Joel Osteen, John MacArthur and Heresy

Well, if that title doesn’t get your attention, I’m not sure what will.  Anyway…

Recently, during my wanderings around the internet, I found a video where John MacArthur openly condemns and mocks Joel Osteen.  According to John MacArthur, Joel Osteen is satanic (~4:15), represents false Christianity (~5:50)  and he hates the real God (~5:58) and actually want to prevent people from knowing the true God (6:06 through the end).  Now, certainly these guys represent fairly polar opposites of Christianity.  In fact, they are sort of lightning rods within Christianity.  It reminds me quite a bit of 1 Corinthians 1:12 (NASB) “Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, “I am of Paul,” and “I of Apollos,” and “I of Cephas,” and “I of Christ.” It also reminds me of the following image:

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See, the church started in the 1st Century. Hopefully that is obvious to you, perhaps it is not. In any case, that means that Church History stretches back two thousand years.  And there are a lot of splits in those years.  There are a lot of bitter disputes.  And a lot of really smart people on all sides.  If you study the early church, they were very vocal in their disputes, but they didn’t dispute trivialities.  They disputed important theological issues like the divinity of Christ.  Also, it’s important to note that it isn’t a failure to understand these doctrines, but a rejection of them that caused the conflicts.  My Church History Professor once said that it is our tendency to say, “If you don’t express this the way we do, then you aren’t saved.” You can genuinely have faith in the real Christ even if you can’t articulate theology properly. If that isn’t true, then the early church wasn’t saved.”

Whenever we look at our expression of Christianity, and contrast it with a different (perhaps incongruent) expression, we should perhaps endeavor to express some humility.  Sure, we have our reasons for holding our beliefs, and sure we have our reasons for rejecting someone else’s (I certainly have reasons that I disagree with both MacArthur and Osteen).  But unless those disagreements are really central to redemption, I don’t know that the argument needs to be quite so dramatic.  I don’t think MacArthur, or Osteen are satanic.  And I don’t think it helps anyone to label them that way.

So if you really love MacArthur, then enjoy his ministry.  He has some great stuff.  If you really love Osteen, enjoy his ministry.  He also has some great stuff to say.  But I would caution you to recognize that they both have their flaws.  And the people on the other end of the spectrum are likely to have some virtues that may be easily missed.  It’s really easy to paint that position as horrible, and knock down that simplistic target (see Straw Man fallacy).  But if you can put a face on that position, and realize that an intelligent human being legitimately believes that position for good reasons, maybe you will find a way to learn from them.  Even if you never reach agreement, they probably have something they can teach you.  For instance, I am not a Calvinist.  But I have several intelligent friends who are.  And I’ve learned from their ardent desire to take God’s word seriously, and to respect his sovereignty.  But before I knew them, I always secretly viewed Calvinism with contempt (sorry guys).

I don’t have all the answers, and I hate to break it to you…neither do you.  But if we are both seeking truth, and we can do so in humility, we may be able to help each other.  This doesn’t mean we gloss over significant differences.  But it does mean that we should stop calling most of our differences significant, because they aren’t.  This could go a long way towards making the church…well…better at being the church.

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Is Jesus God? A Response

I was pointed towards http://www.biblicalunitarian.com/articles/jesus-christ/is-jesus-god for a defense of the position that the Trinity is not a Biblical doctrine and that Jesus is not God.  What follows is a line by line response to their points.  I’ve copied their questions, and at times their broader points.  My points are in italics.

Question #1: If Jesus is God, how could he die for our sins?

This is a flawed perspective of ‘death.’  Death is not the cessation of existence.  Certainly God cannot cease to exist.  When the second person of the Trinity became flesh, he took on all that it means to be human, and part of that is physical death (Hebrews 9:27).  So if we accept that Christ is God, and that Christ became human in some real sense, then he HAD to die because all humans must die.  More to the point, if Jesus IS NOT GOD, how does his death mean anything more than any other death?


Question #2: How can Jesus be “God” and have a “God” at the same time?

Jesus is God, but he is not the Father.  He is eternally submitted to the Father.  In that sense, the Father is his God.  He is still over every other being, because he is God.  But within the trinity, he is submitted to the Father, who is his God.


Question #3: If Jesus was sitting at the right hand of God in heaven when the book of Revelation was written, why does Jesus continue to make such clear statements that our heavenly Father is his “God” if he himself is God?

See above answer.


Question #4: If God cannot be tempted by evil, yet Jesus was tempted in every way we are, how can he be God?

Again, the incarnation (when the second person of the Trinity became flesh and dwelt among us, John 1:14) is the key.  As Jesus experiences the fullness of what it means to be human, he must experience temptation.  This doesn’t diminish his divinity.  He is still God. 


Question #5: If Jesus is God, then why does he pray to God and call Him “the only true God” in John 17:3?

This is a misunderstanding of the Trinity.  God the Father is fully God, and therefore the only true God.  God the son is also fully God, and therefore the only true God.  They share that attribute.  Jesus (correctly) applies this attribute to God the Father, but this does not mean that it cannot apply to Jesus himself as well.  That would only be the case if Jesus was completely separate from God, which is not the claim of the doctrine of the Trinity. 

The Son is God, and the Father is God, but the Son is not the Father. They are both equally God, but they are not identical. The problem is mathematical logic. It is easy to think that the transitive property would apply here (if A=B and B=C then A=C), that if Jesus equals God, and the Father equals God, then Jesus equals the Father.

First of all, that is a parts-whole fallacy. We can illustrate the problem with quadrilaterals (shapes with four sides), squares and rectangles. All squares and rectangles are quadrilaterals.  But not all quadrilaterals are rectangles or squares, nor are all rectangles squares. 

More convincingly, though, the mathematical logic falls to pieces when dealing with infinity, and God is an infinite being. In math, x^x + x^x =/= x, but that equation is true if x = infinity, because you can’t increase infinity, so even if you raise infinity to the power of infinity, it remains infinity.

Additionally, the core of this argument is the premise that for Jesus to be God, he must be fully identical to the Father.  This premise is false.  Let’s look at Augustine’s mind analogy.  Your mind can do a lot of things, think, remember, love, and all of those things are distinct from one another, yet we don’t say that they occur in different parts of your body. They are all mental functions. Sure we might say some occur in your heart, but no one really believes that. It’s more of an expression. In a similar way, (this analogy isn’t perfect) God is expressed on three distinct persons, who are all equally God, but still distinct from one another.

 


Question #6: If Jesus is God, why did he pray at all?

Again, this is a fundamental misunderstanding of the difference between the persons of the Trinity.  There is no reason that they can’t interact with each other.


Question #7: If Jesus is God, why did he say to his disciples: “Trust in God; trust also in me”?

Why can’t Jesus use “God” to refer to the Father?  This is an argument from absence.  “God” can easily refer to the Father, and when used by Jesus, it usually does.  The opposite could just as easily be argued from John 20:28, when Thomas exclaims “My Lord and my God!”  If Jesus were not God, why did he refrain from correcting Thomas?


Question #8: According to the doctrine of the Trinity, the Father and Son are co-equal. If that is true, how can the Father be (in any way) greater than Jesus?

Again, this is a fundamental misunderstanding of the relationship among the trinity.  The Father is equally God and the Son is equally God, but that doesn’t mean that the Father and the Son are equal to one another.  If they are equal in that sense, then how are they different?  The three persons of the Trinity are all equally God, but they are not identical to each other.

The doctrine of the Trinity states that Jesus is 100% man and 100% God. Logically, you can’t be 100% of one thing and then even “a little” of something else. That is, if words and numbers have definite meanings.

This isn’t even slightly true.  I’m 100% male.  I’m 100% a Christian.  I’m 100% married.  I’m 100% a lot of different things. 


Question #9: How can Jesus “be like us in every way” and still be “100% man and 100% God”?

Hebrews 2:17
For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.

Jesus is made to be like us in every way, in that he is entirely human.  That human nature, which is in every way like us, is added to his divine nature.  The doctrine of the trinity doesn’t claim that Jesus was made to be God.  It claims that he was made human.  He has existed in the form of God since eternity past (John 1, Philippians 2, etc).  So the author of Hebrews is just telling us that Jesus has added to himself a human nature that is exactly like every other human (Philippians 2).


Question #10: If Jesus is God and God cannot be tempted, why would the Devil tempt Jesus?

This is just a rehash of Question #4.  See my above response.

We believe that Jesus Christ is a unique man because he is the only man who was born of a virgin, who is the Last Adam, who by his free will choices to trust God lived a sinless life, always doing the will of his Father. He died as the perfect sacrifice for our sins so that we too could have a relationship with God. Jesus Christ is the Son of God, our Savior, our Lord, and our Brother. Because of his obedience, God promoted Jesus to the highest place possible – “Lord” over heaven and earth (Acts 2:36; Matt. 28:18). He is now the Head of the Church, working with us to make known God’s love and truth on this earth. He is our Lord and we love him.
This doesn’t do justice to the pre-existing nature of the Son, clearly evident in John 1.  This neglects Thomas’ declaration, and the fact that Jesus does not correct him.  This neglects every clear claim to divinity that Christ made when he employed “I AM” to reference Exodus 3:14 (a topic I will elaborate on in a later post).  Finally, this neglects Jesus’ use of the term Son of Man, a clear reference to Daniel 7 of a divine figure who is not God the Father, but yet clearly divine.

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God and Suffering

How can I even begin to talk about this topic?  First of all, let me be clear in stating that I am not claiming to have all the answers.  If you are coming here for a simple answer, you won’t find one.  Life is unfortunately very messy, and as such our explanations tend to be a little messy as a result.  But the topic of God and suffering (Theodicy if you a theology student) has consumed my life.  I have been thinking about this for as long as I can remember.  See, I lost my father a week before I turned one (You can read my note about father’s day for a more on that).  So my entire life has been in the shadow of that event.  To this day I struggle with paternal words (Daddy, etc).  I don’t have a person with which to equate them.  Sure, many people explain that God is my father.  And that brings me to my first point about suffering:

1.) Don’t try to explain things.  Seriously.  Jesus could have manifested in front of me with a detailed diagram explaining why my dad died and it would have done exactly squat for my pain.  An emotional problem can never be solved with an intellectual answer.  At the end of the day, I don’t honestly care whether or not my dad had to die.  At the end of the day I’m a lonely little boy who wishes that he could have had a physical father present at a basketball game, or graduation, or his wedding.  So saying, “But God is a better father than any human” doesn’t actually help me.  I recognize the superiority of my heavenly father in many regards.  But he isn’t really that analogous to an earthly father.  They are so distinct that the comparison doesn’t profit us much.  Is a Ferrari better than my Galant?  In nearly every way, yes.  But in some pretty significant ways, it is not.  I can work on my Galant in my driveway.  It runs well off of cheap parts, and it’s a blast to drive.  If I totalled it tomorrow, it wouldn’t be that heartbreaking.  However, I couldn’t really work on a Ferrari.  Even if I could, it would be cost prohibitive (ie very expensive).  And if I totalled it…man, that would be really heartbreaking.  So, would I trade my Galant for a Ferrari?  Absolutely.  The Ferrari is obviously better.  But we must acknowledge that the Galant remains better in some ways, even if they don’t seem to matter.  In the same way, God as my father is certainly better than my earthly father.  But that doesn’t mean that my earthly father was of no value.  It doesn’t mean that since I have the ultimate heavenly father that I didn’t miss out on some really great things by not having an earthly father.  So when someone is in pain, or when you are in pain, don’t expect an explanation.  I know that is tough, but it really isn’t going to help.  Which brings me to my next point:

2.) Allow pain.  It isn’t evil.  Another common mistake, which typically leads to the attempted explanation, is that we all want to fix people.  So when we see pain, we try to relieve it.  That’s why the explanation is our first move.  If you hurt because of some event, then your hurt will go away if you understand that event more completely.  For instance, I lost a dear friend while I was in high school.  I was sobbing at her viewing, and if you know me, you know how loud I am.  It must have been incredibly disruptive.  But I didn’t care.  I was inconsolable.  The girl was a good friend, and she was young.  She shouldn’t have died.  A woman I knew walked up to me, put her arm around me and said, “She’s with Jesus now, sweetheart.  Be happy for her.”  Now, I understand that this woman meant well.  So my response was a simple nod.  But inside I was screaming, “I don’t care where she is!!  She’s not here, and that’s not fair!!!!”  It isn’t sinful to be selfish in these moments.  It’s our nature to feel robbed, to feel cheated.  And we need to experience those feelings, and let them out.  If you don’t express an emotion, it will find a way to express itself.  Trust me, it will not choose wisely.  But you can.  You can choose to express your anger, your pain, your frustration in a safe place and start the healing process there.  Speaking of a safe place, there are two mainstays of Christian ‘comfort’ that I’d like to address…

3.) “God is in control”  Unfortunately it seems as though we don’t tend to think through the logical implications of what we mean by it. Here are two possible analogies for two very different perspectives. Both will use a UFC fight as an illustration.

First, God could be in control in the same way a referee is in control of a fight. He is not directly controlling the fighters, they can still obey or break rules. However he is actively observing and interacting with them to influence them towards obeying rules. So being in control means that he is maintaining order.

Second, God could be in control in the same way a person who is playing a video game is in control. It could be the same fight as before, but the person playing the game is directly controlling one fighter. This analogy isn’t perfect, as God’s control in this perspective tends to be total, so he is likely controlling both fighters to bring about whatever outcome he desires.   So, let’s retire this phrase.  Seriously.  Let’s just scrap it and never use it again.  There is way too much room for misunderstanding, and not enough of it really helps us at all.  Here is how I heard that phrase growing up, “God is in control of everything that ever happens throughout history.  If it happened, it’s because he wanted it to happen.”  Naturally, that made me feel like God was directly responsible for killing my dad.  So in keeping with the notion that we shouldn’t try to answer this issue, let’s all take this particular answer out of our arsenal.  Speaking of that arsenal…

4.) Romans 8:28.  You may not know this verse by it’s address, but if you have spent much time in church, you can probably finish the following phrase: “God works all things…”  Romans 8:28 is “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”  You can probably see why this particular verse is relevant to our topic.  We tend to throw this verse around when anything bad happens as if to say, “Well, God is going to make good out of this.”  That might be one of the worst things I have ever heard from anyone ever.  I’m not debating the veracity of the statement (ie whether or not it is true).  I’m just saying that it has caused great harm to me emotionally.  If God is going to cause my father’s death to be a good thing to me, is that good going to somehow be better than the good of an earthly father?  Or is this just supposed to reassure me that God is going to make it not so bad?  Seriously, think through what we mean with this.

The bottom line is it hurts.  If I break my leg, understanding the anatomy of that break doesn’t help remedy the physical pain caused.  In like manner, when we experience loss, understanding the loss will not likely lessen the pain caused by that loss.  We have to allow room for our emotions to be expressed so we can deal with our pain and move forward in a healthy manner.

Okay, so we’ve dealt with suffering.  Clearly I haven’t conquered the topic, and that was not my intention.  But hopefully the preceding two paragraphs will assist you when you encounter this horrible issue.  Now let’s transition to God.  Where is he in all of this?

Well, he’s there.  Somehow, he’s there.  And if you agree with me that explanations aren’t going to help, then hopefully you can see how just the truth of his presence is what we need.  Notice I didn’t say the truth of his presence is enough.  Because it’s not.  Understand what I mean there.  The truth of his presence doesn’t make the pain magically go away.  And it’s not meant to.  In the example earlier during the viewing, I wish the lady I knew would have simply put her arm around me and sat there.  That’s what I needed.  That’s what we all need.  We need someone who will mourn with us as we mourn.  Shared pain is somehow slightly more bearable.  It’s no less terrible, but the weight of it is lessened.  But that weight multiplies when we try to solve it.  It’s the difference between bearing the burden together, and trying to lift the burden off of someone by yourself.  When we bear the burden together, it’s easier (even if only slightly so).  But if I try to just lift the weight off of you, I’m just as likely to cause harm as I am to help you (and perhaps more so .  In the same way, God’s presence with us doesn’t solve the problem, because it’s not a problem to be solved.  Emotional pain doesn’t have an answer.  Trying to find one is like trying to solve the equation of a work of literature.  It’s a fundamental misunderstanding.

So his presence with us is what we need.  We need to recognize that he is with us, even when it doesn’t feel like it.  Read through the Psalms sometime.  Many of them are laments.  Laments are the “Worship songs” that basically say, “God, what happened?  Where are you?  I’m melting away and I don’t think you care.  You seem so far from me.”  And those scathing statements made it into the Bible.  They are our example.  God can handle our frustration.  He can handle being yelled at.  Certainly we aren’t going to correct him, but that doesn’t mean we can’t tell him we think he’s wrong.  It just means that at the end of the day, we need to know in our hearts that he isn’t.  Consider Lamentations (notice the name of that book LAMENTations) 3:21-23 “21 This I recall to my mind, Therefore I have hope.  22 The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. 23 They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness.”  This author is writing after the destruction of Jerusalem, which to many was the physical guarantee of God’s faithfulness to Israel.  His response?  God’s faithfulness may not look like we think it does, but that doesn’t mean he is less faithful.  Indeed, ‘faithfulness’ is the fundamental characteristic of God in the Old Testament, just as ‘love’ is his fundamental characteristic in the New.  So in our suffering, he is somehow faithful.  Can I explain it?  No.  Would it help if I could?  Probably not.  The pain would still be there.

So what do we make of “all things together for the good”?  I think the secret there is in a subtle misunderstanding we typically have concerning the New Testament.  Nearly everything in the New Testament is plural.  Rarely is anything addressed to a single person.  So it would seem to me that Paul is not saying, “Everything is going to work out for your good, each and every one of you.”  Rather he is saying, “Somehow, even the bad stuff will be turned around.  It may still be bad for you, but that doesn’t mean it won’t ultimately be good for us all.”  The second statement fits Paul’s overall thought pattern better.  He’s more of a “suck it up” kind of guy, as opposed to a “don’t worry it will work out” type of person.  So I think the point there is that there are things which, though God did not decree them nor did he desire for them to happen, he will ultimately use them for good.  Are they still horrible?  Probably.  Take my dad for instance.  I miss him horribly on a regular basis.  Now that I’m beginning to look towards being a father myself, I’m paralyzed with fear because I have no idea what that looks like on a daily basis.  But just because that event remains bad for me doesn’t mean that it couldn’t have been good for someone else, or for the body of Christ at large.  I can accept that.  It doesn’t make the pain go away, but it helps me understand what God is doing.  It’s like Psalm 37
12 The wicked plots against the righteous And gnashes at him with his teeth.
13 The Lord laughs at him, For He sees his day is coming.
14 The wicked have drawn the sword and bent their bow To cast down the afflicted and the needy, To slay those who are upright in conduct.
15 Their sword will enter their own heart, And their bows will be broken.
The Lord uses the plots of the wicked to ultimately destroy them, just as he used the sinful plots of humanity to put Jesus on the cross to bring an end to sin.  Sin is not his plan.  Death is not his plan.  But he will use evil to accomplish good.  And while that is hard to grasp sometimes, at the end of the day it’s his character and faithfulness that I trust.  When things are hard, when they don’t make sense, when everything is falling apart around me…”21 This I recall to my mind, Therefore I have hope.  22 The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. 23 They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness.”

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I am a sinner and so can you.

Pardon the title.  I have a fondness for Steven Colbert.  Anyway…

I am a sinner.  We all are, if you take the Bible seriously.  But what does that word mean?  It seems common for this word to be thrown around casually about people outside the church, but if you are a Christian, then you are “under the blood.”  After all, “all things are lawful” (I Cor 6:12, 10:23), so doesn’t that mean we have freedom in Christ?  “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (Gal 5:1).

Many people can rattle this verses of for you to support their idea that they have license to do whatever they want to do.  Let me be clear: that is not Biblical Christianity.  If someone supports the idea that they can do whatever they want now with scripture, then they have not properly understood scripture.  How about we add some context to the above verses?

I Cor 6:12 “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything. 13  Food is for the stomach and the stomach is for food, but God will do away with both of them. Yet the body is not for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body.” (emphasis added)

I Cor 10:23 “23  All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify. 24 Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor. 25  Eat anything that is sold in the meat market without asking questions for conscience’ sake; 26  for the earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains. 27 If one of the unbelievers invites you and you want to go, eat anything that is set before you without asking questions for conscience’ sake.” (emphasis added)

I find it very interesting that in both cases here, Paul talks about our appetite.  In both cases, Paul is not advocating that you should do what you want.  Rather he is advocating that we are free from legalism, and that freedom should be used to serve the Lord as well as those around us.

Gal 5:1 “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.”

Again, Paul is not advocating abuse of freedom in Christ.  If you pay careful attention to the entire letter of Galatians, there are teachers in Galatia who are trying to convince the church to go back to keeping the whole law (particularly circumcision).  That is what Paul is arguing against here.  He’s cautioning believers to avoid slavery to the law again.

There are several other passages someone might quote in reference to this concept, but these are probably the most well known.  It is abundantly clear from context that these passages do not support the notion that Christians can do whatever they want and it is okay.  Christians are expected to live a certain way.  This is not legalism.  Legalism would be a specific set of rules that must be followed in order to be saved.  Christians are saved apart from works (Ephesians 2:8-9).  However, we are saved for good works (Ephesians 2:10).  There is a certain expectation that our lives will change as a result of his grace and mercy in our lives.

So we have established that Christians are expected to live a certain way.  Now let us consider that life.  I said earlier that I am a sinner.  Moreover, we all are sinners.  Then I posed a question: what does that word mean?  Consider that for a moment.  What do you think it would mean to call someone a sinner?  The typical definition that I have found in Christianity is “someone who is guilty of sin” or “someone who as at some point committed a sin.”  Wrong.  There is one word in the New Testament that is used consistently for the concept ‘sinner’.  This word is ἁμαρτωλός.  It does not simply mean “someone who is guilty of sin”, though of course that notion is contained within it.  It means “someone who is devoted to a lifestyle of sin.”  That is the New Testament concept of ‘sinner’.

Now let us observe some pertinent texts which use this word.

Matthew 9:10Then it happened that as Jesus was reclining at the table in the house, behold, many taxcollectors and those devoted to a lifestyle of sin came and were dining with Jesus and His disciples.

Matthew 9:11When the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, “Why is your Teacher eating with the tax collectors and those devoted to a lifestyle of sin?”

Matthew 9:13“But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire compassion, and not sacrifice,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but those devoted to a lifestyle of sin.”

Matthew 11:19“The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous manand a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and those devoted to a lifestyle of sin!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”

Luke 5:8 But when Simon Peter saw that, he fell down at Jesus’ feet, saying, “Go away from meLord, for I am a man devoted to a lifestyle of sin!”

Luke 7:37 And there was a woman in the city who was devoted to a lifestyle of sin; and when she learned that He was reclining at the table in the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster vial of perfume…Luke 7:39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet He would know who and what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, that she is devoted to a lifestyle of sin.”

Luke 15:7“I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one devoted to a lifestyle of sin who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

Luke 18:13“But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyesto heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the devoted to a lifestyle of sin!’

John 9:24So a second time they called the man who had been blind, and said to him, “Give gloryto God; we know that this man is a devoted to a lifestyle of sin.”

John 9:25He then answered, “Whether He is a devoted to a lifestyle of sin, I do not know; one thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”

Romans 5:8But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet devoted to a lifestyle of sins, Christ died for us.

1 Timothy 1:15  It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save those devoted to a lifestyle of sin, among whom I am foremost of all.

Christ came to save those who are committed to rebelling against him.  And in spite of his ministry, we battle that commitment to rebellion on a daily basis.  I struggle with gluttony, which is clear throughout scripture as abhorrent to God.  I am ~6′ tall and about a month ago I weighed 265 pounds.  For comparison sake, Brock Lesnar is 6’3″, is one of the strongest men I’ve ever seen, and he weighs 266.  I am clearly overweight.  I have a problem.  But the point of this isn’t my problem.  The point is our problem as Christians.  If you aren’t a Christian, then I’m not holding you accountable to a Biblical lifestyle.  But if you are a Christian, you have some behavior which is abhorrent to God.  You are a sinner.  You are devoted to a lifestyle of sin.  The struggle of Christianity is to regularly recognize this, and submit our lives to Christ daily.

But we’ve missed it.  We’ve completely lost sight of the big picture here.  Consider gluttony.  Scripture is absolutely clear that it is sin.  There really can’t be any question about that.  And yet the companies that manufacture seating for churches have noticed they have to make the seats larger and stronger recently.  Why?  Because Christians are fat.  I know I am.  But I have never in my entire 31 years been confronted on my eating habits.  Far from it, I’ve been to lunch or dinner with Pastors who have indulged along with me.  It’s almost encouraged.  No, it is encouraged.  But the day I get a bright red tattoo on my forearm…oh buddy.  I got glares, and even a few condescending conversations.  Never mind that I prayerfully considered whether or not I should get this tattoo for years.  Forget that I consulted pastor, mentors, my wife…all of which thought it was a good idea.  And what would happen to me if I walked into a church and held hands with another guy.  What kind of looks would I get then?  What kind of conversations would I be subjected to?  What if I cuddled with him, and perhaps even gave him a peck on the cheek?  The anger is likely rising in you right now, isn’t it?  But what if I went out to lunch with you after church, and I ordered extra gravy on everything?  What if I ate until I was nearly bursting, and then ordered dessert?  Would the anger rise in you then?  Or would you join with me?

I am a sinner.  I am committed to pleasing myself, and that isn’t healthy.  I need to change the way I live my life.  I need to surrender to the will of Christ.  But in doing so, I need to understand that everyone around me suffers from the same sickness.  Your gossip is no better than my gluttony.  Your temper is no better than gossip.  And homosexuality is no worse.  Shame on us all for treating people like we’re better than them.  God forgive us for devaluing his creation.  I have a pretty large plank in my eye.  Perhaps I should work a little harder on it, and maybe give all the specs in all the other eyes a rest.

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I’m not married…

…I just have a relationship with my wife.  Doesn’t that sound a little ridiculous?  There has been a lot said over the past several months about God’s hatred or love of religion.  I know I’m a little late to the party, but I just have to say, it’s a little ridiculous.  Let’s continue the marriage metaphor.  There are really bad marriages out there.  There are people who misuse marriage, or abuse other people in the name of their marriage.  While I’m not a huge fan of any of that, it doesn’t motivate me to declare that I am no longer married.  Marriage is a wonderful, God instituted thing.

Pause for a moment, I’m not trying to start a debate about marriage (same sex or otherwise) here.  I just think the institution of marriage serves as a fitting metaphor.  Please do not overreach my intentions here.

Okay, back to it.  Marriage is a wonderful, God instituted thing.  It’s for our good.  At its best, it helps us be better versions of ourselves, and it helps those around us to do the same thing.  Just because it’s not always at its best does not mean that it should be abandoned altogether.  Rather, those who are striving towards an accurate representation of it should try to help those around us to see it for what it is and what it should be.  Now reread this paragraph and read ‘religion’ for ‘marriage’ or ‘it’.

Can we back off now?  Religion isn’t evil.  Can it be?  Of course.  Steak is a wonderful thing, but cooked poorly, it could put me in the bathroom for extended periods of time.  Just because something can be misused, doesn’t mean that it should be tossed out.  The old saying “you shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater” should perhaps be amended to say “you shouldn’t throw out a baby for fear that he may turn into bathwater.”

The false dichotomy of religion vs relationship must end.  Your relationship with God is a religion.  Sure, it may be a very personal religion, but it is still a religion.  And hopefully it’s a good one.  Hopefully, it makes people think, “Man, I wish I had that.”  Two of the greatest compliments of my life have been as follows, “I want what you and your wife have.  I want that kind of relationship.”  And, “If God exists, it’s the God you believe in.  He seems legit.”  So how about we all stop attacking these straw man positions that are irrelevant and we start inspiring other people to live better lives.

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What I learned at Synagogue

Shabat Shalom!  I went to Beth Israel Synagogue this morning.  I’ve always wanted to visit a synagogue, but I never felt like I had a legitimate reason.  Enter “Evangelical Theology and World Religions.”  Assignment number one: visit a worship service for a major world religion.  I looked up local synagogues, and there were a few to choose from across the spectrum.  I chose a more conservative one, mainly because I’m not fond of liberalism in any particular form.  No offense.  Let me clarify.  From a theological standpoint, a conservative tends to try to take their religion at face value and live with whatever tension results from that.  A liberal tends to see that tension as an indication that certain ideas need to be reconsidered or reinterpreted.  If I’m learning about a religion, I want to learn from a conservative.  This isn’t because they are always right, but rather because I can reconsider and reinterpret for myself, if necessary.  However, reverse engineering someone else’s reconsideration or reinterpretation is more difficult.  Wow, that was a ramble.  Pardon me.  Moving on.

Synagogue was awesome.  Seriously.  Even if you don’t know Hebrew, I highly recommend it.  If you live anywhere near Roanoke, visit Beth Israel (http://www.bethisraelroanoke.org/).  But let me back up.  I arrived early, at around 9:15am for a 9:30 service.  I found an empty parking lot, save one lonely car.  I decided to wait.  A few people showed up, but most of them seemed to regard me with some gentle suspicion.  It occurred to me that if this was anything like church, it was unlikely that anyone would walk up to my car and invite me in.  I do tend to intimidate people, or so I’m told.  So I went in.  There were not a lot of signs indicating where I should go, so I wandered a bit.  Soon, a congregant (I assume that term remains correct, my apologies if I am mistaken) showed up with a particularly awesome Virginia Tech yarmulke.  He saw me and offered the common greeting: “Shabat Shalom!”  I replied in kind, knowing that one particular custom, but nearly no others.  “I must confess, I am a bit of a Goy (Hebrew for ‘Gentile’) and I’m not certain what I should do or where I should go.”  This particular congregant would be my guide through synagogue for the next four hours (that is not a typo).   He helped me find a loaner yarmulke, and helped me with a prayerbook.  He tried to convince me to use the one with the English transliterations, instead of the Hebrew lettering…I persisted.  I’m still not sure if that was the right call for me.  Then he led me into the sanctuary.  Here begins lesson one.  (*Disclaimer: I’m going to make a lot of general statements.  I realize the limitations of such statements.  Please give me some latitude.)

1) Christians could really learn a lot from the beauty of a Synagogue.  Man, this place was impressive.  I don’t mean Vatican impressive.  I just mean that walking in there made you feel like the room itself had some importance.  I want to be careful here.  Understand, I’m not saying we should pour ridiculous amounts of money into a building, thus potentially creating an idol.  But we shouldn’t err in the other direction, treating our worship locations as if they don’t matter at all.  Granted, sometimes you don’t have the choice.  If you church plant in a storefront, I don’t suppose you can do much with it.  But just because you can’t do much with it, doesn’t mean you can’t respect the space.  It doesn’t mean you can’t make it a place that carries the weight of importance of a place of worship.  How?  I’ll be honest, I have no clue.  But I’ve felt that weight in places before, and I felt it in Beth Israel.  It is sorely lacking in many churches.  But yes, the solution is elusive.  I’m just suggesting that we start thinking about it, instead of rejecting it out of hand.

2) Christians could really learn a lot about the welcoming nature of a Synagogue.  I’ve been to tons of churches in my life.  I’ve helped fashion the welcoming atmosphere in a few of them.  I’ve never in my life felt the level of welcome that I experienced at Beth Israel.  I felt like the entire congregation viewed me as a long lost family member, with only one or two exceptions (which is to be expected of any group of people).  It seems to me that most churches presuppose that visitors are not Christians.  That notion, though unspoken, is felt.  The presupposition at Beth Israel was that I was one of them.  I felt no underlying agenda to convince me of anything.  All I felt was the joy of participation, which brings me to…

3) Christians could really learn from the direction of the service at a Synagogue.  I was there for about four hours (which honestly flew by) and maybe 20 minutes was spent trying to teach me something.  Most of the time was spent in prayer, which was scripted.  But it was anything but boring or rigid.  These were Hebrew prayers, recorded in the Bible, prayed by the family of God for thousands of years.  And they weren’t monotone prayers.  They were sung.  And they were sung with passion.  Four hours, most of it spent praying/singing in a language that I don’t really understand, and I had a more genuine experience with God there than most churches I’ve been in.  Now, I’m not advocating for experience over knowledge here.  I have a Bachelor’s in Biblical Studies and I’m pursuing two Theologically oriented MA’s right now.  I love knowledge.  The difference here is the focus of the service.  The focus of most Western Christian church services is communicating about God.  I know that is a broad sweeping generalization.  Please take it with a grain of salt and try to understand what I’m trying to communicate here.  The focus of the service at Beth Israel was communicating with God.  I’ve always joked that Christians tend to talk about God like he just left the room.  Not at Beth Israel.  It was less about what one person could teach the group and more about participating in a long tradition of praying to God.  He was the focus.  I’m sure I’m not communicating this properly.  Hopefully you get the idea.  Comment if you like and I’ll try to clarify.

4) Christians could learn a lot from the respect for the Torah.  I don’t know how many times I’ve seen someone toss their Bible haphazardly onto a table, or a couch.  I’ve done it myself.  I’m not saying that is morally wrong.  But, it is disrespectful.  It isn’t morally wrong for me to take my wedding ring off, or toss it across a room (I suppose either of these could be depending on the context).  But that ring is a representation of a covenant with my wife.  I treat it accordingly.  During service, a Torah scroll was carefully removed from behind a curtain, and carried around the room so that each person present could touch it, and then kiss the hand that touched it.  I refrained from touching/kissing.  I wasn’t sure which would be viewed as disrespectful: participation or abstaining.  I decided inaction was the best course of action.  But the reverence shown for God’s word…it is not something that would be idly tossed about.  This is not something that would ever touch the ground, let alone casually tossed on the ground.  Just like with the building, I’m not advocating idolatry here (or more specifically bibliolatry). But I do think we often take a very cavalier approach to things which should perhaps not be treated as common.

 

There may be more forthcoming…but this is a good start.  Thoughts?

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Filed under Ecclesiology, World Religions

Homosexuality and the Church

So I took Cultural Apologetics this past summer and wrote a pretty large paper for it.  It’s 43 pages total, but the last 22 are an appendix of interviews.  None of the subjects interviewed are identified, and I believe their responses are worth reading, even if it means you skip the entirety of the paper itself.  The paper is “The Public Perception of the Church as it relates to the Churches treatment of Homosexuality”

Anyway, I don’t claim that this paper is incredible or anything.  Truth be told, I completely underestimated it and ended up running out of time.  I’m not proud of that fact, and don’t quite enjoy proclaiming it to the world.  But several people have expressed interest in reading it, and this is by far the easiest way to make that happen.

Enjoy!

 

https://hesedadolam.files.wordpress.com/2012/02/research-paper.doc

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