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!

“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.

Book Review: “Quarks Chaos and Christianity” by John Polkinghorne

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I decided to pick up “Quarks Chaos and Christianity” for two reasons.

1) The author (John Polkinghorne) is both a renowned theoretical physicist and an Anglican priest. How could I not be interested in a book by a guy with a resume like that.

2) The book is barely over one hundred pages long, so I knew I could read it quickly one lazy afternoon. While I do love a good long book, I’m also a big fan of the quick read as well.

In his book, John Polkinghorne tries to bridge the gap between science and religion by seeking a common ground of mutual understanding. This rare convergence of the empirical and religious mind is a welcomed break from the clash many readers might have come to expect in texts that deal with the relationship between the sciences and religion. The book is easy to follow, which is surprising when one considers the very advanced physical and theological concepts that the author deals with. As a reader who’s only knowledge of physics is what I’ve seen on the Discovery Channel show “How The Universe Works” I was still able to follow along pretty easily.  Polkinghorne manages the very difficult feat of tackling both theology and physical sciences in an accessible and non-threatening way.

The book is organized into eight chapters, each dealing with a specific problem that a scientific mind might have when it comes to matters of faith and religion. It is clear from the questions Polkinghorne chooses to address that this book was aimed more at the scientist struggling with faith than the faithful struggling with science, though readers from either perspectives could benefit from this book.  Religion, as presented in this book, is not something completely alien to science but rather just another tool by which man seeks to understand the universe that God created.  A person unfamiliar with science might have to overcome a slight learning curve as a result, but Polkinghorne does his best to explain any difficult concepts referenced within the text. I do not consider myself to be scientifically gifted, but I was able to easily following along most of the time.

The topics covered in this book are:

  1. Why do we need religion?
  2. Does the universe need a creator or designer?
  3. Why does evil exist from a scientific and religious stand point?
  4. Is a man more than a just a body?
  5. Can a logical person pray?
  6. How can a scientist believe in miracles?
  7. Where does Christianity stand in a universe that is materially pointless, hopeless, and inevitably doomed?
  8. What does all of this mean?

While I have some issues with this book, I feel it has done as excellent a job of trying to unite religion and science as anyone could hope for. Polkinghorne, for the most part, manages to stay both theologically and scientifically sound in all of his claims as far as this reader could tell. Though I do not agree with some of the author’s conclusion I could easily follow most of his thoughts and see how he came to most of the conclusions he did. Many sections of this book, I found to be extremely enlightening and challenging. The combined mastery that Polkinghorne shows for both science and theology is at a level that I have not experienced before in a single author. Of the weaknesses I found in this book, most were nothing more than leaps in logic I did not follow or assumptions that I thought were too readily accepted. I cannot really criticize Polkinghorne too harshly for this, since the subject matter he is dealing with exists largely in the theoretical and theological disagreements on my part do not equal a weakness on the author’s part.

This book should be seen as a valuable resource considering how well it is able to make sense of advanced concepts that could easily confuse most men. The amazing way in which Polkinghorne is able to work science into religion is heads above the usually heavy-handed attempts to force the two together. I would gladly recommend this book for either the scientific person wandering if religion can be for them, or for the religious person wanting to understand how the Christian faith works in this ever increasingly scientific world.  This book successfully manages to bring two different schools of thought together without overtly catering to one side or the other, and in doing so it achieves the goal it set out to accomplish.

Which Version Of The Bible Is Best?

The other day the question was brought up during a lecture as to what was the best English translation of the Bible. The professor being questioned is one of the most learned men I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. His grasp of the Hebrew and Greek language is astounding, especially to someone like me who managed to barely avoid flunking out of Greek 101 by the skin of my teeth. I was pretty confident that the professor was going to say the ESV, since multiple sources had told me it was the most direct translation. To my surprise, his response was not that simple.

“What do you mean when you say best?” asked the professor.

The inquiring student was a little thrown off by this, to him (and myself) it seems as if this would have been an easy question to answer for someone with such a firm understanding of the Greek and Hebrew languages.

“I mean, which one translation do you think is the most accurate,” replied the student.

“Do you mean to say which is the most accurate translation from Greek to English, or do you mean which translation most accurately conveys the meaning of the original Greek?” was the reply question the professor gave.

We never got a definite answer from the professor. I know what version of the English Bible he uses (NASV) but I also know that he regularly points out ways in which the translation could have been better.

I guess what I’m saying is that language is very interesting in that I can say virtually the same thing in English and another language, but that does not mean that it is going to translate over with the exact same meaning. Language encapsulates much more than just words that mean things, it subtly holds ideas and aspects of culture within.

For example, if I were to say someone is “frugal” or “economical” you would probably assume that this person is good at managing money. If I were to say that the same person is “cheap” or “miserly” you would probably picture someone greedy, selfish, and money obsessed. On a technical level there is really no difference in someone who is “frugal” and one who is “cheap” but to someone fluent in English there are very different connotations. There are hundreds of examples in English of words that mean the same thing, and yet they don’t.

There’s also a myriad of idioms and figures of speech that a direct translation could not capture. If I were to directly translate the phrase “by the skin of my teeth” that I used in the first paragraph into Chinese it would make no sense. In the same way if I were to say a Chinese saying like 三人成虎 (Three men make a tiger) you would have no idea what I was talking about. 

In the same way we have to be careful when we read scriptures that we aren’t too literal in our translating. An easy example that usually doesn’t trip up anyone is Psalm 91:4 which reads:

“He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.”

I don’t think there are any Christian doctrines out there that would take this verse and argue that God is some kind of giant bird in the sky. Most people understand this verse for what it is, but that can’t be said for all passages.

The Bible is more of a library than a single book, and as a result it’s important to remember that not every passage should be read the same way. We can’t read the Apocalyptic literature of Revelation the same way we read the Gospel account of Luke. We can’t read the legal code of Leviticus in the same vein as the Didactic poem of Job.

Meaning and truth are a lot more nuanced than simply translating Greek and Hebrew directly into English. With the Bible we have been entrusted with a massive library of narratives, holiness codes, historical documentation, philosophy, poetry, prophecy, apocalyptic prose, gospel messages, and letter writings. The authors that composed these books were not all writing with the end goal of being read by 21st century english speakers, and we have to remember than in our studies. The Bible is an amazing collection of works, all of which seek to reveal something about God and the nature of man, and it must be treated as such.

So which version of the Bible is the best? I don’t really know if I’m qualified to say. I’m a NIV fan myself because it tends to be a good balance between “word for word” and “thought for thought” translations. If you are curious about what version of the Bible might work best for you I found this nifty graph that might help you out:

bible-transchrt-js

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.

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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.

Easter: My Personal Doubt Killer

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The death of Christ definitely made no sense to those who lived through it. Even today it is a very strange to think that such a foundational religious figure could go out in such an awful way. Even stranger is the way that such a death is not seen as a shameful thing his followers prefer not to speak of, but rather a great victory.

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Muhammad’s Mausoleum

When you look at most respected religious leaders they tend to die in their twilight years as respected and honored leaders. Most died peacefully and surrounded by their devoted followers. Moses got to assemble all the tribes of his people together for a farewell address then he climbed to the top of Mount Nebo and died overlooking his people entering the land of promise. Gautama Buddha died at the ripe old age of 80 surrounded by his followers after reaching the state of Parinirvana. Muhammad lived to be 63 years old and died with his head resting on the lap of his wife Aisha. His death bed is now a beautifully adorned mausoleum.

There might be some pain involved in passing, but most religious leaders tended to go out old, respected, and in a state of peace with some reassurance that they had succeeded. This is not so with Christ. Christ died a criminal, tortured, humiliated, killed, and buried in a sealed tomb. He died alone, hanging nailed to a cross with murderers. His death was humiliating, and left his body broken, and defiled. His death seemed to come too soon, he died just barely into his 30’s with none of his devoted followers (except for maybe John) remaining with him during his suffering.  Jewish onlookers would have taken Christ’s death as a sign of God’s rejection of his so called son of God, and Christ himself experienced the spiritual pain that comes from being completely separated from God when we hear him cry “My God, My God why have you forsaken me!”

This looks, by all accounts this looks like the end of the life of a man who was a complete failure. No “kingdom of God” was built that anyone could see. The temple, as far as everyone could tell was still there, and man was no closer to his maker than he had been yesterday. Christ’s people had abandoned him, his followers had ran in terror, and his heavenly father had given him up to the powers of death and sin that he had come to defeat. If this was the end I guarantee you that we would have never heard of this rebellious first century Palestinian Jew.

Luckily this is not where the story ends.

The cross without the resurrection is just sin taking another victim. A cross with a resurrection is the greatest triumph this world has ever seen. Sin is vanquished, justice is served, death defeated, and a new covenant and the kingdom of God have arrived. It is without a doubt the biggest surprise ending in history.

But how do we know that the resurrection is not a fabrication?  How can we be sure that we are not  following a bunch of swindlers and liars who fabricated a resurrection? Is there any reason to believe the resurrection?

The resurrection is absolutely necessary for Christianity to hold any merit. Without an empty tomb and a risen savior we are forced to see Christ as nothing but some strange spiritual guru who pissed off all the wrong people. Without a resurrection Christ was just some nice guy who died for nothing. Even Paul was aware of this:

“And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.”

– 1 Corinthians 15:14

So why do I feel safe believing in the resurrection? I’m going to give an answer to that that might seem strange at first, but hopefully it will make sense eventually. My answer is that Easter is just too strange for me to believe it is a lie. What I mean by this? Well if one was going to fabricate the resurrection of their savior, I really doubt they would have bothered to include some of the strange details that are included in the post-resurrection Christ accounts.

One strange detail that jumps out right away is that no one recognized the risen Christ. If I wanted to JesusKneelstoaWomanconvince you that I had seen someone risen from the dead the first thing I’d want to establish would be that I could recognize him when I see him. Jesus appears on the road to Emmaus and is not recognized right away, he appears to the mourning Mary Magdalene and is confused for a gardener, he appears over and over and everyone always has to do a double take to realize it’s him. Thomas, one of the twelve men who had been in Jesus’ inner circle, had to touch his wounds before he would believe it was actually him. This is a very strange detail if you wanted to describe the triumphant risen son of God, and yet it’s the strangeness of this detail that make it more real for me.

Speaking of Jesus appearing to women, that’s a weird twist of events in and of itself. If you wanted to make up a victorious resurrection myth would you have the risen son of God appear to a bunch of women who didn’t even recognize him at first?  Maybe the strangeness of this isn’t clear to modern readers, but the fact that the risen savior was first seen by women was a big deal in first century Palestine.  Anyone writing this with the goal of fictionalizing an epic narrative probably would have had Christ appear before his loyal male followers, or appearing on top of the synagogue in full glory for all the world to see, or really anything more than some women in mourning. Defying expectations seems to be on a list of Christ’s favorite past times, and similar to how low class shepherds were the ones to first welcome him into this world as he slept in a barn so to was the resurrected Lord greeted first by common women (one of the lowest classes of the day).

Another strange detail is that no one bothered to dig up the body. Obviously I believe there was no body to be found, but surely skeptics were everywhere. The disciples were making radical claims that he had risen from the dead and it’s clear from Acts and other early church  and secular accounts that they caused quite a fuss by doing so. Jews and Roman authorities alike were not fond of early Christianity and when you read some of the extreme persecutions that the early church went thorough it’s amazing that Christianity lived long enough to reach the 2nd century.  Yet it seems like this entire movement could have easily been nipped in the bud. All the Romans had to do was open the tomb and produce a body. Surely if there was a body to produce it would have been easier to dig up a dead jew than put in all the work in manpower it would have taken to try to dismantle the early church.

Critics of this opinion usually point to two counter theories. The first being that Christ’s tomb was lost or that he was buried in a mass grave. I think it’s safe to reject the mass grave theory since the gospel authors were wise enough to mention the name of the tomb giver, Joseph of Arimathea as a means to show that the tomb was not unknown of. People weren’t unclear about where Christ was buried, Joseph and Nicodemus were listed by name almost as witnesses to the tomb. I just don’t think the mass grave theory holds up.

Modern critics have tried a different approach and argued that Jesus was buried in Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb, but the disciples probably stormed the tomb and stole the body to fuel their fantasy. One problem right away I see with this is that this theory is the notion that the disciples would even bother attempting to do something like this. Peter was too afraid to admit that he knew Christ during the trial, and yet after his Lord is dead he would risk raiding his tomb? If Peter would not defend Christ when he was alive, why on earth would he risk doing so when he knew him to be dead. These twelve men that abandoned Christ in his time of need are expected to come together and pull an Oceans 11 heist on a body just to keep their story alive? For what purpose?

There is no reason for the disciples of Christ to continue this charade after their leader was killed. I’m pretty sure, had they not seen the resurrected Lord, these men would have gone back to their old lives and tried to forget the wasted years they spent following the now dead prophet. Until Peter was told by the resurrected Christ to become a “fisher of men” he seems to have done just that. None of the accounts we have of the disciples makes me fell like they were the type to devote their lives to a cause they knew was lost. Heck, they had a hard time devoting their lives to a cause even before their leader was brutally killed. The Bible rarely skims over the flaws of it’s “heroes” and if there is anything I know about the disciples it’s that they were often afraid, skeptical, confused, and in need of constant reassurance. I believe fully that these men knew in their heart that they had seen the risen son of God.

As far as history and tradition can tell us, each of the disciples died in a rather harsh way. Some were crucified, others burned, some beheaded… the only one we know of who lived to an old age was John, and he died deserted on the island of Patmos after several attempts at killing him failed. These people would rather die than deny the resurrection, could this be said of a bunch of grave robbers who wanted to continue a delusion or scam?  I have a hard time believing so. Many early Christians from both church and secular accounts faced death instead of denying what happend on Easter Sunday, if nothing else we can say that these men and women genuinely believed with everything they had.

Easter is very strange. No one saw it coming, no one predicted victory in death, and yet in spite of all of this victory still came. This strange twist of fate that people to this day have a hard time wrapping their mind around, is an event that eye witnesses refused to deny. It was a truth that those who believed were willing to give every fiber of their being in defense of. It was and is a truth that, as strange as it may seem, has stood the test of time and the voices of criticism. It is my personal doubt killer and the most beautiful event in history.

Happy Easter everyone!

The Gay Marriage Debate: An Indecisive Post About Why I Choose To Shut Up And Listen

urlSo with the Prop 8 bill being taken to the Supreme Court yesterday, it seems like a everyone has an opinion about whether gay people should be allowed to marry. Now I’m generally of the opinion that the government doesn’t need to play morality police and as long as you aren’t directly hurting someone else Uncle Sam doesn’t need to get involved.  This makes the legal aspect of it easy for me, but where it get’s difficult for me (and where I think it really matters) is whether or not gay marriage should or should not be endorsed by the Christian faith.

I personally don’t care what the government says is right or wrong, but God is another matter entirely. If YHWH is as opposed to gay marriage as some Christians would lead you to believe, then I’d have to side with God. He is, after all, God. We don’t get to vote on an absolute moral truth, and popular opinion does not add to or take away from the validity of a divine reality. The problem I come across is not that I am afraid to pick a side because of some public backlash. I’m a pro-life, anti-war, pro-gun, and anti-death-penalty Christian so I’m used to controversy and backlash. My problem is that I legitimately don’t know what the answer is. Honestly I’m surprised there don’t seem to be more people in my shoes.

Yes there are OT holiness codes that seem to prohibit same-sex intercourse, but anyone who knows the first thing about historical context knows that these laws are not applied today. These were a part of a holiness code whose purpose was to keep the Israelites separate and distinct from the pagan worship practices that surrounded them. I’m wearing a mixed fabric shirt right now, and earlier today I’m pretty sure I shaved in an inappropriate way. I’ve also eaten shrimp and probably at some point sat in a chair after a woman on her period (though I don’t like to think about that). My point is that Christianity has long since abandoned the laws of the OT as our guide for righteousness. We instead cling to the grace, mercy, and forgiveness that comes from Christ through the events of the death and resurrection. We have abandoned legalism (or at least we should have) long ago and I don’t think these hold up.

Sodom and Gomorrah’s destruction seems to be a popular passage about homosexuality, but upon re-reading it I just can’t get myself to read it that way. For starters I think the bigger problem in Sodom was the mob’s willingness to gang-rape visitors than it was that the visitors happened to be males. Rape is bad, we can all agree with that. Plus in Ezekiel the sins of Sodom are listed and they have nothing to do with homosexuality.

“Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.”

– Ezekiel 16:49

Now Jesus himself is never recorded as mentioning anything about homosexuality (how easy this would be if he did) but that isn’t to say the subject was never brought up in the NT. In Romans and other Pauline epistles a modern-day reader might be able to read certain passages and find verses that seem to condemn homosexuality.  Here once again I have to throw my hands up in the air and confess I don’t know. I don’t think these passages are as crystal clear as a lot of people try make them out to be.  Monogamous homosexual couples just weren’t a normal thing in Paul’s day, at least not as common as the extra-marital homosexual affairs that Rome was full of. In the context of Paul’s day people probably envisioned any homosexual behavior as a form of extramarital erotic excess. It wasn’t uncommon for wealthy men to have wives and young male sexual servants. Sex was quick and loose in a lot of the Roman empire, but monogamous gay marriage was not at all common. When we try to look through Paul’s eyes instead of our own, we can see that what he was addressing in these letters was probably not the same issue we are addressing today.

Much to my frustration, I just don’t think scripture adequately addresses gay marriage. The Biblical authors probably never even thought to address the concept of monogamous homosexual marriage. To the OT writers homosexuality was a pagan practice and to the NT writers it was a freaky extramarital hedonistic thing. Neither had the same problem or view of homosexuality that we are faced with today, and neither really give much in the way of practical application.

urlI’ve stressed enough the problem I have with outright declaring monogamous homosexual marriage a sin, so why don’t I just join the “marriage equality” side and be done with it. Well though the Bible doesn’t address gay marriage in a way that I find satisfying enough for me to condemn it, it also fails to address it in a way that I find satisfying enough to outright embrace it. There are no positive portrayals of homosexuality found in scripture, and while that is probably a product of the time these writings were written in, it does not make my decision easy. I don’t want to disqualify something just because the Bible doesn’t openly praise it (if that were the case I couldn’t drive a car since the Bible says nothing about them) but I feel like too many people who find the anti-gay marriage arguments lacking quickly run and jump over into the pro-gay marriage camp. This is a decision that will have long-lasting consequences no matter who is wrong or who is right. When the scriptures say nothing that doesn’t really mean that the thing in question is moral or amoral, it simply means it was not addressed.

So while I’m busy being a “hypocritical fence sitter” as some have called me, what do I do when the problem comes up? To put it bluntly, I shut up and listen.

“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.”

– James 1:19-20

Let the gay christians speak. Let those people that will be effected by the church’s stance speak for themselves. I can’t help but feel like this entire debate bing waged in the church is predominantly a bunch of straight men who don’t understand homosexuality. I’d count myself as one of those. So I choose to reserve my judgements and let those who deserve to speak speak for themselves.

At the end of the day my opinion in this debate is just that, my opinion. The ultimate truth behind this moral quandary does not change based on which side of the coin I land on. My “vote” doesn’t count, and wherever I land it won’t really have an impact on me at all. At most my opinion might help others figure out where they stand, but that’s about as far as it goes for me.

The people who really need to be involved in this debate, the ones who have a voice that matters and a stake in this game, are those LGBTQ Christians out there seeking answers. If you are gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or some other variation then I think that you are the ones who really deserve to have an opinion in this fight that matters. I’m not going to marry another person of the same-sex, but some of you might be considering that option some day and it will be up to you to figure out and make peace with God in regards to that. It’s the LGBTQ Christians who will have to face these challenges and it is the job of their straight brothers and sisters to love and support them as they embark on this spiritual journey.

Now that I’ve gone on and on about all the things I don’t know,  I figured it is time for me to share something I do know.

I know is that no matter who you are, what you have done, what you will do, or who you choose to be…. God loves you. Never let anyone tell you otherwise.

Shalom.