Tuesday, June 28, 2016

But Jesus Didn't Say...

A very common tactic to avoid confronting difficult truths about difficult topics is to claim that if Jesus in the words He spoke and that were recorded for us didn't specifically address a topic, that topic is therefore unimportant and subject to the whims of the prevailing culture. This is a handy tactic because it appeals to people who don't think beyond a superficial level. It is also a poor way of thinking and a dangerous one. Briefly here are three reasons that this notion makes no sense logically or Biblically:

First, Jesus didn't address a lot of topics based on what is written and attributed to Him in the New Testament. He usually taught based on the audience and their questions. For example, in Matthew 19 the Pharisees were trying to trick Jesus by asking about divorce. Jesus as usual turned it around on them while also giving us the best understanding of the topic of divorce anywhere in Scripture. Specific topic, specific audience but a timeless truth.

A topic that is often cited for being unimportant because Jesus didn't address it is homosexuality. Jesus didn't say that homosexuality is wrong so it must be OK. Not really. Jesus often spoke on a topic if the understanding of it was skewed, like the issue of divorce or the eye for eye system of justice. His silence on a topic, speaking as a Jew to a largely Jewish audience, would rather than declaring a topic unimportant would instead leave the accepted understanding in place. No one was going around asking if homosexual behavior was OK because everyone already knew it was condemned in the strongest possible terms. Jesus didn't teach "You have heard it said that homosexuality is an abomination but I say unto you that it is OK if it is done in a committed relationship". Those being taught by Jesus would have come to the conversation knowing homosexuality was an abomination and nothing He is recorded as teaching would have altered that understanding.

Second, Jesus said a lot of stuff that is recorded in the New Testament but you can read everything written in red in what, an hour or maybe two? But Jesus lived for many years. He certainly wasn't silent except for the words in red in our English New Testament. The apostle John wrote:

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31)

..and also....

Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. (John 21:25)

The teachings of Jesus that were preserved are a fraction of what He taught but they are specifically preserved for our benefit. So when Jesus speaks to the centurion and doesn't tell him to love his enemies and to lay down the sword in what we have recorded, that doesn't mean the topic never came up. Arguing from the alleged silence of Jesus when we expressly know He taught a ton of stuff that is not recorded is intellectually dishonest.

Third, Jesus is not the only person quoted in the New Testament, far from it. Much of what we know of the Gospel, of the Kingdom, of the cross, resurrection and atonement, of justification, of election, of the nature of Jesus Himself, we know from other sources than Christ.

Jesus spoke and taught almost exclusively pre-cross. His teaching therefore focused heavily on the prophetic fulfillment of His incarnation, on the impending inauguration of the Kingdom, on correcting misunderstandings about the Law and on establishing Himself as the great I AM, the Messiah. After the cross His disciples taught extensively on the meaning of the cross, on the Gospel of justification by faith via the substitutionary death of Christ and especially on how the church post-cross should relate to each other and the world and specifics on issues that rose up (Do we need to keep the dietary laws? What about circumcision? Who should lead the church? Why do so many Jews not believe?). most often those topics are addressed by the most prolific NT writer, the apostle Paul This brings us to a second evasion tactic in this category, pitting Jesus against the writers of the non-Gospel account books of the New Testament, most especially Paul.

Ah Paul. That most inconvenient of apostles. Paul is often singled out because he fills in a lot of the "blanks" that Jesus is not recorded as expressly teaching on. Gender roles. Sexual immorality. Church discipline. What makes Paul such a threat is that what he taught is generally completely contrary to what the world believes and as such he is an endless source of embarrassment to many religious types who want their public piety but don't want to get dis-invited from the cool cocktail parties or lose academic standing. Their solution is to create an either-or scenario. On a given topic you need to listen to Jesus or you need to listen to Paul. You have to choose. Of course no one is going to say I choose Paul over Jesus but here is the dirty little secret. You never have to. Jesus taught what Paul taught and what Paul taught he learned from Jesus. We are told that Paul is homophobic, a misogynist, a loud mouthed and crude ogre. They say this looking back 2000 years and declaring that from that vantage point we understand Jesus better than Paul did. Great except that Paul was an apostle, directly taught by Jesus, considered authoritative by the early church. In other words, Paul knows Jesus better than you or I ever will this side of eternity. Only the most arrogant would declare that Paul was often wrong about what Jesus intended but we have it figured out.

If we try to jettison Paul we are going to have a pretty small New Testament and worse we will have an incomplete and ineffective New Testament. Those who slander Paul do so because that is easier than dealing with what he wrote. It is perceived to be better to argue from the unrecorded alleged silence of Jesus where we are free to fill in the blanks than it is to wrestle with what an apostle of Christ had to teach us that he based on what Jesus taught him.

The New Testament is not "Jesus or Paul" it is "Jesus and Paul (and Peter and John and Luke etc.)". If you truly want to know Jesus better so you can follow Him more faithfully then you absolutely must read Paul and the other apostles. In fact I would suggest that telling people to discount Paul is tantamount to being a false teacher. Paul knew Jesus better that almost anyone who has ever lived and if we want to know Jesus better there is no better teacher, other than Christ Himself, than Paul. Sitting at the feet of Paul is one of the best ways to learn to love and follow our Savior.

When someone tells you an absence of letters in red on a topic means it is unimportant, remember these three points. The idea of a lack of red letters equating to unimportance is an easy and quick way to sidestep difficult topics, allowing one to come independently to their own conclusions, but it makes absolutely no sense when viewed in light of the New Testament.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

A Trump Sized Nail In The Coffin Of Cultural Christainity

Each day it seems the power brokers in what was once the mighty "cultural Christianity" lose more of their influence and scramble to try to gather more from ever more disparate sources even as their once sold foundation slips through their fingers.

Enter Donald Trump. By any standard he is the least like what Evangelical Christians are at least supposed to be like. I won't rehash the laundry list of reasons why he is really the antithesis of everything we are supposed to hold dear. It is simply obvious though that many of the former power brokers in what passes for the church are no just holding their noses and supporting Trump but are shamelessly staring up at him adoringly. Yesterday Trump met with a bunch of hobnobs from the religious world to basically lie to them as they applaud him even as they know he is lying. From NPR:

Most Donald Trump events kick off with music from Elton John or the Rolling Stones at deafening volumes. But praise choruses ruled the day Tuesday as hundreds of conservative Christians gathered at a hotel in Times Square to question Trump.

Under glittering pink-and-white chandeliers, evangelicals and conservative Catholics filled the large ballroom, some raising their hands and closing their eyes as they sang, "Seek ye first the Kingdom of God/And his righteousness/And all these things shall be added unto you."

As soon as Trump entered the room, it quickly became clear this was a largely friendly audience. The moderator, former Republican presidential hopeful and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, told Trump this would not be an "inquisition," but rather people had come because they want someone who will "lead this nation out of the abyss."

I am sure the irony of Mike Huckabee invoking the Inquisition as progeny of the perpetrators and some of the victims of the Inquisition is lost on him.  Here we have the perpetrators and the victims of the actual Inquisition sitting together not on the basis of the Gospel but for political expediency. I have to imagine a lot of the martyrs from the Reformation era would look at what we are doing in the name of ecumenicalism and secular political power and wonder just what it is that they died for. They certainly didn't face torture and death at the stake so a serial adulterer could get everyone to sit around and break bread with one another. 

Since Roman Catholics and Evangelical Christians don't even agree on the nature of the Kingdom of God, not to mention  the very Gospel itself, and Donald Trump couldn't give you a VBS level explanation of what it is, it seems a bit odd to have people gathered to unequally yoke themselves with false believers in support of an abject unbeliever singing about seeking first the Kingdom of God.

The meeting was a veritable who's who of evangelical personalities: Ralph Reed, who was also interviewed today on NPR and gave a grotesque defense of Trump as "pro-life". Also in attendance was Gary Bauer, James Dobson, Bob Vander Plaats, Mike Huckabee of course, Tony Perkins. I am not sure he was there but Jerry Falwell, Jr. (who invites heretics to speak to the student body at his "Christian" school) has been making the rounds in a picture with Trump, giving him the thumbs up as they stand before a wall that testifies to Trump's narcissism including a cover of Playboy magazine with Trump featured. 

Somehow having someone claims to be a Christian yet who boasts about and revels in his unrepentant sin that Christians shouldn't even break bread with (1 Cor 5:9-13) is OK if it keeps Hillary out of the White House.

Donald Trump may do more to disintegrate the cultural Christianity of America than any other single individual. Sometimes God does indeed use  the worst among us to impact his people for good. 

Thursday, June 09, 2016

I Am Not A Meteorologist But.....

It seems to me that there can be a slight chance of showers or an 80% chance of rain but not both. It must be cool to have a job where you can be completely wrong 100% of the time with no consequences.

Being Passionate About Something Doesn't Mean You Are Good At it

Every famous person in America is unceasingly blathering on about their opinions as to what the little people should think and do. Almost without exception, the opinions of famous people in America are asinine and nonsensical but that doesn't stop them from insisting that we listen to their opinions. One of the few shining exceptions to this rule is Mike Rowe, someone I have praised many times before. He has a new video out aimed at recent high school graduates and it is gold from start to finish.

You can read the transcript here.

Our culture constantly tells people to follow their heart and purse their passions. That sounds great but as reality tells us, what really happens is that we end up with hundreds of thousands of people who "followed their passion" and have absolutely no useful skills for the workplace. As Mike succinctly puts it as only he can:

But when it comes to making a living, it’s easy to forget the dirty truth: just because you’re passionate about something doesn’t mean you won’t suck at it.

Yep. We should be telling high school grads to follow the opportunities that the future will provide. Certainly some people make a living in their passion but as the millions of guys adjusting their fantasy football roster while sitting in a cubicle at work attests, most people are better off following opportunity, not their passion. The Bible tells us about the heart and following our passions:

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? - Jeremiah 17:9

Instead of "following your heart", do your research and talk to older and presumably wiser people. You can have your passions but you can also have a real job. Like Mike says:

“Never follow your passion, but always bring it with you.”

That kind of common sense is desperately missing today. I am glad someone like Mike Rowe has the platform he does to counter the idiocy coming from most celebrities.

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Maybe the Amish should stick to horses

I'll just leave this here, see if you can discover what is wrong with this picture....

Sunday, June 05, 2016

I Am No Prophet But I Can Smell Manure When I Step In It

With social media, as your circle of contacts gets larger, the more you get exposed to different stuff. Some stuff is helpful, some is amusing but a lot of it exposes the dangerous nonsense that is being taught to people who don't but should know better. I came across this post, 2 Reasons WhyMany Christians Are Broke, while scrolling though my news feed and had to check it out. In fariness it was posted to a friends news feed by someone else that I don't know so I don't blame the individual who is in my contacts. It was pretty much the malarkey I expected and when I read the bio of the author, Kyle Miller, I was likewise not exactly shocked:

Kyle T. Miller has been called to the marketplace as a musician, play producer and educator. Kyle has been prophesying and interpreting dreams for almost 15 years. Kyle is also a scholar, obtaining a Masters of Arts in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. in Higher Education Administration from The University of Mississippi (Ole Miss). Kyle's theater production company, Positive Images in Christ, has directed and produced over a dozen shows since it was founded in 2004. Please visit his website at prophetkyle.com.

Well when your personal webpage is "prophetkyle.com", I guess you are not being terribly subtle about how highly you think of yourself. I might add that having an M.A. in "Intercultural Studies", whatever that means, from Fuller and a PhD. in Higher Ed Admin are lovely and all but I am not sure they qualify you as a "scholar", especially not a Bible scholar.

Anyway what does our resident "scholar", the self-proclaimed "Prophet Kyle" have to say about why lesser Christians are "broke"? Well he gets his prophecy on with this opening paragraph:

The Bible has a lot to say about money and prosperity. Although in the last 20 years there have arguably been wrong motives of some teachings on money, prosperity is biblically supported.

Well he is sort of right, the Bible DOES have a lot to say about money and prosperity but none of it implies that we should be seeking after it or that it is a sign of faithfulness if we are prosperous or lack of faithfulness if we are not. I had to laugh out loud at his begrudging admission that maybe, just possibly, at some place somewhere someone might have had less than pure motives when teaching about "prosperity", I guess buying a dozen mansions and private jet might or might not qualify as "arguably wrong motives". He goes on (emphasis mine):

Some preachers and teachers have taught on money in order to manipulate people to give. These ministers have used Scriptures—sometimes out of context—as a means of twisting people's arms into raising big offerings. Because of these abuses, honest Bible teachers have shied away from teaching on prosperity, in fear of being accused of being a "money preacher." Yet we cannot throw away the baby with the bathwater. Just because there have been abuses by some preachers and teachers concerning prosperity does not mean we should stop preaching and teaching on biblical prosperity.

Sometimes out of context? Sometimes! Well that is quite an admission from "Prophet Kyle"! Perhaps we should " stop preaching and teaching on biblical prosperity" because the teaching you are espousing is false? Just a thought. Never fear though...

Thanks to many pioneers in the faith who suffered resistance, ridicule and opposition from religious scoffers as they made gallant efforts to teach biblical prosperity, many people in the body of Christ do not have a problem with Christians being financially comfortable (or dare I say, rich). Many would agree that when God trusts someone with prosperity, that person is in a fantastic position to help others.

Why would God not want us to be able to comfortably provide for our families, live in nice houses, drive nice cars and enjoy ourselves? However, many saved, born-again believers are living by barley getting by. But why? If God has promised us that we will "eat the good of the land" (Is. 1:19) why are so many Christians broke? Although this is not an exhaustive list, I will share with you five reasons why some Christians are broke and how we can shift from poverty to prosperity.

I assume these "gallant pioneers" include folks like Benny Hinn and of course "Prophet Kyle". Dare I say rich, he sez? Oh yeah, he dares! After all he is a prophet. Then there is this: "Many would agree that when God trusts someone with prosperity, that person is in a fantastic position to help others." If by "help others" you mean "buy expensive cars, mansions and private jets for myself" then yes. Of course what would any erroneous teacher be without a random, out of context and completely inapplicable Old Testament quote? " If God has promised us that we will "eat the good of the land" (Is. 1:19) why are so many Christians broke?" Has good promised Christians that we will "eat the good of the land"? Sure, it is right there in the Bible bro! Of course Isaiah is written about "... Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah." (Isaiah 1:1), speaking of a specific nation under a now obsolete old covenant that is not transferable to Christians in American living under the New Covenant in a secular nation. It sometimes helps us to correctly interpret and apply (or not apply) Scripture when we bother to read it in context, but I am just some schlep on the internet and "Prophet Kyle" is both a prophet and a scholar, so what do I know?

So why does "Prophet Kyle" think Christians are broke (you only get two reasons here, you have to wait on the edge of your seat for the other three)? The first reason I expected, the second was a little kookier.

His first reason? Christians ain't tithing! You don't tithe, you don't get no blessings man! It says so right there in Malachi 3:9-10:

You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. (Malachi 3:9-10)

Chalk Malachi 3:9-10 up in the pantheon of most often misused and abused verses in all of Scripture. It warrants yet again pointing out that Malachi was written to a specific nation under an obsolete Old Covenant. While tithing appears before the Old Covenant, the context here is of "the whole nation of you", i.e. Israel, not America. We are told to bring the full tithe into the storehouse. What is the storehouse for Christians? Well the church bank account via the offering plate of course! Where does it make that link in the New Testament? Well it doesn't but "Prophet Kyle" has seen it revealed to him so it must be true. It is kind of a huge leap to go from a national blessing based on an Old Testament practice to an individual blessing based on giving sufficiently and cheerfully to a local religious group but that is why I am not a prophet apparently.

His second reason? Um...

2. Christians who have participated in the occult are broke. People who consult psychics receive a curse of poverty. Isaiah 8:19-21 says: "When they say to you, 'Seek after the mediums and the wizards, who whisper and mutter,' should not a people seek after their God? Should they consult the dead for the living? To the law and to the testimony; if they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them. They shall pass through the land hard-pressed and hungry; when they are hungry, they shall be furious and curse their king and their God as they look upward."

This Scripture clearly states that people who consult psychics and mediums (consulting the dead) suffer poverty and lack. If you have ever been to a psychic or consulted mediums, palm and/or tarot card readers, or played with Ouija boards, you are under a curse that includes poverty. You should have someone who is skilled in deliverance to lead you through cleansing prayers so that you can be set free.

Not even sure what to do with that one. I wonder what to make of people who faithfully "tithe" to  the local church joyfully and have never been to a psychic or medium and yet are poor by American standards? Maybe they are really not sincere enough because obviously if you are less than prosperous it is your own dang fault. Also I missed the part where there are certain curses that are permanent unless a specialized "skilled deliverer" lifts it for you. You read stuff like this and posts on the sidebar praising Jan Crouch and Joyce Meyer and people wonder why most of the church doesn't take charismatics seriously.

Here is (one of many reasons) why this teaching is so dangerous. What does it mean to be prosperous? The term "prosperous" in some charismatic teaching is like the term "fair" in leftist politics. No ever says how much is "fair" but it is always more. However much a "rich" person pays in taxes, in order for it to be "fair" it needs to be more. To the average American, being prosperous seems to mean having more stuff than you have now. Do you have a Toyota? You should have a Lexus. Do you have a 2000 square foot home? You should have one that is 3000 square feet. It is a teaching based on envy and on coveting. It says to Christians in America that the incredible prosperity essentially every single American has compared to people in the vast majority of the rest of the world is not enough. That is unhealthy and unbiblical.

The second reason it is so dangerous is more insidious. This sort of unbiblical teaching says to people who are not sufficiently "prosperous", an amorphous term, that they are somehow to blame by being insufficiently pious. Look at he garbage in this article. If you are not "prosperous" it is because you don't give enough at church or perhaps because you have been involved in the occult. If you ever went to a psychic you are not gunna be prosperous according to "Prophet Kyle" because you are under some sort of curse. Good news though, you can get out of this curse: " You should have someone who is skilled in deliverance to lead you through cleansing prayers so that you can be set free." Want to bet "Prophet Kyle" is one of those "skilled" individuals? Want to be bet he can "deliver you" via "cleansing prayers" for a small fee? After all, prophets gotta be prosperous too! If you are someone who is poor by American standards but faithful by God's standards (often mutually exclusive), you don't need to be scolded by "prophets" because you are not rich enough.

The history of the church from the earliest days to present has been that most of the church has been anything but prosperous. In fact the more faithful the church has been, the greater the persecution and the less the prosperity. Ask the Anabaptists in Europe how prosperous they were. According to "Prophet Kyle" they must be not giving enough at church or maybe were consulting psychics without the benefit of having a "prophet: around to "lead them in cleansing prayer". Most Christians now and throughout history have hardly been prosperous. More important, and more Biblical, is that they be faithful and I see no connection anywhere in the New Testament between being faithful and monetary blessings.

"Prophet Kyle" should stick to "Intercultural Studies".

Saturday, June 04, 2016

Justification by name recognition

When a celebrity dies, especially one steeped in nostalgia from our youth, it is now considered mandatory to lament their passing by pronouncing them "in a better place" and "resting in peace". This is generally true of Christians as well as religious or semi-religious unbelievers, regardless of anything resembling a Biblical understanding of what makes one right with God. At the risk of getting angry responses due to my insensitivity to a recently deceased cultural icon, I tweeted this morning:
That should be common sense for Christians. Whether the celebrity in question is Prince or Michael Jackson or this mornings passing of Cassius Clay, aka Muhammad Ali, social media has provided a vehicle for people to express their sense of loss grounded in nostalgia. This morning lots of people are posting "#RIPMuhammadAli" all over social media, including a lot of Christians. I understand that "Rest in peace" is an empty cultural expression like saying "God bless you" when people sneeze but it has the effect of confusing the eternal peace of Christ with a nostalgic farewell. It may seem insensitive but times like this are when it is most important for the church to be crystal clear when talking about what eternal peace and rest look like.

Jesus and the apostles had a lot to say about peace and none of it suggested that peace is the eternal destiny of all mankind. Paul taught that Christ made peace with God by the blood of His cross:

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister. (Col 1:19-23)

...and in other verses in the same book, some of my favorites in the entire Bible, Paul wrote:

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. (Col 2:13-14)

Man is by nature at enmity with God, "children of wrath" but those Christ has redeemed are no longer at enmity with God but are reconciled to Him by His Son's cross and are the only ones who will "rest in peace". If one is not resting eternally in Jesus, there is no peace to be found in eternity. Quite the opposite is true, if one dies outside of reconciliation via Christ your eternity will be anything but peaceful. Cassius Clay died a believer in some sort of Islam/Sufism teaching, and while his precise beliefs are not really apparent what is apparent is that he had not been born-again. No one who is born-again can proclaim a belief system that is contrary to what the Bible teaches. You don't have to believe in Christianity but you can't avoid that reality of the exclusivity of the Christian Gospel. 

Mr. Clay has died and will come before before the Judgement seat with nothing but his own righteousness. His death and the death of other celebrities who are not Christians can be a time of nostalgic reflection but more critically it should be a reminder of how eternally vital the Gospel message is. That message of the cross of Christ is the only way someone, whether an unknown pauper or the most famous person alive, can be reconciled to God and be able to truly rest in peace.