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Why Political Speech Is Inappropriate from the Pulpit!

For years now, I have been criticizing the preaching of politics from the pulpit. Why? What's so wrong with talking about issues and can...

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

When Our Expectations Fail, God's Plans Are Still on Track!

We have all experienced disappointment in our lives. Indeed, it is not uncommon for life NOT to meet our expectations. For some of us, even our relationship with God is not immune to this phenomenon. We ask: Why didn't God do this or that? OR Why did God allow such a thing to happen? We humans get these notions in our heads of how things are supposed to be or happen. Moreover, when things don't work out that way, we never entertain the possibility that our expectations may have been flawed. Instead, we make the failure God's, Satan's, or someone else's fault (some of us even decide that God must not exist because of the failure)!

Even so, the absurdity of our reasoning is underscored by what Christ's disciples experienced during his ministry - and as a consequence of his death. Consider for just a moment, ALL of these early Jewish followers had been conditioned to have certain expectations about the Messiah. Indeed, the Gospel accounts make very clear that they were all expecting someone who would violently overthrow the Romans and reestablish David's dynasty on the throne of Israel! They certainly were NOT expecting their Messiah to be arrested, placed on trial, and later executed! They had NOT anticipated the Messiah offering himself as a sacrifice for their sins and giving them God's Holy Spirit! They had NOT anticipated his demand that they would have to give their lives in the service of others! On the contrary, they expected to have an in with the new king - to be a part of his administration and ruling over their brethren.

Nevertheless, the Gospels and the book of Acts also inform us that these folks quickly adjusted to their new circumstances. Eventually, they all came to understand that Christ had secured their spiritual salvation and had reconciled them to God. Even so, we know from the epistles of Paul, Peter, James and John that many of them expected Christ to return to this earth during their lifetimes. Indeed, it was only after early Christians began dying, and the apostles approached the end of their own lives, that folks finally realized that that was NOT going to happen. Finally, they came to understand that they had misinterpreted Scripture and had profoundly misunderstood some of Christ's teachings. In other words, the fault wasn't with God or Jesus - it was with THEM and THEIR FAULTY EXPECTATIONS!

How many of us have arrived at that realization about our own expectations? Do we really understand and accept the fact that God is working on his plan and timetable, NOT yours or mine? Sure, it's much easier to excuse ourselves and shift the blame for our disappointments, but are we really being fair to ourselves OR God when we do that? What do you do when things don't work out the way that you expected them to?

Monday, March 27, 2023

Were ANY of the Commands of the Torah Carried Forward into the New Covenant?

Unfortunately, when it comes to the Torah, many Christians are hopelessly confused about its application or relevance to the New Covenant. Indeed, many Christian "theologians" have struggled to identify which laws were carried forward into the New Covenant and which ones were not. As most of my readers are aware, I came from a background where MANY of the provisions of the Torah were made an integral part of the New Covenant (Sabbath observance, festival observance, clean and unclean meats, tithing, etc.). Looking back, I can honestly say that I haven't found a SINGLE person (including the founder of the movement, Herbert W. Armstrong) who has been able to outline a rationale for picking and choosing among the different laws that is immune to challenge!

In his epistle, James wrote: "For the person who keeps all of the laws except one is as guilty as a person who has broken all of God’s laws. For the same God who said, 'You must not commit adultery,' also said, 'You must not murder.' So if you murder someone but do not commit adultery, you have still broken the law." (James 2:10-11) In other words, from James' perspective, it was IMPOSSIBLE to keep some of the commands and ignore or intentionally break others! Moreover, it is NOT hard to understand why a JEWISH pilar of the Jerusalem Church would make such a statement.

According to Chabad.org and The TalmudThe 613 Commandments (Mitzvot) of the Torah contain "248 Positive Commandments (do's) and 365 Negative Commandments (do not's)." The article goes on to note that "Several great Jewish scholars have compiled a complete listing of these mitzvahs. Although they all agree on the vast majority of the commandments, they do disagree concerning a number of them. The arguments are for scholastic purposes only, for they do not disagree over any actual commandment whether it is mandatory or forbidden—they only disagree whether certain commandments are independent commandments, or perhaps they are part of another commandment and are not counted on their own." After the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 CE, the Torah immediately became problematic - even for the Jews (many of its provisions could no longer be practiced/observed). The article continues: "It must be noted that many of these commandments (such as all the commandments associated with sacrifices) are not practicable as long as there is no Temple in Jerusalem."

The article then proceeds to offer a complete list of all 613 of the commandments which is in accord with the great Twelfth Century Jewish scholar, Maimonides writings on the subject. As this relates to the question of Christian faith and practice, I thought that it might be instructive for us to take a closer look at some of these individual provisions of the Torah. First, it should be noted that commandments 336-445 deal with offerings and sacrifices, and almost all Christians do not believe these are carried forward into the terms of the New Covenant (though there are many who believe that these will someday be reinstated).

Likewise, there are a number of other commandments which even the most devout Armstrongists will admit are NOT binding on Christians. Although I am not going to pretend that this is a comprehensive list, it does demonstrate that many of these individual commandments are NOT carried forward:

50. Not to erect a column in a public place of worship—Deuteronomy 16:22

51. Not to bow down on smooth stone—Leviticus 26:1

52. Not to plant a tree in the Temple courtyard—Deuteronomy 16:21

68. Men must not shave the hair off the sides of their head—Leviticus 19:27

69. Men must not shave their beards with a razor—Leviticus 19:27

78. The Kohanim must bless the Jewish nation daily—Numbers 6:23

79. To wear Tefillin on the head—Deuteronomy 6:8

80. To bind tefillin on the arm—Deuteronomy 6:8

81. To put a Mezuzah on each door post—Deuteronomy 6:9

82. To write a Sefer Torah—Deuteronomy 31:19

83. The king must have a separate Sefer Torah for himself—Deuteronomy 17:18

84. To have Tzitzit on four-cornered garments—Numbers 15:38

85. To bless the Almighty after eating—Deuteronomy 8:10

86. To circumcise all males on the eighth day after their birth—Leviticus 12:3

90. Not to walk more than 2000 cubits outside the city boundary on Shabbat—Exodus 16:29

126. To issue a divorce by means of a Get document—Deuteronomy 24:1

127. A man must not remarry his wife after she has married someone else—Deuteronomy 24:4

128. To do Yibum (marry childless brother's widow)--Deuteronomy 25:5

129. To do Chalitzah (freeing a widow from yibum)--Deuteronomy 25:9

130. The widow must not remarry until the ties with her brother-in-law are removed—Deuteronomy 25:5

131. The court must fine one who seduces a maiden—Exodus 22:15-16

132. The rapist must marry the maiden (if she chooses)--Deuteronomy 22:29

133. He is not allowed to divorce her—Deuteronomy 22:29

134. The slanderer must remain married to the wife he slandered—Deuteronomy 22:19

135. He must not divorce her—Deuteronomy 22:19

161. Not to have sexual relations with a menstrually impure woman—Leviticus 18:19

162. Not to marry non-Jews—Deuteronomy 7:3

163. Not to let Moabite and Ammonite males marry into the Jewish people—Deuteronomy 23:4

164. Don't keep a third generation Egyptian convert from marrying into the Jewish

people—Deuteronomy 23:8-9

165. Not to refrain from marrying a third generation Edomite convert—Deuteronomy 23:8-9

166. Not to let a Mamzer ("bastard") marry into the Jewish people—Deuteronomy 23:3

167. Not to let a eunuch marry into the Jewish people—Deuteronomy 23:2

168. Not to castrate any male (including animals)--Leviticus 22:24

169. The High Priest must not marry a widow—Leviticus 21:14

170. The High Priest must not have sexual relations with a widow even outside of marriage—Leviticus 21:14

171. The High Priest must marry a virgin maiden—Leviticus 21:13

172. A Kohen must not marry a divorcee—Leviticus 21:7

173. A Kohen must not marry a zonah (a woman who had forbidden relations)--Leviticus 21:7

174. A Kohen must not marry a chalalah (party to or product of 169-172)--Leviticus 21:7

217. The Nazir must let his hair grow—Numbers 6:5

218. He must not cut his hair—Numbers 6:5

219. He must not drink wine, wine mixtures, or wine vinegar—Numbers 6:3

220. He must not eat fresh grapes—Numbers 6:3

221. He must not eat raisins—Numbers 6:3

222. He must not eat grape seeds—Numbers 6:4

223. He must not eat grape skins—Numbers 6:4

224. He must not be under the same roof as a corpse—Numbers 6:6

225. He must not come into contact with the dead—Numbers 6:7

226. He must shave after bringing sacrifices upon completion of his Nazirite period—Numbers 6:18

235. Not to plant grains or greens in a vineyard—Deuteronomy 22:9

236. Not to crossbreed animals—Leviticus 19:19

237. Not to work different animals together—Deuteronomy 22:10

238. Not to wear Shatnez, a cloth woven of wool and linen—Deuteronomy 22:11

239. To leave a corner of the field uncut for the poor—Leviticus 19:10

240. Not to reap that corner—Leviticus 19:9

241. To leave gleanings for The poor—Leviticus 19:9

242. Not to gather the gleanings—Leviticus 19:9

243. To leave the gleanings of a vineyard—Leviticus 19:10

244. Not to gather the gleanings of a vineyard—Leviticus 19:10

245. To leave the unformed clusters of grapes for the poor—Leviticus 19:10

246. Not to pick the unformed clusters of grapes—Leviticus 19:10

I realize that this is a lot, but I felt that it was necessary to give my readers the real flavor of the subject of Torah from a Jewish perspective. We should also note that we haven't even touched on the provisions related to leprosy, skin diseases, mold/mildew, slave labor, etc.. Anyway, from this list, we can see just how comprehensive and pervasive the various provisions of the Torah were, and it also becomes very clear that many (if not most) of the commands of the Torah CANNOT be forwarded to the New Covenant.

Moreover, even with the provisions which most Christians would think of as being valid or having some applicability to the New Covenant, the Jewish understanding of some of those commandments would be hotly contested by most Christians. For instance, in Maimonides' Yesodei ha Torah, we read: "This God is one. He is not two or more, but one, unified in a manner which [surpasses] any unity that is found in the world; i.e., He is not one in the manner of a general category which includes many individual entities, nor one in the way that the body is divided into different portions and dimensions. Rather, He is unified, and there exists no unity similar to His in this world. If there were many gods, they would have body and form, because like entities are separated from each other only through the circumstances associated with body and form. Were the Creator to have body and form, He would have limitation and definition, because it is impossible for a body not to be limited. And any entity which itself is limited and defined [possesses] only limited and defined power. Since our God, blessed be His name, possesses unlimited power, as evidenced by the continuous revolution of the sphere, we see that His power is not the power of a body. Since He is not a body, the circumstances associated with bodies that produce division and separation are not relevant to Him. Therefore, it is impossible for Him to be anything other than one."

Later, echoing the conclusions of our friend Neo, we read: "If so, what is the meaning of the expressions employed by the Torah: 'Below His feet' [Exodus 24:10], 'Written by the finger of God' [ibid. 31:18], 'God's hand' [ibid. 9:3], 'God's eyes' [Genesis 38:7], 'God's ears' [Numbers 11:1], and the like? All these [expressions were used] to relate to human thought processes which know only corporeal imagery, for the Torah speaks in the language of man. They are only descriptive terms, as [apparent from Deuteronomy 32:41]: 'I will whet My lightning sword.' Does He have a sword? Does He need a sword to kill? Rather, this is metaphoric imagery. [Similarly,] all [such expressions] are metaphoric imagery." In other words, Torah is a very complex document that is subject to many different interpretations and applications! With this background, we are ready to address our original question: Were ANY of the commands of the Torah carried forward into the New Covenant?

Jesus Christ told his disciples that he came to this earth to FULFILL the Torah and the prophets (Matthew 5:17). Indeed, from the Christian perspective, Jesus of Nazareth is the ONLY individual who has ever lived who obeyed ALL of the commands of the Torah without a single stumble or sin! Likewise, for Christians, Jesus is the ONLY individual who embodied ALL of the predictions of the prophets regarding the Messiah. This is how Jesus FULFILLED the Torah and the prophets.

However, although Jesus personally fulfilled the various commands of Torah, he also made very clear that the Jews understanding of Torah was very imperfect, and that they had NEVER fulfilled its commands. In that same fifth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, Christ also told his disciples: "For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished." In other words, NONE of the commands would disappear until he had fulfilled them! Again, the Jews had never kept the commands in this way. To reinforce his meaning, he proceeded to show his disciples just how insufficient Jewish obedience to the Torah (and there understanding of it) had been. Indeed, he told his disciples that their righteousness would have to surpass the righteousness of the Jewish religious leaders (verse 20).

He then proceeded to give them several examples of how he expected them to accomplish this feat. The simple act of refraining from physically killing a person would no longer be sufficient. Going forward, they would be expected to rein in their anger and abusive behaviors toward their brethren (verses 21-26). Going forward, thinking about being unfaithful to one's spouse would be the equivalent of actually having sexual intercourse with someone who wasn't his/her spouse (verses 27-29). Likewise, he went on to let them know that the Torah's provisions for divorce did NOT have God's sanction (verses 31-32)! Going forward, the prohibition against swearing falsely would expand to include any and all kinds of oaths (verses 33-37). Going forward, it would no longer be "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." Instead, he told them to "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (verses 38-45). With these concrete examples of how the Jews had misapplied Torah commands, Christ made clear that he would be looking for something more from those who would profess to follow him!

Toward this end, Christ established two principles for his disciples to apply to ALL situations going forward. He had personally fulfilled all of the dos and don'ts of the Torah! Instead, he would expect his followers to "love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets." (Matthew 22:37-40, ESV). In other words, going forward, all of the commands of Torah were summarized into two great principles. This, and this ALONE, was carried forward into the New Covenant!

Hence, ALL of our attempts to cherry pick amongst the various commands of the Torah are shown to be an exercise in futility. This is why Paul told the Romans that they were "not under the law but under grace" (Romans 6:14). It is also why he wrote to the saints of Galatia that "all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, 'Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.' Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for 'The righteous shall live by faith.' But the law is not of faith, rather 'The one who does them shall live by them.'" (Galatians 3:10-12) So, we see that Christians are operating under the grace of the New Covenant, and that God and Christ expect them to apply those two principles to EVERYTHING they do in this life! 

Saturday, March 25, 2023

The Good Doctor: Jesus Christ

During his ministry on this earth, Jesus of Nazareth was NOT to be found among the religious elite and theologians of his day. No, in ALL four of the Gospel accounts of his ministry, we find Jesus speaking to the average Joe and Jane of the time and healing them of their sins and physical and spiritual ailments. Indeed, we are informed in the Gospel of Luke that some of the religious elite even asked his disciples on one occasion why he was always hanging out with the dregs of society (Luke 5:29-30, ESV). According to this account, Jesus didn't even wait for his disciples to respond! Instead, we read that he answered them himself and said: "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance." (Luke 5:31-32)

In fact, in all four of these Gospel accounts of his ministry, more often than not, we find Jesus reprimanding and criticizing the religious leaders of his day! Indeed, he was constantly criticizing their hypocrisy, self-righteousness and pride and pointing out the inconsistencies inherent in their theology. Interestingly, however, Christ is never portrayed as adopting this posture with the masses! With them, he was always the good physician or the good shepherd.

On this blog, I have consistently pointed out the fact that Jesus said that he came to this earth to fulfill the Torah and the prophets. In this connection, it is interesting to note that we find Jesus quoting a passage from the book of Isaiah in that same Gospel of Luke that we quoted earlier in this post. At the very beginning of his ministry, we read: "And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, 'The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.' And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, 'Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.'" (Luke 4:16-21, compare to Isaiah 61:1-2)

Thus, having clearly established the character of Christ's ministry from the Gospel accounts which constitute a large portion of the Christian canon, the question which comes immediately to my mind is "Why haven't the majority of Christ's disciples followed in his footsteps?" That one is quickly followed by a few others: "Why do so many Christians see the speck in their brother's and sister's eyes so clearly, and they can't see the beam in their own?" "Why are so many Christians ready to stone the sinners they have targeted?" "Why are so many Christians so scrupulous about tithing while ignoring things like judgment, mercy and faith?" Are we good Samaritans and good doctors? OR Are we good Scribes and Pharisees? 

You Don't Have to Understand God's Plan to Reap Its Benefits!

In my former religious affiliations (Worldwide Church of God and Church of God International), one's understanding of "the truth" was paramount. Indeed, for them, it was the very thing that identified one as a "true" Christian! Sadly, however, this phenomenon was NOT peculiar to those churches. Unfortunately, doctrinal correctness is the standard for most of the different denominations and organizations which make up the ekklesia or the Christian community at large. In fact, one would be justified in observing that the different doctrinal positions espoused by the various groups constitute their raison d'etre! Whether overtly stated or not, most of the various groups believe that their body of teachings constitute THE orthodox manifestation of the Christian faith!

Nevertheless, this human reasoning is NOT consistent with what is revealed about God and His people in the pages of the Judeo-Christian Bible! In the book of Genesis, we read that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were very often in a position of NOT understanding God's plans, or what He had asked them to do. Scripture informs us that they simply accepted the fact that God knew what He was doing and acted accordingly. Scripture calls this faith. In other words, they were comfortable with their own inability to fully comprehend what God was doing. It didn't bother them that they couldn't see where things would land, but they had complete confidence that God knew what He was doing and knew where everything was headed! Likewise, we have numerous other examples of the same kind of faith manifested in many other individuals throughout the Bible (see the eleventh chapter of Hebrews).

Indeed, even in the New Testament, we see that Christ and his apostles often moved forward without a complete understanding of God's plan. The gospels inform us that Christ said that even he didn't know the timetable which God had established for bringing his plans to fruition! Likewise, we read that Paul and Apollos had to have God's will more fully explained to them by others. Years later, Paul wrote to the saints of Corinth that his comprehension of God and His plan was still imperfect. Indeed, he likened their current understanding to seeing through a glass darkly! In fact, throughout his epistles, we see that Paul was constantly correcting the understanding of his converts to the faith - on things like, sexual morality, observance of the Eucharist, the resurrection, law, grace, repentance, etc. Now, from our modern perspective, those all seem like fundamental or foundational doctrines of the Church, but it is very clear from Paul's writings that those teachings were very often misunderstood by people who had God's Holy Spirit - people who belonged to Christ!

In the anonymously authored epistle to the Hebrews, after recording that impressive list of biblical characters who had believed in God, we read that they had all died in the faith without ever having actually received what was promised to them! They very often had not understood why God had asked them to do or endure certain things, they simply believed that God's plan would prevail through whatever circumstances they happened to find themselves in the moment. And we are informed that it wasn't their belief or faith in a collection of doctrines which motivated them. No, it was a faith in something much simpler - more elemental than that! We are told that the kind of faith which is necessary to benefit from God's plan is one of belief in God's existence and in His ability to reward those who diligently pursue Him! Likewise, the Gospels repeatedly state that a belief in Jesus Christ is foundational and essential to participating in God's plan. In other words, it does NOT depend on what you and I believe about the trinity, immortality of the soul, holiday/Holy Day observance, what happens when a person dies, baptism rituals, Eucharist rituals, prophetic interpretations, etc..

Before someone blows a fuse, let me assure my readers that I am NOT suggesting that those teachings are unimportant or irrelevant! (After all, Paul wrote his epistles to correct those faulty understandings.) I am, however, clearly stating that your Bible reveals that our understanding of those teachings isn't essential! What is essential? That we believe in God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit and have confidence in God's ability to successfully carry out His plan! As Paul told the saints at Corinth, our current, imperfect understanding of God and his plan will be rectified someday. For now, we simply have to believe that God knows what He's doing and how to get it done!

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Love As A Moral Standard?

In my posts here, I have focused a great deal of attention on the fact that Jesus Christ summarized God's Law into two great principles, Love for God and each other. Indeed, Christ taught that ALL of the dos and don'ts of the Torah were based on these two principles - even the Ten Commandments. Hence, instead of referencing a list of dos and don'ts (and consulting specs for rituals), Christians operating under the New Covenant would be expected to incorporate these two principles into their hearts/minds and apply them to ANY and EVERY situation which would confront them in life. But how does that work?

Obviously, many of Christ's parables relate practical applications of these principles. Likewise, the writings of Paul, Peter, James and John ALL reflect this preoccupation with these two principles. Don't believe me? Type "love" into Strong's Concordance at Blue Letter Bible and see what it pulls up.

In this connection, however, the Apostle Paul enunciated what is probably the clearest and most basic way for us to apply these principles to our lives. To the saints at Rome, he wrote: "Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, 'You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,' and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law." - Romans 13:8-10, ESV OR As the King James Version renders the line: "Love worketh no ill to his neighbor." Likewise, the NIV renders the line "Love does no harm to a neighbor." Anyway, we get the point that Paul was making.

Now, this notion of NOT harming another person by anything that we do (or fail to do) is an interesting proposition when we consider the perspective of the legal realm. To bring a matter before our courts, a person must have "standing." In other words, the person/party must have suffered some harm or loss (and in most cases, that harm has to be real/tangible/concrete - it can't just offend your sensibilities or your personal standards). In similar fashion, Paul was telling those Roman Christians that the requirements of this Law of Love would be satisfied by NOT doing any hurt/harm to another person.

Moreover, if we take just a moment to think about this, it makes sense on so many levels. We can see the tangible or real harm that taking someone else's property inflicts on the person who has been robbed. Likewise, we can discern the concrete harm that infidelity does to one's spouse and children. It is also easy to discern the potential harm that things like child molestation, bestiality, pornographic addiction, and mindless promiscuity could inflict on our "neighbors."

Nevertheless, in my last post, I talked about some of the traditional Christian attitudes toward issues related to human sexuality. More particularly, my post and comments focused on LGBTQ folks, heterosexual prudery, and LUST. If this love principle is truly universal, we need to ask ourselves: Do these attitudes hurt or harm anybody? Do two consenting adults in a homosexual relationship hurt or harm anyone else? Do they inflict harm on each other? If they both love each other and are comforted and sustained by the relationship, how have they harmed each other? If they both derive satisfaction and fulfillment from the relationship, how have they harmed each other or anyone else? If they are faithful to each other, how have they wronged each other or anyone else?

It seems to me that these are essential questions for Christians to ask when we are trying to apply these standards to the situations we face in today's world. Moreover, the Bible is very clear about our personal accountability and responsibility before the Lord. It isn't the end of the world if your answers to those questions are different from mine! Paul also told the Romans that each of them should follow the dictates of their own consciences and respect the rights of their brothers and sisters to do the same.

Monday, March 20, 2023

I accomplished for CGI what they couldn't do for themselves!

My critique of the Living Church of God's assertion that homosexual and transgender folks are waging a war against normalcy has succeeded in uniting the ministry of the Church of God International! After bickering over Anglo-Israelism, Covid, headline theology, and messaging for years, the ministry has found their common ground - they have united in their opposition to homosexuality and gender dysphoria. CGI's Mike James and Vance Stinson both delivered sermons this past Sabbath that completely and unabashedly embraced Bill Watson's stance on this issue (Indeed, Bill congratulated Mike James on the sermon which he delivered to his Medina congregation). I guess nothing unites good Christian folk like gay bashing!

For his part, Vance Stinson claimed that he was appealing to the "natural order" and "God's standard" in his condemnation of anything outside of heterosexual behavior and birth gender. His foundational text was one of those favorite "clobber passages," the second half of the first chapter of Paul's epistle to the Romans. Of course, Mr. Stinson completely ignored homosexual behavior in the animal world when he quoted Paul's instructions about studying the creation to learn about God and His will. He also conveniently ignored the fact that heterosexual attraction is NOT natural to homosexuals (most of us simply aren't attracted sexually to the other gender)! Sure, it's completely natural for heterosexuals to be attracted to the other gender, and it's unnatural for them to experience same sex attraction!

According to Mr. Stinson, you cannot have too much sameness - he says that "oppositeness" is essential. I guess that's why there is so much peace and harmony within heterosexual relationships! All of that "oppositeness" makes things go so much smoother! He claims that the "clobber passage" found in the eighteenth chapter of Leviticus can only be interpreted according to his understanding of it - that the passage condemns ALL homosexual behavior (not just temple prostitution or the humiliating and misogynistic way that males treated women in ancient times). According to Mr. Stinson, homosexuals are "serving their own bellies." In other words, their interpretations of these scriptures are self-serving. I wish that he would please explain to me how that applies to me - especially in light of the fact that I am living my life according to the standard which HE espouses (NOT the one I advocate). Moreover, sensing his own vulnerability on this topic, Mr. Stinson dared anyone to accuse CGI of picking and choosing which laws they want to observe out of the Torah. Heaven forbid!

No, Mr. Stinson, I'm interested in God's standard. What is God's standard for Christians operating under the New Covenant? To repent of our sins and accept the work of Jesus Christ and his sacrifice on our behalf. Moreover, Christ instructed his followers to live their lives going forward according to two principles: love for God and love for each other. The chief expression of that love for each other as outlined in the Ten Commandments was fidelity or faithfulness to one's spouse. According to Paul, fulfilling the requirement to love entails being patient, kind, and respectful to your spouse - not exhibiting jealousy, pridefulness, and irritability. Paul said that a person shouldn't keep a record of the wrongs that the other person has done to them, and that he/she should never give up on the other person or their relationship. How many heterosexuals do you know who practice all of those habits in their relationships with their spouses? Is it possible for a homosexual to treat their partner that way?

Unfortunately, traditionalists like Mr. Stinson and Mr. James invariably reference things like bestiality and pedophilia in their attacks on homosexuality. Those deviant behaviors, however, fail the love standard just referenced. How can sexual intercourse be consensual when the two parties are so uneven in intellect and power? How can that kind of sex ever be considered loving when the potential for both emotional and physical harm is virtually assured by the act?

Mike James came at the issue from the perspective of modern moral/sexual behaviors amounting to a return to mankind's devotion to the pagan/demonic gods of old. For Mike, homosexuality and transgenderism are merely symptoms of the larger trend toward societal moral decadence. For him, God has given different roles for men and women to fulfill, and it is sinful for folks to get out of their lane. According to Mike, God has assigned our gender and our respective role(s) based on the gender we are born with - we can only decide to accept/reject our gender and its God-ordained role(s). Does that mean that a woman can never be a leader? Does that mean that a woman can never be a teacher within God's Church? Does that mean that a gay man has suppressed his God-given attraction for women? How can a gender or sexual orientation be wrong or sinful if it is how the person feels/thinks?

Mr. James went on to decry the fact that these things might eventually become normalized or made acceptable to society as a whole. God forbid that people would treat other people the way that they would like to be treated themselves! God forbid that love would someday be the only standard by which any relationship is measured! No, let's go on pretending that human sexual intercourse is all about reproduction and has little or nothing to do with expressing love and commitment to another person! Let's go on pretending that heterosexual sex is "normal" and "natural" for everyone! Let's go on pretending that homosexuals are incapable of being faithful to one person and/or raising children to be good and moral people! Let's go on pretending that same sex attraction is sinful and opposite sex attraction is good! Let's go on pretending that people make a conscious decision to prefer pecs to breasts! Yes, let's all just bury our heads in the sand and pretend that God isn't watching all of it!

Friday, March 17, 2023

Life was imparted to mankind!

"On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, 'Peace be with you.' When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, 'Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.' And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit.' -John 20:19-22, ESV

Unfortunately, most Christians are oblivious to the fact that the New Testament was written from the perspective of a GREEK translation of the Old Testament commonly known as the Septuagint. Nevertheless, even most casual students of the New Testament are aware of the fact that those documents were originally penned in Greek. Now, with this background, we are prepared to look at a particular Greek word which was employed in two critical passages in the Greek version of both Testaments, Genesis 2:7 in the Old and John 20:22 in the New.

In the Blue Letter Bible entry for emphysao, we read: "The Greek word here used is employed nowhere else in the New Testament, but is the very one used by the Septuagint translators of Gen 2:7: 'And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.' There, man's original creation was completed by this act of God; who, then, can fail to see that here in John 20, on the day of the Saviour's resurrection, the new creation had begun, begun by the Head of the new creation, the last Adam acting as 'a quickening spirit' (1Cr 15:45)!" (Arthur W. Pink, Exposition of the Gospel of John, p. 1100)."

Emphysao literally means "to blow at or on - breathe on." (Same source) Hence, we can see that just as God blew into Adam's nostrils the breath of life, and he became a living soul at that moment; Jesus also blew upon his apostles and imparted to them the spark of eternal life through the Holy Spirit! Notice, that the Gospel of John says that Jesus commanded them to "receive the Holy Spirit" after he had blown/breathed on them. Contrary to what many Christians believe, THIS was the occasion when Jesus first gave the Holy Spirit to his disciples - this was the beginning of the new creation in Jesus Christ.

In both cases, God breathed on humans to impart life to them - on one occasion, physical/mortal life - and on another spiritual/eternal life! And this knowledge makes what happened on that first Day of Pentecost following Christ's ascension to heaven even more meaningful. You remember, "When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit..." - Acts 2:1-4, ESV God blew/breathed on them, and they were made alive!

What significance does all of this have for us? Paul wrote to the Christians at Rome: "If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you." (Romans 8:11, ESV) Breathe on us, O God!

Thursday, March 16, 2023

The Confession of Patrick, Apostle of Ireland

 The following excerpt was taken from St. Patrick's Confessio:

"there is no other God, nor will there ever be, nor was there ever, except God the Father. He is the one who was not begotten, the one without a beginning, the one from whom all beginnings come, the one who holds all things in being – this is our teaching. And his son, Jesus Christ, whom we testify has always been, since before the beginning of this age, with the father in a spiritual way. He was begotten in an indescribable way before every beginning. Everything we can see, and everything beyond our sight, was made through him. He became a human being; and, having overcome death, was welcomed to the heavens to the Father. The Father gave him all power over every being, both heavenly and earthly and beneath the earth. Let every tongue confess that Jesus Christ, in whom we believe and whom we await to come back to us in the near future, is Lord and God. He is judge of the living and of the dead; he rewards every person according to their deeds. He has generously poured on us the Holy Spirit, the gift and promise of immortality, who makes believers and those who listen to be children of God and co-heirs with Christ."

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

CGI's Bill Watson: A FALSE Teacher!

The Church of God International's Bill Watson delivered Part 4 of his continuing series of sermons on The Prophetic Advantage: The Israel Paradigm this past Sabbath to his Medina, Ohio congregation. For Pastor Watson, the completely discredited teaching of Anglo-Israelism is the key to understanding today's headlines in the light of Biblical prophecy. As the title of his sermon series suggests, Bill believes that this understanding gives him and his church a prophetic advantage over all other Christians in their attempts to interpret Bible prophecy and explain what is currently going on in the world. Indeed, Bill and his allies have repeatedly proclaimed their commission as a "watchman to Israel" (meaning the United States and other English-speaking nations).

In this latest installment of his series, Watson proclaimed that "This is a very important subject, especially in light of what we’re going through today. Many people don’t understand what is going on around us in this country, and it is getting very disturbing. Some of the things that we’re witnessing today are unlike anything that we have witnessed ever in the history of the United States."

The pastor then proceeded to identify some of the circumstances which he finds so disturbing. He mentioned the recent failure of the Silicon Valley Bank and followed with a lament over the "palpable" corruption of the government of the United States. He claimed that the United States government has currently incarcerated over one hundred innocent citizens without legal rights or representation and said that he had recently seen a video of them gathered together singing the National Anthem and praying. He continued: "Allegedly they are the men that were involved in the insurrection What insurrection? It wasn’t an insurrection. It was a protest that was aggravated by, actually, FBI agents." Later in the message, he said that these were just "a bunch of unarmed Americans walking down the halls of the capitol." Sound familiar? Think Tucker Carlson on Fox News! He went on to decry the "disastrous shift in morals," and talked about boys claiming to be girls as symptomatic of that trend. For Bill, these current events validate his narrative that Israel (the U.S.) is suffering these maladies as a consequence of its national sins.

Watson's narrative, however, is NOT consistent with the past statements of CGI's Vance Stinson on this subject. In Ezekiel's Timeless Message, Stinson wrote: "According to some, the work of the watchman involves 'watching' for prophetic fulfillments in the daily newspaper and assuming prophetic significance for every earthquake, drought, flood, or other disaster that makes the headlines. Incredibly, even when a particular 'watchman' has a long history of failed predictions, people will continue to follow him, claiming that he has some special 'anointing,' which is reflected in his oratory skills and 'gift' for analyzing news events 'in the light of Bible prophecy.'" He continued: "Beware of those who come along and, with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other, attempt to read prophetic fulfillments into the headlines. Such are the tactics of the false teachers Jesus warned His disciples about." Hence, by Vance Stinson's own standard, Bill Watson and his allies are identified as FALSE TEACHERS. The question then becomes: Why does CGI continue to provide a platform for these false teachers?

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

The Living Church of God's War Against Normal?

A friend recently brought to my attention an article which appeared in the January issue of LCG’s Tomorrow’s World. The War Against Normal by Wallace G. Smith asked “Is there any hope of a normal life in a society in which all ideas of ‘normal’ are under sustained and persistent attack by those seeking to make perversion the new reality?” Apparently, Smith and LCG believe that traditional moral values are under attack by the advocates of “Queer Theory.” Of course, in order for their narrative to work on any level (even to an ACOG audience), a great deal of what it means to be “normal” is ignored.

Smith begins with a vague assertion that it wasn’t that long ago that everybody clearly understood what constituted “normal” notions about marriage, gender roles, and sexuality. You may have already noticed that this nostalgia for a time of uniformity is a common theme for more conservative/traditional Christian communities. For these folks, the reality that society was NEVER uniform (or moral) is alien to them. The notion that minorities were actively shamed and oppressed in times past is either rejected by them, or they simply dismiss it as the way things should have been – the good folks keeping the bad folks under control or at bay! In other words, it was much more pleasant when homosexuals and transgender folks were in the closet where they belonged!

For Smith and his associates, the attempts of these minority communities to find their own voice and assert their rights to equal and fair treatment within society constitutes a direct attack on their values. He wrote that “we are living in the final stages of a long-running war against normality. Social engineers have mounted an aggressive campaign over multiple decades, seeking to eradicate any idea that some things should be seen as normal and some as abnormal.” Moreover, in Smith’s opinion, his side is clearly losing in the “war against normal.”

However, the problems with this narrative will be immediately apparent to anyone with an ounce of objectivity and fairmindedness. What is “normal” or “natural” for the average heterosexual is abnormal and unnatural for the average homosexual person! In other words, whose “normal” is really under attack here? Who is really trying to impose their normal on others? Moreover, if the traditional “normal” heterosexual narrative about sexuality, marriage, and gender is so great, why does that community have so many problems/aberrations extant within their own ranks? Why were women denied full legal rights and citizenship until well into the Twentieth Century? If everything is so hunky dory within the heterosexual community, why are things like abortion, domestic violence, depression, substance abuse, child abuse, and divorce so prevalent? Are there specific occupations or roles that should be exclusively the purview of men or women? If so, where is the agreement regarding that to be found within the heterosexual community? Is gay marriage a greater threat to the institution of marriage than heterosexual divorce and remarriage? Really?

As has already been noted, Mr. Smith sees this “war against normal” as a natural outgrowth of what he refers to as advocacy for “Queer Theory.” He wrote: “Like other critical theories, Queer Theory seeks to ‘deconstruct’ common ways of thinking, to challenge widely held norms, and to recast elements of societal structure into a paradigm of power: some cast as the ‘oppressed’ and others as the ‘oppressor.’” The very act of calling attention to the fact that your community has been oppressed or mistreated is cast by Smith as illegitimate and an attack on the very people who have been perpetuating those circumstances! In other words, how dare you bring attention to the fact that you’ve been oppressed or mistreated! In this way, instead of demanding that society treat a gay relationship in the same way that it treats a heterosexual one, the demand becomes an attack on the heterosexual one! Instead of demanding that society acknowledge that some folks are conflicted about gender and may need help in fully recognizing their gender identity, the demand becomes an attack on the notion of binary genders!

In what is arguably his most egregious use of fallacy, Mr. Smith unashamedly taps into the good old slippery slope argument. He wrote: “Among the final boundaries to remain—defining one of the final lands yet to be conquered by the war against normal—is the age boundary. Many people still consider childhood a time for protection from the incursions of modern sexual ‘liberty,’ yet our self-appointed social and academic superiors deem that this boundary, too, must fall. And disturbing signs indicate that it is, indeed, falling.” In other words, if you give into those queer and transgender folks, the kids are going to be next! Societal acceptance of pedophilia is right around the corner!

This, of course, whether deliberate or subconscious, taps into the old stereotype that all or most gay folks are also pedophiles. These wicked folks are just trying to groom your children for sexual relations with them! They can’t wait to exploit your children! They are “grooming” your children for their “perverted” uses/behaviors! Never mind, that things like pedophilia and bestiality are almost universally regarded within the gay community as perverse – as violating the fundamental principles of love and consent! And heaven forbid that gay people would like to see the next generation to be more tolerant and accepting of folks who are different from them! Green eyes aren’t “normal” either – does that mean we should label folks with green eyes as “abnormal” and exclude them from our fellowship or mistreat them?

Mr. Smith went on to assert that “The societal chaos created by the normalization of perversity and the perversion of normality does not reflect the mind of Almighty God, the Creator of human life, who established the institution of marriage as the foundation of family.” He pointed out that God “deals with chaos by creating boundaries.” Smith also noted that God had pronounced everything he had created to be “very good.” In Smith’s narrative, however, that apparently doesn’t include homosexuals and transgender folks. Despite a plethora of same sex behaviors in the natural world and an enormous lack of uniformity within the ranks of ALL living things, these occurrences are apparently somehow abnormal and unnatural – NOT good!

At least, Mr. Smith has the good sense to acknowledge that the traditional notions of “normal” are NOT consistent with what is predicted for God’s Kingdom! He wrote: “The Kingdom that Jesus will establish will not look like 1950s America, nor the Judea of Jesus’ day. Nostalgia for a better past is no substitute for the fullness of transformation called for in His Gospel, and the life to which Christians are called transcends what was ever lived in ages throughout history.” Finally, there is something in the article that I can give a hearty “Amen!” Mr. Smith and his associates within LCG may not understand homosexuals and transgender folks, but God does. Moreover, God’s Kingdom will wipe away all oppression, suffering, and confusion (including Mr. Smith’s).

In the meantime, I think that it would be both wise and Christian to NOT be so judgmental (Matthew 7:1, Luke 6:37, John 7:24). Moreover, I would also like to suggest that it is an extremely desirable goal to encourage love and fidelity in both the heterosexual and homosexual communities. We need to ask ourselves: Why would a Christian wish to encourage or sustain promiscuous behavior within any community? Why would a Christian demand that someone go against their own nature or force them to remain alone in this life – without the companionship and support of a special someone? Why would anyone want to promote mental illness and perversity by ignoring and/or suppressing the things which make them human? I submit that these are questions which deserve consideration and answers! What do you think?

Sunday, March 12, 2023

Confusing Good and Evil

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! - Isaiah 5:20, ESV

Herbert Armstrong and his followers have always loved to apply this passage to Traditional Christianity and the society which surrounds them. The thought of applying it to themselves would never cross their minds. After all, they have God's TRUTH!

For these folks, the EVIL is plain to everyone who has God's Holy Spirit. They believe that things which have been traditionally associated with Christianity like Christmas, Easter, Halloween, Sunday observance, Trinitarianism, the notion of an immortal soul, etc. are EVIL! Likewise, on a societal level, they believe that things like abortion, homosexuality, socialism, transgenderism, humanism, feminism, environmentalism, Black Lives Matter, and illegal immigration are EVIL!

Unfortunately, much of their perspective on what constitutes EVIL is derived from their dependence on the provisions of God's Covenant with Israel as outlined in the pages of the Torah. Their focus is on the dos and don'ts recorded there and is naturally colored by notions of paternalism, misogyny, designations of clean and unclean, slavery, conquest and subjugation, genocide, wrath, punishment, curses, and blood sacrifices.

In other words, they have rejected and/or ignored the fact that Christ and his apostles summarized all of those provisions of the Old Covenant and condensed them into two great principles for Christians operating under the NEW Covenant (Love for God and love for neighbor). Jesus of Nazareth said that this was the original intent and purpose of all of the dos and don'ts, and that the broad application of these principles to a believer's life would fulfill ALL of the requirements enumerated there! Moreover, this is the SAME message which his disciples wrote about in their various epistles.

Hence, if love is the standard for Christians, and Paul's definition of love is valid, then the ACOGs may want to amend their Good and Evil lists. If love is patient, kind, satisfied, encouraging, humble, polite, accommodating, peaceful, forgiving, celebratory of the truth, trusting, hopeful, and persistent, then many of the things which they label as EVIL don't fit! Think about it, if abortions are often spontaneous, save the life of the mother and prevent horrible suffering and pain, how can we make a blanket statement that all abortion is EVIL or murder? If a homosexual can be a Christian, follow the law of love and remain faithful to one person, how can that person or their life be characterized as EVIL? How can equal pay for equal work, equal treatment before the law, and demanding that the same rights which are accessible to men be granted to women be considered EVIL? How can loving and nurturing the earth and its creatures and attempting to shelter and protect them from abuse or harm ever be characterized as EVIL? How can it ever be considered EVIL to demand that the lives of people of African descent be valued in the same way that the lives of people of European descent are? How can we characterize a societal responsibility to protect and help the poor and disadvantaged among us as EVIL?

Likewise, if a person is following the convictions of their own conscience on some spiritual matter or is striving in their heart to worship and glorify God, how can anyone characterize any such practice as EVIL? Didn't Paul explicitly tell the saints at Rome that they shouldn't quarrel with their brothers and sisters or destroy their faith over what they think that they know? Doesn't the verse that follows that much quoted verse in Isaiah read: "Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight!" (5:21) In the book of Revelation, weren't the Laodiceans reprimanded for saying that they were rich, prosperous, and in need of nothing - "not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked." (3:17) Hence, from my humble perspective, the ACOGs are the ones who have been chiefly responsible for calling GOOD EVIL and EVIL GOOD! At the very least, I'd like to suggest that my ACOG friends be much more careful and thoughtful about the things which they condemn as EVIL! Indeed, it might be more constructive to focus on the things that are GOOD! (See Philippians 4:8) What do you think?

Thursday, March 9, 2023

A Life of Awe and Wonder!

A few months ago, I had the opportunity to see and hear William Shatner promoting his new book on MSNBC's Morning Joe. The book, Boldly Go: Reflections on a Life of Awe and Wonder, was written from the perspective of looking back on a life of some remarkable achievements which had spanned ninety-one years! Now, I have always loved to listen to the musings and wisdom of my elders, but I was especially intrigued by the things that Shatner was saying in that interview about being connected to the "vibrating" universe of which we are all a part. Later, when I was telling Darlene about how moved I had been by that interview, I told her that I would have to read that book. Of course, being the kind and thoughtful person that she is, I didn't have to worry about that - she gifted me a copy of the book a few weeks later!

Shatner had achieved fame and legendary status as a consequence of his portrayal of Captain James T. Kirk on both the Star Trek television series and the series of movies which followed many years later. More recently, he had been in the headlines as a consequence of his brief venture into space aboard Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin capsule. I had always loved both the series and the movies and was intrigued by what Shatner would have to say about the experience after having portrayed a space traveler for so many years. Hence, I had watched the live telecast on television and had witnessed Shatner emerge from the capsule after its return to earth. To my surprise, he seemed visibly shaken and emotional - even humbled by the experience. Needless to say, I wanted to hear more about the overwhelming sadness and grief which he had experienced in space!

Although I was already on the hook, the opening to his new book immediately caught my attention and ensured that I would finish the book. He wrote: "Knowledge feeds me. It's as necessary to my existence as oxygen. It thrills me." I knew exactly what he meant. He continued: "I get a tingle down my spine when I'm presented with an opportunity to learn something new, a daily occurrence for me, even at ninety-one years old. Open your eyes, your ears, your mind, and you'll quickly be overcome by the wonder that surrounds us. I am never so thrilled as when the word 'wow' escapes my mouth." Yes, we have to open our eyes, ears, and minds to learning and to experiencing the wonder which surrounds us! I was immediately reminded of that passage in Scripture: "He who hath ears to hear, let him hear!" In other words, God (Nature/Universe, if you prefer) has given us the equipment, but we have to use it!

Too many of us have decided that we have figured it all out - that we have learned THE TRUTH. We assume a defensive position - we must protect what we have learned! Unfortunately, this has the very real effect of completely arresting the learning process. Instead of growing in grace and knowledge, we find ourselves busily rejecting anything that doesn't fit the conclusions we have reached about things! When this happens, we are no longer on the offensive - actively pursuing evidence and answers to our questions, and the consequence is stagnation and/or retreat into the dark reaches of prejudice and ignorance.

Previously, I had always thought of William Shatner as being somewhat of an egocentric individual - even narcissistic on occasion. This book, however, was a revelation to me. Here was a William Shatner who was humble, searching for his place in the universe, trying to connect with the people around him and the world of which he was a part. Who would have thought that I had something to learn from him? But I clearly had learned something from him! How many times do we quietly say to ourselves, "I have NOTHING to learn from that person"? How many of us get up and turn off the television or switch the channel when Jane Fonda, Nancy Pelosi, Sean Hannity, or George Will is discoursing on some topic? Scripture tells us that there is safety in a "MULTITUDE" of counselors. Do we really believe that?

Likewise, do we really believe that one book contains all there is to know (or all we need to know) about God, our origins, our purpose(s), or the world around us? Didn't the Apostle Paul say that God is even accessible to people who aren't Jews or Christians through the evidence provided by the world around them? Almost two thousand years ago, Paul wrote to the saints at Rome that God's invisible qualities (his power and nature) could be understood by observing the things which He had created. In other words, we can learn about God separate and apart from Scripture! Once again, when we limit ourselves, we cut ourselves off from growth and greater understanding!

The same humility, awe and wonder which I observed in William Shatner was also evident in King David of Israel. In one of the Psalms attributed to him, we read "When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visited him?" Unlike Bill Shatner, David never had the opportunity to "slip the surly bonds of earth," but he was still thinking about those things! Moreover, like Shatner, he was busily setting those thoughts to music (the psalms are beautiful as poetry, but they were originally intended to be sung).

Now, William Shatner is a non-practicing Jew - he doesn't really believe in the Judeo-Christian conception of God; but he tapped into some deep spiritual truths during the course of his long life on this planet. He wrote: "No one knows quite how or why, but every so often, whether it's through prayer or contemplation, meditation or awareness, or even just the suggestive power of our imaginations, sometimes we tap into something. A rhythm, a vibration, a perfect moment where it all comes together." I hope that resonates with you in the same way that it resonated with me!

So, Christians have spiritual things to learn from actors, scientists, philosophers, atheists, the local grocer and garbage collector? YES! Are you aware of the other life forms that share this planet with us? Are you aware of the voices of the trees and the whales? Are you using the senses and brains which God or Nature has given you to explore and learn? In short, are you living a life of awe and wonder?

Sunday, March 5, 2023

I'm A Gay Christian

Although that title will come as no surprise to longtime readers of this blog (or the folks who know me), it may be a bit of shock for those who have only read a couple of my posts or comments on other blogs. Indeed, for many of the folks within the ACOG culture and many more traditional Christians, the title of this post will appear to them to be an oxymoron! In other words, they believe that it is impossible to be both a homosexual and a Christian. This reaction, however, is both unscriptural and irrational.

In terms of Scripture, the first thing to note is that the term "Christian" was applied to followers of Jesus Christ by those outside of the Church and is only used three times in the New Testament (Acts 11:26, Acts 26:28, and I Peter 4:16). In fact, throughout the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) and the book of Acts, Jesus' followers were referred to as "disciples." That's the English word - the original Greek word is "mathetes," and it literally means a learner, pupil, or disciple. Later, among the "believers," the terms "brethren" and "saints" were used to describe the members of the ekklesia or Church. Moreover, we should also note that the term "saint" <hagios> was originally applied to anyone who had received the Holy Spirit - it was NOT indicative of the miracle working, holy men designated by the Roman Church in later years.

Interestingly, our clarification of the "saint" moniker also gets us closer to a scriptural definition of what a Christian is - or who is/isn't a Christian. First, Scripture makes clear that we MUST believe in Jesus Christ and accept him as our Savior (John 1:12, 3:16, 6:29, 47, Acts 16:31, Romans 10:9-10, etc.). Second, the "Christian" was expected to repent of their sins, be baptized and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). Indeed, Paul told the saints at Rome that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit was essential - that anyone who did not have the Spirit of Christ didn't belong to Christ (Romans 8:9). Finally, the "Christian" was expected to live a life which adhered to Christ's teachings about loving God and each other and reflected the new person which his work had created (John 13:35, Romans 8:1, 4, 12, II Corinthians 5:15, Galatians 5:16-26, Ephesians 4:24, Colossians 3:10, I John 3:4-9, etc.). According to the Bible, these are the things which identify someone as a Christian.

Now, as for the logic, it is self-evident that a person can be a Christian and simultaneously be many other things. For instance, a Christian can be a male, female, eunuch, soldier, slave, tax collector, fisherman, politician, Jew, Greek, Roman, etc. (and if you doubt any of these designations as being possible for "Christians," you aren't very familiar with the text of the New Testament). It is also intrinsic to the notion of a "Christian" that everyone who claims that name is a sinner (Romans 3:23, I John 1:8-10, etc.). In other words, Christians are people who have broken God's laws - failed to live up to the standards which are outlined in Scripture (and that covers a whole host of bad behaviors - like lying, stealing, murdering, adultery, idolatry, etc.).

Obviously, most Christians will admit that they are heterosexuals and have engaged in heterosexual activities. Moreover, if we could catch them in a moment of honesty, we would probably be able to get many of them to admit that at least some of those heterosexual behaviors which they have engaged in over the course of their lives were illicit (outside of what the Bible defines as acceptable to God). For instance, we know that Paul had to reprimand a member of the Corinthian congregation for having an adulterous/incestuous relationship with his father's wife!

So, we see that it is apparent that sexual orientation alone does NOT automatically make one righteous or sinful. Indeed, in terms of sexual behavior, love and fidelity appear to be the bottom line where the God of the Bible is concerned! Hence, just like my heterosexual counterparts, my sexual behavior can conform to God's will or not! In other words, homosexuals are also capable of love and fidelity.

Unfortunately, the attitudes of many Christians towards their brothers and sisters in Christ is NOT what it could or should be! The TRUTH is that there are a whole host of individual characteristics which we can possess that have absolutely NO bearing on whether or not we are a "Christian." Christians can be a Democrat, Republican, liberal, conservative, Unitarian, Trinitarian, Roman Catholic, Lutheran, gay or straight - as long as they meet the scriptural criteria outlined above. We have a tendency to add to the essentials. Many of us make things like sexual orientation, political affiliation, or doctrinal stances an integral part of our criteria for determining who is or isn't our brother and sister in Christ.

And, finally, too many "Christians" forget and/or completely ignore what the Apostle Paul related about the role of individual conscience in the life of a "Christian." He wrote to the saints at Rome: "Accept other believers who are weak in faith, and don’t argue with them about what they think is right or wrong." (Romans 14:1) He went on to say: "Who are you to condemn someone else’s servants? Their own master will judge whether they stand or fall. And with the Lord’s help, they will stand and receive his approval." (Verse 4) Paul continued: "Yes, each of us will give a personal account to God. So let’s stop condemning each other. Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not cause another believer to stumble and fall." (Verses 12-13) Sure, Paul was talking about the observance of days, and what members believed about things which were (not) appropriate for Christians to eat; but the context makes clear that he was getting at a much broader principle for the saints to follow. He wrote: "You may believe there’s nothing wrong with what you are doing, but keep it between yourself and God. Blessed are those who don’t feel guilty for doing something they have decided is right...If you do anything you believe is not right, you are sinning." (Verses 21-23). In other words, each and every one of us should be practicing what we believe to be God's will for our lives. In the end, you will have to answer for what YOU have done with your life, and I will have to answer for what I have done with mine!

But what about all of those clobber scriptures which explicitly state that homosexuality is a sin? I could say what about all of those scriptures that explicitly state that divorce is contrary to God's will, and that most of the folks who engage in that behavior and then remarry are sinning against God! The point is that each one of us is responsible for the way that we handle Scripture. It is possible for two people to reach different conclusions about the meaning of a particular passage and remain Christians! Thankfully, we don't get to decide who is and isn't a Christian - that's above our paygrade!

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Imputation: The Glorious Exchange

The Doctrine of Imputation or "The Glorious Exchange" has long been recognized by Christian theologians as one of the foundational and primary doctrines of the Church. Simply stated, it is the notion that our guilt/sinfulness was imputed (assigned, attributed, credited) to Jesus of Nazareth, and his innocence/righteousness was imputed to us! Indeed, this notion has long been recognized as a central teaching of both the Old and New Testaments.

In PostBarthian's excellent article on Martin Luther and The Great Exchange, we read that Luther observed that "Thou, Lord Jesus, art my righteousness, but I am thy sin. Thou hast taken upon thyself what is mine and hast given to me what is thine. Thou has taken upon thyself what thou wast not and hast given to me what I was not." Likewise, the same article reminded us that John Calvin once wrote "that we cannot be condemned for our sins, from the guilt of which he absolves us, seeing he has been pleased that these should be imputed to himself as if they were his own. This is the wondrous exchange (mirifica commutatio) made by his boundless goodness. Having become with us the Son of Man, he has made us with himself sons of God. By his own descent to the earth he has prepared our ascent to heaven. Having received our mortality, he has bestowed on us his immortality. Having undertaken our weakness, he has made us strong in his strength. Having submitted to our poverty, he has transferred to us his riches. Having taken upon himself the burden of unrighteousness with which we were oppressed, he has clothed us with his righteousness." Hence, we see that Luther and Calvin both understood that this teaching about the imputation of sin and righteousness was one of the most important doctrines of Scripture.

In the sixteenth chapter of the book of Leviticus, the doctrine of imputation is foreshadowed in a ceremony involving the High Priest and two goats. The High Priest was instructed to take two goats and sacrifice one of them as a sin offering for the people of Israel and carry its blood within the Holy of Holies and sprinkle it on the Ark of the Covenant. Next, Aaron was instructed to place both of his hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all of the sins of the people of Israel. Finally, the High Priest was instructed to designate someone to drive that goat into the wilderness to symbolically carry the people's sins away from God and them. In other words, the innocent is made guilty, and the guilty is made innocent!

Similarly, in the fifty-third chapter of the book of Isaiah, we read that the Lord's servant would carry our weaknesses and sorrows. We are told there that "he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed. All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the Lord laid on him the sins of us all." Furthermore, we are told that this servant "had done no wrong and had never deceived anyone." Finally, we read there that "because of his experience, my righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for he will bear all their sins."

Of course, from the perspective of the New Covenant that righteous servant whom Isaiah had written about was Jesus of Nazareth - the Christ or Messiah! In the Gospel of Matthew, we read that an angel informed Joseph that Jesus would save his people from their sins. In the Gospel of John, we read that the Baptist declared that Jesus was "The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" Likewise, in Paul's second letter to the Christians of Corinth, we read: "For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ." He also wrote to the saints at Philippi that he regarded everything that he had done in terms of his adherence to the tenets of the Torah to be worthless garbage! Paul wanted to be found in Christ - "not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith."

Nevertheless, we find what is probably the most eloquent expression of this teaching in Paul's letter to the Christians at Rome. He wrote: "But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago. We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are. For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he makes sinners right in his sight when they believe in Jesus."

Paul continued his thought by comparing a Christian's righteousness to the kind of righteousness which was imputed by God to Abraham because of his faith in God's promises to him. Paul said that this imputation of righteousness to Abraham was also done for the sake of all of the Christians whom Christ would someday make his heirs. He wrote: "to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification." Continuing, Paul noted that God had demonstrated his love for us in that "While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." He went on to observe that just as sin had been introduced into the world through one man, Adam, that mankind would be made righteous through Jesus Christ! Paul wrote: "just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous."

Finally, in the epistle to the Hebrews, we are told that Jesus of Nazareth had been "tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin." Moreover, a little later in the same letter, we read that Christ had "appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him."

This is "The Glorious Exchange" indicated in the title of this post! We (Christians) should all be grateful that our sins were imputed to Jesus Christ, and that his righteousness has been imputed to us! Moreover, just as our death was imputed to him, his life has been imputed to us! In short, this is what has enabled us to stand before God clean and righteous - to have hope and life!