Tag Archives: religious practices

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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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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Equality is at the heart of achieving peace

“Only a peace between equals can last. Only a peace the very principle of which is equality and a common participation in a common benefit.”

-Woodrow Wilson

The Bible tells us of a God who acknowledges, believes, and engages in this form of equality to achieve peace.

Genesis tells the story of a God who walked among humanity, in peace, as their equal. Well, that was, until humanity was convinced that the relationship was one sided. As the story goes, Adam and Eve were convinced that God was superior to them and instead of enjoying the fact that God would choose to be more like them, they took action to make themselves more like God.

The repercussions of this story have been reverberating throughout history ever since. Humans are STILL trying to make themselves more like God, despite God’s efforts to meet us on our own level.

The gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) tell us the story of a God who took love and peace so seriously that he renounced his own divinity, his God-like qualities, and took the form of a human being; but not just any human being… NO! He took the form of a poor, homeless, no-good, hick-town, Jewish boy who’s mother was an unmarried fourteen year old girl that gave birth in a barn. That means blood, guts, cow shit… the whole nine yards.

The ultimate Creator of the universe. The Almighty. The Alpha and Omega. The All Powerful…

…gave it up and became flesh and bone. Became breakable. Became poor. Died. To achieve peace.

Humility is the cost of peace. The strong must become weak. The proud must be humbled. The rich must become poor.

It applies to humanity. We are to follow in God’s footsteps. The example that Jesus Christ has given us for achieving peace is the path of love. As a nation, as a state, as a community, and as individuals we must break and humble ourselves if we truly wish to achieve peace.

The United States must relinquish it’s military and nuclear power, not make it larger, to achieve peace.

Each state must patiently endure lost autonomy, not fight at any perceived slight, to achieve unity.

Every community must consider others better than themselves, not vice versa, to achieve completeness.

And every individual must spend as much time, money, and energy giving rather than taking, to achieve harmony.

Shalom does not simply mean peace. Shalom means peace, completeness, well-being, right-living, harmony, and unity.

Shalom is when everyone prospers.

Politically, parties would have you believe efforts focused on helping one group or another will lead to benefits to all groups, but even that hinges on the belief that the one group being blessed will in turn bless the others. What we, our communities, our states, our nation, and our world need is more humility.

Humility of the rich to choose less money so others can have more. The humility of the strong to choose not to oppress the weak. The humility of the wise not to abuse the foolish.

We must follow the example given to us and choose humility for the sake of equality and to bring about peace.

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Christ cannot be removed from Christmas…

This “movement” (if you can even call it that) is absolutely ridiculous.

First of all, Christians, you cannot take ‘Christ’ out of ‘Christmas.’ The word cannot be spelled without it. If you were to take ‘Christ’ out of ‘Christmas’ you would be left with mas. Coincidentally, mas means more in Spanish; which is exactly the amount of money we spend on ourselves, our friends, and our families rather than on the poor in the streets (something Christ advocated for).

I believe Jesus exact words were, “When you host a feast do not invite your friends or family or even your rich neighbors because they might invite you back and you will be repaid. Instead invite the poor, the homeless, the crippled, the lame, the blind and you will be blessed.”

If you really want to keep Christ in Christmas, maybe you should do what he said and stop buying presents for your friends and families and wondering why the checkout counter at Target can’t just say “Merry Christmas.”

Also, if you are upset because December is a STRICTLY Christian season used for celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ… think again. Scholars and historians agree that Jesus ACTUAL birth took place in our current spring time. The reason we celebrate his birth in December is because Constantine moved the date when he instituted Christianity as the national religion in order to cover up the holidays of other religions (even Christian groups agree on this point).

What is disgusting about this is that it is an instance of Christianity being married to government and society; something that Jesus was also an opponent of (albeit somewhat more subtly). This is the man who entered Jerusalem as a “King” riding an ass rather than a war horse. He let himself be crucified as a rebel leader and refused to acknowledge the power of both Herod and Pilot.

Christianity is a culturally subversive religion and thrives best when it is persecuted.

“Keep(ing) Christ in Christmas” is a poor attempt to create the image of persecution. Christians are NOT persecuted in the United States. For goodness sake, 76% of the country is a self described Christian.

The reason we say “Happy Holidays” is not to persecute Christians, but to build up, to acknowledge, and to respect other faiths. The hypocrisy of “Keep Christ in Christmas” is that we manufacture persecution of ourselves in order to ACTUALLY persecute other religions as well as non-religious folks.

We as Christians are acting as the opposite of Christ.

I will conclude with the statement that if we have the mindset that we need to “Keep Christ in Christmas” then we ourselves are taking him out. When we generate our own perceived slights and fight against it, we are ego-stroking. Celebrating Jesus is about humility and sacrifice on the behalf of others who cannot repay us.

If we wish to truly make Jesus the “reason for the season,” then we need to worry about our actions rather than someone else’s words.

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