Modern Day Idols Reminiscent of Ancient Rome March 17, 2019 No Comments

“As church history makes painfully obvious, the easiest thing in the world for us fallen creatures to do is to convince ourselves we are following Christ while we are in fact following Caesar, our nation, our culture or some such thing, and to unconsciously (or consciously) revise our understanding of Christ to conveniently accommodate that idolatry.” The Nature of the Atonement

If this quote doesn’t describe the current state of evangelicalism in the US, I don’t know what does.

The Evangelical church has lost its identity and witness. Its a process that began more than two decades ago and we are witnessing the season that, when we look back, will represent the final nail in the coffin of Biblical, Christ-Centered Christianity in the United States.

I see it everyday. Its not just amongst the Biblically illiterate, it transcends denomination.It can be seen in all ages and generations. 

We are a people who, created in the image of God, have returned the favor. The Jesus we worship is no longer the Jesus of the Bible. 

We are Rome and we need an Apostle Paul otherwise, its over for Christ-Centered, Biblical, Evangelicalism in the United States. Lets just say that I am not optimistic, yet will continue to remind myself I worship a God of hope.

So what or who are we following instead of Jesus? What has become our new image of Christ?

The United States of America, or Merica’. 

So many Christians I know worship our country. For them, our country (and now Nationalism, which is not a biblical concept) is far more important than Jesus when push comes to shove. Most will put the selfish needs of our country as well as our comfort over the Gospel, our call to care for those in need, to minister to other nations, to value the refugee. We worship the government and expect the government to implement Christian principles through legislation, something that will never be effective because you just cannot legislate morality. Jesus didn’t intend for the government to make disciples, he intended us to do so.

Donald Trump.

I remember when Bill Clinton was president and his moral and character issues came to light. Evangelical Christians pounced on these issues noting that leaders of any kind, especially those who claim to be Christians should be people of character. They were right.

I also remember those who defended Clinton noting that he was a ‘baby Christian’ and that he had prayed for forgiveness and had personal pastors meeting with him, so it was ok. This may be partially true, but it not the whole Gospel. There wasn’t really any remorse, repentance or change of behavior. 

Fast forward a couple decades and here we are again with a president with a different letter next to his name. Oddly, and quite disturbingly, Evangelicals have become the ones who have forgotten about the whole Gospel. They no longer seem to care about character as long as they have power, influence and their supreme court justices. They justify that Jesus would be ok with this. If you believe that, I have several tracks of land in Wakanda to sell you.

Character counts and the call of all leaders, especially those who proclaim to know Jesus does not change just because we happen to like the letter next to their name or their political policies. Christians have sold their faith out to a mere human and many are coming dangerously close to worshipping a man who is at best is a flawed Christ follower, but not the Christ. Jesus did not make Trump or Clinton president, the American people through the Electoral College did. Sure, God has allowed both to lead, but our vote cannot make either divine.

lgbtqia+.

Regardless of what one believes about issues of sexuality, we know that there is no justification for mistreating any human being. We often like to say love the sinner, hate the sin, but that is not accurate. First, we are not ultimately in charge of deciding what is sin and are not responsible for sin management in others. Second, the right way of seeing this would be to say, love everyone, hate our own sin. Its so much easier to point to others and to judge their nature and action as sinful than it is to deal with our own sin. Anyway, that is a sidebar to my main point.

Today in the Christian Church it seems as though some are so focused on addressing this issue in terms of inclusion and welcoming that they have made this their Christ. It seems that this is the only issue of importance and that the Gospel is all about lgbtqia+. The reality is, that it is not. No justice issue, no social justice issue, no group of rejected people is to be our only focus in the church. Jesus cared for all who were rejected by the culture and by the religious elite, not just one particular group in the culture that is the focus of society at any given moment.

Democrats/Republicans/Libertarians etc.

Right now in our highly divisive political culture, I see a significant portion of those I know abandoning their faith and their Jesus over party. Jesus would not fit in any of our political parties currently and I am not sure one will ever exist that would contain him. On my social media, under politics, I say that I am ‘an independent who caucuses with Jesus.’ I have tried both major parties and have found that both of them seem to neglect whole parts of the Gospel whether the poor, refugee, unborn, separation of Church and state, the common good, the death penalty or one of a thousand other things. We seem to have molded our Jesus into a Republican. Or a Democrat. Or a Libertarian etc. Jesus was clear on this issue. Give unto Caesar. This wasn’t just a commentary on taxes.

At best, Biblical, Christ-Centered Evangelicalism in the United States is on its death bed. Personally, I think its already dead. Its too far gone, too tainted. Either way, its time for resurrection…

Identity, Authority & Power January 19, 2019 No Comments

The longer I am in ministry, the more that I gain from the book of Acts and the more I find myself modeling life, ministry and church after it. I have also found, that the biblical number of three is a solid one and that thinking in threes has become incredibly helpful for me The model of the equalateral triangle is incredibly helpful for me.

Thinking about the Trinity; Father, Son and Holy Spirit can be hard to grasp, yet incredibly powerful. There is much we can know, but there is even more mystery to embrace. There is a lot we receive from God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but I wanted to highlight three total for us to think about.

First, God the Father has given us identity. We are created in the image of God, which means that we each bear God in us in certain ways. We are also God’s children. We are created by God the Father, chosen by God and loved by God. 

Secondly, in Jesus we have been given authority. In fact, Jesus mentions it more than once in the Gospels and in the books of Acts. We have been given authority by Jesus to bring his love and gospel to everyone. It always amazes me that Jesus would choose imperfect me to help share his love and Gospel with the world. 

Thirdly, in the Holy Spirit we are given power. The Holy Spirit gives us the power and strength we need to be disciples. The Holy Spirit gives us the power we need to pursue God. The Holy Spirit gives us the power to bring God’s love and Grace to the world.

We have been given much, but three of the biggest things we have been given in the Triune God is identity, authority and power. 

Who is Discipling You? October 27, 2018 No Comments

The truth is, that whether we are Christians or not, but especially if we are Christians, we are being discipled and formed in some way. As Christians, we should be discipled and formed through the scriptures, relationships and Jesus. The reality is that today, in the United States most people are discipled by their cable news station and formed by their social media feed. The reality is that most Christians in the US spend more time with their television and social media focused on politics and the news than they do in prayer, study of the bible and with other Christians. This is deeply problematic in so many ways and is idolatry. Add to the idolatry the reality that most news stations are deeply biased (Fox, MSNBC etc), sensationalized (CNN) or too short (ABC, NBC, CBS) to give us full and accurate information. Even if they were accurate, truth is ultimately only found in Jesus. I find Christians have ignored the scriptures for their politics whether conservative, liberal, or something in between. We are called to worship and imitate Jesus, not a political party, figure or ideology. The other day I was on the social media page of a Christian who had more pictures of a political figure on their page than their own children! The reality is that both major parties have beliefs that are consistent with and directly contrary to the scriptures and the life and ministry of Jesus. I have found that more Christians perspectives and mood to be shaped by politics rather than Jesus. This is idol worship, heresy and an insult to what Jesus did on the cross. Who is shaping and forming you? Who are you imitating? If the answer is not Jesus, you might want to drop the name ‘Christian’ from your biography.

Many, many questions September 22, 2018 No Comments

Recently, when I was in India training pastors, I had a young man come to me and quiz me on theology. He must have asked at least several hundred questions. They were on all the controversial items from politics to end times and biblical interpretation. He clearly had a more narrow view and also seemed to be testing me out. In Christiendom, we do not always know what to do with questions and doubts. We do not know how to say ‘I don’t know’ and often feel tempted to provide the ‘right’ answer for the individual to whom we are speaking. This is a great danger. Questions and doubts are healthy. Theology is a journey. We will never have it perfectly right, but the pursuit of God and the dialogue is a great and humbling joy.

Just Jesus August 19, 2018 No Comments

In our church, we are preaching through the book of Romans and today we came to Romans 14. My colleague, Dan Bellinger did a fantastic job with this passage. As I have reflected on his message, the old hymn, Just Give Me Jesus comes to mind. The chorus, ‘you can have the whole world, just give me Jesus’ was fitting for his sermon and Romans 14. It seems so obvious and so cliche that we forget easily, especially when applying to our daily life. The world and the life we lead is more often complex than not, yet the only thing that matters is Jesus. Jesus should be first, center and all in our life and our faith. So often our desires, traditions, doctrine and practice get in the way of what really matters, Jesus. So often these things replace or are put in front of Jesus. Romans 14 admonishes that as they argued about meat and sabbath, pointing out that what matters is not the observance, but the spirit, heart and focus of the observance. Is it really about Jesus or is it about something else.

It often turns out that when it comes to life, faith and theology, the answers are quite simple and obvious. Living those things out on the other hand is the hard work and even harder prayer of the whole journey we know as life.

Cracker Jacks Theology May 18, 2018 No Comments

I confess that I am both a theological nerd and a theological cynic. I have no problem with people that think differently than I do and while I love a good theological dialogue, I never feel the need to get into a fight over theology. The diversity of thought within Christianity is a gift, especially when the theology is formed based on scripture. Believe it or not, its possible for two opposing theologies being both formed utilizing scripture. None of this bothers me, even though I have my own, often times strong opinions. I try not to get caught up in the small things, but the things that really matter than that we can all agree on.

The thing that concerns me greatly about theology is what I call cracker jacks theology. These are things that sound theological ideas and even Biblical, but are not in any way. These pithy sayings that mask as theology send a terrible message about God. They can be found on bumper stickers, posters and t-shirts. They are used by people in the midst of difficult and painful situations for which we have no response, yet they cause more damage than simply saying nothing. 

Cracker Jacks theology is dangerous. It is not Biblical and it sends a message about God that is inconsistent, untrue and often portrays God in anything but a loving way. People often mean well and do not know better, but that does not take away the danger or challenge that comes with this kind of thinking about God. The best test for whether or not something is cracker jacks theology is the scripture. If there is not clarity there, it is also wise the play the theology out. What does this thought ultimately say about God and humanity? What does this particular idea or though mean when it comes to other situations and circumstances?

Beware of cracker jacks theology. What we believe and say about God matters.

The Theology of Change April 24, 2018 No Comments

I do not know a single person who always loves change of all types. Sure, I say I enjoy change, but the truth is that I really only enjoy change I create, see coming, like, control, or benefit from. Its hard to enjoy change that is unexpected, painful, disrupting and full of conflict. The church, the holders of the theology of Jesus in the world today struggles more so with change than perhaps any institution, organization or group in history.  Its ironic, because the nature of life, faith, the world, being a Christian, following Jesus and being a disciple is riddled with constant change. 

As followers of Jesus, we are called to become more like Jesus. This is the essence of discipleship. To become more like Jesus, we have to change. To be a church that reaches the world, we must change. Change is not ideal, but it is not optional, especially for Christians and the Christian church. They say the only guarantees in life are death and taxes. I suppose there are probably even people, few of them, who have been able to avoid taxes. I would actually add a third item to that list, change. Change is a guarantee. It is a part of life. It is a part of discipleship. 

The hope and prayer I offer is that we can experience, lead and embrace change at a pace that stretches us, but does not break us. 

Above all else, we must remember who is in charge and we must look to the one that never changes, God.

The Theology Around Suicide February 26, 2018 No Comments

Recently I have been in a situation where I have had to talk a lot about suicide and the theology around it. Its not something we should have to be talking about, but the world is not as it should be. There is a theological view within Christianity that claims that anyone who commits suicide goes to hell no matter what. It is a view that rose in part out of the catholic church and gets little discussion today even though many teach and hold this view.

The basis for this view is in the incorrect interpretation of two different passages, one that appears in three of the four gospels and one that appears in Pauls letters. The Gospel passage talks about blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Of course this is not a word that we know much about, but at its core, it is a direct affront, accusation and rejection of God. It is to claim that God is not real or to embrace satan instead of God. Some have decided that rather than take this view and interpretation, to view suicide as blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. There is no real textual or scholarly basis to this however.

The other passage talks about grieving the Holy Spirit. Again, this is interpreted by some as suicide being the ultimate act against God, the way to grieve the Holy Spirit. While this is less of a stretch, it is a stretch nonetheless. What this does refer to however, is the rejection of God when we come face to face with God whether in life, death or both. This is the only way we can end up spending eternity without God. Now, CS Lewis notes that he could not understand how someone could come face to face with God in death and reject the power and love of God, but that some clearly do.

The idea that God would abandon any of his children in the midst of the darkest moment of their life, regardless of their belief, lifestyle or church attendance is contrary to the whole of scripture and the life, teaching, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus. It is in our moments of deepest pain that God is with us.

The truth is that we can never be sure of anyones salvation but our own. The only thing we can do is life in hope, trust of God and live in love, sharing the good news of Gods unconditional love and grace with everyone we encounter in word and deed.

As for suicide, any idea that engaging in this act of desperation warrants the automatic and eternal rejection of God in every case is pure rubbish.

Theology of People September 19, 2017 No Comments

People and the relationships we have with them are one of the greatest gifts that God will ever give us. I have shared this at almost every funeral that I have performed for more than a decade. We often lose sight of that and neglect that in the midst of busyness, conflict, fear, and a focus on what is not going right or what we do not have rather than focusing on what is going well and what we do have.

We must remember that people are created in the image of God, all of them. Christian and not. One of the implications of this is that every human being, in one way or another bears the image of Jesus to others and to the world. It also means that all people have great value, that to be created in the image of God is a high honor and a unique aspect of being human. Another application is that we are all children of God. Those who have embraced this identity, or come to know Jesus or have been baptized have fully accepted and live in this identity. All this to say, that human beings are the most valuable creatures in all of creation.

This means that how we look at and treat people matters. We cannot perfect this, but we often fail to even try or notice how we see and treat others. We often focus on their flaws and judge them while ignoring our own. Our primary goal should be to see people as God sees them, beautiful, important, loved yet imperfect. Our ideal approach is to seek to understand people rather than to judge them or be understood by them. We must assume a positive, or as one of my mentors said, ‘assume a yes in everyone.’ We must assume the best in people if we really want to see and value them, if we really want to treat them with the love that God calls us to.

It also turns out that we can disagree with people, dislike things about them and still value and love them. It turns out that we can have different personalities, views, strengths and weaknesses and still love and value each other, better yet, have a healthy deep relationship with one another.

That is the ideal that God seeks in us and the only way it becomes a reality is if we take that seriously and let it begin with me.

Theology of Fear August 19, 2017 No Comments

We live in a fear based culture without question. The church has become a fear based organization much like the culture. Fear is not a Biblical value. It may seem like one, but the number of times the Bible (and Jesus) tell us not to fear is hard to count. Sure, the Bible references the fear of the Lord (and that is primarily meant to say respect), but that is not what I am talking about nor is that the issue.

It seems we can take one of two paths and as Christians, the path we are called to is narrow, hard and counter cultural. It is the path of following and imitating Jesus.

The first path is the path of fear. Fear motivates us to worry, to criticize, to judge, to hate and so much more. Fear is often rooted in lack of knowledge, whether of self or something external. Ironically, fear and ignorance together often lead to arrogance. This path often leads to judgement and hatred. You combine this with a focus on being religious and it is downright toxic and contradictory to what Jesus has for us.

The Jesus path is the path of trust. Trust of God. Trust allows us to grow, to see the best, to be a people of hope rather than a people of fear. It allows us to focus on understanding rather than being understood. The path of trust creates a sense of teachability and often increases self-knowledge, eventually blotting out ignorance. This path leads to a perspective of grace and love rather than judgment and criticism. This perspective is rooted not in religion, but in relationship with Jesus, it is truly the path of faith.

We each have a choice as to which path we will choose in our lives as we approach our own life, our family, the church and the world. Its not an easy choice and the path of Jesus is not easy. Narrow is the gate…

As for me, I pray that by the grace and help of God that I will always choose the Jesus path.