Archive for March, 2010

While working on my masters degree I had a conversation with another student about the resurrection of Jesus. She made a statement that at first might indicate an incredibly strong faith in God; “If the body of Jesus was found in a tomb somewhere, it would not shake my faith at all”. Far from this being an example of incredible faith, I found it to be the height of both hubris and folly. Hubris because it dared to claim a greater faith than even the Apostle Paul could admit for himself. Folly because that same Paul said that if Jesus is in fact NOT risen from the dead, then we are to be pitied above all men.

Paul put it this way when he wrote to the Christians in the Greek city of Corinth. “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.15More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised.16For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men”. 1 Corinthians 15:14-18

The woman who said that her faith would not be shaken if Jesus never had risen, did not understand the absolutely crucial, linchpin place, that the resurrection has for followers of Jesus. Paul understood that the resurrection was the game-changer. Because Jesus rose from the dead, everything was now different. It was the resurrection that vindicated Jesus after his humiliating death on the cross. It was the resurrection that demonstrated his victory over sin and death. It was the resurrection that lead to his being seated at the right hand of the Father and at whose name every knee would bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

If the resurrection had never happened then Jesus was simply one more religious teacher who led people astray, only to disappoint them in the end. Rabbi Gamaliel understood this when he told the religious leaders to leave the disciples alone. He said that if Jesus was a nobody who was still in the grave then this talk of him as a messiah would fade away, just like it had so many times before with other religious zealots. Paul understood that if the resurrection had never really happened then the whole Christian faith was a sham. It was people preaching lies about God. It meant that their faith was only a faith for this life and that was a huge waste of time and effort.

But Paul was adamant that the resurrection was real. Jesus had risen from the dead. His resurrection was the down payment for us, the guarantee that all who had faith in Jesus would also rise from the dead one day. Jesus is the pioneer who leads the way for all who trust in him and in the reality of his resurrection.

My friend from graduate school is someone who Paul would say is to be most pitied. She has a faith that really has no future. It is a faith that does not need a risen savior. Without a risen savior, one who is still in the grave, there is only the grave for us. Our faith is for this life only. If Jesus had never been risen then there is no reason to follow him. He is just a guy who died 2,000 years ago and is still dead. And no matter how much we believe in him, when we die, we will be just as dead for just as long and stay that way. No hope. No future. No life eternal. If Jesus is still in the grave then Christianity is a giant lie.

But because he is risen, we have life and hope, and a future that is beyond our most vivid and beautiful imaginations. We have a purpose in this life that will find it’s fulfillment in the next. We have a God who is worthy of our adoration and praise. We have a message to take to people that can change their lives, now and forever. We have a relationship with a very real God who loves us enough to pay the ultimate price for our reconciliation with Him. We have the power to bring that reconciliation to the world, healing to the broken, dignity to the oppressed, joy to the grieving, laughter to those who weep. I could go on and on because the resurrection changes everything. From the moment He burst forth from the tomb, nothing would ever be the same again. A world that was spiraling down into darkness and oblivion, became a world that could be lifted higher and more glorious, all because He is risen.

Glenn Beck is one of Americas most recognized television and radio talk personalities. Like many such personalities, both on the extreme left and extreme right, he has said many things that have sparked controversy and elicited outrage from the opponents on the other end of the spectrum. Recently however, Beck has outdone himself in the “outrageous statement” category. Outrageous statements by such self-proclaimed leaders-of-movements are to be expected. What is shocking is that Beck has made a statement that is clearly based in either falsehood or ignorance or both.

The statement he made calls for Christians to leave their church if there is any mention of “justice”,  “social justice” or “economic justice” on their church website. Why should they leave their church? Because according to Beck those are simply code words for socialism and communism. Now in case you have not heard this already or find it hard to believe what you just read, you can check the quote in this story from Politics Daily.

Before I get too far into this, I need to make something very clear. When it comes to economic theory, I believe that the Bible most clearly supports free market capitalism. I am something of an economic conservative. I don’t like government-run health care. If you think something so important can be run effectively and efficiently by the government I simply want to point you to Amtrak and the United States Postal System. Do you want the same people involved in your coronary bypass surgery? I did not vote for President Obama. I voted for McCain and even supported him the previous time he ran.

All of that to say, I am not coming at this from a left-leaning economic or governmental point of view.  I come at this purely from a biblical interpretation point of view; something about which Mr. Beck is either clueless or has chosen to ignore.  It is intellectually irresponsible to make the blanket statement that if a church is concerned with issue of justice that it is following a communist/socialist agenda.

Before commenting, let me simply list a handful of the overwhelming number of places that the Bible calls for justice, social, economic or otherwise.

“The word of the Lord is upright and all his work is done in faithfulness. He loves righteousness and justice” Psalm 33:4, 5

“Blessed are they who observe justice, who do righteousness at all times” Psalm 106:3

“He has told you oh man, what is good and what the Lord requires of you but to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God” Micah 6:8

“Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice, and mercy and faithfulness” Jesus in Matthew 23:23

What Beck fails to recognize is that words can have multiple meanings. One must be aware that nuance and context and history all play a part in understanding the meaning of a word. Just because Nicolai Lenin or Fidel Castro or Hugo Chavez use the word justice or even social justice, does not mean that the Bible or Jesus or today’s churches mean the same thing by it. When the Bible speaks about justice it does so based on the character of God. That is absolutely crucial. Justice is important because God is just and he loves justice and hates injustice. We are told that God is just and that he administers justice and calls on those who follow Him to do what they can to ensure that his attribute of justice is demonstrated to the world. Part of the description of the justice God desires to be demonstrated is that the weak, the widow, the orphan, the poor, and the foreigner in our midst are treated with dignity and with the same rights and care of the wealthiest and most powerful among us.

Justice in the Bible does not mean that wealth must be redistributed, taken from the rich and given to the poor. It does mean that everyone is given the same opportunity to improve their position in life and that those who suffer for reasons beyond their control, the widow and orphan for example, should be taken care of by those whom God has blessed. Justice in the Bible does not mean that the minorities must be given positions and opportunity just because they are minorities, but neither does it mean that they should be denied them because of their minority status. Justice in the Bible calls for honesty in commerce, not deception that allows some to get rich by cheating others. Justice in the Bibles calls for the captive to be set free. That includes the tens of thousands of young girls enslaved by sex traffickers throughout the world. If churches fail in those types of “justice” ministries then they are failing the Gospel and denying the very character of God.

The biblical call to justice is hardly a call to communism or socialism. Do some use the Bible to promote a communist agenda? Certainly. Does that mean church should avoid talk of justice issues. Certainly not. In fact it means that they should engage in the discussion all the more in order to provide a proper, biblical understanding of the issues and not allow them to be hijacked by people with no desire to bring glory to the God of justice.

Glenn Beck’s’ call to Christians to leave their church if the website has the words, “justice”, “social justice”, or “economic justice” can only be explained in one of two ways. He is either woefully misinformed and making irresponsible statements without understanding the issues or he knows exactly what the issues are and is being intellectually dishonest for the sake of ratings. Either way he is committing an injustice upon his audience and upon the character of a just and loving God.

Ever since the first monks wandered into the Egyptian desert in an effort to get closer to God, Christians have been enthralled with a theology of denial and the practice of an impoverished life as the means to holiness. Somehow we have bought into the heretical idea that if it feels good it must be sin, or at the very least puts us on the slippery slope to a major denial of Jesus. Certainly there are numerous warnings in Bible about pleasure. But a careful reading of those passages would make it clear that it is not pleasure that we are warned away from, but rather being caught in the snare of accepting the Devil’s counterfeit pleasures instead of God’s far more rich, rewarding, and dare I say, intense pleasure.

If you have a hard time accepting that God created pleasure for us to enjoy in all it’s fullness, let me ask you a few questions? Why did God give you taste buds and then make strawberries taste so luscious? If food is only designed to sustain our physical bodies and NOT also include some aspect of joy and pleasure, why didn’t God make strawberries completely utilitarian, no texture, no delightful red color, no savory drops of juice, no mouth popping sweetness? The truth is God wants you to enjoy it and find pleasure in it. It is to be a pleasure that marvels in the graciousness of a God who has given us such good gifts. The same point can be made for numerous other creations of God, from the pleasure of a parent seeing their child succeed, to the joy of a sunset over the Pacific, to the physical embrace of husband and wife in all its passion and intimacy.

We must come to grips with the fact that pleasure is a creation of God and something the Scriptures regularly tell us to enjoy. Pleasures in their proper context are a gift from God. It doesn’t take a Bible scholar to see that in the Song of Solomon, God’s Word celebrates the intense pleasure of a physical relationship between two lovers. The description of that pleasure is so graphic as to border on religious erotica. In plenty of other places the Bible warns against the abuse of pleasure, addiction to pleasure, even the destructive nature of pleasure gone wrong. We need to separate out the warnings about the abuse of pleasure from those times when we are told to embrace the pleasures God has given us.

C.S. Lewis has a great perspective on how Satan views pleasure and how he tries to twist it and give us that counterfeit in order to point us away from the creator of pleasure. His wisdom comes to us in his book, The Screwtape Letters. In that book, a senior demon is giving advice to a demon in training, on how to best ruin the life of his subject, a human being interested in God, the enemy.

“Never forget that when we are dealing with any pleasure in its healthy and normal and satisfying form, we are, in a sense, on the Enemy’s [God’s] ground. I know we have won many a soul through pleasure. All the same, it is [God’s] invention, not ours. He made the pleasures: all our research so far has not enabled us to produce one. All we can do is to encourage humans to take the pleasures which our Enemy has produced, at times, or in ways, or in degrees, which He has forbidden. Hence we always try to work away from the natural condition of any pleasure to that in which it is least natural, least redolent of its Maker, and least pleasurable. An ever-increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure is the formula…. To get the man’s soul and give NOTHING in return–that is what really gladdens [Satan’s] heart.”

To get the man’s soul and give nothing in return. That is the plan of Satan. His twisting of pleasure and providing a counterfeit is intended to provide less and less of the real thing over time, forcing us into accepting pleasure that is increasingly empty. It is much like the turkish delight in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. It tastes wonderful but leaves one empty. Such empty pleasure makes us into the addict who needs a stronger and stronger fix in order to get the high. Eventually it will kill her. But it is not pleasure that kills the body or the soul. It is the twisted form of pleasure that leaves out the creator of the gift that kills.

How much better would it be if when we had a fine meal with good friends, that we enjoyed the pleasure of food and friendship in all it’s fullness and intensity and gave thanks to God for the gifts? What if husband and wife so celebrated the gift of giving each other pleasure that the joy and intensity of it served and the perfect defense against outside temptation? By the way, the Apostle Paul makes just that point in 1 Corinthians 6 and 7 when he says that we are to flee sexual immorality. His method for fleeing is to run into the embrace of your spouse and enjoy the God-given pleasure of one another’s bodies. It is not the pleasure of sex that we are to flee from, but the sinful use of it for a watered-down counterfeit pleasure. That is true of all the pleasures God gives us, whether they be food, wine, creation, sports, reading, building, working at your job, laying on the beach, or countless other Gift-of-God pleasures.

Let me close with a brief word about denying ourselves pleasures. Let’s take fasting. One thing it should do is give us an even greater appreciation for food, not make us think that it is more holy to NOT eat than it is to eat. Jesus both fasted AND ate and drank in such a way that people accused him of being a drunk and glutton. There is a time for denial. There is a time to enjoy. Paul even said that about sex between husband and wife, “only abstain for a short period of time by mutual consent and for the purpose of prayer”. Trust me, any couple who does that will have an even greater appreciation for the pleasure of their intimacy when the time of prayer and fasting is over.

As with most things, enjoying God-given pleasure is all about balance and focus. The balance it not too much or too little. The focus is ultimately not the pleasure itself, but an amazing and gracious God who has gifted us with taste buds, endorphins, laughter, a world of color, sexual intimacy, undying friendship, and more. In fact the pleasures He has created are much like the many miracles of Jesus which John said that if he were to list them all, they could not be contained in all the books on earth.