Monday, February 27, 2006

Da Boy Can Cook, Yeah.

Last night our church had our famous "Men's Chili Cook Off!". Listen, nobody cooks like folks in South Louisiana. Nobody. You may think that you have good food where you live, but you don't. Trust me. And we are serious about our food here. Deadly serious.

As the interloper to the group, the foreigner, the outsider, I was the heavy underdog in the event. Last year, my chili was voted the worst in the competition. This year, I redeemed myself by finishing an honorable second. That's me on the left holding my prize of chili powder, measuring cups, and of course, the silver cup medal. Since we are all Americans, the winner picked the hymn of his choice to sing. As a confession, I must say that some of the chili I ate was some stuff of legend. One chili in particular would curl your hair just by standing next to it. Now that's some hot chili! Just so you know, it's just as hot coming out as it is going in. Yowseh!

Mardi Gras is Coming...

Occasionally, something comes up here in the bayous of Louisiana that remind me that I am no longer in Alabama. One of those things is the weirdness that is Mardi Gras. That's "Fat Tuesday" to you who are uninformed, and Fat Tuesday is a big deal in South Louisiana. Let me tell you briefly what it is supposed to be, and then I'll try to explain what it really is.

Mardi Gras is the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent. The period of Lent is the forty days before the day we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus on Easter. During these forty days, if you are a good Romanist, you fast from some particular thing that you enjoy for the glory of God. That makes Mardi Gras the last day for you to enjoy whatever thing that you are giving up for Lent. So, the typical person indulges before the fast.

What all this has to do with gaudy costumes, floats, beer swilling, drunkenness, debauchery, weird floats, flashing, and ugly beads is beyond me. But it is a very important part of the tradition for many people. *Disclaimer: This is not a direct knock against Roman Catholics. This is an observation about how people act on Mardi Gras. I'm certain that I saw a Baptist on TV in New Orleans at Mardi Gras.*

The entire scenario reminds me of the impression the average lost person has about the Christian life. The lost person has the impression that being a Christian means "giving up" all the things that they love, and then for the rest of their lives they have to suffer in misery until they die. Not unlike the monks of old who beat themselves, they picture Christianity as a constant self-whipping and of being deprived of all things fun. That's why they always say that they will become Christ followers "one day", but they just aren't ready yet. Bottom line: They believe that Christianity is misery.

My life used to be, or so I thought, a constant Fat Tuesday. I did whatever my heart desired, and yet I found in those things no peace or lasting joy. The things upon which I feasted still left me hungry and hollow, and I withered as a person. Yet, I could not bring myself to give them up because these things were the only joys I knew.

Heaven, to me, was also like a perpetual Mardi Gras. It was frustrating for me to think about because I knew that the only way to get to the celestial party was to go a short time without the things that I wanted to enjoy forever. That was the period of metaphoric Lent in life when I would "be a Christian". Preferably, I would start this period after I was married, old, had a few kids, and was to wrinkled and tired to have fun anymore anyway. Then, I would entire the Lent years just before death and my resurrection to eternal youth and perpetual glutting on self-indulgence on streets of gold.

It is sad and sickening for me to remember the perverse pleasures that I once held so dear. It grieves me to see the debauchery that this season brings, not because I am disgusted by the people, but I am disgusted by the deceitfulness of the sin in which they now glory. It is pale and gross, and not even worthy of comparison to the richness and beauty of the risen Christ. They revel in it because they've never known the Savior's sweetness; they continue in it because they have not felt conviction's sting, and they will die in it if they do not experience the power of Christ's resurrection in their souls. How I pray this week that the Holy Spirit, by the power of the gospel, will heal the blindness of those who revel in the things of this world. I pray that the same thing will happen to them that happened to Augustine. He wrote, "How sweet all at once it was for me to be rid of those fruitless joys which I had once feared to lose . . ! You drove them from me, you who are the true, the sovereign joy." May God have mercy on us and wean us from the pleasures of this world and teach us to cling to the pleasures we find in the greatness of Christ the Lord.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Do We Know What the Gospel Is?

I have never found it in the requirements that Paul lays out in 1 Timothy, but I am almost certain that a degree of melancholy must come with the office of Overseer. Usually, it strikes on Mondays, but sometimes it does not raise its head until Thursday. It may be because pastors tend to think too much and read too much. You can dig up all sorts of discouraging nuggets out there if you read enough.

For example, yesterday I was perusing the magazine Homelife. It is a LifeWay publication that we get at Church. I am sort of an obsessive-compulsive reader. I cannot even eat my cereal without reading the cereal box. I have probably read the cartoon on the back of the Honey Nut Cheerios box forty times now. So being tired of reading about the adventures of Buzz the Honey Bee and his sticky fastball, I picked up Homelife. On page 13 of this month's edition, I found an interview with Dick Staub. I have no idea who Dick Staub is except that he is a commentator on the radio and on pop culture.

All was going well with this short interview, until I came to the last question that the interviewer asked. Here's the question:

It's becoming 'en vogue' to use pop culture references to present the Gospel ('The Matrix' or the Force from 'Star Wars'). Do we pollute the pure message of Christ with metaphors that aren't necessarily godly?

My head almost spun right off my neck. The words present the gospel are very specific words. This is what it means to present the gospel:

Brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you...For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 1, 3-4).

The Matrix does not fit that bill by any stretch of the imagination. And the Force from Star Wars??! It is a wonder I didn't choke on my Cheerios. Is this what the average evangelical thinks it means to present the gospel?

Let me be absolutely clear about something: "The Chronicles of Narnia" did not present the gospel; "The Matrix" did not present the gospel; Star Wars did not present the gospel; "The Lord of the Rings" did not present the gospel. Not that these were bad movies or that they have no value, but they certainly did not present the gospel. If you do not mention Christ by name, or His atoning death, or His glorious resurrection, and that it is through this "by which also you are saved," you have not presented the gospel (1 Corinthians 15:2).

We may use these things as conversation starters, but let's not mistake those things for a gospel presentation. Nobody ever got saved just by watching Star Wars, and nobody ever will.

There, I have gotten that off of my chest. If the person who did that interview, by some weird reason, happens to read this article, well, you should know better. Your editor should know better. Dick Staub should have corrected you. For now, I think I'll return to reading the back of cereal boxes and the exciting adventures of Buzz the Honeybee.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Rebuilding the Golden Mosque

I heard on NPR today that the United States government will be helping to pay for the rebuilding of the Golden Mosque that was blown up in Iraq. It was not blown up by US forces; it was blown up by other Muslims. Why, exactly, are we having to pay for this to be rebuilt? (By the way, YOU are contributing to rebuild a Mosque in Iraq. How do you like them apples?) I the US government going to pay for the rebuilding of the Churches burned in Alabama? My student pastor asked me this question, and I didn't have an answer. If not, doesn't that upset you somewhere deep down inside?

Monday, February 20, 2006

Some Other Thoughts on Eschatology, Israel, and the Gentile Believer

My good friend and fellow-servant, KA in LV, pointed out that my recent remarks on Israel may be influenced by my covenantal leanings theologically. He may be correct in this, but I am uncertain. I am not a straight-up covenantalist, and I believe that he said that he is not a down-the-line dispensationalist either. What that means, actually, is that KA's theology and my own needs some work. Further, it means that we know too much from both sides for our own good, we understand the good points of both, so we promise further investigation on the matter as soon as the phone stops ringing, counseling sessions get cancelled, all the kids get well, and the grass gets cut. By the way, KA, we pray for you each day and you continue to be on our prayer list at Church.

Let me make a couple of things clear from the start. I do not wish emnity upon Israel in any shape, form, or fashion. I also would like to be friends with Belgium, if that is possible. I try to live at peace whenever I can.

Here is what KA meant when he said that my covenantal views have affected my views on Israel. According to strict covenantalism, the Church itself is the Israel of God. I think that it is a bit of a mistake to say that covenantalists believe that the church has "replaced" Israel as a people. They certainly believe that Israel is included in the Church. They just get the same space as the English, the Americans, the Williams', and even the French. In Covenantal theology, when you read "Israel", you can basically plug in "church" and have a good synonym.

That sounds sort of like what I am saying, but it isn't quite. What I am saying is that it is okay to protest against modern day Israel if they are guilty of violating people's basic human rights. Jeremiah did. Isaiah did. Most of the prophets spoke against the ruling powers of Israel if indeed they acted ungodly. My contention is that so should we.

I know that Israel its hands full dealing with terrorists and crazy Jihadists and things of this nature. I believe that Israel has a right to defend itself. But we can't just throw a blanket over everything that Israel does and pronounce it righteous simply because they sprang from Abraham's loins anymore than we can rubber stamp George Bush's choices because he is an "evangelical Christian."

That is all pretty basic, I believe. So let me get to the real reason why I believe the average dispensational guy defends Israel so vigorously. They are God's chosen people. Yes, that's true. I also happen to be a chosen person who has the faith like Abraham's and will sit at the table with he and Isaac and Jacob. No dispensationalist would disagree with that, I don't think.

What they really believe is that, if we leave Israel alone, or better yet, support them, that God will soon rapture the Church away so He can deal once again with His "chosen" people. Now I am a chosen person...wait, I said that already.

I am with you on this, my dispensational friend, sort of. I have some melancholy Post-trib leanings, though. Please don't stop being my friend over this; I can't help it that I'm right about that.

What fascinates me about this position is the inherit predestination and sovereign election of God that is built in to this view that the average dispy will most likely deny. That is, the average dispy believes in a general(ish) atonement and that election of individuals is based upon their foreseen belief in Christ. Now oddly, at the end of all things, all of surviving Israel will be saved. No doubt about it, according to dispensational theology. How is it that an entire nation of people, all armed with libertarian free will, will all accept Jesus as Messiah at the same moment? Why will this only happen to Israel and not, say, Mozambique? I know the answer: Brad, it is because God chose Israel for salvation.

What do you mean? God chose Israel as a nation and individually because He saw that they would all simultaneously believe in the end? they all simultaneously believe in the end because God chose them? (cf. John 15:16).

Just some food for thought there. In the end, I believe that the average evangelical is crazy about Israel because they see that nation as an end time fulfillment to prophecy and a sure sign that Jesus is returning soon. Further, all Israel will be gathered together so that God may work His saving grace among them.

I read you loud and clear, but let me add something more to this. I also believe that there are people in Saudia Arabia that God will save, and in Egypt, and in Texas, and in Italy. They will be just as much my brothers and sisters and Christ as any Jewish person that God saves. Are they due any less respect and awe?

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Jacobellis, Snowboarding, and the Generational Divide

I have spent a good deal of time the past few days watching the Olympic drama unfold before me on television. I have the highest admiration for Olympic atheletes. They are focused, disciplined men and women. They sacrifice much in order to compete for Olympic glory, and I watch them accomplish the incredible with much admiration.

This brings me to one of my favorite events to watch: Snowboarding. I like the head-to-head racing, and I like watching the death defying tricks that they perform. It truly boggles my mind. And as a fan of team USA, I enjoy cheering my team on and see them excel in this sport.

When I saw Lindsey Jacobellis fall yesterday, I gasped. She had a clear three second lead on the next competetor, and she bit the powder. I could not believe it. No one jostled her, pushed her, or hit her. She just...fell. On the replay, my suspicions were confirmed: in her exuberance, she had tried a slightly fancy move and it cost her a gold medal. I was stunned.

At first, I must admit, I was dissappointed at this. It is the grown-up in me, I must confess. Why couldn't she just "act right" and take the easy win for team USA? Why did she have to hot dog? I even talked about it with my wife and told her what a tragedy it was. In truth, I couldn't get it off of my mind, which is fairly ridiculous. I kept turning the entire situation over and over in my mind, and since I spent so much time analysing it, I thought I'd share it here with you.

First of all, this is snowboarding. In reality, this is a Gen X game gone "legit". It is a sport born from people who couldn't find a place to skateboard in the winter time. The men wear "soul patches" and are prone to say things like "gnarly". If the girls could grow goofy goatees, they probably would. They are much like the skateboarding kids who jump off of park benches and roll down the side walk and drive old folks crazy. They do this to have fun, and I believe that Lindsey was having fun on that downhill.

Secondly, I heard something in my voice when I was talking to my wife about it that scared me. It was that same voice that I used to hear as a kid at the baseball field. You know it. It is the voice of that parent who yells at their kid for striking out, or missing the ground ball, or making the bad throw. It is the voice of the obsessive parent who wants their kid to be a "winner", whether the kid likes it or not. I do not wish to be that guy. Lindsey is no kid, but this is her sport and her life. It was her sweat and blood and early morning work-outs that got her there. It was the thrill of doing tricks and speeding downhill that sustained her through the drudgery of practice after practice.

Thirdly, I realized that this Gen X sport "gone legit" is in the Olympics for more reasons than just "sport". It draws a younger audience. Sorry mom and dad, this ain't just about the sports. It is about money. The style Lindsey displayed is what made the sport what it is today. The Olympic committee, the USA, and everybody else knows this. Most of the people complaining have never strapped a snowboard on their feet, or even socialize with anyone near Lindsey's age. All they understand is "win". Or as Rick Morrissey, a columnist for the Chicago Tribune put it, "It probably would be a good thing if somebody explained to the snowboarders that once they decided to sit at the adults' table, they made the tacit agreement to play to win." (You can read the entire article here) They made an agreement with whom? Rick Morrissey? The American people? They agreed to compromise the very thing that makes their sport fun in order to play with "the big boys"? Does Rick Morrissy really think that Lindsey was tryling to lose? Give me a break. If you don't like slam dunks and three point shots, don't watch basketball. If you don't like goofy end zone dances, don't watch football. And if you don't like a little celebratory move in the downhill, don't watch snowboarding. It's part of the flavor of the sport. They don't play by your uptightness, and there are other things besides winning.

In my opinion, Lindsey was not disrespecting those against whom she was competing. She was jumping for joy, albeit prematurely. That is, if you consider a silver medal not worth jumping for joy about. Lindsey went down in a blaze of glory, but a blaze of glory it was. She represented her sport and her country honorably, in my opinion. I, for one, do not balk at silver medals or at people having fun in their sport.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Why to the Jew First?

In the evangelical world, I have often observed that the average evangelical looks at Israel like some sort of mystical people. Every time some political thing happens in Israel, we have some end-time prognosticator telling us how this relates to the coming tribulation and thousand year reign. It is weird to say the least.

Here are some funny examples that I have heard:

1. Israel is looking for a perfect red heifer to start temple construction.

2. The entire temple has been rebuilt and is hid somewhere in Israel. They are just waiting for the Dome of the Rock to get blown up to assemble it.

3. If Saddam Hussein puts on a purple turban we will know for certain that he is the anti-christ.

Okay, so number three is not exactly related to Israel, but I heard something similar once and I thought it was funny.

I am all for a mature Christian faith, and I am also all for the average gentile not feeling like a step-child in God's kingdom. That is, I get the feeling sometimes that deep down, the average evangelical believes that if he had been born Jewish he'd now be an uber-Christian with special gifts and insights into Scripture and be owed 50 acres in Palestine.

My other pet peeve about this, and hang on to your evangelical wigs and scarfs, is that we always side with Israel over Palestinians. *Gasp!* No, I am not talking about the Jihadists in Palestines, I am talking about the Christian Palestinians who catch it from both the Jews and the Muslims. There are a good number of Christians in Palestine, my brothers and sisters, who have a better claim on Messiah through faith than the unbelieving descendants of Israel have. You can quote me on that.

So why does Paul say that the gospel, "Is to the Jew first"? (Rom. 1:16). I do not deny that Israel was specifically chosen by God to bring about the times of the Messiah. However, I also believe that it was always in God's plan to include us Gentiles as well. The Old Testament itself is filled with examples of believing Gentiles. Remember Jonah in Nineveh?

I will offer just a couple of reasons here why Paul went first to the Jew:

1. They already had the Scriptures and should have been anticipating Messiah.
2. Paul was Jewish.
3. Since the Jews were supposed to waiting for the Messiah, Paul should have found anxious people in the local synagogues, which was sometimes the case. These Jewish believers were Biblically grounded, mature, and would be able to help evangelize the Gentiles. This also was their God-given privilege.

When a Jewish person refuses Jesus Christ as Messiah of Israel, he is as guilty, or more guilty, than a rank pagan who clings to his idol. He will receive no favor in the coming judgment if he does not repent. As for modern day political Israel, may God open their eyes to the truth about Jesus Christ through the long-suffering of Palestinian Christians.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

New Commentaries for the Bibliophile

I love books. Books are the reason that I began this blog in the first place. It has been my dream to accumulate enough readers in order to feed my book addiction. I love the way a new book smells; I love the unmarked and unsullied pages; I love to break in the spines properly. I love old books, too. I love the coffee stains, the pen and highlighter marks, the dogears, and yes, the smell. This is why I'm not so crazy about computer books. They don't smell right. Smell, as you all know, is very closely associated with memory. So if you can't smell the book, you can't remember what you are reading. A good test tip is to bring a small piece of page from the book you were supposed to be studying, if you get stuck on a question, sniff the page. It'll all come back to you I assure you.

In the two years that I have been pastor here at FBC Plaquemine, I have managed to make it through two books on Sunday mornings: Genesis and now Ephesians. Next stop is James! Ultimately, it was a toss up between James and Hebrews, but I had less commentaries in James so I went for it. Now, I have an excuse to spend more money on more books...hallelujah! What, you don't think that's a very spiritual way for a pastor to determine which book he will teach the flock from? Gideon had his fleece; I have mine. Mine happens to be connected to that book which I have the least commentaries for. Seems perfectly legitimate to me. Of course, I have almost zero commentaries for Leviticus, but I'm just not ready to go there yet verse by verse.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Led By the Holy Spirit?

I have come out here in the past as an "Open But Cautious" guy with regards to spiritual gifts and their operation in the modern church. This is not because I necessarily believe that people currently speak in tongues or prophecy, but rather it is because I find the scriptural argument for their ceasing to be rather lacking. On the other hand, I am uncomfortable at best and mostly appalled at what goes on inside most "charismatic" circles.

Over at Centuri0n's place, I have engaged him in his comment section over what I believe to be the next logical step after discussing the more "special" gifts. That is, if God no longer gives "revelation", how is it that we can be said to be "led by the Spirit" or how did we even get saved in the first place?

To cut to the chase, he and I have agreed, somewhat tentatively, that regeneration is a revelation from God. It is, however, consistent with God's Word and it does not happen outside of God's Word. (That is my statement, not his, though I believe that he would likely agree.) In other words, one does not receive the "revelation" that Jesus is the Christ outside of hearing or reading the gospel itself. The gospel is the vehicle that the Holy Spirit "travels" in to bring about the new birth of the soul.

Here is where it gets more interesting. I am of the opinion that whatever it is that the Holy Spirit did to bring about life and faith in me, He continues to do to this very day. I believe that the reason that I have assurance of salvation at this very moment is because the Holy Spirit is continually giving me new life. This is what I believe that Paul means in Romans 8:14-16. Let me quote it, because this is the main passage that the Centuri0n and I have been discussing:

For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, "Abba, Father." The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God (Romans 8:14-16).

It is my contention that Paul means to say here that the Holy Spirit is bearing constant witness to our spirits to give us certainty, encouragement, rebuke, and to bring about sanctification. The Centuri0n argues that the Spirit bears witness with our spirit in the sense that when we walk in sanctification He is speaking together with us to others. I will grant him that I see that element as well. However, I believe that while the Spirit bears witness to others through us that He does not neglect to bear witness to our own souls as well. This is shaky for a cessasionist I believe because what I am claiming for myself is that I have a constant revelation from God to my spirit that I am His child. Further, I believe that He further assures me of all of the promises of God to me (and the church) that He has revealed in His word. While I am outing myself as a quasi-charismatic, I will further assert that the Holy Spirit has given me the assurance that I am called to be a teacher of the Word. Outside of the assurance of God's promises and the Spirit's compulsion to put me in the ministry I have received no further revelation.

I would very much like to hear your input on this, and perhaps the Centuri0n himself will grace us with his presence to add his two "cents". Oh yeah, if he pulls out that "I'm a B team apologist and not even a pastor" stuff, flog him with a wet noodle. I do not fall for the old "aw shucks" defense. He is as sharp as a tack.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Do People Who Have Never Heard Of Jesus Go To Hell?

This is a question that often comes up when dealing with the topic of hell. The reason being that it seems unfair that someone who never had a "chance" to be saved should not be given over to eternal flame. That premise must be the one which we deal with first.

When Romans teaches that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (3:23). Does that include the one who has never heard the gospel? Also, when Paul writes, "There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God," doesn't that also include the one who has never heard? (cf. Romans 3:10-11). I would say that it does.

I believe that the person who never hears the gospel is still a rebel who hates God and is guilty of all sorts of horrible atrocities against God's name. Therefore, when he dies he goes to hell because it is right that he should go there. He is, after all, a guilty blasphemer.

Perhaps this makes some go, "Wait...but he never had a chance! No fair!" Criminals do not deserve a chance. That is why it is only by grace that anyone is saved. It is unmerited, undeserved, and quite stunning. God is not obligated to save anyone, and He does no injustice to anyone for allowing their sins to condemn them.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Learning About God throught the Reality of Hell, Part Two

There is something oddly compelling about tragedy. If I asked you to name the most famous Shakespearean play, odds are that you would not name The Taming of the Shrew. Most likely, you would name Romeo and Juliet. The former had a happy ending, the latter ended most tragically. Was the Taming of the Shrew not as well written? I do not believe that to be the case. I believe our interest in the tragic better explains this phenomena. Why else did people go to see Leonardo DiCaprio drown again and again on the doomed Titanic? From the Greek tragedies to Othello to Leaving Las Vegas, the continual popularity of the sad ending indicates that, for some reason, we are somehow fascinated by loss.

Seeing such movies or reading such books always leaves me feeling hollow inside. Good tragedy leaves me with a longing quite unlike any other genre. We feel for these characters, even when they get what they deserve. And yet, if the story had ended differently, if Romeo and Juliet had pulled off their romance and reconciled warring families, would the story have been as compelling? Would it have been as real?

This is the same sort of hollow, odd feeling that I am left with as I contemplate hell. I recognize that those who are sentenced to that place will get only that which they deserve. We are, after all, more like Iago than Othello. I also know that I, if cast in one of Shakespeare's plays, deserve the role of the villain. It is this fact that compels me to preach the gospel as a debtor, as one plucked from the fire, hoping and knowing that all stories will not end in tragedy, knowing that grace will enlighten some before death ends their tale.

I confess that I cannot fully pierce the mystery of hell nor the mind of God in preparing it. I understand that all who go there deserve the misery that they will endure. I know that I will someday look upon those in torment and will agree that God is just for consigning them to that awful place. I will see His glory in it. But how will I feel that day as I see this scene? How will I feel on the day when I see justice meeted out and feel the overwhelming relief of grace that will flood my soul? How will I understand God the Just and God the Merciful when I see His raw power and fury displayed? I am reminded of these words when I contemplate these things:

What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory
(Romans 9:22-23).

For now, I can see neither the full hideousness of man's rebellion nor the depth of the unmerited grace of God. One because I cannot fathom grace because of my own sinfulness, and second because I believe it is a mercy for me from seeing the dredges of wickedeness to keep me from despair.

I understand theologically that on the great day of judgement, when we see the wrath of God revealed against unrighteousness, when we see the prayers of the saints answered with regard to their cry for justice and vengeance, we will rejoice to see God act. I also understand that as I see this and tremble, that I must ask, "Lord, why not me? Why was I spared?" The only answer I will have is this, "Grace."

Monday, February 06, 2006

Learning About God Through the Reality of Hell, Part One

If there is anything that can knock fluffy Christianity in the head it is the fact that there is a hell. Most Evangelical Christians believe that hell exists, but they have no concept of why it exists. What I mean is that most evangelicals hold a doctrine of hell that is self-contradictory. On the one hand, they recognize that sinners ought to go there, but on the other they act like it is a terrible thing when one finally does. There is some merit to this, and it brings up some strong emotions, but we need to get a handle on this so we can speak on the subject truthfully and unapologetically.

One of the misconceptions about hell is that Satan, the devil, owns it. Cartoons have popularized this view by putting the devil in hell with his pitchfork happily dunking cartoon characters in the fire. A particular Tom and Jerry episode comes to mind. Tom dies and goes to hell, and the devil is the local bulldog who gets tremendous pleasure out of torturing Tom in hell. This atrocious view of hell has invaded the evangelical psyche. Too many cartoons, not enough Bible study, I'm afraid.

First of all, Satan does not rule hell. Jesus Christ does. He holds the keys of Death and Hell (or Hades) (cf. Revelation 1:18). Furthermore, the existence of Hell is not a cosmic accident. It is a place specifically prepared by God Himself to punish wickedness forever. That in itself should cause us to learn to fear God. Our loving God crafted this place of torment with the intent of putting people and angels there forever. Some may argue that the original intent of God was not to put people in hell, only rebellious angels. I heartily disagree. If God had the foreknowledge to know that angels would be put there, He certainly foresaw that human beings would go there as well. Punishment for wicked humans is not a divine afterthought.

If God made hell, and if I am to remain His faithful servant, then I must somehow learn to reconcile this place to what I know of His nature and character. Are there aspects of hell that are, dare I say it, good? Further, will I ever come to a place where I can ,rejoice when people are punished there? And finally, what does all of this teach me about the nature of the God I serve?

To answer one question, I will state that I believe that hell is a good place. It is a good place because justice is dealt out there. For it to be just, then the punishment of enduring eternal flame and misery must fit the crime. The crime that sends angels and people to hell is the crime of hating God. Does hating God really merit eternal punishment?

In the here and now, we recognize that some crimes deserve harsher punishment than others. For example, speeding is against the law. If I am caught going 55 in a 35 zone, then I can expect to be fined. However, if I am caught going 90 in a school zone while passing a stopped school bus loaded with children while doing shots of tequila, I can expect to wind up in the local parish jail. One crime is simple speeding, the other is an example of wreckless driving. One incurs a fine, the other incurs a fine with jail time.

This means that persistent rebellion against God must be the ultimate crime, for it carries the maximum punishment with it. The reason that this is true is that all other crimes have their root in our rebellion against God. Why is speeding sin? It is a refusal to submit to God's command for us to submit to government authority. Why is murder sin? It is an assault against God's image-bearer. Why is theivery sin? It is rebellion against God's provision. All sin stems from our refusal to acknowledge God as King, and to love Him as such.

This is why hell is terrible and eternal. It highlights the depth of our hatred of all things good and our love for all things evil, if indeed we refuse to repent and believe. It is good that hell exists, and it is good that the unrepentant go there.

Tomorrow, I am going to continue exploring the doctrine of hell and some of the questions that it raises. I look forward to what I hope will be a healthy discussion of this topic.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Are We Domesticated Animals?

Sometimes I wonder if modern living isn't really like living the life of a glorified zoo animal. It's really rather depressing once you consider it. If you stick with me, then I think that you will tend to agree with me.

Here is how the average zoo animal lives. First, he is caged. That is, he is no longer allowed to roam free in his native habitat. Naturally, this will be depressing for the average wild animal, and no one wants to look at a depressed animal. So, the zookeepers construct a "virtual" habitat. That is, they put them in fake forests with fake streams. To keep them occupied, they put some toys in their cages for distraction.

Now, I am not saying that someone has come and locked me into my house, but practically speaking, I am here nearly all the time. I can occasionally "roam" in the forest, but it is not much of a forest, historically speaking, and I have zero chance of becoming lost in it. Nor do I have to construct fires at night over which to cook the game I have harvested, or boil the crops I have grown, etc. The closest thing I come to adventure, for the most part, is watching other people have adventures on reality TV. This in itself is warped, twisted, and sick. Since I cannot go and survive in the wild, I watch a bunch of other people go and survive in the wild...and even that place is a controlled environment.

Perhaps you are thinking, "Sojourner, are you mad? Do you really want to go someplace where you can get lost, with no air conditioner, and have to hunt game and wild berries to survive?" In short...yes, sometimes I most certainly do. Further, it might be nice to live in a society small enough where the local people could actually govern it. I keep thinking of this episode of lost where Sawyer tells the good doctor, "You're in the wild now, doc. I was wondering when you'd realize it." On that series, they construct their own sort of society where folks there have to deal with the ideas of justice, punishment, food, water, and other stuff. When I think of that sort of freedom, I get the creepy sense that "The Man" really has brainwashed me or something.

I mean, for the most part, I don't even have stimulating theological conversations with people face to face. I read it on the internet or in books I have bought. What kind of crazy, sanitized world do I live in, anyway?

If you are wondering where this post came from, I have no idea. Perhaps it is because hunting season is over now and the little barbarian that lives in me already misses the woods. (But even then, modern hunting isn't like real hunting. We sit in comfy boxes on office chairs watching over grass fields we've constructed to wait for deer that we basically raise and feed year round to wander out and graze so we can shoot it. I mean, seriously, how many hunters could actually track a deer and put an arrow through it?)

Still don't believe me? That's okay, but let me just say that the hand sanitizer that you use religiously should be a big tip-off that you are quite domesticated and docile, and that if you actually had to butcher an animal or dig in the dirt to plant potatoes, you'd be wanting to run back to the sofa for chips and a soda and the latest edition of Survivor.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

To My Mormon Friend: How then Should I Love You?

I am convinced, with much grief, that one of the reasons that we fail as disciples of Jesus Christ is because we have lost the meaning and practice of love. It has been trivialized to mere liking of baked chicken or mistaken for the fires of lust. One cannot love baked chicken nor matter how good the cook, nor is sexual desire and pleasure the pinnacle of its majesty. The ecstasies of love are deeper than these, and they are not even worthy comparisons to the depth of joy that love brings.

We need to recover authentic loving. We need to submit ourselves to the true book of love, the Bible, to become tutored lovers. It is my burning desire to be the greatest lover that I can be: to my wife, to my son, to my family, to my church, and to the occasional reader of this blog. It is the major thrust of my life's work to fulfill this dream.

Here is a sampling of what the Scriptures say of love:

"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:34-35).

"So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love" (1 Corinthians 13:13).

"For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but only faith working through love" (Galatians 5:6).

"Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart" (1 Peter 1:22).

"So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him" (1 John 4:16).

Many more quotations could be added to these to underscore the importance of love in the Christian life. It is an essential quality to our character, if we lack it, then we are not God's children at all and are still lost in our sins.

If it is essential that we be lovers, then the natural question is to ask, "What is love?" How will we define this quality? What will be our benchmark to compare ourselves to? We must go to Scripture to learn what love is and what it isn't, and what Scripture teaches is a kind of love that is alien to our world.

In the quote above, John 13:34-35, Jesus tells the disciples that the world will know that we are His disciples by our love for one another. In those verses, Jesus defines what He means by that in saying "just as I have loved you." How did Jesus love His disciples? By dying for them, certainly. By being their friend. But He also showed more startling love than this. How is this comment to Peter loving:
"Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man" (Mark 8:33). He called Peter Satan. I contend that this was loving, would you wish to argue otherwise?

There are times when it is loving to rebuke even a friend in the harshest terms. If it were not, why would Paul command Timothy to "reprove, rebuke, and exhort" (2 Timothy 4:2)? In his zeal for the gospel, Paul said of those troubling the Galatian church, "I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!" (Galatians 4:12). Was that a loving statement? Yes, he was loving the gospel over men.

Jesus Christ loved His Father more that you and I. The Father loves His Son and His truth and His glory more than us. Transgression against His holiness will end in terrible rebuke and retribution, one way or another. Sin and error are hideous and to be hated in the extreme. How did Jesus Christ love His disciples? By loving His Father and His glory more than His friends. We are not His glory; He displays His glory through us, either through wrath or mercy.

So to those whom I have offended by pointing out the tragic errors of Mormonism, I say with Paul, "Have I then become your enemy y thelling you the truth?" (cf. Galatians 4:16). Joseph Smith claimed that an angel came and gave him the tablets that helped to re-establish the Church. Paul says, "If we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed" (Galatians 1:8). I as I have pointed out, the gospel that Joseph Smith taught is radically different from the one that was "once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 1:3). Once for all, there is no 1700 year gap in the witness, no cataclysmic failure of the Church of Christ, only a steadfast witness to truth that, as Paul says, "through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen" (Ephesians 3:10, 21).

So to the Mormon reader I repeat, with love, that the gospel of the Latter Day Saints' Church is no gospel at all. It is damning heresy, and you are in great danger. You are not made of the same essence as God; God is not in eternal progression; you can never be who God now is. The great wonder of the gospel is that Jesus Christ condescended to become man. The great beauty of Jesus Christ is that He is utterly unique and that there has never been, nor will there ever be, anyone or anything even remotely like Him. The mystery of the Trinity is not that there are three separate Gods, but that there is One God in Three persons. We have nothing to compare Him to, He is utterly unique and wonderful.

The greatness of the gospel revolves around the fact that Jesus Christ died for us; who is God of very God, light of very light, begotten not made. That His blood saves us by faith alone, and not by our meritorious works. Joseph Smith distorted these truths to his own damnation, and to the damnation of millions who would come after him. If this is true, I ask again, how can I claim to be loving and not refute such horrible error? You will not be okay if I just leave it alone. Your soul is in jeopardy because of these teachings. Your missionaries labor in vain and teach error at every house they visit. Am I now a persecutor for pointing this out?

I believe that you have the right to teach this error. I would stand to fight against anyone who would seek your personal harm for teaching your doctrine. I would fight for your right to advocate your position, to knock on doors and distribute your literature, and if you came into my house, you would be treated with respect, dignity, and even welcome, but you would be argued with vigorously and I would marshal every Scripture I know to refute the terrible teachings of your Church.

So I tell you now that I love you, and I wish the best for you, and that I long for you to know the joy of salvation in Christ Jesus. If I have now become your enemy by telling your the truth, then so be it. But know this, I do not consider you an enemy, I consider you a person made in the image of an Almighty and Unique Creator. You are worthy of my respect, my admonition, my prayers, and my hope. As my final duty, I beg you to be reconciled to the cross of Jesus Christ and to His person.