Christians Need To Embrace Their Weirdness

Today the Washington Post published an interview with Russell Moore (head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission) which can be read here. The interview touched on everything from the Zimmerman trial to Religious Liberty for Muslims. One part that really stood out for me though was when Moore essentially said good riddance to the typical Andy Griffith small town Christianity that a lot of the SBC’s base is built on.

“When it comes to people who say they have “no religion”, in some ways that is the collapse of Bible Belt America, of this sense of Christianity as being something that is part of a normal American life. In some areas of the country, it meant someone was a good citizen by being part of a church. That is collapsing, and as an evangelical Christian, I say good riddance to that.”

– Russel Moore

I almost fell out of my seat when I read this. Not because Moore is wrong, but because I was shocked that Moore was going on record as saying this. For years the Southern Baptist Convention has been probably the biggest advocate of “Bible Belt America.” How can Moore just blatantly dismiss his core demographic so easily.

“I don’t think that sort of American dream plus Jesus represented biblical Christianity at all and in many ways hindered it and the advance of the Gospel, which is dependent upon the freakishness of Christianity. We’re saying some things that are extraordinary — that a dead man has come back to life! That reconciliation with God is possible through forgiveness of sins. Those things aren’t just the application of moral American life. The “Veggie Tales” phenomenon in evangelicalism, the taking Bible characters and making cartoons out of them and teaching moral lessons from those things really represented a lot of what was happening in Bible Belt Christianity that I think was bloodless and Gospel-free in many ways. That’s changing so you don’t have nominal young Christian church members who are going to church because they think this is what’s good for their families or their businesses or to find a spouse or to make partner at the law firm. Those days are over.”

– Russell Moore

I’ll admit I was practically cheering the first time I read that. I think Moore hits the nail on the head and in a big way. It’s pretty refreshing to actually hear someone from the SBC admit the simple truth that Christians are weird!  We aren’t just a social club of conservative busy bodies who tell each other happy tales that teach good moral lessons when we aren’t having a pot luck or meet and greet.  We are (or rather should be) a radical rag-tag bunch of self proclaimed sinners who believe they have been washed clean in the blood of the Son of God.

We believe in more than Brady Bunch and Andy Griffith style life lessons. We believe in miracles, resurrection, sin, and a coming judgement. We believe in repentance, mercy, and forgiveness. We believe in a God who died and rose again, who defeated death and sin by becoming sin and dying on our part.  We are (or rather should be) a strong and radical force for evangelism and revival. We should be a force for social justice and for renewal. We should be so much more than what we have settled for.  We have good news that is bringing life and light to a dark and dying world.

Maybe it’s time to put the Veggie Tales Christianity away and start living like we actually believe what we preach. We aren’t meant to fit into normal society. From the beginning, Christians were meant to stick out like a sore thumb. We aren’t supposed to look like the world, we don’t belong and we never will if we actually try to live like Jesus commanded us to. I’m with Dr. Moore on this one, it’s time to stop living like what we believe isn’t strange. It’s time to stop living like what we believe isn’t radical, miraculous, and life changing. If you are a Christian then you are a freak, but that’s a good thing. Jesus was too. Embrace it!

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“40 Questions To Ask A Christian” – My Response

So I came across and article entitled “40 Questions To Ask A Christian” which was meant to be a thought exercise on behalf of the Atheists to be taken up by Christians. As the author wrote:

“Asking a difficult question can achieve better results because it taps into the Christian’s desire to share the wisdom they perceive themselves to have. Any reflex for angry disagreement is quashed and replaced by an obligation to think their answer through. Ultimately, thought is what an atheist should be trying to elicit. By asking the right questions, one can determine the direction that such thought takes.”

So I have copied the article’s 40 questions below and I will attempt to answer them to the best of my ability. I have not prepared or done any research before or after reading these questions. I wanted to be as genuine in my answers as possible, and try to respond as I would if I were asked these questions by a random stranger on the street.

40 Questions for Christians

  • (Global Religion)

If a hundred different religions have to be wrong for yours to be right, does this show that people from all over the world like to invent gods that don’t exist?

Not necessarily. Let’s look at it this way, if a hundred different accounts of a historical event have to be wrong for yours to be right, does that show that people all over the world like to invent historical events that don’t exist?  The answer would be no. Most all cultures have some grasp of God or gods no matter how isolated they may be. The problem is usually not “Does God exist” as much as it is “What is God like.”   Having said that I don’t think anyone has to be wrong for something else to be right. I believe Christianity to be true, and by saying that I am also saying that what contradicts Christianity is not true. If a Muslim or a Hindu were to come and say something about God that contradicts Christianity then I would assume they are false. If they says something that is not contradicted, or even perhaps supported by Christianity then I would say they are true. I think that other religions may have false beliefs and an incomplete view of God, but I don’t think thousands of different cultures all over the world just made up God on their own.

If your parents had belonged to a different religion, do you think you would belong to that religion too?

Maybe. It’s really impossible to say since I did not grow up in a home of another faith. I would certainly hope that someone would present the Gospel to me and that I would accept it no matter what religion I was born in. I can say that I believe I would probably always seek after God regardless of what culture I was born into. I would certainly hope that God would not allow me to return from my quest empty-handed.

If people from the five major religions are each told conflicting information by their respective gods, should any of them be believed?

Yes. Just because there are conflicting views on something does not negate that one of them could be true. If I say grass is green and four other people disagree with me we shouldn’t just assume that none of us can be trusted.

  • (Communication with God)

How can you tell the voice of God from a voice in your head?

Does this voice ask you to do anything that would conflict with the teachings of Christ and the Apostles? Does this voice move like a holy fire through your very soul? Does this voice point you towards more loving service or spreading of the Gospel, or is it more self-serving or pointing to sin?

How can you tell the voice of God from the voice of the Devil?

My answer is the same as the above.

Would you find it easier to kill someone if you believed God supported you in the act?

No. I don’t think I could ever kill easily even if there was a divine command behind it. Killing should never come easy.  Also I don’t believe I would ever be commanded to kill another human being by God. In the Old Testament Israel and God’s people were used as a human representation of God’s judgement and so God did use them to kill. The thing is that God’s wrath and judgement on sin was completely poured out on Christ at the cross. We are in a new age of mercy where the old is fading and the new is coming.

If God told you to kill an atheist, would you?

I already pretty much answered this in the previous question.

  • (Morality)

When an atheist is kind and charitable out of the kindness of his heart, is his behavior more or less commendable than a religious man who does it because God instructed him to?

Yes and No. An atheist who does a kindness in order to get a warm and fuzzy feeling or to feel good about themselves is really no different in motive than a religious person who does good simply to please his God. Christians however don’t believe in doing good to appease God, but rather we do good because we are so filled with love for what God has already done that we cannot help but let that love overflow onto others.

If you are against the Crusades and the Inquisition, would you have been burned alive as a heretic during those events?

Maybe. It depends on how vocal I was.

If your interpretation of a holy book causes you to condemn your ancestors for having a different interpretation, will your descendants condemn you in the same way?

I’m pretty loose in what I consider a Christian. If they believe Christ was fully divine and fully man, the messiah, and that he died and rose again for the sake of sinners so that they would be forgiven then I consider them a Christian. Any other interpretations are secondary and are not “deal breakers.” I don’t know the beliefs of my ancestors. I also don’t know whether they would condemn me.

Rape wasn’t always a crime in the Middle East two thousand years ago. Is that why `do not rape’ is not part of the Ten Commandments?

Well it was. Also if you notice a lot of things weren’t mentioned in the Ten commandments. I would say that the 7th commandment “Though Shall Not Commit Adultery”, the 8th Commandment “Thou Shall Not Steal” and the 10th “Thou shall not covet” could all be applied to condemn rape.

Do lions need `god-given’ morality to understand how to care for their young, co-operate within a pack, or feel anguish at the loss of a companion? Why do we?

No. Morality can exist in a secular sense. My problem with secular morality is not that it doesn’t exist, but rather that it is entirely dependent on the individual and the ever-changing opinion of the mass. Secular morality is dangerously close to mob morality. This doesn’t mean it cannot be right or true, but I simply don’t find it sturdy enough for me.

If organized religion requires a civilization in which to spread, how could this civilization exist without first having a moral code to make us civil?

I’m not sure I understand this question. I think religion is one of the first steps any primitive people experience before forming a civilization. Historically civilizations tend to come from and form around temples and religious structures.

  • (The Characteristics of God)

An all-knowing God can read your mind, so why does he require you to demonstrate your faith by worshiping him?

He doesn’t. Worship is a means for us to show gratitude. He knows our heart, but we enjoy celebrating what God has done. Worship is a mutually beneficial act.

If God is all-knowing, why do holy books describe him as surprised or angered by the actions of humans? He should have known what was going to happen.

When we tell stories we are limited by our language. There re truly no words that I believe can accurately encapsulate God. For the narrative structure to work God must be humanized to an extent so that we can fathom what is happening. We anthropomorphize God to better relate to him.

An all-knowing God knows who will ultimately reject him. Why does God create people who he knows will end up in hell?

Hell is the result of man’s free will. God desires that all men would be saved, but he forces no one to follow him. Apart from God there can be no good and complete rejection of God is the absence of good, or Hell. God wants you in heaven one day, but he doesn’t force anyone to come home. God created us to love us and be loved by us, love however requires a choice, and a choice means that it must be possible to reject love.

If God is all-knowing, then why did he make humans in the knowledge that he’d eventually have to send Jesus to his death?

All things for the glory of God. Jesus was not plan B. Jesus was plan A so that God could tangibly demonstrate his love for us and show us grace and mercy while remaining true and just.

Why did a supposedly omnipotent god take six days to create the universe, and why did he require rest on the seventh day?

It’s a narrative story. It’s meant to show the passing of time. In English the word “rest” usually is the result of becoming tired or exhausted. This is a translation problem. The original Hebrew text used a word which simply meant that on the seventh day God stopped creating. It is not that God was tired after six days of work, but rather that his creation was complete.

Is omnipotence necessary to create our universe when a larger, denser universe would have required more power?

As I stated in the previous answer, when the creation was complete God stopped working. I don’t see how a larger or more dense universe would be any more or less necessary than the one we live in. I’m still a little confused by what this question was supposed to be saying?

  • (The Bible)

Why are Churches filled with riches when Jesus asked his followers to give their wealth away?

You should come visit my church. But on a serious note all things are for the Glory of God. Wealth used to honor and glorify God is a way to put God above money. We are to give to all who are in need, and most churches do. Also I’ll point out that those elaborately decorated cathedrals this question was probably pointed to are usually built by donations from the poor that the church supports. If churches never ran shelters, food and clothing drives, hospitals, or orphanages then I could see the problem, but that is not the case.

While in the desert, Jesus rejected the temptations of the Devil. He didn’t censor or kill the Devil, so why are Christians so in favor of censoring many Earthly temptations?

Christ did not openly embrace or allow the devil to prosper either. He tolerated evil only so far before he shut him down. What good could possibly come from allowing evil to go unchecked.

Given that the story of Noah’s Ark was copied almost word for word from the much older Sumerian Epic of Atrahasis, does this mean that our true ruler is the supreme sky god, Anu?

No, but perhaps Anu the supreme sky god and Yahweh are the same God seen through different cultural lenses. Remember my point about how different religions can still all testify to the existence of God? It’s a similar thing going on here. The story of Noah is particularly interesting because it occurs so often in so many different cultures and legends from around the world. It’s a really fascinating tale that seems to have roots all over the world, leaving me to believe that there is truth to it.

  • (Religious Conversion)

If your desire is to convert atheists so that they become more like you; do you think that you’re currently better than them?

My desire to convert atheists is so that they can be with me in heaven one day and come to know the joy and peace that comes from knowing Christ and having a relationship with the father. I do not think I am better than atheists, in fact I don’t know how a Christian could. Any holiness seen in Christians comes not from their own work or merit, but from the holy spirit and the gifts and blessings from God the father. To God be the glory.

If religious people don’t respect their children’s right to pick their own religion at a time when they’re able to make that decision, how can society expect religious people to respect anyone’s right to freedom of religion?

Well that’s a loaded question. A Christian parent should not respect their child’s rejection of Christ because that is the most hateful thing a parent could possibly do. That is literally tolerating someone right into the gates of Hell (God forbid).  Any Christian who actually believes Christ meant what he said cannot easily allow any loved one to reject the truth without putting in a great deal of prayer effort to convince them otherwise. If I love my child I must hate what is harmful for them, and nothing should be hated more than the complete and total rejection of all things good. Notice this is not me saying the child should be hated, but the parent should do whatever is in their power to dissuade their child from what they know is a path away from what is good.

If missionaries from your religion should be sent to convert people in other countries, should missionaries from other religions be sent to your country?

That’s up to them to decide. I’d love to talk to them.

If children are likely to believe in Santa Claus and fairies, does this explain why religion has been taught in schools for thousands of years?

Not really. Religion was taught because it was believed to be true. Although there have always been atheists, the cultural movement has only really been around since the 18th century. For most of history there was not secular education. Churches were the centers of learning and the Priests were the educated people of the day. The shift of separating religion and education and religion and politics is a pretty recent occurrence in the grand scheme of history.

When preachers and prophets claim to be special messengers of God, they often receive special benefits from their followers. Does this ever cause you to doubt their intentions?

I’m not sure what you mean. I know of no rich prophets.

  • (Miracles)

When you declare a miracle, does this mean you understand everything that is possible in nature?

No. When I say something is a miracle it means I cannot see how God was not involved in this. Even if I know how something happens it can still be a miracle.

If a woman was cured of cancer by means unknown to us, and everyone declared it a miracle, would the chance of scientifically replicating this cure be more or less likely?

This is a strange question. If we didn’t know how it happened then I don’t know how science could hope to replicate it.

If humans declared fire to be a miracle thousands of years ago, would we still be huddling together in caves while we wait for God to fire another lightning bolt into the forest?

Fire is pretty miraculous when it is really though about, but I say no. The scientific method was invented by a catholic priest. Isaac Newton, Gregor Mendel, and Galileo were all deeply religious people who believed in miracles. These men were spurred on to discover because they believed that God created an ordered and understandable universe. Miracles doesn’t mean science stops. Miracles means that God still works, whether we understand how or not.

If God gave a man cancer, and the Devil cured him to subvert God’s plan, how would you know it wasn’t a divine miracle? What if he was an unkind, atheist, homosexual?

God has worked through the Devil (see the book of Job) and he has worked through non believers countless times in the Old Testament. If God gave a man cancer and then chose to remove it then it doesn’t really matter to me how it was removed.

  • (Hell)

Should an instruction to convert to your religion upon the threat of eternal torture in hell be met with anything other than hostility?

We aren’t threatening you with hell anymore than the person who sees an eighteen wheeler bearing down on you is threatening you with the eighteen wheeler. We simply see the danger and wish to save you from it. To do anything else would be extremely cruel.

Can a mass murderer go to heaven for accepting your religion, while a kind doctor goes to hell for not?

Yes. No man deserves eternal paradise and communion with God, yet God saw it good to give us admittance into his family free of charge. If a kind doctor rejects this offer and chooses hell then his decision will be honored. If a mass murder chooses repentance and grace then God is good to forgive.

Did the mass murdering Crusaders and Inquisitors make it into the Christian heaven?

I certainly hope so. I also hope their victims have found a home in paradise along side them.

How can we know what is right when we don’t know for sure who makes it into heaven and hell?

This question is written as if good people go to heaven and bad people go to hell. There are no good or bad people. There are only redeemed and unrepentant people.

If aliens exist on several worlds that have never heard of your god, will they all be going to hell when they die?

That’s not my call to make, but I would assume no. The reason a man goes to heaven or hell is because of his eternal soul. Unless and alien was given an eternal soul by God I’d assume their fate is the same as a dog or a whale.

  • (The Promises of Religion)

If someone promised you eternal life, the protection of a loving super being, a feeling of moral righteousness, a purpose for living, answers to all the big questions, and a rule book for achieving the pinnacle of human potential… and all in exchange for having faith in something that wasn’t proven, would you be suspicious?

Yes. I was very skeptical before I became a Christian. I was a very difficult person to convince.

If someone promised to give you a billion dollars after ten years, but only if you worshiped them until that time, would you believe them? If someone promised to give you eternal life upon death, but only if you spent your life worshiping a god, would you believe them?

Worshiping a man for money is not a worthy endeavor. Maybe, obviously I said yes to Christianity though I still think you misunderstand the point of worship though. I also think these questions focus way too much on the next life and not enough on the life we have now. Christianity is not just a religion of the future, it is a life to be lived out now.

Why does religion appeal more to poor, weak, vulnerable, young, ill, depressed, and ostracized people? Could religious promises be more of a temptation to these people?

It appeals to these people because they understand what it means to need grace, mercy, healing and a savior. A person who is extremely blessed in this world has many things he can make his God, whether it is money, power, influence, pride, approval, or what have you. The poor and needy are closer to God because they know what it means to cling to him for their needs.

Why I Love the Broken Hypocritical Church

 “I have powerful and tender feelings for Christ’s broken church, wobbling along these 2000 years, still bumbling and stumbling and confessing and promising to do better. What a silly bunch of dreamers we are. Ridiculous, really. We stand together in our collective absurdity, somehow managing to catch – in the rich depth of our liturgy – truths that are beyond our understanding but accessible to our simple hearts.”

– Gordon Atkinson (Author of “The Tertium Squid” Blog)

There’s an old joke I’ve heard many times in church and that it goes something like this. A man goes up to the pastor of a Church with a check list and asks him all sorts of questions. He asks about the sermon style and length, the childcare available, the friendliness of the congregation, the music style, the version of the Bible used, whether there are pews or chairs, and so on and so forth. After about the tenth or so question the pastor asks what this is all about. The man tells him that he is new to the area and wants to find the perfect church. Jokingly the pastor replies “Son there’s no such thing as a perfect church, and if you find one don’t join it cause you’ll screw it up.”

It’s an old cheesy joke, but the point is pretty clear. Churches are people and people are messed up. Coming from a person in career ministry I know better than most people that church life takes patience, people skills, and a thick skin. You will never please everyone and you will get yelled out, talked about, and worn out if you don’t learn quickly to love very broken people.

The number one complaint I hear from people who don’t want to go to church is that the church is full of hypocrites. What I don’t understand is what exactly people were expecting?

No where in Christianity will you find the idea that the Church is perfect, or anything more than a bunch of broken people clinging to a savior. We suck at Christianity, and honestly we are always going to suck at it. That’s kind of the reason we need Jesus. You don’t go to a hospital and complain about all the sick people, so why would you go to a church and complain about hypocrites. I’m a sinner saved by grace who still falls into sin on a daily basis, I’m a hypocrite. This isn’t me justifying my sin, but admitting that I need a savior and I need grace and mercy…. which is like Christianity 101.

They Like Jesus

A pretty good read on the subject if anyone is interested.

We aren’t perfect people, if we were we wouldn’t be Christians because we wouldn’t need Jesus. What we are is a body of sinful souls who have found forgiveness. We are nothing but thirsty people in a desert who found water and want to share it with the world. Every single Christian you will ever meet is deeply flawed. Don’t believe me, spend a significant amount of time with anyone and see how long their perfect persona lasts. We are all seeking righteousness and trying to do better, but if perfection is what you are looking for we can’t give you that, at least not on this side of eternity. 

What I can offer you, (and what any Church body should offer you) is a family. It’s a broken family that doesn’t always get along, but a family none the less. It’s a brotherhood of believers who are trying to make it through this crazy game of life, who realize we all screw up, and who hopefully will be there to pick you up when you fall and help point you back to the one who loves to forgive sinners.

The church is a place where broken people get to come and find love and forgiveness. The Church is a place where sinners help each other find the one who can make them clean again and use them to do amazing things. The church is a diverse body that is all united by one love for a God who first loved us.

I’ve heard amazing stories about people who, when their life fell apart, had a church family to catch them when they fall. I’ve seen a community of believers come together to support brothers and sisters in amazing ways though sickness, death, financial struggles, marital problems, and all the ups and downs life offers us. I’ve seen amazing discipleship and real brotherhood and sisterhood that strengthens and bonds. I’ve seen wonderful things come form a church that truly cares. I sincerely hope this is your Church experience.

Unfortunately I’ve also seen churches that fail to be churches when there members are in need. I’ve seen people shunned from churches because of sins that were brought out in the open and I’ve seen members up and leave over disputes they didn’t care to resolve in the church. If this sounds more like your church than the one I described earlier then here is my advice, I want you to be the church member you wish everyone else was. I want you to be the supportive, positive, encouraging, and loving brother you want to see in the church. We have too many dead and dying churches that are abandoned by people who want something better. You won’t find a perfect church, but you can work at building up the one you are currently at.  

Look, we aren’t going to get this Christianity thing down perfect any time soon. Luckily God is patient with us, slow to anger, and quick to forgive. Perhaps we could adopt a similar attitude towards our brothers and sisters?

My challenge for you is to learn to love the church. Love the sinner, love the hypocrite, and love the broken person. Jesus loved you although you were all three, why can’t we try a little harder to do the same for our brothers and sisters.

Now if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but in some measure—not to put it too severely—to all of you. For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him.

– 2 Corinthians 2:5-8

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.

– Galatians 6:1-2

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

– Ephesians 4:31-32

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.  Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

– 1 Peter 2:9-10

And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.

– Colossians 3:14-16

No church is going to live up to the above commands perfectly, and neither will you, but that’s ok. Jesus is a friend of sinners and hypocrites are just the type of people he wants to see in church. Christ didn’t take the sins of the world on himself so that he could start a church of perfect little angels on earth. He knew full well that his Church was going to be made up of hypocrites, liars, thieves, perverts, drunkards, slandering, selfish people who failed to keep his commands. He knew full well that his church would be far from perfect:

“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

– Mark 2:17

And though we do tend to do a horrible job of representing Christ he still loves us. A trend that bothers me in modern-day Christianity is the idea that we don’t need the Church or “Organized Religion” as it is so often called. I really don’t believe you can love Jesus and hate his Church. If you can’t stand hypocrisy, and sinners make you cringe, I’d first suggest you take some time to examine yourself and make sure you aren’t a pot calling the kettle black. Next I’d suggest you try to look at this rag-tag bunch of misfits we call the Christian church in a different light. Because whether or not you want to claim it, if you are a believer you are a part of the church.

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.  Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

– 1 Corinthians 12:12-27

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

-Ephesians 2:19-22

Don’t Weigh Sins: The Pharisee and the In Church Texter

So the other day I was teaching my youth the parable of the Tax Collector and the Pharisee. It’s a very simple parable and while it’s lesson is clear, I find it often very hard to follow. The parable goes like this:

 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable:  “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

– Luke 18:9-14

The lesson seems clear. We do not need to get caught up in self praise or fill our heads up with the idea that our sins are somehow any less serious than someone else’s. From experience I know that the sin a man most hates is usually the one he doesn’t struggle with. We just naturally try to justify ourselves while condemning others instead of actually seeking true repentance and righteousness. The lesson seemed to be well taken, but then something interesting happened.

Two of my youth came up to me afterwards and told me that Jennifer (name changed for the sake of privacy) was texting during the lesson and that I should call her out and not let her use her phone next time. I have let my youth use their smart phones during my lessons with the understanding that they were using a Bible app to follow along. I knew good and well that someone would eventually abuse this privilege, but I allowed it. I told the concerned youth that since it was a distraction to them, I would make a new rule starting next week that we’ll just use hard copy Bibles from now on. They were not very pleased with my decision.  They wanted to know why I had to punish everyone (as if having to read from a book instead of a screen was punishment) just because one person broke the rules.

These two youth were not really concerned with the problem being addressed as much as they were desiring for the perpetrator to be punished. This part of human nature always frustrates me. We don’t just want things fixed, we also want a bad guy to punish or else we don’t feel like we got closure. What really got me agitated though was when one of the youth uttered the following phrase “We’re just concerned about Jennifer because she REALLY needs Jesus. She’s REALLY messed up!”

I tried very much not to show that I was more than a little bothered by this choice of words. I explained to the two youth that everybody REALLY needs Jesus and that everybody is REALLY messed up. We don’t get to play the “who’s the worst sinner” game when we know good and well that we are in desperate need of a savior. I probably would have been less bothered by this if I had just not taught a lesson on this very concept.

Now I’m not going to pretend I’m perfect at this. I can be very judgmental at times and I too tend to put sins on a hierarchy of seriousness. The truth of the matter though is that all sins are serious and no one is in a position to be tearing others down when they are ignoring the sin in their own hearts. I am reminded of the words of St. Chrysotom who famously said:

“The church is a hospital, not a courtroom”
– St. John Chrysostom

The Forgotten Hippy: Remembering Lonnie Frisbee And The Jesus Movement

Today marks the 10th anniversary of the death of Lonnie Frisbee. I have no doubt that many who are reading this have no idea who Lonnie Frisbee is because up until about a month ago I had no idea who he was either. I just kind of accidentally stumbled upon this guy, and after reading up on his life, I’m surprised I had never heard of him before. Frisbee was a controversial figure to say the least, but he was also one of the most important and influential figures that protestant christianity has seen in a long time.

explo72Frisbee is seen by many as the match that lit the flame that was “The Jesus Movement” of the 1960’s and 70’s. This movement resulted in a massive explosion of Christianity that some have gone on to call the “4th Great Awakening.” Considering everything that was going on in the 60’s it is hard to believe that it actually succeeded as well as it did. Christianity was not something the revolutionary counter-culture of the 60’s was always often willing to embrace. Christianity was seen as the religion of “the man” and the moral police who wanted to kill free love. So what happened to change this?

One of the reason this movement succeeded was due to the “Jesus People’s” realness and the true compassion they showed towards others. In the last decade the term “Jesus Freak” became temporarily popular among the Christian youth of America because of a DC Talk song, but originally the term was used by the Jesus Movement as a means of turning the other cheek. They accepted the title that was meant to be an insult and made it their own, which is a lesson that I think a lot of moder churches can learn from.

The Jesus Movement really focused on community and often lead churches become jesus-people-time-magazine.jpgcommunes in which communities lived and worked together in a form of communal hippy brotherhood. As strange as it may seem, these communes were often not unlike the first church depicted in Acts. This was very appealing to the youth of that era who were growing up in a time of racial, sexual, societal, and political revolution. The Jesus movement tended to sweep through “bad” parts of town and it was common place for “Jesus Freaks” to reach out to drug addicts, prostitutes, and the homeless (kind of like Jesus did).

This movement eventually faded alongside the revolutionary culture of the 60’s and 70’s and was all but dead by the time the 80’s rolled around. In spite of this the impact the movement left cannot be undersold. Thousands of people came to Christ as a result of the movement, some going on to become ministers and evangelists themselves. Contemporary christian music exists largely in part to this movement, and there are dozens of large churches today that can trace their roots back to the Jesus movement.

So how did this happen and what did Lonnie Frisbee have to do with it?

Well, Frisbee himself was a bit of a wreck. Like most people God uses to do big things, he was the last person you would expect. From early on Frisbee had it rough. H was sexually abused as a young child and as a youth he got involved in the drug culture. When he was 15 he became active in the gay underground scene and he began to actively embraced the free-love hippie attitude of the 60’s. As a part of his “spiritual quest” Frisbee would read the Bible while tripping on Acid and in a humorous twist of fait he came to the lord because of a married couple who found him rambling about UFO’s and Jesus on the side of the road. This broken human being would soon become the “spark” that started it all.

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As fate would have it, Frisbee met Chuck Smith, a church planter. The only reason these two came into contact was because Smith had jokingly mentioned that he wanted to meet a hippy in real life. Not quite understanding the sarcasm of the statement, Smith’s daughter’s boyfriend brought home Frisbee. Before this chance meeting, Frisbee had been hitchhiking around the country so he could tell people about Jesus. He had just happened to be in Smith’s home town at just the right moment. To the surprise of many, Frisbee became a very effective minister for Smith’s church plant. This plant’s “hippy christianity” would eventually spread greater and further outward until it started a nation wide movement movement.

Frisbee was not the “head” of the Jesus movement (the movement surpassingly lacked a figure-head other than Christ himself)  and he never claimed to be, but it can be said that if it had not been for this weird little hippy from Laguna Beach, the movement might not have ever happened. Frisbee was not one to take credit for anything, and he remained humble despite his sudden boom in popularity.

It would be nice if I could end the story here, but unfortunately the rest of Frisbee’s life was not easy. In the midst of the movement, Lonnie divorce his wife in 1973 after she had an affair with the head pastor of his church. Distraught, Frisbee left his Vineyard Church in Denver to pursue a life of ministry elsewhere. In the years that followed, Lonnie had a very difficult time dealing with his homosexual desires, that he had had since he first got involved in the homosexual scene of his youth. He was not shy about the fact that he viewed homosexuality as a sin, nor was he shy about admitting that he struggled with homosexual attraction throughout his life. While his candid admittance might seem like a good thing to us, who have seen so many ministers get outed on national TV after a lifetime of hiding, but unfortunately Lonnie was often condemned and persecuted for the attractions he had no control over. On one occasion he was quoted as saying that he had to stop mentioning his homosexual struggles in his testimony because people treated him like a leper once they knew he had same-sex tendencies. This self described “sinful attraction” was always be an obstacle for Lonnie, and as a result of his struggles he was regularly shunned from churches he helped start. Some churches would even go so far as to omitted Lonnie Frisbee from church records, as if to say he never existed.

Frisbee died of AIDS on this date in 1993 and his funeral depicted him as a man who loved Jesus but tragically fell victim to his own vices.

Lonnie Frisbee

Lonnie Frisbee

Any person could see that Lonnie Frisbee was not a perfect person, but he never claimed to be one either. He was honest almost to a fault and he never tried to be something he wasn’t. He struggled with drugs and sexual urges that he deemed sinful for most of his life, but he loved the Lord and he loved other people. Lonnie had a rough life, but because of this strange bisexual hippie from Laguna Beach, thousands (and possibly millions) of lives were changed and though the full extent of his impact will never be known, I feel confident that the kingdom of heaven is a little fuller because of this man.

So what can we learn from Lonnie Frisbee? I think the take away here is one that is found all throughout scripture, which is that God can (and does) use all people for his good. Abraham was too old, David was and adulterer, Noah got drunk, Moses couldn’t speak well, Jacob was a traitor, Peter had a big mouth, Jonah was a racist,  Gideon doubted himself, Elijah was slow, the list goes on and on. The thing about all of the above people is that we don’t focus on their flaws, we focus on how God worked through them to do incredible things.

Lonnie Frisbee is not remembered very often, and when he is it is often with reluctance. No one wants to talk about the bisexual hippie preacher with a drug past who helped lead thousands to Christ. To admit that would be to admit that God used a gay hippie with a drug history, and we seem to prefer the idea that God only uses “good people” to do his work. I don’t want to make light of Lonnie’s sins, but if I were to be honest I think the church failed Lonnie more than Lonnie failed the church. Before he died, Lonnie made sure that it was known that he forgave all those who had ostracized him and shunned him in the past. Despite being mistreated and despised by the churches he helped found, he wanted it known that he forgave them.

I guess in closing I’d just like to say thanks Lonnie, for being real and for loving others even when you weren’t loved in return. I hope to see you on the other side some day.

Worshipful Screams: How I Was So Selfish I Prayed For Someone To Leave Church

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I know this is probably not a shocking revelation for anyone of the Christian faith, but we are far from perfect people. As a youth minister I like to think that I can avoid sinning at least while I’m in the middle of worship, but unfortunately I’m still a sinner even when I’m singing praises to my King. This is a short little story about how I put my own desires before others and for a moment thought I was more deserving of God than someone else.

It started as a fairly normal Sunday morning sermon but sitting behind me was a family that I had never seen before. It was what appeared to be a father and daughter, though I didn’t talk to them any more than the formal “Welcome, we’re glad to have you here” handshake. It quickly became apparent to me that the daughter was mentally handicapped in some form or another. I’ve worked with mentally handicapped people before, but this might have been the first time I’ve sat near one of them during a sermon. I really didn’t think too much of it until the music started and everyone rose up to begin singing.

That was when the young girl behind me began to scream out the music in the most off-key and distracting voice. The father was clearly embarrassed and so I did the polite thing and faced forwards so as not to make eye contact. My goal was to focus on worship and try to pretend that this horrid screaming wasn’t happening just one pew behind me. The father of the young girl did successfully silence her with a calm shush every few minutes, but then the girl would get excited all over again and start screaming the words to the hymns as loud as she could.

I can’t remember a time when I was more distracted in a church service. I became agitated and I started to wonder why the father was not excusing himself and his daughter out of the building so that people who came to worship could do so in peace. I was experiencing the same frustration here that I would have experienced in a movie theatre with that strange couple that always decides to bring their crying baby with them. In my mind she was inconveniencing me and so I began a prayer asking God to remove this “distraction” so others could worship in peace.

Let me tell you about conviction! God spoke to me before I even finished that thought and made me feel like dirt. “What you call a distraction is more beautiful to me than the most beautiful hymn, I created that girl’s voice and she is using it to worship me. Don’t think I share your pettiness in thinking that my house is for your comfort. Let the girl worship.” God humbled me then and there and when the next song picked up those screams of praise to the King of Kings seemed to me much less distracting and a great deal more beautiful.

As much as I might like to roll my eyes at the Pharisees in the Gospel accounts for how much they missed the point entirely, I’m just as guilty as they are. I’m no better than the Pharisees who looked down upon the poor widow with two coins or the Disciples who tried to keep the children away from Christ. I had become so entitled and stuck in my ways that I had the nerve to think that God preferred my dry baritone hymn chanting to the boisterous worship of girl who could not help herself from singing praises to the Lord.

If there is a point to this post it is this: Learn from my mistake and do not suppose that God sees other people as you do. What we may deem ugly, dirty, noisy, and broken, God may see as beautiful. It is my prayer that we all could learn to have the patience, the love, and the wisdom needed to see others as God sees them. Peace to you all.