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Do Tragedies Mean There Is No God?

Do Tragedies Mean There Is No God?

Naturally, our thoughts turn to the attempt of answering the biggest question that arises after tragedy- “Why?”  Why didn’t God stop this tragedy from happening?  How I wish I had answers to the question of “why?” and the myriad of others that certainly come to mind, but I do not.  The questions that surround such a terrible tragedy will most likely never be provided to us this side of heaven.  Sadly, in the face of tragedy we often hear a number of comments that are the products of some bad theologizing and do little to give comfort and hope to those who are hurting.

I’m sure you are like me and have heard others say when something tragic occurs, “It’s God’s will.”  To be honest, I don’t believe that at all.  I do not think everything that occurs on earth is the will of God.  It wasn’t God’s will for terrorists to fly planes into buildings on 9/11.  When a child is abducted it isn’t God’s will.  Abortion, drug abuse, and adultery are not God’s will.  And it’s extremely difficult to imagine the death of a young person being God’s will.  I want to be clear in making this statement that in no way does this discredit the immutability or sovereignty of God.  God is God- He never changes and He works all of history according to His plan and its eventual consummation.  Yet, God has also given us free will and we often use that free will to do things that do not please God.  So, when bad things occur we must not blame God for causing them and saying He willed it to happen.  This is why I have never been comfortable with the statement, “God took him/her.”  That implies God caused their tragic death, which isn’t true.  Bad things occur because we live on a fallen planet that has been cursed by our sin (see Rom. 8:21-23).

Something that has always helped me to understand the complexity of God’s will, a fallen world, and God’s sovereignty is the attitude of Joseph in regard to the events of his life.  When reunited with his brothers who did him wrong, he said in Gen. 50:20, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”  Was it “God’s will” that Joseph’s brothers threw him in a hole and sold him into slavery?  I don’t think so.  Did God work in spite of sinful actions to place Joseph in Egypt just in time to save the people from famine? Yes.  Not everything that happens on this earth is God’s will, but He can use bad things to bring about eventual positive results.

Another statement I sometimes hear at times of tragedy deals with the character and ability of God.  In other words, “Why didn’t God stop this bad thing from happening?  If He really is a God of love He would stop it.  If He really is all-powerful he would prevent bad things from happening.”  Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote a famous book entitled, “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” where he basically posits that God is simply unable to stop all the bad things that occur.  I disagree.  If God were not omnipotent (all-powerful), then by definition, He wouldn’t be God.  Imagine the world if God stopped everything bad or painful from ever occurring.  What would that say about the consequences of our actions?  If God did this, would it be an encroachment on the free will with which He created us?  As parents, do you not let your children make some mistakes in order for them to learn?  Is it not true that many times it is the crucible of pain that grows and strengthens us?  Is not the motto of an athlete in training “No pain no gain?”  If God never allowed anything bad to happen then the existence of the universe would be centered on us.  The point of life would be that we never experience pain, loss, or discomfort.  However, life and all that exists carries the purpose of glorifying God.  I once remember watching an episode of the Twilight Zone as a kid where a man received everything he ever wanted.  Everything went perfectly his way.  He thought he was in heaven. Yet, in the end, it turned out that the man was in hell.

It’s obviously difficult to address all of the ramifications of what we are to think about God in the face of tragedy.  My point is to simply say we must not make God something He is not in order to make sense of tough times.  Regardless of what happens in life, we must rest our anchor on the fact that God is perfectly loving, all-powerful, and sovereign to the end.  In my experience of helping families through times of tragedy, I have learned that it is best to focus on these things we do know about God, rather than on the things we don’t know.  We can never forget that God is God and He is not like us.  We are unable to grasp the “why?” of all that occurs and all that He does.  If our little three-pound brains could figure out everything about God, then He wouldn’t be much of a God.

Consider these Bible verses:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways” (Isa. 55:8).

As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things” (Ecc.11:5).

God can see a bigger picture that we will never see.  And in the midst of tragedy, we must know that God’s love for us and His desire to comfort us, heal us, and give us hope is never diminished.  In the New Testament there is a story about a young man named Lazarus who is a friend of Jesus who dies.  Jesus goes to his home and spends time with the family who is grieved and crying.  And it is in this story that we see the shortest verse in the whole Bible- “Jesus wept” (John 11:35).  I find it interesting that this is the shortest verse in the Bible.  In the midst of tragedy and grief, we might expect the longest verse in the Bible- to explain to us why the friend died, and what was God’s plan and purpose.  But we are not given any of that.  All we are given is the compassion of the Savior.  We need to remember that when we weep, God weeps with us.  Psalm 56:8 states that God puts our tears in his bottle and records them in His book.  His heart breaks for those whose hearts are broken.  Tragic deaths do not show God to be weak or uncaring.  In fact, it shows his power and his desire to comfort us.

So, what is left for us is not to doubt God or be mad at God or blame God, but to trust God.  Tragedy is a time for all of us to draw closer to God, not to withdraw from Him. We must trust God that He loves us and will strengthen and heal us in our greatest times of pain and loss.

 

Magic Mike and the True Picture of Masculinity

Magic Mike and the True Picture of Masculinity

I have watched with some interest over the last few weeks the comments and opinions of many on blogs and websites concerning the movie Magic Mike.  What got my attention was the number of women (and some men) who are Christians who have gone to see the movie.  I have been surprised at how few female writers have brought up the glaring, horrific double standard in play regarding this film.  If a group of husbands went to see a movie about women working in a strip club, “the claws would come out” as one female blogger put it.

Christians seeing Magic Mike claim that those criticizing them for seeing the movie are being judgmental.  Perhaps that is true in some cases.  However, after reading reviews of the movie (which would make many people blush) and discovering that the film contains many explicit sexual scenes and over 150 uses of the “f” word, those who have cast judgment in an erroneous way have only done so in an attitudinal sense.

This by the way, is the very definition of being judgmental which is very different from making good judgments.  One of the fallacies of a secular worldview is that to tell anyone they are wrong automatically means you hate them.  That is untrue and certainly not part of a biblical worldview.  I can say that what you believe or what you have done is wrong and still love and care about you (we do this with our children all of the time).  That said, too many Christians do have a sanctimonious attitude in their conveyance of the judgments they make which leads them to the sin of being judgmental.

Yet, none of what I have just written is the main point of this post.  In reading reviews and comments about the movie, it saddens me that our culture’s idea of masculinity is a guy who can work at a strip club and has great sexual prowess.  Movies such as Magic Mike and Failure to Launch seem to communicate that the more a man can put off the responsibility of marriage, family, and career the more masculine he is.  To be married, to go to the kids’ recitals, and to go to a regular day-to-day job is being tied to the ball and chain and in effect emasculated.  In other words, responsibility is a bad thing.

A couple of years ago, the New York Times Magazine ran an article on men in their twenties and the growing epidemic of stretching adolescence well beyond the high school years.  This led Seattle pastor Mark Driscoll to note, “the world is full of boys who can shave.”  The result is that our culture is lauding an indefinite adolescence leaving us with, as again Driscoll stated, “a Peter Pan syndrome where men want to remain boys forever.”

Is being a boy, free from responsibilities and free to gratify any indulgence, the true picture of masculinity?  Consider the words of the Apostle Paul in 1 Cor. 13:11- “When I was a boy, I talked like a boy, I thought like a boy, I reasoned like a boy. When I became a man, I put childish and boyish ways behind me.”  Males are supposed to move from boyhood to manhood.  So what does real masculinity look like?  Man is created in the “image” of God (Gen. 1:26; 1 Cor. 11:7).  This doesn’t mean we look like God the way we physically look like our parents.  It means we are conscious beings able to reflect the truth, love, compassion, and other attributes of God in the way we live our lives.  As a reflection of the image of God we are called to be creators and cultivators.  This is what God did.  He produced the universe and created a world splendidly designed and crafted for a variety of amazing life forms to exist.  Not only did He create everything, but He sustains and cultivates it as well (Col. 1:16-17).

The problem is that culture doesn’t necessarily view masculinity as creating and cultivating (marriages, families, and careers), but rather consuming everything you can to gratify yourself.  Consider this excerpt from the Driscoll post I mentioned earlier:

“The marketing sweet spot for many companies is young men ages eighteen to thirty-four. These guys don’t know what it means to be a man, and so marketers fill the void with products that define manhood by what you consume rather than what you produce.  The tough guys consume women, porn, alcohol, drugs, television, music, video games, toys, cars, sports, and fantasy leagues, as if being a man is defined by how much meat you can shove through your colon, how many beers you can pound, how fast you can drive, how stinky you can fart, how hard you can hit, how far you can spit, how loud you can belch, and how big your truck is.

The artsy, techie types consume clothes, decaf lattes, shoes, gadgets, cars (not trucks), furniture, hair products, and underwear with the names of very important people on the waistband. For them, manhood means being in touch with one’s feelings, wardrobe, and appearance.

A legion of moms and girlfriends enable these boys who can shave. They pay his bills, pick up his messes, loan him their car, and refill his sippy cup. Girls need to know this: you want a guy you can marry and have babies with. You don’t want to marry a guy who’s a baby.  Men are supposed to be producers, not just consumers. You’re defined by the legacy, the life, and the fruit that come out of you, not by what you take in. But most guys are just consumers.

I don’t care if you buy a truck or play some video games or rock out on your guitar. The problem is when those are prevalent and predominant in your life. Some guys would argue and say, “It’s not a sin.”  No, but sometimes it’s just dumb.  You got fired because you were up trying to get to the next level [on the video game]. That’s dumb.  You work one part-time job so you can play more guitar or Frisbee golf.  That’s dumb.  You spend all your money on a new car or truck, or toys, or gear, or clothes, or gambling, or fantasy football. Dumb. Some of you say, “Well, it’s not a sin.”  Neither is eating your lawnmower.  It’s just dumb.  There are a lot of things that Christian guys do that aren’t evil, they’re just dumb and childish.”

With the growing trend of masculinity being consumerism with no responsibility it’s difficult to find a man in his twenties at church.  The call to follow Christ and grow in discipleship is a call to sacrifice, selflessness, and responsibility.  Being a man is not about how much you can consume, but what you create and cultivate.  Being a man isn’t about sexual conquests, it’s about committing to one woman and loving her as Christ loves the church- for whom He loved so much He gave His life.  Being a man isn’t being a kid, but spending time with and nurturing your kids.  Being a man is about giving, not taking, and as Driscoll notes “that’s what Jesus, the real man, did.”

Read the Mark Driscoll post referenced in this article here: Driscoll Post in WP

I Do Agree with Obama on One Thing…

I Do Agree with Obama on One Thing…

Yesterday, President Barack Obama publicly affirmed his support of gay marriage.  I am somewhat surprised that many people have acted surprised about this announcement.  It seems clear that Obama has held this position for some time.  Perhaps the splash is over the fact that for the first time in history, a sitting U.S. President has publically affirmed gay marriage.

My point in this post is not to wade through all of the political ramifications of this announcement.  Also, I’m sure I will be criticized for “hating” gay people for even writing about this topic.  If you think that, you don’t know me.   My point is to express how grieved I was that President Obama used Scripture to defend his stance on gay marriage.

Here is the statement from Obama on which I agree: “We are both practicing Christians and obviously this position may be considered to put us at odds with the views of others.”  I take that to mean Obama inferred other Christians.  My first thought when I heard this was, “Yes, Mr. President, I agree with you that you are at odds with other Christians, first and foremost the Apostle Paul.”  Obama then went on to reference the death of Jesus and the Golden Rule as helping him form his opinion on gay marriage.  To infer that Jesus and the Bible condone gay marriage is, as John Piper put it, contemptible.

If you are reading this and think the Bible is an archaic, out of touch document then that is a debate for a later time.  My belief is that the Bible contains God’s eternal, absolute, and propositional truth.  I firmly believe that truth is not something we create (as many believe), but rather something we find- namely in God’s Word.  Scripture is clear in what it teaches about homosexuality (Gen. 19, Rom. 1:26-27, 1 Cor. 6:9-11).  The biblical design for marriage is a lasting covenant relationship between a man and a woman.  To deny this is a complete abrogation and abandonment of the plain meaning of the biblical text.  A person cannot honestly say that the Bible condones homosexuality and gay marriage without eviscerating the authority and divine origin of the Bible.

The President has every right to his opinions and express them as he sees fit.  Yet, his use of Scripture and the Christian faith to back his position was a tragic flaw.

 

Megachurches, Monochurches, and Blog Post Titles: The Debate Cannot Neglect the Real Issue of Compromise and Capitulation

Megachurches, Monochurches, and Blog Post Titles: The Debate Cannot Neglect the Real Issue of Compromise and Capitulation

As can be imagined, the debate is heating up regarding the issue I posted about yesterday concerning the very controversial sermon given by Andy Stanley.  I linked to an article by Al Mohler wherein he stated part of the problem with compromising the gospel/biblical doctrine and capitulating to the world’s agenda rested with the issue of the phenomenon of the megachurch.  Mohler did state that not all megachurches are abandoning the Bible, but the reality is that many are doing so in effort to sustain large crowds of attendees in the context of a culture growing more hostile to Christian doctrine.

Yesterday on Twitter, Rick Warren challenged Al Mohler claiming that perhaps his article, or at least its title, castigated all megachurches as compromising on truth.  Warren tweeted to Mohler, “Would a sensational blog title ‘Are THE Seminaries the New Liberals?’ be fair if 1 seminary pres. messed up?”  He then asked Mohler to apologize to megachurch pastors for the inference.  Yes, there are many pastors of megachurches who are faithful to the Bible (as Mohler noted), but the reality is that there are many, not just one, who are not.  The pressures of the culture are making doctrinal faithfulness too challenging for many.  That was Mohler’s point- and one that should be well received.

Another response that I found fascinating was one Bart Barber posted on his blog in response to this controversy.  He claims that perhaps the issue is not the megachurch, but the mononchurch, that is the problem.  Monochurches are ones that have no denominational affiliation and are accountable to no one for the doctrine they proclaim.  Barber brings up some very interesting points in this debate and his article is worth reading.  Find it here:

http://praisegodbarebones.blogspot.com/2012/05/monochurches-not-megachurches-are.html

The issue that Stanley’s sermon has arisen should not be forgotten in the midst of debating blog titles and what types of churches are foregoing biblical doctrine.  The key issue, which Mohler’s article addressed, is that there are a growing number of churches, and ones once considered doctrinally orthodox, that are altering or neglecting biblical truth to accomplish selfish agendas.  This is an issue the church must be aware of, address head on, and leaders of all churches must be sure not to replicate similar mistakes.

Megachurches and the Compromise of Biblical Doctrine: Two Enlightening Articles and the Call to Be “Set Apart” for the Gospel

Megachurches and the Compromise of Biblical Doctrine: Two Enlightening Articles and the Call to Be “Set Apart” for the Gospel

I have read two incredibly insightful articles today about the compromise of the gospel and biblical doctrine in the context of the megachurch.  In essence, these articles reveal the apparent necessity of megachurch leaders to dilute or ignore the clear teaching of Scripture in order to grow the church/ministry in light of the postmodern, post-Christian state of our society.

The first article was written by Al Mohler in response to a recent sermon by megachurch pastor Andy Stanley.  Stanley has built a reputation of being a proponent of conservative, conversionist theology faithfully preaching the gospel of Jesus and the necessity of His death and resurrection for salvation.  However, in his sermon about balancing grace and truth, Stanley makes a clear divergence from biblical teaching in an apparent effort to harmonize a growing social dilemma the Christian church is being forced to address.

Mohler’s article gives an excellent summary on the history of the phenomenon known as “megachurches” and how in effort to sustain crowds or draw larger crowds these churches often feel compelled to capitulate to the sentiments of society rather than biblical doctrine.  The larger culture has grown increasingly hostile to exclusivist doctrine in the Bible (e.g. faith in Jesus as the only means of salvation) and teaching that is considered judgmental and archaic (e.g. biblical passages on divorce, complementarianism, etc). Because of this, megachurches are increasingly under pressure to side with the world instead of the Bible on key issues.

I encourage you to take a few minutes and read Mohler’s article- “Is the Megachurch the New Liberalism?” here: http://www.albertmohler.com/2012/05/01/is-the-megachurch-the-new-liberalism/

The second article I read was by Chris Lehmann published in Salon.  Lehmann recounts his recent experience attending a rally held in Washington D.C. in Nationals Stadium by megachurch pastor Joel Osteen.  The article is a thoughtful critique of the humanistic, self-help platform espoused by Osteen.  Lehmann summarizes the message, testimonies, and music of the event all placing man, not God, as the center of focus and that God’s plan for each person is to seize “destiny moments” in order to have personal, financial, and emotional success. So egregious was Osteen’s message that Lehmann referred to it as “talismanic faith” that was more akin to narcissistic personality disorder than Christianity.

Again, I highly encourage you to read this article as an example of how far the “church” can get away from biblical doctrine. Read the article, “Joel Osteen Worships Himself” here: http://www.salon.com/2012/05/01/joel_osteen_worships_himself/

These articles reveal more and more how we have hijacked the gospel to suit our desires and the demands of our culture.  I certainly do not want to give the impression that I think all megachurches have compromised the gospel. That is not the case.  Yet, as Mohler noted, megachurches are often the institutions on the front line of difficult cultural issues the church must address.

I paused to reflect on Paul’s writings regarding the gospel, truth, and its role in the world and thought of Romans 1:1- we are “set apart for the gospel of God.”  The gospel is God’s gospel- not our gospel.  He accomplished and announced the gospel and has merely called us to proclaim and live it.  James Boice notes the grammatical structure of the phrase “of God” is subjective genitive rather than objective genitive. This means that God creates and announces the gospel rather than that he is the object of its proclamation.

This is important in that it illustrates how the gospel, not just being about God but initiated by Him, should never be altered by us.  The gospel isn’t ours to begin with- it’s God’s.  Thus we enter dangerous territory when we edit or truncate the gospel and biblical doctrine to suit our desires and agendas.  The world doesn’t like the gospel.  The gospel offends sinful nature and political correctness.  We live in days where there is great pressure and temptation to make the gospel what we want it to be.  In doing so, we abandon the truth and the power of God’s message of salvation. The church must never forget that in its handling of the gospel, it has been “set apart” (i.e. be different than the world) to engage culture in love and grace, while never abandoning the truth.

Is Cremation a Christian Thing to Do?

Is Cremation a Christian Thing to Do?

One question that I am asked at least a few times a month is whether or not cremation violates Christian values/teachings.  Cremation is becoming more and more popular today as an economic alternative to the rising cost of funerals and cemetery plots.  I thought I would write a blog post to hopefully shed some light on the subject.

Let me start with what I think is the easiest question concerning cremation which is the issue of how it affects our glorified bodies in heaven.  Paul, in his great treatise on the resurrection, taught that believers will one day be raised from the dead and receive incorruptible bodies: 1 Cor. 15:53- “For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.”  But, the question is asked, how do we receive these glorified bodies for eternity if our earthly bodies have been cremated?  Yes, I do believe that our resurrection bodies reconstitute our earthly bodies.  The resurrection appearances of Jesus to the disciples demonstrate that His resurrection body looked like His earthly body.

That said, it cannot make any difference how a Christian’s body is laid to rest in regard to the feasibility or appearance of the resurrection body.  To begin, if God wants to make a resurrection body that resembles my earthly body out of a pile of ashes He certainly has the power to do so.  I once had a person tell me that God doesn’t want people cremated because it’s so much trouble to make a glorified body out of ashes rather than an embalmed body.  My response to that statement was, “What trouble?  God created the entire universe simply by speaking a word (Heb. 11:3). If He can do that, He can make a body from ashes with zero trouble.”  Don’t forget that God made the first earthly body (Adam) from dust of the ground (Gen. 2:7).

We must remember that many Christians died in ways whereby their remains are not even gathered in a single pile of ashes.  There were Christians who were torn apart by wild animals under the violent persecutions of Rome.  There were believers thrown overboard on slave ships or died at sea whose remains were scattered throughout the ocean.  There were believers incinerated in explosions.  The list goes on.  In addition, the fact is God will be creating resurrection bodies for the most part from ashes.  The remains of the vast majority of believers throughout human history are no longer in the form of a corpse, but have decayed into dust.

Still others have stated that cremation is wrong because the eternal state of the body is related to the condition of the body at the time of death (i.e. people who die at an old age will look old in heaven, children who die will be children, etc.).  The support I have heard given for this is Jesus showing the scars from the nails in his hands and the spear in his side.  What He looked like in eternity is what He looked like at the time He died.  Yet, this couldn’t make sense as we see no indication that Jesus is the bloodied, bruised, swollen, and barely recognizable person He had to have been when He died on the cross.  Every indication is that He looks like the same Jesus (they think he is a ghost- an apparition of His former self) they walked and ministered with for three years.  They do not see him as some kind of disfigured zombie and we should note that the scars are not that noticeable because Jesus has to point them out to the disciples.  The scars are present simply as evidence that the person before them is the actual Jesus they knew and loved standing before them resurrected in bodily form.

Regardless of how a person dies or what is done with their remains, death for a Christian is the planting of a seed that flourishes into new life in the age to come (1 Cor. 15:35-44).  The bottom line is not whether it is possible for God to create a resurrection body from ashes, but rather is cremation the proper Christian response to handling human remains.

This is where the issue gets a bit sticky and people are divided.  In short, burning bodies has never historically been a Christian practice (or a practice of believers in the Old Testament- cf. Heb. 11:22).  A number of historians have traced the burning of human remains back to pagan rituals and practices.  Other historians, such as Stephen Prothero in his book Purified by Fire trace the cremation movement in the United States to atheists who did so as a statement of their disbelief in the resurrection.  And this is the issue.  Why is burial, and not cremation, the traditional Christian practice?  Because caring for the remains of the dead in a dignified way was a testimony to the belief of the resurrection.  In other words, Christians didn’t “discard” a corpse, but rather committed the person back to the earth from which they were made because of the belief that the Lord would one day raise them again.  This isn’t to say that Christians embalm and bury the dead trying to preserve it as long as possible so God can make a resurrection body.  No, we’ve already established God can do that from ashes or even nothing.  Christians have traditionally buried their dead as a witness to the world of their belief in the resurrection of Christ and His return one day to resurrect all believers (1 Thess. 4:14-16).

Burial has also been the Christian tradition because it best symbolizes the resurrection of believers (much like baptism by immersion symbolizes the burial and resurrection of Jesus as well as death to sin and new life in Christ).  There are numerous places in the New Testament where “sleep” is used as a metaphor for death.  In John 11:11 Jesus said that Lazarus had fallen “asleep” when in actuality he had died.  Paul makes the usage in his teaching about the resurrection body in 1 Cor. 15:51-52- “Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.”  For a Christian, death is in fact something like sleep- you lay down to rest to be awoken later (let me be emphatically clear that the Bible does not teach “soul sleep.”  Rather, the moment a Christian dies their soul has a conscience existence with Jesus- see 2 Cor. 5:8 and Lk. 23:43).  Thus, in burial, the remains of a Christian are “laid to rest” in preparation to be awoken at Jesus’ return.

So, does this mean that Christians should not participate in cremation?  A number of my colleagues firmly believe so.  However, I am not ready to be so adamantly opposed to it.  We should clearly not oppose cremation on the grounds that it has consequences for the resurrection body.  That is foolish.  Regardless of what happens to a believer’s remains, they will be resurrected to imperishable bodies upon Christ’s return.  If we do oppose cremation, it needs to be on the basis of the impact that may have on our testimony to the world about our belief in the resurrection of the dead.  If we support cremation, we need to instruct our loved ones that our memorial services clearly present belief in the resurrection of Christ and our resurrection bodies.  And regardless of whether you support cremation or not, the lives we live right now need to be testimonies of the gospel of Jesus Christ and his power to transform our lives today in a spiritual sense and one day in a physical sense for all of eternity.

Are Mormons Christians?  And, Should a Christian Vote for a Mormon?

Are Mormons Christians? And, Should a Christian Vote for a Mormon?

There has been a great deal of attention given recently to the relationship of evangelical Christianity to Mormonism.  Obviously, this stems from a number of controversial statements that have been made in regard to Mitt Romney being a Mormon.  There is much I would like to say here, but I want to limit this post to answering two questions: One, are Mormons Christians?  And two, should a Christian vote for a Mormon?

In today’s Washington Times, Joel Osteen is quoted as saying that he believes Mormons are Christians.  “I believe that [Mormons] are Christians. I don’t know if it’s the purest form of Christianity, like I grew up with. But you know what, I know Mormons. I hear Mitt Romney- and I’ve never met him- but I hear him say ‘I believe Jesus is the son of God,’ ‘I believe he’s my savior,’ and that’s one of the core issues.  I’m sure there are other issues that we don’t agree on.  But you know, I can say that the Baptists and the Methodists and Catholics don’t all agree on everything. So that would be my take on it.”

So, are Mormons Christians?  The problem with Osteen’s understanding of Romney is that Mormons do not believe in the same God and Jesus of the Bible.  I mean absolutely no disrespect to Mormons, but it is clear that Mormonism is not Christianity.  To demonstrate this, I have listed below a sampling of a number of key doctrines providing citations from authoritative Mormon literature that comment on the doctrine.  I then show what the Bible says in opposition to Mormon belief. I think you will see the point clearly.

Mormons believe there are many gods

“Three separate personages- Father, Son, and Holy Ghost- comprise the Godhead.  As each of these persons is a God it is evident, from this standpoint alone that a plurality of Gods exists.  To us, speaking in a finite sense these three are the only Gods we worship” (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine).

Deut. 6:4- “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!

Mormons believe God is not eternal

“We have imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity.  I will refute that idea, and take away the veil so that you may see” (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith).

Psalm 90:2- “Before the mountains were born or you gave birth to the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.”

Mormons believe God created the universe from preexisting materials

“And they went down at the beginning, and they, that is the Gods, organized and formed the heavens and the earth” (Abraham 4:1; Doctrine and Covenants).

John 1:3- “All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.”

Mormons believe God was once a man who progressed to deity

“As man is now God once was; as God now is man may become” (Lorenzo Snow, 5th President of the LDS Church, The Gospel Through the Ages).

“God Himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens!  This is the great secret” (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith).

Col. 1:17-18- “And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.”

Mormons believe God has a physical body

“The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s; the Son has also; but the Holy Ghost is a personage of Spirit” (Doctrine and Covenants, 130:22).

John 4:24- “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”

Mormons believe Jesus was not born of a virgin

“Now remember from this time forth, and forever, that Jesus Christ was not begotten by the Holy Ghost.  If the Son was begotten by the Holy Ghost, it would be very dangerous to baptize and confirm females, and give the Holy Ghost to them, lest he should beget children to be palmed upon the Elders by the people bringing the Elders into great difficulties” (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, vol. 1).
Matt. 1:25- “[Joseph] kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus.”

Mormons believe salvation is a result of grace coupled with works

“Salvation in the Celestial Kingdom of God, however, is not salvation by grace alone. Rather, it is salvation by grace coupled with obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel” (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine).

Gal. 2:16- “Nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.”

Mormons believe salvation is made possible by the works of Jesus Christ and Joseph Smith

“No man or woman in this dispensation will ever enter into the celestial kingdom of God without the consent of Joseph Smith. …every man and woman must have the certificate of Joseph Smith, junior, as a passport to their entrance into the mansion where God and Christ are” (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, 7:289, 1869).

Eph. 2:13-16- “But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity.”

These, and a host of other beliefs that stand in opposition to Christianity, are clearly documented in Mormon scripture.  Mormons believe that the Book of Mormon, Pearl of Great Price, Doctrine and Covenants, the KJV Bible (as far as it is translated “correctly”), and continuing revelation from Mormon leaders are authoritative Scripture.

To summarize: Mormonism teaches that God was once a man just like us who lived on a distant planet named Koleb. Because he was a faithful Mormon, he progressed from being a man and became the god of his own planet (a Mormon doctrine known as eternal progression).  That planet happens to be earth.  Jesus is the literal flesh and blood son of God and his wife (not virgin born) who appeared to tribes in North America following His resurrection, organized a church, and appointed apostles.  We can be just like God if we are faithful Mormons and become the god of our own planets one day.  This is clearly a much different portrayal of God, man, salvation, history, and eternity than is communicated in the Bible.

It is obvious Mormons are not Christians.  Having said that, Christians need to avoid inflammatory statements and attitudes directed at Mormons.  Such behavior does nothing to reach Mormons with the truth of Scripture. Sadly, a number of Christian leaders have publicly failed in this endeavor.

One more question: Given the differences in beliefs, should a Christian vote for a Mormon?  In my opinion, we need to be cautious in answering that question with a resounding “no!”  There could be an occasion where voting for a Mormon is the closest option to the Christian worldview in terms of social and economic issues.  What if a Mormon and a Wiccan were running against each other for President? (don’t scoff, we could be closer to this reality than you think!)  Who would you vote for in that election?  What about the Christian who lives in Turkey and the only option he/she has on the ballot is a moderate Muslim or radical Muslim?  For whom should they vote?  In preparing to vote, we need to carefully and prayerfully consider which candidate best resembles a biblical worldview- in a totality of beliefs, morality, ethics, etc.

What Jesus Said About Divorce

What Jesus Said About Divorce

Last Sunday I preached from Mark 10:1-12/Matt. 19:1-9 on Jesus’ instruction about divorce.  I have received a tremendous amount of feedback asking for this sermon’s availability on podcast. Until we can get the podcast loaded, I thought I would post this amended version of my manuscript from Sunday. I think the sermon is better, making clearer explanation/transition/application, so listen to that if you get a chance.  Also, I have not documented the numerous sources I used in preparing this manuscript.  In short, the church needs to have a prophetic voice against the world’s flippant, cheapened view of marriage and ease of divorce. At the same time, the church needs to reach out to those dealing with the pain of divorce and be a reflection of the love and grace of Jesus.  As always, I am humbled and honored that anyone would want to read/listen to my blog/messages. God bless!

A major magazine published an article entitled, “Is Anyone Faithful Anymore?”  In it, the story is told of a young married woman having lunch with eleven of her friends.  During conversation, one of the women asked, “How many of you have been faithful throughout your marriage?”  Of the twelve women, only one raised their hand.  That night, the young woman went home and told her husband about the conversation.  She revealed to him that she was not the one who raised her hand saying they had been faithful.  Her husband was shocked and devastated.  But she quickly replied, “But I have been faithful.”  “Then why didn’t you raise your hand?” the husband asked.  “I was ashamed” was her reply.

How did we get to a place in society where someone would feel ashamed that they were faithful to their spouse, instead of the other way around?  The reason is that the cultural agenda of our society is “self-fulfillment,” “self-realization,” and “self-actualization.”  So pervasive is our society’s preoccupation with these matters that we have made commitment to one of the most sacred institutions conditional on the question, “Am I getting fulfillment from this?”  In regard to marriage, authors John Adam and Nancy Williamson wrote a book titled, “Divorce: How and When to Let Go” where they write:

“Your marriage can wear out.  People change their values and lifestyles.  People want to experience new things.  Change is a part of life.  Change and personal growth are traits for you to be proud of, indicative of a vital searching mind.  You must accept the reality that in today’s multifaceted world it is especially easy for two persons to grow apart.  Letting go of your marriage- if it is no longer fulfilling- can be the most successful thing you have ever done.  Getting a divorce can be a positive, problem-solving, growth-oriented step.  It can be a personal triumph.”

When self-fulfillment becomes our guiding principle in life, we call failure “success,” disintegration “growth” and disaster “triumph.”  What a tragedy!  The elevation of one’s own self-fulfillment as the ultimate good functionally reduces the Word of God into an optional guidebook to meet one’s emotional needs.  What a huge error to replace the inerrant Word of God with a humanistic values system.  More important than self-fulfillment, or even our own happiness, is obedience to God’s Word.

All of that said, God cares about our well-being.  He wants us to enjoy life and be satisfied and be fulfilled.  But the path to fulfillment is not marked by signs that say “my happiness first” or “self-realization.”  Prov. 14:12 says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but the end of the path is destruction.”

Confusion About Marriage in Jesus’ Day

We need to understand the context to which these words were said.  We cannot understand these words in Mark without looking at the more detailed passage in Matt. 19:3-9 which gives us the background of Jesus’ day on this issue.

Matt. 19:3 states, “Some Pharisees came to Jesus, testing Him and asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?”  Their question is clearly based on Deut. 24:1- “When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce…” In Jesus’ day there was a great deal of confusion about marriage and divorce based on differing opinions of this verse- namely what constituted “indecency?”  In general, there were two schools of thought that stood on opposite extremes of the issue: Rabbi Shammai and Rabbi Hillel.  The Shammai school took a very rigorist stand on divorce and said that it was not allowable for any reason at all.  The Hillel school took a very loose stand and interpreted the word “indecent” in Deut. 24:1 to mean anything from the wife burning the toast to becoming plain and ugly over the course of marriage.  In short, anything was justifiable grounds for divorce.

So the question arises partly out of confusion, but also out of the Pharisees desire to entrap Jesus as Matthew notes they were “testing” him.  Why use divorce to trap Jesus?  Recall that it was the issue of divorce and remarriage that landed John the Baptist in jail.  He openly told Herod that he should not have his wife, who was not his first wife.  In anger, Herod threw John in jail.  Perhaps the Pharisees are hoping to get Jesus to say something about divorce that will get back to Herod and get Jesus put in jail.  Jesus in his masterful wisdom confounds the Pharisees by showing the true teaching of Scripture about divorce and turns the subject back to the heart of the matter- the nature of marriage. The Pharisees have turned the sacred institution of marriage into a farce.  Some of them are saying you can get a divorce for any reason and all of them are using the institution of marriage to carry out their evil and selfish plan to get rid of Jesus.  The real heart of the matter isn’t the argument of grounds for divorce, it’s the nature of marriage itself.  Jesus says the reason you all have such trouble with divorce is because you have forgotten what marriage is all about.

Confusion About Marriage in Our Day

Can we say anything differently for our day?  We have made a mockery of marriage.  I fear we really don’t understand what we are monkeying with when it comes to marriage.  Realize that marriage is an institution.  What does that mean?  For 6,000 years of recorded human history marriage is the one institution that all peoples in virtually all cultures for all of time have generally honored and practiced as the thing that maintains society and allows it to have a future.  What our society is doing with gay marriage, cohabitation among unmarried couples, and the non-commital, disposable approach to marriage puts us in uncharted waters.  Society has never done on the same scale what we are doing today.  And the world is doing it with apparently little thought as to what altering marriage will do to society today and certainly tomorrow.  Like in Jesus’ day, we have made a mockery of marriage.  We have made it a plaything to suit our sinful and selfish desires.

The Permanence of Marriage

The Matt. 19 text makes it clear that Jesus is not at all in favor of divorce. His response to the Pharisees in Matt. 19:4-6 reveals that Jesus opposes divorce because of the permanence of the marriage bond- “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh?’  So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.”  Consider these two aspects of the permanence of marriage:

  • A Physical/Intimate Bond

A husband and wife become “one flesh.”  This means they share the deepest form of human relationship.  I was amazed at the instant and close bond I formed with my children when they were born and how that bond continues to grow.  But it will never be as close as the bond I have to Jamy.  Such closeness and intimacy implies that this is a union that is not to be broken.  From the very beginning in Scripture there was no thought of separating the marriage union.  We see it here in Jesus quoting from Genesis and we see it in Malachi:

2:14-16- “The LORD has been a witness between you and the wife of your youth, against whom you have dealt treacherously, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. But not one has done so who has a remnant of the Spirit. Take heed then to your spirit, and let no one deal treacherously against the wife of your youth. ‘For I hate divorce,’ says the LORD, the God of Israel… ‘So take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously.”

God’s ideal was and is, monogamous, intimate, and enduring marriage. Henry Ford, on the occasion of his 50th wedding anniversary, was asked his rule for marital bliss and longevity.  Ford replied, “Just the same as in the automobile business, stick to one model.”

  • A Spiritual Bond

Another thing that Scripture teaches about the permanence of marriage is

what it represents spiritually.  Why did God create male and female and have them bond through the institution of marriage?  Was it for the purpose of procreation?  No, although that is one aspect of marriage.  The purpose of marriage is to illustrate the relationship we have with Jesus.  The bond of marriage represents the bond of the church to Christ.  In Eph. 5, Paul spoke of a wife submitting to the leadership of her husband and a husband loving his wife as Christ loves the church. He summarizes in Eph. 5:32- “This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.”  So the sacredness and permanence of marriage is seen in the most important relationship it represents- our relationship to Christ.

The Permission for Divorce

So we come to the most difficult aspect of the passage- the issue of divorce.

Given what we have just learned about the importance and permanence of marriage, divorce is a difficult and undesired thing.  But Moses did give an allowance for divorce in Deut. 24 and the Pharisees were pressing Jesus about it. As usual, Jesus shows where the Pharisees have interpreted the Scripture wrong.  Notice in Matt. 19:7 the Pharisees say Moses “commanded” divorce.  But Jesus corrects them and says he “permitted” divorce.  The Pharisees wanted to interpret the Scripture in a way that would make it easy on them and allow them to fulfill their selfish/sinful desires.  But Jesus always sees the Scripture differently. It calls for great commitment and sacrifice.  This is needed in all walks of life as we follow God, especially our marriages.  Jesus tells them that Moses permitted divorce because of the hardness of the people’s heart.  So, divorce wasn’t something you just walked in and out of, it was reluctantly given as a permission because of the weakness of people.

Jesus explains why divorce is permitted and the reason he gives is adultery.  Remember in the OT that if adultery was committed, the marriage was terminated not by divorce, but by death!  But by Jesus day, the Roman legal system had made death sentences hard to obtain, so there were two rabbinical schools arguing about divorce.  Everything here hinges on the word “unchastity.”  It is the Greek word porneia, which was used for prostitution and basically any kind of sexual immorality.  To me the plain teaching of this text is:

  1. If you divorce and remarry for any reason other than marital unfaithfulness, you are the one who becomes the adulterer.  Jesus puts this in such stark terms to teach the importance of the marriage union.
  2. If marital unfaithfulness occurs, divorce is permissible, but not commanded.  If you discover your spouse is unfaithful, you have grounds for divorce but not a license to do it.  Given the importance of marriage, my personal belief is that God would want a couple in this situation to earnestly seek God’s forgiveness and to reconcile to one another.
  3. The whole point in Moses’ day for a woman to receive a certificate of divorce was for her protection and not for the man’s convenience.  A certificate of divorce basically gave social safeguards for a woman.  This means that the security of a wife and children is very important. If a woman is in a situation where she is being abused and the children are endangered, it is clear God does not expect her to stay in that situation.

Finally, as bad as divorce is, it is not the unpardonable sin as some in the Christian community treat it.  If there is divorce in your life there is forgiveness and restoration in Jesus.  Sadly, blended families, divorcees, and single parents are many times kicked off the edge of the cliff through the judgmentalism that can occur in church.  The church needs to be a place where all people can come and seek the Lord and be loved by believers.

 

 

 

 

Reflecting on 9/11: Struggling With the Question of Why Bad Things Happen

Reflecting on 9/11: Struggling With the Question of Why Bad Things Happen

Ten years ago this Sunday our nation was thrust into one of the greatest crises and tragedies it ever faced- the infamous events of 9/11/01. Words will never describe the grief and heartache that hit so many on that terrible day.  9/11 changed so many things for all of us.  As we look back at the scenes of planes flying into buildings, explosions and plumes of smoke, people wounded and covered in dust, and others desperately looking for their loved ones we ponder one of the oldest questions man has asked: If there is a God who is good and loving, why do things like this happen?  9/11 was a storm that shook us to the core and one we will never forget.  How do we make sense of horrific storms such as 9/11 that hit our nation? Our lives?  Our families?          

All of us have experienced storms in life, and not just the ones that have wind, rain, thunder, and lightning.  We have experienced the storms of death, sickness, pain, loneliness, hopelessness, and temptation.  We have been assaulted by family troubles, troubles at work, troubles in our marriage, troubles with friends, and troubles with our finances.  We have all experienced great disappointment, heartache, and loss.  And some of these storms, at least to us, seem like they will wipe us out.  Like the disciples in the boat during the storm we cry out, “We are perishing!”           

Some storms we experience in life are the result of the fact that we live in a world that is fallen and under the curse of sin.  Bad things happen in this world because, let’s face it, as sinners we are bad people.  What comes natural to us is violence, lust, lying and greed.  As a result we see a lot of bad things in the world.  The headlines are full of examples that show our proclivity to sin.  Sometimes we get caught up in the middle of those bad things.  A storm comes our way and we did nothing wrong- nothing to deserve it.  It just happens.  Why?  That’s a tough question that I don’t think we’ll ever be really able to answer.  Why do bad things happen to good people?  Why doesn’t God stop it?  Can God stop it?  We could philosophize and theologize all day on this topic. A brief blog post does it absolutely no justice, but understand just a few things:

One, not everything that happens in the world is God’s will.  I sat with a family enduring the pain of a loved one committing suicide.  One of the people in the room looked at the grieving family and said, “Well, you know this was God’s will.”  No, I don’t think it was.  It’s not God’s will for a child to be abducted.  It’s not God’s will for terrorists to fly planes into buildings.  Can God bring about positive things from tragedy? Absolutely! But recall that this world and the people God first created were perfect.  Yet, we were the ones to mess it up.  Let’s be careful about blaming God for bad things that happen.

Two, could God stop all of the evil in the world?  Yes, but if he did, what would the evidence be that we are all sinners.  Furthermore, God could stop every murderer and terrorist but he would have to deny them their free will.  And if he did that for them he would have to do that for us.  Bad things happen because people choose to use their free will to follow their sinful indulgences.  Free will is a beautiful gift from God, but because of our sin we have turned it into a terrible curse as well.

Three, the fact that evil things happen does not undermine the fact that God is good, loves you, and is all-powerful.  Why does God allow what he does?  We’re never going to fully know.  We just need to know that in all things he is present in the storm and desires for us to trust him to help us through it.

Why didn’t God stop those planes on 9/11?  We’re not going to know.  But in times of tragedy, we should focus on what we do know about God rather than what we do not know about Him.  I do know he is all-powerful and all-knowing.  I do know He loves me so much He sent His Son to die for me.  And there’s one more thing I know for sure: I’m not God.  My wife and I were thrilled beyond description when she became pregnant for the first time.  We started planning and focusing on the arrival of the baby.  But then her pregnancy ended in miscarriage.  We were crushed.  I will never forget sitting in the office of her doctor, a kind and older Christian gentleman, as he struggled with something to say to try and comfort us.  I was surprised when he broke the silence by saying, “Have you ever seen the movie Rudy?”  What did that football movie have to do with my grief over losing the baby?  He continued, “Remember that scene when Rudy is talking to the priest after he was denied entrance to Notre Dame?”  I nodded through my tears.  “And do you remember what the priest said to Rudy?  He said, ‘Rudy, there are two things that are certain in this world: One, there is a God. Two, I’m not Him.’”

I must admit at the moment I found little comfort in the doctor’s words.  However, as I look back, it’s good advice in the midst of tragedy.  None of us are remotely close to being God.  We will never know fully why He does what He does.  He truly sees from a perspective that we will never possess.  What’s left is for me to trust Him, regardless of the pain, knowing that God loves me and weeps with me and will one day make all things new for those who love Him.

 

Reflecting the Glory of Tiger and a Lesson on the Glory of the One We Should Reflect

Reflecting the Glory of Tiger and a Lesson on the Glory of the One We Should Reflect

Recently, Tiger Woods fired his caddie, Steve Williams, after a 12-year working relationship.  Not surprisingly, Williams harbored some resentment for Tiger’s decision which was manifested in the first tournament they were apart.  Williams, now on the bag of PGA golfer Adam Scott, got the opportunity to take a dig at Tiger as Scott won the tournament.  Williams told the media, “It’s the greatest week of my life caddying and I sincerely mean that… This is the best win of my life.”  That’s a fascinating comment given he won 13 major championships while working with Tiger.  Williams used his platform with the media to vent his frustration and perhaps give himself a larger role than he deserved.  Many sports talk show pundits noted how unusual it was for the caddie, not the golfer, to get the media spotlight after the victory.

Following these events, a friend of mine commented, “Stevie, it’s not about you.  Your glory is reflected from Tiger.”  I got to thinking about my friend’s statement and the truth that was in it.  In reality, the only reason we know the name “Steve Williams” and can recognize his picture is because of Tiger Woods.  I have never seen Williams swing a golf club. I have never seen him hoist a championship trophy over his head.  In no way am I trying to say that Williams is not talented and one of the best at what he does, but the reality is that any notoriety Steve Williams has is due to his association with Tiger Woods.

The same is true for us.  Our lives should not be an effort to be in the spotlight making ourselves out to be something greater than we are.  It’s not politically correct, but the Bible says that in a spiritual sense we can do nothing good apart from Christ.  Rom. 3:11-12- “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.  All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”  The truth is, we shouldn’t crave the spotlight because we don’t have anything to brag about based on our own merit.  Anything I am, anything I have, and anything I can do is wholly attributed to the mercy of God.

Our lives should be merely a reflection of God’s glory.  If we are anything, it’s because of Him.  If there is anything good in us, if there is anything worthy of praise, if there is anything about which to boast- it is completely due to God.  Each of us should go about our daily lives with this attitude from Psalm 115:1- “Not to us, Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and faithfulness.”