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Turning the Bible Into Behavior

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DVD Review: Tomorrowland

tomorrowlandThis weekend we had a pizza party sleepover for our 10 year old’s birthday. We were looking for a family-friendly movie that would keep the attention of a group of girls aged 7-11. We opted to try the Disney film Tomorrowland from 2015. It stars George Clooney, Hugh Laurie (from House), and a couple of younger actors that were new to me. The movie has a metascore of 60, which means it’s not considered a great movie but it’s not a dog.

The IMDB.com film summary simply says:

Bound by a shared destiny, a teen bursting with scientific curiosity and a former boy-genius inventor embark on a mission to unearth the secrets of a place somewhere in time and space that exists in their collective memory.

The basic premise of the film is found in an early description of Tomorrowland from one of the characters played by Keegan-Michael Key:

Have you ever wondered what would happen, if all the geniuses, the artists, the scientists, the smartest, most creative people in the world decided to actually change it? Where, where could they even do such a thing? They’d need a place free from politics and bureaucracy, distractions, greed – a secret place where they could build whatever they were crazy enough to imagine…

This is Tomorrowland. It’s the better version of what the world could be, designed by the best of us. And the worst of us, those in the real world, are quickly leading the world to it’s end. Thus the main characters must find a way to save the world and put things back on the right track.

In all honesty, the movie was decent. It had many fun moments that the whole family could laugh with and the adventure element was engaging for kids and adults. I was a tad surprised at the language in a PG Disney movie marketed as a family movie. There are several uses of “damn,” “hell,” “bloody,” and “bollocks.” Clearly the PG Disney of today isn’t much like the PG Disney of my youth. Perhaps in the context of our current society, our kids are hearing far worse in public schools and on the shows and movies they watch.

As far as the movie goes, though, I liked it, and wouldn’t have any problem suggesting it as a family film for older kids. But the content is what intrigued me – the idea of humanity being able to create a better place. This is entirely a biblical concept!

The Bible envisions the kingdom of God as an “already/not yet” reality. It is something that is currently present in this world. It is something that is still yet to come. While some religions believe in an afterlife or spiritual realm that is completely distinct from humanity, the Bible portrays Yahweh as a God who is actively present in the life and history of humanity. When Jesus teaches his disciples to pray, he says:

Your will be done, Your kingdom come ON EARTH as it is in heaven.

God is active HERE AND NOW! We have an opportunity to welcome heaven into our daily lives. It begins with God’s activity. It continues with our own activity. As God’s agents in this world, being people who reflect HIS image and HIS glory, we have the opportunity to welcome heaven here.

It’s not another dimension with fantastic technology like Tomorrowland. It’s a world where God’s presence and reign are reflected in our activity, in our homes, in our workplaces, even (GASP!) in our politics. We fail miserably when we consider God’s activity to be a future element of the next world instead of an active call for us to live heavenly lives now.

All of us, from our varied backgrounds and experiences, our numerous skills and talents, don’t create Heaven through anything we have or bring to the table. We create Tomorrowland when we start living kingdom of God lives every day. Already. And not yet, for we know that there will come a day when we see Jesus face to face, and there will be a new heaven and a new earth.

Until that day, though, let us strive to create heaven on earth as we live kingdom lives!

Things Christians Just SHOULD NOT DO!

Christians do a great job of judging the state of other people’s souls. We’re mind readers, really. We know the condition of your life just by looking at the things you do. If we like the things you do, you’re obviously heaven-bound. If you do things we don’t approve of…well, you’re headed the other way. Some of things that reveal the state of your salvation? Well:stop-1077973_1920

  • you like beer? You’re not really saved.
  • you like R-rated movies? You’re not really saved.
  • you struggle with addiction? You’re not really saved.
  • you have tattoos? You’re not really saved.
  • you got pregnant out of wedlock? You’re not really saved.
  • you got divorced? You’re not really saved.
  • you voted Democrat? You’re not really saved.
  • you don’t read the King James Bible? You’re not really saved.
  • you smoke cigarettes? You’re not really saved.

The list of taboo things can go on and on. But in reality, 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. Look at the Mark 7:

Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem, they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands properly, holding to the tradition of the elders, and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.) And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,

“‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’

You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”

And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ (that is, given to God)— then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.”

That’s pretty powerful. Jesus tells these upstanding religious elite that they’re holding on to human traditions and letting go of God’s commandments. Won’t we be surprised when we reach eternity and find people who didn’t live the way we wanted them to live?

Might we have some good ideas about how to life a righteous life? Sure. You might have your own list of things that you feel you need to do to stay in right standing before God. There is nothing wrong with that. The Holy Spirit works in each of us at different times, convicting us of some things and freeing us to do other things. But our personal conviction, even if it’s from God, doesn’t mean that it’s supposed to be imposed on EVERYONE. Even within Christianity, there is a lot of room for Christian freedom.

Don’t get me wrong – some things are downright forbidden. Adultery is always wrong in God’s eyes. Murder is always wrong. Idolatry is always wrong. The Bible does relay to us concrete do’s and do not’s. But if it’s not specifically spelled out in the Bible, God gives us a lot of latitude to work within our consciences. It doesn’t make you less of a Christian. It doesn’t make you a better Christian.

This is actually a call to unity. We are unified as believers, even if we disagree on some of the peripheral issues. How we live out our faith on these other issues shouldn’t cause us to break fellowship with people. Our Christianity is bigger than these issues – we are united in our faith in Christ and it’s time to let go of our pet issues.

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.

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?

When God Turns His Back on You

God Lightning

In the last week I’ve had a couple of distinct conversations with individuals about the Christian understanding of “salvation” and the idea of losing it and/or needing to be saved again.

Salvation is the Christian concept that deals with human brokenness. We are broken people in a broken world and, left to ourselves, we get worse – not better. That’s why we can do some pretty crappy things to each other. We’re all broken in some way. Like all broken things, there’s a cost to fix what is broken. The cost to fix human brokenness and return to a right standing before God is a higher price than we could EVER pay.

Enter Jesus.

He comes along and says, “Your brokenness comes with a steep price tag. You can’t afford to pay for it, so I’ll pay it instead.”

That’s what the cross is all about.

Saint Peter once preached:

And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. (Acts 4:12)

One time when the Apostle Paul and his ministry sidekick Silas were in prison, God shook the foundation of the earth and flung the doors open. The jailer, fearing his own punishment (death) and family shame, was about to kill himself when he thought the prisoners escaped. Paul cries out, “Don’t harm yourself, we’re all here!” The jailer realizes that their God is the true God and asks, “What must I do to be saved?” Paul answers:

Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household. (Acts 16:31)

No special incantation. No hoops to jump through. Just a belief in the one true God and what He is doing through Jesus.

I don’t want to launch a debate with the once saved always saved crowd, but I don’t think people can “lose” salvation. Salvation is a free gift of God. You can’t lose what he keeps giving. I do believe people can turn their backs and stomp on God’s gift, but you can’t lose it.

If you care about your relationship with God to the point where you ever worry about losing salvation that would indicate to me that you’re not turning your back on him, so I wouldn’t be concerned about “losing” anything. 🙂

God loves you more than you can fathom, and he will not turn his back on you. Even when we go through the darkest parts of life and we FEEL abandoned He still cares. He still walks beside us. You’ve lost nothing, and you can rest easy knowing that He continues to hold you close.

Burn, Baby, Burn – Christianity and Suicide

This past weekend Brittany Maynard, a young woman with a terminal illness, ended her life. Her story has caused quite a stir in Christian circles, and discussing life and death is a worthwhile conversation to have.

It’s easy to function in a black and white world. When our options are limited to black and white, right and wrong, the choosing process becomes simplified. It is when we add the many-varied shades and colors of reality that life gets exponentially more difficult. As children we are taught things in black and white because that’s the way a child’s brain operates. If I tried to teach my kids how to use discernment between varied shades I think their heads might explode – or mine would. They’re too young for that right now. We all teach our kids in black and white. Sadly, sometimes we forget to help them move beyond that into the world of grown-up discernment.

When I was a kid I remember learning the black and white of suicide. I was always told that it was one way – suicide is a sin (therefore wrong) and that those who commit suicide are eternally doomed to remain outside the presence of God. In fact, many parts of the worldwide Church still teach people that black and white truth. Too many of us in Christianity have not moved beyond into adult discernment.

As an Evangelical pastor, I believe that the Bible ought to be our primary guide for action, thought, and behavior. But too often we look to man-made traditions to shape our beliefs rather than what God has revealed through the Bible. So the really tricky question about suicide is: What does the Bible actually say about taking your own life?

Surprisingly little.

I only say “surprisingly” because, as strongly as the church preaches against suicide, you would think that the Bible would say quite a bit. Nope. No “Thou shalt not’s” or “You’re gonna be soooorrrry!” about suicide. There are a few stories about suicide, but those stories simply relate the tale – there is no judgment, guilt, or moral derived against suicide.

Judas, the infamous (which, according to the Three Amigos, means MORE than famous) disciple of Jesus, was so filled with sorrow and regret for his behavior that he committed suicide. But one of my favorite stories in the New Testament is actually a suicide prevention story.

The Apostle Paul and his colleague Silas were imprisoned for sharing their beliefs about Jesus. Late at night there was a massive earthquake and the jail cells and prisoners’ chains broke free. The guard who had been sleeping (hey, it was late) woke up, saw the busted cells, and decided that the only way to regain any sense of honor for his family after the prisoners escaped on his watch was to kill himself. As he was about to plunge his sword into his body, Paul calls out, “Hey, don’t do it. We’re all still here!” Paul was able to share about Jesus with this jailer. Even still, there is not any condemnation of the guard’s intent. Just a story of how Paul introduced him to faith in Jesus.

So why do we tell people that those who commit suicide are Hell-bound for eternity? The human logic behind it is this: suicide is murder and, since that grievous sin is the last thing you do before eternity, there is no chance to confess and repent. Thus you are doomed to Hell.

I don’t buy it.

The Bible only says that there is one unforgivable sin: blasphemy against the Spirit of God.

That’s it. Everything else is forgivable. The only permanent, unforgivable sin is to credit God’s work to Satan, to accuse the spirit of God of evil. I don’t see that with suicide. Which means that even suicide is a forgivable sin.

But what about the lack of confession and repentance? It’s a common human misunderstanding of how grace and divine forgiveness works. It’s not a quid pro quo kind of deal. We don’t offer one confession for one act of forgiveness. Grace is freely given to us. When we become believers in Jesus and surrender to God then his grace covers us. We ought to be sorrowful for sin in our lives, but I do not think that individual acts of sin will prevent us from an eternity in his presence. Otherwise everyone who dies unexpectedly without confessing and repenting is gonna be spending a long, hot eternity away from God.

My theology says that God is bigger than that. My theology says that God’s grace covers us and that God understands that we are still broken people trying to do our best to live righteous lives in a broken world. But I don’t have to worry about dying without being able to confess and repent. His grace covers us.

Thus I believe an honest understanding of the Bible admits that people can have “committed” sins and still be covered by grace. I believe that a Christian who commits suicide will still spend eternity with God. Frankly, I believe a lot of people who are in heaven will surprise us (and a lot of people who DON’T make the list will also surprise us)!

But let’s look at the other side of the same coin:

Though suicide is not an unforgivable sin, I do not believe that Christians ought to commit suicide. Suicide tends to be about seeing no other alternative to terminating suffering in this life. Suicide is the human attempt to exercise ultimate sovereignty over life. This is the wrong attitude. God is sovereign, not us. We don’t know what tomorrow brings. Or next week. Or next year. There’s no way to know that your life situation will stay on the setting “SUCK” for your entire life. It could change at any moment.

Perhaps God is trying to use your misery and suffering to refine you – to help you become a better you. Perhaps he’s prepping you through your suffering to minister to and help others. Bottom line – don’t try to take control away from God. Let God be God, even through the junky times where we’d rather just give up.

If you’re reading this and you’ve ever thought, “It would just be easier if I weren’t even here” I’d like you to know that you’re not alone. Those kinds of thoughts are normal things for us to think when we’re suffering. Welcome to normalcy. But let God be God. The tougher the situation, the more we should lean on him and lean on a good, caring spiritual family.

If you’re reading this and you’ve had loved ones take their own lives – know that suicide is not a one-way ticket to Hell. God’s love and grace are bigger than you can imagine.

In the end I don’t know all of the specific reasons for suffering. Some of it is because stupid people do stupid things and those things have consequences. Sometimes suffering is redemptive and makes us better. Sometimes suffering is punitive and we pay the price for our own wrongdoings and behavior. Through it all let God be God. Trust him. Lean on him.

And, in the words of the illustrious Captain Jason Nesmith:

NEVER GIVE UP. NEVER SURRENDER!

** If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts there are some resources available. Check out Emerge and NSPL to start…

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