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Turning the Bible Into Behavior

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Faith

Facepalm Jesus

Some people just don’t get it. They SHOULD get it but, for whatever reason, they simply don’t get it.

The disciples are those kinds of people. Even though these are the guys who follow Jesus around and are his closest companions, the Gospel stories show time and again that they just.don’t.get.it.

I can imagine Jesus dealing with them. They say or do something so ridiculous he can’t sokkahelp but facepalm. We see one of these instances in Mark 8,

In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat, he called his disciples to him and said to them, “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.” And his disciples answered him, “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?”

Here we start the facepalm. The scenario is eerily similar to the earlier story where Jesus fed 5,000 people with loaves and fish. This has led some people to conclude that there were two versions of the story circulating in Mark’s time, and that Mark mistakenly included both. While this might be a viable possibility for some people, it fails to account for two things: 1) the standard Christian understanding of the inspiration of Scripture and 2) the differences between the stories actually set up different points/purposes of each narrative.

As to our understanding of inspiration, our belief that the Bible has Divine origin and spark within it means that there is a godly intentionality that underlies the text. Our concept of inspiration is not something that can be proven or disproven by science – it’s a statement of faith. If you don’t believe it, I can’t convince you otherwise.

As to the different points of each narrative, that is more easily demonstrable. The first story highlighted Jesus as a new Moses. The people sat in groups in the wilderness just as Moses and the Israelite nation split into various groups/camps in the book of Exodus. Jesus providing his crowds echoes God providing for Israel in the desert.

By the time we get to the second story here in Mark 8, the story is set against the first story, almost as a check on learning for the disciples. Picture Jesus saying, “You were with me the first time. What’s gonna happen here and now?”

But the disciples fail the quiz. “Where can we get enough bread?!?”jesus-facepalm

And he asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven.” And he directed the crowd to sit down on the ground. And he took the seven loaves, and having given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and they set them before the crowd. And they had a few small fish. And having blessed them, he said that these also should be set before them. And they ate and were satisfied. And they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. And there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away.

In addition to some of the numerical details being different in the stories (numbers of bread, fish, and people) Jesus is in a different location. While he spoke to Jewish people in the first narrative that had echoes of Moses and the Exodus, here Jesus is working in a Gentile area. Jesus’s ministry and blessing extends beyond the Jews and is for Gentiles as well. That Jesus extends his ministry to non-Jews is brought up previously when the Syrophoenician woman approaches him for help. Just as before, Jesus is able to abundantly bless and provide for those who follow him.

And immediately he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the district of Dalmanutha. The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him. And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.”

Cue the facepalm. Immediately after performing this incredible things, the religious leaders come and ask for a sign. When Jesus says that no sign will be given, part of me wonders if he’s really saying, “There’s not sign that you will recognize.” Jesus HAS been giving signs, but people are too blind to see what is right in front of their faces.

And he left them, got into the boat again, and went to the other side. Now they had forgotten to bring bread, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. And he cautioned them, saying, “Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” And they flatbreadbegan discussing with one another the fact that they had no bread. And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” They said to him, “Twelve.” “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” And they said to him, “Seven.” And he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?”

And the disciples continue in their blindness. They have seen Jesus provide in times of need, and they continue to fret about their lack. So Jesus warns them about being like the Pharisees. “I’m giving you stuff, but are you going to stay blind, too?!?” So Mark gives us a miracle story that acts as a living parable, illustrating his whole point.

And they came to Bethsaida. And some people brought to him a blind man and begged him to touch him. And he took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village, and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Do you see anything?” And he looked up and said, “I see people, but they look like trees, walking.” Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. And he sent him to his home, saying, “Do not even enter the village.”

After his initial encounter with Jesus this blind guy sees, but only in part. It’s kind of like the religious leaders and disciples. They should be able to see Jesus clearly, but clearly they can’t! Jesus might as well be a walking tree in front of them. So Jesus touches the guy again and he finally sees clearly. Cut to the disciples:

And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him.

FINALLY! Peter’s vision is clearing up and he sees Jesus for who he is.

He.Is.The.Christ.

This is the Gospel message for Jews and Gentiles alike. This Jesus is the one who came to provide abundant life, even when we’re in the wilderness. This Jesus is the one to lead the new exodus, taking these slaves into the spiritual promised land. Don’t miss the signs that are right in front of you. Don’t mistake the people for trees.

Here is our King.

Dunkin’ Christians

The 100th anniversary of the Titanic has brought about a resurgence of interest in the story. They even re-released in 3-D the epic movie from 1997, unleashing that tortuous song from Celine Dion on a whole new generation of movie-goers. Has anyone actually seen the Titanic? I don’t mean the movie – I mean the ship. Underwater vehicles and cameras have come a long way in exploration and we now have excellent imagery of the wreckage. Have a look:

The ancient Greeks had a word to describe sunken ships – BAPTIDZO: submerged. The word “baptize” literally means to submerge or to immerse under water. For that reason, I like to call John the Baptist “John the Dunker” or “Dunkin’ John.”

dunkin-christiansIf baptize literally means to submerge, how did different Christian traditions begin doing other forms of baptism? Some traditions sprinkle water. Some traditions pour water over a person. The biblical example is that baptism is full immersion and, with the word literally meaning to immerse, that is the standard practice of many evangelicals. But the way you are baptized is not the critical issue.


Baptism itself will not save you or put you in right standing with God.

There is a great story in Acts 16. The Apostle Paul and his co-minister Silas were in prison because they had caused a raucous as they went around preaching about Jesus. So there they are in prison, praying and singing worship songs at midnight, and all of the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there is a huge earthquake and the doors shake loose and the prisoners’ chains fell off! The guard comes running, sees the open doors, and pulls out his sword to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. Better to die by his own hand with honor than to have his superiors put him to death for letting the prisoners escape. But Paul calls out to him, “Don’t hurt yourself – we’re all still here.” And the guard is blown away and asks these men of God, “What must I do to be saved?” And Paul’s tells him, “Believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.” Then they tell him about Jesus and the guard takes them home, washes their wounds, and they baptize the guard and his family.

What do you have to do to be saved? Put your faith in Jesus. Baptism follows faith. For this reason many churches practice what we call “believer’s baptism.” Preaching always comes first: turn from your sin and put your faith in Jesus. It is also for this reason that many do not baptize infants and small children. While infant baptism is not prohibited in the Bible, the clear example is that baptism is something one does after making a decision to follow Jesus. But why baptism? Where does it come from?

The beautiful thing about the Bible is that it is always pointing towards Christ. Even the Old Testament is constantly pointing towards Christ. There are two events in the Old Testament that are pre-cursors to Christian baptism; they foreshadow what is to come. Those events are the flood and the exodus.

bible-1138240_1920In the story of the flood, God sees that humanity has become corrupt and filled with violence. God instructs Noah, a righteous man, to build an ark for God will offer salvation and not destroy creation completely. So through the ark, Noah and his family enter the cleansing waters and come out the other side to a new world – a fresh start to be the people God designed them to be. Peter, one of Jesus’ closest companions, writes in his first letter:

“Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you. Not the removal of filth of the flesh, but the pledge of a good conscience toward God through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (3:21).

Similarly, in the story of the Exodus the time when God took His people out of slavery in Egypt into freedom, the people are running out of Egypt as fast as they can. Then they realize that Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, is coming after them to recapture them and take them prisoners and slaves back to Egypt. And all of a sudden they are trapped, stuck with the Red Sea on one side and Pharaoh’s army coming on the other side. But God does a miracle, and the waters separate so that God’s people can go through the water and come out the other side. Then the waters close back up, but God’s people have come out the other side to a new world – a fresh start to be the people God designed them to be. The New Testament carries on the same understanding of coming through the other side to a new world.

The water symbolizes God’s activity inside. Baptism becomes an outward sign of what God is doing on the inside! But John’s baptism is still before Jesus comes on the scene. Then comes Jesus and, shockingly, He asks to be baptized, too! It wasn’t that Jesus needed to repent of sin – He is the only perfect human in history. But by being baptized He publicly proclaimed, “I am aligning myself with God – I am on His side. I stand for God and His righteousness.” Christian baptism from then on become a public stand for Jesus – aligning ourselves with Him and declaring, “I belong to Him.

The Bible tells us a story in Acts 8:34-39 about a preacher named Philip. Philip comes across a man reading the Bible but the man doesn’t really get it. So Philip says, “Would you like me to explain it to you?” And he tells the man about Jesus. The man sees a body of water nearby and says, “Can I get baptized right now?” And Philip says, “If you believe with all your heart you may.” So the man gets baptized right then and there.

This is what baptism is all about; it is an outward sign of what God is doing inside of us. Through baptism we participate in the death and resurrection of Christ – we die, are buried, and are resurrected. It is about God transforming us from the dirty prisoners we used to be into new people with fresh starts to be the people that He has designed us to be. It is where we align ourselves with God and declare to the world, “I do not belong to you – I belong to Jesus!” – Baptism is a visible declaration of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

baptism-106057_1920So where does that leave us today? We’re left with three options. 1) If you do not believe, why not? What is it that’s holding you back from saying, “Yes, I believe that Jesus is the Son of God and I am willing to surrender myself to Him”? If you have never made that decision, choose Jesus today. Let Him have control of your life. Become His disciple. 2) If you do believe but have not been baptized – get baptized! It’s time to make the public statement – I believe in Jesus and I commit myself to live for Him the rest of my life. I belong to no one else – just Him! Finally, 3) If you have been baptized, let the old you die! Live a new life for God! So often we say we believe, we get baptized, but then we continue to do the same old things we’ve always done.

Baptism is about letting the old person die and coming out of the water as a brand new person – free to live a fresh start the way God designed us to be. Let your old self be washed away – start living in the freedom and newness of Jesus Christ.
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How about you? Have you been baptized? Where were you baptized?

A Church That Loves Politics More than It Loves Jesus

I enjoy following politics. I really enjoy political races for office. I believe that citizens in a democratic republic (like America, if you didn’t know what we are) have a duty to cast votes and play an active role in the political process. It is the primary means by which we hold our leaders accountable and shape the vision and future of our society.

I enjoy my faith. I really enjoy Jesus. I believe that citizens of God’s kingdom (all of those who claim to follow Jesus) have a duty to be loyal to Jesus and play an active role in the life of God’s kingdom. This necessitates we understand the breadth and scope of Jesus’s life, mission, and call to those of us who follow him.

One of my favorite stories from Jesus’s life takes place during a visit to the temple. Jesus sees a bunch of merchants and vendors trying to make a profit selling sacrificial animals to worshipers traveling from out of town. The mark-up would have been considerable, and the vendors were there not so much to help those who needed to offer sacrifices, but to line their own wallets with cold, hard cash.

This was simply unacceptable to Jesus, and he goes ballistic. He starts flipping over tables and driving out the cattle and animals, jesus-clears-the-temple

and He would not permit anyone to carry merchandise through the temple. And He began to teach and say to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a robbersden.” (Mark 11)

Then this week I saw a very interesting phenomenon.

During the Iowa Caucus, I saw many churches that had opened their doors and had become caucus voting locations. Pews were filled with voters carrying flags, buttons, and banners promoting their favorite candidate.

It got me thinking…

I’m pretty sure Jesus would visit these church caucus sites in Iowa and start flipping over pews and tables…

No, it’s not wrong for Christians to engage in politics. I think it’s a GOOD thing to do.

What I have a problem with is people turning our sacred spaces into political grounds. How can we worship Jesus and worship candidates at the same time? How can our sanctuaries be converted to multi-purpose rooms used for secular political activity? I’m not cool with it.

Our call as Christians is to influence and change culture, not let culture influence and change us. One of my favorite Ed Stetzer quotations goes something like this:

When you mix faith and politics you get politics.

This is what I see happening during this election cycle. Don’t let it.

Yes, vote. Yes, get election-978904_1920involved in the political process. Yes, make sure the right candidate takes office.

No, don’t mix the two. Jesus doesn’t ride beside our politics. He needs to be above our politics. Because he’s the Lord of Republicans AND Democrats…heck, even of the Socialists. Jesus supersedes politics.

Don’t get caught up in the political movement and sacrifice our sacred spaces and our very faith.

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What do you think? Are you okay with churches being voting locations? How do you respond to the blending of faith and politics?

When Faith and the U.S. Military Collide

Let me begin by pointing out (yet again) that I speak for myself. These are my opinions soldier-708711_1280and reflections. I do not speak for the military or the government. Okay, ready?

This week I read an article saying that Michael L. “Mikey” Weinstein, founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, is once again up in arms about a Christian in the military expressing his faith. This time his furor is directed against an Army Colonel who shared a story about his grandfather’s faith and encouraged Service Members to work on spiritual fitness through prayer. Weinstein’s statement says:

Apparently, Colonel Thomas Hundley can’t figure out whether he’s an active duty senior Army officer or an evangelical Christian missionary? Further, DoD can’t seem to, likewise, decipher whether they are paying him to be one or the other. Where the hell is the adult supervision for senior, active duty officer, Constitutional compliance at DoD?….

Colonel Hundley has absolutely no business or authority under American law to be conflating his Army officer rank, title and position with his professed evangelical Christian faith.

Let’s break down what’s really happening, okay?

1. The military recognizes that spiritual fitness is an important component in overall health. The Army defines spirituality:

Spirituality, as defined by Comprehensive Soldier Fitness, is strengthening a set of beliefs, principles or values that sustain a person beyond family, institutional, and societal sources of strength.

Did you see the part in there that defines spirituality as Christian faith? No? Because it isn’t there. What we’re talking about is the general concept that healthy and fit Service Members have a healthy spirituality WHATEVER THEIR PARTICULAR EXPRESSION LOOKS LIKE.

For the Colonel, his spirituality takes the shape of Christianity.

2. The Colonel did not tell people that his background needed to be everyone’s background. He related a story about his grandfather to share about his own journey, but there was no proselytizing – he wasn’t trying to convert anyone. Sharing personal stories isn’t the same thing as actively trying to convert others.

And finally,

3. Calling people to prayer is really the least offensive way of talking about spiritual growth. All the major religions have a form of prayer and/or meditation. I can encourage Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Wiccans, Atheists, EVERYONE to engage in spiritual behavior through prayer/meditation. It’s not a behavior unique to Christianity.

Let me give you some personal examples from my own ministry as a military chaplain. My job as a chaplain is NOT to walk around finding people to whack on the head with my Bible and yell, “YOU NEED JESUS!” No, my job is to see to the free exercise of religion for ALL of the Service Members I come across.

Not too long ago I was asked about facilitating a need for Islamic prayer. Easy day! I kid-1077793_1920acquired a Muslim prayer rug for the Religious Ministry Team (RMT) and gave the Service Member space for prayer. I have also given out copies of the Koran, the Book of Morman, Jewish prayer books, and yes, even Bibles, when Service Members let me know they have a need.

So no, the Chaplain Corps is not about making converts. Christians in the military are not hell-bent on making converts. Yes, it is perfectly acceptable for senior leadership to suggest Service Members engage in some form of prayer/meditation as a means to strengthen their spirituality.

On a final note, it is possible for us to hold to our own beliefs while still supporting the rights of others to have their beliefs. This is where we get to the biblical behavior lesson for the day. As Christians we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves. We are also called to treat people the way we wish to be treated. We don’t have to argue the rightness/wrongness of faith. We can be faithful to our own spirituality and still respect the faith and religions of those who disagree with us.

As the Apostle Paul writes in Colossians:

Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.

 

You’re Not Really Saved!

salvation

So it started like this: an Anonymous friend of mine in an online group I’m part of made a comment that he was going to go watch a Dexter marathon.

I jokingly said, “You say you’re a Christian but you watch those terrible shows. You must not really be saved.”

Then it hit me. Let’s play a game! Let’s come up with all the ways Christians downplay the salvation of those who don’t fit the mold. Let’s face it ~ we’re masters at belittling the salvation and faith of those who don’t fit our own mold of what it looks like to be a Christian.

I called it: Not Really Saved

Then the game took off like wildfire. Dozens of people jumped in and came up with hundreds of ways we belittle others’ salvation. Here’s but a small sample of some of the things we came up with.

You say you’re a Christian but:

1. you like beer? You’re not really saved.
2. you like R-rated movies? You’re not really saved.
3. you struggle with addiction? You’re not really saved.
4. you have tattoos? You’re not really saved.
5. you got pregnant out of wedlock? You’re not really saved.
6. you got divorced? You’re not really saved.
7. you voted Democrat? You’re not really saved.
8. you don’t have a home church? You’re not really saved.
9. you don’t read the King James Bible? You’re not really saved.
10. you smoke cigarettes? You’re not really saved.
11. you smoke weed? You’re not really saved.
12. you enjoy sex? You’re not really saved.
13. you don’t listen to Christian music? You’re not really saved.
14. you think the earth is more than a couple thousand years old? You’re not really saved.
15. you don’t pray before every meal? You’re not really saved.

The list went on and on. Some were jokes (and quite funny). Some were serious. It was clear to me that many people have been hurt by others who claim to be Christian but, for whatever reason, don’t allow certain behaviors to be part of their theological circles.

Most of the list really comes down to this:

You disagree with how I interpret the Bible and live a Christian life? You’re not really saved.

And that’s a shame. The Bible is actually not as black-and-white about all of these side issues as Christians are. Salvation really comes down to faith in Jesus. Can you smoke weed and have a saving faith in Jesus? Can you vote a certain political party and have a saving faith in Jesus?

I think so.

In the end the “You’re not really saved” lists that we all have come down to us – what we dislike or disapprove of. Don’t get me wrong – the Bible does talk about sin and Christian behavior. But we seem to add a lot of things to the lists.

Won’t we be surprised when we reach eternity and find people who didn’t live the way we wanted them to live?

If you’ve ever had your salvation doubted because of this or other issues – I’m sorry. Christians mean well (usually) but we have a horrible way of judging anything that doesn’t fit our mold.

And if you’ve ever doubted or questioned the salvation of someone else because of some behavior you disapproved of it’s time to repent. The condition of someone’s salvation is really up to God.

How to Get Money From God

You can’t.

Sorry.

Today I actually heard a Christian minister say:

If you give money to God, He’ll give money to you. NOT so we can get rich, but so that we can live generous lives & be a blessing to others!

Boy that sure makes us feel good, doesn’t it?

It’s a promise of getting money (which we all love) and it comes our way when we first give money to God.

Here’s the kicker – the part that makes us feel better about the whole exchange is that the money that God gives us needs to be used to bless others.

Everyone got that?

Give money to God. God gives money to you. Go and bless others with what God has given you in return.

Here’s the thing. IT’S GARBAGE! TOTAL BALONEY!

Boy, this really got me steamed up today.

There’s no equation by which we can coerce God into giving us cash. Moolah. Greenbacks.

I know plenty of righteous poor people who give to God and never get money in return. God’s not a bank paying you interest on your investment.

Telling people that if they give then God will give back is ludicrous.

“But Pastor, what about the poor woman who gave her last two coins?”

What about her?

That’s a great story, but the point is not, “Give to God and he’s gonna give you more in return.” There is no Heavenly CashBack Plan. The point of the widow giving is about the heart of the giver.

Jesus says, “So what if you give a little out of your abundance? Look at this poor woman who gave a lot out of her poverty!” Her heart was in the right place – not because she wanted God to return her money ten-fold, but because she prioritized giving to God above everything else. She gave until she had nothing left to give.

What a heart.

I’m not there. I haven’t met a whole lot of people who are. But shouldn’t that be our goal? Can we grow and mature and get to the point that we’re willing to commit to God 100% of everything we have and everything we are?

Jesus said, “The poor you will have with you always.” There’s not divine get-rich plan. Giving to God may get you no earthly reward. Don’t believe anyone who tells you differently.

At the same time, when we cultivate generous hearts then we reap unseen rewards. We may never experience them in this lifetime – but that’s not the point.

So examine your heart and your motivations for giving.

You won’t earn money back. But how’s your heart?

Why You’re Going to Hell: Part II

Image courtesy of arztsamui at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of arztsamui at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In Part I we looked at how a person isn’t saved by reciting magic words – it’s a matter of faith. While saying the Sinner’s Prayer is a great way to express one’s faith, it is faith that saves and not the prayer.

We also talked about what Christians mean when we use the word “saved.” It’s an understanding of the condition of your soul in relation to eternity. Life as we know it is merely one part of our journey. Death does not stop the journey but continues it.

Those who are “saved” (i.e. have faith in Jesus) will be spending eternity in the presence of God – this is heaven. To be totally honest the Bible doesn’t give explicit details about the nature of heaven. There is a lot of symbolism and imagery when people describe it (streets of gold, etc.), but no solid, “This is what heaven is like.” The most we can say about heaven is that it is the opposite of hell – it is the presence of God and a place that is wonderful, enjoyable, and the place where we are free from any problem, care, or worry.

Those who are “lost” (i.e. have no faith in Jesus) will be spending eternity outside the presence of God – this is hell. And, again, to be totally honest, the contemporary image of hell is not from the Bible as much as it is from the imaginations of writers, artists, etc. The most we can say about hell is that it is the opposite of heaven – the absence of the presence of God and a place that is generally unpleasant, uncomfortable, and not a place you want to be 😉

But the question I hear most frequently from non-Christians is:

Why would a loving God send people to hell?

People have a hard time hearing the message that God loves them when we simultaneously send the message that God will punish them if they don’t become part of the faith. While some Christians do send that message, the Bible does not. The Bible is clear:

God is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)

The verse speaks for itself – God doesn’t CHOOSE to send people out of his presence. He wants everyone to be in His presence (heaven). So then…who goes to hell?

Hell is for those who do not choose God. He doesn’t send – we decide. The Bible says:

The works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, moral impurity, promiscuity, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambitions, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and anything similar, about which I tell you in advance-as I told you before-that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21)

For know and recognize this: no sexually immoral person or impure or greedy person, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of the Messiah and of God. (Ephesians 5:5).

Hear me out – I’m not God, and the Bible doesn’t get into the nitty-gritty of a lot of these. The point is, though, that certain behaviors and actions are not acceptable to be in the presence of a Holy God (holy means set apart or different).

It comes down to love and punishment. I think about it as a parent. I love my kids. But I have certain standards for their behavior. There are some things that are not acceptable. Because they are human individuals they are going to choose to do things with which I disagree.

Sometimes their behavior warrants being put in time-out. What is time-out? It’s removing the child from the family system – they cannot be part of the family system because of the choices they made to behave the way they did.

My children want to live by their own rules (or lack thereof). Then they’re always surprised when they go to time-out. Adults are no different. We want the freedom to live our own lives the way we want and then complain when we are told that there are eternal consequences for our behavior.

The Bible says:

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23)

Ultimately, we all deserve the BIG TIMEOUT (hell). But Jesus paid the price for our brokenness. Now we can once again be in the presence of God. But we can only approach him through faith and repentance.

When all is said and done, God is the one to judge our hearts and behavior. Not me. Not you. Not any human. I fully believe there will be people in heaven that will completely surprise us. Similarly, there will NOT be people in heaven that we always expected to be there.

In the meantime, we do our best in this life to live the life He has called us to live.
That means I may not do some things I want to do because it goes against what he wants me to do.

Because his way is supposed to come before my way.

Related Posts:
Why You’re Going to Hell: Part I

Why You’re Going to Hell: Part I

Image courtesy of bandrat at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of bandrat at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The other day I had an interesting conversation with a young youth pastor. For the record, it was not the youth pastor at my church. He made the statement:

“The sinner’s prayer has sent more people to hell than any one thing in our time.”

If you’re not familiar with the Sinner’s Prayer you can read about it here.

In a nutshell, it’s a prayer that Christians (usually pastors or evangelists) walk non-Christians through on the path to following Christ. Billy Graham’s version went like this:

Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner, and I ask for Your forgiveness. I believe You died for my sins and rose from the dead. I turn from my sins and invite You to come into my heart and life. I want to trust and follow You as my Lord and Savior. In Your Name, Amen.

What?!? How on earth could such a prayer send people to hell? The youth pastor is a young man, and young men tend to be very fiery in their speech. His point, though, was that repeating a few sentences after a pastor does not save you.

Time out.

What’s all this talk about saving? If you haven’t been in the church your whole life you may be wondering what on earth we’re talking about. Simply put, this life is not the end of existence – it is only temporary. Upon death we leave this life and begin the next. Depending on your spiritual condition you’ll be “saved” and in eternity with God or “lost” and in eternity apart from God.

Now, back to the prayer. The young minister was trying to express the fact that reciting words does not mean that one is saved. It’s not a magical incantation. Many people believe that if they simply say the words then they are guaranteed salvation and eternity in heaven.

But the Bible never says that you have to say magic words to get to heaven. The Bible does say:

– To all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. (John 1:12)

– Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved. (Acts 4:12)

– For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

The Bible is clear that there is only one way to eternity with God, and that is through faith in Jesus. It’s not about Mohammad. It’s not about Buddha. It’s not about doing or saying the right things (works). It’s about our faith in Jesus. The youth pastor I was talking to was frustrated that too many people say the magic words, think they’re saved, and then stay exactly the same they always were.

Authentic, saving faith goes beyond reciting words – it’s about faith and the condition of our hearts, and that saving faith results in a changed life. Jesus once said:

“If you love me, you will obey what I command.” (John 14:15)

Pastors, evangelists, and churches do a good thing to share the truth about eternity and salvation with people. It is a good thing to bring people to an understanding and a saving faith. Then the Sinner’s Prayer becomes a useful tool for expressing that faith.

If you’ve ever said the “magic words” for fear of going to hell, saying the words won’t save you – you’ll still end up in hell if all you have is mere words.

The prayer itself doesn’t save.  Our faith does.

Stay tuned…in Part II we’ll look at why a loving God will send sinners to hell.

Related Posts:
Why You’re Going to Hell: Part II

When Science and Faith Collide

Image courtesy of ponsulak at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of ponsulak at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Yesterday I saw a headline that really grabbed my attention:
400,000 year old human DNA adds new tangle to our origin story.

It’s not really as big a tangle as the headline would have you believe – it seems that the DNA of Neanderthals in Spain is similar to a different ancient population from Siberian known as the Denisovans.

The family tree is more webbed than science originally thought.

Okay.

That’s fine.

The idea that remains in Spain are genetically connected to remains in Siberia doesn’t bother me. To me it speaks of a single creator and a common ancestor to all of humanity. Hmm…even the Bible talks about that.

Where many Christians will take issue with the article is the age assigned to the remains and DNA. If the remains are 400,000 years old then the stories in the Bible can’t be right…right? But if the Bible is right then the science must be faulty…right?

And once again science and faith collide.

The problem comes when we insist on a rigid, literal reading of the biblical stories. We get lost in the nitty-gritty details rather than step back to see the big picture of what is being communicated.

Simply put – the Bible is not (and never was) intended to be a science textbook. It is a book of faith. It doesn’t teach us how to be forensic experts. It draws us into relationship with God, the Creator of the universe.

The idea of an “Old Earth” doesn’t bother me. Even conservative theologians like Millard Erickson concede that the Hebrew creation stories don’t have to mean a literal six days but could refer to epochs or long periods of time (you can see Erickson’s Christian Theology for his detailed presentation).

So we can go with an Old Earth – but what about humanity? The Bible is clear that humanity has an origin in God, not a spontaneous arrival. Ancient genealogies were not exact for the purposes of record keeping like Ancestry.com is. Genealogies are as much of the storytelling process as any of the narrative portions of the story. They inform the story, but are not intended to be scientific records for all posterity.

In the end I look at it like this: does the Bible fit science’s understanding of an Old Earth? Yes, it does. If humanity is older than a literal reading would have us believe – if there are massive gaps in history that the genealogies don’t cover – is my faith ruined? No, it is not.
The story is till the same. Everything has value because it has been made by God. Out of nothing, God created everything. Does it matter how long He took to do it? Not to me.
In the end the clash between science and faith is not as big as many would try to trick us into believing, and faithful Christians can fully embrace their faith and scientific discovery.

Because the world that God has made is a unique and marvelous thing – and we should learn as much about it as possible.

Related Post:
Jesus Loves Dinosaurs

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