“Persecution” of the Church in America

The Christian church is not being persecuted in the United States by restrictions on gatherings to prevent the spread of COVID-19. We’re certainly being inconvenienced, along with everyone, but that’s not persecution. We have not been asked to do anything that bars, restaurants, concerts, and sports venues have been asked to do. We are not being singled out for our faith.

As for constitutional rights, our Constitution’s preamble states as one of its purposes, “to promote the general welfare”. Would not protecting the general public from a raging pandemic be promoting our welfare?

And the First Amendment – even if we as Christians could legitimately claim that such promotion of our welfare denies our right to freely exercise our religion based on the Bill of Rights, does that not put our “constitutional rights” above our biblical responsibilities as ambassadors for Christ?

I wish my faith was as contagious as the newest strain of the coronavirus!

Because He lives,

Posted by gary

Love Kindness

As we see our culture move farther and farther from biblical principles, I’d like to recommend Dr. Barry Corey’s book, Love Kindness, (2016, Tyndall House Publishers). Dr. Corey is the president of Biola University.

He notes that Christians, and especially American Christians have become combative in recent years battling the cultural drift. “The ‘culture wars’”, he says, “have done little to change our society, and we’ve lost many if not all these wars. As a result, the church too often is marginalized and mocked, and increasingly people are viewing the Bible as just as intolerable as our aggressive tactics.”

Corey proposes kindness instead. “To be Christian, kindness must shape us and define us. But this powerful virtue seems to be characterizing us less and not more. We have lost an understanding of the power of kindness, mistakenly dismissing it as fluff or flat. Kindness needs to be rediscovered.”

The kindness that he proposes is not to be confused with niceness, which just goes along with the flow with an equally soft core of softness in what it accepts anything that comes along.

“Kindness,” he says, “is fierce, never to be mistaken for niceness.” … “Kindness is the way of firm centers and soft edges.”  It’s not the hardness of firm centers and hard edges, or the weakness of spongy centers and soft edges. Corey’s book is “an attempt to explain what this means – not so much to define as to describe it as I’ve seen it in different people in different settings.”

I plan to re-read it as encourage other Christ followers consider it.

Because He lives,

Posted by gary

My Greek at the Retreat Incident …

How I tried to act intelligent and demonstrated otherwise …

Several years ago, I was asked to be a group leader at our church’s annual men’s retreat. The retreat that year invited men from another nearby church. Part of my Biblical Studies degree at Biola included two years of New Testament Greek. I remember the last day of that second year, the professor congratulated us. Then he warned us that we were now quite dangerous, since we thought we knew Greek and were likely to misuse it.

Not long before the retreat, our Sunday School class had featured a guest missionary who shared that he had new believers read through First John several times, each in a single reading. I started to do that and realized that it might be a good opportunity to refresh my Greek, since it had now been several decades since those classes.

I had been doing that for a week or so, looking up words in the abbreviated lexicon in back of my Greek New Testament. I had donated the textbooks from the class to a book drive for India, so I wasn’t getting very deep into this study; nothing into grammatical syntax or conjugation of verbs. Since I had just begun this not-so-systematic review when time for the retreat came, I decided to take my Greek New Testament along, hoping to spend a little quiet time with it in the mountains.

The men were divided into groups, including men from both churches in each group. The program included assemblies of everyone for worship and a message, followed by break-out times for the groups to discuss questions about the topic. One of the questions asked us to discuss a certain passage of scripture. I don’t recall the verses. What I do recall is that it centered around three words or phrases and we agreed to consider them on our own and come back to them at our next group session.

I thought, “Cool! I brought my Greek New Testament with me. I’ll look up those words and come back with hopefully an intelligent, if not impressive answer. I took Greek!” So, I did. Well, I did the first part. I looked up the words, and I prepared myself for an observation about them. Those observations, however, turned out to be not so intelligent, and I certainly did not make a good impression when I shared them with my group!

Remember that I was the “leader” of this group. When we regathered for our next breakout, I shared my “insight”: “All three of these words have the same root.” One of the guys from the other church said, with authority, “No they don’t!”

What I think I can say about New Testament Greek without getting myself into more trouble is that it is a very precise language. That’s because a lot of the nuances of meaning are communicated in changes to the spelling of words, depending on how they are used in the sentence. So, the reader can tell if a noun, for instance, is masculine, feminine, or neuter; singular or plural; whether it is the subject or belongs in the predicate; and a few other things that help communicate details of the author’s meaning. English has very few such devices. Articles, for instance (a, an, the). That’s it. Just three. Greek has 24, at least! I seem to recall that there are more, but remember, I’m trying to stay out of trouble.

I still had a bit of memory about those articles. That involved a lot of memorization after all. But I forgot that the same changes applied to the nouns they referred to as well. In fact, the articles changed because the nouns made those changes. That was the case in the passage we were discussing. They all had the same ending, not the same root as I boldly professed in the group.

My proclamation might have had its intended boost to my ego had there not been a teacher of New Testament Greek in my group.

I can only imagine the effect this had, not only on my reputation, but the reputation of our church. “They must let anybody teach!” “What else has this guy been teaching?” I have not seen this guy since that retreat nearly a decade ago. I assume that I have since been used as an example of the very thing my own Greek professor warned about the dangers of thinking you know more about the language than you do. I hope so. I tell it myself if I bring up a Greek word when I teach. Unless I am quoting directly from a real authority, I warn the class that I know just enough Greek to be dangerous.

So, why do I re-expose myself to this humiliation? I do so because our believability is one of the most important assets we have. When we speak beyond our understanding, and are caught, we ruin our credibility. We become known as someone who treats the truth carelessly and who spreads misinformation. Anything else we say is rightfully received with suspicion. How can we be trusted with anything else that we say?

When we share something that we see on social media, we also share in its credibility, whether good or bad. We build or damage our own credibility based on the truthfulness of what we share. With most of what I see, it damages it.

If you can’t, or don’t want to take the time to investigate the claims of a post, for the sake of your own credibility, don’t repost it. Your reputation is too valuable to entrust to someone else.

If the guy who had the misfortune of being in my group at the retreat reads this, and I hope he does, I want him to know that he taught me a powerful lesson. Fortunately, I had only begun my trek back into re-learning Greek prior to that blunder. And I hadn’t been in the practice of making such references to the text in my teaching. Because of that incident and realizing that I am an “old dog”, I decided any further effort to become expert in Greek would make me even more dangerous. So, I didn’t take it further. I now resort to quoting from established experts who know what they are talking about. I do wish that I had kept up with Greek all along and had deepened my understanding and proficiency of it. But I’m truly thankful for the lesson learned. Thank you, brother, whoever you are.

Because He lives,
Gary Crocker
August 2020 (edited 8/8/20)

Posted by gary in Notes & Comments, Taking Self Seriously, Things I've Learned
Masks: A Recent Personal Revelation

Masks: A Recent Personal Revelation

One morning several months ago, I got a phone call from a family member. She indicated that she was struggling with her faith. Prayer wasn’t “working” and she was questioning her salvation because of it. She cited the last third of Proverbs one:

Then they will call on me, but I will not answer;
They will seek me diligently, but they will not find me.
Because they hated knowledge
And did not choose the fear of the LORD,
They would have none of my counsel
And despised my every rebuke.
Therefore they shall eat the fruit of their own way,
And be filled with to the full with their own fancies.
” Proverbs 1:28-31 (NKJV)

She reasoned that God was ignoring her prayers because of her refusal earlier in life to be obedient. She was convinced that she must not therefore be called and saved. In Romans 9 she had convinced herself that she fit Esau’s profile and fate rather than Jacob’s.

As I tried to reassure her that her concern itself argued against her conclusions, and that she was listening to the enemy rather than God. She responded with a collection of evidence that she was convinced proved otherwise. Then she nearly brought me to tears when she said, “I could never be like you. You’re different. You became a Christian when you were four-years-old and have been steady ever since. You don’t doubt and you’ve been a good person all your life.”

Oh! What have I done? Gary, you hypocrite! You’ve led your family, and possibly others, to believe you’ve had it all together spiritually for fifty eight years!

She, and I’ve learned since, others, have thought that my life has been one of continuous spiritual growth. In a sense it has, but not like they have thought. They thought that, whenever God spoke I listened and obeyed. They should have noticed clues to the contrary if they had watched my life more closely.

Before we got off the phone, I told her that first of all I began trusting Christ at the age of nine – not four. Of course that was trivial. Far more important was that I have had, and still sometimes have doubts and some rather significant questions as well as things I don’t understand about God and the Bible. I don’t have everything figured out. I am tempted in the same ways everyone else is and have failed. I still fail. I am ashamed of my thought life. I have a morbid dread that someday I’ll have dementia in a way that past and occasional current thoughts that I can now suppress will flush out for others to hear. I really want my last words to glorify God, not shame Him.

I realized that day that I was wearing a mask. People – especially most of my family – were seeing only the result of continuous confession of the same kinds of sin they were struggling with. They weren’t seeing my struggles. Whether consciously or subconsciously, I was hiding all that from them and giving them the impression that I’m different from them.

That doesn’t mean that everyone needs to hear details. Satan has a way of taking some public confessions and using them to talk us into giving ourselves permission to sin in the same way.
“I’ll just confess it afterward like they did, and be forgiven.” That’s partially true, but there is more than one sin involved when we do that – the more serious of which is a slap in the face of our precious Savior, nearly – if not in fact, blaspheming His suffering. How can we treat Him so flippantly??!!

Some may really be like what people think I’m like in my thought-life, but I suspect there aren’t many.

We need to be able to be imitated. But we need to be careful that our disciples know what they are imitating – not a perfect life, but a life that keeps short accounts with God. A life that consistently runs back to God – confessing sin, claiming God’s promise of forgiveness, and moving on in renewed obedience.

If all we communicate to our friends, to our family, to our children, is the victory and they don’t see the battle, we are going to continue to mislead them.
• Some will respond like the dear one who called me, putting us in a category of people exempt from their kind of battles.
• Some will hide their own struggles and imitate our outward actions, make their own masks and continue to struggle alone, usually in defeat!
• And others will see through our whole charade, call us by the hypocrites we are, and have nothing to do with Christ.

You may be looking at another brother or sister and thinking: “They’ve got it easy. They’re not going through what I am. They don’t have the thoughts I do. They don’t have the questions I have. They don’t have the doubts I have. No wonder they’re so victorious. I could never be like them.” If so, please realize that you’re probably not seeing their struggles.

Hebrews 10:23-25 – “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.

Brothers and sisters, we need each other. We need to come alongside each other, struggle together, hold each other accountable, and be honest with each other.
I need you – you need me.

Posted by gary in Taking Self Seriously, Things I've Learned

Joseph and the Holy Family

I’m struck this Christmas morning by the important role of Joseph in the holy family. Even the virgin-born Emanuel grew up in subjection to two parents. I see, in the holy family, the importance of family structure. Although he had nothing to do with the conception of Jesus, Joseph was still referred to as his parent and even his father,(Luke 2:41, 43, 48); and he had the responsibility of an earthly father over his family, (Matthew 2:13-23). Jesus was under His parents’ authority before, and even after the age of twelve (Luke 2:51-52). God, Himself placed Himself under human parental authority.

Posted by gary in Devotionals, Spiritual Life, 0 comments

For Unity

I appreciate what RZIM’s J.M. Njoroge says in today’s “Slice of Infinity” about the way “we squander valuable benefits of dedicated teamwork within the household of faith,” and thereby “lose our edge in a broken world.”

He says, “In spite of the fact that Jesus prayed fervently for unity among his followers, the visible church is often a conglomeration of competing factions, each equally convinced of its solitary possession of divine favor. Those who seek signs and wonders through the Holy Spirit are usually suspicious of those who emphasize exegetical approaches to the Scriptures. Christian scholars are sometimes content just to talk to each other, and the uncanny tendency of apologists to sniff out what they deem rotten doctrine is not always appreciated.”

Read the whole article at http://www.rzim.org/a-slice-of-infinity/for-unity/

Posted by gary in Devotionals, Evangelism, Quotes, Spiritual Life, 0 comments

Jumping Spider

Jumping Spider

Jumping Spider found on our driveway

Ready to Jump

“Back away! I’m ready to jump –
and I’m aiming for your nose!

Posted by gary in Critters, 0 comments

Vince Morris’s Prayer

The following prayer was found in Vince Morris’s well-worn Bible and printed for the bulletin in the bulletin for his memorial service on June 30, 2012. Vincent Morris was vice president of student affairs at Biola University for more than 20 years and an admired Bible teacher at the Evangelical Free Church in Huntington Beach and Bethany Bible Fellowship. I’d like to adopt this for myself.

Forbid Lord that my roots become too firmly attached to this earth, that I should fall in love with things. Help me to understand that the pilgrimage of this life is but an introduction, preface, a training school for what is to come. Then shall I see all of life in its true perspective. Then shall I not fall in love with the things of time, but come to love the things that endure. Then shall I be saved from the tyranny of possessions which I have no leisure to enjoy, of property whose care becomes a burden. Give me the courage, I pray, to simplify my life. So may I be mature in my faith, childlike but never childish, humble but never cringing, understanding but never conceited. So help me, O God, to live and not merely to exist, that I may have your joy in my life and in my work. In your name who alone can give me joy, peace, balance and zest for living the Christ-filled life, I pray. – Vince Morris 3/06/93

Posted by gary in Spiritual Life, 0 comments

“Waiting” for the Holy Spirit?

The statement in John 7:39 — “. . . for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified”— does not pertain to us. The Holy Spirit has been given; the Lord is glorified— our waiting is not dependent on the providence of God, but on our own spiritual fitness.

Oswald Chambers, My Utmost For His Highest, May 27.

The Life To Know Him

Posted by gary in Devotionals, Spiritual Life, 0 comments

When the crisis comes …

“When the crisis comes and courage is required, God expects his people to have such confidence in Him that they are the responsible, reliable ones.” Oswald Chambers

Posted by gary in Quotes, Spiritual Life, 0 comments