Can Anything Good Come From Nazareth? (Advent Week 1)

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Joseph1When he came to his hometown, he taught the people in their synagogue. They were surprised and said, “Where did he get this wisdom? Where did he get the power to work miracles? Isn’t he the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother named Mary? Aren’t James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas his brothers? And his sisters, aren’t they here with us? Where did this man get all this?” (Matthew 13: 54-56 CEB)

For our Adult Sunday School Advent study this year, we’re working through Adam Hamilton’s new book, “Faithful: Christmas Through the Eyes of Joseph.” When we Christians think about the Christmas story, obviously we first think of Jesus. After that we probably think of Mary, especially our brothers and sisters in the Roman Catholic Church. Then we probably think about shepherds, angels, wise men and such, but what about Joseph? Where does he fit into all of this?

Admittedly the New Testament doesn’t give us much to go on at all. There is not a single line of Holy Scripture attributed to Joseph! Luke mentions that Joseph is still around when Jesus is separated from his parents at age 12, staying in the temple in Jerusalem (Luke 2: 41-51), but again it is Mary that asks the young Jesus why he stayed behind and worried his parents half to death.

After that, Joseph pretty much disappears. The Synoptic Gospels all have some version of the scene which I quoted above, though only Luke mentions Joseph by name in this scene (Luke 4) and Mark just says that Jesus is “Mary’s Son” (Mark 6). The Gospel of John mentions Joseph by name in a similar incident in John 6: 41-51. That’s it! Everything else is either church tradition or apocryphal in nature.

What the Bible does tell us is that Joseph was a carpenter. As a skilled worker, it’s likely that Joseph would have had some means. However, as Adam Hamilton points out in his book, the Greek word that is used to refer to Joseph is tekton, not the word architekton which would have designated him as master carpenter or master builder. In all likelihood Joseph was just simple carpenter building things like doors and furniture, not someone in charge of  a large shop or other workers.

Which brings us back to the scripture I quoted above. In this scene Jesus is teaching in his hometown synagogue in Nazareth. The people are impressed with his wisdom, but they’re not sure how he came by it. The question is asked, “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son?” Can you hear the slight intended there, the incredulity of the people? “Who is this guy anyway?”

But I want to ask you, can you blame them? I don’t think I can. I kind of thought about what it might be like if somebody that I went to high school with ended up being President. With a very few exceptions, I think I’d probably look on them with same kind of incredulity: “Really? HIM, or HER?” There might even be a hint of jealousy there! At any rate, I would certainly forgive anyone who asked the question “Can anything good come of out of Northridge High in Layton, Utah?”

And that is the same question that is asked about Jesus. It is the question posed in John 1 by Nathanael to Philip when Philip tells him that he has found the one spoken of by the prophets. Philip says that this special man is Jesus of Nazareth, son of Joseph. Nathanael (who is likely the apostle Bartholomew mentioned in the synoptics) asks Philip point blank: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

Think of it this way.  If you ruled the universe and formed it with your very words, if you had that kind of power at your disposal, and you decided to come to Earth and walk around in human skin for a bit, how would you go about it? If you wanted to have a quick impact and have everybody notice you, you’d probably want to show up as the child of a king or emperor. Or you’d want to be born to a noble family, maybe even as a relation to a mighty warrior!

Do I think any of you who read this would choose to be born to a teenage girl and her simple carpenter of a husband in a manger, in the middle of some poor animal’s dinner? Nope. Fat chance.

Yet that’s how it happened. Try to wrap your mind around it. The incarnation-God himself becoming human-takes place in an animal stall to two people of no note or significance, to a woman who was shown to be with child before she was properly married.

It still blows my mind to think about it, and to me, that’s what makes the story ring true. I would never have expected it to go down like that.

Then I stop and think about so many Christians in our world today, particularly in the USA. If Jesus were to show up in those kind of circumstances today, would any of us even notice? I doubt it. What if Jesus’ parents looked like this:

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If you can’t picture that happening, then I respectfully ask that you go back and read the Christmas story, because I’m not sure you get it. This is entirely possible, and this would be just as scandalous in our world today as Mary and Joseph were back then, maybe even more so. Heck, I can imagine that if Joseph and Mary (or Jose y Maria) looked like that today, a lot of American Christians would want them run out on the rails. What does that say about us?

Yes, it would be scandalous, but Jesus is scandalous. He showed up in an unexpected way, did unexpected things, and turned society on it’s head, elevating the poor over the rich and the last over the first. As someone on Twitter recently said: “Jesus said it was extremely difficult, near impossible, for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God, and the Church has spent the last 2,000 years trying to explain why he didn’t mean it.”

What if he did? What if we’re just as bad at missing God in the poor and humble as people were 2,000 years ago? They missed him then, and I think we are in danger of missing him now.

The first Sunday of Advent, and the candle we light, traditionally represents Hope. You know what else is scandalous? In this day and age when hate abounds, when the night seems as dark as it’s ever been for many of us, the scriptures, our identity story, ask us to place our hope, all of our hope and all of our dreams, in the baby born in that manger 2,000 years ago. We are asked to wait patiently, but to wait ACTIVELY for him to return, and we hope that when he does, he will restore God’s Shalom on Earth as it is heaven. In the meantime, we’re supposed to help make that happen by serving God in the form of the poor, the sick, the diseased, the dying, the orphan, the widow, the homeless, the people without health insurance, the immigrants, and even our enemies.

As scandalous as that might be, it is what I believe, and it is where I place my hope.

In the Carpenter’s son from Nazareth.

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Your 2017 Christmas Funnies!

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If you follow the blog you know that every so often I throw in some posts full of funny pictures and memes, because we can’t take ourselves seriously all the time. In fact, I’m pretty sure that God wants us to laugh our butts off on occasion. So here’s some Christmas pics, some religious, some not, from around the interwebs that just might give you a laugh or two as we launch in to December 2017!

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A Yuletide PSA

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XmasJerkIn just a few hours it’ll be December first, at least here where I live. So far this holiday season has been pretty good for me, except for that night where I slipped at the top of my staircase and fell down seven steps, sending my Bible, a book, several highlighters, an ice cold bottle of water, three bottles of medication, and a wad of dirty clothes flying everywhere. The four letter words that issued forth from my mouth woke everyone in the house for sure, and probably everyone in a 2 mile radius.

Other than that, it’s been pretty good. I survived the Black Friday weekend at work with only the slightest discomfort, and my boss found some vacation time that I didn’t know I had coming, so I got this week off. Bueno. I’ve even gotten most of my shopping done ALREADY! WHAT?!

Ah, but next week I might end up looking like the little kid in the picture above. Yes, that happens, and knowing that this might happen, I’ve decided to put out a little Public Service Announcement for you Christmasing perusal.

You see, for most of my life I’ve worked in two institutions: retail and the Church. Both of these tend to occupy a lot of your time during December. I’ve been participating in or planning Christmas Worship services for 25 years. This coming year will also mark my 21st Christmas in retail. Wow.

So you might say I’m kind of a veteran at this Christmas thing. I’ve seen it all. One year a customer didn’t like the answer one of my coworkers gave him so he threw a toaster display at her and hit her in the face. Twice I’ve seen parents leave the store with kids that didn’t even belong to them, and not notice until they got home. I’m hard to phase. For me, most of the stuff that goes on this time of year is like water off a duck’s back.

But a couple of years ago, something different happened, something that really sucked. I was ringing up a purchase for a lady at the cash register. She was really nice, and at the end of the transaction I smiled and said “Merry Christmas to you.” Now I was pretty sure I was on safe ground. The lady was buying an ornament that said “Merry Christmas” on it, and she was wearing a cross necklace. She thanked me, smiled, and said “Merry Christmas” back. All was right with the world, as Ralphie said after he got his Red Ryder BB Gun.

Oh, not so fast my friend.

The next lady in line came to my register wearing a horrid scowl and dropped her things on the counter. She then proceeded to tell me how offended she was that I said “Merry Christmas” to AN ENTIRELY DIFFERENT CUSTOMER.

Was I not aware that not everyone believed in Jesus? Yes I was.
Did I not understand the origins of pagan celebrations of Winter Solstice? Yes I did.
Was I aware that virgins don’t have children? Yes, m’am.
Did I know that the details in the two stories of Jesus’ birth don’t match up? Yup, sure did.
Was I familiar with the god Mithras? Yes, actually I was. I have an actual college education. Two degrees, actually.
Did I know that my store couldn’t just cater to Christians? Why yes, I did.
Did she care that my line was getting longer? No way.
Did she hear the people in line grumbling behind her? If she did, she didn’t care.  Her most important thing in that moment was to let me know that she was offended, darn it!

To quote Charlie Brown: “Good grief!”

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These kind of people are why Christian Fundamentalists trot out their “War On Christmas” garbage every year. There’s not really a war on Christmas. Trust me, I’ve interacted with THOUSANDS of Christmas shoppers over the years and the only one that has cared in the slightest was that one lady. Most folks just want to get their stuff and get home.

But alas, don’t think I’m just calling out anti-religious people here. Fellow Christians, we have as much to do with this as they do. Though I’ve never encountered it at work, I’ve seen it a few times when I’m out shopping. You know who I’m talking about, the people that complain when a cashier DOESN’T say “Merry Christmas” or when the company’s marketing includes “Happy Holidays” or god forbid “XMAS.” Yes folks, if that is you, you are just as bad as the lady in my checkout line.

By the way, if you get upset about XMAS or like using it to troll people, I have some news. “X” is what they call a christogram. It is symbol for “Christ.” In Greek Christ is ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ, so the Greek letter chi (χ) is often symbolic of Christ.

So there.

Look, let me put it to you straight. I don’t care if you’re religious or not. It’s not my concern if you’re a Christian or not. This blog has been going for two plus years, and if you’ve read any of it, you know that I’m not at all about forcing Jesus down anybody’s throat.

Let’s put it this way: If you’re one of those people that gets offended because somebody does, or doesn’t, say “Merry Christmas” to you, you’re not winning any battles or making any kind of points for your side. You’re just being a jerk, and I don’t care what you believe or don’t believe, the Holiday season should not be about being a jerk to anybody, period.

It’s especially not about being a jerk to store clerks or restaurant wait staff, many of whom are spending long hours away from their friends, family, and their own Holiday observances so you can get that last minute gift or have that party in a restaurant. Also, most of them are just saying what their company tells them to say, so it’s not even their choice quite often.

Just don’t be a jerk. It really shouldn’t be that hard. What if everybody tried to make just one other person smile when you’re out shopping instead of getting bent about a greeting?

So as we head into December:

Merry Christmas!
Merry χmas!
Happy Hanukkah!
Happy Kwanza!
Season’s Greetings!
Happy Holidays!
Have a cool yule!
Happy, uh…Friday?
Bah Humbug!

I hope that covers all the bases!

 

 

Book Review: “Primal” by Mark Batterson

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batprimal“Primal: A Quest For the Lost Soul of Christianity” by Mark Batterson. Published 2009 by Multnomah.

So first I need to start off by saying that Mark Batterson is not my particular box of rocks. I would say that a lot of what he has to say is probably quite a bit more conservative than I would normally go, but that’s ok! If we just read and learn from people who think exactly the same way we do, then we get caught in an intellectual echo chamber and never expand our horizons. I’ve seen some videos of him preaching and read some bits and pieces of things he’s written, but this is the first book of his that I’ve read.

There was a lot for me to like and agree with in the book, in fact I dare say that I agreed with him far more often than not. Batterson clearly has a heart for the Kingdom of God and bringing that Kingdom to Earth, and he’s very passionate about that. I think we as Christians in the USA need a lot more people like that. I highlighted a ton throughout the book and got several ideas for blog entries!

There were also some things that were….yeah, kind of a no for me. None of these things were big theological deal breakers for me, they were mainly stylistic things that rubbed me the wrong way. There was also one particular illustration he used toward the end of the book that was really off putting, and I’ll get to that in a bit. I will say this though, you have to be careful when you write pieces like this. I think a lot of Christian bloggers (big time or small time) like to throw out the names of prominent Christians and then light them up in a blog entry hoping to garner a few hits. That’s not at all my intention here.

So let’s talk about the things I liked. First off I agree with Batterson’s basic premise that the “Great Commandment” is at the “primal” heart of the Christian faith. Christ makes it clear that we are to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Batterson believes that we’ve kind of lost sight of that and added way too many layers of religious trappings on top of that primal foundation. Again, I agree. Batterson cites theologian Rupertus Meldenius’s quote: “In essential things, unity. In nonessential things, freedom. In all things, love.” Batterson believes that the Great Commandment is the most essential of the essentials, and I couldn’t agree more. I wish more Christians would be willing to get back to the basics.

I also enjoyed the emphasis Batterson puts on actually getting out and DOING things. Too often we Christians are all too happy to sit in our theological ivory towers and argue nonessential points of theology while the people that Christ called us to serve continue to suffer and struggle. Batterson talks a lot about putting “sweat equity” into God’s Kingdom. At one point he even says that God “loves the smell of our sweat” when we work for the Kingdom. I don’t doubt that at all, but I had never heard it put quite that way before! You know what though? I’ll never forget that idea, so he can count his job well done!

Most of all I enjoyed the emphasis he put on awe and wonder. As I write this, it’s the closing hours of October 31, 2017. This is the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, ignited by Martin Luther when he nailed his 95 theses to a church door in Germany. Since then we Protestants especially have gravitated away from believing in the mystery of faith and moved toward a need to “prove” our faith intellectually. While there is certainly nothing wrong with apologetics and being able to articulate and defend your faith, I feel like our western mindset has sucked all the wonder out of it.

When I go to my family’s cabin in the summer I look up into the sky and see a field of stars that I can’t see in the city. I’ll get up early in the morning and go to my favorite fishing hole and marvel at the beauty of creation around me. As Batterson mentions, all of that and everything else that is, has been, and ever will be is the result of the voice of God saying just four words: “Let there be light!” Do you ever stop and ponder that? Do you ponder the power that voice, that force must have to unleash EVERYTHING that has ever been? Have you ever thought about the power it took to bring Jesus back from the grave after three days? Do you stop and think that that same power, that same spirit, that same creative energy is still with us? If you don’t wonder about those things, try it! It’s awesome.

Now a few final words about some things that made me uncomfortable. In the first section of the book Batterson talks about saying a “multiplication anointing” over his…..book sales. Then he gushes about how many copies his first book sold. When I read that I put the book down and did not pick it up again for a week. Yes, he says the reason he did it is so he would have more resources to use to serve God, more to give away. I’m not questioning his motives at all, but it just kind of made it seem like there was a certain lack of humility. He does give the credit to God, but it still came across, to me, like he was pretty impressed with it all.

And while that was the worst instance of it, it kind of kept cropping up throughout the book. He seemed to name drop in places where it really wasn’t called for. He tells a story about how the spirit convicted him at a conference, so he and his team ditched their dinner reservation to stay at the conference and work through it. That’s fine, that’s even admirable, but I didn’t need to know he was supposed to go to PF Chang’s. He does that kind of thing a few times, dropping names of cool, trendy places and trendy Christians. If he had mentioned the fact that his church ran the most popular coffee house in DC one more time I think I might have thrown the book into the path of an oncoming semi truck.

I get it, your church runs coffee houses. All the profit goes to missions. Awesome, may the Lord bless your efforts. Next time I’m in DC I’ll hit you up, but you don’t need to remind me every chapter. I just couldn’t help but feel like I was taking a course in hipster Christianity 101, especially after watching some of the video sessions. Again, not that it’s bad, it was just kind of off-putting to me as a reader. If Christian coffee houses are your speed, you’ll dig it.

The thing that made me most uncomfortable came in the second to last chapter. While attempting to make an illustration of the power of God, Batterson spends several paragraphs gushing over the details of the atomic bombs that were dropped on Japan at the end of World War II. He talked about how long it took the bomb to fall, the barometric switch that detonated it and started the subatomic reactions, the regeneration of those reactions, and about how the bomb reached the temperature of the core of the sun. He then kind of stands in awe about the four miles of Hiroshima that were instantly wiped out, the buildings destroyed six miles away, and the broken windows 12 miles away. It’s like listening to a kid describe his favorite video game or a chef talking about his favorite meal.

He left out a couple of details though. He left out the fact that those bombs killed 129,000 people. He left out the fact that most of those people were civilians. He left out the fact that countless others experienced the effects of those blasts physically and psychologically for the rest of their lives. He left out the fact that those bombs inaugurated an arms race that could still, to this day, bring the world to the brink of destruction.

I don’t know that Christ approves of that, or that it’s the kind of “awesome” God wants to be equated with. Unfortunately, positioned near the end of an otherwise pretty good book with a good message, it just made Batterson seem kind of tone deaf. We Christians in America are so caught up with being strong and powerful that we forget that Christ came to earth in a manger destined to serve and die, not rule and destroy.

So unfortunately, it kind of blunted his message for me. I don’t know that you can talk about love in one breath and then marvel at violent power in the next. I’m sure he didn’t mean it that way, but come on. He could have used the exact same illustration and talked about the reactions that take place in nuclear power plants that power our cities and gotten the same point across.

One of these days I’ll check out one of Batterson’s later books and see what I think.

Standards

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DANG“Marriage is a significant allegory, and I’m applying it to Christ and the Church.” (Ephesians 5:32 CEB)

I am kind of an internet meme connoisseur. If you are as well you’ve probably seen this picture a few times now, cast into different memes across the interwebs. So why am I using it here? Well because I want to address something that is getting a lot of play right now both in Christian and secular circles: the standards of sexual behavior between men and women.

Now that being said, that means I have the ability to step on about a million toes here. Some of what I say is going to come across as far too progressive for more conservative readers and far too conservative for the more progressive circles that I often move in. Dan Carlin often says the same thing about his Hardcore History podcasts, but like Dan, I love everybody, and I know there are going to be different opinions about this. So I’m not claiming that I have some great truth revealed to me here, but this is how I see it as revealed through scripture and as best jiving with the life that Christ would have us live. If you disagree, no hard feelings.

Let me get a couple of basic beliefs stated up front. First, I believe that as Christians we should hold ourselves to a higher standard of sexual morality than modern society often advocates. It may sound old and stuffy, but I believe it’s true. I believe that human sexuality is a gift from God that is meant to be expressed within the context of a monogamous marriage relationship. While I do agree that the idea of marriage handed down to us by the New Testament defines the marriage relationship between a man and a woman, I also believe that the same type of love and intimacy can exist in a same sex relationship. Can a loving, committed same sex couple who dedicates their lives to God be as honoring to him as a different gender couple? I like to believe that they can, though admittedly I can’t really support that from scripture. Then again, I can find ample support for polygamous behavior in scripture, so I think the jury is still out there. I’m not going to pretend to know the mind of God on that one. However, while my scope here is about the relations between men and women, I think a lot of it, if not all of it, can be applied to same gender relationships as well.

I also believe, most importantly, that the marriage relationship between man and woman is supposed to mirror the relationship between Christ and the Church. That is the model on which we are to base our intimate relationships, as Paul says in the verse above. Now, before you get the torches and pitchforks out, I’m not advocating the submissive wife to dominant husband thing. I believe Paul was writing in a very patriarchal time, and while Christ is undoubtedly the head of the Church, he is also the perfect Son of God. So fellow men, maybe when you become the perfect Son of God, you can look for others to submit to you but, spoiler alert, that’s not happening.

I believe the relationship between man and woman should mirror the relationship of Christ and church in a couple of important ways. First, there must be a spirit of mutual respect. In a relationship where respect is present, submission will also be present, however in human terms, there will be times when a husband should submit to his wife as well. That’s just healthy from a psychological context. Men, we are not always right just because we have the “plumbing” or the testosterone. I hate to break that to you. In fact thinking like that undermines a respectful relationship and cause all kinds of damage, both within the relationship and outside. Having been through a failed marriage I can definitely tell you that the problem had nothing to do with my wife “submitting” to me or not. In fact if she had, things might have ended up worse. A good relationship is one of give and take, of two people coming together to support and compliment each other.

The second way we should mirror Christ’s love for the church is through self-sacrifice. Who would you willingly give everything, including your life, for? I thought about that a bit, and my list was embarrassingly small. Outside of my family, I could really only think or probably two people. I need to work on that. What about you? I’m sure many of us would say that our spouses, or if we’re not married our significant other, are on that list, but are they really? When you really get down to the brass tacks of it, would you give your life for that person? Because that’s what Jesus did for us.

We are also meant to emulate agape love. For most of us who grow up in a church, this is one of the first times we encounter a word in the English language that can mean different things in New Testament Greek. What is rendered as “love” can often be eros, which is a romantic, passionate love. It’s where we get the term erotic. Eros is not bad, but it is only one facet of love. Philia is kind of a “brotherly love” that exists between friends. In fact, Aristotle translates this as “friendship.” Again, this is an important part of love, but not the whole picture.

Agape is the full portrait. This is the love we have that persists no matter what. It doesn’t go away when the romantic fires fade, and it is stronger than the bonds of brotherly love or friendship. Agape transcends both of those things and is unconditional. It is this kind of love spoken of in 1 Corinthians 13. It is unconditional, it never fails. As Pastor Gary at my church is fond of saying, “God loves you and there’s nothing you can do about it.” Do our relationships with others, with our partners, mirror that?

That’s tough. That’s a high standard.

So in light of all of that, let’s take a look at some of what is going on in the world.

Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. He has been accused of sexually harassing and even assaulting various women over the years. I’m not going to go into the accusations here, they would take forever to list. They are deplorable. They are the picture of a man who does not have any respect for women or probably anybody else for that matter. Clearly he believes people should be submissive to him, and clearly he exists in a world devoid of self sacrifice and humility, only seeking to fulfill his pleasures and whims.

Recently Hugh Hefner, the founder of Playboy Magazine passed away. Many of the people that frequent the circles I involve myself with really don’t have an issue with Hef’s magazine or attitude on the surface. After all, he never forced women to take their clothes off and have their picture taken. Many of them were fairly well compensated. To some he is seen as a hero of the women’s lib movement.

To me, he’s not much more than a pornographer. Look, it’s not for me to say somebody should or shouldn’t participate in that kind of a photo shoot or whatever. I don’t like it, but it’s not illegal. We are told that we all have a right to our own body and should be able to do with it what we please. That is the modern societal standard. However as I mentioned at the outset, I believe that we as Christians are called to live to a higher standard. Also scripture tells us that our bodies are not our own to do with as we please. Paul is quite clear about this in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, again from the CEB:

Or don’t you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you? Don’t you know that you have the Holy Spirit from God, and you don’t belong to yourselves? You have been bought and paid for, so honor God with your body.

The price paid for us by Christ was heavy indeed, and I don’t believe that pornography is honoring to him, no matter how liberated it may make you feel. Besides I have a background in counseling psychology and I have seen first hand the destructive influence pornography can have. No matter what, your spouse doesn’t ever quite match up to the air brushed photos, and I’m not sure you’d want your spouse to be much like someone found in a lot of the videos.

But let’s not just leave men on the hook here. While pornography is more visual to men and seen as a largely male problem, there are a significant number of women who consume it as well. We’re not talking about just photos and videos, but the “billionaire’s lover” paperbacks that sell at the grocery store have the same effect. Look, I’ve heard plenty of pop psychologists say that “a fantasy can’t hurt you,” but way too many times I’ve seen the opposite turn out to be true. Definitely these kind of things don’t harm EVERYONE that consumes them, but they do harm many, many people.

So now that I’ve angered my liberal friends, let me put my conservative friends out too. With all of this talk about Weinstein and Hefner, Vice President Pence has been held up by conservative Christians as the model for our relationships between man and woman. Why is this? Because he follows the “Billy Graham” rule and never meets with a woman other than his wife without someone else being present. On the surface that sounds pretty neat, right? He respects his wife so much that he doesn’t want to give off the appearance of impropriety with another woman. It even sounds downright self-sacrificial. He respects the women he’s meeting with by not putting them in a position where they can be caught up in compromising behaviors. Everybody wins, right?

I don’t question that the Vice President loves his wife. I don’t question the fact that he thinks what he’s doing and espousing is holding himself to a higher standard. I’m sure both of those things are true. But…

Is there not enough trust between him and his wife to make this “rule” unnecessary? I don’t know. That’s not for me to judge.

Is it really respectful to a woman he might have to meet with to imply that if someone else isn’t with them he might have his hands all over her, or worse, she might have her hands all over him? I say that because so often when sexual impropriety happens powerful men tend to cast women as the instigators and hoist the responsibility onto them.

In Galatians Paul says that self control is part of the fruit of the spirit. Does the Vice President imagine that he doesn’t have that kind of control?

Now, I don’t for one instant view the Vice President as some kind of womanizer. I highly doubt that he would really act inappropriately toward someone. I’ll take his word on that (though maybe I’m naive). That being said, I don’t think the “Billy Graham rule” is about protecting women, his wife, or his marriage. I believe that it is solely in place to protect his reputation, to keep up appearances. Is that really the most important thing here? Is that really what we should be worried about? Is that spirit of mistrust really about respect?

I would also add that if you’re a man who can’t trust yourself to keep your hands to yourself with a woman unless somebody is watching, you not only probably shouldn’t be vice president, but you should probably be in custody.

Also, I would think much more highly of the Vice President if he disassociated himself from the current President. You see, over the last couple of weeks while many conservative Christians have held up Pence as a model of virtue, criticism of President Trump is non existent.

The President who has admittedly committed adultery (pretty sure that’s in the Ten Commandments somewhere) several times and shows zero repentance or remorse. The president who has appeared in pornographic videos. The President who proudly graced the cover of the much maligned Hefner’s magazine.

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The President who routinely appeared on Howard Stern. The President who has been accused of the same kinds of things that Weinstein is accused of by several women. The President who “moved on a married woman like a b*tch,” and likes to “grab ’em by the p*ssy.”

I’m sorry conservative friends, you have no standing on this issue as long as President Trump continues to be the evangelical darling, and I refuse to think much of the Vice President’s high morals until he disavows him.

So where does that leave us? None of us are perfect, and it’s hard for any of us, myself included, to practice what we preach. I don’t know that being overly judgmental is the answer to any of this. There are things we can learn from the behavior about each of the men mentioned above about how NOT to do things.

Ultimately we are only in control of ourselves, but as Christians, again we are called to a higher standard, one that we will admittedly not always be able to keep. But I think it would really be awesome if Christians led the way on sexual ethics, and not it the way of demeaning women as inferior. Paul may have talked like that at times, but it pays to remember that the first people the resurrected Christ appeared to were women. He certainly didn’t seem to entertain that notion.

However, if we could lead the way in mutual respect, self sacrifice, and agape love just maybe the Church could once again regain it’s moral clarity and be an example of Christ in the world.

Choosing Life in The Promised Land

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death-mosesI call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. (Deuteronomy 30: 19-20 NRSV)

Today I finished teaching a six week course on Moses in our adult Sunday School Class at church. We used Adam Hamilton’s excellent book, “Moses, In The Footsteps of the Reluctant Prophet” as a guide. Needless to say I’ve had my head buried in this man’s life for the last couple of months, but it was a very worthwhile experience.

This afternoon I stopped and thought about Moses quite a bit, and really pondered what God says to me, and possibly to us in this day and age through the life and the story of Moses. To be honest, I think there are several good lessons to be learned, but I kept coming back to these words I posted above, some of the last words he spoke to his people. Moses knew his death was at hand, and he knew this would be the final time he addressed Israel, so I’m pretty sure I’m on safe ground saying that these words were part of Moses’ big point.

In these verses Moses presents a stark choice to both the Israelites, and to us today. He admonishes us to choose life instead of death. He says that if we choose this, then things will go well for us and our descendants. Well that sounds easy enough, right? I mean wouldn’t most of us choose life anyway? Well, as it turns out, there’s more to it than that.

What Moses is asking the Israelites to do is much more than just making an intellectual nod to certain beliefs about God and the nature of all things. While that’s certainly part of it, it’s not the whole story. Earlier in Deuteronomy 30, Moses tells us to obey the commandments of the Lord, to walk in his ways, and observe his decrees and ordinances. That certainly sounds like an awful lot of actual “doing,” and not just believing. God wanted action. He wanted the people not to just believe that he was there, but to act like he was there, and to keep the laws he gave them.

Spoiler Alert, it didn’t turn out very well.  The Old Testament is the story of Israel falling away from God, suffering the consequences, and finally turning back to him. It happens over and over. How well do we do in that regard, I wonder?

I don’t think we do too well at all, to be honest. In the United States we like to think that somehow God has appointed us as his “spokesman” or maybe “spokescountry.” Many of us like to see the Christian tenants and slogans coursing through our history. Some of us even speak of our country as a “Christian Nation.” Most of us won’t go far enough to say that we’ve supplanted the Jewish people as “God’s chosen,” but we like to think that maybe we’re like the “Vice-Chosen.” We even adopted, or maybe co-opted, the Moses story into our own history and used it as an excuse to advance westward into our own “promised land.” That vision turned out to be just as lethal to the First Nations people here in America as the Bible says it was to inhabitants of Canaan when the Israelites came through.

So look around, how are we doing? Yes, the vast majority of people in this country still say they give intellectual ascent to the Christian faith, but what are we DOING?

A couple of weeks ago one man shot 500+ people in a few minutes. The funerals are still going on. While many of us have expressed sincere condolences and prayed for these victims, we’ve done nothing to to even attempt to arrest our culture of violence.

Several natural disasters have befallen our country in recent months. While we’ve done a pretty good job of taking care of people within the bounds of our contiguous 48 states, our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico are still struggling mightily. Meanwhile the President complains that Puerto Rico has blown his budget and insinuates that what forces we have sent there will be withdrawn.

Instead of seeking to be at peace and avoid war, violence, and death, we’ve taken up saber-rattling as a new hobby. We seem bound and determined to get into a war with someone, and it doesn’t seem to much matter what the cost is.

Our leaders care nothing about integrity. We are the ultimate “do as I say, not as I do” culture. A major democratic donor gets hit with unspeakable accusations of sexual harassment and violence, and many of the top people in the party who claim to be champions of women clam up. Meanwhile, the Republicans toss on an extra serving of hypocrisy by leveling the boom on the Democratic donor while absolutely ignoring the fact that the very same kind of allegations have been leveled against the President.

Racism is rampant, and the those who advocate these ideas have been let back into the mainstream of our national discourse where they can poison the minds of others.

Our economic and healthcare systems are increasingly abandoning the poor, while we push massive tax breaks and incentives for the richest among us.

Do we sound like a people who have chosen life? Do we sound like a people who have kept the Lord’s commandments and walked in his ways? Does it sound like we are worthy to step into the Promised Land?

On the night before he was assassinated, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr stood in a church in Memphis, Tennessee and echoed the final words of Moses. He claimed that even though he might not get there, he had been to the top of the mountain and that he had seen the Promised Land. He knew his people would get there. Then, much like the great Prophet Moses, this Modern Day prophet died a short time later have glimpsed the ideal.

It can seem that we are far away from that ideal. Sometimes I despair that we are as far away from the “Promised Land,” from the Kingdom of God, than we ever have been since the days of the Civil Rights movement. However, I believe that we can’t give up. The people of Israel didn’t give up in the desert, though they knew many of them would fall along the way. Many of them continued to choose life, to follow the Lord, and put one foot in front of the other everyday. They had a hope and a faithful promise of God’s deliverance.

We still have that hope. We still put faith in that promise through the power and grace of Jesus, the Christ. He never said that following him would be easy, and it’s not, but many still do. Many ordinary, everyday Christians go out into the world everyday and choose life. Many keep the decrees of The Lord (or at least do their best). Many Christians have fanned out across our nation’s disaster zones to bring aid and help rebuild. Many are giving of their time and resources to help the victims of violence. Many lobby our government on behalf of the poor, the orphan, the alien, and the widow. Many are committed to offering a safe place to victims of physical or emotional abuse.

The list goes on, but as someone in my Sunday School class said today, they don’t make it on the news.  Christians helping people makes a good story until a sex scandal or a murder turns up, then the helping is quickly forgotten.

But there is hope. Everyday when we get out of bed we have the choice presented to us once again. Even though we’re far from perfect, when we consciously choose life and choose the Lord, then through his grace and power anything can happen.

An 80 year old stuttering sheep herder can win a face off with the most powerful monarch in the ancient world.

A shepherd boy can become a great king.

A simple fisherman can stand next to God himself and help bring truth and light into the world.

If you choose life, if you seek the Promised Land, the Kingdom of God, what can God do through YOU?

Let It Be!

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autumn1The heavens  declare the glory of God; the skies  proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the end of the world. (Psalm 19: 1-4a NIV)

Autumn is my favorite time of the year. I love the colors, the crisp air, and the utter beauty all around me. I got used to all of that growing up in the mountain west. For a year or my life I tried to live in Florida, and I just couldn’t take it, I missed my seasons, especially autumn.

I’d like you to think about your favorite season, your favorite time of year, or your favorite time to be outside. For some of you that season might be spring, with all of the bright new flowers. For some it might be summer, when the heat of the sun warms the earth, and for others it might even be winter. I hate the cold, and I hate driving in the snow, but even I will admit that there aren’t many things more beautiful in life than a new blanket of white snow covering the trees and the ground on a winter night. What season speaks to you?  When do you most see the splendor of the Creator?

Have you ever considered just how much it takes, how everything has to come together for you to be you, sitting in front of your computer or on a mobile device reading this blog right now on whatever day it is when you see this? Seriously, the math is absolutely astounding. I tried being an atheist once, and I couldn’t manage it. Now, I’m not trying to spit on or denigrate atheists, some of my best friends are atheists, but in the end I couldn’t do it. Maybe you all have something I don’t, but I can’t imagine that everything coming together to put me where I’m at in my life at 7:21 PM on Sunday, October 8 2017, in Clinton, Utah is merely by accident or random chance. Now I know I’ll probably get angry comments or emails saying that I’m misconstruing the argument, and that’s fine. This isn’t a post about apologetics, this is a post about how I see the world.

This is a post about being alive.

Have you thought about how awesome it really is that you and I are actually alive and drawing breath?  Look up in the night sky and see the all the stars, then realize that even in your largest field of view you can’t comprehend how large the universe is. Look at the fallen leaves on the ground and see that each one is not quite the same as the one next to it. Look at the fingerprints on your own hands and marvel at the fact that no human being who has ever walked this earth has had the same fingerprints that you do, and no one will ever have them again.

Fingerprints are cool, right? Well when I look around I see the fingerprints of the Creator, of the great I AM, of YHWH all over creation. The Psalmist I quoted at the beginning of this post felt the same way.

After a couple of years, I’m going through Brian McLaren’s book “We Make the Road by Walking” again. I credit McLaren, more than any other human being, with bringing me, the big time prodigal son, back to God. In the first chapter he remarks that God said “Let it Be,” and it was! He asks us to imagine the power of the cosmic forces coming together to birth the universe. He asks us to visualize life’s very first dance, when protons and neutrons and electrons all danced together to same music of creation to bring forth life for the very first time.

Isn’t it awesome to think of it that way? What would you give to be there, to get a look at that very first dance, to hear that melody?

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. That melody is still playing. God didn’t put down his instrument for good and stop playing. It is very much alive and beautiful, sometimes it’s just hard to hear it over the din of ugliness, anger, and violence in our world. We are to be reminded that when God spoke to Elijah on the mountain it came not as a rush of violent wind, but as a still, small voice.

Yes, it can be hard to catch the tune and it can be hard to hear the still small voice, but as McLaren points out, when God says “Let it Be,” he’s giving each and every one of us an invitation to hear the melody, to dance to the tune, and to be alive in the fullest sense of the word. Jesus himself says that being alive is the point of it all when he says “I have come so that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).

God invites us to be part of the story he is writing. We are designed to feel the wind on our face and the warm embrace of other people. We are allowed, even encouraged, to enjoy the wonders of the autumns leaves and the intimacy that takes place when people fall in love. It was all created, it was all good when it was created, and despite all our attempts to diminish it, it is all still good today.

Especially when we take a moment to reconnect with our creator and hear once again the tune and the harmony of life going on in us and around us.

Go forth, my friends, and live life, live life to the fullest and dance to the melody!

“Dance, dance, wherever you may be! I am the Lord of the Dance said He. I’ll lead you all wherever you may be, I’ll lead you all in the dance said He!”

It’s a Jesus Thing

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JesusHeals“Then the King will reply to them, ‘I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.'” (Matthew 25: 40 CEB).

Have you read your Bible lately? Have you read one of the Gospels lately? I’m honestly curious about this. As Christians, we all have some kind of belief that the Bible is the word of God. Some of us believe that it was literally dictated to the human authors, some of us believe that it was an inspired work of human hands, but we’re all supposed to take it pretty seriously, right? Then when we read the actual words of Jesus, we’re REALLY supposed to sit up and take notice.

I’m just wondering because it seems like the Bible has a lot to say about some of the current things that are going on in the United States. I’m actually pretty proud of the way most Christians have taken a stand on one issue, and not so much the other.

Recently the President announced his decision to end an Obama-era rule that allowed people who were brought to the USA illegally as children to stay under certain circumstances. These kids are collectively known as “dreamers.” Let’s be clear about this. These people did not choose to come here in the fashion in which they did. Many of them came at such young ages that they have no knowledge of their native country. I picture them a lot like my sister, who we adopted from India at age 7. She likes Indian food, but she really has no recollection of Indian culture. Several years ago she went to India to visit her native country. It didn’t really click for her. She’s an American, she has been for nearly 30 years.

The Bible is of course pretty clear on how immigrants should be treated, from Leviticus 19:34:

Any immigrant who lives with you must be treated as if they were one of your citizens. You must love them as yourself, because you were immigrants in the land of Egypt.

This command is repeated several times in the Old Testament and echoes through the New Testament as well. The statement isn’t qualified either. It doesn’t say that you only act this way if….followed by conditions. You just do it. The oppression that Israel suffered in Egypt was so grave that this command became, and still is, a part of Jewish identity. Few peoples have suffered like the Jews in our history, yet they continue to practice this command today.

Many Christians do too. I was actually heartened by the response of the vast majority of the Christian community on this. Many different churches and religious leaders spoke up against this and said that we need to make a law that allows these young men and women to stay. It’s helping, too. This last Sunday at church we received a very good report from some faith leaders who met with some of our congressional delegation who said that they believe there is enough momentum on both sides of aisle in Washington to fix this. I hope that it’s true. Then I hope that it can lead to comprehensive immigration reform.

But then there’s this other issue. Senator Bernie Sanders is introducing a single payer healthcare bill into the US Senate. Now I don’t hold out hope for this, but so many people need it. This isn’t an issue of being able to afford it either. This country is the richest country ever to grace the face of the earth. We can afford it. Maybe we build a few less bombs. Maybe we realign our budget priorities a bit.

This was definitely a priority for Jesus. I was skimming the opening chapters of Mark’s gospel before I started writing this and it’s just chuck full of stories of Jesus healing people. It was one of the bedrocks of his ministry. He rejected the way the world values the lives of sick people and poor people and put them and their needs first. As my pastor says: “If you take the priorities of the world and turn them totally upside down, you end up with something that’s a lot closer to the priorities of Jesus and His Kingdom.”

However, many in the Christian community have not gotten behind this at all. I’m not sure why. Jesus seems pretty clear on this. Some will inevitably say that “Jesus would never direct us to give up what we’ve earned to poor people!” Well, I think the rich young ruler might disagree (Mark 10: 17-31). When Jesus directs the rich man to do just that, the Scripture says:

But the man was dismayed at this statement and went away saddened, because he had many possessions.

I think a lot of us are in that place. We have been so blessed with abundance that we can’t see beyond it. I know I can be that way. Even though we may not be wealthy by American standards, we’re really wealthy by the standard of the rest of the world, thus I believe that these words of Jesus are directed at us as well:

Looking around, Jesus said to his disciples, ‘It will be very hard for the wealthy to enter God’s Kingdom!’

Yet not all Christians ignore this edict. This is why I am proud to be a United Methodist. We certainly have our own issues, but I love the position the church puts forth on this issue. From The Book of Discipline, 2016 edition, in the Social Principles (Paragraph 162 V)

We believe it is a governmental responsibility to provide all citizens with health care. We encourage hospitals, physicians, and medical clinics to provide primary health care to all people regardless of their health care coverage or their ability to pay for treatment.

Sounds like a good, Christian statement, and I support it 100%.  I don’t support it because I’m a democrat, though I am. I don’t support it because I want to stick it to the rich folks. I don’t support it because it would be a “victory” for my “side,” I support it because it will do the most good for the most people. I also support it because I try to follow the example set before me by the Son of the Living God.

So you see, neither of these issues are a political thing for me.

They’re a Jesus thing.

Hate Has No Place

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1jn420I’ve been on kind of an unintended hiatus from the blog lately for a few reasons. First off, my mom has been in and out of the hospital, and while she is definitely doing better, there’s been a lot of doctor’s appointments and other things she’s needed help with. Secondly, I’ve been working through the material I need to go through for the local pastor program in the United Methodist Church, which is extensive.  Finally I’ve been doing some reading and research for a Sunday School class I’m teaching this Fall, and all of this in the scant free time I have after coming home from my full time job. Needless to say, there hasn’t been a ton of time left over for the blog, which I have missed a lot.

I’ll get back to the “Great Hell Smackdown of 2017.” I still have at least three entries I want to do in that series, but I had to take the time to talk about what happened in Charlottesville, Virginia yesterday. If you somehow haven’t heard, here’s what happened.

A large group of Nazis decided to gather in Charlottesville, ostensibly to protest the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee. I’m not going to legitimize them by calling them something like “white activists,” “alt right,” or even “white supremacists.” They’re Nazis, pure and simple. Friday night they held a large torch bearing rally at the University of Virginia. Once you got past the absurdity of using tiki torches in such a fashion, you realize the only things missing were swastikas, the SS banners, and a stand in for Hitler:

nazis

Do you still think they’re not Nazis? I mean yeah, the tiki torches kind of take away from the intimidation factor, but yup, they’re definitely Nazis. Anyway, I guess the Citronella finally ran out and the Nazis reconvened Saturday morning having exchanged the tiki torches for riot shields, SS banners, Swastika flags, and of course, the Confederate battle flag, which people constantly tell me stands for heritage not hate but keeps popping up alongside Swastikas and SS Banners, so whatever.

MoreNazis

Saturday morning the Nazis were met by counter protestors. In the crowd were a few folks from the left wing antifascist group Antifa, and some fights broke out between some of these folks and the Nazis. Now look, I don’t care for Antifa’s methods, trying to incite violence is never the right way to go, but hey, at least they’re not Nazis. Also amongst the counter protestors were members of Black Lives Matter, several clergy men and women, students from UVA, and just everyday people who didn’t want to see hate flower in their community.

After a couple of tense hours the police finally managed to separate both sides and things seemed to simmer down a little. However, early in the afternoon a young man with a  heart full of hate and malice drove his car directly into the crowd of counter protestors. He injured several people and killed 32 year old Heather Heyer, a paralegal who was in the crowd.

HHeyer

I’m not going to post the name or the picture of the Nazi that killed her. He doesn’t deserve any more fame than he’s already gotten. This young woman’s life was cut short by hate, the same hate that has become almost mainstream since the last election. Certain political forces in our country decided to stoke the fear and the hate of White Nationalism in order to win the election, and now it’s becoming clear that they’ve opened Pandora’s box and enabled hate and vitriol to claim more innocent lives.

This isn’t about “Southern Heritage.” That’s just an excuse people use in order to mainstream their message of hate. Trust me, I’m up there with the biggest Civil War Buffs of them all. I’ve been to the battlefields, I’ve read the books. This stopped being about “Southern Heritage” a long time ago. We had a war about it. A lot of people died, and the outcome was decisive. Time to move on. We also had a war with Nazis. A lot of people died. The Nazis exterminated millions of people just because of their ethnicity. In the end, the big bad Fuhrer that these guys idolize so much sat huddled away in his bunker next to his girl and took his own life like the coward he was. The outcome was decisive.

The Confederacy and the system of human bondage it stood for lost.
The Third Reich and the system of dehumanizing hate it stood for lost.
Hate will lose in the end.

Right?

I don’t know anymore.

I have a confession to make. I sat this afternoon and looked at the picture of the man who killed Ms. Heyer and I hated him. It was more than righteous anger, I hated him with every fiber of my being. I wanted vengeance to be visited on him for what he did.

And I realized in that moment that I was no better than he was. I realized in that moment that I had betrayed the promises I have made as a Christian. Hate has no place among the followers of Christ. Jesus himself said:

“But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who harass you.” (Matthew 5:44).

But surely he doesn’t mean that we are supposed to reach out in love to these Nazis, right? Yes I’m afraid that’s exactly what he means. That’s the entire point of this part of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is prescribing a different way. The way of the world is to meet force with force, violence with violence, hate with hate, and anger with anger. We humans have been doing that throughout our entire existence, and it never seems to stop, it never seems to solve the problem.

Jesus is asking us to try something different, to try to stand up with subversive love. This is not meant to be weakness. Any old person can respond to anger with anger. It takes true strength to respond in love despite the actions of the other party. That doesn’t mean that you condone what they did. It doesn’t mean that you don’t stand up for the weak and the oppressed. What it means is that when it comes time to put your money where your mouth is that you respond with love, grace, and forgiveness and try to break the cycle of hate.

Look, violence and hate will never produce lasting change. Folks like Antifa spraying raw sewage on Nazis isn’t going to change anybody. It just entrenches people in their own positions.

Only love, deep sacrificial love can change people. Jesus showed us that. Dr. King showed us that. Many people involved in the civil rights movement were badly injured or went to their death to show us that.

Heather Heyer shows us that.

Hate has no place. It doesn’t matter if it’s the hate of the Nazis or the hate directed to them. It is the people of love and grace who will triumph. Will you join me in working on that? Will you open your heart and mind to the Spirit to be directed on that path? Will we all have the strength it takes to be peacemakers?

Tonight I pray for all those in Charlottesville who have had their community up ended. I pray for those who are victims of hate and oppression. I pray for the family and friends of Heather Heyer. I pray for those who were injured. I also pray for those who harbor hate in their heart, that God can break the hearts of stone and show them a better way.

I pray for all of us.

So be it.

 

The Great Hell Smackdown of 2017 Part 3: I Have Some Questions.

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doghellSo if you’ve been following this series you know that I’ve been reading a lot about Hell. Is Hell a thing or not? If it is, how do you get out of going there? I’ve read two books with vastly different takes on the matter: “Love Wins,” by Rob Bell and “Erasing Hell,” by Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle. However, before I give you my particular verdict on eternal torment, I still have some questions that need to be answered, even after reading both of those extremely well thought out and researched books.

At what age are people in danger of going to Hell?
This refers to what is often called the “age of accountability” in Western Christianity. How old were you when you were first cognizant that what you were doing was a sin, but you decided to do it anyway? Most western denominations talk about some kind of an age where you are finally responsible for your own behavior, and thus in need of Salvation to avoid Hell. Many borrow the timing of the Jewish coming of age rituals and put it around 13. It is lower in others. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) puts the minimum age at 8.

This is part of the reason why many churches practice infant baptism. They have the belief that through baptism God’s grace will cover you until you reach the age of accountability. Churches that have descended from the Anabaptist perspective practice “believer’s baptism” where the person is not baptized until he or she has reached the age of accountability and can choose Salvation for themselves. Many of these denominations have mechanisms built into their theology to cover young children until they reach the age of accountability because, let’s face it, nobody is comfortable with the idea of a 10 year old who get’s hit by a drunk driver being sent to eternal torment. Of course some Calvinists would really just leave it up to God and hope that the ten year old was part of the “predestined elect.”

What about the mentally handicapped?
Modern psychology and medicine have taught us that there are people in this world who do not have the mental capacity to grasp what “choosing Salvation” even means let alone comprehend the consequences of making that choice or rejecting it. In times past some might look on the plight of these people and wonder what sin their parents committed to make them like that. Nowadays most serious people see these conditions for what they are.

So if they are unable to choose for themselves, what happens? Do they go to heaven or hell? From my reading I saw that again, most churches have built in a theological construct that says that people like this do not have the capacity to consciously sin, therefore they are not in peril of hell.

Unless you’re a hardcore Calvinist that believes that your entire nature at birth is corrupt, at which point hopefully the person is one of the “elect.”

What about those “untouched” tribes that live in a jungle somewhere?
This is one, that to his credit, Chan tackles in his book. He said he believes that God has other ways to reach these indigenous peoples with his grace. Some missionaries have arrived to talk to different tribes over the years only to find that someone in the tribe seems to have had some kind of vision of Jesus. This is not to be confused with the LDS belief that Jesus visited some tribal peoples in the Western Hemisphere after departing from his disciples. I’m not trying to be cantankerous, but I find no Biblical or archaeological evidence for that. Christ clearly states that “you will be my witnesses…to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

The thing I liked about the way Chan dealt with it in his book is that he just kind of said, “I don’t know, so I trust them to the mercy of God.” He was uncomfortable with the question and didn’t have a good answer, and he was man enough to admit it. He did suggest that we should redouble our efforts to reach these people and depending on how you feel about overt evangelism, you may agree with that or not, but that’s for another day.

Can an all-loving God really send people to Hell for eternal torment?
The short answer to this question is yes. God is God and can do anything he pleases. I don’t generally like that answer, but I think it’s true and it’s something we should all wrestle with. I agree with Chan when he asserts that sometimes we in our “enlightened” western culture try to domesticate God. We want to try to fit him into our own moral system and when we do that we are basically recasting God in OUR image. That is idolatry.

God is God, and we are not. Sometimes I think we would do well to remember that.

So, as Chan and Sprinkle state, the question is not really “Can you believe in an all loving God that sends people to Hell,” but “Do you WANT TO BELIEVE in a God that is all loving yet still sends people to Hell?” Many of us don’t want to believe in that God. We don’t want to have to defend our faith in that God. We want to hide him in the back like a crazy, foul mouthed relative.

I feel like that sometimes. I feel like that a lot, but is that any way to treat the King of the Universe?

Now I’m not saying God sends people to Hell or for what reasons he might send people to Hell. I don’t get to sit in that judgment seat, but I recognize that he does. I have a hard time reconciling my firm belief that God is Love, but that Love could banish people to eternal torment.

But for this, for the other questions I listed above, and for a million other questions I could ask, I don’t have all the answers. I don’t anticipate being provided with the answers either, yet I know that there is value in wrestling with these questions, in studying these scriptures and these issues, and using them to be a springboard into deepening my relationship with my creator.

Maybe you wrestle with some of these, and others. I’d advise you to pray and be open to the leading of the Spirit, whichever way it takes you. Being honest with God is one of the first steps in building our relationship with him, and it’s my firm belief that he doesn’t mind being asked about these questions.