---Porch Chat Blog Archive

Five Blessings of a Boring Testimony

Growing up as a pastor’s kid in church, I heard lots of people share their stories, or testimonies. Most the stories that I heard, or at least the ones I remembered, were really intense, involving drugs, sex, or getting shot. I still remember one church service many years ago, during an open-mic sharing time, when a drunk guy steps up and shares more than we’d bargained for. We’ve since stopped doing open-mic sharing time.
But at least the drunk guy had a cool story! Because of this, I grew up thinking I didn’t have a good testimony. I never did drugs, never drank until twenty-one, never had premarital sex, and never got shot, (unless you count paintball). I didn’t even have any cool sports injuries. So I thought I didn’t have a story to share.
I’ve since thought through a number of ways that I’m personally thankful for the story that God has given me. This post is meant to encourage those with stories like mine. If you have a dramatic testimony, I’m so thankful for what God has done in your life, and I’m not knocking that at all. This is just me trying to think through and help those who are like me, with a “boring testimony.” By “boring,” I mean that our conversion processes were slow, gradual, and non-dramatic.
So here are my “Five Blessings of a Boring Testimony:”
1) A boring story speaks to lots of other Christians without dramatic conversions.
Lots of people couldn’t tell you the date or time of their conversion to Christ. I don’t think anyone is born a Christians (God has no “grandkids”). Every person is responsible to receive Jesus individually and believe in him and thus gets adopted into his family. Theologically speaking, everyone has a conversion/adaption date (the technical word is Justification). Many of us just don’t know when that was, although we probably have some theories. And I think that’s totally OKAY!
I’ll often share my story with students about growing up in a Christian home, and I’ve found that many of them resonate with my testimony, as their own stories are similar. Our trust is not in the date, time, or remembrance of a “conversion experience,” but instead in the Converter! We don’t necessarily need to know when we were saved, but more importantly, that we ARE saved.
2) A boring testimony highlights God sovereign protection of you, preventing you from some pains and certain sin-patterns.
In college, I once heard a Christian say that he wished he didn’t grow up in the church. Without knowing his backstory, I think that’s nonsense. A boring testimony shows that God sometimes chooses to preserve and protect some of his children from certain sins. This isn’t because he loves them more or because they’re better people, not at all. We really don’t know why God protects some people from some things and lets others go their own way for a while. But both examples, both kinds of people, make God look good by his work in their lives.
3) A boring testimony shows the goodness of God, that his plan really is best.
Like the blessing mentioned above, a boring story shows people that we don’t need to touch the stove to know that it’s hot. Some people will still need to touch the stove, and we’ll be there afterward to help bandage their charred palm. But not everyone needs to get burned; not everyone needs to experiment with the things the culture says are must-haves. We need both those who’ve been burned and those who haven’t to testify that God direction is best for us.
4) A boring testimony exposes the so-called “church sins” that are particularly prominent in religious people.
Yes, we’re sinners too, just as bad as those of you with dramatic conversion stories. We may not have used lots of profanity, pornography, or pre-marital sex, but we do peddle in godless pride. There are sins that are far subtler, sins of the Pharisees or the older brother in the prodigal son story (see Luke 15). Secret church-sins often include arrogance, entitlement, selfishness, superiority, self-righteousness, judgmental, jerk-like, critical outlooks, and legalism. Kids in Christian homes need to be saved too.
5) A boring story shows us that much of Christian transformation is slow, steady, and gradual.
Our culture wants instant results! Think Amazon Prime, one-click ordering, two-day shipping. A boring testimony helpfully cuts against our “microwave culture” that wants instant results. Most of the Christian life is boring, mundane, and ordinary. Sometimes progress is two steps forward, one step back. While God might have given an alcoholic instant deliverance from alcohol, most of us struggle intensely, day by day with the Holy Spirit, to undo old habits and practices. Most of the time, it’s a lot of work. And like Jesus’ garden metaphors, most things grow slowly. Our character and Christian-growth is no exception.
Thanks for reading? How have you been encouraged by the story God has given you? What are some other advantages that you see to a “boring testimony?”

The Audacity of Christianity: Some Thoughts on Reckless Love

1. boldness or daring, especially with confident or arrogant disregard for personal safety, conventional thought, or other restrictions.
2. effrontery or insolence; shameless boldness.
There’s a new Christian song making the rounds called Reckless Love, by Cory Asbury. At first, I didn’t like it. Disregarding the problems with using the word “reckless” to describe God, the song just seemed so, entitled? Maybe even audacious? Me-centered?
“There’s no shadow you won’t light up, mountain you won’t climb up, coming after me!”
“There’s no wall you won’t kick down, lie you won’t tear down, coming after me!”
And I’m been fairly critical of the “Jesus is my boyfriend” kinds of worship songs in the past. They’re not my favorite. However. . .
I couldn’t get this song out of my head, particularly because I’ve been thinking a lot about how audacious Christianity really is. Think: the God of the universe becomes human in Jesus, to redeem and restore you and I. We’re adopted into his family based on faith in Jesus. Nothing can separate us from the love of God.
If these claims aren’t striking us as audacious, we may have an overdeveloped sense of entitlement or accomplishment. Entitlement because we might think God owes us salvation, love, care, and concern based on who we are. Accomplishment because we might think God owes us based on what we’ve done, how we’ve lived, the sacrifices we’ve made. Neither of these things is true.
An Audacious Woman
I’m reminded of the story in Mark 7. “But after hearing of Him, a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately came and fell at His feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of the Syrophoenician race. And she kept asking Him to cast the demon out of her daughter.” -Mark 7:25-26
So a non-Jewish woman is repeatedly asking Jesus to heal her daughter. Jesus’ response seems a little harsh: “27 And He was saying to her, “Let the children be satisfied first, for it is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” In other words, Jesus is saying that his mission is currently directed towards the people of Israel. But this woman isn’t having it:
“But she answered and said to Him, “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs under the table feed on the children’s crumbs. And He said to her, “Because of this answer go; the demon has gone out of your daughter.” -Mark 7:27-28
Tim Keller calls her response: “a rightless assertiveness” as if she’s saying: “Lord, give me what I don’t deserve on the basis of your goodness–and I need it now.” She doesn’t appeal to rights or entitlement, nor does she try and earn this. As Keller notes, she recognizes Jesus’ goodness and audaciously claims it for her daughter.
An Audacious Prayer
The Lord’s Prayer is a bit like that too. Think about the opening line: “Our Father. . .” Jesus teaches us to pray in this way. But to call the God of the cosmos, Father, Pops, Daddy-o, seems a bit pretentious when you really think about it, doesn’t it? A familiarity far too flippant for the holy, transcendent One?
N.T. Wright says this in his book on the Lord’s Prayer. It’s a bit of a read but very worth it.
“We too need to learn what it means to call God Father. And we mustn’t be surprised when we find ourselves startled by what it means. The one thing you can be sure of with God is that you can’t predict what he’s going to do next. That’s why calling God Father is the great act of faith of holy boldness, of risk. Saying “our Father”. . .is the boldness, the sheer, total risk, of saying quietly, ‘please may I too be considered an apprenticed son?’ [like Jesus]. Jesus wanted people to discover who the Father really was by seeing what he, Jesus, was doing. When we call God Father, we are making the same astonishing, crazy, utterly risky, claim. . .Our task is to grow up into the “Our father,” to dare to impersonate our elder brother, seeking daily bread and daily forgiveness as we do so. To wear his clothes, to walk in his shoes, to feast at his table, to weep with him in the garden, to share his suffering, and to know his victory. As our savior Jesus Christ has commanded and taught us by his life and death, even more than by his words, we are bold, very bold. Even crazy, some might think, to say: Our Father.”
Hard to beat that. The mysterious author to the Hebrews probably says it best though:
“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” -Hebrews 4:14-16
Next time you think that God owes you something, or that you owe God something, remember the audacity of Christianity:

“God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
-Romans 5:8

We truly don’t deserve it, and truly didn’t earn it, and still he gave himself away. Overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God, indeed.

What A Demon and A Muslim Taught Me About Prayer

Prayer is hard. I’m a pastor, and yet this doesn’t make prayer any easier. I feel like the unnamed disciple in Luke 11:1, asking Jesus: “Lord, teach us to pray, just like John taught his disciples.” And Jesus certainly is the first person we should go to in learning how to pray. I’ve benefited immensely from daily recitations of the “Lord’s Prayer” (Matthew 6:9-13), as well as praying Jesus’ greatest commandment in Matthew 22:37-39 (a modification of the daily Jewish prayer from Deuteronomy 6:4-5). After Jesus, psalmists like David and Asaph, and the apostle Paul, have taught me much about prayer.
But recently, I’ve had a couple of unlikely teachers in this area: A demon and a Muslim man. Both characters are fictional, but that didn’t lessen their impact. I met the demon through a book, and the Muslim man, through a television show. The demon’s name is Screwtape, he’s a creation of C.S. Lewis in his book entitled: The Screwtape Letters. If you haven’t read it, Screwtape is a senior-level devil, training an inexperienced devil named Wormwood on the art of ruining lives and relationships with God and others. At one point, when talking about prayer, Screwtape stresses the need to keep people away from the practice, but that if they do pray, to keep it lazy: superficial, spontaneous, and just in their hearts. Screwtape says:
“One of their poets has recorded that he did not pray ‘with moving lips and bended knees’ but merely ‘composed his spirit to love’ and indulged ‘a sense of supplication’. That is exactly the sort of prayer we want; and since it bears a superficial resemblance to the prayer of silence as practiced by those who are very far advanced in the Enemy’s (God’s) service, clever and lazy patients can be taken in by it for a long time. At the very least, they can be persuaded that the bodily position makes no difference to their prayers; for they constantly forget, what you might always remember, that they are animals and that whatever their bodies do affects their souls.”
Screwtape wants Wormwood to tempt his patients to keep prayer relaxed, lethargic, and nonchalant, to keep their bodies out of it. I know that strategy has worked on me for years!
What about the Muslim man? In one television show, the man went into a mosque to pray. As he went through Islamic prayer practice, everything came together for me. I realized that he was modeling the very thing that Screwtape and Wormwood were trying to hide from Christians: Posture matters. Our bodies matter. Structure and repetition matters.
As a non-denominational Protestant with a (not so) secret interest in liturgical practices, I was mesmerized by the Islamic liturgy. I did some research. Committed Muslims pray five times a day: dawn, midday, afternoon, sunset, and night. Each time of prayer starts with standing, hands in the hair, and proclaiming: Allahu Akbar (God is the Greatest). Soon afterward, they bow and recite three times: Subhana rabbiyal adheem (Glory be to my Lord Almighty). Eventually, they are completely prostrate on the ground, reciting three times: Subhana Rabbiyal A’ala (Glory be to my Lord, the Most High). This isn’t the entirety of what they do, but these steps, in particular, caught my attention and moved me.
It’s unfortunate that God had to use these fictional characters to teach me something that the Bible is filled with anyway. Psalm 95:6 says: “Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.” Psalmists often use metaphors in their poetry, but these aren’t metaphors here! They are real positions of prayer and worship. While dedicating the new temple, King Solomon prayed on his knees with arms outstretched to God (1 Kings 8:54). Three times a day, Daniel prayed on his knees (Daniel 6:10). Jesus himself, in his darkest hour, prayed on his face in the garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:39).
Could it be that our non-denominational church tradition struggles with prayer simply because we’re not doing it right? I can hear the objections; we’ve been taught that there are no rules with prayer: “just pray what’s on your heart, whenever you feel like it, however you want.” I think that’s true, but not the whole truth. I think our posture matters more than we believe. For example, if I’m in a conversation with someone, and they’re constantly looking at their phone, not making eye contact with me, or turned in another direction, the conversation’s not going to last long. In the same way, there is a helpful and historic way to pray where our body helps our mind and heart stay a little more focused and a little more reverent.
It can seem like there is little sense of awe, reverence, respect, and submission towards God in the churches that I’ve led and attended. If I’m even more honest, there is a huge lack of these things in ME (and my prayer life). While we probably have a good sense of the love of God, I think we have much room to grow in the fear of the Lord, especially since Proverbs says learning this healthy fear is the “beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10). Perhaps the Islamic posture towards God is one reason why record numbers of Muslims are bending their knees to Christ.
(It’s probably worth noting that Islamic culture is probably more open to “fear of the Lord” than the “love of the Lord,” whereas western culture is the opposite. Notwithstanding, we as Christians need both an understanding of God’s love, as well as that sense of reverence as we approach him in prayer. He is both “Our Father” and the one “who is in heaven.”)
Here’s what this has looked like in my life. I’m trying to get on my knees more when I pray. This is not because I am super spiritual. It’s because I’m not super spiritual. In my recliner, my thoughts wander and soon I’m thinking about Pita Pit or Arsenal’s miserable soccer season. But on my knees, there’s more of a focus, even a slight discomfort, reminding me who I am, and who God is. In times of musical worship, even when I’m not really feeling it, I sometimes extend my hands as a posture of reception. It’s like a child wanting to receive from his father. Posture matters.
In your own life, what have you learned about prayer posture? I would love to hear your own experiences in this area.

To Curse or Love Our Enemies?

The Imprecatory Psalms
When reading the largest book in our Bible, the Psalms, Christians throughout the centuries have wrestled with what are called the imprecatory (cursing) psalms. These uncomfortable passages call down destruction on enemies, sometimes in graphic ways. The most notorious example of this is Psalm 137:8-9, where the psalmist declares: “Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction, happy is the one who repays you according to what you have done to us. Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.” I never heard this verse in Sunday school. Or anywhere in church, for that matter.
Ditto with the so-called “Judas” psalm:
“May the table set before them become a snare;
may it become retribution and a trap.
May their eyes be darkened so they cannot see,
and their backs be bent forever.
Pour out your wrath on them;
let your fierce anger overtake them.
May their place be deserted;
let there be no one to dwell in their tents. . .
Charge them with crime upon crime;
do not let them share in your salvation.
May they be blotted out of the book of life
and not be listed with the righteous.” -Psalm 69:22-25; 27-28
And there are a number of other psalms expressing similar sentiments. What are we to do with these difficult psalms? To further clarify the problem, contrast the psalmist’s cries with the revolutionary statement of Jesus: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. -Matthew 5:43-44
If Paul says that all scripture is God-breathed or God-inspired (2 Tim 3:16), then is there a theological contradiction here? The (God-breathed) psalm curses enemies, while Jesus loves enemies. What to do, what to do?
Most Christian traditions simply ignore these psalms like an embarrassing family member at a party. They are cut out of the liturgies, lectionaries, sermons, and songs. In part, this is understandable. They are shocking and jarring.
Some (progressive) Christian traditions condemn these psalms, simply scraping all scripture that offends (which turns out to be quite a lot). Anything that doesn’t snuggle up to our western, (post)modern, individualistic, egalitarian views gets the boot. With the imprecatory psalms in particular, we can think that this represented “primitive” and violent religious sentiments, which have no place in our society today.
Well it’s easy to critique other views, but harder to put forth your own. So I better try. In order to maintain both the credibility of all God-breathed scripture (the Psalms), and Jesus’ command to love our enemies, I think we need to hold a few of the following truths in tension. I have six thoughts on these severe psalms.
1) First, we have to remember the context of the imprecatory psalms. For example, the notorious Psalm 137 is penned in the midst of the Babylonian exile. Most of us have no concept of the horrors of the foreign evasion, eviction, and exploitation that Judah experienced under Babylon. There are few today that can testify to the kind of awful, unjust suffering that the psalmist faced. Before we judge the “vindictive” psalmist from the comforts of our couches, we should consider the situation he faced. Typically we have a lot more understanding and patience with those in great pain; linguistic precision is hardly in order in the emergency room.
2) Second, there have been some helpful studies on the parallels between the imprecatory psalms and the Torah itself (the first five books of the Bible). The Abrahamic Covenant, for example, promises blessings to those who blessed God’s people, and curses to those who curse them (Genesis 12:2-3). The Song of Moses (Deut 32:1-43) and the lax talionis (laws of equal retaliation, like Deut 19:16-21) also include prays for justice. The psalmist is simply (re)using the language God already used for those who violate his covenants.
3) Third, it’s important to note that the psalmist is not taking matters into his own hands. There is no attempt for physical violence or revenge. The psalmist is not punching, but praying. John N. Day says it like this: “in the face of humanly unpunishable injustice, God’s chastised people had no other resource but to turn to him.” The psalmist entrusts his desire for justice to the only One who can actually do something about it.
4) Fourth, all psalms in general and the imprecatory psalms in particular show us that God welcomes our brutal honesty. There are things we can say, like doubts, frustrations, curses, and even accusations when we are alone with God. He can handle it, he invites it, and he would much rather hear our honest pain and imperfect desires than our fake pious platitudes.
5) Fifth, the New Testament isn’t a curse-free zone either. Romans 12:18-21 is a fascinating text on this discussion. On the one hand, believers are to do their best to live in harmony with all people. Never are they allowed to avenge themselves, but instead, they are supposed to “leave it to the wrath of God.” “Vengenge is MINE, declares the Lord.” There is a right way to wait for the justice of God on our enemies. However, lest readers only fixate on the wrath of God and the punishment deserved by enemies, they are still to treat them well and thereby “overcome evil with good” (Rom 12:20-21).
2 Thessalonians 1:5-12 is another strong passage in the area of imprecations and understanding God’s heart. God is said to “consider it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you.” Vengeance, when exacted by God, is a good, holy, and just thing. In fact, the justice is far deeper than anything any Old Testament curse could announce, as Paul refers to the “punishment of eternal destruction.”
6) Sixth, and finally, we should only pray imprecatory prayers in light of the cross. While we express frustration for our enemies to God, we must also remember the way he treated his enemies: he died for them. It’s right to want “the judge of all the earth to do what is right,” but it’s also right and even required to want the restoration of our enemies to relationship with God.

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.