Do Visitors To Your Church Feel Welcomed?

The Gospel Coalition just published a very interesting article, one which seemed to resonate with at least one friend. The author writes:

Do you make visitors feel conspicuous in the worship service? Stop it. Seriously. Please stop. Some visitors don’t care and will actually appreciate the attention. But many of them will not. This will be a net loss for you.

Click here to see the article.

“Yes, it’s my first time, I admit it!!”

Plenty of times I have been the First-Time Visitor in a church.

Now, I have never minded

  • being identified as a visitor
  • raising my hand
  • standing up
  • wearing a special tag
  • putting on a purple beret
  • being sent through the gauntlet of handshaking
  • being asked to dance a jig, etc.

And here in Costa Rica, people don’t seem to be too put out by being welcomed publically.

However….

Many people do report (I say “report”, because it seems to me that they are reporting, not “complaining”) that those things make them uncomfortable. And I have no reason to believe they are kidding.

So a proper Christian response, an application of Agape 101, perhaps should not be along the lines of, “Hey, it doesn’t bother me, what’s wrong with these people?” nor “What, does being politically-correct mean we can’t even identify visitors now!?”

The Law of Love tells me to treat my neighbor as myself. In this case, in order to put no unnecessary cause of stumbling:

  • I take seriously what others tell me is a burden
  • even if I myself feel comfortable with that thing
  • and to seek another way to make people feel welcomed but not put on the spot.

One other observation: This is one reason why the various city churches of the Church of England are seeing a great uptick in attendance in midweek evening services: “many people are drawn by the formality and relative anonymity of a larger place of worship.” [1] People can slide into the side door and hear the gospel without making a prior commitment to the congregation. It’s an introvert’s dream.

NOTES:

[1] See http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/11250990/Sunday-morning-inconvenient-for-church-services-…-says-Church-of-England.html

“I (still) don’t believe it!” Thoughts on truth and social media, Part III

I have written elsewhere: “set aside videos of cute kittens or adolescents cracking up their skateboards. Let’s focus on those other things – political, social, religious, etc. – which get posted on social media and spread like wildfire!” I invite you to read the first two parts of this series before reading Part III:

“I don’t believe it!” Thoughts on Truth and Social Media – Part I

“I don’t believe it!” Thoughts on Truth and Social Media – Part II

Now I would like to update these with a Part III, with several other sources of doubtful “facts.”

ANONYMOUS INSIDERS

There is a whole genre of exposé literature that follows this formula: “I am an ex-[whatever] and I am going to reveal the shocking inside secrets.” Ex-Communist. Ex-Mormon. Ex-Satanist. Ex-Jesuit (Jack Chick’s man, “Alberto,” made a whole career with that claim). Ex-nun. Ex-physicist working for CERN. Ex-CIA operative. Ex-NASA scientist. Ex-Muslim. Ex-Freemason. In 2011 the internet was abuzz with “I was in the Illuminati: I’m Going to Tell you Everything, Shocking Expose.”

Of course, sometimes these revelations are legitimate: (more…)

Israel and Palestine and a Hope for Peace

Seminario ESEPA held a conference in 2014 on the topic of “Israel and Palestine.” They asked me to be one of the participants; I offered the following thoughts, which I have updated a bit, with the warning that they come from a Bible student with only cursory knowledge of world affairs.

Good evening, and thank you for allowing me to participate tonight, alongside of my esteemed colleagues.

1. Where are the answers?

In my case, and I think in yours, there are answers to the Israel-Palestine conflict in the Word of God. There are many other levels, of course – historical, political, military, etc. – but our focus and our authority will be the Bible. And from the gospel I offer you two basic truths:

First – God’s people today is not equivalent to the modern State of Israel; rather, God’s people are those who believe in Christ, no more and no less. As it says in Romans 9:24-26 – “even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles? As he says in Hosea: “I will call them ‘my people’ who are not my people; and I will call her ‘my loved one’ who is not my loved one,” and, “In the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ there they will be called ‘children of the living God.’” And in Galatians 3:7 we have – “Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham.” That is the promise for the gentiles and the Jews who believe in Jesus, period; and there is no other manner for anyone, not even Israelites, to be saved, as some teach today, falsely teach, in my opinion. Any believer in Jesus is now a true descendant of Abraham. That is not Replacement Theology (or Supersessionism), by the way, as we shall now see, since:

Second – our other, corresponding, gospel truth is from Romans 11, which speaks of the olive tree, in which Gentile believers have been “grafted.” But in his conclusion, Paul adds a surprising note in Rom 11:23 – “And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again” and 11:26 – “and in this way all Israel will be saved.” I take this passage, admittedly a difficult one, to predict a universal conversion of Israelites to Christ as an eschatological even at or around the Second Coming. Paul does not, however, speak of a return of Israel to the Land in unbelief, nor of any mandate to control both halves of Jerusalem, nor the need or desirability to build a Third Temple – the temple he is concerned with in his letters (1 Corinthians, Ephesians) is the temple that is the body of Christ.

2. How does the Bible help us to solve modern questions about the Middle East?

I am not at all convinced that current events in the Middle East are specifically predicted in the Bible; that is to say, I see little to nothing in the prophets that speaks directly to 2017, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, ISIS, Iranian nuclear development, Iraq I, Iraq II, Afghanistan, and so forth. Taking the two truths described above as a basis, I will offer some brief thoughts to some of the main questions regarding Israel and Palestine, and will conclude my time with a positive suggestion. I will focus on Israel, because that’s the side that seems to interest my fellow Christians tonight.

Should Christians regard the modern state of Israel as God’s chosen nation? Or to use the language of one group, Christians United For Israel (CUFI), are we obligated “to stand with our brothers and sisters in Israel and to speak out on their behalf whenever and wherever necessary until the attacks stop and they are finally living in peace and security with their neighbors”? I say no, or at least I reject that this encapsulates the whole truth. I would suggest we say that, God’s ancient people will be redeemed in the End, when they come to Christ, but as of now the State of Israel has no special claim on our support, other than the justice we should seek for any nation; nor is it proper to call them “brothers and sisters” any more than we would say of any fellow human being.  A commitment to the Bible does not lead one to “Christian Zionism.”

Should Christians defend Israel, just as some hid Jews during the Holocaust? I say that, yes, Christians are always obligated to defend the persecuted. If we are speaking of Nazi persecution, we would have been under the solemn obligation to defend and protect the 6 million Jews and the 5 million non-Jews, which included Slavs, Catholic leaders, Gypsies, the mentally and physically handicapped, and – oh, yes! – Jehovah’s Witnesses and homosexuals. When ISIS looked about to exterminate thousands of Christians and Yazidis in August 2014, it was our obligation to pray for and aid all of them, despite the fact that theologically we Christians have been at odds with the Yazidis for almost 2000 years.

Does the modern state of Israel have an absolute, immediate right to annex all the territory God promised to Abraham, which would include not just all of Palestine but also parts of Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria? I say no. In Genesis 15:18 God says to Abraham “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates.” This is repeated almost wholesale in Joshua 1:4 – “From the wilderness and the Lebanon as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, to the Great Sea in the west shall be your territory.” There are people who say that if Israel allows even a square meter of the West Bank to be under Palestinian control, then it is acting out of wickedness and unbelief. For example, in 1967 Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook argued that all land west of the Jordan had to be occupied by Israel: “Yes, where is our Hebron? Have we forgotten it? And where is our Shechem? And our Jericho? Will we forget them? And the far side of the Jordan, it is ours, every clod of soil, every region and bit of earth belonging to the Lord’s land. Is it in our hands to give up even one millimeter?”[i] To this I must say No. Israel has never in any one moment of time occupied all of the territory of these two texts; so why, all of a sudden, do they have to, are they obligated by God to, occupy Palestine and not, one should hasten to add, the areas of Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Gaza, and Egypt that are also implied?

Are the Palestinians an “invented” people, as said US politician Newt Gingrich? That they do not deserve a state, and should just pull up stakes and “go elsewhere”?[ii] I say no. (more…)

The NIV and six degrees of Rupert Murdoch

We see it in panicked blog posts and garish YouTube videos, and hear it in whispers from concerned friends! That Rupert Murdoch is trying to take your Bible away from you and make you use the NIV Bible instead! That he is a friend to the Vatican and a pornographer and the guy who put shows like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” on TV, and so he must be involved in some sort of Illuminati/Vatican/Jesuit/New World Order/Antichrist/Satanist conspiracy. And of course, anyone who helps in the production of Murdoch’s Bible, any pastor or seminary professor who recommends it, must be under suspicion of being neck-deep in the conspiracy.

Rupert Murdoch – I won’t be defending him; frankly, I don’t have to defend him

The narrative boils down to:

Rupert Murdoch owns a publishing company that sells Bibles in the New International Version. Therefore, it is said, should we not reject the NIV, given that Murdoch might be trying to destroy the church’s faith in God’s Word? And so, shouldn’t we just stick with the King James Version, which is tried and true?

(more…)

False teachers: a bad road to a bad end

Few individuals set out to be heretics.

But there are those individuals who believe the devil when he says they will get money, power, cars, houses, sex, bestsellers, huge crowds, lasting fame.

“Just give your doctrine a bit of a twist,” he whispers, “and in exchange for a few tiny drops of falsehood you’ll get a whole lot of goodies!”

Thus the father of lies dupes people in two ways: by fabricating corrosive false teaching; by roping in the gullible to hawk it.

He’s a con artist on both counts, and finds it jolly to eventually let “his preachers” hang on their own rope, choking on disgrace, recrimination, back-peddling, exposure, lawsuits, divorce, accusations, addiction, disease. And then the hard stuff: divine judgment. And the Evil One chuckles.

Says John Chrysostom, on Philippians 1: “Nothing is more villainous than the Devil. This is how he everywhere pulls people in to work on his worthless jobs, and then tears them apart. So not only does he deny them a reward, he goes so far as to set them up for punishment!”

Don't be a victim!

Don’t be a victim!

“False teachers: a bad road to a bad end,” by Gary S. Shogren, Professor of New Testament, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

My month with the Book of Mormon – May 2017

To download the article as a document, take a picture here:

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The Bible is really, incredibly old! The Old and New Testaments were copied by hand for centuries, if not millennia! And to interpret the Bible correctly, an expert ought to be well aware of the original languages! At least, that’s how it is with my Bible.

All the more striking, then, that the Book of Mormon (BofM) was the first scripture I have read that was originally composed in – or, according to Joseph Smith, miraculously and infallibly translated into – my own language. That is, it is the English text of the BofM that is considered divinely authoritative, beyond which version there is no further appeal.[1]

The BofM is one of the principal books of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) popularly known as the Mormons, and other related groups.[2] It is not the only one considered as new revelation; the LDS later added “Doctrine and Covenants” and “Pearl of Great Price” to their canon.

We live in an age of people giving reviews of books they have never read. The Bible is probably the most-reviewed and least-read book of our age (more…)

Some advice for young men. About the ladies.

For Karen, on our 30th anniversary (orig. written May 2010)

This is for the guys, but the women can listen in!

Weddings are a great place to meet young women. Everyone is thinking of love and marriage, and many want to meet guys. So go to weddings when you’re invited, even if you have to get dressed up.

NOW, here’s my advice.

There are two girls you’ll see there:

The first girl: Do you see the young woman who is beautiful and knows it? Who carefully scans the crowd and figures out just which lucky male will enjoy her attention? Who forces herself to look fascinated by whatever he says? Who rolls her eyes up at the rest of guys, snickers about how other girls are dressed, makes cracks about older guests?

The second girl: Now, do you see the young woman who is also very nice-looking, but isn’t obsessed with how she looks? Is she the one who makes sure the elderly guests get a piece of cake, and has a smile and friendly words for them? Who is helpful to the hostess? Who keeps an eye open for cute guys but talks to everyone, men and women of all ages? Who is happy to chat with you, but doesn’t play those shallow flirtation games?

Brother, take it from me, I know whereof I speak:

In 30 years, the first girl will still be a “princess”, only older and significantly less mesmorizing.

In 30 years, the second girl will still be your queen, older, yes, but more fascinating and charming by the day.

Admire the first girl, sure. But do whatever you can, my friend, to marry the second one.

“Some advice for young men. About the Ladies,” by Gary S. Shogren, Professor of New Testament, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

Israel’s Holocaust Memorial, Yad Vashem

Last week I visited Yad Vashem, the memorial to the more than 6 million Jews who were killed in the Holocaust. I invite the reader to visit their website yadvashem.org, and to study indepth the enormity of the Holocaust, which I cannot begin to describe in this short space.

Our wonderful guide, Dani, told about how his maternal grandmother, Dora, singlehandedly arranged for her whole family to flee the Nazis to Palestine; only one sister remained behind, and she perished in the death camps.

Dani also reminded us that it’s easy to fantasize that we would have done right by the Jews, “if only we had been in Europe in the ’40s.”

The main hall at Yad Vashem

Not so, apparently! Out of the millions of Europeans livin at the time, only a relatively handful are on Yad Vashem’s roll of honor (The Righteous Among the Nations, which includes Oskar Schindler, Corrie and Betsie ten Boom) for those who protected Jews. Then as now, the vast majority of people don’t want to get involved, especially at the expense of their own careers, families, and even lives.

We also don’t remember that many Christians abhorred the Jews back in the day, even before the Nazi propaganda came along. So defending Jews was thought by many to be shielding God’s particular enemies from their just deserts, just as some assert today.

Beware the “moral equivalence fallacy” of ranking every inconvenience or difficulty we face as “just like the Holocaust.” Still, one of several takeaways for me, one way to live out the lesson of Yad Vashem is to stand by groups that are unpopular today. Jews, to be sure – especially with rising antisemitism in the US, and the new popularity of Holocaust Denial and the naive acceptance of that old forgery, Protocols of the Elders of Zion – but also other marginalized groups. Just this past week in Portland, decent people defended two young Muslim women; two of those heroes were knifed to death, and the third nearly died. Some Muslims in Oslo have stood up for Jews; some Christians try to defend gays against violence; some atheists, although in a very backhanded way, defend the Christian Asia Bibi, as have a libertarian senator and a Democratic one; etc. I bring up these specific examples, since my readers are Christians, and thus atheists, gays, Democrats, and Muslims are typically part of the “Other” – just as Jews were the Other in 20th century Europe and often are today.

Jesus was probably referencing this well-known inn in his parable of the Good Samaritan

On my trip to Jerusalem, we also passed by the inn that is thought to be the inspiration for the parable of the Good Samaritan, who took the mugging victim to the way station between Jericho and Jerusalem – “Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him.” (Luke 10:34). According to the Lord’s teaching, the story is about giving justice and mercy to those who we feel lie outside of God’s people. By showing mercy, the Samaritan was not rejecting Samaritanism nor affirming the superiority of Judaism; he was simply trying to embody God’s loving care.

If we risk ourselves only for those we recognize as God’s people,
we may be good guys,
but we are not Good Samaritans.

PS. Well, I guess I should have seen it coming: someone just wrote in, anonymously, to inform me that the Holocaust is a “myth” concocted by those awful lying Jews, so that people would feel sorry for them. The evidence he or she gives: that uber-crackpot Stephen Anderson of Tempe, AZ, has a YouTube video that says so! (Btw, in my experience, it’s never a good sign when someone begins a video by saying, “Now, I’m not a racist! I swear I don’t have a racist bone in my body! However…”)

Look up the Yad Vashem website. Six million Jewish dead is not some phony number that people invented. There is an actual list, containing millions of names of Jews who were annihilated, often with their ages, relatives, home towns, etc. Facts, people, lets deal in facts, not the “it-seems-to-me-ism” and sub-amateur sleuthing that is so fashionable in our age of social media.

“Israel’s Holocaust Memorial, Yad Vashem,” by Gary S. Shogren, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

Bible Prophecy, ch 1 – “Bible Prophecies” that are NOT found in the Bible

This is a long essay with numerous footnotes. The reader may prefer to download it in pdf form: Shogren_Bible Prophecy #1 Bible Prophecies that are NOT in the Bible

I plan on at least two more articles in this series, in which I will describe End-Time expectations that may or may not be found in the Bible, depending on your interpretation; and End-Time expectations that are in the Bible.

I grew up in the woods. By “woods”, I don’t mean a park with some scattered trees, but a place where large patches were so choked with brush and thorns and fallen branches and boulders from the last Ice Age that it was literally impossible to pass through. My mind returns to the woods every time I fight my way through the thicket created by our modern prophets. Because of their creativity, the predictions that people claim to be in the Bible outnumber, exponentially, the predictions that actually are in the Bible. That is why, before we can begin to talk about Bible prophecy, we have to clear the ground of heavy undergrowth, the things that people have been told are in the Bible, but which we cannot seem to find on any actual page of Scripture. I write this, not because I don’t love Bible prophecy, but because I respect it too much to see it taken lightly.

The very length of this article is the unfortunate side-effect of the tonnage of “prophecy myths” that are out there. One reason for this is that End-Time predictions are big business: take a look at the books by Tim LaHaye, Jack Van Impe, Jonathan Cahn, John Hagee, and even David Jeremiah. The Left Behind series of books alone has sold over 65 million, not to mention the movies and the merchandise. Irwin Baxter has no difficulty selling his very expensive DVD’s; and there are influential sites like Rapture Ready and End Times Prophecy News and Signs of the End and The Jeremiah Project and Terry James Prophecy Line or groups such as Hagee’s Christians United for Israel (CUFI). Many of them employ the same opening stratagem: “I have been studying and teaching Bible prophecy for X number of years; therefore, you should trust me to know what is in the Bible!”

In fact no: the Word of God tells us what to believe, and the believer has no need of a Prophecy Gatekeeper to access its pages.

Here we will focus on those who teach with the Bible in one hand, and today’s headlines in the other.[i] There are two problems with their method: first, it assumes that Bible prophecy must be being fulfilled in today’s news, as opposed to headlines from AD 582, 1007, 1851, or 2086; two, the prophecy experts have the unhappy tendency of starting with the news headlines, and then reading them back into the Bible. The 2016 Blizzard? Yes, someone discovered that it was an End-Times event, but only after the storm.[ii] Minor stock market crash in 2016? Same thing, and from the same source, the always-ready-to speculate Charisma News. While we would take to the streets in protest if some theologian placed his or her own tradition about the Bible, we don’t blink when the high priests of prophecy do basically the same thing with today’s headlines. We won’t even delve into the secular gurus such as David Ickes or Alex Jones or the Flat Earthers, who preach an apocalyptic viewpoint with very little Bible mixed in.

If some evangelicals (and yes, some Catholics,[iii] some Orthodox,[iv] some Adventists, plus the majority of the sects) are known for this sleight of hand, then the Jehovah’s Witnesses have to get the blue ribbon. Their modus operandi is to zero in on the Anxiety of the Day, knock on your door, mention how anxious people are about it, and then show how they, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, saw it all coming ahead of time! Exhibit A: this issue of Awake magazine from 1968: “Is it Later than you Think? Is time running out for this generation? What will the 1970’s bring?”

Take any headline from today’s paper, or Time magazine, or YouTube, or your newsfeed, or Facebook, and if you really, really try, I guarantee you’ll be able to find a Bible verse to show how it was predicted long ago. Syria in the news? Just look in the concordance and you will find a verse that fits.

Wow! All those 7’s, and just because Donald Trump sent a few small missiles into an empty airfield, one which the Syrians were able to quickly repair and start using again.

Another example: I just saw on CNN, “Promising Zika Vaccine Moves to Next Stage.”[v] And so let’s say I channel my Prophetic Ingenuity to put together an article like this:

“Revelation 16 says that there will be many plagues, which will kill a huge number of people. And what do we see in the news? People are coming down with Zika, and desperately trying to find a vaccine, instead of repenting from their sins.”

Now – remember that I did this “blindfolded,” without peeking, but let’s see if I can find someone doing this very thing (more…)

Published in: on April 27, 2017 at 1:23 pm  Comments (1)  
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Holy books, wholly understandable

I try, every year, to read the scripture of some other faith. That is, read the books themselves, not just a second-hand analysis of them

In 2016 it was the Koran, which I found well worth the read, if a little repetitious. It is about 4/5 the length of the New Testament.

In 2017 I have read the Bhaghavad Gita, which is a substantially shorter book. And I have just started the Book of Mormon, which is twice as long as the New Testament.

The two books I did as Audible recordings, of which I am a major fan, the Book of Mormon on LibriVox.

My observation here has to do with clear communication:

The Koran I read was the Penguin edition (1956) by N. J. Dawood; it is meant for non-specialists and was very understandable. Click HERE.

The Bhaghavad Gita I accessed two ways; first through then through the wonderful introduction and translation by Eknath Easwaran. And much, but not all, of the 2000-page commentary by Swami Ramsukhdasji, a gift from a dear Hindu friend.

Especially in the case of the Eknath Easwaran edition (click HERE), the rendering is very clear, with technical terms carefully explained; and then before each chapter, the author sums up the previous context, then gives a summary of the new chapter. In other words, it couldn’t be easier for the non-Hindu.

Foment curiosity and independent thinking? Sure! Create confusion? No!

All to say that, in both cases, someone exerted a great deal of effort to make clear to me the basic message of the holy books of another faith. In neither book was I ever lost, although of course my understanding of them remains superficial.

The application for the Christian should be clear.

How much more should someone who is interested in communicating our true message take great pains to

  • study it seriously,
  • meditate on it deeply,
  • pray about it thoroughly,
  • rely on God’s grace to live it authentically, and
  • seek God’s direction to proclaim it truthfully and powerfully.

Also, I would add, use straightforward language instead of flowery or technical; and to employ good English – rather than Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Aramaic, or Bohairic, or who knows what. (See my long article on this issue HERE). To give Paul’s statement a different but legitimate application: “in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue.” And out of the church, even more so.

These versions of holy books remind me of our dear late professor, I. Howard Marshall; the first sermon I heard him preach, in Kings College Chapel in Aberdeen, was on the theme of “repentance” from Romans 2: “Do you not realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” He was speaking to a mixed group, some of whom were not very familiar with the Bible. I paraphrase him: “Repentance is not making ourselves out to be the worst person that ever lived,” he began, and then gave us a simple short sentence on what it does mean to repent. Clear as a bell. The handful of times I went to hear John Stott preach, same thing.

That is the apostolic way, it is the way of love.

“Holy books, wholly understandable,” by Gary S. Shogren, Professor of New Testament, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica