Category Archives: Theological Thoughts

Russia Doesn’t Smile at Strangers

With almost half of planet earth (3.2 billion) watching the World Cup in Russia, Russians are having to adjust to some many cultures meeting in one place. One of the great adjustments is the SMILE. Look up “Why Russians don’t smile,” and you will read some interesting pieces. In a recent article about Russian culture, the author observes that…”in Russia, randomly smiling at strangers in public is often viewed as a sign of mental illness or inferior intellect.”

A recent study on smiling was conducted and concluded that in “Russia, children may only contract their facial muscles when they’re truly happy. It’s an authentic expression of emotion.”

In countries like ours, however, smiling is a crucial social cue. It may not reflect their feelings, “but instead signals acknowledgment or appreciation of another person. And this might explain why American kids who smile more also tend to have more self-control.”

It’s an interesting cultural data to be sure. I wonder what the religious implications are for a culture that views smiling to strangers with such disdain. How do they view hospitality? Friendship? Love?

Update: Someone opined that it’s hypocritical to smile if you don’t feel like.

My answer:

Life offers thousands of opportunities where we have to express ourselves in ways we are not inclined. Most biblical virtues found in Galatians are things we have to strive towards whether we want to or not. We are to be patient when we don’t want to, we are to love when we don’t feel like it, etc. It ought to be a human being’s natural impulse to greet other image-bearers who come their way.

Engaging our Children’s Perspectives

We tend to idolize our wisdom, which is why at times we are quick to dismiss our children’s perspectives and observations. I understand that foolishness needs to be corrected, or better yet, re-directed, but I find myself continually amazed at the insights of children. They carry with them a sense of awe in their interpretation of the world that we need a lot more of as adults. As we get older we tend to forget the magic of a Trinitarian-made world while they rejoice in wonder.

To that end, we need to pay closer attention to their words, to look deeper into their rationales, and to engage their minds. When we quickly dismiss what they say, we may be missing a bit of kingly wisdom and crushing a bit of their emotional and intellectual joy.

Welcoming Little Ones in Church

At Providence Church (CREC) in Pensacola,FL, we welcome children into our worship service. We know that small children often make noises. While we ask parents to be sensitive to the needs of others, as a congregation, we have a very high tolerance for the noises of little ones in the assembly. After all, entrance into the presence of God and participation in the liturgy and baptismal and covenantal rights that belong to them as members of the royal priesthood.

We encourage you to train your children to engage the service as much as possible. At Providence, we have infants that are already engaging, toddlers singing the doxology, and little children reciting the Creed. While the work of preparing them for worship during the week can be difficult, there is nothing more rewarding than to hear and watch them do what they were created to do: worship the Triune God. They also quickly learn the bodily gestures and postures we use, when to sit, stand, kneel, raise their hands, and shout “Amen.”

That’s one of the advantages of a liturgical pattern of worship: there is enough repetition in the responses and service music that even pre-literate children can be taught rapidly how to participate, at least in bits and pieces.

If your children cause a bit of disorder, please do not feel the need to immediately take them out. The rest of the Providence family is willing to bear with your children, so you can too. Children were no different in Jesus’ day, and yet he invited them to himself, without regard for the distractions they might present (Mt. 18-19). The psalmist insisted that children have a significant role to play in the church’s liturgical “holy war,” silencing the foe and the accuser (Ps. 8).

So, as worship tomorrow, we come together with nursing infants and little ones joining the Son of God in war.

The Consequences of Secular Libertarianism in Sexual Ethics

This line from Robert Locke is a fine description of a system that proposes freedom without the Triune God:

Libertarians are also naïve about the range and perversity of human desires they propose to unleash. They can imagine nothing more threatening than a bit of Sunday-afternoon sadomasochism, followed by some recreational drug use and work on Monday. They assume that if people are given freedom, they will gravitate towards essentially bourgeois lives, but this takes for granted things like the deferral of gratification that were pounded into them as children without their being free to refuse. They forget that for much of the population, preaching maximum freedom merely results in drunkenness, drugs, failure to hold a job, and pregnancy out of wedlock. Society is dependent upon inculcated self-restraint if it is not to slide into barbarism, and libertarians attack this self-restraint. Ironically, this often results in internal restraints being replaced by the external restraints of police and prison, resulting in less freedom, not more.

Can we fight all injustices?

We live in a sad world. We turn on our TVs or read the paper, and we are bombarded by images that confront us emotionally and devastate our moods. So, we take action. We opine about the injustices around the world: orphans, widows, separated families, abuse, etc. We opine to draw attention to a cause, perhaps to our social warrior spirit, or even to a particular brand of politics.

Christians are justice seekers (Micah 6:8), but to what end does our justice-seeking apologetic hinder us from doing the basic and ordinary Christian thing? Just this morning I counted six items for discussion that would be considered heavy by any standard (and I am not counting the day-to-day horrors of abortion and martyrdom all over the world). Is it possible that we are justice fatigued to the point that the daily duties of praying, catechizing, singing, worshiping, dish-washing, diaper-changing, hugging, disciplining, reading, and everything else are relegated to a lesser domain? Are we creating a hierarchy of piety and justice?

“My cause is more righteous, and you should be ashamed of yourself for not caring or investing your time and keyboard to it.”

Before we apply justice, mercy, and humility to the major headlines of our day, we ought to begin right at our local kingdoms. Some will reply, “But we can do both. We can care about our homes and families and churches and also care about the national and international justice issues.” I submit that if you are an ordinary individual with an ordinary family with an ordinary job in an ordinary church, you will realize that the cause of justice most pressing is not starvation in Haiti, but your spouse in need, your fellow congregant who needs your call, or your close friend who just lost a child. Pursue justice by all means; carefully, wisely and prudently. But don’t let the “great” injustices blind you to those precious vessels nearest to you desperate to receive your mercy.

Is God Mr. No?

C.S. Lewis writes about a schoolboy who was asked what God was like. He replied that, as far as he could make out, God was “The sort of person who is always snooping round to see if anyone is enjoying himself and then trying to stop it.” I believe one of the reasons so many young evangelicals have abandoned the faith is because they have grown up in a faith that is more concerned about what the ramifications of law-breaking cultural codes or “holy” morals than the richness of the freedoms we have in Christ. To many, God is viewed as the cosmic “Mr. No.” But as St. Paul says, “God provides us with everything to richly enjoy.” Yes, there are commandments for us to keep, but within the parameters of God’s law, there is freedom. Christ has made us for this world, and this world is made for us. God is not trying to stop us from enjoying ourselves; He is trying to teach us to enjoy life more than we can ever imagine.

To be engaging means to ask questions

If a young man or woman wishes to be engaging, friendly, and edifying, then let him ask questions. If there is one trait that enrages me in young people is their ability to talk about themselves as the source of all knowledge and wisdom and their inability to be curious, uninterested in anyone’s life but their own. Jesus asks 307 questions in the Gospels. Some of them were meant to trap false leaders in their deceit, but many of them were meant to engage others, to reveal compassion for others, to enter into the story of others.

Practically, we can begin by teaching children to learn stories by asking for stories; teach them that there is no unknown guest in the home. You can train your children to ask one question about their guest or host. Learn by asking. Develop the skills of good questions and you will be engaged for life. Those who don’t ask doth think too highly of themselves. Ask and you shall receive. As one novelist observed: “The art and science of asking questions is the source of all knowledge.”


The Church Needs You Back

I know for a fact that there are some reading these words that have lost the emotional and intellectual attachment to Jesus of Nazareth. You have been hurt by the Church–a particular church, to be precise. People have mistreated you. You may have felt lost in the community when all is you wanted to be is found. God became distant, your prayers became monotonous, and the divine Gospel became mundane to your ears. I want to urge and press you to come back once more. Open your ears to the wonder of Jesus and his Bride. You may feel unworthy to return because of your sins and abandonment. But God calls you worthy and he bids you, “Come.” The Church needs you back because without you the celebration is put on hold. As one writer observed: “The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you.”

With Angels and Archangels…

When the church gathers she gathers in a mystical union. Hebrews talks about how we worship in the presence of a heavenly Jerusalem; an innumerable company of angels. In the Fall of man, the angels escorted Adam and Eve out of the garden and angels with flaming swords kept our first parents from coming back to the garden. Now, Jesus has opened paradise for us and instead of keeping us from worship, the angels actually worship with us in this new Garden; they welcome us into the heavenly worship of God. As our liturgy says, “With angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify your glorious name evermore praising you and singing, Holy, Holy, Holy!”

What would happen to church participation and attendance if we acknowledged that simple truth? I think the reason so many Christians are flippant about Sunday worship is that they don’t know what happens in worship. Most evangelicals treat worship as a false sick day: “Well, if I miss Sunday I can always catch up next week.” This mentality harms the body of Christ and the theology of worship established in the Scriptures. When you come to worship, you are engaging angelic beings. Your humanity as male and female worshipers, as well as your presence matters. So, if you are ever distracted during worship, you have every right to be: there are angelic beings watching us, a great company in heaven is joining us in this sacred chorus. And if this great heavenly veil were to be opened up just a bit to our feeble eyes or if we were to hear angels and loved ones joining us in the great “Holy, Holy, Holy,” I think we would grasp a little more the extraordinary experience and magnificent act that occurs each Lord’s Day.

Anxiety in the Home

The Scriptures warn us that worrying and anxiety are and will be constant temptations in our lives. But for those overcome by such high anxieties and worries, it is not easy to navigate such warnings. “Just trust” and “release your anxiety” can be helpful affirmations, but sometimes do not go to the heart of the matter. Anxiety can be rooted in a host of things, but what is important to know is that the spouse or the person who struggles and wars daily with anxiety controls the environment. An anxious husband/wife will control his environment and bring the household into the tension of his anxiety. He/she will expect others to join his anxiety as a way of soothing or sharing his own fears. An anxious leader creates a dangerous environment for grace to flourish. So, the first step in dealing with anxiety and worry is to affirm the power of such fears in your environment.