Liberal Christians Want You to Pray to Plants?

In Christian news lately, Union Theological Seminary (UTS), a seminary in New York, recently posted a picture of a group of people seated near plants. The caption that went along with the picture read:

Today in chapel, we confessed to plants. Together, we held our grief, joy, regret, hope, guilt and sorrow in prayer; offering them to the beings who sustain us but whose gift we too often fail to honor. What do you confess to the plants in your life?

Christian social media went nuts, with many people calling Union’s practice strange, odd, or even pagan. I also found the photo and the caption to be quite amusing, and my brain easily was coming up with quips that mocked the worship experience. With such a huge backlash from Christian social media, UTS put out a follow-up statement, a very lengthy defense of their practice. Without making jokes about the plant liturgy, allow me to take their defense bit by bit and address why I have a genuine problem with offering our grief, joy, hope, guilt, and sorrow in prayer “to the beings who sustain us but whose gift we too often fail to honor.”

The defense from UTS is in red, my response is in black.

We’ve had many questions about yesterday’s chapel, conducted as part of @ccarvalhaes‘ class, “Extractivism: A Ritual/Liturgical Response.” In worship, our community confessed the harm we’ve done to plants, speaking directly in repentance. This is a beautiful ritual.

At the outset, I have no issue with Union’s defense. Taking a look at the world around us, I see easily that humanity has done harm to the environment and ecosystem which God has tasked us to oversee. Bible-believing Christians must admit that creation is a gift from God, and God’s gift he declared good.

“And God said, ‘Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.’ And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.” (Genesis 1:11-13)

When God makes humanity, he gives us a task:

“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth…. And God said, ‘Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.” (Genesis 1:26, 29)

There you have it, our God-given appointment to care for the earth BUT ALSO to utilize the plants and fruit for our food. When we confess that we haven’t done a great job caring for God’s creation, though, our confession shouldn’t be to the food but to the ONE who created the earth and set us to task. Union has a point in the confession and repentance, but they fail in their understanding of to whom they repent and confess.

Their defense continues:

We are in the throes of a climate emergency, a crisis created by humanity’s arrogance, our disregard for Creation. Far too often, we see the natural world only as resources to be extracted for our use, not divinely created in their own right—worthy of honor, thanks and care.

Union is close, but they aren’t there. The climate emergency created by human disregard for creation is a serious issue, and I agree that Christians OUGHT to lead the charge in caring for the planet – it is our God-given role! I disagree, however, with the idea that plants are worthy of thanks. They are merely plants, and plants have no being or essence that makes them special. Yes, yes, I know this defies the teaching of Master Yoda and Obi-wan Kenobi, who tell Luke that the Force flows through all things. From a Christian perspective, however, plants are designed by God as food. If anyone is worthy of thanks, thank the God who created the earth and gave us the food, but don’t thank the bushes!

But their defense goes on:

We need to unlearn habits of sin and death. And part of that work must be building new bridges to the natural world. And that means creating new spiritual and intellectual frameworks by which we understand and relate to the plants and animals with whom we share the planet. Churches have a huge role to play in this endeavor. Theologies that encourage humans to dominate and master the Earth have played a deplorable role in degrading God’s creation. We must birth new theology, new liturgy to heal and sow, replacing ones that reap and destroy. When Robin Wall Kimmerer spoke at Union last year, she concluded her lecture by tasking us—and all faith communities—to develop new liturgies by which to mourn, grieve, heal and change in response to our climate emergency. We couldn’t be prouder to participate in this work.

To these points, Union and I are in total agreement. Churches SHOULD play a huge role in taking care of the creation God left in our care, a role that means we strive to cease destroying species of animal and plant life, actively seeking to protect and nurture God’s creative activity.

Please go on, Union:

And here’s the thing: At first, this work will seem weird. It won’t feel normal. It won’t look like how we’re used to worship looking and sounding. And that’s exactly the point. We don’t just need new wine, we need new wineskins. But it’s also important to note that this isn’t, really, that radical a break from tradition. Many faiths and denoms have liturgy through which we express and atone for the harm we’ve caused. No one would have blinked if our chapel featured students apologizing to each other. What’s different (and the source of so much derision) is that we’re treating plants as fully created beings, divine Creation in its own right—not just something to be consumed. Because plants aren’t capable of verbal response, does that mean we shouldn’t engage with them?

Aaaand they are off the rails again. Treating plants as fully created beings? No. Nope. No way. They’re plants. Out of all of God’s creative work, only humanity bears the divine image.

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it….’” (Genesis 1:27-28)

While plants are a part of God’s created order, plants do NOT bear the Imago Dei (Image of God). Humanity stands alone in this regard. We apologize when we sin against other humans because we’re apologizing to beings that are also divine image bearers. I consider myself a dog lover. I have been my entire life. As much joy as pups bring me, they are still not on the same level as other humans. Respect the creation, sure, but recognize that the Creator has made plants and animals different than the Creator made people. Scripture says that humanity is created to have dominion over every animal and to have the plants for food. They are not equal beings.

Union finishes up:

So, if you’re poking fun, we’d ask only that you also spend a couple moments asking: Do I treat plants and animals as divinely created beings? What harm do I cause without thinking? How can I enter into new relationship with the natural world? Change isn’t easy: It’s no simple business to break free from comfortable habits and thoughts. But if we do not change, we will perish. And so will plants and animals God created and called “good.” We must lean into this discomfort; God waits for us there.

On a final note, I do believe that Union’s questions are worth asking. Do we treat plants and animals as divinely created beings? No, nor should we. They were created for humanity, not as equal to humanity. It IS valid to ask how we cause harm to the created order, how our carelessness can consumerism actually works to destroy what God placed under our care. Because all of creation IS good, and because God specifically tasked us with overseeing his creation, we have a responsibility to treat well the earth and everything upon it.

And lastly, if you like to talk to tomatoes…

have I got a show for you.

The Contemporary Meme Bible

There are a LOT of memes going around with Bible verses. It hit me the other day that “the meme” has become a new dialect of contemporary culture. In the spirit of Martin Luther, who believed the people should have the Scripture available to them in their own tongue, I thought it would be fun (and hopefully funny) to make the CMB – the Contemporary Meme Bible. So I’m going to work my way through the Bible creating original memes for the major stories. Right now I’ve got the Old Testament and the Synoptics complete. I’ll include links to the text for those who want to read the biblical stories. So let’s get started.

Table of Contents

GENESIS: In the Beginning

Genesis 1 – Creation

Meme Bible - Genesis 1

Genesis 3 – Original Sin

Meme Bible - Genesis 3

Genesis 4 Cain & Abel

Meme Bible - Genesis 4

Genesis 6 – The Flood

Meme Bible - Genesis 6

Genesis 8 – The Flood

Meme Bible - Genesis 8

Genesis 11 – The Tower of Babel

Meme Bible - Genesis 11

Genesis 18 Abraham & Sarah

Meme Bible - Genesis 18

Genesis 19 – Sodom & Gomorrah

Meme Bible - Genesis 19

Genesis 21 – Sarah & Hagar

Meme Bible - Genesis 21

Genesis 22 – Abraham & Isaac

Meme Bible - Genesis 22

Genesis 25 – Jacob & Esau

Meme Bible - Genesis 25

Genesis 27 – A Father’s Blessing

Meme Bible - Genesis 27

Genesis 29 – Leah & Rachel

Meme Bible - Genesis 29

Genesis 32 – Jacob Wrestles with God

Meme Bible - Genesis 32

Genesis 37 – Joseph and his Coat of Many Colors

Meme Bible - Genesis 37

Genesis 39 – Joseph in Potiphar’s House

Meme Bible - Genesis 39

Genesis 41 – Joseph Interprets Pharaoh’s Dreams

Meme Bible - Genesis 41

Genesis 42-45 – Joseph & His Brothers

Meme Bible - Genesis 45

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EXODUS: Let My People Go

Exodus 1 – Conflict in Egypt

Meme Bible - Exodus 1 (10)

Exodus 1:18 – An Evil King

Meme Bible - Exodus 1 (18)

Exodus 2:3 – Baby Moses

Meme Bible - Exodus 2 (3)

Exodus 2:10 – Baby Moses

Meme Bible - Exodus 2 (10)

Exodus 3:10 – God calls Moses

Meme Bible - Exodus 3 (10)

Exodus 3 – God talks to Moses

Meme Bible - Exodus 3

Exodus 7:13 – Pharaoh responds to Moses

Meme Bible - Exodus 7 (13)

Exodus 7-10 – The 10 Plagues

Meme Bible - Exodus 7-10

Exodus 12:12 – The 10th Plague

Meme Bible - Exodus 12 (12)

Exodus 12:33 – The Exodus

Meme Bible - Exodus 12 (33)

Exodus 14-15 – Crossing the Red Sea

Meme Bible - Exodus 14-15

Exodus 16 – Bread from Heaven

Meme Bible - Exodus 16

Exodus 18 – Jethro (Moses’ father-in-law) gives Moses advice…

Meme Bible - Exodus 18

Exodus 20 – The 10 Commandments

Meme Bible - Exodus 20

Exodus 32 – The Golden Calf

Meme Bible - Exodus 32

Exodus 32 – The Golden Calf

Meme Bible - Exodus 32 (15)

Exodus 40 – Building the Tabernacle

Meme Bible - Exodus 40

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LEVITICUS: Layin’ Down the Law…

Meme Bible - Leviticus 1

Leviticus 4: Sin Offerings

Meme Bible - Leviticus 4

Leviticus 11: Clean & Unclean Animals

Meme Bible - Leviticus 11

Leviticus 18: Unlawful Sexual Relations

Meme Bible - Leviticus 18

Leviticus 25: Kindness for the Poor

Meme Bible - Leviticus 25(35-46)

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NUMBERS: Seriously, How Many Times Do We Need to Take a Census?

Meme Bible - Numbers

Numbers 1: A Census

Meme Bible - Numbers 1

Numbers 11: The People of Israel Complain

Meme Bible - Numbers 11

Numbers 12: Aaron & Miriam Oppose Moses

Meme Bible - Numbers 12

Numbers 13: Spies Sent Into the Land

Meme Bible - Numbers 13

Numbers 20: Moses Strikes the Rock

Meme Bible - Numbers 20

Numbers 22: Balaam’s Donkey Speaks

Meme Bible - Numbers 22

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DEUTERONOMY: Here We Go Again…

Meme Bible - Deut

Deuteronomy 4:41-43 – Cities of Refuge

Meme Bible - Deut 5 (41-43)

Deuteronomy 6 – The Greatest Commandment

Meme Bible - Deut 6

Deuteronomy 9 – God’s Grace, Not Human Behavior

Meme Bible - Deut 9 (1-12)

Deuteronomy 14 – Rules on Tithing

Meme Bible - Deut 14 (22-29)

Deuteronomy 18:9-14 – Be Holy

Meme Bible - Deut 18 (9-14)

Deuteronomy 30 – Choosing Life or Death

Meme Bible - Deut 30 (1-10)

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JOSHUA: It’s About a Dude

Joshua 2 – Rahab & the Spies

Meme Bible - Joshua 2

Joshua 6 – The Fall of Jericho

Meme Bible - Joshua 6

Joshua 7 – Achan’s Sin

Meme Bible - Joshua 7

Joshua 10 – Long Days in the Army

Meme Bible - Joshua 10

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JUDGES: You Never Know What You’re Gonna Get

Meme Bible - Judges

Judges 1:27-36 – Failure to Complete the Conquest

Meme Bible - Judges 1 (27-36)

Judges 3 – Ehud, the Left-Handed

Meme Bible - Judges 3

Judges 4 – Deborah Takes Charge

Meme Bible - Judges 4

Judges 11 – Jephthah’s Daughter

Meme Bible - Judges 11

Judges 16 – Samson & Delilah

Meme Bible - Judges 16

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RUTH: If You Like It Then You Better Put a Ring on It

Ruth 1

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1 & 2 SAMUEL: God Turns a Prophet

1 Samuel 3 – God Calls Samuel
1 Samuel 4 – Philistines Steal the Ark
1 Samuel 8 – Israel Asks for a King
1 Samuel 13 – Saul Disobeys God
1 Samuel 15-16 – Saul Rejected as King
1 Samuel 17 – David & Goliath
1 Samuel 18-19 – Saul Vs. David
1 Samuel 24 – David Spares Saul’s Life
1 Samuel 28 – Saul & The Witch of Endor
2 Samuel 6 – David Dances Before the Ark
2 Samuel 11 – David & Bathsheba
2 Samuel 13 – David’s Messed Up Kids
2 Samuel 23 – David’s Mighty Men

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1-2 KINGS: Who Put These Guys in Charge?!?

1 Kings 3 – Solomon the Wise Guy
1 Kings 4 – Solomon’s Wealth
1 Kings 11 – The Ladies Man
1 Kings 12 – The Kingdom Divided
1 Kings 17 – Elijah Can’t Cut the Carbs
1 Kings 18 – Elijah Calls Bull
2 Kings 2 – Elijah Gets some Sky Miles
2 Kings 4 – Elijah’s Deadly Stew
2 Kings 6 – 4 Chords and a Screamin’ High Key
2 Kings 8-18 – It’s Really a Crap-Shoot
2 Kings 23 – Josiah Remembers God’s Law

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1-2 CHRONICLES: Deja Vu

Seriously, folks…

EZRA-NEHEMIAH – I’m Comin’ Home!

Ezra 1 – I’m baaaack!
Ezra 10 – People Confess Their Sin
Nehemiah 2 – Inspecting Jerusalem’s Wall
Nehemiah 3 – Rebuilding the Wall
Nehemiah 5 – Nehemiah Stops the Oppression of the Poor

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ESTHER – Israeli Wonder Woman

Esther 1 – The Queen Mouths Off
Esther 6-7 – Esthers Saves Mordecai’s Butt
Esther 8 – Saving All God’s People

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JOB: Misery loves company

Job 1 – Satan & God Have a Convo
Job 2 – Job’s wife doesn’t get it…
Job 4-37 – Job’s friends blame him…
Job 42 – God gets involved

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PSALMS: David sure was a touchy-feely dude

Psalm 22
Psalm 23
Psalm 28
Psalm 42
Psalm 121
Psalm 136
Psalm 140

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PROVERBS: This sounds smart

Proverbs 1
Proverbs 3
Proverbs 4
Proverbs 5
Proverbs 25
Proverbs 31

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ECCLESIASTES: Everything sucks…

Ecclesiastes 1 – What’s the point?
Ecclesiastes 3 – To everything turn, turn turn…
Ecclesiastes 5 – Can’t buy it…
Ecclesiastes 8 – YOU DON’T KNOW!
Ecclesiastes 9 – You can run, but you can’t hide!

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SONG OF SONGS: Say what now???

Song of Songs – This is so messed up…
Song of Songs 4 – Um, what?
Song of Songs 4 – You’ve got issues, man!
Song of Songs 7 – Well, cats are better than gazelles…

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ISAIAH: Brace yourselves – judgment is coming

Isaiah 1 – Israel rebels again
Isaiah 5 – Woe to the wicked…
Isaiah 40 – A voice crying in the wilderness
Isaiah 65 – keep it orderly, folks!

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DANIEL: You want me to eat what now?

Daniel 1 – Livin’ the Dream
Daniel 1 – C’mon, you know it’s true…
Daniel 3 – Burn, Baby, Burn
Daniel 5 – The Writing on the Wall
Daniel 6 – Daniel and the Cowardly Lions

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THE PROPHETS – You’re all repeating yourselves

Seriously – like, all of them…

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THE GOSPELS: It’s the good news, yo!

Matthew, Mark, Luke – IT’S PLAGIARISM! (called synoptics)
Matthew 4 – Tempting!
Matthew 5 – Jesus goes above and beyond in ethics
Matthew 5-7 – Hillside Preaching
Mark 6 – Loaves and…Cats?!?
Matthew 12 – A brood of vipers…
Mark 12 – Conflict with the Man!
Matthew 14 – Adultery!
Luke 19 – A wee little man!
Matthew 17 – The Holy Ghosts, Batman!
Matthew 21 – Jesus Challenged
Matthew 26 – A Betrayal
Matthew 28 – He’s Alive!
Matthew 28

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There you have it. Let me know which ones are your favorites. Feel free to share this post and the Meme Bible with others. I’ll put up Job when it’s done.

A Famous Christian Loses Faith

Demolition-HouseIf you don’t follow Christian authors and news, perhaps you’re not familiar with the name Joshua Harris. In 1997, he wrote a book called “I Kissed Dating Goodbye.” In it he instructed young Christians in how he thought they ought to live a life of holiness. It was all the rage in Evangelical churches back then.

Fast forward a couple decades and things have really changed. Just recently, Harris announced that his 21-year long marriage is ending and that he is no longer part of the Christian faith (he was a pastor).

It’s easy to sit back and judge from the outside. There’s something natural in our flesh (human-ness) that revels in seeing exalted people fall. If you’re not familiar with my favorite word ever, look up schadenfreude. So I’m trying hard not to find pleasure in the downfall of someone with whom I really disagreed in theology and praxis. And, while it’s easy to think of jokes about Harris and easy comparisons to kissing and Judas, at my core I think I’m more saddened by the whole situation.

It’s tragic any time a Christian falls away from the faith. The fact is that none of us know a person’s heart or way of thinking. The Bible makes it clear that there will be “Christians” who leave. John warned the Church about this almost 2,000 years ago:

Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. (1 John 2:18-19).

Jesus’s famous “parable of the sower” in Mark 4 goes like this:

The farmer sows the word. Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.”

Ultimately it comes down to this: it’s not our place to “save people.” God alone works on the hearts of humanity. Not everyone who claims to be part of the faith is going to make it to the end. That is tragic. Jesus’s words seek to comfort us when we see people respond poorly to the gospel (or not respond at all). Since we do not know how every story will end up, we can take a breath and relax – we don’t have to work on people’s hearts. All we have to do is be faithful to God’s call on our lives. Yes, this includes sharing with people the hope that we have in God and what our faith means to us (that dreaded word EVANGELISM), but we don’t have to take it personally when people reject the gospel.

All we’re called to do is follow God as best we can and trust Him to do the rest.

I don’t know how Joshua Harris’s story will end. He might reconcile with his wife and return to Jesus. He might never reconcile but still return to Jesus. He might stay apostate the rest of his days. Only God knows, so I’ll try to tamp down the judgment and simply pray for him and his family.

May God’s grace and mercy cover us all and keep us close to him.


What do you think? What’s your gut reaction when famous Christians “fall away” from faith? Have you ever experienced a “deconstruction of faith?” Do you wonder why I use so many quotation marks??? Share your story in the comments and share the article on social media. 🙂

Closing the Church

Hopper-CoC-5-25-10While I’m an active duty Chaplain assigned to a ship, I have the wonderful opportunity to attend worship services as a participant with my family (as opposed to a pastor). When we moved to the Jacksonville area, we found a local church that the whole family liked a lot. The preaching is biblically sound, service style is similar to our background, and there are places for kids, adults, marrieds, and singles to plug in. So we committed ourselves to being part of the church as long as the Navy has us in the area.

But while I was deployed, my wife told me that the church was selling its facility and would be meeting in a school until a new permanent facility could be found. This wasn’t a problem or an issue for my wife and me. We had been part of “mobile church” that met in a school when we were in ministry in California. The people in that church are dear friends and we still keep in touch with many of them, even though thousands of miles and a decade have passed since those days.

Other people in our Jacksonville church, though, are not so cool with the change. There are many people who are plugged into the idea of the church facility being their home. I understand the feeling. It’s easy to get comfortable in a location and get to the place where your location is part of your identity. In the Bible, Lot and his wife had to pull up stakes and leave their home when God was about to cleanse the city. But, while God told them to leave and not look back, Lot’s wife couldn’t help herself and turned back. The Bible says that she “became a pillar of salt.” (see Genesis 19)

This is how a lot of people feel when it comes to church facilities. The attachment to the facility becomes more important than one’s place within the community. This hit our family this morning as my wife and I were trying to explain the concept to our 9 and seven year olds. They had heard that we were no longer at the old familiar building and thought we were going to be attending a new church. We had to help them understand that we are still part of the same church even though the building has changed. It’s the long-preached concept that the people ARE the Church while the building is merely a location for the Church to meet.

Our younger kids are slowly starting to grasp that concept, but it doesn’t come easy. Church as people is more abstract than church as building. While it’s understandable for kids to wrestle with this abstraction, it’s disappointing when adults refuse to embrace the idea. We get so locked into location that our very identities become enmeshed with the spaces our bodies occupy. This is MY church. This is MY pew. This is MY…

But that is not God’s concept of church. It’s disappointing when people who worship alongside you week after week say, “We’re choosing to leave the Church because it won’t be at this location anymore.”

If your religion is tied to one particular building, your god is too small.

If you look up the word church in the English Standard Version of the Bible, you’ll find 113 references in the New Testament. Each one refers to the group of people gathered to worship, not to the facility where they meet. The early church met in homes, in catacombs, and in Jewish synagogues. We didn’t really start to have stand-alone buildings until post-Constantine. This is why the Bible is so big on maintaining healthy relationships among Christians. There weren’t 10 church buildings in a given town where you could pack up and find a new option when you were unhappy with your current church leaders/service. The Church is the people, and people are more important that things and buildings.

I don’t expect to change adult minds at this point – most of us are too set in our ways to learn new ways of doing things (unless God grabs a hold of us and changes us), but I do hope to pass on to my kids the understanding that God shows up where believers show up to worship regardless of location. I hope to pass on to my kids the concept of remaining loyal to our local congregation regardless of changes that we may or may not agree with. I hope to pass on to my kids the notion that God is bigger than our buildings.


What do you think? Leave a comment and share experiences you’ve had with church as buildings vs. church as people. And then go ahead and share the blog post on social media. 😉

A Christian Singer Didn’t Express Hard-line Anti-Gay Theology and You’ll Never Guess What Happened Next…Okay, Maybe You Will

Perhaps you’ve heard about it by now. On a radio interview, the host asked Christian singer Lauren Daigle about her opinion on the sinfulness of homosexuality since she had recently performed on The Ellen Show. Lauren’s response?

I can’t honestly answer on that. In a sense, I have too many people that I love that they are homosexual. I don’t know. I actually had a conversation with someone last night about it. I can’t say one way or the other. I’m not God. So when people ask questions like that…that’s what my go to is. I just say read the Bible and find out for yourself. And when you find out let me know, because I’m learning too.

Sure, it was a wishy-washy non-answer. But now the Evangelical community is up in arms because this Christian pop singer didn’t confront their #1 go-to sin (well, maybe tied with abortion) head on.

You see, that’s what the Evangelical community (my community, folks – I’m not an outsider) has become. We look at specific sin-indicators – SINDICATORS, if you will, as single-issue make-or-break support-or-shun dilemmas. I’ve seen people online rail against Ms. Daigle. I’m sure some are calling for a boycott.

unicorn shun

But I’ve got a couple problems with this. First, Ms. Daigle is a pop singer. She’s not an evangelist. She’s not a preacher. She’s not a theologian. She’s a pop singer. Is it her place to take a nuanced public theological position about every issue we believe?

No.

Second, our SINDICATORS are not good data points for gauging salvation. The Bible says that belief in the Lord Jesus Christ is the prerequisite for salvation. After that, God’s working on all of us in our spiritual journeys.

Or do we not REALLY believe in grace?

‘Cause if we DO, that means heaven will be filled with saved people who are drunkards, adulterers, slanderers, and those who have same-sex attraction. Yes, I know the words of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

Many Christians use this passage to beat up on sinners who fall into these categories. But Paul doesn’t give a black and white cut-off. In fact, he clearly indicates that coming to Jesus results in a transformation away from sinful behavior. But he doesn’t give a timeline of how fast the transformation takes.

It’s easier to live in a black and white world where we condemn everyone who isn’t like us and we shun all artists who disagree with our theology. But there are far too many stones being thrown – not just at the sinners, but at Christians like Lauren Daigle – and I know that you stone-throwers are not without sin.

Jesus, Shut Up!

Sermon_on_the_MountFor the last 67 days (holy cow, has it been that long???), my friend Eric and I have been posting the Sermon on the Mount on social media piece by piece. For those of you who may not know, the Sermon on the Mount is the passage of Jesus’s teaching found in Matthew 5-7. It’s been an interesting project, to say the least.

As a wrap up to the project, we answered 5 questions. I’ve added Eric’s answers without edit (so blame him if you spot a grammar mistake!). Ultimately, this project was not about telling Jesus to shut up. Many people tend to ignore or shut him up when his words clash with their lives. Rather, Eric and I wanted HIS words to be heard anew. So here you go:

Why did you want to do this project?

ERIC: I actually started this project at the suggestion of my friend, Todd. It kept coming up in discussion several weeks prior how Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is controversial, even today, and how even many Christians are offended by things that Jesus in this particular sermon. Todd suggested posting it verse by verse or section by section without any commentary just to see how people react. Sort of give people a “slow reading” of it. I prayed over it and had absolute peace about doing it. So, it began…

CHRIS: For me it started when I saw the Facebook thread between Eric and Todd. They were talking about posting the Sermon on the Mount (SotM) piece by piece every day. I thought it was a great idea for a couple of reasons. First, the SotM was not originally a unified message given at one time. It’s a collection of the teachings of Jesus that Matthew compiled wrote out. Posting it on social media bit by bit would have been close to the way Jesus taught it – little bits at a time rather than a multiple chapter treatise on ethical and moral behavior. Second, with all of the negative junk that’s posted every day, I wanted to be one of the voices posting things that build up and develop people. True, Jesus’s words aren’t words of encouragement, but they can build us up spiritually, morally, and ethically.

Did you have any difficulties carrying it out?

ERIC: My greatest difficulty was remembering where I left off the day before! I would do it first thing in the morning, and sometimes I wasn’t fully awake! LOL!! But the greatest difficulty for me, personally, was just the weight of Christ’s words. They’re heavy at times. In giving others a sort of “slow reading” of it you force yourself to read it slowly and REALLY consider what Christ is saying! Matthew 5:44 was particularly heavy for me. During this time it seems like I had enemies coming out of the woodwork. And here’s Jesus telling me to pray for them! NOT EASY! Certainly challenging! But, I submitted and did it!

CHRIS: There were two difficulties. The first isn’t a big one – it was the difficulty of developing the habit of the daily posting. Probably 2/3 of the material I posted in the moment. I smartened up eventually and began to schedule posts in advance so I wouldn’t forget. Advanced scheduling, though, was part of the second difficulty: how to break up the material. Microblogging sites are geared towards snippets of material, and some of Jesus’s longer teachings are too long for social media. So I played editor a little bit in determining what the blocks of text would be and what would have to wait for another day. I also took some liberties to shorten the text, using & for “and” and sometimes omitting punctuation, indefinite articles, etc.

Were there any surprises from the experience?

ERIC: Yes. When I posted Matthew 5:31-32. While I was expecting some discussions to erupt over topics such as enemy love, loving your neighbor, or even the “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter into the kingdom of Heaven….” I was NOT expecting these two verses to stir any turds! People were leaving comments like, “So, what you’re saying is I’m a sinner because I got divorced?” No! I didn’t say that! I was just merely quoting Jesus, what He said in scripture! I actually had some family members REALLY upset with me over that! They were divorced. Even after I explained the project to them they was like, “Well, you still could have just skipped over that one!” Which really goes back to some of the conversations that Todd & I had: The Sermon on the Mount touches everyone and will offend you!

CHRIS: The biggest surprise was how passionate some people got over the message of Jesus. And it wasn’t always positive passion. One person asked me angrily (at least it felt that way reading the words on Facebook) why I was doing this. Others seemed to chafe at particular points of Jesus’s words that had direct correlation to their life’s circumstances. One minor surprise was a friend who took issue with me putting out the words of Jesus but NOT including the biblical address. My simple answer was that the Bible originally had no chapter and verse divisions – those were a later addition. The key is the content, which had been passed down from Christian to Christian for hundreds and hundreds of years before the addition of chapter and verse markings.

What did you learn?

ERIC: A couple of things: Scripture is challenging enough. You don’t always need to add your commentary to challenge others. The other was not everyone is going to agree with Jesus. Some will boldly oppose Him on issues because they want to be comfortable in their sin.

CHRIS: The biggest thing I learned is that the words of Christ are as relevant today as they EVER were thousands of years ago. They are literally timeless, reaching into the heart of some touchy subjects 21st century Christians wrestle with. To quote the Bible (and not give you the address), “There is nothing new under the sun.” We can preach Jesus until the end of time, because his words will always touch us at the core of our humanity.

What do you hope others learned?

ERIC: The first is enemy love. I’m looking at the Church, watching it’s agape growing cold, growing more hostile. Of course we see that the clearest in the political field. The ones on the right who are the most vocal about their Christianity are also militantly hostile towards those on the left. If you are a TRUE Christian then the left isn’t your enemy. It’s your mission field.

Which leads me to the 2nd thing I hope people took away: Matthew 7. This chapter plays a central role in my personal worldview & ministry. Matthew 7:13-23 Jesus is speaking of Christians. I was REALLY hoping that people would pay close attention to how Jesus uses the words “many” and “few” in those 10 verses! Because if you read that carefully, pay close attention, that should cause you as a Christian to gut check yourself. Not everyone who calls him “Lord” will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. The past to destruction is wide and many are on it. Many will say unto Him in that day, “Lord, Lord, have we not _____ in your name?” I don’t know about you, but I want to be a part of the few who find that narrow way, and I want to point others towards it so that they may enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.

CHRIS: I hope other people were able to see the broken down teachings and really let them sink in without the noise of contextual sermonizing or other texts. The words of Christ stand alone, and they have power…if we heed them. Otherwise we’re like the foolish man who built his house upon the sand.

There you have it, folks. Have you ever read the Sermon on the Mount? What do you think? How did it hit you?

 

Bouncing Back From Difficulties: Maintaining Hope

This is number two in our “Bouncing Back” series, where we’re dealing with being spiritually anchored so that we can weather any storm. Last time we talked about refusing to see obstacles as unbeatable. Today we’re talking about maintaining hope.

Hope is a funny thing. We’re willing to pay good money for hope. We probably don’t think of it like that, but we do. That’s the power behind the infomercial. These infomercials blast us day in and day out (and in the wee hours of the morning when there’s no regular programming on t.v.). These “as seen on tv” products are trying to sell hope – hope that buying a particular product will be the miracle to cure whatever troubles us. Like the Snuggie.

C’mon, people!

It’s. A. Backwards. Robe.

But it calls out to us and gives us hope that life would be better if we just had…. This is the power of the infomercial – it plays off of hope. My wife and I used to be in the habit of having cable news playing in the background during the day. I realized that we needed to stop when my then-5 year old got to me after work one day and said, “Daddy, we need to get a sunsetter!”

No, baby girl, we don’t NEED one. Not at all.

But humanity believes that these little doses of hope will make life better. But the emotion of hope is something that comes and goes. These temporary things cannot be enough to sustain long-term hope. Lasting hope has to be rooted in something much deeper. Lasting hope must be rooted in something bigger than ourselves or the stuff we fill our lives with.

Lasting hope is spiritually anchored.

The Bible talks a lot about hope, and the people who need it.

For the oppressed will not always be forgotten;
the hope of the afflicted will not perish forever. (Psalm 9:18)

I say: The Lord is my portion, therefore I will put my hope in Him. The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the person who seeks Him. (Lamentations 3:24-25)

You see, when we talk about bouncing back from life’s troubles, it is hope that gives us the bounce! And while we sometimes think that troubles kill hope, hope and affliction can co-exist.

Do not lack diligence; be fervent in spirit; serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope; be patient in affliction; be persistent in prayer. (Romans 12:11-12)

The Apostle tells us to rejoice in hope WHILE TELLING US TO BE PATIENT IN AFFLICTION! They’re happening simultaneously. In a nutshell, then, hope is about holding on to that better tomorrow in spite of the difficulties of today. But how do we develop hope?

  • Build a future focus.

We get so caught up in today’s troubles we lose sight of tomorrow. But we know that everything in this life is temporary. Life itself is temporary! We’re all headed towards that same destination – the grave. But the Christian has hope beyond the grave, for we know the day is coming when we stand in the presence and perfection of God. This hope has sustained Christians through the worst time and persecutions imaginable.

Don’t be so caught in the “here & now” that you lose hold of the “there & then.”

  • Work on a path to tomorrow.

We know that life will get tough. Obstacles are going to hit. Instead of letting them stop us, we need to plan our path towards tomorrow. Asses your life like it’s a number line.

numberline_0-30

If the obstacle has your life stuck at 5, don’t try to jump to 30. Ask what it’s going to take to get to 6. Then, when you find your life is at 6, ask what you can do to move up to a 7. The point is you keep at it little by little.

I have a friend who was convinced that God had a certain destination for his life. The problem was that obstacle after obstacle kept being thrown at him. It was discouraging. A mutual mentor of ours told him, “If you believe this is where God wants you to be, you CANNOT stop trying. Do EVERYTHING to keep moving in that direction.” It took years but it finally happened!

  • Finally, recognize God’s plan in your life regardless of personal circumstances.

Sorrow doesn’t have to diminish hope. God can work through your suffering. God and work in spite of your suffering. Hope remains, because it’s grounded in God’s activity, not our changing circumstances. I’m reminded of the Apostle Paul who prayed earnestly that God would remove a personal obstacle, his “thorn in his flesh.”

Concerning this, I pleaded with the Lord three times to take it away from me. But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me. (2 Corinthians 12:8-9)

Your obstacle may never be resolved the way you want it. It doesn’t stop God’s grace from being present in your life. Hope stays, no matter what happens today.

Let’s hold on to a better tomorrow.

I won’t quit.
I have impact.
Pain isn’t permanent.
I will not break.

hope-hero

When People Become Animals

Man, it is SO easy to get offended these days. In fact, it seems we LOOK for ways to be offended by the people we know we disagree with. Case in point – the internet has lost its ever-lovin’ mind over President Trump’s comments about gang members not being people but being animals.

angrydogOnce again, people drew the line based largely on party affiliations. Trump supporters said, “Of COURSE those horrible, vicious, brutal gang members are animals!” Trump opponents made it out as though Mr. Trump labeled ALL illegal immigrant as animals.

In reality, Mr. Trump did NOT make blanket statements about immigrants. And, as a decent human being (at least I like to THINK I am), the decency-loving person within me says, “Yes! Vicious and brutal murderers ARE animals! This is probably a very common reaction from law-abiding citizens of the world. Decent people don’t behave this way. There are certain things one can do to forfeit his place within humanity.

But then the Bible quietly comes alongside us and says, “That’s not the right way to think.”

In fact, time and again the Bible tells us that ALL people are made in God’s image. The Latin phrase in theological circles is the Imago Dei (Image of God). And it has its foundation in Genesis 1:27 ~

So God created man in His own image; He created him in the image of God; He created them male and female.

Humanity bears the image of God. It doesn’t say that certain people bear God’s image and others are just outta luck. It doesn’t say that people forfeit God’s image based on bad behavior. We ALL carry God’s image. WE don’t get to take that away from someone merely because we find their behavior atrocious.

And because all humanity bears the image of God, and because we are all people, we all have the possibility of redemption. To take away someone’s personhood is to say they are beyond God’s grace and redemption But the Bible doesn’t stop there. What if the gang members NEVER come to Jesus? What if they are ALWAYS an enemy? Jesus talks about that, too.

You have heard that it was said, Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…. ~ Matthew 5:43-44

Really, Jesus?!?

Why you gotta get all up in our bizness? The Apostle Paul keeps the theme going!

Friends, do not avenge yourselves; instead, leave room for His wrath. For it is written: Vengeance belongs to Me; I will repay, says the Lord. But if your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink. For in so doing you will be heaping fiery coals on his head. Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good. ~ Romans 12:19-21

I’m not so naive as to think Jesus and Paul are regulating our politics. I’m not saying there’s a 1-to-1 correlation whereby Scripture DIRECTLY seeks to influence policy. I AM saying that Christians are held to a HIGHER standard when it comes to how we think of people – even those people who would do physical harm to us.

I understand the “They’re animals!” mentality. But we must set aside our own feelings and take up the biblical point of view in how we see and treat others – and that includes gang members.

Blame Your Brain – The Reason You Do Stupid Things

Writer William Arther Ward once wrote: “Nothing limits achievement like small thinking; nothing expands possibilities like unleashed thinking.” In other words, what we think and the way we think will shape our worlds.

I read about a research study by a Dr. J. Haskins, who spent 12 years researching the effects of media on how people think. One study group listened to programs with negative news 5 minutes a day. The other group listened to more uplifting and positive news.

  1. The negative group was more depressed than before
  2. They believed the world was a negative place
  3. They were less likely to help others
  4. They began to believe that negative things would soon happen to them

Their concept of reality was shaped by their thoughts.

Please don’t misunderstand me – I’m not talking about some Neo-level world manipulation like in The Matrix.

 

But the things we focus on, dwell on, meditate on, will shape our realities and our course in life. Just ask any ad exec. Once they can get you hooked in your mind, the decision to buy it will quickly follow. What you put into your head become your reality.

 

Pastor Chip Ingram uses this to talk about our paths toward good or bad consequences.

stinkin thinkin

He says, “If you want life to dramatically change—to get out of a rut of destructive emotions or bad habits—it all begins with what goes into your mind.” Thus the Apostle Paul writes:

Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise—dwell on these things. (Philippians 4:8)

So what are you dwelling on? When you’re on a long drive, when you’re relaxing at home, when you’re channel surfing…what are you putting into your mind?

There’s an old expression that says: GARBAGE IN, GARBAGE OUT. If you fill your mind with garbage that’s what your life will be filled with. If you follow the Bible’s guidance, filling your mind and life with God-thoughts will produce good fruit.

So here are 4 quick tips to start filling yourself with good thoughts and to eliminate your stinkin’ thinkin’!

 

  1. Memorize/meditate on Scripture
  2. Use drive time to listen to something meaningful or to ponder deep truths
  3. Experience great art (visual, music, literature, etc.)
  4. Take walks to examine/appreciate God through nature

What about you? What are some ways you fill your mind with God-thoughts and eliminate negative thoughts? You can change your outcome and behavior by changing your brain!

Pizza Tastes Better Than Self-Control

Self-control is one of the primary characteristics of the Christian life. The Apostle Paul talks about it as an element of the fruit of the Spirit.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)

While a lot of people think that each of these elements are individual fruit, they are all part of the SAME fruit! A fruit tree only produces one kind of fruit. The Christian tree produces ONE fruit and it’s made up of these things. That means you can’t say you’ve got some fruit and not others. If you do well with love, joy, and peace but fail at self-control, your fruit ain’t ripe!

pizza manBut self-control is one aspect of our character development that we let fall to the wayside. In my words, it’s because pizza tastes better than self-control. In generic terms, our individual indulgences are more important to us than exercising discipline. The Bible compares self-control to a city’s walls:

Like a city whose walls are broken through is a person who lacks self-control. (Proverbs 25)

In the ancient world, the walls would prevent the enemy from coming and conquering the city. A break in the wall could mean devastation for the city. Similarly, when our self-control is not in place, we are wide open to attack from any indulgence or desire. Maybe food isn’t your weakness. Maybe it’s alcohol. Or your sexuality. Or your anger. Pick something – because I have confidence that most of humanity wrestles with self-control issues in SOME area of life.

But you can tackle your issues. John Maxwell talks about some ways to kick-start your journey towards self control.

  1. Start small: You don’t wake up one morning and go run a marathon. You train for it. Likewise, it’s okay to have small, measurable goals to begin your self-control journey.
  2. Be consistent: It’s amazing how small consistencies can produce big results. This month (February) I started a nationwide running challenge to run over 100 miles in the month. A group of us are doing it together. Running 100 miles on a Saturday isn’t very feasible for most of us. But running/walking 3.58 miles a day will get you to 100.24 miles in the month.

You CAN do it. Don’t be discouraged because of past failures. Get back on track. Hit the gym. Put the food down. Cut back on those indulgences. Discover joy in moderation.

Let your fruit ripen into something delicious.

 


How about you? What is it that causes your self-control to fly out the window?