Granny’s Chocolate Cake and the Resurrection

My mom’s mother is the epitome of the southern granny. She is short, nice, and wears the tiny circle glasses. Her hairstyle has been the classic “granny fro” for as long as I’ve been alive. She has the essential Charleston accent straight from “Gone With The Wind” and says things like “over yonder” and “bless your heart.” To top it off, she’s an excellent cook. When we go to her house, we never have to worry if we’ll have a good meal. My grandma is going to have dinner on lockdown.

One of my favorite things that she makes is cake. She can make all kinds of different themes and styles, but I just like plain old chocolate cake. There’s something about Granny’s chocolate cake that makes me feel better about life. I loved it so much growing up that I asked her to make a big one for my birthday when I was a kid. We had the party at my house and she came over early to help us set up. She brought that masterpiece of a cake that she baked up along with her as well.

She came in the afternoon, but the party didn’t actually start until later that evening. The thought of waiting several more hours for that cake was killing me. Especially after I had already seen it. Like Eve in the garden of Eden, I had seen the cake and it was pleasant to my eyes. Very pleasant. However, I still held on to the sweet hope that I would have granny’s chocolate cake in a few hours, which seemed like years.

However, suddenly Granny gave me some wonderful news. She asked, “Blake, do you want to go ahead grab a small piece of cake now?” A small piece?! Now? And I don’t have to wait all the way until the party comes and they sing “Happy Birthday” to me? Of course I wanted a piece! So, I was able to taste and see that the chocolate cake was good. I had the opportunity to experience a small foretaste of the fullness of Granny’s cake that was soon to come.

And that’s a bit what Jesus’ resurrection was like. Continue reading “Granny’s Chocolate Cake and the Resurrection”

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Alcohol, Tattoos, and Circumcision

What do tattoos, alcohol, and circumcision have to do with each other? I promise it wasn’t just a link baiting title that you see so often on Facebook and other places nowadays. Honestly, I think that Scripture has something to offer when dealing with all three of these topics in a similar way.

In case you’re new to church culture here in America, there is a constant debate going on as to whether Christians should be participating in certain things. Two of the things at the forefront of this debate are tattoos and alcohol. “Should Christians get tattoos? Is that something that a genuine disciple of Jesus could do? What about alcohol? Can someone love the Lord and still drink a glass of wine for enjoyment?” For some, the answer is no and for others the answer is yes. My goal with this post is not to provide an answer either way.

Rather, I want to look to a certain situation in the Bible that might can reveal some wisdom when dealing with such things. Whether it’s alcohol, tattoos, or some other activity that Christians debate over, how can we find a way work out our differences and find unity in disagreement? To find a possible answer, we look to our third category: circumcision.

In Acts 15, Christians do a really funny thing. They gather together ask basically ask the question, “Can God do what God just did?” It actually sounds eerily similar to what a lot Christians ask today. But, that’s besides the point. In Acts 15, they hold a council after Gentiles begin to receive the Holy Spirit and are saved. Their claim, in verse 1, was that “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” Repeating their point in verse 5, the Pharisees were claiming that circumcision is absolutely necessary in order to be a genuine believer.

However, Peter began to explain how God showed no distinction between the Jews and the Gentiles, the circumcised and uncircumcised. After all, God knows the heart and gave them the Holy Spirit that he had given to the Jewish Christians. Salvation wouldn’t come by bearing the “yoke” of their ancestors. Rather, all people are saved by grace through faith in Christ. Barnabas and Paul began to chime in and support Peter in his declaration. Circumcision was absolutely unnecessary in order to gain salvation.

They couldn’t have made their point any clearer. In order to be a genuine follower of Jesus, circumcision is of no importance. However, in the next chapter, something very interesting comes up. This is what Acts 16:1-3 says:

Paul went on also to Derbe and to Lystra, where there was a disciple named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer; but his father was a Greek. He was well spoken of by the believers in Lystra and Iconium. Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him; and he took him and had him circumcised because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.

What is this? It seems as if Paul goes back on everything that was said at the Jerusalem Council the chapter right before. Which is it? Is circumcision necessary? Or is it something Christians should practice? While this is a dramatic example, I think what we see here can help us a lot when we approach debated activity, such as alcohol, tattoos, and other things.

Again, I’m not trying to prove whether these things are acceptable. I have my opinions, but what I’m trying to find is something that can go beyond mere agreement and disagreement. And I think we that thing here in Acts 16.

What if this episode with Paul and Timothy shows us that, perhaps in order to reach a wider community of people, we have to make sacrifices that have nothing to do with our state of salvation? In other words, Paul obviously didn’t think that Timothy was any less of a Christian for not being circumcised. He proved that he believed such in Jerusalem. However, Paul wanted Timothy to have credibility with the Jews and knew that, since they knew his father was a Gentile, they might discount him.

Therefore, Timothy was circumcised. Not in order to be saved. Not in order to be more holy. Not in order to find favor in God’s eyes. But rather, for the result that “the churches were strengthened in the faith and increased in numbers daily.” Timothy participated in something that had nothing to do with his salvation in order to be a credible witness to a group of people who both need Jesus and perhaps would have dismissed him had he not bore the signs of their image of a “faithful and genuine” believer. The point isn’t that they are justified in thinking that way. According to Paul a chapter earlier, they aren’t. However, Timothy loved this community of people enough to facilitate to their views at the time in order to be a better witness to them.

So what can we learn here?

Perhaps we shouldn’t be asking ourselves whether tattoos or alcohol or whatever is something Christians can participate in. Maybe we should be asking, “In this particular context, is the something we should be participating in?” For the record, I am of the persuasion that the particular examples I use, tattoos and alcohol, are okay if treated with responsibility. And I think that makes my point even stronger.

When we enter into the faith and become a Christian, we don’t embark on a private spiritual journey. We become a part of a worldwide community called the Church. Modeling after the founder of our faith, Jesus himself, we are called to live in a manner of self-sacrificial love. Perhaps we should examine what that might practically look like when it comes to issues like these.

For example, though I personally think that tattoos are fine, I probably won’t get one. Because I think it makes me more holy? Or because I think those who have them aren’t saved? Of course not! As Peter and Paul both said, we’re saved by grace through faith. However, I know for a fact that there’s many churches who wouldn’t allow me to preach or minister at their church if I were to get tattoos.

Are they justified in that belief? I personally think not. But, that isn’t my point. My point is that I don’t mind demonstrating self-sacrificial love for them and avoiding getting a tattoo in order to be a better witness to them. Not to mention that in many foreign countries, tattoos are seen as a sign of evil. If I were to go to a Muslim country and they were to write me off immediately because I had tattoos, I would start to feel pretty selfish.

The same applies with alcohol. Though I personally think alcohol in moderation is acceptable, there are many churches who think alcohol is inherently sinful. In fact, my own church leans in that direction. However, I respect the pastors of my church and want to be an effective witness in my church body. Therefore, I abstain alcohol, especially around those whom I know are personally convicted that it is a sinful thing. Whether or not they are justified in their belief is a different matter. Since I’m called to have self-sacrificial love for them, I’m okay with participating in abstinence from alcohol, just as Timothy was willing to participate in circumcision.

My point, then, is that maybe we should treat alcohol, tattoos, and other things similar to them in the same way that Paul treated circumcision. Abstaining from those things don’t make us any better or holy or acceptable to God. Salvation comes through faith by grace! However, in a community that is so much larger than ourselves and with a call to live in a sacrificial way, no matter our thoughts on those issues, we should be at least willing to metaphorically go under the knife and be circumcised, if our particular situation calls for it.

Perhaps, our actions may even make it possible that our church are “strengthened in the faith and increas[ing] in numbers daily.” Isn’t that the goal? Let’s focus less on what we can do and worry about what love has called us to do.

In Favor of Women in Ministry

Of course, there’s a continuing debate on whether women should be preachers, pastors, evangelists, etc. Is this just a role that’s set aside for men? Or is it a role that is gender inclusive? I used to be a part of the camp that thought this kind of role should only be for men. After all, Paul said for women to keep quiet and not to have authority over a man! Also, the requirements for a deacon and elder are in the masculine, not the feminine! That’s surely enough, right? Actually, it’s not. While I’m not going to get into those arguments, I think it’s clear that Jesus supports women preachers, teachers, evangelists, and the whole nine yards.

It’s interesting that whenever Jesus rose from the dead, the first person to witness it was a woman. Mary Magdalene was the one to whom the news of Jesus’ glorious rising from the dead was first entrusted. She ran to tell the rest. This is also pretty good evidence that the gospels weren’t fabricated. You see, people generally saw women as inferior. Who in the Jewish first century would fabricate something that had a woman being the first one to experience an important event?  Especially if the author wanted people to believe it was true! However, it is true and a woman was the first to witness it. This isn’t by accident either. It was to challenge the misogynistic atmosphere in the Jewish culture during Jesus’ time and shoot it to the ground. If a preacher’s job is to announce the gospel, the news that Jesus has died, was buried, and then rose for our sins, isn’t this is exactly what Mary Magdalene did? And she was the first person to do so! If that doesn’t rest the case for you, here’s a little more fun facts.

In Acts, the record of the early Church, there were women involved with all of the crazy things that were occurring. Acts 8:3 and 9:2 record both men and women being persecuted for being a part of “the Way”. They were also baptized and considered full members of the kingdom of God. Acts 8:12 records, “But when they believed Philip, who was proclaiming the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.” Whatever the Church was experiencing, whether growth, persecution, etc., there were always women along every step of the way, spreading the gospel and sharing in the sufferings of Christ.

Phoebe, a woman mentioned in Romans 16:1-2, was considered a “deacon” or a minister at the church in Cenchreae. Paul spoke highly of her and she is actually the one who he commissioned to deliver the letter to Romans, arguably Paul’s greatest letter. Usually, the person who delivered the letters would be the first ones to read the letters aloud to the church and then answer any questions that they may have concerning it. So, in reality, Phoebe was probably the first person to not only read Romans aloud, but the first one to expound on and preach  that great letter from the apostle Paul. Women were definitely essential in the early Church as preachers of the gospel.

In fact, later on in that chapter of Romans, another woman is mentioned. Her name is Junia and Paul says in verse 7 that she and Andronicus were “prominent among the apostles”. This doesn’t simply mean that the apostles knew a lot about them, but that they themselves were apostles. So, Paul considers Junia, a woman, to be an apostle of the Lord, and a prominent one at that. For a woman to be a leader in a “Jewish sect”, as some thought of it, was unheard of to a lot of the people around that time. However, following in Jesus’ footsteps, the early Church did an incredible job of breaking down the misogyny that had infiltrated the culture of that day. Junia would have been preaching and teaching a lot if she was considered an apostle.

To me, that makes it clear that women definitely had the authority in the early Church to preach and teach the gospel. Even the things that seem to contradict this position has to be interpreted in light of these things. If it was the case in the early Church, why do we marginalize women today? Why do we withhold from them the office of preacher, pastor, evangelist, etc.? That’s not something the Church did back then. And it certainly wasn’t something that Jesus did. If we want to mirror Jesus, then I believe we should allow the full inclusion of women into the ministry of the Church.

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This is an excerpt from my book, “Church Kid: Restoring Your Faith After Being Raised in Church,” now available for purchase here.

Faith, Hope, and Love: In Memory of Bethany

Faith, Hope, and Love: In Memory of Bethany

When I was a kid, my mom became pregnant with a little girl. I was 6 years old and I can’t explain how excited I was to get a baby sister. For so long, it had just been me and my little brother. A house full of guys. Having a girl around the house was going to be a big change, but a really exciting one. My parents ended up naming her Bethany Faith Baggott. I just couldn’t wait to hold her in my arms.

I remember the baby was due in two weeks. I was so excited, I couldn’t contain myself. However, one day, I came home and I saw my dad. It was the first time that I ever saw him cry. I knew that something had to be wrong. My parents told me that something unexpected had happened to Bethany. They had to look me in the eye and tell me that she had died in my mom’s tummy. I wasn’t going to have a little sister anymore. At eight and a half months, my mom had a miscarriage.

I was six, so I didn’t know the extent of it. However, I knew that my sister had died. I knew that she wasn’t going to be brought into this world. We went to the hospital for them to take her out of my mom. They placed her pale, lifeless body in my arms. I had anticipating holding her in my arms… but not like that. Everything that I had been taught in Sunday School about Jesus coming to give us life came into question. If Jesus wants us to live, then why did my baby sister die? All I knew is that it didn’t make any sense to me. And I knew that I was really sad.

However, I was blessed to have such strong parents. I don’t know what it would have been like if they hadn’t have fought that battle so maturely. They assured me that even though Bethany had died, God is still good. They said that even though I didn’t have a baby sister, I would always have a heavenly Father that loved me. I may have been disappointed, but God never fails us.

Later on that year, my parents got some great news. My mom was pregnant again. And it just so happened that it was a baby girl too, as we later found out. We were finally going to have a baby sister after all. To me, that was God telling me that he is faithful.

I know that not every miscarriage story turns out like that, and it doesn’t have to in order for God’s faithfulness to remain. But it did work out like this for us. And I heard God’s whisper in it too.

On July 27, 1999, my mother gave birth to Breanna Hope Baggott. First, God gave us Faith and the sting of death took her away from us. It almost took away our faith. Having faith can do that to you, because it requires a trust, a type of vulnerability, that can lead to pain.

But, then God gave us Hope. God gave us hope. He reminded me that in the worst situations, God remains faithful still. In the bleakest of moments, he is good. In the darkest of events, he is light. God was there, and he had always been there.

There’s a verse in 1 Corinthians 13 that I’ve always held dear, maybe for different reasons than others do. Of course, that’s the famous “love” passage. It’s often said at weddings. However, the last verse of that chapter is the most powerful to me. It says:

And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

God gave me my sister, Bethany Faith. One day, I’ll be reunited with her in the resurrection. God gave me my sister, Breanna Hope. She’s the most beautiful little girl in world. I can’t imagine what life would be without her. And in both of my sisters, in both the high and low, God gave me himself. He gave me Love.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.

God has been all of these things and more for me. I know that, by God’s grace, my little sisters abide. I found God both in the pain and the rejoicing. Both the sorrow and the celebration. Love was found in Faith, and in Hope. Maybe this is what makes Love the greatest of them all.

bb

(Breanna “BB” and I, April 2016)

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This is an excerpt from my book, “Church Kid: Restoring Your Faith After Being Raised in Church,” now available for purchase here.

Sex, Sacraments, and Signs of the Covenant

First of all, God is a covenantal God. He relates to his own people through covenants. So what is a covenant? Basically, a covenant is a mutual agreement between two parties. However, it’s very different from a contract.

In a contract, if one party doesn’t come through with their end of the deal, then the other party can withdraw. Covenants, though, mean that no matter what the actions of the other party are, you remain faithful to your end of the agreement. We see this with God so beautifully. He promised to redeem humanity and restore this fallen world. Therefore, he entered into a covenant with his people to do so. In spite of all of our disobedience, God has remained faithful to this covenant and will continue to remain faithful.

To remind us of his faithfulness and our call to be faithful, God does something special. It’s interesting because it seems as if God always accompanies a sign with each covenant that he makes. Think back to Sunday School and the story of Noah and the flood. God made a covenant with Noah that he would never destroy the world again through flood and then he called for Noah to be fruitful and fill the earth. It was two parties entering into a mutual agreement. 

What does God do as a result? He gives them a sign of that covenant. Specifically, he gives them the rainbow. The rainbow was a sign to point to the fact that God was faithful and would keep his end of the deal. It also was a reminder of the fact that we’re called to be faithful to God and keep our end of the deal as well. God does this with other covenants as well.

Now that we’re in the New Testament period, we’re part of a renewed covenant with God. There are two major signs with this covenant. The first is baptism and it’s an act that occurs once at the beginning of the covenant. What does it signify? It signifies passing from death to life,from sin to holiness, and represents a fundamental change of lifestyle. You enter the water one person and then are raised from it as a different person. Baptism basically acts as a symbol for entry into this covenant with God. 

The second sign is the Lord’s Supper (or communion, the Eucharist, etc.). It provides nourishment, both spiritually and physically, since it actually consists of bread and wine. Unlike baptism, this sign is an ongoing thing that is celebrated often, occurring every week in some traditions. The Church celebrates the Lord’s Supper often in order to signify unity with Jesus. We are eating his flesh and drinking his blood. We’re, in a sense, becoming one with him. Through the Lord’s Supper we become one with him. Every time we take it, we are reminded that we are the ones with whom he chose to enter into covenant. In response, we are to live as such.

So, I began to think about these signs of this covenant and I thought about another great covenant mentioned in the Bible: marriage. Though it’s on a different level (being between two humans, not God and humans), it’s still a covenant. It’s a promise to fulfill your part of an agreement whether or not your partner fulfill his or hers. If you notice, the Bible often uses the covenant of marriage as a symbol of God’s covenant with his people.

Then, I remembered something Jesus said when speaking to the Pharisees and speaking of marriage: “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.

 This verse is found both in Genesis and one of Paul’s epistles, so obviously it’s important. In that verse, I see two signs of this covenant that correlate with the ones found in our covenant with God.

The first sign is “leaving one’s father and mother”. This, like baptism, is a one time event. It happens at the beginning of the covenant. What does it represent? It signifies a complete life change. Before, you are walking through life as a single person. You depend on your parents and you’re responsible for no one but yourself. Then, you are transitioning into the life of a covenantal marriage. In that, you rely on your spouse and you’re responsible for him or her. It’s symbolic for entry into this new covenant, the covenant of marriage. You’re “baptized” into your marriage, so to speak.

The second sign is sex, or “uniting and becoming one flesh.” Like the Lord’s Supper, this is a sign that is ongoing. It continues to occur well after the two have entered into the marriage covenant with one another. What does it represent? Like the Lord’s Supper, it represent unity with one another. The two are becoming one. Just as we take in Jesus through the bread and become one with him, the spouses become one with each other. It provides nourishment, both spiritually and physically, just like the Lord’s Supper. Sex is a reminder the couple has decided to enter into covenant with one another. They each have chosen to commit and love the other.

When you look at sex like that, it becomes a lot more serious. It’s not just something casual. It’s like a sacrament, something that only takes place within a covenant. That’s why I think there’s so much sorrow that occurs when people try to have sex before truly committing and marrying one another. It’s like taking the Lord’s supper without becoming a Christian or being baptized. Sex gets stripped of its meaning and its beauty.

No, I’ve never had sex, and for a long time that was motivated by a number of other things. However, now, I realize that sex is a precious thing. It isn’t something to flippantly participate in. It isn’t meant to be done within a one night stand. It’s supposed to be an ongoing sign of a covenant that has already made. In a very real way, sex is marriage. Every time you have sex with someone, it’s like you’re marrying them. You’re rushing into a covenant, one that you’ll be bound to break if you haven’t fully committed to them. As Dr. James Brownson says, “They must not say, at one point with their bodies and their words, what they are not willing to say with the rest of their lives.”

That’s why casual sex takes a toll on so many people. It’s not just a physical thing. Sex is a spiritual thing. You become connected to another person’s soul. It’s profoundly sacred and holy. Unless we treat it that way, we’ll be in for a lot hurt and a lot of heartbreak. Let us preserve the sacredness of marriage and the beauty of the signs of the covenants that God has made with us and we have made among each other! Amen.

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This is an excerpt from my book, “Church Kid: Restoring Your Faith After Being Raised in Church,” now available for purchase here.

How Should We Read Scripture?

I believe Scripture, containing the 39 books of the Old Testament and 27 books of the New Testament, constitute the biblical canon***. I believe what Scripture says about itself, which is that it is “God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting…training in righteousness” and “equipp[ing]” servants of God “for every good work”. Another word for “God-breathed” is inspired. I believe that Scripture is the inspired words of God written by human agency. But, how are we supposed to read Scripture? We believe that it was given to us by God through the hands of humans across the age. What are we supposed to do with it now?

God, who has all authority, exercises his authority through the Scripture. This is what is to be understood whenever Scripture is said to be “authoritative”. Scripture is not authoritative in itself. It points outside of itself to the One who has ultimate authority. But, it is still authoritative in a lesser sense. However, though all of scripture is inspired, it is not all equally authoritative. Jesus constantly contrasts his teaching with the Old Testament teaching (“You have heard it said… but I tell you…”). This is not because the Old Testament is bad or useless. Rather, the purpose for which it was given had now been fulfilled, and it no longer has “authority” (Galatians 3:23-35).

Therefore, scripture is not, as Greg Boyd puts it, like a cook book from which one can pull ingredients from each part and hold them as equal in authority. Following the model of N.T. Wright, Scripture is to be seen as a grand play, a great narrative, which consists of five acts: 1) Creation 2) Fall 3) Israel 4) Jesus 5) The Church. We find ourselves in the fifth act of this great play.

Wright notes, “Those who live in this fifth act have an ambiguous relation to the four previous acts, not because they are being disloyal to them but precisely because they are being loyal to them as part of the story.” We view each part of the Scripture in its context and glean from it, understanding where it falls in the large narrative and how we are supposed to handle it once understanding this. This does not mean discrediting the other acts, but giving them their proper place and weight.

For example, there are things in the Bible that no Christian regards as authoritative. An example of this would be the sacrificial system of the Old Testament. Not because we just throw it away, but because we read it in light of the entire Scriptural narrative. Jesus fulfills all of the sacrificial ceremonies. Another example is a lot of the things said in the book of Job. Job’s friends says some pretty awful things when trying to “comfort” Job, things that are obviously not theologically sound. God even says this to them, in Job 42:8, “for you have not spoken of me what is right”. Yet, just because it’s in the Bible doesn’t mean it’s authoritative for us. We have to understand each portion of Scripture in light of the entire narrative, looking at each act in the proper way.

Scripture is to be read, as Peter Enns puts it, christotelically. “Telos” is the Greek word for “end”. Thus, instead of trying to read Scripture “christocentrically” or trying to “find” Jesus in all kinds of Old Testament stories, Scripture is, rather, to be read with Christ being the end to that which the Old Testament was pointing forward. The Old Testament is therefore a signpost that led (and leads) the reader to Christ. The same is true of the New Testament. Scripture finds its “Yes’ in Christ (2 Corinthians 1:20).

Jesus claimed that “no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Matthew 11:27). If this is true (or even if it’s a slight hyperbole, the point remains), then that means that no one in the Old Testament knew the Father, or at least knew him in the way of which Jesus spoke. Jesus said of John the Baptist that “among those born of women there has arisen no one greater” (Matthew 11:11). He was greater than all the prophets up until him, Jesus says. Yet, Jesus told the Pharisees that “the testimony that I have is greater than that of John” (John 5:36). Thus, Jesus’ revelation trumps that of John and, by default, the rest the Old Testament prophets. Again, not because they were bad or useless. But, because Jesus is the one to whom they point (John 5:39-40). Jesus is the center of Scripture and all of Scripture should read through the lens of Christ.

Scripture may record the words inspired by God, but only insofar as it points to the ultimate Word of God (John 1:1-14).  As C.S. Lewis said, “It is Christ Himself, not the Bible, who is the true Word of God. The Bible, read in the right spirit, and with the guidance of good teachers, will bring us to Him.” After all, Jesus said to his Jewish peers, “You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf. Yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” Why? Because he said “you do not have his word abiding in you, because you do not believe him whom he has sent.” Jesus is the Word of God. All of Scripture points to this Word.

It is with this insight with which we should read Scripture.

*** I believe the books of the Apocrypha are useful for understanding the great narrative of Israel (the third act) and looking into the culture and thoughts of the Jewish people in their respective time period, but are not authoritative for the Church and I do not consider them canonical.

Hate Your Enemies and Bomb Those Who Persecute You

As Jesus sat on the hillside, he told his Jewish listeners, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven… except for Rome. Since they are oppressing Israel, our native nation, we have every justification to declare and support a bloody, violent revolution against them!”

Obviously, the bit after the ellipses is a fabrication and not found in the Sermon on the Mount. However, how many modern Christians would read this addendum into the text? This question is all the more relevant considering the recent events involving Syria. What are Christians to think in times like these? Think about it: how ironic is it to be a faith that emphasizes God’s love for the all the nations of the world and yet be citizens of a country that is possibly about to bomb one of those nations? What are we to think about this, being both American and Christian?

Ultimately, we know that Paul teaches us in Philippians that our citizenship is not of this world, but from heaven. Our allegiance for the gospel overrides our allegiance to any country. What does that mean though? The Philippians knew exactly what that meant. They were a colony who had full citizenship of Rome, even though they were not located there. However, Rome came and brought their culture into a foreign land. Philippi was Roman in every way, except for location. The point, I believe, is that Paul wants us to live in this world, but change the very culture of it, to “colonize” it, and influence it with the character, lifestyle, and ethics of Jesus Christ himself. To be in the world, but not of the world or drawing from its influence.

Thus, no matter what the opinion our country holds about what to do in situation like the one the U.S. is facing with Syria, our opinions and personal convictions should be those which reflect the character, lifestyle, and ethics of Jesus Christ. So, what does that look like? The mission of Jesus makes it very clear how he feels about his enemies. The passage at the opening says a ton. We are not to hate our enemy! We are to love them and pray for them. Is it possible to love your enemy when you drop a bomb on them? Even if you don’t personally do it, is it truly loving to support such an action?

Jesus models so clearly how we should treat our enemies. He is emphatic that violence is not the answer. Most people would agree that peace is the goal. However, how can peace be the goal if peace is not the means? Paul warns us not to be overcome by evil, but to overcome evil with good. Jesus agreed with Paul that his kingdom is not of this world, that it is not influenced or derived from it. He says to Pilate in John 18:36, “If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” There, Jesus makes an important distinction! If his kingdom were of this world, if it acted as the other nations did, then his disciples would be fighting. However, they are not of this world. And so they aren’t fighting.

How does Jesus deal with his enemies then? Instead of violently and coercively overthrowing them, he nonviolently and lovingly lays down his life for them at their own hands. As the Roman soldiers are shaming him and torturing him on the cross, he cries out “Father, forgive them!” The kingdoms of the world sacrifice others for the benefit of themselves. But the people of the kingdom of God sacrifice themselves for the benefit of others.

So, remember, our citizenship is in heaven. Our primary allegiance is not to Caesar, to any government, but to Jesus. We are to reflect God’s character to the world, through his kingdom. This includes loving our enemies and sacrificing for them, even if this means going against our native country. We are not of this world.

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This is an excerpt from my book, “Church Kid: Restoring Your Faith After Being Raised in Church,” now available for purchase here.

Music, Lyrics, and New Creation

Sometimes, in a worship service, the music brings me tears. Notice, I didn’t say the song. I said the music brings me to tears. Whether it’s a certain chord structure, or a steady crescendo, or even the tone of an electric guitar. Sometimes, the music simply invokes something deep within me to where I’m emotionally moved to the point of crying. The thing is, I don’t think this is emotionalism. I believe that it’s true and honest worship of the Creator God.

The problem is, a lot of people would disagree with me. “A song could lead you to worship, yes… but only because the lyrics reflect some profound theological truth. If the music alone moves you to worship, then you’re making an idol out of the music. You’re not truly worshipping.” However, I think that this is doing the Creator God a huge disservice. Because, as the sovereign Creator, God has brought everything that is into being. He is the creator of everything and, as we see in Genesis 1-2, he declared it all good. 

Of course, humankind fell and sin entered into the world. But, that doesn’t mean that God doesn’t still love his creation. It simply means that it’s been marred. The same applies to humans, being image bearers of God. That image wasn’t lost in the fall, but simply distorted. I believe that, since the same intrinsic value still remains in every image-bearing human, the intrinsic goodness remains in all of creation, though it exists in a corrupt state. God still sees creation as good, though it must be redeemed.

However, through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, God has begun that redeeming work of the world already! And who is called to be agents of that redeeming work? The Church! It is our job to influence the world with this post-resurrection, “already/not yet” ideology, the glorious truth that all of creation is intrinsically good and can now be rescued from its “bondage to corruption” (Rom. 8:20). Acknowledging the goodness of creation and attributing it to the glory of God is part of our divine mandate to accomplish God’s will on earth as it is in heaven.

That being said, music is obviously a creation from God. There will be music in the age to come and there exists music in heaven now (Revelation 5:8, 15:2). Music is a good thing and part of God’s good creation. Artistry is a God given gift. Musicianship is talent with which God has blessed some people. Thus, when I hear music done well, I glorify God. When I hear the good creation of music redeemed and performed excellently, it moves me to worship.

People always wonder if there will be music in heaven, but the reality is that there is heaven in music. Why? Because music is a good creation that, when acknowledged as such, can bring glory to the God who created it.

Why does the hiker shed a tear when looking out into the sunset behind the glorious mountains? Why does the painter sense the presence of God as she looks at the stunning work of another artist? Why does the filmaker have that sense of awe and wonder as he watches the latest Sundance Film Festival entry? And why do  people  worship God through the lyrics of certain praise songs? Because God is the God of creativity. All it takes is a good look at his creation to understand that. The hiker sees the majesty of God in his own creation. The painter sees the glory of God reflected in the gorgeous painting. The filmaker sees the creativity of God in the narratives and filmography of a movie. One can be moved to worship through the beauty of the way certain words are formed to reflect the majesty and grandeur of our beautiful God.

The same tear that I shed when the music of song moves me is the same tear that a person sheds when the lyrics of the song moves them. Neither of them are detached from the glory of God in each of those things. The cool thing about a song is that it intertwines the two. It takes two good creations of God, music and lyrics, and reflects his beauty through them. Some people might ask, “Well which is more important, the lyrics or music?” To which I might respond, “Which is more important… the mountains or the oceans?” Each reflect the grandeur and artistry of God in incredible, but distinct ways.

Bad music with good lyrics produce a crappy song. Good music with bad lyrics make for a lame song. Now of course, you can appreciate the good distinct qualities of each song. However, the theology behind new creation needs to be more holistic. God isn’t redeeming part of creation, he’s making all things new. We, as believers, need to take seriously the call to bring heaven to earth. And with each beautiful masterpiece we create, heaven is breaking through.

We do it to incite the praises of people to the only Creator God, in hopes that it might move them to worship. It may even cause people to shed a tear. But it looks to the day where God will wipe every tear from every eye. The new creation. Through music. Now.

Why I’m Not Looking for “My Type”

I was recently faced with the question, “When it comes to girls… what’s your type? What kind of girl do you see yourself marrying?” And that’s a question that I’m not too fond of. Why? Because I don’t know that, when it comes to looking for a future wife, I’m looking too hard for “my type”. And of course people could draw back and ask, “How could you not be looking for your type? What are you looking for then!”

The more I began to think about it, the more I realized that looking for “my type” might distract me from actually finding the one I’m really supposed to be with. First of all, I’m an extremely analytical guy anyway, and an idealist as well. So it would be too easy to dream up the perfect girl and then compare every subsequent girl I meet to this figment of my imagination and then stamp a big “pass” or “fail” on each of them in my mind. But you know what the problem is? If that’s what I were searching for, then I would never find her.

As much as everything in my nature wants to do that, I have to remind myself that there is no such thing as my ideal type. In fact, that’s a very selfish way to think. Because, in that case, am I really looking for a great girl, or just a girl that I’ve fashioned in my own image? It’s funny because the pictures of girls that I always paint in my mind look at lot like me in many different ways. Really, then, it’s an egotistical thing. I don’t want someone else… I want me. 

It reminds me of the cases of idolatry in the Bible. They forsake the true God and fashion an image of God that matches what they think that God should look like. And what always happens to these images? They begin to look, act, and think a lot like the people who made them. I don’t want to create an idol of a girl, someone who reflects me. I want someone who reflects her own, unique beauty.

Another reason that I’m wary of looking for “my type” is that I don’t want to be so wrapped in looking for this girl who meets all my requirements that I miss the real thing. I don’t want to be blinded by my own unrealistic standards of a perfect girl that I pass by the perfect girl for me. I think about the Pharisees and other Jewish people of Jesus’ time. They were expecting a Messiah, and they were even looking for him! But, they were so caught in their own ideas of what this Messiah would look like. They had their own type in mind. He was going to provide military victory over Rome, he was going to vindicate the nation of Israel, he was going to usher in the age to come, etc. They had all these preconceived notions of what a Messiah would look like, but what happened? He came, stared them right in their faces, but they missed it.

He wasn’t their type. But he was the true Messiah that they had been waiting for all along. He looked them in the eye and said, “Here I am”, and they said, “No, we’re waiting for someone else.” And I’m not comparing Jesus to a girlfriend, but the point remains. I don’t want to miss the right girl. I don’t want to be caught up in my own idea of what she should be like that, if she were to look at me in the face, I would look right past her and keep searching for someone else. But, if I hold too tightly to “my type”, I’m afraid that is exactly what would happen.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t have standards or some expectations. I’m not saying we should date anyone and everyone in case they happen to be “the one”. I don’t believe there’s “the one”, but that’s a different subject. All I’m saying is that we don’t need to be chasing after something which can never be caught. We don’t need to be looking for something which can never be found. All we need to do is be aware. Be open. Be ready. Don’t let “your type” prohibit you from finding the person that you’ve been looking for all along. Be prepared for them to look you in the eye and say, “Here I am.” And hopefully, you’ll be able to look back at them and say, “I’ve been waiting.”

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This is an excerpt from my book, “Church Kid: Restoring Your Faith After Being Raised in Church,” now available for purchase here.

Don’t Look At Westboro… Or Tim Tebow

Westboro Baptist, Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart… what do these people have in common? They’re either groups or people who have “made Christians look bad”, either in the past or currently. They’re names from which, whenever they’re mentioned, Christians try to disassociate themselves. If their name pops up, they’ll say, “Well, they may claim to be Christians, but they’re not what being a Christian is really about.” Some people even take a more aggressive approach. A key part of their presentation of Christianity is, “I know that when people think of Christianity, they think of ___________. But let me assure you, we’re not like that.” And then they go on to describe what it’s really like to be a Christian, in comparison to those “wayward Christians”.

My complaint, however, is that I think sometimes we spend too much time saying “Look at those people… we really are not like that,” rather than saying, “Look at Jesus… he really is like that.”

A lot of people would be wary about pointing to a devout Christian and saying, “Look, she embodies perfectly what it means to be a Christian!” And with good reason. Humans are not perfect and will never be until the age to come. Plus, we know that the crux of the “appeal” to Christianity shouldn’t be focused on just any person, but on the Person of persons, Jesus himself. He’s the only one we should point to when trying to describe what Christianity is really like.

Yet, aren’t we falling into a lot of the same errors when we’re so focused on pointing out “wayward” Christians? The only difference is, instead of pointing what Christianity is supposed to look like in a human, we’re pointing out what it doesn’t look like. The fact still remains that no one is perfect. If we don’t expect “devout” Christians to be an accurate picture of Christianity, why should we be so critical of (and surprised with!) “wayward” Christians when they fail to provide a “perfect picture of Christianity”? The point of not pointing to just anyone is that everyone falls short. And if we really believe this, we shouldn’t allow people to represent Christianity, but we should also be careful not to hold people up to a standard they were never meant to be held to, namely, being a perfect example of what Christianity was about.

Also, if we’re so passionate about the message of Christianity not revolving around any person, but only Jesus, why do we think that that only applies when talking about those who reflect Christ well? If we really don’t want the message of Christianity to revolve around anyone except Jesus, why are we so quick to point out those who have fallen from grace as an object lesson of what Christianity is not like, in order to prove what it is like? If our gospel is really Christ-centered, should we not be just as wary about relying so heavily on shaming people like Jim Bakker or Jimmy Swaggart? Because when people denounce those guys as a “not what Christianity is all about”, they’re committing the same crime as someone upholding Tim Tebow as “what Christianity is all about”. They’re making Christianity about just some person, not about a Savior.

We know from the Bible that the only true representation of God, of the gospel, of Christianity, is Jesus himself. Colossians 1:15 declares that he is ” the image of the invisible God”, meaning that if you want to know what God looks like, look at Jesus. Don’t look at some other person. Hebrews 1:1-3 says, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son…” It goes on to say that Jesus is the exact imprint of God’s nature. In other words, we don’t look at some woman or man to look at what God is saying to us, as they did with the prophets. The only person we look to is Jesus Christ.

Now, my point is not to say that we should affirm the actions of those who claim to be Christians but act otherwise. Nor am I saying that it’s bad to call wrong “wrong” and right “right”, in the right context. My point is that at no point should the good news of Jesus revolve around an person and the actions of that individual. Whether it be the actions of a righteous person or an unrighteous person, if you’re pointing to someone else other than Jesus to justify the legitimacy of the gospel, then you’re doing it wrong. The fact that C.S. Lewis, one of modern literature’s most esteemed authors, was a Christian is an awesome fact. But it shouldn’t be what I use to bait someone into seeing the good news of Jesus. The fact that Westboro Baptist claims to be a Christian group and yet acts so hatefully towards certain groups of people is awful. But I shouldn’t feel the need to bash and shame them when I’m trying to explain why Jesus and his message is so beautiful. We shouldn’t be looking to either party… only to Jesus!

The point is that the gospel is about Jesus. If we point to him more than we pointed to others, either in a positive or negative way, maybe people would start to see why it’s the greatest news in the world. Maybe if we focused on the only Person worth focusing on, the gospel would make a lot more sense.

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This is an excerpt from my book, “Church Kid: Restoring Your Faith After Being Raised in Church,” now available for purchase here.