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Turning the Bible Into Behavior

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DVD Review: The Theory of Everything

theory of everythingMy wife and I recently watched “The Theory of Everything,” the biopic about famed physicist Stephen Hawking. Here’s the rundown:

  • Cast

The acting was superb. Eddie Redmayne doesn’t just portray Stephen Hawking – he BECOMES Hawking. The physical transformation in incredible to watch, and quick research will tell you that Redmayne studied and talked to many people who suffer with ALS. He also trained with a dance coach in order to learn how to better control his body so that his physical performance was accurate. I wouldn’t necessarily call the film a happy film, but the actors do an excellent job of drawing the audience into the struggles (and triumphs) of the characters.

  • Score

The musical score for the movie was excellent. I know most people reading reviews don’t really care about the music, but my wife and I both noticed it. It is the kind of music one would want as a stand-alone album.

But let’s get down to brass tacks – what people REALLY want to talk about when it comes to movies like this: the thematic elements.mathematics

  • Themes

The first, and most easily identifiable, theme, is the back and forth between Atheism and Theism. This theme was a point of contention within the Hawking marriage, Jane being a Christian with the Church of England and Stephen being an atheist. I won’t spend much time debating this theme myself – blog posts about atheism/theism never convince anyone on the opposite side to change positions. Clearly I believe in God, and I think Hawking is wrong.

The movie actually does a decent job of portraying the different viewpoints of Jane and Stephen without demonizing one or the other. One of my favorite scenes is when Jane is explaining how science views God differently depending on whether one is looking through the lens of relativity or quantum physics.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s not a Christian film, and the director clearly portrays Hawking’s bias against God, but the theme can make for interesting conversation and should prompt us all to think more deeply about the interplay of faith and science (yes, they CAN coexist).

The second theme I noticed was that of the suffering servant. Suffering Servant is a phrase I’ve come across only in biblical studies, but it seemed appropriate for this movie. At the beginning of Stephen’s diagnosis, his father tells Jane (who is not yet married to Stephen) that she doesn’t realize what she’s in for. It’s not a fight, because there’s no positive outcome. It will only be a brutal beating. She stays the course and decides to pursue a relationship with Stephen.

For 30 years she was married to him and helped care for him. The movie portrays the kind of toll being a caregiver can take on family. It’s hard on spouses who care for each other. It’s hard for parents who care for children. It’s hard for children who care for parents. It’s hard on ANYONE who provides full-time care for loved ones. Emotional and relational damage are all too common, and the movie shows such damage; damage to the point of the eventual divorce of Jane and Stephen. It should cause us to ask difficult questions about our level of care and commitment towards our loved ones – even when things get tough.

Once upon a time weddings used to use the phrase, “For Better or For Worse.” Being a full-time caregiver for a family member with special needs can definitely run the gamut of better to worse. In an age where it’s all too easy to put loved ones in homes and institutions, how far does our care, commitment, and yes, even love, take us?

The final theme I want to talk about is that of hope. At the end of the movie there’s a neat scene where Stephen is asked, since he doesn’t believe in God, what drives him to carry on day after day. In the scene, Eddie Radmayne suddenly shifts his feet, stands up from the wheelchair, and walks down some steps to pick up a pen dropped by a student. Cinematically it’s a neat way of showing the imagination of Hawking and leads us to his answer. What drives him day after day? Hope. As a physicist who believes in a world with no boundaries and endless possibilities, he says, “As long as there is life, there is hope.” Of course the audience stands and erupts in applause.

But life isn’t enough for hope, because when life ends, then what? Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:19 ~

 If we have put our hope in Christ for this life only, we should be pitied more than anyone.

Those who believe in God know that hope is so much MORE than the idea of possibilities in this life. Hope goes beyond life into the great beyond. Hope is the anticipation we have that this life WILL end and that God will make all things right.

At the end of the day, The Theory of Everything is an excellent film that is worth watching. Talk about the themes with your family and friends. Don’t be afraid to ask the difficult questions raised by the film.

Enjoy the show!

 

 

 

Our Heathen President

seal

I am calling upon all Christians everywhere (well, at least in God’s special promised land of America) to fire up the Christian Outrage Machine.

Let’s be honest, we were a little concerned what we’d be outraged about once A&E brought Phil back to filming Duck Dynasty. But never fear, new outrage is here!

It goes back to the religious practices (or lack thereof) of the Commander in Chief, President Obama. You see, people who really care about such things have discovered that he’s only been to church 18 times since taking office!

Only 18 times!

That averages almost 4 times a year.

Can you believe that guy? How can he claim to be a Christian and “forsake the fellowship of believers”? You would think that a true Christian president would be in church every Sunday. You would think that a true Christian president wouldn’t act like the majority of Christians in America, who all attend church services fewer than 12 times a year (less than once a month).

No, a Christian president should be better than us. He should be in church more than we are. He should pray more frequently than we do. He should read his Bible daily and have a good chunk of it memorized.

It’s almost as though he has forgotten the righteousness received from the Holy Sanctuary and would rather live a Romans 3:21-26 kind of life ~

But now, apart from the law, God’s righteousness has been revealed—attested by the Law and the Prophets —that is, God’s righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ, to all who believe, since there is no distinction. For all have sinned and fall short of theglory of God. They are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. God presented Him as a propitiation through faith in His blood, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His restraint God passed over the sins previously committed. God presented Him to demonstrate His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be righteous and declare righteous the one who has faith in Jesus.

Oh, well. I guess he’ll learn on Judgment Day when God checks his church attendance record. As a Christian Nation we need to rise up against this president’s mentality. We need to show him and teach him a lesson. So, in order to make our statement loud and clear, let’s be in church every Sunday in 2014.

That’ll teach our heathen president a lesson. So I’ll see you Sunday.

Right…?

Duck Drama

Image courtesy of phanlop88 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of phanlop88 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

And like that (imagine snapping fingers) Christian America went bananas. Over television. Okay, not exactly over television. Over a network censuring reality tv star Phil Robertson (patriarch of the Duck Dynasty family) for voicing his own religious perspective on sin – specifically homosexuality, bestiality, promiscuity, drunkenness, (and a few more thrown in in the form of a Bible quotation).

You can read the full article from GQ here.

Shortly after the article came out, A&E suspended Phil indefinitely for his comments.

That’s when the Christian Outrage Machine kicked into overdrive.

The Christian Outrage Machine (let’s call it the COM) is the mechanism by which Christians respond militantly with outrage towards any slight (or perceived slight) towards the faith or towards Christian people. When Chick-Fil-A came under fire a while back the COM fired up to defend it. When people want to remove a 10 Commandments statue from a public venue the COM comes to life. It’s everywhere.

But the COM should take a step back, breathe, and calm down a little bit. This isn’t really a persecution issue. It’s not even a love and tolerance issue. It’s a finance and image issue. I’m fairly certain that the nation could guess what the Robertson family’s views on morality would be. It’s not a surprise. I don’t even think the network’s response is due to Phil’s less-than-tactful way of phrasing things. Part of the family’s “charm” that the network promotes is their gritty, down-to-earth quality. If you want fancy oration on the nature of sin and morality you’re never going to find it in Duck Dynasty. The network cashes in on that down-to-earth quality (I do think that Robertson could have voiced his beliefs in a way that was more winsome and less in-your-face-confrontational, but perhaps that’s more my style than his).

No, it’s not about persecution of stating beliefs. It’s really a financial and image issue. The network needs to be as appealing as possible to as wide an audience as possible. If their LGBT demographic is upset it could cost the network revenue. So the execs take steps to pacify the demographic to ensure that the money keeps coming in and that the network maintains an image of being gay-friendly.

It was a business decision, not a persecution-for-the-sake-of-oppressing-faith decision.

Secondly, no Christian should ever be surprised when non-Christians get upset with a Christian view of morality. In fact, we should expect it. Jesus kinda promised that we would have trouble and difficulty, and that following him would put us at odds with the world.

This should make us sad – not outraged. Outrage is the response we have when we become soft and take on feelings of entitlement. We have blended in to the world too much when we feel outrage for being treated poorly. Shouldn’t we be used to it?

On the other hand, to my left-leaning and/or non-Christian friends: please clean up your rhetoric a bit. You have accused Phil Robertson of speaking hateful things against the LGBT community. But disagreeing with someone’s choices is not hate. Phil even said outright:

We never, ever judge someone on who’s going to heaven, hell. That’s the almighty’s job. We just love ‘em, give ‘em the good news about Jesus.”

You weren’t hearing it, but what Phil was saying is that how we treat people is not based on their sin. The left has its own outrage machine, the Liberal Outrage Machine. It gets fired up whenever Christians publicly state that any behavior is wrong. Ironically, Phil comes across as more tolerant that the “tolerant” liberals. He’s saying, “We love everybody and don’t judge, even when we disagree.” The Liberal Outrage Machine is saying, “You can’t voice your opinions! Be quiet!” Dang….

In the end, I am saddened that A&E would try to silence Phil Robertson for speaking what everyone could already have guessed about him. I’m really bothered by A&E trying to hide their financial and image issues behind false notions of tolerance and “doing the right thing.”

I’m also saddened that Christians have forgotten that being at odds with the world is supposed to be part of our standard operating procedures. We’ve grown complacent. We’ve gotten used to dominating society and have forgotten the need to share about the kingdom of God with a broken world.

So where does that leave us? In terms of Duck Dynasty, people who love it will continue to love it. People who hate it will continue to hate it. These outrage issues never sway anyone – they only solidify the lines drawn in the sand. But lines aren’t as important to Jesus as people are.

So, Christian, we can get off the Outrage Machine. The Outrage Machine focuses on us.

It does not focus on Jesus.

And when we focus on Jesus we can love people in spite of being hurt or attacked by them.

Related Posts:
A Christian Response to Gay Marriage
Bite Your Tongue and Pass the Chick-Fil-A

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

Do You Have a One-Sided Jesus?

One-Sided Jesus
One-Sided Jesus

Yesterday I was having a conversation with a guy who blogs about Christianity and spirituality. To be honest, he has some very angry and bitter feelings towards Christianity, so most of his writing is why churches, pastors, and Christians in general are doing it wrong. Instead of being like Jesus we’re too focused on preaching at people. Jesus listened and served. He said, “Jesus was called the good shepherd, and shepherds are not preachers.”

While I agree that there are many “preachy” Christians out there who care more about the sound of their voice than the people to whom they speak, this man has really missed the totality of Jesus. Yes, Jesus cared about people. He listened to people. He served people.

Jesus was a really nice guy.

That’s where a lot of people stop.

But Jesus was so much more than that. He cared. In fact, he cared enough to tell people that it was time to change. He was a good man who served others, but he was a preacher as well. Yes, Jesus was called a shepherd. People also called him Rabbi (teacher) because he was known for his speaking.

Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:14-15)

In the famous story where Jesus prevents an angry crowd from stoning a sinful woman, Jesus doesn’t just come to her rescue – he sends her away saying:

“Neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin.”

It seems Jesus was a pretty balanced guy. He believed in serving people. He believed in meeting people where they were and loving them as they were. But that’s only one side, and a one-sided Jesus is an incomplete Jesus.

He also called people to repentance. He called people to change. He called people to faith. A complete picture of Jesus must include BOTH his actions as a servant-leader and his words as a preacher and teacher.

It is this complete Jesus that ministers to us in our brokenness – we are loved as we are and for who we are. But it is this complete Jesus that loves us too much to let us stay the same – he calls us to move on and leave behind our old ways.

Anything less and you’ve only got half the picture. And those who live with half a Jesus focus too much on love and service on one side or repentance and change on the other. Both extremes are inadequate to the rich character of Christ.

Embrace the fullness of Jesus.

Related Posts:
No Touchy! Though We Shudder, Jesus Touches the Untouchable
If You’re Lost and Feeling Far Away

THAT OFFENDS ME!

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It seems the idea of what is acceptable to Christian standards is quickly become that which is least offensive to anyone. You can do this – you might offend someone. You can’t do that – you might offend someone else. It seems that many people want us to live in virtual bubbles where we cannot even remotely do anything that might offend someone else.

And the justification for telling people to stop their offensive behavior? The ol’ “Stumbling Block Defense.” Oh, c’mon – you know that defense. It’s a variant of the “God-Card” – using your faith to shut someone down and to refuse to engage in dialogue. It’s His way or you’re wrong.

The Stumbling Block Defense goes something like this:

I don’t like what you’re doing.
            It offends my sensibilities & my understanding of what is appropriate for Christians.
                        Your doing this is making me think things I don’t want.
                                    You’re making me stumble & the Bible says not to do that.
                                                Thus, you need to stop NOW and yield to my way.

You see how it progresses? The Bible passage the Defensive Coordinators use is 1 Corinthians 8:9-13, where the Apostle Paul talks about being careful not to let your own Christian liberty and freedom cause someone else (who doesn’t share your liberty) to sin.

A blogger and new dad that I follow ran into this issue on the subject of breastfeeding in public. (he’s a very talented cartoonist and uses his art to make poignant commentary on current issues, specifically connected to faith – you can find his post here).

So the argument in which he found himself someone asked about how Christians should respond if breastfeeding caused another Christian to “stumble” – shouldn’t the Christian cease and desist according to the Stumbling Block Defense?

No.

Let’s actually look at what the Apostle Paul said:

Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall. (1 Corinthians 8:9-13)

Paul is dealing with Christians in a Pagan world in which meat was sacrificed to Pagan gods and then sold in the market. Some Christians considered consuming this meat to be sinful and idolatrous. Others had no problem with it. Paul is saying that, if those who have no problem continue to eat and invite those with issues to eat with them, those with issues might be eating against their conscience. THAT is what it means to cause someone to stumble – when your actions invite someone else to participate in behavior they consider to be sinful.

For example, if someone legitimately considers consuming alcohol to be sinful (it’s not, but let’s pretend for the sake of argument) and I throw a shindig and only serve alcoholic drinks and pressure this person to drink against his conscience, then I have caused him to stumble. Pretty crappy way to treat people, huh? It’s a total lack of respect for others. Paul says, “DON’T DO THAT!”

Paul never says that we have to kowtow to every whim of every Christian we run across. We will differ on what is or is not appropriate. It does not make it a sin issue to disagree. It is not a stumbling block issue to continue to do something others might find distasteful.

Back to the breastfeeding example for the blogger I mentioned: I don’t know anyone who says breastfeeding is a sin. Even if it were a sin, a woman breastfeeding will not cause me to start breastfeeding – I struggle with my boobs, but that’s a personal weight issue and I’m working on it 😉 It’s not a sin issue. Trying to get someone to conform to my idea of acceptable when it is not a sin issue is not cool. You see how using the Stumbling Block Defense is an inappropriate use of the Bible to manipulate behavior in others?

It is inappropriate for Christians to be throwing around the Stumbling Block Defense every time there is a disagreement about what is proper or improper, acceptable or unacceptable. It’s okay for Christians to disagree with each other. We can have different viewpoints and still be brothers and sisters.

What I would really like to see is for us to stop throwing God into the mix to get people to behave the way we want them to behave. When God speaks, we do. When God is silent, we need to allow for our fellow believers to act freely in their own conscience before God, whether we’re talking about public breastfeeding, alcohol, or even eating meat that has been sacrificed to idols.

Christian Dirty Words

Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Oh, sure – every knows dirty words. Words that we all know but make people REALLY uncomfortable when you start using them. Comedian Tim Hawkins even has a bit making fun of the 101 most common “Christian swear words”

But one of the dirtiest Christian words you’ll ever hear is…wait for it…

Evangelism.

Yup. A dirty word. Maybe the worst. It’s so bad because it makes Christians and non-Christians squirm. That’s a powerful word that can do that!

~ It makes Christians squirm because the word is always used in conjunction with someone telling us that we’re going to have to talk about our beliefs with someone else. Dang. Don’t get me wrong – we KNOW that it’s not a bad thing. Really, we do. But not all of us are hard-wired to be the up-front, let me tell you what I think kind of person.

And yet, to some degree, that is something we are all called to be part of in some way. It’s a crucial component to making disciples. One of the last things Jesus said was that his disciples were to go out and create more disciples (replication), teaching people to observe everything he commanded. So there’s that. The Apostle Paul goes on to state:

How can they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe without hearing about Him? And how can they hear without a preacher? And how can they preach unless they are sent? (Romans 10:14-15a)

No, the Bible makes it pretty clear that Christians are not supposed to be silent about our beliefs. Rather, we’re supposed to be actively engaging the world around us and helping to develop more disciples who follow Jesus. But again – it makes us squirm. We don’t want to have to talk about it. What if people think we’re…odd?

This is often the push-back Christians give when this dirty word comes up. What will people think? It shows the unfortunate trend that we care more about how the world perceives us than we care about carrying out what Jesus told us we’re supposed to be all about. Part of our problem is that we view evangelism as an unnatural event – like door-to-door sales. We freeze when we think about door knocking. But evangelism doesn’t have to be like that. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that evangelism normally SHOULDN’T be like that.

Evangelism SHOULD take place within the context of natural friendship and conversation. Nothing strange or unnatural about it. It’s about looking for windows of opportunity in everyday life into which you can direct spiritual conversation.

I was in seminary when I learned that evangelism was supposed to flow naturally from relationships rather than the door-to-door model. I was taking a class on evangelism and one of the assignments was to – GASP – go talk to people about Jesus. The introvert within me froze. I was discussing the class with my wife one night as we were on our way out to dinner for a Valentine’s Day date (this was before we had young kids and never went out again). She mentioned that anyone can do it if it’s a natural extension of conversation. I didn’t buy it.

As we were sitting at the front of the restaurant waiting to be given a table, a young couple came in and sat next to us. They were roughly our age and were our exact same racial profile (brown woman/white man). My wife immediately turned to them and struck up a conversation.

“NO!” I thought. “I know what you’re doing! You’re trying to show me this evangelism stuff first-hand.” She was, and she was a natural at it. I couldn’t let her show me up, so I decided to engage in the conversation as well. It turns out that natural conversation is a much better place to bring up spiritual issues than a “bashyouovertheheadwithmybeliefs” confrontation. We ended up making friends and a couple weeks later had the couple over to our place for games and dessert!

Evangelism doesn’t have to be a dirty word for Christians if we don’t let it be one. Stop thinking of it as confrontation and start thinking of it as natural sharing within the context of your already established contacts (co-workers, neighbors, friends, family, etc.).

~ Evangelism makes non-Christians squirm for a different reason. Those outside the church don’t want to hear about faith because they don’t want to feel judged. Many people in our world have a live-and-let-live attitude. You believe your thing and I’ll believe mine. Just don’t ask me to believe your thing. Talking to an evangelizing Christian makes non-Christians squirm because Christianity makes people choose: Your way or God’s Way.

This is what the world dislikes about Christianity – it is an exclusive faith. The Bible is clear that all roads DO NOT lead to heaven. The Apostle Peter once preached:

“There is salvation in no one else [than Jesus], for there is no other name under heaven given to people by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

You can’t be good enough and work your way to heaven. You can’t follow some other religious beliefs and still find the One True God. No – Christianity is exclusive. One Way – Jesus. This concept makes many modern non-Christians uncomfortable. Actually, it makes many Christians uncomfortable as well – we don’t want to “rock the boat” and make people feel bad. So we don’t say anything.

But we cannot afford to be quiet. The noted atheist magician Penn (from Penn & Teller) relates a story about being confronted by a Christian man who gave him a Bible and shared about Jesus. While the magician was not converted he did appreciate the fact that this Christian man kindly sought to have a conversation about Jesus. The atheists’ perspective: If you really believe that your way is the right way and that other ways are wrong why WOULDN’T you tell everyone?

That’s the question. What do you believe? Do you believe what the Bible says about the only way to the Father is through Jesus? Do you believe it when it says that salvation is a gift of God’s grace through our faith in Christ? If we do believe it then why aren’t we telling people?

We don’t have to tell people in an obnoxious way. Too many Christians forget tact and graciousness when talking about faith. Why can’t we be winsome while we talk about Jesus? Sure, some people will always be offended at the truth of the Gospel, but we can’t help that. But we can make sure that we are looking for every open window to talk about Jesus to a world that’s lost without Him.

How about you? Do you find it easy or difficult to converse with people about what you believe?

Related Posts:
~ The Effective Gospel is the Simple Gospel
~ Fallen From Grace
~ Sharing the Gospel
~ Do Your Friends REALLY Care?

Leave Your Bible on Your Shelf

Image courtesy of -Marcus- at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of -Marcus- at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I recently read a blog post admonishing pastors to bring their physical Bibles to church and to stop using electronic media instead. You can read that blog here.

I’ve never written a post directly responding to another blogger, but I really felt that I had to this time. You see, I think that Dr. Barrett couldn’t be more wrong in his assessment of Scripture, technology, and culture – and the idea of reprimanding Christians based on his faulty assessment drives me up the wall.

Just so that you don’t think I’m some crazy, anti-Bible nut-job, let me write a couple sentences about myself. My first graduate degree was in Biblical Studies, where my Master’s work was on the authority of Scripture. My second graduate degree was in Pastoral Preaching. I am FULLY committed to the authority of Scripture in shaping the life, thought, and action of Christians. I am FULLY committed to preaching the truth of Scripture from the pulpit and not watering down the message and removing Jesus and his exclusive claims from God’s story. I have a deep love for the Bible. On my desk right now I have two Bibles (one English and one Greek New Testament). On my shelves I have 3-4 different translations, a Hebrew Old Testament, and two collector’s Bibles (a 1942 Bible produced for the Army and an 1895 printing of a Westcott and Hort Greek New Testament).

I love my Bibles. But the idea that using tech in the pulpit instead of one of my physical Bibles is doing damage is erroneous teaching and needs to be corrected. Dr. Barrett lists 5 “dangers” of using tech Bibles instead of print Bibles:

  1. A Different Message: the tablet represents many things besides a Bible. It represents apps, magazines, games, and much more. “A print copy of the Scriptures in the pulpit represents something far more focused and narrow: a visible symbol of God speaking to his people….”
  2. Biblical Illiteracy in the Pew: the tablet may…encourage biblical illiteracy in the pew. People won’t know where things are in their Bibles because no one is asking them to “turn to chapter such-and-such.” They fail to see the big picture of God’s story.
  3. Flesh and Blood: reading from a tablet removes the reality of having something “there”. As physical beings who gather in a tangible place, God is really with us as Lord of space and time. “This God has made himself known by sending his own Son in flesh and blood.”
  4. Visual Reminder: We risk the Word of God becoming lifeless when we take away the physical book. “And should an unbeliever walk in for the first time, would he know that we are a people of the book?”
  5. Nonverbal Communication: Carrying your Bible around with you communicates to others that you are a Christ follower. Forget the physical Bible and we lose our witness to the world.

Now let me tell you why he’s flat wrong:

  1. You cannot reduce the Living God to a symbol: If you believe that you need a visual symbol of God speaking to talk about God’s story then your god is too small. Yahweh cannot be contained or limited to a mere symbol. No matter what the delivery method, the power of the Gospel is not the literal word but in how the WORD of God pierces our hearts and souls. God can do that through a preacher who uses a print Bible, a Bible app, or an audio Bible while you listen to the Bible on CD.
  2. Biblical illiteracy goes far beyond what happens on a Sunday morning: There are many people who love God dearly and live their lives to conform with the desire and will of God but don’t know that Lamentations is somewhere after Leviticus. The Gospel is not about knowing the order of the books of the Bible. It’s not about being able to find a particular passage whenever asked. The Gospel is about surrendering our story to God’s story. In the history of the world illiterate people have usually outnumbered the literate. For the first1600 years of Christianity most people did not even own their own Bibles. It was only after the advent of the printing press and Reformation that it gradually became commonplace for families to own Bibles. Dr. Barrett’s accusations create a false superiority of literate Christians over illiterate Christians. It says that Christians in underdeveloped nations are lesser Christians because they can’t read the Bible or know the order of the books. This mindset actually does DAMAGE to the Gospel.
  3. A flesh and blood Savior does not necessitate a “flesh and blood” book: Jesus is the center of our faith – not the book. The Gospel is his story, not the black (or red) words printed on a page. The only flesh and blood that matters are HIS. Whether I am reading from the Bible or simply telling someone the story of Jesus, HE is all that matters, not the book. Books deteriorate, get torn, fall apart – but the Gospel will go on eternally.
  4. No visual necessary: as stated above, the hard-text is not necessary for telling God’s story. In fact, holding TOO tightly to being “people of the book” places too much emphasis on the printed word – it elevates the book to the status of idol! It creates two Bibles: the “real” Bible that is printed and the “faux” Bible that comes in other media. It does damage to the Gospel to create this dichotomy.
  5. Jesus didn’t tell his disciples that people would know them because they carried Bibles: he said that people would know they are followers of Jesus by their love. Behavior is more important than outward symbols. We’ve all seen people who wear crosses around their necks or tattoo a cross or fish on their bodies. It doesn’t make them Christian. I once heard a pastor state that wearing a cross doesn’t make you a Christian any more than sleeping in the garage makes you a car. Outward symbols do not mean anything about the condition of our hearts. I would rather people see Jesus in my character and behavior rather than because I lug around a book.

There is a real function to the sacred text. As Paul writes:

For everything that was written long ago was written for our instruction, so that we might have hope through the endurance and encouragement that the Scriptures give us. ~ Romans 15:4

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete and thoroughly equipped for every good work. ~ 2 Timothy 3:16-17

There is a real purpose to Scripture, and that purpose involves shaping and forming the believer. There is a relationship between the text and our life. There is nothing neutral in claiming the Bible as Scripture. The Bible must be “normative and life-shaping” because the writers were commissioned by God (whatever your view of inspiration). The divine voice demands response.

I do not impugn the authority of the text for Christian life and thought. We must not, however, substitute true authority, i.e. the story of God’s redemptive actions through human history, for cheap bibliolatry. The printing press was revolutionary technology in its day, giving the common person access to words never dreamed possible. Technology today is no different, giving us the Bible in new ways. But it isn’t really a new Bible, is it? It’s still God’s story – unchanged. And when we learn this then we can access HIS story through any means.

The Bible doesn’t change. We do.

Obama, Christianity and Immigration Reform

Image courtesy of twobee at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of twobee at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The news is reporting that Mr. Obama is moving to shield millions of illegal immigrants. It seems the Left and the Right are back at it – fighting for their particular view of what is right.

Before I even began to write this post I knew that immigration reform is a very charged topic. I also no that there is no monolithic Christian perspective on the issue. In fact, immigration is largely a national issue and not so much a spiritual one. That is to say, the bible never addresses how to handle immigration reform. The Bible DOES talk about foreigners and aliens and how to treat them. The Bible also addresses how to help those in need. Those are the issues we’ll look at today. Do you remember that movie Short Circuit from a while back? It’s about the robot that comes alive and has personality. The movie is filled with issues of identity: identity we give ourselves and identity given to us by others.short circuit On of my favorite scenes has two of the main characters talking and one asks the other about his identity – his heritage.

The white guy asks his (seemingly obvious) co-worker from India: “Where are you from?” To which his colleague responds: “Pittsburgh, originally.” 🙂

The passenger had a whole heap of presupposed ideas about his friend’s identity. This is part of our problem when it comes to immigration. We assume an “us vs. them” attitude. In the Old Testament we find that God gladly welcomes foreigners and aliens into the community of faith. Not only were they welcome but God saw to it that there were treated fairly and without discrimination.

God loves Foreigner?!?
God loves Foreigner?!?

When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God. ~ Leviticus 19:33-34 There is no room for an “other-than” mentality – they become us. Many Americans seem to hold to an immigration policy that embraces this wrong thinking. Heck, we still struggle with oppression and discrimination among natural-born citizens. The foreigner doesn’t stand a chance.

But God’s people are supposed to act fairly and inclusively no matter what. The New Testament letter of James tells us that our words need to match our actions. If we believe in a God that cares about people then so should we. It does no good to wish someone well if we fail to back up those words with our actions. I know that James wasn’t addressing international politics but I do believe that his words ought to make us think twice about how we behave towards foreigners looking to move to America.

While it may seem that I am in favor of flinging wide our national borders to any and all comers, I am not. I think that legal immigration should be embraced. I think that illegal immigration should be quashed. During the Exodus, when God freed Israel from slavery in Egypt, God made a provision to care for foreigners. The only stipulation was that Israel’s law would apply to the foreigners as well. In this case it meant circumcision. That’s a steep price to pay for citizenship! If foreigners want to legally immigrate and make our laws their laws I believe we should welcome them whole-heartedly.

Where I personally draw the line is when people look to circumvent laws for their own betterment. When all is said and done I know there is no easy answer or fix to immigration reform. I know that Christians will approach the issue from several perspectives and reach differing conclusions.

Regardless of how America addresses the issue as a nation, I believe Christians need to wrestle with these Bible verses and ask if we’re treating people the way God would want us to treat them. And remember – go back far enough and we’re all from somewhere else (even the “Native Americans”).

How about you? Have you given any thought to how God wants you to treat foreigners and aliens?

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