“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.

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How Kierkegaard, Jesus, and a Transgender Person are Making Me Rethink Labels

Philosophy has always been something that I enjoyed learning about, and with out a doubt my favorite philosopher is Soren Kierkegaard. I don’t want to spend too much time on him because he is not the focus of this article. The only reason I bring up Kierkegaard at all is because he is the author of a famous quote that I am just now beginning to understand:

“If you label me you negate me.”

– Soren Kierkegaard

I love Kierkegaard, but I always thought that this was a terrible quote. Labels are important after all. If we never labeled anything how could we organize ourselves. Compartmentalizing the vastness of stuff out there is important if we ever plan to get anything accomplished. The problem I am just now realizing though is that this is not always true with people.

As a culture we love labels. We love labeling each other and labeling ourselves. If you don’t believe me just look at how many Christian denominations there are out there. While I like to think that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ, we still  have hundreds of different factions all over the place. Even Baptists (the faction I call home) have dozens of mini-branches under the umbrella term of Baptist. I’m not even getting into political beliefs, class, race, nationality, gender identity, sexual orientation, or societal/cultural concepts.

I could easily list twenty or so terms that “define me” as a person, but if I’m honest none of them are really all that encompassing of me. In a lot of cases I’m only partially synonymous with my label. In other cases I fit my label as it is defined, but not as it is perceived by others or as society as a whole. Labels can be too big, too small, incomplete, inadequate, and often changing with time. It’s almost impossible to define you by just spouting off labels. Even if I did give you the perfect terms to describe my heritage, religion, politics, class, gender, orientation, and philosophy would you actually know me?

My brain goes to that beautiful scene in “Good Will Hunting” where Sean Maguire (Robin Williams) really gets to put Will Hunting (Matt Damon) in his place for the first time:

“You’re an orphan right? You think I know the first thing about how hard your life has been, how you feel, who you are, because I read Oliver Twist? Does that encapsulate you? Personally, I don’t give a **** about all that, because you know what, I can’t learn anything from you that I can’t read in some ***** book. Unless you want to talk about you, who you are. Then I’m fascinated. I’m in. But you don’t want to do that do you sport? You’re terrified of what you might say.”

– Sean Maguire from “Good Will Hunting”

So we get the point by now, labels are incomplete at best and hurtful at the worst, but why am I bringing any of this up? Well the other day I was faced with something I really never expected to be faced with. I was given the opportunity to minister to a person who felt like a man trapped in a woman’s body. This was the first time in my life I’ve ever had to interact with a person dealing with a non-hetero normative gender identity.

I am a licensed minister working at a Southern Baptist church and this young person (I’m still trying to figure out whether “He” or “She” is the more appropriate term) was suddenly placed under my spiritual guidance. I’m now forced to make a judgement call on how to approach something I know almost nothing about.

I mean I knew that people like this existed. I know about sex changing operations and I had read about clinical psychological studies on gender identity, but I had never actually had to deal with this on a personal level. Similar to Will Hunting, I had read the books but that didn’t mean I knew anything at all about this person. This is where it the idea of a transgender person became real to me for the first time. Suddenly transgender people weren’t a work of fiction, or some strange tribe living in strange places like New York or California. This was a real person with feelings, needs, hopes, dreams, and desires that I was encountering.

Luckily all the stress from this unexpected situation faded away quickly when I realized just how silly I was being about this whole thing. This person I was dealing with was not an embodiment of the entire transgender culture, any more than I am an embodiment of white heterosexual manhood. This was just another human being, and this person wants the same thing all of my other youth want; love, acceptance, compassion, friendship, spiritual guidance, and support for when times get rough. Yeah, I might eventually have to have to talk about this gender identity thing, but we can do that when and if that person decides the time is right. My job is the love this person and point them to Jesus, end of story.

Reflecting back on this realization it really dawned on me just how dehumanizing labels can be (even if they are accurate). It is so easy to make all sorts of assumptions and stereotypes based around whatever label we assign people, and every time we do that it robs them of their humanness and individuality. A person is not defined exclusively based on any one factor and yet we put so much work into labeling people as if that was the key to understanding them.

Jesus dealt with crowds and groups, but he also always saved times for individuals. Do you think the Samaritan woman was only that, a Samaritan and a woman, in Christ’s eyes.  Do you think he saw Zacchaeus as simply a tax collector like the rest of his community did? Were lepers just lepers in the Lord’s eyes? Was Nicodemus just a Pharisee? Peter just a poor fisherman?

The answer over and over is no. Jesus saw people for people. He knew their heart and he didn’t concern himself with trying to fit people into neat little categories. Over and over we see Jesus dealing with people from all sorts of classes and categories as individuals. He didn’t ignore who they were, but he also wasn’t so caught up labels that he missed the person underneath.

I’ll tell you right now that I would have never even considered asking a cross dressing transgender person to come to church. I’m deeply ashamed to admit that, but if I knew a person who had those labels attached to them I think I’d pass over offering them an invite. I’d just assume that they would hate it and that they probably already have a negative view of the church, but honestly who am I to make that call. Luckily for me, while I was trying to make a cool youth group for “church kids” one of my youth had the Christ like love to give that confused and scared person an invite to come and hangout with Jesus this week. I think that that alone makes that brave fourteen year old girl a much evangelist and representative of Christ than me. Thank God for people like her.

So I guess I’ll wrap this post up with a commitment and a challenge. I am going to commit to avoiding playing the label game as much as possible. I’m going to commit to looking at individuals and loving people regardless or whatever titles and baggage they have. I challenge you to do the same.

“… I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.” 

– 1 Corinthians 9:22-23

What is Repentance?

repentance2

I think it is pretty safe to say that repentance is a major theme in Christianity. While we are saved by faith, we demonstrate that faith by repenting of our sins. Something I realized recently is that there are a lot of different notions about what repentance means.

Is repentance just saying sorry?

How do we know if we have actually repented?

How do we know that God has forgiven us?

I hope to answer these questions in this post and hopefully give a more clear view of what it means to have a truly repentant heart.

The Bible makes it clear many times in scripture that we are saved by our faith and trust in God rather than in simply doing good or not doing bad. This comes from the belief that man is not worthy of salvation, but that God is gracious, merciful, and forgiving. God is willing and able to forgive you of your sins, but there is some ground work that needs to be done first.

Before anything can be done a person has to believe. Repentance and Belief are two cornerstones in Christianity when it comes to our understanding of Salvation. The Greek word that we translate into “Believe” is “Pisteuo” and it means “to place one’s trust in.”  When we believe in God we are trusting him, and when we believe in Christ we are putting our trust in him and the power he has to save us.

By placing our trust in God we can say that we have trusted him to save us. We can take rest and find peace in the knowledge that God can and will save us, but what about Repentance? If it is our faith/belief in God and what he did through Christ that saves us, where then does Repentance come in?

The Bible makes it clear that if we hope to find salvation then we need repentance:

“No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

– Luke 13:3

So what does it mean to repent and how can we know for certain that we have repented?

When we look at scriptures Belief (Pisteuo) is often paired up with the idea of Repentance (Metanoeo). “Metanoeo” is the Greek word that we often translate to mean “repent” and it’s meaning conveys a “change of mind.”  This is not a purely intellectual change, but also a change in the direction of one’s life.

When we Repent (Metanoeo) we are in a sense turning from our allegiance to self, sin, and unbelief. We are abandoning our old ways and making a conscious effort to change our direction. This is where our Belief (Pisteuo) comes in. Our new direction and focus in life shifts from the self, sin, and unbelief, and is instead is replaced by a focus on service, righteousness, and trusting in Christ.

When faith or belief is mentioned, repentance is implied (if not directly stated.) The opposite can also be said that repentance implies that belief and faith are already present.

Repentance then, is more than just saying “I’m sorry.” It is a conscious effort turn from the old ways that drew you away from God and turn your life in a direction that seeks the Lord.

“If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

– 2 Chronicles 7:14

Just like the parable of the Prodigal’s son in Luke 15:11-32 our heavenly father does not want us to try to earn his love, and he does not expect us to be able to pay for our sins. Instead he patiently waits for us to turn our hearts back to him, and once we do he is quick to run to us, forgive us, and bring us back home.

Repentance is not some elaborate sanctification ritual, but it is also goes a lot deeper than simply saying “I’m sorry.” Repentance is a heart change and a desire to come home. Just like the Prodigal’s son, we can often times wander far away from the father, but he never stops waiting for us and he is willing to run out and welcome us home when we call out to him with genuinely repentant hearts.

God’s Wonderful Plan For Your Life Might Not Be Comfortable

jeremiah

Jeremiah

It’s getting to be that time of year again when high school and college seniors are graduating from their respected levels of education. It’s a time to to reflect on the past years, to look forward to the times ahead, and to take Jeremiah 29:11 completely out of context.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

– Jeremiah 29:11

I feel like I almost didn’t even need to include Jeremiah  29:11 in this passage. Modern Christianity has made it one of the most popularly quoted passages of scripture of all time. I get the appeal. This verse is a guarantee that someone up there is looking out for us. It comes with a promise of prosperity, a higher plan, and hope that all things will work out for good. The verse doesn’t ask for much of us when read by itself and it creates this image of a vague benevolent force that’s got your back.

I do believe that God does have a plan for you, and that he has given you hope and a future. I also believe that God’s amazing and wonderful plan for your life is probably not going to be the wish-fulfilling prosperity and comfortable life we tend to imagine.

For starters, let’s address the book this passage is taken from. Jeremiah was known as “The Weeping Prophet” and for a good reason. God sent Jeremiah to warn the people of Israel against the coming disaster that they were heading towards because of their abandonment of God. Jeremiah loved his people and devoted his life to winning them back to God, only to be hated, abused, and mistreated for most of his life. Jeremiah did his job by warned the people, but on this side of eternity he never received what we would call a “prosperous life.” Jeremiah put his heart and soul into his ministry, but at the end of the day he hardly saw any fruits from his labors.

martyr

The Death of an Early Christian In the Gladiator Games

He is far from the only person in the Bible to end up on the seeming short end of the stick. Jumping ahead to the New Testament church leaders, we see that Paul spent the majority of his life in prison while Peter, Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, James, Thaddeus, and Simon would all eventually be crucified for spreading the good news of Christ. Others were burned, speared, stabbed, stoned, tortured, and left for dead due to exposure. Does that sound like a prosperous life?

I guess what I’m getting at is when we use Jeremiah 29:11 out of context we can easily stray off into a border line prosperity gospel message, and that just isn’t Biblical. God’s wonderful plan for your life, if you choose to actually pursue it, will probably not be a comfortable one. We as Christians today are so big on comfort. We don’t want to inconvenience ourselves or others with sharing the gospel because it might get awkward.

Our wondrous and prosperous life is living in the reality that our sins have been forgiven and we get the honor and privilege of sharing that good news with the rest of the world. God doesn’t promise each of us riches, comfort, earthly pleasures, a nice house, or even a loving spouse. The american dream is not exactly what Jeremiah 29:11 was talking about.

We really have only two ways we can conduct our lives. We can either live our lives for something eternal or something fading. I don’t think we truly grasp just how amazing it is to consider the fact that we have a purpose at all. The universe certainly doesn’t owe us one, and if we approach reality form the view that we were nothing more than a chemical reaction and chance, then we really don’t have a purpose. Life outside of God is an empty and meaningless endeavor.

Instead God promises us that there is a plan and a purpose behind all of this. Our lives are not without meaning and we aren’t just random accidents in a chaotic universe, we have a plan and a purpose to our lives. Not only do we have a purpose, but we are promised prosperity. Our lives may not seem like successes by worldly standards, but even the “worst” life that follows God is better than the “best” life pursing fading, empty, and pointless passions that will never leave any eternal impact.

In the book of Ecclesiastes, King Solomon mourns the pointlessness of life. He was a man who had every pleasure and desire imaginable. He was prosperous and lived in excess by almost every human standard. He had any food he desired, more money and riches than could be spent, more wives than he could ever need, and anything his heart desired… and in the end he found it all empty and useless.

“Meaningless! Meaningless!”says the Teacher.“Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.”

– Ecclesiastes 1:2

King Solomon needed a purpose. He needed a reason for everything, or else nothing he did or obtained seemed to matter.

God gives us a purpose, he gives us a plan, he lets us play a part in his redemptive story. He gives us a reason to live, a goal to strive for, and the guarantee that it is not all in vain. Nothing else on earth can guarantee that. There is no cause, fight, goal, or achievement apart from God that can give you the guarantee that in the end it will not be forgotten and made worthless by the ever ongoing annuls of time. Only God can give us a purpose, only God can help us truly prosper, and only God can give us something eternal.

“God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.”

– C.S. Lewis.

I’m Really Going To Miss That Ragamuffin: A Tribute To Brennan Manning

imagesSo in the rush and fuss of life I nearly missed the news that Brennan Manning passed away on Friday. I guess I can’t say I was caught off guard by this since Brennan was 79 years old and in deteriorating health, still I cant help but be deeply moved by his passing. I hesitate as I write this, because I know I’ll never be able to write anything that will capture what I want to say about this man. In my life, Brennan Manning is a giant among men.

I struggle to think of any teacher who was more influential and impacting in my Christian walk than Brennan Manning was. His relentless focus on the love of God really helped me to understand just how Good the God we worship is. The way Brennan Manning was able to stay optimistic and loving even during tales of his child abuse and alcohol addiction always managed to shake me to my core. Brennan had no illusions to the fact that he was a broken man who really needed grace. He was passionate and he spoke with a gentle authority. If you ever read any of his books, listened to his sermons, or engaged him in a conversation about God he made sure that you understood before all was said in done that God loves you no matter who you are and what you have done.

Brennan had a little saying he always used that I have adopted and used many times in my ministry.

Let yourself be loved by God, as you are, not as you should be… because you’ll never be as you should be.”

– Brennan Manning

He knew that we were all sinners and in desperate need of grace, but he never stopped there. He never left people squirming in the realization of their brokenness. Manning, in ways much more eloquently than I could hope to master, never failed to let you know that while we were all “ragamuffins,” God still loved us and that gave each and every one of us immense value.

Manning stressed grace and mercy over and over to the point that some people got sick of it, but in spite of what anyone else thought Manning could never get enough of the love of God. Brennan Manning had this raw sort of brutal love about him that I wish to emulate to those I minister to. He was never soft on sin, but he was never stingy on Grace either. Manning knew how to call a spade a spade and love that spade regardless. I’ve rarely ever come across a man who could so reflect the love of God as Manning did.

Even with this seemingly Godly sense of love and mercy that Manning carried about himself he never came off as anything more than a man who was tragically human. I was tempted to say that Manning was not ashamed of his sin, but that would be a lie. Manning was deeply ashamed of his flaws and failures, he simply didn’t try to hide them the way most people do. He was the type of man who owned up to his mistakes and tried to turn them around into a powerful testimony. Manning knew that he was not the only person ever to suffer from addiction, anger, selfishness, pettiness, and cruel desires, and he made a conscious choice to be honest about his sin.  He never tried to paint himself as a holy person, and he wanted it known by everyone that he was a sinner saved by the grace and love of God. Manning was the type of real ministers that only come around every once in a blue moon. He’s the type of minister that I wish I could be, and hope to be.

My heart is greatly pained at the thought of such a great man leaving us, but my spirit leaps with joy knowing that Brennan will have all of eternity to bask in the unending and unfiltered love of God that he so deeply sought after in life.

To God be the Glory.

 

God knows you. Come as you are.

self-deception

It can be difficult and frightening to truly examine your heart and soul.

Great courage is required to look at your own reflection and see yourself for who you truly are. Not for who you hope to be, or who you make yourself out to be, or who you wish you were, or who you convince other people you are, but rather who you truly are at your core. Unbiased. Unfiltered. Unedited.

It takes bravery and strength to look yourself in the soul and see every aspect of you. It takes a strong will not to casually justify yourself by saying “I’m only human”  or  “nobody’s perfect” as if that could excuse any wrong. It takes courage to examine your life without any self bias or bending the standard so you look better in comparison to everyone else. To look all your faults, failures, sins, and weaknesses and see them for what they are, that takes real bravery.

It takes bravery because, if we are honest, no one really wants to face up to the person at their core. We want to present our best and gloss over our worst. We want to be judged on a low standard where everyone passes. We want to convince ourselves that the easy road we so often take still gives us room to be a “good person.” We don’t want to face the fact that we spend much more time in sin or apathy than we do actually pursuing goodness or holiness.

One way I like to explain this to people is by asking them to picture their entire life as a movie. When I say this, I’m not talking about your life being presented in some uplifting heavily edited film that captures you in the best light as the conquering inspirational hero. I’m talking about a film that shows every single sin, thought, action, inaction, every deed good or evil, and all the motivations behind everything you’ve ever said, thought, or done. I’m talking about a completely unbiased film that captured every aspect of you. For most people I’d venture to say that this is a scary concept.

Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.

– John 3:20

No one would ever want that film shown because no one wants their true self exposed to the world. We’re afraid and we prefer the favorable lie. We don’t want other people knowing the things we think, or the decisions we make when we know no one is looking. We don’t want to own up to the truth that a lot of the good things we do are just here to give us some self-serving sense of satisfaction or as a means for us to justify our desire to come off as a good person. We would hate that.

Here’s the thing though, God has seen your film.  God knows every thought, action, inaction, and deed you have ever done. He knows what was done out of pure and loving motivations, what was done out of selfish vain conceit,  and what was not done because you just didn’t care enough to do something about it. He knows every cruel thing you’ve ever done, every moment you passed on an opportunity to do good, and every time you did good so others could see or so you could brag about it later. God knows you better than you know yourself, and what’s even more incredible about all of this is the fact that he loves you regardless.

While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ. Nothing can separate us from the love of God. The scriptures are clear about this. God loves us even though we can be completely unloveable.

Really take some time to ponder the Prodigal’s Son parable. Think about the patient father who, when he sees his arrogant, defiled, and filthy son hobbling back to beg for forgiveness, runs to embrace him and welcomes him home before he can even utter an apology.

11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

– Luke 15:11-32

We don’t worship a God who waits for us to get clean before he embraces us, we worship a God who runs to us and loves us in all of our filth and failures. He doesn’t wait for us to make the long journey back to him, he runs out to meet us as soon as we are ready to come home. Nothing compares to the love of God.

images

The Prodigal Father and Son

This is one of the things that I find most beautiful bout Christianity. We don’t worship a God who expects us to become righteous in order to come to him, he wants us to come to him so that he can make us righteous. God is a God of second chances, new beginnings, and fresh starts. His mercies are new every morning and his desire is that his children would come home.

I can’t stress enough the simple and profound truth that no matter who you are, what you have done, where you are coming from, or how broken you feel you are, God still loves you and is patiently waiting for you to come home.