Category Archives: Religion

The Choice

Last night, I wrote a 3000 word piece about the intersection of Joshua, Samuel, and Jesus Christ. Today, I want to try to make the case a bit more succinctly.

Government is a choice, and in that choice we reject God.

If you read nothing else in this post, that last sentence is the entire point I am making.

Even in Joshua’s “choose this day” speech, he makes that very point – something most people miss when quoting that verse. He specifically says that the choice is between the God that his ancestors had chosen or the gods of those now around them in the land we now know as Israel. This truly is a dichotomous choice – God, or not. Many years later, the gods around them have transitioned into government, and kings have arisen throughout the land. So the elders of Israel go to Joshua’s (much later) successor, Samuel, and demand a king of their own. And at this point, God Himself says to the elders (through Samuel) explicitly that in making that choice, they have rejected Him (and His ability to provide for them). A millenia or two later, God would become incarnate in the form of the man we now call Jesus Christ. And Jesus would make the same point, in such a subtle fashion that it did not alarm the ruling government of his day. Jesus explicitly says in his most famous sermon “You cannot serve two masters. Either you will hate one and love the other, or you will serve one and despise the other.”

Thus, you can choose government. Or God. You cannot choose both. Because if you try, you will wind up despising one of them. Even God Himself – twice! – says exactly this.

That is the choice.

That is your choice.

What If Paul Had A Point?

The Apostle Paul’s admonitions against women in teaching and preaching positions in the church are rather infamous.

For those unaware, while much of 1 Timothy 2 would be concerning for modern society, in v12 Paul specifically states “I do not permit a woman to teach or to hold authority over a man; she must be quiet.”

Now, see my last post, regarding Frank Viola’s example of Marvin Snurdley, for a great illustration of why we should take this with likely a boulder of salt.

But what if Paul had a grain of truth for us there? Sure, he could have phrased it better for modern sensibilities, but the dude has been dead for nearly two millenia, so I’ll give him a pass there.

But let’s think about it. Shaunti Feldhahn has made a career over the last 15 yrs or so with the ground breaking research she did for her books For Women Only and For Men Only. I personally once allowed a coworker to borrow my copies of those two books when he spent a week on my couch while in a rough spot with his wife, and they saved his marriage – at least at that point. (It has been nearly a decade since I heard from him.)

Part of that research was finding out and explaining to women just how visual men are and just how much we think about sex. To say that most women who read that book are shocked would not be a minor understatement, to say the least.

I can even point to a couple of examples from my own early teenage years, 8th grade in particular.

In 8th grade, my English teacher was absolutely stunning. Sure, I had teachers before and since that were good looking, but this lady… let’s just say she put my 13yo hormones in overdrive, even though she rarely showed much skin at all. (Long skirts with sleeved tops of some form, usually, but even these were very flattering to her form, at times. One white cashmere sweater in particular, when she put the strap of her purse across her chest…. moving on now.)

My Social Studies teacher that year was one I had been around for years at that point, and would be in similar circles for years later. She was at my elementary school teaching 4th grade right next to the 4th grade class I was in, and I would have her as a teacher in both middle school and high school. In addition, her husband was at the time a preacher at whose church I would occasionally go to Vacation Bible School. The man is currently a sitting State Representative in my home State, representing at least part of my home town.

Anyway, this teacher and I never really got along, for reasons that are not relevant to this post. But one day when I was in 8th grade, I saw something. Apparently her top was a little too small that day, and as a result, the fabric opened slightly in the middle along the button line. I do not remember the circumstances, but I remember seeing between those buttons that day. I could describe exactly what I saw, but people in my hometown already know exactly who this woman is, and I’ll not embarass her any further here.

But tying these two instances to Shaunti’s research and Paul’s admonitions:

I don’t remember the lessons of those two teachers *at all*. I likely retain the information, but do not remember it was they that first presented it to me. But I remember those two particular images, nearly 20 years later. And those were just one day of middle school English and Social Studies lessons.

Now think of just how crucial and truly life altering good, solid Christian teaching can be – or, for the more pessimistic, how damaging bad, weak Christian teaching can be.

With pubescent boys and even grown men so distracted by sex, does Paul have a degree of a point in his admonishment that women not teach or hold authority over men?

I believe that yes, he does. Perhaps he could have been more nuanced in making his point, but I do believe that at least two a certain extent, his point was valid.

I point to Shanti’s research and my own experiences – which at least in that example I believe to be common – as my reasoning. Even when a woman dresses to appease even the most stringent of modesty culture purists, she can still be a stumbling block to men who will be distracted by her body and pay her words no heed. Let me be clear: I am in no way blaming the woman in question for this. I am simply pointing out that at least some men will have this difficulty.

Of course, this is also where a degree of nuance is needed: for gay or bisexual men, even a male teacher or preacher could be exactly the same stumbling block that a female teacher or preacher could be for straight men. Would Paul thus argue that men should not teach men?

Here, I’ll simply point back to
Marvin Snurdley and say that Paul’s teachings do not neccessarily apply for all people for all times in all situations.

Ultimately, Paul has a degree of a point. Does it apply to us today? To some degree, yes. But not neccessarily completely, and certainly not in as totalitarian a position as some groups have taken it over the years.

Frank Viola’s The Letters of Marvin Snurdley

Over the last month or so, I’ve been listening to Frank Viola‘s Pagan Christianity: Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices via Audible on my 10k runs. The entire book has been utterly fascinating, particularly for someone like me who saw quite a bit of this over the years but could never quite give it voice.

The story of the Letters of Marvin Snurdley was a particularly fascinating example found in Chapter 11 (of 12), but the only place I could find it online was on a blog called “Common Sense Atheism“, and since they go on to attack Christianity in general, I thought I would copy it here with no commentary other than these notes and a strong recommendation to acquire and study this book for yourself. The story, in case it isn’t clear, is a direct examination of exactly what happened to form the largest single piece of the New Testament: The Pauline Epistles. Frank then does a great job throughout the rest of the chapter of examining and explaining why the issues presented in the story of the Letters of Marvin Snurdley unfortunately affect us all in the real world.

Marvin Snurdly is a world-renowned marital counselor. In his twenty-year career as a marriage therapist, Marvin has counseled thousands of troubled couples. He has an Internet presence. Each day hundreds of couples write letters to Marvin about their marital sob stories. The letters come from all over the globe. And Marvin answers them all.

A hundred years pass, and Marvin Snurdly is resting peacefully in his grave. He has a great-great-grandson named Fielding Melish. Fielding decides to recover the lost letters of his great great grandfather. But Fielding can find only thirteen of Marvin’s letters…

These letters were all written within a twenty-year time frame: from 1980 to 2000. Fielding Melish plans to compile these letters into a volume. But there is something interesting about the way Marvin wrote his letters that makes Fielding’s task somewhat difficult. First, Marvin had an annoying habit of never dating his letters. No days, months, or years appear on any of the thirteen letters. Second, the letters only portray half the conversation. The initial letters written to Marvin that provoked his responses no longer exist. Consequently, the only way to understand the backdrop of each of Marvin’s letters is by reconstructing the marital situation from Marvin’s response.

Each letter was written at a different time, to people in a different culture, about a different problem. For example, in 1985, Marvin wrote a letter to Paul and Sally from Virginia, who were experiencing sexual problems early in their marriage. In 1990, Marvin wrote a letter to Jethro and Matilda from Australia, who were having problems with their children. In 1995, Marvin wrote a letter to a wife from Mexico who was experiencing a midlife crisis. Unfortunately, Fielding has no way of knowing when the letters were written.

Take note: twenty years – thirteen letters – all written to different people at different times in different cultures – all experiencing different problems.

It is Fielding Melish’s desire to put these thirteen letters in chronological order. But without the dates, he cannot do this. So Fielding puts them in the order of descending length. That is, he takes the longest letter that Marvin wrote and puts it first. He puts Marvin’s second longest letter after that. He takes the third longest and puts it third. The compilation ends with the shortest letter that Marvin penned. The thirteen letters are arranged, not chronologically, but by their length.

The volume hits the presses and becomes an overnight best seller.
One hundred years pass, and The Collected Works of Marvin Snurdly compiled by Fielding Melish stands the test of time. The work is still very popular. Another one hundred years pass, and this volume is being used copiously throughout the Western world.

The book is translated into dozens of languages. Marriage counselors quote it left and right. Universities employ it in their sociology classes. It is so widely used that someone gets a bright idea on how to make the volume easier to quote and handle. What is that idea? It is to divide Marvin’s letters into chapters and numbered sentences (or verses). So chapters and verses are added to The Collected Works of Marvin Snurdly.

But by adding chapter and verse to these once living letters, something changes that goes unnoticed. The letters lose their personal touch. Instead, they take on the texture of a manual. Different sociologists begin writing books about marriage and the family. Their main source? The Collected Works of Marvin Snurdly. Pick up any book in the twenty-fourth century on the subject of marriage, and you will find the author quoting chapters and verses from Marvin’s letters.
It usually looks like this: In making a particular point, an author will quote a verse from Marvin’s letter written to Paul and Sally. The author will then lift another verse from the letter written to Jethro and Matilda. He will extract another verse from another letter. Then he will sew these three verses together and upon them he will build his particular marital philosophy.

Virtually every sociologist and marital therapist that authors a book on marriage does the same thing. Yet the irony is this: Each of these authors frequently contradicts the others, even though they are all using the same source!

But that is not all. Not only have Marvin’s letters been turned into cold prose when they were originally living, breathing epistles to real people in real places, they have become a weapon in the hands of agenda-driven men. Not a few authors on marriage begin employing isolated proof texts from Marvin’s work to hammer away at those who disagree with their marital philosophy.

The Cult of Christianity

Christianity was founded roughly 2,000 years ago on the shores of a big lake in the Near East that still exists today – the Sea of Galilee. It has its roots in a small town that still exists today in present-day Israel – Bethlehem. Its foundation was made permanent a city of much strife for thousands of years both before and after – Jerusalem.

It started out as a small sect of Judaism that most in its day found humorous at best, blasphemous at worst. A small group of fishermen, tax collectors, whores, and other assorted scum of the earth claimed to have met the Messiah, and that he taught that to live, you must die. He claimed he was God, a claim that makes him (paraphrasing CS Lewis here) either a liar, a lunatic, or LORD.

The Messiah had already drawn large crowds during during his life, but that was nothing new for the era. “Messiah”s of various forms had been rising up for hundreds of years before this one, gaining large crowds during their lives, only to die (usually by execution) and have their names be forgotten in the annals of history.

No, two things made this Messiah different: 1) After his extremely brutal -so brutal that he was no longer recognizable as human- and extremely public -so public that people from thousands of miles away saw it first hand- execution, he was seen by thousands living and breathing, with barely a scar on his body. 2) Because of this resurrection, this Messiah continued to draw large crowds after his death.

But 2,000 years later, his followers have devolved to where many of them – perhaps even most of them – have lost sight of the true Jesus Christ of Nazareth and what he did.

Christianity has become a cult.
Continue reading The Cult of Christianity

Free Will and Divine Omniscience

I had a Facebook friend overnight put up this statement:

You can’t have free will if God knows what you are going to do, before you do it.

The thing to remember here is that God exists outside of Time, which is a human construct. Therefore, Free Will vs Divine Omniscience becomes a frame of reference issue.

The classic frame of reference example is to look straight out of a train window. You see objects moving, which to you indicates that they are moving and that you are standing still. They, however, see a train moving and that they are standing still.

Which is correct?

It depends on your frame of reference. 😀

Similarly, the issue of Free will vs Divine Omniscience is also a frame of reference issue. Humans can accurately see, and thus know, only the present and past – much like a 180 degree camera on a train that is pointed towards the back of the train. It can see absolutely everything from its point on the train and backwards, but will never see towards the front of the train. Let us further assume that this camera is mounted on a horizontal rack and can move freely across the train side to side.

While the camera is free to move about horizontally all it wants, it will never see the front of the train, no matter how hard it tries. It will only get different views of its present and past, which may dictate the position it choose to be in next. But even in its next position, it will never see the front of the train.

God, however, exists independently of the train, and can see the entire train at once. Thus, He can see what the camera cannot. He can point things out behind the camera and beside the camera, and thus help to point the camera to the next best position, but He will always know exactly what the front of the train looks like, while the camera will not.

Thus, because of frames of reference in regards to Time, Free Will and Divine Omniscience can, indeed, co-exist.

It Wasn’t My Choice, OK????

Those are quite possibly the words that changed my life forever.

I’ve been railing against a group I see as legalists and Pharisees for a couple of days now, and I figured it is time I admit a dirty little secret:

I used to be one.

Much like Saul, I was trained in “church” by some of the best in my community. These men and women came from all walks of life, but all of them had a firm foundation in the Bible and what it said. I learned the Bible with my head long before I ever started applying its principles to my heart. I was one of the best in nearly any Bible drill you could think of. At one point, I could name every single book of the Bible in order without any hesitation at all. I could repeat any fact about it in an instant.

And that level of knowledge about the Bible without its core teachings being in your heart is a very dangerous thing indeed. I insisted everyone live according to its edicts. I was one of those “goody two shoes” kids that everyone makes fun of for carrying a Bible around – eerily similar to Grace Bowman in season 1 of Secret Life of the American Teenager.

I caused SOOOO much pain back then, pain that I didn’t really realize until I finally heard the words in the title.

It was my sophomore year of HS, and me and a then friend were walking the halls after school. I was being very judgmental about the revelation she had let slip that she wasn’t a virgin. Finally, she couldn’t take it any more. “It wasn’t my choice, OK?” She yelled at me as she ran away crying.

She had been raped, and my judgment had destroyed any progress she had made in overcoming it.

I said shortly after the incident that her words had cut me like a hot knife through butter, and they still do – more than a decade later.

I didn’t overcome my legalism in that instant. It would take more mistakes, more pain, more learning. But God finally allowed that head knowledge I had of His Word to become a heart knowledge. It became something so intrinsic to me that I don’t have to pray aloud – I know God hears my every thought. It is as natural to me as moving my arm.

I still screw up all the time. Probably have over the last couple of days with my brothers and sisters.

I get easily upset when I see legalism now, because I know all too well the destruction I caused under it and the destruction that it tried to cause me when those around me lived under it. But I’ve been attacking my brothers and sisters rather harshly – vestiges of my old ways. For that, I do apologize – though I most certainly do NOT apologize for fighting legalism in general, only the animosity I have displayed in that fight. Just because my brothers and sisters are misguided does not mean they are not still my brothers and sisters, and I should treat them as such.

I just wish they fully understood, as I do, how much destruction they are causing among those we are called to be reaching.

Still, that does not excuse my actions over the last couple of days. Just wanted y’all to have an idea where I’m coming from.

Christ Had A Choice – And So Do You

As I grow in my relationship with Christ, and as I grow towards what I know to be my destiny, I occassionally get these “lightning bursts” that to me feel more like electricity, but that Jeremiah once described as a fire burning in his bones that has to get out. They aer always unexpected, always amazing, and always something I have to either write about or talk about. I’m feeling the need to write this one though, so here goes:

Christ had to choose to live a sinless life. He had to choose the Cross. We have to choose to follow Him. NO ONE has the right to force us to decide one way or the other on that choice.

If you’re familiar with the Bible – or even if you’ve seen the movie The Passion – you may be familiar with the story of the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus of Nazareth literally begged his Father to remove the burden of Golgotha from him – but chose to submit to his Father’s will regardless. This was a son BEGGING his dad not to order him to die, and a dad knowing that there was no other way to save EVERYONE than for his own son to die. In the entire Bible, it is the saddest, most poignant scene – and one of the scenes where the fate of the entire human race – past, present, and future – literally hung in the balance.

But Isaiah knew all about this. Indeed, Isaiah was told that Immanuel – “God with us” – would face a choice every day of his life to choose good or evil. According to Isaiah 7:15, “Curds and honey He shall eat, that He may know evil and choose the good.” Christ had to experience evil so that he could truly experience the human condition, and he still had to make the choice to choose good.

We don’t know what Jesus of Nazareth experienced as a child or young adult. We can glean a few facts from history that he more than likely saw people he knew crucified by the Roman governtment occupying the land he lived in. Some of those may have been killed for doing things that were perfectly within their religious views, but outside Roman law. We know that he probably saw all manner of decadence and evil being supported by the Romans and maybe even some of his own people – after all, he grew up in what we would probably term as the “other side of the tracks” today. From the Bible, We know the story of his birth, but after that we are given only that his parents went to Jerusalem every year for passover, with one year – when he was 12 years old – having a bit of detail. That can be found in Luke 2:41-52. Essentially, while in Jerusalem that year, Jesus went and spoke to the adults in the local church who were absolutely astounded that such a young boy could know so much about the Torah. After that, we see in verse 52 that Jesus grew both in wisdom and in renown, and men began to trust him.

The next thing we know though, Jesus shows up at the river where his cousin, John the Baptist, is preaching and baptizing people in the name of the one who is to come. Jesus chooses to get baptized over the initial objections of the Baptist, and his Father rewards that choice by audibly calling out from Heaven “You are my beloved Son, in you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:22)

Next, Jesus faced a period of ourtight testing. For 40 days in the desert, he was tempted to choose evil just a single time over and over and over – and chose good every single time. He didn’t grow weary of the trial and finally give in just to get it over with. Had he done so, we would all be doomed to Hell right now, as would every single human throughout history.

We don’t know that Jesus of Nazareth knew that the fate of the world hung in the balance of every decision he made in regards to good and evil. That is a theological question that I suspect we won’t find out until we can ask him ourselves.

But we do know that those choices were his and his alone. We know that he was separated from every outside influence for a time, and during that time was tested repeatedly yet never failed. We know that ultimately, he faced Gethsemane and had to choose for himself whether to live for himself or to die for us.

Not even his Father – God, the Father, who literally holds power over every single thing in existence – could make that choice for him. Not even his Father dictated to him which way he should choose.

The choice was entirely his own.

Flash forward roughly 2,000 years or so, to our lives. We face the same choices between good and evil every day. In many places around the world, even in the US to a lesser extent, people literally have to make the choice to live for themselves or die for Christ even as I type this. God the Father, who still literally holds power over every single thing in existence – does not make that choice for us, his most precious creation. God the Father still does not dictate to us which way we should choose.

Why then do we humans try to dictate to each other which way we should choose?

Joshua, one of the first leaders of Israel, once said “Choose this day whom you wil serve”. He said it something like 4,000 years ago, and it remains the choice each of us have every single day.

Choose. This day. Whom. You will serve.

Reflections on ‘Good’ Friday

As we enter into one of the most holy days of Christianity, I wanted to share my thoughts on the concept of ‘Good’ Friday.

You see, to me, most people get lost in either the genuine holiness that is Easter Sunday – which is a good thing, so far as it goes – or they get lost in the traditions and celebrations that are only marginally connected to the day itself, such as the Easter Bunny and all of its trappings.

But by and large, ‘Good’ Friday is largely ignored. Sure, there are cross walks in many towns across this country where local dignitaries carry a large cross from some point to another, with the typical destination being the town courthouse. But these are rituals, nothing more, and are largely ignored by the public at large. Indeed, I can’t even tell you whether or not such events are happening in either Albany or Leesburg, and I’ve lived here for nearly three years!

To me, ‘Good’ Friday being ignored is perhaps one of the single greatest tragedies to ever occur. YES, the celebration day is undoubtedly Easter Sunday. But without a deep reflection on the events of ‘Good’ Friday, there is no deep understanding of the true power of Easter Sunday. You cannot fully appreciate a perfectly sunny, cloudless day without also having experienced the darkest of dark nights, and the same holds true here.

You see, there was nothing ‘good’ about the original Good Friday. I may have my timeline slightly off, but I believe the Last Supper happened on Thursday night/evening. Towards the end of it, Christ calls out Judas Iscariot as his traitor, and basically tells him to go do what he is destined to do. He then retires to the Mount of Olives with the disciples to pray, and even at this point – even as Iscariot is leading the men who are about to arrest Jesus to him – Jesus of Nazareth begs his Father to find some other way to redeem mankind. This is a man who knows he is about to die but wants to live. He KNOWS his death is the only way to redeem mankind, but he is still BEGGING for another way. And he knows all of this even as he KNOWS that his human death only releases him back to his full glory as God the Son, one third of the Trinity yet fully God. Even knowing this, he still doesn’t want to face the full pain he knows is coming, but he readily accepts it anyway. Could you say you would do the same? Don’t answer that blindly. Deeply consider it. Knowing everything that would happen – and Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, for all of its brutality, probably STILL doesn’t come close to what actually happened – could you WILLINGLY endure that to save a single life? Christ did.

But I get ahead of myself. Once at the Mount of Olives, the disciples are tired. They’ve traveled a long way, and they’ve just had a very emotional meal with the man they deeply love and consider the Messiah, the man who will overthrow Rome – and he says he is about to die. So they get to the Mount of Olives, and they fall asleep. I dare any of you to say you would have actually done any differently, knowing only what they knew at the time. Jesus comes to wake them a couple of times, urging them to prayer and telling them that his time has nearly expired. Yet they still fall asleep, even while their Messiah begs for his life.

Finally, around midnight – against Jewish law, by the way – the Jewish leaders, led by Judas Iscariot, come to the Mount of Olives to arrest Jesus. Peter is so alarmed (and so belligerent by nature), that he draws his sword – but he is so tired that while aiming to cut a guy’s head off, only gets his ear. Jesus heals the ear and allows himself to be arrested. I can’t help but think of how Frank Peretti would probably describe the scene, with hoards of demons ready for all out war and relishing in their victory over the Son of God readily submitting to them, all the while as the entire Host of Heaven stands by, their weapons sheathed at the command of the Father. If an angel cries at the sins of one man, how much more sorrow must they have felt watching the Son of God submit himself to the full fury of Lucifer.

The next 18 hours or so fly by as the disciples are scared out of their minds. The Messiah has been illegally arrested on false charges, and yet he is being sentenced to die, and the Romans are playing along with the Jewish leaders. They’ve been seen as Jesus’ closest friends for the past 3 years, and they could be next! They are afraid for their lives, yet at least two of them hang back in the crowds as Jesus is tried, tortured, and executed.

One of them, Peter, denies three times knowing Jesus, even going so far as to curse and swear that he does not know the man – just as the rooster cries. You see, 12 hrs earlier Peter had said that such would NEVER happen, and Jesus told him it would. He hangs his head in shame and we don’t hear from him again until Sunday. My bet is that he went into hiding somewhere where much alcohol was available, but no one on this side of Heaven knows exactly what he was doing in this period.

The other, John, follows the crowd even to Golgotha. There, Jesus tells him to watch over Mary, Jesus’ mother. What love must he have had, and what strength, to watch someone he so deeply loved tortured and executed in such a brutal fashion. And the same goes for Mary, who we haven’t heard much from since the Christmas story 33 years earlier. She knew from the beginning that her first son was God’s Only Son, yet he was STILL her first born. And she was having to watch him be beaten beyond all recognition as human, only to then be crucified along side common thiefs.

Finally, we come back to the view from Christ himself. Up until he goes up on the cross, he has enjoyed constant communion with he real dad, God the Father. But once Jesus is on the cross, all of humanity’s sins from Adam until the very end of time are placed on Jesus. Everything the worst people in history have ever done, God considered Jesus to have done it. Every lie we tell today, every affair we have, and any other sin we to today in our every day lives, God considered Jesus to have done it. And he was so incredibly repulsed by it that even He had to turn his back on such vileness. When Jesus was on the cross, in his hour of most desparate need, he was so despicable to his own father that he could not look at him. No one else in all of history has been so despicable to God as to warrant such an action, and because of Easter Sunday no one ever will be.

The next days are again a blur, we know nothing about them. The disciples, presumably, are in hiding at best, drunk and/or suicidal at worst. The man they love most, who they genuinly believed would overthrow Rome, has been arrested by the Jewish leaders and executed by Rome, and they could be next.

Finally, the very darkest hour arrives. After all of the weekend’s prior events, some of the ladies go to where they laid Jesus’ body in a borrowed tomb, only to find the tomb unsealed and the body missing.

Not only has everything else happened, now someone has stolen the body! This is rock bottom, things can absolutely get no worse.

And they are right. For there in the garden with them is a lowly gardener. They probably saw him as they walked in. The ladies run to Peter and John with the news, and Peter and John come to investigate – because they don’t believe the ladies that such a terrible compounding of their situation has happened-, only to see exactly what the ladies saw.

Finally, Mary comes back. She encounters a couple of angels who tell her that was Christ had said would happen has happened. Puzzled and still in the deepest of sorrows, she walks back into the garden, where she encounters the gardener. He asks her what she is looking for, and she basically says that if he has taken the body, PLEASE tell her where she can find it, and she’ll put it back in the tomb. She is DESPARATE at this point, and she is begging just for the body. She knows the Christ is dead, but she still wants to at least give his body a proper burial.

But the gardener says one single word instead:

‘Mary’.

He calls her by her name, and she instantly recognizes him. HE’S ALIVE!!!!!!!!!! JESUS CHRIST OF NAZARETH IS ALIVE!!!!!!!! WE SAW HIM TORTURED AND EXECUTED, BUT HE IS ALIVE STANDING HERE WITH NOT A SCRATCH ON HIS BODY!!!!!!! HE’S ALIVE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

That, my friends, is how you get the full impact of the story of Easter Sunday, and it is why the song ‘He’s Alive’ is one of my all time favorites. Growing up, I heard it sung by Mike Lemming live in concert several times, and it truly sums up Easter. I leave you with the lyrics:

The gates and doors were barred and all the windows fastened down;
I spent the night in sleeplessness and rose at every sound
Half in hopeless sorrow and half in fear the day
Would find the soldiers breakin’ thru to drag us all away

And just before the sunrise I heard something at the wall
The gate began to rattle and a voice began to call;
I hurried to the window and looked down into the street
Expecting swords and torches and the sounds of soldier’s feet

There was no one there but Mary so I went down to let her in;
John stood there beside me as she’d told us where she’d been.
She said “They moved Him in the night and none of us knows where;
The stone’s been rolled away and now His body isn’t there!”

We both ran t’ward the garden, then John ran on ahead;
We found the stone and empty tomb just the way that Mary said.
But the winding sheet they wrapped Him in was just an empty shell;
And who or where they’d taken Him was more than I could tell.

Well, something strange had happened there,
but just what I didn’t know;
John believed a miracle but I just turned to go.
Circumstance and speculation couldn’t lift me very high
‘Cause I’d seen them crucify Him, then I saw Him die.

Back inside the house again the guilt and anguish came;
Everything I’d promised Him just added to my shame.
When at last it came to choices, I denied I knew His name;
And even if He was alive, it wouldn’t be the same

But suddenly the air was filled with a strange and sweet perfume;
Light that came from everywhere drove shadows from the room.
Jesus stood before me with His arms held open wide;
And I fell down on my knees, and just clung to Him and cried.

He raised me to my feet and as I looked into His eyes,
Love was shining out from Him like sunlight in the skies
Guilt in my confusion disappeared in sweet release
And every fear I’d ever had just melted into peace

CHORUS
He’s alive! He’s alive, He’s alive and I’m forgiven!
Heaven’s gates are open wide:
He’s alive, He’s alive, oh He’s alive and I’m forgiven
Heaven’s gates are open wide
He’s alive, He’s alive, hallelujah He’s alive

Christians’ Cain Conundrum

Last December, 5 days before the second most holy day of the year for Christians, now Presidential Candidate Herman Cain wrote a piece for Erick Erickson’s Red State where he states this (emphasis mine):

For 30 years, He learned the ways of the world without becoming of the world. He then changed the world for the better.

He led without a mandate. He taught without a script. His common sense parables filled people with promise and compassion, His words forever inspiring.

He never condemned what others believed – just sin, evil and corruption.

He helped the poor without one government program. He healed the sick without a government health care system. He feed the hungry without food stamps. And everywhere He went, it turned into a rally, attracting large crowds, and giving them hope, encouragement and inspiration.

For three years He was unemployed, and never collected an unemployment check. Nevertheless, he completed all the work He needed to get done. He didn’t travel by private jet. He walked and sailed, and sometimes traveled on a donkey.

But they made Him walk when He was arrested and taken to jail, and no, He was not read any Miranda Rights. He was arrested for just being who He was and doing nothing wrong. And when they tried Him in court, He never said a mumbling word.

He didn’t have a lawyer, nor did He care about who judged Him.
His judge was a higher power.

The liberal court found Him guilty of false offences and sentenced Him to death, all because He changed the hearts and minds of men with an army of 12.

Herman was trying to paint Christ as the “Perfect Conservative” (the title of the post, in fact). But here’s the problem:

At least a couple of Herman’s points are DIRECTLY contradicted by the Biblical record, specifically the points I emphasized above.

The first is perhaps the most obvious, as even many non-Christians have heard the phrase “turn the other cheek” associated with Christ. Indeed, in that particularly famous passage, what is Christ doing? He is directly condemning the beliefs of the Pharisees, REPEATEDLY.

The passage comes just after the Beatitudes, during the famous Sermon on the Mount, and is found in Matthew 5:21-47 (King James Version presented here, though the linked site will let you read it in dang near any version you want):

21 Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment:22 But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.23 Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee;24 Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.25 Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison.26 Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.

27 Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery:28 But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.29 And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.30 And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.31 It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: 32 But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.

33 Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths: 34 But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne:35 Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King.36 Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black.37 But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.

38 Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: 39 But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also.41 And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. 42 Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.

43 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;45 That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.46 For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?47 And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?

That is SIX TIMES in that one passage that Christ “condemns what others believe”, yet Herman is saying it never happened? The old-timers have a word for this: heresy.

And that isn’t even the only easily proven heresy Cain has in this article that he penned. Let’s look at the “liberal court” line.

In fact, it wasn’t a “liberal” court, CERTAINLY not by contemporary American standards. Instead, as we see in Matthew 26:57-65:

57 And they that had laid hold on Jesus led him away to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders were assembled.58 But Peter followed him afar off unto the high priest’s palace, and went in, and sat with the servants, to see the end.59 Now the chief priests, and elders, and all the council, sought false witness against Jesus, to put him to death;60 But found none: yea, though many false witnesses came, yet found they none. At the last came two false witnesses,61 And said, This fellow said, I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to build it in three days.62 And the high priest arose, and said unto him, Answerest thou nothing? what is it which these witness against thee?63 But Jesus held his peace. And the high priest answered and said unto him, I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God.64 Jesus saith unto him, Thou hast said: nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.65 Then the high priest rent his clothes, saying, He hath spoken blasphemy; what further need have we of witnesses? behold, now ye have heard his blasphemy.

Indeed, it was the “high priest” and the “council”, ie, what was then known as the Sanhedrin – the Jewish Supreme Court, essentially. This group of extremely conservative religious leaders, whose beliefs Christ had been condemning quite frequently over the last three years or so, brought in “false witnesses” (verse 60) and convicted Christ of blasphemy, which was (and is, depending on the level of orthodox) a capital offense.

Now, I’m not quite enough of a Biblical scholar to know the exact nuances of the definition of “blasphemy” the Sanhedrin ascribed to then, but I CAN link to the current Webster definition of: blasphemy

Do Cain’s false teachings meet the definition of that word? I’ll leave that to the reader.

Now, here is where Cain truly becomes a conundrum for Christians who might otherwise want to support him over others due to differences in religious belief with say, Mitt Romney or Jon Huntsman’s Mormonism or even Gary Johnson’s Lutheranism or whatever any of the other candidates claim: Is it right to claim you support the “infallible, inerrant word of God” and yet also support a preacher who actively promotes false teachings? After all, does not the Apostle Paul condemn false teaching and those who spread it at least a few times?

Indeed, check out Titus 1:10-11:

10 For there are many rebellious people, full of meaningless talk and deception, especially those of the circumcision group.11 They must be silenced, because they are disrupting whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach—and that for the sake of dishonest gain

and Romans 16:17:

17 I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them.

I don’t know about y’all, but I consider the Christian education I received as a kid to be pretty good. My parents and church stressed learning as much about the Bible as possible. I learned all kinds of facts and figures, could quote quite a few memory verses, could put all the books in order no matter how jumbled they were, could easily find my way quickly to any passage in a print Bible (the net didn’t exist/ wasn’t widely used back then), and quite a few other things that were fairly routine for the environment I was in.

I was taught as I have discussed here, that Christ condemned the religious leaders of his day repeatedly and was eventually executed because of it. Herman Cain’s heretical teaching is contrary to that, and more precisely contrary to what the Bible explicitly teaches.

Thus, the Christians’ Cain Conundrum is easily solved, according to Paul: We should keep away from him.

Footloose and Christianity

Last Friday on my way to work, I heard the “family friendly” review of the Footloose remake that opened this weekend on my way to work via Augusta’s WAFJ, and the reviewer was adamantly opposed to the movie because of the way he felt it portrayed Christians.

I actually had the chance to see the remake at The Big Mo, a drive in theater out on the rural edge of Aiken County, SC, not far from where I currently live. After looking for the original on Netflix and all the movie because channels I pay for and not finding it, it turned out I already OWNED the original thanks to my wife, so we also watched it Sunday, barely 12 hrs after seeing the remake.

In both movies, Rev Shaw Moore is the local preacher on the City Council of Bomont, and the father of the female lead character Ariel.

But the performances differ fairly dramatically. In John Lithgow’s portrayal in the original version, Rev Moore preaches quite a bit of Hellfire and brimstone regarding dancing, rock music, sex, and drugs, but he is also the voice of reason when his parishioners want to burn Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five at the local library. In the remake, Randy Quaid’s Rev Shaw Moore is the same Hellfire and brimstone preacher, without the reasonableness of the book burning scene, which has been completely removed from the remake.

The reviewer for WAFJ thinks that this is somehow portraying Christianity in a negative light. I posit that the two portrayals of Rev Moore were in line with public perception of Christianity at the time – and we Christians have ourselves to blame for the fairly strictly negative way our Savior is portrayed in the new movie.

So what has changed since the 1984 release of the original movie and the nearly 30 year later release of the new one?

Christians will probably point to less God in our schools or some other perceived assault on Christianity, but I believe that a more objective look at the situation will reveal two major changes in America over the last 30 years that led to this shift in public perception:

1) The rise of the so-called “Moral Majority” and Christian leaders’ involvement in State and National politics and

2) the rise of the Christian counterculture

In the mid and later 80s, after a “successful” purge of “liberals” from the Southern Baptist Convention in the late 70s, SBC leaders such as Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, James Dobson, and some US Senator named Al Gore began rising to prominence in the national political arena pushing for Congress to regulate rap, rock, and other musics and entertainments. In 1994, this rise – and subsequent marriage to the Republican Party – of evangelical Christian leaders became cemented in the public perception with the out-of-the-blue Republican takeover of Congress, led in part by then-Congressman and now Presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich. The marriage was thus consummated when these religious and political leaders began crucifying sitting President Bill Clinton for having the audacity to cheat on his wife (current Secretary of State Hillary Clinton) by getting a blowjob from an intern in the Oval Office – which was and is simply the President’s formal office in the house he currently lives in. And then, of course, you have the entire Presidency of George W Bush and his (not so) “compassionate conservatism”.

What did the public see in these Christian leaders? Not very much Christ, that’s for dang sure. They saw a whole lot of “morality” being crammed down their throats via legislation such as the Federal “Defense of Marriage Act”, a whole lot of end-of-the-world doomsaying any time a judge allowed gays to get married (which at least a few mainstream Protestant denominations, such as the Episcopalians, allow in their churches)… and not very much love.

At the same time that all of this (and much more) was going down politically, a “Christian” counter culture began to rise. I don’t recall which came first, but I do know that by the late 80s, artists such as Michael W Smith, Steven Curtis Chapman, Jars of Clay, Audio Adrenaline, Newsboys, and DC Talk were getting a lot of attention in church circles. These acts have only gone on to sell in the neighborhood of 100 MILLION albums combined. But a true “counter culture” can’t be just music. At the same time these artists were beginning to rise, “family friendly” (code for “Christian plus a few secular songs OCCASSIONALLY”) radio began to rise, as well as “family friendly” movies and Christian books of every possible stripe. Yes, you can even find “Christian” supernatural romances in 2011. In addition to these entertainment options, more and more businesses and (obviously) private schools began advertising themselves as “Christian”, and indeed, some megachurches or prominent members thereof run very successful businesses in virtually every town and industry.

By 2011, it has become entirely possible to raise a child from conception through death at old age and never once leave the comforting cocoon of the “Christian” counter culture – and apparently was getting this way even in the late 90s, when Steven Curtis Chapman penned “The Change”. What should have been a wake up call was simply devoured in the latest consumer entertainment feast.

It is a matter of the chicken and the egg, but with the existence of this counter culture and its many adherents, more and more Christians began to remove themselves more and more from “the world” – even while proclaiming their desire to “reach” it.

And as these Christians began to remove themselves from what they saw as bad influences, the so-called “cycle of failure” began to revolve faster and faster. Christians saw “evil”, fled from it, the evil doesn’t have any light to counteract it, so grows darker. Christians see the increasing darkness, and flee further, and the cycle repeats ad nauseum.

Thus, while Christianity – and much more importantly, Christianity’s Savior – was seen as fairly benign or even a good thing, if not THE good thing, at my birth in the early 80s, before my 30th birthday Christianity has become seen as a joke, at best, and an outright menace to the very people Christ commanded us to love.

Thus, the rise of both the Christian counterculture and its marriage to the GOP has led us from John Lithgow’s Rev Shaw Moore to Randy Quaid’s.

And it is entirely our fault as Christians.

What should we do about this? I have some ideas, but I’d like to hear yours. Sound off in the comments or via one of my social media feeds. Let’s have a dialogue. Maybe later I’ll write a follow up post with some of the better ideas I see and hear.