Baptism: Biblical Waterboarding

Posted on August 19, 2012. Filed under: Culture, Spiritual Growth, Theology | Tags: , , , , , , |

As a person with swimming skills a step above the doggie paddle, I always had a mild heart attack anytime a friend dunked me in the pool. Even if it was 3 feet of water, panic always briefly gripped my heart. So, a few weeks ago when our church was baptizing people, I realized it’s a bit ironic I look forward to watching others get ‘dunked.’ And when you think about it, whether it’s a little sprinkle on the forehead for an infant or complete immersion, baptism is kind of a weird ritual. Why do we do it? Where did it come from?

I always assumed baptism was invented by a rugged bug-eating-camel hair-wearing Hebrew (i.e. John the Baptist) shortly before Christ’s ministry began. But you know what they say when you assume…Turns out the practice went back a bit farther than that.

You know that feeling you get when you walk into a gas station bathroom? That’s the feeling the Jews had about Gentiles (anyone that isn’t Hebrew). As such, when a Gentile coverts to Judaism, they have to be made clean in a ceremony called ‘proselyte baptism.’

Enter John the Baptist. The controversial thing about John was that he wasn’t just baptizing Gentiles – he was calling out the Jews too. He claimed the Messiah was coming and that even the Jews were unworthy to receive him  (Matthew 3:1-12).  To be made clean, they needed to repent and turn to God. Think about it as reverse water-boarding: you confess the Truth and then get the water treatment.

This of course raises the question – why would Jesus, a man without sin, need to be baptized? You could write a book on that topic, but in short, Christ had to submit the Law perfectly. By being baptized he was obeying a command from God’s prophet (John the Baptist) and setting an example for us to follow.

After Jesus rose, he told his followers to go make more disciples, baptize them, and teach them to observe all that Christ commanded (Matthew 28:18-20).  Where as the baptisms John administered were in preparation for the Messiah, the baptism Christ commands us to do marks the beginning of a life following him. In him we are made clean and made new, not by water, but by Spirit (Matthew 3:11).Christians recognize, though we are not worthy to receive him, Christ bore our sins so that we could be made new, clean, and righteous before God which is signified through baptism.

You might be saying, “I get that baptism is important (after all it is commanded by a locust-eating man of the wilderness and God incarnate), but why do some churches dunk babies and others dunk adults? Can you go to heaven if you don’t get baptized?” In the next post, I will explain some of these differences and why my kids haven’t been baptized …yet.

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Who Do You Have A Friend In?

Posted on July 15, 2012. Filed under: Culture | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Cover of "Toy Story: An Original Walt Dis...

Cover via Amazon

My nearly 2-year-old son has fallen in love with  “Toy Story.” I’m thankful that the kid has good taste, considering I’ll probably be watching it a lot over the next few years. There’s great characters, an original story line, (clean) adult humor, and pretty catchy tunes. I’ve actually had “You’ve Got a Friend In Me” in my head for the better part of a week now, which got me thinking, who should I have a friend in?

Friends are interesting creatures. The meaning of the word ‘friend’ has always been somewhat ambiguous. There’s your ‘friends’ that you’re friendly with but don’t really know too well. Then there’s the ‘just friends,’ which is usually someone of the opposite sex that you want to be more than friends with. Or the ‘friend’ that sat three rows behind you in Anthropology and you didn’t even know their name until they ‘friended’ you on Facebook. And then there’s the people that genuinely enrich your life.  All of these people are defined as ‘friends.’

But what does a biblical friendship look like? How do we know who we should be friendly with and who should be our companions in life?

We intrinsically know that friends are people you enjoy spending time with and usually share something in common with, like a love of a sports team or where you went to school together. The books of Amos echoes this: “Can two people walk together without agreeing on the direction?” (Amos 3:3). Yet, Amos takes our basic understanding of friendship to the next level by suggesting friends need to have their destination and the way they are getting there in common.

Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but I don’t think Amos meant my girlfriend and I need to agree on how we get to frozen yogurt shop, though that’s also important. Friends communicate and agree on where they want to go in life and equally important, how they plan to get there.

Most people don’t give too much consideration to where they want to be or how they are getting there. But Christians have a friendly tour guide and road map, which give us direction. Christ himself laid out who his BFFs were when he said, “You are my friends if you do what I command” (John 15:14).

While part of me wants to pretend a friend is someone who does whatever I command, I’m pretty sure that’s not what Jesus meant here. Instead, his words lead me to believe a true friend is someone who is doing will of our Father, someone who confides in and knows Him. I realized, a friend is someone who brings you closer to your final destination, being with God.

Look at some of the best examples of friendship in the Bible: David and Jonathan, Ruth and Naoami, Elisha and Elija, Balaam and his donkey. In each of them, both parties knew they wanted to follow God by obeying his words. Through assassination attempts, deaths of loved ones, and other life trials, these friendships endured because these people (and animal) weren’t focussed on pleasing themselves or even the other person. Rather, they were focussed on God.

This may sound like a simple concept, not too many of us are friends with murderers. But it can be difficult to sever relationships, platonic or romantic, with people who drive us from God rather than bring us closer to Him. We might even be tempted to think God ‘placed them in our lives.’ But verses like 2 Corinthians 6:14 and 1 John 2:15 lead me to question if God would want me to confide in someone who doesn’t agree on my life’s route or destination.

I’m blessed to have the friends who will ensure I check myself befo’ I wreck myself  (Proverbs 27:17). It’s my prayer that you’ll take the time to reflect on the relationships you surround yourself with to ensure they are drawing you closer to your destination. Hopefully, these are the people who will be with you from now to infinity and beyond.

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The Second Curse

Posted on July 8, 2012. Filed under: Culture | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

The Sopranos title screen.

The Sopranos title screen. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My husband and I have been catching up on some American pop culture by watching “The Sopranos” over the past few months. I’m pretty sure we’re the last people to see the show, but in case I’m wrong, it follows the life of Tony Soprano as he attempts to balance his personal life with running the New Jersey mafia. We’ve reached the point where his marriage is falling apart after years of lies, betrayals and abundant pastel furniture have finally taken their toll. Though they are married, Tony and his wife know very little about each other.

While I don’t think that too many people are sleeping around with one-legged Russians without their spouse knowing, it is common today for people to keep things from their spouse. For some it might be thousands of dollars on a credit card, for others it might just be holding back what you really want to say. For Carmella, Tony’s wife, it’s the latter. Like many women, she focuses on her role as the dutiful wife and hides from her fears. Fear of what would happen to her marriage, her children, her friends and her future if she took a stand against her husband.

I confess, I’ve wrongly judged people like this. I pride myself on having a completely open relationship with my husband (we aren’t swingers, we just communicate frequently). I struggle to relate with people who feel they can’t or shouldn’t tell their spouse something, because I believe God calls a married couple to become one in other ways than purely sexual. But the word of God is alive, powerful, and will show me how my ego is bigger than any greasy Jersey hair-do (Hebrews 4:12).

It’s clear to me that husbands and wives are indeed called to be one, but I wonder if some of us (myself included) take this concept too far (Genesis 2:22-25). In a post-women’s lib movement, American culture says that men and women are equal and if we’re being completely honest, we’ve beat down the roll of the dominate masculine man and replaced it with a more passive, dare I say effeminate, male.

While marriage is a partnership with each spouse playing an equally important role, women are called to submit their husbands because they are the leaders of the family (Ephesians 5:22-24). Some women are uncomfortable with the idea of submission because they associate it with a dog submitting to his master. But the comparison in Ephesians is that between Christ and the Church. I don’t think any Christian really thinks the Church is somehow degraded because it must submit to Christ. The Church has a very legitimate role to fulfill, but it must do so while being subservient to it’s leader.

Others of us (this is where I come in) agree with submission in theory, but execute it poorly. At its core, when women are called to submit, we are being called to respect our husbands and the awesome responsibility God has given them. We’re called to be their helpers in fulfilling their roles as leaders (Genesis 2:18-20). But let’s face it, we think they could do a better job and have little problem telling them so. It’s always going to be that way. Seriously, it’s Biblical. When we think of God punishing Eve after the Fall, we typically think of childbirth, i.e. rearing children. But there was a second curse: “And you will desire to control your husband, but he will rule over you” (Genesis 3:16). Women will always seek for men to make them happy, and they will never fulfill them completely (that’s reserved for someone else). My husband is a strong, loving, supportive, Godly man, yet I somehow always manage to find something I wish was done ‘better.’ Sadly, an epidural won’t take this curse away; I’ve just got to learn to love God by showing respect to my husband. How’s that done? By holding the tongue:

“It’s better to live alone in the corner of an attic than with a quarrelsome wife in a lovely home” (Proverbs 21:9).

“A quarrelsome wife is as annoying as constant dripping on a rainy day” (Proverbs 27:15).

Solomon has a lot to say about the nagging wife (and he should since he had hundreds of them), but none of it is good. When women share all their feelings or express their desires, even under the auspices of ‘being one’, it can often come across as just complaining and disrespectful. Though the people who hide their true feelings out of fear or apathy are also sinning, those of us who tell our spouses everything could probably learn something from couples who have mastered the art of discretion.

Ladies, we’ll always find something that we’d like done differently (a wadded up towel on the dish rack, dirty socks right next to the hamper), but pointing out all these ‘suggestions’ isn’t being a good helper or a respectful wife. I know I for one need to work on having more discretion and encouragement.  But the good news is that a woman who is a virtuous wife to her husband isn’t just some rug a husband walks all over. In fact, she gives her husband’s life meaning and is worth more to him than fine rubies, which are certainly more valuable than all the gaudy gold jewelry along the Jersey shore (Proverbs 31:1-12).

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A Straight Answer on Gay Marriage

Posted on May 20, 2012. Filed under: Culture, Government | Tags: , , , , , , , |

Whenever I don’t know what to write about next, I look at the cover of Newsweek. This time, the magazine is depicting President Obama with a rainbow halo and the words, “The First Gay President,” fueling yet another debate over gay marriage.

Yes,  I’m one of the politically incorrect Christians that thinks being gay is a sin. It’s not because I’m a bigot or because I’m mad the gay community has hijacked and monopolized the rainbow, rather it’s because Scripture tells me it is. There’s the Old Testament verses like Lev 18:22 or Paul’s writings that lay it all out (1 Cor 6:9, Romans 1:26-27), but many in the Church disregard these because ‘Jesus didn’t say it.’ Yet, Christ did define marriage as a man and a woman thereby negating homosexuality, polygamy, or anything else  (Matt 19:4-9, Mark 10:3-12). To me, there’s no question that Christians should be opposed to gay marriage within the Church. The question I struggle with is: should Christians deny those outside the Church?

When Paul wrote to the nascent church in Corinth, it was common for the Greeks to have homosexual partners, which Paul opposed. Yet, when he called for the Greek disciples to abstain from sexual immorality, he also told them it was not his place to judge those outside the Church:

“It isn’t my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your responsibility to judge those inside the church who are sinning. God will judge those on the outside; but as the Scriptures say, “You must remove the evil person from among you” (1 Cor 5:12-13).

Paul is telling us that we should not focus our scorn on the non-believers, but rather that we should ensure those claiming to be Christ-followers are practicing what they preach. Isn’t that the biggest complaint about Christians today – that we are hypocrites? How can we use force (i.e. government) to define ‘holy’ marriage, when the Church elects gay bishops, covers-ups the molestation of  children, ignores pornography, adultery, cohabitation and maintains the same divorce rate as non-Christians?

Christians should be more concerned with spreading the Gospel than legislating their will onto others (something we certainly wouldn’t want them doing to us).  Christianity was able to spread throughout the Roman Empire, including carnal Corinth, and eventually transform it because early Christians focused on love, not law.  If we focus more on being lights for the world, maybe the sanctity of marriage along with the rest of our culture could be saved. After all, it’s God that gives marriage its value, not government.

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How to Handle the Truth

Posted on April 29, 2012. Filed under: Culture | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

A few weeks ago, I posted a survey requesting feedback on what readers wanted to see more about. I was a little surprised that some requested apologetic-related topics. Since my blog is tailored to a Christian audience, this response indicates one of three things: 1. some of you are just as nerdy as me 2. some of you are not Christians but are curious why I am or 3. some of you don’t know how to correctly cast a vote. Regardless of the reason, I’m going to be spending the next few posts focusing on apologetics, which is a fancy way of saying, “defending Christianity”.

But first, in case you aren’t automatticly interested in this topic, I want to explain why all of us should have some basic foundation in apologetics. Today, many Christians might be tempted to leave the brainy stuff to the ministers and theologians, but I disagree (as you might have guessed from this post ). In fact, as Christians, we’re actually commanded to be able to defend our faith in Christ on our own.

Here’s what the Bible says, “So don’t worry or be afraid of their threats…And if someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it” (1 Peter 3:14-15). First, we have to be ready to explain and defend the faith. Secondly, ‘threats’ implies that inquiries may not always be from an open-minded people.

The Church has always been under attack from outsiders. In the early days of the Church, Jews accused other converted Jews of heresy while the Romans claimed Christians were, among other things, cannibals (both crimes punishable by death). In many parts of the world, preaching about Christ will still cost you your life.  Here, attacks come from atheists and agnostics that claim Christians are ‘anti-science’ or are fools acting on ‘blind faith.’  What’s sad is that these attacks have become so powerful that even some Christians doubt the legitimacy and authenticity of the Bible. Many of my peers who ‘grew up Christian’ are now turning away from it’s teachings because they are ‘logically oriented’ or find more comfort in moral relativism.    .

The Bible explains that faith is both logical and emotional (after all, God gave us a heart and a brain).  When Paul went to the Jews to defend his conversion, he tried to reason with them using prophecy, Scripture, and witness testimony (Acts 17:2-319:8, 28:23-24). Flip through his Epistles (those “other” books in the New Testament) and you’ll see he did the same thing with the Romans and Greeks.

Granted, logic isn’t going to win over every mind, or even most (Paul was ultimately martyred). But being able to articulate our beliefs, grounded in reason, will do a few things. First, it will help grow your personal relationship with Christ. Just like getting to know different characteristics and qualities of a significant other deepens your feelings for them, so too does understanding how God makes Himself apparent to all who want to know Him (Romans 1:20). And after all, how can you love someone you don’t know?

Understanding apologetics also develops confidence to answer questions from inquiring co-workers, children, spouses, friends and the most hostile skeptics on Facebook alike. I’m guilty of avoiding conversations with people I know aren’t going to be receptive to the Gospel out of fear of what they will say or counter with. And despite what I may pretend, I don’t know everything. Yet, Christians aren’t called to act out of fear (1 Cor 16:14). Instead, we should be destroying the notion of ‘blind faith’ by giving light to false and illogical secular claims (Mat 5:16).

Ultimately, we want to get to a point where we illustrate the Christian faith is perfectly logical and show that it is actually illogical to reject Christ. But in the end, only the Holy Spirit can bring someone to him. This isn’t an argumentative escapism, I only mean that despite your (and my) best efforts, some will choose the illogical route. It’s at this point when you stand up and point your finger in their face and scream “You can’t handle the truth!” Seriously though, people will exchange truth for lies, and they have the free will to do so and we must love them anyways (Romans 1:21-25).

Over the next few posts, I’m asking readers to provide feedback (questions or comments), so I can address specific inquiries. I’ll try to build my posts around them. And if the posts suck, my apologies.

PS – Sorry for missing last week. I had a baby.

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Follow Jesus. Don’t Forget the Church.

Posted on April 15, 2012. Filed under: Culture | Tags: , , , , , , |

A recent cover of Newsweek Magazine which depicted Jesus as a classier version of Kirk Cobain in the middle of Times Square read, “Forget the Church, Follow Jesus.” Inside, Andrew Sullivan’s article “Christianity in Crisis” laments against the Church today and argues instead we should follow Jesus (though he suggests what Jesus actually said or did is up to personal interpretation…unless you disagree with his interpretation, then you’re just wrong).

Though I was tempted to dedicate this week’s post to calling him a poo-poo head, I decided it might be more beneficial to address a larger issue the Church is facing – the attack on the very idea of ‘the Church.’ Just what is ‘the Church’? Do we really need it or can we just ‘follow Jesus’?

When Christ talks about building his ‘church’ in Matthew, the Greek word  literally means ‘those called out’ (Mat 16:18). The Church is simply a gathering of Christ’s followers. You don’t need an ordained priest, holy water, a building or even stale wafers to have a church (though, wine may make it more entertaining). Obviously, it may help having someone around educated in scripture’s nuances, but it’s not mandatory.

How did Jesus feel about worshiping with others? It seems to me he thought it was pretty important. “For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them” (Mat 18:20). After Christ’s resurrection, he gave the 11 disciples (Judas was hangin’ somewhere else) the ‘great commission’ to go out and make disciples (Mat 28:16-20). It’s pretty hard make disciples if you’re ‘following Jesus’ by yourself. And the idea of gathering with others wasn’t new with the New Testament. Flip back to creation of man in Genesis and you’ll find it written in third person (Gen 1:26). God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit have always been in community with each other.

We aren’t made to do life alone (Gen 2:18). It is important to gather with others to fulfill Chirst’s laws, share each others burdens (Gal 6:2), correct and mediate between believers (Mat 18:15-17), encourage one another (1 Thes 5:11) , warn each other when we lose our way (2 Thes 3:15) and the list could go on and on. Clearly, Christ wouldn’t just want us to ‘forget the church.’

Some Christians will justify not joining a church by a number of ways, none of which are particularly good, let alone biblical. There’s the ‘I haven’t found a church I like’ line, which I generally submit means that person tried two churches in a 3 mile radius and gave up. If you’re willing to drive 45 minutes to get to the closest Chick-fil-a (mall, restaurant, etc.), you can drive that far to meet with other believers (you could probably meet there as long as it wasn’t a Sunday).

‘I don’t believe in organized religion.’ I’m not sure what this means, but if means you don’t like too much doctrine, I would say two things: If the ‘doctrine’ is the Bible, check out my post on cafeteria Christianity. If the doctrine conflicts with the Bible, try correcting your brothers as Scripture calls us to do (Gal 6:1). If that doesn’t work, find the group that’s meeting at Chick-fil-a.

Then there’s ‘the Church is full of hypocrites/ I don’t like the preacher/music/politics/coffee they serve.’ Ephesians 5:22-33 is usually cited for understanding the husband-wife relationship, but it’s also about the Christ-Church relationship. The bottom line is that the Church, like your spouse, isn’t going to be perfect. The Church is made up of sinners (like you and me), which hopefully recognize it. If a brother is sinning, correct him in love. If you have to, try a new church, but don’t go around bashing Christ’s bride – how would you like it if someone was talking smack about your woman?

‘I don’t want to go alone.’ If you go, you won’t be alone. If you don’t go, you’ll be alone. One reason to go is to develop Christian friendships.

’11 o’clock on Sunday morning is just too early.’ The Sabbath is about God – not you sleeping in. Take a nap!

‘I don’t get anything out of it.’ Jesus went to temple and he certainly was a fan of fellowship with others (Luke 2:39-52Mat 21:12). If the human manifestation of God on earth still thought it was important to be present with others, you’ll have a tough time convincing me you’ve got it all figured out  100% of the time and therefore don’t need to go.

Ultimately, your relationship with Christ is a personal one that doesn’t depend on others (Eph 2:8), but hopefully you see that the Church Christ established serves a very important purpose. And while Mr. Sullivan may have a point about the Church needing some correction, I don’t see how that’s possible if everyone decides to ‘forget it.’

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Poor Pilate?

Posted on April 8, 2012. Filed under: Culture | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

Since it is Easter-time, I’ve been spending my time preparing for the big day by doing the usual ‘pre-Easter’ activities like filling plastic eggs full of goodies, reading the accounts of the crucifixion, and wondering how on earth anyone could possibly like Peeps. Gross.

This time around, I was drawn to Pontius Pilate. I suppose I’ve always seen him as a villain in the story. After all, he is the one who ordered Christ to be crucified. But this year, I realized something different about Pilate:

Three separate times he appealed to the Jews that he found no grounds for the death penalty (Luke 23:22). He tried to convince them to try Jesus by Jewish religious law rather than Caesar’s (John 18:31). He tried to avoid having to make a decision himself by sending Jesus to Herod (Jesus was from Galilee, which was in Herod’s jurisdiction) (Luke 23:7). He suggested a lighter sentence (flogging) to appease the thirst for blood, rather than a crucifixion (Luke 23:16). He tried to convince Jesus to defend himself against his accusers (Mark 15: 3). And finally, he put Jesus up against a known trouble-maker and murderer, Barabbas, for the annual Passover prisoner  release (John 18:40). Presumably, he thought the Jews would choose Jesus over a scum bag.

I don’t know why, but I never noticed how much Pilate did to avoid killing Jesus, or at least avoid killing Jesus himself. It’s pretty clear this was something he didn’t want to do, though it’s not clear why. Perhaps he was a softy and didn’t like the idea of flogging and crucifying an innocent man. Or, perhaps he was afraid that he actually was killing the Son of God. After all, his wife tried to warn him against harming Jesus, and we all know wives are always right (Mat 27:19).

John’s account claims that Pilate was ‘afraid’ when he heard Jesus claimed to be the Son of God. Upon hearing it, he spoke to Jesus and “from then on tried to set Jesus free” (John 19: 12). Ultimately, we know he conceded to the power of the angry mob, but not before he claimed to be personally innocent of Christ’s blood  (Mat 27: 24).

While I’m still not on Team Pilate, re-reading all of this gives me more empathy for the man. After all, aren’t we all guilty of doing the same thing? Obviously, not too many of us argue with Jewish rabbis on a daily basis. But we all want to do the right thing and defend Christ, but we end up nailing him to a cross all over again.

Though Christians claim to know rather than fear Jesus is the Son of God, we behave the same way as the Roman governor. We avoid making tough decisions, try to take moral ‘short-cuts,’ defend our actions, absolve ourselves of responsibility, and ultimately try convincing others, ourselves and God that we are innocent, or at least justified. Like Pilate, when siding with Christ costs us something, friends, family, power, or even 2 seconds of ridicule, we decide the cost is too high and turn our backs. In this way, we are no different than the man who ordered his death, the soldiers who flogged and nailed him to the cross, or those, who at one point offered praise,but later hurled insults at Christ.

If you go back and re-read this story this weekend, I hope like me, you see yourself in the crucifixion account. It might make remembering why Christ died today a little more clear. It was because he loved his peeps. Not his Peeps.

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Cafeteria Christianity Part II: You Can’t Have Your Pudding If You Don’t Eat Your Meat

Posted on March 9, 2012. Filed under: Culture | Tags: , , , , , |

Last week, I claimed Christians unnecessarily treat the Bible as a type of ‘mystery meat.’ In doing so, I wanted to encourage Christians to know we can trust in it’s authority.

But I’ve also noticed the Church treats the Bible itself as a buffet. We often skip over the vegetable scriptures that aren’t so pleasing to the pallet, no matter how nutritious, and go straight for the soft-serve machine.  We are happy to take bites of the Psalms sprinkled with Proverbs.  If we eat anything with substance, it’s almost always the Gospels.  The Old Testament and the letters of Paul give us acid reflux (especially Leviticus).  I mean, if we are only going to eat out once a week (or just Christmas and Easter), might as well indulge on a nice Christian ‘meal’ complete with all our favorite goodies, rather than that other stuff.

I’m definitely guilty of this selective reading. I probably wouldn’t have thought anything of it up until a few years ago. That was when I realized that I had been a Christian for about a decade, but I didn’t really have a ‘well-balanced’ understanding of what the Word of God actually said. Instead, I had been spending my whole time at my personal dessert tray. As a result, my walk with Christ could have been described as a series ‘sugar highs’ followed by crashes. Surely, this couldn’t be healthy way of spiritual living.

Why do we treat the Bible as a buffet rather than a well-balanced specialty-made meal?

I used to think it was because I didn’t understand how to read it, that it was just over my head because I didn’t go to seminary. Or perhaps it was because it was written for a different culture, one that looked very different than modern America, therefore not applicable. Better yet, it was itself written by men who were fallible. After all, God figured out how to organically store 20 gigabytes of information inside a nucleus that is 6 microns (or .000006 meters) in diameter, but surely writing a book correctly was too hard for Him.

Hebrews 4:12 reads, “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” I was picking and choosing the verses I lived by. I thought I had better ideas about right, wrong, and how to live life than the Creator of the universe. Talk about pride.

I recently heard my pastor say that we try to filter the Bible through our cultural world-view rather than filtering our cultural world-view through the Bible. I don’t think that this is something new, especially considering Paul wrote Hebrews almost 2,000 years ago. When God gave the Israelites the Law, He did so to set them apart from other nations. Living according to the Bible will only cause inter-relational problems, not solve them (Luke 12:51-53). When Jesus came to fulfill the Law, his teachings were so counter-cultural they crucified him for it. Like I’ve said before, people don’t crucify Mr. Rogers.

“Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did” (1 John 2:6). Thankfully, we don’t live in Iran where following Christ will get you killed, but it will undoubtedly bring ridicule, even from others who claim they are Christians. The lives of the “the few” should include fighting creatures that shame Tolkien villains. They should also look different than the lives of those around us who are not living for Christ. If not, we’re probably doing it wrong (Mat 7:13).

Here was the sobering thought that changed me: what about my life defines me as a Christian? My life didn’t look any different than those around me. People could only have assumed I was a Christian because I wore a cross around my neck, gave presents to people in December, and attended church. I was a Christian 2% of the year, applying 2% of the Bible. I knew I wasn’t “doing it right,” but it just wasn’t convenient for me to do anything about it, especially in college! But Jesus didn’t say, “if you love me, keep my commands when when it works for you, when they align with your views and your culture, and when it won’t cost you anything” (compare to John 14:15).

So, now I am trying to do it “right”. Do I still fail? Hourly (minutely just sounds weird). Has it cost me anything? Sadly, yes. But my understanding of Scripture and Christ has exploded (in the good way), my life has been blessed ten-fold, and my heart has aligned closer to God, rather than to the world. I’ve grown more as a Christian in the past 3 years than I did in the ten before that.

I encourage all 3 of you reading this to remember God revealed Himself to us as in a well-balance, high-protein, low-carb meal made especially for us rather than a Golden Corral special for $9.99. As tempting as it is, don’t skip right to your specialized dessert tray and ignore the nutrition God knew we would need. After all,  if you are really ‘in Christ’, how can you have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat?

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American Idolatry

Posted on January 21, 2012. Filed under: Culture | Tags: , , , , , , , |

Former logo of American Idol from 2002 to 2008.

Image via Wikipedia

If you’re like me, when you think of the Ten Commandments, you probably made a mental check list, “Well, I’ve lied, but I haven’t murdered anyone, so that’s pretty good.” However, the Bible tells us anyone breaking the least among God’s commands will be least in heaven. Often times, we try to make ourselves feel better by focusing on what we haven’t broken (Matthew 5:19).

Idolatry is one of the sins that I typically thought I was ‘safe’ from… I mean the likelihood of worshiping a golden cow as a god is pretty low. The commandment says, “You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. You must not bow down to them or worship them,” so as long as I’m not bowing down to Osiris or Ra, I should be in the clear right (Exodus 20:4-5)? Or maybe, that’s not what God meant. Maybe I’m just as guilty as the Israelites. Maybe the American idol is more than just a TV show that just launched its 974th season…and counting…

Christ told us that when we curse someone, we are subject to judgement, just as those who murder are subject to judgement (Matthew 5:21-22). He said that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery in his heart (Matthew 5:27:28). So clearly, God wanted the Jews to connect the dots between their hearts and the law He gave them. According to Jesus, the sin starts in the heart, it’s not just in the action. If that’s the case, then the second commandment implies that idolatry isn’t just carving an image out of gold or stone; idolatry is putting anything (or anyone) in your heart where only God belongs:

“So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world” (Col 3:5, emphasis mine).

“Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world” (1 John 2:15-16, emphasis mine).

So, don’t worship the bad things like the endless pursuit of money, sex outside marriage, or plot with Pinky and the Brain to take over the world and you’re good right? I think there’s more to it than that. While some might be tempted to think bowing down to a man with a falcon head is ridiculous, the ancient Egyptians might think watching pictures in a box for  5 solid days a month insane. Television, like a mutant statue, is not intrinsically bad. And certainly taking pride in your work, as John wrote, is not bad (Proverbs 10:26). I think it’s the meaning we put in these these things that makes them idolatrous. Striving to provide a good home for your family is good, but not if you’re spending so much time at the office your kids don’t know you. Pursing companionship in a mate is good, but not if it means you’re compromising your faith.

How do we know if we’re committing idolatry? One way is by examining the fruits of our life choices, which is certainly how others will evaluate us (Matthew 7:16). In the end, it comes down to are we pursing what we want over what God wants for us (as He instructed in the Bible). After all, the first sin came down to man (yes, technically woman) making himself his own idol.

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The Moderate

Posted on January 14, 2012. Filed under: Culture | Tags: , , , , , |

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If you spend some time Googling Martin Luther King Jr this weekend, you might notice a few things your second grade teacher left out of her lesson. I’m not talking about the fact that he had extramarital affairs or even more egregious, that he was a Republican. I’m referring his distaste with something we’re all guilty of: being a moderate.

King said, “A man who won’t die for something is not fit to live.” He wrote in his letter from the Birmingham jail, “I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens Councillor or the Ku Klux Klanner but the white moderate.”  Unlike the white moderate, the supremacist had devotion to a cause and  fought to defend that cause rather than seek “the absence of tension.” Indeed he wrote, “lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

Was King onto something here? Is moderation something to be pursued to keep peace or avoided to stand firm in convictions? Does a moderate have a better chance of winning ‘hearts and minds’ or does a moderate just lack a back bone?

Craig Groeschel’s Weird highlights Christ’s ‘woes’ on seven churches that lost their way in Revelations. For six of them, Jesus acknowledges good with the bad, but to the church of Laodicea, he just laments. What was Laodicea’s crime? Idolatry? Sexual immorality? Poking a badger with a spoon? Nope, those were the other churches…and Eddie Izzard. Laodicea’s problem was its moderate nature: “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth” (Rev 3:15-16).

There are other places where God expresses our faith is not to be moderate in nature: “Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter” (Matthew 7:21).

“These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me” (Isaiah 29:13).

Christ and MLK Jr. were saying that we cannot be tepid with the truth, in whatever form it takes. God judges us by our actions, not how we say we feel. While being a moderate may not get you into trouble, it almost always signals one of two things: ignorance and/or apathy. Truth cannot dwell in anyone with either trait.

In his letter, King wrote “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Paul called for Christians to “have a strong belief in the trustworthy message …[and] be able to encourage others with wholesome teaching and show those who oppose it where they are wrong” (Titus 1:9). Those convicted by truth shouldn’t tolerate lies, but strive to lovingly spread the truth.

There may not be ‘whites only’ drinking fountains anymore, but I think moderation still shows a lack of conviction and/or understanding. A Church full of moderate Christians focuses more on religion than faith. A country full of moderate citizens focuses more on 15 second sound bites or ESPN than investigating facts molding our future. Schools full of moderate teachers demand regurgitation of academic creeds rather teaching students how to think critically.

We’re all guilty of being the moderate in some area of life. I think this MLK Jr Day  we would do well to remember something else he said, “But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label…the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.”

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