Love ≠ Tolerance

intervention

The seventies instilled in us the belief, er, wish that “all you need is love” to be happy and succeed in life, politics, the workplace, relationships, whatever.  Love and peace were the mantras echoed against the Vietnam war and turmoil of the draft amongst other things.  Today the battle cry has morphed into tolerance.  We do indeed long to be loved, but we are more concerned with having the freedom to believe and do whatever we darn. well. please.  Sure, it would be great if you loved me for what I do – but I want the government to protect me from you disagreeing with me, bullying me, or trying to prove me wrong.  This mindset is permeating our culture at such a rate that parents are now hesitant to teach and discipline their children, friends consider the highest form of mutual respect to be unmitigated acceptance, and employers and professors are now afraid of their employees and students – for fear that the wrong policy or statement might end in a lawsuit.

Deep in our hearts, on the most visceral level, we know that tolerance does not equal love and tolerance is not a sustainable value in education, maturation and interpersonal relationships.  If a child wants to play with a poisonous snake we tell him no and we explain the dangers.  If a young person believes that babies arrive by storks delivering them to happy parents, the eventually need to be given sex education to learn about how our bodies work and why certain changes have happened to them as they grew older.  If an American moves to England, someone must sit him down and explain driving on the left-hand side of the road and how the turn signal is opposite from the windshield wipers in the US.

Tolerance sounds great:  Live and let live, however we all recognize that there must be confines within which that tolerance resides.  Proclaiming “peace” and declaring that “all we need is love” will not stop terrorists from killing people who are not fighting.  Withdrawing from war will not force the Sudanese people to suddenly get along.  Ignoring evil will not make evil go away.

We also recognize that we must teach children to read and write, to learn math, to walk, and countless other basic skills.  To play a sport or a game there must be rules otherwise the game falls apart.

Ok, so the philosophically elite argue then that tolerance should be encompassing of our “immutable characteristics and belief systems”.  Simply, religion and carnal desires – and general worldviews that would encompass cultural tendencies and desires, as long as you are not hurting or imposing on someone else’s rights.  Again, this sounds very neat and tidy up front, but what about the culture that marries children?  What about the culture that allows multiple spouses?  What about the person who is born with the addiction to cocaine or the person who is genetically prone to alcoholism?  What about the religion that sacrifices animals?  What about the religion that eats human flesh to interact with their gods?  Or has sexual relations with animals?

We are left again with a difficult situation:  to tolerate and allow one person to practice their worldview will cause another to feel discriminated against in almost every situation.  If there are no absolutes, then everyone will find an opponent and it is asinine to expect the government to be able to rule on such a wide and vague range of topics.

That, however, is a side topic.  My main argument is that this kind of tolerance is not only impossible, it is illogical.  If a person truly believes whatever it is that he is proclaiming, then the truest form of love is to tell others and try to convince them of this belief.  If I truly believe that you will die if you step onto the street in front of that speeding bus, then it is not loving of me to philosophically evaluate the situation and consider your worldview and decision.  I will shove you out of the way or pull you back onto the sidewalk.  If I truly believe animals have rights and deserve to be treated humanely, I will join PETA and try to save animals from abusive homes and from religions that would sacrifice them or fight them for sport – and try to convince you why it is wrong to do so.

And most importantly, if I truly believe that apart from Jesus Christ we are all sinners and condemned to Hell, the most loving act for me is to warn you of the coming judgment and tell you of the hope in Jesus Christ.  If I believe that you are headed to Hell because of your sin and never tell you how to be forgiven in Jesus, I either hate you or do not truly believe that, because an eternity separated from God in the lake of fire and torment is infinitely worse than getting hit by a bus.

Tolerance, therefore, is essentially indifference.  To allow someone to do something and live something that is contrary to your belief system – if there is a consequence involved – is to not care.  Or worse, to hate.  One cannot truly validate another’s worldview and opinions without invalidating his own – unless he someone has a completely illogical all-inclusivism which would leave him with fundamentally no belief system.

Philosophy is greatly complicating our relationships and politics.

Therefore, let us cling to the long-standing authority of the Bible which has never been disproven and has withstood the test of centuries of critiques and cultures.  Alcoholism is not new.  Mysticism is not new.  Homosexuality is not new.  Nothing that our culture attempts to throw at the Bible in an effort to discredit or defame it is new.  And while it is a work of the Holy Spirit to draw someone to the Truth of the Bible, Scripture is clear that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.  Therefore, we must share so that people can hear and be saved.

“So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.”

– Rom 10.17

If you believe the Bible, if you believe in Heaven and Hell, to love your friend and neighbor is to tell them about Jesus.  To tolerate them is to not talk about Jesus and to not love them, but to condemn them to Hell via inaction.  Once they have heard, there is a level of tolerance required, but true love would continue to be concerned about their eternities and souls, and to never leave the topic far from conversation.  Let us love people, and earnestly try to reason with them so that they may be saved.

“If sinners be damned, at least let them leap to Hell over our dead bodies. And if they perish, let them perish with our arms wrapped about their knees, imploring them to stay. If Hell must be filled, let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go unwarned and unprayed for.”

– Charles Spurgeon

Jesus Loves Me When I’m Good.

Jesus loves me

If you ever when found yourself in a church before you were the age of ten, or if your mother (or any childhood caregiver) had any Christian exposure while she was raising you, you have heard the song, “Jesus Loves Me”.  This song has a unique history.  It was originally written by Susan Bartlett in the form of a poem in her novel entitled Say and Seal, as comfort to a dying child.  This is how the poem reads in that novel:

Jesus loves me—this I know,
For the Bible tells me so;
Little ones to him belong,—
They are weak, but he is strong.

Jesus loves me—loves me still,
Though I’m very weak and ill;
From his shining throne on high,
Comes to watch me where I lie.

Jesus loves me—he will stay,
Close beside me all the way.
Then his little child will take,
Up to heaven for his dear sake.

Two years after it was published (in 1862), William Bradbury put the poem to music and added the refrain that we all now know.  Verses have been added throughout the last 150 years, and many of us grew up singing the verse:

Jesus loves me when I’m good,
When I do the things I should.
Jesus loves me when I’m bad,
Though it makes Him very sad.

Does that strike you as strange?  I cannot help but wonder what the intention of the author is here.  Is it manipulation to influence children to obey?  Is it intended as assurance that we will not be unloved when we make a mistake?  Is it provision to live however we want, with the caveat of only making Jesus sad?

It is a glorious truth that Jesus loves you and me.  It is also a glorious truth that we cannot earn or defer Jesus’ love for us based on our actions.  And it is a sobering reality that when we sin, we “grieve the Holy Spirit”, we put Jesus back up on the cross, and we exemplify a love for something other than God and His provisions.

There is great comfort in the truth that Jesus loves us.  But in our narcissistic society, I would argue that few people need to be assured of that fact.  We need, however, to focus on loving Jesus.  Put the emphasis back on Jesus and off ourselves.  Unfortunately, however, there is a temptation and danger to lift Biblical principles out of the Scripture, add our own values and interpretations to these principles, and then lay them back in scripture and use them to discredit other teachings.  For example:  “God is love” (1 John 4.8).  Love, in USA 2015 means that we do not discipline our children, we do define sin, we do not make truth claims because everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and we tolerate everyone’s disposition and belief system – validating them as “true for them”.  We consider unconditional love the epitome of love:  to be loved, accepted and affirmed no matter what one does.

It is a warm-fuzzy, feel good emotion.  It is affirmation and positive thoughts irregardless of actions.  It’s a big load of you-know-what.

If we want to make sure our eternity, we must let the Bible tell us what the Bible means.  So, Bible, what is love?

“And this is love, that we walk according to His commandments.  This is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, that you should walk in it.”

 – 2 John 1.6

“For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome.”

 – 1 John 5.3

No, we do not earn God’s love by being obedient.  But we exemplify our love for Him by obeying Him.  The Bible says,

“Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge.”

 – Heb 13.4

So if we love God, we do not have sex outside of marriage, we do not live with our significant other outside of marriage, and we do not entertain lust in our hearts.  We choose to honor marriage and the gift of sex and family as a gift from God that are to be upheld within the bond of marriage!  Period.  And we uphold this is true and right, and do not tolerate it as OK for another believer.

These deeds of the flesh are prohibited in Gal 5:

Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

 – Gal 5.21-21

Ok, so maybe sorcery is not a huge temptation for you.  But how about outbursts of anger?  Envying?  Drunkenness?  If we love God, we choose to love the things that He loves and hate the things that He hates.  He does no welcome us into His presence if we choose to love the things that He hates.  John gives us much comfort,

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.  And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.  By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.

 – 1 John 2.1-3

We are all going to sin.  Perfection is not something that will be attained while we are here on the Earth.  But the goal of Scripture is to guide us, through the enabling of the Holy Spirit, to strive not to sin.  To strive to obey.  To strive to love God to the best of our abilities.  But when we do mess up, Jesus will advocate for us, if we repent and seek to keep His commandments.

So yes, Jesus does love you and me when we are good and when we are bad.  But the greater issue here is:  how do we love Jesus?  Are we seeking to know Him, serve Him and honor Him?  Or are we just laying back and letting Him do all the work?  Is it all about you today, or is it all about Jesus?

Beware of Sensationalism

the boy who came back

This fall, much of the Christian world was excited to see the movie released, “Heaven is for Real”, based on the book by the same title.  “Surely this will prove what we have been saying all along!”  “Finally, an eye witness of those things that we long to see when we die!”  These types of sentiments were said and thought by many.  We chose to turn our attention away from the Word of God and rest our confidence in the word of a child.  There are three books that tell stories like this.  “The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven”, “90 Minutes in Heaven” and this, most recent, “Heaven is for Real”.  Alex Malarkey was six years old when the event happened that led to his comatose state and the ensuing story of meeting Jesus.  Don Piper, a grown man, recounts a similar story in “90 Minutes in Heaven”, and “Heaven is for Real” relies on the testimony of a four year old.

These books, which have been come to be called “heavenly tourism”, are dangerous.  Why?  Because they stand on testimony alone.  Now, please do not misunderstand me, testimonies are glorious things.  We should all have the story of our conversion – of meeting Jesus and how He has changed our lives – on the tips of our tongues and ready to share any time.  We should be aware of the ongoing work that God is doing in our lives and we should be ready and excited to share that with others.  Testimonies cannot be refuted.  You cannot tell your story and someone say, “that’s not true” in response.  They can disbelieve you, but apart from empirical proof that you are lying, your word will stand.

But in this is the danger:  everyone has a story.  As convincing as our stories are of transformation and salvation, people in other religions can have stories too.  Satan is at work, and his demons are working signs and wonders in order to deceive people.  We cannot refute their stories either.

So what is the solution?  Finding the absolute truth which must function as the standard against which all stories and testimonies are held.  That Truth is the Bible.  God has revealed Himself to us throughout history and it has been documented in the Scriptures.  The Gospel is outlined for us in detail – four times, actually – in the New Testament, and it is through that story that we learn of the offer of forgiveness.  The epistles offer us instruction for how to live out the commands that Jesus gave while He was on Earth and how to logically understand the theology of it.  The Bible is enough.  Our stories do not add to or enhance the Bible, because our stories come from us.  The Bible is the breathed Word of God.

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.

– 2 Time 3.16-17

My conclusion is simply this:  let us place our hope and trust in Scripture alone.  Scripture has everything that we need.

Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.

– 2 Peter 1.2-3

And we have learned this week perhaps the greatest reason to not place our trust or allow these types of testimonies to “emphasize” Scripture.  Alex Malarkey has come back and confessed his story a lie.  He wrote this letter:

“An Open Letter to Lifeway and Other Sellers, Buyers, and Marketers of Heaven Tourism, by the Boy Who Did Not Come Back From Heaven.”

Please forgive the brevity, but because of my limitations I have to keep this short.

I did not die. I did not go to Heaven.

I said I went to heaven because I thought it would get me attention. When I made the claims that I did, I had never read the Bible. People have profited from lies, and continue to. They should read the Bible, which is enough. The Bible is the only source of truth. Anything written by man cannot be infallible.

It is only through repentance of your sins and a belief in Jesus as the Son of God, who died for your sins (even though he committed none of his own) so that you can be forgiven may you learn of Heaven outside of what is written in the Bible…not by reading a work of man. I want the whole world to know that the Bible is sufficient. Those who market these materials must be called to repent and hold the Bible as enough.

In Christ,

Alex Malarkey.”

The beauty here is that Alex has come to faith, has come to know God, and has come to understand that Scripture is indeed enough!  To add to it only does harm and robs God of His glory.  To trust in something alongside of God and Scripture can lead us down a path we do not wish to travel.

Is it possible that people have died, or have visited Heaven?  Yes.  I believe it is.  Because we know that both Paul and John had such experiences.  But these testimonies must be examined against Scripture, and unless they are in complete accord with what God has revealed about Himself and Heaven, we should consider them a false witness.  But even if they are true, they cannot be a benchmark for our assurance.  God has given us everything we need.  Beware of sensationalism, friends, because not only can it disappoint, it can lead us to Hell.

I’ll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife

church-model

I heard a song the other day that caught my ear.  It is musically catchy and the first line of the chorus is “Take me to church”, so naturally it caught my attention.  The third line of the chorus, however, is what broke my heart: “I’ll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife”.

Take me to church
I’ll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies
I’ll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife
Offer me that deathless death
Good God, let me give you my life

Curious, of course, I googled the author’s meaning in the song.  These are the two direct quotes I could find from the him:

“I found the experience of falling in love or being in love was a death, a death of everything. You kind of watch yourself die in a wonderful way, and you experience for the briefest moment–if you see yourself for a moment through their eyes–everything you believed about yourself gone.  In a death-and-rebirth sense.”

“Sexuality, and sexual orientation – regardless of orientation – is just natural.  An act of sex is one of the most human things.  But an organization like the church, say, through its doctrine, would undermine humanity by successfully teaching shame about sexual orientation – that it is sinful, or that it offends God.  The song is about asserting yourself and reclaiming your humanity through an act of love.”

– Andrew Hozier-Byrne

He writes metaphorically; comparing his lover to religion.

The music video is about a male homosexual relationship and the backlash the couple receives from the community when they are found out.  Hozier made this statement in regards to the video:

“The song was always about humanity at its most natural, and how that is undermined ceaselessly by religious [organizations] and those who would have us believe they act in its interests. What has been seen growing in Russia is no less than nightmarish, I proposed bringing these themes into the story and Brendan liked the idea.”

As the lie continues to evolve that we have the freedom to determine right and wrong for ourselves, and that there ultimately are no moral, ethical or eternal absolutes, people will misunderstand the intentions of Jesus and Christianity and will consider themselves the victim for any public declaration of a “different truth” than what they are choosing to believe.

The extremely difficult calling for the Church, for us, for you and for me, is to learn how to walk in obedience to Scripture, to encourage others to walk in obedience to Scripture, and yet to show them love at the same time.  We are all sinners, we all were born in darkness and wickedness and we all were enemies of Christ until God breathes Spiritual life into us.  And yet we all continue to fight our sin daily, failing at times.  Are you afraid that if you confess your sins to another at church that they will “sharpen their knives” and prepare to crucify you for them?  I have seen it firsthand.  I have experienced it firsthand, and that over a non-sin issue!

The opposite extreme is just as dangerous.  Jesus always commanded the sinner who came to Him,

“From now on sin no more.”

– John 8.11

Jesus does not accept or condone our sin.  The Bible tells us clearly what God considers right and wrong, and He – as the creator – gets to decide.  Not me.  Not you.  Not the culture at large.  Only God.  He knows that we are sinners and Scripture tells us that the glory of grace is that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5.8).  Jesus paid the penalty for our sins, and He wants us to knock it out!  He most certainly did not pay the punishment so that we could keep doing those things that He hates!  He gives us the Holy Spirit to empower us and He desires that we would live according to His code of conduct, if you will.  But He does not sharpen His knife when we stumble and repent.  He forgives us – when we confess and turn away from that sin.

There in lies the problem.  What is our attitude about sin?  Hozier makes this alarming and enlightening statement in the very same song:

I was born sick,
But I love it
Command me to be well
Amen. Amen. Amen. Amen.

This is actually a quote from Christopher Hitchens, a New Atheist, with the phrase “but I love it” inserted in the middle.  Hitchens rightly observes that he was born sick.  But he is only half right.  We are all born “dead in our trespasses” (Eph 2.1).  We love sin and darkness and we choose it.  So why would someone “command me to be well”, when I am completely incapable of being well?  Hozier adds the sentiment “but I love it”.  We do love our sin.  It is a miracle of God that we are convicted of it and drawn to repentance.

“This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.  For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.  But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.”

 – John 3.19-21

Hozier’s sentiment is Biblical.  Everyone who does evil hates the Light – and the Light is Jesus and His Truth.  The world lives in darkness and the darkness sins boldly because they receive affirmation from one another.  Being in the darkness does not mean that it is in secret.  It means that it is not in Christ: the Light.  And we are all born in darkness, in sin, in spiritual deadness.  We hate the Light, in-and-of ourselves.  We need Jesus to breathe life, to convict us of sin, to save us.

So, Church, when should we sharpen our knives?  If someone comes into our lives who was “born sick” and still loving it, then our concern is not their sin (or sins) of choice.  Our concern is their salvation.  Until the sinner realizes the truth of the Gospel and comes to Jesus for salvation, their actions simply do not matter.  It makes no eternal difference if they happen to abstain from one or more particular sins.  Apart from Jesus, that is as “filthy rags” and worthless (Is 64.6).  If you are in Christian community and someone confesses a sin of habit or temptation, if they are clinging to Jesus and trying to die to that sin, there is no place for knife sharpening either.  In fact, this is one of the most beautiful callings of the Church community:  to hold one another accountable and push one another on to righteousness.

“Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.”

 – James 5.16

The only time we are commanded to take strong action against sin is when someone among us who claims Jesus gives in to sin and its temptation and will not turn from it.  An unrepentant Christian – one who knows the Truth, has claimed Jesus’ salvation for His sins, yet disgraces Jesus and God by choosing sin instead of obeying God.  Jesus gives us very clear instructions for how to handle such a situation, and it is bathed in love, giving the person multiple opportunities to obey (Matt 18).  We are never commanded to go on a witch hunt, or to crucify someone, but to remove them from our midst with the hopes that they will repent later.  Our primary concern, however, is the holiness of the community at large, and if one will not submit to God, he should be removed for the sake of the Church.

Dear Church, put down your knives.  Love the non believer as one who needs Jesus.  Love the repentant believing sinner (the vast majority of us within the Church) as one who is struggling, just like you, and push them on to righteousness and to obedience.  And love the unrepentant believer by pointing out his sin, naming it for it’s eternal danger, and removing him from the church – to the end that he would repent.

The Plain Truth

bible

Last Friday Martin Luther was “trending” on facebook because he single-handedly spurred the Protestant Reformation by nailing his 95 theses onto the front door of All Saints Church at Wittenburg, Saxony on Halloween Day.  Many reformed and devout Christians, thus, celebrate Reformation Day instead of Halloween.  For a variety of reasons I have been musing on the level of conviction, the consequences and the circumstances in Luther’s life throughout the weekend and I was meditating on His unashamed dedication to the Scriptures.  The Bible existed, however it was in Latin (known as the Vulgate) and the average German (Martin Luther was German) could not read or understand it, so he sat under the teaching of his local priest and depended completely on him for spiritual nourishment and teaching.  Luther determined that it was God’s intention for every person to know Him personally and intimately and the Scriptures were essential for that, so he translated the Bible from Latin to German.

He spent years pouring over Scripture and fearing the wrath of God, looking for salvation.  He earned a doctorate, he lived as a monk, he despaired over his sin and made Jesus “the jailer and hangman of his poor soul” (Luther).  But after coming to saving faith by grace, he desired that everyone know the Truth and have access to Jesus on their own and through the Scriptures.  It was on this foundation that he made the statement:

“I certainly grant that many passages in the Scriptures are obscure and hard to elucidate, but that is due, not to the exalted nature of their subject, but to our own linguistic and grammatical ignorance; and it does not in any way prevent our knowing all the contents of Scripture…I know that to many people a great deal remains obscure; but that is due, not to any lack of clarity in Scripture, but to their own blindness and dullness, in that they make no effort to see truth which, in itself, could not be plainer.”

– Martin Luther

This is an extremely bold statement, in context.  When people have had limited or no access to the Bible until he personally translated it, he turns around and proclaims that Scripture and truth is accessible, and we are the weak link.  Have you ever heard people speak of the mysteries of Scripture?  That some doctrines are beyond our understanding?  There are many truths and realities about God that are hidden and beyond our comprehension.  The trinity, for instance, is clearly taught in Scripture, but baffles the mind that attempts to comprehend how God can be one God, singular in nature, essence and being, yet function as three persons at the same time.  We can verbalize the concept clearly but to grasp what that looks like and how that works is impossible.  He is not like an egg, because the shell is not the full egg, the yoke is not the full egg, and the white is not the full egg.  That is modalism, a heresy denied by the church hundreds of years ago.  He is not like the three phases of water:  gas, liquid and ice – that is modalism too.  Ice cannot be gas at the same time.

However.

“God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.” 

– 1 Cor 14.33

Not only is God not a God of confusion, but He has given us His word so that we can know Him and that we can have instruction for every life situation:

“Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.”

– 2 Peter 1.2-3

God has given us, in Scripture and in the Holy Spirit, everything pertaining to life and godliness.  There is no life situation or moral dilemma that Scripture cannot answer.  Now, our cultural, ethical and moral lenses might make that difficult to fully apply!  But that is not for lack of clarity on God’s part, but weakness on our part.  Or dullness of mind, as Martin Luther would say.

Scripture does not tell us everything.  But it tells us everything we need to know.  And God gives it to us with the intention that we would learn it, and know Him.

I do not know Scripture in its fullness.  I do not have it memorized, and I am unable to fully expound and explain every doctrine with verses, themes and historical understandings.  But I fully encourage you that when you come to a passage that stumps you, do not walk away and write it off.  Dig in.  Ask the basic study questions, equip your tool belt so that you know how to ask those questions, and be confident that the Scripture does not contradict itself but affirms itself over and over again.  If it is in the Scripture, it is there because God intends for you to know it, understand it, love it and apply it.

Does God suck if Christians suck?

auditorium

Why do you not go to church?  Did they judge you when you walked through the door?  Did you not get a follow up call when you filled out the visitor card?  Did someone say something hateful about your guilty pleasure?  Or interpret a passage of Scripture differently than you would?

Christians are hypocrites.  They claim the love of Jesus and say that they believe the great commandment, “love your neighbor as you love yourself”, but they are mean, they form cliques…  Yes friends, they sin (Matt 22.39).  So naturally, since I am perfect, when I walk into a church building and it is full of people who are not perfect, the logical thing is to walk out.

Right?

Because it is all about love anyway.  And since they do not love me perfectly within the church walls, then I will go out and justify myself by preaching love without a concrete definition of it.  But I know I can do it better on my own than with that group of liars.

How many times have you encountered this argument?  I have not performed any polls, but I heard this position frequently in the Midwest.  Living in the West, now, it appears a general apathy towards the Church at large, or a cynicism that faith is a crutch for the weak is more prevalent, but the issue remains:  People get hurt by Christians, so they hold their grudge and choose to ignore God.

“No one invited me out to lunch today, and no one cares that I was even here.  So I’ll not come back.  I can pray on my own, and even listen to a podcast!”

“I don’t like how the church spends our money – why is a sound system more important than feeding the poor?  I’m going to give my tithe to the local soup kitchen instead of the Church.”

“I like to gamble.  But the preacher had the audacity to get up on the stage and say that it is sinful.  How dare he.  I’ll show him, next weekend I’ll be at the casino instead of here listening to him judge me.”

Christians are sinful people.  They have been forgiven, and the call of Christianity is to die to that sin, to learn to love God above all else and to love one another as we love ourselves.  But no one does it perfectly.  Scripture tells us that if we say that we do not sin, we are liars (1 John 1.8)!

When I was in the sixth grade, I learned first hand that pastors are sinful because of a moral failure.  My family joined a new church and six years later lost our pastor again, because of a moral failure.  Since then I have watched three close friends who were in the pastorate and one missionary throw away their faith, life and ministry because they chose sin over God.

Does that mean God is at fault?  If Christians suck, does that mean that God does too?

I’m writing still mulling on an article by Michael Gungor, on which I wrote yesterday.  His message was on the denial of absolute truth, but his undertone was resentment towards the church because serial killers believe in God, but heretics help him when he is desolate.  I wonder if that is truly the case?  And I wonder if he is defining love by tolerance or by the Bible?

Is it loving to stand by while someone hurls face forward, full speed ahead towards Hell?  Or is it loving to jump in their path and try to help them see the path to Heaven?

But I digress.

Anyone who has raised children knows that you cannot judge a parent by the actions of his child (especially an adult child).  The most godly of parents end up with hellions some times.  And sometimes the most wicked and neglectful parents end up with dynamic, kind and loving children.  So why would we try to judge God by His children?  All humans are sinful.  They are going to hurt us and let us down.  Even those who have experienced the redemption of God and who are trying to love with everything in them.  They will get tired, irritable, selfish, “hangry”, or pass by you and not see you.

But God will never let you down.

The LORDS lovingkindnesses indeed never cease,
For His compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.

– Lam 3.22-23

He will keep His promises, He has never not kept His promises.  He will complete any good work He has begun in you, me, or any believer (Phil 1.6).

So, dear skeptic, put down your unrealistic expectations and pride, and realize that Christians mess up too (just like you).  And remember that the Church is not a museum of perfect people, but is full of those who know that they need a Savior because they are not perfect!  And when your heroes, leaders, and friends royally screw up – or even abandon the faith – remember that your hope is not found in them, but in the only one who will not and can not fail.

And to the faithful church goers, remember that there are broken and hurting people coming in our paths, through our church doors, and perusing our facebook pages.  Speak God’s truth in love.  Embrace the repentant and help one another learn to know and love God more, making disciples and building Biblical community.

You are only responsible for you.  But you are responsible for you.  So let’s not ignore God if His people seem unlovely, because eternity is at stake.

Gungor and Absolute Truth.

This morning I read an article by Michael Gungor, a musician, who is offended that a friend would consider him no longer a Christian “because of my lack of ability to nail down all the words and concepts of what I exactly BELIEVE “.  His premise is a philosophical acrobatic which has been around for centuries:  how do we know we can believe or know anything?  Philosophers have questioned everything from knowledge and learning to the simple question, “how do I know I exist?” And it is from this degradation of the understanding of reality that Renes Descartes concluded his famous thought, “I think, therefore I am” in 1637.

But Descartes, the father of modern philosophy, was 2100 years behind the more well known thinker who wrestled with existence, the Buddha.  Siddhārtha Gautama (the Buddha) lived five hundred years before Jesus walked the Earth, and built an entire philosophy and religion on the presupposition that nothing truly exists, and to attain freedom from the cycle of suffering (exemplified by the cycle of reincarnation), is to become freed from passions and enslavement to the physical realm.  Enlightenment, then, is realizing that nothing is real and ultimately ceasing to exist.

Gungor is flirting with this fundamental issue in his post.  While never quite settling on the Buddhist end that nothing truly exists, he questions if we can ever truly know something and argues that we only believe what our environment/culture teaches us, and all that we think we know is fundamentally a belief.  Using gravity as an example, he argues that there is a possibility that our understanding of gravity is errant and someday another source may be discovered (like a computer simulation).

He then attempts to apply his logic that all knowledge is assumption to God:  since the Earth is constantly rotating, and it is spherical in nature, looking physically up towards the sky is not necessarily looking towards Heaven, if such a place even exists.  He does not disprove the existence of Heaven, but simply attempts to define a spiritual place physically and implies that since we never know if we truly are looking towards it with our eyes, we can never truly address it.

Our environment and culture shape what we believe.  But we never can really know anything because it might be disproven, and thus everything is an assumption.  And since everything is an assumption that is molded by our experiences, we only believe what we experience.

Are you confused yet?  If so, it is because this circular logic essentially says nothing.  He ultimately argues that nothing really matters, except how you act based on what you believe.  You may not judge another’s beliefs because his beliefs are simply the result of his environment, and while he admits it sounds fatalistic, he still tries to apply morality to an existence without absolute truth.

And therein lies the key.  

This man is so preoccupied with assumptions that he misses the primary assumption he is holding, and that is that his logic has the final say.  There is no absolute truth and he will use his logic to determine his god and his own morality, a lifestyle of love, how he defines it based on the environment in which he grew up, however to which he is not allowed to hold another accountable.  Because my experience might shape my morality differently than yours.

Whew.

Live and let live.  Except, don’t judge me because you don’t really know anything, and I won’t judge you because I don’t really know anything either.  However, I reserve the right to be angry because a serial killer affirms Jesus and impending judgment but still murders.

His conclusion, in regards to Christianity, is simply that he finds the Bible to be allegorical.  No, friends, this is not a new statement.  Have you ever heard of St. Augustine?  He argued that the Bible should be read allegorically 1400 years ago.

But the problem here is that in arguing such, we take God’s authority away and place it squarely in our own hands.  It is now my interpretation of this story, the moral that I see present in it, that is of importance.  So Gungor says he is incapable of believing that Adam and Eve were the first humans, because of “what he has seen”.  He is now the authority, his environment has shown him something that he believes to disprove this (even though he admits his experience might be disproven further), and so he will find a moral in the story to affect his actions.  But it will be only his moral, because it might say something different to you.

His conclusion is this:

So, for me, I’ve decided to think about my ‘beliefs’ in terms of how I live rather than what my unconscious assumptions are. Because there are lots of people that have all sorts of beautiful ‘beliefs’ that live really awful lives. If I’m on the side of a road bleeding, I don’t care if the priest or the Levite have beautiful ‘beliefs’ about the poor and the hurting.. Give me the samaritan. The heretic. The outsider who may have the ‘wrong’ ‘beliefs’ in words and concepts but actually lives out the right beliefs by stopping and helping me. That’s the kind of belief I’m interested in at this point.

And after telling his constituency not to try to label him and say that he is not a Christian, he says,

So you believe in God? So what. You believe Jesus was the Son of God that will someday come again to reconcile all things? Big deal. So do most serial killers.

He attempts to apply James’ teaching of faith through works to himself, stating that all that matters is what you do.  “The right beliefs” he defines, as someone who stops to help him.

Now.  That was all a recap of what he said.  And my response is simply this:  You are not the authority.  Nor am I.  Nor Gungor or anyone wrapped up in vain philosophy.  It sounds to me as though this man is upset that serial killers believe in the facts presented in the Bible but continue to live heinous lives.  The Bible and the facts claimed therein, therefore, are the culprit and consequently untrustworthy.  Instead of attacking the issue of sinfulness within Christians, and instead of trying to submit to God and His statutes, he throws the baby out with the bathwater.  Since a demon can academically assert the truth and reality of God, then God is not a truth and reality.  Implied, however, on a deeper level, is that he is at an impasse with God because he loves something that God defines as sin, and therefore is trying to justify himself by reinterpreting God.

Every one knows that there is a problem with humanity and that is evil.  This man wants to encourage you to live by love, but he will not dare tell you how to love because your environment alone can dictate what you consider love to be, and what actions are morally acceptable and even good.  However, he is offended that someone might try to categorize him based on his belief system.  What is loving for you is your decision, as long as it does not offend me.  But then he strangely interjects his caveat, that the right belief is to stop and help him when he is hurt.  So, I guess he can define for you what is loving.  And right.  Because of his assumptions and environment.

Everyone is trying to deal with the problem of evil.  Even if you philosophically argue that everything is personal preference and disposition (there is no absolute truth), if someone steals your car, murders your mom or punches you in the face, you are going to expect justice, if not seek retribution yourself.  Why?  Because it is evil.  And you know it.

All religions in the world are attempts at dealing with this problem.  The major monotheistic religions (Judaism, Islam, Catholicism) know that the evil is within us and are trying to work off a debt of sin.  Muslims, through the five pillars, Jews through sacrifices and Catholics through prayer and penance.  Most polytheistic religions consider the gods to be, at least in part, a source of the evil and attempt to appease the gods of their anger (which can be a result of any stimuli), through sacrifice, ritual and offerings.  Eastern religions suggest that suffering is the result of desire and thus freedom from the cycle is the goal.  Nothingness.  Suffering is merely perceived, so get over it.

It is Christianity alone that says, “I am incapable”.  Christianity acknowledges that my logic is limited, my strength flawed and my nature wicked.  But God.  These are two of the most beautiful words which are repeated throughout Scripture.  God took it upon Himself to reveal Himself to us, to give us His Word, to offer us forgiveness and salvation through the literal death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and to then instruct us how to live in a righteous way.

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.  Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.  But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

– Eph 2.1-7

God defines morality.  God defines good.  God defines love.  My pastor likes to say this, “Is it more loving for God to give us His Word, tell us His heart and show us the way to salvation?  To warn us the way of death and to make one, easy to understand path?  Or would it be more loving to place us in a world of evil, with multiple paths and say, ‘You figure it out’?”

Just because you have never seen the laws of gravity broken does not mean that God did not write the physical laws of the universe.  Just because you have seen fossils in the ground and listened to humans say that the placement of fossils in the sedimentary record proves evolution, and argue that they completely understand the half life of carbon and thus can tell all of history by their scientific method does not mean that God did not create the ground, perhaps some of it complete with fossils, and that the Bible is not true.

You are not god.  I am not god.  My logic or skills of science or perception do not change reality, morality, judgment or eternity.  And my feelings or desires do not affect what God defines as sin.  Nor does the culture at large.  God created all of humanity, all of the world, and cultural shifts and quirks that we see exhibited in our society today are not new.  There is nothing new under the sun.  And when these sinful tendencies were exemplified in previous generations, God did not change his mind.  He destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah for their wickedness.  Sodomy:  sexual intercourse through the anus, attained it’s name because of the homosexual cultural of the city of Sodom.  God judged it some four thousand years ago.  So are we suddenly more enlightened than those people?  Or the ancient Romans, two thousand years ago?

“If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

– Joshua 24.15

I will serve the Lord.  And I consider it the most loving this possible to plead with you to serve Him too, because I believe His Word, the Bible, to be true and accurate and the only hope.  So if you want to let me define my own love, then let me love you by sharing with you the hope that I have found in forgiveness and redemption through the blood of Jesus Christ and not of my own logic or effort.  And please do not try to change God’s words or speak for Him.  Because He has clearly outlined sin, the penalty for it, the offer of forgiveness for it, redemption from it, and eternity with Him.