Does God Love Christians More?

I’ve heard many preachers and teachers say something like this:

“God loves us! You see, God loves the whole world—but there is something special about the way that God loves his Church. He’s saved us! So, his love for us is greater than his love for others.”

There are various scriptures that people use to justify a statement like this. My question, though, is this: does God actually love his people more than he loves everyone else?

My answer is a resounding no.  Continue reading “Does God Love Christians More?”

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The Gospel According to “Arrow”

arrow

[Warning: may contain spoilers]

I admit it—I am a fan of the tales of Starling City’s masked vigilante, Oliver Queen aka the Arrow.

Initially, I had heard so much about it from multiple different people that, in order to understand what any of them were talking about, I knew I needed to watch. So, I decided to give in and turned to the ever faithful database of popular shows: Netflix.

As I watched, I ended up getting immersed in the show.

Surprisingly to me, the show wasn’t just a typical, ridiculous action-packed show, lacking any real substance. Even though the acting was a little stale at times, as I continued to watch, I was riveted by the story lines and compelling plot that drove the show.

More particularly, I was enraptured by the redemptive themes of the show.

I’m the type of guy that looks for themes of redemption in everything, mainly because I believe God uses everything to testify to it. The second season of the show is really where these types of motifs started to flesh themselves out. I started to see how Arrow presented the same truths that the gospel itself presents. While, of course, Arrow doesn’t explicitly give a Christian account of these things, I still was able to pick up on these themes. I found Arrow presenting the following three truths. Continue reading “The Gospel According to “Arrow””

5 Things I Love About Pentecostalism

I have a weird relationship with Pentecostalism.

I was raised in a church that was basically Pentecostal, in that it broke off from a church which was Pentecostal, though never officially entering a Pentecostal denomination. Then, I moved to the Pentecostal church that it broke off from and spent my formative years as a teen until recently there, now attending another Pentecostal church. Though I never denounced Pentecostalism, I navigated through numerous branches of theology and traditions. However, I ended up back in Pentecostalism, both through some awesome Pentecostal people who taught me the truly incredible nature of Pentecostalism, and through a number of other non-Pentecostal people (including Anglicans, Anabaptists, Eastern Orthodox, and more).

However, I am extremely proud to claim Pentecostalism. Most people, when they think of Pentecostalism, only think about speaking in tongues, corrupt money-hungry televangelists, and a number of other things. In the words of Pentecostal preacher, Jonathan Martin, “Pentecostals are not fundamentalists who speak in tongues.” Pentecostalism has a rich beginning, legacy, and worldview. Some Pentecostals may have deviated from its beauty, but it is inherent within the movement.

I’m not saying Pentecostalism is the only way to go or that it’s better than anything else. There are just some beautiful things about it. As Pentecostals could definitely stand to listen to the voice of the larger Church throughout the centuries, there are definitely elements which Pentecostalism is speaking that the larger Church should listen to as well. So, here are some of the things I love about my Pentecostal heritage. Continue reading “5 Things I Love About Pentecostalism”

Stop Deifying God

I like to talk about God. What else is life about? But, when talking about God, I often hear people say a buzz phrase:

“Stop humanizing God.”

It doesn’t matter who I’m talking to. Often times, I’ll get into conversations with conservative evangelicals about theology. When things the topics get tough, they’ll often tell me, “God is beyond our knowledge. His ways are higher than ours! Any attempt to talk about him is ultimately outside of our ability. We don’t need to humanize God.

Then, I’ll talk to Christians of a more liberal or radical theological persuasion. When talking about God with these dear friends, I’ll frequently hear God referenced as “the Other,” in order to fully communicate the loftiness of God. Whoever (or whatever) God is, God is above us and unable to be grasped. In other words, we shouldn’t humanize God.

While I understand where both sides are coming from, I think they often miss the beauty of one of Christianity’s important tenets: the incarnation. Too many times, when I talk about God with others, I want to tell them, “Stop deifying God.” 

People tend to not like to talk about God in human terms. But, we tend to forget that God chose to talk about himself in human terms—in and through Jesus Christ. Continue reading “Stop Deifying God”

The Head and the Heart—Integrating Affections and Reason

“I can’t stand that girl…”
“Why?”
“She trusts her feelings too much; it’s like she never actually thinks things through.”

Have you ever heard a conversation like this?
I have.
Conversations where people bash feelings and exalt thinking.

Well, I have personally come to think that feelings aren’t the bad guy. However, thinking doesn’t have to be villainized to arrive to that conclusion either. The head and the heart aren’t enemies—they’re friends.

People always seem to present this false dichotomy. It’s either thinking or feeling, reason or affections, logic or passion. Even one of my favorite personality indicators, Myers-Briggs, splits people into two groups. There’s the people that make decisions based off of cold hard data (thinking) and then the people who decide what to do based on how they feel that they themselves and others may respond to the decision (feeling). It seems that human beings seem to be hardwired to be this way. Like the example at the beginning, there’s people like the girl who “trusts her feelings” and people like the one who believes people should “think things through.”

But, what if it’s not either/or, but both/and?

I think that thinking and feeling are a lot more interconnected than we may believe. Continue reading “The Head and the Heart—Integrating Affections and Reason”

I Believe Jesus is Actually a Woman (Or, a Lesson in Christian Linkbait)

Why? Because I love Jesus.
And Jesus loves me.
And, I mean… I’m not attracted to guys.
And, I mean… neither is Jesus.

So, I mean, I don’t believe Jesus  is actually a woman, which my title may suggest, but he’s basically kind of like a woman.
Because I love him, just like I love women, and not guys.
That’s lame, you say?
Either way, the title got you here, right?
So I win. Continue reading “I Believe Jesus is Actually a Woman (Or, a Lesson in Christian Linkbait)”

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”

Why Chris Tomlin and Other Famous Christians are Pagan Idolators

It pains me to have to be the one to dispel this information. It’s not something that is easy to do. To have to call out some of the biggest names in Christian culture is NEVER something that lightly done. I don’t want to be the mouthpiece for this message, but if I don’t do it, who in the world will? I’m going to take a bold step and say that Chris Tomin, along with a number of other well known Christians, is not following the true God. In fact, they never were in the first place. They’ve subtly been leading us astray for years. Now, I’m going to reveal how.

Venture on with caution.

As the title suggests, I’ve come to the conclusion that Chris Tomlin, among others, is actually a pagan idolator.

How did I come to the conclusion that Chris Tomlin was a pagan idolator? It was right in front of our faces the whole time. Chris Tomlin, in fact, doesn’t worship the true God of the Bible. He worships a god that goes by a different name. Now, surely, you’re thinking, “I’m sure I would have noticed if someone as popular as Chris Tomlin were doing such an obvious idolatrous thing.” That’s where you’re wrong. The fact is Chris Tomlin hasn’t obviously been doing an idolatrous thing. He’s inoculated the evangelical masses with his idolatrous doctrine in a very conspicuous and subtle manner.

So what is the name of this god that Chris Tomlin worships? It’s a pagan god with a simple name: ARGOD. Continue reading “Why Chris Tomlin and Other Famous Christians are Pagan Idolators”

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.

The Meaning of Jesus’ Birth

My favorite types of films are the kind that open up with a scene from the middle of the plot. It begins and you see a lot of action going on. You don’t really know what’s going. It starts in the midst of all of the chaos and madness and you’re left wondering what it all means. Then, as the movie continues to play, you finally realize that you actually caught a glimpse of a later section of the movie. You begin to see the context and backstory of that one opening scene until it eventually returns to it. Then you see it in context and go on to experience the thrilling climax and, finally, the conclusion. However, at the beginning of the movie, you landed right at the middle of the overarching story that was about to unfold.

That’s what it’s like when you look at the birth of Jesus.

When families gather around Christmas time to read Luke 2 or Matthew 1, which contain the story of Jesus’ birth, they’re simply opening up right in the middle of the grand, overarching narrative that is contained in the whole of the Bible. There’s an entire backstory before it and a climax and conclusion after it. The question that’s on everyone’s mind around the holiday season is, what is the actual meaning of Christmas? What should we make of this intense scene of Jesus’ birth directly in the middle of God’s big story contained in the Bible?

Too often, it’s simply taken as a detached tale that’s just told as a children’s story the night before the kids get to indulge themselves in a consumeristic pleasure land. It would be like playing that movie I described earlier and then rolling the credits after the opening scene. I know I’d want my money back. The absolute most important thing when trying to understand the meaning of Christmas is understanding it in the context of the overarching redemptive narrative of Israel’s God.

In summary, God had created a good world and had ordained humanity (man and woman) to bear his image, exercise his dominion, and fill the earth. Consequently, humankind failed to do so and God’s good world was marred by sin, falling short of God’s perfect glory. In order to restore what was lost in humanity’s fall, he called a man, Abraham, to be the father of a family who would be a blessing to all the families of the world (Genesis 12:1-3). God made a promise, a covenant, with him to make this come to pass, no matter what. Abraham’s family eventually turned into a great people, called Israel. God rescued Israel and called them his people. After doing so, he commissioned them to have the same roles as Adam and Eve (Exodus 19:5-6). They were meant to be the means of restoring the world. However, while Israel prospered at times, they ultimately failed in their vocation to restore what was lost in the Fall.

So, if God is faithful to his promises (and he is), what is Israel’s God going to do with a disobedient people who is in just as much need of rescuing as the rest of the world they were originally called to rescue? How can he remain faithful to his end of the covenant with a people who is either unwilling or unable to stay faithful to their end?

It’s at this moment of the narrative that we return to the scene that we began with, now, however, in its proper context. In a time period where people are asking these same questions comes a baby boy. However, this isn’t just any baby boy. This is the baby boy. After Israel’s failures, prophets began to rise up, prophesying of a time where an anointed king would come to redeem and rescue Israel (Psalm 2). They started to tell of someone who would stand in for Israel, as its representative (Isaiah 53:4-6). They began to speak of God returning and dwelling with his people (Zechariah 2:10-11).

Little did they know that all of these promises would come true in this baby boy.

Jesus was not only going to be the king of Israel, but the king of the world, the King of kings. Jesus was not just an Israelite, but he was Israel embodied, standing in for them. Jesus was not only fully man, standing in for all humankind, but he was also fully God, acting with his authority. He would be the one to truly reflect God’s image and exercise God’s authority, as God originally called Adam and Eve. Eventually, he would establish a kingdom and followers who would then be commissioned to fill the whole earth.

This is the meaning of Christmas. It’s understanding the impact of this one scene after finally seeing it in its full context. Yes, the climax will come, but that’s what Easter is for. Yes, the conclusion will come, but that’s why we eagerly anticipate his coming. Christmas is about understanding Jesus’ birth as the revelation of God’s answer to the entire backstory as told in the Old Testament.

We can’t simply think of it as a cute story to recite in December. It’s so much more than that. The birth of Jesus means that God is faithful to his promises. It means that he loves his creation enough to rescue us. It means that he loves humanity enough to empty himself and step into human flesh. It means that he loves the world enough to bear the sin of us all.

When we celebrate this season, we celebrate a God who is Love. When we celebrate the birth of Jesus, we celebrate a God who has loved us all along. And he decisively began to demonstrate this love and set it in motion through a bouncing baby boy on Christmas day.

(This post was featured on “The Poor In Spirit” blog, and won a contest!)