a legalist.  There are always ways to make up rules and pretend to look more righteous than others.  That’s part of why its such a danger to unity.

Oh, you don’t use a single loaf of homemade, made from scratch, unleavened bread for the Lord’s Supper?  Tsk, tsk. If your mother asked you to pick up bread for dinner, would you come back with saltines? Is God less important than your own appetite?

See how easy that was?

The Moral Playground

Enforcing moral principles means putting a child into an elaborate, fenced in playground, with swings, slides, monkey-bars and tunnels. The only rule is to stay inside the fence.

The legalist puts a child into the same playground, and then tells them they can either sit on the bench or play on the slide.  And if they play on the slide, they can only go down feet first. And worse, they look at the other children doing other things in the playground, and then claim that they aren’t really playing in the same playground. It nullifies the grace of God.

The first encourages wisdom and responsibility. The second, besides eliminating joy, leaves no room for freedom. There is no real discernment of the principle.  As soon as the legalist isn’t there, the child is probably going to run and jump the fence the first chance they get, trying to find a “better” playground.

A good rule of thumb: when looking at yourself and the planks in your own eye, have exacting, uncompromising standards.  When looking at the specks in other people’s eyes, grace should reign.

Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. (Rom. 14:4)(ESV)

And don’t be what Paul calls a false brother and spy on the freedom of others. (Gal. 2:4)

What other examples of legalism have you come across?  What is the true principle behind them? How can we learn to love the standard and see that love in others?

What’s that?  You don’t read at least seven chapters of the Bible every single day?  You must not really believe the words of Psalm 119.

Just a Series of Chemical Reactions

Two Oregon churches were vandalized, with “Praise the FSM” painted on their property. FSM stands for “flying spaghetti monster,” a popular internet meme for some atheists. The Friendly Atheist decided to raise some money for the clean-up to help out the churches.

The clip below is from Fox and Friends with both Pastor John Bluebaugh and Hemant Mehta of the Friendly Atheist discussing the situation and its aftermath.

The real motivation for this action is revealed as Hemant squeezes in the last word in the segment.

“You don’t need Jesus to be good.  It’s possible to be good without God and I think the people on my website chipping in show that.”

Yes, people can do good things without Jesus.  However, they need to steal ethics from some other realm in order to make that claim. It’s like a man with no taste buds trying to pass himself off as a food critic.  He can shovel down the food just like everyone else, but when asked if that bite of that steak tasted good, he has to lean over to his brother, who happens to have taste buds, to get the answer.

Or perhaps he takes a poll, determining what the majority of people think of steak. But then what if the people polled are mostly vegans? Or maybe his brother has a head cold that changes his opinion?

While helping others is always commendable, modern atheists are completely nonsensical when trying to articulate why it is so.  Why is a group of skin-bags full of blood and muscle giving money to another group of skin-bags full of blood and muscle good or bad? It was, after all, just a series of chemical reactions. Why should I care about it more than the chemical reactions that lead a hunk of meat to sit on a couch and watch lights come out of a television?

One more thought: we know the ends don’t always justify the means. But do the means ever justify the ends?