Oct 28, 2007

Free the Bunnies!

We have been taking care of Natasha's bunnies while she's out of town for a while. They are usually kept in this small cage in a small apartment because they don't behave themselves very well. Various methods of behavior modification have been used with them, but they still chew on all the electrical cords, eat the carpet and the moldings, and hide Natasha's jewelry in their cage.

Natasha warned me not to let the bunnies out without direct supervision, but I felt so sorry for them being all cooped up in that tiny cage, so Joshua and I devised a plan to free the bunnies! Our kitchen, breakfast nook, and hallway are all tiled, so we thought they couldn't hurt the floor there much, even if they weren't litter boxed trained. We don't have any electrical cords on the floor in this area, but we do have moldings. There are five doorways or openings to this rather large area, so we had to be very creative in finding things to effectively block the doorways, but still allow us to be able to get in and out. After several tries, we had a built-in, indoor pen for the bunnies.

We couldn't wait to let them go free! We opened the door to their cage and waited for them to go run and hide in a corner somewhere, as animals often do when they are in a strange place. But they didn't budge. They just sat there. And sat there. What was wrong with them? They had their freedom, but they just stayed in their cage.

After a while, the more adventurous spotted bunny came out to explore her new world. She took everything in very slowly, sniffing around here and there, and cautiously proceeding around her new habitat. She climbed into the fruit baskets and sniffed all the fruit. She poked around in the grocery bags in the laundry room. She explored the bottom shelf of the pantry. She checked out all the litter boxes. There was so much to do!

The fuzzy bunny would poke her head out once in a while, and then pull herself quickly back in. She just wouldn't come out of that cage. After about an hour, we finally had to remove the bunny from her cage. She had no desire to go out into the real world. She was perfectly satisfied right where she was. But eventually, she too explored the world around her.

We quickly saw that the bunnies were most interested in finding something to chew on, and they didn't want their wooden carrots! Remembering that I used to solve the chewing problem with puppies by giving them raw turkey necks and raw bones to gnaw on, we decided to give the bunnies carrots -- real ones. They sniffed them for a while, trying to decide if they would like them or not, but it didn't take long before they were devouring them. And we have had no problems with the bunnies chewing on inappropriate things ever since.

But it's been several days now since the bunnies have had their freedom and the spotted bunny decided that she would like much more freedom, so she made her escape from her already enlarged world. In fact, she escaped several times today, so tomorrow we will have to enforce her boundaries a little stronger.

As I observed the bunnies, I couldn't help but think how much they mirrored my own spiritual walk lately. A year ago, I was in a small little cage called Legalism. The walls and doors were locked very tight and I didn't leave that cage for many years. In fact, that cage seemed to grow smaller and smaller throughout the years.

And then one day, a retired pastor named Mike came along and opened the door for me; he taught me from the Scriptures that I was deep in bondage. I couldn't see it though -- not for a long time. But the door was open, waiting for me to step out into freedom. I didn't want that freedom. Even after I understood that I was no longer under the Law, I was afraid to step out into the real world. I would poke my head out once in a while to look at the real world, but it was a scary place.

I remember when I finally took that first step out of legalism. I was so surprised! It wasn't at all what I thought it was going to be like. God didn't strike me dead after all! And after I took one step, it was a little easier to take another and another, exploring my new world around me.

But sometimes that new world gets scary, like when my disabled daughter wants to pick up the bunnies, and they go running back into the safety and security of their cage again. Sometimes freedom from the Law is scary for me and I just want to run back into the safety of my legalism again.

But something prevents me from doing that. Something prevents those bunnies from staying in their old cage very long either anymore -- carrots. Now that the bunnies have the right food, they don't need to go looking for a substitute to chew on. And when I have the right spiritual food -- God's Word in all its truth -- I don't need to look for substitutes to chew on either.

I've tried the substitute of patriarchy. It was hard to swallow. I've tried the substitute of Gothardism. It was a heavy burden. I've tried the substitute of legalism, but that pushed me away from the two Greatest Commandments. I've tried the substitute of theonomy, but that put a veil over my heart and I couldn't find the truth of God's Word. I've tried the substitute of Messianic Judaism, but God called me to be a Christian, not an Israelite.

Along the way, I've tested my wings of freedom and found that I overstepped my boundaries now and then. Others have been kind enough to help show me my biblical boundaries again.

Being in bondage was safe and easy, but God has so much more for us in the freedom of His grace. The bunnies haven't learned any spiritual lessons while they are here, but I'm so glad that God can use the natural things of this world to teach us what He wants us to learn. After a while, the bunnies will both enjoy their freedom and their carrots and be content with their boundaries. I hope I can say the same for myself.

Oct 25, 2007

Book Review: A Journey in Purity

Why I Still Believe in Church Discipline

The second book in the "Journey" series by Richard P. Belcher continued the same fiction story of Rev. Ira Pointer as he pastors a large downtown church, First Baptist. Finding that only about 50 members are active out of a membership roll of 1500 or so, Rev. Pointer is soon forced into dealing with the issue of purity in the church and what the Bible says about church discipline. As a theological novel, this book focuses on teaching theology through the medium of story telling again.

In this sequel, we learned how to outline Scripture, how to deal with false accusations and bullying, when to be quiet and when to speak up for oneself, and how a church should study unfamiliar doctrines. We studied what the Bible says about determining when someone is truly saved and how many in the church are not really regenerate. We discovered that it is much more difficult to try to purify an impure church full of unbelievers than it would be to start a church from a correct, biblically pure foundation to begin with.

But the main thing I learned in this book is that there are five main types of discipline in the church and that not only are these rarely taught, but they are rarely carried out correctly, even in churches that do practice church discipline. I don't usually like to tell the bottom line of a book, but I will break with tradition for this review. This should be only enough to whet your appetite for studying the subject further.

Five Categories of Sin Requiring Discipline

1. Serious sin committed by someone who is still unrepentant -- I Cor. 5:1-5
Most severe. The church is to turn him over to the devil for the destruction of the flesh that his spirit may be saved in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

2. The sin of one brother against another -- Matt. 18:15-18
Excommunication (treat as a heathen or publican) if the sinning brother refuses to listen to the church.

3. Sin which has overtaken a brother and has left him sorrowful and crushed -- Gal. 6:1
Restoration to Christ and the church by the spiritual members of the church in a spirit of meekness and humility.

4. One teaching false doctrine -- I Tim. 6:3-5
Excommunication (withdrawal from him) by the church.

5. One not walking as a Christian should walk in his daily life -- II Thess. 3:6, 14-15
Excommunication (withdrawal of fellowship), but he is not to be treated as a lost man but to be admonished as a brother.

The Discipline Responsibility of the Church

1. The church is the final authority in the matter of discipline.

2. The most spiritual of the membership of the church are to carry out the discipline. That should be the leaders.

3. The Bible is the authority concerning which sins in practice or doctrine one is to be disciplined for.

4. Repentance and restoration are to be hoped for in every case.

Clear Dangers to be Avoided in Discipline

1. Pride -- discipline should be conducted with humility.

2. Legalism -- the work of discipline is not just a set of rules to be followed coldly.

3. Extremism -- the church does not play Holy Spirit in church members' lives and make decisions for them.

4. Undisciplined discipline -- it must be structured and clearly principled, and must be fair and consistent in each case, and from one case to another.

5. Arbitrariness -- the discipline methods must be based on Scripture and the matters for discipline must be based on Scripture. They cannot be based on one's personal arbitrary choice.

6. Supremacy -- discipline is not the supreme work of the church, but rather is a necessary part of the work of the church.

7. Asceticism -- the work of discipline is not an end unto itself, nor is it a means to produce spirituality and growth by itself. (formative vs. reformative discipline)

I'm really enjoying this series!

Oct 24, 2007

California Wildfires

We have a lot of family who lives in the area of the wildfires right now, especially in San Diego. My niece and her family lost their home yesterday, but they are all safe. My sister-in-law lost some rental property as well, but she is safe. I have other in-laws whose homes are very close to the fires, so I am praying for them as well. My sister lives farther north, but the heavy smoke is a great health concern for her, as she already has some significant health issues.

On another note, my husband, Mark, has been called up to help with the wildfires. He is currently spending very long hours coordinating the communications between fifteen or so government agencies. When Katrina went down, probably the number one issue was the lack of communication between government entities. I am glad that Mark has consistently excelled at his work in homeland security so that he now has the opportunity to do something of great importance in real life. With Mark's unusual ability to see the big picture, I'm sure his bird's eye view of these coordinations will help speed up the government's response times in this disaster. I'm very proud of him and know that he will excel in this opportunity to serve his country.

Oct 22, 2007

Book Review: A Journey in Grace

Richard P. Belcher has written what he calls a "theological novel." "A Journey in Grace" is a book that teaches theology through the fiction genre. While the story itself is often suspenseful and has many emotional swings to it, it is what is learned from this book that I highly recommend.

This is the story of a young man in seminary who lands his first pastoring job. While he begins as any other typical seminary student, Ira Pointer is driven to dig deeper into theology. Throughout the story, we learn some church and denominational history, some denominational differences, and the differences between Arminianism, Calvinism, and hyper-Calvinism. We also get a glimpse into seminary life, both in the classroom and out, in the professors' offices, and in daily interactions with other students. Organization, logic, and expository teaching abound in this story. The author is not afraid to tackle the "hard" verses on the subject of the Doctrines of Grace and he goes to the Greek roots when necessary. We learn about how a pastor is chosen in certain denominations and how and why churches change pastors. Through the power of a story, we learn about conflict resolution, taking the high road, and how to debate theological issues.

Designed for high schoolers and adults, my children and I loved this book! We read it out loud and used it as a daily Bible study. Of all that we have studied so far on the Doctrines of Grace, this was by far the most clearly presented, logical, and understandable. We have a much firmer stance now on many points of theology, all from a good story.

I did buy the rest of the series of fifteen books and will be reviewing them here throughout the coming year. Each book covers a different theological topic. Since I bought a whole set, I have a duplicate of this first book "A Journey in Grace," which I will give away free to the first person to contact me through email. I highly recommend this series.

Oct 21, 2007

"It Is Well With My Soul" By Wintley Phipps

Waking up to severe depression today, I was grateful that one of Wintley Phillips' CDs had arrived in the mail yesterday. I knew I needed to immerse myself in singing praise to the Lord, but I just couldn't do it on my own. This song was the first one on his album "Just As I Am and Other Favorites Hymns of Billy Graham." I listened to this over and over again today, until it became a part of me, until I could truly sing along with him these words that it is well with my soul. And as life piled on more and more today, the Lord had prepared me for it by filling my day with these words, over and over and over again.

The healing power of praising the Lord. It is indeed well with my soul!