Tag Archives: God

A SOUTHERN BAPTIST PASTOR INTERVIEWS A HOMOSEXUAL

imagesIt was in sixth grade that I met Matt. He had moved to my hometown of Mabank, Texas from Colorado Springs. We met in band and became friends. We weren’t the best of friends, but we were more than acquaintances. Although we now live on opposite sides of the nation, through the magic of social networking we have been able to keep in touch. We regularly dialogue through both public and private channels about the cultural mood concerning homosexuality.

Matt is a homosexual, which, because of my Christian faith, is a lifestyle with which I vehemently disagree. And Matt knows this. Matt knows that I don’t agree with him and I know that Matt doesn’t agree with me. But we choose to share our opinions openly and respectfully, which is the intent of this blog.

I recently asked Matt if he would be alright if I interviewed him about his lifestyle. Matt was kind enough to oblige. The motivation behind this is inspired by comments I often read from Christians against homosexuality. Unfortunately, many Christians handle the situation poorly. While it’s okay to be outspoken against it, (and I believe Christians should be free to share their biblical convictions), it’s not okay for that outspokenness to present itself in hatred. Paul writes, “If I speak … but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Cor 13:1).

Needless to say, there is a lot of gratuitously loud noise on today’s social networks.

The following is the interview I conducted with Matt. I typed out the questions and sent them to him. Some of the information is also from follow up conversations. Each question includes Matt’s answer and some include my response, if it calls for it. You will notice that these are in blue.

I hope that anyone who has an opinion about homosexuality sees the respect that Matt and I have for one another in our disagreements, and that that respect is contagious as we continue to debate the issue in the public square.

PERSONAL QUESTIONS

When did you first think that you were gay?

I began to suspect something was different about myself probably in eighth grade. I remember always wondering why the guys around me seemed so interested in pursuing girls.

Are you currently in a homosexual relationship?

Yes I am. I have been seeing the same guy since I was twenty two years old. We met in college and have been together ever since. He even followed me across the country to a new job. Both of our families have met and actually rather like each other. I was really surprised by that. My Dad is someone I would charitably describe as a “Tea Party Republication”, but he has honestly shocked me with his acceptance of who I am and even the guy I am with.

What kind of social pressures did you experience in “coming out?”

My coming out was kind of an accident. I was twenty and in college and, I won’t bore you with the details, but my parents figured it out and initially we didn’t talk for 3 months. When we did start talking again, it was mostly my mom and I. My dad and I had a very strained relationship the first few years, but now everything is more or less the way I would imagine a regular person’s relationship with their parents is. I can’t honestly say, but I would like to believe that I am glad it happened the way it did, because I am not sure when I would have built up the courage to talk to them about it. Probably not until well into my twenties.

POLITICAL QUESTIONS

What are your thoughts on same-sex marriage?

This sounds so cliché, but my thoughts on same-sex marriage have greatly evolved since I first started hearing about it back in the mid-2000s. At first, I was staunchly against it, and I think a large part of that had to do with my upbringing in the church. I wasn’t, and nor am I now, against people receiving the same benefits and entitlements that marriage brings to everyone. But I was against the idea of calling it “marriage” because I felt that was reserved fully for straight people and the church. But that was back then, and this is now. I am not what you would call an activist for same-sex marriage, but I do believe now that if gay people want to get married, then they should be able too. Again, I can’t stress this enough, I really just believe that everyone should have access to the benefits that marriage provides, not the name or the title. I am sure my fellow gays won’t like hearing that, but it’s just the way I feel about the issue.

Author’s Note: Many of my thoughts concerning this question can be found in this blog: The Meaning of Equality.

Would you say that today’s homosexual movement is on par with the 1960′s civil rights movement?

Yes, most particularly with the Supreme Court case, Loving v. Virginia (1967), which invalidated all laws prohibiting interracial marriage. Today, we draw inspiration from that time period, to fight for what we believe should be afforded to us to be treated as equals in the eyes of the law. People today think it’s crazy that blacks and whites couldn’t get married up until forty-odd years ago, but during that time period it was a punishable offense with jail time involved.

Author’s Note: I believe that by the time I am a grandparent that it will be unbelievable that homosexuals could not marry one another, and that by the time my kids are parents that people will be amazed that marijuana was at one time considered an illegal drug, and that by the time they are grandparents that people will be amazed that polygamy was once outlawed.

What would you say to someone who argues for things like bigamy, polygamy, and incestry in marriage (as an expansion of same-sex marriage)?

I think bigamy already occurs today and has been occurring for a long time. Certainly not on any level with large amounts of numbers or data to back it up. But you always hear the story about the man with another family in the next town over.

The problem with polygamy is that it almost always means one man with multiple wives. And when that happens you take away a wife from some other man. So in a polygamous society, you would have all these young, unmarried men who are unhappy with no wives. Same-sex marriage changes none of that, it leads us as a society away from that. Gay people just want the ability to marry someone instead of no one.

Incest is something that is just wrong on so many levels as it is, it’s not even really worth arguing over.

Author’s Note: I can see what Matt is saying in this, but I find it to be pragmatic. And I think pragmatism is a poor way to make decisions, although we all make decisions based on this philosophy everyday!

For example, would polygamy then be okay if we can manufacture a society where there are no unhappy unmarried men? What if the ratio of women to men was such that every man could easily have ten wives?

The point is that the issue runs deeper than mathematics.

Do you believe that there would be any psychological affects to a child reared in a home with same-sex parents (not having the traditional male and female examples)?

I don’t think there are any major drawbacks to a child being raised in a home by two same-sex parents as opposed to a traditional family set. In this modern age, children are raised by single dads, single moms, aunts, uncles and extended family. I think as long as all parties involved really love the child, then it will turn out alright.

Author’s Note: I believe that one of the biggest problems of our day is that a large amount of children are raised in homes without a stable mother and father. I have the opportunity to counsel many individuals and I can, nearly 100% of the time, trace the issue back to the lack of a father in the home.

RELIGIOUS QUESTIONS

Do you adhere to any faith religion?

I grew up Methodist, but just sort of stopped going once I graduated high school. I think even in high school I wasn’t really into church anymore, but it was definitely the place where all my friends went and it was a good place to socialize. I do believe that something or someone exists and had something to do with where we are in the universe today. I would say that I loosely identify myself as a Christian, but more like an agnostic one.

Author’s Note: I would say that it’s oxymoronic to be an “agnostic Christian,” although I can say that I know where Matt is coming from. His upbringing leads him to hold beliefs that are rooted in Christianity, but what he believes is not best described as Christianity. He has become agnostic, which means that he doesn’t really know what he believes, although he is still affected by what he learned during his time in the church.

What do you believe the Bible says about homosexuality?

I am not a connoisseur of the Bible, so all I can really say is that I know it’s mentioned a few times, but never directly by Jesus. I did, however, find this awesome article on the Huffington Post website which sums it up much more eloquently then I can: What Does the Bible Really Say About Homosexuality?

Author’s Note: The author of this article begins by suggesting that homosexuality is not as big of an issue as modern day Christians make it, because it is addressed relatively little in comparison to other issues in Scripture. But this is like saying that prostate cancer isn’t as big of a deal as breast cancer because it doesn’t have as big of an awareness month, one that prompts NFL players to wear hot pink highlighted uniforms and people to wear faddy bracelets.

The fact is that it is discussed in Scripture, (homosexuality that is), which makes it important. And when it is discussed, it is identified as sinful. The reason it isn’t discussed more is, arguably, because of the culture in which the Bible was written, specifically the New Testament Gospels. It’s not unreasonable to suggest that homosexuality wasn’t as big of an issue in ancient Jerusalem, the holiest place in the world at that time and the place that Jesus performed most of his ministry and made most of his claims, as it is today. Rape isn’t densely refuted by Jesus either, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t wrong.

Thus the statement, “Jesus never said anything about homosexuality, so it must be okay” is a weak and misguided argument.

It is also important to know that Jesus essentially did talk about homosexuality. The Bible describes him as the “Word of God made flesh” (John 1:14), and so anything that is included in Scripture is verified by Jesus. He was the living embodiment of every word of every claim of the Bible. And so if the Bible speaks against homosexuality even once, then Jesus essentially, by virtue of his nature, talked about it.

As for the rest of his article, he seems to argue from ignorance. That is, his argument is, “I’ve personally polled some scholars and commentaries and some of them say that we can’t really know the context of these passages that include language forbidding homosexuality. So, we shouldn’t forbid it without knowing the cultural implications of the day.”

This is a poor reason to refute something out of hand. He is taking shaky evidence and making what he believes is an irrefutable claim. That’s poor debate etiquette. 

Do you believe that people are born gay (is it a choice or a predisposition)?

This is honestly a tough question for me to answer. I think everyone is born with certain traits amplified and/or dampened down due to conditions in the womb/external environment, so I can’t say for certain that it’s a predisposition. At the same time, I am fairly confident in saying that it’s not a choice either. I guess I would need to see more research on the matter before I committed to saying it’s a predisposition.

Author’s Note (this is an edited excerpt from a previous blog): Scripture speaks of homosexuality as a sin (1 Cor 6:9), and therefore those that believe Scripture are simply trusting what it says. With that said, Scripture also says that sin is a “predisposition” (Rom 5). It’s something every person is born with. And as a predisposition, everybody has a “decision” to either act on it or not. Some act on it by lying. Others act on it by stealing. And some act on it by planting a bomb at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. It’s a predisposition to which every person is subjected. Thus, since Scripture speaks of homosexuality as a sin, (and since it speaks of sin as a predisposition), it is not unreasonable to say that homosexuality is the fruit of a decision rooted in a predisposed, sinful nature.

But this doesn’t mean that it’s okay. We would never, for example, suggest that rape is okay. No one could reasonably say, “Aw, leave that guy assaulting that woman alone. Stop trying to rewire his predisposition with your personal preferences. He can’t help himself.” This isn’t to say that homosexuality is on par with rape, only that a sin is a sin, and the tiniest sin is enough to separate man from God.

Do you think, from what you know about Christianity, that a person can be a Christian and live an openly homosexual lifestyle?

I think it is possible for someone to be Christian and a homosexual at the same time, yes. God created everyone the way they are for a reason, and whatever that reason is, only God knows. It’s impossible for me to say it’s a sin, because so many things that we do today are. Our culture and society is vastly different than the one that is written and talked about in the Bible. I think someone’s relationship with God, is just that. Their relationship. It isn’t up to you or I to pass judgement on the way they reach out to God.

Author’s Note (this is an edited excerpt from a previous blog): It is interesting that someone would desire to remain associated to Christianity if he also desires to refute some of its basic claims. I say this not against Matt, but to many celebrities, such as Macklemore, who attempt to do so.

There is an old illustration that describes this well. The illustration details a repair man replacing the parts of his boat. After purchasing the boat he begins to replace its every component. He switches out the motor, the hull, the deck, and the seats. Before long, there is no original element left of the boat.

Is it the same boat?

No.

Likewise, when one switches out all of the original components to Christianity, as determined by God primarily through the Bible, it is no longer Christianity.

Is there anything else that you would like to say or add that wasn’t included in this interview?

I just want to say that there will never be a time, no matter what happens, that I would actively hate someone for the beliefs they hold, or the religion that they practice. We are all immensely more complicated than these few social issues that bring out the worst in some people.

I will always be willing to rationally discuss and debate anything with someone as long as I am afforded the same courtesy. Which is why I like you so much Jared!  You are one of the few people I am still friends with where we don’t get into some heated screaming match over who’s right and who’s wrong.

Author’s Note: I believe that Matt is on to something here, and that even those that disagree with his lifestyle can learn from it. Christians should never actively hate people because they disagree with them. This is both counterproductive and unchristian. Jesus never hated those that disagreed with him. In fact, while hanging on the cross, he prayed for them. We may believe that they are separated from God, but hating them doesn’t advance the gospel. Our job is to share the truth, to share it in love, and to hope that God uses our efforts to save them and lead them to eternal life in Christ.

Final Note: I usually put the phrase “same sex marriage” in quotations, because I believe the term to be oxymoronic. That is, I believe it is on par with saying, “squared circle.” In this interview the term shows up from time to time without the quotations because it is included in Matt’s answers, and he doesn’t view it that way.

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LOUD NIGHT, HOLY NIGHT

candle_lighting_serviceIt’s Christmas Eve.

You’ve finished your Christmas shopping. Your tree is standing tall, fully decorated. Lights are meticulously adorning the edges of your roof. The gifts are wrapped and placed under the tree. The stockings are hung by the fireplace with care.

You’ve even completed your holiday charity work, participating in Operation Christmas Child, serving at a community feeding, and donating to a special Christmas mission.

There is just one more thing left, and it’s something you look forward to every Christmas: the annual candlelight Christmas service.

The candlelight service often marks the church’s final Christmas event of the year. And for the most part, every candlelight service is the same. It takes place in the evening, usually on Christmas Eve. Christmas songs are sung. A Christmas message is preached. The lights go down, the candles flicker on, and like an angelic choir the church harmoniously begins to sing,

Silent night, holy night. All is calm, all is bright…

It’s a beautiful scene.

Is it, however, a scene that captures the nature of what took place on the night of Jesus’ birth? Was it really a “silent” night? And was everything really “calm”?

In describing the birth of Jesus, the Gospel of Luke details three groups that reveal that the night may not have been as silent and as calm as our beloved song proclaims. Instead, Luke reveals that it might have been a night full of joyful exclamation and overwhelming excitement.

Consider these three pictures:

A HEAVENLY HOST

In Luke 2:14, a host of angels appear to some shepherds, “praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.’”

This suggests that even the heavenly beings could not keep silent about the birth of Jesus. The shepherds immediately went to Bethlehem to both see Jesus and tell others how they learned about Him.

AN EARTHLY HOST

Luke 2:18 says that all who heard what the shepherds told them “wondered.”

It’s not unreasonable to suggest that this wondering was not “silent,” but instead noisy. This is contextually possible if the “but” at the beginning of verse 19 is taken as “on the contrary.”  Mary, unlike the others, treasured the shepherds’ words, “pondering them in her heart.” The rest perhaps discussed the matter openly.

A SHEPHERDLY HOST

Luke 2:20 says that when the shepherds went back to their fields, that they “glorified” and “praised” God for all that they had heard and seen.  This doesn’t sound like it was silent at all!

In fact, it sounds like it was a pretty rambunctious evening.

I concede that a candlelight service revolving around the idea of rowdy chaos, concluding with the words, “Loud night, holy night” might not be as attractive as its traditional counterpart, but such lyrics might portray the events of Jesus’ birth more accurately. And this isn’t to say that the song, Silent Night, is a bad song. It surely consists of wonderful affirmations. It is to say only that it’s wise to consider the totality of what took place on the night our Savior was born, which is this: The birth of Jesus is something to be joyfully loud about!

This Christmas let’s remember that the birth of Jesus is a glorious event that deserves to be  celebrated and vocalized, especially in a culture that wants to keep it “silent.”

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WHY IT’S OKAY TO SAY “NO” TO LOCAL CHARITIES

Charity“Would you like to donate two dollars to the local Rehab Center?”
“Can I add a children’s book to your order to be donated to the hospital?”
“Would you be interested in donating a dollar to the animal shelter?”

These are but a few of the holiday donation requests I have received over the past couple of weeks. Whether I am buying a sandwich, a book, or a toy for my pet, I find myself showered by requests to support a local organization. And while I believe that some of these requests are warranted, and while I believe that some of these organizations are good, and while I believe that donating to some of these organizations is a worthy cause, I also believe that followers of Jesus ought to be prudent in how they give to organizations that don’t explicitly promote the gospel.

This is to say that, while it is good to give to rehab centers, hospitals, and even animal shelters, such donations should not be confused as explicitly participating in the gospel.

This is because Christianity isn’t about doing good things; it’s about advancing the name of Jesus. Organizations like rehab centers and hospitals can prolong the quality of physical life, but only Jesus can provide everlasting life. Both are good, but one is better. Much better. And this is the real message of Christmas.

Unfortunately, this is a concept that is often muddled. And, ironically, it’s most often muddled during the Christmas season.

Some weeks ago I read the following comment, which in my estimation reveals the confusion of the relationship between good works and the gospel: “Compassion for the poor is uniquely tied to the gospel & unalterably linked to the great commission.”

At first glance this statement seems impressively theological, but upon further investigation it attempts to recalibrate the gospel into something other than what it is. Jesus warns of such efforts in his parable of unleavened bread:

“The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three pecks of flour until it was all leavened” (Matt 13:33, NASB).

In this, the gospel is the pure “three pecks of flour” recipe to which we should not add “leaven.” In Scripture “leaven” is always bad, and it causes the finished product to turn out much differently than intended.

Jesus’ message is that we ought to be careful to not add extra ingredients to the gospel’s recipe. And confusing the doing of good things as the gospel is, without question, adding extra ingredients.

This of course isn’t to say that compassion for the poor isn’t “tied” or “linked” to the gospel. It is. Nor is it to say that compassion for the poor is an evil ingredient. It isn’t. But to go as far as to say that it is “uniquely tied” and “unalterably linked” might be altering the recipe a little bit.

Digging wells for a poor village in Africa, for example, isn’t, in and of itself, the gospel. It’s a wonderful thing to do, especially if it is being done because of one’s redemption in Christ, but it isn’t the gospel. The gospel can be preached without the digging of wells. Digging wells to create a segue to preach the gospel is good, but if the gospel isn’t preached then one has essentially only done a good thing that is no better than what a non-Christian organization can do. Many organizations participate in this compassionate effort for the poor without any gospel motivation. In this, physical life is sustained, but the village remains spiritually dead.

When we replace the backing of organizations that don’t support the explicit gospel message for the backing of organizations that do, we confuse the gospel with doing good things, which isn’t the gospel. Giving to good organizations is a good thing, but participating in organizations that advance the gospel is better. Christians should do both, but we should also know that our resources go further when we explicitly support the gospel. And if we have to choose one, we should choose the one that shares the gospel with its recipients.

This is because it’s not necessarily true that compassion for the poor “is uniquely tied and unalterably linked to the gospel” so much as that it can be “tied to a unique and unalterable gospel.” This idea preserves the gospel’s unique ingredients without altering its recipe. It places the power of the gospel in Christ, not our actions, and shows that it’s the gospel that has the power to save, not our ability to do good things for the less fortunate.

As Matt Chandler writes:

If we confuse the gospel with response to the gospel, we will drift from what keeps the gospel on the ground, what makes it clear and personal, and the next thing you know, we will be doing a bunch of different things that actually obscure the gospel, not reveal it. At the end of the day, our hope is not that all the poor on earth will be fed. That’s simply not going to happen. I’m not saying we shouldn’t feed and rescue the poor; I’m saying that salvation isn’t having a full belly or a college education or whatever. Making people comfortable on earth before an eternity in hell is wasteful (The Explicit Gospel, 83).

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Some of the content in this blog originally appeared in my article first published on thestrife.comThe New Quotable: Using Twitter Carefully

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WHY RACISM DOESN’T EXIST, AND WHY IT DOES

segregatedRecently I was asked the following question: What age, gender, and race child do you prefer to adopt?”

My response was: “Infant, female, human.” Here’s why:

The nineteenth century witnessed the enslavement of many people based on the color of their skin. These same people also lacked many freedoms that other, different colored individuals possessed. In time, society made them do things like sit in the back of the bus and go to different schools.

The twentieth century witnessed the murder of six million people because of their bloodline. Many of these were placed in concentration camps and forced to suffer humiliating deaths.

The twenty-first century has witnessed a war in Africa in which 5.4 million people lost their lives. This total includes the Pygmy people who were hunted down, murdered, and even eaten because they were regarded as subhuman magical creatures.

All of these are historical events in which one group of people persecuted another group of people because they were different. And in spite of these events it is my conviction that racism among humans doesn’t exist, but at the same time, unfortunately does exist.

WHY RACISM EXISTS

“Racism” is a word often used to convey the idea that some people act as if they are superior to other people because of the color of their skin or the origin of their bloodline. But the term, in and of itself, is inherently erroneous.

The word “racism” suggests that differences in skin color or the origin of a bloodline categorize people into different breeds or species, but the fact is that the human race is just that: a single race. In this sense “racism” is, as the old idiom says, “The pot calling the kettle black.” That is, to be “racist” is to suggest that one human being places guilt on another human being because he is a human being. But this obviously isn’t what happened during events like the Holocaust. Hitler didn’t kill six million Jews because they were guilty of being human. He killed them because he thought that they were less-than-human. He looked at the Jewish ethnicity as an inferior “race” and sought to eliminate them.

This is also what allegedly happened in Miami recently when Richie Incognito, a white Miami Dolphins NFL player, persecuted his teammate Jonathan Martin because he is black. Incognito didn’t slander Martin because he is another human but because he viewed him as less-than-human.

The transcript of Incognito’s Voicemail to Martin reveals “racism” at its worst. Incognito regards Martin as less-than-human merely because his skin tone is darker than his. This is the epitome of “racism.” It reveals the unfortunate reality that racism, insofar as it relates to people viewing other people as subhuman, is a real thing.

WHY RACISM DOESN’T EXIST

But “racism,” however, doesn’t exist insofar as it shouldn’t exist, because there is one human race, and therefore, it should be impossible for one human to be “racist” against another human. Humans, regardless of their skin color, make up one race and this race has multiple ethnicities. Thus, a better term for discussing elitist attitudes towards fellow human beings might be “ethnocentrism,” not “racism.” This is because using the word “racism” might suggest that there are various races among the human species, and in this sense it might be “racist” to use the word “racism.”

If this is confusing, allow me to articulate it this way: The word “racism” can be likened to the term “same sex marriage.” The use of the word is to suggest it as a real thing, when in reality, it isn’t, or at least shouldn’t be. It should be impossible for a human to be “racist” against another human because humans make up one single race, just as it should be impossible for a man and a man to be “married” because “marriage” is, by definition, between a man and a woman.

The logical, and more importantly biblical, fact is that we are all part of the human race, but we are of different ethnicities. Other appropriate words include “nationalities,” “tongues,” or even “tribes.” These are terms that Scripture uses, and it never uses the word “race” to speak of various people groups.

JESUS, THE KINGDOM, AND THE NATIONS

The idea that there is one human race that includes multiple ethnicities is something Jesus both acknowledged and cherished. Jesus was no ethnocentrist. An example is found in Matthew 8 when Jesus confronted the Jews’ ethnocentrism by acknowledging and affirming a Roman Gentile solider, claiming that he had not found “such great faith with anyone in Israel” (Matt 8:10). Contextually this was to combat certain Jews who felt superior to Gentiles because of their bloodline. Jesus says that, “many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven; but the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into the outer darkness” (Matt 8:11-12). This is a fancy way of saying that Kingdom citizenship is not based on bloodline or skin color.

This is a concept that covers the scriptures like a cloak. God’s creation is one that includes one race of humans with multiple nationalities. Luke writes, “and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth” (Acts 17:26). These nations make up the world that God so loves. He sees us as one race that includes people that are red, yellow, black and white, and celebrates it.

It is my conviction that, as followers of Jesus, we ought to be careful in how we use the word “racism.” Using the term flippantly is to concede that there are multiple human races, which bemoans God’s creation. At the same time, we ought to be bold in how we use it when discussing certain events in which people actually do treat other people as less than human. This is the unfortunate truth about “racism”: It exists because of people’s ungodly understanding of the human race, although it shouldn’t exist at all.

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THE BIBLICAL BATTLE OF LITTLE-BIG HORN: A HISTORICAL-PROPHETICAL LESSON

CHMemFace2Mike Huckabee, in his show’s October 20 opening monologue, discussed the differences between two historical battles–the Alamo and Little Bighorn. He asks, “Did the Republicans make a heroic stand as in the Alamo, or a poorly planned and executed assault like Little Bighorn?” “In the Alamo,” Huckabee notes, “men fought to the death to protect what was theirs.” Little Bighorn, however, was “a poorly planned and executed assault … which was led by a general who failed to calculate the risks, who ignored the scouting reports of the strength of the opposition, and who made assumptions of the battle that proved to not be true.”

The result of Little Bighorn was an overwhelming victory for the combined forces of the Lakota, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho tribes against the 7th Cavalry Regiment of the United States Army.

American politics aside, there is something that we can learn from the historical battle of Little Bighorn as it relates to the prophetical Battle of Armageddon. The Battle of Armageddon is the final assault of the Antichrist and his armies against Israel. Like the American general at Little Bighorn, the general at Armageddon will fail to calculate the risks, ignore the scouting reports of the strength of opposition, and make assumptions of the battle that will prove to not be true.

This general is none other than the Antichrist and, ironically, the Bible describes him as a “little-big horn.”

In Daniel 7, Daniel recounts a vivid dream he had of four great beasts. Each beast symbolizes a historic world power, but it is the fourth beast that grabs Daniel’s attention. On this particular beast grows a “horn” that starts out “little,” (Dan 7:8) but eventually becomes “larger in appearance than its associates” (20). It is a “little-big horn,” and it is a symbol for the Antichrist.

Daniel says that this little-big horn “will speak out against the Most High and wear down the saints of the Highest One, and he will intend to make alterations in times and in law” (25). The key word in this verse is “intend.” While the Antichrist will have dominion during the Tribulation (25), Daniel says that ultimately this “dominion will be taken away, annihilated and destroyed forever” (26). Like the American general at Little Bighorn, this is a battle that the Antichrist–the “little-big horn”–will lose. And this will be because he, as Huckabee notes, will “fail to calculate the risks, ignore the scouting reports of the strength of opposition, and make assumptions of the battle that will prove to not be true.”

The risks are the loss of dominion of the earth (26).
The scouting reports are the sovereignty and authority of the “Ancient of Days” (9-12).
The assumptions are that he could actually succeed in “wearing down the saints” (25).

Much like the historical Battle of Little Bighorn, Daniel’s prophetic battle of the little-big horn will end in defeat for the one who planned poorly. Daniel says that it is the “Son of Man” who is deemed as the rightful ruler of the world:

And to Him was given dominion, glory and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations and men of every language might serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away; and his kingdom is one which will not be destroyed (14).

Mike Huckabee’s Monologue
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SIGN ME UP FOR HELL

InfernoLogoIn just under a week, I will begin teaching a theology class at the Mission Dorado Bible Institute on Hell. The response to the class has been nothing short of interesting. In signing up for the class, one student said, “Sign me up for Hell!” Tongue in cheek, of course. Another class member, more seriously, expressed his keen interest in learning about the topic, not for mere theological reasons, but so that he can be affected by the reality of the eternal destination for the lost, in order that it might motivate him to share the gospel with those destined to live in it. This is an important goal, not only for this particular class, but for every class, lesson, or sermon that I have the blessing of facilitating.

In my preliminary studies, I haven’t found an author who details this quite as nicely as Francis Chan. In Erasing Hell he writes:

As I write this chapter about hell, I’m sitting in the middle of a busy Starbucks. Every time I look up from my computer screen, I see that I’m surrounded by thirsty customers racing to the counter to fuel up on lattes and iced teas and mochas. They’re happy, busy, enjoying life, laughing, chatting, and, of course, texting. Two moms look as if they just got done jogging and sit next to me, digging into each other’s lives. Another couple just left. They were all over each other–a typical young couple without a care in the world. The girl last in line looks sad. Really sad. It makes me wonder what just happened in her life. And what about the employees? Are they happy? Some look that way, but others don’t.

Joy, laughter, coffee, jazz, texting, talking, flirting, friendship, depression and the hope to be freed from it one day. This is life! I love it–and so do they.

The place buzzes with life. Meanwhile, I sit here reading passage after passage, which all say that some of these people are going to hell. It sickens me to say that, and I can’t explain how conflicted I feel right now. There are at least a dozen people within ten feet of me right here, right now, that may end up in the agony that I’m studying. What do I do? Do I keep writing? Keep studying? Should I bag this whole book thing and start building relationships with them? How can I believe these passages yet sit here silently? I know that some of you have faced this same conflict. Even as you’re reading this, there are probably people within a few feet of you who may also go to hell. What will you do? It could be that the Lord wants you to put the book down.

Coming face-to-face with these passages on hell and asking these tough questions is a heart-wrenching process.

It forces me back to a sobering reality: This is not just about doctrine; it’s about destinies. And if you’re reading this book and wrestling with what the Bible says about hell, you cannot let this be a mere academic exercise. You must let Jesus’ very real teaching on hell sober you up. YOu must let Jesus’ words reconfigure the way you live, the way you talk, and the way you see the world and the people around you.

If you live in the Odessa/Midland area, you can sign up for this class by visiting the Mission Dorado Bible Institute website. The class is free, and the information is priceless.

Also, you can sign up to receive my posts straight to your inbox. Simply click on the link on the right sidebar. You’ll receive a free copy of my eBook on the Second Coming for doing so.

Works Cited
Chan, Francis, Erasing Hell (Colorado Springs, CO: David Cook, 2011), 71-2.

BOOK REVIEW – THE FAULT IN OUR STARS BY JOHN GREEN

The_Fault_in_Our_StarsThere’s a moment in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar when the Roman nobleman, Cassius, says to another nobleman, Brutus, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.” The context of Cassius’ statement is that his and Brutus’ unjust destinies are not the result of anything supernatural (something “in the stars”), but of their own poor choices.

This is a statement that has held its place in culture, but author John Green’s latest book seeks to dismantle this philosophy.

Green  himself, in response to a reader’s question, writes,

“. . . that’s ridiculous. There is plenty of fault in our stars. Many people suffer needlessly not because they’ve done something wrong or because they’re evil or whatever but because they get unlucky. I wanted to try to write a novel about how we navigate a world that isn’t fair, and whether it’s possible to have a full and meaningful life even if you don’t get to play out your life on a grand stage the way Cassius and Brutus did” (The Fault in Our Stars: Collector’s Edition, 4).

THE PLOT

The Fault in Our Stars is a book starring Hazel Grace Lancaster, a 16 year old cancer survivor whose physical life has been left in shambles from her battle. Her lungs, as Hazel herself describes, “suck” and she is subjected to toting oxygen around wherever she goes. To say that she lives an abnormal teenage life would be a grand understatement.

The novel takes off when Hazel attends a support group and meets another cancer survivor named Augustus Waters, a quick-witted, humorously-cynical 17 year old boy who quickly falls in love with her. The two embark on a philosophical journey together as they share their deepest emotions concerning the unjust landscape of their lives.

POSITIVE ELEMENTS

Augustus Waters is arguably one of the most lovable characters in modern day fiction. I recently told my wife that “I wish he were real, because I would love to know him.” He is the rare personality that brightens up life because he sees it from a unique angle. Some of the more humorous portions of the novel exist when Augustus sacrifices his video game avatar to save nonexistent, pixelated innocents. In so doing, his character naturally dies and he himself loses the game. But this is how Augustus plays the game, because it’s how Augustus plays life. He is obsessed with the concept of dying an honorable, meaningful death, and has a difficult time reconciling how that is possible when one dies of cancer.

It is Augustus that helps bring life to the dying protagonist, Hazel Grace. The friendship and relationship they foster is certainly a positive element to the story and although they both live on the diving board of death, together they are capable of standing firm on that slippery, flimsy board.

SPIRITUAL CONTENT

Much of The Fault in Our Stars is spiritual. A quick Google search will reveal that John Green considers himself a Christian, although he allegedly doesn’t like boxing himself in with this title. The support group takes place in a church, God is often alluded to, and Bible verses even appear here and there, albeit out of context.

To say that the book paints an accurate picture of biblical Christianity, however, would be far-fetched. In fact, I would go as far as to say that God is often recreated and mocked. Augustus and Hazel would be what I consider nominal Christians. They seem to understand the basic concepts, like most Americans would, but they certainly don’t live by godly standards. It is assumed that everyone goes to heaven and that those that die of cancer might even have a special place there, although, to be fair, the protagonists seem to deny this claim.

The novel’s title, in and of itself, suggests that there is fault with God’s sovereignty in creation, and that mankind isn’t responsible, or at least as responsible, as Shakespeare’s Cassius alleged. Spiritually speaking, this is simply not the case. The fault is not in God (“the stars”), but a result of the Fall of Genesis 3. This is arguably my largest contention with the novel. Green assumes that all people are good and that things like cancer are unfair additions to life. While I would agree that cancer, and other evils like it, are horrible and devastating occurrences, we cannot ignore that such things are the inevitable result of mankind’s decision to disobey God. Thus, Cassius was right. The fault is in ourselves.

There are other claims about God in the novel, one being a fictional father in a fictional novel that the fictional author, Peter Van Houten, claims represents God (which isn’t in good taste). But one of the more revealing aspects of Green’s spiritual claims might be in an answer he gives to a reader in the Collector’s Edition of his novel. Green writes that “books belong to their readers,” which, contextually speaking, was Green’s way of saying that readers have the freedom to interpret elements of the story to their own desires. If this is a block of Green’s foundation to his worldview, then it might explain how he interprets the Bible, which consequently affects much of what he believes it means to be a Christian, which affects his view of “the stars.”

SEXUAL CONTENT

There is essentially one major sexual episode when Augustus and Hazel engage in premarital sex during their trip to Amsterdam. There are other episodes of various characters, including Augustus and Hazel, kissing.

VIOLENT CONTENT

The book is inherently violent insofar as it is about kids with cancer, and Green pulls no punches in relating the facts about what a kid might go through when dealing with such a disease. In preparing for this book, Green spent time serving as a chaplain at a hospital with terminally ill children and wanted to convey the painful reality of death, not the graceful death often painted in other novels.

CRUDE LANGUAGE

The novel includes various uses of “s–t” and “d–m.”

DRUG AND ALCOHOL CONTENT

No drug content, but the characters, underage, do partake of champagne. To my recollection there are no scenes where the characters get drunk. Augustus often has a cigarette in his mouth, but he  never lights it. It is a metaphor that he is in control of his life and that this tool of death has no power over him.

OTHER NEGATIVE ELEMENTS

The most negative elements of this novel rest in the influence it will undoubtedly bring to its young readers. Because it is such an engaging read and because the characters are so lovable, I can see many students learning from much of the fictional elements involved, treating them as truth. There are false concepts of mathematics (specifically claims on the philosophical understanding of infinity) and medicine, as well as misguided claims of biblical Christianity. There are also logically fallible philosophical claims that have little, if any, warrant. Green opens the book in writing, “This book is a work of fiction. I made it up,” but this does little to clarify what is real and what is not real in its claims.

CONCLUSION

The Fault in Our Stars is a very enjoyable read. It’s hard to put down and it can be read quickly. I would not personally recommend it to any person younger than 16, and even with that (given my Christian faith), I would be cautious. It makes a variety of philosophical claims about life and can serve as a tool for philosophical discussions concerning gratuitous evils, which are conversations parents should have with their children. But it is my conviction that these conversations should be rooted and cultivated by Scripture, not fiction. Although, fiction is a fun way to add to the conversation after a firm foundation has been built in God’s Word.

I give the book 4 out of 5 stars.

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FATHERHOOD AND THE FIVE LOVE LANGUAGES OF PARENTING

5-love-languages

My wife and I announced this past Sunday that we are “adding one to the team!” The thought of becoming a dad is a very scary, yet exciting emotion. Scary because it’s something I’ve never done, but exciting because I consider it a gift from God. I am eager to teach my son or daughter in the ways of the Lord.

It is my conviction that the best resource for parenting is none other than the Bible. And as a father, I am resolved to soak as much fatherly counsel from it as possible. The following is a blog I developed some months ago from a sermon I preached during a “Family Matters” series. I figured that it was an appropriate post for this season of my life. And the content comes straight from Scripture:

Some years ago an author named Gary Chapman penned what has since become a must read book for marital communication. This book is called, The Five Love Languages.

In his book Chapman details five general ways that people communicate love. These are: Quality Time, Acts of Service, Receiving Gifts, Words of Affirmation, and Physical Touch. Chapman’s theory is that every person primarily receives love in one of these five categories and that knowing a person’s prime category affords the opportunity to intentionally and clearly communicate love to him. Thus the title, “love languages.”

While Chapman’s love languages are generic principles designed to aid in communication, the basic principle of “love” is certainly a biblical one. Moreover, the various dynamics Chapman presents of expressing love are certainly biblically based. In fact, it isn’t unreasonable to suggest that Scripture presents Paul, acting as a spiritual father, exercising all five towards Timothy, his spiritual son.

Paul’s relationship with Timothy is one of the more endearing in Scripture. While they had no biological connection, Paul considered Timothy his “true child in the faith” and his “beloved son” (1 Tim 1:2; 2 Tim 1:2). Acts 16:1 reveals that while Timothy had a Christian mother, this may have not been the case with his father. Realizing this, Paul took young Timothy under his wing and became his spiritual father. And as a spiritual father Paul exercised all five of the aforementioned love languages to Timothy. In doing so, Paul provided a splendid example of how a parent ought to express love to his child. He exercised a full diet of love that includes all five of Chapman’s love languages. This is expressed in the opening lines of Paul’s second letter to him:

I thank God, whom I serve with a clear conscience the way my forefathers did, as I constantly remember you in my prayers night and day, longing to see you, even as I recall your tears, so that I may be filled with joy. For I am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am sure that it is in you as well. For this reason I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline (2 Timothy 1:3-7, NASB).

1. PAUL EXPRESSED WORDS OF AFFIRMATION (V.3A)

Some of Paul’s first words to Timothy are, “I thank God.” The implication is that Paul is thanking God for Timothy and that he is making Timothy aware of this. That Paul is thankful for Timothy or even why Paul is thankful for Timothy both take a back seat at this stage. Instead, the importance is placed on the simple fact that Paul let Timothy know that he was thankful for him. In this, he “affirmed” his son in the faith.

There is a saying that I remember hearing on the playgrounds during my grade school days. It always came after one kid demeaned another because of the way he looked, talked, or dressed. The kid being made fun of would respond: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

Unfortunately, this is a misguided proverb.

Words do hurt. And sometimes they hurt worse than “sticks and stones.” This is precisely why this phrase was employed. It was a defense mechanism that attempted to mitigate hurtful words that did the opposite of “affirming.”

Hurtful words can be the source to all kinds of psychological issues in young kids. But words of affirmation can be the source to all kinds of positive traits. As a spiritual father, Paul communicated love to his son in the faith by affirming him to the Lord, and he made him aware of it. This is a noteworthy example to which parents should pay heed.

2. PAUL PERFORMED ACTS OF SERVICE (V.3B)

The second half of Paul’s thanksgiving statement reveals how he expressed it, which was by “constantly remembering” Timothy in his prayers. Paul expresses this by writing, “as I constantly remember you in my prayers night and day.”

In transliterated Greek, Paul’s phrase reads: hos echo ten peri sou mneian adialeipton. A key word in this phrase is echo, which means “to cause to bring about; to produce.” In this phrase it’s the Greek word for “remember.” Etymologically, we get the word “echo” from this. When we hear the echo of a noise reverberating off of a wall, it is as if the sound is being “brought about,” “produced,” or even “remembered” back to us. This is also the same word used in the Gospel of Matthew to describe Mary being “with child” (Matt 1:18). In Matthew 24:19 it’s outright translated as “pregnant.”  The idea is that a pregnant woman is in the process of “causing to bring about” or “producing” a baby.

Paul employs this phrase to suggest that he is pregnant with prayer for his spiritual son and that those prayers, like a baby, are in the constant process of being produced. The fact that Paul prays for Timothy falls in line with Chapman’s love language known as “Acts of Service.” As a spiritual father, Paul expressed love to his son by speaking this particular language. That is, he expressed his love by doing something with it. And this something was prayer.

Not only can parents learn from Paul’s example of communicating love through “Acts of Service,” but the specific act that Paul performed is also significant.

3. PAUL SPENT QUALITY TIME (V.4)

Paul also told Timothy that he “longed” to see him. The word “long” means “to desire with the implication of recognizing a lack.” A modern day way of stating this is when a husband describes his wife, or vice versa, as the “better half.” This implies that he is one with his wife and that when separated, he is missing an important part of himself. But this word isn’t limited to spouses. It can refer to all sorts of relationships, and Paul is essentially using it to convey that Timothy is an important part of his life. Such an important part that when they are separated he “longs” for him.

As a spiritual father, Paul desired to spend quality time with his spiritual son. He even went as far as to write that upon reuniting that he would be “filled with joy” (v. 4). Thus, it wasn’t just that Paul wanted to spend time with Timothy. It was that he valued his time with him. It was something of high quality.

In his book, Family Driven Faith, Voddie Baucham discusses the concept of “outsourcing.” He acknowledges how beneficial it is for businesses to outsource certain responsibilities within their company. Many businesses, for example, outsource their website design. They hire a company to build and maintain a website. Baucham then proposes how many families employ this concept in their homes with their children, especially their spiritual upbringing. Baucham’s argument is that while it is sensical for businesses to outsource responsibilities within their company, that it isn’t for parents concerning spiritual responsibilities within their family. He suggests that many parents outsource the spiritual upbringing of their children to the church, particularly to children and youth ministries, and that this is unbiblical. Instead, the church should serve as a support system, not an outsourced institution hired to provide spiritual authority. This is the parents’ job.

As a spiritual father, Paul didn’t outsource his spiritual relationship with Timothy. In many ways, it was his full time job. This is because he expressed love to Timothy by spending quality time with him. And this expression greatly influenced Timothy, even to the point where he was brought to “tears” during a previous separation (v. 4). They enjoyed their time together.

4. PAUL EMPLOYED PHYSICAL TOUCH (V.6B)

Paul is not shy about the fact that he expressed love by the “laying on of hands” to his son in the faith. He writes, “kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands” (v. 6b).

In a recent article published by Psychology Today, Rick Chillot writes, “Touch is the first sense we acquire and the secret weapon in many a successful relationship.”

I can’t help but agree.

I still remember the comfort of resting my head on my father’s chest and hearing the heavy thumps of his heartbeat. I still get butterflies in my stomach when my wife holds my hand. I also enjoy greeting friends with hugs and handshakes. There is something magical about the sense of touch.

As a spiritual father, Paul communicated love to Timothy by the “laying on of hands.” One observation of Paul’s expression to Timothy here is that it wasn’t just an arbitrary action of physical touch; it was physical touch motivated by spiritual blessing from the Lord. The “laying on of hands” has a biblical precedent of serving as a way of anointing, ordaining, and affirming one another in the Lord. This is the act Paul uses and ironically, it was this expression of love that ultimately enacts the final one.

5. PAUL OFFERED GIFTS (V.6A)

Paul encouraged Timothy to “kindle afresh the gift of God” in his life. While this gift is not something Paul necessarily gave to Timothy, it was something he encouraged him to “kindle.” Paul wanted Timothy to keep the gift alive that was given to him by God and instilled in him through the influence of his biological mother and grandmother. A gift that Paul says “dwelled” in them.

The word “dwell” is used by Paul in Romans 8:11 to describe the Holy Spirit dwelling within a believer. He also uses it in Colossians 3:16 to describe the word of Christ dwelling richly in the believer. The word, therefore, speaks of something that is dynamically alive. It is a living faith in Jesus. This is the gift that Paul asks Timothy to “kindle.” It is also his fifth and final expression of love towards his spiritual child.

Of all the love languages, pointing Timothy to the gift of Jesus is especially noteworthy.

THE RESULTS OF PARENTS EXPRESSING LOVE TOWARDS CHILDREN

The theory of Chapman’s book is that when marital partners understand one another’s love language that they will be able to communicate love to one another clearer. When this happens, both partners realize that each has been expressing love all along, but that they were simply speaking different languages. This is because speaking different love languages is like speaking different dialectical languages. You might be saying all of the right things, but because there is a language barrier you can’t understand one another. But when you do, you start to see all of the natural results of positive communication.

The same is true for parents communicating love to their children. Children may have a primary love language, but most are still formulating their communication skills. Thus, communicating a healthy diet of love towards a child is an important principle, and one that Paul expresses very clearly in 2 Timothy 1:3-7.

When a parent does this, it is not uncommon to start seeing the child turn that love back to others and more importantly to God. This is precisely what happened to Timothy, and it is a God-designed result: “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline” (v. 7).

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THE CUSSING CHRISTIAN: BEING IN THE WORLD, BUT NOT OF THE WORLD

BlogGraphicTemplateThe following is a follow up question to an article on cussing I wrote at CARM.org. The individual’s (for the most part unedited) email reads:

I’m a 19 year old punk rock musician, singer/songwriter/guitarist, so obviously cursing isn’t as black and white of an issue in my life as I’d like it to be. I really want to be a witness to those in the punk rock scene in smokey late night bars, because no one else will reach out to them, and I am one of them.

Punk is the least Christian friendly genre, very very few are believers, but even more are haters, thinking all Christians are rich gay hating war mongers who deny science and logic, or all the other misconceptions out there. I want to be a witness in showing them that I’m no less a sinner then they are, and this is what true hope and joy in Christ really is. But to do that I’ve got to make sure I walk that balance of showing how I can be just like them, a smoker (shouldn’t be I know), not scared or judgmental of drinkers…pretty much to eat with tax collectors and sinners…but still being a good Christian who resists evil, judgment, hatred, and all that is sin.

Basically just to show them they don’t have to be a catholic missionary to find joy and renewal in Jesus.

But cursing is the hardest thing to figure out for me. I know my basic beliefs on it, but I don’t yet have confidence on the specifics. Being a song writer used to cursing in songs, on stage, and all bands i listen to doing the same, it’s time for me to figure it out as I’m just now writing and playing with a new band.

I wanted to inquire further to get an opinion I can trust. You made a great case for the difference between curse words and words that curse, but I need advice in another area. Is it always wrong to curse in music, if not in a negative or angry context, and is there a major difference between public swearing and when talking with a few friends because it’s practically second nature vocabulary?

Where is the line between what I need to refrain from, even if it is hard, and like it or not, to be a good example for Christ, and where I can show that Christians aren’t perfect and instead work on many of the other sins we all commit everyday like envy, anger, judgment, etc, the more emotion based ones that make up the heart rather than the form of language used by the tongue. Is it worse for me to put someone down in my thoughts or to say without thinking, “I think your a f-ing awesome person”? (Just as an extreme example.) To judge someone by their looks in my heart, or to say “s-t what song are we playing next”? If both are sinful, I know I shouldn’t do either, but I can never be perfect, I mean that’s why He who is perfect had to take my punishment.

My questions aren’t even really limited to these examples, but I think I’ve given you enough to fully understand my conflict and fill in any of the blanks.

I am very grateful for you’re time, do not feel obligated to rush back a reply, I’m not cursing out preachers left and right, I can wait haha. I look foward to hearing your opinions, thank you and God bless.

The following is my response:

I want to thank you for both reading and responding to my CARM.org article.

I have read your email a couple of times and I feel that the best way to respond is to give a general response to your statements concerning your witness to those in the “punk rock” scene, and then to answer your specific questions, which include:

* Is it always wrong to curse in music, even if it’s not negative or angry?
* Is there a major difference between public swearing and personal swearing (suggesting that the personal swearing is ‘second nature’)?
* Where should I draw the line while showing that Christians aren’t perfect?
* Is there a difference between sinful thoughts and sinful words? Is one worse than the other?

WITNESSING IN A ‘PUNK ROCK’ SCENE

If I understand your dilemma, then you are trying to figure out how to operate as a follower of Jesus in a scene that is contrary to him. My response to such a dilemma is to consider how Jesus operated in such scenes. While Jesus did indeed “eat with tax collectors and sinners” (Mark 2:15), it is important to understand that he did not sit at the tax collector booth with them and include himself in their behavior. In fact his entire effort for eating with them is explained in Mark 2:17: “It is not those who are healthy who  need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Therefore, it is important to remember that if you are going to witness to “tax collectors and sinners” that you are not including yourself in their sinful behavior, and that your motivation is to lead them to “health” in Jesus.

If you really want to witness in the “punk rock” scene, then I would encourage you to befriend people in that scene, but to make sure that you are not including yourself in their behavior. As you have identified, things like smoking and cursing would be including yourself in their behavior and all this will do is cause them to see that there is no difference between them and you, and mitigate their desire to see the need for trusting Jesus.

Jesus says it this way: “Be in the world, but not of the world” (John 17:16).

YOUR QUESTIONS

Question 1: “Is it always wrong to curse in music, even if it’s not negative or angry?”

Per my original article, I would suggest that cursing in music is sinful and that it would be nearly impossible to include a curse word without it having some kind of negative or angry context. This is why the word “curse” is used to describe such words. They are “curses” directed towards someone or something. It is a way of releasing and describing extreme dissatisfaction with a person or a situation. It’s okay to express righteous anger over sin, but it’s not okay to respond to sin with sin.

Paul writes, “Be angry and do not sin” (Eph 4:26).

Also, the music we see in Scripture seems to be a response after difficult events in order to glorify God. This is obvious from the song Moses sang after Israel’s redemption as well as the various Psalms. I would argue that it is difficult to glorify God while making curses directed to people and events, especially when the authors of Scripture glorified God in spite of the events.

Question 2: “Is there a major difference between public swearing and personal swearing (suggesting that the personal swearing is ‘second nature’)?”

I would say that there is no difference. In fact, I would argue that the concept of sin being more acceptable in personal contexts is a question of integrity. God calls us to live at his standard whether we are in the public eye, or in the privacy of our bedrooms.

Also, calling a sin “second nature” is an attempt to justify it as something that we cannot help and, therefore, something that God should overlook. We wouldn’t tell a murderer that it is okay to murder someone in private but not in public, because it’s his “second nature.” Paul tells us that we should not look at sin this way because doing so is taking advantage of God’s forgiveness (Romans 6).

Question 3: “Where should I draw the line while showing that Christians aren’t perfect?”

The answer to this question is easy: draw the line at sin. While it is understandable to want to show “tax collectors and sinners” that Christians aren’t perfect, especially in a world that tends to think of us as “rich, gay hating, war mongers who deny science and logic,” as you say, we simply cannot do it by subjecting ourselves to sin in order to do so.

One of the best cliches (and I usually loathe cliches!) that I have heard on this is to “Hate the sin. Love the sinner.” I think this is a very biblical concept. The way you do this is the same way Jesus did. He met sinners where they were, spent time with them without including himself in their sinful activities, and then sought to bring them to salvation.

You could never lift a drowning man out of a fast-paced river if you jumped in with him. But you could if you stood on the shore and offered a helping hand. As Christians, we must stand on the shore of God’s standards, meet the sinners in their despair, and offer a helping hand.

Question 4: “Is there a difference between sinful thoughts and sinful words? Is one worse than the other?”

Your question makes me think of what Jesus said in his Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:

“But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell’” (22)

“but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (28).

In a nutshell, Jesus taught that anger is on par with murder (including the context of 5:21) and that lust is on par with adultery. A person doesn’t need to actually murder or commit adultery to be counted guilty in God’s eyes. Thus, the answer to your question is that sinful thoughts and sinful words are one in the same. Both equally offend God’s standard.

To make a personal appeal, it seems that you are in a precarious situation. You have a love for “punk rock” music, which naturally comes with a very unchristian context. This makes it hard for you to exist within that context because in order to succeed you are expected to live a certain lifestyle. I would encourage you to ask yourself if your motivation to be in that scene is to reach people for Jesus or because you personally like the music. If it is the latter, then you will find that you will have a difficult time finding the motivation to not smoke, drink, curse, etc. If it is the former, then you will find that  you will be willing to forego the lifestyle that come with the scene. If you really want to make an impact for Jesus, then the best thing you can do is to live at his standard in whatever context he has you. It would be difficult to lead a thief to Jesus if you are stealing alongside him, or a murderer if you are killing alongside him. The same is true for the people in the punk rock scene. If you really want to reach them for Christ, then you will need to make sacrifices that show them that you are different, and that the difference is a relationship with Jesus.

Thanks for the opportunity to correspond with you over this!

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THE GOSPEL IS FOR CHRISTINA “UGUILERA”

Christina-christina-aguilera-32086454-1024-768It was at an evangelism conference when it happened. Some of the nation’s top evangelists were preaching. Most of them directors of nationally renowned ministries or pastors of mega churches. And they didn’t inherit these ministries. They built them from the ground up. They took their churches, as their introductions said, from 100 to 1,000+ people. Most of them overnight.

It was a typical conference. Another evangelist was preaching, one whose sermon induced “amens” from all over the building. Then, it happened. It was a statement that turned a nasty corner. Sure, it received dozens of “amens.” Some clapped. Others laughed. But that was the point. It was a cheap zinger employed to gain a roaring, knee-slapping response. A deliberate statement to encourage buddies to elbow one another and shake their head in hearty agreement. One that people could reminisce about in the hallways after the service. But one that, ironically, served the opposite of the event’s purpose.

The statement was something along the lines of, “I don’t need Christina Uguliera.” The statement also included rhetorical slanders of other well-known celebrities.

I can’t help but think that if Christina Aguilera had been in the audience, she would have probably not been evangelized. In fact, she would have been the opposite of evangelized. She would have been in a room full of hundreds of believers, listening to a professional evangelist speak on the gospel, and still be as lost as Vice President Biden at a West Texas gun show.

In reading the Gospels, I don’t remember Jesus ever belittling lost people. Jesus didn’t tell the woman at the well: “Only God knows how you got five husbands.” He didn’t walk up to the fishermen and say: Pyew! And I mean capital P and capital U. Go take a bath and then you’ll be gospel worthy.”

Instead, Jesus did things like wash people’s feet, touch people with leprosy, and open an old grave so he could raise the rotting corpse back to life. He intentionally chose the stinky and the ugly and bid them to come and die. “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance,” Jesus said (Luke 5:32, NASB).

The point is that it would be okay to tell Christina Aguilera that you don’t like her hair, makeup, or the way she dresses. You can tell her that you don’t agree with her music or her choices. You can even tell her that you hated her on the Mickey Mouse Club. But calling her ugly because she isn’t a Christian is an atrocity. It doesn’t get her or anyone else closer to Jesus and it certainly doesn’t promote the gospel. It demotes it, conveying that if you don’t agree with us then we are going to call you names, take our ball and go home.

If Jesus were here, I would like to think that he would deal with Christina Aguilera differently. He would certainly address her sin, but he wouldn’t degrade her in the process. He wouldn’t be worried about what’s happening on the outside so much as about what’s going on in the inside. That is, he would tell her she has an ugly heart, not an ugly face. And it would be so that she might respond to the power of the gospel, not so believers can respond to the appeal of his rhetoric.

This is because the gospel is for Christina Aguilera, and every other ugly-hearted sinner.

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