Archive for May, 2009

Okay, I tried and tried to not write this particular post. But like the nightmare of the movie Ground Hog Day, it kept coming back to me, over and over. I didn’t want to write it because by implication it says that some Christians have been just plane stupid and I didn’t want to be seen as airing the families dirty laundry. But since no one who performed this particular stupid Christian trick is named, I decided I had to go for it. Oh and by the way, the Stupid Christian Trick comes from the Stupid Pet Tricks that we often see on variety shows. They are pathetic and you know you shouldn’t watch but some how you just can’t turn away or change the channel. This story is like that for me.

Here is the gist of the thing as reported in the Orlando Sentinel recently (After the Rapture: Man Will Deliver Messages) It seems that one enterprising atheist decided that since he was clearly not going to be taken to Heaven when Jesus returns, that he would make some money off the event. For a small fee you can give him a message, that he promises to deliver to any of your loved ones who are “Left Behind” when Jesus comes back. I have got to give the guy credit for for his entrepreneurial spirit. It is a rather brilliant idea.

I have no problem with an atheist coming up with such a plan and implementing it. My problem is with the response of Christians. The pathetic thing is, people are actually giving the guy money and messages to deliver. Are you kidding me? Folks, when Jesus comes back I am pretty sure that everyone will know about it. Let’s even assume a theological position that says there will be some left behind when Christians suddenly disappear. If in an instant, a billion or so Christians suddenly vanish, do you think anyone is going to need a note passed on to them from an atheist messenger service to explain to them what happened? I am pretty sure that if this particular scenario is what ends up happening, people will figure it out.

But lets assume for a minute that it actually happens that way. What do you suppose our Atheistic Messenger will be doing. My guess is that suddenly confronted by the reality of the Rapture and the Lordship of Jesus, the last thing on his mind will be delivering your message to your loved one. He will be neck deep in his own problems at that point. Not the least of which is that his plan has gone terribly wrong. He was banking on there being no God and no Rapture. Now his whole belief system and world view has come crashing down. Sorry but your message is not getting delivered under those conditions.

Your better bet would be to make sure that you have been a Christ-like servant to the people who you think will be left behind while you were still here. Why not make sure that you personally let them know of their need for Jesus? Why not love them with such a provocative love that they ask you about Jesus and how to be saved? Wouldn’t that be better than trusting in the good graces of a left behind atheist? I suspect that in some ways it is easier to pay the atheist. But I am sure it is not more effective. If nothing else why not just give them a note yourself? Put it in a sealed envelope titled, “Only To Be Opened If I and A Billion Other Christians Suddenly Disappear”. At least you would know that they have it and you would have saved yourself the messenger fee.

Of course there is the whole other issue that the theology of a left behind group is itself suspect. There is a complete other scenario that you can get from the Bible. Simply put it is that once Jesus returns and those who believe in Him are caught up into the air to greet Him that will be it.  The end of the age will have come. It’s time to turn out the lights Irene, the Fat Lady is Singing. There is a pretty strong case from God’s Word that when Jesus returns in the clouds it is to return for good, not just to whisk his followers away for a time. But that does not make for a good book series. One volume and the story is over.

Clearly we need to get a lot more of our theology from God’s Word and not fiction. I can only hope!

Crashing The Gates of Hell

Posted: May 21, 2009 in Uncategorized

One of my favorite quotes is from an evangelist from a century ago. His name was C.T. Studd. First of all you have got to love it when an evangelist is named “Studd”. He has to be on the all time great names list for Christians, right after Justin Martyr. But I digress. The quote that I like so much is, “Some people want to live within the sound of mission bells, but I want to run a mission, a yard from the gates of Hell”. What C.T. Studd was saying is that as followers of Christ we should not be content to live our lives in some nice, serene, Christian Utopia where we are always within the soft sound of church bells. Rather, we should set ourselves up right outside the gates of Hell looking to reach any and everyone who seems destined to enter those gates.

It would certainly be less beautiful near those gates than in the pastoral setting of the Christian Utopia. It would be more chaotic to be sure. It would be hotter without a doubt. It would be more uncomfortable outside those gates. The smoke would sting in your eyes as you looked for people to tell about the mercy of Jesus. It would burn your throat as you spoke with them about the forgiveness available through faith in him. You might get your back singed a bit as you stood your ground, hoping against hope to demonstrate the love of Christ to people in need. All of this might cause you to long for the idyllic setting of the Christian Utopia. But, when it would be all said and done and you are looking back, which life would you really want to have lived? Would it be the life of ease and comfort and sweet Christian Utopia? Or would it have been the life that put it all on the line to make a difference for others?

One thing to keep in mind is this; you will have eternity to enjoy that Christian Utopia. It is called heaven. When this age comes to an end you will have countless days to enjoy the sweet fellowship of those who have trusted Christ. It is only here and only now that you have the opportunity to be an ambassador for Christ who is charged with the ministry of reconiliation, of bringing Good News to people in depserate need.

C.T. Studd has it much closer to the truth of what we are to be about than most Christians. But he is still just a degree two off the mark. Studd wanted to set up a mission outside the gates of Hell. Jesus said that we are to go forth and crash the gates of Hell. We are to be about the task of knocking down strongholds, of breaking down the gates and overthrowing the dominion of the enemy. We are called to battle. But it is not a battle against flesh and blood. Our battle is not with people, even if those people are violently opposed to Jesus. Our battle is a spiritual one. We win that battle by loving God with all we have and loving our neighbor as ourselves. It always comes back to that. Jesus said that everything, all the law and prophets, all we are told to do and believe, comes under the umbrella of loving God and loving our neighbor.

We don’t need to be angry, argumentative, and annoying. We need to be more and more like Jesus who was patient with broken people. We need to demonstrate the same kind of grace to others that Jesus demonstrates to us. That is how he crashed the gates of Hell in our hearts and rescued us. That is how we do it for others.

How often does God need to say, “fear not” or “don’t be afraid” before we actually get the idea that as His followers we do not need to be afraid of anything? Apparently at least one more time than the hundred times He already has said it in His word. I have been struck recently by the realization that so much of what happens in the world of Christians is driven by fear, in spite of this clear message from God. Given the fact that we believe, at least in our heads, that God is the sovereign King of the Universe, I am amazed at how often Christians act as if God has no clue what is going on and that doom is clearly upon us.

That sense of fear and dread can even come over the strongest of Christians. There is a story told of Martin Luther that during a particularly difficult time of The Reformation, he sat in his study in despair. Suddenly his wife burst into the room and cried out, “Martin, Martin, all is lost, God is not sovereign”. Luther turned on her and rebuked her saying that she should never say such things because God would always be sovereign and on His throne. At that point she gently replied, “If indeed God is still the sovereign Lord and rules from his throne, why do you sit here in despair?”

Luther’s wife asked a great question. Why is it that so many Christians are the first to preach fear and run scared? I hear people crying out in anguish over the growth of Islam. I hear them bemoaning the economy and preaching the end of life as we know it. I hear people expressing fear over the uncertainties of life in the 21st century. I watch as parents raise their children in fear of the culture and how it might impact their kids development. I remember prior to Y2K, (remember that non-event) there were Christians literally stocking up on supplies and cashing everything in for gold, getting ready to hide out in their bunkers. In each one of these instances people were turning to some warped reading of scripture to justify the fear. Yet time and time again in His word God say, “Do NOT be afraid!”

Why does God tell us not to fear? There are two reasons. One has already been mentioned. We need not fear anything because God is still the sovereign Lord and that means He is in control. I love how Paul says it in Romans chapter 8 after listing a series of things that people might fear he says:

“37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

We have nothing to fear because God’s love is so strong that nothing can separate us from it. The reason nothing can separate us from it is the second reason that we must not be afraid. Jesus promised that he would always be with us. We are never alone. No matter how desperate or dark the situation seems, you are never alone. When you have put your faith, your trust in Jesus Christ for your salvation, he promises to never leave or forsake you. I draw incredible strength from the fact that Jesus is always with me. To never be alone is huge! Even if disaster should strike, we need not fear because we have not been abandoned. If nothing else we know that we have a place with Him for eternity. That is what really matters.

The problem is that we are afraid for things that are temporary. We are afraid for our economic position, our reputation, our health, our happiness, our children’s comfort and safety, the list goes on. Our perspective needs to be a long view into the future. The Apostle Paul looked at all the things in this life, all he had gained and counted it as nothing more than dung compared to the surpassing riches of his relationship with Christ. If your hope is set on your health, then losing your health is a fearful thing. It your hope is set on your material things, then the lost of those is a frightening prospect. If your hope is set on your reputation in the community, or business world then having that threatened is frightening and painful. But if your hope is set on Jesus Christ and his promise to be with you always and it is set on his assurance that you need not fear, then you can be confident. You can be confident that no matter what the temporary situation is, Jesus has you covered.

So often we are afraid of the unknown. We may not know the temporary details. But we do know the permanent, eternal outcome of all things. We are victorious in Christ. On top of that we know that He knows even the temporary details. He is not caught of guard. Jesus has you covered and he is with you always. Fear Not!

There is new energy in the debate over celibacy in the Roman Catholic Church. The pedophile sex scandals that have rocked the church in recent years have certainly stirred that debate. But more recently it is the revelation that a wildly popular priest in Miami has admitted his love for a woman and an ongoing relationship. The priest is Rev. Alberto Cutie. I know, Hollywood couldn’t even come up with a name like that in a situation like this.

CNN.Com has two commentaries that look at opposite sides of the issue. One supports the Roman Catholic position of required celibacy for priests, http://www.cnn.com/2009/US/05/15/barron.why.celibacy/index.html and the other does not. http://www.cnn.com/2009/US/05/15/cozzens.celibacy.discussion/index.html Having received my Bachelors Degree in Theology from a staunchly Roman Catholic university, www.franciscan.edu I was naturally curious as to how each commentator would approach the subject.

Now you may be wondering what place this subject has on this blog and what it has to do with you. Well you must admit that discussions about Rev. Cutie having a day at the beach with a bikini clad woman, and him in swim trunks and no collar is somewhat provocative. But that is a different kind of provocative all together. The main reason why I am writing on this is that the whole subject deals with how we interpret scripture and what personal arguments and traditions we allow to trump a basic understanding of God’s Word. In this case it is pretty clear to me that the argument for required celibacy flies in the face of Scripture.

In the argument for required celibacy on CNN.com the author acknowledges that many of the arguments for the practice do not stand up to scrutiny. In particular would be the argument that married life is not as “spiritual” as celibate life. I am sure he would add, that the argument since Jesus was not married then priests should not be married is also pretty lame.

The argument he does put forth is that celibacy points us to something future. The author says “God chooses certain people to be celibate. Their mission is to witness to a transcendent form of love, the way that we will love in heaven. In God’s realm, we will experience a communion (bodily as well as spiritual) compared to which even the most intense forms of communion here below pale into insignificance, and celibates make this truth viscerally real for us now.” I agree completely that God chooses certain people to be celibate. But not for the reason of giving us some glimpse into what heaven will be like. His idea is that since there will be no marriage in heaven that the celibate priest functions as a symbol and reminder of a life to come. Somehow I get the feeling that no one ever thinks of heaven when they think of priests being celibate. He continues along that line, “the priest is fascinating and that a large part of the fascination comes from celibacy. The compelling quality of the priest is not a matter of superficial celebrity or charm. It is something much stranger, deeper, more mystical. It is the fascination for another world.” My suspicion is that for most people the “stranger, deeper, fascination” is more along the lines of, “Can someone really never have sex?” and not with some eternal state of bliss.

The basic problem with the argument is that it is trying to support required celibacy for priests from philosophical argument about a potential benefit and not from a Biblical argument.  As a result it misses the very practical and understandable Biblical teaching on celibacy. The Apostle Paul writes about marriage, sex, celibacy, and ministry in 1 Corinthians 7. He says that it is good for some people not to marry. But he also makes the point that not everyone can do this and if they find that they really like and need sex, then get married. “1Now for the matters you wrote about: It is good for a man not to marry.[a] 2But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband. 3The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. 5Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. 6I say this as a concession, not as a command. 7I wish that all men were as I am. But each man has his own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.” 1 Corinthians 7:1-7 So celibacy is a gift and so is sex. You just need to figure out which gift God wants you to have.

Paul’s reason for people not getting married is purely practical and has nothing to do with modeling eternity or living a fascinating or even provocative lifestyle that gets people thinking of another world. In Paul’s mind, the person who is celibate has more time and energy to devote to ministry. They are not concerned with the daily domestic affairs of a family and household.

“32I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. 33But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife— 34and his interests are divided.” 1 Corinthians 7:32-34

That is a very simple and understandable reason for celibacy. But it is also the argument for it NOT being required of people in ministry. Paul never says that if you are married then you can’t be involved in full-time vocational ministry. He simply says that you will not have as much time and energy to devote to it if you were single.

It seems perfectly clear and simple that the answer for the Roman Catholic Church should be for optional celibacy. That is the simple teaching from Scripture. The only reason that the move has not been made prior to this time is that tradition is being allowed to trump Scripture. Now before you jump all over the Roman Catholic Church for letting that be the case, make sure to take the log out of your own eye. Even the most “Biblical” of Non-Roman Catholics have traditions that have nothing to do with the teachings of the Bible and often run counter to them. We all have our blind spots.

If we are forgiven by Jesus as a free gift of grace and our salvation does not depend on being good enough to get to heaven, then what is our motivation for doing the things God commands? It is an understandable question. The answer that is usually given is that when you have been forgiven you should live a life of obedience out of gratitude to God. It is your way of saying thank you.
Now there is a certain logical and even emotional appeal to that response. When someone does something wonderful for you, you should want to thank them in some way. If someone has given their life for you, dedicating your life to one of showing gratitude for their sacrifice is certainly understandable and honorable.

One problem with that answer is that for us as human beings that kind of motivation doesn’t last. We are notorious for keeping score. Buried deep down inside every one of us is a “fairness accountant”. That little accountant is always keeping score. You see it in children when one of them gets a larger piece of cake or one more present or even a longer more exuberant hug. The shouts of “That’s not fair!” can be heard across the land. Of course that doesn’t even take into account that tendency we have to always be trying to maneuver things to our best advantage.

As true as that human tendency may be in making the motivation of gratitude problematic, it is not the real problem with that answer to the question why be good. The problem is, it is not the answer Jesus gave and thus not the complete biblical picture. Jesus was clear. The motivation for a life of obedience to all that God has commanded us is that we love Him. “If you love me you will obey what I command”. (John 14:15) The ultimate motivator for obeying Jesus is not gratitude for being forgiven, as important as that is. The real motivator is that we love Jesus Christ with a reckless abandon that compels us to obey him, even when it hurts!

What does the voice in your head sound like when you read, “If you love me, you will obey me”? Think about it for a moment. Whenever we read something we have a tendency to give those words a voice in our head. When I am reading something from an author I have heard speak many time, I can hear their voice when I read their words. When I read The Provocative Church by Graham Tomlin, I hear Grahams wonderful British accent and understated humor. When I read anything by R.C. Sproul I hear the very familiar Pittsburgh accent and his distinctive inflections.

When you hear Jesus say these words, what voice do you hear? The words themselves can often dictate the voice and thus the interpretation without us even realizing it. If the words you hear are similar to a manipulative parent who used those words to force submission out of you then all you will hear in the words of Jesus is a sense of duty and obligation. You have to obey because you are forced to by a manipulation of love. In that instance the obedience becomes a burden that lacks all joy. It will result in either a lifeless obedience with no joy or an obedience marked but grumbling and discord. Either way there will eventually be an end to that behavior and a break in the relationship.

Some of you might hear a similar yet different voice. It is the voice of that person you dated who made it clear that if you loved them, you would have sex with them. That voice put you in a position of having to give up yourself or give up them. It was a voice that underneath was saying, “I don’t really love you. I just want something from you”. It was a voice that told you rejection was coming if you did not comply. It differs from that manipulative parent in that you are pretty certain they won’t go away if you refuse, much as you might want them to. This voice is more sweet and urging yet underneath more sinister.
Either way, you may very well hear a voice in the words of Jesus that has some sense of obligation to it. “If you love me, prove it. Do what I say”. It is a voice of earning something from God. It is a voice that says you are not good enough and you need to make it clear that you are by doing something above and beyond.

Nothing could be further from the truth of the matter. The kind of love motivated obedience that Jesus is speaking of has nothing to do with proving your worth or value or even proving your love for him. The kind of obedience that Jesus speaks of is one that overflows out of a heart that is head over heals, crazy nuts, in love with him. It is something that you don’t need to be forced or manipulated or pressured into. It is a love that comes rushing out of you looking for a way to express itself in obedience to all that Jesus expects or asks.

So how do we get that kind of love? Part of the answer has to do with really understanding the depths of our sin and the magnitude of our forgiveness. In the early days of this blog I did a four part series on that.

https://provocativechristian.wordpress.com/2008/10/01/why-dont-we-love-god-more-part-1/

https://provocativechristian.wordpress.com/2008/10/03/why-dont-we-love-god-more-pt-2/

https://provocativechristian.wordpress.com/2008/10/08/why-dont-we-love-god-more-pt3/

https://provocativechristian.wordpress.com/2008/10/16/why-dont-we-love-god-more-part-4-of-4/

The context of John 14:15 gives us further clues one how to develop that kind of love. It has everything to do with abiding in a relationship with Christ throught the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. Like any relationship of love, the more we live in fellowship with someone, share life together, serve them, care for them, hear their heart, we will grow to love them more and more. You love for Jesus will only be as great as your heart knowledge of him.

Last week I wrote a short post about Storyville Coffee giving away all their revenue for May to the International Justice Mission. Here is a link to an article in the Orlando Sentinel that tells even more of the story. I was at the concert mentioned in the article and even with all I know about IJM and Storyville, I was still blown away.

http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/local/orl-locorl-scott-maxwell-coffee-tra051009may10,0,6274312.column

I hope you do more than enjoy the story. I hope you will find a way to give provocatively for the sake of others and the glory of Jesus.

I have been reading lots of comments on the changes that President Obama has made regarding this years National Day of Prayer. I have to tell you I am just a bit bewildered that people are getting flat out nasty over something that is intended to be an intimate, worshipful, and uplifting conversation with God. All I can conclude is that most people have no idea what prayer is really about, no idea what government is really about, no idea what being a Christian is really all about, and well, no idea about history either.

Let’s start with the history since a big part of the issue seems to be that the President is not hosting a public event as part of the National Day of Prayer. Instead he is simply signing a proclamation about the day and then praying with his family. That is essentially what ever other president did before him with the exception of President Bush the Younger. Harry Truman signed the first proclamation for the National Day of Prayer but held no special event for it. Even the outspokenly Born Again Jimmy Carter did it that way. For the eight years of the most recent past president there was a White House hosted event of some kind. So why are people vilifying this president for doing exactly what was done by every other president, with the single noted exception? Now don’t get the wrong idea, the guy I voted for is not in the White House. He is back in the Senate representing Arizona. I am not an apologist for President Obama. What I hope I am is someone who is looking at this thing with some wisdom and objectivity. Historically speaking only one president consistently held a prayer event on this day. That hardly sets a pattern that should never be challenged and to go back to the original method for honoring the day is hardly giving in to the Anti-Christ.

As to the question of the role of government followers of Jesus need to be extremely careful. For far too long we have relied on the power and influence of the government to be the salt and light for the faith that we as Christians to often fail to be. If we were doing our job of praying and fasting and exercising the various spiritual disciplines as we should, then there would be no need to rely on the government to model that behavior for us. Besides, to we also expect the government to model spiritual behavior that is important to non-Christian religions? Should not the government of, by, and for, all the people, also then recognize Ramadan the Muslim month of fasting or the Hindu Festival of Lights? Personally I would rather the government no be involved and see if Christians might not start to live the provocative lives we are called to instead of counting on the weight of government to make up for our lack of spiritual dedication.

That then gets to what it means to be a Christian and what prayer is all about. The kinds of angry comments I have read on the web that are directed at the President for not holding a prayer breakfast at the White House serve only to dishonor the name of Jesus and the practice of prayer. How in the world can we be calling on the President to hold a prayer breakfast and do it with the same tongue that vilifies him for not doing so. How can we ourselves go to God in prayer when there is such bitterness in our hearts? The answer is simply that we can’t. We might go through the motions of prayer but I suspect that God is not listening. Why? Because we can not say that we love God whom we have never seen and not love our neighbor who we have. Because we can not bring our offering to God, be it material or spiritual, if we have something against our brother. Jesus said that we should instead leave our offering at the altar and go get right with our brother, then come back and have time with God.

Frankly I think that instead of all the anger and dismay being expressed on the Internet, we would be more in line with what God wants from us if we prayed for the President. We should pray that in his time of prayer that He hears from God. We should pray that God gives him wisdom and strength. We should pray that God helps him to be a man who upholds justice for all people. For God is a God of justice. That is what Christ followers should be concerned about on the the National Day of Prayer.

In a time of economic distress, brought on in large part by an unbridled lust for possessing more and more, there is a company that is doing one of the most provocative things I have ever witnessed. A small coffee company based out of Seattle is giving away ALL of it’s revenue for the month of May. The Storyville Coffee company is making an incredible sacrifice for the sake of others. www.storyville.com They are not just giving away their profits for the month. They are giving away their entire revenue. So if you spend $39.95 on their introductory offer, they will not only send you four weeks of coffee and a set of mugs, they will give your entire $39.95 to the International Justice Mission.

The ministry of IJM,  www.ijm.org is to rescue the millions of children who are trapped in the world sex-slave trade. “International Justice Mission is a human rights agency that secures justice for victims of slavery, sexual exploitation and other forms of violent oppression. IJM lawyers, investigators and aftercare professionals work with local officials to ensure immediate victim rescue and aftercare, to prosecute perpetrators and to promote functioning public justice systems.” From the IJM website.

Both Storyville and IJM are doing the kinds of radical things that Jesus so desperately wants us to do. What is wonderful for you is that you can be radical along with them. Go to the Storyville website, www.storyville.com and read about what they are doing and why and then order some coffee. Go to the IJM website www.ijm.org and learn about this ministry that is literally saving lives in the darkest of places and send them a donation and get involved. It is so easy for you to do and yet so radical a thing that will rescue others from the most terrible of circumstances.

With you in His great adventure,

Dan