Tag Archives: christ

Hypocrisy of Language: “Homosexuality is a sin.”

In Genesis 1 God speaks the whole universe into creation. In John 1 those words become living, breathing, human flesh and live among us as a man named Jesus of Nazareth.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… the Word became flesh and lived among us…” (John 1).

All four gospels are filled with people worshipping Jesus “The Word” Christ. Philippians, though, tells us that Jesus had a very different view of himself.

“Though he was in the form of God, (Jesus) did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited.” Colossians reminds us that in Jesus the whole fullness of God dwells, but he never used this to his advantage.

One such example of this is in John 8; Jesus refuses his God given power of judgement to condemn a woman caught in adultery.

Philippians extends this refusal of power to us saying, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility regard others better than yourselves.”

Which brings me back to the title of this post and why it is hypocritical to voice that homosexuality is a sin… because whether you believe that being gay is a sin or not; saying so is a sin itself.

In the verse from Philippians ‘vain conceit,’ is better explained as, ‘pride that produces no results.’

Again, we go to John 8 when Jesus is confronted in the city temple by a group of men dragging along the woman caught in adultery, they ask him whether or not to kill her according to Moses’ law.

We already know that Jesus doesn’t condemn her, but his full response is, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

Jesus does not tell us to, “Love the sinner, and hate the sin.”

Rather, Jesus encourages us to, “Love the sinner, and hate our OWN sin.”

Jesus knows that condemnation does not produce results (it doesn’t show the love of God); which is vanity. Jesus also knows that all condemnation does is stroke our own ego; which is conceited.

Whether or not you believe being gay is a sin, saying it out loud has never caused someone to become a Christian or feel loved by you, by God, or anyone else that is connected to you or your God (read: useless). That’s vanity.

The only effect of saying that homosexuality is a sin is to convince yourself that you are somehow better than someone else or that you are mistakenly doing God’s work by calling out sins in the world… that’s conceited.

Saying things that alienate others while making ourselves feel better is the very definition of selfish ambition. It also doesn’t show an attitude of considering others better than ourselves.

If you are somebody who believes with me that Jesus is the son of God and as such carries the very fullness of God; then you either need to stop using that as an excuse for your words of pride and selfish ambition (because Jesus doesn’t agree with you) or stop speaking words of condemnation and alienation.

Christianity is not about making personal beliefs known and forcing others to live by them regardless of the consequences; it is about humility and looking out for the interests of others ESPECIALLY when we carry the power to do so (Philippians 2:1-11).

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Lies my BIBLE teacher taught me: Blame Others

In the field of psychology there is what is known as self serving bias. Self serving bias leads us to believe that good things in life are our own doing and the bad is because of people and things outside of our control.

For example, the good, “I got a raise because I’m so hardworking and dedicated,” versus the bad, “I got fired because the boss hates me.”

See the difference?

My actions are responsible for causing the good, my boss’ preference is to blame for the bad.

There is also what is called the fundamental attribution error. This is essentially the same thing, but reversed and pinned on someone else.

For example, “He got a promotion because he went to the same school as the boss,” versus the opposite, “He got fired because he is always late and messing things up.”

While the Church isn’t the group that created this bias, it also isn’t doing anything to stop it. In fact, most churches seem to do a great deal (subconsciously, I’m sure) of spreading it.

When someone outside the church sins we love to point the finger at all the things they do wrong as an explanation, “He doesn’t pray enough, she doesn’t read her Bible, he doesn’t come to church, she really isn’t a believer, he needs to grow up, she just needs to make better choices,” etc. etc.

However, when we find ourselves chin deep in sin we’ve been taught to use Romans 7 to explain that it’s the sin inside of us and not our own fault.

Really..!?

Actually, I agree with that.

What I don’t agree with is when we flip it around on members of our own body and on to non-Christians, as well. If we really are to own that we believe the best of ourselves, then we must also believe the best of others.

Plenty of studies have been done on “Teacher Expectations” for behavior and academic achievement. When others believe in you, you perform your best. When other don’t believe in you, you perform poorly.

How much better would our world be if we believed the best of each other, rather than the worst?

How much better would our world be if we used our religion to love and pray for our enemies, rather than condemning them?

How much better would our world be if our Church actually looked like Christ?

Research says… a lot. Church, it’s time to step up, take responsibility for our own actions, and give others the encouragement to be the best they can be. Stop with the, “Love the sinner hate the sin,” and start with the “Love the sinner, hate my OWN sin.”

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Lies my BIBLE teacher taught me,” is a series of posts about general statements that have been emphasized by the prevalent attitudes and beliefs of Western Christianity. It is NOT a list of doctrinal statements that the Church is or was teaching at any point in time.

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15 Minutes for Jesus

I’m jumping to the chase here, I HATE the ’15 Minutes for Jesus’ mantra.

The idea, if you’re unfamiliar with it, is that if you could spend just ’15 minutes’ of your time when you wake up, at lunch, or when you’re going to bed in quiet reflection/prayer/reading the Bible your life will be better. I’m not saying it isn’t a good idea, I’m just saying I hate the emphasis on it.

GUILT TRIP!

First of all, besides being totally sad and pathetic; asking people the question ‘Can’t you spare 15 minutes for Jesus?’ really is a total guilt trip.

“I know I went to a public university and took a ‘secular’ job; but are you really going to try and make me feel bad for watching SportsCenter, too?”

Guess what? Some people seriously HATE reading and some people can’t sit still or quietly; it is against their nature to do those things. And while I’m all for challenging ourselves to step outside of our personality traits and ‘natural’ lifestyle, I don’t think that guilt is a healthy way to go about it.

Yeah, it’s really important to know what the Bible says, but if teachers are changing the presentation of math, science, history, and language arts to meet diverse learning needs… shouldn’t the Church be open to it as well? What’s wrong with Youtube, Facebook, and Twitter?

Lowering God’s Standards

Second, What ever happened to “…at all times, pray!”? Isn’t the ’15 Minutes’ thing severely reducing the standards the Bible has set?

In The Dangerous Act of Worship, Mark Labberton argues that worship goes beyond singing and services, “It also includes the enactment of God’s love and justice, mercy and kindness in the world,” “Worship can encompass every dimension of our lives.”

I would argue much the same about prayer, Bible reading, and reflection. They don’t stop at the bottom of a cup of coffee, or at the amen, or even when you drift lazily into sleep. They encompass every dimension of our lives.

Prayer at it’s most basic level is communication with God. Considering non-verbal communication between human beings, how much more so are we communicating with God non-verbally? I don’t need my eyes closed, hands folded, or even a specific state of mind to be praying… I just need open communication.

If we take the Holy Spirit seriously, our mere existence is communication with God. The fact that we wrestle with doing the right thing is evidence enough of prayer. Where we fail (and why people advocate ’15 Minutes for Jesus’) is because we suck at doing the right thing. We suck at doing what God tells us.

Total Cop Out

Which leads me to my third reason for hating the ’15 Minutes for Jesus’ mantra… it’s a cop out.

It’s what we do to cover our butts because we don’t always do the right thing. Romans 2 says that it is the “doers” of the law, not the “hearers” that will be justified in God’s eyes. We don’t need more time meditating on loving our neighbor, we need more time DOING it. I think we would be much better served thinking of creative ways to love our neighbor and encouraging one another to take those actions.

Could 15 minutes set apart for God help us take those actions? Sure. Is it efficient? Probably not. Is it necessary? Not at all. So let’s quit it with the guilt trip, realize how hopelessly enveloped by God we already are, and think of something better to say.

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Repeating sins of the past

Everyone knows the cliche’, “History repeats itself,” but just like teenagers feel invincible to car crashes, we all feel immune to history actually rearing its ugly head and biting us in the backside. For some reason Christians REALLY can’t figure this out (intentionally or unintentionally).

Loss of Culture / Babel

The loss of culture in the modern era is absolutely astounding. The BBC has reported that in the last 50 years over 200 languages that are native to India have been lost due to coastal, rural, and nomadic immigration. Poverty and War has sent millions of refugees worldwide far from their homes and cultures. In the United States there has been an especially vocal group advocating a single, national language.

Whether it is intentional or not I can’t help but see a modern day Babel being built. Have we forgotten the story about the danger of a world with one language? One culture?

Revelation 7 speaks to the beauty of humanity, every nation, every tribe, and every language united by Christ and singing in their own voice. No single human possesses all the characteristics of Jesus of Nazareth, but every characteristic is represented somewhere and in some person and culture here on earth.

When we hear that our war, our pollution, and our greed are the driving forces behind the loss of culture we should take that as an indictment of how we are currently living. We need to REPENT and modify the way we interact with each other and creation so that when we are at the throne our entire choir is present.

Serving Two Masters

Jesus once said, “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

When confronted with a question about taxes, Jesus later says, “Whose head is (on the money)? And whose title?” His point being that money has the emperor’s image and belongs to the emperor.

So what do 1950s Americans do?

They decide to put “In God We Trust” on all of our money and go about acting like every time we spend a cent we are serving God in some sick, twisted, roundabout way! As if putting God’s name on our money excuses us from choosing between God and wealth!

Sin is a crafty devil; haunting our every step and we are the ones to blame for letting it seep into our world. We need to be wary of not only these two examples, but any others that are subliminally challenging our freedom in Christ.

Coincidentally, both of these problems can be solved by personally and communally participating in the Old Testament Jubilee. We must sacrifice of ourselves in order to preserve the earth and each other. We must give freely from our personal storehouses to reduce our dependence on wealth. And we must ultimately (and ironically) live in a way that is consistent with the United State’s ORIGINAL motto, “E plurbus unum.”

Out of many, one.

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Prosperity Gospel or Joyful Living?

There is no doubt that God wishes for the fullness of joy in our lives (John 15:11). The question that comes next is how are we to obtain that joy? If we keep Jesus’ commandments are we really more blessed or joyful? Does God love the people who follow the rules more than he loves the people who don’t? Is it OUR responsibility to increase or decrease God’s presence in our lives?

To answer these questions and more here are two ways of looking at it.

The ‘Prosperity Gospel’ is…

… a Christian doctrine that teaches us if we believe in God and follow God’s commands, then we will be made healthy, wealthy, and wise.

In this belief structure we are told that in order for God to “bless” us with the things we desire we must first follow the commands in the Bible; specifically, giving money to the church.

However, there are MANY versions of this religious attitude. For example, ideas that people who go to church every Sunday, pray everyday, sing the loudest, commit the least amount of sins, etc… are more connected, hear more clearly, or are “blessed” by God more than people who do not do those things.

The problem with this sort of belief is that it backhandedly supports the idea that if you AREN’T blessed with a healthy family, or a well paying job, or intimate interactions with God that either (a) you are doing something wrong or (b) you don’t love God as much as you say you do.

This belief is unbiblical and does not align with what Jesus taught us. For THAT reason, we must conclude that the ‘Prosperity Gospel’ is disconnected from the Christian Gospel, what Christ has taught us.

Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.”

The poor are not poor because of their sin, the sick are not sick because of their sin, and those who don’t see or hear God clearly are not that way because of their sin. Likewise, the rich, healthy, and ‘Godly’ are not that way because of their righteousness, love of God, or their ability to follow 2,000+ year old rules. That much is clear.

Now, if following God does not GIVE us more or MAKE us more blessed, then what’s the point?

(What I call) ‘Joyful Living’ is…

…believing in God, following God’s commands, and doing so joyfully regardless of earthly circumstance.

The point of living joyfully is to fight our natural self-attribution error (the idea that all good things are because of ourselves and all the bad things in our life are other people’s faults). Joyful living recognizes that ‘all good things are from God’ (James 1:17) and that the negative things in life are a result of sin (Romans 7:16-17).

The Bible is clear that we are born with the very image and breath of God (Genesis 1:26, Job 33:4). When we come into this world God is as much a part of us as our heart and lungs. We cannot make our lungs pump blood, we cannot make our heart breathe air, and we cannot make God bless us in ways that he does not choose to.

If you think that you have ANY control over whether or not God blesses you look to Jesus’ words in Matthew 5 for clarification.

He makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.

God does not play favorites when it comes to passing out ‘blessings’ (Matthew 20: 1-16). So again I ask, what is the point of obeying God if it is not directly related to what we receive from him?

The answer is joyful living.

Even if we cannot coerce our heart and lungs to do more than they were made to do, we can surely exercise and make them more efficient at what they were made to do.

As we follow God’s commands we can exercise his presence and know him more. As we grow in our understanding of who God is we will naturally have our eyes opened to, develop gratitude for, and become joyful over the blessings already in our lives.

Long story short, the Prosperity Gospel tells us to obey God and God will give us things that we want; Joyful Living tells us to know God and we will develop an appreciation for what we have already been blessed with.

Let me end with one final question, do you think we will receive the fullness of the joy of the Lord that Jesus speaks about in John 15 from things that we want or from things God has already blessed us with?

Let’s go on and live our best life now… with what we already have!

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The Law is eternal; laws are cultural.

A couple weeks ago I wrote a three part series on whether or not the Old Testament is relevant today (one, two, three). Hopefully, this will conclude it all.

In part one I came to the conclusion that when Jesus speaks in Matthew 5:17-18 about the “Law” (with a capital ‘L’) it is in regards to the first five books of the Bible as a whole. Some translations don’t capitalize the word “law” in those two verses, but I still believe that when used alongside “the prophets” it is referring to the Covenants and not the commandments.

Which brings me to verses 19 and 20 of the same chapter. Jesus goes on to say that whoever breaks one of “the least” of these commandments will be called least in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Immediately, I can hear my conservative brothers and sisters shouting, “AMEN!” and nodding their heads; but hold on, Jesus isn’t done just yet.

In verse 20, He says that our righteousness must EXCEED that of the scribes and Pharisees in order to experience the Kingdom of Heaven.

Scribes and Pharisees were known for their overbearing rules and regulations. In addition to the 613 commandments given in the Old Testament many scribes and Pharisees came up with their own individualized additions to the ‘law’. The idea of having to exceed the amount of laws followed to reach the Kingdom is an overbearing thought for the average person.

HOWEVER! There is hope.

As we investigated in part two, Jesus has fulfilled the Covenants. We are married to Him. We have put on his robe of righteousness and are clothed in his perfection.

And like we found in part three, all of this happened when He died on the cross (perhaps sooner)! The commandments of the Old Testament existed for a time, but that time is past. The ‘laws’ (lowercase ‘L’) were part of a historical and cultural time period. Strict adherence to them are not necessary (although SOME may still be of relevance).

If you don’t believe me then how can we call Jesus a “spotless lamb” or a “sinless sacrifice” when he purposefully and blatantly broke the Old Testament commandments multiple times. He healed on the Sabbath, he ate and drank with sinners, he added to and removed commands from the Torah, he touched a woman while she was menstruating, he disobeyed his mother, he insulted the Jewish leaders, and he refused to stone a prostitute.

All these actions are worthy of condemnation according to the 613 commandments.

In addition to this, I can’t see God requiring in this day and age that a woman who is raped must be married to her rapist, or that if a woman’s husband dies childless that she can only marry his brother. I don’t see God requiring, at ANY time, that people in the Pacific islands be told not to eat shellfish… or pork for that matter. I can’t see God supporting slavery, despite a whole section of mitzvot on its requirements. I don’t see God requiring capital punishment in any instance.

And so often, we as Christians, like to cling to the laws that support OUR agendas, but what of the laws that don’t?

NEVER in recorded history has anyone fully celebrated the Jubilee. Our loans are loaded with interest. We harvest our entire fields (both literally and figuratively). God asks for a 10% tithe and the American Church gave only 2% in 2005; of that 2% only 2% gets outside of our own walls to aid the poor. We constantly serve money and other idols as our masters.

‘laws’ are historical and cultural. The ‘Law’ is what we are eternally saved by. Jesus’ fulfillment of the Covenants brings us into a marriage with him. We are clothed in his righteousness for eternity and from that righteousness we are set free that we might love one another without an agenda.

Lord, help us let go of our obsession with commandments and seek your Covenantal love.

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“Is the Old Testament Relevant Today?” The Law and the Prophets

Introduction

An age old debate between progressives and traditionalists wages onward centuries after the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. People of Judeo-Christian tradition asked this question before his birth, during his life, and still today we ask ourselves, our neighbors, and our leaders, “Is there a place for writings from thousands of years ago?” And if there is, “What is the place for these writings?”

Much discussion centers around Jesus’ thoughts on this subject from the Sermon on the Mount…

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.”

Obviously, Jesus believes that there IS merit to the ancient texts, but in order to understand it, three big questions need to be answered for me.

  1. What “Law” is Jesus talking about?
  2. What does he mean by “fulfill”?
  3. When is everything “accomplished”?

I intend to use this space to examine those questions more fully. If you’d like to join me in seeing what I find, you are more than welcome to come along.

What “Law” is Jesus talking about?

Let’s cut to the chase; when we hear or read the word “Law” in religious circles we conceptualize it how we have grown up understanding it… as rules and regulations for right living. As Westernized Christians our concept of “Law” is governed (pun intended) by our adoption of a constitution and use of a police force and judicial system. Laws help to keep our society organized and safe.

The difference is in how a first century Jew, like Jesus, would have understood the term “Law” (big ‘L’).

The “Law,” to Jesus, most likely referred to the Torah (first 5 books of the Old Testament) as a whole; in addition to rabbinical practices and traditions. The individual laws (small ‘L’), which refer to actual human action or inaction, would have been called commandments or mitzvah/mitzvot.

When Jesus uses the term “Law” he would be referring to not just the 613 commandments, but to the entire story of how God has come into relationship with humanity by way of covenant.

A quick aside about Biblical covenants: They are three parts (1. What God will do, 2. What Humans will do, 3. A physical sign to remember). God’s first covenant is with Noah. God promises not to wipe out humankind again, Noah promises to fill the earth, and rainbows seal the deal. God’s second covenant is with Abraham. God will give Abraham children, Abraham and his children will trust in God, and the men in Abraham’s family will be circumcised so they remember (now THAT’S a painful reminder). 

I feel confident in making the assertion that Jesus is speaking about God’s covenants with humanity and not just the commandments because of his inclusion of “the Prophets.” Most of the writing of the Prophets was to remind Jews about their covenants with God, to encourage them to live in accordance with the covenants, and to prophesy about a coming Messiah (a fulfillment of the covenants).

Some people believe that Jesus was speaking about the 613 mitzvot when he said, “…not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law…” and that makes the commandments absolute. However, it is important to note that not even Jesus himself followed the mitzvot completely. He healed on the Sabbath, his disciples didn’t fast, and he even condemns the pharisees for abiding by the Sabbath laws so strictly.

Suffice it to say that there is certainly more behind Jesus’ use of the word “Law” than rules and regulations. There is something much deeper than simple commandments. The “Law” that Jesus has come to fulfill, holds much more weight than our cultural bias can comprehend.

Coming soon…

What does he mean by “fulfill”?

When is everything “accomplished”?

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