Bird-Brained People

This morning, my daughter hurried my day along by calling me as I got dressed. “Our chickens are here! I have a meeting in half an hour. Can you come over and set things up?”

If you haven’t experienced the joy of raising chickens, you might not know that they arrive in the post office a day or two after they’re hatched, peeping and cheeping enough that the postal service puts them at the top of the priority list. Emily expected her birds to arrive tomorrow, but they miraculously showed up today.

I headed to her new house and pulled up in front just as Emily got into her van. Inside, Isa, her middle son, stood prepared to help me get things rolling. He showed me the supplies and the small, cheeping box.

A few minutes later, we had bedding in the bottom of a large storage tub and a heat lamp clamped to the side. We lifted the chicks, one by one, from the box and deposited them in the tub, dipping each one’s beak into the water to teach it to drink.

After we had all 17 of the 15 chicks in the tub–that’s hatchery math by the way–I gave Isa the five-minute tutorial on keeping the chicks alive and well until Mom came home from work. “If they’re all bunched up right here where the light is hottest, then they’re cold. You need to move the light in more. If they’re all over here where the light isn’t reaching, then they’re hot. You need to move the light away.”

Chickens, you see, even at only two days of age, have more sense than humans do. When they’re cold, they try to get warm. When they’re hot, they move away from the heat. In short, the chickens seem to know what’s good for them. They’ll drink water when they’re thirsty. They’ll eat until they’re full and then stop.

People, on the other hand, don’t have that kind of sense. We (I) drink caffeine-loaded beverages to such an extent that the kidneys are working in overdrive and we’re constantly running to the restroom. We don’t stop eating when we’re full. Sometimes we don’t even have the sense to move toward the warm or cool areas. In short, we don’t seem to know what’s good for us. Or more accurately, we know what’s good for us, but we don’t do it. Paul seemed to recognize this in Romans 7:15:

For I do not understand what I am doing, because I do not practice what I want to do, but I do what I hate.

So far Emily’s birds are doing nicely. I’m less confident that Isa is behaving wisely. Time will tell.

Who is this Phoebe?

Recently, the question of women serving as deacons came up at The Gospel Coalition with one article answering “Yes” and another answering “No.” I’m not nearly erudite enough to take on the two writers, both heavy-duty seminary professors at evangelical institutions, but I would like to camp out a little bit on this question. Happily–from my selfish perspective–this question hasn’t been raised in any serious way at my church. If I have any luck, that hornet nest will not be kicked until after I have served out my year as deacon chairman in 2020. Still, a well-informed member of the church ought to be able to offer some reason as to why women are or are not ordained to this role.

PhoebeFor today, I’d like to start with Phoebe. In Romans 16:1, we read of this woman who was, it is assumed, entrusted in carrying Paul’s letter to Rome. Here’s what Paul says:

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a servant of the church in Cenchreae.

Phoebe is a servant of the church, and, of course, that word “servant” is diakonos. (If you look in the small Greek print just to the right of Phoebe’s neck in the painting, you’ll see the word printed there.)

So was Phoebe a servant or a Servant, a deacon or a Deacon. In other words, did she simply serve the church or did she hold the office that Paul talks about in 1 Timothy 3? If she holds the office, then we have to believe that Paul approved of female deacons. Let’s consider the possibilities.

I normally appreciate the work of David Guzik, whose notes for the whole Bible are available online. Here’s what he says about the key word:

Bible translators have a habit of translating the ancient Greek word diakonon as “deacon” when it speaks of men and “servant” when it speaks of women.

Is that true? I’m not going to survey every Bible translation, but let’s look at a handful of examples.

  • In the NIV, we find the word translated as “deacon” only five times and three of those are in 1 Timothy 3. The other two are the Phoebe verse, Romans 16:1, and the generic usage in Philippians 1:1.
  • The NASB uses “deacon” five times, adding one in 1 Timothy 3 and omitting the Romans 16:1 usage.
  • The CSB has the exact same five usages as the NASB.
  • The ESV provides five usages and, you guessed it, they are the same.

In reality, far from having a “habit of translating” in a sexist manner, I have yet to find a single case where a man or a collection clearly composed of men is translated as “deacon.” Instead, Tychicus in Ephesians 6:21 and Epaphras in Colossians 1:7 are both described as servants or ministers.

So why should we insist that Phoebe is a deacon rather than a servant? Thomas Schreiner, in the article linked above, reads it this way:

With so little to go on, the decision could go either way, for the word diakonos in Greek may refer to a servant without having the idea of a particular office. Nevertheless, the addition of the words “the church in Cenchreae” suggests an official capacity. Verse 2 supports this understanding, since Phoebe is designated as a “patron” (ESV) or “benefactor” (CSB), which means she regularly helped, perhaps financially, those in need.

Does the mention of the church really suggest an official capacity? I suppose it might, but might those two descriptors be more in parallel: she’s a servant and she’s from the church in Cenchreae? And the patron material from verse two does not seem to prove anything at all. Phoebe certainly could be a deacon, but it doesn’t seem the open-and-shut case that Schreiner suggests.

Sam Storms, in a recent writing, suggests that Phoebe holds the office, but he provides exactly zero support for this position. He quotes the verse and then notes that some think it merely means “servant.” Then he adds this:

Although others hold a different opinion, it seems to me that the primary reason they resist speaking of Phoebe as an office-holder is the prior conviction that the role of deacon is gender specific, that is, it is restricted to males.

Is it possible that some immediately reject Phoebe as a deacon simply because they reject female deacons? Of course. Does that predisposition make Phoebe a deacon? No. If I determine that Starbucks has bad coffee because I don’t like coffee (or because I have a prejudice against the company), the existence of my bias does not make their coffee good, bad, or indifferent.

On the other hand, Guy Waters, writing the counterpart entry to Schreiner, takes the same verse and the question between “servant” and “deacon,” opining:

It is doubtful the word here bears the more precise sense of “deacon.”

Really? Why is it doubtful? Just as those inclined in one direction can offer no definite reason to insist that Phoebe holds an office, those opposed have similarly flimsy evidence.

So what is the bottom line? Who was this Phoebe? Was she a servant or a deacon? The bottom line, I think, is that anyone who claims to know with any degree of certainty is employing smoke and mirrors. The supposed sexism noted by Guzik is non-existent, at least in Bible translations. (But there’s plenty of sexism in the church, so let’s not feel too smug.)

What we can know is that Phoebe played an important role with the church at Cenchreae. She was trusted and productive. She possessed a servant’s heart. Whether she carried ordination is a question we cannot with any certainty answer, but we can with confidence know that she was what local gatherings and the wider church have valued for 2,000 year, a dedicated woman.

And for now, that has to be enough.

 

Weighed in the Balance and Found Wandering

Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God concerning them is for their salvation.  I can testify about them that they have zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. Since they are ignorant of the righteousness of God and attempted to establish their own righteousness, they have not submitted to God’s righteousness. —Romans 10:1-3

A friend of mine has been struggling for quite some time with a religious rift within his home. While he is a diligent, Bible-believing Christian, his wife is . . . how should I say it? She’s out in left field. More specifically, she’s managed to get herself connected with a sect that “majors on the minors.” These people think it is super important that REAL Christians worship on Saturday rather than Sunday. They insist on calling Jesus Yeshua and keeping some of the Jewish holidays.

I realize that someone could make a case for Saturday worship, and I know people who pray in the name of Yeshua and observe Passover. To my mind there’s nothing at all wrong with those things, but when we make one or more of those things the litmus test for True Believerhood, then I think we’re doing the exact sort of thing that Paul lamented the Jews of his day doing.

You don’t have to look around the Christian world very far to find examples of this sort of thing. My Church of Christ friends decline to have instrumental music in their churches (which is certainly their right), but they tend to make that practice a dividing line. Some Pentecostal friends insist that one absolutely must be baptized in the name of Jesus–and only in the name of Jesus–for a baptism to count. Do they honestly believe that Jesus suffered and died on the cross for me and then will leave me high and dry because Pastor C. baptized me with the wrong words way back when?

But lest I get too full of myself, too sure of my own rightness, I have to confess that I take a dim view of churches that baptize infants. I’m pretty confident that infant baptism is not scriptural, but is God going to reject a Jesus-believing Episcopal? And along the same lines, what of baptism by immersion? That’s the scriptural pattern, but if you believe in your heart and confess with your tongue, is God going to throw you into Purgatory because you were sprinkled?

I’m pretty sure that my friend’s wife is walking down the wrong road, but I’m also sure that the God of Creation will indulge some error on the part of those who believe. My prayer is that this woman, and those with whom she worships, will actually make that connection.

Cheat Days?

Pile of Junk FoodI weigh in on Fridays, so, after tipping the scale and recording my weight, I often look at Friday as a day on which not to get too worked up about my food intake. This can range from a day on which I simply don’t record all of my food to a full-blown cheat day.

A few years ago, I planned a Friday cheat day into my schedule. Called “Lousy Eating Day,” those Fridays often saw me at the school’s food court sliding a tray with both a double cheeseburger and cheese fries toward the cash register.

These days, I usually reserve my “lousy eating” until I’m home from work. Then I can take Penny out somewhere indulgent. Last night, after eating a very sensible dinner at home, we splurged on Sheridan’s Frozen Custard, me opting for my favorite, E.T.’s Charming Cheesecake Concrete (with Heath bar chunks). The only thing bad about that confection is when you eat the last bite.

If that concrete had been my own dietary transgression, then I wouldn’t feel any qualms this morning, but I also snacked a bit too much as I watched the Royals win a ballgame that evening.

The idea of cheat days is well established in at least popular diet and weight loss writing. Google the term and you’ll find all sorts of opinions ranging from the psychological to the physiological. I’d like to take up the question of cheat days from a theological perspective. As a Christian, is it acceptable for me to cheat on my diet now and again?

I used the word “transgression” earlier on purpose. Sin is a serious thing in our worldview, so we wouldn’t entertain the notion of a cheat day for adultery or murder or idolatry or stealing. “I just punched out my spouse, but that’s okay. After all, it’s Tuesday!” No, that would be ridiculous.

We have been forgiven all of our sins, past, present, and future, yet Paul makes it clear that this does not mean we should take a casual view of sin. In Romans 6:1-2, he quickly shoots down the notion of sinning more so that grace can abound. This would seem to suggest that cheat days are as inimical to the Christian life as “Buddha Days.”

But is “cheating” on your diet really the same as cheating on your marriage vows or bowing down to an idol? I’m going to argue that the answer to that is “no” for a trio of reasons.

First, your diet need not be a day-by-day thing or a meal-by-meal thing. I frequently keep my food intake low at breakfast and lunch so that I can indulge a bit more at dinner. Similarly, if I balance things out so that one cheat day is offset by six “faithful” days, am I really cheating at all?

Second, didn’t Jesus condone, or at least enable, a cheat day? The only miracle to appear in all four gospels is the feeding of the 5,000. In Matthew 14:20 we learn that the people there that day all “ate and were satisfied.” I take that to mean that they ate as much as they wanted to. I can’t really see these Galilean peasants pushing aside plentiful, free food and saying, “Oh no, I really shouldn’t. I’m trying to cut down.”

Finally, the particulars of your diet are not points of obedience to God. We are called to be a stewards over our bodies, but God leaves the details up to us. I believe that the putting aside of the Jewish dietary laws illustrate this aspect of Christian liberty. If I “cheat” today by eating a cheesecake concrete without putting my body back on the course to obesity, then I am still being true to my obligations.

Cheating on a diet is not the same as cheating in a relationship. In fact, “cheat day” is probably an unfortunate term for a Christian. That’s why I intend to reintroduce the much more acceptable name, “Lousy Eating Day.”

Enjoy your indulgences so long as they do not prevent you from maintaining what God has provided you.

The 3,500-Calorie Rule is Malarkey

It turns out that everything I thought I knew is wrong. Or maybe not. For years we’ve been taught that burning 3,500 calories will make you lose a pound. Like so many things in the realm of diet and nutrition, this is just way too simple apparently.

The video below provides a brief overview of how weight loss might be viewed differently.


It occurs to me, after watching this video, that there’s a good bit of truth here–not just scientific truth but spiritual truth. Compare the idea of weight loss as described in the video, with the gradually flattening chart line, to the sanctification that we experience after salvation. Have you ever been frustrated by your lack of progress in losing the “fat” of sin? Think of Paul’s words in Romans 7:15: “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”

There are no diet pills to eliminate sin and the math of sanctification isn’t particularly simple. However, unlike with weight loss, we have a uniquely effective personal trainer to assist in the effort. And He’ll help with the weight loss for no extra charge.

Building and Burning (Hebrews 1:9)

You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;
therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions
by anointing you with the oil of joy. (Hebrews 1:9)

In William Faulkner’s story “Barn Burning,” a boy struggles between family loyalty and doing the right thing. His sharecropper father, a charming fellow, takes out his frustrations with his landlords by burning down their barns. The son, Sarty, learned his image of manhood from this father and stands prepared to lie for the man in the court case that opens the story, yet he somehow knows that this is not the proper way to reconcile differences.

How does a boy, growing up under the tutelage of a wicked man, learn to embrace righteousness and hate wickedness? According to Romans, those who live without the law still have the law written on their hearts. They know. Young Sarty knows, despite the natural bonds of familial loyalty that tell him otherwise.

Within each human being, two forces wrestle for control. The forces of righteousness seek to build up the barn, while the forces of wickedness or sin seek to steal, kill, and destroy, to burn down the barn. Few, if any, people live utterly wicked lives, lives with no redeeming features. Certainly none of us lives utter virtuous lives, lives where the love of righteousness has managed to triumph utterly over its adversary. Such a person would be justified by the law, and we’ve seen clearly in Paul’s writing that no one finds justification through the law.

In this introductory passage to Hebrews, the author seeks to set Jesus apart from all other beings in the universe. Jesus is not chief among the angels, nor is he just another man. He is simultaneously God and man, and as such, he managed to perfectly love righteousness and hate wickedness. You and I will never manage to equal his zeal in those pursuits, but our proper response is to try.

There’s a Toilet Flowing Deep and Wide

Across the hall from my office, a urinal was running on and on and on when I visited the gents’ room this morning. That same fixture had been running on Friday as I left for the weekend. Whether it ran for some 66 hours between, I cannot say, but the idea crossed my mind. As someone who has to haul his water in a 425-gallon tank atop a pickup, driving over gravel roads and braving the road construction in Oak Grove to get there, I have a very strong, very visceral reaction to the waste of water. I’ve been known to ask the kids why they didn’t drink water at Wal-Mart where it would have been free rather than swilling down 8 ounces of the precious stuff at our house.

It occurs to me that this water wastage saga speaks of a larger truth. Think about it. Who gets the most upset about wasted water? Me, the guy who has to haul it. My wife and family are reasonably frugal when it comes to the wet stuff. Individuals who actually have magical pipes that come into their home carrying the universal solvent don’t rise to my level of obsession, but they do notice. For example, when I was among the blessed connected, I couldn’t just let a toilet run or a faucet drip indefinitely. I knew the bill would arrive eventually, so I fixed the issue.

I would suggest that the larger the organization and the farther away the thinking part of the organization is from the problem, the less consternation will be caused. At a school that hosts 15,000 students on any given day, one running toilet just isn’t the biggest of issues.  Unfortunately, that same size issue can lead to other, more significant thought processes. When a school grows large, focus on the individual student becomes difficult. The same can happen in a church or a government entity.

I can’t stay close to everything in my life, but it seems that the closer I am to the production of my food, the provision of my water, or the procurement of my clothes, the more appreciative, the more conscientious, the more involved I will be.

This chatter takes my mind to Romans 5:8.  Perhaps Paul might have written “while I was still a sinner, Christ died for me.” I know, Paul was a capable enough writer to have said it that way had he wanted to. I’m probably just projecting a post-Renaissance emphasis on individualism on the idea, but it seems that the further we get from that ideal–of Christ dying not for our sins but for my sins–the more apt we are to see the running sewer of that sin not as a pressing problem but an abstract theory. There’s a lot of sin in the world, but what about me? There’s a lot of sin in the church, but what about me?

Across the hall, the water has ceased to run after a plumber removed the auto-flush unit from the fixture. Praise God, however, that the water of Christ runs forever fresh and refreshing, keeping the sewer of my life ever clean (John 4:14).