Thursday, May 12, 2016

How dare you question someone else's faith!

Both Barack Obama and Donald Trump consider themselves to be Christians. Those who have had the audacity to call their claims into question have often stirred a firestorm of criticism. Faith is often seen as a very private thing which no one has the right to challenge or question. I would suggest that the difference of opinion stems in part from two different ways of understanding faith and Christianity. For lack of better terms, I will call these two viewpoints “Traditional Christianity” and “Progressive Christianity.”

Traditional Christianity

Traditional Christianity crosses denominational boundaries and has always taught that all human beings have sinned against God. Our sinfulness manifests itself in specific attitudes, thoughts and actions, but is more deeply rooted in ultimate allegiances to power, glory, honor, wealth, religion, family, self, entertainment—anything but absolute allegiance to the God of the Bible! This sinfulness has separated us from a holy God and results in his wrath against us. No amount of good works on our part can make up for our rebellion. By ourselves, our situation would be hopeless.

The solution, however, was provided by God Himself who became human in the person of Jesus Christ, lived among us as a perfect example, and died a torturous death as an atoning sacrifice in our place. God applies the benefit of this sacrifice—a right standing before Him—to all who repent of their sin and turn in faith to Jesus as their lord and king.

Repentance is often misunderstood. To repent is not just being sorry we’ve sinned. To repent means to have a change of mind or a change of heart. A repentant heart is one that no longer looks at sin as merely a mistake. It no longer relativizes sin as if the fact that I’m not as bad as others somehow excuses me. It no longer excuses sin as the fault of my environment, or circumstances or genetics, or parents. Repentance emotionally and intellectually comes to grips with the fact that I have rebelled against a holy God and am without excuse. This heart attitude, coupled with a sincere desire to change, is repentance.

Faith is also widely misunderstood. Biblical saving faith is not just believing certain facts about Jesus, like his deity or resurrection—as important as those facts are. Even demons have that kind of “faith”! Saving faith is not just trusting that God is going to take you to heaven. Jesus said that many on judgment day will say to him, “Lord, Lord…”, but he will say to them, “Depart, you workers of iniquity.” Biblical saving faith is a heart attitude of loving devotion/ commitment/ dedication/ allegiance, to Jesus Christ as Savior, Lord and King; trusting him alone to make us right with God. This kind of repentance/faith cannot help but result in a change that produces increasing obedience to Jesus, our King, resulting in love, kindness and compassion (theologians call this “sanctification”). Biblically speaking, repentance and faith are like two sides of the same coin. Repentance turns from sin. Faith turns toward Jesus.

Although some traditionalists will quibble with my wording, I would argue that this gospel has basically been the core teaching of Christianity for 2,000 years, precisely because it is so thoroughly and solidly rooted in the New Testament. Admittedly, this teaching has been widely distorted at times by both Catholics and Protestants. For example, many in the Roman Catholic Church have, throughout history, seemingly substituted good works, or adherence to rituals, or commitment to “the Church” for genuine devotion to Christ. Among Protestants, John Calvin, once denounced those who have no devotion toward God and yet falsely think they are saved just because they intellectually believe certain doctrines. The view Calvin denounced is still wide-spread in contemporary Christianity. But these are distortions of Traditional (biblical) Christianity.

Progressive Christianity

A second kind of “Christianity” is what I will call, “Progressive Christianity.” This also crosses denominational boundaries but tends to be found more in old, mainline denominations. In his book, The Heart of Christianity, Marcus Borg calls this the “emerging paradigm.” This is misleading, however, since Borg’s “emerging paradigm” is pretty much the same as “liberal” or “modernist” Christianity and has been around for over two hundred years. Progressive Christianity tends to deny what Traditionalists have—for almost two thousand years—seen to be core doctrines of the Christian faith—e.g. the inspiration of Scripture, the deity of Christ, the atoning sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, and the bodily resurrection, etc. In Progressive Christianity, the core ideas of sin, repentance and final judgment tend to be ignored, downplayed, denied or even denounced. Progressive Christianity is primarily, if not exclusively, concerned with being kind, compassionate, loving, tolerant and non-judgmental towards everyone (the book by Marcus Borg cited above gives a detailed explanation and defense of this view). In this view, faith is not so much loving devotion to a person but a feeling or preference for a particular religious worldview. How dare anyone call in to question your personal preference!

Evangelicalism once stood firmly in the line of Traditional Christianity, though in recent times, many evangelicals seem more like practicing progressives. What I mean is that while these progressive evangelicals technically still hold to core tenets of the faith, they tend to shy away from teaching doctrine, and they ignore or downplay ideas like sin, repentance and final judgment. Preaching on sin and repentance may seem too judgmental, intolerant and politically incorrect to Progressive congregations. Like the liberal version of Progressive Christianity, the evangelical version seems to focus largely on tolerance, love, and compassion.


Of course, love and compassion are essential features of any version of Christianity, but the Progressive version is problematic. First, traditional Christianity places a great deal of emphasis on biblical standards of honesty, ethics, biblical morality etc. In the book cited above, Marcus Borg characterizes this as an emphasis on purity rather than on compassion. The problem is that when compassion and tolerance are separated from biblical standards or “purity,” they quickly descend into inconsistent and sometimes even hypocritical relativism.

Secular progressives, for example, loudly preach tolerance, and yet they are often among the most intolerant people on the planet—showing tolerance only toward the views they support! Being compassionate toward someone (e.g., a rapist) may unintentionally involve being uncompassionate toward someone else (e.g. his victim). Non-discrimination toward one group may necessarily involve discrimination toward another. Love, compassion and tolerance must be rooted in absolutes—what Borg decries as “purity” standards, which Traditionalists find in the Bible—or else the result is often inconsistent relativism.

Second, unless love and compassion flow out of a heart of repentance and loving devotion (faith) toward Jesus Christ, our acts of love and compassion are really nothing more than the kind of works-righteousness or works-salvation denounced so strongly by the Apostle Paul. Paul strongly and repeatedly insisted that no one is saved by the good works they do, but only by God’s grace through faith in Christ. Besides, if our ultimate allegiance (faith) is not to Jesus as King, then any good works we do are but “filthy rags” to God since they would be coming from a heart which is ultimately in rebellion against God.

Finally, the idea of faith as a feeling or personal preference is a modern viewpoint congenial to modern pluralist sensibilities in which would be loath to place any one “faith” or religion over another (except by way of personal preference). It is certainly not, however, the viewpoint which, according to the New Testament, was taught by Jesus and apostles. According to the Gospel of John, Jesus taught, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.” 

It is hard for me to avoid the conclusion, therefore, that the apostles and very earliest followers of Jesus would have considered many modern “Progressive Christians”—whether of the liberal version or the “evangelical” version—to be Christians in name only. And when I look at the "fruit" of the words and deeds of Barack Obama and Donald Trump, I find it hard to believe that the apostles would have considered either of them to be Christian.

Monday, May 02, 2016

Trusting God with tomorrow

I was listening to someone on the radio this morning telling listeners to trust God more with the events in their lives. The message seemed to be that if we just trust God enough he will make everything turn out OK for us. I’ve heard this message numerous times from well-meaning Christians.

My question is: So how did that work out for Jesus? Didn’t he trust the Father enough? Is that why he was mocked, beaten, and tortured to death?  What about Paul? He was flogged, stoned, shipwrecked, beaten with rods, threatened with death and often went without adequate water, food, shelter and clothing. Wasn’t he trusting God enough?  What about the Christians who were imprisoned, starved, tortured and eventually killed in Nazi prison camps? Didn’t any of them trust God enough?

So what happened? Did God fail them?

Not at all! I just think many American Christians have an unbiblical, Pollyanna, view of trusting God with the future. Trusting God with our future is not about trusting hard enough that God will make our life turn out better from our perspective. God never promised that this life would be easy. In fact, tomorrow may turn out terribly from our perspective (First Peter 1:6; 4:12)!

But—and this is where trust comes in—we should pray earnestly and trust God to strengthen and empower us to get through whatever tomorrow may bring—good or bad, wonderful or terrible! We must also trust that, regardless of appearances, we serve an all loving, all powerful God who will make all things ultimately (if not in this life, then in the next) work out for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28).

In the meantime, Jesus taught that we should concern ourselves first and foremost with the Kingdom of God and not to worry about tomorrow—“each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 7:25-34). This doesn’t mean that we should stop planning for tomorrow or that we shouldn’t take necessary precautions (see, for example, Proverbs). But when it comes to worry, we should take one day at a time.

In a recent reality-based movie starring Tom Hanks, a spy had been captured and was facing possible death. Tom Hanks’ character asked the spy—three separate times throughout the movie, as I recall—if he was worried. The matter-of-fact response each time was, “would it help?” 

Of course not! We can plan or take precautions for the possibilities of tomorrow—we can even try to influence how tomorrow may turn out—but it just will not help in any way to worry about tomorrow (so easy to write, so hard to do—I’m still working on it).

But don’t trust God to make this life easier. He never promised he would, in fact, quite the contrary (e.g. 2 Timothy 3:12).

Monday, April 11, 2016

Gay marriage vs Christian bakers and florists

Regarding the Christian baker/florist vs. gay marriage debate, I would suggest that there are actually at least two separate issues that need to be clearly distinguished.
First is the question of whether we want a government that can force people to support causes with which they disagree (violation of free speech); or can force people to violate sincerely held religious convictions (violation of freedom of religion). Granted, our government already does that to some limited extent--for example, parents who disagree with blood transfusions on religious grounds but whose children are forced to have blood transfusions--but under the Obama administration the interference has become much more intrusive. There must come a point at which such interference becomes clearly unconstitutional.
Second is the question of whether it is actually wrong or sinful for a Christian baker (or florist, etc.) to sell products that will be used in a gay wedding. Christians who say “yes” it is wrong, should ask themselves whether they would sell a wedding cake (or flowers) to someone who divorced his spouse in order to marry someone else—something Jesus clearly calls “adultery.” I’ve never heard of a Christian baker or florist denying services to those in second or third marriages.
Christians should also ask themselves whether they would have the same crisis of conscience if they were the owner of a fast food place and were asked to sell a couple of their special half-pound bacon cheeseburgers to a morbidly obese person, thereby facilitating gluttony—one of the so-called “seven deadly sins.”
The analogy is not exact, but in both cases the owners would be selling a legitimate product (wedding cake, cheeseburgers) which would be used for sinful purposes. I’ve never heard of a Christian who would have a crisis of conscience selling the cheeseburgers to anyone. However one answers these questions, it is important to strive toward being consistent.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

A replacement for Justice Scalia

With the death of Justice Scalia Democrats are already coming out of the woodwork demanding that the Senate fulfill its constitutional duty and approve an Obama appointee to the Supreme Court.
It this wasn't so serious it would be laughable. Hypocritical Democrats who have ignored or trampled the Constitution for the last seven years suddenly show interest in the Constitution when it suits them!
Actually, I'm sure Republicans in the Senate would be happy to confirm an Obama appointee who believes in interpreting the Constitution in light of the framer's original intentions, rather than someone who believes in "finding" new rights, or interpreting the Constitution in light of foreign expectations, or contemporary ever-changing, politically correct social customs.
The problem is that Obama is annoyed that the Constitution has hindered his efforts to fundamentally change America into something the founding fathers never intended. His solution is to appoint justices who do not feel constrained by what the Constitution actually says.
If the Senate lets him get away with it the already shaky balance of the court will change, you can kiss whatever is left of your freedom goodbye, and attacks on Christians (like Baronelle Stutzman, et al) that began during the Obama administration will snowball!

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Why a Christian can view Muhammad as a prophet?

In an article published last week in the Huffington Post entitled, "Why a Christian can view Muhammad as a Prophet" the author demonstrated a phenomenal lack of knowledge regarding Muhammad ( That doesn’t surprise me but I thought I would respond because I suspect that the author’s views reflect what many Americans think about Muhammad.
The author writes, “Prophet Muhammad brought love, peace, and much more to a part of the world that had little of these things.”
Perhaps this writer has never read the earliest biography of Muhammad, or perhaps he is a closet Muslim practicing Taqiya (deliberate deception to promote Islam). Whatever the case, the idea that Muhammad brought love and peace is laughable! I don’t know of any knowledgeable person (Muslim or not) who would dispute the fact that Muhammad was a warrior. Muhammad added to his wealth (inherited from his first wife) by robbing other people’s caravans (I doubt the caravan owners were feeling the love)! After becoming rich and powerful, Muhammad and his armies traveled around Arabia slaughtering those who refused to convert or submit to the terms of his religion. He even ordered the execution of converts who changed their minds and turned away from his religion.
The author writes, “One of the most overlooked aspects of Muhammad's character is his fierce anti-racist stance. He made the unprecedented move of considering both white people and black people as equals in the eyes of God.”
There is some truth in this. Muhammad and his followers owned and sold black slaves not because they were black but because they refused to accept his religion.
The author writes, “While some Muslims cite John (14:16-17) as proof that Jesus predicted the coming of Muhammad, many Christians find it difficult to interpret this verse as the ‘truth.’ Perhaps they're in denial….”
John 14:16-17 says, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of Truth.” First, elsewhere in the article the author says Jesus was only human and made mistakes, so it is remarkable that the author thinks Jesus had enough insight to foresee Muhammad 600 years ahead of time! Second, the Muslim identification of John 14:16-17 is entirely arbitrary. Any self-proclaimed prophet could say John 14:16-17 was referring to him (or her). Third, there is absolutely nothing in the context that would point to Muhammad. In fact, Muhammad once told some followers it was acceptable to lie to carry out murder. He is hardly a “Spirit of Truth.” Virtually all biblical scholars agree that John 14:16-17 is referring to the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
However, I do agree that Jesus foretold the coming of people like Muhammad. In Matthew 7:15-16 Jesus said, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them”
The author writes, “However, I see nothing "anti-Christian" in recognizing Muhammad as a prophet.”
Really? Christians in all branches (Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant) have affirmed the deity of Jesus for 2,000 years, but Muhammad specifically denies the deity of Jesus, even insisting that those who believe in the Trinity are going to hell! Christians who refused to convert to Islam or submit to second class “dhimmi” status (including paying the Jizya tax) would be slaughtered! If that’s not anti-Christian I’m not sure what is.
The author writes, “To me, a prophet is someone who has valuable insight and intuition, who is sensitive about the well-being of others regardless of their ethnic or religious backgrounds.” 
“Sensitive about the well-being of others?” In one village, Muhammad had 600 Jewish men beheaded and their families sold into slavery because they wouldn’t accept his religion! People of other religions who refused to accept Islam were often slaughtered or enslaved. Doesn’t sound too sensitive to me.
The author writes, “Let me wrap this up by returning to the question: Is Prophet Muhammad worthy of admiration among Christians? I believe he is.”
Why? What makes Muhammad worthy of admiration? His robbery of caravans? His sexual intercourse with a nine year old wife when he was in his 50’s? His ownership and selling of slaves? His imperialism? His slaughter of anyone who rejected or refused to submit to the terms of his religion? What exactly was worthy of admiration?
Please don’t take my word for all this. Purchase and read the earliest biography of Muhammad written by a devout Muslim ( ). The book is highly respected by Muslims around the world. Or you can check out my blog which briefly summarizes this book and provides page numbers for every detail.

Modern western secularists have a very unhistorical and romanticized view of Muhammad. They seem to imagine him as someone like Jesus, so when they hear of the atrocities carried out by ISIS, al Qaeda, Boko Haram, al Shabaab or others, they are shocked saying these groups are not truly Muslim. It is certainly true that not all Muslims support ISIS (thankfully!), but to say these groups are not really Muslim is ignorance. These groups are just following the lifestyle and teaching of Muhammad. The real danger, however, is that so many Europeans and Americans seem to believe that the thousands of Muslim immigrants we are letting into the country have a view of Muhammad similar to those of the author of that Huffington Post article. And that is truly dangerous.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Following Jesus


In his “Great Commission,” Jesus taught, “go and make disciples of all nations…teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Mt 28.19-20). I was taught in a Christian tradition known as Dispensationalism. My dispensational pastors and professors tended to focus on Paul and paid very little attention to the ethical teachings of Jesus. They focused on the grace of God in salvation to such an extent that any emphasis on the commands of Jesus would almost certainly have been viewed as “legalism.”

My pastors and teachers were very zealous about Jesus’ “Great Commission” to go into all the world and make disciples (and rightly so). But they seemed to ignore or downplay the rest of the Great Commission which says “teaching them to obey all that I [Jesus] have commanded you.” I was taught that Matthew, Mark and Luke really belonged to the Old Testament which applied to Israel, not to the church. One of my dispensational pastors even told me that “there is very little gospel in the Gospels.”

I was not persuaded. First, it didn’t seem very consistent to emphasize the part of the Great Commission about making disciples, but to ignore the part about teaching disciples to obey Jesus.

Second, it didn’t seem very consistent to insist that the Gospel of Matthew was written to Israel and not to the church—and yet at the same time to insist that Matthew 28:19-20 was the top priority for the church.

Third, even my dispensational pastors and professors recognized that the Gospel of John was written for the church and yet the Gospel of John emphasizes the importance of obeying Jesus!

Fortunately, Dispensationalism has evolved since those days. It would almost seem silly today to have to insist that obeying Jesus should be a major goal of everyone who calls themselves Christian. In fact, I would suggest that it is an oxymoron to call someone “Christian” who really does not want to obey Jesus.
But exactly what does obeying Jesus entail? When Jesus taught that we are to make disciples, teaching them to obey all things he commanded, exactly what was it we were to obey?

To answer that question I copied and pasted the Gospels to a Word document. Next, I deleted everything that was not related to the ethical or moral teachings of Jesus. I then organized these teachings and wrote them up in narrative form, citing chapter and verse at every point. The result is contained in the essay below. It is not exhaustive but I think it is a good 30,000 foot overview of what Jesus’ expected of his followers.

Sin and repentance

Jesus was all about love and compassion, but it may come as a surprise to some that he also had a lot to say about sin. Jesus taught that sin does not consist of outward actions alone, but begins in the heart. He said that out of the heart comes “evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance, folly, and false testimony (Mk 7.20-23; cf. Mt 15.10-20).

Similarly, in Jesus’ famous “Sermon on the Mount” it was not just those who murdered who were guilty—Murder began with hatred in the heart. It was not just those who committed adultery who were guilty—Adultery began with lust in the heart (Mt 5.21-30). Jesus taught that since the mouth speaks what is in the heart, people one day would give account of every idle word they have spoken, (Mt 12.33-37).

For Jesus, sin did not just exist in the hearts of those who were greedy, envious, hateful or immoral, etc. Sin also existed in the hearts of religious leaders who loved to draw attention to themselves in order to make themselves look good, but didn’t practice what they preached. Among other things, Jesus called them hypocrites, blind guides, vipers, and even sons of hell (Mt 23.36; Lk 11.43-44)!
While Jesus insisted that we should let our “light shine before men, that they may see [our] good deeds and praise [our] Father in heaven” (Mt 5.16), he also taught that we should be careful never to do these good deeds for the purpose of self-glorification. For example, when (not if) we give to the poor we should never do so for the purpose of drawing attention to ourselves (Mt 6.4). Jesus warned of severe punishment, for example, to those who loved to flaunt their religious status but oppressed widows (Lk 20.45-47).

Jesus pointed out that, generally speaking, it was the religious leaders, not tax collectors and sinners, who refused to repent at the teaching of John (Mt 21.32).The religious leaders, however, were not the only ones Jesus condemned. He characterized his entire generation as wicked, adulterous, and sinful (Mk 8.38; Mt 12.39; 16.4; Lk 11.29). If he thought of his relatively moral first century Jewish culture as wicked, we can only imagine what he would say about modern western culture!

Jesus warned that sin was a serious issue that should not to be taken lightly. He used the hyperbole of cutting off hands and feet, or plucking out eyes to make the point that people should take drastic action to avoid sin (Mt 5.27-30; 18.8-9). He warned that those he called “evil-doers” and “wicked”—presumably those whose lifestyles are characterized by unrepentant delight in sinfulness—would be cast out of his presence and consigned to a place where there would be “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Mt 7.21-23; Lk 13.24-30, 47-50).

It should not be surprising, therefore, to learn that the very first words Matthew and Mark record of Jesus’ public ministry are a call to repentance (Mt 4.17; Mk 1.15)! Jesus taught that unless we repent we will perish (Lk 13.1-6) but he said that there is more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine who need no repentance (Lk 15.3-31). Obeying Jesus, therefore, must begin with repentance.

Love the Lord your God

Jesus taught that the first and greatest commandment was to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind (Mt. 22.35-40; Lk 10.27-28). As such this command should be considered the foundation of Jesus’ ethical teaching. But in Jesus’ teaching there was a bit of a twist. Jesus made claims for himself that could only be true of God and insisted that people should value him, Jesus, above all else. For example, according to the Gospels, Jesus claimed to be able to forgive sin and said he was lord over the Sabbath—characteristics only true of God. According to the Gospel of John, Jesus taught that “I and my Father are one.” Jesus’ enemies understood precisely what he meant because they tried to stone him saying, “you a mere man, claim to be God” (John 10:33). In the Ten Commandments God taught, “You shall have no other gods before me,” so Jesus, viewing himself as “One with the Father,” commanded that people value him (Jesus) above everything else.

For example, devotion to Jesus was to outweigh our love of money. Jesus taught that ultimately, people cannot serve both God and money (Lk 16.13). And as much as Jesus cared for the poor—and demanded that we do so also—Jesus insisted that devotion to him should even outweigh our commitment to help the poor (John 12.4-8).

Even more than that, however, Jesus taught that anyone who loved their family—father, mother, sister, brother, wife, husband, children—more than they loved him, was not worthy of him. Anyone who would not take up their cross for him—a metaphor for being willing to die—was not worthy of him (Mk, 8.34-37; Mt 10.27-39; 16.24-27; Lk 9.23-25; 12.48; 14.25-27).

In Matthew 8.22 someone said he wanted to follow Jesus but that he had to bury his father first. Jesus told him to “let the dead bury their own dead,” apparently meaning that allegiance to Jesus even trumped important and necessary family obligations. Jesus warned that such allegiance to him would bring division in families (Lk 12.51-53), and that some would even be betrayed to death by family members (Mt 10.16-23). That being the case, he warned people to count the cost before following him (Lk 14.28-30). Following him could be deadly. On the other hand, he said that people should not be afraid of those who can kill the body but rather to fear the One who has authority to throw them into hell (Lk 12.4-5).

This ultimate allegiance to Jesus, however, didn’t mean that people should neglect family members. Jesus taught that people should honor their parents (Mk 7.10; 10:18-20; Lk 18.20) as commanded by the Law of Moses, and as Jesus himself did (Jn 19.26-27). He condemned those who contrived to deprive their parents of financial help (Mk 7.9-13; Mt 15.3-9). He taught that we should be faithful in marriage (Mt 5.31-32, 19.4-6; 19.8-9; Lk 16.18) and he warned of dire consequences for those who caused children to stumble (Mt. 18.6; Mk 9.42; Lk 17.2). Indeed, loving the Lord even above family often gives a depth and permanence to familial love that doesn’t exist in many relationships.

An important expression of love for the Lord is worship. Jesus taught to worship God and “serve him only” (Mt 4.10; Lk 4.8), which must be interpreted in light of Jesus’ claim to deity. Jesus said this worship was to be “in spirit and in truth” apparently meaning that worship should not just be by empty rituals or rote but should be sincere, from the heart and according to biblical truth.

Another expression of love for the Lord is prayer. Jesus both taught (Mt 6.6-10; Mt 14.23; Mk 11.25) and exemplified prayer in his life (Mk 14.32-39; Lk 5.16; Jn 17)—sometimes rising early in the morning or praying all night (Mk 1.35; Luke 6.12). Jesus taught that God, like a loving father, wants to answer prayer (Lk 11.5-26; Mt 7.7-11) so people should pray persistently (Mt 11.5-26), in faith with an attitude of expectancy (Mt 21.22). Jesus was clear, however, that public prayer should never be for show or for the purpose of bringing honor to oneself (Mt 6.5-8).

It is important to emphasize that loving Jesus is more than just warm fuzzy feelings. Loving Jesus involves a heart attitude that encompasses such words as devotion, dedication, commitment, and allegiance (Paul would call this attitude “faith”). Such an attitude cannot help but produce a change in one’s life. In fact, a life that produced fruit was one of the characteristics of a genuine love for and allegiance to Jesus. Jesus said, “If you love me, keep [or you will keep] my commandments” (Jn 14.15) and “Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me” (Jn 14.21) and “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching” (14.23). In Jesus’ parable of the sower, those who heard the word of God and fell away, or got choked out buy the cares of this world, were not true followers of Jesus. The true followers of Jesus were those who remained in Jesus and produced fruit (Mt 13.1-9; 18-23).

Bearing fruit involves, among other things, being good “stewards” or managers of the abilities, talents, opportunities and resources entrusted to us by God. The Lord expects us to use these wisely. Failure to do so would result in being thrown into a place of darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Mt 25.14-30; cf. Luke 18:11-27).

Bearing fruit was to be so characteristic of Jesus’ followers (Lk 8.4-15, 21) that Jesus said those who did not bear fruit would be cut down like a fig tree (Lk 13.6-9) and “thrown into the fire” (Mt 7.15-20; John 15.1-17). If someone deeply loves and is genuinely committed to Jesus, this cannot help but produce a change in our life that increasingly bears the fruit of obedience to Jesus.
Jesus’ followers were to be characterized by having a hunger and thirst for righteousness, by being merciful or compassionate, being pure in heart, meek, and making peace (Mt 5.3-11). No one is perfect, of course, but sincere love for and genuine commitment to Jesus cannot help but to produce fruit. That fruit may include numerous aspects of loving our neighbors, as explained below.

Love your neighbor as yourself

Jesus said the second most important command was to love our neighbor as we love ourselves (Mt 22.35-40; Lk 10.27-28). But who is our neighbor? Certainly our neighbor would include fellow Christians. Jesus taught that we should love fellow believers as he has loved us. In fact, Jesus said this love for fellow believers would be how people would know we are his disciples (John 12.34). Just as Jesus laid down his life for us, so we should be prepared to lay down our lives for others (John 15.12, 17).

But loving neighbors involves more than just loving fellow believers. In Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus seemed to imply that our neighbor was the person we happened to come upon who was in need and whom we were in a position to help. But even more than that, Jesus’ command to love others was to include love even for our enemies.

This love, whether for believers, neighbors or enemies, was not just affection or warm feelings, it involved looking out for the well-being of others. In Luke 6, Jesus explains this love in terms of concrete actions—“do good to those who hate you, bless (speak well) of those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you,” “turn the other check” to insults, give to those in need, lend without expecting re-payment (Lk 6.27-36, Mt 5.38-43).

Loving others meant doing “to others as you would have them do to you” (Lk 6.31). It meant showing compassion to people. Jesus taught to “Be merciful (or compassionate) just as your Father is merciful” (Lk 6.36 cf. Mt 5.7). In fact, Jesus’ ministry embodied compassion (e.g. Mk 8.1-13; Mt 15.32-38; 11.4-5). His teaching, feeding, healings and exorcisms were, among other things, expressions of compassion (Mt 9.36, 14.14; 15.32; 20.34; Mk 6.34; 8.2).
Loving others also involved forgiving those who have sinned against us. Jesus commanded that if our brothers or sisters repent we must forgive them repeatedly (Lk 17.3) and that our refusal to forgive would result not only in God’s refusal to forgive us (Mt 6.14), but in eternal judgment as well (Mt 18.21-35).

On the other hand, Jesus was clear that if the offender was a believer, we should confront them personally. If the offender doesn’t listen, we should bring one or two others to help resolve the dispute and if that didn’t work, we could take it before the church (Mt 18.18). Jesus warned, however, that before we judge someone else for their sins we should be sure we are not guilty of the same sins—remove the plank from our own eye first. Jesus warned that the same standard we use in judging others will be used against us (Mt 7.1-5; Lk 6.27; 41-42).

Central to loving our neighbor was caring for the poor. Jesus taught that people should even sell their possessions and give to the poor, thus building up treasure in heaven (Lk 12.32-34). It seems probable that Jesus was using hyperbole here since he did not seem to require everyone to sell everything they had (e.g. Mk 2.11; Mk 5.19; Mk 8.25-26; Luke 8.38-39; Lk 10.38; 19:1-10; Jn 19.27; cf. Acts 2.46; 18.26; 21.16). Jesus’ point was that helping the poor should be very high on the priority list of those who claim to follow him.
In fact, Jesus taught that people who did not care for those who were sick, hungry, thirsty, in prison or poorly clothed were really not his disciples at all and would be sent into eternal fire (Mt 25.31-46). Jesus taught, however, that with God it was not the size of the gift that counted, but the size of the sacrifice (Lk 21.3) and Jesus’ followers should be known for their generosity (Mt 5.42; Lk 6.38).

Jesus warned, therefore, to “Be on guard against all kinds of greed” (Lk 12.14) and not to “store up treasures on earth” because a person’s heart would be where their treasure was (Mt 6.19-24). He strongly condemned self-indulgence (Mt 23.25) and said people should stop worrying so much about the future or cares of this life but to focus first on the kingdom of God (Lk 12.22-31; Mt 6.25-34).

Jesus was clear that his followers were not to be overbearing tyrants who “lord it over others,” rather we are to serve (Lk 22.24-27). In fact, Jesus said that whoever wanted to be great among you must be serve others (Mt 20.26-27; 23.8-11; cf Mt 18.2-6). Jesus actually got down on his knees and washed his disciples’ feet, saying he was setting an example that they should go likewise and serve others (Jn 12.12-17, cf. Luke 22.26). Servanthood necessarily involves meekness (the opposite of being an overbearing loud-mouth), and humility (Lk 14.7-11; Mt 18.4; 23.12) which certainly characterized Jesus’ life and which he expected from his followers.

On the other hand, while Jesus’ followers must generally be characterized by humility and meekness, loving others does not necessarily preclude the occasional possibility of direct confrontation or even harshness. After all, the same Jesus who taught and embodied love, also called self-righteous religious leaders hypocrites, blind guides, fools, white-washed tombs, snakes, vipers, and sons of hell! He compared his whole generation unfavorably to Sodom and Gomorrah and called them to repent (Mt 12.39-42; cf. Mt 17.17). Loving others does not rule out righteous anger against sin.

Finally, loving others involves leading them to repentance and drawing them to Jesus. Jesus’ called his followers to be fishers of men, to let their light shine by their good works (Mt 5.16) and to make disciples (Mk 1.17; Mt 4.19; Lk 5.10). He urged his followers to pray that God would send more workers out into the harvest (Mt 9.37; Lk 10.2).

What are these laborers to do? In his “Great Commission” Jesus says we are to make disciples, baptizing them (as the initial expression of faith) and teaching them to obey everything he commanded (Mt 28.18-20). Making disciples is not just about teaching the doctrines of the Christian faith—as important as that is. Making disciples is about teaching people to “obey everything” Jesus commanded. We are not really making disciples unless we are teaching people to obey Jesus.

Obedience and grace

This discussion on obeying Jesus must be placed in the context of what Jesus taught about grace. For example, in Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, the Pharisee prayed, “God thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.” The tax collector, on the other hand did not appeal to any good works but threw himself on God’s grace, beating his chest and pleading, “God have mercy on me, a sinner.” Jesus said it was the tax collector who was “justified” not the Pharisee. In other words, the man who humbly threw himself on God’s mercy and grace was declared to be right with God, not the man who self-righteously thought he was good enough to earn God’s favor.

Another example of grace is found in Luke 7.36-50 which tells the story of a women who came to a dinner attended by Jesus and a group of religious leaders. The woman was crying, apparently over her sin since this little story describes her as a sinner four times! She ignored the religious leaders and went right to Jesus, kneeling down as she kissed Jesus’ feed, anointed them with ointment and wiped them with her hair. Jesus said to the Pharisee who hosted the event that this woman’s “sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much.” He then turned to the woman and said that her faith had saved her.
The story leads readers to understand that this woman’s sorrowful repentance over her sin, coupled with her loving devotion to Jesus, is the very definition of the kind of faith necessary to enter the kingdom about which Jesus had so often preached. The woman was not saved because she was such a good person or because she had done some wonderful good works. She was saved by grace through her repentance and faith or loving devotion to Jesus.

The stories of the prodigal son (Lk 15:11-32) and the landowner who hired people in the marketplace (Mt 21.1-16) are also stories of God’s grace. The point is that obedience to Jesus is never to be understood as something we do to earn God’s favor or salvation. Obedience should never be thought of as the means of gaining a right status with God. It is out of a heart of faith, i.e. loving devotion/commitment/dedication/allegiance to Jesus, empowered by the Holy Spirit that our obedience flows.

I am convinced that Jesus would agree completely with what Paul wrote in Ephesians 2.8-10: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

Jesus and politics

Some Christian traditions have interpreted Jesus' commands to love and to turn the other cheek, etc., as if he were condemning all violence and war. One author went so far as to suggest that Jesus would even prohibit police officers from using violence in the course of carrying out their lawful duties.

It is important, therefore, to note that Jesus was addressing how his followers should personally love those with whom they come in contact. He was not directly addressing government policy. Judea had been ruled by kings and tyrants for a thousand years before Jesus’ time so the idea that Jesus’ servant-followers would vote in elections or “serve” as senators, governors or presidents was not even a remote hypothetical possibility when Jesus was teaching.

We cannot interpret Jesus apart from his Jewish context and his own affirmation of Jewish scriptures (e.g. Matthew 5:17-18) and we must be careful about trying to apply all of Jesus' teachings directly to government policies. I see no reason to believe, for example, that Jesus would have disagreed with Hebrews 11:32-34 which applauds godly Jewish leaders of faith, not for turning the other cheek but for administering justice, routing foreign armies and conquering kingdoms! Jesus cites both Moses and David approvingly with no hint of disapproval for being men of war. In addition, according to John 10.22, Jesus was in the Jerusalem Temple for the Feast of Dedication (Hanukkah) which celebrates the violent re-taking of the Temple from a Syrian ruler who had desecrated it and had committed atrocities against the Jews. If Jesus was in the Temple protesting the fact that these rebels had not "turned the other cheek" it seems odd that the Gospel of John gives no indication whatsoever of Jesus' disapproval. 

Similarly, Jesus' teachings on helping the poor cannot simply be applied directly to support government economic policies of socialism, communism or capitalism. Jesus was addressing personal behavior and was not directly addressing government policies. In other words, by way of application, Jesus was not addressing government re-distribution of wealth. He was not teaching that Christian police officers should literally turn the other cheek when they are assaulted while lawfully administering justice. Jesus was not saying that the President of the United States should have metaphorically turned the other check by offering the Empire State Building after the Twin Towers were destroyed. He never taught that governments should disband their armies and leave themselves defenseless (note that John the Baptist did not even require Roman soldiers to leave the military: Luke 3:14).

On the other hand, exactly how government officials who are Christians should apply Jesus’ teachings on personal behavior to government policies (e.g. on war, poverty, immigration or other economic and social issues) is a matter of endless debate among Christian voters.


Jesus condemned the sin of his generation and called people to repentance. Among other things, he preached against sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance, folly, false testimony, evil thoughts, lust, hatred, self-righteousness, self-indulgence, and hypocrisy. For Jesus, sin did not consist merely in outward actions but began in the heart.

Jesus taught that the greatest commandment was to love God above all else—and he claimed to be one with the Father. That being the case, he taught that people should be more devoted to him than they are to their own families or even their own life. Such devotion involves worship, prayer and obedience or bearing fruit.

Jesus taught that the second greatest commandment was to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. This involves looking out for the well-being of others and treating others as we would want to be treated. It involves serving others, being generous, compassionate and forgiving. Jesus even commands loving our enemies—doing good to them, praying for them and refusing to retaliate against their insults.

Jesus taught that we were to be fishers of men—making disciples which involves teaching them to obey Jesus. Jesus taught that we are not justified before God by our good works, but by God’s grace.

Finally, Jesus’ teachings were primarily addressing how his followers should personally love those with whom they come in contact. How those teachings should be applied to government policies is a matter of debate among Christians—but that debate should never keep us from loving God more than we love life, relying on his grace, and from loving neighbors and even enemies as we love ourselves.

Friday, December 04, 2015

Our next president in 2016

Here is my Christmas wish list for a new President, not necessarily in any order (I really could not care less whether our President is a man or woman, relatively young or old, white, black, Hispanic, Asian, or American-Indian): 
  • Strong track record of personal honesty and integrity (if someone has a track record of corruption and personal dishonesty, how can you trust them on anything else?).
  • Strong commitment to the first amendment "free exercise of religion" in both the market place and in the public square--Not just "freedom of worship."
  • Strong commitment to only appoint judges and justices who are "originalists."
  • Strong commitment to a smaller, less regulative and less intrusive federal government.
    • A commitment to abolish some cabinet departments like the Department of Education would be a big plus.
  • Strong commitment to a powerful national defense
  • Strong commitment to keep Iran from developing nuclear weapons and to keep North Korea from developing intercontinental ballistic missiles--even if that means war.
  • Strong commitment to a good relationship with, and defense of Israel.
  • Strong support for traditional marriage.
  • Strong stand against abortion.
  • Commitment to promoting international human rights, recognizing that democracies can trample human rights as much as dictatorships.
  • Commitment to a radical reform of the Environmental Protection Agency by putting people ahead of animals or earth.
  • Commitment to radically reforming or even abolishing the IRS to reduce its potential as a tool of manipulative or corrupt politicians.
  • Commitment to a strong, well-funded program of helping those who really need help (e.g. the physically or mentally challenged), but an equally strong commitment to weed the freeloaders off government assistance and to provide strong penalties for those who defraud the system.
  • Commitment to work toward balancing the budget and paying down the national debt--even if that means raising my own retirement age (see below).
  • Commitment to reform Social Security--even if that means raising the retirement age to 68 for those like me who do not have physically demanding jobs and are still in good health.
  • Commitment to repeal Obamacare but an equally strong commitment to fix some of the glaring problems with the old heath care system.
  • Commitment to an immigration policy that:
    • Provides (metaphorically speaking) for a high wall and a wide gate, i.e. a policy that 1) closes the borders as much as possible to illegal immigration, 2) makes it easier for more people to immigrate legally, 3) opens a path to citizenship for otherwise law abiding illegals who are already here, but at the same time 4) institutes a vigorous policy of punishing and/or deporting illegal felons, and 5) provides for very strong punishments for those who re-enter illegally.
    • Focuses on admitting people who want to assimilate into American society, and seeks to exclude people who have no intention of doing so.
    • Attempts to stop immigration of people whose beliefs are fundamentally at odds with the U.S. Constitution, for example, those who would seek to restrict freedom of speech or freedom of religion, or those who do not believe in democracy.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Fighting for freedom of religion

Increasingly in America we are finding that Christians are losing jobs, losing businesses, being sued, being fined, etc. simply because they are living out their Christian convictions regarding marriage or abortion. Unfortunately, all too many Christians (those who have not yet been affected) respond with a big yawn, saying that Christians should expect persecution. They are absolutely right—we should expect persecution. But that doesn’t mean we should always just sit idly by an accept it.
For example, Paul charged the magistrates of Philippi with violating his rights as a Roman Citizen and demanded that they personally escort him out of jail (Acts 17:16-40). Paul used his rights as a Roman citizen to avoid flogging in Jerusalem (Acts 22:25). It was Paul’s status as Roman citizen that got him transferred from Jerusalem to Caesarea in Roman protective custody (Acts 22:12-22, cf. 23:27). And Paul used his right as a Roman citizen to appeal his case to Caesar (Acts 25:10-11).
Isaiah commands readers to “defend the oppressed” (Isa 1:17) and to “lose the chains of injustice” (Isaiah 58:6; cf. Jeremiah 22:3). As hard as it is to believe—more and more people in America are now being oppressed because of their Christian faith!
So what can you do?
1) Pray
2) Support and vote for people who will stand for religious liberty
3) Support organizations that are defending your freedom, e.g. Alliance Defending Freedom or the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), et al.
4) Let your Senators and Representatives know that you are not happy with what is going on.
5) Ask your Representative and Senators to support the First Amendment Defense Act (S. 1598, H.R. 2802) which would, “prevent discriminatory treatment of any person on the basis of views held with respect to marriage.”
6) Re-post Twitter and Facebook articles on this issue in order to raise awareness of the problem
7) Encourage your family and friends to get involved too. Pastors, start informing your congregations on what is happening and pray!
You don’t have to do it all—but please don’t just sit back and watch your children’s freedom get flushed down the drain on your watch!

Friday, June 26, 2015

The Supreme Court decision on same sex marriage

If the Constitution protects the "right" to same sex marriage, does it also protect the "right" to incestuous marriage, or the right for adults to marry children? If not, why not? On what possible basis could you find a "right" to same sex marriage in the Constitution without affirming these other "rights" as well? (I suspect it will now only be a matter of time before someone asserts such "rights").

And then there is the hypocrisy of Justice Roberts who said that the Constitution had nothing to do with this decision. I'm sure he's absolutely right. But the the Constitution also had nothing to do with the decision on Obamacare which HE supported! When justices stop interpreting the Constitution, and start re-writing the Constitution, their decisions can become quite arbitrary.

When Nancy Pelosi was Speaker of the House, she (and other Democrats) publicly mocked the idea that Congress should be bound by the Constitution. We have a President who ignores the Constitution. Now we have a Supreme Court that thinks their job is not to interpret but to re-write the Constitution!  The Constitution was supposed to protect citizens from government. When government ignores the Constitution we are in deep, deep trouble. Americans (both Republican and Democrat) should be (peacefully) protesting in the streets by the millions at this massive usurpation of power.

Germany was a democracy before Hitler took over. I have sometimes wondered how could they let their democracy be stolen from them like that? I suspect our grandchildren may one day be asking the same question of us.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Shut up and Dance

There is a very popular song--number 4 on Billboard's top 100 this week--called “Shut up and Dance” by a group called “Walk the Moon.”  As I was listening to this song recently, I started thinking of the story of how Jesus called to Peter to come out of the boat and walk on the water with him--and the words below came to mind (go figure)! To the tune of “Shut up and Dance”:

Oh don’t you dare look down
Just keep your eyes on me
I said “But I might drown”
He said, look up and walk with me
This Savior is my destiny
He said, “I’ll rescue you…
Look up and walk with me”

On the sea in fading light
The wind was blowing
Lightening flashing bright
Tossed around and helpless in the night
But, He’s stronger than weather
Much stronger than weather

He took my hand,
I don’t know how it happened
He pulled me up and He said,

Oh don’t you dare look down
Just keep your eyes on me
I said “But I might drown”
He said, look up and walk with me
This Savior is my destiny
He said, “I’ll save you-ou…
Look up and follow me”

(If you don't know "Shut up and Dance" you can find the video on YouTube).

I think I would be on shaky, even dangerous ground (or in over my head?) to say that God gave the these words to me. The entire thing didn't just pop into my head--I did spend some time editing and tweaking it. More importantly, in the OT God strongly condemns those who say God spoke when God did not speak.

But on the other hand, I have no musical talent or song-writing ability whatsoever (some readers will say, "Amen!"), and "Shut Up and Dance" has absolutely nothing to do with Peter or Jesus, so where did the words come from? 

Some Christians might say that God never directly speaks to us today. Other Christians seem to assume that almost any random thought, feeling or inclination they have is God speaking to them.

The point of my post is this: How can we know when or if God is speaking as opposed to when our thoughts are just our own thoughts?