---Porch Chat Blog Archive

Broken Sexuality Pt. 2

Tyler Goens 02.11.18

Downtown Campus


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Love and Same-Sex Relationships

In our church, we’ve been going through a series called Broken, exploring everything from our connection with God, abortion, foster care, addictions, and sexuality. Really nothing that controversial. But this week, we’re really stirring the pot, as I’m teaching on love and same-sex relationships. I’ve attached the sermon if you want to listen to the whole thirty minutes. However, I decided to attach a cliff-notes version for those of you who can’t stand to listen to my voice for that long.
This will probably upset both conservatives and progressives, both religious and irreligious. But we have to seek and SPEAK the truth, no matter the consequences from both sides of the debate. Because the truth will set us free.
The paradigm I want us to look through today is LOVE. I know love is a sloppy word, used for everything from pizza to apple products, to friends and family members. But biblical love is a steady, devoted commitment to something or someone, not merely a preference (for pepperoni).
Big Idea: When it comes to our experience of homosexuality, Christians need to love God (and ourselves), love our neighbors, and love our Christian siblings, because God in Christ first loved us.

I. Love God (with your sexuality)

In Matthew 22:36-37 a scribe asks Jesus: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’” As the Bible Project dudes have pointed out recently, the word soul (ψυχή) has less to do with some immaterial part of you, and more your entire life, including your body. It’s the same word used for Jesus in Matthew 20:28, where Jesus says he gives his LIFE (ψυχή) as a ransom for many. Obviously, this includes his body.
One key passage in our understanding of what it means to love God with our bodies comes from 1 Corinthians 6:18-20: “Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.”
It’s important to remember that God isn’t prudish when it comes to sex. He invented it. It’s his gift to us. We see this on the second page of the Bible in Genesis, we see this in Proverbs 5 (one time my dad had a sex talk with me from that passage before a soccer game. Talk about awkward!) Song of Songs is incredibly erotic. In 1 Corinthians 7:5, Paul encourages married people to keep doing it. As with any good, powerful gift, like my first .22 rifle, there are right and wrong ways to use it. And so God gives us a number of guidelines on what not to do with sex.
We love God by honoring him with our sexuality. And we love ourselves, in the highest sense of the word, by following his sexual guidelines for our lives.
Now we’re finally to the crucial question: Does same-sex sexual activity ever honor God? Is it ever a proper use of the good gift? To put it explicitly, from a Christian perspective, is gay sex ever okay? Even if it occurs within a committed relationship, a legal marriage as defined by law?
Until recently, Christians always answered that question as “NO.” Sex is only for marriage, and marriage is only for a male and female. It’s remarkable actually, the church had debates over the deity of Christ, the Trinity, and what books should or shouldn’t be in the Bible. But there was never any debate, from the Catholics to the Eastern Orthodox, to Protestants, for thousands of years on the morality of same-sex, sexual activity. It was always seen as “out of bounds.”
Recently, we have seen an explosion of those who identify as Christian, who affirm same-sex relationships. One of the most popular books arguing for the church’s need to depart from its traditional understanding is Matthew Vines’ God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships. I will reference some of the commonly raised objections to the traditional sexual ethic as we go through these texts.
Now if you identify as LGBT, or are supportive of LGBT relationships, I commend you for reading this far and am thankful that’d you’d even read what I’m saying. I recognize that some of these Bible texts that I’m about to share have sometimes been wielded as weapons towards the LGBT community, which I have no intention of doing. Hang with me through this part, and I think you will appreciate what I say about the need for love in all of our relationships, even when we disagree with each other.

Biblical Guidelines on Same-Sex Sexual Activity, First Text:

“‘Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.”
-Leviticus 18:22
“‘If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.”
-Leviticus 20:13
Leviticus 18 and 20 contain the extensive, sometimes awkward sexual laws that undergirded Israelite society.
Objection 1: But wait, doesn’t Leviticus have laws that we don’t follow today? Like eating bacon?
Answer: We are thankful for bacon. Yes, it is true that we are not under Israelite law in the same way that they were. We (thankfully) don’t practice capital punishment to the same degree anymore either. However, there are a number of laws in Leviticus that we do continue to see as valuable, like laws against child sacrifice, incest, adultery, bestiality, and stealing from your neighbors. Every sexual law except one (menstruation law) is reaffirmed in the New Testament, including same-sex sexual activity. It seems relatively clear that Jesus and Paul reference this Levitical, sexual ethic.
Second Text:
“Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way, the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.” -Romans 1:26-27
Objection 2: Paul is referring to excessive lust and promiscuity.
While excessive lust seems to be a problem here, if you look at the broader context, as Preston Sprinkle notes, it seems that “men departed from their Creator’s intention by having sex with males.” Contextually, the issue isn’t lust or passion, which goes with any sex act, it’s the departure from what God intended for sex that’s the problem.
Third and Fourth Texts:
“Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” -1 Corinthians 6:9-11
“We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine.” -1 Timothy 1:10
Objection 3: Paul is referring to exploitative, sexual relationships: rape, prostitution, and pederasty (pederasty was a wide-spread and awful practice in ancient Greek and Roman culture where men would have sexual relationships with younger boys).
Answer: Paul could have used more specific words to refer to exploitative relationships (like παιδοφθορέω), but instead uses a more inclusive word (ἀρσενοκοίτης) to refer to all kinds of sexual, same-sex relationships, exploitative or not. In fact, the compound word arsenokoites, used in both 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy, is the same word used in the Septuagint (Greek translation of the OT) in the Leviticus passages mentioned above: (arsenos koiten, Lev 20:13).
In summary, we love God by honoring him with our sexual desires and decisions. So what that means, Christian, is no matter what your sexual attractions are, saying “NO!” to these temptations is an act of love, trust, and commitment to God.
Sadly, many teachings on the topic end here. “The Bible says it’s wrong, that settles it. Nothing more to say.” But we forget that Jesus’ greatest commandment of love has two parts. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength AND…

II. Love Your (Gay) Neighbor As Yourself

“Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”- Matthew 22:37-39
When Jesus says this, most people don’t realize that he is quoting from Leviticus 19, a passage that is right in between the two Leviticus chapters on sexual sin.
But who are our neighbors?
Anyone and everyone who comes into your life, whether you want them there or not: actual neighbors, coworkers, classmates, family and relatives, parents on the sidelines, even random people in need. And this should be obvious to us, but I don’t get a “pass” on this command if my neighbor identifies as gay.
I remember the first time I encountered a real person who identified as gay, other than on tv or abstract playground talk. I was probably a sophomore in high school, and a new, gay student shows up. I don’t remember much, but I do remember one day in science class, feeling a sense of superiority, self-righteousness, and judgment around him. I tried to avoid him. Is it any wonder that many think that Christians hate LGBT people?
This was not the way of Jesus. In Mark 2:13-17, Jesus calls a tax collector named Levi (Matthew) to come follow him. Tax collectors are despised and hated at the time because of their work for the Roman foreigners and their legal ability to steal from their citizens. Jesus extends an invitation to Levi, which would have been shocking enough. In appreciation, Levi invites Jesus over to his house and throws a dinner party. Respectable religious people won’t hang out with Levi, so who will hang out with him? Other social, sinful outcasts, like the drug and alcohol addicts, debtors, and prostitutes, people who society and synagogue have written off. So Levi’s friends are social losers. And yet Jesus attends Levi’s dinner party and is the center of attention. No religious or political person would be caught dead at a place like this. And yet Jesus makes himself at home.
Jesus’ habit of hanging with sinners earned him a few negative nicknames among the religious elite: like glutton, like drunkard, like friend of sinners, friend of tax collectors.
Imagine if I had pulled that new kid aside, or sat down at his table, and said: “hey Kyle (not his real name), you’re new, and I’m glad you’re here. Tell me about yourself. Can I help your transition to this new school in any way?”
And so Kyle, if you’re read, I’m sorry for the way Christians have treated you. I’m sorry for avoiding you. I’m sorry for withholding the love of Christ from you. And more than just to Kyle, if you identify as LGBT, and you’re reading this, I want to say that as a representative of Christianity, we are sorry for the ways we’ve treated you. We are sorry for the dehumanizing language we’ve used, for treating you more like a political opponent than a personal neighbor. We’re sorry for the ways we have not loved like Jesus. And we ask for your forgiveness.
As I go through this journey myself, I’m inviting us as Christians to examine our, pride and self-righteousness, our discomfort, our political allegiances, and our past pain in this area. What if we led the way in respectful dialogue? In listening, learning, and asking lots of questions? In being slow to speak and considerate of our language? In talking about Jesus first, and sexuality later?
We don’t just have work to do outside the church, but also inside.

III. Love Your (Same-Sex Attracted) Christian Sibling

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” -John 13:34-35
“Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.” -Romans 12:10
“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” -Ephesians 4:2
The New Testament is ADAMENT about our responsibility to love other Christians.
While we love everyone, including neighbors and even enemies, there should be a particular, loving emphasis on those inside our family. Those who have our last name: Christian.
There are those in our Christian family who struggle with same-sex attraction; there are people reading this who experience same-sex attraction. Maybe you’ve told someone, maybe you’ve held it inside for years. I want you to know that there are people in this church ready to hear your story. Not everyone is ready, but many are. We LOVE you. We need you. You are a valuable part of our family. And you are no more broken than the rest of us; all of us are in need of Jesus. Don’t give up, don’t give in; we want to help, and we need your help.

My desire in all of this is for the church to be a safer place for people to share their sin and struggles. Jude 1:22 says: “be merciful to those who doubt” and 1 Thess 5:14: “And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle (undisciplined), encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.
This hasn’t often or always been the case. This statistic might blow your mind, it did mine: 86% of the LGBT people came from a faith community. Let that sink in for a second. 86% of LGBT people have spent significant time in church. AND perhaps more surprisingly, most say they didn’t leave for theological reasons. They left because of how they were treated. The church environment was not a safe place for so many to discuss their doubts and distressing sexuality. 96%, nearly all of this community, has prayed to God to make them straight. 96%!! Many want us to believe that this community is mostly secular and atheistic. But it’s not true. And we’ve dropped the ball in helping them.
We’ve had trouble with this for a number of reasons. As mentioned above, we are facing internal self-righteous, from a stigma or bias that we harbor towards those who struggle in this way. For me, I’ve had to reevaluate my sense of humor, as it’s so easy to tell gay jokes or to use the word gay in a derogatory way to mean lame or stupid. We also face theological confusion, failing to recognize that same-sex attraction or temptation is not sin. It’s what we do with it or how we act on it that crosses the moral line. And lastly, our Christian community has idolized marriage to the point where single adults don’t feel like they are a valuable part of the group. We’ll say things like: She’s so pretty, how is she still single?” With our comments and our commitments, we can act like life outside of marriage and sex is unfortunate. Jesus and Paul might argue otherwise.
This is not easy; this is a lot of work. Love always is. But it’s worth it. Are you a safe person for a person who identifies as LGBT? Are you a safe person for a person with same-sex attraction to talk with you about it? If not, what needs to change so that you can be more like Jesus in this way?   
The motivation for such a posture, for the work that will be required to examine some of our self-righteous stigmas, or our secret sins, comes out of a recognition for God’s great love for us: 
“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” -1 John 4:10-11  
Thanks for reading! How can Christians continue to hold to a traditional sex ethic, while still loving their neighbors who may disagree with them?  

Priests, Parties, and Poor People: OT Tithes

From a young age, my parents taught me the value of tithing and saving. They did this by giving me a unique piggy bank, which wasn’t a piggy, but was instead three buildings with a coin hole at the top of each. There was a store, a church, and a bank. So when I got my $1 of allowance, one dime went in the bank, one dime into the church, and the other 80 cents to the store. Easy math. But if finances were tight, and I really wanted that Lego battleship, sometimes, to my shame, I would sneak money out of the bank and transfer it into the store. But I never dipped my hand into the church side of things. Bank robbery was occasionally okay, but stealing from God didn’t seem like a great idea as a seven-year old.
As I’ve been reading through your favorite biblical genre, Israelite law code, I’ve learned some surprisingly things about the tithe that no one told me growing up. The tithe is far better than you once thought.
“Every tenth of the land’s produce, grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the Lord; it is holy to the Lord.” -Leviticus 27:30
Tithe means one tenth, or 10%. Some will be surprised to know that there is not one tithe, but three mentioned in the Old Testament, each with a specific purpose.
Tithe #1: To the Levites (priests)
Look, I have given the Levites every tenth in Israel as an inheritance in return for the work they do, the work of the tent of meeting. . .The Levites will not receive an inheritance among the Israelites; this is a permanent statute throughout your generations. For I have given them the tenth that the Israelites present to the Lord as a contribution for their inheritance. That is why I told them that they would not receive an inheritance among the Israelites” – (Num 18:21, 23b-24).
The Levites ran religious life in Israel, staffing the tabernacle and later the temple. Because they did not have land (nor would they have time to work it), they needed to receive support from the rest of the people. In some ways, this was like a tax, because there is no separation between church and state in ancient Israel. They are priests, but they’re also “government,” as they provide a valuable civic service.
Tithe #2: To a Family Vacation and Blowout Barbeque
Don’t believe me? Check out Deuteronomy 14:22-27:
22 “Each year you are to set aside a tenth of all the produce grown in your fields. 23 You are to eat a tenth of your grain, new wine, and oil, and the firstborn of your herd and flock, in the presence of Yahweh your God at the place where He chooses to have His name dwell, so that you will always learn to fear the Lord your God. 24 But if the distance is too great for you to carry it, since the place where Yahweh your God chooses to put His name is too far away from you and since the Lord your God has blessed you, 25 then exchange it for money, take the money in your hand, and go to the place the Lord your God chooses. 26 You may spend the money on anything you want: cattle, sheep, wine, beer, or anything you desire. You are to feast there in the presence of the Lord your God and rejoice with your family. 27 Do not neglect the Levite within your gates, since he has no portion or inheritance among you.”
Say what? A family vacation, barbeque, and beer? Why have I never heard about this tithe? God commanded the people to set aside 10% of the food and drink that they produced, so that they could have a blowout party at Shiloh or Jerusalem every year. To many in Israel, this would be like a vacation. But if they lived too far from Jerusalem, they could turn their crops in cash and then come buy all the meat and drinks they could ever want. Think of Outback Steak House, just without the ribs and bacon burgers.
Why did God institute this party? In Deuteronomy 14:23, he says that the feast is so “that you will always learn to fear the Lord your God.” The “fear of the Lord” here doesn’t mean being afraid of God, but rather honoring him above everyone and everything else. The whole point of the feast is to enjoy good food and drink “in God’s presence” with family and friends.
Some scholars think that Tithe #1 and Tithe #2 are really the same thing. They note that spending 10% of the annual income on a trip and dinner party seems unlikely. That’s a lot of steak. They might be right, and if this is the case, then the Israelites would bring their tithe to Shiloh or Jerusalem, throw a massive party, and give the rest to the Levites for their taxes/tithe. It seems like a probable interpretation. However, other scholars see the differences between Tithe #1 and #2 as being indications that these are separate tithes.
Tithe #3: Helping the poor (Every third year)
“At the end of every third year, bring the entire tithe of that year’s harvest and store it in the nearest town. Give it to the Levites, who will receive no allotment of land among you, as well as to the foreigners living among you, the orphans, and the widows in your towns, so they can eat and be satisfied. Then the Lord your God will bless you in all your work.” -Deuteronomy 14:28-29
This tithe is definitely different from the first two, because it happens every third year, and it happens in the nearest town (instead of Shiloh or Jerusalem). This collection is again for the Levites, but also for the foreigners/immigrants, orphans, and widows. In ancient Semitic culture, these three kinds of people (immigrants, orphans, and widows) are extremely vulnerable, with few rights or social systems to protect them. The fact that God sets up this tithe shows that he cares for these vulnerable populations, commanding Israel to protect and provide for them.
How do the Old Testament tithes inform our giving and generosity today? As with so many of the Israel-specific commands, they are not to be directly applied to today’s context and culture. Rather, these commands are to help us think about God’s character and how we should act in light of it.
Tithing is not mentioned (positively) in the New Testament, but radical generosity is. So we’re not off that hook. All of our money, time, and resources are God’s. To conclude, I’ll briefly comment on how I think each OT tithe might inform our generosity today.
The 1st OT Tithe reminds us that we need to financially prioritize pastors. We can and should continue to support ministry leaders financially. The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching” (1 Tim 5:17). Obviously I’m in this category, so I’m the fat elephant in the room here. And no, I don’t need a raise. But seriously, I am incredibly thankful that people in my church faithfully give, many of them 10% of their income, so that I am able to work full-time in this capacity.
The 2nd OT Tithe reminds us that we need to financially prioritize parties. Yes, you read that right. Christians need to throw the best parties, and not just with our friends, but also with “the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind,” (Luk 14:13), as well as “tax collectors and sinners” (Mk 2:16). If a part of your tithe goes to throwing block parties to better get to know your neighbors or coworkers, there’s pretty good biblical precedent for that.
The 3rd OT Tithe reminds us that we need to financially prioritize the poor. It is difficult to know the best ways to do this, but I think its wise to 1) support proven organizations in your town (like your local Mission, Pregnancy Care Centers, and benevolence ministries), 2) support good, global organizations (like orphan ministry) and 3) to have relationships with poor people so we don’t distance ourselves from their world. I’ll let you figure out what that might look like!
Finally, all this motivation for generosity comes from the generosity of Jesus: For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (1 Cor 8:9). When we’ve been given the Lord Jesus, worth far more than a billion bucks, it’s odd to haggle over pennies.

Five Favorite Books of 2017

It’s that time of year again! This is my third annual “Favorite Five” post that I do every December. I love to read, and hope that sharing a few of my favorites inspires you to spend a little less time on Netflix and a little more time in a good book! Here are my favorite 5 reads of 2017 (out of 55), in descending order. My goal next year is to hit 100 books. Keep me accountable, and I would love to do the same for your reading goals! Here we go:
5) The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided By Politics And Religion by Jonathan Haidt
Have you ever wondered why our country is so polarized? Or why your coworker on the other side of the political spectrum never changes their mind because of your flawless logic? Psychologist Jonathan Haidt provides us with a groundbreaking book to help us understand the mechanisms behind the seemingly infinite divides in our religion, politics, and morality. Using the metaphor of an elephant and rider, Haidt argues that our emotions and intuitions (the elephant) are far more powerful and influential than our mental reasoning (the rider). We can try and reason with the brain (rider), but the elephant (moral intuition) has been shaped by years of past life experiences, contexts, and assumptions (and thus is less moved by reason).  
This book is a must-read for those trying to have substantive conversations with those on the other side of the political/moral/religious/philosophical spectrum. If you’ve liked anything by James K.A. Smith, this is a similar project from a non-religious perspective. 
4) The ONE Thing: The Surprising Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan
Somehow I caught this book on Amazon (digitally) for free ninety-nine. I’m not sure if this was a mistake or what. But it turned out to be the best free book I’ve ever purchased. No really, this is absolutely the best book on productivity that I’ve ever read. Keller’s whole argument is that the most successful people do less, not more. In fact, the way to success is by doing, yep, you guessed it, ONE Thing (is everyone named “Keller” super smart?) 
Keller dismantles what he calls the “six lies between you and success:”1) Everything matters equally 2) Multitasking 3) A disciplined life 4) Willpower is always on will-call 5) A balanced life and 6) Big is bad. Lie #2 in particular caught my attention, as Keller shows through research that multitasking is a lie. You might argue that you’re great at it, but the science says otherwise. People that focus on one thing are more productive than those doing two. “It’s not that we have too little to do all the things we need to do, it’s that we feel the need to do too many things in the time we have.” In our scattered, distracted age, where we’re constantly bombarded with notifications, beeps, buzzes or dings, is it any wonder that we’re so incredibly unproductive?  This is a must-read for those who want to increase productivity. The daily, moment by moment question Keller encourages us to ask is this: “What’s the ONE Thing I can do such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”
3) People to be Loved: Why Homosexuality Is Not Just an Issue by Preston Sprinkle
I’ve spent many hours reading, thinking, and talking with some of you about same-sex sexuality this year. Preston’s book on the topic is massively helpful in a number of ways. First, and perhaps most importantly for the conservative crowd, Preston reminds us that we’re talking about people, not just an issue. While doing the research for this book, Preston was convicted that he was spending too much time in the library and not enough time actually talking to people who experience same-sex attraction. So he decided to spend half his time in the library, and half his time in the coffee shop with anyone willing to share his/her story with him. We would be wise to do the same. The church definitely has a “posture problem” in this area. We’ve sometimes treated some sins as unpardonable (same-sex relationships), and treated other sins as not a big problem (like greed or divorce). 
Secondly, Preston defends the so-called “traditional” view, the historic, Judeo-Christian perspective of sexuality as found in the Bible. He’s familiar with the high-level scholarship in regards to particular Greek words, and demonstrates with relative certainty that Jesus and Paul held to this historic view. The modern interpretation, that the Apostle Paul’s prohibitions refer to pederasty and not same-sex sexual activity, can’t hold the scholarly weight.  
All this to say, the book does an excellent job “speaking the truth in love.” We need to do a lot more listening, love others, and cherish God’s good intention for sex and marriage. 
2) Lincoln’s Battle with God: A President’s Struggle With Faith and What it Meant for America by Stephen Mansfield
Countless biographies, especially from the Christian sector, should be called hagiographies (holy-writings), because they downplay the faults and overemphasize the strengths of the subject. However, Mansfield’s book could not be accused of hagiography. He offers us a unique look into the history and heart of this conflicted man. In his early life, “Honest” Abe wasn’t real honest and was probably more known as “Atheist Abe.” He struggled with mental health issues and visited prostitutes to numb his depression. And yet, after the election and during the war, Lincoln experienced and expressed a renewed interest in the faith of his mother. Perhaps America’s worst war drove Lincoln to his knees in dependence on God. The book is a must read for history-buffs or those interested in the spiritual journey of our best President. 
1) Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity by Nabeel Qureshi.
This book was so moving that I think I read its 300 pages in three sittings. In it, Nabeel details his conversion from an intensely devoted Islamic faith to a robust Christianity.  In a college debate class, Nabeel met a Christian man named David Wood, who would become a lifelong friend. The two ceaselessly debated Christianity and Islam, the Bible and the Qu’ran, Jesus and Muhammad. But their friendship could handle it, because they were committed to each other even during the fiery exchanges. While these debates were important to Nabeel’s conversion, it’s evident that the way the Christian community (David, professors, church leaders, other Christians) treated Nabeel played in to his stunning story. The book inspired a number of thoughts for me. In particular, I wonder how can we, as the church, can be more open to minority ethnic and religious people, even in homogeneous areas like my own.
Sadly, on September 16 of this year, Nabeel died from a yearlong battle with cancer. While his life is over, his legacy lives on through his story, his wife and daughter, and his countless videos and books. 
Thanks for reading my Favorite Five! Additional books below! 
Disclaimer: Just because I read the book doesn’t mean I agree with the author in his/her entirety, so don’t judge me that I read Narconomics: How To Run A Drug Cartel by Tom Wainwright.
Bonus: The Next Favorite Five
From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya: A Biographical History of Christian Missions by Ruth A. Tucker.  
Awaiting the King: Reforming Public Theology by James K.A. Smith 
Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer by James L. Swanson 
Sex And The Iworld: Rethinking Relationship Beyond An Age of Individualism by Dale S. Kuehne 
Goodbye, Things: The New Japanese Minimalism by Fumio Sasaki
Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell
Additional books from 2017:
Summary of Essentialism – Elite Summaries
Genesis Unbound: A Provocative New Look At The Creation Account – John Sailhamer
The Day The Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’ Crucifixion – N.T. Wright
Institutes of the Christian Religion – John Calvin
Batman and Psychology: A Dark and Stormy Knight – Travis Langley
Narconomics: How To Run A Drug Cartel – Tom Wainwright
Rome Sweet Home: Our Journey to Catholicism – Scott Hahn 
Around The Wicket Gate – Charles Spurgeon
Persian Fire: The First World Empire and the Battle for the West – Tom Holland
Till We Have Faces – C.S. Lewis
Coach Wooden’s Pyramid of Success: Building Blocks For A Better Life – John Wooden and Jay Carty
The Rule of St. Benedict – St. Benedict, Translated by Cardinal Gasquet
Basic Christianity – John Stott
Incomparable: Explorations in the Character of God – Andrew Wilson
Celebration of the Disciplines – Richard Foster
Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Productivity – Charles Duhigg 
The Benedict Option: A Strategy For Christians In A Post-Christian Nation – Rod Dreher
Crazy Busy – Kevin DeYoung
Setting Our Affections Upon Glory: Nine Sermons on the Gospel and the Church – Martin Llyod-Jones
Silence – Shusaku Endo
Soccer Men: Profiles of the Rogues, Geniuses, and Neurotics Who Dominate the World’s Most Popular Sport – Simon Kuper
Friend of Sinners – Harvey Turner
How to be Here: A Guide to Creating a Life Worth Living – Rob Bell
English Grammar Boot Camp – The Great Courses, Professor Anne Curzan
Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t – Simon Sinek
The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb: Searching for Jesus’ Path of Power in a Church that has abandoned it – Kyle Stroble, Jamin Goggin
The Impact of Trust – Bruce Brown
Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action – Simon Sinek 
Evangelism in the New Testament: A Plea For Biblically relevant Evangelism- Jon Speed
Paula the Waldensian – Eva Lecomte
The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others – Scot McKnight
Unbelievable? Why After Ten Years of Talking with Atheists, I’m Still A Christian – Justin Brierley
Confessions: A New Translation – Sarah Ruden
The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down – Haemin Sunim
God Has A Name: – John Mark Comer 
Onward: Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel – Russel Moore
You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving Church and Rethinking Faith – David KinnamanI
Was Told To Come Alone: My Journey Behind the lines of Jihad – Souad Mekhennet
God-Soaked Life: Discovering A Kingdom Spirituality – Chris Webb
A Wind in the House of Islam: How God is drawing Muslims around the world to faith in Jesus Christ – David Garrison
8 Hours of Less: Writing Faithful Sermons Faster – Ryan Huguley
Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance – Angela Duckworth
John Hus: A Brief Story of the Life of a Martyr – William Dallmann
The Mission Of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative – Christopher Wright
The Road Back To You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery – Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile
Resource Works:
Genesis 1-11: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture  -Kenneth Matthew
Genesis 11:27-50:26: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture -Kenneth Matthews
Genesis: The NIV Application Commentary- John H. Walton
Genesis: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary- John H. Sailhamer

Japanese Minimalism, Jesus, and Black Friday

I just finished listening to a book by Fumio Sasaki entitled Goodbye Things: The New Japanese Minimalism. In a country (Japan) where space is limited and rent is expensive, there is a growing movement towards a new way of living. Sasaki and his minimalist friends argue a simple point: Less is more. The less you have, the happier you will be. As someone enslaved by his constant comparisons to others and an incessant insecurity, he finally stopped placing his identity in his possessions. He sold most of his stuff, downsized, and wrote a book about the ordeal. The idea, the man, and the movement are all quite fascinating, and worth our consideration. Minimalism has also made some inroads in the United States, like with the Tiny House craze.
In stark contrast, the average American shopper will spend an estimated $967.13 this holiday season ($682 billion total for all American shoppers). It’s ironic that Thanksgiving, the holiday encouraging thankfulness for what we have, is followed by Black Friday, a “holiday” focused on finding what we don’t have. And the problem isn’t just a holiday one, although it’s particularly prominent right now. The problem extends to the other ten months of the year as well, namely: Materialism, the importance a person attaches to acquiring and keeping material goods (not to be confused with philosophical/atheistic materialism, although the two might have some compelling connections).
Sasaki claims that there is no joy to be found in pursuing materialism. I think he’s right. But he’s far from the first to promote a “less is more” lifestyle. Consider Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:19-21: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (NIV)
Jesus’ words prophetically speak to us today in a far greater way that ever before in the history of the world. His original audience hardly had access to anything. They didn’t have Amazon, Ross, or the other temptations that take all my money. An ancient Israelite might have been tempted to acquire an extra rake, another cloak or staff, or to bury some extra gold coins. If an ancient Israelite were in danger of hoarding these seemingly inconsequential items, what would Jesus say to us today?
So as Black Friday approaches, I hope the words of Jesus (and Sasaki) remind us that storing up “early treasure” is draining, whether it’s for us or for others (presents). And sometimes, to help us to buy less, we need to get rid of stuff. I’ll conclude this post with twelve tips from Sasaki on how to live a more minimalist lifestyle (he has seventy in his book).
Some of Sasaki’s tips:
  1. “Get rid of it if you haven’t used it for a year.” This has helped me think through what needs to go based on if I will use it in one of the four seasons.
  2. “Let go of the idea of ‘someday.’ ” If we’re constantly saying, ‘I’ll use it someday,’ get rid of it, because it’s taking up space and mental energy.
  3. “When you discard something, you gain more than you lose” (time, space, freedom, and energy). Less IS more, because you’ll have more to invest into the things that are truly important to you.
  4. “Discard something right now.” Habits start one step at a time (I just got rid of an air mattress while writing this).
  5. “It’s easier to revisit your memories when you go digital.” To use an example, it is easier to access pictures of your bowling trophy or a scan of that special love letter than to actually find it in your attic.
  6. “Our things are like roommates, except we pay their rent.”
  7. “Tackle the nest (storage) before the pest (clutter).” If you get rid of storage containers and places, then you are forced to deal with the clutter, instead of slowing discarding things.
  8. “Let go of the idea of getting your money’s worth. You never will.” Instead, think of what you’re losing by NOT getting rid of it.
  9. “Discard any possession that you can’t discuss with passion.”
  10. “If you lost it, would you buy it again? At full price?”
  11. “If you buy something, get rid of something else.”
  12. “Don’t buy it because it’s cheap; don’t take it because it’s free.” Cue the Ross shopper guilt. Just because you and I get a deal doesn’t mean there aren’t other hidden costs (on our space and energy).
How have you grappled with Jesus’ warnings about possessions? What are some practical tips that have worked for you in this area?

Paul’s Mysterious Man in Romans 7:14-25

I really enjoy detective stories and shows. Whether it’s Sherlock Holmes, Frank and Joe Hardy, or even Sheriff Hopper, there really are stranger things that need solving. One of these stranger things is Paul’s mysterious man in Romans 7:14-25. This perplexing passage has divided even the best biblical scholars and theologians. The great church father and theologian Augustine even changed his mind on this passage, which is really saying something, since most theologians and Bible scholars never admit when they’re wrong. So what’s going on in this passage?
Romans 7:14-25 describes a person in turmoil: “I am all too human, a slave to sin. . .nothing good lives in me, that is, my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. . .Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?” (Romans 7:14b, 18-19, 24 NLT). You could read the entire passage if you have time for a greater sense as to what is happening.
There are basically four or five theories as to the identity and experience of Paul’s mysterious man.
Theory #1: Paul is referring to himself, demonstrating a normal, (even mature) Christian experience. This was the interpretation of the Reformers (Luther, Calvin), John Owen, and those who follow in their footsteps today like J.I. Packer, R.C. Sproul, John Piper. This was also Augustine’s second position. The strongest argument for this view is probably verse 22: “For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being (ESV).
Theory #2: Paul describes the experience of an immature Christian believer. This view points out the absence of the Holy Spirit in Romans 7:14-25, saying the believer needs to move from Romans 7 to Romans 8 as she learns the benefits of being in Christ. This view is not necessarily held in scholarship but is on a popular-level.
Theory #3: Paul describes the experience of every non-Christian person.
Theory #4: Paul describes his own experience as a non-Christian but as a devoted Jewish believer. Theories #3 and #4 were held in various forms by most of the early church fathers, Augustine (1st view), and by contemporary New Testament scholars like Gordon Fee, Douglas Moo, and Preston Sprinkle.
Theory #5: Paul isn’t necessarily describing a Christian or a non-Christian, but rather shows how the law and morality living is unable to transform us (Thomas Schreiner, Martyn Llyod-Jones, F.F. Bruce).
I personally find theory #4 the most compelling, that Paul is referring to himself as a Jewish believer before he met the risen Jesus. I used to hold to theory #1, that Paul is referring to himself as a Christian. The problem with this view is in the strong language of slavery, defeat, and death used. Is a Christian “sold under sin?” Is a Christian powerless to do good? Does a Christian live in a body of death? Romans 7 doesn’t seem to describe someone just struggling with sin but rather someone who is enslaved by sin. The contrast with the victorious life of Romans 8 couldn’t be stronger. The delight that Paul has for God’s law (7:22) means that he’s not just any non-believer (theory #3), but that he’s a Jewish believer who hasn’t met Jesus yet, until verse 25: “Thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (for his rescue).
I’m not married to this idea, and could also change my mind like Augustine. What do you think? Who is Paul referring to in this complex passage?

Rethinking the “Rapture”

The Apostle’s Creed briefly summarizes the Christian belief on where human history is headed: “[Jesus] will come to judge the living and the dead.” There’s little disagreement here among the billions of Christians on this point, Jesus is going to return to the earth. Only this time, his return won’t be in humility or weakness, it will be in power and justice, ridding the world of all evil and making all things new. Those who are “in Christ” (a favorite term of Paul’s to describe a Christian’s identity) will be safe from judgment, because we have trusted Jesus in taking away our well-deserved ‘guilty’ verdict. We believe, with tears, that those who reject relationship with Jesus will experience a second-death. There are all sorts of theories as to what this might look like, but the most important thing is that none of you reading this reject Jesus’ offer for freedom and forgiveness.
Now, from this point, consensus crumbles into countless views on eschatology (eschat= the end, ology=the study of) and how everything will work out. One particularly popular doctrine (in America) is the pretribulation rapture. This view states that Jesus will return not once, but twice more. His first return will be only for his church, in what some have called a “secret rapture.” Think of the Left Behind books/movies. Then, after a literal seven year Tribulation, Jesus will return again in judgment. This doctrine is built on the theological system called Dispensationalism, which sees Israel and the church both as God’s chosen people, and tries to maintain a distinction between the two groups.
In today’s post, I want to briefly mention:
  1. Three reasons why I no longer believe in pretribulation rapture of the church.
  2. One thought on why this is not as important as you think, for my dismayed parents’ and grandparents’ generations.
  3. And finally one thought on why this is more important than you think, for my jaded and doubtful generation.
Reason 1: Church History
One of the biggest factors in my moving away from the pretribulation rapture was the realization that this is a relatively modern doctrine. Popular views on the rapture can be traced by to the contribution of church leader and theologian John Nelson Darby (1800-1882). For over 1500 years, the church never taught anything close to the doctrine of a ‘secret’ rapture, as theologians always saw the second coming of Christ as a one-time event. It is almost indisputable that a pretribulation rapture is a modern doctrine. This doesn’t automatically disprove it, but it certainly should raise some eyebrows, especially if we value church tradition and history.
Reason 2: Theology
Much could be said about the theology that undergirds the pretribulation rapture. The biggest theological question I have about the position is this: Christians have frequently endured mountainous trials and tribulations ever since the day Stephen was executed by mob rock throwing in Acts 7. Even today, ISIS hunts down Christians all throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Why would we think that God would pull his church out of the earth during tribulation? He’s not done it before. And thankfully, none of these tribulations can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:35-39). Again, this does not disprove the pretribulation rapture, but it does undermine it.
Reason 3: Biblically
Dispensationalism in general and the pretribulation rapture in particular make logical sense. The system is built on a number of assumptions, usually starting with assumptions on how to interpret prophetic and apocalyptic literature (like Revelation). Sharing in the assumptions makes the system work flawlessly. But pull one assumption out, and (in my opinion) the system falls down like a house of cards. Let’s demonstrate this with the rapture passage itself, 1 Thess 4:17: “we who are still alive and are left will be caught up (Latin: rapiemur) together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.” Some interpret this verse without any thought to the context and imagery that surrounds it. They see this verse teaching an exodus of the church from the earth. But, as N.T. Wright and other biblical scholars have argued, the image of meeting the Lord in the air is not one of escape, but rather escort. In ancient culture, when an emperor or king would visit a province, the people would go out an escort him into the city. Paul’s image here is of believers going out to meet Jesus, and then turning around to welcome him into the city. There’s also this idea of vindication and glory, particularly for believers under persecution.
Listen to what John Chrysostom, pastor and theologian (349-407AD) says about this passage: “If he is about to descend, on what account shall we be caught up? For the sake of honor. For when a king drives into a city, those who are in honor go out to meet him; but the condemned await the judge within.” Chrysostom’s image reminds me of my childhood, running down the driveway and road to meet my dad coming home from work. But if I ever got in trouble, I didn’t go out to meet him, because I was “condemned” to a spanking. I was typically hiding under my bed or something. God’s kids will meet him as he returns, but the condemned will stay put, awaiting whatever judgment looks like.
Why This Is Not Important:
“I can’t believe he hung up on me.” I had just gotten off the phone with someone who left my church after I preached on Mark 13, a complicated, apocalyptic speech of Jesus. He left after I shared some of the above-mentioned doubts I have about a pretribulation rapture. After making some off-color joke about cemeteries and seminaries, and saying that I need to get in line with all the good pastors, he hung up. For my parents’ and grandparents’ generations, I’m constantly struggling to show that there are multiple credible views on the end-times. Like this man on the phone, some emphatically assert their view is the only “conservative” or “faithful” or “logical” view and that all others are (gasp) “liberal.” It’s ignorance at best and arrogance at worst. In my view, no Christian group, community, or church should divide over a particular perspective on the end times. Other than the shared agreement that Jesus is returning, what more agreement do we need in this area to have Christian community?
Why This is Important:
My generation, frustrated by the dogmatic and domineering nature of the discussion, has far too often avoided it all together. We don’t preach, study, or write about it. I’ll confess that this is my temptation. Even writing this is a challenge, knowing that it will upset some of my friends. But we have to study this, because we love God’s Word. We love these God-breathed texts that are “useful for teaching, rebuking, correction, and training in righteousness.” Eschatology is not something we can avoid, but rather should be talked through and debated charitably, as I have had the privilege of doing with many of you. My hope is that my generation won’t be afraid to talk about Revelation and other sections of prophetic and apocalyptic literature, not afraid of ruffling feathers, and not afraid of having unanswered questions. Good study of the end-times frees us from being overly concerned by current events, but also helps ground our faith in the hope of Christ’s future return.

Lincoln’s Battle with God- Book Review

Lincoln’s Battle With God: A President’s Struggle With Faith And What It Meant For America-  Stephen Mansfield. 279 pages.
I just finished this fascinating book on the faith of Abraham Lincoln. Before reading, I hadn’t known a lot about the President who usually tops the charts of “best presidents” polls. I had read a few of his speeches, as well as watched a few movies (the best of which was Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Slayer, which was not as historically reliable as some might think). From the little that I had read, I naively assumed that Lincoln was a committed, church-going Christian. The truth is, like many of us, Lincoln experienced deep spiritual distress and doubt for much of his life.
Stephen Mansfield brilliantly belabors to show the complexity of Lincoln’s relationship with God. The task is no easy one, as the author needs to track down everything Lincoln ever wrote or said about faith. One of the biggest problems is determining which sources are legitimate and which are embellished. After Lincoln’s death, some were motivated to portray him as more religious, while others reacted against the hiding of Lincoln’s doubts and (probably) overly highlighted his skepticism.
Abraham was raised in a “Christian” home; the family went to church, read the Bible, and talked about it. Nancy Lincoln, Abraham’s mother, frequently sang spiritual songs. Although she couldn’t’ read, she would often recite long sections of scripture and Shakespeare in the home. She loved her children and encouraged Lincoln to go to school and read. Sadly, she died when Abraham was 9, leaving him with his harsh, simplistic, and legalistic father (Thomas). Thomas Lincoln had no tolerance for reading and school, since there was work to be done. Much of what Abraham rejected religiously probably came from what he disdained in his father.
The death of his mother was probably the beginning of Lincoln’s bouts with depression. Mental illness ran in the Lincoln family. After moving away from his hometown, as a young man, Abraham was put on suicide watch, with friends hiding knives and razor blades. He also believed he contracted syphilis through his occasional visiting of prostitutes.
Not only did young Lincoln reject the faith morally and emotionally, but he also began to reject it rationally. Due to the influence of Thomas Paine, and friends in the city of New Salem, Lincoln gained a reputation as an “infidel,” or an “unbeliever.” His skepticism and venom towards traditional Christianity culminated writing a little book “disproving” Christianity. Lincoln tried to get the book published, but a close friend named Samuel Hill, worried about Lincoln’s political future should the book be made public, stole and burned it. One wonders how our country might look today had that little book been published. Upon entering politics, even honest Abe lied repeatedly about his (past?) problems with Christianity, including whether or not this book had existed.
In light of all this, historians of Lincoln tend to view his future references to religion and faith as mere political pandering. Mansfield disagrees with this assessment, arguing that while Lincoln was no “cookie-cutter” Christian, his relationship with God was vital for leading this nation through its darkest days. There was something so sobering about the position in which he found himself, that he seemed to be driven to God in profound ways. Examples abound, but two will suffice for this post.
When Abraham’s three-year old son Eddie tragically died of pulmonary tuberculosis, Reverend James Smith conducted the funeral service. After this, the Lincoln’s began attending Smith’s First Presbyterian Church. Lincoln and Smith frequently talked for hours about life and religion. Not only this, Reverend Smith became a spiritual adviser to the President, constantly visited the White House to converse with and console Lincoln.
Lastly, the weight of the war and country seemed to give Lincoln a new appreciation for Jesus that he hadn’t had in his younger years. It’s reported that while watching the play in Ford’s Theater during that fateful Friday night, Lincoln turned to his wife and whispered: “we will not return immediately to Springfield. We will go abroad among strangers where I can rest. . .we will visit the Holy Land and see those placed hallowed by the footsteps of the Savior. There is no place I so much desire to see as Jerusalem.” And then John Wilkes Booth killed him.
While some doubt if Mary Lincoln told the truth about her husband’s last words, many historians believe them to be authentic. Even if they are not, the amount of research done by Mansfield in trying to truthfully reconstruct Lincoln’s complex faith is commendable. There are countless other examples of Lincoln’s life situations and statements that seem to share that while conflicted, Abraham Lincoln deeply trusted God, and perhaps even Jesus Christ as well. I wholeheartedly recommend the book.

3 Reasons You Should Go To A Church Community Every Week

I’m a pastor’s kid, so growing up, I always had to go to church. Not that I didn’t enjoy it, I usually did (except in middle school when you hate everything and everyone). But when I went off to college, I wrestled with the question that every young adult asks, every Sunday: “Do I want to go to church today?” My answer was typically “no,” followed by a litany of lame excuses: “I have homework; I’m busy. I need more rest, I don’t really know anyone; it’s not my home church.” Plus, I could always listen to way better sermons from way better preachers’ podcasts (like John Piper), from the comfort of my own pajamas. It wasn’t long, however, before I was challenged on this perspective, and I plugged in to a local church (shout out to Little Country Church: Haven. Miss you guys!)

More and more, I see this mentality among my fellow millennial Christians. It’s especially true for people who have relocated for work or school. And their parents aren’t a lot better. Sports games, messy houses, weekend outings, or simply sleeping in keep countless couples and families away from church community.

The Problem: Where there are sometimes small problems that keep us away from church community, like my lame excuses mentioned above, there’s really just one big problem. It’s something that has been slow-cooked and marinated inside of us for decades.

The problem: Individualism.

From childhood, individualism has been drummed into our heads, that we can be, or do, or accomplish anything, that we can pursue our dreams and our happiness at any cost. Think of Elsa in Disney’s Frozen, when she sings:

“It’s time to see what I can do//To test the limits and break through
No right, no wrong, no rules for me//I’m free!

Let it go, let it go//I am one with the wind and sky
Let it go, let it go//You’ll never see me cry. . .”

For Elsa, life is about casting off the burdens and expectations of a community.
She reflects our culture well. However, in an age of individualism and self-expression, loneliness, depression, and anxiety are higher than ever. “Let it go” isn’t solving our problems; it’s creating new ones.

Christianity, while valuing the individual made in the image of God, does not see the individual as sovereign. The individual finds her identity not in her heart, dreams, or desires, but rather in Jesus Christ and his family.

With that said, here are three reasons why I think you should go to church (at least) weekly. By church, I’m referring to any consistent, intentional gathering where Christians participate in prayer, worship, and hearing God’s word. By this definition, this could be done in homes, in church buildings, or even in Dairy Queen (though the extra calories might not be good). Also, by this definition, not every building with a church sign is a true “church.”

1) It’s good for you. No, seriously, it will extend your life. From a secular perspective, one Harvard study found that “Joining and participating in one group cuts your odds of dying over the next year in half. Joining two groups cuts it by three quarters.” Provocatively, they conclude: “It’s a tough call. . .whether quitting smoking or joining a club. . .will improve your life expectancy more.” (Harvard Kennedy School, The Saguaro Seminar).

Dang! So bring your Bible and your cigarettes and commit to a church community.

2) You have a contribution to make. No, I’m not referring to tithing, though financial giving is an important part of worship. By contribution, I mean YOU. You are a valuable part of the church community. God has given every one of us gifts, gifts to be used to encourage other people and to live on mission for God.

When I played soccer, if sickness or studies kept a student away from a game, we were hurting. Each person had a part to play. Not everyone scored goals and not everyone played goalkeeper, but everyone had a role. It’s the same with the church community.

3) Love is a learned habit in church community. Again, in an age of self-expression, love is sometimes seen as whatever gives me the best feeling, whether it be pizza, a good movie, or a girlfriend. In contrast, commentator John Stott defines biblical love “not as a fleeting emotion, but a steady devotion of the will.” In other words, love is something you invest yourself in, something you commit yourself to, something you’re absorbed with.

Jesus says the greatest commandment is to love God with everything and to love our neighbor as ourselves. The loving ourselves is easy; we’re all born incredibly self-focused and self-absorbed. Even someone who “hates himself” actually loves himself by Stott’s definition because all he thinks about is himself. But to love God and to love others? That takes lots of practice, because it’s not natural.

We learn to love God through the weekly habit of coming to a church community. All throughout the week, our love for God cools off, and other things capture our heart’s imagination. But when we arrive on Sunday morning (or whatever day you meet), God works on us while we worship. As Martin Luther said: “at home, in my own house, there is no warmth or vigor in me, but in the church when the multitude is gathered together, a fire is kindled in my heart and it breaks its way through.”

As we are led in musical worship, and confession of sin, we’re reminded of our own weakness and of God’s goodness. As the Bible is read and taught for us, God speaks his loving comfort and correction to us. The action of actually sitting in the room instead of popping in our ear-buds trains us to humble ourselves and to relinquish control.

We learn to love people by being with them, by building relationships, praising and praying together. We learn to love by practicing forgiveness when we are been wronged, instead of finding a new community. We learn to love by opening our lives to other people who we would NEVER encounter anywhere else in life, had it not been for Jesus, people with political, socio-economic, ethnic, and generational differences.

Two Common Objections:

“You’re being legalistic.”

Maybe. But is it legalistic to eat daily? Is it legalistic to exercise frequently? Is it legalistic to regularly do things that make me a better, healthier person? You might call is legalism, but I see it as a “habit of love.” And I miss you.

“You’re a pastor, so you’re naturally more invested.”

Ha, fair point. It’s like restaurant owner encouraging others to eat out more often. And I have to be at church each week for my “job.” So does that negate my whole post? I don’t think that it does. This post is actually coming from a heart of concern for spouses, singles, and families who aren’t plugged in anywhere. The church needs them and they need to church. Everybody loses when they don’t show up.

Concluding Verse

To conclude this longer post, no one says it better than the author of Hebrews:

“24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” – Hebrews 10:24-25

The Apocrypha: Why Do Catholic Bibles Have More Books In Them?

Have you ever noticed that your Catholic friends have more books in their Bible than you do? Or if you’re Catholic, have you noticed that us Protestants have smaller Bibles? (Protestant = any Christian who is not Catholic or Eastern Orthodox.) Why is this? Is it just so we as Protestants can make our “Read the Bible in a year” plans more manageable?
Not really. The problem comes down to the Old Testament. Both Protestants and Catholics have the same number of New Testament books (27), but the Catholic Old Testament has seven more books than the Protestant one (as well as significant additions to the books of Esther and Daniel). One term for these extra books is the Apocrypha, meaning “hidden” or “obscure.” We’re not entirely sure where this title came from, but it’s likely an antagonistic reference (fighting words). Catholics prefer to use the term deuterocanonical, meaning “second canon” (canon referring to authoritative books, not the weapon).
So why the discrepancy? It starts with this: the Hebrew Old Testament does not contain the Apocrypha, but the Greek OT (Septuagint) does. This is why Catholics call it “the second (OT) canon”, acknowledging that these books were not a part of Hebrew Old Testament.
As the early church was more comfortable reading Greek, these “deuterocanonical” books picked up some steam. Some Christians believed they were scripture, like Augustine and Clement. Others thought they were useful, but not on the same authority as divine scripture, like Jerome, Athanasius, and possibly Origen.
Although early Christians had their disagreements here, it never became too heated of a discussion. But then the Reformation happened, which made questions of authority and canon far more significant. This was especially true since it was thought that apocryphal books defended Catholic doctrines that Protestants weren’t real excited about (purgatory, for example). Whether or not they actually do is a topic for another time. So, Protestants typically follow the lead of Martin Luther (following Jerome) in rejecting the Apocrypha as scripture.

Three closing thoughts:

1) Because the Hebrew OT canon did not contain the Apocrypha, the evidence seems to suggest that Jesus’ “Bible” would not have included these books (although he would have probably been familiar with them). If Jesus did not consider these books scripture, then why should we?

2) The issue is, and always have been AUTHORITY when it comes to Protestant and Catholic disagreements. If we don’t understand this, we will never have productive dialogue and debate with each other. At the end of the day, Catholics believe the their canon exists because the (Catholic) Church determined it be so. Protestants would argue that the church doesn’t MAKE scripture, it just RECOGNIZES it.

3) We don’t need to hide from the Apocrypha. (Anyone get the joke?) I’m reading through these books right now, and I find them illuminating in understanding the perspective of those before the time of Christ. I don’t believe they are destructive or dangerous to the Christian faith, if you read them in their proper context. I would, however, be skeptical of any kind of doctrine that arises solely from these books (and can’t be backed up elsewhere in scripture).
Blessings to all my Catholic friends; please don’t throw things at me.


Favorite Five: My Favorite Books and Podcasts of 2016

It’s that time of year! This year, I decided to highlight five of my favorite books AND podcasts in the past year. These are in no order of importance. It’s my hope that one or more of these would be an encouragement to you and help your thinking as we approach a new year. And maybe this will give you some ideas for Christmas presents as well!

My Favorite 5 Books This Year:

1) The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business- Charles Duhigg

This book is not necessarily “faith-based,” but explores the psychology and sociology of habits and habit-formation. Engaging and interesting, the book contain numerous examples the habits of real people. It was a hard book to put down!

2) Rose Guide to End-Times Prophecy- Timothy Paul Jones

I was a little bit skeptical when I saw that I needed to purchase this book in the last class for my Master’s Degree. Like many, I was a little dissatisfied and burnt out by the end-times theology of my upbringing. But, when I got this book, I realized it was not what I was expecting. First, it has lots of picture (an excellent plus). Second, Jones does an excellent job majoring in the majors in terms of what is essential Christian teaching, and what is non-essential, debatable perspective. Third, you don’t ever actually know his own position, because he does such a good job highlighting the arguments and strengths of the four millennial views. A must read for any believer wanting a broader perspective on the end!

3) Divine Sex: A Compelling Vision For Christian Relationships In A Hypersexualized Age- Jonathan Grant

You might laugh at the title. Sure, it’s provocative, that’s how you sell books. But, this book brilliantly traces the history of how we got to where we are now. In our radically promiscuous and sexualized culture, we have gotten away from “Divine Sex,” from God’s holy and healthy intention for it. Not only this, the church’s response has been wholly inadequate in addressing the problem, especially with our young people. A must read for parents, those working with youth, and young adults.

4) You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit- James K.A. Smith

For those of you who follow my reading and writing more closely (my mom?), you might roll your eyes at another inclusion of Jamie Smith. But I just had to include this book. Like the Power Of Habit mentioned above, this book explores the spiritual side to our habits and habit-formation. Smith argues that our habits form our loves, and that we might not actually love what we say we do.

5) Jesus The King: Understanding The Life And Death of The Son of God- Tim Keller

Our church went through the Gospel of Mark this year. This book was originally a series of sermons through this Gospel that Keller adapted into a book. I have to be honest, the book was so good that I found it extremely hard to not just plagiarize the whole thing during the sermon series. I hesitate to recommend it to my church, because everyone is going to know where I get all my good ideas. Okay, but seriously, this is a great book for those trying wanting to learn more about the life of Jesus.

My Favorite 5 Podcasts of the Year

1) Q Podcast

Hosted by Gabe Lyons, The Q (Questions) Podcast is a resource meant to help Christians think well in our increasingly post-Christian age. Critically yet lovingly, Gabe and his hosts interact with the toughest issues of our day, like homosexuality and race-relations. They also examine and reimagine the role of the church in address these questions while advancing good in our culture.

2) Unbelieveable?

Hosted by Justin Brierley, this podcast facilitates high-level dialogue, discussion, and debate around the Christian faith. Sometimes the discussions are between two Christians about a specific “in house” issue, like atonement. Other times, the discussion is between two totally different perspectives, like an atheist and a Christian. The show is excellent at moderating civil discussion and debate over controversial topics. For me, it has shown that the Christian faith is intellectually defensible and coherent. We don’t need to abandon our brains and tough questions to embrace the Christian faith.

3) Freakonomics Radio

Hosted by Stephen Dubner, this podcast explores “the hidden side of everything” from a statistcal and economical perspective. This podcast is not faith-based, but is incredibly interesting and enlightening. It critically examines assumptions that many of us carry, and undermines them with interesting facts and figures.

4) Kingdom Roots with Scot McKnight

I just started listening to this one, so don’t hold me to whatever I write here. Scot McKnight is a respected New Testament scholar, especially familiar with the background of the Bible (areas like Jesus’ upbringing, his education, and family prayer). A recent podcast about Jesus’ prayer life and own our today revolutionized my own prayer life.

5) New Persuasive Words

Hosted by Scott Jones and Bill Borror, this podcast dives deeply into church history, theology, sociology, and really any other –ology. The hosts are hilarious, but they really nerd out as well. Listening to this podcast makes me feel like I am in their living room, on the edge of my seat, engaged with every word. It requires a little bit of background to actually know what the heck they are talking about sometimes, but totally worth it if you are interested in the above-mentioned topics.