Re-imaging Jesus — A Reprise


If I post an article from the archives, I usually try to pull one from the “you-probably-haven’t-been-reading-this-blog-that-long” past so that most of the current visitors might not have seen it yet. This one is not so old, but I thought it worth re-posting as we approach Easter. After all, if we don’t have a clear understanding of who Jesus is, the sacrifice He paid for the sins of the world will likely lose meaning.

This one deals with the view of Jesus which people who consider themselves to be “Progressive Christians” popularize. It needs to be corrected by looking at what the Bible says instead. The following appeared here in July 2015.

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Some years ago those in the emergent church started talking about “re-imaging” God, understanding him in ways that deviated from traditional theology. One classic conversation about looking at God differently developed from an article entitled, “Is God ‘A Recovering Practitioner of Violence’?” I addressed the issues brought up in the article in “Attacks On God From Within.”

But as so often happens, teaching that clearly oversteps the bounds of true Christian thought, begins to seep into the Church as if it is orthodox and normative, as if it’s what the Bible actually says and has said all along.

One such twisting of Biblical intent is the image of Jesus so many are throwing around. I’ve read more than once that if He were here today, He’d be hanging out in gay bars and with druggies and prostitutes.

This view is such a skewered picture of Jesus, it really troubles me!

First, Scripture tells us where Jesus “hung out”—His starting place when He arrived in a town—was the synagogue: “They went into Capernaum; and immediately on the Sabbath He entered the synagogue and began to teach.” (Mark 1:21)

Similar verses are all through the gospels:
“He entered again into a synagogue” (Mark 3:1)
“When the Sabbath came, He began to teach in the synagogue” (Mark 6:2)
“Departing from there, He went into their synagogue” (Matt. 12:9)
“He came to His hometown and began teaching them in their synagogue” (Matt. 13:54)
“On another Sabbath He entered the synagogue and was teaching” (Luke 6:6)

And when He went to Jerusalem, He headed for the temple. (see Matt. 21:14ff, 24:1, Mark 12:35, 13:1, Luke 19:47, 21:38). Most telling might be what He said to the chief priests and their men who came to arrest Him in the Garden: “At that time Jesus said to the crowds, ‘Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest Me as you would against a robber? Every day I used to sit in the temple teaching and you did not seize Me.’ ” (Matt. 26:55, emphasis mine)

When He needed more room to teach because the crowds grew, He hung out on hillsides and mountain tops and lake shores.

Oh, but He ate with sinners and prostitutes, those who wish to re-image Jesus will point out.

It’s true that Scripture does record Jesus eating with Matthew the tax collector and those he invited to his house. But Mark gives the complete picture:

As He passed by, He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting in the tax booth, and He said to him, “Follow Me!” And he got up and followed Him.

And it happened that He was reclining at the table in his house, and many tax collectors and sinners were dining with Jesus and His disciples; for there were many of them, and they were following Him. (Mark 2:14-15, emphasis mine)

In other words, these men called sinners were now disciples of Christ.

In truth, it was the Pharisees who accused Jesus of eating with sinners.

The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ (Luke 7:34, ESV)

Jesus responded to the criticism by saying the sick need a physician and that He came to call sinners to repentance.

And yet those re-imaging Jesus have apparently chosen to believe the Pharisees, though Jesus identified them as sons of their father the devil who was a liar from the beginning and the father of lies (John 8:44)—a clear indication that Jesus knew them to be liars.

This new view of Jesus claims that He told stories and didn’t actually give directives. In fact, some say He loved people by first being with them, then being committed to them and showing Himself for them. Only later did He direct them toward truth and holiness out of His love.

Well, yes and no.

Jesus didn’t always show that he was committed to or for certain people—most notably the Pharisees, but also the Syrophoenician woman who wanted Him to heal her daughter. He flat out told her He’d come to the Jews. Some might even find His response racist and offensive:

He answered and said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

But she came and began to bow down before Him, saying, “Lord, help me!”

And He answered and said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” (Matt. 15:24-26)

Not quite the politically correct Jesus we’re shown so often these days, the one who loves everyone. He did heal her daughter and even praised her for her faith. But where was that “love for everyone”?

We seem to forget that “everyone” would include the Pharisees, and Jesus did not treat them in the loving way the Progressive Christian espouses. In fact, He was quite directive with them, hence the whip in the temple. Yes, those were most likely Pharisees He was going after when He overturned tables and drove out money changers—the sinners wouldn’t have been allowed in to do the work. They were presumably tagged sinners because they didn’t adhere to the Mosaic Law.

At the same time, Jesus was very directive in His teaching. He said if you look at a woman with lust, you’ve committed adultery. He told the rich young ruler to sell all he owned and follow Jesus. He said those who wanted to follow Him had to deny themselves and take up their cross daily. And each one of His stories had a point, a directive that was to guide action or expose truth. He was not trying to entertain.

Jesus also didn’t hang with prostitutes. The adulterous woman was brought to Him and He told her to stop sinning. The woman at the well who had had many husbands went into her village to tell the people she’d found the Messiah. The woman who the Pharisee Simon identified as a sinner and who poured perfume on Jesus was actually a disciple of Christ. Luke tells the whole story (7:36ff) and ends with Jesus reproving His host for his self-righteousness. In the process He clarifies the facts about her: “For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for [this reason] she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.”

In the same way that the re-imagers want to make out that Christians are the new Pharisees, they want to hand Jesus the winebibber and glutton tag—only that’s now apparently a positive on his resumé.

But it’s not who Jesus was when He walked on earth. He came to teach, and that’s what He did, along with healing so many people there were days He didn’t even have time to eat. If sinners came to Him, He never turned them away. That’s who He came to save, but He wasn’t out trolling for the sinner hot spots.

It’s time we stopped rewriting the pages of Scripture to create this view of Jesus we think fits what our culture might like—Jesus, the anti-church, pro-gay guy who told cool stories.

The Pharisees weren’t “Church” and Jesus came to call sinners to repentance, not to tell them how much He’s for them.

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Perfect People Aren’t Saved


No Perfect People

Yesterday I re-posted an article about morally flawed people, and the irony that many who accept their flaws without blinking still think they “deserve” heaven. Today, I want to address the opposite problem: people who think heaven is for good people. This article originally appeared here in May, 2013.

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Along with an erroneous view of the Bible, some people also have misconceptions about salvation. One of the most common is that it’s the good people that come to Christ—the people who like church and gospel music, who think a good time means going to a prayer meeting. Those are the people that become Christians.

Wrong.

For one thing, there are no “good people.” If someone is devoted to religious expression but has not believed the claims of Jesus Christ, he’s using his religion to get something he wants. In other words, religious expression can be an evidence of our selfishness, our desire to manipulate—either other people or even God Himself.

Good people aren’t saved. Sinners are saved. The lost are found, the broken are healed, those at the bottom of the pit are rescued. Jesus Himself said, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick” (Matt 9:12b). In context it’s clear he was referring to messed up people—“tax collectors and sinners.”

Even today, I think some Christians have the idea that a person needs to clean up a bit before coming to Christ. Jesus seems to say the opposite. He first encountered people where they were at, and knowing Him then brought about change. In some instances, such as His conversation with the woman caught in adultery, He told her to sin no more. In other instances, such as with Zaccheus, the sinner himself volunteered to clean up his act after his encounter with Jesus.

Either way, Jesus saves sinners, not because they get rid of sin but because they can’t get rid of sin and they know it. They repent but it is Jesus who takes away the sin of the world. It is His Spirit that gives each sinner the desire to live in newness of life.

By our nature, none of us wants to worship God and serve Him [atheists call this our “default position,” not realizing that they are defining the sin nature]. We want to worship ourselves and serve ourselves. We do unto others so that they will do unto us. In other words, we largely look at relationships as trade-offs. I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine. And woe to the person who doesn’t follow through on his promise. Revenge awaits! Justified revenge, because people are supposed to come through for me (even though I don’t always come through for them).

The interesting thing is, those who think they are good don’t see any need for God. Why would they? They don’t think they need saving.

So it’s ironic that people falsely think good people come to Christ. People good in their own eyes are too busy with their perfectionistic ways to pay attention to what Christ is all about. They are making sure that they recycle, give to the charity of the month, teach their children to be tolerant of all lifestyles, and do their fifty percent of what it takes to have a good marriage.

Don’t get me wrong. When a person comes to Christ, he changes. A thief like Zaccheus doesn’t want to keep stealing. Just the opposite. He has a passion for making right the wrongs he’s done. But his new life is a result of his relationship with Christ, not a cause of it.

He didn’t come to Christ because he stopped stealing. He stopped stealing because he came to Christ.

Too many Christians don’t really understand this new life we experience. We’d like all the old desires to be gone and for some people, they are. For others, it’s a fight to the death, or so it seems. The old desires seem to raise their ugly heads at the least opportune times. Some people experience gradual and constant improvement. What they used to do, they hardly do any more. What they want to do to please Jesus, they find delights them now, too.

The process, we’re told, is sanctification—growing up into our salvation, becoming like Jesus through the supernatural transformation of His Spirit. Most of us think it’s a long process that doesn’t show a lot of results to most of those who are close enough to us to see our warts.

And because we fall down so often, because lots of people think only the good come to Jesus, we give Christ’s name a bad reputation—because clearly, Christians sin. When we think about it, it grieves our hearts because we’re dragging Jesus’s name into the mud. We’re letting people think poorly of our Savior because we wallow in the sins we say He saved us from.

Christians aren’t good people. We’re saved people, and it’s important that we let others see who we are: a people who have received mercy, who have been pardoned, redeemed, cleansed, forgiven, and who one day, when we see Jesus face to face, will be like Him. It’s just that we’re not there yet.

Jesus And The Dirty Dozen


During Jesus’s early ministry, He took a lot of criticism from the Pharisees, particularly about the company He kept—sinners and prostitutes and tax collectors. Today those who like to criticize the church, some inside the church and some without, seem to relish this accusation, repeating it as if Christ’s interaction with the non-religious of His day is a blueprint for how Christians today are to live.

Go out and find some sinners to eat with, the critics seem to say. If Jesus were here today, you wouldn’t find him hanging out in some stuffy old church. He’d be in the gay bars, in brothels, maybe in porn studios—wherever he could find sinners to hang with.

Except, when you read the gospels, it’s clear that Jesus wasn’t hanging out with sinners the way today’s church-critics think. The sinners were actually hanging out with Him.

Jesus’s normal modus operandi was to show up in the tabernacle on the Sabbath and teach or heal. In fact, when the Pharisees came to arrest Him, He said, “Every day I used to sit in the temple teaching and you did not seize Me” (Matt. 26:55b).

Of course, there were days He taught in houses or on hills or even from a boat. He healed in a variety of places too—on streets, near the city gate, in houses.

Interestingly, He got invited to a lot of places by “unsavory characters.” Right before His final Passover meal, for example, He ate at the home of Simon the leper (Matt. 26:6). But, you see, Simon couldn’t still be a leper or no one eating with him would have been clean and therefore qualified to eat the Passover.

And was Mary Magdalene still a prostitute or still demon possessed? Was Simon the Zealot still a terrorist? Was Matthew still a tax collector, for that matter?

Seems in the Bible, a person’s sinful reputation stayed with them. James, for example, refers to “Rahab the harlot” in chapter five of his letter, when he could just as easily have called her King David’s great-grandmother, or the converted Canaanite, or the brave woman who hid the messengers.

So these sinners that Jesus was eating with—were they still living the lifestyle of sinners? Or were they people who came to Him to find cleansing and healing and forgiveness? People like Nicodemus and Mark and Barnabas and Timothy?

Matthew the tax-collector-turned-disciple invited his friends over to eat with Jesus. In context it seems unlikely that they were hatching devious money-thieving plots over their meal while they cracked jokes about sticking it to the Pharisees. Matthew was a different man now, one of the dirty dozen who had experienced Jesus’s cleansing grace.

Demon-free Mary was different, too. Now she wanted only to sit at Jesus’s feet. Leprosy-free Simon was most definitely different—he was hosting a party!

The image the gospels paint of Jesus is not the one the church-critics try to conjure up. Sinners came to Him in droves. They’d come to John the Baptist, too, and repented of their sins. Now they came to Jesus, and the cleansing they received wasn’t a momentary thing. They became new creatures. Old things passed away, replaced by the new.

Sure we still call them sinners because that’s what they were, in the same way that “sinner” identifies me. The Pharisees used the term differently, however. They put themselves in opposition to the sinners. So in the blue corner, Pharisees. In the red corner, sinners. And how dare Jesus side with the sinners!

The sinners He sided with were those who stood before God beating their breast and saying, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner” (Luke 18:13b).

They were broken, humbled, redeemed. A lot like the people in churches today who know Jesus.

This article first appeared here in June 2011.

Published in: on February 15, 2016 at 5:31 pm  Comments (4)  
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Scoffers


tangled-pathway-in-the-woodsWhen I hung out at that Facebook page intended to bring Christians and atheists into dialogue, it soon became apparent that some people were primarily there to scoff at anything related to God. I had a similar experience recently at an atheist blog.

For the most part, the host was respectful, but a few commenters were doing their best, it seemed, to set “the Christian” up to get off topic and say something stupid. Hence, Christians were lumped in with Muslims and God was likened to Donald Trump. Of course there was the usual accusation that God was genocidal, but the capper was the “ex-Christian,” who apparently had once been a pastor, making the generalization that Christians don’t know as much or study as much of the Bible as he, and if we only would, we’d come away with the same doubts and denials that he did.

All this makes me very sad.

First, I hate to read accusations against God that aren’t true. Of course, any accusation against God isn’t true because God is holy and blameless and righteous and just and good. There simply are no grounds for accusing God of anything.

In reality, Satan has to be behind accusations against God since he is a liar and the father of lies. Hard to believe that Job, in the midst of his suffering, joined in with the accuser to say that God was wronging him.

It’s a bit shocking to read Job saying things that remind me of some of those emerging church folk from a few years back—the ones who claimed they were nicer than God. Job was saying he was more righteous than God.

[God said to Job,] “Will you really annul My judgment?
Will you condemn Me that you may be justified? (Job 40:8)

Which brings me to the next thing that makes me sad. Thankfully, when Job came face to face with God, he repented. The three friends he’d been arguing with, didn’t. In God’s mercy, He told one of the men to make sacrifices for themselves and have Job pray for them. They did, and God accepted Job.

I guess their offering sacrifices indicates they repented in the end. But the sad and sorry truth is, many, many, many scoffers don’t.

Psalm 1 starts out by saying,

How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,
Nor stand in the path of sinners,
Nor sit in the seat of scoffers! (v 1)

The point of this psalm seems to be that it’s better not to hang with people who can be categorized as wicked, sinners, scoffers.

Christian parents often embrace this concept for their children. It’s better to pick your friends wisely, to steer clear of troublemakers and kids who knowingly and purposefully do what is not right.

Yet the current church trend is to paint Jesus as the guy who hung out with prostitutes and tax collectors—the dregs of the first century Jewish society. Well, the truth was, Jesus didn’t hang with them. They hung with Jesus. But the point these church leaders are making is that Christians need to break out of isolation mode so we can actually relate to people who need Jesus Christ.

But the two positions—picking good friends and hanging with people who need Jesus—raises a good question: how do non-Christians in our society ever hear the gospel? Porn stars or gang bangers or drug dealers or prostitutes or murderers are not likely to go to church, and church isn’t designed to evangelize.

So how do they hear the gospel?

Are we to refrain from walking in the counsel of the wicked, standing in the path of sinners, and sitting in the seat of scoffers, or not? And if we do, how do we fulfill the great commission?

There has to be a balance, I think, and it may be present in some of the word choices of Psalm 1:1. The righteous man, as he is identified as in verse 6, is firmly planted, not driven by the wind. At the same time it’s the counsel of the wicked he avoids, the path of sinners he won’t stand in, the comfortable intimacy with scoffers he disdains.

In other words, it’s not the wicked, the sinners, and the scoffers he is to avoid, but their counsel, their path, their companionship.

The Internet is an interesting place. I’ve read some articles—or skimmed them—written by scoffers, even some well-known scoffers. Each time, I’m left with this same sadness. I see how horrendous their words are, but I also see how much at risk they’re putting their eternal destiny.

Honestly? I’d like to reach out and shake them: What are you saying? How blind are you? It’s hard to watch them spit on the One I love—for His sake and for theirs.

Published in: on January 13, 2016 at 7:09 pm  Comments (13)  
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Re-imaging Jesus


In_the_Synagogue005Some years ago those in the emergent church started talking about “re-imaging” God, understanding him in ways that deviated from traditional theology. One classic conversation about looking at God differently developed from an article entitled, “Is God ‘A Recovering Practitioner of Violence’?” I addressed the issues brought up in the article in “Attacks On God From Within.”

But as so often happens, teaching that clearly oversteps the bounds of true Christian thought, begins to seep into the Church as if it is orthodox and normative, as if it’s what the Bible actually says and has said all along.

One such twisting of Biblical intent is the image of Jesus so many are throwing around. I’ve read more than once that if He were here today, He’d be hanging out in gay bars and with druggies and prostitutes.

This view is such a skewered picture of Jesus, it really troubles me!

First, Scripture tells us where Jesus “hung out”—His starting place when He arrived in a town—was the synagogue: “They went into Capernaum; and immediately on the Sabbath He entered the synagogue and began to teach.” (Mark 1:21)

Similar verses are all through the gospels:
“He entered again into a synagogue” (Mark 3:1)
“When the Sabbath came, He began to teach in the synagogue” (Mark 6:2)
“Departing from there, He went into their synagogue” (Matt. 12:9)
“He came to His hometown and began teaching them in their synagogue” (Matt. 13:54)
“On another Sabbath He entered the synagogue and was teaching” (Luke 6:6)

And when He went to Jerusalem, He headed for the temple. (see Matt. 21:14ff, 24:1, Mark 12:35, 13:1, Luke 19:47, 21:38). Most telling might be what He said to the chief priests and their men who came to arrest Him in the Garden: “At that time Jesus said to the crowds, ‘Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest Me as you would against a robber? Every day I used to sit in the temple teaching and you did not seize Me.’ ” (Matt. 26:55, emphasis mine)

When He needed more room to teach because the crowds grew, He hung out on hillsides and mountain tops and lake shores.

Oh, but He ate with sinners and prostitutes, those who wish to re-image Jesus will point out.

It’s true that Scripture does record Jesus eating with Matthew the tax collector and those he invited to his house. But Mark gives the complete picture:

As He passed by, He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting in the tax booth, and He said to him, “Follow Me!” And he got up and followed Him.

And it happened that He was reclining at the table in his house, and many tax collectors and sinners were dining with Jesus and His disciples; for there were many of them, and they were following Him. (Mark 2:14-15, emphasis mine)

In other words, these men called sinners were now disciples of Christ.

In truth, it was the Pharisees who accused Jesus of eating with sinners.

The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ (Luke 7:34, ESV)

Jesus responded to the criticism by saying the sick need a physician and that He came to call sinners to repentance.

And yet those re-imaging Jesus have apparently chosen to believe the Pharisees, though Jesus identified them as sons of their father the devil who was a liar from the beginning and the father of lies (John 8:44)—a clear indication that Jesus knew them to be liars.

This new view of Jesus claims that He told stories and didn’t actually give directives. In fact, some say He loved people by first being with them, them being committed to them and showing Himself for them. Only later did He direct them toward truth and holiness out of His love.

Well, yes and no.

Jesus didn’t always show that he was committed to or for certain people—most notably the Pharisees, but also the Syrophoenician woman who wanted Him to heal her daughter. He flat out told her He’d come to the Jews. Some might even find His response racist and offensive:

He answered and said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

But she came and began to bow down before Him, saying, “Lord, help me!”

And He answered and said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” (Matt. 15:24-26)

Not quite the politically correct Jesus we’re shown so often these days, the one who loves everyone. He did heal her daughter and even praised her for her faith. But where was that “love for everyone”?

We seem to forget that “everyone” would include the Pharisees, and Jesus did not treat them in a loving way. In fact, He was quite directive with them, hence the whip in the temple. Yes, those were most likely Pharisees He was going after when He overturned tables and drove out money changers—the sinners wouldn’t have been allowed in to do the work. They were presumably tagged sinners because they didn’t adhere to the Mosaic Law.

At the same time, Jesus was very directive in His teaching. He said if you look at a woman with lust, you’ve committed adultery. He told the rich young ruler to sell all he owned and follow Jesus. He said those who wanted to follow Him had to deny themselves and take up their cross daily. And each one of His stories had a point, a directive that was to guide action or expose truth. He was not trying to entertain.

Jesus also didn’t hang with prostitutes. The adulterous woman was brought to Him and He told her to stop sinning. The woman at the well who had had many husbands went into her village to tell the people she’d found the Messiah. The woman who the Pharisee Simon identified as a sinner and who poured perfume on Jesus was actually a disciple of Christ. Luke tells the whole story (7:36ff) and ends with Jesus reproving His host for his self-righteousness. In the process He clarifies the facts about her: “For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for [this reason] she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.”

In the same way that the re-imagers want to make out that Christians are the new Pharisees, they want to hand Jesus the winebibber and glutton tag—only that’s now apparently a positive on his resumé.

But it’s not who Jesus was when He walked on earth. He came to teach, and that’s what He did, along with healing so many people there were days He didn’t even have time to eat. If sinners came to Him, He never turned them away. That’s who He came to save, but He wasn’t out trolling for the sinner hot spots.

It’s time we stopped rewriting the pages of Scripture to create this view of Jesus we think fits what our culture might like—Jesus, the anti-church, pro-gay guy who told cool stories.

The Pharisees weren’t “Church” and Jesus came to call sinners to repentance, not to tell them how much He’s for them.

God’s Not Good Enough


ÍndiosIt’s a bizarre statement—God’s not good enough—and yet that’s precisely what some people believe. Before he passed away, atheist Christopher Hitchens said if the Christian God did in fact exist, he would want no part of such a tyrant. Today I read a comment stating we are better off outside Eden [away from God].

Why would anyone hold such an opinion of God? Why would people like the sometimes commenter from a number of years ago, Mike Morrel, say he thought he might be nicer than God? Why would others claiming to be Christians say the God of the Old Testament is murderous?

Last I checked, murder was a sin, as is wielding authority in a cruel way, and not being as “nice” as the creatures He created. So, apparently, God is under indictment while others simply want nothing to do with Him.

And yet, there’s a sizable group who proclaim Humankind’s innocence. God might be a monster and society is seriously messed up, but humans are innocent bystanders who get caught up in the craziness.

That thinking is so flawed, it’s hard for me to grasp. Society is made up of people. The only way society could become messed up is if people are messed up.

And God is perfect—perfectly good, kind, loving, just, omniscient, powerful, merciful, sovereign, infinite, wise, and more.

Humans are imperfect. We all know it about ourselves and about every person we’ve ever met. We make mistakes, get things wrong, forget, become confused, lie. And yet, we think humans see things correctly and God does not?

Especially spiritual things.

So when God says, all have sinned, there is none righteous, humans counter with, “What about the innocent who have never heard?”

Apparently, all have sinned, none are righteous now refers only to people in western culture because we are the people who are privileged. No longer are people groups who kill their enemies and ritualistically eat their bodies considered sinful. They are the innocent who have been deprived of knowledge about the One who can save.

I don’t understand. I truly don’t understand. Romans 2 spells out that those not blessed with the written word of God, the Law, are responsible before Him for the law written on their consciences, so that “all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law” (Rom. 2″12a).

The only way, then, for a person to be considered innocent is for him to live a perfect life. And only one individual in all time has done this.

Yet there’s still this idea that God would be unfair to judge those who have walked away from Him, who live in rebellion to Him, who rape and abuse and worship idols, because they haven’t been given “explicit knowledge” of Jesus, the Messiah.

Does God need to see them spit on Jesus to know they have rejected His Son? No! He is omniscient. Why is it we twenty-first century Christians have such a hard time believing that God actually knows what He’s doing? Or that He’s powerful enough to reach down among the “unreached,” and proclaim the gospel to them?

He found a way to turn the Apostle Paul 180 degrees, from a murderer to an evangelist. He found a way to bring Paul to the people on the island of Malta. He sent Philip to an Ethiopian and created an earthquake that lead to the salvation of a jailer in Thyatira. What can’t God do to bring His gospel to all the world?

We act as His judge. We declare Him unfair, because we don’t know. There might be someone out there who wants to repent, we say, and it would be unfair for God to judge them without giving them a chance to know Him.

So we think God does NOT know whose hearts are His? That somehow His knowledge stops with western civilization?

The two greatest evils in our society are these: we think so little of God and we think so much of ourselves.

But isn’t that really what the prophet Jeremiah said centuries ago (he in a more poetic way, to be sure):

For My people have committed two evils:
They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters,
To hew for themselves cisterns,
Broken cisterns that can hold no water. (Jeremiah 2:13)

When we think we know better than God, we have forsaken Him. When we think what He’s told us in His word is unfair and do a tap dance around it to get to a more user friendly position, we are digging our own leaky wells. We will not come up with the water we need.

The fact is, we are smaller than we think, and God is greater than we imagine.

Should We Forgive Authors?


working-man-131372-mWhen I was in high school, my church was a growing, vibrant congregation, due in large part to the dynamic preacher who occupied the pulpit. That is, until his wife ran off and had an affair. Not only did our pastor lose his marriage, he lost his ministry.

I wasn’t privilege to all events that transpired. Did he resign or was he forced out? I don’t know.

Not so many years afterward, one of the gifted teachers I’d been reading was discovered to be having an affair. He too lost his ministry, though I recall that he did repent of his sin. I don’t know what happened in his marriage.

Of course all of us are sinners, but some have a more public fall. Solomon would qualify for that category. He wrote some of the clearest warnings against sexual morality, addressing his words to his son. Many people memorize these words and turn to the passages to study in regard to the issue of sexual purity.

Except, Solomon was the man who had . . . what, 600 wives and 300 mistresses? But no adultery, apparently. Well, OK.

Of course, Solomon’s words were inspired by the Holy Spirit, so there’s a greater reason to listen to what he had to say than that his life validated his words. Because it did not.

So I’m wondering, do we reserve our forgiveness for a writer’s wayward life just for those the Holy Spirit inspired? Or can we look at what others write and glean truth from their words though their life might not hold up to close scrutiny?

I mean, let’s face it. No one’s life holds up to close scrutiny. That’s why we need a Savior. But no author that I know of puts their most egregious sins in the bio that goes on the cover of their book. So what happens if readers learn of a life style or a proclivity or a habit with which they disagree?

Of course, most Christians don’t expect non-Christian writers to live according to Biblical standards. As such, there’s often a lot of filtering of material. Just today a friend who reads just about everything by a famous author said she brushes past certain scenes by certain characters. But otherwise the writing is so good.

Should readers take the same approach toward Christian authors?

I ask in part because notoriously Christian readers are harder on Christian authors. We want their lives to be godly and their stories to be theologically sound. And why shouldn’t we? I don’t think Christian novelists are so different from pastors or non-fiction writers.

Or are they? Because they command the attention of an audience, should they live in an intentionally different way since people are watching?

In reality, I think all Christians should live in an intentionally different way because people are watching. We should want them to watch because we should want them to see Jesus in us.

But what happens when a writer falls short? What happens when you learn your favorite novelist is a universalist or believes in sinless perfection? What happens when the evangelist you look up to takes Mormonism off the cult list?

How are readers to respond?

I think there are three ways that believers might commonly respond. Some will treat the books and authors exactly as they do non-Christian works and writers–enjoy them, but stay alert for what is false. Others will simply stop reading those books from that particular author. Others may or may not read the books, but they will pray that God will open the eyes of that author’s heart and that he might come to a position of repentance.

So here’s the thing. I’ve thought for . . . maybe my whole life, about how authors can influence readers. But now I’m seeing that, through prayer, readers can influence authors.

So guess which response is the one I’d recommend? 😉

Published in: on February 11, 2014 at 5:44 pm  Comments (4)  
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Is “Christian” A Tainted Brand?


From the start, “Christian” was hurled at those of The Way so as to degrade and humiliate them. It was not a compliment, not a name to proudly put on your resume. Things changed when the Roman emperor became a Christian and mandated that all his subjects follow suit.

I don’t doubt that he had good intentions, but telling people they have to believe in Jesus hardly means they actually do believe in Jesus. It was the same problem the (few) good kings in Judah experienced when they tore down idols to Baal and reinstated worship of Yahweh with appropriate sacrifices and observances of the Jewish Holy Days. No sooner had those kings passed on than the idols were back up and the worship instituted by the Mosaic Law in disrepute.

Still, the effect of the emperor’s decree was to elevate the standing of Christians. No one in the Western part of the world, under Rome’s influence, was any longer ashamed to bear the name Christian. In fact, it was expected.

Today Christian has again begun to take on a derogatory meaning in many circles, but I tend to believe that’s because few people–even some in the church, some who are fighting to “reclaim” Christianity–actually know what a Christian is.

First, what Christianity is NOT:

  • Christianity is not a default position that an American claims because he isn’t Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, or atheist.
  • Christianity is not the religion of the political right.
  • Christianity is not a religion requiring members to adhere to a particular set of rules to qualify.
  • Christianity is not exclusive.

Sadly, these are all things that some group of people believe to be true. Reality is quite different.

  • Christians are first and foremost sinners. If we did not recognize ourselves as sinners we could not become Christians.
  • Christians recognize we can never do enough to earn God’s favor. We must rely on His grace.
  • Christians accept God’s grace through faith.
  • Finally, Christians accept that God in His justice punished His Son so that in His mercy He could redeem us.

Becoming a Christian changes a person; a person doesn’t change in order to become a Christian. Hence, a drug addicted prodigal doesn’t have to clean up his act so he can become a Christian. Rather, he needs to become a Christian so he can, through Christ’s power, learn to clean up his act.

Living as a Christian is really the secret of Ephesians 4:

Therefore I [Paul], the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (vv. 1-3)

We are to walk in a manner worthy of the great sacrifice Christ made on our behalf, and that walk puts us in right relationship with other Christians, even those who are different from us. Paul said in Colossians 3:11b

there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all.

Unfortunately, not everyone who is a Christian acts like a Christian one hundred percent of the time. This is due in part to our immaturity. We are a work in progress, starting out as babes, newborns. We need to grow up in respect to salvation, Peter tells us.

It’s also true that Christians sin. We have a renewed nature, but we hearken back to our old way of thinking all too often. We enter into a battle within our own hearts, as Paul described in Romans 7, and too often we lose. We believe what God says, but it’s hard, so hard to actually live what we say we believe.

We believe in grace, but fall back on legalism; we believe in holiness, but fall back on sensual living; we believe in dependence on God, but fall back on self-effort. On and one it goes.

Anyone looking on can easily find something to criticize. Christians don’t get it right all the time. Even saying that, I’d like to justify myself and my brothers and sisters by saying, we get it right more often than not. But that’s a meaningless statement. We don’t live up to God’s holy standard. Ever. What separates us from anyone else are two things: we are forgiven and we are being renewed.

The forgiven part we celebrate. The renewal part is painful, embarrassing, slow, hard. We hold up Christ and say, I’m not fit to tie His sandals.

And sometimes, sometimes when we’re trying to figure out how to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, we fall and fail. In public. Where everyone–even other professing believers–can start hurling invectives at Christians.

So is the brand tainted? No, we are. If we adopt a new brand–born again, evangelical, Christ-follower–it will quickly suffer from the same problem: it’s attached to imperfect people who make no bones about following a perfect Master. If we’re compared to Him, we fall short.

People expect us to be perfect and rail at us when we aren’t, though they also accuse us of sanctimonious behavior when we come close or closer.

We won’t win, and we ought not try. Instead, we should gratefully accept the free gift God has given us, and go about living for Him, trusting that He will use us, imperfect as we are, as light in the dark world, as a beacon of love in a sea of hate.

Jesus And The Dirty Dozen


During Jesus’s early ministry, He took a lot of criticism from the Pharisees, particularly about the company He kept — sinners and prostitutes and tax collectors. Today those who like to criticize the church seem to relish this accusation, repeating it as if this is a blueprint for how Christians are to live.

Go out and find some sinners to eat with, the critics seem to say. If Jesus were here today, you wouldn’t find him hanging out in some stuffy old church. He’d be in the gay bars, in brothels, maybe in porn studios — wherever he could find sinners to hang with.

Except, when you read the gospels, it’s clear that Jesus wasn’t hanging out with sinners the way today’s church-critics think. The sinners were actually hanging out with Him.

Jesus’s normal modus operandi was to show up in the tabernacle on the Sabbath and teach or heal. In fact, when the Pharisees came to arrest Him, He said, “Every day I used to sit in the temple teaching and you did not seize Me” (Matt. 26:55b).

Of course, there were days He taught in houses or on hills or even from a boat. He healed in a variety of places too — on streets, near the city gate, in houses.

Interestingly, He got invited to a lot of places by “unsavory characters.” Right before His final Passover meal, for example, He ate at the home of Simon the leper (Matt. 26:6). But, you see, Simon couldn’t still be a leper or no one eating with him would have been clean and therefore qualified to eat the Passover.

And was Mary Magdalene still a prostitute or still demon possessed? Was Simon the Zealot still a terrorist? Was Matthew still a tax collector, for that matter?

Seems in the Bible, a person’s sinful reputation stayed with them. James, for example, refers to “Rahab the harlot” in chapter five of his letter, when he could just as easily have called her King David’s great-grandmother, or the converted Canaanite, or the messenger-hider.

So these sinners that Jesus was eating with — were they still living the lifestyle of sinners? Or were they people who came to Him to find cleansing and healing and forgiveness? People like Nicodemus and Mark and Barnabas and Timothy?

Matthew the tax-collector-turned-disciple invited his friends over to eat with Jesus. In context it seems unlikely that they were hatching devious money-thieving plots over their meal while they cracked jokes about sticking it to the Pharisees. Matthew was a different man now, one of the dirty dozen who had experienced Jesus’s cleansing grace.

Demon-free Mary was different, too. Now she wanted only to sit at Jesus’s feet. Leprosy-free Simon was most definitely different — he was hosting a party!

The image the gospels paint of Jesus is not the one the church-critics try to conjure up. Sinners came to Him in droves. They’d come to John the Baptist, too, and repented of their sins. The cleansing they received from Jesus wasn’t a momentary thing, though. They became new creatures. Old things passed away, replaced by the new.

Sure we still call them sinners because that’s what they were, in the same way that “sinner” identifies me. The Pharisees used the term differently, however. They put themselves in opposition to the sinners. So in the blue corner, Pharisees. In the red corner, sinners. And how dare Jesus side with the sinners!

The sinners He sided with were those who stood before God beating their breast and saying, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner” (Luke 18:13b).

They were broken, humbled, redeemed. A lot like the people in churches today who know Jesus.

Published in: on June 27, 2011 at 6:14 pm  Comments (5)  
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The Desperately Needy


I recently read in an article at an agent blog—general market agent—that women love romance because we have a desperate longing.

How true, I thought, but the problem is, most don’t realize what it is they long for.

Because we are sinners, Mankind is in desperate need. Our sin cuts us off from the only true source of security and purpose. We try to bolster our egos (you’re OK, I’m OK) and find some kind of meaning to why we are on planet earth.

Some conclude that life is nothing more than eating and drinking and sexing because tomorrow we die. The problem is, apparently no one can ever quite get enough. Of anything. So we binge and purge, we opt for birth control and viagra, all so we can try to get our fill.

Others look for security in the people in their lives, but about the time we think we’ve found it (think, Sandra Bullock: I finally know what it feels like to have someone in my life who has my back), that other sinful soul lets us down.

We can’t even find satisfaction in ourselves. We excuse us and keep our expectations low by saying, Nobody’s perfect. And of course, nobody is.

Which doesn’t make us better. It just makes us as desperate as everyone else.

The game, of course, is to pretend we aren’t desperate—as if we don’t need anyone. And when we realize we do, then we decide it takes a village. If we can all just band together and help each other, maybe then we can solve crime and educate all the children and feed the poor.

Plus, doing something for others feels good. It makes me feel a little less desperate. So does another drink. Another pill. Another sexual encounter.

Until the hangover arrives. The pills run out. The sex ends in a broken relationship.

We humans are desperate, though we try to put on a happy face, try to ignore our own desperation, try to make sense of our condition through our own imaginings.

Enter Christ.

He came into a world populated with desperate people, and said, I’m life. Water. Light. Come to me.

What, I ask you, brings people to Christ?

The conviction of the Holy Spirit, definitely. But Scripture also says it’s the kindness of God. His love. His forgiveness.

Do people need to be told they have felt needs? I don’t think so. Do my neighbors, the kids going to school down the block, the people I stand in line behind in the grocery store need to be told, Your life has holes?

They know.

The problem is, they think they can fill the holes with stuff that is porous.

So I think, does fiction that delves into the horrors of the adult film industry or the pain of killing your own baby or the hopelessness of life on the street fill the holes? I don’t think so. I think what desperate people need is to see hope and help and healing. When they see this, they will recognize their own need for the same.

It’s a theory.

Published in: on July 27, 2010 at 1:10 pm  Comments (6)  
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