The Prayer of Jephthah Monday, Aug 1 2011 

Wow. It has been almost a year since I last posted on this site. I know my life has been busy, but one post a year is ridiculous; therefore, I’m making a new commitment. While attempting to post one new entry per week, I will commit (I need to be realistic) to posting a minimum of one entry per month. As I mentioned, I’ve been very busy, so many of my submissions to this blog will be “cut & paste” copies of articles from a previous online venture which I deem relevant to the Organic Church topic. The following is one such article. It is called The Prayer of Jephthah.

{The following selection first appeared on suite101.com.}

No religious library would be complete without a prayer devotional. If you have had the opportunity to visit a Christian bookstore in the last few years, there is little doubt that you have encountered devotionals on scripture based prayer. By scripture based prayer, I am referring to those teachings that outline (and sometimes slightly modify) the actual language of prayers found in the Bible so they can be applied to various modern situations. These teachings tend to retain the spirit of the prayer, while allowing for diversity of its use.

Yet I noticed that most of the Biblical prayers used for these devotions only address standard issues, such as faith, holiness, prosperity, protection, and physical needs. This observation has led me to search the Bible for prayers that can be used as outlines for those sometimes overlooked areas of today’s modern Christian. One particular prayer I found in the eleventh chapter of “Judges” seems to have incredible relevance for all those involved in Christian service who struggle with the delicate balance between ministry and family obligations. I developed this prayer into a type of “prayer-devotional” and decided to share it with you. I call it “The Prayer of Jephthah.”

The prayer of Jephthah, found in Judges 11:30 & 31, is a tremendous devotional for today’s busy minister who happens to have a family. It concerns a warrior named Jephthah, who prayed a vow to God in order to secure his victory over the Ammonites. The prayer is recorded as follows:

If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into my hands, then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering. (KJV)

In other words, for those who struggle with King James English, Jephthah asked God for victory in battle, promising to sacrifice the first thing that came out of his house to greet him, if that victory was granted. What happened after the prayer was prayed may be unsettling to many. Although Jephthah won the battle, the first person to come out of his house to greet him when he returned was his daughter. Terribly grieved, Jephthah nonetheless fulfilled his vow by sacrificing his daughter to the Lord.

While Jephthah’s petition was made for a specific situation in another time and place, I believe it can be used as a sample prayer for those engaged in modern Christian ministry. You see, many who are “called” to “The Ministry” often sacrifice their children through neglect, for the sake of success. This prayer could greatly reduce feelings of guilt, and criticisms of others, by purposefully offering up one’s children. The prayer could be modernized as follows:

Dear God. If you grant me success in my church (or ministry, or Sunday school, etc.) and increase the numbers of those who attend and/or support it, I will sacrifice to you whatever gets in the way, including members of my own family. Amen.

By praying this prayer daily one can avoid that nagging guilt which often accompanies watching one’s family fall apart while building a successful ministry. Christian businessmen, musicians, writers, athletes, or other professionals who deem family neglect to be a necessity can also use it. I am sure this brief “prayer-devotional” will become a favorite among religious professionals of all types.

DEAR PAUL: Timothy’s response to Paul’s first letter to him Monday, Aug 9 2010 

DEAR PAUL:

TIMOTHY’S RESPONSE TO I TIMOTHY

(modified version of an article first published on suite101.com) 

Dear Paul,

Greetings from your son in the faith, Timothy. I have received, and greatly appreciate your letter.  It is very encouraging and holds some instructive value. I do say some with regard to instruction, though. The churches of this region feel that what you attempted to set forth in your letter was more of a suggested guideline than a detailed dictation of universal truth. You must realize that all churches are not the same and that all cultures have different value systems. The fact that you were raised Jewish becomes apparent when reading your communications. Due to the cultural differences between churches, most have taken liberty in interpreting your instructions, and some have even modified them. I have allowed this because I believe it was done in order to preserve peace and harmony. This I know you would respect.

I did as you requested and stayed in Ephesus to instruct certain men against teaching false doctrines. They were, at first, very hostile towards me and my rebuke. After a while, a few of these men got together and started several types of institutions upon the claim that God commanded them to do so. They gave them names like “The First Church of Truth” and “The Real Church of God.” Many people from the church of Ephesus followed them and are now members of these new institutions. Since there is nothing else we can do about it, I suggest we just accept them as brothers and agree to disagree. 

Thank you for your encouraging words about God’s grace working in your life. I really enjoy reading about it, but I think others consider you a fanatic. In any case, I like it, so please keep writing. Oh, by the way, since you mentioned Hymenaeus and Alexander, I must tell you that I recently ran into Alexander’s mother. She feels you were a little harsh on her boy and many others agree. She told me that your attitude is not consistent with Christian love. I tried to explain to her how you are zealous for truth and all, but she would not receive any of it. She is encouraging Alexander to join the “First Church of Truth” that I mentioned earlier. Hymenaeus, however, has completely fallen away.  He left town and no one has heard from him since.

Well, enough about that. I really want to address some of your instructions. This thing about praying for and thanking God for those in authority has really caused some problems. You see, too many Christian men and women prefer to ridicule, criticize, and protest against those who are in powerful political positions. Please don’t think they are totally against praying for governmental leaders. They are just against praying for the ones who disagree with them. Some have even gone as far as to think that certain political groups are righteous and others are evil. This makes them feel good and gives them some focus for their anger, so I guess it’s OK. I told them to at least pray that the groups they dislike would change opinions. In that way, they can fulfill your request.

A question was raised concerning your statement about women dressing modestly. What is modesty after all? I think all would agree that provocative dress is not appropriate for a church gathering, but what is your gripe with hairstyles, jewelry, and expensive clothes?  Some women really look nice with those things and look forward to those institutional gatherings I mentioned earlier so they can be admired. I know that a worship gathering shouldn’t be a fashion show, but these institutional meetings are different. A big part of the effect is to dress up in fine things. I mean, you give the impression that Christians shouldn’t call attention to themselves at all. If a woman can’t show off at a worship gathering, where can she go to be noticed?

This modesty thing would have been the most controversial subject of your letter if not for your next statement. Why in the world did you ever say that you don’t permit women to teach or have authority over men? Boy, this statement is not going over big at all. There are many women in the church who feel your views are unreasonable, while many men are taking the statement totally out of context and creating “anti-women” doctrines from it. Your example regarding Adam and Eve doesn’t help explain things either. Many feel it is an outdated situation that has no relevance for today.

Oh, by the way, I’m going to spare you from the things I heard from the women about your “saved through childbearing” comment. All I know is that you’re lucky to be miles away right now. Paul, forgive me for asking this, but did you ever really wonder why you are not married? I mean, give me a break. I know you claim that it is because of your apostolic calling, but please don’t rule out the fact that you appear a little anti-female. There is a lot of talk around Corinth about your male superiority complex, but please don’t tell anyone you heard it from me. I have enough trouble when I visit there.

In addition to the difficulty you put me through with your unadvised comments about women, you really put me on the spot concerning the recognition of elders and deacons.  I read and reread the characteristics. I even made a checklist and several charts to aid in the process. But Paul, I have to tell you, I can’t find anybody like that. I’ll find someone who is temperate and self-controlled, but not able to teach. Then I’ll find this great teacher who doesn’t drink and is not violent, only to discover that he has an appetite for money. The part about elder’s children needing to be obedient and respectful has caused me to rule out entire groups of men, such as the fathers of teenagers. Once I thought I found the ideal elder.  He fit the requirements perfectly. Then I found that he was a recent convert and told him I couldn’t recognize him for lack of years in the faith. He became violently angry, threw me out of his house, went off to get drunk and eventually left his wife and kids.

Because of these circumstances, I am forced to tone down the requirements. Many churches have already adopted a method that more suitably fits their developing institutions. The terms “elder” and “deacon” are being applied to particular offices, or positions within the church rather than referring to functions or tasks. This allows for a much more practical set of guidelines to be used in the selection process of candidates for those positions. If an individual is well respected, well educated, or financially stable, and is willing to serve, he is accepted as either an elder or deacon.  The positions are made prestigious and honorable in order to encourage the right men to serve.  These guidelines just mentioned are much more practical than your set of instructions and must be adapted if churches are to be the social and business organizations they seem destined to become.

You wrote that you hope to come soon. Well, you can’t be hoping as much as I am.  I had no idea that this letter was going to cause so much controversy. At least with you here I wouldn’t be the focus of everyone’s anger. Do me a favor. Next time you have instructions to be given, send Apollos.

One thing did surprise me though. Many church leaders readily accepted the statement that the end times will produce demonic teachings from hypocritical liars. You see, all teachers and leaders believe that their doctrines are right and that the criteria for discerning demonic teaching is whether or not the teaching agrees with them. Consequently, there has been a lot of division among true believers. I know that some things are critical to the faith, but many are using your statements as justification to call any contrary opinion demonic, and to accuse those in opposition of being hypocritical liars. They tend to confuse their own pride with the Spirit of God in their lives and have exalted their own teachings as dogmatic truth. Even so, they are very likable people, and most have strong followings.

In spite of the fact that I may be considered just another strong willed, opinionated fanatic, I want you to know that I have preached as you have commanded. I have warned against calling any of God’s creation evil, taught peace and liberty, and pointed out truth.  However, it is very difficult to avoid “godless myths” and old wives tales when these things tend to be the most popular conversations at the weekly gatherings and small group meetings. I have put my hope in God and him alone, but I really am concerned about the future of the churches you have established. They do get sidetracked on some weird subjects.

Please don’t be concerned that people will look down on my youth. They tend to respect me, even though they do stereotype me as a youth leader or children’s church pastor. I don’t think I’ll overcome that until I’m older.

Thank you for your encouraging words about watching my life and doctrine closely. I intend to do so earnestly. I also intend to treat the older men like fathers and would never think of rebuking them harshly. I have noticed that many church leaders, however, tend to treat the older men as outdated relics not to be taken seriously. They also treat the younger men as servants instead of brothers, older women as maids instead of mothers, and younger women as members of their fan club rather than sisters. I assume that they feel their position in the institutions they call “church” gives them the right. The members of the congregation accept this type of behavior as natural, so I guess there is no harm to let it continue.

The next subject you address is the care we should take for the widows. The idea that responsibility should fall on the immediate family first, then on the church is not very popular. Both church and family would prefer to leave the responsibility for care of the elderly to the government and other social agencies. Most families are too busy building their own lives and careers to be burdened with their parents. Many families have taken the noble task of partially paying for their elderly parents to live in some form of home for the aged, but the idea of caring for them fully is out of the question. As far as church care goes, most fellowships have their money tied up in building projects, new carpet for the sanctuary, pastor salaries (which I’ll tell you about shortly), and other necessities. They really have no extra money to care for the aging members.

Counseling younger widows to marry sure does fly in the face of a woman’s independence. I agree with the practice most of these new organized churches have embraced. No one gets involved in anyone’s personal life at all. Most leaders and elders prefer to leave those issues alone. Also, it does seem pretty stereotypical of you to single out young widows. They really are able to look out for themselves, you know. I do worry about the children though.

One item that was supported by all was your insinuation that some elders should get paid. A problem does arise when a congregation tries to decide which elders should get paid and which ones should serve as volunteers. In order to settle the matter, we have decided to create a “professional eldership” and call it “The Ministry.” If someone has a gift, or in some cases just a desire to preach or teach, we will place a title before his name (like reverend or bishop) and pay him a salary. We will have one head elder per congregation and pay him the most. He will be allowed to choose subordinate elders to work with the youth, lead church music, coordinate church school programs, or just generally do anything the head elder considers too menial. Some churches suggest that we refer to the head elder as “Senior Pastor” and that his assistants be called “Associate Pastors.” All unpaid elders and deacons will be given certain token tasks and duties, but the real dirty work will be the job of the associates. The “Senior Pastor” should maintain full control of the church and will be the primary, if not sole speaker at all church meetings from a podium we will refer to as “The Pulpit.” If anyone disagrees with his decisions or questions the level of his control, the senior pastor could easily dispel the opposing view by using the pulpit to accuse the dissenter of rebellion. If an associate pastor should ever oppose the senior pastor, he will be asked to leave the church immediately. 

The positions of “the ministry” will be given a great deal of prestige and should become a career sought by many.  I am not sure if any of this was your intention. I mean it wasn’t as if you made it as clear or direct as your instruction regarding the care for widows. In fact, it seems to be the same people that jumped on the idea to pay elders who totally ignored your instruction to provide for widows. In any case, it seems to be the direction this “paid elder” suggestion is headed. I’m not sure I can stop it.

The issue of entertaining an accusation brought against an elder has seemed to take two separate directions. Some churches will accept virtually any accusation brought against any elder. Other fellowships will not believe two dozen witnesses, especially if the elder accused is highly respected and well liked. As far as a public rebuking is concerned, forget it. Sins of elders and of the newly created “ministry” are much more likely to be covered up than exposed. Unless the secular media finds out, the chances of even a grievous sin being exposed is unlikely. You see, members of the church prefer to view their leaders as heroes. Some even become idols of sort. Exposure of sin would not only shatter that image, but could affect the life of a church community. Also, we can never forget the fact that a public rebuke could bring about a lawsuit, and church finances are much more important than some ideal commitment to holiness. Thanks for your suggestion, Paul, but we must remain practical.

With all due respect to your command to keep your instructions, I must tell you that most of your letter is being interpreted as the readers see fit. As far as partiality goes, the only favoritism I have seen is toward the talented, rich, intelligent, good looking and influential. All others are treated equally.

On a personal note, I intend to stay pure in all. Thanks for your motivation. Also, thanks for your concern over my stomach problems. I also think it is the water.

The next thing you brought up seemed pretty evident to me. I have always been aware that the sins of some are obvious. The good deeds of many, however, are not as obvious. It seems many people are afraid that their good works will go unnoticed. This has caused some fellowships to adopt “good-deed-awareness” programs. Suggestions have been made to place plaques and other communications around church meeting places acknowledging donations and other good works. For example, a plaque on the pulpit stating “Donated by Brother Jonathan” or a note in a church bulletin saying, “Flowers contributed by Sister Sarah” could give proper commendation.

I’m sorry if I appear to be going from one subject to another, but your letter did cover a wide variety of topics. The command for slaves to obey masters went over very big with the masters. The slaves still struggle with it though. I guess it will work itself out eventually.

When I read aloud the next portion of your letter concerning money, many took exception. Your criticism of those who teach godliness as a means to gain has caused half of our leadership a great deal of embarrassment. Most of the teaching leadership of the church is made up of professional men and woman who have displayed the ability to make money. It is only natural for them to attribute their wealth, at least in part, to their godly life and ability to follow godly principles. Since most people want to get rich, it is easy for these teachers to gain a following.

Teaching against the desire to be rich is not very popular at all and a church class on contentment would never attract a crowd. In all honesty, Paul, many consider this the most difficult portion of your letter. You see, many church leaders and “ministers” like to live extravagantly. How can they justify the money they take from followers who make less without espousing some type of “God-wants-you-rich-too” doctrine? I hope you can grasp the conflict and avoid dwelling on the money things. Between that and the women things, almost every congregation in the region will probably reject me.

In closing, please know that I have taken to heart your encouraging words and will continue to fight the good fight. Commanding the rich to put their trust in God rather than their wealth is easier said than done. They say their hope is in God, but I feel that they are merely hoping that God will keep and protect their real source of trust, which is their money. Often, they contribute to the church with expectations of special privilege or treatment. I must say that they are seldom disappointed.

Well, once again, thank you for your encouraging words. Hope to see you soon. 

Your son in the faith,

Timothy

(P.S. I just received your second letter, but as of yet I have not had a chance to read it.)

MAKE THE BIBLE WORK FOR YOU Monday, Oct 19 2009 

{This is a modified version of an article first published on the now obsolete Religious Humor & Satire site of Suite101.com}

 

 An infomercial for Christian television.

The program opens with flashing scenes of smiling people in everyday situations, such as a young couple sailing, a family going to church, and some teenagers at a football game. In the background, lively contemporary music is played, and the booming voice of an unseen announcer is heard.

Announcer: Imagine being free from the needless guilt that often accompanies trying to live a righteous life. Picture what it would be like to have an answer for all your friends at church when they try to point out flaws in your walk with God. Just like these people shown here, you too can be a happy Bible believing Christian without the added pressures of conviction and repentance. Now, the secrets that used to be owned by ambitious denominational leaders, institutional church political types, and Christian special interest groups are available to you. These secrets can be discovered through the new, life-changing course called, MAKE THE BIBLE WORK FOR YOU.

The music hits a crescendo as the final scene fades out. Simultaneously fading into view are two men and one woman, all in business attire, seated in a semicircle of office chairs in a room that resembles a pastor’s study. The room is complete with walls of shelved books, several framed diplomas, and a large screen TV. The announcer’s voice is heard once again.

 

Announcer: And now — the creator of MAKE THE BIBLE WORK FOR YOU, Dr. Lou Dicrous, along with his special guests, Charlotte Tann and Cal Usbrain.

Dr. Dicrous:Well, after your guaranteed thirty day trial period, tell our viewers at home what you think of my Bible study system.

Charlotte: Please let me begin. I found it to be awesome. I never dreamed the Bible could be so accommodating to the lifestyle of a career woman like me.

Dr. Dicrous: How so?

Charlotte: Well, I was caught in a moral dilemma at work. My immediate boss was spying on my superior boss by breaking into his office and reading his e-mail. One day, the big boss called me into his office to ask me if I knew who was using his computer. Let me tell you, I was scared. I want to be a good Christian, I teach Sunday School and all, but I didn’t want to turn in my immediate boss. Thanks to your course, I used a technique from the third lesson, and was able to justify lying. I used Rahab as an example, reasoned that she lied to protect the spies in Jericho, so it must be OK to protect a spy with a lie. I lied to my boss’s boss, saved my boss, and never once felt guilty, because what I did was BIBLICAL.

Dr. Dicrous: That’s great. But why were you so interested in saving your immediate boss?

Charlotte: Because my immediate boss and I are having an affair. And, you’ll be happy to hear that I used techniques from lesson one to justify that little problem.

Dr. Dicrous: Wonderful! Well, how about you Cal? You were quite the skeptic.

Cal: Yes, I was. I felt there was no way that my problem could be justified Biblically. I just knew I would have to choose between my Christian fellowship and my sin. But thanks to you and your program I am now happily addicted to heroin, without the guilt, and still able to Pastor my Church full time.

Dr. Dicrous: Tell me about it.

Cal: For years I struggled with my habit. I felt that the Bible spoke against drug use. Then, after taking your course, I realized that anything can be justified. I saw the passage in Ephesians 6 regarding bondservants being subject to their masters, and applied that to my drug addiction. The Bible tells me to submit to my master. I am a slave to heroin, so heroin is my master. Applying that Biblical principle to my situation, I don’t have to seek help. I just need to accept myself as I am and submit to my master, as the Bible says.

Dr. Dicrous: Excellent use of lesson number two.

Cal: Well, enough of our stories. Tell us how you came up with such a brilliant system.

Dr. Dicrous: I would love to, Cal and Charlotte. One day, I was facing a problem myself. I was torn between the worldly practices of the church I pastored and the obvious principles of leadership taught by Jesus. While watching the news, a report came on about a major denomination going against long held biblical values in order to accommodate an increasingly popular social condition. As I watched the hierarchy of that denomination use scripture to condone its new position, I realized how easy it would be in my case to do the same. Then I began to study other organized religious groups and saw the same principles at work. By taking standard hermeneutical practices and using them to extremes, one could Biblically justify any practice. Why — prosperity teachers have been doing it for years, and now mainline denominations are using these methods too. Now, I have made their secrets available to you. All you have to do is order my course.

Announcer: And here is what you will receive. Seven lessons on CD or DVD:

· Lesson 1 – Finding secondary meanings in Greek and Hebrew words

· Lesson 2 – How to strictly interpret, then loosely apply the Epistles

· Lesson 3 – Turning descriptive passages into prescriptive doctrine

· Lesson 4 – Using cultural differences to nullify universal principles

· Lesson 5 – How to make eisegesis look like exegesis

· Lesson 6 – Mixing unrelated verses to change the intent

· Lesson 7 – Using the Judge-Not line of reasoning for every argument

And if you order now, you will receive Dr. Dicrous’ special Bible interpretation software. It slices, mixes, chops and twists scripture into any shape you want it to be. You get all this for the low price of $39.95.

The picture switches back to Dr. Dicrous and guests.

Dr. Dicrous: How about hearing from some other satisfied students?

Cal: That would be great Doctor.

Dr. Dicrous turns on the TV as his guests watch the screen. Three students appear on the screen, two male and one female, to give a testimonial.

1st male student: I use to think becoming a devil worshipper meant I would have to leave my Christian church. But thanks to Dr. Lou’s course, I was able to justify my divided loyalty. I always knew that scripture refers to the devil as the enemy. But then, thanks to Dr. Lou, I also saw, in Matthew 5:44 that Jesus commands us to love our enemies. So I reasoned that loving the devil was OK with the Bible. Now I can sing in the choir on Sunday morning, and go to my Black-Mass on Sunday night without guilt. Thanks to Dr. Lou, the Bible works for me.

female student: I wanted to divorce my husband so I could marry a coworker. The problem was that I had no Biblical grounds for divorce. Then I ordered MAKE THE BIBLE WORK FOR YOU. Using techniques I found in lesson six I was able to combine Matthew 5:28, where it says looking at a woman lustfully is committing adultery in the heart, and Matthew 19:9, where it implies that adultery is grounds for divorce. Knowing that, at least once, my husband looked at another woman lustfully, I was able to divorce him and not go against my Bible. Dr. Dicrous made the Bible work for me.

2nd male student: I have a problem with overeating. It is nothing severe, and everyone has problems, right? Yet many people, including my doctor, told me that I was dangerously obese and could have a heart attack any day. So I tried to diet, but that got me depressed. The only thing that got rid of my depression was eating. I would tried to read the Bible for encouragement, but the passages of scripture regarding gluttony would get me even more depressed. So I ordered Dr. Dicrous’ course. Boy, what an eye opener it was. Utilizing the methods of lesson five, I applied the principle I found in First Kings 19, verses 4 through 6. I read that when Elijah was depressed, the Lord sent an angel to him with the command, “Arise and eat.” I reasoned that if it was good enough for Elijah’s depression, it was good enough for mine. Now whenever I get depressed, I get up and eat. The depression goes away and there are no guilty feelings to deal with, because I made the Bible work for me.

The picture switches back to Dr. Dicrous and guests.

Dr. Dicrous: Well, those were amazing testimonies, as were yours, Cal and Charlotte. And thank you for joining me.

Both Cal and Charlotte: It was our pleasure.

Scene switches to same pictures and music as in the show’s opening. Announcer’s voice is heard.

Announcer: This opportunity will not last long. Please call the number at the bottom of the screen. You only have sixty seconds left. Until next time, goodbye, and good Biblical living.

Scene fades as the music ends.