Can we be good without God?

It’s a simple question.

But it’s a hard question too. Often, I’ll hear a discussion about Christianity that eventually centers on Christianity as “doing good” or “having a high moral standard” and then immediately shifts to the rebuttal of “I can live a moral life without God. So why do I need Christianity?”

Ouch. How do you answer that? Why DO you need Christianity if you can be good without God? What’s the point? If we can live a moral life without God, why WORRY about Christianity? I have seen this stump more than one believer, who then has to reply with something they pulled out of nowhere. Suddenly, the discussion takes a turn straight for the garbage can because at the end of the day, the believer is not equipped to answer the two questions being posed:

  1. Can I be good without God?
  2. If I can be good without God, what is the point of Christianity?

I vividly remember our home church we led in Monroe. We were studying 1 Thessalonians, and I asked the group what made Christianity attractive to these believers in Thessaloniki. There was silence, and then someone decided to answer

Well, you see Christians, and they’re just different. They don’t drink, they don’t smoke, they don’t use foul language. They live different. They care about one another, they don’t support things that are evil.

The person who volunteered this up as an answer was REALLY proud of himself for doing so. And in his mind, that was the essence of being a believer.

The good kids club.

Only open for admission when you’re ready to be good.

I rolled my eyes inside my mind. I couldn’t obviously do it to the people, but i could feel my eyes staring back at my own brain, searching for what in the world would make someone feel like the power of the Gospel is in making you not drink or smoke or swear. If that’s all the Gospel is good for, we have issues.

Why? Why would someone think that? I can’t cite specifics because I don’t have them, but certainly, somewhere in the church’s history, things got screwy. At some point (I’m pointing a finger at the Holiness Movement personally), we lost the message of the Gospel. The Gospel was no longer good news to sinners, it was good news to overachievers. The Gospel didn’t change your life, it cleaned your life. And now you and your little sanctified self can go out and make the world a better place since you are no longer heathen. And what’s worse, now that the Gospel is the enabler of your holiness, anything that takes away from your holiness you need to hide from other people. The mechanism here is easy to understand. If your good deeds (and by extension your lack of bad deeds) is a reasonable indicator of your holiness (and therefore obviously God’s opinion of you), then there is simply no way to be honest without letting your fans (God included) down. So now we have to toss out authenticity as well. Once this happens, we’ve created the impression that the Gospel makes people able to be good people, and if we fail at it we need to cover up our failures and be hypocrites. And… VOILA… you have the Christian hypocrite.

I’ve struggled with it too. I remember my belief system for a long time was pretty simple: I’m not as good as Billy Graham, but I’m nowhere NEAR as bad as a guy like Jeffrey Dahmer. And so I’m probably not one of God’s FAVORITE people, but it should be ok, because I’m pretty sure I put some good into the world.

YIKES. And that little quote really WAS something that ran through my head. This isn’t me being funny. It’s a by-product of the “Gospel as Self-Improvement” model of Christianity. If we can’t reach the bar, we just change it a little, and hypocrisy be damned. No-one needs to see my shortcomings and no one needs to know how far away I am from God’s standard, because if they find out I’m pretty sinful, I must not be a believer and I’m a bad person… and so on and so on.

What’s the Gospel for? If I can’t live up to the standard of the Gospel, and being a Christ Follower doesn’t make me effortlessly turn into a new person who is morally superior, then what. Is. It. FOR????

I tell my wife this. She probably gets tired of hearing it, and she’ll probably read it here and say something to me about saying it again, but this is important. Like, H1 heading important:

JESUS did not come to make bad people good. He came to make dead people alive.

That’s it. That’s the Gospel. If Jesus came so that you could do good deeds, and you could be a “good person,” we’re all in deep… deep… trouble. The fact is, His death on the cross had nothing to do with equipping you to become a wonderful, great, amazing, morally superior person. That atheist guy sitting beside you at work? You are not morally superior to him based on you being a believer. The Muslim guy ordering a donair in front of you? Same thing. Look all around, and soak in the glory that Jesus’ atoning death on the cross was not payment to help you become a moral overachiever. It was to bring you and everyone else who trusts in Him back to spiritual life! Turning His death on the cross into a “Jesus died to make me good” deal is doing nothing more than tossing out the atonement for the sake of making you feel like an overachiever.

I’ll bet you need proof, don’t you? You probably need someone that you think is an outstanding Christian guy saying “I struggle with sin and it’s really messing me up,” don’t you? Because I wouldn’t make a statement like that without bringing the heat, here we go:

Romans 7:13–25

[13] Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. [14] For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. [15] For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. [16] Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. [17] So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. [18] For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. [19] For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. [20] Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

[21] So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. [22] For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, [23] but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. [24] Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? [25] Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. (ESV)

These are the words of the man that every Gentile believer can thank for introducing them to God. His name was Saul, or as you know him, Paul. This is not the moral lecture of the man who has become perfectly moral in behavior because of Jesus’ atoning work on the cross. This is a man who sees God’s law and perfection, realizes that EVEN WITH THE PRESENCE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT he still makes bad decisions, sometimes willfully, still sins, still falls short, and at the end of the day, calls himself “wretched.” So knowing this coming from a man who saw Jesus in a vision on the way to Damascus, the experience of which was so powerful caused him to abandon a fast track career to power in Jerusalem, how in the heck do you think that Jesus’ death on the cross made you morally good? It didn’t make you good. It made you forgiven. That’s the gospel.

So, the answer to the first question:

Absolutely, you can be morally good without God.

In fact, Paul, the same guy who wrote Romans 7, also wrote Romans 2:

Romans 2:12–16

God’s Judgment and the Law

[12] For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. [13] For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. [14] For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. [15] They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them [16] on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. (ESV)

Check that out. Gentiles, to whom no law from God was given, by nature do what the law requires! So Paul said they can be a law unto themselves even without the law. Now, we can get into some real next level theological discussion here, but I think it falls outside of the scope of this discussion. All we’re really seeing here is that one need not be a Christ follower to live a good life, because God has written the law on all of our hearts, even though we may not be aware of it. This is why we have universal moral ideas, such as an abhorrence to theft, or feeling like people shouldn’t be abused or mistreated. These are common to all men even without believing in Christ. C.S. Lewis called it “oughtness,” as in one “ought” to do these things and behave in this way. But more importantly, Paul slices through the notion here that Christianity is a good boys and girls club, because he has both affirmed that believers still sin (and sometimes lots) and that unbelievers can live according to the law even without having the law.

So what about that second question then. If that’s true, and there is nothing to be gained in terms of being a better person by following God, what is the point? If we can be good without God, why worry about God?

The answer is pretty simple. If you are only concerned about being a “good person”, don’t worry about Him. If all that matters is you being “the best you you can be,” then a relationship with God isn’t something that you are going to want to attain to anyway. In fact, I’d go so far as to say, if you are more concerned about “being a good person” than “loving God”, then whether you are a believer or non-believer, don’t bother. Walk away. Find something better to do with your time. Sleep in on Sundays. Because at the end of the day, God isn’t concerned with creating a good kids club. He’s concerned with finding those who love Him and who realize their standing before Him. He doesn’t admire you, He doesn’t think you’re a swell person, but He loves you. So if you’re goal is to “be good,” then grab a self-help book, join a group of fellow do-gooders, and go save some whales or something similar. They can use your help. But if your goal is to grow closer to the lover of your soul, to allow Him to transform you, to begin a work in you to make you a lover of Him and not an overachiever, then by all means, taste of His grace and see that it is good. Check your “goodness” at the door. That’s not why you should be following Him in the first place.

More Fun with Memes

Have I mentioned that I like memes?  I do.  I love them.  They offer a level of social commentary that simply is unavailable elsewhere.  It’s a beautiful example of trying to reduce complex thought into a slogan/image/blurb what have you and broadcast it to the world.

Part of the reason I love memes is because they are often so poorly thought out and yet shared amongst people as though they are deep and thought-provoking.  Here’s one someone shared with me the other day:

Where to begin with this, I wonder.  Well, let’s start at the top, shall we?

Jesus was a homeless Palestinian anarchist…

Ok, there’s a good place to start.  The creator obviously understands that there is a negative stereotype in the West in regards to Palestinians.  It is entirely undeserved, and seeing as how many Palestinians are our brothers and sisters in Christ, it is a shame.  The author here is trying to take a maligned people group (in our eyes) and ascribe Jesus to them, thus making you feel guilty that you don’t identify with marginalized populations when your savior was one among them.  The reality, however, is this… Jesus was Jewish.  Not ONLY was He Jewish, he was from the tribe of Judah, one of only three identifiable tribes of Israel remaining (Levi and Benjamin were the others).  What you or I would call a Palestinian today would most likely trace their lineage back to the Idumeans, a people group descended from Jacob’s brother Esau, or as they were known in the Old Testament, Edom.  The point is this… you can’t identify Jesus with the outcast when in His cultural milieu He would actually have been a member of the groups that were NOT marginalized.  In fact, what we know about Jesus is not just that He was Hebrew and not Palestinian, He was of the royal lineage of David.  Therefore, a more accurate interpretation of Jesus’ place within the culture in which He was born would be to consider Him just a poor white guy; perhaps not as well-resourced as some, but certainly not of a pariah class. So, this doesn’t really hold water at all.  Second point to this was the fact that Jesus could not in any way, shape or form, be considered an anarchist.

Reasons Why Jesus Can’t Be Considered an Anarchist:

  1.  The best reason is his actual words: ‘Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do.”‘ (Matthew 23:1-3)  Far from attacking the legal structure of the Jewish religious society, Jesus was in fact saying that the Pharisees and Scribes not only understood the law, but the law they spoke was good and should be followed.  Just so you are in the know, this is atypical of an anarchist.Here’s another chestnut: “Jesus said to them, ‘Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they marveled at him.'” (Mark 12:17) Here Jesus had just been asked should the people pay taxes to Caesar.  The simple layman’s answer is that whatever should be given to Caesar should be given to him, and the things that belong to God should go to God.  Now, I’ll leave that to you for interpretation, but considering in the verses immediately preceding this, Jesus called out the questioners for their desire to entrap Him, it’s pretty obvious if He were an anarchist this would be a really good time to toss that out.  That He doesn’t tends to flow with later ideas developed by Paul in the book of Romans that our earthly governments are separate entities from the Kingdom of God and there may necessarily come a point where the wills of the two do not work together.  However, only there should one conform to the law of the Kingdom of Heaven over earthly authority.  Still though, this is a command to obey some level of authority.Moving on, there is a final verse that always seems to go missing when someone wants to discuss Jesus and His relationship to the Law: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17-20)” So I don’t think you can miss this one.  The understanding here that you or I or anyone else needs to walk away from with this one is pretty simple:  If you aren’t willing to rely on Jesus for salvation, then you WILL be judged by His Law.  It’s really that simple.  The only way your righteousness can exceed the scribes and pharisees is if you clothe yourself in Jesus’ righteousness.  All other ground, as the hymn says, is “sinking sand.”The concept of Jesus as anarchist is simply untenable.  The only statement the author actually got right was that Jesus was homeless.  So, good job on that one.
  2. Beyond Jesus’s words in the NT, we can be assured from anecdotal evidence of the OT.  First of all, the first five books of scripture specifically relate to the Law and encompass a far-reaching understanding of how the Jewish people should relate to one another and how the Jewish people should relate to God.  The longest book in the entire Bible is Psalm 119.  Would you take a guess at the subject matter?  Basically, Psalm 119 is a praise of the Law and its righteousness.  Now, here’s the kicker.  I’m sure that Red Letter Christians like to say “oh, but those aren’t the words of Jesus, you have to focus on them.”  News flash here… The OT IS the word of Christ.  Jesus is the Word, the Logos.  The words of the OT are His just as much as the NT words are His.  You can’t divorce Jesus from the OT.  He didn’t come to abolish the Law.  He came to fulfill it.

Moving on…

who held protests at oppressive temples

Wait.. what? I’m sorry, did I miss something here?  Let’s just start with the fact that there was only one temple.  Jesus didn’t go to multiple temples because He just went to one.  Further though, when did He hold a protest in the temple?  He taught outside the temple, sure, but I’m having a hard time seeing Him lead a protest at the temple EVER.  The only thing I can even surmise the author is trying to do is connect Jesus running the moneychangers out of the temple.  If that’s the case (I admit, I’m having to go out on a limb here because this is just so misinformed), then let’s discuss.  So, Jesus cleansing the temple of the money changers is NOT holding a protest.  He ran the money changers out because they were actually ripping travelers off.  For those not in the know, Jewish people often lived far from Jerusalem and would be carrying foreign money.  But, to buy a lamb for a sacrifice required money.  So, the travelers would need to visit a money changer in the temple to get money.  BUT, these money changers were not connected to the temple, they were their own entities who gave a cut of the action to the Sadducees, who ran the temple.  Long story short, the only PROTEST Jesus ever led was a protest of one that basically Him opening a can of butt-whooping on the money changers.  But to insinuate that Jesus held protests is just kind of funny to me.  Misinformed, but funny.

advocated for universal health care and redistribution of wealth

Again, where? I have desperately been seeking for His rebuke against the Roman government for not taxing and providing universal health care for its citizens.  I have yet to find it.  Jesus’s parables often pointed out that one should be WISE with what one has, much the opposite of what the meme creator intended. More importantly, Jesus’s message to heal was not for the government to heal, but it was for US as believers to heal.  So let’s do this.  Let’s turn this back around.  I’d say to anyone who has posted this that they should be looking at their own charity and their own giving.  Are they giving?  Because Jesus is not looking to force a government to give, He is looking for you as a follower to give.  He’s looking for you as a follower to heal.  Let’s see what his brother James said:

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.

For those of you playing at home, did you catch that? It’s not the government’s job to heal and give.  It’s YOURS.  So if you are waiting on the government to take care of your brother that has needs, STOP IT.  YOU do it.  If you were hoping that there would be universal health care passed to help out all those poor people with no insurance, what are YOU doing?  I’m not trying to be mean here, but Jesus’s commands were never issued toward a government. They were issued towards us as followers.

It’s important for us to remember that Jesus didn’t even heal all of the sick people in Israel.  He healed only the ones who had faith that He could.  Not once are we told of someone being brought to Him unbelieving and then leaving healed.  In fact, when He went to His hometown of Nazareth, He did very few miracles there because no one believed in Him.  That’s not to say His ability was LIMITED by faith, it was used IN RESPONSE TO faith. If Jesus was an advocate of universal health care, it would be odd since He wasn’t even in favor of universal healing!

Next…

before being arrested for terrorism, tortured and executed for crimes against the state

Meme writer… you are STRETCHING IT.

Jesus was arrested by the temple police for claiming to be God.  He was executed on the grounds of blasphemy.  This is a far cry from terrorism.  That’s not to say there weren’t terrorists in ancient Israel.  They were called zealots.  But Jesus’ crime was not terrorism.  His crime was in calling Himself God:

But he remained silent and made no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” And the high priest tore his garments and said, “What further witnesses do we need? You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?” And they all condemned him as deserving death. (Mk 14:61-64)

I don’t know HOW a person could construe this to be “Jesus was arrested for terrorism.”  This requires a serious explanation, because this is not just a simple misunderstanding.  This is entirely changing the cause of his arrest.  To make this even more apparent, Pilate himself DID NOT WANT to crucify Jesus.  He wanted to let Him go.  Question for you… If Jesus was actually a terrorist, why would a Roman official WANT TO LET HIM GO FREE?????? This is simply ridiculous, and the writer should be grilled here for this kind of irresponsibility. Realistically, this defense covers the entire passage, as Jesus obviously did NOT commit any crimes against the state, and this view can’t be defended considering it was the STATE that wanted to let Him go.  In reality, the Pharisees knew that they had Pilate over a barrel because of an earlier rebellion that he violently put down that resulted in extensive riots throughout Palestine.  But to say Jesus was a terrorist is simply preposterous.

The Takeaway

The problem here ultimately is that Jesus is yet again another victim of a “woke white person” who wants to create a Jesus just like their Social Justice Warrior view of Jesus.  In reality, to divorce Jesus from His culture is to miss the mark entirely.  Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, the chosen One of Israel, who was sent to save us from something far more frightening than lack of healthcare coverage or lack of spendable income.  He was sent to save us from sin.  He died the death of someone accused of blasphemy for speaking the truth and the state was nothing more than a tool that was used to purchase our salvation.  These are the main and plain things of scripture that will be missed as soon as we take Jesus and make Him a Social Justice Warrior icon.  It IS true that one day He will rule over as all as King Jesus.  However, until that day, the Kingdom of Heaven reigns in our hearts.  That said, we can’t confuse our calling as the people of God with our desire to conform earthly government to a utopian worldview.  God is not calling for the American government or the Canadian government to fill His role.  He asks believers to be His hands and feet.  Until we do that, His call goes unheeded.

With Great Power… A Response to “Toxic Masculinity”

Toxic.

It’s a word that immediately gives one pause in reference to its subject matter.

Toxic people.

We want to avoid them.

Toxic waste.

It’s detrimental to your health.  Avoid at all costs.

Toxic Masculinity.

I’m going to hazard a guess that there are already certain images in mind with those word combinations.  In a world where “the Future Is Female,” it is all too common to hear masculinity described as toxic.  And in many ways, I understand.  The imagery is unmistakable.

Boys will be boys.

I bristled the first time I heard those words from another parent.  One of my son’s friends had my son over as a guest, and the young teenagers had walked off to hang out.  The young lad’s father spoke those words to me about his son starting to look at things on the computer he shouldn’t be and movies he shouldn’t be watching.

Boys will be boys.

True words, absolutely.  And indelibly connected to masculinity in this concept of “Toxic Masculinity.” Because even scripturally, in typical rabbinical tongue-in-cheek manner, we have the reproof that says this is true:

Train up a child in the way he should go;
even when he is old he will not depart from it. Proverbs 22:6

I’ve always heard that used to say if you raise a child in the way they should be raised, they will continue on that path.  Rabbinically though, this was always understood that if you allow a child to follow the path they want to follow (the way he should go), he will not depart from following his own desires even as an adult.

Boys will be boys.

My son’s friend’s father was a 45 year old 15 year old sitting before me.  “You know boys, they’re going to do what they are going to do. You can’t stop them.” I thought about the number of times I had spent reproaching my children for things that weren’t becoming of a Christ follower.  I thought about the number of times I had sat down to discuss what being a man was all about.  And here I was wrong all along, being a man was about “doing what you are going to do” and not being stopped from getting your own way.

Toxic. Masculinity.

I put a period between them this time.  The reason is that they are different and don’t deserve to be connected.  There is definitely toxic behavior draped in “masculinity,” but this is a connection that has deeper roots that is not simply applied to masculinity in general as though the very concept of “maleness” brings with it corrupt judgement and bankrupt morality.

Let me further explain.

I remember reading Spiderman religiously as a young lad.  The Holy Bible was a distant third behind the Sacred Spiderman and X-Men combination.  Maybe even fourth behind Spawn, my memory fails me somewhat, but regardless, vast amounts of my 15 year old income earning ability was used upon generating a vast collection of Spiderman and X-Men comics.  I remember at least once every six issues or so of Spiderman, a familiar refrain flashed forward:

With great power, comes great responsibility.

Uncle Ben was dead, in fact he never existed, but it didn’t matter. These are the most important, most poignant, most life changing words that a young man needs to hear. These are necessary words, because the reason why boys being boys is so dangerous is that it implies that boys are allowed to revel in their power as men while being held at the responsibility level of a small child.

Boys will be boys.

And boys will continue to be boys as long as we are ok with it.  Boys will continue to be boys while the Pro-Choice culture teaches that the goal of their movement is that women should be allowed to abort the child that was the product of a capricious choice between the woman and her boy-man, who can produce the sperm necessary to create a child, but doesn’t have the testicles to raise one. Boys will continue to be boys as long as there are trigger warnings, as long as there is no push from people to expect more from boys, forcing them to grow up and be men. Boys will be boys when the “men” who raise them teach them no better.  Boys will be boys as long as mommies shelter them, or berate them rather than push them to be more. Boys will be boys as long as they aren’t held accountable, because hey,

Boys will be boys.

Where does that leave us with masculinity though?  We’ve already established that responsibility, or lack thereof, is an issue, but isn’t it an issue because masculinity is so easy to become toxic without it? It’s far easier to abuse power when you have the power, correct?

Wrong.

Because in reality, it’s not masculinity that is toxic.  Masculinity stopped the Nazis in World War II, it reunited the United States after the Civil War.  Masculinity caused passengers on a plane to try and stop the worst terrorist attacks in US history.  Masculinity hung on a cross to provide salvation to a world that did not deserve it.  Masculinity is just as much a positive, just as much a force for good, as Femininity.

So, then, where does it go wrong?

Masculinity when coupled with a lack of responsibility is a problem waiting to happen.  It’s a young man who takes advantage of a young woman.  It’s an older man that takes advantage of an impoverished neighbor.  It’s the man standing in the White House today, the orange guy everyone loves to hate.  In reality, we created him.  Just like we create every young man that we then label as a “toxically masculine” person.  We create them because we never teach that

With great power, comes great responsibility.

We don’t teach our young men growing up that one day they’ll be fathers, one day they’ll be called to be the strong man that provides for a family. We don’t teach them that the way they treat others should be their defining traits.  We instead teach them that “boys will be boys,” and then when those boys being boys becomes a problem, society then decides that “boys are toxic” instead of addressing the real issue, which is that “irresponsibility is toxic.”

I left my son’s friend’s house stewing.  I couldn’t believe that this guy was going to teach his son how to be an irresponsible jerk, that he was going to teach him everything that people think is abominable about being a man, and was not going to take the time to teach him how to be a man. I was angry because I knew that this would just be another reason why people are against men being men, because they’ve been too accustomed to boys being boys even AS men.

Where am I going with all this?  It’s pretty simple.  Our job as parents, as teachers, as mentors over our young generation is to stop this nonsense of “boys will be boys.”  It’s true, they will be until they are taught to be men.  And there is nothing wrong with masculinity.  Masculinity has done some pretty great things just like femininity has.  But we’ve got to stop hanging the blame on “boys will be boys” and “toxic masculinity” and make the fight be against “toxic irresponsibility.”

A Response to Dave Barnhart, Part 3 – Proselytizing hateful attitudes

Let’s keep moving here.  So, Pastor Barnhart continues living in Matthew 23 here with the following point:

3. Proselytizing hateful attitudes.

“For you cross sea and land to make a single convert, and you make the new convert twice as much a child of hell as yourselves” (Matthew 23:15). Franklin Graham is probably the highest-profile Christian leader connected with promoting anti-gay legislation in other countries (like Russia and Uganda), but he shares the spotlight with Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council and pastor Scott Lively. I am reluctant to imitate the rhetoric of anti-gay activists who gleefully declare that LGBTQ persons and their allies are hell-bound. But in the context of Jesus’ angry speech in Matthew 23, I suspect drafting laws that impose the death penalty or jail time on gay people, using the Gospel of Christ as a pretext, is the devil’s own work. How much homophobia is native and how much is imported by Christian missionaries could be debatable—but “crossing sea and land” to make new hate-filled converts is certainly part of the anti-gay agenda.

All of these three themes are applicable to anti-gay attitudes themselves. Religious exculsivism and hypocrisy are something all of the prophets rail against:

“I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice” (Hosea 6:6)

Jesus echoes:

“…if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.” (Matthew 12:7)

and Paul affirms:

“…as it is written, ‘The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.’” (Romans 2:24).

All of these scriptures highlight the theme that religious leaders, in their pursuit of religious zealotry (often supported by the Bible), alienated people from God.

 

Let’s start with finding out more about me, shall we?  I’m a pretty hefty guy.  Like, not QUITE offensive lineman size, but not far off.  And I’m not particularly “muscular” in any way, shape or fashion, though I have what a friend of mine and I call “grown man strength.”  It’s like where you can lift things that are seemingly ridiculously heavy but you just know how to do it.  My dad had it before me, his father had it before him, etc.

So here’s our funny story to illustrate my point here.  My wife and I were doing a membership class at our old church in Monroe, and the pastor was discussing the meaning of membership.  He asked us “who among you has a gym membership?”  I proceeded to raise my hand.  I HAD a gym membership.  I had used it maybe once, but I had it.  The look on his face was priceless, as I was the sole congregant with my hand raised in this meeting.  He looked at me, and in the most proper British accent he could still maintain, he said “Don? Really?  You have a gym membership? I mean like, really, you have a gym membership?” Were I someone of today’s society that became offended at the drop of a hat, Pastor Bareham and I would have gone at it.  Instead I laughed until I was crying because I had made this British gentleman, who I had never really seen get ruffled, be almost unable to continue our meeting.

Now, what’s my point in all of this?  If I were to ask you if exercise were important, you would say “of course it is!  It’s the way to a healthy body!”  If I asked if you exercise all of the time, you might say “Yes!  I go on 5 mile runs daily and do PX90 on the weekends!”  Or maybe you’re like me.  Maybe you say “yes, exercise is absolutely important” but then your actions say “but not quite as important as eating bacon covered in nutella (sounds gross, but it truly is mindblowing).” My point is that whether you exercise furiously like a mad man hoping to squeeze every last drop of efficiency out of your body, or whether your version of exercise is lifting pound cakes and doing 12 oz curls, there is a verifiable truth that exercise is beneficial to your body.

What Pastor Barnhart is doing here is nothing short of utterly confusing both Orthodoxy and Orthopraxy, and then determining that Orthodoxy stems from HIS perception of Orthopraxy.  Let me further illustrate.  For Pastor Barnhart’s mental association here to work, we have to actually decide that the Bible can’t possibly say that homosexual behavior is wrong because of Franklin Graham’s behavior.  My question would be this… Even IF Franklin Graham were “gleefully” declaring that LGBTQ people are hellbound… Even IF Franklin Graham took supreme pleasure in seeing these people afflicted by God (for the record, I don’t think he does and I’m amazed that Dave Barnhart actually has the power to know beyond certainty what a person is thinking and feeling.  I guess I was mistaken in believing that only God could do that), what does that CHANGE about the words of scripture?  What does that do to affect God’s word?

You can see the silliness about this, right?  I’m no Franklin Graham fan by any means, but his actions no more change the truth of scripture than my actions make exercise a bad idea.  This kind of sophomoric argument against the non LGBTQ-affirming Christian is garbage because it asserts nothing truthful in the matter and only argues from the standpoint of “what you’re doing is mean in my eyes so it can’t be right.”

For the record, if someone is truly “gleeful” in seeing the fate of someone who is walking away from God, that person obviously doesn’t have God’s heart in mind, because we know from scripture that God is grieved by His children turning away His love and kindness.  So those who are able to be “gleeful” at the idea of His children’s destruction is not of God to begin with.

That being said, twisting scripture isn’t a big win in God’s eyes either.  Let’s look at where Pastor Barnhart engages in “scriptorture.”

“I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice” (Hosea 6:6)

Sounds like, when used by itself, really that God doesn’t care about following His law (being represented of course by the sacrifice) that what He really wants is for us to just “love one another.”  To be fair, I have no doubt that God wants us to “love one another.”  I also have no doubt that in this day and age, we have no idea HOW to love one another.  But let’s take a look at the passage in its entirety:

“Come, let us return to the LORD; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up.  After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him. Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD; his going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth.”

What shall I do with you, O Ephraim? What shall I do with you, O Judah? Your love is like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes early away. Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of my mouth, and my judgment goes forth as the light. For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. ( Hosea 6:1-6 ESV)

God’s anger with the people burns because their love is fleeting, it goes like the morning dew.  He has tried to reach them with prophets, He has continuously proclaimed judgment on them.  In the end, His desire is love and the knowledge of Him.  The point Jesus was trying to make in quoting this verse again was a far different point than Pastor Barnhart is trying to make.  Jesus and His disciples were eating grain they had picked on the Sabbath, and the Pharisees were chastising Him for “working on the Sabbath.”  Now of course, not spoken of in the story is that they had their own “versions” of working on the Sabbath.  For example… healing a person?  WORKING ON THE SABBATH! Pulling your OWN donkey out of a well it fell into on Sunday? Not working on the sabbath.  So these guys had gamed the system so that anything they needed to do was ok, but anything done for the benefit of someone else was not.  And so the point Jesus is trying to make here is not “we don’t really have any laws, just love, like a Lenny Kravitz song,” but “you guys don’t really care about the underlying reason the law is here, which is to help us be loving towards one another, you game the system and toss any actual love out of the equation.”

So in summation, the problem with Pastor Barnhart’s premise is that he is using the actions of one person in Christendom to deny the word of God.  While you can think what you want of Franklin Graham, and while you can think what you want of scripture, our thoughts and actions no more change the word of the text than we can make water come out of a stone. So while Pastor Barnhart may think Franklin Graham is not a nice guy, Franklin Graham’s “not nice guyness” doesn’t change the truth of scripture in that homosexual behaviors are displeasing to God.

A response to Dave Barnhart, part 2

So, continuing our discussion from last week, started here.

Let’s look at Pastor Barnhart’s second assertion:

Jesus continues to rail against religious leaders, saying: “For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in, you stop them” (Matthew 23:13). There are a lot of ways to interpret what it means to “lock someone out of the kingdom,” but telling people they are abominations has got to be high on the list. Taken with the “heavy burden” line a few verses earlier, it seems overly strict interpretations of scripture may be what Jesus is talking about here. People want to enter and participate in the kingdom, but they are made to feel unwelcome.

So his assertion, in a nutshell, is that in Jesus’s “seven woes” lecture from Matthew 23, in this particular statement, he is making the point that people are being locked out of the kingdom and that combined with the heavy burden from the earlier passage, it then should be obvious that in reality, what Jesus is saying is that people want to know God, but they are made to feel unwelcome.

There are a couple of problems with this view.  First and foremost, is this assertion:

There are a lot of ways to interpret what it means to “lock someone out of the kingdom,” but telling people they are abominations has got to be high on the list.

For the record, I will offer a shiny, brand new, 24 Karat gold plated Maserati to the first person who can give me a scripture passage that says “homosexuals and the sexually immoral are abominations.”  The reason why is most obviously because it isn’t to be found anywhere in scripture.  What is being called an “abomination” is the act of a man lying with a man as they would a woman.  Here’s the verse for everyone playing at home:

You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination. Leviticus 18:22

There it is.  Not “they are an abomination” or “those who practice this are an abomination”.  Just “It is an abomination.”  So let’s start here.  Identifying someone’s behavior as out of line with what God wants is NOT calling someone an abomination.  This kind of purple language with no actual basis in scripture is what I like to call “rhetoric.”  What rhetoric does is it muddies the water and doesn’t allow for fact.  It is great for winning someone’s personal opinion, but it leaves much to be desired if you are actually discussing fact.  Factually, Pastor Barnhart’s assertion couldn’t be any further from the truth.  God is not calling ANYONE an abomination, and neither should we.

This is kind of an ongoing problem in the debate in a nutshell.  There is apparently a dichotomous view of sexual sin that either you have to be accepting of it and celebrating of it, or you need to be screaming and raining damnation down on people.  It’s really sad, because we seem to have lost view of Jesus’ response to sin:

Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” John 8:10-11

So, Jesus has just stared down a pack of angry men wanting to condemn this woman for adultery.  Jesus pulls, well, a JESUS, and shuts them all down and sends them packing. And so, as this woman’s life passes just before her eyes, Jesus does something that we don’t seem to be able to do.  He grants mercy and still upholds the law.

Go and sin no more.

Not “I am sinless and I CAN judge you.  Be gone from me.”

Go and sin no more.

Not “Hey, don’t worry, God’s a big God, and it’s more important that you feel welcomed and like you can participate, you know?”

Go and sin no more.

There is no mistaking what He’s saying to her.  He absolutely points out that she was committing a sin.  He absolutely was merciful to her.  THIS.  THIS is what a relationship with God looks like!  Of course we fail Him every day.  Of course we sin like crazy.  That’s not the point.  The point of the story is Him, not us.

So then, ask the question.  I know it’s coming.

But if God is graceful and merciful, what does it matter if we call something sin?  Aren’t we just being mean?  Isn’t Pastor Barnhart making a great point here?

No.  He isn’t.  Let me illustrate from scripture:

36 One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at table. 37 And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, 38 and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” 40 And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.”

41 “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.”44 Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48 And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” Luke 7:36-50

WOW.  There.  The gospel.  The reason why it’s important we talk about what sin is and what sin isn’t.  Those words… “he who is forgiven little, loves little.”  Here’s an illustration from real life.  If you are stepping out into a street with no cars coming, and I grab your arm and say “You have to wait until you can go!!!! I just saved your life!!!”  You’re probably going to look at me like I’m a few fries short of a happy meal.  Do the same thing on a street full of cars racing at lunchtime, and I’m your hero and maybe you’re buying me a happy meal!  It’s the same thing here.  If we don’t know what we’re being saved from, how do we even know how much God loves us?  If we make sin something trivial, we make God’s love trivial.

The point in all of this is God, not us. Regardless of what we think, it’s important that we know God’s law as it is, NOT as it is recreated by the Pharisees (the true point behind the passage, by the way), nor as it is recreated by a society bent on handing out participation awards to everyone.  Without loving God’s law, how do you love God’s salvation?  How do you love God even?  Has anyone noticed that the longest chapter of scripture is Psalm 119, which is a celebration of the law?  It’s not just about making people feel welcomed.  In reality, we should love and make people feel welcomed without accepting their sins as ok.  It’s about loving God. Believers should know better than that.

A Response to Dave Barnhart, Part 1

I haven’t posted in a while.  Again.  It seems like it takes a lot of time to write these things out, which when you have a family of 7, that seems like a luxury.  Alas, I’ll try to do better here.

I’d like to preface this with the fact that I’m not a trained pastor.  I was a volunteer pastor long long ago in a galaxy (and a time zone) far away, but no more.  That being said, I love my God and I love studying His word and seeking after His will.  I’m not always great at applying said will once I figure it out for myself, but I love that He is forgiving and loving to the nth degree.

It seems a particularly poignant topic in the church today is homosexuality.  Particularly, how do we look at homosexuality in the context of Hamartiological/Soteriological notions?  A growing contingent of Christians view the LGBTQ+ lifestyle as being within the biblical confines of acceptability. A recent blog post that I came across at Reconciling Ministries Network stood out to me as being a great place to start.  Understand, I’m not looking to “bludgeon” or “clobber”, as the post’s author may say that those who do not agree with their view are in the habit of doing, but I do think it necessary for us to rightly divide scripture.  Here is the blog post in its entirety.

Let’s start with the fact that I don’t know who Dave Barnhart is, and certainly do not believe him to be saying anything he says with the clear intent to not love the Lord our God.  I like to believe the best in people, and I feel like I need to believe that everyone on either side (or any side, since I don’t feel like this is a two-sided discussion) is doing and thinking what they feel to be true.  Additionally, this particular issue, in my opinion, is no more a question of salvific debate, as I feel like the ultimate answer as to one’s salvation lies in whether or not they love the Lord and accept His gift of salvation and are producing fruits in keeping with salvation.  Outside of that, this is PURELY a debate in regards to Hamartiological concerns in reference to the LGBTQ+ lifestyle.

So, with that in mind, let’s look at Pastor Barnhart’s 10 assertions, and see what to make of them from a scriptural standpoint.

1. Tying up heavy burdens for others.

This is from Matthew 23:4, part of Jesus’ chapter-long polemical rant against the religious leaders: “They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.” The language of burden and yoke was a common metaphor for how religious leaders interpreted scripture. A “heavy burden” was a burdensome interpretation. In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus says, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Jesus contrasted himself with legalistic religious leaders. For their part, they accused Jesus of misreading the Bible or of “abolishing the law” (Matthew 5:17)—exactly the same arguments made against LGBTQ persons and their allies.

Anti-gay Christianity claims that “acting on” gay or lesbian attraction is a sin, and that they should abstain from sexual pleasure or intimacy with another human being for their entire lives. This is a “heavy burden” that most straight Christians do not shoulder themselves, but one which anti-gay Christians lay upon the shoulders of others. While celibacy may be a lifestyle choice, requiring it of others is certainly putting a burden on their shoulders.

Though they have accepted the idea that sexual orientation and gender identity may be something we’re born with, some of my colleagues describe LGBTQ identity as a genetic disorder, a product of our fallen world, like alcoholism or genetic obesity. The difference between being LGBTQ and being an alcoholic is empirical: “treatment” for addiction or obesity leads to lower mortality, depression, suicide, and other risk factors. But “treatment” to “cure” being LGBTQ leads to more depressions, suicide, and other risk factors. This burden isn’t heavy—it is crushing, even fatal.

(See also Acts 15:10: “Now why are you putting God to the test by placing on the neck of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear?”)

So Pastor Barnhart’s first scriptural theme that he feels is avoided by “Anti-Gay” Christians (while I’m not REALLY wanting to be dragged into minutiae, I don’t think people who are not in favor of the LGBTQ+ lifestyle being recognized as compatible with scripture are against LGBTQ+ people anymore than someone saying that “Turkey sandwiches are gross” are against people who eat turkey sandwiches. …additional aside, I LOVE turkey sandwiches.) is the putting of heavy burdens upon others without being willing to lift them themselves. And while on the surface, this is a cogent argument, let’s dive further here.

Let’s begin by looking at the passage outside of simply pulling a single verse out of the scripture and then writing a response to that.  Doing so is a recipe for eisegesis, which is a no no in regards to discerning scripture.  So let’s look at the passage:

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, 3 so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. 4 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. 5 They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, 6 and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues 7 and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. 8 But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10 Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. 11 The greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. Matthew 23:1-12 ESV

So, let’s set the scene.  Jesus is speaking to His disciples, and specifically He is speaking in regards to the teaching and work of the Pharisees.  He tells His disciples from the very beginning “the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat”, which is a nice way of saying they are rightfully understanding the commandments, but not applying them. In place of God’s original commands to obedience for Israel, they had supplied an amended set of commandments that was, for all intents and purposes, NUTS.  For example… question for you… is a cheeseburger kosher?  I would say yes, most Orthodox rabbis would say no.  The reason stems from this:

The best of the firstfruits of your ground you shall bring into the house of the LORD your God. You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk. Exodus 23:19 ESV

Looks pretty simple, right?  Don’t cook a goat in its mother’s milk.  So, if you have a goat, don’t kill it, milk the mother, and then cook it in said milk.  Pretty standard fare.  The reason was never really discussed in the Talmud, but later commentaries by Maimonides and others pointed to an origin in idolatry and Canaanite fertility rituals.  Regardless, though, pretty simple stuff?

BUT… Not so.

Because people became so concerned with not breaking that law, the law expanded.  Now maybe it’s not JUST cooking the meat in the milk, but what if it’s preparing meat and milk together?  We should probably get rid of that too.  What if it’s like maybe you shouldn’t eat meat and milk together?  Nix it.  Before you know it, good old friend cheeseburger is now food non grata.  But to make matters worse, after everyone had argued these laws to death and had expanded them to just RIDICULOUS proportions (check out the Talmud if you’re having problems sleeping, it’s full of this kind of commentary).

So this was just the very TIP of the iceberg.  Tithing went so far out as to also include tithes based on one’s herbs, such as mint, cumin, dill, etc.  The command to not work on the Sabbath was FAMOUSLY blown to pieces.  For example, it was not lawful to heal a man on the Sabbath according to the Pharisees, but it was ok to go out and save your donkey if it fell into a well.  And of course, one can see the difficulties here.  It’s fine and necessary to protect your own personal wealth, but not fine and ok to save and heal a fellow human being.  The issue here is that the commands are being distorted beyond belief.

The problem I have with Pastor Barnhart’s view is that it is simply not applicable.  This is not a matter of someone adding a new commandment that is more than the original.  This is nothing more than an application of scripture to a lifestyle question.  It would be different if God had said “so yeah, as long as two adults are consenting, go knock yourselves out and have a ball!” and then the “Christian Right” (or whatever you want to call traditional students of scripture) comes out and says “but NO!  God says only heterosexual unions are ok.”  So you can kind of see the difficulties here in applying Matthew 23:4 to the homosexual debate.  The two aren’t even in the same ballpark.  So next post we’ll look at Pastor Barnhart’s second issue with the Traditionalist perspective.

I like memes and all, but…

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I like memes.  Seriously, they are kind of fun.  I like seeing people being witty and often wish that I myself were witty. But alas, I’m not witty.  So, I like memes.

The meme beside me here was one my son showed me on Facebook.  It was posted by one of his pastors.  I don’t personally know the pastor, and if he came up to me on the street I’d have NO idea who he was.  I tried to limit my comments to the Facebook post, but not being a social connection of his, I wasn’t able to.  Then I thought hey, I haven’t blogged in a while.  Let’s use this there!  And so… here we are 😀

get why this supposed to be entertaining.  Or funny.  Or maybe illicit deep conversation amongst fellow believers.  I get that this is a way to make people think about their convictions, and so I thought to myself, sure, I’ll play along.

If I asked you “Hey reader of my blog whom I have never met, what does the color blue taste like?”, chances are, the reaction would not be a pleasant one.  You might think I’m crazy.  You might wonder if I had too much medication.  But, you aren’t going to think “Oh wow, you are ONE BRILLIANT THINKER GUY!”  And see, my problem with this is that I’m having the same reaction to this meme.

You see, I get that to the creator of this over-used Maury Povich meme, this is supposed to make people who claim to follow the teachings of Christ think about the “odd juxtaposition of their protectiveness of the unborn with their desire to see the wicked be destroyed.”  In the pastor’s comments, he said something to the affect of “Well, Jesus didn’t resist arrest or fight back when He was being arrested and killed, so why should we?  Now, don’t you feel bad about supporting war and capital punishment?”

No.  I don’t.  In. The. Least.

Here’s why.

You are morally and ethically asking what the color blue tastes like.  This entire meme, and the line of thought betrayed by it, equates our government with our own personage.  I SHOULD find the death of the unborn morally repugnant.  It SHOULD bother me that we can discuss idolatry as though it is a foreign concept to today’s society and is a relic of the days of “Molech and Chemosh” when the reality is, we sacrifice children every day to the god of self.  Over 80% of abortions are because of reasons other than “necessity.”  According to the CDC, over 25% of abortions are purely out of “this is a hindrance to my career.”  So no, we don’t NEED Molech or Chemosh to sacrifice our children to.  We have our own ambitions.  Pathetic.  50 million children have been sacrificed to OUR idols over 40 years time.  I can ASSURE you, those numbers dwarf any number you can imagine in biblical times.
On the flipside of this, I SHOULDN’T revel in the death of the guilty.  And indeed, I DON’T revel in the death of the guilty.  And I don’t think any Christian who loves and follows Christ WOULD.  But there is a dividing line between what we feel is our own personal obligation and the obligations of our governments.  What I find odd is that the pastor seems to forget Genesis 9:6:

“Whoever sheds the blood of man,
    by man shall his blood be shed,
for God made man in his own image.”

Now, before we get carried away into “But that’s the Old Testament and doesn’t apply to us as believers (this is a nice way to make vomit well up in my throat, by the way), let’s realize that God’s decrees also, in a  way, lay His feelings and thoughts bare for us all.  God is clearly, in this instance, declaring that it is an imperative to shed the blood of those who shed the blood of others.  So if this is a COMMANDMENT, which it is (it’s revisited with the Israelites in Exodus, so it’s obviously a command), then at the very least, it reveals a God whose heart is for justice.  Certainly not for wanton bloodshed, but for justice.  And so while He is not commanding Noah or his family to enjoy the capital punishment of the murderer, He is most definitely commanding it from a governance standpoint.

And so just in case we like to still try to escape from the burden of governance, we still have this to contend with:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

That’s from Paul.  It’s Romans 13, for those of you playing at home.  Just in CASE you missed Genesis 9 and the responsibilities of government to protect the sanctity of life, here is a little passage from Paul to remind us that the government’s responsibility is, in fact, to protect the innocent and to be an extension of God’s wrath.  In seeing both this and the Genesis passage, it should be pretty simple to understand that force is, in fact, the prescriptive response to the endangerment of innocent life.  So it’s sad, in fact, that a pastor would try to equate the protection of the innocent with the just application of God’s wrath on the guilty.

One of the arguments that the pastor used for his position was that Jesus did not fight back when He was being arrested.  That sounds great, but there are two problems with that response.  First and foremost, Jesus was MEANT to go to the cross to die, it was His MISSION, and He did so… WILLINGLY.  I’m not sure that Pastor Oblivious thought this through, considering that Jesus, being an omniscient, omnipotent being, would necessarily HAVE to allow Himself to be killed.  It’s like playing your five year old in a game of horse.  You can lose, sure, but you have to put the effort into losing.  So, quite simply put, if Jesus WERE to accomplish His unique MISSION on earth, it was, in fact, necessary for Him to not resist, and that was the point He was trying to get Peter to understand.  Secondly, there is a big difference in defending YOURSELF versus defending someone who is NOT you.  One is self preservation, one is not.  In the case of abortion, Christians disagree with it because it is the taking of an innocent life.  In the case of capital punishment, it is protection of OTHER innocent lives combined with an expression of the value of the life already lost.  In the event of a Just War, it is for the protection of those innocent lives who are being oppressed by a far superior force.  But in NONE of these situations are the combatants protecting themselves.  So Pastor, maybe rethink that meme.

Now, my son responded to this pastor’s meme, and his response could be paraphrased as this “I wanted to take a serious situation and kind of make it a joke so that people could laugh at themselves and think their way through their positions.”  You know, I’m all for people thinking.  I have a good feeling that if this pastor had done the same, then perhaps this meme would not exist.  But alas, that was not to be.

Here’s my take on that.  You are a pastor.  You are held to a higher standard than John Q. Public in regards to the body.  The image of a pastor consistently presented in scripture is one who is willing to protect his sheep.  Using your meme wizardry skills to thoughtless provoke your flock into a poorly thought through moral conundrum doesn’t count for that.  Also, a pastor is held to a higher standard because they are a teacher:

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.

I didn’t come up with that.  James, the brother of our Lord, did.  It’s in his letter in the Bible, in the third chapter.  Look, you can be offended all you want as a pastor by the expectation that you should be held to a higher standard.  My advice is that if you don’t like, or feel that it should be some other way, find another line of work.  By being irresponsible with your flock, demonstrating a lack of biblical thinking and insight, and then passing it off as “fun,” you are demonstrating to me that, while you may WANT to be a pastor, you might be in the wrong line of work.  Maybe it’s a maturity issue, I don’t know, but that is certainly inappropriate for a pastor.  It’s your job as a pastor to lead with dignity, and to teach the word of God in a way consistent with biblical application, not entertain the masses with your ability to copy an already overplayed Maury Povich meme.

The Caricatured Christian

Ned-Flanders-003Hi there.  That’s Ned Flanders sitting beside this paragraph.  He’s Homer Simpson’s neighbor, and he hides a dark secret, though not necessarily very well. His secret?

He’s an absolute caricature of the Christian faith.

He’s what Hollywood and the mass media (and quite possibly some of your non-Christian friends) like to think of Christians as when they are being their most charitable.  This is the non-threatening version of Christianity.  It says funny things like “Okilly-dokilly!” or “Hey-Diddly-Ho!”  This version of Christianity suppresses anger, is timid, easy to push around, enjoyed for its charity, vilified for its strict morality, and ultimately used for comic relief.  It clings to the minutiae of Christianity, is ultimately toothless in nature, and can best be admired for it’s love of sweaters and cats.  Think “little old lady” Christianity.

This is the best you can be thought of as a Christian by a large majority of non-believers or adherents to other faith, and sometimes even within your own faith community by those who have been enlightened as to the reality hiding behind life, that Christianity can not be the religion of the lion-hearted, but it’s a crutch for the timid and well-meaning that can at best be seen as innocuous, at worst as simple minded, feeble, and dangerous in spite of its best intentions.

Fred_Phelps_10-29-2002And this guy?  This is Fred Phelps.  you may know him as the late hate-mongering, sign carrying, funeral protesting pastor of the (in)famous Westboro Baptist Church, who for whatever reason, felt it better to spew hate even within their domain name.  I won’t print it here because it’s fairly detestable, but google it for yourself and make your own decisions.

See, if Ned-diddlely Flanderino up there is the best Hollywood/media/pop culture view Christianity as, this is the worst we’re viewed as.  We’re viewed as sharing in Phelp’s anti-gay, anti-islam, anti-darn-near-everything-ever inflammatory hatred.  When he did something stupid, or said something stupid, we’re viewed by everyone around as as at least equally culpable in the stupid.  So much the case that, people like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins go so far to say that religions are dangerous and should be banned.  People say things like that partly because of the bad ole’ folks like Fred Phelps here who strangle out truth beneath an oppressive brand of hatred that causes everyone to see them, and you, and me, as Right Wing NutJobs.

 

Sam_Harris_01Speaking of Sam Harris, that’s this guy here.  See the smirk?  It’s permanently attached.  It comes because he is, in his own disturbing little opinion, far more intelligent than religious people.  He’s kind of your average militant atheist.  They like to do things like argue minutiae, the same kind of stuff that the Ned Flanders style Christians described above freak out over because they don’t have any answers to questions like the ones posted in this debate here: Sam Harris Vs. Bill Craig.  Watch it for the fun of watching Bill Craig semantically draw and quarter Sam Harris, but linger over it for the full effect of Christianity at it’s least Ned Flanders/Fred Phelps caricaturistic goofiness.  It’s pretty awesome to watch.

Why bring up Sam the Sneer?  Well, he’s one of the guys spearheading the new view of Christianity.  He’s one of the guys that takes guys like the late Pastor (using the term VERY loosely) Phelps and redraws each and every Christian in some shade of cruelty and heartlessness, and then makes the Ned Flanders Christians cower in horror because they can’t answer his questions.  And if you look very closely at his questions, they really shouldn’t be that much of a stretch for a believer to answer.  But we don’t, for the most part, and ya know why?  Cause… you know… Christians.

For every Sam Harris, there are 1000 Sam Jrs who like to say things without any knowledge or wisdom whatsoever, who like to paint pictures of Christians that are dangerous, foolish, uninformed, and ultimately far too insipid or stupid or BOTH to occupy any useful space in the dialog. And for every 1000 Sam Jrs, there happen to be probably 10,000 Christians who are either too timid, too asleep, or too preoccupied with not providing an answer for the hope that lies within them with gentleness and love to actually be able to… well… provide an answer for the hope that lies within them with gentleness and love.

isis-army-700x430This is ISIS.  They’re just crazy.  But a lot of people like Sam Harris use their craziness as an analogy for Christians.  It doesn’t work really well because we’re not pyscho.

 

 

 

jesuskingofkings

See this guy?  Yeah, it’s an artist’s rendering, but this is Jesus.  He’s the King of Kings.  Ultimately, no matter what any of these other people think, see, or do, He’s the guy that’s in charge.  You can disagree all you want.  You can do whatever you want.  But, at some point, you’re going to be accountable to Him whether you find that pleasing or not.  So, really, if you’re a Christian, the Hollywood stereotypes aren’t really what applies to you.  Because you follow this guy.  And part of following this guy is being able to and willing to stand for truth, although the cost can be your life:

36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? 37 For what can a man give in return for his soul? 38 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

Did you catch that?  It’s not our job to be timid.  We’re supposed to be unashamed of the gospel.  We’re supposed to be willing to give our lives and our hearts.  Being a Christ follower doesn’t make you a pushover.  It makes you an obedient servant to the King of this universe.  The hard part for us to grasp is that that lies somewhere in between.  We can’t be pushovers and Ned Flanders, but we can’t spew hate and BE hateful to those who disagree with us like Fred Phelps. Because our fight is not with the Sam Harris’s and the Kathy Griffins and Bill Mahers of the world, but our fight is with powers and principalities outside of our realm.  Our job in that fight is to prepare ourselves to share truth, share our hearts and our compassion, and prepare for the imminent return of Jesus Christ!

So hey!  Don’t be THAT guy.  Don’t be Ned Flanders.  You can be offensive to others just by doing your job as a Christian because hey, the Gospel is offensive!  You can go find the answers to those hard questions, and you can be quick to share them without fear!  It’s more than just a right, it’s your duty!

And also.  Don’t be that OTHER guy.  You were saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, not your own merit.  Jesus didn’t save you because you’re a special little snowflake.  He saved you because of His own love and grace.  So don’t assume that your salvation comes with the ability to spew hate.  It doesn’t.  It comes with the ability to marvel at your Maker, love others, be forthright in truth, and let your own life be a guidepost for others, that they might see the redemptive work being done in you.

Eliminating the heart strings from the same-sex marriage debate

marriage_spaceshipThe Supreme Court on Friday ruled that Same Sex Marriage must be legalized in all 50 states across America, thus bringing to a close the country’s debate on the legality of Same Sex Marriage in America.

While many celebrated the ruling, others were less celebratory.  Several Christian leaders came forth to declare that they will engage in civil disobedience if necessary.  Mike Huckabee went so far as to say that he doesn’t see Christian leaders having much of a choice if they are going to be obedient to God.

While it would be easy to turn this into a religious forum, or tug at heart strings, which is typically what happens (if anyone would like to see this in action one need only read this statement from Justice Kennedy:

No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.

Awwww.  Pass the kleenex here, I’ve sprung a leak.

Ok, so I’m being sarcastic.  But there is a reason for my sarcasm.  It is essentially rooted in the nature of public policy and the welfare of the public versus the desires of the few.  And while this may sound particularly callous, it’s not coming from a place of callousness, but rather a deep concern for the future of our country.

Let me start with a few things about my own personal opinion.  I do not agree that homosexuality is congruent with a biblical worldview.  And while I say that openly and candidly, I also say that knowing that so are many other behaviors that people engage in frequently, such as adultery, bribery, theft, murder, slander, gossip, etc. and etc.  Since I don’t hold a special measure of condemnation for those people who engage in those behaviors, neither do I hold a special measure of condemnation for people who engage in homosexuality.  Instead I love them just like I would anyone else.  So this isn’t coming from a position of condemnation (If anyone is curious, I DO hold a special measure of condemnation in my heart for University of South Carolina fans, and it’s very real.  I don’t believe they actually have souls.  Kidding.  Mostly.)

That being said, I don’t believe there should even be a measure of religious view necessary in evaluating the Same Sex Marriage debate, because ultimately, we live in an environment that fosters the separation of church and state.  So while I have my own views as to why homosexuality is wrong, for the intents and purposes of the Same Sex Marriage debate, I don’t even want to lay them out as argument.  However, I do believe that the equality of Same Sex Marriage is a dangerous step towards destabilizing our country, and while I do believe those engaging in homosexuality should have access to certain marital benefits, I believe that extending all of the same rights to homosexual couples is simply a bad choice.  Here’s why.

Public policy is not meant to be rooted in our emotions.  It’s meant to be what’s rooted in the best for society.  For example, we have policies against drug use and the sale of drugs precisely because it’s not rooted in what’s best for society.  We have policies against drunk driving because it’s dangerous to society.  That being said, when we make decisions, especially unilaterally comprised decisions that eliminate the people’s right to autonomously decide, we trust our Supreme Court to make those decisions with what’s best in mind for society.  If it can reasonably be proven that Same Sex Marriage is best for society, then so be it.  I’m fine with it.  And while we have been given studies previously that would seem to support this concept, it’s been sufficiently called into question such that in my opinion, it is academically dishonest to claim that there are no substantive differences between homosexual and heterosexual couples for the purposes of child-rearing.  In fact, quite the opposite has been shown, that there are very substantive differences between the two.  It would be ridiculous to re-state what has already been stated, but here is the study for anyone interested that casts doubt on these aspersions of  “no differences” .

Ultimately the problem lies in the fact that, in declaring Same Sex Marriage as valid as Heterosexual Marriage, we have necessarily said that they can be equally successful in all facets of married life, including child-rearing.  As such, there is now no legitimate reason to exclude gay couples from the adoption process even though studies have shown a large and verifiable body of work that says that Same Sex couple situations do, in fact produce drastically inferior outcomes in parenting.  The very fact that children in lesbian couples were 11 TIMES more likely to experience sexual abuse should have given pause to our otherwise inexorable march towards same sex legalization.  The fact that both gay and lesbian couples produced children who were more likely to be involved in crime should have been enough to give us pause.  If those weren’t enough, surely the finding that the children of lesbian couples were 4 times more likely to have been forced to be involved in sex against their will should be a giant red light.  I’m ultimately not going to quote every statistic from the study because it’s pretty sobering and rather bludgeoning in its findings, but continuously, children of gay and lesbian children showed that they fared worse in society and in terms of being productive parts of society than children of their biological parents.

I do understand the same feelings that Justice Kennedy referred to in his speech.  But while those words tug suffocatingly at the heart strings, they do precious little to insure that the best outcome of society was on the minds of the five justices who desired to approve of Same Sex Marriage.  Rather, they reflect a disturbing trend in society where public policy is fueled by a public opinion that is far too concerned with our own narcissistic desires for life to be “our” way rather than how we integrate into society.  In this maelstrom of public policy fueled by “feelings,” we are slowly watching as the desires of the few now significantly outweigh the well-being of the many.  And while I do agree that homosexuals have every right to legitimize their relationship in a way that offers some relational benefits (the ability to share insurance, the ability to have access to health information, etc and etc) legalizing and normalizing Same Sex Marriage was a step in the wrong direction that now allows for the very real possibility that we are going to create a generation of adults who will never experience life in the fullest as it comes with being raised by a mother and a father.

Racism, Gun Control, and Depravity

Once again, I’ve had my usual sabbatical from writing.  Kids… work… kids… it all adds up, especially with a non-sleeping two year old in the mix.

That being said, I wouldn’t write now were it not for the disturbing events in Charleston.  It’s inconceivable in this day and age, that there are still fools like Dylann Roof floating around.  To try to wrap my head around his ignorance and foolishness, it just befuddles me.  Perhaps that speaks to a great part of the problem in dealing with racism, is that those of us who don’t swim in the murk and muck of the insipidly preposterous and stupid world of racism fail to notice that there is a problem until it careens onto our doorstep via the morning newspaper when someone commits some heinous, stupidity-fueled act.  Until then, we’re all blissfully unaware that there is a problem.

Well there is a problem.  There is a big problem, and we could call it racism.  But that wouldn’t really convey the real issue here, and until we stop pointing that finger, we are going to continue to run into the same issues and prove John Stewart right.  Because we like to treat symptoms in America.  We like playing doctor.  I would be absolutely unsurprised to one day find out we have a cure for cancer that is stunningly simple that no one knows about because there is no money in the cure.  And just like cancer has symptoms, the bigger problem here has symptoms.  Racism is one of them.

We could call the problem “gun control” or lack thereof.  We all know the statistics… the US has 30,000 gun related deaths yearly.  The US placed 103rd out of 195 countries in terms of gun deaths per capita, so at least we’re middle of the pack.  But we rank well below other countries like Canada or Italy.  And we could point the finger at guns all day long, and many people would argue that the finger was accurate and well-deserved, that guns, indeed, are the problem.  Of course, when you look at the UK, which has very strict anti-gun laws, doctors are trying to ban long-pointed kitchen knives because long-pointed kitchen knives have now become the weapon of choice among criminals.  And when that ban is enacted, perhaps Duran Duran CDs will be used to kill people, which will result in a ban on Duran Duran CDs (I’m just wishing, hoping, and praying here, folks). But you get my drift, hopefully.  Because yeah, we can point the finger at guns all day long, but we miss the point.  And enacting stronger gun legislation will eventually show itself to be a pyrrhic victory at best when the blood of so many has been spilled, only to enact a solution that saves so few.

So what’s really the problem?  You know, what’s the real issue here?  When Barack Obama, or Hillary Clinton, or Lindsey Graham, or any other talking sound bite machine from Washington or civic leaders such as Jessie Jackson, or Al Sharpton, or Mike Huckabee or insert name of commentator here, speak on the issue, what should they really say if they really want to get to the heart of the problem and enact real change and healing?

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?
Jeremiah 17:9 ESV

There.  God said it best.  We can look at this as a gun control debate, or we can look at it as proof of how racism is still alive and well, and even though both may be correct, until you deal with that one issue, nothing else is really going to affect change.  The human heart is deceitful and sick.  The KJV denounces the human heart as “desperately wicked.”  And you know what?  If anyone is going to be an expert on human behavior and solutions to human behavior, it’s probably going to be God.  So you see, fill the newspapers with pro gun and anti gun rhetoric.  Fill the airwaves with discussions on how to eliminate racism.  Until you deal with that one issue, the one of the human heart, neither of these problems will go away.

Why is that one so hard?  It’s really simple when you get down to it.  We’re depraved!!!!  The second recorded sin was murder.  The first was pride.  Seriously, did we not learn from that?  And yet, here we are, millennia later, and STILL we haven’t learned.  If I had to guess the reason why, it’s because that one truth hurts the most.  Because then, this isn’t something that some fool like Dylann Roof does, while the rest of us, both black and white, are simply better than that.  Then we have to realize that the roots of evil that took hold in Dylann Roof are not so different from the evil and depravity we find in ourselves.  The fight against racism, the fight against senseless murder, is less about the Dylann Roofs of the world, then it is the fight in our own daily life against the chains that continue to bind all of us to our depravity.  Then we would all have to swallow the bitter pill that is the fact that we all are capable of great evil.  Then, in that fearful moment when we have to realize that the dividing line between us and a deranged neo-nazi wannabe is dental floss thin, we finally realize that the answer to all of this senseless violence, murder, and foolishness can be found at the foot of the cross.

The families and loved ones of the victims in Charleston realized this.  Notice that the one city that probably should have erupted into racial violence and hatred instead fanned the fires of the Holy Spirit in their city.  This didn’t happen anywhere else in the face of such tragedy.  The reason it happened here is that the members of Emmanuel, the citizens of Charleston, the families and loved ones of the fallen realized that the answer to this problem is not found in legislation, but in prayer and supplication.  I have never been more amazed and more proud of fellow brothers and sisters in Christ than I am right now in the believers in Charleston, the believers in Emmanuel church.  So fitting it is that the very name of that church means “God with us,” for He most certainly has been, teaching us all that far separated from the rhetoric and dead end solutions is the solution of His gift of salvation and His love for His children.  Maybe if we all paid a little more attention, the problems of racism and gun control would be seen for what they are… a symptom of a terribly depraved heart.

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