Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Something Else We Aren't In Charge Of

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius[a]a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ Andwhen evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. 10 Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. 11 And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, 12 saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14 Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’[b] 16 So the last will be first, and the first last.” - Matthew 20:1-16
In my last post I made the clear (I hope) declaration that we as human beings don't get to decide right and wrong. Right and wrong has been established from the beginning of time by the one who created everything. It only stands to reason that the one who made everything gets to set the rules for everything. Here's something else we're not in charge of...
Who is saved and who isn't.
Jesus accomplished the salvation of all humanity for all of time when he died on the cross. He defeated sin, death and the power of the devil. He declared "It is finished." And it is. 
I find myself getting increasingly agitated at the term 'the lost' when referring to other human beings who have not 'accepted Jesus as their savior.' Jesus came to seek and to save the lost. And he did. And it is finished. And all of heaven rejoiced and the curtain separating man from God and God from man was torn asunder from top to bottom.
And on Pentecost the Holy Spirit was poured out filling the followers of Christ with the power to stand in the face of horrible opposition and go to all the world with the message that Christ had accomplished salvation for all of humanity for all of time.
What if who goes to heaven and who goes to hell is none of our business?
Because it isn't any of our business.
But, but, but...what about the Great Commission? Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey all these things I have commanded you.
Yes. Do that. Bring the love of Jesus, the power of the Holy Spirit and the proclamation of the freedom that has been given to every human being in all the world, for all of time. And stop there.
Stop telling people who's saved and who isn't. Stop determining which sins get you assigned a place in the burning lake of fire while turning a blind eye to other sins that are just as reprehensible but culturally embraced.
Given the amount of time Christians and the Church spend dissecting scripture in order to rightly determine who goes to heaven and who goes to hell and the mechanics of how it happens, it will be a very difficult challenge to let go of all of this.
But let go of it, we must. If we're to follow Jesus and do what he's called us to do, we must allow God to be God and acknowledge that we are not.
Leaving us with the Great Commission. To go and tell all the world that they have been saved by the death of Christ on the cross. They have been set free from sin, death and the power of the devil. To bring the Holy Spirit in all His Pentecost glory to people who need healing, need freedom from demons, need reconciliation, need justice, need mercy and need to know Jesus.
In the parable above workers who were called to the task early in the day were put out at the end of the day when they didn't get a better reward. This parable may be about heaven but, for me, it's more about how angry we human beings get when the owner of the vineyard doesn't let us advise him on how he should treat people. We really, really want to sit on God's advisory board when it comes to the eternal destination of others. And we want to do this not only as individuals, but as congregations, denominations and religions. It's what religion, at its root, is all about. Determining the rules for who gets God's approval and who doesn't.
And, truth be told, it absolutely pisses us off when God doesn't allow us on the advisory board...and really, really, really pisses us off when we realize God doesn't even have such a board. He makes all the decisions without a bit of input from us.
And, thank God, he does. Because I don't think any of us could have conceived of God sending his one and only son to accomplish salvation for all of humanity for all of time. That's so far beyond us that it makes it clear God's thoughts are greater than our thoughts and God's ways than our ways.
So if it's not up to us who goes to heaven and who goes to hell, what are we to do with all this time on our hands? Well, how about we go and tell every person that they are saved by Jesus Christ and bring the freedom and joy that gives us to them? Wouldn't that be wonderful? I think so. 
And when we do this, from this perspective, the way we treat other sinners...even those who are struggling to remain in their sin...changes dramatically. More about what that looks like in the next post.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Sanctioning Sin

verbset apart as or declare holy; consecrate.
"a small shrine was built to sanctify the site"
synonyms:consecrate, bless, make holy, hallow, make sacred, dedicate to God
"he came to sanctify the site"
make legitimate or binding by religious sanction.
"they see their love sanctified by the sacrament of marriage"
synonyms:approve, sanction, condone, vindicate, endorse, support, back, permit,
allow, authorize, legitimize
"we must not sanctify this outrage"
free from sin; purify.
synonyms:purify, cleanse, free from sin, absolve, unburden, redeem
"they sanctified themselves"

So, let's jump into the deep end of the pool. There is so very much to say on the broad topic of calling wrong right and right wrong. At the core of it all is the original lie recorded in Genesis and, in my humble opinion, the only lie Satan has ever told. He lacks any sort of creativity and has simply repeated this lie over and over and over and over and over and over...

And all we like sheep (and like Eve) have fallen for it over and over and over and over and over and over...

Here is the lie...

You can be like God deciding right from wrong (Genesis 3:5)

Trace back all the suffering of humanity from the beginning of time and you'll find at the root of it all the utterly selfish belief that we have the ability to discern right from wrong, good from bad, on our own apart from God.

Here is the truth...

We do not possess the capacity to discern right from wrong apart from God

Yet we keep trying to seize control from God. We torture His Word until it yields the permission we seek to engage in aberrant, destructive, selfish behavior so that we can call it holy, sanctified, pure and sacred.

Am I talking about homosexuality? Yes. Am I including the abomination of homosexual marriage? Yes. Those aberrant behaviors are sin. But these are just the current hot buttons. They are not the point of this post.

So let's pause and parse that sentence: "Those aberrant behaviors are sin."

An aberration is something that diverges from normal with normal being defined as the generally accepted state. Heterosexuality is by far and away the normal state in which humans were created to exist. Which makes homosexuality an aberration. This is not a statement of judgment. It is a statistical fact.

It is not God's intention for us to live in an aberrational state. That's where sin comes into play. Sin broke into our existence corrupting God's original design and intention. Simultaneous to the outbreak of sin at the time of the fall came the enticing lie that we could shake off the shackles of God's definitions of right and wrong and decide for ourselves. So sin created aberrational states and the lie gave us the confidence to declare aberration sanctified.

Ever since we have raised our fists to the sky, hurled invectives at the heavens and torn the fabric of civil society insisting on calling holy behaviors born out of the darkness of sin. Instead of dealing head-on with our brokenness and surrendering to the only one who truly has the capacity to define right and wrong, we fight tooth and nail for permission to live out every aberrational urge and be called blessed.

But here's the rub...even if every single living human being came together in a chorus of agreement without a single voice of dissent heard anywhere on the planet declaring sin holy it would not make it so. And that goes for every sinful behavior we license and embrace. Gluttony, lust, sloth, infanticide (abortion), euthanasia, homosexuality, gossip, greed, and the list goes on and on.

We don't do ourselves or our fellow sojourners on this planet any favors when we acquiesce to their demands and agree that sin isn't sin. Because we don't have the authority to do that. We've never had that authority. We will never have that authority. And pretending we do simply allows us to avoid the difficult work of engaging in a relationship with our mysterious, unfathomable, perplexing Creator God. The one who designed us, has a plan for us, has an intention for us and who loves us so much He sent His only Son to restore balance to the universe and the relationship He longs to have with us.

So we are left with broken hearts. My heart is broken for everyone. Because all of us are impacted by sin. My heart is particularly broken for those who relentlessly insist they do have the authority to decide right from wrong. Because they are fighting to live a life that is so much less than God wants for them. And this is not a behavior exclusive to homosexuals. It is endemic in the human population. And it has a solid foothold in organized religion where deciding right from wrong has been elevated to an art form. I am guilty of having insisted on deciding right from wrong and living years in misery as I avoided the correction and discipline of my loving Heavenly Father.

Enough for now. Next I'll tackle the other big lie we have embraced that, in combination with the first, creates a toxic atmosphere none can survive. And my guess is some who are reading this article are already dismissing me (or worse) assuming I ascribe to this lie. We'll find out.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015


It has been an incredibly long time since I have written here. And I have missed it. Perhaps it has been from lack of time. Perhaps from lack of something to say. But I don't think either of those are completely true. What is more true is I have turned my attention to other things and neglected this particular avenue for sharing my thoughts on church, Christians, the present and the future.

And I'm afraid.

Over twenty years ago when I was regularly teaching the Bible to people whose interest ranged from mildly curious to somewhat engaged, it was typical for me to sound the alarm about the Biblical illiteracy of Christians in the west, the lethargy of the church and the dangers of being comfortable. At the time I couldn't envision living in a country where the church was not only marginalized but vilified to the point where Christians...I...would be reluctant to share a well reasoned opinion based on a firm grasp and understanding of scripture.

So I find myself in an untenable position.

These days I'm working for a Christian ministry that plants churches, cares for children and fights poverty in India and Nepal. We pursue and propel justice and reconciliation by building global community. All laudable and wonderful pursuits that are worthy of the support of many...Christian or not. What we do brings help, hope, healing, peace, joy and strength to people for whom all those things were in short supply before coming to know Jesus Christ as their Savior.

As the ambassador for our ministry it's my privilege to raise awareness and, most importantly, financial support for the work we do. And I have strong opinions about Christian faith, the work of the church, and community that are rooted firmly in my understanding of Scripture which I've studied, taught, absorbed, sung about, wrestled with, sought comfort from and been challenged by since my earliest childhood.

And I'm double-minded. And I find myself empathizing with and simultaneously loathing the church in America that is likewise double-minded.

There is truth in Scripture. Undeniable, immutable, distinct, clear truth. And teasing that truth out over the course of a lifetime is one of the greatest challenges one can undertake. Thinkers far more adept than I have come to the end of their lives still befuddled by our mysterious God who hides and reveals himself in the pages of scripture.

So what do I mean, then, that I am double-minded? It means that I want to be winsome, engaging and friendly with the culture in which I live. In part to gather as much support for the ministry I champion and in part because I don't relish being contentious. In short, I want people to like me (or at least not hate me). At the same time I want/need to speak my mind on things I see that are perilous and I fear many, in and out of the church, do not see or are not thinking about as clearly as they ought, if indeed they are thinking about them at all.

So goes the church. Wanting to engage the culture I see many churches at the local congregation level all the way up to the denominational headquarters being likewise double-minded. It is laudable to want to bring the love of Jesus Christ and the message of acceptance to as broad an audience as possible. It is difficult to stand on truth as best you understand it and still communicate a passionate, caring, sacrificial love to those to whom you are speaking truth. And all the while confessing that you don't really have it all figured out so you're open to engaging in dialogue that is respectful, mature and reasoned, though at times contentious. But it is an affront to God as his followers to sit mute in the midst of a culture that desperately needs what he has...or worse actively endorse sinful behavior...for fear of alienating or offending sinners. We as followers of Jesus are not called to either silence or capitulation.

So I will write. As a follower of Jesus who's still figuring this all out but with very strongly held beliefs I will write. On topics that may make you uncomfortable and opinions that may stir strong emotions. Because I cannot be double-minded any longer. And my prophetic urges will not allow me to sit silent. Like Jeremiah, what I have to say is like a burning in my bones and the pain of not speaking is intolerable. I will share my thoughts here and invite you, dear reader, to come join the conversation.