Monthly Archives: May 2006
I find it hilarious that the slogan for the new Da Vinci Code movie is “So dark the con of man.” After numerous books and documentaries that clearly show the claims of the book as preposterous, especially given the fact that the so-called “centuries old” Priory of Sion organization that is supposedly guarding the secret of Jesus’s marriage to Mary Magdalene is based on 30- years old forged documents, I wonder who the “con man” really is? Is it the Catholic Church or Dan Brown and his pseudo-scholar friends who have cashed in millions on the fame of Jesus Christ?
If the book merely claimed that Mary Magdalene was a leader in the early church, there would be no controversy. Nobody disputes that Mary Magdalene was highly revered by early Christians, especially since the text of the New Testament gives her so much prominence, a fact that author Dan Brown conveniently ignores since it doesn’t fit with his theory of the Church establishment faking the documents of the four gospels in order to smear Mary Magdelene. After all, it was Mary Magdalene that Jesus appeared to first after his resurrection according to the four gospels that were supposedly forged by Constantine.
The most preposterous claim in the book, however, is the idea that nobody believed that Jesus was divine until 325 a.d. when Constantine supposedly turned Jesus into God in order to establish his power over the Roman Empire. Let’s think about this for a moment. Mr. Brown, do you really expect me to believe that the early Apostles such as Peter, James, John, and Paul as well as the early church fathers such as Polycarp, Irenaeus, Justin the Martyr, Tertullian, Origen, and Athanasius did not believe that Jesus was divine when their writings clearly indicate that they did? Furthermore, do you really expect me to believe that the tens of thousands of Christians who were thrown to the lions during the first three centuries were persecuted so severely because they believed that an itinerant Jewish rabbi was married? Get real!
By the way, Mr. Brown, if you knew your history, then you would know that the controversy during the time of Constantine was not “is Jesus Divine” but ” just how divine is He?” What people really wanted to know was “has Jesus ,the Son of God, always existed or was He created by God the Father?” Arius said that Jesus was a created being. Athanasius said that Jesus was co-equal, co-eternal, and of the same substance as God the Father. Athanasius won the debate not because it was convenient for Constantine (in fact Constantine sided with Arius and drove Athanasius into exile), but because his view was consistent with the teachings of the New Testament that was universally recognized by that time as authoritative. And, by the way, Mr. Brown, the ancient gnostics from which you derive your trumped-up allegations, had no problem believing that Jesus was divine. They just weren’t sure if He was really human. And, furthermore, since the gnostics believed that matter is evil and spirit is good (which by the way would have made the idea of Jesus’s marriage to Mary Magdenene repulsive in their eyes), why would they care about writing a factual account of the historical Jesus? The gnostics relied on “secret revelations” and “hidden knowledge” to formulate their beliefs, not historical biographies like the four gospels.
I guess all of this shows that the Apostle Paul was exactly right when he said that unbelievers “know the truth but supress it.” Given the utter absurdities of the claims of the Da Vinci Code, I question the motives not only of the author, but of all those who believe its historically absurd claims. Perhaps the slogan for the movie should read like this- So Dark the Gullibility of Man.
This post is recycled from 03/16/2006
I was flipping through the channels one day and I happened to catch a segment on the popular ABC Family Channel show “Whose Line is It Anyway?”. This is a show where four comedians have to improvise funny scenarios at the suggestions of the audience and the host Drew Carey. The theme of the segment was “rejected state slogans.” I about fell over my chair in laughter when the bald Canadian guy said “Come to Florida and die.” Believe it or not, it actually took me a while to get that one. I think it came to me several days later that the comedian was actually making a reference to Florida being a state where people go to retire. (Side note-this is further proof that you don’t have to be an exceptionally bright guy to be a theologian.)
It didn’t take long for my overactive mind to make a spiritual application to the funny sketch. A simple thought came to me. “What if Christian evangelists started advertising our faith that way? Come to Jesus and die!” The idea may sound like a public relations nightmare for Christianity, but, strangely, I don’t think Jesus would really mind. After all, it was He who said “He who desires to save his life will lose it, but he who loses his life for my sake will find it.” In another place he said “He who comes after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.” In modern parlance, that would be akin to saying “Come follow me to the electric chair!” Doesn’t sound too appealing at first glance. But then again, maybe self denial really isn’t so bad. After all, isn’t it one of the golden rules of happiness that unhappy people are generally selfish people? You don’t have to be a spoiled, pampered brat to be selfish, all you have to do is live for the pleasures of this world and forget about the God who created you. Jesus challenges us all to die to our selfish desires and live for His desires. I don’t know about you, but I’ll gladly give my life for the one who loved me and gave Himself to die on the cross for me. Why live for earth when you can live for heaven?
Just a quick thought for the day. What do white trash, hookers, and corporate fat cats all have in common? All of them are people that Jesus would rather hang out with than self righteous religious people. You don’t believe me? Read the gospels and see what I’m talking about. Jesus was acccused of being a “glutton and a wine bibber ” precisely because He preferred to hang out with the riff-raff of society rather than the religious establishment of His day. Here is another thought, the very fact that Jesus ate and drank with sinners signified that He accepted them just the way they were. If Jesus is any indication of the heart of the Father toward lost people (and He is), then perhaps the gospel that He introduced to the world is precisely this- God loves sinners! It is in opening our hearts to the unconditional love of Jesus Christ that we ourselves are saved and transformed into what we could never be on our own. The problem is that most of us are too proud of ourselves to recognize that we do, in fact, need this unconditional love. This is why Jesus said that tax collectors and harlots (aka crooked lawyers and prostitutes) would enter the kingdom of heaven faster than the pharisees (aka…dignified and proud churchgoers). Let’s keep this in mind as we relate to the world around us. It is only when we receive the grace of Christ for ourselves that we can give the same grace away to others.
A couple of years ago, I was preaching in a small African village in the country of Guinea Bissau when I had a thought that struck me as rather humorous. Well, I guess humorous is a relative term, morbid might be a better word. For the first time in my life I actually got to see the whole process from the slaughter of the chicken to the arrival of the chicken meat on my plate. And let me tell you, it is not a pretty picture. First, they cut off the head and drain the blood and then they pluck the feathers out of the chicken. And the rest, well, you can probably imagine it for yourself. Here is the funny thing. I noticed that, at least from the chickens’ perspective, watching their fellow comrades getting their heads chopped off didn’t seem to bother them all that much. I never noticed any attempt from the chickens’ part to escape their impending doom. In fact, they just kept hanging around and hanging around as if they were household pets. It never seemed to occur to the poor little chickens that we humans are their mortal enemies. If that were you and me, we’d be out of there faster than you can say KFC.
Here’s another example. Did you know that a female black widow eats the male who mates with her? Now, I don’t know about you. But if I were a male black widow and I saw numerous of my brothers and cousins getting eaten by their female lovers, I just might reconsider the whole mating thing. And yet, this thought never seems to occur to the poor little male black widow.
Believe it or not, I do have a point in all this. Look at what God says to Job in Job 39:13-17, “And the wings of the ostrich wave proudly, but are her wings and pinions like the kindly stork’s? For she leaves her eggs on the ground and warms them in the dust. She forgets that a foot may crush them or that a wild beast may break them. She treats her young harshly, as though they were not hers. Her labor is in vain, without concern, because God has deprived her of wisdom and did not endow her with understanding.”
It doesn’t matter if you are a chicken, a black widow, a stork, or a human being. Whatever mental capacities you possess have been given to you by God and are directly proportional to your class of being. This is helpful in understanding and clarifying the doctrine of “free will.” It appears that God has given a degree of “free will” to all of his creatures, but the freedom of the will is directly relational to their creaturely capacities. A chicken is free to behave like a chicken and will make decisions based on his capacities as a chicken. The same is true with every other creature in God’s creation.
What is awesome to think about is the fact that not only are we homo sapiens capable of the act of reflection (an attribute obviously missing in lower life forms), but our decisions have eternal implications. We can choose to love and obey Christ and follow Him to heaven, or we can send ourselves to hell and be separated from God forever. The fact that our choices have eternal consequences points to our infinite value as human beings. With all this in mind, I suggest that choosing Christ is the only sane option available. Especially in light of the fact that the Bible says “there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) Perhaps we can learn a thing or two from African chickens and black widows. As long as we can reflect on our mortality, we might want to put that art of reflection to good use. Those who refuse to do so might take a hint or two from our African chicken friends.
I was just thinking about the verse in Ephesians chapter 2 verse 1 where Paul talks about the condition of the human soul without Christ and it reminded me of the popular movie The Sixth Sense. Here the Apostle Paul says that those without Christ are “dead in trespasses and sins.” I think of the line when the troubled child played by Haley Joel Osment tells his shrink “I see dead people.” He then proceeds to tell his new friend (aka..Bruce Willis) that dead people only see what they want to see. I have to admit that I am a little stunned to have discovered a profound spiritual truth in a Hollywood blockbuster film. Given my reticence to any sort of proposed spirituality coming from Hollywood, I am sure that it was by total accident that the film stumbled on a near perfect illustration of the Biblical concept of spiritual death. The creepy dead people in The Sixth Sense were wondering about aimlessly in the afterlife precisely because they only saw what they wanted to see. They defined reality on their own terms, not on the basis of objective reality itself. I can not tell you how many people have told me “I believe that Jesus is the truth for you, but not for me.” In other words, “Don’t tell me you have a truth that applies to everybody. I have my own truth.” It’s funny how this logic never seems to apply when you are standing in the middle of the road in front of a moving vehicle. Jesus said “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes unto the father except through me.” Sounds pretty simple to me. I’d rather follow a man who predicted and fulfilled his own death and resurrection than to fashion a tailor-made religion to suit my own needs. I’ll take truth over self-deception any day.
Recently I wrote a post about God’s foreknowledge repudiating other views that say that God’s knowledge of the future is limited in someway (either by logic or by self-imposed limitations). I concluded that God’s knowledge of the future is absolute and that God fully knows His own thoughts and actions from eternity past (Acts 15:18). This brings us to a good question. If God is sovereign and knows everything in advance, how then can it be said that man has free will? The answer is I don’t know. But I do know that both are true at the same time and that you can not emphasize one Biblical truth at the expense of another. Saying that God is all powerful (and He is) and that He is knows everything (and He does) seems to bring us to the logical conclusion that God has predestined all that has come to pass (including evil) and that the idea of man’s free will is at best an illusion. That is where I draw the line. Here’s why.
To say that God is behind all that comes to pass directly contradicts what Jesus shows us about the nature of the Father. The Scriptures clearly teach that Jesus is the complete revelation of God. Hebrews 1:2 says that Jesus is “the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person.” If Jesus is the “Word of God” made flesh (John 1:1,14) then any conception of God outside of what Jesus shows us is a misperception. If God is behind all that comes to pass (e.g..sickness, pain, natural disasters) then Jesus must have been undoing the works of the Father as he healed the sick, raised the dead, and calmed the raging storms. Of course we know that everything Jesus did was in accordance with God’s will. Jesus said “a house divided against itself can not stand.” As to man’s free will, think about what Jesus said to the people of Jerusalem in His day, “Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your chicks together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” Notice that Jesus did not say that God was not willing to accept them, but that they were unwilling to accept Him.
So how can God know everything and allow for man to have free will at the same time? I don’t know. How can God be all-powerful and present everywhere and yet, not be responsible for all that comes to pass in the natural world? I don’t know. Here is where a dose of humility comes in. The truth is that God’s essence is unknowable. As finite creatures, we will never know, at least on this side of eternity, exactly how God’s eternal nature relates to His finite creation. We can, however, know God’s character. God’s essence is unknowable, His character is not. Jesus clearly shows us the character of God in all that He taught and accomplished while here on earth. So here is my proposition, instead of focusing on the unknowable, let’s focus on what we can know. Through Jesus, we can know how God cares for His creation and, more importantly for us, how He treats people. And that is all we really need to know.
I have been been very hesitant to write a post about the current fascination with the state of Israel and the Jewish people in many pentecostal and fundamentalist segments in the American Church. Part of the reason for this hesitation is the fear of being misunderstood. So let me say clearly from the outset that I believe that the world has an obligation to support the right for the state of Israel to exist in safe and secure borders. How to achieve that is not my place to decide because I am not an authority on political matters. Neither am I a replacement theologian. I do not believe that God is finished with the Jews as a people and I further believe that God will fulfill His promises to the Jewish people in a clear and demonstrable way when Christ returns to set up His kingdom on earth for a thousand years.
But this is where my agreement with the current Christian Zionist movement in America ends. Seeing the latest issue of Charisma magazine has prompted me to finally open my big mouth and say something. I find it interesting that in last month’s issue of Charisma magazine there is a full page advertisement of a Bible study from a popular Jewish rabbi who is not a believer in Jesus. I wonder what Paul the Apostle would say about that? In 2 Corinthians 3:14, speaking of Jewish non-believers, Paul says, “For until this day the same veil remains unlifted in the reading of the Old Testament, because the veil is taken away in Christ.” So why would an evangelical Christian magazine place a full page ad to encourage born again Christians to read a Bible study from someone who reads the Old Testament with a veil over his eyes?
The answer is what I like to call Israelolatry. If you read John Hagee’s articles in Charisma, you get the impression that the sole reason for the existence of the Church is to support the state of Israel. Hagee even uses Matthew 25:31-46 to suggest that supporting the State of Israel (aka…providing monetary assistance to the Israeli government and funding Jewish settlers in the West Bank and the Gaza strip) is a requirement for salvation. Call me crazy, but I thought that faith in Christ was the sole requirement for salvation (Romans 3:28, Ephesians 2:8-9, Romans 10:9-10, Galatians 2:16, John 3:16, John 6:47, Acts 16:31)! In his book, “The Jerusalem Countdown” which is endorsed by a number of major names in evangelical circles, Hagee seems to go to great lengths to show that Christians do not need to witness to Jews. What??!! I find that claim very intersting especially in the light of the fact that the famous “How shall they hear without a preacher?” passage in Romans is a direct reference to Jewish evangelism (this is seen by putting the passage in the context of Romans 9-11 which deals exclusively with the question of God’s plan for the Jewish people). The fact that so few big name leaders have spoken out on the falsity of this position is very troubling to me. It seems that, as a result of the centuries of anti-semitism and persecution of the Jews by so-called Christians (which is completely unjustifiable) the collective guilty conscience of a large number of American Christians has gone the extreme in the other way to say that the grace of Christ is necessary for all but the Jewish people. There is a word for this. It’s called being “ashamed” of the gospel. The Apostle Paul says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ. For it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also for the Greek.” (Romans 1:16) Any theology that undermines the Great Commission that Jesus gives us to “preach the gospel to every creature” needs to be seriously examined and called for what it is- idolatry.
Last week after coming home from church on a Wednesday night, I came home to a little surprise. Just as I was getting ready to draw the curtain to the master bedroom in our house, I saw that directly in front of my hand was the largest spider I had ever seen inside a house in my entire life. I’m not kidding. This spider was a little monster. After screaming like a girl and calming myself down from a prolonged period of hysteria, I came to my senses with a simple thought. This spider has a lot more reason to be afraid of me than I do of it.
And then I started to get philisophical. If God is everywhere like the Scriptures teach, then this spider exists in the mind of God. If there was no God, then there would be no spider. The Bible says about Christ that “He is before all things and in Him all things consist.” (Colossians 1:17) Elsewhere, the Bible says, “For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be the glory forever.” (Romans 11:36) There is nothing outside of God and everything that exists exists for the glory of God in one way or another. So what am I really afraid of?
When it’s all said and done, there really is only one power in the universe and that is God. As Larry the Cucumber from Veggie Tales so wisely put it, “God is bigger than the boogey-man. He’s bigger than Godzilla and the monsters on TV.”
There is only one reality-God. Everything else comes out of God and finds its possibility in the mind of God. Anything that seems to contradict this is merely an illusion. Just like the boogey man and the monsters on TV, the illusion might be real, but God is greater than the illusion. With that in mind, I summoned up the courage to end the life of the poor monstrous spider. Moment of silence please.
Here’s a little something to think about. I’ve often heard people say things like, “God lives in me” or “God lives in people’s hearts.” While it is certainly true that God lives in people, (after all the Bible does say that our bodies are the “temple of the Holy Spirit”), saying “God lives inside of me” is only half the story. The Apostle Paul says, “In Him we live and move and have our being.” Actually, you and I and the entire cosmos live inside of God. Everything that has ever existed has existed in the mind of God from eternity past. So, in a real sense, there is only one reality-God. Nothing exists independent of God. The Scripture says that Christ is “before all things and in Him all things consist.” Without Christ, who is God, nothing would exist. And it is God who is holding everything together. From the birds to the trees to the sky to the giant cockroaches crawling around in your pipes underneath your bathroom-everything exists inside of God. Now that can blow your mind if you think about it for a while.
I have been reading the Book of Acts over the past few weeks and have noticed how often the word “reason” is used in connection with the preaching of Paul. At least four times it says that Paul “reasoned” with someone or a group of people in presenting the gospel. Paul reasoned with the Thessalonians (Acts 17:2), the Corinthians (Acts 18:4) with the Jews in Ephesus (Acts 18:19) and finally, the Bible says that Paul reasoned with Felix (Act 24:15). These are merely the times in which the word “reason” is specifically used to described Paul’s preaching. But there are also other descriptions of Paul reasoning with people. In Acts 17:24-34, Paul reasoned with the Greek philosophers on Mars Hill arguing that God was omnipresent and therefore could not be limited to temples and carved images made with men’s hands.
Paul wasn’t the only one who reasoned with people. Jesus was always catching the Pharisees in their hypocrisy by appealing to their moral reasoning. When He said, “He who is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone,” He knew that their conscience would convict them and the adulterous woman would go free. Jesus seemed to believe that man, although a sinner, could grasp profound spiritual truth through moral reasoning. One of the greatest examples of this is in the Sermon on the Mount when He said “If you, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him?”
Jesus taught that man could use their moral reasoning in comparing God with a good earthly Father. This is very important because often Christians attribute to God things that a good earthly parent would never do. If the primary revelation that Jesus gives us of God is that of Father, then we need to build our theology around God as Father to humanity and let that guide us in our thinking about God’s character. Instead of dishing out moral implications of what I am trying to say, I would like to leave it to you, the reader, to think about what it means to believe that God is Father to humanity. For many, the idea that man can dig into his conscience and reason about God might seem a little dangerous. But, I say to that, if Jesus and Paul opened the door to internal reflection as a way of ascertaining spiritual truth, why not take a step inside? I’m not suggesting relativism here. Remember that God gave us the Scriptures to guide us along the path to life. If not, even the best of our reasoning without the life and teachings of Jesus would forever destroy us. Thank God for divine revelation!