Mystifying the “Mystery” of God

Have you ever known someone who is married to someone who is way out of their league? I mean, to the point where it doesn’t even make any sense? I’m talking about a guy who is Steve Buscemi status marrying someone at the level of Scarlett Johansen. That drastic.

If I think about it too much, I end up confusing myself. Usually, I figure that it’s not even worth thinking about because I’ll never get a satisfactory take away from it. I’ve often just left it at, “Well… this is just a mystery.”

Christians have usually tended to read about God being a “mystery” in the Bible and think that when Scripture uses that word, it has a relationship analogous to being confused about a couple like this. We think that since we’ll never be able to get to the bottom of it, the endeavor itself is useless.

We’ve used language of God’s mysteriousness as an excuse to not engage in any kind of theological talk, because we are convinced that nothing productive can come out of it.

However, Scripture seems to give a different perspective.  Continue reading “Mystifying the “Mystery” of God”

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Hide and Seek

When Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit in the garden, something happened that we don’t normally realize:

They hid themselves.

Now, you’re probably pushing back and thinking, “Of course we realized this.” However, often times our ideology says otherwise. Continue reading “Hide and Seek”

The Kingdom of God—God’s Future Now

At youth camp this past year, I was a counselor for a team of elementary school kids. My team was the purple group and they announced all of our kids. However, there was one little boy who looking kind of sad as we gathered all of our new recruits.

Now if you know me, you know that dealing with kids past the age of 4 or 5 isn’t my strong suit. My relatability level goes out the door. What are we doing to talk about… how hard double digit addition is?

But I had to talk to him. And apparently, he was upset because he didn’t like the color purple. That’s a kid for you. I was telling him, “Well you know what the color purple sometimes represents? Royalty! That means you’re like a king!” And then he said, “But we don’t have a government that is led by kings anymore. We have a democracy, not a monarchy.”

Okay, wise guy.

Outsmarted by a 9 year old.

This kid was bright. So I had to think on my feet. Then I said, “Well, you know, we actually are a part of a monarchy, citizens of a certain kingdom.” He looked confused. And inside I was thinking, “Gotcha, you punk!” But then I explained what I meant.

I said, “Jesus is the leader of a monarchy and when we become Christians, we enter into his kingdom. In fact, the Bible even says that Jesus is our King! The purple we wear doesn’t just signify any monarchy or royalty; it’s the ultimate monarchy and royalty!” And he said, “But we don’t get to enter Jesus’ kingdom until after we die!”

And my heart sunk. Because what this kid told me is what I grew up believing and what countless Christians throughout America and the rest of the world believe as well. However, the Bible—especially the gospels—paints a different picture of the kingdom of God. And it does so, I believe, in three main ways. Continue reading “The Kingdom of God—God’s Future Now”

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?”

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”

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.