July 14, 2017 § 2 Comments
Toward the end of a bike trail in Colorado Springs, I came upon an unexpected hill. During the exhausting climb, I noticed two women had set up a table displaying free Jehovah’s Witness material partway up the hill. I took the opportunity to stop and have a wonderful, Gospel-centered conversation with them—in my head 2 minutes after I rode past. I have also had great evangelical encounters with various atheists and agnostics, unfortunately many more in my head than in real life.
I’m not an extrovert, so a witnessing encounter (and robust social engagement in general) is not always easy for me. I recently have defended the deity of Christ in real-life conversation with some JWs at my house, so I had no particular fear of the two ladies on the hill—I just wasn’t about to stop in the middle of a hill (note to evangelists in public parks: set up at the top), and on top of that I had been-there-done-that with Watchtower propaganda. Maybe I should have at least stopped and said hello.
Have you ever had great talks with non-believers about Jesus in your head after you part company? Whether it’s because of nerves, or fear of rejection, or lack of confidence in your own knowledge of your faith, I think it’s probably a pretty common thing to pass up on these opportunities.
While we (and I mean ‘I’) need to set aside fear and rely on the Spirit of God to help in such situations, the mental conversations later (often occurring in the shower, for some odd reason) can serve as valuable training ground for the next real-life opportunity.
Here’s another conversation you didn’t have, but Jack Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop near Denver, CO, did have with hosts on The View recently. On the spot, Jack actually did a very good job of defending his much-maligned decision not to design and create a wedding cake for a gay couple, a case that the Supreme Court has now agreed to hear. Jack says that everyone is welcome in his store, but he won’t make a cake for every event. He calmly and consistently defended the Biblical view of marriage and his Constitutional right to live out his faith in the public square. He was joined by his lawyer, Kristen Waggoner, who also does a great job of clarifying the case and its implications for every American.
Since we can learn from this conversation, imagine if you were in that hotseat surrounded by liberal talkshow hosts-turned-theologians, under the lights and cameras and studio audience cued to applaud after each progressive talking point. If you could freeze frame life for a few minutes to think about your answer (in lieu of thinking about it after the show), how would you respond to these questions?
Relax, you’re not in Jack’s spotlight, but one day you may be in a different one with your family, neighbor, boss, or a judge. Take some time to watch the segment yourself here. Below are the main questions thrown at Jack, and while his answers were good for on-the-spot responses, I’ll offer answers from an apologetic perspective, being safely out of the spotlight with plenty of time to process.
WHERE DO YOU DRAW THE LINE?
The theologian on the far right (her chair, not her political position) asked Jack: “If it violates your religious freedom to sell a wedding cake to a gay couple… do you then, when a straight couple comes in, do you ask them if they’ve had a child out of wedlock, if they’ve had premarital sex? Where do you draw the line, because those all could be deemed ‘sinful’ (she throws up her air quotes) to someone who’s religious as well.”
The only reason anyone talks about Jesus was because “sin” is a real thing and the whole reason He came. Jesus died to redeem us from sin by sacrificing Himself on the cross.
But the issue here is not the sins of the couple, but that Jack is being forced to in effect join in the artistic celebration of something against his religious beliefs and stamp his name on the entire project. The line is drawn exactly where he drew it. Jack’s concern is not over whether a couple is sinning in some way, but the consequences of compromising his beliefs by his participation in a same-sex wedding ceremony. If anything, the marriage of a man and woman who are already having sex has a redemptive aspect to it in that the couple would no longer be sinning sexually, and would be providing a stronger foundation for any child that resulted. But the reason Jack refused is because he objects to the event in question.
WHO ARE YOU TO JUDGE?
The theologian in the chair to the left (our left) of the first theologian: “One thing that’s always confused me about this is that in the Bible it says many things if you read it, and I was raised in the church, and it says, you know, ‘Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman,’ but also says, ‘Don’t judge others.’ We’re not the final judgment. It also says ‘love thy neighbor.’ There are a lot of messages in there. How do you reconcile in your own spirituality, which ones to go with? Because in my mind, whether you believe it or not, and you should definitely not marry a man… but if someone else does, it’s not my place to judge them because God will…”
“The Bible says not to judge” is a frequent declaration by cherry-pickers. It’s found in Matthew 7:1-5: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (NIV)
In context, Jesus is condemning hypocrisy (don’t point the finger of judgment at others if you’re doing the same thing yourself), not the discernment between right and wrong behavior. We know there is a correct way to judge, because Jesus tells a group of Pharisees in John 7:24 to “stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.”
So to the question, “How do you reconcile which message to ‘go with’?”, the answer is study. Approach the Bible as you would any other book you want to understand and practice sound exegesis rather than pulling bits of verses out of context. Read, rather than read into. When we do, well see that Jesus was both love and truth, and there is no contradiction between “judge rightly” and “love your neighbor.”
WHAT WOULD JESUS DO?
The theologian to Jack’s right says, “I know that you’re a Christ-follower, and Jesus was even criticized by some of His followers for hanging out with the lowest of the low and the tax collectors and the sinners. Did you ever ask yourself, what would Jesus do in this particular situation? Instead of denying them, do you think Jesus would have said, ‘I don’t accept this, but I’m going to love you anyway?’ Do you think that would have had a more powerful testimony?” To which the theologian on the far left adds with conviction, “Jesus would have baked the cake!”
Jack rightly responds that Jesus would not bake the cake. We don’t have to guess what Jesus would say and do when we can read what He said and did. We know Jesus’ view of marriage from Matthew 19:4 and Mark 10:6, where He affirms God’s design for marriage from Genesis 1:27: “‘Haven’t you read… that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.'” (Mat. 19:4-6)
Supposing Jesus would have said, “I don’t accept this, but I’m going to love you anyway” assumes that love doesn’t mean we tell others the truth. We, made in God’s image, often try to remake Jesus in our own image and imagine God as love but not truth (at least the truth we find inconvenient). But as Jesus displayed, He is both. Jesus indeed did share a table with sinners, and as Jack proves, you can sit at a table with those who believe very differently without them hating or suing each other. But by compromising our beliefs and joining in the celebration of an event that defies God’s design for marriage, we are not loving anyone, but rather propagating a lie. That is actually hateful.
JUST BAKE THE CAKE!
The conversation turns from theological to legal at this point, with Kristen politely shooting down a slippery slope argument and clarifying that an assault on Jack’s religious liberty affects everyone regardless of their belief. But not before the theologian 2nd from the left puts this challenge to Jack: “Lower courts have found that you’ve discriminated against this couple, but you’re taking this fight to the Supreme Court. Why not just bake the cake?”
It’s always easier for those without a certain deeply held conviction to suggest those who do simply give it up when the going gets rough. But that’s not how Christianity has ever worked. Still, it’s an appropriate question to consider while we aren’t on the spot, can we compromise on this front while loving God and neighbor? Are we prepared to answer, while we can have the conversation safely in our heads, before we will eventually be asked, “Why not just bake the cake?”
“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful…” (Hebrews 10:23)
June 17, 2017 § 1 Comment
One thing a career in art and design has affirmed for me is that animals and accidents do not conceptualize and create, but human beings do. Created in the likeness of our Creator, we are, among many things, little creators.
Though God created everything else ex nihilo (from nothing), He formed man from something else He had made: the dust of the ground (Genesis 2:7). In John 1 we read Jesus the Creator was the Word, who was God and with God in the beginning. In John 9:6 Jesus, appropriately, used the dust of the ground to remake a blind man’s eyes. In Revelation 21:5, it’s revealed that this same Creator will “make everything new.”
From Lego bricks to medical tech to countless art media, creative work that honors God will point to goodness, beauty and truth. It will help, heal and renew. Humans, separate from the animals and everything else in creation, reflect our Creator when we ourselves pick up other materials and make something new.
March 16, 2017 § 1 Comment
From TIME Magazine: “This week’s TIME cover story, with exclusive data from GLAAD, explores a change taking hold in American culture. The piece explores how you-do-you young people are questioning the conventions that when it comes to gender and sexuality, there are only two options for each: male or female, gay or straight. Those aspects of identity — how one sees themselves as a man or woman, for instance, and who they are drawn to physically and romantically — are distinct but undergoing similar sea changes, as teenagers and 20-somethings reject notions of what society has told them about who they are supposed to be.”
What this article (‘Behind the TIME Cover Story: Beyond ‘He’ or ‘She”)(1) shows is that a generation is struggling to ground itself in any kind of firm identity, many opting instead to go wherever their feelings take them to search out an identity. Often we don’t like who we are, but I think the issue is more that we don’t know who we are. And we can’t truly know who we are unless we know who God is.
Objective truth can be grounded in the nature of God, but without belief in God or truth that is objective, absolute, or universal, we would have no reason to believe in something like the immutability of gender or sexuality. In fact, if truth were relative, what would it mean to finally decide who we are on our own? Any future conviction we may have about our identity would be just as subject to change as our current convictions. Facebook’s 60 options for a user’s gender are not nearly enough.
God’s word reveals that “God created mankind in His own image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them.” (Gen. 1:27) While God has no gender, it’s noteworthy that the completeness of the male and female complementarity came right along with forming mankind in His own likeness.
If nothing else, this tells us that male and female “binaries” are not merely “notions of what society has told them about who they are supposed to be.” This is our Creator telling us who we actually are and have always been.
The truth that we are God’s image-bearers, that He made us and loves us, justifies any notion of value or self-worth. If the God of the Bible does not exist, then we are likely accidental collisions of molecules. Do we matter then? Or are we just matter?
I met a high school student who had written YOU MATTER on both his own forearms with a pen. When I asked him about it, he said he’s not sure if he really believes he really matters, but seeing it there helps him through his depression. We only matter if God made us on purpose. This already depressed young man is in particular danger if he follows his atheism to its logical end.
Given the high degree of depression among the LGBTQ community, especially teens, and those with gender dysphoria, there is an accelerated danger in rejecting our Creator, His pattern for sex and gender, and trying to redefine both for ourselves.
We will never be fully satisfied in remaking ourselves in our own image because then we have idolized autonomy, choosing to live in “my reality” vs biological, historical, or spiritual reality. We’re told we can be whoever we want to be, but we need to start with who we actually are. A confused culture “in the throes of self-discovery” will not find its true identity until it finds God.
1) Steinmetz, Katy “Behind the TIME Cover Story-Gender and Sexuality: Beyond ‘He’ or ‘She’.” TIME Magazine 16 Mar. 2017. TIME.com Web. (Link: http://time.com/4703058/time-cover-story-beyond-he-or-she/)
February 14, 2017 § Leave a comment
Most religious lessons happen Sunday morning, but quite a bit of theology was on display Sunday night at the Grammy Awards.
The most notable performance of the night was from Beyoncé, which the Washington Post explains(1) was inspired by African, Hindu and Roman goddesses, and possibly the Virgin Mary, noting that “Beyoncé was teaching.” What is she teaching? The deities portrayed “signified womanhood” and love and fertility (Beyoncé is pregnant with twins) and represent an eclectic sampling of various religious beliefs. None were specifically sung about, but hinted at through costume and visuals that few understood until later analysis. Still, the Post reports, “It was described as ‘ethereal,’ a ‘sci-fi fertility ritual’ and just plain ‘weird’.”
It’s nice to see pregnancy portrayed as a blessing as it’s so often portrayed as a curse in today’s culture, but what other picture of the culture can we see in the theological lessons of the Grammys? Alongside the confusing nods to multiple pagan gods, there was a clear declaration of one God in particular. In the somewhat less popular performance by Chance The Rapper, we heard “the type of worship make Jesus come back a day early… Name above all names, He’s worthy of all praise… My voice belongs to You…” As reported in the Christian Post, Chance the Rapper “was joined by Kirk Franklin, Francis and the Lights, and Tamela Mann for a gospel performance of Coloring Book’s ‘How Great’ and ‘All We Got.'”(2) A video of his performance can be found here.(3)
One thing is clear from the Grammys, and that is that we are persistently spiritual people. In this world, bold declarations of truth often get lost in the barrage of confused portrayals of who God really is. The apostle Paul faced the same confusion in first century Mars Hill:
“Men of Athens! I see that you are extremely religious in every respect. For as I was passing through and observing the objects of your worship, I even found an altar on which was inscribed: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Therefore, what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it—He is Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in shrines made by hands. Neither is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives everyone life and breath and all things. From one man He has made every nationality to live over the whole earth and has determined their appointed times and the boundaries of where they live. He did this so they might seek God, and perhaps they might reach out and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us. For in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’ Being God’s offspring then, we shouldn’t think that the divine nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image fashioned by human art and imagination.” (Acts 17:22-29)
January 9, 2017 § Leave a comment
The New York Times ran a story about Bart Campolo, son of evangelical icon Tony Campolo, headlined The Evangelical Scion Who Stopped Believing(1). Sadly, both men have gone off the theological rails, to different degrees. But noted in this article focused on Bart’s journey away from faith, both father and son preached an emphasis on what they considered the teachings of Jesus over the rest of God’s word. Bart preaches atheism these days, but back when he claimed to be a believer, his ministry had this in common with his dad’s. From the article:
“Bart’s father, Tony Campolo… founder of the ‘red-letter Christians’ movement, an effort to refocus evangelicals away from politics and back to the teachings (about poverty, love, charity) of Jesus, whose words are printed in red in many Bibles.”
“(Bart Campolo) was a role model for younger Christians looking to move beyond the culture wars over abortion or homosexuality and get back to Jesus’ original teachings.”
There’s an increasingly popular idea that Christians engaging in culture wars, particularly about the issues mentioned above, have strayed from true Christian teaching. Theological liberals have suggested lesser credence be assigned to the Old Testament and the pastoral epistles, and a higher authority given to the words of Jesus in the four gospels. In essence, this invalidates the vast majority of scripture. If Jesus didnt say it, it doesn’t matter what the rest of scripture says about issues of homosexuality or the unborn.
So how should Christians think about contemporary issues in light of Scripture? First, are the words of Jesus in the Bible the most important parts of Scripture? Second, were “Jesus’ original teachings” unconcerned with issues like abortion or homosexuality?
Considering that Jesus often quoted many parts of the Old Testamant, and that “all scripture is God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16), there is no cause to give the recorded dialog of Jesus greater authority than the rest of the Bible. Jesus didn’t, so we shouldn’t either. God didn’t put Jesus’ words in red; Louis Klopsch did in 1899 with the first printed red letter edition New Testament. To be clear, we haven’t actually printed the exact words spoken by Jesus. We have the gospel-writers’ inspired accounts of what Jesus said, which, in accordance with the practice of paraphrasing in the ancient world, vary in exact wording (yet are unified in the truth being spoken). So what red-letter Bibles are highlighting are not the exact words of Jesus anyway.
Jesus’ regard for the Old Testament scriptures and the truth of 2 Timothy 3:16 helps to answer the 2nd question: Are we right to think that Jesus didn’t condemn same-sex relationships or abortion, but His teachings were somehow different than the rest of the Bible?
In the first place, abortion and homosexuality were not in the cultural spotlight when Jesus engaged in ministry, so we shouldn’t expect to find Jesus dealing directly with those issues that Christians find themselves having to respond to today. But we know what Jesus thought about the value of human life and God’s plan for marriage because of what He affirmed from other scriptures.
In Matthew 19:4, Jesus uses Genesis 2:24 to affirm “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’?” Jesus’ affirmation of how God’s design for human sexual relationships (one man and one women given in marriage) simply leaves no room for other types of sexual relationships.
Jesus didn’t speak specifically of abortion either—or at least we don’t have a record of it. But we know His position on it. If asked, Jesus might have again referred back to Genesis, perhaps 1:27-28, words that would have carried as much authority as His own: “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth…'” Other scriptures that teach of the value and personhood of the unborn (Exodus 21:22-23; Psalm 127:3,139:13-15, Jeremiah 1:5) would also have been regarded by Jesus as authoritative.
But don’t miss that we see from Scripture that God’s plan was for children to be born, not killed in the womb. God’s plan for marriage in Genesis 1 and 2 included the bearing and raising of children by a mother and father. God created us and He also created our fruitfulness, and neither should be destroyed. If we follow God’s plan for sexuality and parenting, then abortion should be a moot point. And God does desire us to follow that plan, which Jesus affirmed by continually doing His Father’s will (John 6:38).
There is no rational distinction or contradiction between “the original teachings of Jesus” and the rest of the Bible, whether printed in red or in black, because Jesus Himself stood firm on the scriptures written before Him.
1) Caserez, Damon. “The Evangelical Scion Who Stopped Believing” New York Times. The New York Times Company, 29 Dec, 2016 (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/29/magazine/the-evangelical-scion-who-stopped-believing.html)
December 12, 2016 § 2 Comments
Two Thousand Sixteen has been a rough year, personally. It began with a corporate acquisition that left me with more work and less pay. My mid-year introduction to the elder board at church coincided (coincidentally, I hope) with a slew of new problems. I spent the last half of my summer seeking treatment for sinus trouble. Parenting took a frustrating turn as our son’s behavior in school did too. The November election seemed to please very few human beings. Now as the year closes—in fact in the last week—I see a coworker’s 36 year old husband entering hospice, attended the funeral of a neighbor, and had a friend I’ve been mentoring just watch his apartment and all his possessions burn to the ground. Life sucks like that sometimes.
The word JOY is propped up and lit up in our front yard during this time of year because joy is one of those words people associate with Christmas time. This is also when people reflect on the past year, try to see the positives and resolve to make the next one better, but often fixate on the year’s struggles. Is there room for joy here?
There is. And for Christians, we should have a monopoly on joy. Why? Because we have a sorrow-proof hope, a hope that goes even beyond the silver linings others look for in this life.
For the friend who lost his home, he can say that at least he has his health. For the one who’s lost his health too, at least he can say he and his loved ones are alive. For the sick who have lost loved ones, at least they can be consoled because their loved ones are no longer suffering. Sooner or later though, we run out of silver linings, either because life gets really bad or our own pain keeps us from seeing them anymore. But beyond the silver lining, there is gold.
Christians should have a monopoly on joy because of what Christmas celebrates: The coming of a quite literal bundle of Joy, Jesus our Lord and Savior, bringing joy to the world. From man’s first sin, God has been working to redeem us from sin and the misery it brings. Absolutely everything in this life, even death, will be made right. If that’s true, hope in Jesus Christ gives us absolutely everything. Eighty or ninety or a hundred years of misery on earth is nothing compared to a moment in heaven in God’s presence. If this is our focus, joy will follow. Shouldn’t it? Christians are defined by our identity in Christ, not our circumstances, and eternal joy is our destiny. That should change things for us. While it’s appropriate to mourn, our inner joy shouldn’t stay inner. It’s part of the fruit of the Spirit in our lives (Galatians 5:22).
Jesus said: “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. (John 15:10-11) I have said these things to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
Paul said: “Rejoice always… (1 Thess. 5:16) In all our affliction, I am overflowing with joy. (2 Cor. 7:4) May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” (Romans 15:13)
James said: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” (James 1:2-3)
Even Habakkuk, having hope in the promised Messiah yet to come, said: “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.” (Habakkuk 3:17-18)
More than a feeling (cue Boston guitar into), joy comes from knowledge of the truth of who we are in Christ, unworthy recipients of the grace of God in eternal salvation. A lack of joy means we either don’t have this, or have forgotten this, and either way we are in trouble. If our faith is not in Jesus, it’s in things that can’t save us from eternal misery—things like positive thinking, optimism, or whatever drug we use to feel better or make things go our way. Are you a Christian who just isn’t feeling it? If our faith IS in Jesus, then the joy that resides in us is merely forgotten—and who knows what other truth we’ve forgotten as well. Remind yourself and each other of the hope you have, and be the bearer of joy that others would do anything for.
“And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.'” (Luke 2:10-11)
November 3, 2016 § 2 Comments
Many Chicago Cubs fans would say a curse was lifted late last night when their team won the World Series for the first time since 1908. The “Curse of the Billy Goat”(1) dates back to the 1945 World Series, when the Cubs were in game four leading the Detroit Tigers two games to one. William Sianis, owner of the local Billy Goat Tavern, tried to bring his pet goat to the game (he had two tickets). Wrigley Field told William his stinky goat was not welcome, and William pronounces the curse: “The Cubs ain’t gonna win no more.” The Cubs went on to lose that game and the series, never to see another post-season victory. Until last night, at 11:47pm Iowa time, with game 7 against the Cleveland Indians going into extra innings, when a Cubs victory broke the curse(2).
This was a welcome ending to our November 2nd, 2016, a day that began with news of the ambush-style murder of two Des Moines-area police officers(3) shortly after 1:00am. We’ve been lamenting the news of cops getting killed all over the nation, and yesterday it hit home. It was a day of mourning, of bringing flowers and other notes of appreciation to local police stations, of hugs and tears at two flower-covered street corners, of blue stripes and lights appearing on cars and houses across the city, of churches(4) like ours canceling normal Wednesday services and opening their doors for a hurting community to come and pray.
Thankfully, the alleged shooter was caught and neighbors came together to support one another, but the evil behind the killing of Des Moines Police Sgt. Tony Beminio and Urbandale Officer Justin Martin is a reflection of another curse. Genesis 3 tells us about the curse over creation brought on by sin at the dawn of creation. “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together with labor pains until now. And not only that, but we ourselves who have the Spirit as the firstfruits—we also groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8:22-23)
I don’t want a comparison of the curse of sin to the “Curse of the Billy Goat” to make light of those fallen officers. A World Series win can’t bring them back. But maybe the Cubs’ day-ending and curse-ending victory could serve to remind us of the hope we have in Christ and God’s promises to us. Sin is the most serious business there is, and the evil and suffering brought by Adam’s sin in the beginning is part of a curse which will one day meet an end. The suffering of Christ for the sin that cursed creation will in the end heal it and renew it. “And He who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.'” (Revelation 21:5).
The truth of God’s Word bookends history; the tragedy that began the day of mankind will be made right by day’s end. In the midst of a broken and groaning world, we are “more than victorious” (Romans 8:37) with our trust placed in Jesus Christ, the one who has already proclaimed victory over sin and death. That’s a promise worth celebrating now.