Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Evangelical Mind

2016 will definitely be one for the books. We are currently in what may be the craziest election cycle in the United States’ history. Campaign season can be fun or stressful for a lot of reasons, but I am always particularly interested in how the American evangelical community responds to candidate choices. Evangelicals traditionally have had conservative leanings in this country. There is, of course, no harm in this fact. Many churches in recent years have done a fairly decent job at emphasizing the arbitrariness of political leanings in evangelical orthodoxy. But this election cycle has caused my stomach to churn in unsettling ways.

 

I would like to believe that churches are becoming more neutral on political leanings, but this is not so. Due to the unfortunate nature of our divisive two-party system, we are left with Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. The evangelical response to Trump and his candidacy has been peculiar, to say the least. I could only hope and pray that Trump’s candidacy would be the knock-out hit to the unabashed evangelical devotion to the Republican Party, but this is not what has been observed. Multiple evangelical leaders across this country, many of them with big names and big churches, have, without question, endorsed Trump. And this is not an endorsement based off of the lesser of two evils, but rather these leaders genuinely think that Trump is a good moral agent who should be leading this country, with one pastor in particular calling Ch

 

ristians who do not vote for Trump “fools.” This only damages the evangelical mind by re-enforcing the false historical conception that America somehow used to be “great” and “Christian” and “blessed by God” and the Donald Trump, with his right-wing prowess, will successfully return America back to the good old days. We have officially uncovered a truth about many evangelical Christians that many others have suspected all along: To worship Jesus is to worship Western conservatism.

 

If these pastors and leaders cared to line up biblical morality with Trump morality, they would find that they go together, as Simon Cowell says, like vanilla ice cream and sausage: They don’t. But there is another side to this coin. There are many Christians, not just liberal, but conservative who have given a great deal of backlash to these leaders. Many evangelicals think Trump is a morally bankrupt agent and that Christians should not support him at all. There has been a strange mix of opinions amongst the evangelical community. Is this good? Well sure. It causes the church to wrestle with itself and its convictions. However, my ultimate concern for evangelical Christians has nothing to do with whether pastors are endorsing Trump or opposing him. My concern lies with the abrasive nature of their leanings. We bank on or against Donald Trump, or Hillary Clinton, or Bernie Sanders, or whoever. We care so deeply about who our president will be. Americanism has a nasty way of pulling us back into its false religion of exceptionalism, a concept that is unfortunately praised by many Christians. Let’s face it; many Christians do a much better job of worshipping America rather than Jesus.

 

What I have discussed thus far is just a symptom of the bigger issue. The big issue is this: Christian hope has been staunchly misdirected. We all hope America will get better, and we hope for a good president. But this is just a cheap replacement for real hope. Christians can be unnecessarily pessimistic people. We often buy into doomsday theories and fear that anything going wrong in our country is a sign that we are “turning away from God” and hope we are nearing the end of days so Christ will return. I am convinced that for evangelicals, this negative sense of hope has bred in us a longing not for God and His control over His creation, but for America and its leadership. So many Christians are too fatalistic in thinking that things have to get much worse before they can get better that hope in God and His providence has become meaningless. We desire hope in things that we can see with the naked eye and things that we can control, and refuse to let God maintain control.

 

I am not at all indicating that taking pride in America and loving our country is a bad thing. But this is important: American exceptionalism and Biblical Christianity are antithetical to one another. Our hope lies in Jesus Christ and his ability not to save the world later, but to continue saving the world at present. Christ’s physical resurrection rendered the old order useless and gave us hope for our present age as well as our future.

 

Ryan Ellington Edit: Besides, this world is not our home.

When Scripture Gets Nasty: How to Read the Bible Today

I’m not going to lie, there are times when I really do not like reading the Bible. It’s not always the fun-loving book I want it to be. In fact, there are times when I am straight up uncomfortable with the Bible. When I wake up in the morning and open my Bible, I feel as though I am never prepared for what I am going to get. There are days where I feel total spiritual satisfaction after my morning devotional, there are times when I feel confused, times when I feel sad, and there are even times where I feel like I have wasted my time. There are messy stories in the Bible. There’s murder, destruction, rape, the slaughtering of entire people groups, the desolation of entire cities, people who are struck down by God, and many other things. I started to ask myself a few months back: Why is this stuff in the Bible?! Isn’t the Bible the inspired Word of God, which is supposed to help us gain knowledge and insight about Him? Why such a nasty book? Aren’t we supposed to grow spiritually from it? How should we make sense of the Bible?

The Bible is Not God’s Love Letter to Us

 

I was at a church camp several years ago and the speaker said something to me that I will never forget. He held up his Bible and asked, “Why would you not follow God if He wrote you such a massive love letter?” I think part of the problem Christians have with reading Scripture is that they are reading it through the lens of a false expectation. Let me make a bold statement: The Bible is not written TO us. It is, however, written FOR us. When you pick up the Bible, you have not just picked up a book, but an entire library of different genres that were written specifically to different cultures of different times. The Bible is an ancient document; so it would suit us well to read it like one. Not only is the above statement false, but it is also oversimplified. Instead of the Bible just being a love letter to us, it is a huge collection of documents that are all centered around the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and his eternal plan that IS full of love. The Bible is not a love letter, it is much more than that.

The Bible is Not a Rulebook

This one is kind of a given, but it’s difficult to live out sometimes. I often have a hard time reading the Bible and not getting the impression that it is just I giant book full of rules and regulations that I have to follow or God is going to cut me down. This is not what God intended for His Word. We will always be a slave to something, be it our own desires or something else. Christ has given us the opportunity to be a slave to Him, and He calls this the only real, true freedom. Instead of viewing the Bible as a book of rules that we have to follow or we are dishonoring God, view it as a book full of freedom opportunities. God has not given to you what is the only way to live, but what is the BEST way to live.

I only bring up what the Bible isn’t because I believe it is spiritually unhealthy to go into Scripture reading with those two expectations.

The Bible IS a Story Book

 

The Bible is full of stories. I have always wondered why this is. Once I figured it out, it became a lot more meaningful to me. People love stories. Jesus often taught in parables in order to keep people focused. The Bible has so much messiness in it because that is reality. There is very little you can encounter that is not documented in some form in the Bible. Often times the best way to learn is through the story of the experience of someone else. This is crucial. The Bible is not something written directly to us, and it is not a list of rules either. It is a book of insight. It is a book of real people who are messy, broken, and trying to find their way back to God. I am convinced that this is the reason so many Christians find the Old Testament obsolete. Instead of asking, “What does this have to do with me?” ask, “What can I learn from the men and women in this story, who are on their own journey to finding God?” The Bible can be difficult to handle sometimes, but if we keep in mind that these harsh, sometimes crazy stories are all about the journeys of people who lived a long time ago, we can gain more insight about what God is actually trying to teach us through His Word.

Separating My Philosophy From My God

http://www.desiringgod.org/sermons/why-phds-in-theology-commit-adultery

The above link is to a video of John Piper describing how knowing God on the PhD level in theology can be harmful to our faith in Him.  I found the video to be incredibly humbling and informative.  Is there something that a student of philosophy like myself is missing if I only know God on the academic level?

This has been a genuine struggle for me.  I have a difficult time separating my personal relationship with God from my studies about Him and who He is.  It is something that I am constantly working on in my personal life.  But I feel as though I’m not alone in this boat.  Don’t get me wrong, I love studying philosophy, religion, and biblical hermeneutics.  In fact, I plan to devote my career to it someday.  But the importance of discovering who God is on a relational level has to trump my knowledge of who God is on an academic level.  There are a few steps that I, and many others, have to continually work at in order to properly distinguish my relational faith in God from my academic knowledge of who he is.

Apologetics Can Be Harmful

I am NOT saying Christian apologetics is a bad field of study.  Again, I am devoting my life to studying a part of this.  The problem is that anybody who studies apologetics, philosophy, religion, etc. can easily fall into the trap of devoting every bit their identity in God to strict academic knowledge.  Our faith in God was meant to be much more than that.   As Piper said, “who cares about knowing God the way the Devil does?”  Anybody can study up and gain information about someone they’ve never met.  But knowing someone in this way does not give you any relational status with that person.  There is much more beauty and comfort that you have with an actual relationship with another person than if you just know details about them.

Apologetics can also be harmful when we claim to know indefinitely who God is.  This often occurs through philosophical arguments for the existence of God.  Philosophical arguments can be useful, but they are in no way the defining factor of who God is.  Placing your absolute faith in arguments that are constructed by human thinking can make God out to be something that He is not, and it can give you a false assumption that you know all about God.  The real danger in this is that it can be easy to make God out to be a high probability as opposed to the personal Savior of your soul.  The most humble thing that students of philosophy and theology can do is to recognize that the defining features of God are unknowable, and that mysterious side is the beauty that we ought to be chasing.

Coming to Faith

Most Christians do not come to faith in Christ because of a philosophical argument.  I know I certainly didn’t.  I accepted Christ at the age of six without having any knowledge of systematic theology or philosophical inquiry whatsoever.  Let’s face it, we all believe in certain things without having sufficient reason to do so; or we at least accept things without having enough knowledge to establish that belief.  An atheist may say that they find enough comfort in not knowing all of the mysteries of the universe without invoking a god.  I, on the other hand, find more comfort in invoking God in my worldview and not knowing all of the mysteries about Him.  Philosophical knowledge is useful, but it does not produce spiritual growth or relational comfort with God.

Allowance For Christ’s Intervention

Regardless of whether you are doing a devotional, studying theology, or just living out your everyday life, Jesus Christ must be a part of it.  Do not confine Christ to ten minutes of your morning, or just what you are studying in your Bible class.  Allowing Christ to be the center of everything you do throughout your day is key to being at peace with who God is.  Finding comfort in the fact that God wants to be a part of everything that is going on in your life is what allows you to pursue the mysterious aspects of God and come to terms with the plans that He has for your life.

I Lost My Faith. I Began to Doubt. I Became a Disciple.

“If you die tonight, and you are not 100% sure that you will go to heaven, pray this prayer with me!”

“If you are 99% sure that you are saved, you are 100% lost!”

Of all the things I heard in my youth group and camp experiences growing up, these two quotes stuck out to me the most. They are used all the time. Usually, to follow it up, the evangelist/preacher that says these kinds of things will post on twitter afterward “54 saved tonight! #booyeah!” Why? What is so good about saying any of that?

Christian culture is obsessed with numbers. “Get ‘em saved, and bounce.” That’s basically the model that we follow. But it goes a little further than even that. Christian culture distorts the meaning of biblical Christianity by doing things like this. It doesn’t work. The majority of the people that I knew growing up who got saved under the guidance of an evangelist who said things like this dropped it and went back to doing whatever else it is they do, sometimes not even returning to church. That’s a problem, and it creates a lot of cognitive dissonance among Christians. I don’t think evangelists are intending to do any of this, but it is harmful, for a LOT of reasons. There are two main components that are missing from evangelical culture: 1. The freedom to doubt not just your salvation, but Christianity as a whole. 2. Discipleship.

Losing My Faith

I lost my faith when I was in seventh grade. Not because I didn’t believe in God anymore, but because I decided that there was no way to fully know, with complete and utter certainty, that I had been saved. Yeah, I had accepted Christ when I was six, so I really was a born again Christian, but I went through a painful moment where I couldn’t reconcile my salvation, which was in fact true, with the degree of certainty that many evangelists and pastors wanted me to. So, I felt that by their definition, I wasn’t a Christian.

Doubt

 

The next step is a big one. Doubt. Oh yeah, you better believe I doubted the truth of Christianity. But it didn’t last for long. It was just an early high school thing that I more or less kept to myself. But even so, during that time, I was anxious. I was anxious because I was still hearing the 100% message that I had been hearing my entire life. This caused me to believe that I wasn’t a Christian. Yeah, I genuinely believe it. I was so scared to continue doubting, but I longed to be open-minded and learn the truth. But as I began to question certain truths of the faith, I began to become more comfortable with it. I mean, after all, Habakkuk did it, and God was fine with him.

Doubt is powerful. Without considering it, it can be difficult to learn. It is okay to go through periods of skepticism. God would much rather you gain knowledge than hide in ignorance. But don’t make doubt the center point of your life. I still go through periods where I doubt God, His motives, and other things. It’s part of human nature. We doubt. And it’s okay. I would say that the 100% message is most harmful in this category. If someone hears the Gospel at a summer camp, gets saved, and begins to doubt some small aspect of their Christian walk later, they will leave the Christian faith. No doubt about it (well, I guess there’s SOME doubt J). Evangelists, instead of trying to get numbers, should focus on teaching people to learn. They should teach people not to worry in times of doubt and frustration. Let me assure you of one thing, if you are 99% certain you are saved, you are most certainly not lost.

Discipleship

Finally, here is the most important step. Discipleship doesn’t happen. Christianity is not confined to ten minutes of your morning devotional or the moment you get saved. Christ has called us to become true disciples that walk with Him daily. This means that Christ should be radiating throughout every moment of our lives, not just a few. Evangelists need to teach people to continue to follow Christ, and not just live for that one moment of salvation. Being a Christian is not the moment of your salvation. Being a Christian is your life.

“Even the disciples doubted Jesus’s power — and that was after Jesus performed miracles in front of them, but, ultimately, faith invites us to trust and, more importantly, to look back over our lives and see God’s activity throughout.”

-James Martin

Book Review: Reoriented

I don’t read much on the topic of homosexuality. One of my main reasons for this is because it is difficult, no, almost impossible to pick up a book on the topic without the author’s biases completely skewing the purpose of the discussion. That was not the case for Reoriented. I found this book very enlightening in so many different ways. The book is by Tyler Francke, a journalist and avid blogger who also runs the page God of Evolution. Not only did I find this book enlightening, but I found that Francke had a way of making it very personal.

The story takes place on a college campus where a gay student, D.J. Martinez, plans to start a school club called “New Day” to help further the discussion on homosexuality. I won’t go too much into the details of the story, as I don’t want to ruin it for anyone, but there are three “main” characters, if you will: D.J., Ally, and John. D.J. holds the view that homosexuality is not a sin. Ally, who supports D.J. and what he does for “New Day”, does not take a position on whether homosexuality is a sin or not. John takes a pretty hard conservative stance, claiming that homosexuality is definitely a sin and the Scriptures make this obvious.

Now, I’m not going to talk about my views on homosexuality for two reasons: 1. I’ve already written on it a couple of times, and 2. It doesn’t really have much to do with this discussion. Actually, I read the entire book and still don’t know what Francke’s position is on homosexuality, and frankly, I don’t really care either. The reason why is that I believe he wrote the book for an entirely different purpose than to persuade someone of one view of homosexuality over another. This being said, there are three big things that I got out of this book:

  1. Homosexuality might be a sin but that’s not the point.

The book is much more about a community of believers in Christ than anything else. This book brings together people who have many different views on homosexuality and they show love and support for one another regardless of what their personal views are. This is so very important, because if the church cannot show the love of Christ to one another, then we cannot even begin to have a rational discussion about topics like homosexuality. What’s more important: that we treat people with the love of Christ or condemn them because of their sexual orientation? Reoriented brings out the big picture in a brilliant way. New Day members are full of people who do not necessarily support homosexuality, but they are willing to be there because of their love for the homosexual community; something many Christians can’t seem to do for some reason.

  1. D.J. Martinez

D.J.’s character is one that anyone can get attached to. It showed me, personally, that even though he’s gay and I’m not, he is a normal human being just like me. I know this is intellectually easy to grasp, but when you read about someone living it out in a normal lifestyle, it gives you a whole new perspective on it.

  1. Grace

This was the most important part of this book. The recurring theme throughout is that no matter what you’ve been through and how much you have had to endure, Christ’s grace is still sufficient for all of us. If we are going to follow Christ and still persecute homosexuals, then either Jesus was a terrible evangelist or we just have to admit that he was full of love and we just don’t want to live like that. Either way, it’s bastardizing to God’s Word, and it’s evil. The message that we SHOULD be preaching is that of the grace of Jesus Christ; “the unearned, undeserved gift- it cost us nothing but cost Christ everything.”

Overall, this book was fantastic.  Highly recommended to all Christians and non-Christians alike.

10 Biblical Passages That Radically Shape My Worldview

The Bible can be a tricky book. Much of what I study is how to properly interpret it. However, to make things simple, I’m just going to post ten different passages that have had a significant impact on my life:

  1. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.                                                     Romans 12:2

This verse is fairly well known among many Christians, but there’s just something deep about it that really sticks out to me. For one, to be conformed to Christ, by definition, is a moment of radical change that cannot be achieved by means of anything else. Also, it shows the powerful, life-transforming power of Christ to change someone, regardless of who they are or what they have done.

  1. Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,[a]whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

James 1: 2-4

One thing that my dad always told me growing up was to try and figure out what God is teaching you during any given hardship. While this is difficult to do, this verse is speaking to that kind of situation. When I have this kind of perspective, it not only makes hard times bearable, but it also gives me a tremendous amount of comfort, knowing that God will make all things work together for good. It is a method of spiritual growth that cannot be achieved any other way.

  1. The heavens declare the glory of God;
    the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

Psalm 19:1

People have different ways of connecting to God spiritually. My particular way is through being out in His creation. This helps me to connect to God in a way that no other method does. This verse just helps shed light on God’s beautiful handiwork.

  1. Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger;

James 1:19

Try this. You would be amazed the amount of wisdom, insight, and joy you can get from listening to others (particularly those who have more life experience than you).

  1. But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.

Matthew 5:39

To turn the other cheek when you are slapped in this culture is a sign of shaming the other person. Do so in love, not in hate or an act of revenge. A non-violent behavior can go a long way with people who cause conflict in your life.

  1. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.

Colossians 3:2

This verse is simply speaking about focus. The human struggle revolves around a constant anxiety, and sometimes even depression that can hinder people from living the abundant life that God has meant for them to have. The main cause of this is focus. Have your focus on things that are good, things that are of God, and not things that are meant to cause you harm.

  1. One who is full loathes honey,
    but to one who is hungry everything bitter is sweet.

Proverbs 27:7

Sometimes it’s good to throw in a metaphor. I like this verse because it puts the satisfaction of God in simple human terms. This sort of connects to John Piper’s idea of Christian hedonism. “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”

  1. he predestined usforadoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will,

Ephesians 1:5

Adoption is a beautiful thing, one that I have had the privilege to witness first hand in my own family.

To know that Christ had the intention to adopt us, children who were lost, is a powerful message that fully grasps the sovereignty of God.

  1. “If your brother or sister[b]sins,[c]go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.

Matthew 18:15

Need help solving problems in your personal relationships? There you go. That’s as simple as it gets.

  1. He will destroy death forever.
    The Lord God will wipe away the tears
    from every face
    and remove His people’s disgrace
    from the whole earth,
    for the Lord has spoken.

Isaiah 25:8

This is my favorite verse in the Bible. The knowledge that Christ will defeat death in the end is what gives the most powerful feeling in the Christian walk: Hope.

My Dearest Marcela, Welcome Home

Marcela Baby

As many of you know, my family chose to adopt a couple years ago. There are many people who feel as if they are called to adopt, and this is seen as a beautiful thing by our society. Adoption IS a beautiful thing. It pulls children from a hopeless world into a hopeful reality. It helps better the human condition. As an anthropology student, one thing that I strive to do is help better the human condition. As a Christian, I am able to take this to a whole new level.

My sister’s name is Marcela.

As a Christian, I feel that I am called to not only help people better improve their lives for the sake of rights, pleasures, etc. My ultimate purpose would be lost if I were not furthering the Kingdom of God. This is my passion. It is my calling. If I were to be sitting around doing some sort of anthropological research without having the Kingdom of God as my basis for gaining understanding and applying it to the human condition, then I would feel that my calling is dubious. As a Christian, THIS is my calling. As a member of the Crawford family, our calling is to adopt. But not just adopt in order to give a little girl an earthly family, but a heavenly relationship with God as well.

My sister’s name is Marcela. She grew up in a nominally Catholic family, with little to no understanding of the Gospel message. Her future did not look so bright.

Adoption is what gives the Christian life meaning. It is what fuels Christian’s lives in order to persevere on and keep going. For Ephesians 1:5 claims that God predestined us to be ADOPTED into His kingdom. If it weren’t for the act of adoption, nobody would see the entirety of God’s glory. Adoption is an essential part of the Christian walk.

My sister’s name is Marcela. She is happy, talkative, and full of energy.

From the dawn of creation, man has cursed itself with the inevitable conclusion of destruction. For God created us in His image, and that image has never been so twisted and torn. The thousands of years of humans fighting, torturing, starving, crying, trying to fight on for one last breath as the universe that they were created in is now trying to kill them, seem like an endless chasm of pain and suffering with nothing in sight.

My sister’s name is Marcela. I now know that she has hope.

For within this gawd-awful, bastardized creation the Creator Himself, God Almighty, allowed Himself to be born into this world and live a life as one of us. He was beaten, tortured, ripped apart by the very people that He created in His very image just to help man see the light of day. He was hung on a tree as He took upon the weight of every single sin and dastardly deed that man had ever and will ever commit, JUST to give man hope that he would be adopted; just so I could receive a text from my dad on November 15, 2014 that Marcela had accepted Christ’s gift of eternal salvation. Now, Marcela is truly adopted. This is grace, and this is peace. More importantly, this is love. To be loved by God despite Him knowing every single flaw and detail about you is a gift that allows us to keep going, and fight through the trials and the hardships of this world.

My sister’s name is Marcela. Welcome home.  🙂

Christians, It’s Time to Stop Saying “Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin.”

judgementday

“Love the sinner, hate the sin” is one of the most abused phrases in the evangelical circle. Many Christians think that, in order to treat homosexuals “properly,” they should use this phrase. Now, it’s not that the phrase in and of itself is wrong, it’s that our culture has done such a bad job at treating homosexuals properly in the first place. I have written a few posts on homosexuality, so my views on the subject are pretty clear. However, I really don’t care who you are, if you claim to be a follower of Christ, it’s time to stop treating gay people different from everyone else.

I have seen pastors handle this issue the wrong way time and time again. First of all, and this should go without saying, the way that John MacArthur and people like him handle homosexuality is blatantly unbiblical. If someone comes out of the closet and professes to be gay, shunning and isolating them is evil, sick, and twisted. Nobody deserves this kind of behavior. Now that that’s on the table, let’s go to the bigger issue.

I see pastors and theologians say things like, “the homosexual community is a community of sinners, and we should reach out to them.” Now, once again, the content of the message is not necessarily demeaning, it’s more due to a cultural problem. Why is it that we say this to homosexuals, and NOBODY else? Why is it that homosexuals are looked upon as different from everyone else? This is something I will never understand. People who say things like this do not necessarily hate gay people, but they go about the issue with a non-Christian attitude. It would be one thing if we said “love the sinner, hate the sin” about everybody else, but nobody feels the need to do that. There are a couple of very important aspects we need to look at in order to determine how to properly handle the homosexual community.

Scripture

 

Jesus never once said anything about homosexuality. This doesn’t really mean anything about homosexuality being a sin, but it’s interesting to note. Jesus did not care about what kinds of sins people were committing, but he cared much more about reaching out to people of all different kinds of sinful backgrounds. This is very significant. One of my favorite verses is Matthew 7:1-5,

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

I love this verse because it captures a big part of Christian discipleship. Christians often get so clouded in their own sin that they cannot see clearly into other people’s lives. Why do Christians judge in this manner? I don’t know. I guess we’ll just have to love those sinners and hate their sins. Luke 6:37 says,

“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven;

In the context of this verse, using the phrase “love the sinner, but hate the sin” is asinine. We have taken one specific community of sinners, labeled them as “different”, and we have built entire phrases built of the backs of these groups. It’s really disappointing.

Why are people gay, and how should we recognize this as Christians?

 

“People choose to be gay” is one of the most ignorant statements I can think of. Nobody chooses to be gay. Homosexuality is a tricky field to get into. So Christians, how do we handle this tricky field? First of all, understand that none of the homosexuals in your life chose to be gay anymore than you chose to be straight. I guarantee you that you will never find a homosexual who has consciously chosen to be gay. Second of all, recognize that there ARE biological factors that play into homosexual behavior. There are many genes that can cause, for instance, a man to be attracted to masculine traits. Simply ignoring this because you don’t want it to be true will not cause it to go away. Third of all, and most importantly, recognize that the Kingdom of God and Christ’s love transcends far beyond the sin in this particular individual’s life, no matter what kind of sin that is. Treat them as anybody else, and focus on how you can help use the Kingdom to build their life in a positive way.

A couple of final points

Remember, the Kingdom of God should be our focus here, and if it is, homosexuals will not be treated in a hostile way like they currently are. Secondly, gay marriage, whether you disagree with it or not, will not affect your own personal rights and liberties. That being said, be careful how you protest. And lastly, follow closely to the teaching of Jesus. Live amongst the sinners as opposed to preaching to others about them.

Make your ways known upon earth, Lord God,
your saving power among all peoples.
Renew your Church in holiness
and help us to serve you with joy.
Guide the leaders of all nations,
that justice may prevail throughout the world.
Let not the needy be forgotten,
nor the hope of the poor be taken away.
Make us instruments of your peace
and let your glory be over all the earth. Amen

Christianity and Suicide

suicide picture

Amidst the deeply theological/philosophical stuff I usually post on here, I like to occasionally speak to the Christian community as a whole, and how we should handle sensitive issues like this. This post in particular will be about suicide, one of the leading causes of death in the United States, especially among teens. This is a sensitive issue, in fact one of the most sensitive issues. Suicide in one way or another affects many people, whether it is struggling with suicidal thoughts themselves, a loved one, or even a good friend committing suicide.

Suicide has affected me personally, and this is spread out among four very specific instances that have taken place in my life. When I was in seventh grade, there was a student in my history class named Joe. Joe was a nice guy, even though I never really knew him that well. But one morning, I came to school to find out that Joe had taken his own life. This was the first time I had ever encountered anything like this. Even though I did not know Joe very well, it deeply affected me. I could not imagine how much of a low point a 14 year old kid had to hit to do something like that. It was a tragic event, and it affected many people in Joe’s family and many people at his school.

On my 15th birthday, I got news that a local pastor’s son, Aaron, had taken his own life. I never actually met Aaron, but I knew many people who knew him very well. This affected me primarily because my dad was a pastor, and Aaron was very close to my age.

The third event, and definitely the most personal, happened on December 26, 2011. It was the day after Christmas, and I was sitting in my room enjoying the video game I had received as a gift the day before. My dad walks in, sits down, and tells me to turn the game off. He proceeded to explain to me that my good friend, Zane, had passed away. When my dad got back from meeting with Zane’s family, he told me that Zane had taken his own life. I immediately broke down crying. I couldn’t help it. Zane, one of the happiest, most joyful, most adventurous people I had every known, was gone. Zane was so caring. He loved everybody in his life, and he even donated his time to helping people with physical disabilities. He was one of the strongest believers in Christ I had ever met. I was in a daze all week leading up to his funeral. At his funeral, I saw more pain in the souls of the people surrounding me than I had ever seen before. It was at this moment that I realized that suicide is the most one of the most detrimental things human beings can experience, not just for the person who it is directly affecting, but for the people around that person as well.

The final event happened just this last July, when I received news that pastor Ergun Caner’s son, Braxton, had taken his own life. This one sort of began to anger me based off of the Christian community’s response to it. A pastor up in Montana, JD Hall, was getting all kinds of flack for engaging in conversation with Braxton on Twitter just weeks before. Let me say this real quick, JD Hall and I have gone at it before on his own blog, and we have had our disagreements, but he is NOT responsible for the death of Braxton Caner. Hall even came out two weeks later and repented for his sin, which is all we can ask of him. To have this kind of attitude toward people like Hall is not only a false accusation, but it is making an assumption that one fully knows what Braxton was going through, and NOBODY knows that.

Now, these four events did have a significant impact on my life, but I need to say some things about suicide from a Christian perspective:

Suicide is the single worst decision one can make.

 

Please don’t misread what I am saying. Suicide may be the worst decision one can make, but you have got to at least partly understand what suicidal people go through. They hit the absolute lowest point they could ever hit in this life, and they feel as if they have no other way out. We often try to figure out why someone would do such a thing, which to a degree is healthy. It helps us to better understand the situation that is at hand.

Our culture influences suicide.

 

Christians, we have got to be aware of the fact that we live in a day and age that borderline encourages suicide. You don’t believe me? How many times have you heard somebody say, even if it was a joke, “go kill yourself”? Christians all over the world talk about how selfish suicide is, which is insulting and degrading to someone who struggles with suicidal thoughts and actions, and it does absolutely no good. Euthanasia is becoming increasingly popular. Involuntary suicides are beginning to take place in certain countries around the world, and voluntary assisted suicides are being encouraged, not just for people who are severely disabled, but for people struggling with anxiety and depression as well. It is a poison that is affecting the very world that we live in, and it is madness. We have got to become conscious of this fact, and spread Christ’s love and offer help to people to prevent it from taking place.

And my last point…

 

Handling suicide from a Christ-like perspective.

 

Let me make this very clear. Suicide does not prohibit one from entering the Kingdom of Heaven. Many Christians try and make this claim, and it is not only perverting but bastardizing the Word of God. It is literally adding a false doctrine into the Bible. Suicide is a sin, but God doesn’t get mad and throw you in hell because of it. It breaks God’s heart, and He mourns for you. My good friend Zane made a terrible mistake, but I follow closely to the words of his uncle, who spoke at his funeral. “I cannot allow a single act of sin to outshine an entire life devoted to God.” I cannot help but find so much truth in that. Just because we may have been saved by God’s grace, doesn’t mean that we will not struggle in this life. We must allow our lives to flourish in God’s creation, and to spread His good message to the entire world. We should help Christians and non-Christians alike if they are struggling with suicide thoughts, and we should be there to support one another through the hard times. God did not create us to be lonely creatures, but to be interactive and to support one another. This is discipleship, and it is Christ-like.

“O Lord, we call upon You in our time of sorrow,

That You give us the strength and will to bear our heavy

burdens, until we can again feel the warmth and love of

Your divine compassion. Be mindful of us and have mercy

on us while we struggle to comprehend life’s hardships.

Keep us ever in Your watch, til we can walk again with

light hearts and renewed spirits.”

Amen

The Dangers of Joel Osteen’s Message

osteen

 

When we hear the term “prosperity gospel” what do we typically think of? Almost everybody would say Joel and Victoria Osteen. This attractive and wealthy couple has gained an incredible amount of popularity among many contemporary evangelicals. And it’s no surprise. You see, as a Christian, I am willing to admit that the life of one who follows Christ is not an easy, or comfortable one. It can often be one of suffering. But it is also one full of joy and satisfaction. So here’s the problem with this prosperity gospel that the Osteens and many others buy into:

 

IT IS COMPLETELY ANTITHETICAL TO THE GOSPEL MESSAGE THAT IS PRESENTED IN THE BIBLE.

 

I would argue that Joel Osteen, pastor of the largest protestant church in North America, Lakewood Church, has presented a perverted version of God’s Word. To put it simply, it’s not God’s Word at all. It’s a false message. So, why does he gain so much popularity? It’s simple. Let’s take a look at this man, Joel Osteen.

 

Osteen was born in Houston, Texas. His father, John Osteen, was a Southern Baptist minister who eventually founded Lakewood Church. Upon John’s death in 1999, Joel took over as Senior pastor of Lakewood. Since then, Lakewood Church’s attendance has grown from 5,000 to 43,000. Incredible. So what is he doing that all other churches aren’t doing? Now, I am going to commend Osteen on one thing. He is not obsessed with hell. For some reason, many modern day evangelists scare people into accepting Christ so that they do not burn for eternity. This is weird because Jesus never taught this way. But that’s beside the overall point. Osteen cares nothing about repentance or sanctification. Like, not at all. What Osteen cares about is making people happy. In an interesting video I saw the other day, his wife, Victoria, was preaching and she said to not worship God for the sake of God, but for us. Her reasoning is that God is happiest when we are happy. I don’t know where she gets this from, but it sure isn’t God’s Word. The logic of the prosperity gospel goes something like this:

 

If you worship God, not really caring about Him but caring about yourself, then God will give you a happy life (your best life now) and you can essentially take pride in the fact that God loves you enough to give you stuff.

 

The Osteens are obsessed with God, but they care nothing about sanctification through Christ. They care about material possessions. They care about getting whatever they can out of God. You can just hear it in Joel’s voice as he preaches. At best, the man is a motivational speaker speaking on a basis of false motivation. Why does Joel Osteen look like he’s got it all together? Because he has turned his church into a multi-million dollar industry by telling people what they want to hear, and not the uncomfortable truth of Christianity.

 

So, can we get anything out of what Osteen teaches? Sure. He is right in that God does want us to be happy and full of joy. He is wrong in the way that he presents it. This is the most important part about what’s wrong with the prosperity gospel. The prosperity gospel is presented in a way that God can be glorified by means of satisfying our sinful desires. That’s the kicker with Osteen’s message. He loves people and he cares about them, but he does not understand the basic message of Jesus Christ. We live in a messed up world that doesn’t need to be destroyed, but restored. God created this world for us to thrive in and worship him in. We are supposed to get pleasure and joy out of worshipping God, but because of our fallen nature, we automatically turn to the one thing that Christ warns us against: Getting satisfaction from the world without having the peace of Christ in your life. That’s when true pain and suffering comes. Ever hear that C.S. Lewis quote, “Aim at heaven and you get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither”? The prosperity gospel aims directly at earth. We are called to be a people of repentance, a people who sit in and can be satisfied in God’s loving embrace. We are NOT a people who are designed to get satisfaction out of riches and then claim we got them because God loves us. Yes, all good things do come from God, but if our focus is on getting riches and a happy life from God, then we will never gain the full and joyful life that God ultimately has for us. If you want to hear the real gospel, not one of material possessions but one that is centered around Christ, look at the famous words of Keith Green:

 

“The Gospel is simply this: Jesus will forgive all your sins if come to him humbly, lay down at his feet and say, ‘You are the LORD! And I will follow you for the rest of my life on earth, so that I can spend eternity with you, and have the glory of your Father!’”