Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

Homosexuality Part 2: Saying The Wrong Things


I hadn’t planned on writing a part 2 on homosexuality, but I just saw this video and I had to say something.  The video above is a child at the Apostolic Truth Tabernacle in Indiana.  He’s singing these lyrics:

The Bible’s right

Somebody’s wrong

Romans 1:26 and 27

Ain’t no homos gonna make it to heaven

You may now take a 5 minute break to go throw up.

Other than the borderline mental child abuse in this video, this message isn’t all that out-of-the-ordinary; not with all the recent crazies making their own videos with similar messages.   This particular video struck a nerve with me.  After I watched it, I went to the church’s website and saw these words on its front page:

“The Pastor and members of Apostolic Truth Tabernacle do not condone, teach, or practice hate of any person for any reason”.


Sadly, this is another one of those absurd lines of thought I’ve seen in other Christian circles as well.  You can say whatever angry, mocking, violent, vitriolic thing you want about homosexuals….as long as you back it up with the phrase, “Oh no, I don’t hate them.  I love them.  I just hate their sin”.

The problem here is that people have very messed up definitions of love and hate.  Let’s take love first.  Too often people define love simply as thoughts or feelings towards someone.   So when Jesus says I am to love my enemies, it doesn’t matter what I do to them, I’m obeying Jesus as long as I say I love them or having some loving thoughts towards them.  This is the reasoning that Christians used during the Crusades as they slaughtered their enemies.   The same kind of logic is used today.  If you say some really hateful things about someone and then in the next breath say, “but I love them”, you don’t.  You know you don’t truly love them, everyone else knows you don’t truly love them.  Stop trying to fool yourself.

“But Josh, what they were saying in the video wasn’t hate; they were just stating truths in the Bible”.

First of all, how they interpret those two verses in Romans to say “ain’t no homos gonna make it to Heaven” is absolutely bogus.  And even if Romans did say that, their actions were still utterly hateful.

Let’s use an example.  Let’s pretend that there is a rare and deadly disease that only affects a small percentage of the population.  No one can find a cure except one doctor.  The doctor gives the cure to the Apostolic Truth Tabernacle and commissions them to find those who have the disease and heal them.  The church, instead of actually trying to cure people, decides to teach their children cute little songs with the words:

“The disease is no lie

They gonna die

The disease is strong, it makes em’ dirty

Ain’t no sickies gonna live past 30”

The children sing their songs and the adults give them a standing ovation, clapping, laughing, and cheering.  The church records the song and makes it public.  The community is angered, including the doctor, who says to them, “You have the cure for them you idiots!  Why are you doing nothing about it and making songs about how they’ll die?”  The church responds, “But we love them!  It says so right on our website”.

Now, I don’t agree with all the theological implications in this example.  If you strip this story of any religious parallels, and this story actually happened somehow in real life, we would consider the people at that church to be some of the most debased and inhumane people of our time.   Now let’s put the religious parallels back in the story.  In a way, this is what the church actually believes.  They believe the homosexuals have the disease that puts them in hell and they have the cure that will save them.  Instead of saving them, they teach their kids songs about how they won’t make it to heaven.

How can that not be considered hate?

So to the people at the Apostolic Truth Tabernacle, I truly and sincerely hope that you find the truth of the love of God and realize that what you are doing is hate.  The Bible says that if you say you love God yet hate your brother, you’re a liar.  But it doesn’t even take the Bible to realize this.  You’re not fooling anyone with the words on your website.

Judgy Judgerson

I love people watching.

I mean I really love it.

Wait…that sounds a bit creepy. I don’t people watch in a skeevy, “To Catch a Predator” kind of way. I love getting a glimpse of everyone’s story.

Everyone has a story of their life that is a mixed-bag of joy and pain and ambitions and fears that is so complex, so beautiful that the only word I can think that can describe it is “art”.  And if you look closely, you can see it in the way people walk, in their facial expressions, and in pretty much everything they do.  In a society that overvalues status and image, we spend a lot of time writing the story we think everyone else will want to read.  But if you look closely at someone, they often tell a completely different story – especially when they don’t know someone is watching.

Maybe I am a creeper.

But I believe that even the most mundane people; the most irritating or evil have this inner layer of beauty and good that is constantly warring their inner evil, pain and self-misconceptions.  The person in your life that has the greatest absence of personality and depth, I would argue, has an inner story that’s worthy of a novel.

But hey, I’m a hopeless optimist, or at least so I thought.

I was at a restaurant the other day on my lunch break.  I couldn’t help but to eavesdrop on the conversation two guys were having by the table next to me.  They were talking about seminary, their church and their aspirations in the ministry.  My ears perked up.  They were about my age, and fit the young hip pastor stereotype: slightly trendy, slightly nerdy, and slightly overweight- most likely due to the over-consumption of Starbucks Caramel Macchiatos.

Psudeo-hip guy #1, we’ll call him Steve, talked about how he could see himself teaching a few classes at a seminary within the next few years.  He talked about how he could see himself writing a book after that.  He talked a lot about networking and programs and using resources like Facebook and Twitter.

Psuedo-hip guy #2, we’ll call him Bob (why is it always Steve and Bob?) couldn’t get a word in edge-wise until the topic of their church’s new tentative logo came to topic.  Bob perked up and proudly grabbed his sleek and shiny Macbook from his man purse.  Now it was Bob’s turn to ramble on about image and aspirations.

Several questions popped into my head while I was eavesdropping.  Who were these clowns?  Why did they care so much about their status and achievements in ministry and so little about sharing the gospel?  Why did they talk so much about networking and cool church logos and so little about feeding the hungry?

And then the next question was one I asked myself, “Why am I being such an ass right now?”

It was in this moment that I had what I like to call a “whip the dog session” with God.  Who on Earth was I to judge these guys?  They talked about their dreams in the ministry, so what?  Don’t I have personal goals and dreams in the ministry?  Who was I to assume they don’t care much about sharing the gospel and feeding the hungry?  And what’s so dang wrong with working on a logo?

I left the restaurant feeling like a complete fool.  Why was I so quick to harshly judge two guys I didn’t even know?  Was I jealous they were out of seminary and I’m still plunking away in undergrad?  Was I envious of their Macbook?  (It was pretty sexy).   Was I taking the very few instances where I felt that hipster Christianity (whatever that means) didn’t work and applying it to everyone who seemed to fit that category in some small way?

I guess the point of all this is to confront my own hypocrisy.  I get judged and pre-judged all the time by fellow Christians.  I don’t like it.  I’d like nothing more than for different denominations and methods in the faith to respectfully get along with each other.  But we live in a culture where it’s so easy to assume and criticize.  It’s so easy to fall into the same trap you hate so very much.

This goes beyond the two guys at the restaurant.  How many times have I seen someone in public, and instead of trying to get a glimpse of their beautiful inner story, I say things in my head like, “I bet she’s a tramp.  I bet that guy has committed a crime or two.  That guy doesn’t need another cheeseburger.  Nice parenting skills, lady.”

The sad truth of it is, my judgments might be correct.  Maybe the girl wearing nothing better than lingerie in public is a little easy.  Maybe the 400 pound guy really doesn’t need to supersize his meal.  Our minds are logical in the sense that they automatically give us the most-likely scenario.  I see a scantly-clad woman standing on a city corner, my mind says ”hooker”.  I pick up a ringing phone and hear, “Good afternoon, Mr. Burkett!” my mind says, “salesman”.  These types of judgments are just the way we’re wired.

But where I get it wrong is when I take these judgments and put them into to simple categories of good and evil.  If I see a mother excessively screaming at her kids in public, my mind will always tell me that she probably has some parenting issues.  But it is my choice as to how I should interpret this data.  I could say, “Wow, she has issues.  Her kids are going to grow up all screwed up.  Someone should humiliate her in public to let her know what it feels like”.   But when I do this, all I’m really saying is,

“I’m better than her”.

Instead, I should take this data and say, “Maybe this is a mother at the end of her rope.  Maybe she’s dealing with other things she can’t handle on her own.  Maybe she was treated like this when she was a child and she doesn’t know any other way.  Maybe she’s never had many people love her.  Maybe she just needs a friend.”

“Maybe there’s something I can do about it”.

Can we really make that accurate of judgments about good and evil?  Isn’t that reserved for an infinite God with infinite wisdom?  Remember that whole Adam and Eve thing where they ate from a tree called the “knowledge of good and evil?”  We got the knowledge, but we’re incapable of doing it accurately.  It would be like me reading a pre-medical text-book and then thinking I was a neurosurgeon.  Should not our response always be love?  How radical would it be if we could always be in a completely subversive, counter-cultural mindset of this type of love?

It would be Jesus radical.

But I suspect this will always be an inner struggle: to hate being judged and find myself judging; to hate being assumed and written off and find myself sizing people up in an instant.  But the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem, and this is one I’m defintaely wanting to change.

Learning To Cry Once Again

A few weeks ago I read an article on the Christianity Today website about a married couple who went to the former Soviet Union to adopt two boys.  In this story, they recount the intense eerie nature of the orphanage.  Despite the orphanage being full of infants, the place was deathly quiet.

Both of us compared the stillness with the buzz and punctuated squeals that came from our church nursery back home. Here, if we listened carefully enough, we could hear babies rocking themselves back and forth, the crib slats gently bumping against the walls. These children did not cry, because infants eventually learn to stop crying if no one ever responds to their calls for food, for comfort, for love. No one ever responded to these children. So they stopped.

The couple spent multiple days in the orphanage, getting to know the two boys they hoped to adopt.  And with all the quality and loving time spent with them, they still remained silent.  And this is where the story gets interesting.

On the last day of the trip, Maria and I arrived at the moment we had dreaded since the minute we received our adoption referral. We had to tell the boys goodbye, as by law we had to return to the United States and wait for the legal paperwork to be completed before returning to pick them up for good. After hugging and kissing them, we walked out into the quiet hallway as Maria shook with tears.

And that’s when we heard the scream.

Little Maxim fell back in his crib and let out a guttural yell. It seemed he knew, maybe for the first time, that he would be heard. On some primal level, he knew he had a father and mother now. I will never forget how the hairs on my arms stood up as I heard the yell. I was struck, maybe for the first time, by the force of the Abba cry passages in the New Testament, ones I had memorized in Vacation Bible School. And I was surprised by how little I had gotten it until now.

This story resonates with me.  If I could pick one buzz word to describe how I’ve felt the past couple months, it would be “over-overwhelmed”.   My job has been enormously taxing.   My wife works evenings so on many nights when I come home from work I have to go into single parent mode.  And when the kids go to bed, I have no mental energy left to deal with the 12 college credits I’m taking this semester.  It’s a strange feeling, because I love every iron in the proverbial fire.  I love my job, I love school; I can think of no one else I’d rather spend time with than my two boys.  It’s just all a little too much.  I often miss my wife and the things we have a passion to do together, like ministry, gets put on the back burner.   And it’s all done under a debilitating financial strain that never seems to resolve.  That part is the worst.  I don’t like the word “can’t” and will always find a way to fix a problem.  But I don’t have anything left.  I don’t have it in me to run any faster or fight any harder.

When Paul says to “be anxious for nothing,” it makes me want to build a time machine so I can go back and give him a boot to the face.

But I realized that I’m just like Maxim in the story above.  I stopped crying.  I rationalized with myself that it would be arrogant of me to bring my grievances to God since the world is full of billions of people that are way worse off than I am.  I figured that God would think of me as ungrateful since he has clearly enriched my life with so much.  So I went stoic and told everyone, including God and myself that I was fine.

But I was only telling a half-truth, because the truth is there are many aspects of my life that are just amazing.  My two sons are an indescribable magic that can not be shadowed by any other gift this side of eternity.  My relationship with my wife is storybook worthy.  My job is purposeful and fulfilling.  And my view of Jesus and the Gospel has never been so big, so exciting, and so wonderful.

I am a seriously rich man.

But to fail to see the dichotomy in life that includes the wonderful and horrifying, the freeing and debilitating, the beautiful and grotesque is where I’m getting it wrong.  To put it in simpler terms, it would be ridiculous of me of not acknowledge the pain of a deep paper cut even if the rest of my body feels good.    Just take a look at King David in the Old Testament.

Side note: For the record, I have a love/hate relationship with David.  The guy had more wives and girlfriends than he knew what to with and I’m sure none of them would keep their legs crossed at the request of a king.  And yet he goes and takes another man’s wife.  David wouldn’t last five minutes in today’s age with one wife and Victoria’s Secret commercials on every channel.  Stupid jerk.

But there is a lot we can learn from David’s psalms.  David was the king of one of the most flourishing kingdoms in the ancient near east.  He was rich and powerful beyond our wildest dreams.  And he was antiquity’s very first emo.  David, a man after God’s own heart, praised him endlessly for all the good things in life. For all of his paper cuts, he whined to God like a little girl who just found out her parents ate all her Halloween candy.

Which, by the  way, if you think playing pranks on kids and making them cry is funny, you should watch this video at the end of this blog – but not until after you’re done reading.

So this week, I took David’s method to heart.  I wrote God a letter and told him everything I was feeling.  I didn’t hold back any emotion or thought, no matter how ridiculous or illogical it was.  I even swore a few times because it portrayed exactly what I was feeling.  Besides, if God truly knows my innermost thoughts and intents, nothing I said even remotely surprised him.

And when I was finished, if God ever spoke to me, I’m sure this is what he said, “‘Bout time you shared yo beef, boo”.

God sometimes speaks to me in Ebonics instead of King James.

But in all seriousness, when I thought I was finished, I wrote down more.  I started to write about the many times where God pulled me out of jams that were too fine-tuned to be coincidence.  I wrote about how I’ve never, ever, ever been forsaken by him.  I wrote that there were at least one-hundred other times where I’ve felt this same faith-shaking, God-doubting anxiety and with every occurrence, God provided.  Every time.  Every stinking time.

If I put into a Psalm, it would have sounded like this:

Dear God
Everything is wonderful
And everything sucks
I’m mad as hell
Because I don’t see you in this
I don’t want a quick emotional fix
I want a solution
I’m at the end of my rope
But that’s always when you catch me
You’ve proven that
Over and over again
I love your provision
But I hate your timing
But your ways are infinitely higher
Your wisdom is infinitely greater
Your love is infinitely stronger
Than my own
So I believe
Help me with my unbelief
And I’ll trust you
Even though everything sucks

This is my daily prayer right now, and I’m not ashamed of it.  I’m now convinced that neediness is a virtue.  I am the emo King David and the little Maxim that is screaming in his crib for his Daddy.  What benevolent father would have it any other way?

Our unvarnished and naked neediness allows us to put it in such a perspective that when God finally meets that need, our praise is that much more joyful.  So when God pulls me out of this current situation that I can no longer control, which I believe he will, I can write this psalm:

My Deliverer
To whom has saved the day yet again
Who has, and will, and is always
Leading me beside still waters
And restoring my soul

But until then, I will cry and scream like little Maxim, and with each psalm I write, I will add an addendum:

When I consider my two boys
My wife
My fullness in Christ
And every good and perfect gift you’ve already given me
That you are mindful of me?


Okay NOW you can watch the funny video.



By the very mention of the word, I might have made the hairs stand up on the back of your neck. It’s a word that incites arguments that seldom get resolved. Whatever I say, be it negative or positive, I’m bound to make someone defensive. This blog may not sit with both sides of the aisle.

But I really don’t feel like arguing so if you’re in a mood to debate, you may as well save your breath.

I didn’t know any Atheists growing up and for some reason I had two misconceptions of them. First, they were illogical. There were really no such thing as Atheists. God didn’t believe in them. It was in the Bible somewhere.

The other misconception was that Atheists were all bitter and hostile and lived to persecute Christians. It was us vs. them. The right vs. the wrong. The completely innocent vs. big godless meanies. I’m exaggerating…but only a little.

In my adult life, I’ve had the privilege of knowing many Atheists, agnostics, skeptics, and otherwise undeclared. I’ve known many of them on surface levels and a few very personally. They come from all different socioeconomic backgrounds, cultures, and mindsets for their beliefs.

And my former misconceptions have been blown to bits.

Now, let me just be frank. Not all Atheists are created equally (sorry, bad pun). I’ve known a couple that were quite antagonistic that hid under a disguise of rationalism that in truth couldn’t think themselves out of a wet paper bag. But then again, I’ve known a few Christians like that as well.

Lately I’ve been forced to think about the issue. A few months ago I was listening to a professor who claimed that Atheists do not have the truth of God. Because of this, they cannot find God. Only God can find them; and apparently God has ordained many of them to stay Atheists.

Basically, they’re screwed – and it’s God’s will.

The professor went on to say that even Atheists who do incredibly good humanitarian things are doing it under false pretense; that they only do things for their own selfish benefit. True goodness comes from God and since they don’t have God, everything they do is evil.

Of course, I couldn’t let this steaming mound of crap slide.

I responded to the professor, “Having truth can’t be that simple and black and white. Aren’t we all made in the image of God? Even as Christians, don’t we see God through a proverbial dark glass?”

He looked at me and said, “But it’s in the Bible” and gave me a lingering stern look that said, “If you challenge me on this, I will end you.”

Now granted, this guy is a brilliant PhD that has a carefully formed theology. And heck, maybe he’s right and I’m just a punk kid being confused by my own sinful logic (or some other ridiculous comment I’ve received over the past few years). Hate me if you must, but I can easily take a handful of scriptures and make a good argument for just about anything. But that doesn’t make it right. I just can’t buy into any theology that violates what I know about God through scripture and through my innermost being. I also can’t believe something that just doesn’t correspond with reality.

Because the reality is, I know some really good Atheists.

I know Atheists who are verbal about saying that God doesn’t exist but on the inside they’re screaming, “God, where in the hell are you?” I know Atheists whose anger is a suppressed cry for divine love. I know Atheists who whole-heartedly believe that the concept of God is absurd – and they’re logic is sound. But it’s only because they were fed a really crappy version of God that I’m convinced enslaves the majority of Christian Americans into being judgmental and miserable.

If that’s the only version of God I know, I’d be an Atheist too.

And believe it or not, I’ve known some Atheists who are more Christ-like than me, Mr. Christian. I’ve known some who’ve loved and cared and concerned for people way more than I do; that see more beauty in the things around them and that follow an ingrained higher law of love better than I can.

Some Atheists are following God and they don’t even realize it.

Now before I am declared a heretic by my fellow Christians, let me say this. I whole-heartedly believe in only one God and Jesus is the only way to him. I am convinced that the only way to make sense of this world is through Jesus. The only way to make this world a better place is through the way of Jesus. No other philosophy or worldview or system comes even remotely close to the way of Jesus.

But God does so much more than just to reveal himself through his followers. God is revealing himself in everything good and beautiful. In every nation. In every language. Every wonderful breath we take is a glimpse of God who creates and sustains everything.

And God is revealing himself to Atheists, whether they want to admit it or not.

So to my Atheist friends, some of whom I can say it is with the deepest honor that you’re in my life, do I want you to become a Christian? Absolutely! The God I want you to find looks like this: Imagine every noble and beautiful quality you can think of. Imagine love so intense it’s manifested in physical form. Now take all that and multiply it by infinity. Now take that concept, and imagine that it has a heart that burns for YOU. Imagine it desperately wants to be allowed to show you your true worth and a love WITHOUT JUDGMENT OR CONDEMNATION that is as big as the universe, as small as the cracks in your heart that no one else knows about, and is as natural and symbiotic as a newborn with its mother. Imagine that it wants to comfort you though even the most hideous of times in this often profane and ugly world. Imagine that it wants you to play along in reconciling and redeeming the world and empowers you with the same crazy torrent of love to give to others. That’s what the Gospel is really about. Anything else is just religion.

Today Is A Day Of Mourning

Today is a day of mourning.

Today I am corporately mourning the events of 9-11-01 alongside every American.  The pain manifested from that horrible event can be and should be shared by everyone in this country.  Today, it is more than appropriate to remember the victims, honor the fallen heroes, and support those who are still dealing with the very real pain of having a loved one taken from them.  I suspect the wound of losing someone who possessed a piece of your heart never fully heals – much less after ten years.  These people need our unyielding prayer and support.

But this is only a fraction of my mourning.

This is one of those bitter realities of human nature:  For those of us who did not directly suffer from the events of 9-11, we choose one day of the year to corporately reflect and mourn on behalf of those who directly experienced pain.  But come tomorrow morning, the hubbub of life and chaos of a new week will kick in and the emotions of the day before will largely fade into oblivion.  I suspect this is normal and acceptable.

But the mourning and discontent I’m experiencing will bleed over into tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that…

The theme of my mourning is particularly evident on a day like this.  At a 9-11 tribute today, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen said in his speech,

 “From this place of wrath and tears, America’s military ventured forth as the long arm and clenched fist of an angry nation at war…And we have remained at war ever since, visiting upon our enemies the vengeance they were due and providing for the American people the common defense they demand.”

At the same tribute, Joe Biden vowed to keep fighting, “until Al-Qaeda is not only disrupted, but completely dismantled and ultimately destroyed.”

And then the Navy chorus sang “Amazing Grace.”  Because nothing wraps up a speech about wrath, anger and vengeance quite like words of Amazing Grace.

My mourning is derived from my Christian perspective, but much of it is simple common sense.  Many of my atheist friends see the faulty logic as well.  A war that was sparked by a terrorist attack that killed less than 3,000 has claimed more than 1 million lives.

And ten years later, we’re still spouting off about vengeance and anger.

Now, I can understand how someone who isn’t a Christian can adhere to the logic (even though it’s wrong) that you must make war to have peace.  But for those who are followers of Christ, there is no excuse.  Jesus emphatically preached non-violence.  You can’t argue the fact.  You can’t get around it.  Jesus’s teachings go directly against the War on Terror.  And if you are one of the many Christians out there that have mixed your nationalism with your religion and believe that the mass murder of hundreds of thousands of innocent lives is somehow God ordained, you’re grotesquely perverting the Gospel of Christ.

Truth burns like a hemorrhoid sometimes.

So this is my mourning:  I’m mourning the deaths caused by the 9-11 tragedy.

I’m mourning the American and Muslim deaths caused by this ridiculous war.

I’m mourning the deaths of thousands who die from starvation and disease daily that could have been saved with money that was spent for bloodshed instead.

I’m mourning our country’s financial situation that can’t afford this war.

I’m mourning Christians who feel uneasy about this violence but have been taught that asking questions and going against the grain is wrong.

I’m mourning Muslims and Christians who have been brainwashed by their pseudo-religions into thinking that this violence is the answer.

I’m mourning Atheists who have never been shown the real Jesus, only a fake one who is a warmonger.

I’m mourning for the broken heart of Christ.

I’m mourning for those who have lost someone in this violence that has been sold a false hope by our government that says healing comes through vengeance.  Healing never comes through vengeance, it comes through forgiveness and reconciliation.

And those of you whom I have offended should know that I am also mourning my own hypocrisy.  3 years ago I would have been on the other side of this proverbial fence and argued that we need to bomb those godless bastards into submission.  I still deal with my own violence every day.  But I realize that my own warring nature is a result in a lack of trust in a God who showed the ways of peace through Jesus.

Today is a day of mourning.  Tomorrow will be as well.  May we all mourn until that day where we finally become intent on reconciliation and peace and not bloodshed.

The many beef-headed words of Mark Driscoll (and the few that make really excellent points)

Rob Bell is going to be able to sleep tonight, because finally, drama and controversy has sparked elsewhere in modern Christianity.

Macho pastor Mark Driscoll gets a wedgie from a 100 pound girl.

Of course I don’t mean this literally, and I know better to never guess a woman’s weight…but the mental picture gives me a chuckle, so I’m keeping the metaphor.

Here’s the story:  Mark Driscoll, posted something inappropriate on his Twitter.  Big surprise, right?  Well, this time, he struck a nerve with someone who actually gets more than 20 people reading his or her blog.

(Many humble thanks to my 20 fans out there.)

Queue Rachel Held Evans to the scene.  She’s a fellow blogger/writer – only she’s about 1,000 times more successful than Fourfingerculture.  I’d be jealous of this fact if she wasn’t freaking amazing.  I’ve been a fan of hers for a few months now and she’s never disappointed me. So Rachel blogged a response to Driscoll’s beef-headed comment that, in my opinion, was absolutely brilliant. The bully gets a wedgie.

But like any good drama that’s discussed over the internet, people on both sides of the spectrum got and are still getting a little too passionate.  Rachel’s blog is less than 24 hours old and I’ve already seen numerous Facebook conversations about it.  Because I’m such a phlegmatic person, I get a little squeamish when Christians take arms with each other.  I’m still hiding under a rock due to the whole Love Wins “controversy”.  But there are some good points that both sides seem to be making, so I have to write about them.

Oh, and if you haven’t stopped reading this blog to Google Rachel Held Evans by now, here’s the direct link:

Let me begin by saying this:  Rachel’s blog was spot on.  Too many times Mark Driscoll  has harmed Christianity with his antics.  You don’t need a theology degree to see that some of the things he says and does are simply wrong.  And even if you’re a Driscoll fan, you have to admit that he has a really strange passion for picking on guys that aren’t of the lumberjack persuasion.

I’m trying to be objective here but I have to assume that I’m a bit biased.  I’m one of those guys that Mark Driscoll loves to hate.  I’m kind of a chick.  I love art and music.  I write poetry and songs.  I love children.  I cried like a baby while watching “August Rush”.  But I’m also very much a dude.  I love risk-taking.  I like beer and action flicks, and things that go “boom”.  And I’m fairly confident that if Driscoll and I were to put on boxing gloves, I’d drop him like a bad habit in the third round.   So ultimately Mark Driscoll doesn’t personally offend me and I can say with objectivity that he needs to be accountable for his words and grow the heck up.

But I’ve also been reading the opinions of those who are for Mark Driscoll and against Rachel Evans.  While I think most of these opinions are incredibly misguided, they’ve been making me think.  And as much as it pains me to say this, if you take Mark Driscoll and strip away his misogyny and bully tactics, there’s a little tiny kernel of truth that he carries that is worth mentioning.

Our culture has somewhat emasculated the man.

Turn on the TV and you’ll find a mass of sitcoms and commercials where men are portrayed as ignorant buffoons that only care about the basic necessities of food and sex and that are scared to death to do anything outside of their wives’ expressed, written consent.  These men always get portrayed as being completely clueless to their wives’ needs and continuously drop the ball at being good fathers.  But at least they’re good at swinging a hammer and catching a football.

We live in a society where the jock is always dumb and the guy who works with his hands is always devoid of emotions.

This stereotype goes beyond society.  It’s landed in our churches.  I’ve seen countless of times where macho men get somewhat of a bad rap at church because many of them are more stoic during worship and dry-eyed during prayer time.  I’ve seen macho men on the outskirts of church fellowship because they have a hard time relating to more touchy-feely times of discussion.  But if you want someone to hang dry wall, help with a prison ministry, or to grab a young punk by the scruff of the neck and give some much needed tough love, that’s often where the macho man shines.

So I’m glad that Mark Driscoll is putting some gristle back in the church…but only a small part – like 10%.  The 90% that is Driscoll’s bullying  should go away.

Because the truth is, It doesn’t matter if you drive a motorcycle, can bench 400 pounds, or if you read Tolstoy or have gotten teary eyed at a commercial (don’t judge me) – these things don’t define you as a man.  A real man has valor.  A real man is faithful.  A real man has integrity and honesty.  A real man loves his family and takes care of them self-sacrificially.

Real men don’t hide who they are and don’t ridicule other men for not being like them.

If you’re looking for what a real man looks like, look no further than Jesus.  He is both a lion and a lamb.  He was a manly carpenter and still found the time to hold some unhindered kids.  He said things like “blessed are the meek” but went commando on the money changers in the temple.

Jesus was the ideal man. Mark Driscoll is not.  And nether am I.

But I still think I knock him out in the third round.

The last thing I’m going to say about the “last days”

Oh great, yet another person talking about end-times.

 If the above is your sentiment, I completely understand. I’m pretty sick of it myself. But if I didn’t address this one last thing, I wouldn’t sleep tonight. Oh, and I wrote this in an hour this morning with no coffee. I won’t be doing much proofreading. Sorry to all you anal-retentive English majors out there 🙂

 There’s been a lot of weirdness in human history lately. Osama got whacked, the Jews and Pallys aren’t getting along, earthquakes, tsunamis, Oprah is ending her show…

Most recently we’ve had everyone’s new favorite nut-job Harold Camping still insisting that the world will end in October. And we’ve also had the worst tornado in modern US history devastate Joplin, MO. It’s tempting, and maybe even a little logically permissible to look at all this and think, “Wow, is all this a precursor to something else?”

And then there’s the belief that all this is the wrath of God, or his means of trying to get our attention. I would like to (hopefully in respect) address two different misconceptions that have popped up about all this. Here goes.

I was discussing the Joplin and Minneapolis tornadoes with a friend at work. He shook his head and said, “Wow. God’s trying to get our attention”. It stunned me a bit. Was God really trying to get our attention? Does God level homes and kill over 100 people just so we’ll stop and pay attention? Is he that wrathful – or that big and clumsy?

The answer, in which I’m unequivocally convinced, is no, no, no, nope, no way, no chance, not even close.

And if it is your opinion that all this destruction is God’s will, I understand and respect that. We’ve been taught a lot of things throughout our Christian history. We see a lot of crazy wrathful things in the Old Testament. And I have to admit, a lot of it makes me scratch my head and say, “God what were you thinking?!” But we don’t see this kind of thing after Jesus’ death and resurrection. We just don’t.

I believe this opinion is also a byproduct of people desperately wanting to hear from God. We are always hearing that God is speaking to us. And if you hear this long enough, but never experience God speaking, then your mind is going to go to other places. You’re going to start believing that death and destruction are the ways in which God communicates. Let me say this, and if there’s only one thing you take away from this article, let it be this: “GOD DOES NOT WORK THROUGH EVIL. BUT HE CAN WORK IN SPITE OF IT”.

Let me put it this way. It is not God’s will that a lot of people died in the Joplin tornado. It is not God’s will that your aunt has cancer or that your child tragically died. All the world’s suffering, the hate, the devastation – God has nothing to do with it. But there is one thing that he will do. In the midst of extreme suffering, he CAN work it out to bring some good. He’s just that awesome. BUT HE DOES NOT CAUSE THE SUFFERING IN ORDER TO MAKE GOOD. That’s putting God in a very small box.

And yes, God speaks to us if we let him. The problem is that we struggle with a very secular mindset and much of our thoughts and actions and plans revolve around working, making money, entertainment, and just being way too busy with projects and responsibilities. And it’s hard to fit God in our daily schedule – and more importantly – in our thoughts of every minute of every day. But the closer we get to having days where our thoughts are constantly on Him, that’s when he speaks to us. And it’s not destructive. When God speaks, it’s awe-inspiring, heart melting, soul shivering – and it changes our perspectives, worldviews and our life. And no tornadoes get created in the process.

The second misconception is that with all this recent activity, the world is coming to an end. The truth is, no one has the slightest clue of when, or even if, this will happen. In my own theological order (which has about 2 members) we’re amillenialists, which is just a very big word for believing that the end of days isn’t going to play out like it does in the “Left Behind” books. Now, I pay a lot of respect and consideration to the other side, because hey, I can admit that I could be wrong. But the point is, no one knows, and the Bible commands us not to freak out about it.

 The reality is, every time period in throughout history has had weird events and devastation. This time period is no different from 10, 20,100, or 1000 years ago. Every decade in modern times has had events in to which people were absolutely convinced that the end was nigh. But the end never happened. And in this case, history will probably repeat itself.

But who cares what people believe right? What does it matter? It’s not hurting anyone!

I believe this misconception matters a ton. If you see the suffering going on around you and your thoughts do nothing but constantly dwell on this being evidence of the end-times, then you’re missing the point of the gospel. Jesus commanded a lot of things to do in the here and now. We’re commanded to feed his sheep and take care of the poor and love each other to the point of self submission and sacrifice. NOW. Not later. Caring too much about when the world is going to end distracts us from that.

So what should we do whenever the world experiences devastation? Two things. The first one is simple: help out. God calls us to play an active role in his redemption. Helping out is God’s will. Besides, it’s common sense.

If you find you don’t have the resources of time or money to help out, the other thing you can do is pray. If you’re looking for some cryptic, epic, mystical weirdness in your Christian faith, look no further than prayer. Prayer is so much more than giving lip service to God as he arbitrarily decides what to do. Don’t look towards the end-times if you want a little mystical drama in your faith. Read Daniel chapter 10, and then go pray with that in mind. It might change the way you do it.

But don’t…PLEASE don’t sit idly by and try to decipher God’s words or actions in the world’s sufferings while doing nothing to contribute. There’s little more that makes Christianity look ugly.

Today: My Very First Easter

Not a very relevant picture, but it made me chuckle.

I started mentally writing this piece on the four hour road trip back home from my in-laws in Bemidji.  Sarah and the boys are staying up there for the week, which means I have a few days of bachelorhood.  Usually, I love these times but I’ll be spending it doing nothing but work and homework.  It’s also spring…which means I have spring fever…and I have a super hot wife…and when I left her today, she was looking extra super hot…praise God for cold showers.

I digress.

I left Bemidji with a fuzzy mind due to no sleep, achy lungs from a lingering sickness, and an incredibly happy heart, as today – 4/24/2011 – I celebrated my first Easter.

Allow me to explain.

This year I realized that I’ve never really, truly celebrated Easter.  Today was the first time and it was awesome.  So much so that Easter has replaced Christmas and Cashmere Pulaski day (people from Illinois know what I’m talking about) as my favorite holiday.  So why the sudden change?  Three reasons:

1.   To put it in Christian-ese, it’s the first time in a long time that I got to be more of a Mary instead of a Martha.

                Currently, I am not a pastor or actively involved in any church ministry.  And while this is sometimes a bothersome fact, it made all the difference in my Easter.  Pastors have the unfortunate task of working themselves stupid during Easter time.  When I was doing the whole Pastor gig, the entire month was plagued with anxious questions.  How are going to get butts in the seat for Easter?  How are we going to retain those butts?  What if the butts don’t like the service?  What if there are too many butts?  What if one of the visiting butts is the fire marshal?

I believe the church should put on the best game face during Easter, so it’s good that pastors and ministry people give 200% during Easter.  But it was truly nice to not have to worry about all that and just be able to focus on what Easter is all about.  So if you had an awesome Easter, don’t forget to thank your pastors and big-hearted, over-worked suckers that do 50% of the churches work for free.  Chances are, if any of these people were ever tempted to take up smoking, post Easter service would be the time to do it.

2.  I got my ADD under control.

                Go ahead and laugh.  I’m laughing about it.  But it is true.  Up until a few months ago, I could rarely sit through a sermon without my brain reverting to the attention span of a puppy in a new backyard.  This has made a world of difference in my life.

3.  I finally get it. 

                I’ll walk you through a brief history of all the other Easters I’ve experienced.  When I was a kid, Easter was about waking up to an basket full of goodies, having a few days off school, and the fact that shorts season was just around the corner.  Oh, of course I was trained to say that Easter was all about Jesus, but the eight-year old of my past had to come clean on this one.  I was way more excited about Cadbury cream eggs and fake plastic grass than as aspect of my religion that I didn’t fully understand.

During my teenage years when the parents decided to cut out the candy-filled baskets in our Easter traditions, I still really didn’t celebrate Easter.  To be perfectly honest, I loved God and was happy in my faith, but Jesus said and did things that struck me as kind of odd.  And I just didn’t get why Easter was so important with all of its special hymnal songs and church marquees saying things like “Hallelujah!  He is risen!”  To me, God rising from the dead was a given.  He’s God, why wouldn’t he do that?  What’s so special about him resurrecting?  He did tons of other cool stuff like ascend to Heaven and walk on water.  Why is this particular event singled out so much?  I’m sure many teachers and pastors did really good jobs explaining all of this stuff, perhaps I was just slow on the uptake.

This mindset carried on to the few years of ministering in the church where Easter then became more of a chore than a disaffected holiday.  Easter typically meant an influx of visitors who normally don’t go to church any other time of year.  Easter, to me, was more of an evangelism tactic instead of a celebration.  I didn’t experience joy on Easter, I experienced anxiety and lack of sleep.

But all that changed this year.

This year I learned just how awesome the stories of Jesus are and how vital and incredible the resurrection is to the Christian faith and the world.  The resurrection is more exciting and grandiose and important than any other event in human history.  It marks the day where God inaugurated the amazing and wonderful and eternal things that he promised.

The resurrection is like the pre-sale before the grand opening of Heaven.

And Easter is the remembrance of that fateful day where we join with millions and millions of people throughout thousands of years of history in what should be the most joyous celebration of all time.

And who said church was lame?

We spent Easter at my in-laws church in Bemidji ; an Evangelical Free church that I’ve grown to really enjoy.  The members of the church have more of a quiet and reserved passion and a humble yet robust knowledge of God.  The pastor, an extremely intellectual PhD, is never flashy with his academic credentials and is a pastor in every sense of the word.  And while the service style wouldn’t be my first choice (even though I still really enjoy it) for my ideal church, everything today felt magical.  Every pump of the organ, every chime of the bell choir, every flip of a hymnal page all seemed to resound in beautiful harmony.  As a charismatic person by nature and someone who cries at the drop of a hat, it was hard for me not to stand out as a blubbering, bawling idiot in the middle of a reserved church.  And I only hope that I can carry on this mindset far past the borders of one day.

Because Easter was not meant to be celebrated for only one day out of the year.

So my first Easter was incredible.  Regardless of where I am next year, I plan on making Easter as good as or better than this year’s.  If I’m still free from the responsibilities of ministry, maybe I’ll spend it with a more orthodox group like the Anglicans , or a more soulful church like my old all black church (with the exception of me) in St. Paul.  Or maybe I’ll once again be joyously neck deep in the responsibility of tackling an Easter program for a church where I’ll have to balance out both Mary and Martha.  They can be high-maintenance chicks sometimes.  Regardless of where I am, I can’t wait until next Easter.  I’m going to party it like it’s 1999…or 30 AD.

How Rob Bell Made Me Come Out Of The Closet

While writing the title, I got the mental image of my mother passing out and my grandmother picking up the rotary phone to start calling people on the prayer chain.


No, I’m not coming out of the gay closet.  I guess you could say I’m coming out of what some people (not me) would call the Theologically Liberal-Heretical-Non-Evangelical-Anti-Scripture closet.

And I just had that mental image again.

Sorry, Mom.

So let me get this over with…I, Joshua Burkett, being of sound mind and prayerful and scripturally studied conviction, DO NOT believe that people will spend an eternity in the conscious torment known as hell.

* Cue the angry pitchfork bearing mob chanting “Burn the heretic!” *

Now, let me tell you my story before you start thinking that I’ve just made this decision based on the whole recent Rob Bell thing.  My journey to this belief started when I was about 10 years old.  Roll film!

I grew up in your typical Evangelical/Pentecostal church where the belief in an eternal hell was as common and factual as the sky being blue.  I also grew up thinking that God could revoke your salvation at any time, even if you accidentally passed gas in church.

And that happened…probably more than once.

So God’s salvation, to me, wasn’t based on his grace.  It was based on luck and timing.  I could be a good little boy and if I just so happened to sin at the same time Jesus came back, I was in trouble.  Luckily, I was taught that if you missed the rapture, you still had a second chance.  But that came at a price.  My Mom and Dad never sinned so if I was to miss the rapture, I would have been alone.  Living for Jesus during that time could save you from hell but it meant constantly running from people who wanted to behead you for being a Christian.  So I would have been a ten-year old with no family, no means in which to take care of myself, and, oh yeah, the world would want me dead.  But even with that, even a lot of Christians would be deceived into worshipping the “Antichrist” and if they did, they’d go to hell.  What if I would be one of the people who were deceived?

So because of all this, I was a really, really nervous kid.

At the age of ten, I started constantly whispering under my breath, “Jesus, I’m sorry, forgive my sins” throughout the entire day.  It was this mantra, said over-and-over again, that was my ticket to escaping hell.  And anytime I did something not 100 percent perfect, I’d have to say that mantra.  Once I remember stepping on a rug and making it crooked.  I said the mantra.  Hey, better to be safe than sorry, right?

I wish I was making this up.  It gets worse.

I then rationalized that I could also sin in my head.  So any thought that wasn’t completely perfect was potentially sin.  I remember once being at a local video rental store and seeing the cover of a horror movie called “Motel Hell”.   The cover was a quasi-disturbing picture typical to the B rated 80s horror genre.  But for this ten-year old, the very view of it was a sin.  I quickly said the mantra but for some reason, the image of Motel Hell was stuck in my brain.  And every time I thought about it, I was sinning.

Do you know how hard it is to not think about something, especially when eternal torment is on the line?

I remember trying so hard not to think about that stupid movie cover, which made me think about it, which made me sin; which made me in danger of splitting hell wide open.  At one point, I was balling my eyes out and was so stressed, that the only thing that it could be defined as was a panic attack.

Age 10 .  The summer before fifth grade.  My own personal religion was a child abuser.

This kind of behavior went off and on for a few years.  I would wake up frightened by train whistles because I thought they were “Gabriel’s trumpet”.  I would often sneak into my parent’s room to make sure they were still there.  I often had dreams about Jesus coming back and me being left behind.  I remember once my older brother was preaching Sunday night service and had someone blow a trumpet in the background as an illustration.  Almost wet my pants.

When I look back at this crazy, erratic behavior, the only word I can think of is “normal”.  When eternal life and happiness  or eternal fire and torment is contingent upon, at most, 90 years of how you behave, it almost makes sense to be that paranoid.  Living any other way is too risky when eternity is the stake you’re playing for.

Think about it this way:  If your soul only had a shelf life of a billion years, (which is still only a vapor of time in comparison to eternity) 90 years is exactly .0000009% of a billion.  That’s a really small number.  If the time I spend in the .0000009% of existence determines complete joy and bliss or eternal fire in the remaining 99.9999991%, it would be foolish NOT to be a little neurotic.  I’m really surprised that we don’t see a lot more people taking Matthew 5:29 literally.

So let’s all chant the mantra together.  Because the father up above is looking down in love.

And wrath.  Mostly wrath.

By the grace of God, I grew out of that mindset and life became what it should have been for that time: all about girls and strange body hair and crazy emotions and boy/man insecurities.  I had nearly forgotten about hell because I don’t think one’s God-given logical mind can keep up such an absurd notion for too long without going literally crazy.  And life was good…

…until my Uncle Rob died.

My Uncle Rob spent years as a faithful pastor.  He was a writer, singer, songwriter, poet, worshipper; he was a fantastic father, friend, Uncle and true servant of Jesus Christ. He had a heart the size of watermelon and everyone that knew him couldn’t help but to love him, because that’s exactly what he was doing to them.

And then Uncle Rob came out of the closet, the homosexual kind.

It’s incredible how the respect a man can build in his lifetime can crumble like house of cards when just one aspect of his life changes.  Uncle Rob stopped being viewed as all the virtuous descriptions above and people started treating him as worldly, sinful, and dirty.  By no means did he do everything perfect.  His lifestyle started turning to the wild and unwholesome.  But it’s hard to judge a man when he loses a lifetime battle only to have everyone he cared about treat him differently.  And when well-intentioned Christians throw God into this mix of excommunication, people have to go somewhere to feel human again.

His Christian friends and family genuinely cared about his salvation and concern became dread when he died of a tragic mix up in medication.  Even at his funeral, the question of his eternal fate heavily lingered in the air with foreboding.   Was Rob in hell?  It couldn’t be. Did he come back to Jesus before he died?  Did all those faithful years of service count for something?

I never once worried about the fate of Uncle Rob’s soul.  I never equated the struggles at the end of his life with his salvation.  Uncle Rob went straight into the arms of Jesus where the love he so needed was granted in tsunamis of overabundance.  How do I know this?  Because Uncle Rob still loved God with all of his heart, soul and mind.

I know that fact as well as I know my own name.

But his death made me realize something.  It’s easy for people to believe in hell when they’ve had no one close to them die that wasn’t a Christian.  Even the people who thought Uncle Rob’s salvation was revoked just refused to accept that he was experiencing eternal torment.  People stop believing in hell, at least for a little while, when someone they love dies.  The mind was not designed to believe in such a thing.

This event was the seed that got planted in the garden of my thoughts.  Could an eternal hell really exist?  But good Christians did not ask these types of questions unless they wanted to chant the mantra.  These kinds of questions were a sign of bad faith.  These kinds of questions would land you in the very place you are questioning.

I was a freshman in Bible College when this all happened.  Although the issue of hell was beginning to crawl to the forefront of my mind, I never brought it up with anyone.  No one else thought the same way.  Hell was part of the package deal of Christianity.  But a year later, as luck (or divine providence) would have it, I took place in a brief conversation about hell with a classmate. I don’t remember its specific details, but the one thing I remember him saying rocked me. He casually said, “With hell, the punishment doesn’t seem to fit the crime”.


I was incredulous.  Really?  You’re allowed to believe that way?  You won’t get kicked out of Bible College?

There were others.  They were just like me.  They wanted to throw up in their mouths when they thought about eternal torment.  But that still didn’t mean one should question it.  It was in the Bible, right?  Or was it?  Looking through my Bible, there seemed to be a lot of talk about hell and weeping and gnashing and a lake of fire to boot.  So I guess it was in the Bible.  I didn’t have to like it, but I guess I had to agree with it.

I then I discovered that there were a lot of great Christian thinkers who argued that eternal torment wasn’t in the Bible; people who knew the Bible really well and were passionate about their life in Christ.

Whoa again.

Why didn’t I hear this growing up?  I didn’t hear many alternative views on scripture.  Was this that thing called heresy?  I didn’t know much about heresy either.  Calvinism was heresy.  Didn’t really know why.  Guess someone told me that once.  But what was this?  I always thought that you can believe everything that’s in the Bible (I still believe that unequivocally, by the way).  People actually reasoned that eternal conscious torment was not in the Bible.  And it made sense.

But I still wasn’t sure.  It was an important topic and I’m not the type to just believe something just because it makes me feel good…except the belief that one day Jesus will give me a pet lion that flies and speaks.  I’m holding on to that one.

So I spent a couple of years praying and reading and thinking and questioning and annoying the other part of me that wished I’d just shut up and play video games.  And I ultimately came to the firm belief that the concept of a hell where people cook forever and ever is completely unbiblical.

And silly.

But I stayed in the closet.

This belief was the kind of thing that made Christians look at you like you’re crazy.  This was the kind of thing that invoked heated debates and needless name calling.  These kinds of beliefs caused you to reconsider a lot of what you thought about Christianity. So I stayed in the closet.  It wasn’t that hard.

People didn’t like to talk about hell anyway…

…except for Kirk Cameron, who at one point made life really uncomfortable.

After three disaffected years at Bible College, I took a position as a youth pastor.  I was being phased in to leading the youth while the old youth pastor was smoothly being phased out so he could do another ministry in the church.  For a summer we ran the youth group together.  I came on the job at the time he was laying the groundwork for the kids to learn the “Way of the Master” style of evangelizing.  And my new stance on hell was not conducive to this.

The Way of the Master is this, for lack of a better term, tactic that’s produced by Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron (yes, the guy from “Growing Pains”).  In a nutshell, it’s a method of witnessing that involves going up to random strangers and asking them if they are a good person.  Most people say yes.  Then you ask them things like if they’ve ever told a lie before, stolen before; basically ever sinned before.  Again, most people say yes.  Then you basically tell them they’re going to hell unless they repent and follow Jesus.

It was about as successful as using only happy thoughts for birth control.

Everything within me screamed at the thought of evangelizing this way.  It was invasive.  It forced people to make a life (and beyond) decision that was based on fear and not love.  It was something that Jesus never did (funny that it was called “Way of the Master”).  And it was all based on something I didn’t believe in.  I mean, I am all for Jesus’ command to spread the gospel everywhere, but I missed the part in the Bible where telling people who God loves them and they’re going to cook for eternity in the same breath was the way to do it.

We took the kids to the mall to do this.  I should have said no.  I should have said it was against my religion; that it was against THEIR religion.  I should have said that regardless of one’s view of hell, that this was a bad idea.  And then he would have asked me what I had meant about “view on hell”.  And I would have had to come out of the closet.

So I stayed in the closet.

I took a group of teenagers into a mall to assault people by telling them they were going to hell.  I hated it.  I felt convicted.  All of my logic pounded on the door of my brain hard enough to be felt in my heart that this was doing more harm than good.  Rarely does anyone truly get converted this way.  Jesus never said “Come follow me…or else”.

But I needed this gig.  So I peddled fear of something that was about as real to me as Santa Claus.  And I’m not proud of it.

It’s been years since that incident and I’ve been able to stay in the closet with relative ease. It’s not hard to dodge conversations about hell.  You can’t dodge topics about meaningless pop-culture or politics, but discourse about the ultimate destination of the unsaved – that’s an easy one.  Everything was going well.  I was respected amongst my church, my Christian friends and my family.  And then it all came crashing down.

Rob Bell writes a book.

Rob Bell’s new book, “Love Wins” is a semi-theological, incredibly poetical conversation about the extreme torrent that is God’s love.  Rob Bell talks about a lot things in the book; the mission of the church, who all will be saved, how heaven and earth will be one, why we need to take care of the hell on earth now.  He injects some theology that doesn’t totally mesh with your typical evangelical church, but ultimately, the book was primarily an incredibly beautiful portrayal of the irrepressible love of God.  Even if someone didn’t agree with the theology, they could still enjoy the words that at times seemed to sing about God’s love.

But a lot of people didn’t see it that way.

The book was largely viewed as a textbook on doctrine and one of the biggest (and misguided) things that people extrapolated from it was that Rob Bell doesn’t believe in hell.  Magazines, blogs, web articles and social media exploded with judgments on Rob Bell’s beliefs (or lack thereof) before the book was even out.  All of a sudden, everybody who was anybody had an opinion and an invested claim on the theological landscape.  Churches, denominations, pastors and their flocks chose sides and the battle began with the poor hipster’s words smack in the middle of the crossfire.  And topics like hell were being talked about again.  No longer could I dodge the issue.

Poo on you, Rob Bell – you and your beautiful book.

So this is me, coming out and saying that I don’t believe that people will be eternally tormented in hell.  While I adhere to this belief with utter joy, I proclaim it with somewhat of a heavy heart.  The very few times I have admitted this in the past, it was met with labels like “liberal”, and statements like “You’re following man’s intellect instead of God’s ideals”.  I fear that this public declaration will change some of the variables in my ministry and how I can react with Christian colleagues.  Perhaps my blogging will now be met with ad hominem judgment.  Maybe I’ll stop getting requests to lead worship services and speak at youth groups.  If I’m off on this piece of theology, what other things do I adhere to that could potentially deceive impressionable teenagers and disaffected bass players?  I don’t say this to be a martyr. I hope this doesn’t happen!  I don’t do well with loneliness.

At this point I would like to make myself clear that even though I don’t believe in eternal hell, my passion for spreading the gospel has not waned.  In fact, it has increased.  Now that hell is out of the way, I am free to share Christ’s love the way he intended for it to be shared.  Not scaring the proverbial hell out of people and focusing on emulating Jesus’ methods is much more compelling to non-believers.

So if I don’t believe in eternal torment, then what do I believe in?  I’ll admit that while I’m solid in believing that eternal torment is unbiblical, I don’t have all the answers.  I lean towards the belief that hell equals destruction.  There seems to be some good biblical grounds for that.  But when it comes to who gets destroyed, that’s a complex discussion that involves thoughts on Christology and Eschatology and atonement and Old Testament prophecy and a slew of other things that I’ve not yet been able to give myself a satisfactory answer.  But that’s for another day.  I’m taking this one step at a time.

But what I do know is that God is too big to be assigned to a few adjectives and pages of theory.  He’s too wise to be unstable in his plan.  He’s too loving to be tyrannical to his creation.  He’s too supreme to have his wishes and desires go unfulfilled.  The aspects of God can be ontologically felt in our hearts, and all I feel in him is love and a peace that I don’t understand.

God In The Fissures

I’m going to kick this blog off with a question:  If the Israelites in the Old Testament would have decided that warring and violence wasn’t the answer to their problems, and that they were going to approach their enemies with love and passive resistance, how do you think God would have responded?

This past weekend, I went to a church to see a 20-year-old prophet named Manasseh Jordan.  This guy has been gaining some huge momentum in his ministry and apparently he draws some pretty big crowds.  It was kinda cool that he was coming to a small church in the tiny town of Glen Carbon, IL.  Now, I’ve probably already made half of you readers tense up as blogging about modern day prophets is one topic guaranteed to get people defensive and offended.  Don’t worry, this is not what this blog really is about.

If you’ve never seen one of these prophets or don’t know what they’re all about, I’ll give a quick synopsis.  Basically, they spend a lot of the service calling out people whom they’ve never met, and they’ll tell people things that God wants them to hear.  Usually the prophecies are all positive and encouraging.    For instance, if I lost my job and I was really torn up about it, and a prophet tells me, “God says to not worry.  A new job is coming soon and it will be better than your old one.”  This would be a good prophecy.  Now, no matter what you believe about modern day prophets, if you were there, you couldn’t deny the fact that this guy was scary accurate.  He was telling people things down to the tiniest detail that would have been virtually impossible for him to know otherwise.

But things got ugly for a brief moment.  The prophet transitioned to a time to take the offering, but it wasn’t the typical method where ushers pass around offering plates while some bad singer performs a song off a soundtrack.  The prophet had a different method that apparently, at least for one indignant man, didn’t sit well in the stomach.

Without going into too much detail, the prophet was saying things like, “God wants you to sew into this ministry by giving a seed of $1,000.”  If people in the congregation raised their hand and agreed to the amount, he would typically prophecy over them.  There were even a few people that he pre-emptively went over to and said, “God wants you to give $1,000 because…” and then would tell them something good.

On this particular night, the prophet said that there were 5 people in the audience that God wants them to give double; a $2,000 offering because God wanted to doubly bless them.  Four people raised their hand and the prophet prayed over each of them.  When the fifth person raised his hand, the prophet went over to him and that’s when things got ugly.

The man stood up, and tried to give the prophet a few (I think they were) twenty-dollar bills.  The prophet said, “Put that away, I want to pray for you”.

The man shoved the bills into the inside of the prophet’s suit and said, “This is my birthday money.  Take it.  I’m tired of you making my father’s house a den of thieves.”  And then we walked out.

Quiet gasps could be heard all over the sanctuary after the shock of what had just happened.  Sure, people disagree in churches all the time, but I’ve never seen someone express their disdain in such a publically confrontational and aggressive way like this before.

After the service, conversations all over the church were buzzing with what had happened.  I got to listen to several of these conversations.  Not that these words were actually spoken, but it seemed like a lot of people believed the man who had the outburst was deceived or not of God.  A few had looks on their faces like they thought this man was sent by the Devil himself to ruin the prophet’s ministry.  Even the prophet mentioned something about the enemy hindering the work of God and how it “attracts attack.”

The man who had the outburst didn’t stick around for an interview but judging by the look on his face, I’m guessing that he thought Manasseh Jordan was a false prophet and the audience was deceived.  He clearly didn’t think this prophet was of God.

This blog isn’t really about methods of taking offering, although this was a good example.  This blog is about the fact that in this example, we have two sides who are convinced that their belief is of God, while the other belief is sin.

And we see these fissures all over Christianity.

Now, I don’t want to just single out Christianity, because there’s differing opinion, facts, interpretations in just about everything.  Antimony is everywhere.  Even in science, where some have turned it into a religion of stability and pure objective truths are failing to see its fissures.

And differing beliefs aren’t really a bad thing.  But sometimes, when we defend our beliefs in the name of God, differences get defined as things like heresy, deception and sin.  And yes, I fully believe that heresy, deception and sin do exist.  But when two sides of a much smaller subject are calling each other heretics, and they both have scripture to back up their beliefs, is one side god-fully right and the other side sinfully wrong?

Let me explain it this way and use the example of the offering.  In regards to the man who had the outburst towards the prophet, his way of expressing his objection was wrong, but I can’t help siding with him in what he believes.  I just don’t feel that encouraging people to give money by telling them they’ll be blessed is appropriate and biblical.  It makes people give for the wrong reasons.  We, as Christians should take Christ’s example and sacrificially give because it is our duty as children of God and as ambassadors to his kingdom.  I feel like I have slightly more resolve than the average person and even I was tempted to reach for my checkbook; but not because I wanted to give, but because I wanted to receive a blessing.  I’m not saying that this is for everyone, but for me, I would have been doing wrong if I would have given to that prophet’s ministry.  Again, one man’s conviction is not universally shared and I’m sure there were many people who legitimately felt God calling them to donate to the prophet’s ministry.  But for me, it wouldn’t have been offering, it would have been gambling.

I WANT TO MAKE IT VERY CLEAR that I am, in no way, condemning anyone who gave an offering to that prophet’s ministry.  You may not see it the same way I do or God legitimately told you to give an offering.  Besides, God gives us all different convictions sometimes.  Some people are okay with drinking beer while others are convicted when eating meat.  God gives the freedom for both but sometimes he prevents these things for individuals in their own personal romance with God.

But should a prophet, who stays in Ritz-Carlton hotels and wears super expensive clothes; should he be peddling offering money in exchange for prophetic blessings?  My opinion is…no way, Jose!  I believe it’s wrong, wrong, wrongiddy wrong!

So is this prophet a heretic?  Is he a false prophet?   My opinion is…no way, Jose!  Opinions that he is a heretic are wrong, wrong, wrongiddy wrong!

So is this prophet a true man of God?  Does God speak through his “offering prophecies?” Will the people who received an “offering prophecy” get what they were promised?  My opinion is…yes, yes, yeppity, yes!

Wait, didn’t I just say the peddling was wrong and yet God still works through it?  Yes, I did.  And here’s where it gets tricky.

First, we have to realize, that no one, be he a pastor, prophet, or the pope himself does his ministry to the perfect will of God.  Even a prophet who hears from God as much as this guy does is not infallible.  He may be a fantastic prophet, but that doesn’t necessarily make him a fantastic teacher, apostle, pastor or evangelist.  This idea concerning the five-fold ministry in Ephesians 4 is to the credit of my beautiful wife, Sarah.  She said, “We live in a society where we want to be everything.  We can’t be everything!  We just can’t be a pastor AND a prophet AND an evangelist AND an apostle AND a teacher.”   Just because one is a fantastic prophet doesn’t mean he’s fantastic at everything else.

Second, we have to understand that being wrong simply does not negate us from God’s work.  God is not afraid of wrong.  He does not shy away from wrong. God doesn’t just stop using us whenever we get it wrong.  If he did, God wouldn’t use anyone!  The Bible is full of people who did really dumb things, and yet, God still worked some good in them.

The following is merely my theory; a fledgling thought that has been brewing up trouble in my head.  It is un-polished, un-researched and lacks enough solid backing to be labeled “my firm opinion”.  But it’s mine and it’s currently how I feel and it helps me reconcile some things.  Not only does God still use us while allowing use to my bad choices, he will sometimes work through the bad choices to ultimately bring good!  When the Israelites wanted a king, God advised against it.   The Israelites went through some pretty hard times because of the decision, but God allowed it and eventually worked it out for his glory.  That’s why when I asked the hypothetical question about the Israelites deciding not go to war with their enemies, I believe God would have honored that decision.  In fact, I believe that all the violence in the Old Testament wasn’t God’s perfect plan and intent.  But God still worked through his people’s bad decision.

This belief does not negate God’s sovereignty.  I believe it enhances it and shows just how good God is.  He allows the free will of our decisions, but he’s not going to completely deny us his goodness whenever we get it wrong.  He’s too good to let our finite and wisdom-less choices affect his ultimate plan of glory.   Now, in the case of the prophet, I think God would bless his ministry more should he be more humble with his finances and offering methods.  But that doesn’t mean that God isn’t going to work through it, because God is working through it.  God is still blessing his ministry and blessing those who give to it and teaching them some practical and radical faith.

Does this mean we can blindly believe whatever makes us feel good?  Absolutely not!  It is imperative that we keep praying, keep searching scriptures and keep trying to understand God so one day we can get it right.  But God is an unfathomable mystery.  And 2,000 years of trying to crack that mystery with our finite and limited minds, we still have only scratched the surface and we still get it wrong sometimes.  God understands this!  The important part is that we’re honestly seeking him and exhibiting his love as best as we can.

There are a slew of ministers out there that I completely disagree with on issues and that generally irritate me to the core.  But if their heart is fixed towards reaching people for God, then they are my family, my fellow soldier in the foxhole, my co-heir in Christ.  I can disagree with their methods, but I can’t demonize their souls.  They are sharing in the same mission of Christ.

It has long been my conviction and my dream that denominations and differing beliefs should come together and celebrate each other.  How much better would the good news of Jesus be spread if we were all united?  The fissures will always exist, but we should know that God is in them and he is ultimately in control.

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